Archives for posts with tag: ★★★★1/2

Genre: Fiction, Intrigue, Eclectic Bookstores

Notes: 26/50 Books. This is totally a book for bibliophiles.

Review: I can’t gush over this book enough.  It combines secret societies, mystery, and old dusty bookstores into one hell of a book. People who don’t love books like I do might not understand this, but books are magical.  Sloan understands the magic of books and the secret to immortality locked away in novels (not too much of a spoiler, go cry about it.)

Basically, Mr. Penumbra’s 24 hr bookstore operates in San Francisco and stays open around the clock.  (What bookstore stays open 24/7? I must find one!  Although it would probably be a front for a drug or prostitution ring.) Our protagonist, Clay Jannon, works in this interesting bookstore but finds it rather odd that Mr. Penumbra doesn’t stock almost any normal books.  He stocks almost exclusively stocks books in code. Which an assortment of weird people dash into the store in varying states of disarray to buy. You see, these “believers” if you will, believe that the secret to immortality lies within the code if they can only crack it. Not like, I will write a book and live forever Shakespeare immortality, but for real I will never die immortality.  They’re a strange but mostly likeable bunch.

The true coolness of the story (that might make it feel dated in ten years unfortunately) is the marriage of old technology (books) with new technology (Google).  The union of the two different technologies shows how much literature, knowledge, and the way people receive it has changed. Technology and computers and kindle don’t replace literature, but work with it.  In the novel, Google employs their best cryptographers to crack the code in Mr. Penumbra’s books.  It remains elusive.  When I read that, it made me happy because it seemed like too much of an easy answer.  I mean, here are these people devoting their lives to cracking this code and learning as much as possible and for a computer to crack it in an afternoon is almost sacrilege. It felt to me like computers are only worth the person controlling them, they are only a tool. When I say this is a book for bibliophiles, I don’t mean people who have a stick up their butt and won’t even consider any other mediums for literature (Audiobooks, e-books, etc).  I mean people who simply enjoy the written word and a good turn of phrase.  I mean people who want to read every book in the world and dive into a novel and never come up for air.  I mean the people who’ve dreamed about escaping to Hogwarts or Narnia or the Shire. Sloan utilizes every literature medium in his story and paints a more optimistic picture for the future of books and bookstores because there will always be people searching for knowledge and the meaning of life between their pages.

“After that, the book will fade, the way all books fade in your mind. But I hope you will remember this:
A man walking fast down a dark lonely street. Quick steps and hard breathing, all wonder and need. A bell above a door and the tinkle it makes. A clerk and a ladder and warm golden light, and then: the right book exactly, at exactly the right time.” – Robin Sloan

Bottom Line: Definitely worth the read!  One of the most interesting, best, and clever books I’ve read this year. It’s the right book exactly, at exactly the right time.

Genre: Non-Fiction

Notes: 23/50 Chilling, well-researched, and fascinating.  About time someone got it right

Review: While I don’t remember Columbine as well as others (I was in elementary school at the time), I still remember vague echoes of horror and a little tightening around my parents about sending my sister and I off to school.  In my mind, this is the first school shooting that really rattled America and made school seem like a battlefield rather than the safety it was supposed to provide.

I remember hearing about Cassie Bernall because I want to a small, evangelical Christian school, and they lived for modern day martyrs. Cullen debunks the rumor that “she said yes” about her faith in God before Eric Harris shot her in the face.  And you know what’s so great about this book?  There’s no malice.  Cullen didn’t set out to tear the rug out from under the Bernall family and prove their daughter didn’t die for her faith, as they hoped.  He just reported the facts as he understood them. There’s no shaming the community, the police response, or blaming the Harris or Klebold families for raising sons who murdered fellow classmates.  This account simply is.

Cullen presents a painstakingly researched account of what happened at Columbine that day in 1999, an attempt to explain why, and how the community struggled to rebuild and come to terms with what happened.

