Sunday, January 31, 2010

I Am the Messenger by Markus Zusak


This was a fast paced, quick, interesting read. I got sucked right into the story and would love to give it four stars. But I have to knock it down to three because the ending was so unsatisfying. I didn't feel like it fit with the rest of the story, at all. I was a little surprised that this was classified as Young Adult, as there was some material I would think was inappropriate for that age group. All in all, I think it was worth the 8 hours it took to read, but I wouldn't bother keeping a copy for my personal library.
Be advised, this book contains moderate use of profanity and brief instances of sexual and violent sexual activity.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Can't Wait to Get to Heaven by Fannie Flagg

I enjoy talking to other people about books so I naturally enjoy book groups/clubs of many sorts. I happened to be talking to my cousin, Jen, who I trust as an avid reader (after all she read 101 books last year), and she recommended this book to me. I wanted a lighter, happier read after I've been reading some more intense books lately. So, I took a chance and chose this book for a book club discussion that I hosted at my house. I even made Neighbor Dorothy's Heavenly Caramel Cake (as pictured by the book in the photo) ~ a recipe from the many in the back of the book for my guests to try. It was alright and better that I thought it would turn out considering baking cakes is not really my strength of talents. Anyway, on with the review.

Elner Shimfissle is living in Elmwood Springs, Missouri and she has raised her family and would really like to live her life the way she would like to in her retirement but there are people in her life who can't help but worry about her, particularly her high-strung niece, Norma. In fact, as Elner is picking figs from her fig tree and in the process falls off the ladder her last thoughts are "I'm in big trouble now...I may just have lost ladder privileges for life." And this is the beginning of the end for Elner. Or is it?
While this book was filled with interesting characters and a few ideas that kept my curiousity going, I don't think it is a book that I'll ever re-read. I didn't love all of the characters which is perhaps what the author was aiming for. I couldn't easily relate to their predicaments either although they were humorous at times. I did feel that things unfolded with a nice pace and that there was closure made with all the loose ends for the most part. But there were a couple of chapters in particular that really bothered me. I didn't feel the theme or the character it introduced added to the storyline at all and was unnecesssary. I wished that it hadn't been part of the story or I might have felt differently about the book in the end.
This book was an entertaining, light read which did give me a unique retrospective of Elner's life. I did enjoy the heartwarming perspective of how the simplest things that Elner did for others were the ones that meant the most in their lives. It gave me a gentle reminder of the importance of reaching out to help others.

A look from the book:

If Elner had entertained any doubts for a second that the woman before her was her sister, she didn't anymore. It was Ida all right.
"Now Ida, " She said, "try not to get yourself in a snit. Norma had no choice. Tot is a good friend. How can you tell somebody something like that and not hurt her feelings? She showed up at the funeral home with her supplies and everything. She thought she was doing you a favor. Norma didn't have the heart to tell her she couldn't do you."
Ida was not sympathetic. "I should think a dying wish trumps hurt feelings, any time of the day."

***

Elner looked up and saw two zebras, with red stripes that looked like candy canes and with silver tinsel manes and tails, an a herd of tiny little bright yellow hippopotamuses no bigger than twelve inches high, pass right in front of them.


375 pages, Ballantine Books - June 2007, My rating: 2.5 stars

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan


Lately my tastes have been straying away from young adult fiction, mainly YA fiction that's geared more towards adults that kids (which I think ruins it most of the time), but this movie looks pretty good, see here, so I decided to listen to the book first before I take my kids in February.

My review will be short.
It was okay.
But as a side note, I probably shouldn't have listened to it, as I was not a fan of the reader. His voices seemed too cartoonish, like they were straight off of Sesame Street, and kept reminding me this book was for kids (you know like Trix), and I think I'd have liked it better if I'd have just read it and invented my own voices in my head. I plan on reading the rest of the series eventually and see if my little theory holds true.

Kudos to Riordan for keeping the content in this one for young adults. Imagine a young adult book that is actually for young adults! Perish the thought!

