Thursday, April 30, 2015

Hark! A Vagrant!

Hark! A Vagrant   I choose this for my funny book for the PopSugar Reading challenge.  It is a collection of short comic strips - essentially a graphic novel of short stories.  These all relate to some historical character - like the Bronte sisters or the Founding Fathers.  Important figures from Pop Culture ( like Poe, the X-men,  Watson and Holmes, Wonder Woman and more ) also appear.  The stories are very tongue in check, with some being funnier than others.   I loved all the Bronte and Wonder Woman references.  It was a quick and easy read and I enjoyed it.  It's doubtful that I would have read this without the challenge.

If you really are looking for something funny,  the funniest thing I have EVER read is.....
Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened This is, bar none, the FUNNIEST book I have ever read. I laughed out loud all the way through reading it.  One story was funnier than the next and there was so much I could relate to.  So, if you are really looking for something for this category and haven't read this one, I highly, highly recommend it!

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Grace of Day by S.L. Naeole

10001576   I started reading this series at the beginning of the year, I really enjoyed the first two books.  The third book, not so much.  I hate when books start wrapping plot lines up into neat little bows that don't make any sense - Stacey becoming an Erlking, anyone?  So convenient for the main character, Grace, that her best friend, who is fighting Cancer, doesn't really die.   But, perhaps I'm being to harsh?  After all, it's not like I can suspend disbeleif and go with any of the plot anyhow.
I continued with the series because I have to read a series for my PopSugar challenge.  Since I have been unable to find anything that really appeals to me,  I continued on.  There are four books in the series - each one of them over a thousand pages.  The first two and even the third are quick reads but goodness help you on this fourth one,  it just drags and drags and drags so more.  By the end of the series, I actually disliked all the characters - Robert and his pompous, superior attitude, Grace with the whiny just barely one step above Bella Swan,  Stacey - completely unbelievable at the end ( and she had been one of my favorite characters),  Lark - mostly silent in this last book..... Plus, in the third book they kill off the villain, or at least who you think the villain is.  So, a la Twilight - how do we fix that problem?   We create new characters that weren't introduced in any of the previous books nd act as if this all makes sense.  No.  Sometimes a series just needs to stop for the sake of preserving what was an at least entertaining read.  This is the perfect example of a book that should never have been written.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

A Book that Terrifies Me... for the PopSugar Reading Challenge

A true story about a woman's struggle for freedom for herself and her daughter.  Simply put, this book is terrifying from start to finish.Even worse, it is based on true events.  This is the story of Betty Mahmoody and her daughter, Mahtob.  Betty is an American woman who married an Iranian man - a doctor - here in the United States.  They have a child, Mahtob, together.  Moody ( the husband) convinces Betty to bring Mahtob to visit his family in Iran for a vacation.   Needless to say, their visit became extended and Betty discovers that, because she married an Iranian, she is now an Iranian citizen completely under the purview of their laws.

They made a movie of this many years ago now, with Sally Field playing the part of Betty Mahmoody.  This story is completely terrifying for me, both as an American and as a mother.  I can not imagine being anywhere in the world where the rights that I take so for granted would be more oppressed than they are in Iran.  I can't imagine visiting somewhere that hates my country and who I am just because I was born here.  I certainly would never want my daughter's to marry a muslim man who may feel that he has the right to oppress them because of his religion or political affiliations.  I certainly would never take my children to a muslim country, for this very reason.

The writing was good and the story moved at a quick pace.  Betty comes across as having a bit of an ax to grind against her ex-husband and his family ( rightly so but bias nonetheless).   The challenge was to find a book that terrifies you - for me - there could be nothing more terrifying than being an American woman without my child in a muslim, male-dominant, society.

Monday, April 20, 2015

The WORST thing that can happen to a book lover.....

  Why yes,  I am in a reading slump.  I have all these books to read - over 100 on hand either in print or on my Nook - and currently NONE of them make me want to read.  Ahhhhhh!  I absolutely hate being in a reading slump.  When this happens to me, absolutely nothing I pick up satisfies me, or at least it's difficult.  Has this ever happened to you?   What did you do about it?

Here are some things that I have tried that have been suggested to me:

1. Re-read an old favorite.  This particular method doesn't work for me when I am in a slump.  Yes the charm of those favorites is still there, but I already know how the story goes, so the urgency to read is gone.  I already know that Harry defeats Voldemort and finds a way to protect the Sorcerer's stone, thank you very much. Even if I could get into an old favorite, it doesn't translate into getting me into NEW books.

