Thursday, January 31, 2013

The Edible Woman by Margaret Atwood

Ever since her engagement, the strangest thing has been happening to Marian McAlpin: she can't eat. First meat. Then eggs, vegetables, cake, pumpkin seeds--everything! Worse yet, she has the crazy feeling that she's being eaten. Marian ought to feel consumed with passion. But really she just feels...consumed. A brilliant and powerful work rich in irony and metaphor, The Edible Woman is an unforgettable masterpiece by a true master of contemporary literary fiction.

My take: 2 looks
What a weird book. First of all, it's set in the 60s, when women were still viewed as ornaments and feminism was just taking hold. Everyone smoked, women wore dresses and girdles, and mothers did NOT work.

That in itself is enough to drive me to want to b-slap a character, but the main character in the book, Marian, as well as Duncan (a main male character), are so full of neuroses that it borders on the stupid.

And I don't use the word "stupid" lightly. To say that it borders on becoming a caricature gives the characters too much credit. To say that it borders on the insane gives them too much depth. To say that is is a distraction makes the book sound like it would be good otherwise. Yes, I think "stupid" is the correct word here. It's unbelievable, overly-manufactured, and idiotic.

When Marian thinks she can feel a carrot wriggle in her hands, and feels a thousand lungs exploding as she bites into a piece of cake ... it's time for therapy. No amount of irony and metaphor can account for a woman giving up eating because her fiance is trying to consume her. While an interesting premise, the fiance in question never asked more of Marian than to purchase a dress that was less "mousy" and have her hair done for a dinner party. He didn't try to take her from her friends, didn't monopolize her time, didn't whine when she had to cancel dinner plans. I'm am not sure in what way he was trying to destroy her. Stupid.

And she hooks up with Duncan, a narcissistic and yet self-loathing English major with a penchant for cigarettes, sitting in the snow and not bathing. What her attraction is, I am not sure, unless it is that she feels that he needs to be saved, which he suggests at the end of the book. She leaves her own engagement party to seek him out and have sex in a seedy motel, leaving me completely unsympathetic to either of them. They deserved one another, in my opinion.

Metaphorically, Marian baking the cake and having Duncan consume it in the end worked, but by then it was too late. I was past metaphor and looking forward to reaching the last page.

The writing style was intriguing in that Marian went from first person to third person and back to first person. I thought that was interesting, but didn't work for me as a device to show that she was losing herself and then regained herself. that was apparent in the story itself. Again, I felt it was a sophomoric and obvious tool.

Not in any way recommended.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Mistress of the Art of Death by Ariana Franklin

In Cambridge a child has been hideously murdered and other children have disappeared. The Jews, made scapegoats by the all-powerful Christian clergy, have been forced to retreat into the castle to avoid slaughter by angry townspeople. Henry, King of England, is displeased. The Jews provide a large part of his revenue and therefore the real killer must be found, and quickly. A renowned investigator, Simon of Naples, is recruited and he arrives in town from the continent accompanied by an Arab and a young woman, Adelia Aguilar. There are few female doctors in twelfth-century Europe, but Adelia is one of them, having qualified at the great School of Medicine in Salerno. What’s more, her speciality is the study of corpses; she is, in fact, a mistress of the art of death, a skill that must be concealed in case she’s accused of witchcraft. Adelia’s investigation takes her deep into Cambridge, its castle and convents and in a medieval city teeming with life she makes friends and even finds romance. And, fatally, attracts the attention of a murderer who is prepared to kill again.

My take: 2.5 looks
I didn't dislike it enough to be two stars, but not good enough to be three. It just wasn't my thing. It's excellent writing, but I found it to be a bit verbose. Some readers love that level of detail, but I need the story to move forward a little more than this one did. By the time the killer was revealed, I didn't even care. I was just glad it was over.

The heroine is very compelling: smart, witty, bold and yet very feminine. The story setting in the 1100s is also a compelling part of the story. All of the elements were here...I just didn't connect.

Not recommended.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Once upon a midnight dreary...

On this day in 1845, Edgar Allan Poe's The Raven was published.