As for content, just think Harry Potter/Greek mythology, but I like mythology (I am a huge Clash of the Titans fan after all), and even though it's not half as good as Harry Potter as far as predictability and character development goes, I will give it full marks for excitement. It was good fun. Any kid would like this book. And the movie looks even better. Maybe we'll even see it on the first weekend. For me that's really saying something.
3 stars.

Another point of view: Amanda

Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Rose of York - Love and War by Sandra Worth


The more I read about the early monarchs, the more I'm convinced - a lot of them were loony birds. They were paranoid (probably because most of their extended families wanted them dead), often delusional, unable to form stable relationships after being raised by multiple people in multiple places usually amongst a war for dominance, forcing them to grow up too fast. I wonder, can they be blamed for their erratic behavior after such odd and bizarre upbringings?

Richard the III is no different from these. I've seen how he's depicted in Shakespeare's plays. His hump, his paranoid and murdering behaviors are legendary. Author Sandra Worth's depiction here argues that may not be true about him. Was Shakespeare's view skewed by the reigning, rival Tudors? He may have been handsome. A shy product of his violent environment. In love with a beautiful woman as depicted on the cover of her book, Love and War.

I'm a big fan of John Waterhouse paintings. A lot of authors use them for covers. In fact when I notice a Waterhouse on the front, I have a hard time resisting a book's contents, regardless of how good it may or may not be (the one below was on Mistress Shakespeare.)

His paintings of mainly women are so lovely and filled with emotion. He had a way with catching just the right expression, the slope of a shoulder, how their hands lay atop each other. And I've always wondered who the woman was he painted the most. Her face and red hair. Her absolutely flawless pink skin. Talk about giving me a complex!

While I thought the cover of this one beautiful, I had a hard time stomaching it as Richard III sitting there with his lovely Anne Warwick, the woman it took him nearly a decade to marry amidst the war between the Roses. I thought more of this knightly clad hero as his earlier ancestor, a younger John of Gaunt and his mistress and eventually third wife, the beautiful Katrine - who also had red hair. Worth's take on Richard and Anne is obviously modeled after their lives, and from a favorite book of mine by Anya Seton entitled Katherine, about their courtship and later marriage.

In truth, Love and War, is much more about the history of the epic battle between York and Lancaster than it is about Richard and Anne. And I liked that because I'm a big English history buff. But the love stories themselves seemed more like filler than anything, definitely running second to the battles and treason that took place during the time period. Maybe that story line evolves more in the second and third books in the series.

So don't be fooled by the cover! If you want a fantastic love story amidst war and strife, read Katherine. If you want to learn about the history of the War of the Roses, read this one, the first in The Rose of York trilogy.

And most importantly, wear sun screen so you'll have beautiful skin like the ladies in these pictures!

We can all dream anyway...
3 stars

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Living Dead Girl by Elizabeth Scott

