Friday, December 9, 2011

The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly (CBR book #29)

Fairy tales are everywhere. I just got back from Disneyworld where Cinderella Castle stands prominently at center stage. And of course there's the classic Disney ride, Snow White's Scary Adventures (although I heard the Magic Kingdom in Florida is axing Snow White in a year or two. How sad.).

There is also a more modern emergence of fairly tales on network TV. Shows like Grimm and Once Upon a Time peaked my interest, until I started watching them.

So it makes sense that I turned my attention to a different, and more traditional genre for my fairy tale fix, books. The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly was written in 2006 and is a departure for the author, who normally writes thriller novels. I've read mixed reviews about his experiment and must say, I agree to some extent with everyone.

Our story takes place during WWII in London. David's mother has died. His father remarries a woman named Rose, and the three move into Rose's family home. Soon after, Rose gives birth to a son. As David feels more and more isolated and forgotten, his grip on reality slowly slips. He suffers seizures, hears books whispering to him, and begins seeing The Crooked Man. One night, he hears his mother calling to him, and David follows her voice to a sunken garden. As the war rages around him, a German bomber plane goes down, heading for the garden. David hides in a crack in the garden, where is he transported to another world.

In this new world, David begins a quest to find the king, whose Book of Lost Things may hold the key to David's return home. Along the way, David quickly learns he is in a land where fairy tales are real. But unlike the the sanitized versions Disney would offer, Connolly's version of our favorite stories is more along the lines of the inspiration followed by the Brother's Grimm. The stories Connolly tells through David's adventures deal with issues like bestiality, homosexuality, and murder for sport, to name a few. And they involve familiar characters like Red Riding Hood, Snow White, Rumplestiltskin, and some new ones as well.

So why the mixed reviews? My biggest issue with the book is that there is something in the way Connolly writes that makes The Book of Lost Things seem like a young adult book. Maybe it's his writing style. Maybe it's the fact that the main character is a twelve year old boy...I can't really place my finger on it. But the stories Connolly tells are more suited for an adult audience. There is overt sexuality and violence that wouldn't have shocked me as much, had I not felt like the book was a YA novel. I was confused by the two voices which clashed, rather than blended.

With that said, it's a damn interesting book. A little slow in the beginning, but a great fantasy novel. And I'm a sucker for good endings. I can forgive a lot in a book if the ending is satisfying, and this one delivered for me.

So if you like fairy tales, fantasy stories, and a bit of the macabre, it's a recommend. Oooh, and while we're on the subject...despite Disney's abandonment of her, Snow White lives on in theaters next year. I can't wait to see the two versions coming out! Click here for the trailer of Snow White and the Huntsman with Charlize Theron, Kristen Stewart, and Chris Hemsworth. And the trailer for the campier looking Mirror Mirror with Julia Roberts is here.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

A Clash of Kings by George R. R. Martin (CBR Book #28)

This is the second book of the Song of Fire and Ice series written by Martin. You really can't just jump into these books without starting at the beginning, so I'll assume you've read the first book already.

Martin picks up where he left off after book one, and he takes off running. The book is basically in the same format as the first, with a few new voices added in. Basically there are several men and a few boys fighting to be king. Namely Robb Stark from Winterfell, the heir apparent Joffrey Baratheon, and two of Robert Baratheon's brothers. In addition, Theon Greyjoy, Eddard Stark's ward, decides to throw his name in the hat and fight for his father's honor.

In addition to the wars and battles in the south, Jon Snow has traveled north of the wall to find his missing uncle. Although his story doesn't intersect with the main plot line, I hear it will by book three. Honestly, I was a bit bored by Jon Snow's chapters.

Of course, we can't forget Dany, in the East. Her story was my favorite from book I, but it slowed down considerably in the second book. She is still trying to build an army and secure ships for her return.

Overall, I think I liked book I better than book II, but I enjoyed both. I think the biggest obstacle in reading these books is the sheer length. At 969 pages, A Clash of Kings took me awhile to read. And I can't help but think I could have read 3 or four other books in that time. So while I may eventually read all the books in the series (there are seven planned), I might have to take a break for awhile and catch up on some of my other books.

Kind of a luke-warm review, I know. But if you've read their first book, I have a feeling you've already decided for yourself if you're going to keep going or not.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

The Dark Tower I: The Gunslinger by Stephen King (CBR book #27)

I have to make a confession...I'm not a Stephen King fan. I've tried reading a couple of his books (The Tommyknockers and IT) and couldn't get through them. Disappointingly, it's not because I'm a huge wimp and am just too terrified by his books. It's because I find them so BOOOOORING. Go ahead, feel free to mentally flog me if you disagree.

So now you're probably waiting for me to say how I've read The Dark Tower and I'm a changed women...sorry to disappoint again. But at least I got through the entire book!

In case you're still reading this review, The Dark Tower books are a 7 book series (with an eighth related short story as well). The series revolves around Roland, a gunslinger. The books are a kind of sci-fi western where the time and place are a bit vague. Things seem primitive at times, but then things seem other-worldly and even magical at times. Roland is pursuing a man in black and is also on a quest for the dark tower. You'd think I'd have another reference for "man in black" besides THE Mr. Cash after reading this book, but alas, I have no idea who he is in Mr. King's eye. And the dark tower? Not a clue.

I don't know if it's just that King gives more information than I'm retaining and I'm just too bored to absorb it. Or if he just likes to leave mystery and unanswered questions in his books so that you slowly...slooooowly learn bit by bit what the hell is going on after reading all of the books. But I really can't tell you what The Gunslinger is about. I know there's Roland, there's a kid from another time and place, and there's an underground cave with scary creatures, and there's a lot of wandering.

So...I think I'm done with this review. It's just going downhill. I warned you. Not a fan. Why'd I'd read the book then? A friend gave it to me so I thought I'd give it a shot. Oh well.

Hmmm...maybe I can offer you a consolation prize. I read Stephen King's Bag of Bones last year and it wasn't half bad. Just a good old fashioned ghost story. No giant spiders or aliens or anything silly like that. Read that one instead.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Twinkie Deconstructed by Steve Ettlinger (CBR Book #26)

Show of hands...who has ever eaten a Twinkie? If you haven't, then you've probably had something similar to a Twinkie. And by similar, I mean something with a list of unreadable, mystery ingredients. If you haven't had this experience, congratulations, you're Omish.

Steve Ettlinger is one of those people who had a Twinkie and actually tried to decipher the ingredients list. The results of his quest are recorded in Twinkie Deconstructed.

I went into this book thinking I would be horrified by what I learned and never touch processed foods again. Strangely, the book almost had the opposite effect. Understanding what all the ingredients were made them more accesible. Don't get me wrong, there were plenty of strange, scary, and downright head scratching details in this book.

Examples? Well, did you know the original flavor of Twinkies was banana? Ewwwwww. There are also plenty of ingredients that have more industrial uses than culinary ones. And I was amazed at how much acid was used to process some of these ingredients. And I'm talking strong, burn your face off acids. Then there are the ingredients that are mined. Yes, mined. It's amazing how minerals and rocks can be turned into Twinkies and Ding Dongs.

It's an eye-opening, educational, and at-times technical journey. I'm not sure it's a book for everyone but if you have an interest in food science or chemistry, it's probably up your alley.