A sad and dark tale, it deals with a man mourning the loss of his loved one, Lenore. A raven knocks at the window, flies in, and convinces the man that it can speak. However, the only word it says is "Nevermore". While the man asks increasingly negative questions, the raven's answer is the same. At the end of the poem, the man has descended into a hopeless madness.

Poe, generally considered the originator of detective fiction, was orphaned at a young age, raised by the Allans and eventually married his 13-year-old cousin. In most reports, the couple was extremely happy and devoted to one another. She contracted tuberculosis and became infirm, sending Poe into a deep and dark depression. Her illness and death had a dramatic impact on his writing. He died two years later at the young age of 40 years, but his work lives a life it its own in contemporary culture.

The Raven was immediately popular, and remains so today. Some consider it the best poem ever written. With its sing-song quality of syllabic structure, it is very easy to read and quite pleasant to the ear. That makes it quite the ironic experience.

The Raven
Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore,
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
"'Tis some visitor," I muttered, "tapping at my chamber door-
                Only this, and nothing more."

Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December,
And each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor.
Eagerly I wished the morrow;- vainly I had sought to borrow
From my books surcease of sorrow- sorrow for the lost Lenore-
For the rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore-
                Nameless here for evermore.

And the silken, sad, uncertain rustling of each purple curtain
Thrilled me- filled me with fantastic terrors never felt before;
So that now, to still the beating of my heart, I stood repeating,
"'Tis some visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door-
Some late visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door;-
                This it is, and nothing more."

Presently my soul grew stronger; hesitating then no longer,
"Sir," said I, "or Madam, truly your forgiveness I implore;
But the fact is I was napping, and so gently you came rapping,
And so faintly you came tapping, tapping at my chamber door,
That I scarce was sure I heard you"- here I opened wide the door;-
                Darkness there, and nothing more.

Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing,
Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before;
But the silence was unbroken, and the stillness gave no token,
And the only word there spoken was the whispered word, "Lenore?"
This I whispered, and an echo murmured back the word, "Lenore!"-
                Merely this, and nothing more.

Back into the chamber turning, all my soul within me burning,
Soon again I heard a tapping somewhat louder than before.
"Surely," said I, "surely that is something at my window lattice:
Let me see, then, what thereat is, and this mystery explore-
Let my heart be still a moment and this mystery explore;-
                'Tis the wind and nothing more!"

Open here I flung the shutter, when, with many a flirt and flutter,
In there stepped a stately Raven of the saintly days of yore;
Not the least obeisance made he; not a minute stopped or stayed he;
But, with mien of lord or lady, perched above my chamber door-
Perched upon a bust of Pallas just above my chamber door-
                Perched, and sat, and nothing more.

Then this ebony bird beguiling my sad fancy into smiling,
By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore.
"Though thy crest be shorn and shaven, thou," I said, "art sure no craven,
Ghastly grim and ancient Raven wandering from the Nightly shore-
Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night's Plutonian shore!"
                Quoth the Raven, "Nevermore."

Much I marvelled this ungainly fowl to hear discourse so plainly,
Though its answer little meaning- little relevancy bore;
For we cannot help agreeing that no living human being
Ever yet was blessed with seeing bird above his chamber door-
Bird or beast upon the sculptured bust above his chamber door,
                With such name as "Nevermore."

But the Raven, sitting lonely on the placid bust, spoke only
That one word, as if his soul in that one word he did outpour.
Nothing further then he uttered- not a feather then he fluttered-
Till I scarcely more than muttered, "Other friends have flown before-
On the morrow he will leave me, as my hopes have flown before."
                Then the bird said, "Nevermore."

Startled at the stillness broken by reply so aptly spoken,
"Doubtless," said I, "what it utters is its only stock and store,
Caught from some unhappy master whom unmerciful Disaster
Followed fast and followed faster till his songs one burden bore-
Till the dirges of his Hope that melancholy burden bore
                Of 'Never- nevermore'."

But the Raven still beguiling all my fancy into smiling,
Straight I wheeled a cushioned seat in front of bird, and bust and door;
Then upon the velvet sinking, I betook myself to linking
Fancy unto fancy, thinking what this ominous bird of yore-
What this grim, ungainly, ghastly, gaunt and ominous bird of yore
                Meant in croaking "Nevermore."