What

What exactly happened that day?  Or, really, what didn’t happen?  Columbine wasn’t just meant to be a school shooting, Eric and Dylan weren’t two loners who snapped at jocks, they weren’t a part of the Trench Coat Mafia, or any of the other silly rumors circling after the shooting.  It was a bombing gone wrong.  Eric and Dylan didn’t want to shoot specific students or have a hit list, they wanted to kill everyone.  When police and emergency personnel rushed to the scene, they wanted to blow up Dylan’s car to increase the body count even more.  The guns were merely to pick of stragglers picking their way out of the wreckage of a bombed school.

Cullen was a member of the media covering Columbine and they made serious leaps of faith with little facts and primarily contributed to the myths and rumors that surround Columbine to this day.  In my opinion, this was the first truly American strategy that played out on television with the 24/7 news machine.  Reporters constantly vamp and speculate when new information isn’t available in an attempt to keep the audience engaged.  The leaps they made were logical leaps but ultimately untrue.

Why

The first question people tend to ask when something like this happens is “Why?”  We need to know motive.  It helps us tie things into neat little packages.  We need a world that makes sense and follows rules.  Outcasts picked on one too many times fit the bill.  It made sense.  Sad, tragic, yes.  But unfathomable?  No.

Unfortunately, Eric and Dylan didn’t fit into these boxes.  The FBI’s assessment of Eric concluded that he was a psychopath.  He simply enjoyed killing.  There was no motive that prompted his killing.  He simply liked to watch people suffer.  He felt no empathy and very little emotion even though he could charm the pants off of any adult who felt any suspicion toward him.  Dylan simply hated his life and needed a direction – he followed Eric because it offered him a way out, it seems.

When I read this account, and I couldn’t help but think of the shooting in Aurora, CO in the movie theater of the Dark Knight Rises premiere. When I heard, I was disgusted and sad.  It hit me harder than I thought it would because my friends and I frequently see midnight premieres.  I wanted a motive.  Why would anyone do this?  What purpose does it serve?  But, unfortunately, I think reading this book gave me the answer.  He did it to do it.  Killing people was the motive, not the result. He likens himself to the Joker in the series.  Like Alfred said “some men just want to watch the world burn.”

How

The community, obviously rattled struggled for years to become normal again.  Long after the world stopped paying attention to them and long after (sadly) the nation really cared anymore.  There were lawsuits, angry parents, and students on suicide watch constantly.  Cullen’s interviews and portrayal of the principal, Mr. D, are refreshing. That man deserves a medal for taking care of his students as well as he did.

Eventually, the community reclaimed Columbine High School.  Even while today Columbine is synonymous with “school shooting,” students wanted their school back and shouted “We are..COL-um-BINE” to reclaim their identity and their pride. The world crushes us all, but they became stronger in the broken places, as Hemingway so gracefully puts it.

Bottom Line: Forget everything you thought you knew about Columbine.  This book isn’t depressing or gruesome or graphic.  It is just an attempt at an accurate account of that day and those involved. Highly recommend!

Genre: YA Dystopia

Notes: 17/50.  Don’t judge my reading choices.

Review: This. is. my. new. series.  Love times ten. And you know why?  BECAUSE THERE ISN’T A FREAKING LOVE TRIANGLE IN IT.  No Katniss > Peeta > Gale and especially no Bella > Edward > Jacob.  I love Hunger Games, but the love triangle was a bit much.

Divergent is set in a future Chicago that has basically crumbled.  We get snippets that there was a big war, everything got fucked up, and the leaders basically created factions to keep the peace (which makes no sense, but we’ll get to that later).  Each faction has one value that hold about all others: Dauntless values Bravery, Amity values Peace, Candor values Honesty, Abnegation values Selflessness, and Erudite values Intelligence. Each faction believes their way of thinking is the key to peace in the world and each has specific jobs to make sure society continues functioning. Each faction lives separately, wears special clothing, and only thinks like their faction.  If you can’t fit into one faction, then you live factionless, which is basically living in homeless squalor.

