Sunday, June 27, 2010

The Looking Glass Wars

It seems that most people who dislike this book have a negative opinion of it because it's not the Alice in Wonderland we know and love. But to those people I say- open your eyes. Right from the back cover the books synopsis declares that Lewis Carroll was wrong and that there is an entire other story we have not heard. There is your warning dear reader: This is not your typical Alice in Wonderland.

The story follows Princess Alyss, heir to the thrown of her Queendom, as she is thrown into the hardest phase of her life. When her Aunt Redd attacks the castle in an attempt to claim the throne Alyss escapes with her mothers body guard into the Pool of Tears. Through that pool Alyss arrives in London and forced to fend for herself while the bodyguard, Hatter Madigan, searches for her.

With her parents dead and Alyss trapped in our world she creates another life for herself. Meanwhile, Redd has taken control of Alyss' former home. The only hope Wonderland has is for the princess to return. The problem is that they think she is dead and Alyss herself has begun to believe that Wonderland is a figment of her imagination.

This book strays from the original storyline of Alice but it's incredibly good. I found myself cheering on Alyss and waiting for her to return to Wonderland. I continuously wanted to know what was going to happen next. It was engaging for me as an adult but clearly age appropriate for someone as young as the 8-12 age group. The book is only the beginning with two more to follow and I certainly plan on reading those in the future.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

Spotting this book I only could think of it's status as a classic and that I had never read it. In fact, I don't recall it ever being on an optional reading list. But I have a desire to read as many classics as possible and after reading the first few pages and wanting to read more I knew I had to give it a go.

Maya Angelou writes of her life in an almost poetic manner- which is fitting since she is a poet. The biography covers her childhood and the changes a person goes through up until they reach adulthood. Born in the early half of the 1900's many important American events occur- the depression, WWI and II. But it also deals with real life content that has left it on the banned book list.

Rape, racism, molestation, premarital sex, teen pregnancy, prostitution, and fights. The less then positive side of life is evident in Maya's life. Some closed minded people might want to turn the other cheek and pretend that these type of situations don't exist in the world. But they do occur and Maya lived, then described her experiences with an eloquence that is hard to come by.

Many of the fears and struggles any child faces are presented and I feel any person who had a childhood (read: anyone) can relate to Maya. But I appreciated the insiders look to life as a black child in the south prior to the 1950's. The racism is shocking to me but a good reminder of the way people used to be treated (and I fear, in some locations, still are treated).

I can understand why this biography is considered to be a classic. The recording of a time passed and the brutal honesty is beautiful and places a firm grip to my memory. I would want my daughters to read this book, maybe even my sons. The life lessons and changes could be written of in no clearer a voice.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Return to Sullivans Island

It is very rare that I'll start a book and never finish it. It might take me months (hey there Don Quixote) or even longer but I will finish the book with time. Only once every now and then do I find myself reading a book and giving up on it. Usually I give up the book because I'm bored by what it contains, sometimes it just doesn't grab my attention and I struggle to get through each page. This book fits into that category.

I picked the book up, intrigued by the synopsis and expecting to love it. Beth is a recent college graduate who was forced to put grad school on hold while she house sits for a year. What I found when opening the book was an awkward character who seemed immensely immature for her age and pretty fake. I usually find characters to be believable, as if they do in fact exist, but all of the authors characters came up being completely one dimensional.

And Beth, the main character, switched between being whiney and boring. I felt nothing for her. Boo-hoo, you have to live in a beautiful house for a year on the beach! Boo-hoo, all that time to relax, write a novel, and read books. How dare your mother ask you to do this! I would die from happiness if I was given a chance to live at a beach house for a year, all expenses paid. In fact, a 'wish' I've had for the past 7 years (that I rarely speak of) is to get enough money to get a room at a bed and breakfast by the beach and live there for a month so I can write.

I tried with this book but after a week where I was hopelessly crawling through it and it wasn't getting any better I gave up. I read through a handful of reviews on the book and it seems like many others feel the same way I do about this book. Let down, bored, and no compassion for the one dimensional characters.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Ophelia Joined the Group Maidens Who Don't Float

Irrelevant? Yes. Silly? Yes. Totally worth your money? YES.

