Monday, December 31, 2012

2012 in Review

2012 was a crazy year for me -- I moved from Southern California to the Chicago area for grad school at Northwestern, I got a new job, and my sister found out she's having a baby in 2013! Unfortunately, a lot of this stuff caused me to not be so productive in my blogging, but it was still a great year full of some awesome books.

Notable Changes
Both Michelle and Della joined this blog as reviewers in 2012. I can't wait to do more work with them in the upcoming year!

Top 5 books I read in 2012
1. American Gods by Neil Gaiman
2. Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
3. Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde
4. Bloodlines by Richelle Mead
5. A Thousand Times More Fair: What Shakespeare's Plays Teach Us about Justice by Kenji Yoshino

Longest Book 
War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy (1,392 pages)

Most Views for Review Posted in 2012
Beloved by Toni Morrison

I'm hoping that next year will be even better and more exciting! Here's to a new year filled with great, new books!

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Book Review: Vampire Academy by Richelle Mead

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Title: Vampire Academy
Author: Richelle Mead
Publisher: Razorbill
Series: Vampire Academy, Book 1
Paperback: 332 pages
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)
St. Vladimir’s Academy isn’t just any boarding school—it’s a hidden place where vampires are educated in the ways of magic and half-human teens train to protect them. Rose Hathaway is a Dhampir, a bodyguard for her best friend Lissa, a Moroi Vampire Princess. They’ve been on the run, but now they’re being dragged back to St. Vladimir’s—the very place where they’re most in danger... 
Rose and Lissa become enmeshed in forbidden romance, the Academy’s ruthless social scene, and unspeakable nighttime rituals. But they must be careful lest the Strigoi—the world’s fiercest and most dangerous vampires—make Lissa one of them forever.

Overall Rating: 5 out of 5

I must say, “I never in a million years thought I would be writing a review about Vampires.” When a friend suggested that I read Vampire Academy I laughed at her. Having never read anything in this genre, I wasn’t in a hurry to start. She handed me her copy and said just try. I reluctantly agreed knowing that I would never be interested in it. The first chapter seemed a little weird to me, as I tried to understand what was happening between Rose and Lissa. The spirit dream confused the heck out of me and when Lissa fed off Rose I thought I was going to be nauseated. But I really liked Richelle Meade’s writing style, so I continued reading. It wasn’t until Rose and Lissa arrived back at the Academy that I found myself actually enjoying the book.

I was intrigued by the whole concept of there being two types of Vampires; Moroi, who are the good vampires, and Stigoi, who are the bad. There is also a group called Dhampirs, who protect the Moroi and they are half Moroi and half human. St Vladimir Academy is a special school for Dhampirs to learn to protect Moroi. Rose, the protagonist of the book, is a Dhampir who ran away from St Vladmir Academy to protect Lissa, a Moroi, from an unknown enemy. The guardians at St Vladmir Academy found Rose and Lissa, secretly living among humans and returned them to the Academy. While at the Academy, Rose practiced training skills with Dimitri Belikov. It was this intense training along with Rose's quick response that would ultimately make her one of the best guardians. The concept of good versus evil has always been the cornerstone of my favorite types of books, so I was hooked to learn that even vampires have a code of ethics.

All the characters were enjoyable, but I have to say Rose, was my favorite. What I found fascinating about her was although she had a lot of emotional problems that played out in her personal life, starting with her thoughts that every male wanted to be with her, she had a strong sense of duty to protect Lissa, keeping her extremely focused. Lissa, being a spirit using Moroi, had saved Rose from death and in doing so created a supernatural bond between the two of them. Rose could read Lissa's thoughts and sense when she was in danger. Because Rose and Lissa had run away from St Vladmir Academy for over a year, Rose was behind in her training. As punishment she had to train extra hours with Guardian Belikov, who I can only imagine by his description to be likened to that of a Greek god, but only Russian. Personally, one could only hope for some one-on-one training with this Russian god. This was a fantastic storyline with many twists that kept me rooting for Rose and Dimitri even though guardians could not date each other.

Richelle Mead's writing style made reading this book not only enjoyable, but one of my favorite recommendations for young adults. This book has a kick-butt storyline, great characters, great plot, but more importantly Richelle Mead constantly interjects the back story, throughout the book, so I didn't have to put much thought into remembering how each character relates.


Monday, December 24, 2012

Book Review: The Twisted Window by Lois Duncan

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Title: The Twisted Window
Author: Lois Duncan
Publisher: Open Road Young Readers
Ebook: 184 pages
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)
High school junior Tracy Lloyd is unsure about the new guy in school. Brad Johnson is attractive, smart, and polite, but Tracy can’t help but feel he watches her too closely. Then one day Brad confides in Tracy a horrible secret: His little sister Mindy has been kidnapped by his stepfather, and he needs Tracy’s help to get her back. But even as Tracy commits to a plan to help her vulnerable new friend, details emerge that suggest nothing is what it seems.  
The Twisted Window is a zigzagging thriller that keeps readers guessing up until the final page. This ebook features an illustrated biography of Lois Duncan including rare images and never-before-seen documents from the author’s personal collection.
Overall Rating: 3 out of 5 

The Twisted Window is a story about Brad Johnson and Tracy Lloyd. Brad has traveled to Texas from New Mexico in order to track down his baby sister Mindy, who has been kidnapped by his stepfather. Enrolling Tracy in his plan to get her back and bring her home, the two teenagers come together to help Brad's family become reunited.

The beginning was strange for me, with Brad looking over girls in a high school to find "the right one" for his plan. However, after all that was over, I was automatically interested in his story. The main theme of the book is about relationships between families, and I quickly got sucked into the characters' lives and their family troubles. Tracy, especially, has an interesting background and her relationship with her relatives play quite a big role in framing what happens throughout the story.

The main characters' stories were what got me through this book -- much of the plot was over-the-top. I was more frustrated with the side characters than anything. I can't say much at risk of revealing the big twist, but I'm not sure how Brad actually gets the opportunity to kidnap his sister. A lot of the major plot points had issues in believability for me, which kind of turned me off the whole story. I do recommend The Twisted Window more for middle-grade readers than for older people. It is too undeveloped to be a very satisfying read to most adults and even older teenagers. There are a lot of unresolved issues at the end, especially in regards to Tracy and her relationship with her aunt, uncle, and father.

This particular edition has some edits made to help it fit in with the newer generation (the use of cell phones and other updated technology). Overall, these worked great, but there was one time where the CD player suddenly became a cassette player.

However, the twist at the end is very good. I didn't start suspecting that something like that was coming until quite late in the book, so it was a nice surprise. Overall, it's a fast read and great if you're looking for a quick suspenseful story.

*I was provided a free copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.*

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Back to the Classics Challenge Sign-Up



Alright, here's another challenge to keep me connected with blogging and the blogging world. I always tell myself that I need to read more classics, but instead of reaching for Austen or Dickens, I keep grabbing sci-fi fantasy and young adult novels. I love them! But I love classics too, and I need variety. So, here is a challenge that will count towards a personal goal as well. Win!

You can read the original rules and sign up at Sarah Reads Too Much. (Seriously, sign up! You don't have to have a blog to participate!)

