Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Book Thoughts - Cinder by Marissa Meyer

Cinder: Book One of the Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer
published 1/3/12
448 pages

Synopsis from publisher -

Humans and androids crowd the raucous streets of New Beijing. A deadly plague ravages the population. From space, a ruthless lunar people watch, waiting to make their move. No one knows that Earth's fate hinges on one girl. . . .

Cinder, a gifted mechanic, is a cyborg. Shes a second-class citizen with a mysterious past, reviled by her stepmother and blamed for her stepsister's illness. But when her life becomes intertwined with the handsome Prince Kai, she suddenly finds herself at the center of an intergalactic struggle, and a forbidden attraction. Caught between duty and freedom, loyalty and betrayal, she must uncover secrets about her past in order to protect her worlds future.

My thoughts -

Okay, I've really had a string of great reads lately, and I sure hope it keeps going. Cinder has been on the fringes of my awareness since it came out last year, and so I was happy to grab a copy at the library. I'm a sucker for a good fairy tale retelling, and when they author makes the story this fun it's just a bonus.

Cinder is certainly a young adult novel - it has the pacing and conflict, the forbidden romance and world-shifting struggle that seem to be the hallmarks of much YA literature currently available. I could see much of what was coming quite a ways ahead, and nothing too much surprised me. That said, this novel was a LOT of fun to read. Meyer's characters sparkle, and her unique twists on an incredibly familiar story made it feel very modern and fresh. I was pleased to see her take on issues such as race and class, and her treatment of these issues was thoughtful and clear.

Cinder appears to be the first in a series, and I am definitely on board for the whole ride. Meyer kept me turning pages from the start, and I can't wait to see what she has in store for Little Red Riding Hood next! 

Finished - 1/20/13
Source - South Side library
MPAA rating - PG for violence and some adult situations
My rating - 8/10

Friday, January 18, 2013

Book Thoughts - Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs
published 6/7/11
352 pages

Synopsis from publisher -

A mysterious island. An abandoned orphanage. A strange collection of very curious photographs. It all waits to be discovered in Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, an unforgettable novel that mixes fiction and photography in a thrilling reading experience. As our story opens, a horrific family tragedy sets sixteen-year-old Jacob journeying to a remote island off the coast of Wales, where he discovers the crumbling ruins of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. As Jacob explores its abandoned bedrooms and hallways, it becomes clear that the children were more than just peculiar. They may have been dangerous. They may have been quarantined on a deserted island for good reason. And somehow — impossible though it seems — they may still be alive.

My thoughts -

I've been reading for a long time. I've been an AVID reader for a long time. I wouldn't claim to be the most well-read person of all, but I think I've spanned a fairly wide range of genres and stories in my time. It takes something pretty special for an author to make me think, "Wow! I have never read anything like this before!" It happened last month with The Night Circus, and it happened this week with Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children. 

In itself, the story is very strong. Riggs has crafted a wise coming-of-age story, with fantastical elements that are quite unique. Jacob's narrative voice is funny and intelligent, and draws the reader into the wonders that he discovers along with him. The novel's cast of very peculiar characters each have their own niche in the story, and the reader can't imagine even one of them being lost.

But adding to the story, sprinkled throughout the novel, Riggs uses old photographs to illustrate and expand on the novel's events. Those photographs make this book a completely immersing experience. I was absolutely lost in this story, and the creepy, weird, and wonderful world of Miss Peregrine's children.

I've seen rumors of a second novel - I will definitely be picking up a copy! I've also seen rumors of a movie version - that would be very interesting. I am sold enough on the story that I would love to see how a good director could bring it to life.

I'm not usually that interested in book trailers, but this novel has a great one -

I would give this novel my highest recommendation - if you have not read it, go find a copy. This was a wonderful reading experience.

Finished - 1/17/13
Source - South Side library
MPAA rating - PG-13 for scary, fantastical elements
My rating - 9/10

Monday, January 14, 2013

Book Thoughts - The Night Strangers by Chris Bohjalian

The Night Strangers by Chris Bohjalian
published 2011
378 pages

Synopsis from publisher -

In a dusty corner of a basement in a rambling Victorian house in northern New Hampshire, a door has long been sealed shut with 39 six-inch-long carriage bolts.

