Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Audiobook Review: The People of Sparks by Jeanne Duprau

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Title: The People of Sparks
Author: Jeanne DuPrau
Narrator: Wendy Dillon
Publisher: Listening Library
Duration: 7 hours, 55 minutes
Series: Ember, Book 2
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)
"It is green here and very big. Light comes from the sky...."
When Lina and Doon lead their people up from the underground city of Ember, they discover a surface world of color and life. The people of a small village called Sparks agree to help the Emberites, but the villagers have never had to share their world before. Soon differences between the two groups escalate, and it's up to Lina and Doon to find a way to avoid war!
Overall Rating: 3/5

The Ember series is about a post-apocalyptic world, where a war destroyed civilization as we know it. In the first book, we are introduced to people in an underground city who find out that they are underground and escape to the outside world. The People of Sparks continues their adventures, with Lina and Doon remaining as main characters. They come across a village called Sparks, and the people reluctantly take in the Emberites, promising to teach them how to live in the outside world. However, this strains their resources and arguments take place, gradually escalating into the beginnings of a war.

I love that DuPrau is able to depict a dystopia that middle-grade readers can understand, without losing much complexity. She doesn't hold back, and the stories of how the world became ruined are horrifying in their simplicity and realism. War. That's all it comes down to -- people engaging in war and ruining each other. Now, everyone must start from scratch and learn how to survive all over again by growing their own food, and learning how to live without modern-day conveniences such as electricity and plumbing.

Lina is still my favorite character. Unlike Doon in this book, who loses sight of his values for a little bit, Lina never forgets who she is. She's adventurous and will stop at nothing to get what she wants. I liked that she travels outside of Sparks, because seeing the destroyed cities and freeways through her eyes is at once devastating and kind of cool. I was able to get a better idea of how trashed their world really is.

The thing that prevented me from completely falling in love with this novel is that all the conflict arose from such petty arguments. Sparks people were reluctant to share food, Emberites were tired of working, etc. I really just wanted everyone to suck it up and put themselves in the others' shoes. While I understand that the pettiness was there to show readers how quickly petty arguments can escalate, what it came down to for me was how believable it all was. In a post-apocalyptic world, I would expect many more people than the two or three that were against all the bad decisions to be more intelligent and generous.

I listened to the audiobook version of this, and it has sound effects for some parts; I was not a fan of most of them. The ones with the riot scene, as well as the very last scene worked incredibly well and I really enjoyed them. As for the rest, I thought they were awkward and distracted from the scene rather than added to it. However, I usually don't like sound effects, so for pro-sound effect people, I don't think this will be a problem.

Dillon is an average narrator. Not bad, but not overly fantastic. I like narrators who make the story come to life and make me forget that it's an audiobook. That didn't happen for me in this one -- I felt like I was being read a story. This isn't a bad thing, but it's nothing that I would go out of my way to recommend. I think print may be better for this one.

I think this series is a great introduction to dystopia for young readers. It's straightforward, easy to understand, and has a good message.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Book Review: Flight of Blue by A.E. Howard

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Title: Flight of Blue
Author: A.E. Howard
Publisher: Elder Tree Books
Series: Keeper of the Keys Chronicles, Book 1
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)
A cursed traffic light. A rip in the fabric of the world. A possum sorcerer injured on a quest for revenge. 
Kai and Ellie embark on a journey to return the sorcerer to his home. Entangled in events that could destroy the world, Kai must choose whether to accept the role he was born to play, but isn’t sure he wants.

Overall Rating: 3/5

Flight of Blue is about a boy who finds out that his parents are both Guardians. They seal up tears that could allow the Realm of Darkness to enter and destroy the world. In a chance meeting with a talking opossum sorcerer and a messenger that can turn herself from bird to human, Kai finds himself in a world he never could have dreamed of. What's more, he finds out that they're all relying on him to help a rip in the world, because he may be the person prophecised to save the world. With his best friend Ellie and his dog Sebastian, Kai takes on the responsibility of saving the world from the Realm of Darkness.

This novel is action-packed and takes turns with being serious and funny, which I greatly appreciated. No kid's book can be great without humor. I loved the relationship between Kai and Ellie; it seemed very real to me, and I knew they always had each other's backs. I also enjoyed how Howard is able to keep an adult presence throughout the story, but leaves it to the kids to fight the major battles. In most middle-grade novels, the adults are either completely absent or too present, but the author found a balance between both.