2. Step away from reading.   This is like suggesting I hold my breath until the feeling passes.  Books for me are oxygen so even though I might be in a slump, NOT reading is NOT an option.

3. Return to a favorite genre.  This has been my most practiced method of getting out of a slump, but this time, I have had limited success.   My tried and true genres to get me going are either YA or Fantasy.  I have read several this weekend: Cold Spell, How to Build a Better Girl ( so well written, will have to go back to it when the slump is over),  Grace of Day..... nothing is really holding my attention.

4. So far, the best method that I have found is read the first page of several books that I have and find what captures me.  Parlor Games did that for me - awesome book - had me right at the get go.

5. Usually when I'm reading, I give a book 50 pages to develop.  If the book hasn't captured me in that amount of time, I move on.  But when I'm in a slump I give the books MUCH longer to develop because sometimes it really is me.... not you.

6.  I treat myself to a book I've been really excited about and hope for the best.  I'm getting ready to start Hausfrau and I'm really excited about it.

What are some of the tried and true methods that you use?

Sunday, April 19, 2015

The Secrets of Mary Bowser

The Secrets of Mary Bowser: A Novel  I had no idea that this book was based on a true story, I chose it largely for it's cover, to be honest.  Old keys really fascinate me. This is the story of Mary,  a young slave girl whose owner, with abolitionist ideas decides, not only to free Mary, but also to educate her.
Mary is educated, makes new friends and finds herself at the heart of the Abolitionist movement.  Eventually, she returns to Richmond to take care of her father who is sickly.   She finds herself posing as a slave in the Southern White House to be a spy for the North.  Mary has many fascinating adventures and experiences.  I think the parts of the book that stayed with me the most are Mary's impressionable ideas about freedom in the North.  She sees herself, as a free woman, as equal to her white counterparts, only to find that, even in the North, people still hold bigoted ideas.
It was very well written and I enjoyed it greatly.  It's an added bonus that I learned some real history.  4 out of 5 stars.  If you enjoy books set during this era, this book is for you!

Cold Spell by Jackson Pearce

Cold Spell

This is a retelling of the Snow Queen fairy tale.  I read this one for my Flights of Fantasy reading challenge.  It hasn't been my favorite book this year, or even close, but I was in a bit of a reading rut, and I usually choose a fantasy novel to help me out of them.
Things I liked about this book: 1. it had some great messages mixed in about how all of us can choose who we are, how family is more than those people you happen to be born to, and about REAL love  conquering all.   That said,  I had to look for those things.  The plot was a bit scattered and the story line was a bit convoluted at times, introducing new characters and plots that seemed irrelevant.  An interesting book for the 11-14 age group who enjoy fairy tales and romance.  2 stars.

Jonathan Livingston Seagull

I was looking for a book that was published in the year I was born - 1970.  Turns out, I had lots of options ( Love Story, The Bluest Eye....)  but I had already settled on re- reading Jonathan.   I think I was about 12 when I read it the first time and although I realized it was about more than just a seagull, the depth and breadth of this beautifully written novella was completely beyond me.  The above quote is one of my favorites from the book because it's about life, and it's about those things that hold us back  - other people, our own fears, societal expectations and pressures, what we think we know vs. what is real - there is just so much.
This is one of those books that I think people should read in stages:  once when we are young, once in middle age and once at the close.  I believe that at each stage this book would have depth and meaning previously undiscovered.  If it has been a while, or if you have never read it,  this is certainly worth picking up.  You will be through it in a sitting but the thoughts will stay with you long after you have finished.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Twenty Boy Summer

Twenty Boy Summer

I chose this book simply for two reasons: 1. I read a lot of ya novels for work and 2. to satisfy a specific requirement for my popsugar reading challenge.   It sounded like something light and fun, but like so much in the YA genre, it was much more than it initially seemed.

Frankie, Matt and Anna have been best friends forever.  Then one summer, the relationship between Anna and Matt turns into something more.  Then, in a terrible tragedy,  Frankie loses her brother Anna loses everything that potentially could have been.  The girls and Frankie's parents  head to California ( Zanzibar beach)  where their family has always vacationed, to try to get back to normal - whatever that is.

