Monday, May 30, 2011

The Canterville Ghost, by Oscar WIlde

The Canterville GhostThe Canterville Ghost by Oscar Wilde

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I loved this book. I was giggling the whole time...well most of the time. (I am a chicken, and should never read anything with the word 'ghost' in the title at midnight, alone in my living room.) I loved how the Ghost chose his characters and costumes with such care. I think my favorite line of the whole book was "He selected Friday, the 17th of August, for his appearance, and spent most of that day in looking over his wardrobe, ultimately deciding in favour of a large slouched hat with a red feather, a winding-sheet frilled at the wrists and neck, and a rusty dagger." It sounded like a Mary Higgins-Clark heroine deciding what to wear before she pulls her hair into a chignon, dons a caftan, and begins to make her omelet. Delicious fun. My favorite characters of the book were the horrid little Otis Twins. Oh, they were naughty! Having little naughty boys of my own, their antics seemed quite plausible and hilarious. Oh, the Facebook statuses Mrs. Otis could post about those two! Of course, I was frustrated that the story drops off before giving you the really scary bits, but oh well. It was just so much fun. I am sure there is some piece of fan-fiction, somewhere, that speculates on Virginia's scary ordeal. :)

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Saturday, May 28, 2011

The Hourglass Door (Hourglass Door Trilogy, #1)The Hourglass Door by Lisa Mangum

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I think this book has an amazing premise. When my mom told me about the plot, I was excited. Time travel? Sweet. Unfortunately, I struggled a bit with how long it took to get to the answers. By the time the answers came, I had lost interest. In all honesty,I was off in my reading at the time, and I just might have been worried about other things. I hope the second book speaks to me a bit more. I've had it sitting on my shelf for about a year. Not in love enough to have read it yet, but also not ready to give up on this cool idea.

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Thursday, May 26, 2011

Matched (Matched, #1)Matched by Ally Condie

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I really liked this book. It was engaging, yet light. I was happy to let my 13 yr old read when I have maybe steered her away from some other dystopian books. Cassia seemed believable to me and I found myself watching over her back trying to see what the boogie-man was up to. As my daughter read, she would say to me "Well, I think it would be awesome to have all your food prepared for you. How cool is that!" Keep reading, honey. (Which of course would later lead to the ""Agh! Ok, Mom. I see what you mean!" floating down the hall from her room.) This book is the perfect entry-level dystopia. It was compelling enough to keep me going and thinking, but didn't haunt my dreams like a few others. I must say, I never look at that color of green without thinking of that little swatch of silk. I can't imagine a world were that is as far as ones luxuries extend. IN teh romance department, it was fun to have the two love interests and to keep switching sides of who I wanted to win. I must say I am a bit Team Xander and can't wait to find out more of the secret knowledge he has to share. Can't wait to read the next one!

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Hush, Hush

Hush, Hush (Hush, Hush, #1)Hush, Hush by Becca Fitzpatrick

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I gotta say, this book took me a while to get into. Starting out I was struck with the similarities to a few other novels. Uh, oh. We're in a biology lab again. I had read The Golden Spiral by Lisa Magnum recently, and I just couldn't stop seeing the similarities. (Never mind, Twilight!) First, the edgy bio partner with a with a penchant for unpacking every bit of the heroine's emotional baggage, like some pervy TSA attendant. Second, there is the oversexed, annoying friend who is easily manipulated to become the bait in the climax of the story. But it was intriguing. Sure, I rolled my eyes a few times. The plot seemed a bit predictable, and I generally don't like fallen angel stories. But eventually, I just decided to let go of the stuff that bothered me and sit back and enjoy the book for what it was. An ode to a 'bad boy'. I have no problem admitting that a couple of those near kisses convinced me to stick with the book. I ended up not being able to put it down. It was fun summer reading. It spoke to my inner teenage rebel and I'm alright with that. Hmmm. I wonder if Dale and I should take a continuing ed biology class. ;)

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Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Tatiana and AlexanderTatiana and Alexander by Paullina Simons

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Since this book is a sequel (and I haven't read the first one) it was difficult to begin reading. The action immediately starts where the first book leaves off, in the Soviet Union during WWII. Alexander is a young officer recovering in a military hospital from some pretty bad battle wounds. For some reason he's also waiting to be arrested by the Soviet government. Tatiana is trying to make her way out of Europe and escape the war. Simons does her best to get new readers up to speed on the story, with lots of flashback moments and conversations from the first book. After reading the first third of the book I felt I was sufficiently caught up with the action.