 
THE CATEGORIES:

The Required Categories:

A 19th Century Classic - Mansfield Park by Jane Austen
A 20th Century Classic - Lord Jim by Joseph Conrad
A Pre-18th or 18th Century Classic - Hyperion by Friedrich Holderlin
A Classic that relates to the African-American Experience - The Color Purple by Alice Walker
A Classic Adventure - The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle
A Classic that prominently features an Animal - The Wings of the Dove by Henry James

Optional Categories:

    A.  Re-read a Classic - Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
   B.  A Russian Classic - Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky
   C.  A Classic Non-Fiction title - A Room of One's Own by Virginia Woolf
   D.  A Classic Children's/Young Adult title - The Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum

Monday, December 17, 2012

Book Review: Giving up the Ghost by Eric Nuzum

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Title: Giving up the Ghost: A Story About Friendship, 80s Rock, a Lost Scrap of Paper, and What It Means to Be Haunted
Author: Eric Nuzum
Publisher: Dial Press
Paperback: 320 pages
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)
Eric Nuzum is afraid of the supernatural, and for good reason: As a high school oddball in Canton, Ohio, during the early 1980s, he became convinced that he was being haunted by the ghost of a little girl in a blue dress who lived in his parents’ attic. It began as a weird premonition during his dreams, something that his quickly diminishing circle of friends chalked up as a way to get attention. It ended with Eric in a mental ward, having apparently destroyed his life before it truly began. The only thing that kept him from the brink: his friendship with a girl named Laura, a classmate who was equal parts devoted friend and enigmatic crush. With the kind of strange connection you can only forge when you’re young, Laura walked Eric back to “normal”—only to become a ghost herself in a tragic twist of fate. 
Years later, a fully functioning member of society with a great job and family, Eric still can’t stand to have any shut doors in his house for fear of what’s on the other side. In order to finally confront his phobia, he enlists some friends on a journey to America’s most haunted places. But deep down he knows it’s only when he digs up the ghosts of his past, especially Laura, that he’ll find the peace he’s looking for.
Overall Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Ten pages into this book, I was surprised to find that it was non-fiction. Seriously. I don't know if it was just me, but I definitely thought this was going to be a kind of literary paranormal/horror novel. I was pleasantly surprised to find that it was a memoir though, and I was hooked right from the beginning.

Giving up the Ghost is about Eric Nuzum's search for answers. Since he was a boy, he'd been haunted by a ghost he called The Little Girl, and as he grew older, he became increasingly haunted by his friends and acquaintances that have died far too early in life, especially Laura -- a girl who was his best friend and whom he was in love with at one point. Nuzum explores the past by switching from past events and to the present, where he is actively searching for haunted places in order to find answers about The Little Girl, and possibly Laura.

The beginning hooked me and I found myself thoroughly enjoying this book. It's interesting, funny, and has some truly moving moments. I'm also a fan of dysfunctional stuff, and Nuzum certainly had a lot of that going on in his life. It's also very open and honest -- I almost felt like I was listening to a friend's confessional or something. Nuzum leaves everything on the page, which makes for a raw, emotional experience.

Though I think there could have been more organization in terms of letting the reader know when everything was taking place (dates at the beginning of chapters would have been helpful), I loved the back-and-forth between the past and present. Seeing the parallels and changes that have happened from Nuzum as a teenager to Nuzum as an adult was interesting, and it really helped move the story along.

I would have liked there to be more of a focus throughout the book. The beginning was really strong, I think, but it started to lag in the middle because of all the issues that Nuzum tried to tackle. And near the end, I wasn't sure what message I was supposed to be taking from his stories. Like I said before, Giving up the Ghost is about a search for answers, a search for the meaning behind past events. However, this sometimes gets lost in all Nuzum's stories about drugs, fits of rage, and dysfunctional relationships. Don't get me wrong -- they're good stories. And I think that they should definitely be told, but not necessarily in this book. It would have been much stronger and much more satisfying if the focus stayed on The Little Girl, his relationship with Laura, and his search for haunted places.

With that said, I still enjoyed it and I think it's a worthwhile read. I'm also very interested in reading more of Nuzum's work.

*I was provided a free copy from the publisher through LibraryThing's Early Reviewers program in exchange for an honest review.*

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Audiobook Review: Prospero's Daughter by Elizabeth Nunez

Title: Prospero's Daughter
Author: Elizabeth Nunez
Narrator: Simon Vance
Publisher: Sound Library
Edition: Unabridged
Duration: 12 hours, 32 minutes
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)
Cut off from the main island of Trinidad by a glistening green sea, Chacachacare has few inhabitants besides its colony of lepers and a British doctor who fled England with his three-year-old daughter, Virginia. An amoral genius, Peter Gardner had used his talents to unsavory ends, experimenting, often with fatal results, on unsuspecting patients. Blackmailed by his own brother, Peter ends up on the small island as England’s empire is starting to crumble. 
On Chacachacare, Peter experiments chiefly on the wild Caribbean flora–and on the dark-skinned orphan Carlos, whose home he steals. Though Peter considers the boy no better than a savage, he nonetheless schools the child alongside his daughter. But as Carlos and Virginia grow up under the same roof, they become deeply and covertly attached to one another. 
When Peter discovers the pair’s secret and accuses Carlos of a heinous crime, it is up to a brusque, insensitive English inspector to discover the truth. During his investigation, a disturbing picture begins to emerge as a monstrous secret is finally drawn into the light.

Overall Rating: 2 out of 5

This title got my attention right away because of its link with Shakespeare. It's supposed to be a modern retelling of The Tempest, and I was interested in seeing what Nunez would do with that story. Unfortunately, I don't think it's a successful retelling.

Prospero's Daughter is about an orphan named Carlos who lives in the Caribbean. Peter, who has escaped England with his small daughter to avoid a scandal, steals Carlos's home and forces Carlos and another native woman to work as his servants. When the time comes for Peter to give his daughter, Virginia, lessons, Carlos feels sorry for the girl, since she isn't able to learn them fast enough for her father and is yelled at constantly. Carlos, whose parents taught him to read, secretly teaches Virginia how to read at night so that she can impress her father. Eventually, they end up falling in love, and when Carlos tells Peter of his intentions to marry Virginia, Peter accuses Carlos of rape and launches an investigation, in the hopes of getting Carlos arrested.

I think that the enjoyment you get out of this book really depends on what you're reading this book for. It's a great book about colonization, and what the natives go through when the English come in and take over their island. The story is well-written, and is generally enjoyable; however, if you're reading this as a modern retelling of The Tempest (as I was), or even for the "romance" you may be disappointed.

I'm all in favor of authors changing original plot points and characters to fit in with their retelling of the story. I don't think that happened enough in Prospero's Daughter, and when it did, I wasn't sure why the story changed. For example, I found it strange that Peter is portrayed as a mad scientist and Carlos describes him putting on a robe decorated with stars to do magic. I didn't get this. At first, I thought it was Carlos's imagination, but later, I wasn't sure. Though he's supposed to be a stand-in for Prospero, this didn't make sense to the story in general, and I think that Peter would have been a perfect Prospero without the "magic robe." Especially since The Tempest is directly mentioned in the story and Carlos blatantly calls Peter Prospero. One thing that changed that I didn't like was the fact that Carlos teaches Virginia to read, whereas in the play, Miranda teaches Caliban. I'm not sure what purpose this change was supposed to serve, especially when other things are so strictly adhered to, even when it doesn't make sense within the world that Nunez has created.