You know why I love this book?  Because Beatrice Prior (aka Tris) is a badass.  She does some dumb things, but she takes care of herself.  Originally born into the Abnegation faction, she chooses to join the Dauntless faction on choosing day at 16.  Their initiation process is brutal (and stupid, I would never have joined Dauntless) and she learns how to fight, how to survive, and how to become the person she was meant to be.  She takes a short trip to bitch town for awhile, but who doesn’t? She rights herself in the end.  What’s special about Tris is that she’s DIVERGENT.  She doesn’t fit into any one faction well.  She actually fits into three, Abnegation, Dauntless, and Erudite.  In this world, being Divergent is dangerous because it basically means you can think for yourself and can’t easily be controlled – something the power-hungry Erudite won’t stand for.  Divergent are usually rooted out and murdered.

I mean, to be honest, the story has been done before.  16 year old girl has a sneaky suspicion she doesn’t belong, no one understands her, has an inner struggle, and goes on a journey to find herself.  Finds love along the way, kissy puppy love, and saves the day.  How many times do we need that storyline? Apparently a lot because girls like me eat that shit for breakfast. I identified at times with Tris because I think (hope) that I would be Divergent too.  No one can make me do what I don’t want to do.  Just try.  I’ll spite you just because I want to.

Now, the plot holes: CREATING FACTIONS IN ORDER TO FOSTER PEACE DOESN’T MAKE ANY SENSE. Sorry Roth, your dystopian premise doesn’t hold a lot of water.  I’m willing to forgive you though because the action moves swiftly and my 12 year old girl heart loves Tris and Four/Tobias together.

Bottom Line: I bought this book at the airport in Minneapolis on Sunday morning for my flight back to South Carolina…and finished before I landed.  Get your hands on it!  I’m reading Book #2, Insurgent, right now and #3 is slated to come out Fall 2013.

Smooth Talking Stranger Cover Image In a Nutshell

  • Genre: Contemporary Romance, Chick Lit
  • Notes: Arguably my favorite book in the Travis Series. Certainly the fastest moving one of the trilogy.
  • Recommended for: Fans of Kleypas, Anyone who’s read any of the first two, Fans of Contemporary Romance.

A book that shows sometimes the only obstacle between you and what you want is yourself . . .  This book is, as I said above, arguably my favorite in the Travis Series. As opposed to Sugar Daddy and Blue-Eyed Devil, the beginning of this book gets right down to business.

SYNOPSIS

Billionaire playboy, and all-around ladies’ man, Jake Travis has a reputation as big as the state of Texas. He drives too fast, lives too hard, and loves too many women to count.

In her advice column, and her love life, Ella Varner is always practical. So when she’s left holding her reckless sister’s baby, she decides to ask Jake Travis to take a paternity test.

Ella is instantly struck by Jake’s bold good looks and easy charm—but she’s not falling for his sweet talk. This big sexy tomcat needs to take responsibility for his actions, and Ella’s making him stick to his word. Now if she can only ignore the unspoken attraction that smolders between them…

Okay, first of all, his name is Jack Travis and has been since the first book. I love the person who completely screwed that up. I could go on about romance novel’s synopsis writers and romance novel’s cover designs, but that should be a post in-0f-itself.

As for Smooth Talking Stranger, I honestly wasn’t overly intrigued by the premise. It seemed to overly similar to the premise of Sugar Daddy. Girl is left to take care of a relatives child. But I couldn’t have been more wrong in my assumption.

First of all, Ella is a completely different character from Liberty in Sugar Daddy. Liberty was eager and and motherly from the beginning of her having to take care of her half-sister, Carrington. On the other hand, Ella is someone who never even wanted to get married let alone raise children. Having a less-than-desirable role-model of a mother, Ella only takes care of her sister’s fatherless child in the beginning because she’s always been the one to “take care of her family’s messes.”

I found the growth of the character of Ella to be a fun and informative read. Having gone to a lot of therapy in college to deal with her childhood home life and eventually becoming a columnist, Ella is very self-aware and truly an independent heroine.