The reason it took me a third of the book to catch up is because this book moves back and forth through time, telling three stories at once. The first is Alexander's story of how he was brought to the Soviet Union by his parents in the 1930's and how he became an officer in the Red Army. The second story is Alexander's current scenario, being arrested and charged with treason, then being assigned to lead a penal battalion in battle. The third is Tatiana's story, who hides on a cargo ship bound for New York City and gives birth to her son within days of arriving at Ellis Island.

This technique of moving back and forth through the stories almost forces the reader to become engrossed in the book. You HAVE to pay attention so you don't get lost with the narratives. It would have been a whole lot easier to follow the stories if they were told in sequence, but then it's interesting to watch all the story pieces eventually fall into place.

On the front cover is a book review quote that says, "This has everything a romance glutton could wish for.." When I first saw that, I hoped I wasn't opening a harlequin romance. This book does have probably as much sex in it as an HR, but most of these scenarios are between a newly married husband and wife, and Simons uses lots of implied references instead of explicit, graphic detail. Since much of the book follows soldiers in battle, there's also LOTS of f-bombs.

The thing I liked best about the book was how Simons explores the emotions and thoughts of Tatiana struggling with being a war widow. Simon's writing really helped me understand what it would be like to be in Tatiana's position, and I started wondering, "How would I handle this situation? How would I feel? What would I do?"

I enjoyed reading this book, but could do without the language and too-many-honeymoon scenes. Since the book recaps its prequel so well, and ends on a good note, I don't feel I need to read the rest of the books in this series.

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Monday, May 23, 2011

The Robbers and Wallenstein by Friedrich von Schiller

The Robbers and Wallenstein (Penguin Classics)The Robbers and Wallenstein by Friedrich von Schiller

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book contains two plays- The Robbers, and the trilogy Wallenstein.

I enjoyed The Robbers more than I thought I would. I give that one 4 stars. I think I'd describe it as the love child of the Robin Hood story and a Shakespearean tragedy. But it was very fast paced, well written (and well translated) and enjoyable to read.

Wallenstein is considered Schiller's masterpiece, but I did not enjoy it all that much. I give it two stars. This is actually three plays- Wallenstein's Camp, The Piccolomini, and Wallenstein's Death. I can sum up the three works in three words: history, politics, war. The last installment was the most enjoyable to me, probably because it was the only one with any action to it. The rest was a lot of standing around, talking about exciting things that already happened off stage.

If you have an interest in European political and military history, this might appeal to you a lot more than it did to me.

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Sunday, May 22, 2011

Matched (Matched, #1)Matched by Ally Condie

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The first thing this book did was scream YA to me because the writing, meaning technique and style, is fairly light and simplistic. And it was a fast read. BUT, the story it tells and the questions it raises in your mind are fascinating and utterly captivating. Yes, dystopian fiction has been done, and done agan, and yet again. And yet I like this book because it takes all of those questions and ideas that our society needs to always remember, and poses them towards a younger audience, in a language and setting they can relate to. So brilliant! I feel this book is a much needed bridge, or maybe a hand of fellowship, towards younger generations to introduce them into this perspective of humanity. And I look forward to reading the sequels in this series.

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Hush, Hush (Hush, Hush, #1)Hush, Hush by Becca Fitzpatrick

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This book is a good example of why I'm reluctant to read YA fiction. The underdevelopment of the characters, the crazy plot lines, it was all stuff-and-fluff.

The first thing that bothered me was how the characters focused so much on sex. Exploring sexual feelings and tension in a storyline doesn't usually bother me, except when you dwell on it for too long. I don't ever read books just for a sexual thrill. I am happy to say my life is much too fulfilling to need that. In this book, sexual tension seemed to be the ONLY reason the two main characters Nora and Patch had any interaction in the first half of the book. Shallow. And it got old and boring really fast. Nora couldn't make up her mind, even down to the last few chapters, of whether or not she wanted to be with Patch, and that was just annoying. It reminded me of Bill Cosby's classic comedic sketch of Adam and Eve - Eve teasing Adam saying, "C'm here, c'm here, c'm here.. oh gettaway, gettaway, gettaway!" and Adam following Eve around, knuckles dragging like a caveman, tongue lolling out of his mouth. That describes Nora and Patch's relationship to a T, and after the first few chapters, the pandering gets old. Move on.

The second thing that bothered me was how the various plot lines get resolved, or rather, tangled up at the end of the book. It's a mess, and makes no sense. Throughout the story, Nora is suspicious someone is following her and trying to harm her, but can't figure out who. She first discovers her flame Patch is really out to kill her. Just kidding, he doesn't really have the heart to do it. OK, so then it's school counselor-turned-dark angel who wants her dead. Oh, never mind, Patch tore out her wings. So then the REAL danger is mysterious Jules, who's relationship to the whole story is briefly and unconvincingly explained. He gets thrown into the final dramatic scene so Nora and Patch have SOME one to overcome and can say, "Hooray, we have overcome evil and can stay together." Each of these plot lines, if properly developed, may have done well in their own books, but this yarn gets so tangled up and messy, you just want to cut the string and move on.