For all the literary nerds who enjoy jokes about their classic lit characters this is the perfect read. What if these characters who you've read through High School and college logged onto facebook? Schmelling creates hilarious profiles and news feeds for the worlds best characters, novels, and authors.

Throughout the read I caught myself laughing out loud. While I understood the news feeds of many because I had read the books. The feeds based on books I had not read were somewhat lost on me.

But that didn't stop them from being funny.

In fact, they made me become more interested. I was hearing the jokes of the books I had not previously read and they seemed interesting. In fact, it made me want to pick up these books and give them a try.

For the book nerds, the English majors, and anyone who is willing to laugh this is a book to be enjoyed. Something which will cause unexpected laughter and glee.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

How to Meditate: A Practical Guide

While I was a teen I was heavily into meditation but then lost interest. Recently I realized that I had more stress in my life then I probably should. But I couldn't remember how I did it all, I wanted guidance and I wanted to take a more educated look into the world of meditation.

After shifting through book after book I finally chose How to Meditate because it seemed to be the most straight forward. I was right. I'm quickly introduced to all concepts of meditation and then everything is broken down and explained further. It's writing is encouraging and easy for beginners. I am sure that in the future if I need to look back to it for reference it will be available to me and easy to grasp.

This covers everything from how to sit, where to sit, and the issues one faces when beginning to meditate- thoughts that filter through. But once you get passed the initial barrier there are steps to becoming a more serious meditator. There were also many poignant moments through the writing which has great points to think over about life itself.

While some books that relate to some religious practices make me feel as if they are preaching me on religious beliefs this book does not. It gives me the information and a bit of insight into the lifestyle but I'm not having anything forced down my throat.

For anyone wanting to do research or simply are interested in the sense of meditation I would suggest this book time and time again. It's worth the read and I really do believe it's incredibly informative.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Your Daddy Was Just Like You

Many children com to a rather startling realization that their parents- in all of their adult glory- once were children as well. They too used to play hide and seek. They too were afraid of the dark. It's a very eye opening realization (later on to be used against the parents while the child is a teenager, ha!). This childrens picture book addresses that realization with a flourish of colors and typical examples of what little boys do.

If you're looking for a children's book to give to a dad this father's day this would be the one. What better way to celebrate being a father then reading a book to your son? This is also a good book to give to an expectant father, maybe as a subtle hint for him to finish building that book shelf in the nursery.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH

As a child I would watch the movie version of this book religiously. But since my childhood I've forgotten the details of the movie however a warm nostalgia has forever been present when I've heard "NIMH". While at work I came across the childrens book and was surprised. When I was a child, watching the movie, I never knew that it had been based on a book. Quickly I grabbed hold of it, the warm nostalgia returning, and I read it through.

I had been expecting to read strictly a children's book but instead found something with a deeper message. We all know of the testing done on animals (specifically, rats and mice). What if these animals escaped the labs? What if the tests done had altered the animals completely? Making them stronger, smarter, more like humans than we could have ever intended. What would these rats do?

It is what the rats of NIMH have to face and what Mrs. Frisby finds herself connected to. When Mrs. Frisby seeks the rats help when her son grows ill she not only receives their aid but a history of them, her husband included, and a long lasting friendship. With the inside life of mice and rats in addition to their daily threats.

On occasion, there are children books that can be appreciate by adults. This book would fall into that category. And I am happy to say that the warm fuzzy feeling I felt before is still prominent.

Monday, June 7, 2010

The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner: An Eclipse Novella

Fans of The Twilight Saga will be enthralled by this riveting story of Bree Tanner
So begins the description of the Bree Tanner novella (I'm not including the title, way too long). However, this statement falls short. I wasn't enthralled and I didn't find it to be a riveting story. I was expecting to come away from the book laughing at Stephenie Meyer, having new fuel for my fiery dislike of her writing capabilities and plot set ups. In all actuality, I found her writing to be better in this novella. Although I'm not sure if that's because it's from Bree's POV and not Bella. If you dislike the main character you'll have a tendency to dislike the book. I felt for the character Bree, I wished she could be saved, but I never had hatred for her when I read Eclipse either. I always felt that she was a poor kid who was caught in the wrong place at the wrong time- this novella proved my opinion to be true.