Though many people consider this a romance, I definitely do not. There is romance in this novel, but it's not really the main focus of the story. Actually, it's more of a plot device for the author to show the mistreatment and discrimination of the natives by the English. I also don't think that the resolution of what separates Virginia and Carlos is very well done. A romance between an English woman and a native from an island that the English have colonized will never be without its problems, and I think that Nunez overlooks the fact that there are some real challenges that people in the position of Virginia and Carlos would have faced.

As for listening to the audiobook version, I have no complaints. I think that Vance did an amazing job with all the voices and the characters. The switching of points of view and the dialogue were all extraordinarily easy to follow. I only wish that the story could have been better so that I could have enjoyed Vance's narration all the more.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Roof Beam Reader's TBR Pile Challenge!



What with entering grad school, moving to a new city, and getting a new job, I kind of fell behind on blogging this year. But one of my resolutions is to pick it back up! To help me stay on top of things, I plan on joining some challenges this year, and my first one comes from Adam at Roof Beam Reader. Here is my list for the TBR Pile Challenge. (Check out his blog for details.)

My list: (3/12 completed)

1. On Writing by Stephen King

2. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

3. The Body in the Library by Agatha Christie

4. The War of the Worlds by HG Wells

5. The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand

6. Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson

7. Queen of Babble by Meg Cabot

8. Elijah of Buxton by Christopher Paul Curtis

9. Hard Times by Charles Dickens

10. The Bonesetter's Daughter by Amy Tan

11. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louise Stevenson

12. Inkdeath by Cornelia Funke

Alternates:

1. The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

2. Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman

Monday, December 10, 2012

Book Review: Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson

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Title: Wintergirls
Author: Laurie Halse Anderson
Publisher: Viking Juvenile
Hardcover: 278 pages
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)
“Dead girl walking,” the boys say in the halls.
“Tell us your secret,” the girls whisper, one toilet to another.
I am that girl.
I am the space between my thighs, daylight shining through.
I am the bones they want, wired on a porcelain frame. 
Lia and Cassie are best friends, wintergirls frozen in matchstick bodies, competitors in a deadly contest to see who can be the skinniest. But what comes after size zero and size double-zero? When Cassie succumbs to the demons within, Lia feels she is being haunted by her friend’s restless spirit. 
In her most emotionally wrenching, lyrically written book since the multiple-award-winning Speak, Laurie Halse Anderson explores Lia’s descent into the powerful vortex of anorexia, and her painful path toward recovery.

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5

Lia has her share of problems. Her parents are divorced, her mom is a workaholic and her dad has remarried. To top it off, she has issues with her image and her family situation does not make that any better. This book starts off when she learns that Cassie, her estranged best friend who suffered from bulimia, has died. Though she tries not to show it, this is very upsetting to Lia. Lia tries to find out the circumstances of Cassie's death while trying to hide her own relapse of anorexia from her family.

I really liked the way this was written. Though this story is told from Lia's perspective, the writing is structured so that we are able to see both how she wants to feel and how she really feels. This is done through something as simple as having Lia's true feelings crossed out like this, followed with how Lia is trying to force herself to feel. Though a simple technique, I think it works really well and is unique enough to be kind of risky. But the risk paid off because due to this, I was able to get a better sense of who Lia is and what problems she's going through.

I also loved the way Anderson portrays the characters. Wintergirls shows that one person's problem creates problems for the whole family. Lia has a fantastic relationship with her younger sister, Emma. The kind, caring way she takes care of Emma helped me to connect with her and see that she had her good moments while she was suffering from anorexia. Adding in Cassie's ghost and Lia's search for answers was a definite plus; it gave the book a horror/gothic/mystery sort of feel while still dealing with real-world issues.

Anderson also has the amazing ability to write about dark subjects without making them overpoweringly painful to read. Wintergirls is convincing and doesn't gloss over the negative effects of eating disorders, but there are still some happy moments in there -- moments when you almost forget that Lia is anorexic. These usually happen when she's interacting with someone she cares about, such as Emma. This brings an element of levity to the novel that balances nicely with all the issues that are going on. I appreciated that.

Anorexia is not a topic to joke about -- many individuals and families struggle with this every day. I think this is a good read and would recommend it. I can definitely see this being studied in schools and think that this topic should be studied a little bit more.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Book Review: NYPD Red by James Patterson and Marshall Karp

Title: NYPD Red
Authors: James Patterson and Marshall Karp
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Hardcover: 400 pages
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)
It's the start of Hollywood on Hudson, and New York City is swept up in the glamour. Every night, the red carpet rolls out for movie stars arriving at premieres in limos; the most exclusive restaurants close for private parties for wealthy producers and preeminent directors; and thousands of fans gather with the paparazzi, hoping to catch a glimpse of the most famous and beautiful faces in the world. With this many celebrities in town, special task force NYPD Red is on high alert-and they can't afford to make a single mistake. Then a world-renowned producer fatally collapses at his power breakfast, and top NYPD Red Detective Zach Jordan is the first one on the scene. Zach works with his beautiful new partner, Detective Kylie MacDonald-who also happens to be his ex-girlfriend-to discover who the murderer might be. But this is only the beginning: the most brutal, public, and horrifyingly spectacular crimes they've ever encountered are about to send all of New York into chaos, putting NYPD Red on the ropes. Zach and Kylie know there's no way of telling what a killer this deranged will do next. With the whole world watching, they have to find a way to stop a psychopath who has scripted his finale down to the last explosive detail.
Overall Rating: 2.5 out of 5

As with all of James Patterson’s books, I eagerly awaited the arrival. I thought new fresh idea with a creative story line. The concept of New York City having an elite police group tasked with protecting A-list people who come to town, seemed very appealing to me. The problem was not with the concept, but more so the writing and lack of depth in some of the characters that were portrayed. The book had a definite division in its writing prose. It was as though the two authors wrote this book without meshing their style together. 

Right from the start, I was not able to connect with the main characters of the story. Police officer, Zach Jordon felt more like a love sick puppy, offering advice to a seasoned psychologist (woman he meets for coffee in the morning) than lead cop for NYPD Red. Zach’s newly assigned partner, ex-girlfriend and object of Zach’s love thoughts, Kylie MacDonald’s character, was so poorly written that I didn’t know if she was a seasoned cop who thought too highly of herself, or a woman out to prove she can make it in, what she thinks is, a man’s world.

The difference between the writing styles was evident in the fact that the Chameleon’s story line was fast paced, well thought of, and showed brilliance as the character unveiled layers of pain, anguish and the need for redemption. On the other hand, both Zach and Kylie’s characters showed clips of how they became attracted to each other, why Kylie went rogue but neither conveyed how the two most important characters, in terms of catching the Chameleon, managed to rise to the level of NYPD Red. Although Captain Cates, in NYPD Red, brought strength, control and a sense of humor to NYPD Red, her character was not enough to make me believe that NYPD Red was anything other than a group of one dimensional people thrown together for the purpose of writing a quick book.

I was also excited with the early revelation of the Chameleon’s name, believing that it would uncover more facets and perhaps introduce breaking points in the Chameleon’s persona, but true to the poor character writing in this book it did not. The revelation only led to a mental hospital where the police were allowed to roam freely, no real thought to patient privacy, and narrowed down, rather quickly, the plot and the players. 