I would have liked the pacing the be a little slower. On the one hand, I liked how things just happen one right after another, and the reader is thrown in the situation along with Kai. Like Kai, we're unable to get our bearings or think straight because crazy things keep happening. However, I do think that there should have been a few pauses during the conflicts so we can absorb the severity of the situation. It also would have been a good chance to get out of Kai's head and explore the world a little bit more. I'm also not a fan of dialogue-heavy novels where most plot points are revealed through conversation, and Flight of Blue is that. Aside from those two things, it was thoroughly enjoyable.

Regardless, this is an imaginative story that any kid will love. Talking animals, magic, and a secret society living with us in the world, protecting us from the Realm of Darkness. This is the sort of fantasy book kids live for.

*I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review.*

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Audiobook Review: The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton

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Title: The Outsiders
Author: S.E. Hinton
Narrator: Jim Fyfe
Publisher: Listening Library
Edition: Unabridged
Duration: 5 hours, 27 minutes
Summary: (taken from Overdrive)
Ponyboy can count on his brothers. And on his friends. But no on much else besides trouble with the Socs, a vicious gang of rich kids whose idea of a good time is beating up "greasers" like Ponyboy. At least he knows what to expect - until the night someone takes things too far.

Overall Rating: 4/5

My favorite stories are ones about friendship and family. Those are two things that everyone can relate to, no matter what decade or place they may be in. Ultimately, that's what The Outsiders is about.

Ponyboy is just trying to find his place in the world. While the people who make up his family and friends are outsiders, he feels like an outsider himself. Unlike his "greaser" pals, he gets good grades and likes to read and watch sunsets. But he doesn't fit in with the other group either, since he's poor and lives a rough sort of life. The Outsiders is about Ponyboy realizing what's important to him in life. After going through some tough situations, he eventually comes to understand and appreciate his family and friends in a way he had never been able to before.

While this book has some action, it's mostly character-driven, which is what I like about it. Even though it's short, the characters are perfectly depicted, and you get to know a lot about them. I found myself relating to every single one of them and caring a lot for them by the end.

I can't even begin to tell you how awesome Jim Fyfe's narration is. While it's important that each character has his or her own voice, some of them tend to get weird if there are too many characters. Every different voice completely fits the character being portrayed. I was never confused as to who was speaking. Better yet, Fyfe isn't afraid to take his time with the narration. If the situation calls for the character to speak a slow drawl, or for the action to be taken down, he slows down the pace.

The Outsiders is such a good story, and the audiobook is well made so that I don't think it really matters which format you read it in. Hard copy works just as well as the audiobook. Either way, read it! It's intense, touching, heartfelt, and a truly great story.

 New motto for life: Stay gold.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Book Review: Blue Bloods by Melissa de la Cruz

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Title: Blue Bloods
Author: Melissa De La Cruz
Publisher: Hyperion
Series: Blue Bloods, Book 1
Paperback: 336 pages
Summary: (Taken from Goodreads)
When the Mayflower set sail in 1620, it carried on board the men and women who would shape America: Miles Standish; John Alden; Constance Hopkins. But some among the Pilgrims were not pure of heart; they were not escaping religious persecution. Indeed, they were not even human. They were vampires.The vampires assimilated quickly into the New World. Rising to levels of enormous power, wealth, and influence, they were the celebrated blue bloods of American society.

The Blue Bloods vowed that their immortal status would remain a closely guarded secret. And they kept that secret for centuries. But now, in New York City, the secret is seeping out. Schuyler Van Alen is a sophomore at a prestigious private school. She prefers baggy, vintage clothes instead of the Prada and pearls worn by her classmates, and she lives with her reclusive grandmother in a dilapated mansion. Schuyler is a loner...and happy that way. Suddenly, when she turns fifteen, there is a visible mosaic of blue veins on her arm. She starts to crave raw food and she is having flashbacks to ancient times. Then a popular girl from her school is found dead... drained of all her blood. Schuyler doesn't know what to think, but she wants to find out the secrets the Blue Bloods are keeping. But is she herself in danger?