The plot line still kind of sucked... I was bored with the book. Despite liking Bree there was too much of casual 'do this and then we'll do that' for the majority of the piece. I wish there was more depth, not that I was expecting there to be. I struggled my way through it, continuously thinking of the other books I'm reading and how much I'd rather be reading those books then this. It was a slow read- which is bad considering the book was under 200 pages.

With the Twilight Saga I could go for days complaining about her form of writing, all of the 'rules' she breaks, and how terrible a character Bella is. It stirs annoyance in me, an emotion, it means that there is enough in that book to create emotion in people- good or bad. But this book? Well, aside from feeling bad for the main character Bree and being slightly surprised at the teenage crushing that seemed to go on for a small while in the book, I was otherwise left feeling emotionless.

I can't scream from the rooftops about how wonderful this book is and I can't grumble under my breath about how it sucked. For me, it wasn't wonderful but it wasn't terrible by any means. I do feel that Meyer's writing abilities truly progressed in this book compared to her past novels. And I always appreciate any type of writing where you take a former character in a story and tell their life, from their eyes, it adds to the element. I'm just finding myself to be generally emotionless about this book. I doubt it will stick with me, I doubt I'll think of it much after I bring it back to my job. Bravo Meyer for advancing in your writing, but maybe you should stick to fuller novels where you can produce more emotion from your readers.

Out of five stars, I'd give this book two... just because I'm so emotionless towards it. I do, however, appreciate that there is a dollar donation to the Red Cross for the purchase of this book.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Someone Like You

Let me make this clear immediately. Due to the squishy and obviously romantic covers of these books I have intentionally avoided reading any of Sarah Dessen's books. But after the train wreck that was reading The Summer I Turned Pretty I was looking for a quick chic-lit read to help heal my brain. I've heard that "all of Dessen's books are the same" but seeing that this was my first Dessen book I can't really judge that.

None the less, I stood before the Sarah Dessen display and chose Someone Like You. I read the book during a course of a busy day off. Cleaning out our shed, attacking a family of ants that had moved in, and an assortment of other things broke up the reading through out the day. A quick and effortless read which had a decent scene description and there was actual depth to the characters (yes, I'm still bitter over The Summer I Turned Pretty). But what surprised me is Someone Like You isn't a love story as I had assumed (by the title and cover photo). The novel displays the strength of friendship during some of the hardest moments of life. Dessen does a good job at displaying the ripple effect a death of a classmate can have on a High School. The emotion is there from the very beginning of the book and aptly described.

And Halley and Scarlett are in the middle of all of this. Scarlett had been in love with the boy who had died and to make matters worse, Scarlett discovers she's pregnant. Halley, displaying true loyalty to Scarlett, stays by her side while others could have very well turned their back on her. The realities of teen pregnancy and the choices that must be made are overwhelming but Dessen doesn't shy away from this.

Halley's home life is stressful as well. With health issues in her family, pressure to have sex, and her relationship with her mother deteriorating Dessen yet again hits the nail on the head. These care the more serious problems that teens face.

This book had depth yet had it's light and happy moments. Something great to read when you need a break from required summer reading... or to help heal your injured brain after a bad read.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

The Summer I Turned Pretty

I don't remember how I first came across The Summer I Turned Pretty. There is a vague memory. Some night that I was on goodreads I came across a bunch of books which I marked 'to read'. This book was something I thought I found based on a friends review, but now that I've finished reading it goodreads is showing that none of my friends have read or reviewed it. So where did it come from? I don't know. But when I saw it was available to be taken out I figured, oh here is my chance! A summer read! I've had this on my to-read list for months so it's going to be great!