Oh, and the title of the book - Hush, Hush - well, I have no clue how it relates to the story.

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Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Behemoth by Scott Westerfeld

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

After reading Leviathan I again walked into a world of imagination created by Scott Westerfeld. The drama of a British Air Service Non-Commissioned Officer (NCO) lends to the credibility of the story. I found myself wishing the story would follow a different path than the author choose. But I was never disappointed with the outcomes of the choices made by the author through the character development within the book. I voratiously await the third and final book in this series.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

The Canterbury Tales by Geoffery Chaucer

The Canterbury TalesThe Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When I started, I assumed that 460 pages of iambic pentameter would be overwhelming. But don't let the fact that it's written in verse turn you away from this book. At times, I did find that I needed to get away from rhythm and rhyme for a while. But when I came back, I found it was easy to get back into the story. I should also add that this edition was brilliantly translated from Middle-English to modern English. I would never have made it through in Middle-English.

I've always been wary of reading Chaucer (he's been on the banned list for a reason, right?), but I found him rather fascinating. This story is largely an exploration of human nature and how different circumstances- like social class, religion, and gender- affect it. And though some of the ideas expressed seem outdated or archaic, you have to remember that Chaucer lived in the fourteenth century. They ARE outdated and archaic. But there is truth to be found there as well.

If you've been hesitant, like me, to pick up Chaucer, here's what you may want to be aware of:

He's pretty obsessed with sex, but don't think that means he writes trashy love stories. Mostly he talks about sex in a casual, conversational way, and it's usually because he's exploring the relationships between men and women. For the most part, he's fairly tasteful about it.

BUT there are a few times when he did get pretty vulgar (not graphic, just vulgar).

In his day, it would have caused a sensation, now it would make a PG-13 rating.

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Darkness Spoken... by Ingeborg Bachmann

Darkness Spoken: Collected Poems of Ingeborg BachmannDarkness Spoken: Collected Poems of Ingeborg Bachmann by Ingeborg Bachmann

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

First off, you should know that I'm not a poetry enthusiast. I appreciate poetry on a fairly superficial level. If I had a more sophisticated taste for poetry, I might be able to review more authoritatively on this collection.

That said, I enjoyed these poems for the most part. I can't claim to have truly understood some of them, but I enjoyed reading them just the same. Bachmann seems to write a lot about death, war, struggle, sorrow, and love lost. She also uses natural imagery a lot, which I found very pleasing.

Her poems on war, captivity, struggle, sorrow, etc. take on a whole new meaning when you remember that she was writing from behind the Berlin wall. One section of poetry makes me think she must have been hospitalized or something for a time, since her focus is on illness, nurses, drugs, etc. I think it would be interesting to learn a little more about her life.

A lot of these poems were very thought provoking, on their own and as a group. If you like poetry at all, I'd recommend giving this a look over.

As a side note, I'd also like to say that I LOVED that this book included the original German text next to each English translation.

Spoken to the Evening

My doubts, bitter and unappeased,
drain away in the evening's depths.
Weariness sings inside my ear.
I listen...
That's the way it was yesterday!
It's happening all over again!

I know the paths of sleep that lead to the sweetest field.
I never want to go there.
Yet I don't know where, for me, the dark lake
of torment will end.
A mirror shall lie there,
thick and clear,
and will show us,
sparkling with pain,
the underlying reasons.

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Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Playing for Pizza by John Grisham

First off, I'd like to let you know that I listened to this book on Audio CD. I tell you this since I feel it may be different to experience books this way than actually reading them but it is a good way to get through the long hours of a road trip. Anyway, here's some of my thoughts as I listened to this book.
For me, this book didn't seem to be character driven since I didn't feel a huge connection to any of the characters although I didn't dislike them either. Actually, the storyline was interesting enough to sustain the desire to continue listening to the book. I wanted to find out what would happen next but at the same time I was not compelled with the main character. I enjoyed only one of the side characters namely the coach for the Parma Panthers. All others only seemed necessary to guide the book along.
Basically, this novel showcases Rick Dockery, a career third string NFL quarterback. Right away, the disappointment sets in for Rick after a game injury lands him in a hospital bed. His career seemed to have a very promising start, but all kinds of unfortunate mishaps including concussions & constant trades kept upsetting his dreams. After all, it can't be much worse than considering he just played the worst game of his career which gave him yet another concussion on his short-lived stint for the Cleveland Browns. Not only that Rick is ridiculed, targeted and credited for the loss that completely derailed playoff hopes for the franchise.
Now, he's left with his hopes dashed and pondering if he'd ever play in the NFL again, his agent out of options, suggests a little known Italian league and an escape from his many escalated troubles. After much protest because it means giving up what he'd always wanted, Rick agrees and soon he is on his way to play for the Panthers in Parma, Italy of all places.
Here in the backdrop of Italy is the overlaying sense of the story all described in terms of football and food. It is a simplistic read which provides an elusion that the reader might find enjoyable.
For my final analysis, this book isn't for everyone and it is not one of my favorites of Grisham although it is not completely uninteresting.