This I sat engaged in guessing, but no syllable expressing
To the fowl whose fiery eyes now burned into my bosom's core;
This and more I sat divining, with my head at ease reclining
On the cushion's velvet lining that the lamp-light gloated o'er,
But whose velvet violet lining with the lamp-light gloating o'er,
                She shall press, ah, nevermore!

Then methought the air grew denser, perfumed from an unseen censer
Swung by Seraphim whose footfalls tinkled on the tufted floor.
"Wretch," I cried, "thy God hath lent thee- by these angels he hath sent thee
Respite- respite and nepenthe, from thy memories of Lenore!
Quaff, oh quaff this kind nepenthe and forget this lost Lenore!"
                Quoth the Raven, "Nevermore."

"Prophet!" said I, "thing of evil! - prophet still, if bird or devil! -
Whether Tempter sent, or whether tempest tossed thee here ashore,
Desolate yet all undaunted, on this desert land enchanted-
On this home by Horror haunted- tell me truly, I implore-
Is there- is there balm in Gilead?- tell me- tell me, I implore!"
                Quoth the Raven, "Nevermore."

"Prophet!" said I, "thing of evil! - prophet still, if bird or devil!
By that Heaven that bends above us- by that God we both adore-
Tell this soul with sorrow laden if, within the distant Aidenn,
It shall clasp a sainted maiden whom the angels name Lenore-
Clasp a rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore."
                Quoth the Raven, "Nevermore."

"Be that word our sign in parting, bird or fiend," I shrieked, upstarting-
"Get thee back into the tempest and the Night's Plutonian shore!
Leave no black plume as a token of that lie thy soul hath spoken!
Leave my loneliness unbroken!- quit the bust above my door!
Take thy beak from out my heart, and take thy form from off my door!"
                Quoth the Raven, "Nevermore."

And the Raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting
On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door;
And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon's that is dreaming,
And the lamp-light o'er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor;
And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor
                Shall be lifted- nevermore!

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Life as We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer

Miranda’s disbelief turns to fear in a split second when a meteor knocks the moon closer to the earth. How should her family prepare for the future when worldwide tsunamis wipe out the coasts, earthquakes rock the continents, and volcanic ash blocks out the sun? As summer turns to Arctic winter, Miranda, her two brothers, and their mother retreat to the unexpected safe haven of their sunroom, where they subsist on stockpiled food and limited water in the warmth of a wood-burning stove.
Told in journal entries, this is the heart-pounding story of Miranda’s struggle to hold on to the most important resource of all--hope--in an increasingly desperate and unfamiliar world.

My take: 5 looks
The reason I am giving this my highest rating is because I was fully invested in this book. I felt panic, dread, hopelessness; I smiled and became teary-eyed at the end. I was completely and totally IN this book, and that doesn't happen very often.

Miranda is 16 and has the usual teen angst that every girl does, but it wasn't off-putting, over done, and I didn't want to slap sense into her once. Matt was an excellent older brother character. I will admit that I wanted to slap the fire out of Jon sometimes, but he is probably a normal, self-absorbed 13-year-old boy.

Miranda's friends are very real people, too. One is a little loose with the boys and one is overly religious, which is just two sides to a coin that claims many teenagers.

The adult characters act like, surprise!, adults. They think of their children first, make hard decisions and sacrifices and still try to maintain some semblance of normalcy in extraordinary circumstances.

Bottom line: this may not be the stuff of science fiction, but a glimpse into our future. Nature and the universe hold together very carefully and specifically, and we all too often take for granted its constant presence. This book proved to be so intense for me that I will have to read a few in between before going to the next one in the series. But I will definitely read the others.

Highly recommended.

Friday, January 25, 2013

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie

Roger Ackroyd was a man who knew too much.

He knew the woman he loved had poisoned her first husband. He knew someone was blackmailing her - and now he knew she had taken her own life with a drug overdose.

Soon the evening post would let him know who the mystery blackmailer was. But Ackroyd was dead before he'd finished reading it - stabbed through the neck where he sat in his study...