Friday, September 16, 2011

A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin (CBR Book #25)


With the recent popularity of HBO's new series A Game of Thrones, based on Martin's books, it came as a surprise to me that Martin's first book was written 15 years ago. Although the book received numerous awards in the years after its release, it wasn't until July of this year that it reached #1 on the New York Times Best Seller list. Of course, I never heard of the book until my friend started geeking out about it in the Spring. And since I'm cheap and prefer to Netflix HBO/Showtime series, rather than pay for the channels, I knew I'd have to read the books in order to understand what the hell she was talking about. Bandwagon jumped.

So what is it that makes A Game of Thrones so compelling? Well, I don't know if there's a magic formula that must involve midgets, swords, incestual twins, supernatural zombie like creatures, and barbarianism, but I guess they sound good to a Hollywood exec. And the public agrees. Granted, I haven't seen the series yet, so I'm going off of what's in the book, but I hear the two are pretty closely married. And I must admit, I enjoyed the first book and my husband literally spends all weekend reading the series (called A Song of Fire and Ice) which is pretty amazing.

I guess I should enlighten you on the plot. Basically, it's some kind of midevil time period where people live in castles and basically anyone can be King. You just have to kill whoever the current one is. Each chapter is titled with a person's name. So you get the story through that person's perspective. This means there are a lot of people with their own plot lines that intersect with everyone else's. It's an interesting dynamic.

The main family is the Stark family. Ned, the father, has gone south to serve as the King's advisor. The King's wife is one of those evil bitches you just love to read about. And her family is that power-hungry, conniving, new money kind of people that make for great reality show stars. But my favorite plot line has to be Daenerys'. Daenerys' family used to be the ruling family until they weren't. So she went into exile to a land where everyone is basically a barbarian. Like, if you don't have at least 10 people die at your wedding, then it wasn't a cool wedding kind of barbarian. Anyway, her story is really interesting, as she evolves from a meek young girl to a strong woman (you can actually read just Daenerys' story in the novella Blood of the Dragon).

Oh, and another thing, since this is midevil times or whatever, girls get married and have kids at 12, 13. It's weird at first to get used to but then you start thinking like everyone in the book, "wait, she's 20?! She'll never have a family! What will she DO with her life now that she's ANCIENT?!" Yeah, it gets like that.

I mentioned supernatural earlier. It's not a HUGE part of the book, but there are some bits and hints of more to come. Don't pick it up expecting unicorns and leprechauns though. But even without a blatant zombie plot, which seems to be the easy way to get a book sold, A Game of Thrones had some moments where I literally gasped. "Did he really just write that?" I'd think. Yes he did, and it was awesome. Really, kid characters shouldn't be immune to the atrocities of the day. And Martin acknowledges this. But you'll have to read the book to know what I'm talking about.

So a recommend from me. If you're into Lord of the Rings fantasy type books or epic novels, or just a good story, I'd pick it up.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Blind Descent by James Tabor (CBR book #24)

Okay, I gotta admit, when the power went out for a big chunk of the southwest, crazy thoughts rushed into my mind. But at least I didn't go looney tunes and call radio stations, spouting things like terrorism, conspiracy, and yeah, even aliens. Several hours later, the crisis was over. And short of some spoiled food in the fridge and unruly wax candles, the damage was minimal.

So when I think about how I nearly panicked when things got a little dark for a couple hours, I can't begin to fathom what it would be like to be in complete isolation, without anyone around to help, in the deepest, darkest places on earth. I used to think such places were confined to alleys, corporate meetings, and my mind, but let's add one more to the list...supercaves. Exactly what makes a cave rise to the status of super, you ask? Well, my first mental picture was that of a beautiful cave with glowing kryptonite, but it's more the antithesis of that. Darkness, dirt, deep thin waterways, and isolation.

Blind Descent is a book about two men who have devoted their lives to finding this place, specifically, the deepest cave on earth. Tabor begins with the story of Bill Stone, an American caver who focuses on Cheve cave in Mexico. He also details the work of Alexander Klimchouk from the Ukraine, who explores Krubera cave in the Republic of Georgia. Besides giving a crash course in cave exploration, Tabor recounts expeditions by these men that will make you claustrophobic just reading about them. He also adds interesting tidbits about things like the phenomena of cave hallucinations and the fun fact that the ebola virus is believed to have originated in a cave.


If you're into caving, or like books like Into Thin Air, I'd definitely recommend this one. There is no shortage of drama and suspense here. And it even inspired me to do some cave exploration of my own! Coincidentally, shortly after I read this book, I went to Glenwood Springs Colorado, which boasts a healthy dose of cave tourism. So here are some pics from my own cave explorations for your viewing pleasure.

Friday, September 2, 2011

The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold (CBR #23)

This is a book I "read" by audio tape. I have to admit, it was about a month or more ago and so I'm going to keep this review short and sweet. I'm also vegging out right now so my brain is on the cusp of checking out...Hmmm...do I have any more excuses for this shoddy review?

Okay, on with it. Susie Salmon is a teenage girl who is murdered (not a spoiler). She narrates the book as a ghost, following the investigation into her murder as well as her family's lives after her death. The book isn't really a whodunnit, as Susie reveals the details of her murder (including the murderer) right away. The book is more about how both she and her family deal with the aftermath of her murder.

I felt like the book started with a lot of momentum but slowed significantly closer to the second half of the story. At first, Sebold focuses on the investigation, and we're still learning who all the characters are. The second half, however, is more about how everyone's lives progress, as Susie's murder investigation slowly fades from its initial prominence.

One thing I like about this book is that we get glimpses of Susie's heaven...what it's like, the people she meets there, and how she watches her family and friends on earth. Sebold's idea of heaven is an interesting one and I enjoyed reading about it.

Just some random information about the book...it was written in 2002 and made into a movie in 2010. The book, I'd recommend. From what I hear about the movie...Peter Jackson should stick to elves and hobbits. But if you're interested, here's the trailer...The Lovely Bones Movie Trailer

Friday, August 5, 2011

Room by Emma Donoghue (CBR book #22)

I've always been a bit slow when it came to trends and technology, always the last to embrace new things. I jumped on the cell phone train probably 5-10 years after everyone started carrying them around (including 12 year olds). Smart phone? Puh-leese. Who needs THAT? I discovered myspace just as everyone transitioned to facebook, and if there's anything better than facebook now, I have no idea what it is. As far as trends, I was never into the fashion trends or pop culture until it was too late. Remember all those boybands back in the 90's? I never followed them as a kid. And all the popular shows on Showtime and HBO? I usually start renting season 1 on Netflix when everyone's watching season four "live" on TV.

I say all that to say this...I'm probably one of the last people on the book blogosphere to read Room. If you're thinking, "I haven't read that book," do you have a book blog? I didn't think so.

Anyway, the reviews of Room have been mixed. The general feeling I got was that it was a good book, a bit disturbing, and possibly annoying since it's written from a 5 year old's perspective. I must say, I agree.

Basically, Room is about a boy named Jack and his mother who live in an 11'x11' room. To Jack, Room is his world. He knows nothing else and has no desire to see what is beyond Room. In fact, he doesn't think there IS anything beyond Room. It's an interesting "world" view. And it is in stark contrast to his mother's view of Room. She's like you or I (I hope, at least). She used to live a normal life in a house with freedom to do what she wanted. But she ended up in Room with Jack. If you want to know how, you'll have to read the book.