Overall Rating: 4/5

I'm always up for a vampire novel, and I think Blue Bloods holds its own in the genre. This was a re-read for me, but it was still great. The idea is extremely creative and original, which is something I always look for. I like the idea of vampire reincarnation, and the connection to Plymouth and the last colony of Roanoke. For American history geeks like me, that's a huge plus. And instead of being filled with romance and angst right away (I know this comes in later books, though), this first book has a well-laid plot with intriguing mysteries.

There are some problems with this book. It does a lot of "telling" instead of showing; I wasn't ever wondering about the characters' thoughts and motivations, because it was all spelled out for me. I was also annoyed by all the designer/brand references. After the first dozen, I understood that they were rich and didn't need anything more. However, these are minor issues, I think. The story is good enough to counteract these problems, and I know the writing definitely improves later in the series.

I love the relationship between Schuyler and Oliver. They're kind of the perfect friends, and I like seeing them in more innocent times before all the big events have changed them. In fact, I enjoyed seeing all of the characters. They are all so different from where we are currently in the series, which just shows how great Melissa de la Cruz is at putting her characters in tough situations and making them grow.

Even though I've read all the books and am just waiting for the last one to be released (*excited squeal*) I still felt that rush of needing to know what happens next. Great characters, beautifully crafted story, and a lot of excitement. You can't go wrong with this book.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Audiobook Review: Must Love Dogs by Claire Cook

Title: Must Love Dogs
Author: Claire Cook
Narrator: Carrington MacDuffie
Publisher: Blackstone Audio
Edition: Unabridged
Duration: 7 hours, 2 minutes
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)
Forty-year-old preschool teacher Sarah Hurlihy thought she'd set herself up for a great life. She'd married the man she loved. They bought a house, decorated it, and then sat, looking at each other, trying to remember why they'd gotten married in the first place. But Sarah didn't have to wonder for long; her husband took up with a younger woman, sounding the death knell for their marriage, and propelling Sarah back into singlehood -- at the same time as her newly widowed father.  
Thrown unwillingly into the suburban dating pool alongside her dad, Sarah is ambivalent about the whole process, despite her ticking clock and thoughts that she might enjoy a child of her own. But Sarah's large, loving Irish clan comes to her rescue -- her married sister placing a personal ad in her name and regularly monitoring Sarah's dating progress; and her brother, Michael, helps her feel lovable when he seeks out her comfort and advice while riding out his own rocky marriage.

Overall Rating: 2/5 

So, I really didn't like this book. I gave it two stars, because it was a quick read and I was able to finish it, but on the whole, I was disappointed. I can't remember what I thought of the movie since I watched it so long ago, but I think it may have been better. Nothing of importance really happened, I didn't find it all that funny even though it's labeled as a "humor" book, and the characters annoyed me. Granted, I'm not divorced or anything, so maybe I'm not in the target audience, but I think that other authors cover this topic much better and in a much more entertaining way.

The number one way for me to dislike a book is if I dislike the main character. That's exactly the problem I had with Must Love Dogs. Yes, she's been through some tough times, but all she does about it is whine and watch The Brady Bunch. I couldn't relate to her, because all she does is put herself down all the time. (Honestly, the bulk of the book isn't taken up with any real plot, it's mostly Sarah whining about her life.) And though she finds some semi-decent men to date, she treats them like crap. She walks out of a guy's house without saying goodbye to him or anything, because he stops making out with her to deal with his puppy. Which is somewhat understandable, but at least say something. And she's really snarky and sarcastic for no good reason. I can see the occasional smart remark, but it was over-the-top. In short: she complains about not finding good guys, but she treats all the guys she dates like crap, so there's no one but herself to blame, really.

Secondly, nothing happened in this book. I felt like Claire didn't go through  much of a change at all. There wasn't anything of significance that could have been a major turning point. If there were a sequel, I feel we'd find her in the same situation as the beginning of this book, just older.