320 pages
Publisher: Dell; 1 edition paperback (July 22, 2008)
My rating: 3 stars

Another way of looking at this book:

Book Chase

A Year in Books

For Football fans: The true blog of Jason Johnson on what it's literally like to Play for Pizza - Really Playing for Pizza

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Review: The Resurrection by H.A. Parker

Synopsis (From Author):

Nothing stops Bancroft Enterprises from developing the best in scientific technology, despite the harsh competition. At the height of its power, biomedical technician Clark Ravensdale performs the nearly-impossible: raising six New Testament figures.
Though criticisms from the religious and scientific communities persist, both groups use this project as an opportunity to advance their agendas. In the midst of division, Clark shies away from discussion, hoping that the fierceness subsides and won’t deter his workaholic life. However, those mixed feelings change.
While some have characterized the disciples as primitive, others like Clark notice the abnormal behaviors and uncanny intellect. As more time is spent living with the disciples, a realization comes to mind: perhaps there is more truth to the New Testament than some thought.

The Resurrection by H.A. Parker tells a story that forces you to examine your own personal convictions regarding science and religion.  As a science teacher, I can understand the almost fanatical belief held by the scientists and their goal to resurrect the disciples.  The main character, Clark, has had his faith in God challenged and he clings to science as an acceptable way to process the world.  At the same time, his life has become void of everything.  He lives alone, has few, if any, friends and he is very devoted to his job and his enigmatic boss.

Suddenly becoming the "keeper" of the resurrected disciples, Clark quickly discovers many of their ideas about them were wrong and he is faced with the faith and religion he turned his back on for science.  He also comes to realized that things are not as he believed with his boss and he wonders if they are doing the right thing.

I really enjoyed the fact there was no clear-cut answer.  All the characters had to deal with the issue of their own faith and belief in the face of the Disciples. This book serves as an excellent example of what is going on in today's churches.  This story explores the goals of the modern church and how so many shift focus to a corporate mindset.  This story evokes deep thought into the reader's own personal ideals of religion and how the face of the church has changed.

Everyone who interacts with the Disciples find themselves changed.  From the fanatical coworker Fulbright to the maniacal boss Bancroft, everyone has reactions to the Disciples. For some, their faith is reaffirmed.  For others, the need to control the Disciples outweighs all.

As for the Disciples, I found them to be delightful.  Quickly adjusting to being in the 21st century, they have never lost their faith in God and waste any time starting their mission of evangelizing.  They grow concerned as they realize the modern world has deviated from the message of God, as they know it and the Disciples do not bite their tongue in letting everyone they have strayed from the message.

This story was so compelling.  See everything through Clark's eyes really made the story so poignant.  It was interesting to see his battle with himself, his religious convictions and his science beliefs.  This story is such a reflection on much of the discussion between religion and science today.    This story is such a reflection on much of the discussion between religion and science today.  This is one you should pick up if you are ready to read and be challenged to think outside the box.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Light Gathering Poems Edited by Liz Rosenberg

Beautiful selections from Dickinson, Frost, Rumi, Hughes, and other well-known (and some lesser-known) poets are compiled to extract thoughts of love, family, hope, nature from one's mind. I enjoyed Rosenberg's anthology and also the way that the poems were organized in the book. As with poetry, you don't have to read them in order but when you can they can create a unique feel that is present as a compilation all on their own.

A few of my favorite poems in this book include: Sonnet # 43 by Elizabeth Barrett Browning, She Walks in Beauty by Lord Byron, Blue Butterfly Day by Robert Frost, To Jane by Percy Bysshe Shelley

"How do I love thee? Let me count the ways" - Elizabeth Barrett Browning

"She walks in beauty, like the night

Of cloudless climes and starry skies;

And all that's best of dark and bright

Meet in her aspect and her eyes

—Lord Byron

Shelley's great line, "If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind? "

Other poets featured included Langston Hughes, Jane Kenyon, Rainer Maria Rilke, Christina Rossetti, Rumi, and Ruth Stone.