A long time ago when I was young, I read a book called A Child Called IT by Dave Pelzer and it has haunted me ever since. It was about a horrifying child abuse case in California. I clearly remember crying about it, having nightmares and talking endlessly to my mother about it as well. I couldn't make sense of how much it saddened me. I still can't.
I only describe this to you now because this book, Living Dead Girl, has had this same affect on me. It has this intense, terrifying feel to it. I can still see Alice and hear her voice. I ponder about her devastating situation. Her story has affected me more than I think I realize, even now. I don't know that I can ever read this book again. Although, I may feel compelled to do so like I did while I read it recently.
I had an unpredictable parental experience while reading this book. My 5th grade daughter loves to read and she often looks on my shelf to see what I'm reading. It so happened that she decided to read Living Dead Girl without asking me. When I realized she was reading it, I felt it was too late to take it away. I felt she should have the closure in the ending if possible. I had her give it to me when she finished and invited her to talk to me but she didn't say too much at this point. Over the next few days, I think I managed to stay open so she could feel like she could talk to me. As soon as she finished, of course, I read this book very fast so that I could discuss it with her. As we discussed this book it surprised me, mostly, about what I learned from her vantage point. Naturally, she had a few questions and I think a lot went over her head. I remembered how my mom handled me when I read A Child Called IT and I tried to emmulate that by listening, keeping open to answer questions and keeping calm. I know this is a strong book with a massive message. I realize the controversy on whether or not it should be a book for teens. Through my experience with my daughter, it has taught me a lot and opened my eyes more than I think even my daughters' eyes. She knows more than I realize. Fifth grade is still so young and I wouldn't have told her to read this book. I don't really recommend it at all. I've worried about this situation a lot but overall I think it's okay, and I truly hope that she's okay, that she read it. I think that it is alright for teens/Young Adults if they want to read it but a parent, trusted friend or mentor would be very helpful so that they could discuss it with them or have any questions answered that they might need. It also lends to a good dicussion on the whole stranger danger topic. Seriously, it's super scary to think about how to handle this if it really happened. So hard to fathom. Nightmarish, really? Now I worry, have I talked about this enough with my daughter?
I thought it was deeply touching and hauntingly written, perhaps even overwhelmingly so. I couldn't put it down. If possible, it might have been even more compelling if Elizabeth Scott wrote this based on a true story but it saddens me deeply to say this could be real. I think Alice's story did need to be told and I think I'll never forget it either.

176 pages, Sept. 2008, My rating: 3 stars

— Quotes from this book:

...the thing is you can get used to anything you think you can't, you
want to die but you don't, you can't, you just are

Once upon a time I was a little girl who disappeared.
Once upon a time my name was not Alice.
Once upon a time I didn't know how lucky I was
.



-On the back cover:

This is Alice's story. It is one you have never heard, and one you will never, ever forget.



Also:

Plainfield Public Library
Reverie
Katy Reads Y.A.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Queen 'Bina's Books 2010

Goal: 25 books
*********************
1)The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain
2)The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
3)The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood
4)An Irish Country Girl by Patrick Taylor
5)A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
6)The Twilight Saga (books 1-4) by Stephenie Meyer
7)Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Other Strange Tales by Robert Louis Stevenson
8)The Hidden Flame by Davis Bunn and Janette Oke
9)The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss
10)The Vaninshing of Katharina Linden by Helen Grant
11)The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner by Stephenie Meyer
12)The Dragonbone Chair by Tad Williams
13)On Becoming Baby Wise II by Gary Ezzo
14)Christmas Jars by Jason F. Wright
15)To Green Angel Tower Part 2by Tad Williams
16)The Mansionby Henry Van Dyke
17)Midnight's Children by Salmon Rushdie
18)Against All Things Ending by Stephen R. Donaldson
19)The Light in the Forest by Conrad Richter
20)You and Your A.D.D Child...by Jody Capehart
21)To the Green Angel Tower Part 1 by Tad Williams
22)The Sea of Monsters by Rick Riordan
23)The Stone of Farewell by Tad Williams
24)The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan

Sunday, January 17, 2010

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

*contains spoilers*
I liked the first person narrative Twain used here much better than the third person of Tom Sawyer. I loved the moral allegory he uses to help us stick with Huck as he journeys through his own soul and learns to see Jim as a real person and not just a piece of property. And Jim's personality compared with the general attitude towards the black slaves at that time shows very clearly how firm Twain stands against racism.
I have two gripes, well half-gripes, really. The first is that when Huck shows up coincidentally at Tom's Aunt's house and then Tom comes along himself, well that's a little too uncanny. And then to have Tom mess up all their plans just for the adventure of it when he knows all along that Jim is well and truly free, now that's just tiresome. And the second is the phonetic spelling. Kudos to Mr. Twain for his research into the various regional lingoes and for his attention to authenticity. But you have to admit, he sacrificed the general flow of the story in favor of this sometimes charming characteristic. All in all, it worked out alright, but there were times I could not figure out what they were saying.
I'd be hard pressed to say if I liked this or the first one better. But I'd say this one had a more definite moral to it.