In terms of audiobook format, the production is great. MacDuffie is an excellent narrator, and had the content been better, this would have been a fantastic read. The thing is, there are many funnier chick lit books out there to spend your time on, in my opinion.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Audiobook Review: Freaky Friday by Mary Rodgers

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Author: Mary Rodgers
Publisher: Listening Library
Narrator: Susannah Fellows
Duration: 3 hours 21 minutes
Summary: (Taken from Goodreads)
When I woke up this morning, I found I'd turned into my mother. There I, in my mother' bed, with my feet reaching all the way to the bottom, and my father sleeping in the other bed. I had on my mother's nightgown, and a ring on my left hand, I mean her left hand, and lumps and pins all over my head.

Overall Rating: 3.5/5

I love the premise of this story. A girl wakes up to find that she has turned into her mom and has to deal with all the grown-up problems that her mom deals with. A few movies have been made of this novel, one in 1976, one in 1995, and one in 2003.

I am sad that I never realized the movies were based on a book, because had I not watched the movies beforehand, I think I would have liked this book more. Yes, this is one of those rare books where I like the movies better than the book. For one thing, in the book the switch is caused by the mother, and only Anna, the daughter, learns a lesson. I thought this was completely unfair, because a lot of times adults forget what it's like to be a kid and they don't realize what kids have to go through. I love how the movies show this. Unfortunately, the book does not go into that. Another thing I didn't like was how unrealistic it was. It may be because of a generational difference (after all, it was first published in 1972), but I was surprised how Anna could ditch school, go shopping all around town, and not once be stopped or questioned by an adult.

However, despite that, I thought it was a funny book. There were times I laughed out loud because everything was so ridiculous. It's a fun, quick read that keeps you interested the entire time. It is somewhat dated, but I think it's still very relevant to teens and moms today. If anything, it's interesting to see where this famous story originated.

I loved the narration in this audiobook. Susannah Fellows is extremely talented and switches between characters' voices effortlessly. I was never confused as to who was talking. Also, I love how she adds just the right kind of emotion to mirror the characters' thoughts and actions. Simply fantastic.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Book Review: Pushing the Limits by Katie McGarry

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Title: Pushing the Limits
Author: Katie McGarry
Publisher: Harlequin Teen
Hardcover: 384 pages
Expected Publication: July 31, 2012
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)
"I won't tell anyone, Echo. I promise." Noah tucked a curl behind my ear. It had been so long since someone touched me like he did. Why did it have to be Noah Hutchins? His dark brown eyes shifted to my covered arms. "You didn't do that-did you? It was done to you?" No one ever asked that question. They stared. They whispered. They laughed. But they never asked. 
So wrong for each other...and yet so right. 
No one knows what happened the night Echo Emerson went from popular girl with jock boyfriend to gossiped-about outsider with "freaky" scars on her arms. Even Echo can't remember the whole truth of that horrible night. All she knows is that she wants everything to go back to normal. But when Noah Hutchins, the smoking-hot, girl-using loner in the black leather jacket, explodes into her life with his tough attitude and surprising understanding, Echo's world shifts in ways she could never have imagined. They should have nothing in common. And with the secrets they both keep, being together is pretty much impossible.Yet the crazy attraction between them refuses to go away. And Echo has to ask herself just how far they can push the limits and what she'll risk for the one guy who might teach her how to love again

Overall Rating: 4/5 

A book about two troubled teens trying to work through their issues and figure out their futures? Yes, please. Pushing the Limits is filled with drama, serious issues, and some very touching moments. Dealing with themes such as friendship and family, this is something that I think everyone can relate to.

What Katie McGarry does is perfectly set up a situation with two characters that are impossible not to like. Told from both of their perspectives, I rooted for Echo and Noah from the very beginning (individually and as a couple). What I liked about them is that they are two responsible teenagers in very bad situations. These weren't even situations they brought upon themselves, but things that just happened and made a major impact on their lives, forcing them to deal with horrible things. I hate when authors portray teenagers as shallow and whiny; McGarry gives her characters something real to be troubled about and has them fight for what they want instead of sulking in their misery.

And my goodness, does McGarry know how to craft an un-put-downable story! Don't even try to stop reading at the end of a chapter, because it won't happen. I would promise myself to only read a few chapters, only to find a few hours later that I've read a quarter of the book. It's a fast read that goes by even faster, because you won't want to stop reading. The characters sucked me in, and I found myself always needing to know what happened next.