SLIGHT SPOILER AHEAD...

The book can be divided into two parts. The first part deals with Jack's life in Room, what he and his mother do from day to day. You also receive bits of information that reveal how Jack and his mother came to live in Room. The second part deals with their life after Room and how Jack deals with the outside world. This second half is what I really liked about the book. Once Jack starts interacting with people, we are privy to his thoughts and motivations, which aren't always obvious by his words and actions. I think Donoghue was very insightful when she wrote Jack. It helped me understand why children might react to adults in certain ways or say certain things. If you just see Jack's reactions to things without understanding what he's thinking, he just seems like a strange little kid. But because we see the world from his perspective, everything he says and does makes sense.

And I understood why Jack wanted to go back to room. It was a place where he felt safe, loved, and did nothing but play with his mom all day. It was an interesting perspective in comparison with his mother, who knew Room as a prison and wanted nothing more than to get away from it.

END SPOILER

So it's a recommend from me, and it's a pretty easy read on top of that. Like I said earlier though, the fact that the book is written in Jack's voice is a bit of a put-off. But if you can get past that, it's an interesting story, cleverly and insightfully written.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn (CBR Book #21)


Do you know why "the quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog" is a well-known phrase? It's a panagram...or a phrase that contains all the letters of the alphabet. A quick look at wikipedia reveals the phrase's earliest known appearance is in the late 1800's, but its author isn't mentioned.

Well...look no more! Mark Dunn has the story of its creator in this cleverly written book, which is presented as a collection of letters. Most of the letters are written to or from Ella, and other members of the Pea family. Ella lives on the fictional island of Nollop, off the coast of South Carolina. Nollop derives its name from Nevin Nollop, the supposed creator of the panagram.

Everything in Nollop seems pleasant. It has a small town feel with a council that governs the island's business. There is even a monument to Nollop including the famous phrase. Everything is business as usual, until lettered tiles begin to fall off of the monument. The town council interprets this as a sign from Nollop himself; it appears that Nollop wishes the letter to be removed from speech and writing, they surmise. The first letter to fall is relatively harmless enough, a Z. After the council decrees that each letter is not to be used anymore, the use of the letter is removed from the book as well. As the characters write their letters to each other, they struggle with avoiding certain words. As more and more tiles fall off the sign and their use is banned, the writings become more and more ludicrous.

One of my favorite parts of the book is when the D falls off the sign. As each message written has the day listed, it becomes necessary to assign new names to each day. Tuesday becomes Toes, Wednesday becomes Wetty, Thursday Thurby. During the month of November, as more and more letters fall off the sign, the name of the month changes accordingly until each note has a new word for November, "nosegay," "no-trump," "norepinephrine" and "noopers" are just some of them.

Eventually, speaking and writing becomes so difficult, the council passes a provision that states, in written form only, "hear twins" may be used as a proxy for certain letters. In other words, words may be written phonetically with the remaining allowed letters. So "farewell" can be written as "pharewell," "you" as "ewe" and so on. But even this proves difficult as creative substitutions must still be made. "Phrents" becomes the closest thing to the words "friends," "achieve" becomes "asheeph." Here's an example of a sentence near the end of the book, "Tee otts are not goot," which is "the odds are not good." Of course "hear twins" can only be used in writing because when spoken, one wouldn't know if you were actually using the banned letters or not. Eventually, more and more lettered tiles fall off the monument until only 5 remain, LMNOP.

Is your head spinning? The good news is, this progression is gradual, and although the book becomes harder and harder to read, it also becomes sillier and sillier. And you get used to it. And by this time, you're invested in Enterprise 32. This is the task assigned to those who oppose the council. In an effort to prove Nollop isn't divine, as the council has come to believe, the remaining townspeople work to create a panagram in 32 letters. This would beat Nollop's panagram by 3 letters, proving that any mere mortal could do what he did, and better.

At this point, you may have some questions, like, "what do you mean by remaining townspeople?" and "how could they work on a panagram if there are letters banned from use?" Well...all those questions and more would be answered if you read the book! And I definitely recommend it if you have an interest in words, word play, word puzzles, or anything related to that. Even if you don't, it's a great book, adeptly written, and entertaining.

Friday, July 22, 2011

The Night Bookmobile by Audrey Niffenegger (CBR Book #20)


How would you react if you visited a library that consisted only of books, magazines, and anything else that you've ever read or written? Maybe you see the Little Golden Book you treasured as a child, or you glimpse your favorite mystery novel. Even a textbook for your college biology course finds its way to the shelves...and then you spot your diary!

This is what happens to Alexandra one night, when she goes for a walk. She sees an old Winnebago on the street playing her favorite music. Going against her better judgement, she enters to find a library that is definitely special, but when she finds her diary, it becomes magical as well. The library, whose hours are from dusk until down closes before she's ready to leave it. After her visit, she obsesses about the Night Bookmobile and goes for long walks at night to find it again.

Eventually, Alexandra runs into the Night Bookmobile at different times in her life. Each time, she notices it has new shelves filled with the material she has read since her previous visit. Her obsession with the Night Bookmobile grows and grows and she even goes to school and becomes a librarian, hoping that someday, she can be a librarian for the Book Mobile. Eventually, Alexandra thinks she understands what she must do to fulfill her life's dream, but is the price she has to pay worth it?

This book was a serialized graphic novel that appeared in the London Guardian. You may recognize the author for her books like the Time Traveler's Wife and Her Fearful Symmetry. I checked out her website that also has some of her paintings and drawings on it. They have the same dark, eerie quality that her short graphic novel has. You can click here, if you're interested in seeing some of her work.

So my opinion on The Night Bookmobile? It literally took me just a few minutes to read and was an interesting story. I'm not sure I'd tell someone to run to the library to get it, but I can imagine if it were slowly told in a newspaper, how people would be into the story. I'm not a fan of Niffeneggar's drawings, they're not really my style, so that kind of distracted from the story. But the story itself is great. It's a cautionary tale of how someone can love something so much, it becomes an obsession and takes over her entire life. I guess if you're a Niffeneggar fan, check it out. Otherwise, don't obsess about it.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro (CBR Book #19)

Never Let Me Go is about life, death, love, acceptance of one's circumstances, and all of those emotional aspects of the world around us. There are a million different ways to tell a story about these things, right?

The problem I had with Never Let Me Go, is that Ishiguro uses a sci-fi premise to tell his story. In fact, it's a great premise. But, and here's the downfall, this is NOT a sci-fi book. If it were, Ishiguro would do more explaining of the mechanics of his premise - how things came to be, how they work, and what exactly happens. But he's not really concerned with that. And that's where I'm left frustrated.

Never Let Me Go is the story of three individuals who grew up together at Hailsham, a boarding school they attended in England. All the students at Hailsham are special, set apart from society for a specific purpose, which is slowly revealed throughout the book. Kathy, our narrator, takes us through her life at Hailsham and beyond.