The home's new owners are Chip and Emily Linton and their twin ten-year-old daughters. Together they hope to rebuild their lives there after Chip, an airline pilot, has to ditch his 70-seat regional jet in Lake Champlain after double engine failure. Unlike the Miracle on the Hudson, however, most of the passengers aboard Flight 1611 die on impact or drown. The body count? Thirty-nine – a coincidence not lost on Chip when he discovers the number of bolts in that basement door. Meanwhile, Emily finds herself wondering about the women in this sparsely populated White Mountain village – self-proclaimed herbalists – and their interest in her fifth-grade daughters. Are the women mad? Or is it her husband, in the wake of the tragedy, whose grip on sanity has become desperately tenuous?

My thoughts -

Oh, how I wish I remembered that I never like the way Bohjalian's novels end. Now I would really like to un-read this book, but of course I can't. Egh. a novel, it's actually pretty good. The ghost story aspects are quite creepy, and I found the author's handling of the "ghosts" to be very effective. I was less enthusiastic about the side plot involving the herbalist women, and could see how that storyline would play out from about 1/3 of the way through the novel. I think if Bohjalian would have stuck with the ghost story and left out the rest, I would have really liked this book.

Unfortunately, there was the rest, and I don't want to say to much and spoil anyone, because I KNOW a lot of people read this author, and I don't want to discourage you from trying it out. I'm just saying that I wish I could wipe the last 5 pages out of my mind, but sadly I can't. So now I have to go read something with puppies and rainbows to try and purge this creeped out feeling I just can't shake.

Finished - 1/13/13
Source - South side library
MPAA rating - PG-13 for violence and scary stuff
My rating - 7/10 

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Book Thoughts - Most Talkative by Andy Cohen

Most Talkative: Stories from the Front Lines of Pop Culture by Andy Cohen
published 5/8/12
288 pages

Synopsis from publisher -

From a young age, Andy Cohen knew two things: He was gay, and he loved television. Now presiding over Bravo's reality-TV empire, he started out as an overly talkative pop-culture obsessive, devoted to Charlie's Angels and All My Children; and to his mother, who received daily letters from him while he was at summer camp, usually reminding her to tape the soaps. In retrospect, it's hard to believe that everyone didn't know that Andy was gay; still, he remained in the closet until college. Finally out, he embarked on making a career out of his passion for television. The journey begins with Andy interviewing his all-time idol Susan Lucci for his college newspaper and ends with him in a job where he has a hand in creating today's celebrity icons. In the witty, no-holds-barred style of his show Watch What Happens: Live, Cohen tells tales of absurd network-news mishaps, hilarious encounters with the heroines of his youth, and the real stories behind the Real Housewives. Dishy, funny, and full of heart, Most Talkative provides a one-of-a-kind glimpse into the world of television, from a fan who grew up watching the screen and is now inside the TV, both making shows and hosting his own.

My thoughts -

I have to admit I haven't always been an Andy Cohen fan. The first time I saw him on Bravo, I found him frankly more than a little irritating. But then I started watching a few episodes of his show, and realized he had moments of sharp sarcasm that were pretty darn funny. Then I heard him interviewed by Jay Mohr, and thought, "holy cow, this guy would be fun to hang out with!" So I decided to give his book a shot - and it was a gamble that paid off.

Cohen's writing style is exactly the same as his on-air personality - brash, informal, and no-holds-barred. He is painfully honest in recounting both good times and bad, and doesn't try to sugar coat the more obnoxious aspects of his personality. There were many laugh-out-loud moments throughout the book, and his chapters about meeting and interacting with celebrities and "Bravolebrities" were hilarious.

But Cohen isn't all jokes and bubbles - he deals with serious stuff, like coming out to his family and friends, and the intense and draining life of a current events journalist. I found his more serious voice to be just as winning as his humor, and could have read many more chapters about his time working for CBS news. 