In the character of Jack Travis I was able to see a realistic, lovable hero. He has his flaws, but he has principles and a past. He’s the traditionalist in their relationship, which I found refreshing from many other novels out.

Kleypas does a great job of showing the bond grow between Luke, the baby, and Ella. It’s subtle and believable and also heart-wrenching. I also found the immediate acceptance of the baby by Jack Travis a wonderful, if not completely plausible, part of the book. If I hadn’t read the whole series I don’t think I would have so readily believed his role in Ella’s dilemma.

I would say if you’ve read Sugar Daddy and/or Blue-Eyed Devil and liked either/both of them you are missing out if you don’t read this one.

★★★★1/2

Genre: Fiction, Historical, War Novel

Notes: This book is so beautiful.  I would have cried when I finished if I hadn’t been in a crowded laundromat.

Review: I’ve been reading like a fiend because I made a goal to read 50 books this year, and Goodreads (a website I use to keep track of my to-read list and bookshelf) keeps reminding me that I’ve only completed 26.   And it’s already August.  Thanks, Goodreads,  for sending me daily reminders of my failure.

This novel centers on an unnamed cellist (obvi) who takes to the street for 22 days straight during the siege of Sarajevo, braving sniper fire and mortar shells to play for 22 victims who lost their lives while waiting in a bread line.  The siege of Sarajevo was the longest modern-era siege of any capital city ever (according to the book jacket and Wikipedia), and it is estimated that 10,000 died or went missing between the years of 1992 and 1996.  The last book I read, The Lazarus Project, made me curious about the Bosnian War simply because I don’t really know anything about it, so “The Cellist of Sarajevo” seemed like a logical next book choice.  I hate to give history lesson in my blog posts, but suck it up.  History is important.

The cellist’s music  ties the stories of three Sarajevan citizens together.  A baker who sent his wife and son away before the siege truly began, a young father who braves the snipers and bombs of the streets to get water for his family every four days, and a sniper named Arrow who struggles to remain the person she wants to be.

Galloway, a Canadian with no ties to Sarajevo, writes this text elegantly and simply.  He doesn’t use long-winded, metaphor-laden sentences to describe the destruction and terror keeping the city captive.  He, very simply, uses the image of a cellist dressed in his tuxedo and wingtip shoes, playing a beautiful adagio, in a street filled with debris and broken bodies.

The novel is gripping and heart breaking.  It disgusted me that people can and will do this to each other, but it also reminded me that there is always something worth saving.  People can adapt.  People can survive even in the most terrible conditions.  The unthinkable becomes routine.  A death-defying run across an exposed bridge, praying the sniper on the hill doesn’t chose you, becomes a fact of life.  The book reminds you of the Biblical proverb “This too shall pass.”  Even when things seem desperate, deadly, and unceasing, something will change.  Things will get better and life will again continue.

Bottom Line: The book is awesome.  I’m just going to cut to the chase and recommend this to everyone.  The last line in the book packs a serious punch.