The tone of the book is introspective, like we're inside Kathy's thoughts. She remembers events in the past and wonders how they have affected her present. As Kathy examines her past, we relive events in her life. We learn snippets of what makes her "special" as she does. But, and here's where I'm different from Kathy, I question things she doesn't. Kathy has accepted her lot, I haven't. But this is HER story, not mine. For her, life is as it is. She doesn't question her circumstances but tries to understand the relationships around her. Just like anyone would. And I guess that's the point. Even if you are "special," like Kathy, you still have to deal with love and longing just like the rest of us.

And I understood this as I read, but I couldn't help wondering more about each nugget Ishiguro would provide. "The students just learned they were meant to do WHAT?" "But why don't they ask more about THAT?" I'd think. Kathy would move forward in her story but I was still struggling what had just transpired, not ready yet to just forget about that and move on. But perhaps by creating this conflict, Ishiguro better makes his point. That regardless of your circumstances, some things in life are inevitable. The question is, how do you deal with them, and do you accept them willingly or not?

Monday, July 4, 2011

The Help by Kathryn Stockett (CBR book #18)

The Help came out in 2009 and has slowly grown into its popularity. It's the story of women and their maids in Jackson, Mississippi in the 1960's. The book is written in three voices; Abileen Clark and Minny Jackson who are maids, and Eugenia "Skeeter" Phelan, who was raised by a maid.

Skeeter's group of friends are young 20-something white women who all have maids of their own. But Skeeter realizes that she has less and less in common with them as she learns about their attitudes towards their maids. While Skeeter is haunted by loving memories of her childhood maid who disappeared without a word, her friends treat their maids like slaves, even insisting on having separate "colored" bathrooms" installed on their property for the help.

When I read the book, I hadn't heard much about it so I had no expectations. The story involves a lot of different characters who all have their own secrets, stories, and opinions. It kept me reading and was interesting. I think, however, had I heard all the hype about it, I might have been disappointed. I know books that deal with things like racism, stereotypes, and societal classes have the potential to garner a lot of attention. But I can't help but think that this is the only reason this book is gettting so much press. The story is good but beyond the social issues, it doesn't strike me as any more well written than other books I've read. It would be interesting to see if Stockett's next book gets as much attention.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde (CBR book #16)


My dryspell is over at last! After several boring, disappointing, and simply "meh" selections, I have come across a solid nominee for the year's top five. This is one of those books I couldn't stop talking about so read it already!

Shades of Grey takes place in the future society of Chromaticia, after an event referred to only as the Something That Happened. Society, or The Collective, is run according to infallible rules set by Chromaticia's founder, Munsell. Not surprisingly, the rules don't always make sense, like why spoons are no longer made, or why bottles and jars are to be manufactured in one size only. There are other mysteries in Chromaticia as well, like why noone can venture into darkness, why all living things have barcodes, and why the two biggest threats to The Collective are swans and lightning.

If I'm starting to lose you, the first thing you need to understand is that a lot of Shades of Grey is tongue in cheek. Fforde is a master of the absurd and sets up a lot of silly situations that, sadly, remind me of work first, then a lot of other things after that. There's a great scene where our narrator, Eddie, goes to a library. Most books have disappeared over time, but due to a poorly drafted directive, staffing levels at libraries will remain unchanged forever. So Eddie is followed by seven librarians who have nothing to do. One, a ninth-generation librarian, shows Eddie empty shelves and describes the books they used to hold. "Murdoch on the Orientated Ex-Best," "The Complete Sheer Luck Homes," and other titles roll from her tongue like a bad game of telephone. Sometimes it's just the titles she gets right, like Catch-22, a "hugely popular fishing book and one of a series."

And we haven't even touched on the Colortocracy. Apparently people's ability to see color is severely limited and people are divided into classes based upon their color perception. If you see mostly red, you are a red. If you see yellow and blue, you are a green. If you see little to no color at all, you are a grey, and the lowest in society. Marriages are arranged based on how one's color perception may help maintain or raise your position in society. Are you a coveted violet who sees closer to the blue range of the spectrum? If so, why not marry a red to deepen your child's violet perception uprange?

Color also plays a role in health and well-being. Depending on your ailment, visualizing a certain shade may make you better...or kill you. Perhaps you need a little pick me up? Try lime, but don't view too much, it's a gateway they say that may lead to the more powerful lincoln green and before you know it, you're chasing the frog...

And I could go on and on. Fforde injects wit, humor, and fun in this story about Eddie Russett, a Red, who travels to the town of East Carmine on an assignment to conduct a chair-census. As Eddie learns about the people of East Carmine, he develops a dangerous habit of curiosity which leads him down a path that's part Alice's trip down the rabbit hole, but more Neo swallowing the red pill, if you ask me.

In all, a slightly slow start (mainly because I had no idea what was going on for the first 30 pages), a great middle, and an end promising two more books to come. And will I read them? Absolutely. I can't wait to see what Fforde has coming out and will make it a point to check out his other books in the Thursday Next and Nursery Crime series as well.

For some fun information on Shades of Grey, click here.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Superfreakonomics by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner (CBR book #15)

Superfreakonomics is the follow up to Levitt and Dubner's first book, Freakonomics, which was a great book. Basically, Levitt and Dubner use economics theories to describe things more interesting than, well, economics.

For an idea of what Superfreakonimics is about, a quick look at the cover sums everything up nicely..."Global cooling, patriotic prostitutes, and why suicide bombers should buy life insuance." And if that doesn't catch your interest, the Steve-o's also discuss the following (taken from freakonomicsbook.com)
  • How is a street prostitute like a department-store Santa?
  • Why are doctors so bad at washing their hands?
  • How much good do car seats do?
  • What’s the best way to catch a terrorist?
  • Did TV cause a rise in crime?
  • What do hurricanes, heart attacks, and highway deaths have in common?
  • Are people hardwired for altruism or selfishness?
  • Can eating kangaroo save the planet?
  • Who adds more value: a pimp or a realtor?
I'm a fan of these books because they're accessible and thought-provoking. They are also fairly quick and easy reads. Talk about the art of taking technical speak down to my level (Marcia Bjornerud, eat your heart out)!

So a solid recommend if you're the non-fictiony type. Enjoy!

Tinkers by Paul Harding (CBR book #13)

Just because a book wins a Pulitzer Prize doesn't mean you have to enjoy it. There. I've said it. And now I feel better. You can probably see where this is going...

I decided to read Tinkers because it won the Fiction Pulitzer Prize in 2010. I figured by reading it, I would somehow become smarter, or at least seem smarter. Things started off well. As with a fine bottle of wine, I'm a sucker for good packaging and presentation. The book is only about 200 pages and comes in a compact form, great for holding. Sometimes I feel like I'm not reading a proper book when I get a large hardcover edition and I can't fit it snugly in one hand. You know the kind; when you put the book down, that bit of muscle (fat?) between your thumb and index finger hurts. But Tinkers fits snugly in one hand, like a well worn baseball glove, or peas and carrots, or well, a nice glass of cabernet. Let's go with that.

So I liked the feel. The cover, minimalist. A white backdrop with a few trees clustered in the corner. Simple, pleasing to the eye, artistic. Hmmmm....looking good so far. And the content? Well, like a great top note, Harding grabbed me with his first line, "George Washington Crosby began to hallucinate eight days before he died."