My take: 2.5 looks
Evidently, I did myself a great disservice when I read "And Then There Were None" as my first Agatha Christie book. It was so incredibly awesome, shocking and clever that I can't help but compare the rest of her books to it.

Unfortunately. I read "Mysterious Affair at Styles" and became so bogged down as to dislike the book. However, I gave it three looks based on the fact that it was her first book and written in 1920.

Not so much with this one. I found this one to be character-heavy, as I supposed all mysteries must be in order to cast cause and guilt on all of them. However, I had trouble keeping the characters separate and distinct. I was never really invested in the story, and didn't care a whit that poor Mr. Ackroyd was dead at all. I must admit that the ending was a huge surprise, so much so that it was completely unbelievable and implausible.

I will continue to read Agatha Christie books because ... well, because it is Agatha Christie ... but I will hesitate to recommend them.

Monday, January 21, 2013

The Rook by Steven James

While investigating a series of baffling fires in San Diego, FBI Special Agent Patrick Bowers is drawn into a deadly web of intrigue where nothing is as it appears to be. With his own criminology research being turned against him and one of the world's most deadly devices missing, Bowers is caught up in a race against time to stop a criminal mastermind's trap before it closes around him and the people he loves. Book 2 in The Bowers Files is the perfect follow-up to James's critically acclaimed bestselling thriller The Pawn.

My take: 3 looks
This was a good thriller, well-written, with characters that are being developed with each book. This one, in my opinion, was better than the last in that it wasn't so graphically violent, and the plot line seemed much simpler. I found it to be a bit character-heavy, though, and at one point, I made the note that the plot was getting a little far-fetched. Conspiracy theorists will disagree with me.

All-in-all, it was an enjoyable read, can stand alone or read in sequence (which is always a plus with a series) and tied up loose ends while leaving room for the next book. Recommended.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

The Traveler's Gift by Andy Andrews

David Ponder's lost his job, his confidence, and his will to live. And just when it seems that things can't get any worse, they do: his only child falls ill, and he's involved in a serious car accident. But a divine adventure that includes encounters with seven of history's most inspirational characters, among them Anne Frank, Abraham Lincoln, and Christopher Columbus, leaves him with a glimpse of life's big picture, and seven bits of wisdom with which to confront his future. This thought-provoking book encourages readers of all ages to reach their full potential using these simple keys to success.

My take: 2 looks
It is a great premise for a novel: Man loses his job, is faced with bills, and realizes that he is worth more dead than alive. It's typical "It's a Wonderful Life", but more heavy-handed and with more characters than one measly angel named Clarence.

Then there is "The Five People You Meet in Heaven" by Mitch Albom. A man dies and fails to see his worth, so he is met by five people whom his life changed in ways he never knew.

The Traveler's Gift does the reader a great disservice in that the end is sunshine and rainbows and that is simply not the way it goes sometimes. Sometimes your circumstance does matter. Sometimes forgiving others doesn't change the world. Sometimes persistence is a waste of time, especially if you are on the wrong track. This book is full of feel-good sound bites that do not translate seamlessly into real life.

For every Chamberlain, there were hundreds (if not thousands) of men who died in Gettysburg who felt just as passionate about being a man of action as he did. Anne Frank told him to choose to be happy. However, she forgot to tell him that anger which is just is also a tool that Jesus himself used for the benefit of the Kingdom of God. Abraham Lincoln told him to consider what others thought after Christopher Columbus told him not to pay attention to the opinions of others. And that was after King Solomon told him to surround himself with those whom he wanted to emulate.

And in the end, David Ponder catches a glimpse of himself as today's Joel Osteen or Tony Roberts, speaking feel-good fluff to an arena full of gullible people. I just had to roll my eyes when I read the part about David Ponder Boulevard. If you do all of these seven things, recommended by some of the most famous people in history, you will be successful. Believe that, and I've got some land to sell you.