The ending of the book was far worse than the beginning. The climax seemed to happen at such a quick pace that I jumped for joy when the book was over due to the unrealistic nature of the whole yacht scene.

In my opinion, this was a book that was rushed, not up to par for James Patterson and completely disappointing.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Book Review: "You Gotta BE the Book": Teaching Engaged and Reflective Reading with Adolescents by Jeffrey D. Wilhelm

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Title: "You Gotta BE the Book": Teaching Engaged and Reflective Reading with Adolescents
Author: Jeffrey D. Wilhelm
Publisher: Teachers College Press
Paperback: 208 pages
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)
Over a decade ago, Jeffrey Wilhelm's groundbreaking book showed educators how to think of reading as a personally meaningful, pleasurable, and productive pursuit. In the 13 years since its publication, the author has experimented with and further developed all of the techniques he first explored in "You Gotta BE the Book," including visual techniques, drama and action strategies, think-aloud protocols, and symbolic story representation/reading manipulatives. In this expanded edition, Wilhelm adds a new commentary to each chapter in which he reflects on the research and insights he introduced in his now-classic text. 
Through textured case studies of engaged and reluctant readers, the Second Edition of "You Gotta BE the Book" once again addresses enduring issues, such as: What do highly engaged adolescent readers DO as they read? What is it about traditional schooling and reading instruction that deters engaged reading and serves to disenfranchise young readers? What types of interventions can be used in the classroom to help all students, especially reluctant ones, become successful readers?

Overall Rating: 5 out of 5

For teachers or parents out there who are struggling to get their kid to read - get this book! Wilhelm has spent years researching the best methods for engaging struggling readers with books, and for helping engaged readers find even more meaningful ways of connecting with stories, novels, and other texts. "You Gotta BE the Book" gives a fairly good overview of why struggling readers don't like reading, what's preventing them from enjoying books, and how to fix it. It also presents some simple activities that are incredibly effective at helping kids enjoy and make meaning from what they read.

As teachers, it is our responsibility to help struggling students over obstacles. This book isn't just for English teachers, though it definitely has more relevance to them than to any other subject; however, if you teach reading at all in your classroom, Wilhelm's ideas about reading activities and the struggle of low-level readers are definitely worth checking out. I found this book accessible, enjoyable, and incredibly useful in understanding the problems that many students go through and the ways we can help them overcome those problems.

Some of the ideas seem very simple or common-sense, but it's nice to be reminded of what may help students. I especially liked Wilhelm's ideas of using drama and art to respond to a text, instead of the more common question-and-answer or essay approach. I think that all of the activities he presents are practical and easy to implement in the classroom. Read this one! It's worth it.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Audiobook Review: Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake

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Title: Anna Dressed in Blood
Author: Kendare Blake
Narrator: August Ross
Publisher: AudioGo
Duration: 8 hours, 43 minutes
Edition: Unabridged
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)
Just your average boy-meets-girl, girl-kills-people story... 
Cas Lowood has inherited an unusual vocation: He kills the dead. 
So did his father before him, until his gruesome murder by a ghost he sought to kill. Now, armed with his father’s mysterious and deadly athame, Cas travels the country with his kitchen-witch mother and their spirit-sniffing cat. Together they follow legends and local lore, trying to keep up with the murderous dead—keeping pesky things like the future and friends at bay. 
When they arrive in a new town in search of a ghost the locals call Anna Dressed in Blood, Cas doesn’t expect anything outside of the ordinary: move, hunt, kill. What he finds instead is a girl entangled in curses and rage, a ghost like he’s never faced before. She still wears the dress she wore on the day of her brutal murder in 1958: once white, but now stained red and dripping blood. Since her death, Anna has killed any and every person who has dared to step into the deserted Victorian she used to call home. 
And she, for whatever reason, spares his life.
Overall Rating: 3 out of 5

Anna Dressed in Blood is a fun ghost story about a guy who kills ghosts and a ghost who kills people. Strangely, they end up sort of liking each other. Cas is a ghost hunter, like his father before him. He is intent on gaining enough skill and expertise so that he can track down the ghost who killed his father and take revenge. He moves to a new town  with his mother, determined to find Anna and send her off to the afterlife. In the process, he makes friends, people get killed, and Cas realizes that Anna's situation isn't as straightforward as it seems -- and neither are the weird events that keep happening around him.

I haven't read a good ghost story in awhile, so I enjoyed this book. I like how Blake brings together ghost hunting and witch elements. She does this so well, that I kind of hope she brings more paranormal stuff into the sequel. There are also incredibly gory kill scenes that every good ghost story should have. The plot didn't drag, which I was really grateful for. Everything felt like it moved along fairly quickly and I wasn't bored for a second.

But there were definitely predictable moments. All of the side characters are worked from stereotypes and they don't have much complexity to them -- add that to the not-so-subtle clues that something weird is going with Cas, and it doesn't have to do with hunting for Anna, and you've got an ending that's pretty easy to figure out. With that said, I still think it's worth a read. I enjoyed the idea of the story and thought that Cas's background was interesting -- not to mention the whole cool ghost-hunting thing.

However, while the story is fun and enjoyable, I don't recommend the audiobook. The narration sounded very stilted to me -- it almost seemed as if words were taken from different clips and pieced together to form the story, because the expression and emphasis rarely matched what was going on in the story. Considering that this is also a first person narration, I expected a lot more energy and personality. I was frustrated by this and found it hard to connect with the characters and the story because of the narration. If you're going to read this at all, definitely go for print.

If you're into ghost stories, definitely pick this one up. It does have its gory moments, but it's an interesting look at ghost hunting and, while predictable, kept me interested the whole time. I can't wait to read the sequel!

Friday, November 9, 2012

Audiobook Review: The Prophet of Yonwood by Jeanne DuPrau

Title: The Prophet of Yonwood
Author: Jeanne DuPrau
Narrator: Becky Ann Baker
Publisher: Listening Library
Edition: Unabridged
Series: Ember, Book 3
Duration: 6 hours, 19 minutes
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)
It’s 50 years before the settlement of the city of Ember, and the world is in crisis. War looms on the horizon as 11-year-old Nickie and her aunt travel to the small town of Yonwood, North Carolina. There, one of the town’s respected citizens has had a terrible vision of fire and destruction. Her garbled words are taken as prophetic instruction on how to avoid the coming disaster. If only they can be interpreted correctly. . . .  
 As the people of Yonwood scramble to make sense of the woman’s mysterious utterances, Nickie explores the oddities she finds around town—her great-grandfather’s peculiar journals and papers, a reclusive neighbor who studies the heavens, a strange boy who is fascinated with snakes—all while keeping an eye out for ways to help the world. Is this vision her chance? Or is it already too late to avoid a devastating war?

Overall Rating: 2 out of 5
I haven't been much of a fan of the other books in the Ember series; as far as children's books go, they're okay. However, even for children's books I find them too simplistic and the characters too stereotypical. The same holds true for The Prophet of Yonwood. I was able to get through this book, because it wasn't Nickie that bothered me; it was all the adults. I know that children's books often put adults in the background, which can seem strange, but I hate it when they make the adults look stupid and clueless. I couldn't believe that the village followed Brenda Beeson, when she was obviously discriminating against people and taking control of the town. To some extent, this would have been believable, but most everyone followed this lady's every word. To put it simply, it drove me crazy.