Harding writes stories from George Crosby's childhood, stories that center on his father. Crosby's father was a tinker (or, as Lemony Snicket would say, tinkers is a fancy word for traveling salesman). The stories themselves are interesting, but there is a lot of fluff in between. Okay, okay, it's probably called something other than fluff in the literary world, like transitional prose or corollary exposition (making stuff up right now). But to me, it was fluff. He'd go on for a page or two about how a clock worked or how something looked. I guess you have to have pretty mad skills to go on so long about something so simple but it kinda bored me.

Maybe if we took that glass of Cabernet and reduced the book to it's good parts, we'd have an engaging 100 page novella (do those win Pulitzer Prizes?). So I feel a bit contrary to not think this book is the bees knees. Clearly it was well received by many. But for me it just gets a "meh."


Reading the Rocks by Marcia Bjornerud (CBR book #14)

This book came by way of a friend of mine. I didn't get much information except that he assigns it for an earth science class he teaches and hasn't had any complaints. I find pretty much anything interesting so I thought I might actually enjoy it.

Reading the Rocks is a book about the history of the earth, and in some respects, the universe. Besides geology, Bjornerud also talks about evolution and climate change. If you're bored just thinking about this, I'm not. I really thought Bjornerud had an interesting concept in her book. Concept, interesting. Execution...not so much.

I am a big fan of technical books written for the layperson, but I'm not sure that's what Bjornerud was going for. She used a lot of long, technical terms and went into details that made me wonder if she was really writing for a more niche audience. I hate to admit it because I've never done this with a book before, but I skimmed a lot of pages. I know, for shame!

I suppose for a "textbook," this book could be worse, but even with the worst textbooks, have I ever complained to a teacher?

So unfortunately, not a recommend for me, unless you're REALLY into geology. And I mean you go to conferences and think collecting miniature stuffed grand canyon's is the cat's whiskers (actually, that sounds kinda fun). On a side note, I have a stuffed HPV molecule in my office at work. Apparently my co-worker's dad is a sex therapist and that's the kind of thing they give away at THEIR conferences. I don't think people quite understood what I meant when I sent out an email saying, "okay...who gave me HPV?"

Anywho, I guess I'm not talking about the book anymore. For a good laugh, check out this website: giantmicrobes.com

Sunday, May 15, 2011

The Taken (The Taking) by Dean Koontz (CBR book #12)

Not to sound like a broken record from my last review, but this is another one that literally fell in my lap. At my last book club meeting...wait, time for a detour...

I have a *thing* about book clubs. I didn't really know they existed until, well, I started reading books. Then they came out of the woodwork. Suddenly I was learning that several people I knew were in a book club of some kind. Funny, I thought. They don't seem like pretentious bores. Hmmm...maybe this book club thing can work for me. So I gave it a go and can now say I am an actual member of a book club. And by book club I mean my mother, her co-worker, and I. And by meeting I mean we were sitting around talking about inappropriate things while occasionally mentioning a recently read book.

Sooooooo...even though we had only met a couple of times, I worked early on to exert my control over the reading list. So far, the book club had only read six books, and all six books were suggested by yours truly. So when the time came for a new suggestion, I had to take deep breaths to release control of my reading future. The name Dean Koontz came up. I shuddered. Honestly, I can't tell you why except that I knew Dean Koontz wrote fiction (not my favorite genre, I must admit) and his books reminded me of the pocket paperbacks that filled the revolving tower racks you found in libraries, you know, the ones that held the books with Fabio on the cover? Gasp! I agreed to the selection but never bothered to get the book. Which brings us back full circle. My mother happened to have ascertained two copies of the book and gave me one to read. So I pawned it off on my husband while I finished The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.

After reading Lacks, I decided to begin The Taken, motivated more by a compulsion to return something borrowed than to read the book. The first thing I will say about this book, is that it is creepy. The first couple of nights I read it, I had nightmares. I say "nightmares" for your benefit only. I regularly dream about ghosts, death, and well, just really strange things and don't personally find the dreams disturbing. But when I describe them to people, they become disturbed. So we'll call the dreams I had nightmares. And they were definitely inspired by Koontz.

The Taken is a story about Molly and her husband Neil. They live a quiet life in the San Bernadino mountains, a life that is (of course) soon turned upside down by strange phenomenon that slowly begins to take the form of a War of the Worlds drama. A strange rain falls on the land, a fog blacks out the sky, animals act strangely, the dead seem to reanimate, and the once networked and connected world goes dark. Driven by Molly's desire to rescue as many children from the unexplainable horrors occurring, Molly and Neil travel through their town looking for survivors.

The thing I like about this book is that Koontz throws in not just alien mythology, he adds supernatural touches, and a heavy dose of good 'ol fashioned horror as well. Every chapter ends with a cliffhanger, leaving you wanting to continue reading. And there are no dull moments anywhere. And while I must admit, I'm pretty bad anyway at predicting how things will end, I really didn't predict this one. And I was skeptical Koontz would be able to wrap things up to my satisfaction, but he definitely did. But what I liked most was that he was able to inject a bit of world vision in his novel and give it a thought-provoking message.

So, a surprising like for me. Hopefully you'll agree.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot (CBR book #11)


This book has been on the New York Times Bestseller' list and has an intriguing title...but when I heard what it was actually about...I couldn't understand why it was so popular (what does the New York Times know anyway?). Sure, my interest in biology might surpass the normal person's, but how interesting can a book about a line of cells actually BE? I'll be honest, the only reason I ended up reading this book is because someone literally laid it on my desk to read.

So here's the rundown...Henrietta Lacks was born in Roanoke, Virginia on August 1, 1920. She was diagnosed with cervical cancer in February of 1951 and died less than 8 months later. Although she died young, Henrietta left behind an incredible legacy that no one could ever have imagined. A legacy whose contribution was priceless to society but devastating to the family she left behind.

I suppose to a biologist or anyone familiar with cell cultures, HeLa cells are perhaps the rock stars of their world. HeLa cells are cancer cells that have continued to grow and divide in culture, where other cells eventually die. HeLa's tencity has allowed them to be used for medical research for the past 60 years. HeLa cells have been used to test the effects of steroids, chemotherapy drugs, hormones, and vitamins; they have been been used to study polio, tuberculosis, salmonella, and hermorrhagic fever; they have been exposed to viruses; they have received harmful doses of radiation to study the effect of a nuclear bomb on cells; they have been sent into space to determine the effects of zero gravity on cells; and the list goes on and on. It is not an overstatement to say that HeLa cells have radically advanced the fields of medicine and cellular biology, yet the woman from whom these cells were taken would never know her contribution to modern medicine. That woman was Henrietta Lacks. And it would be decades before her family would know or understand how her cells were taken and how they have helped millions of people.

In her carefully researched book, which took about ten years to write, Rebecca Skloot has written a beautiful account of Henrietta Lacks and her family. She intersperses chapters about Henrietta's personal life with more technical (but accessible) chapters about how Henrietta's cells were developed in vitro and used in medicine. Her narrative covers a wide range of subjects including the racial climate of the 1950's and how differently African-Americans were treated in hopsitals. Even as she reasearched the book and first contacted the Lacks' family, Skloot writes about the family's distrust of caucasians and how she carefully had to build their trust and eventually developed a deep friendship with Deborah, Henrietta's daughter. Skloot does a great job of sharing the amazing things HeLa cells have done for society while simultaneously revealing the pain and confusion the HeLa cells have brought the Lacks' family who can't even afford to see a doctor themselves.