Here are the seven that I would preach:
John D. Rockefeller: Work hard, rest often
Albert Einstein: Believe in something bigger than yourself
Nicola Tesla: Know that life is not about fair
Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis: Remember that "this, too shall pass"
Napoleon Bonaparte: Get that chip off your shoulder
Aristotle: Everything in moderation
Jesus of Nazareth: Strive to have very few regrets

While this book is a good story when it's not overly preachy or sunshine-and-rainbows, it is the latter so often that it is not recommended.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

every day by David Levithan

A has no friends. No parents. No family. No possessions. No home, even. Because every day, A wakes up in the body of a different person. Every morning, a different bed. A different room. A different house. A different life. A is able to access each person's memory, enough to be able to get through the day without parents, friends, and teachers realizing this is not their child, not their friend, not their student. Because it is not. It's A. Inhabiting each person's body. Seeing the world through their eyes. Thinking with their brain. Speaking with their voice. It's a lonely existence—until, one day, it isn't.

A meets a girl named Rhiannon. And, in an instant, A falls for her, after a perfect day together. But when night falls, it's over. Because A can never be the same person twice. But yet, A can't stop thinking about her. She becomes A's reason for existing. So each day, in different bodies—of all shapes, sizes, backgrounds, walks of life—A tries to get back to her. And convince her of their love. But can their love transcend such an obstacle?

My take: 4 looks
I thought this book was quite brilliant. An author of young adult books wants to address all teenage issues. What is he to do? He wants to address both sexes, the case of being a gay teen, every situation of home life...what is he to do? David Levithan solves the issue beautifully with this novel, where the main character, "A" wakes in a different body each day.

Because A arrives in a male body first, I immediately attached a gender to "him", but came to realize that A is both male and female, and at the same time neither male nor female. A keeps the essence of (and I will use "his" for simplicity) his identity, which has been formed regardless of the fact that his life changes daily, and has since the day he was born.

A is a drug addict, a drunk, a runner, obese, a religious zealot, a great student, a vicious girl, and a clinically depressed teen on the verge of suicide. The author did not explore teen pregnancy, physical abuse of any sort or have any characters experience sexual intercourse. Because Levithan is gay, he makes a point of making a large percentage of the characters gay, transgender or bisexual. I am not sure there are that many homosexuals in a small cross-section of society in a set age group, but I see his desire in making this mainstream. I felt it was a bit forced.

I am giving this four looks because the premise is brilliant and A's struggle with whatever situation in which he wakes, in whatever body he takes, he manages to retain his self. In a world awash in teen angst, this was a hit with me. He strives to preserve the person whom he is "borrowing" and has an innate respect for them, both emotionally and physically (that is the answer to no sex, since all of the characters are 16 years old).

The relationship with Rhiannon was interesting, although I felt it was secondary to the point of each person A fell into. It served to move the action forward and create a common thread throughout the story, but I was never invested in whether or not they overcame obstacles to become a successful couple. She was likable and the story plausible, but you know it's damned from the beginning.

I tried to find whether or not there will be a sequel to this, since there is quite a compelling protagonist 1/2 way through the book in the "reverend", who tells A that he is not unique. The fact that there may be more like him, and there may be an ability to remain in one person longer than a day is worth exploring.

Highly recommended.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

UnWholly by Neal Shusterman

Thanks to Connor, Lev, and Risa — and their high-profile revolt at Happy Jack Harvest Camp — people can no longer turn a blind eye to unwinding. Ridding society of troublesome teens while simultaneously providing much-needed tissues for transplant might be convenient, but its morality has finally been brought into question. However, unwinding has become big business, and there are powerful political and corporate interests that want to see it not only continue, but also expand to the unwinding of prisoners and the impoverished.

Cam is a product of unwinding; made entirely out of the parts of other unwinds, he is a teen who does not technically exist. A futuristic Frankenstein, Cam struggles with a search for identity and meaning and wonders if a rewound being can have a soul. And when the actions of a sadistic bounty hunter cause Cam’s fate to become inextricably bound with the fates of Connor, Risa, and Lev, he’ll have to question humanity itself.

My take: 4 looks
I love to start a book review with this word: WOW! I finished the first in the series, Unwind, and went straight to this one. It did not let me down. The characters from the first are in this one, with a few new faces. The action is fast, furious, complete and extremely suspenseful. I loved the new characters, even the ones I loved to hate. I am anxious to see what happens in the last of the series.