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain


*contains spoilers*

I can definitely see why this one has endured the test of time. I'd never read it before and somehow I always got the impression that Huck was the con artist type and Tom was kind of just naive. I was surprised at how actively adventurous Tom was and doubly surprised at what a scaredy-cat Huck was. But I suppose I'll learn more about both of them in the next one. Though now that they're both filthy-stinkin' rich, I don't see how they'll manage to have many real adventures. We'll see...


The ending was kind of abrupt and there were a few brief moments when the writer slipped into second person (a literary pet peeve of mine); which is why Mr. Twain pulled four stars instead of five on this one. All in all, I'm glad I finally got around to reading it and it will keep a permanent place on my shelf.

Introductions

Before I get carried away reviewing my most recent reads, I'll make a quick introduction of myself. My name is Robin, also known here as Queen 'Bina. Julie invited me, as an avid reader and fellow bibliophile to contribute to this blog. I'm very happy and excited to be here. Just a little about my reviewing style: I am also a writer, so I tend to read with a writer's eye at times. I may comment on the quality or style of the writing in a book, not just the plot, tone, characters and other literary features. I will try to give fair warning if my review contains spoilers, but I'm not making any promises. I also make a point of trying to make a note on content; whether the book contains language, violence, sex or other materials a reader might wish to be cautioned against. I think it's a great pity that there's no standardized book rating system, like we have for movies, television and video games. So I do my best to make people aware of any objectionable content I may come across. I hope our readers will find my contributions helpful and enjoyable. Happy reading!!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Specials by Scott Westerfeld

Third book in the Uglies Series.

Exquisite, tiny details and crystal clear images are what Specials can see. Amazing super-powered coordination through powerful repairable muscles are the way that Specials move. Even the faintest, most distant sound are distinguishable through "skintenna" and thoughts from the other Specials are the way that Specials communicate and hear. Their bones are light and made from aircraft ceramic for indestructibility. Even the odd, campfire smell of the Old Smoke is detectable through the nose of a Special. Every sense, every form and muscle of a Special is perfect and supernatural.
This is a powerful futuristic book. I loved it!
Basic synopsis:
Tally is now a special. She has undergone another surgery and has now joined the unique ranks of The Cutter's with her long-time friend, Shay, in charge. They are like super detectives and have missions of distinction where they monitor the lives of the Uglies and the Pretties. Tally is headed in a new direction and she can feel it. Will it be good or bad for her? When she is faced with the ulitmate cure, will she take it?
Tally's personality evolves tremendously in this book. I liked this about her. I feel she really had to come to terms with a lot of things that happened over the course of the series. She had to find comfort within herself. Once again, she had to face many obstacles and changes within herself and the people around her. It was very interesting along the lines of these types of dilemnas. Not every part of this book is easy or comfortable to read. At times while reading I felt sad, surprised, skeptical, and curious. Most of all, I had to think. In the end, as I devoured this book in just a few short days, I realized I wanted more. Luckily, I found out that there is more now in Extras. I'll have to read that next.
From the back:

"Tally's in constant motion, the action nonstop, all the way until—paralleling
the stunning end of Uglies—Tally makes an unromantic, pragmatic and desperate
final decision. A splendid, provocative conclusion to a terrific series."
Kirkus Reviews (starred)

400 pages, Simon Pulse (Sept. 11, 2007), My rating: 5 stars

Other viewpoints:

Friday, January 8, 2010

Pretties by Scott Westerfeld

I quickly realized as soon as I finished reading Uglies that I would be reading the next books in the series as soon as I could. I did just that even throughout the holidays. One thing I really liked about these books is that they are very well paced. I enjoyed the way things unfolded as they did and how or what it revealed about their world. Basically, I loved the way the story was told and it's truly a page turner.
In Pretties, the story picks up shortly after the end of Uglies with the main character, Tally, already having had the required surgery to make her pretty and similar minded as the others. Suddenly, she's thrust into a world of popularity which includes the best of beautiful things, parties and people. She is still friends with great characters from Uglies like Shay & Peris who is her best friend as promised. As she starts to meet other pretties, like one in particular named Zane, things start to get more complicated. There are always lots of choices for Tally to make and things for her to experience as well. I felt I related to Tally as a character better in Pretties than in Uglies. I feel I had identified more with Shay before but her character has so drastically been altered because of the pretty operation that it deeply saddened me. I didn't realize how this would affect me. It still amazes to feel how deeply I can be moved by the written word. Bravo to Scott Westerfeld for that!
One thing that I feel is at the heart of these stories are the tiny details about friendship. So many possibilities and disappointments that lie within Tally's relations with her friends spoke to me. It is very subtle yet beautiful. It's what drew me into reading these books for the most part and had me wanting to read the complete series. I had to know what would happen with these friends. It's not the only reason though because this book contains a lot of exciting adventurous things, i.e, a floating ice rink. Honestly, I'm a little afraid of ice or ice skating and I couldn't imagine even wanting to go there to ice skate. The way Westerfeld describes it was incredible and what results there is fascinating too. Plus, isn't it just the kind of thing Pretty's would do for fun?
Now, for me I did have to be patient with and get past that semi-annoying Pretty language for most of the novel but I think I understood why it was written in that voice. I think it was valuable to differentiate between the two different worlds in order to transition from the Uglies to the Pretties stories. Actually, I think it moves the story to a higher scale and it's very clever writing.
I admit that I've read very little dystopian novels until this year. I wasn't always sure I could get into them, I think. As I've read them more, I've found that I've really enjoyed reading this genre. I feel I've discovered a whole realm of new thoughts and possibilities which is simply exciting. I'm glad about that.

From the book itself:

"Remember that the most beautiful things in life are the most useless." -John Ruskin. (Pg. 1)

"...everything was always ultra safe in New Pretty Town. Otherwise pretties would be killing themselves left and right."

"She had to get out of this balloon now. Then Tally saw the river. And,
clutching her hover board, she threw herself into the void."

"... as if the metal had suddenly become liquid and alive."

"...a noisy was to travel, the wind roiling the trees like a storm."


384 pages, Nov. 2005, My rating: 4.5 stars

Other Pretties book reviews to read:

Amanda
Bookworm Burrow
mjrr's weblog
Jawas Read, Too!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Maintenance post: Where we are for 2010

I took the liberty earlier today to create the book lists for 2010 and update a little bit around here. I'm not trying to take over but just trying to maintain the flow of 5-squared and keep it alive. This blog means a lot to me because I happen to feel that this blog was created by my friends, Amanda and Jason, out of a pure love for reading and a desire to share that love of books with others. 5-squared has done just that and this will be its third year! So exciting! Personally, I've grown to really love the book blogging community and reading so many of their blogs is a true pleasure for me.
I'm not sure which of our wonderful authors would like to continue with 5-squared this year or who may move on. I don't think it is my place to officially assume either. So, I made a 2010 book list for all current authors listed. Each current author does have admin. privileges on this blog, so I'll let them decide. Of course, I hope each one would continue posting as I do enjoy reading a variety of reviews myself but I'll understand either way. That's the nature of a group, comings and goings, I think. I'm looking forward to 2010 here on 5-squared!
Unofficially, I do realize that some of our authors, as you may know, have already posted some of their book reviews on their own blogs. I'll add those links (the ones I'm aware of so please let me know if I've left you out) to the sidebar so that you can continue reading their amazing book reviews. (Authors if you don't like your link there you can take it off.)
As for me, I'm planning to continue posting my 25+ book reviews here. I enjoy being a part of 5-squared and on group blogs in general. I think that's my niche.
I hope you'll continue reading and leaving your input through comments as well. Thank you!