So this is a definite recommend for me, but the reading can get a bit academic. If you're looking for a brainless novel, this isn't the book for you. But if you want to learn something about science as well as humanity, I'd give this one a go!


Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout (CBR book #17)

Olive Kitteridge is the 2009 fiction Pulitzer winner. If you've been reading my posts, you may know how I feel about major award winners...

This is another one I don't really get. The story is okay, there are some interesting bits, but I really wasn't enveloped by the book.

Basically, the book is about a woman from a town in Maine called Crosby. Each chapter is a short story about a character in the town and their relation to Olive or some part of her family. There's marriage stress, death, divorce, family drama, even a hostage situation. I guess this all sounds like it could be exciting, but I found the book to be almost mundane. A lot of the "drama" was more every day, every family kind of drama and I didn't understand why I would want to invest in Olive or her family. How was she different from anyone else? (But maybe that's why the book is so special?) And the really interesting parts stopped too short - they didn't last for more than a chapter.

But as I said, this was a big winner so maybe I should provide an alternate review...here's the New York Times' take on Olive Kitteridge.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

The Dark and Hollow Places by Carrie Ryan (CBR book #10)

I loved the first book and liked the second...so what is in store for this, the third installment of the Forest of Hands and Teeth series? Be warned, if you haven't read any of the books (1, 2, or 3) this review contains mild spoilers. I won't reveal anything major, but a lot of information about the character's relationships is discussed.

Let's start with the plusses (which, yes, means there are some minuses). First of all, I like book 3's narrator, Annah, whose voice is the strongest of Carrie Ryan's three protagonists. Annah is tough, fierce, determined, but also vulnerable. Her life - complex. She is the daughter of Mary (book 1's narrator), sister to Gabry (book 2's narrator), and friend to Elias, (who fell in love with Gabry in book 2). Unlike Mary and Gabry, Annah has learned to take care of herself and lives an isolated life. After she is reunited with Elias and Gabry, Annah struggles to deal with her feelings for them. Annah also meets Catcher, who, like Elias, seems impossible to get close to. And with Annah's mixed feelings for Gabry, Annah struggles to find her place in this strange group, living in a city that now seems to be the last hope for human-kind.

If this sounds too much like a soap opera, well, it kinda is. Which brings me to a minus. There is an element of teenage angst (a criticism I had for the second book), but it IS a young adult book so I guess that's understandable. Another criticism I have (and again I had with book 2) is that there is a lot of running away from the zombies. In books one and two it was through the path in the forest. In book three, it's through city tunnels.

Another big minus for this book, and the series as a whole, is that Ryan completely drops Mary from book three. There is maybe one sentence about how she went to another city and that's it. What about all the build up from book 2 about the pages that Gabry risked herself to save? What about the mystery surrounding the origin of The Return and Mary's little village? I was REALLY disappointed by this HUGE omission.

But, in the form of any good compliment sandwich, I will end on a good note. Ryan's concept of The Sanctuary is perplexing and disturbing. The zombies have breached The Dark City and Annah, Elias, Gabry, and Catcher have made passage to what now seems to be the last hope for humanity. But Annah quickly learns that life without zombies isn't necessarily a life worth living. And the brand of hope The Sanctuary provides isn't necessarily her idea of humanity at its best.

It's these contradictions that make this book good, but you have to dig through some fluff to get there.

Half Broke Horses by Jeannette Walls (CBR book #9)

After reading Wall's memoir, The Glass Castle, I couldn't wait to get my hands on Half Broke Horses, the prequel to The Glass Castle. Half Broke Horses is written about Wall's Grandmother, Lily Casey Smith, who was born in a dugout in 1901. (I read somewhere on the internet that if you were a fan of the "Little House" books, you might understand what a dugout actually is. I was never a big fan of prairie tales and covered wagons so I'll take the New York Times' word on that). But I AM a big fan of Jeannette Walls, whose storytelling really takes me to where she is; and whose family history is interesting enough that she doesn't need to look far for inspiration.

But back to the book...Lily Casey Smith grew up poor with her family on several ranches where she learned to break and train horses and well, run a ranch, among other things (her parents had their shortcomings in terms of responsibility). Her childhood was filled with tales of flash floods, tornadoes, wild animals and other adventures. At 15, Lily got a job as a teacher and rode her horse alone for several WEEKS to get to Arizona. WEEKS! Who rides a horse for several WEEKS? Clearly, that astonished me. Her classroom was a single room and she taught children of all ages with no curriculum or training. She just made it all up. Of all the crazy things in her life, it's actually kind of funny that I'm perplexed by THIS.

After many starts and stops getting out on her own, Lily eventually makes it to Chicago, where she meets her first "crum-bum" husband. Chicago eventually brings heartbreak after heartbreak and Lily leaves for more adventures...like racing horses and playing poker. Not only is this time in her life a new phase for her, but things are changing in America as well. Horses are beginning to be replaced by cars, and prohibition moves across America. Lily meets her second husband and they run a garage and supplement their salary by selling hooch on the side. Who said baby carriages are for holding just children?

Lily's life comes full circle as she and Jim eventually end up running a ranch, where they raise their children. Of course one of whom is Rose, Wall's mother. Having read The Glass Castle, it's interesting to see how Rose and her husband Rex started their life together as idealistic, spontaneous, and free-spirited dreamers - these same things that turned toxic to the Walls family later in life. It's also enlightening to understand what events helped form the personalities and values of both Lily and Rose.

Just a quick disclaimer, and Walls makes this herself, Half Broke Horses is not a memoir or biography. This is because Walls' grandmother is not alive and so Walls doesn't have first hand information about her grandmother's life. Walls writes the book in Lily's voice, or how Walls images it would be, and she fills in areas of Lily's life where there may be holes or a lack of information.

Fact or fiction, this is a great book for many reasons. It's a multi-generational story (I'm a sucker for those) that spans a period of several decades and covers an exciting time in America's history. So while Lily's life is revealed, we also get glimpses of the wild west, World War I, Prohibition, and the Great Depression.

Definitely a recommend!

Friday, April 1, 2011

Let Me In by John Ajvide Lindqvist (CBR #8)


Who makes creepier monsters than a ghost or demon or beast? A kid. There is something inherently creepy about kids even on a good day. And when you add in things like vampires, bullying, and piss balls (yes, piss balls, read the book), then you've got some pretty creepy ass kids.

The cover of this book is a boy and a girl holding hands in the snow. Cute, right? Except that the girl has straggly greasy hair and the bottoms of her feet are bloody. Ewwwwww. I totally wanted to read the book after I saw that. Not even being sarcastic.

This is a vampire book, but my experience with vampire books comes from reading the True Blood series, which seems like a trip to Disneyland compared to this one. The story takes place near Stockholm where some grisly murders have been occurring. We meet several characters, including Oskar, a 12 year old boy. Oskar, who is bullied at school, finds a friend in Eli, a child who has recently moved into his neighborhood. Although Eli is a bit strange, Oskar is intrigued and they slowly develop a friendship. But don't let this give you warm fuzzies. There isn't much room for those in this book. The murders move closer to Oskar's neighborhood and he slowly learns Eli's deep, dark secrets, all the while dealing with his own demons.

I really liked this book. The imagery was great and the characters interesting. Although I wouldn't describe it as a scary book, it would definitely make for a scary movie.