Some favorite passages:
  • "And why? Because of words? Words don't hurt you. " Which is one of the hugest criminal lies perpetrated by adults against children in this world. Because words hurt more than any physical pain.
  • History is written by the victors - and when there are no victors, it all winds up in corporate shredders.
  • He remembers feeling so sick for so long, after a while he had forgotten what being well even felt like. Could it be that way for an entire society? Does a sick society get so used to its illness that it can't remember being well? What if the memory is too dangerous for the people who like things the way they are?
High recommended.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Unwind by Neal Shusterman

In a society where unwanted teens are salvaged for their body parts, three runaways fight the system that would "unwind" them. Connor's parents want to be rid of him because he's a troublemaker. Risa has no parents and is being unwound to cut orphanage costs. Lev's unwinding has been planned since his birth, as part of his family's strict religion.

Brought together by chance, and kept together by desperation, these three unlikely companions make a harrowing cross-country journey, knowing their lives hang in the balance. If they can survive until their eighteenth birthday, they can't be harmed—but when every piece of them, from their hands to their hearts, are wanted by a world gone mad, eighteen seems far, far away.

My take: 3 looks
While reading this one, I had the sneaking suspicion that I had read it before. I knew I had not, but that gives you an idea as to my impression of the originality of the story. After reading "Matched" Ally Condie, "Ender's Game" by Orson Scott Card, The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins, Uglies by Scott Westerfield and the The Giver quartet by Lois Lowry, I really have read it all. There is just so much you can do with a coming-of-age-in-a-dystopian-society story that is new and fresh.

Then I got to the last 1/3 of the book. That's what set this one apart, and gave it 3 looks instead of anything lower. I actually got queasy during the unwind. I was intrigued by the clappers. I loved that Connor benefited from the very system to which he was opposed. While this didn't make me question my thoughts on when life begins, the sanctity of life or the price on convenience and being "whole", it was a great read and pointed me directly to the next book in the series. Thank goodness I already had it!


Saturday, January 12, 2013

The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie

The Mysterious Affair at Styles (Hercule Poirot, #1)
The heiress of Styles has been murdered, dying in agony from strychnine slipped into her coffee. And there are plenty who would gain from her death: the financially strapped stepson, the gold digging younger husband, and an embittered daughter-in-law. Agatha Christie's eccentric and hugely popular detective, Hercule Poirot, was introduced to the world in this book, which launched her career as the most famous and best loved of all mystery writers.

My take: 3 looks
I have to start by pointing out that this was written in 1920, and that is worth at least 1/2 look in itself. This is the first story of many for Hercule Poirot, and that is worth another 1/2 look. With that said, the superb writing of this one pulled it from 2 looks to 3 looks, in my opinion.

This is the second Agatha Christie book I have read. I can't believe I have gone through 46 years of life, and 40 of reading, where I have read only two Christie books. The first, And Then There Were None, was superb in every way. It was suspenseful, intriguing, thrilling and kept me guessing until the very end. Wonderful!

Mysterious Affair was extremely well written, but I got so bogged down at the ending explanation of the murder, my head was fairly spinning. I just felt that it didn't have to be so ... complicated. It really served to put a negative spin on the rest of the book. Writing = 4 looks, overall story and resolution = 2 looks, average is 3 looks.

Some of my favorites:
  • It struck me that he might look natural on a stage, but was strangely out of place in real life.
  • From the very first I took a firm and rooted dislike to him, and I flatter myself that my first judgments are usually fairly shrewd.
  • A "man of method" was, in Poirot's estimation, the highest praise that could be bestowed on any individual.
  • You gave too much rein to your imagination. Imagination is a good servant, and a bad master. The simplest explanation is always the most likely.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

The Magician's Nephew by C.S. Lewis

This is the book that C.S. Lewis intended to be the first in his landmark series, The Chronicles of Narnia. Here we are introduced to Polly and Digory, who are tricked by Digory's Uncle Andrew into becoming part of an experiment that transports them into the adventure of a lifetime. After being hurled into the Wood Between the Worlds, the children encounter the evil queen Jadis, who accidentally accompanies the children back to England and wrecks havoc on the streets of London. When Polly and Digory finally take the queen away from London, they find themselves lost in a place that will soon be known as Narnia.