The Prophet of Yonwood is the prequel to the Ember series, before the City of Ember has been created. A woman named Althea sees the apocalyptic future and pretty much goes crazy. As she rants, the villagers take her words as what they need to do to prevent doomsday. This includes a bunch of restrictions such as no dancing and no music that eventually escalates into there being a restriction against having dogs. Nickie takes things into her own hands at that point and tries to both get her dog back and understand why the prophet Althea would forbid dogs.

Like I said, the characters were all stereotypical and the adults were simply stupid. They were sheep being herded around by Brenda's crazy proclamations. Nickie's aunt is clueless throughout the entire novel, to the point where she doesn't even realize that another person and a dog is living in her house for quite some time. I also thought the ending was a bit too glossed-over happy. It ends with Nickie being an old woman going down into the city of Ember. No mention of her kids, which I was curious about. And there's only one reason (and not a very good one, I think) that is mentioned for why she is allowed to go to the city. As an old woman, and since they have limited supplies and room, I wanted there to be some sort of special reason Nickie is allowed into the city -- some sort of area of expertise or something. But none of that information was given.

The narration was average. While I didn't hate the audiobook, I don't feel like Baker truly brought it to life. She did the normal things like change voices for each character, which I admit was well done, but other than that, there was nothing outstanding about the narration. Like the previous book, The People of Sparks, this one had sound effects, and I disliked them for the most part. At times they enhanced the story, but they were mostly distracting.

If you're reaching for books to get your kid to read, and they seem to like dystopias, I think this series would be appropriate. It's at an easy reading level, and kids might enjoy it a little bit more. However, I don't think that it's a timeless children classic or even a good children's series. It's okay. Adults might not get much enjoyment out of it, although I will admit that the previous two novels are much better than this book.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Book Review: Star Wars - Revenge of the Sith Matthew Stover

Title: Star Wars - Revenge of the Sith
Author: Matthew Stover
Publisher: Del Rey
Series: The Dark Lord Trilogy, Book 2
Hardcover: 418 pages
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)
The turning point for the entire Star Wars saga is at hand 
After years of civil war, the Separatists have battered the already faltering Republic nearly to the point of collapse. On Coruscant, the Senate watches anxiously as Supreme Chancellor Palpatine aggressively strips away more and more constitutional liberties in the name of safeguarding the Republic. Yoda, Mace Windu, and their fellow Masters grapple with the Chancellor’s disturbing move to assume control of the Jedi Council. And Anakin Skywalker, the prophesied Chosen One, destined to bring balance to the Force, is increasingly consumed by his fear that his secret love, Senator Padmé Amidala, will die.  
As the combat escalates across the galaxy, the stage is set for an explosive endgame: Obi-Wan undertakes a perilous mission to destroy the dreaded Separatist military leader General Grievous. Palpatine, eager to secure even greater control, subtly influences public opinion to turn against the Jedi. And a conflicted Anakin–tormented by unspeakable visions–edges dangerously closer to the brink of a galaxy-shaping decision. It remains only for Darth Sidious, whose shadow looms ever larger, to strike the final staggering blow against the Republic . . . and to ordain a fearsome new Sith Lord: Darth Vader. 

Overall Rating: 2.5 out of 5

I am a second-generation Star Wars fan, so when my dad bought Revenge of the Sith, I definitely had to borrow it from him and read it. While I enjoyed getting to know the characters in a new way, I wasn't all that impressed with this book. However, that didn't surprise me, because I also wasn't impressed with the movie on which Stover based it.

You do get more from the book than in the movie -- especially in terms of character development. I think that Stover went a lot more into Yoda's feelings about the fall of the Republic and he did a great job in showing the friendship between Obi-Wan and Anakin. I loved that. For me, it brought entirely new elements into the story line that I had never thought of and made Luke's story a little more interesting, even. However, the same problems that were in the movie still persist. I get that Anakin was tempted to the Dark Side, and that clouds his judgment, but he truly loves these people. In the book, how he feels for Padme and Obi-Wan is way more obvious than it is in the movie. Yet, within a chapter he changes and is ready to turn is back on Obi-Wan, who is practically his brother at this point, and then he even becomes suspicious of Padme, the woman he used to trust absolutely. I think a lot more development and explanation was needed for this character shift, because otherwise, it simply seems too convenient.

Also, don't think that you can read this book without watching the movie. Stover relies heavily on the fact that the reader knows what he's talking about and what's going on. Not much description or explanation is given in terms of places, characters, and background information. This isn't a problem for those of us who have seen the movies (although it does make the writing feel less developed), but it would be a huge problem for someone who only wanted to pick up the book.

However, for a Star Wars fan, Revenge of the Sith is still an okay read. I wouldn't say that you should go out of your way to read it, but it's kind of cool to get a different perspective on all the characters and what they're feeling about all the chaos that's going on in this novel. Star Wars in general is a brilliant story about growing up, love, friendship, doing what's right, and making hard choices. No matter what format it's in, that holds true throughout all the stories.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Audiobook Review: Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides

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Title: Middlesex
Author: Jeffrey Eugenides
Narrator: Kristoffer Tabori
Publisher: BBC Audiobooks America
Edition: Unabridged
Duration: 21 hours, 15 minutes
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)
"I was born twice: first, as a baby girl, on a remarkably smogless Detroit day of January 1960; and then again, as a teenage boy, in an emergency room near Petoskey, Michigan, in August of l974. . . My birth certificate lists my name as Calliope Helen Stephanides. My most recent driver’s license...records my first name simply as Cal." 
So begins the breathtaking story of Calliope Stephanides and three generations of the Greek-American Stephanides family who travel from a tiny village overlooking Mount Olympus in Asia Minor to Prohibition-era Detroit, witnessing its glory days as the Motor City, and the race riots of l967, before they move out to the tree-lined streets of suburban Grosse Pointe, Michigan. To understand why Calliope is not like other girls, she has to uncover a guilty family secret and the astonishing genetic history that turns Callie into Cal, one of the most audacious and wondrous narrators in contemporary fiction.

Overall Rating: 3.5/5

Middlesex is a story about Calliope, who was raised female, but turns out to actually be a male. Told from a first person perspective, this story spans three generations of the Stephanides' family and is absolutely engaging. The prose is beautiful, the characters are a joy to get to know, and I love Cal's personality. It shines through the narration and almost gives a better picture of who Cal is than the story does. (This isn't a bad thing.) I truly enjoyed listening to this novel and liked it far more than I expected I would.

I did think that it was overly long. On the one hand, I loved getting all the background information about Cal's parents and grandparents. But I really do think it took up far too much time. One of my favorite things about this book was the depth Eugenides gave to story and characters; however, some of the things about Cal's parents and grandparents just didn't seem important to the overall story. This frustrated me, because while interesting, I still wanted to get to the point of the story: Cal.

When the time came for Cal's story, I was completely engrossed. His search for identity is dramatic and terrifying in all the ways it should be. And I LOVED the romance between him and "The Object." I thought that was a brilliant story to add to the larger narrative. Like Cal, I found myself wishing that I knew what happened to her.