Speaking of movies, there are both Swedish and English versions. Apparently I am the last person on earth to know this (or second to last if you are thinking, "huh?!"). If you don't want to read the book, at least see the movie.

World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks (CBR #7)

The zombies have taken over the world, but slowly, life is returning to normal...if that word exists anymore. World War Z is an account of the zombie war as told through interviews with a range of characters from simple survivors to politicians to those who were on the front lines.

Pros? The story is told through a range of perspectives

Cons? The story is told in bits and pieces and sometimes, just when it starts to get really good, the "interview" ends and you're on to another character.

Overall, I liked the book but it didn't have me on the edge of my seat. I can appreciate the style in which the story slowly unfolds through the eyes of various people; but occasionally I felt the voices were contrived. Rather than reading like a book, sometimes, the text reads more like a script. And at times, I could imagine a character as an actor sitting on a stool onstage, speaking his monologue. But the monologue seems more like someone reading lines, as opposed to speaking extemporaneously...if that makes sense outside of my little head.

Anyway, if you're into zombies, give it a go. It may not be the best one, but it may not be the worst either.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card (CBR III book #6)

How can a book about ant-aliens and ten year old space commanders make its way onto my bookshelf? I had been on a young adult kick for awhile but most of the books I had read were about young women, with angsty love stories worked in their plots.

Ender's Game was recommended by a friend who bought it for me for Christmas. Unlike my previous YA books, this one is more geared toward the young boy demographic. And now that I think about it, there's probably only one big female character of note in the book. No sir, there are no girls allowed here! This book is full of war games, soldier school, aliens, fights, and definitely no heart to heart talks. Very boy-like indeed.

Basically, Ender is a young boy living in a futuristic society. Life on other planets has been discovered, inter-stellar travel is somewhat normal, and boys (and some girls) can go to school in space to train to be soldiers. This final point is necessitated by the fact that Earth faces the threat of annihilation by an alien ant-like species lovingly termed "buggers." Okay, stay with me on this one, it gets better, really.

Ender has been chosen to attend this school and is being groomed to command an army. Most of the book covers Ender's time at the battle school, particularly the war games the boys play as a part of their training. Even though this is a book for boys, there is no lack of drama at the war school. But instead of he said/he said gossip and bitch slapping, there is more snubbing at lunch tables and trash talking and even a naked shower fight. Hmmm, maybe boys and girls aren't that different after all?

Anywho, I was about two thirds of the way through the book and over the battle school when things really picked up. I'm not just talking about the action getting better, or the setting changing sort of thing. I'm talking about the author throws you for a loop and the book takes on a whole new meaning and I'm suddenly engrossed in a really philosophical, thought-provoking story. In fact, I went from "I'm just trying to finish this damn book" to "holy moly I can't put it down!"

Unfortunately I can't really elaborate without spoiling anything so you'll just have to take my word for it. Overall, it's a mixed review. I think there's a real treat in this book for whoever picks it up. But if you're not into sci-fi/wargames type of stuff, you might have to tolerate two hundred pages before getting there.


Saturday, February 5, 2011

Death with Interruptions by Jose Saramago (CBR III book #5)

After reading Anne Marie's great review, I put this book on my short list. Her review warned about Saramago's writing style (no punctuation, run-on sentences, etc) so I was fully prepared to channel my high school days of reading Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury, which wasn't a fun time. Maybe it was because I was expecting the worst, but Saramago's book wasn't as bad as I expected. Like Anne Marie said, you have to get past his writing style and I think after about a hundred pages, I didn't notice it anymore. My brain adjusted, I guess. And I'm glad it did.

Death With Interruptions is a study of "what if." What if death decided to stop killing people? What if death gave everyone a week notice? What if someone defied death's order? Saramago writes the book in two main parts. The first part explores death's decision to stop killing people. He discusses the implications of this from the government's perspective and how society as a whole deals with this. Undertakers begin to panic; who will they bury now? Hospitals begin filling up, because people still get sick and injured, but now, those who would normally die are stuck at the brink of death. And the fact that death is still in full operation in the neighboring country gives an underground criminal organization an interesting market to exploit.

The second half of the book deals with death's decision to send letters to everyone a week before their death date. But one letter keeps coming back unread, so death decides to investigate. Who is this person that can defy her? At this point in the story, Saramago really focuses his story from one that deals with society on a large level to one that is now really about death and one individual. We get to see the more supernatural side of death and her operation, where she...lives?, how she keeps track of everyone, and how she travels. Saramago is strangely able to keep the mood of his book pretty light but there are still some really creepy moments as he describes how death can envelope an entire room, or how she watches someone while he sleeps. And the story that evolves definitely kept me turning the pages culminating in an amazing ending.

If you're a bit of an adventurous reader, give this one a go. I definitely recommend it but it falls in the "not for everyone" category because of the writing style. But the story is so good, you just might have to read it anyway, despite the writing style.

On a side note: If you find Saramago's style to your liking, his other books might be interesting too. According to a quick look on wikipedia, Saramago likes to deal with big "what ifs" based on his other books - What if the Iberian peninsula breaks off and floats around the world (The Stone Raft)? What if an entire country is stricken with the mysterious plague of white blindness (Blindness)? And this is just the tip of the iceberg for Saramago, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1998. All in all, a lot of good reasons to pick up his books.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins (CBR III Book #4)

There must be some kind of corollary to Murphy's Law which states that when you go into something with low expectations, you won't be disappointed, and vice versa. Since I'm one of the last of my friends to read this book, I had the benefit (?) of their opinions, which were actually mostly a bit disappointed. But anyone who's read the Hunger Games books knows you HAVE to read Mockingjay, no matter what anyone tells you about it, and I'm glad I did.

*note* This review is written more for people who have already read the book, so there are spoilers ahead. I won't bother recapping the first two books. If you haven't read them, I highly recommend the series but suggest starting with The Hunger Games. For a review of the first book in the series, click here.

In Mockingjay, Collins basically keeps the Hunger Games going, except she loses the arena and the limited number of players. The Hunger Games is now everywhere and has become everyone's reality. And it doesn't get any easier for Katniss, who finds herself the reluctant face of the resistance.

Instead of Snow, this time Katniss is being used by Coin for her own purposes. Purposes which may or may not overlap with Katniss' own desires. Instead of having a team of stylists, Katniss' outward appearance (despite her inward struggles and demons) is made acceptable by a small film crew shooting propoganda pieces for the resistance. And Katniss continues to struggle with her own identity. Is she of any value to the resistance? To Peeta or Gale? Does her life have any meaning beyond her role in the civil war and her ultimate goal, which is not to serve the resistance, but to kill Snow?

I thought Collins did a great job of showing how truly innocent, good people, can become completely changed by life's events. Katniss and Peeta are hardly the same people they were in the first book. You see their tragic evolution from unblemished to completely destroyed, both physically and emotionally. Then there are character's like Haymitch, who you only know after the Hunger Games has changed him. After my journey with Katniss, however, by the time I finished the book, I was forgiving of Haymitch for his alcohol abuse and almost understanding. In fact, if Katniss had decided to become an alcoholic, I can't say I'd blame her.