This book is about friendship, first love, loss, grieving and finally, about letting go and knowing it's going to be ok.  It's really a story about acceptance.  I love it when a book surprises me by being more than I expected.  4. out of 5 stars.

Friday, April 10, 2015

The Boys in the Boat

16158542   I wanted to love this book.  Everything about it is right up my alley - the time period, the Olympics, underdogs taking on a perhaps superior opponent..... But in my mind, it was only ok and here's why....

All sports books, in my opinion, start out with a single great event as their focus.  All the surrounding material leads up to that one epic event.  It's the same here.   The story is about 9 men from Washington state ( well some were from other places but they went to school in Washington) who went on to represent the United States in the 1936 Berlin Olympics.   What a great event - Americans - taking on Nazis.... what's not to love?
Well, the often downfall of said sports books is the background material for "the event".  After all, a story just about the race itself wouldn't fill a chapter, and admittedly, the background of the boys in the boat is part of what provides the charm for the stories.  That said though, it is easy to get too caught up in the individuals without telling the collective story.  I think that is a bit of what happens here.  At times, you are caught up in the telling of the story, only to be pulled away to be told a side story ( or backround story) of one of the individuals involved.  At times, this made the story feel like it dragged and I got bogged down in the minutiae.
There was so much material - just discussing the pure scope of the Olympics itself - all the hard work Germany put in - the fact that it was the most well attended Olympics up to that time, the radio improvements that were completed to make the Olympics more accessible.... there is just so much here to discuss.
But for me, the bottom line is that the Olympics is not something that I, in general, feel translate well on the written page.  The Olympics are a moment - something we all share together at the time.  For example,  I read a book about the 1980 hockey team.  It was ok.  But it will never take the place of my ten year old self, watching those boys struggling on the ice... trying to beat the basically professional team fielded by the Russians... and finally, FINALLY that moment.... that incredible moment when against all hope,  against all belief.... DO YOU BELIEVE IN MIRACLES?????  The puck goes in and the crowd chants USA< USA.  I held my breath, I laughed,  I cried and I experienced that moment with the world.  As much as I love to read,  it just wasn't the same experience.
So while I wanted to love this book and while it pains me to say it.... for me, it was only ok.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

The Sin Eaters Daughter by Melinda Salisbury

The Sin Eater's Daughter   First of all,  look at that gorgeous cover.  Between the cover and the title, this book was so appealing to me that I just couldn't pass it up.  It had a very intriguing plot as well.  Twylla is 17 years old and though she was born into poverty, she now lives at the castle, the betrothed of the Crown Prince.   There is one small issue though, as the Goddess Embodied, she is also an Executioner.   Her touch is death making having friends virtually impossible.  Even the Crown Prince keeps his distance.

Then, one day, Twylla is given a new guard.  He is young and handsome with an easy smile.   They talk.  He teaches her to read and write.   Things begin to change for Twylla.  She learns the shocking truth of her existence.  In the end, this book is really about whether Twylla will choose happiness for herself or put the interests of others before her own?

I loved the Mythology that the book creates - it's such a rich story  where both cruelty and kindness coexist so capriciously.    I really enjoyed reading this one.  It was quick, easy and definitely entertaining.  4/ 5 stars.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Dune by Frank Herbert

Front Cover  I read the story many years ago, and of course, watched the wonderful film version from the 80's.   This is one of the film adaptations which, for the most part, does a really wonderful job of preserving the original story. This is the story of Paul Arteides and his family.  Sent to the planet Arakkis from their home planet of Caladon, the Arteides family has been set up for a fall.   Will they find a way to survive - the planet, the political climate, their mortal enemies?  And what will become of the Fremen - the native peoples of Arakkis?

This is a political space odyssey.  So much fun.  There was so much I missed the first time I read it, really glad that I revisited it.  Seriously considering taking up the remainder of the series.   If you haven't read this one and enjoy a truly amazing science fiction novel - this one is brilliant.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Reading in the Dark by Seamus Deane

Reading in the Dark: A Novel  Well, if ever there was an Irish tale, this certainly is it.  Beautifully written in that lyrical way that so many Irish writers have, this is the story of life in Ireland both before and during the Troubles.   It's a disjointed collection of seemingly unrelated stories that all come together to tell the tale in the lives of one Irish family.   And oh, what a tangled web it tends to be.