There were some problems with this novel. For one, the adults didn't seem very realistic to me. They were too over-the-top, not willing to listen to the teenagers or talk the problems out with them. While I'm sure this happens, I would have liked there to be a better balance. For most of the novel, it seems like the only two adults that really care are the therapist, Mrs. Collins, and Echo's former art teacher. Also, the connection between Echo and Noah got too strong too fast. I did like that the relationship took some time to develop, but it only took a couple of short meetings for Noah to start obsess about Echo. And there are some incredibly cheesy moments, but they are interspersed with some really sweet ones, so there is a balance, at least.

Because of those problems, though, I had a hard time deciding what to rate this novel. While I was bothered by some things, I liked the characters, the themes, and how nicely the story unfolded. What it came down to was the fact that I enjoyed every second of reading Pushing the Limits, and I couldn't put it down. In the end, that's all that matters for me.

*I received a copy from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.*

Other Reviews
Miss Remmers' Reviews - 4.5/5
Reading under the Willow Tree - 2.5/5
Ladybug Storytime - Positive review

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Audiobook Review: The Prince of Mist by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

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Title: The Prince of Mist
Author: Carlos Ruiz Zafon
Publisher: BBC Audiobooks America
Narrator: Jonathan Davis
Duration: 5 hours 6 minutes
Summary: (Taken from Goodreads)
A mysterious house harbors an unimaginable secret . . .
It’s wartime, and the Carver family decides to leave the capital where they live and move to a small coastal village where they’ve recently bought a home. But from the minute they cross the threshold, strange things begin to happen. In that mysterious house there still lurks the spirit of Jacob, the previous owners’ son, who died by drowning.
With the help of their new friend Roland, Max and Alicia Carver begin to explore the suspicious circumstances of that death and discover the existence of a mysterious being called The Prince of Mist— a diabolical character who has returned from the shadows to collect on a debt from the past. Soon the three friends will find themselves caught up in an adventure of sunken ships and an enchanted stone garden, which will change their lives forever.
Overall Rating: 3/5

This book isn't bad. It's certainly very creepy and the storyline was enough to keep me wanting to know more. However, readers (or listeners!) should be aware that this is no Shadow of the Wind. You can definitely tell that this is his first book. The setting is somewhat vague and there are far too many coincidences in the book. Max's parents just happen to be gone for most of the novel, and of course that's exactly when trouble arises. I think it would have been much more interesting if they had been there, but that's just me. Also, there are a lot of issues left unresolved and many points in the story when I was confused because things just weren't explained very well.

However, it is undoubtedly a creepy, chilling book. With evil clowns, clocks and watches that freak out and start going backwards, a haunted garden, and a sunken ship, there are plenty of things to give you a chill. The storyline is also interesting and I liked the characters. I didn't relate to them as completely as I could have, but I did relate to them. There is also a lot of mystery involved, and I was certainly surprised when a certain mystery was revealed (I'm not telling!).

I've mentioned before that I don't like music in my audiobooks. This one wasn't too bad. I felt better about the music because it's mentioned that the author himself composed and performed it. However, the sound effects (yes, sound effects!) were a bit too much. Some people may like it, but it's just not for me. When the narrator mentions the door opening, I don't need the sound of an opening door to amplify the words -- it kind of interrupts the story, in my opinion. However, Jonathan Davis is a BRILLIANT narrator and I would gladly listen to another book narrated by him.

Conclusion: It's an okay book. Not a necessary read, but one that's fairly enjoyable.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Audiobook Review: Nightwalker by Heather Graham

Title: Nightwalker
Author: Heather Graham
Narrators: Tanya Eby and Fred Stella
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Series: Harrison Investigation, Book 8
Length: 9 hours, 8 minutes
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)
Jessy Sparhawk has seen firsthand how gambling can ruin people's lives. But one night, desperate for money, she places the bet that will change her life forever. Just as she's collecting her winnings, a man stumbles through the crowd, a knife protruding from his back, and crashes into her, pinning her to the craps table.
Hired to investigate the murder, private detective Dillon Wolf finds himself fascinated by the gorgeous redhead who'd been trapped beneath the victim--and by the single word the dying man had whispered in her ear. "Indigo."
What neither of them realizes is that the nightmare is only just beginning. Because bodyguard Tanner Green may have been killed by that knife, but his angry ghost isn't going anywhere--not without vengeance. Now, literally caught between the living and the dead, Dillon and Jessy have no choice but to forge ahead together. Their investigation will take them from the glitz of the Vegas strip into the dealings of casino magnate Emil Landon, the man who signs both their paychecks, and out into the desert to a ghost town called Indigo, where past and present come together in a search for gold.
Years ago, blood was shed on that very ground, and now it looks as if history is about to repeat itself, with the living and the dead facing off for possession of a fortune, and Dillon and Jessy fighting not only to stay alive but for the chance to build a future.
Overall Rating: 3/5