Unfortunately, I was wrong. The main character Belly is the most self absorbed, whiney, immature protagonist I've read about in a long while. Jenny Han takes forever and a day to reveal the age of the character although from the fact that she's rambling about driving from the very beginning only led me to assume she was around 15-16 years old. But then her characteristics began to develop. She kept harping on the fact that the boys (her brother and two friends-who-are-like-brothers) call(ed) her a tattle tale... because she was. The amount of time she whines or sticks out her tongue at people when she doesn't get her way or someone says something she doesn't want to here is too many times to count.

I understand teenagers are a little self absorbed, I was one, I remember. But this is the extreme and her mannerisms remind me of something a 8 year-old would be doing rather then a 16 year-old. She's obsessive over her one friend-brother Conrad whose apparently the best thing ever although I don't really  see it.

Now let's get this straight, I get that the brothers Conrad and Jeremiah are going through tough stuff (which I won't inclose incase you intend to read the book) but I know plenty of people who went through the same problems. They reacted in rebellious ways or they closed up from the world. However,  Han really could've written of their troubles in more of an eloquent way and connected the problems more to the cause then she did.

The endless chatter of Belly drove me to nearly putting the book down multiple times. The best part of the novel was the last 50 pages where there was much more action and much more conversation. Really, I was incredibly disappointed. Maybe if there wasn't so many short sentenced chatter of Belly's constant thoughts about herself I would have liked it more. But there was barely even any description of the location, barely any description of the characters (physically or mentally), and all in all was written horribly.

I'm sorry, but this was one of those few occasions where I read the author notes and was surprised to see that this author actually has a degree in writing this stuff.

Great Summer Reads

Summertime is filled with so many activities in my household. Despite work on days off I leave my home early in the morning and drive to a state park to spend the day at the lake. There is a huge musical festival in my area that my friends live and breath. The long nights out (4 AM?) have only just begun and hopefully there will be a trip to the beach. But despite the business I still find myself lounging around, not really interested in doing anything but being stationary, and that's when I turn to books.

I figured since summer is more or less here I would compile a list of great books to read this summer (or any summer for that matter!) One's that help pass by those warm lazy afternoon hours and books that are centered around summer. I've chosen the top ten books that I've enjoyed in summers past.