My take: 4 looks
This book was in the children's section of my church library, but it definitely appealed to me. Being familiar with The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, I was immediately enchanted with the very beginnings of the world of Narnia. C.S. Lewis is a master story teller and deft at the art of allegory.

A friend of mine pointed out that, even though Lewis never fathered children, his ability to write with such tenderness and truth from a child's point of view is ... well, magical. You can easily see the Christian parallels here, and appreciate the truths therein.

I wrote several favorite quotes:
  • What you see and hear depends a good deal on where you are standing: it also depends on what sort of person you are.
  • The trouble with trying to make yourself stupider than you really are is that you very often succeed.

I highly recommend this one.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Three From Galilee by Marjorie Holmes

The first novel in this trilogy-her acclaimed, hugely successful Two from Galilee-told the great love story of Mary and Joseph as never before. Now, in Three from Galilee, Holmes's fictionalized retelling of the life of Jesus covers a period overlooked by the Gospels-the "lost years" between age 12, when Jesus debated the elders in the temple, to the age of 30, when he actually began his ministry. With great reverence, she dares to wonder what Jesus did during those years, if he was like other young men of his time, and whether he experienced God's greatest gift to humanity-love. Using her remarkable talents, Holmes brings Jesus, his parents, brothers, sisters, and friends to life in a story that is dramatic, deeply moving, and unforgettable.

My take: 5 looks
I liked this book even better than the previous in the trilogy. While some fundamentalists may think it heretical, I found it to be very believable, tender and true to the Word of God.

Mary and Joseph have returned to Nazareth, to their families, to start their own family. The relationships are very real, from the sibling rivalry to the great friend of the family whom the children call "uncle".

Jesus and John's stories are thought provoking as familiar stories from the Bible are woven into the fabric of the lives in the book. Parables' beginnings are explored in a unique and wonderful ways, again making the stories from the Bible even more compelling. It made me go to my Bible to read the words of Jesus, as he told the parables he lived in the book.

The story is tense at times, however, as he realizes fully who he is and what his destiny will be. My F2F book club is going to read the third in the series, The Messiah, for Easter, and I am glad there will be a break in between this one and the next.

This is one that I will purchase, and I highly recommend it.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

the perks of being a wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

Standing on the fringes of life offers a unique perspective. But there comes a time to see what it looks like from the dance floor. This haunting novel about the dilemma of passivity vs. passion marks the stunning debut of a provocative new voice in contemporary fiction: The Perks of Being a Wallflower.

This is the story of what it's like to grow up in high school. More intimate than a diary, Charlie's letters are singular and unique, hilarious and devastating. We may not know where he lives. We may not know to whom he is writing. All we know is the world he shares. Caught between trying to live his life and trying to run from it puts him on a strange course through uncharted territory. The world of first dates and mixed tapes, family dramas and new friends. The world of sex, drugs, and The Rocky Horror Picture Show, when all one requires is that perfect song on that perfect drive to feel infinite.

My take: 5 looks
When I finished this book, I just sat and stared at the floor, allowing this epistle to fall around my mind and settle in its place. It is very affecting. It is very dark. While it has doses of humor, the feelings that it employs are very real, piercing and difficult to feel ... again.

Everyone tells me that high school makes "the best years of your life". Well, I am not sure where these people went to high school, but I wouldn't go back to those years for any amount of money or fame. The years of a high schooler are grueling, confusing, treacherous and painful. You are growing mentally, academically, physically, emotionally and independently. Like a moth becoming a butterfly, tearing yourself out of that cocoon is quite a feat, and not all survive, some are damaged and very few of us see those years as our best.

This is a clear and concise account of a teen making the transition from boy to young man. The fact that he has a mental issue on top of it makes the story even more poignant rather than out-of-touch. It adds to his struggle. The solid family life, the teacher who reaches out to him and his coping mechanisms are very real and true. I loved the constant references to books (and the fact that read them over and over), and his need to provide a meaningful soundtrack to whatever circumstance in which he found himself.

This book is a period of time of a real life; a real boy; a real situation. Highly recommended.