"...I'd gotten pretty good at showing up on the scene - plane crash, wildfire, flood, hurricane - quickly establishing relationships with people in the midst of developing trauma, and getting them to talk about it on-camera. It was like some sick kind of speed dating where my job was connecting to people in their most vulnerable moments, getting what I needed, and going. It's not that I didn't have empathy; there was just always another plane to catch." (p. 119)

This was a great first read for 2013 - fun and lighthearted, but serious enough to keep it from feeling schmaltzy. Heck, he almost makes me want to become a Real Housewives fan. (almost.)
If you enjoy a good celebrity memoir, this one is a winner.

Finished - 1/5/13
Source - South Side library
MPAA rating - R for profanity and adult situations
My rating - 8/10

Sunday, January 6, 2013

2012 Book year in review

 This is what the munchkins looked like at the beginning of 2012. Cute little stinkers, huh?

I'm thrilled to report that in 2012, I read 60 books. SIXTY! Thrilled, because in 2011 I only read 32. That's almost double! I feel like I am finally returning to the land of the readers after a long absence, and it feels great.

Of those books, 34 were by female authors, and 26 by males. That's actually pretty good - I think I normally skew towards female authors, so it was a pretty balanced year by my standards.

Here are a few highlights.

Biggest surprise of the year -

Odd Thomas by Dean Koontz - I had such a horrible preconceived idea about what Koontz's writing would be like that I was completely shocked when this book was actually really, really good. Odd and Stormy are one of my favorite literary love stories, and reading more in this series is definitely on my agenda for 2013.

Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel - I'm just going to be honest here - Wolf Hall was such a SLOG to get through. I honestly don't know why I thought I should pick this one up - so imagine my surprise when it was a really great, tense read. I almost can't believe the two books were by the same author, except that she did that weird "he" thing with Cromwell in both. What a difference a few years makes - I will read more by this author based on the strength of this novel.

Most fun return to a series I love -

Ice Cold by Tess Gerritsen - Rizzoli and Iles (the print versions) are two of my favorite characters, and while Gerritsen's novels are, at this point, somewhat predictable, they are still so much fun to read. It had been a few years since I'd caught up with these two complex women, and their lives have not become simple in the meantime! I don't generally purchase series novels like this for my permanent collection, but I have a feeling the Rizzoli and Iles series will be an exception.

Best Audiobook -

Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin - I was so surprised by the beauty of this novel's writing - it was only supposed to be a murder mystery, and yet listening to it was such a pleasure. The author is a master of a great character study, and the narrator nailed the mood and pitch of the story perfectly. This was a fabulous listen.

Novel I can't wait to read to my kids -

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum - I found this book to be truly delightful, and though it has certainly been around quite a while, it didn't feel dated or stilted. I look forward to the day that I can share this one with the kiddos.

Book I needed to read at exactly that moment -

Kisses from Katie by Katie J. Davis - this book truly changed the way I look at the world - my immediate world, and the greater one around me. It was a book I needed to read, and I'm grateful for it.

Book I disliked that the greater world seemed to love -

The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker - Every year there is one, and this novel gets the distinction this year. I actually just read this on Publisher's Weekly's Best Books of the Year list - I can't say that I could agree. I disliked the characters, the story, the writing - really just about everything. But it would appear most people disagree with me, so certainly give it a try for yourself.

Book I still can't get out of my head -

The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters - for a book that I initially didn't think I would care for, this one has certainly stuck with me. I can't get the haunting setting or the tragedy of the Ayers family out of my head. I am certainly happy I persevered, because this is one of the most memorable reads of the year.

Least favorite reads of the year -

The Girl Who Ate Kalamazoo by Darrin Doyle
The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker
The Alchemist's Daughter by Katharine McMahon
When Fox Is 1,000 by Larissa Lai
Miss Dreamsville and the Collier County Literary Society by Amy Hill Hearth

Most favorite reads of the year 

In This House of Brede by Rumer Godden
The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins
The Twelve by Justin Cronin
The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
The Secret River by Kate Grenville

It has been fun looking back at all the great books I've read this year, and looking forward to the surprises I will encounter in the year to come. Happy 2013!

 Here are the munchkins now - they have gotten so big!