 I enjoyed this book for several reasons.  First and foremost, it reminded me of my time in Ireland.  I could see the people, the places and hear their stories.   Some of the places mentioned like Inch Island, the Derry peninsula, various loughs ( that's lake for those who didn't know) all were places I had been.  Other sights mentioned in the book, various churches, pubs, and gathering places could have happened anywhere in Ireland - they represent the spirit of the place more than any one place in particular.

I loved the lore in the book, Finn McCool, the Fianna, Tara, mermaids.... wishing chairs.  It's magic.  Just like Ireland itself.   My favorite passage from the book....
     I imagined I could hear the breathing of the sleeping Fianna waiting for the trumpet call that would bring them to life again to fight the last battle.......after which, one remaining English ship would sail out of Lough Foyle and away from Ireland forever...."

It brought my time in Ireland back to me.  Here are some pictures of my own trip, taken with my Dad some twenty years ago now.... but for an Irish girl.... Ireland remains in my heart forever.

  The cliffs of Inish Moor

 My Dad at the Hill of Tara

Remembering a fallen Hero - at Michael Collins ambush site.  

If you have never been to Ireland, and get the chance to go..... DO IT. 

Saturday, April 4, 2015

The Perks of Being a Wallflower

The Perks of Being a Wallflower

I started this one some time ago and moved away from it, I'm not really sure why it got put down.  It's a beautiful coming of age story about so much more than just high school.  It's about love, loss, coping with terrible things that happen and really understanding who you are.  I'm not sure that I really understand the title because Charlie isn't a Wallflower.  He is out there "participating" but he definitely observes.  He sees so much in other people and really tries to understand.  I love that about his character because I think too often people don't really listen to one another, they merely listen to figure out how to respond.  

There were moments in this book that I couldn't relate to at all, and there were other moments - like feeling INFINITE- that I could not only relate to, but remember.  Sometimes Charlie's voice, as narrator, was a bit choppy.  I know that adds to his character but I found it to sometimes be a distraction.   I was surprised by the copious use of drugs in the book, but considering it was the 90's, I guess I shouldn't have been.  I loved this book because it really made me think.  Well worth the read, I'm glad I picked it back up.

Friday, April 3, 2015

The Wicked Will Rise

The Wicked Will Rise (B&N Exclusive Edition) (Dorothy Must Die Series #2)

I've been waiting for over a year for the release of this one.  I am a huge fan of all things Oz, and I absolutely love the fresh perspective that Danielle Paige has given to such a familiar literary landscape.  If you haven't read the first book in the series, Dorothy Must Die, stop what you are doing and read it!

In the sequel, our heroine Amy, is struggling with her failure.  The Revolutionary Order of the Wicked is spread to the four winds and Nox is nowhere to be found.   Our friends, Ollie and Maude, are back and they help Amy make her escape from a burning Emerald City.  Ozma is also with them.  While things look pretty bleak - all is not lost - the magic is returning to Oz.

In this sequel, we meet so many new characters and places that really add to the depth of Oz.  I particularly enjoyed the Island of Lost Things.  I am sure that have a whole pile there with my name on it.   Polychrome is a fantastic new character, as is Lulu the Queen of the Wingless Ones.  As brilliant as I thought Dorothy Must Die is, this one captivated me for different reasons.


The situation with the Scarecrow was a bit of a let down.  I really had him built up in my mind, but upon reflection, what actually happens seems somehow more fitting.  Oh, and the cliff hanger!  I'm reading along.... waiting for Amy to take up her place... and then NOTHING.  OMG, how long do I have to wait for the next one??  However long,  I will be looking forward to hearing how the story finally ends.  5/ 5 stars. 

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

The Longest Ride by Nicholas Sparks

For me, Spark is usually a HUGE hit or a complete miss.  This one was reminiscent of The Notebook or A Walk to Remember.  In other words, this one is a return to that old Sparks magic - a huge hit.  This is the story of Luke and Sophia, but also the story of Ira and Ruth.

In typical Sparks fashion, the stories, at first, seem unrelated.  The reader doesn't care though because both stories as so well written and so engrossing that the only thing you mind is leaving one story to return to the other.  I love the way that Sparks tells a story- the way he makes you feel what his characters are feeling and explains their motivations.  He is a master storyteller.

5/5 stars.  Glad I read this one.