In A Nutshell

  • Genre: Paranormal, Romance, Action, Contemporary
  • Notes: One of my all-time favorite paranormal romance books. When in a book lull, I always reach for this quick read.
  • Recommended for: Ward fans, Fans of paranormal romance, and anyone who is a sucker for angsty/yet happy books.
The book that turned me onto J.R. Ward’s wonderfully, delicious series The Black Dagger Brotherhood. The synopsis for this book always makes me chuckle, but that is half of what I love about this series:
Within the brotherhood, Rhage is the vampire with the strongest appetite. He’s the best fighter, the quickest to act on his impulses, and the most voracious lover-for inside him burns a ferocious curse cast by the Scribe Virgin.Possessed by this dark side, Rhage fears the times when his inner dragon is unleashed, making him a danger to everyone around him. When Mary Luce is unwittingly thrown into the vampire world, she must rely on Rhage’s protection. Knowing that Mary feels the same intense animal attraction, Rhage must make her his alone…
I read this book, while I was studying abroad in europe and was simply happy to find a romance novel in english that didn’t make me feel like I was reading a formulaic cliché book. And it is so much fun.
For all of you out there reading this looking for the next great american novel – I think I can assure you that this isn’t it. But then again if you thought it was by looking at the cover – you have bigger issues.
As for what really connected me to this book: Mary. Mary is the kind of romantic heroine that you admire because she reminds you of parts of yourself. I enjoy reading stories where the heroine is a strong, independent woman, but I can relate more to a character like Mary. Mary has had a life that you really can’t describe as “easy” and while she doesn’t have a low self-esteem, she doesn’t really trust it when Rhage (who is described as movie-star-hot) is attracted to her. In fact, when they go on their first date (blind-date) she doesn’t even trust that he’s in the right date. But she doesn’t feel this in a “oh woe is me, no man will ever love me.” But in a very relatable – I’m a 7.5 he’s a 20+.
As for Rhage – he is super attractive and he was a man-whore. Technically still is at the beginning of the book. But the curse that he has placed on him has made man-whoring as exciting to him as a doctor appointment.
The strength of these books are the way Ward writes this gang of brothers. They are warriors second, brothers first – but don’t tell them I said so.
This is definitely one of my favorite paranormal series and it’s still going on. I recently reviewed the most recent addition Lover Unleashed.
I recommend reading them in order – Dark Lover is the first one – with a big glass of wine on a rainy night when you have nowhere to be.
★★★★1/2

Genre: Science Fiction, End of the World

Notes: Not a great book to read right before the end of the world predictions on 5/21, but an extremely believable scenario about humans faced with extinction.

Review: If you didn’t know, there is no way you would guess Shute wrote this novel in 1957.  Everything about it feels like it could happen tomorrow.  Basically, the book focuses on the last contingent of humanity in southern Australia as they wait for the cloud of radiation that killed the rest of the world to settle in Australia.  The radiation resulted from massive bombings and hydrogen bombs detonated in various parts of the Northern hemisphere.  What the bombs didn’t kill, the radiation did.  Each continent on earth succumbed to radiation sickness as the radiation cloud slowly moved southward.

When we meet the main characters, they know the radiation will eventually take Melbourne, but each person handles it differently.  Some stubbornly deny its trajectory and cling to hope.  A naval officer and his wife plant a garden they will never see bloom.  An American naval officer who denies the fact that his family must be dead (everyone in the northern hemisphere is dead), buys gifts for his wife in children to give them when he returns home from his tour in September.  Another character, Moira, begins taking classes in shorthand in computers  – even though the end of the world will come before the class ends.  Scientists predict the radiation will move into Melbourne by September.

Others flock to churches in the hopes they will ascend to heaven when this is all said and done.  Others party and drink and live their last moments on earth to the fullest.  (scientists discover that alcoholics fight off the radiation sickness longer – but still die in the end)

Shute does an absolutely phenomenal job of showing ways of coping with this devastating news.  Books written about nuclear holocaust in the 50s probably crowded bookstore shelves, but this one is worth reading, even today.  It is still terrifying.  It still made me think “What would I do if I knew the world was going to end and there was absolutely nothing I could do about it?” When I closed the book, I had the chills and may or may not have wiped away a tear.

Shute’s power comes through in the details.  The way people keep reporting to work until just before the end.  The availability of suicide pills to take before the radiation sickness gets too bad.  The value of money.

“On the Beach” isn’t overtly political (it does have a message, but it doesn’t beat you over the head with it and neglect the story.  The story reveals the writer’s intent instead of the other way around).

Also, I couldn’t help thinking of The End of the World video.  If you watch it, you’ll see why.

Bottom Line: I highly, highly recommend this book.  It is sobering and depressing, yes, but well worth the time.  But I would follow it up with a lighter, funnier book to take your mind off of the end of the world.  (I followed “On the Beach” with Tina Fey’s “Bossypants.”)