Lula's Books 2010

Goal: 25 books
*********************

1)The Rose of York - Love and War by Sandra Worth
2) The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan
3) Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead, a play by Tom Stoppard
4) The Spirit of Sweetgrass by Nicole Seitz
5) Angelology by Danielle Trussoni
6)Abigail Adams Life by Woody Holton
7) The Convenient Marriage by Georgette Heyer
8) The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest by Stieg Larsson

Julie's Books 2010

Goal: 25 books
*********************

1) Can't Wait to Get to Heaven by Fannie Flagg
2)The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson
3)Batman: Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader? by Neil Gaiman Illustrated by Andy Kubert
4)Firefly Lane by Kristin Hannah
5)Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins
6)The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy
7)When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead
8)The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde
9)Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson
10)The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary E. Pearson
11)Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
12)The Queen of Cool by Cecil Castellucci
13)Episodes: My Life as I See It by Blaze Ginsberg
14)The Light in the Forest by Conrad Richter
15)Don't You Dare Read This, Mrs. Dunphrey by Margaret Peterson Haddix

2009 Group Totals

It's well into the New Year so I thought I'd take the time and initiative for an update to let you know of our 2009 Group Totals. Slowly but surely, I'm working on figuring out how to update this blog. In the meantime, I want to let you all know that we had another fabulous year here at 5-squared. Drum roll if you please....because as we have read & book reviewed this year between the 13 of us, we have reviewed 401 books collectively.
I happen to know, as you might, that this number is likely to be much higher individually. I, for one, didn't get all of my reviews up and many more reviews from our beloved authors have been posted onto new blogs which is super exciting as well to see people succeeding and moving on to bigger & better endeavors like our founder, Amanda, has done over at her blog The Zen Leaf. I feel all of this proves the overall growth of this group, more than was ever projected at the sheer start of it all, which is simply amazing!


2009 Book Counts:
Amber - 27
Byron - 3

Christina - 56
Jason - 76
Julie - 32
Lula - 56
Marcia - 8
Nikki - 17
Terry - 53
Trixie - 11

I'm looking forward to our book reviewing in 2010. I'm happy to be here and be a part of this! I'm glad to associate with the wonderful people here as well. I plan on staying around but I understand that as in so many groups people may come and go. No worries. Wherever you go or wherever you are, let's get it on and keep reading!

Christmas Jars by Jason F. Wright

I read this book during the Christmas holidays in 2009. Please forgive me as I'm a bit behind on my book reviewing pretty much since October '09 because my computer had major issues and crashed. Now, it's a new year(2010 -Can you believe it?) and luckily I'm so happy to have a new computer that I'm aiming to get some books reviewed now.

This book is simply concise yet I was pleasantly surprised with how easily it charmed me. I enjoyed spending time in this sleepy little world of Hope Jensen's. I enjoyed her dreams, felt her pains and wanted her to work out her problems.
Here's the basic story: Hope is a newspaper reporter with a career mission to do better and succeed in getting promoted. Human interest stories are her passion and this is what she believes will set her apart. So, naturally as she endures one of her most horrible Christmas Eve's in her life she immediately looks for a way to remedy the problem with her writng skills. Since out of that Christmas Eve night, she becomes the recipient of a Christmas Jar which drives her unwavering curiousity to find out who is behind it. Of course, what she finds isn't what she expected but precisely what she needed but doesn't realize it at the time.
This is a feel good book and it was what I needed for this Christmas season. For me, it was light and simple not the most developed, story or character wise, which leaves a lot open for discussion and interpretation.
On a personal level, I was also surprised because many who've recommended this book to me over the years had stated that it would make me want to have my own Christmas Jar. This is part of the reason I hadn't read it yet, perhaps, I didn't want to feel a guilt trip to be charitable. Charity is a very personal thing in my mind and I don't want to do what everyone thinks I should when it comes to that. I want it to come from my heart. So, while it may be true for some to feel compelled to start a Christmas Jar and it certainly worked for this family and these people in the story, I have to say, I was happy not to feel guilty. I don't necessarily feel that I have to have or start my own Christmas Jar. Don't worry, I will be charitable in my own way and I am inspired by the overall message this story had to offer. I enjoyed the heart of this story which I feel deals more with human nature than the actual charitable aspect.
I'm happy to have read it this year and maybe next year I'll read the sequel after all the hype dies down like I obviously did with this one.

149 pages, August 2006, My rating: 4 stars