I also liked how Collins kept Katniss strong, but not infallible. She was a reluctant Mockingjay, she was motivated by hate and revenge, and she voted to hold another Hunger Games. True to life, Collins doesn't provide much explanation for some of Katniss' actions. You just have to guess as to why she does certain things.

Then there's the issue of who Katniss ultimately chose to spend the rest of her life with. How much of it was choice and how much was circumstance? What if Peeta had not gone back to 12 and Gale had? Did she choose Peeta because of the pain they shared? Sure, they had both been subject to horrifying events, but could Katniss truly understand Peeta's point of view, or he hers? Did Katniss blame Gale for the death of her sister? Was that more unforgivable to her than anything Peeta had done? And did Katniss choose Peeta because she loved him, or did she grow to love him after making her choice?

Maybe the answers to these questions are not what's important...maybe some of life's questions can never be answered...and maybe that's okay. Because as Peeta and Katniss have learned, there can be a fine line between what's real and what's not real. The thin thread that holds our lives together can be easily broken by things like excess, fear, hate, and war. But holding fast to simple truths like loyalty, patience, and hope is what kept Katniss, and can keep all of us going.

Friday, January 21, 2011

From Dead to Worse by Charlaine Harris (CBR III Book #3)


*note* As this is the 7th book in the Sookie Stackhouse series, and I haven't reviewed the first 6 books yet, I'm going to do an overall review on the Sookie Stackhouse series.

Charlaine Harris' Sookie Stackhouse books are about the adventures of a small town barmaid, Sookie Stackhouse. At some point before the series begins, vampires have made themselves known to the world. This is because a Japanese company has made a synthetic blood substitute that the vampires can live off of, allowing them to live openly in society. The vampires are out of the casket, so to speak (altogether now, groan).

Anyway, Charlaine Harris' books begin with the introduction of vampires to Sookie's small town of Bon Temps, Louisiana, yes, the books are about vampires in Louisiana. Sookie falls in love with Bill, a vampire from Bon Temps and quickly becomes entrenched in the supernatural community (which consists of so much more than vampires). But her interaction with vampires isn't the only thing that makes Sookie extraordinary. Sookie herself is a telepath, she can hear people's thoughts. And this makes for some interesting reading even when vampires aren't around.

If you're not familiar with the Sookie Stackhouse books, basically Sookie finds herself in the most ridiculous situations as the result of her interactions with vampires. You really have to suspend your disbelief because the situations Sookie finds herself in are so numerous and incredulous. But with that said, Harris' books are really entertaining and great reads if you're just looking to step away from reality and be entertained. Harris not only writes about vampires, but she throws in warewolves, fairies, shape shifters, and even more (if you stick through the series).

From Dead to Worse is the 7th book in the Sookie Stackhouse series. So if you haven't read any of the other books, don't bother with this one. This is one series where you'll need to start at the beginning and work your way through. With that said, this was one of the more entertaining books in the series. Unlike the other books, there isn't one huge event that happens but rather, the stage is set for book 8 (at least that's how it seems). This is more an Empire Strikes Back book, where the characters and plot are developed for the next episode. It was a bit of a respite from the hijinks in the the other books and Harris really just focused on setting the stage for the next big thing.

On a side note, the HBO series True Blood is based loosely on Harris' books. When I say loosely, I really mean that. Both are entertaining but both require you to push the "I want to believe button" many times, maybe the TV show more than the books. And like the books, you have to watch the series with the attitude that you're just getting entertained. The acting is terrible (don't even get me started about Sophie Anne's character), and the plot lines really out there, but in the end, you'll be entertained. And you'll see a lot of boobies to boot.

Reviewed by Cathy

Friday, January 14, 2011

The Tiger: A True Story of Vengeance and Survival by John Vaillant (CRB III Book #2)


On its face, this book is about a tiger in Eastern Russia that went on a murderous rampage, and the hunt to find him. Probably not the most interesting plot for a fiction novel, but there's something about knowing this is a true story that makes things a lot more interesting. In addition to this, John Vaillant really delves into the history of the region and the people who inhabit it, making the book about so much more than the Amur Tiger.

Vaillant begins with the story at hand - In 1997, Yuri Trush, a squad leader of Inspection Tiger, is called to investigate a tiger attack. The attack seems to be more gruesome than normal and Trush is responsible for understanding why the attack occurred and determining if this tiger is a danger to others. Vaillant then goes into a detailed history of the eastern Russian region called Primorye and its inhabitants, human and animal. He discusses the effects of Perestroika (Gorbachev's reforms in the late 1980's, which resulted in the opening of Russia's border with China - a key point in this book) and details the conception and evolution of Inspection Tiger. This government unit was created to restore order to the Primorye forests, which are rife with poaching.

As someone who knows very little about Russia (there's tigers in Russia?), I was intrigued with the history and background information Vaillant provides. But the book basically reads like a textbook, so if you're not okay with that, then it's probably not a book for you. I'll admit, it was a battle at times to get to the end, but I'm really glad I stuck with it. The information Vaillant packs into this book is rich and has given me a lot of insight into a country that takes a week to cross by train. Sadly, my knowledge of which probably wouldn't have even filled a notebook page.

Overall, I enjoyed the book, but I'd be hesitant to recommend it to just anyone. But if you're willing to go through this book, you'll walk away a bit smarter and more informed than when you started.

Book cover from google images.

Reviewed by Cathy

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

The Life of Pi by Yann Martel (CBR III Book #1)


The Life of Pi was a book I went into cold, as I had never heard of it and didn't really get much information about it from my cousin, who bought it for me. A look at the cover only revealed that maybe it had something to do with a boy, a tiger, and a small boat. What?!?!?!

As it turns out, the book is about a boy, a tiger, and a small boat. Okay, there's more to it than that. The Life of Pi begins in India, where we meet a young boy, Piscine Patel. Pi grows up discovering spirituality in Hinduism, Islam, and Christianity and recounts stories about the zoo, which his father owns. When Pi is 16, he and his family (some human, some animal) board a boat to emigrate to Canada. For reasons unknown, the boat sinks and Pi finds himself in a lifeboat with a handful of animals. So begins the survivor's tale....The Life of Pi is mostly about this solitary time for Pi, drifting and figuring out how to stay alive.

I'll admit, I haven't read The Old Man and the Sea or Robinson Crusoe, so I won't compare the Life of Pi to them. But it seems like they're good books to compare it to...but I wouldn't know...because I haven't read them. But I've seen Cast Away starring Tom Hanks and Wilson the Volleyball (strangely, and appropriately, I saw Cast Away by myself at the theater. I know, how sad). So I'll make a comparison to that.

With both Cast Away and The Life of Pi, I was really interested in how Tom and Pi got in and out of their predicaments, but the predicament itself, kind of a downer. I'll admit, there are good bits and insights that kept my interest in The Life of Pi, but I couldn't help checking ahead to see how much longer the life at sea was going to last (it's about two thirds of the book, by the way). The last third of the book really picked up but ended somewhat abruptly, leaving me unsatisfied (thank you, John Malkovich, I can never say that without thinking of you). Anyone?

Overall, a good book, but depressing at times. The author's intent to have me share in Pi's plight on an emotional level was successful I suppose. Of course, because there are animals in the book, for an animal lover like me, there's that extra level of anxiety, "kill the people, not the animals!" I cry out, but only on the inside. Only on the inside.