I always love when mystery stories have a paranormal element to them. In this case, Nightwalker deals with a woman named Jessy Sparhawk who finds out she can see ghosts after a man dies on top of her in a Las Vegas casino. Private investigator Dillon Wolf is a Nightwalker himself (someone who can see ghosts), and finds himself drawn to Jessy. They team up and together try to solve the mystery of the death of Tanner Green and the mysterious word he said to Jessy.

There were quite a few things I liked about this novel. First of all, the mystery going on in the present-day has a distinct connection to past events. Though I thought the whole unraveling of connections that happened near the climax was boring, I still enjoyed seeing the parts fit together. Secondly, there are ghosts. Ringo, a ghost Dillon hangs out with, is by far my favorite character. He added a lot of humor to the book, which I appreciated. Thirdly, it's just a good story. A man dying on top of one of the main characters near the beginning of the novel sets a great pace and an interesting situation to follow.

However, these good things were overshadowed by the lack of development. Everything seemed a little shallow for me: the plot, the characters, even the setting. It was all pretty much stereotypical, and surprisingly, not much conflict from a mystery. Though everyone kept stressing how much "danger" Jessy was in, only two dangerous things happened to her before the climax hit. And they weren't all that bad. Considering everyone's obsessive concern and the length of the novel, there could have been quite serious threats before Graham took off with the climax. I wanted the stakes to be amped up; especially since a supposed fortune in gold was on the line. I also wanted to see the characters go through tough situations and change and grow, but that didn't happen at all. There's a bit of romance, which helped a little, but not much.

Honestly, if I read this in print, I probably would have rated it far lower. I enjoyed this much more in audiobook format. I was able to relax or do productive things while listening to it, which is always nice, because I don't feel as if I wasted my time. I also really liked having the two narrators to do the differing male and female parts. Sometimes the dialogue was awkward when offstage narrator had to jump in real quick, but it did become smoother as the book went on. So, either I got used to it or the editing became better. Maybe a little bit of both.

I would recommend Nightwalker as a beach read, or as something to put on in the background when you don't really want to be invested in something too complicated. It's easy to follow along, and there's a decent story behind it. It's something worth thinking about for mystery lovers.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Audiobook Review: Beloved by Toni Morrison

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Author: Toni Morrison
Publisher:Books on Tape
Narrator: Toni Morrison
Duration: 12 hours 3 minutes
Summary (taken from Goodreads)
Staring unflinchingly into the abyss of slavery, this spellbinding novel transforms history into a story as powerful as Exodus and as intimate as a lullaby. Sethe, its protagonist, was born a slave and escaped to Ohio, but eighteen years later she is still not free. She has too many memories of Sweet Home, the beautiful farm where so many hideous things happened. And Sethe's new home is haunted by the ghost of her baby, who died nameless and whose tombstone is engraved with a single word: Beloved. Filled with bitter poetry and suspense as taut as a rope, Beloved is a towering achievement by Nobel Prize laureate Toni Morrison.
Overall Rating: 3/5

Let me start off by saying that this book is beautifully and powerfully written. It is one of the best character studies I have ever read -- there's a reason why this book has won a Pulitzer. Honestly, there is no criticism I can give this book. The characters are beautiful, and real. The way in which this story is told is eerie and haunting and perfectly fitting for the topic. It's a book that I think everyone should read (or at least try to read) within their lifetime.

However,while it is brilliant, it is not the type of story that interests me. It is completely character-driven with very little plot. There was nothing for me to grab onto. While the characters are perfectly depicted, I wasn't able to fall in love with them. Now, this may be because I listened to the audiobook before I read it in print (which I am planning on doing, to give the book a fair chance). I am easily distracted and I think that reading such a slow-moving, detailed story will be much better than hearing it.