I can see why this audiobook has won awards -- it is fantastic. Tabori puts life and vitality into the story and every character's dialogue. I even enjoyed the music tracks! I'm not usually the sort of person who likes music in her audiobooks, but I think that the way it was done in Middlesex was perfect. It wasn't there all the time, and it was subtly done. It helped to shift the tone between different parts of the story, which I found clever. While I don't think Middlesex would be any less good in print, the audiobook is certainly a pleasure to listen to, even considering its length.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Book Review: Attachment in the Classroom by Heather Geddes

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Title: Attachment in the Classroom
Author: Heather Geddes
Publisher: Worth Publishers
Paperback: 152 pages
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)
Every day, teachers and other school staff have to deal with children who present challenging behaviour during their learning process at school. This book combines the fundamental principles of attachment theory with teacher-based case studies and practical 'how to' interventions.





Overall Rating: 3/5

Okay, now that I am actually taking classes in education, reviews of these sorts of books may start to pop in occasionally. I think it's important to review textbooks as well as novels, because how else are we going to know what's worth reading for classes?

I think this is a good book to read if you deal with children at all in your job. Geddes describes attachment theory and identifies three different attachment patterns that children can exhibit. This is really important to know, because a lot of behavioral issues stem from these patterns. Geddes gives some advice as to how to recognize the attachment patterns and then what to do when the child's pattern becomes disruptive. I would have liked to read less about the theory itself and more about how to actually deal with these children. Instead, a lot of focus is given on studies, stories, and how to recognize the patterns. Of course, some were interesting and helpful, but I do think that others could have been cut out to make room for more tips and maybe even stories about how teachers handled the students with disruptive patterns. Also, I think that sometimes Geddes stated the obvious, which was frustrating. A point was made that a child with a disruptive home life would be disruptive in school, for example. I think I wanted a little more complexity when Attachment in the Classroom only gives a brief overview.

Overall, this book is a fast read and it really is helpful for those working with students and children. It points out that creating a safe, secure environment is essential for learning and gives a few really good tips for dealing with disruptive children. For me, I think that simply reading it helps me to be aware of disruptive behavior and instead of reacting emotionally, I remember to reflect as to why the student is behaving that way. This is a must-read for teachers dealing with young children, but will be helpful for all instructors so that they can better help their students learn.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Book Review: All the King's Men by Robert Warren Penn

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Title: All the King's Men
Author: Robert Penn Warren
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Hardcover: 672 pages
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)
Set in the 1930s, this Pulitzer Prize-winning novel traces the rise and fall of demagogue Willie Stark, a fictional character who resembles the real-life Huey "Kingfish" Long of Louisiana. Stark begins his political career as an idealistic man of the people but soon becomes corrupted by success and caught between dreams of service and an insatiable lust for power. As relevant today as it was more than fifty years ago, All the King's Men is one of the classics of American literature.

Overall Rating: 4/5

This one was so hard for me to get through. The beginning is very slow and dry, but the further I got into the story, the more interested I got. It's a great book that deals with what people sacrifice in themselves (goodness, dignity, character, etc.) to obtain wealth or power. Jack Burden tells the intertwined story his life and the life of Willie Stark, a man who rises from a simple farmer to a governor who wants to run for president.

Like I said, the book is slow, but the plot develops nicely. It builds upon itself and I don't think that Warren added any unnecessary information. Everything built atop itself and everything in there is needed to tell the full story. Maybe it could have been less wordy, but that's a stylistic issue that I don't mind so much.

I do think that Warren relies heavily on archetypes to get his point of view across; there is no female character who is complex and surprising. Likewise, I think most of the male characters fit into a specific category. For me, that was troublesome, because I usually get to like books because of the characters -- I think that's why it was so hard for me to connect to this story at first. I don't think it's even plot-driven; instead, the themes are what drive this narrative. Warren focuses on life, the human condition, doing good versus doing bad, the consequences of ambition, and many more. (This is probably the reason for why it is studied in some high schools.)

Writing a novel driven by themes has its problems, but I did enjoy reading this. It wasn't a fast read at all, and I had to take my time with it, but I think that's a good thing. I was able to think about what Warren was trying to say through his story and he makes some valid arguments through his characters and plot. I liked seeing how essentially good men sacrificed their character in order to achieve or maintain a high status of wealth and/or power. There is inherent conflict in that, and it's something worth thinking about. How far would we go for the things that we think matter? What would we sacrifice to achieve our goals? These are the essential questions that are asked throughout the novel. Though I think this is far too heavy reading for a high school classroom, (Most students wouldn't get through page 15, I'm betting.) some passages or chapters can be used to inspire these reflective questions.

While slow, dry, and dated, I think this is a good book to read. The characters may have lost some of their relevance over time, but the story and the themes are timeless.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Book Review: Seduce the Darkness by Gena Showalter

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Title: Seduce the Darkness
Author: Gena Showalter
Publisher: Pocket Star
Series: Alien Huntress, Book 4
Paperback: 405 pages
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)
The war between otherworlders and humans changed Earth beyond recognition. It also saved Bride McKells's life. Before, the gorgeous vampire was a target for every fanatic with a stake and a crucifix. Now, she's free to roam the streets -- and desperate to find others of her kind. One man claims to have the answers she seeks. Devyn, King of the Targons, is a warrior and a womanizer, and he makes no secret of how much he wants Bride -- and how dangerous he could be to her in every way. 
An avid collector of women, Devyn easily seduces human and otherworlder alike. Until now. Not only does Bride resist him, but she leaves Devyn feeling something entirely new...a bone-deep need bordering on obsession. Her blood is the key to curing a vicious alien disease, but helping Bride uncover her origins will compel her to choose between electrifying passion and a destiny that could tear her from Devyn's side forever

Overall Rating: 4/5

I've been working on the Alien Huntress series for awhile now, and I love it for being such light reading. After reading textbooks and literary books, this was just the thing for me to sit down and relax with.

We've moved on to Devyn's story in this one, and I love it so much! It's always fun to see a playboy fall in love and became a one-woman guy. I think Showalter does a good job in keeping it realistic. He's very confused about his feelings at first and refuses to accept it, but once he does, he doesn't completely change. He's still a flirt and still obsesses over one thing. (I'm sure you know what one thing playboy obsesses over.)

And Bride is awesome! Not only for being a super-powerful vampire, but for being so self-assured and confident. I love her! I think she's going to be a great addition to the team. As always, this series builds up on itself very nicely. There's still the threat of the evil parasite-ridden queen who's planning on infecting Earth, and we get to know a little more about Macy, who was featured in Deep Kiss of Winter that also had a Kresley Cole story.

I do think that some things that had the potential to be really cool were just thrown away. I don't think the solution to Bride's eating problem was ever resolved as nicely as it should have been. It was hinted that she'd seen/met Devyn before, but then nothing further was mentioned. And then: *SPOILER ALERT* (highlight to see text).
Fiona, the one other living super-vampire person was really built up. She tortured the vampire king's brother, she's all-powerful, the vampire king hates her and wants to find her, etc. And then, she's just waiting in the shadows, slinking in a corner. What?! With the way it was talked about, I wanted so much more from her and from Bride's interaction with her. Very disappointing.