  1. Stardust Stardust by Neil Gaiman is a wonderful book. A fairy tale aimed for adults yet reaching out to the child in all of us. Follow Tristran Thorn as he tries to win the heart of Victoria. In an effort to keep his promise to her, ensuring her love for him, he ventures off into unexplored lands to capture a fallen star which has fallen beyond his towns edge in the land of Faerie. Little does he realize the true  escapade that he will face. With Neil Gaiman's general sly humor and his attention to detail you'll fall in love with this book and surely be lost in Faerie alongside Tristran. Take this book with you to the beach or a day at the park and you won't regret the fantasy of it all. 
  2. THE SECRET LIFE OF BEESThe Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd is where you can find a list of characters who will be able to relate to the hot sticky summer weather that you are probably experiencing. Set in South Carolina during the year 1964 you'll meet the child Lily Owens who escapes, with her tough as nails and protective nanny of sorts (Rosaleen), her small racist town. After leaving the town they head to Tiburon, South Carolina which is one of the few clues Lily has to her mother who died when she was extremely young. Once there she finds family in unexpected places and learns many things from honey to the Black Madonna. This novel is a wonderful read for mothers and daughters and also brings forth the strength of female power. (A personal review can be found if you click on the title!)
  3. Under the Tuscan Sun Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes is great for all of you foodies out there, not to mention the die hard travelers. Frances Mayes opens her doors and invites us in to her beautiful life in the Tuscan countryside. With luxurious language she brings forth the simplest of moments in Italy to the more elaborate ones. She also includes fantastic tips and recipes for you to try out on your own. While most people have the travel bug during the summer this might just add to that urge and make you want to hop a plane to Tuscany as soon as possible. 
  4. To Kill a Mockingbird (Harper Perennial Modern Classics) To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. Trust me on this one, despite that you might see this on a required reading list for school- it doesn't mean the book is horrible. In fact, it's fantastic. Most books that have been banned from school systems generally are fantastic. The spunky little girl Scout is entering a point in life where suddenly her older brother is too 'old' to play with her like he used to, she is beginning to be expected to behave like a lady, and the ignorance of childhood is beginning to wear off. When an African American man is charged with raping a white woman the town is active with whispers of racist opinions and otherwise. Scouts father, the lawyer representing the young African American man, is pulled into the mix of the political and racist tendencies of the deep south in the early 1900's. 
  5. Tuck Everlasting Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbit captures the innocence and imagination of childhood in this wonderful children's (or young adult) book. Winnie Foster, a curious child who wishes she could be freed from her constricting life, stumbles upon the Tuck family's biggest secret. A small spring by a tree which gives eternal life. Winnie isn't the only one who knows of the Tuck's secret though, a mysterious man wishes to find the water and market it. With the help of Winnie the Tuck family works to stop the man and also keep their secret. I adored this book all of my childhood and still read it for enjoyment even today.
  6. Atonement Atonement by Ian McEwan is beautifully written with elaborate language and scenery. It begins with a summer day, in the year of 1939, when the imaginative thirteen-year-old Briony witnesses a private moment between her older sister Cecilia and Robbie (who is just as much of a sibling as Cecilia, but the daughter of a servant). With the confusion of summer heat, the missing of a child, Briony stumbling upon another moment, crimes are committed that will effect the lives of Briony's family until their death. With the uproar of World War II and the secrets of a family Atonement sucks you in and keeps a hold on you until the last page. Even afterwards, it will haunt you.
  7. Chocolat   Chocolat by Joanne Harris is an indulgence read. It's best to forewarn you, buy a bag of chocolates. Better yet, go to a chocolate shop and select an assortment of chocolates, nestled into a little box with wax paper, then prepare yourself for a lovely read. Vianne Rocher seems to appear out of no where, on the wind, in the town of Lansquenet with her daughter. Her secret, soon revealed, is the sweet or bitter chocolates she makes for the people of the town. These wonderful chocolates seem to work magic on the people. Their problems are suddenly easy to fix, they find happiness much easier then before, but when Easter Sunday approaches and Vianne plans a huge festival she is almost kicked out of the town by the local priest. Throw in the mysterious and sexy Roux and you're in for a delicious read. Just remember to have those chocolates nearby because the book with leave you wanting some!
  8. Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman's Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia   Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert is great for the person who wants to travel during this summer. Whether it's a car trip or sitting on the beach, take this biography of sorts with you. And with Julia Roberts staring in the movie adaptation of this book THIS summer, there is even more reason to read the book! Elizabeth Gilbert chose, after suffering through an upsetting divorce, to travel to three countries: Italy, India, and Indonesia. She experiences a life change, a realization of the joy she has within herself, and the beauty of the world. Most importantly she learns how to eat, how to pray, and how to love once more. 
  9. The Last Summer (of You and Me)  The Last Summer (of You and Me) by Ann Brashares joins the ranks of 'good summer reads' since 1) it has summer in the title, 2) it is about the summer 3) the majority of the story takes place at the beach. Meet the two sisters, Riley and Alice, who are now in their twenties but joyfully spending another summer at their parents beach house. Paul is their friend, who also lives near their summer house, and returns to the beach after a three year absence. The joys of summer, sometimes a few upsets, were nothing compared to this new change which threatens to tear the threesome apart, or bring them closer together. Suddenly, the wonders of the beach has no power over the real life issues that they are facing. 
  10. Howl's Moving Castle Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones throws you into the strange world of Ingary, where witches bewitch people and wizards live in castles that move across the land. When Sophie, a young woman who lives at home tending her fathers shop, angers the infamous Witch of the Waste she is turned into an old woman. Despite her brittle body Sophie travels to find the wizard Howl in hopes that she will gain her youth back. Suddenly this stay-at-home girl is thrown into an adventure filled with fantasy that she never expected to experience.