It is told at a very slow pace, and I found myself drifting during parts of it. However, I think that if you've already read the book, the audiobook is definitely worth it. There is nothing like hearing the author tell the story herself (or himself), with pauses and emphases exactly where the author intended. Toni Morrison doesn't have a great range of voices (she is, after all, a writer and not a narrator by trade), but it's hardly necessary for this book, since each character is so distinct and unique, their identity shows through the words.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Book Review: The Tiger's Wife by Tea Obreht

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Title: The Tiger's Wife
Author: Tea Obreht
Publisher: Random House
Hardcover: 338 pages
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)
Natalia Stefanovi, a doctor living (and, in between suspensions, practicing) in an unnamed country that's a ringer for Obreht's native Croatia, crosses the border in search of answers about the death of her beloved grandfather, who raised her on tales from the village he grew up in, and where, following German bombardment in 1941, a tiger escaped from the zoo in a nearby city and befriended a mysterious deaf-mute woman. The evolving story of the tiger's wife, as the deaf-mute becomes known, forms one of three strands that sustain the novel, the other two being Natalia's efforts to care for orphans and a wayward family who, to lift a curse, are searching for the bones of a long-dead relative; and several of her grandfather's stories about Gavran Gailé, the deathless man, whose appearances coincide with catastrophe and who may hold the key to all the stories that ensnare Natalia.

Overall Rating: 3/5

The Tiger's Wife is about Natalia, a doctor whose grandfather has just died. While immunizing and caring for orphans, Natalia goes through the stories of her grandfather's past, taking the reader on a journey through one man's life. This novel largely deals with the themes of death and superstition and how they intertwine.

I liked the way this novel is told. There is a huge difference between past and present. Natalia is working with people who live in a rural setting; they don't have much in the way of technology or city-life, so superstition and folk tales control their lives. However, while the present is filled with superstition, the past turns that superstition into a sort of magical realism. In the stories about her grandfather's past, the superstitions and fables become real. This, I think, perfectly represents our relationship with the past. We can never perfectly remember past events, and when we're hearing them second-hand, especially decades after they've happened, they take on a vague, magical quality that makes them very distant and surreal.

I would have liked more of an actual plot, however. Although the book is titled after a death-mute woman from her grandfather's home village who tames a tiger, there was nothing to really connect that to Natalia's story. That disappointed me. For much of this book, there was nothing to really connect the past to the present, and I would have liked that closure. Instead of a novel, this read more like a short story cycle. Different characters have their different stories, but the many of the connections are loose at best, and The Tiger's Wife is largely a collection of stories form the past. A short story cycle would have worked better, because while a theme (death) connected it all together, a concrete plot did not, and I expect a solid plot from a novel. 

Despite that, the writing is lovely, and I enjoyed reading it. The detailed descriptions offset the magical qualities of the stories, and I loved how Obreht spent her time giving each character a complex backstory, making them come to life and enriching each story.

This is a great debut novel that intelligently deals with complex themes and ideas. I am looking forward to see what Obreht will come out with next.

*I received a copy from Goodreads First Reads in exchange for my honest review.*

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Book Review: Mr. Panda's Painting by Anne Rockwell

Title: Mr. Panda's Painting
Author: Anne Rockwell
Publisher: MacMillan
Hardcover: 32 pages
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)
On the way home from buying paints at the art store, Mr. Panda determines to paint a picture of all the colorful things in his neighborhood, encouraging readers to name all the items and colors in his creation.

Overall Rating: 4/5

This book is great for younger kids. It makes for a good teaching aid and children love it. (At least, the ones I've read it to love it!) The story is simple and easy to follow, so children will get the pattern of it within one or two readings.  With the layout of the illustrations on each page, it is easy for children to identify and learn colors. Each color has its own page and will allow kids to get a lot of practice in pointing out objects and saying what color they are. The illustrations help in that there are a lot of colors featured, but they are simply done and easy to recognize. I also like that it features only animals as characters. It's an added bonus to be able to ask children what animal is featured.

I definitely recommend this for children who are just learning about colors and painting. They will find it an enjoyable and engaging read.