Besides that, it was a good book. It kept me entertained, and it was a fast read. For those who need a break from more serious books or who love light paranormal romance, pick this series up!

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Audiobook Review: The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver

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Title: The Poisonwood Bible
Author: Barbara Kingsolver
Narrator: Dean Robertson
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Edition: Unabridged
Duration: 15 hours, 33 minutes
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)
The Poisonwood Bible is a story told by the wife and four daughters of Nathan Price, a fierce, evangelical Baptist who takes his family and mission to the Belgian Congo in 1959. They carry with them everything they believe they will need from home, but soon find that all of it -- from garden seeds to Scripture -- is calamitously transformed on African soil. What follows is a suspenseful epic of one family's tragic undoing and remarkable reconstruction over the course of three decades in postcolonial Africa.
Overall Rating: 3.5/5

I always appreciate books that seem real. The Poisonwood Bible definitely had a realistic feel to it. Kingsolver doesn't have problems magically disappear for her characters; the girls really struggle with living in Africa and having to deal with their half-crazy domineering father/husband. And bad things happen. In a weird way, I was glad when the first bad thing happened. It meant that Kingsolver took this story seriously. (Honestly, you can't just put characters in the Belgian Congo in the 60's and not have anything bad happen.) After that, I felt more at ease and looked forward to the conflicts that would ensue.

While I liked the story overall, my opinion changed chapter by chapter with this one. At first, I thought it had promise, then the story lost me, then I got back into it, etc. I think the problem is that it was too drawn out. Near the end, I had thought it ended twice before it actually ended. And sometimes I would just get bored of the description of everyday life or the complaints of living in Africa. Naturally, books that have a lot of details, especially ones that are set in exotic places, are fun to read and do a lot to set a visual in the reader's mind. But this was too much -- just by a little, though. Most of the details were necessary, I just think that condensing would be beneficial to the story.

My favorite character is Ada. The point of view constantly shifts between each of the female characters, and I found myself perking up when it came for Ada's narrative. Because of her quirks, and the way she played with language, her thoughts and version of events were the most interesting to me. Also, I feel like she had some of the most heartbreaking events happen to her. But all the characters are impressively complex and have their own unique traits and distinct points of view -- Kingsolver even makes Nathan Price, crazy devout missionary that he is, seem vulnerable and human. I love it!

I do think that Robertson could have differentiated between each of the characters better by using different voices, or something. My favoritism of Ada may also have been due to the fact that I knew when she picked up the story. For the others, they all melted together. Besides that, it was good narration overall. I was enjoyed the story and it was one of those audiobooks where I made up extra chores just so I could listen to it for another hour. However, considering the content of The Poisonwood Bible, the tone of the narrative, and the shifts of perception, I think print would be better for this one. The audio seemed overly long, and I'm not sure that I would have thought that had I actually read it. In any case, it would be worth it just knowing who was speaking when.

The Poisonwood Bible is definitely a book to try reading at least once. (It could be tedious for some.) If you have the patience and the interest, I think it's worth it.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Audiobook Review: Peter and the Shadow Thieves by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson

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Title: Peter and the Shadow Thieves
Authors: Dave Barry, Ridley Pearson
Narrator: Jim Dale
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Series: Peter and the Starcatchers, Book 2
Edition: Unabridged
Duration: 11 hours, 1 minute
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)
In this riveting and adventure-packed follow-up to the award-winning New York Times bestseller Peter and the Starcatchers, Peter leaves the relative safety of Mollusk Island - along with his trusted companion, Tinker Bell - for the dark and dangerous streets of London. On a difficult journey across the sea, he and Tink discover the mysterious and deadly Lord Ombra, who is intent on recovering the missing starstuff - celestial dust that contains unimagined powers. In London, Peter attempts to track down the indomitable Molly, hoping that together they can combat Ombra's determined forces. But London is not Mollusk Island; Peter is not the boy he used to be; and Lord Ombra - the Shadow Master - is unlike anything Peter, or the world, has ever seen.

Overall Rating: 4/5

I absolutely love the idea behind this series. Instead of retelling the old version of Peter Pan, Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson have simply imagined a background for Peter. This series goes through the days before Peter became the legendary "Peter Pan." It's great, because those who aren't familiar with the story can follow, and those who do know the story can be amused by references to what Peter will eventually become.

Aside from the history behind the characters, this is an entertaining and delightful children's novel. Peter and the Shadow Thieves is the sort of book that made me fall in love with reading. It has all the right elements of mystery, suspense, humor, and simple, good fun. There are dangerous parts that made me hold my breath (especially with Jim Dale's narration!) and completely immerse myself in the story with the characters and root for their victory

As with any fantastic children's novel, Peter and the Shadow Thieves has a terrifying bad guy. Named Lord Ombra, he can steal the shadow of anyone, and he wants the magical starstuff to make him all-powerful. I don't know about you, but I think an adventure book is only as good as the antagonist, and Lord Ombra is a definite win. He seems like a character straight out of a particularly horrifying Doctor Who episode. Our shadows are exactly the type of thing we take for granted, and for Barry and Pearson to introduce a character who is capable of stealing people's shadows -- *shudder* I admit, Lord Ombra has entered into my nightmare hall of fame.

In the end, I think I wanted a little more from the side of Captain Hook and the Lost Boys. In this novel, Peter is in England fighting Lord Ombra and the Lost Boys are left to their own devices against Captain Hook. I know that Peter is the main character, but I would have liked more of a balance between the two. Besides that, however, it's a fun, entertaining read that I recommend for all lovers of adventure and fantasy. The end is satisfying in that it answers the most crucial and biting questions, but it still leaves a lot unanswered, so that I'm eager to continue the series.

There just aren't enough words to say how amazing Jim Dale is as a narrator. He puts life and vivacity in every story he reads. The characters all have their own voices, and he matches his pace, rhythm, and tone to what's going on in the story. If you're at all interested in audiobooks, definitely go for the audiobook version of this one. It is a treat.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Book Review: Jenna Starborn by Sharon Shinn

Title: Jenna Starborn
Author: Sharon Shinn
Publisher: Ace
Paperback: 384 pages
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)
From the award-winning author of the Samaria trilogy-a classic story of a woman with the will to rise above the darkest secrets...  
A baby harvested from the gen-tanks on the planet Baldus.  
A girl scorned by the only family she has ever known.  
A woman brave enough to follow her heart-wherever in the universe it may lead her.

Overall Rating: 3/5

In Jenna Starborn, Sharon Shinn gives us a science fiction version of Jane Eyre. As always, the level of complexity of the universe she creates is astounding. Worlds with their own distinctive cultures, an awesome problem-filled caste system, and the ability for the rich to do just about anything, include commission the creation of a baby in a gen tank.

Jenna is the cast off gen tank baby of Mrs. Rentner. When doctors find out that she's being neglected at home, they send her off to technical school, where she learns how to maintain and fix nuclear generators. Fast forward some years, and she arrives at Mr. Ravenbeck's house as a technician and finds that there is more to the place and to Mr. Ravenbeck than what first meets the eye.