Friday, January 4, 2013

January Planned Reading

Because I am in two book clubs, one online and one face-to-face, plus in the middle of the Bibliophile Winter Reading Challenge, I need to map out my January reads. Subject to change, of course. ha!

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood (BOTM)
Three From Galilee by Marjorie Holmes (F2F Bookclub)
Unwind and UnWholly by Neal Shusterman (BOTM)
Every Day by David Levithan (BOTM)
The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie (F2F Bookclub)
The Perks of Being a Wallflower Stephen Chbosky (Winter Reading Challenge)

That is 7 books for the month, and should be VERY doable.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

In the world of the near future, who will control women's bodies? Offred is a Handmaid in the Republic of Gilead. She may leave the home of the Commander and his wife once a day to walk to food markets in which signs are now pictures instead of words because women are no longer allowed to read. She must lie on her back once a month and pray that the Commander makes her pregnant because, in an age of declining births, Offred and the other Handmaids are only valued if their ovaries are viable. Offred can remember the days before: when she lived and made love with her husband Luke; when she played with and protected her daughter; when she had a job, money of her own, and access to knowledge. But all of that is gone now.... Funny, unexpected, horrifying, and altogether convincing, The Handmaid's Tale is at once scathing satire, dire warning, and tour de force.

My take: 4 looks
Dystopian society books are usually not my favorite, but this book was riveting. Set in what could be the very near future, society goes to a male-dominated theocracy quickly and with very little resistance.

It was shocking how complicit the masses are in this sudden and sweeping change to the fabric of society. Fear, combined with passivity and rationalization, form to make a straight path to a world which we fought from becoming at various times in our past. It is the typical "you may believe as you wish, as long as you believe as I do" mentality.

The writing here is superb, with Atwood commenting on the right, as well as the left. So much of her story smacks of today's organized religion and how far it has come from the ideals presented in the Bible. On the other hand, protesters are also caricatured. Not only are old feminist liberals taken to task, but those in subjugation are conflicted, too. Becoming fiercely demonstrative when given the opportunity to destroy a life, as theirs has also been destroyed, they do not hesitate tearing apart a human being with their bare hands, even as it makes some insane.

The commentary on the use of language, illiteracy, and lost of individuality in order for a small group to control the masses is sickeningly familiar. As opposed to other dystopian-centered books, this book has a possibility to it that is sobering.

Highly recommended.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

2012: A Reading Year in Review

My 2012 Reading Year was a success. My goal was to read 100 books, and I finished the year at a robust 106!

Some highlights:

I read books that others extolled, but I didn't like: An Abundance of Katherines by John Greene, Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers and 11/22/63 by Stephen King, among them.

I read books that I loved that only a few others have read: The Call by Yannick Murphy, Sima's Undergarments for Women by Ilana Stanger-Ross and The Convenant by Naomi Ragen were the top.

I fell in love with new series: Odd Thomas by Dean Koontz, The Spellman Series by Lisa Lutz, The Giver by Lois Lowry and Aunt Dimity by Nancy Atherton.

I tried to get interested in series that didn't quite do it for me: The Sisterhood Series by Fern Michaels and The Bowers Files by Stephen James didn't quite hit the mark.

I read books that I never would have otherwise: Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and John Dies at the End by David Wong.

I found new treasures: Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston, Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka and The Worldly Adventures of a Teen-age Tycoon by Roger Eddy.

How did I do this? I ended my love affair with the television; skipping new plot lines, characters and cliffhangers on a weekly basis to plot lines, characters and cliffhangers as often as I opened a book. In the living technicolor of my adult imagination.

My life is richer, fuller, and larger today than it was one year ago because of the books I have read. I look forward to another fantastic year of reading!

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year, Fellow Readers!!

I have set two goals for my reading this year (so far, that is!):

Read 100 books
I set this goal last year, and pulled it off, so I thought "what they hay, I will try it again"! Keep track of my progress at my Bibliophile page.

Read 50 books tagged "own"
What I should do for this one is read 50 physical books so I can purge some of them from the bookcases. It is a sickness that I have, buying more books than I will ever, ever, ever read. I don't think I am alone in this, though.

What are your 2013 reading goals?