To be honest, I enjoyed the changes that Shinn made to the original story. While the horse-and-carriage nineteenth century thing is great, I just think that spaceships, terraformed planets, computerized houses, and robots are even cooler. I loved immersing myself into another unique Shinn world, and figuring out this new universe kept me entertained for most of the time. However, unlike the original Jane Eyre, the characters just didn't draw me in. Mr. Ravenbeck's young ward, Amelia, didn't have the vivacity of Adele, and Jenna is nowhere near as feisty as Jane. While it makes Jenna and Mr. Ravenbeck's relationship less creepy and unhealthy, it also makes it fall flat and lack heat.

I also wished that this story could have been more different; I went through the whole novel, hoping to see some sort of tweak to the story, other than the fact that Mr. Ravenbeck falls in love with  Jenna instead of the nanny character: Janet Ayreson. It was different in the sense that this story is put into a science fiction universe, but I was hoping for something more. In the end, it really is just the story of Jane Eyre with cyborgs and spaceships instead of crazy wives and horse carriages. (Okay, that sounds really cool, but you see what I'm getting at, right?) If you've read Jane Eyre, then the small sci-fi tweaks Shinn makes here and there will give you amusement, but that's about it. It really has nothing on the original. If you haven't read Jane Eyre, you probably won't love this book, to be honest. There isn't much in the way of heat and romance and the changes won't amuse you. In either case, it isn't very satisfying. A nice read, but lacking in depth.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Book Review: Diary by Chuck Palahniuk

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Title: Diary
Author: Chuck Palahniuk
Publisher: Anchor
Paperback: 262 pages
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)
Misty Wilmot has had it. Once a promising young artist, she’s now stuck on an island ruined by tourism, drinking too much and working as a waitress in a hotel. Her husband, a contractor, is in a coma after a suicide attempt, but that doesn’t stop his clients from threatening Misty with lawsuits over a series of vile messages they’ve found on the walls of houses he remodeled. 
Suddenly, though, Misty finds her artistic talent returning as she begins a period of compulsive painting. Inspired but confused by this burst of creativity, she soon finds herself a pawn in a larger conspiracy that threatens to cost hundreds of lives. What unfolds is a dark, hilarious story from America’s most inventive nihilist, and Palahniuk’s most impressive work to date.
Overall Rating: 4/5

This is a story written in diary format from Misty's perspective, but it's a letter to her husband, so there is  second-person narrative element to it, which I liked. Basically, this story is about Misty, a girl who fell in love with a guy and ended up getting pregnant. So, she quit art school. She quit art, period. Though her husband comes from a rich family, they fall on hard times, so she gets a job as a waitress. He gets a job remodeling houses. We come into the story after the husband has tried to kill himself and is now in a coma; Misty gets calls from her husband's clients and finds that his remodeling jobs held secret messages; and Misty's mother-in-law keeps trying to get her to paint. For some reason, this will save all the residents of the island on which they live, and island that is being overrun by tourists.

To describe Diary in two words: deliciously weird.

This was my first foray into Palahniuk's mind. I have quite a few friends who are in love with him, but I have to admit, for the better part of this novel, I just wasn't sold. The beginning is just strange. Costume jewelry seems to be a big issue, and I just didn't get. Everything was surreal; the way Misty was able to find hidden messages that led her exactly where she needed to go; the way Misty's mother-in-law, daughter, and doctor treated her; really, everything about it was simply strange.

None of it seemed to connect, and I thought I was reading a story that was strange just for the sake of being strange. However, it still intrigued me and I kept on going. I wanted to know what would happen to poor Misty. Would she start painting again? Would her husband wake up? Would her mother-in-law lay off? I had all these questions, and I wanted them answered.

Thank goodness for those questions, because Diary comes together beautifully. Don't get me wrong, it's still strange. But it's strange with a purpose. Everything is happening for a reason, and once that was made clear, I fell in love. The narrative is expertly done. I was taken on the journey with Misty, who also had no clue about what was going on. Along with her, I discovered the island inhabitants' strange beliefs and their even stranger plan for saving their livelihoods.

There were some times where I thought the story was too drawn out, but for the most part, I enjoyed it. It's horrific, terrifying, and intriguing all at the same time. For those who like their books weird, definitely pick this one up. You won't regret it.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Book Review: The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer, translated by Burton Raffel

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Title: The Canterbury Tales
Author: Geoffrey Chaucer
Translator: Burton Raffel
Publisher: Modern Library
Hardcover: 672 pages
Edition: Unabridged
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)
It would be impossible to overstate the influence of Geoffrey Chaucer’sThe Canterbury Tales. A work with one metaphorical foot planted in the Florentine Renaissance literary tradition of Boccaccio’s Decameron and the other in works ranging from John Bunyan, Voltaire, and Mark Twain to the popular entertainments of our own time, The Canterbury Talesstands astride the cultures of Great Britain and America, and much of Europe, like a benign colossus.  
Beyond its importance as a cultural touchstone and literary work of unvarnished genius, Chaucer’s unfinished epic poem is also one of the most beloved works in the English language–and for good reason: It is lively, absorbing, perceptive, and outrageously funny–an undisputed classic that has held a special appeal for generations of readers. Chaucer has gathered twenty-nine of literature’s most indelible archetypes–from the exalted Knight to the bawdy Wife to the besotted Miller to the humble Plowman–in a vivid group portrait that captures the full spectrum of late-medieval English society and both informs and expands our discourse on the human condition. 
Presented in these pages in a new unabridged translation by the esteemed poet, translator, and scholar Burton Raffel–whose translation of Beowulf has sold more than a million copies–this Modern Library edition also features an Introduction by the well-known and widely influential medievalist and author John Miles Foley that discusses Chaucer’s work as well as to his life and times. 
Despite the brilliance of Geoffrey Chaucer’s work, the continual evolution of our language has rendered his words unfamiliar to many of us. Burton Raffel’s magnificent new translation brings Chaucer’s poetry back to life, ensuring that none of the original’s wit, wisdom, or humanity is lost to the modern reader.

Overall Rating: 4/5

This is one of the best translations of Chaucer that I've read. And, having been an English major, I've read quite a few versions of Chaucer's stories. It makes a huge difference having a poet translate, I think. Raffel does an excellent job in maintaining the poetic integrity of the work while making it readable for modern readers.

I have heard many friends complain about how boring The Canterbury Tales is. I admit, there are some stories that are impossibly long-winded. (I'm thinking of the Parson's Tale here.) However, there are a few classics in here, such as the Wife of Bath's Tale, and the Knight's Tale. No matter what, it's amazing to see how each of these stories continues to be meaningful and have relevance to audiences today. There is something in every story that we can still see in today's world. Promiscuity, cheating, marriage, friendship, religion, etc. Chaucer covers it all.

If you're going to pick and choose, however, I think the funny ones are the best. There is some merit in the others, but Chaucer is at his finest when writes humor. He's sarcastic, clever, and gloriously irreverent. And he's not above a good fart joke. I'm not sure that can be taken as a sign of a brilliant writer, but Chaucer is one of the greatest.

Overall, I think classics are classics for a reason. The status of The Canterbury Tales is rightly deserved. Chaucer is undeniably clever and funny and brings up a lot of issues that are still worth thinking about. I think everyone should sit down and read this one; just be prepared for poetry, not prose, and know that it won't be a fast read. But it will be worth it.

*I was given a free copy of this book through LibraryThing's Early Reviewers' Program in exchange for an honest review.*