Archive for the ‘reviews’ Category

The Angel's Game The Angel’s Game by Carlos Ruiz Zafón

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
If you are wanting a light-hearted romantic book, this is not the one for you. If you are wanting a mystery that skims the surface of it’s plot and characters, this is not the book for you. If you are looking for a book to endear Barcelona to your heart and make you believe that it’s a city full of light and romance, then this is definitely not the story for you.

However, if you are wanting to be strung along, unable to escape the bait being laid out neatly and methodically in front of you, if you are wanting to feel goosebumps over and over again, if you enjoy reading a story that will have you glancing over your shoulder at every little noise… then this is the story for you.

This is the story of David Martin, a writer. In The Shadow of the Wind we are introduced to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books. Zafon brings back that magical place in this story while providing the back story of his first novel. If Shadow of the Wind is a book for readers then this is a book for writers. Throughout this story we are given clue after clue, answers provided at just the right moment – only to be snatched away as the story shifts to a new dimension completely undoing what we thought we knew. Over and over this continues until Zafon has you in the palm of his hand, begging to know how it will all end.

And the end is always satisfying. It’s only the 2nd of January and I already know this book will be one of my favorites read for 2010. And now, with renewed interest and with the knowledge provided to me by Zafon, I will approach The Shadow of the Wind again to immerse myself in the story I knew I would love after reading the opening paragraph.

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Bel Canto by Ann Patchett

Several months ago I read Ann Patchett’s The Patron Saint of Liars: A Novel (P.S.) and, while somewhat interesting, it wasn’t what I had expected and I felt disappointed once I had finished it. It wasn’t until now that I felt comfortable picking up another of her books and, overall, I’m glad I waited this long.

That’s not to say Bel Canto (P.S.) left me with the same feeling as Patron Saint did. This is a beautifully written book. There was no action and at times it felt as if the story hovered over a period of a day or so instead of the weeks that it covered, but I think that’s only because that’s how it would have felt to the people caught in the midst of it all.

The story covers that of a Japanese businessman, an American opera singer, a translator, teenage boys and girls caught up in a terrorist movement beyond anything they could have imagined and more. A beautiful story about humanity, love, grief and life. The flow is so constant that I had a difficult time putting the book down, even though I was dreading how I knew things would have to end. But despite the dread, the author manages to capture a bit of hope and I desperately clung to it.

When I finished the book I finally felt as if I could exhale and begin to live my own life again. Although I was reading this when I made my list of the favorite books of ’09 I think I might just have to make an exception and add one more to the list.

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Best and Worst Books of 2009

The end of the year has come – and it’s time for me to list the best and worst books that I read in 2009.  I won’t be including the books I couldn’t finish because.. well.. then the post would be the Best Books I Read and the Worst Books I didn’t Read of 2009.

Obviously, I read a lot.  I’m blessed by having a life that provides the opportunity to do so.  Between sitting in carpool for long periods of time each day to reading to two beautiful children and having an incredible library system (and a Kindle!) it does make for a life well spent in reading.  And if you aren’t signed up on Goodreads.com I highly encourage you to go there and sign up – that place will inspire you to expand your horizons more so than anything I, or anyone else, could do.

So, on with the lists.

My Favorite Books from 2009: Fiction and Non-Fiction

1. A Long, Long Time Ago and Essentially True by Brigid Pasulka – There wasn’t even a contest for this spot.  Out of all the 250 or so books I read this year, this book blows them all away.  The beautiful love story between the Polish “Pigeon” and Anielica during WWII, this book will take everything you thought you knew about love stories dash it to pieces.  Whimsical and charming, this is not a book you should miss.

2. Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco X. Stork – When I was reading this book I was constantly calling my father to read portions of it to him.  This book is about Marcelo, a boy who has an autism-like impairment.  He hears music inside his head… but not real music, just the feeling you get from listening to good music. The story deepens from there and I found myself in tears and soul-searching more than a few times.

3.The Man Who Loved Books Too Much: The True Story of a Thief, a Detective, and a World of Literary Obsession by Allison Hoover Bartlett – This Non-Fiction book read exactly like a Fiction novel.  While I did not agree with John Gilkey’s methods in acquiring rare books, reading Bartlett’s descriptions of the workings of a book lover and why he went to the lengths that he did was fascinating… and I recognized myself in a few of the descriptions.

4. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins – One of many young adult novels I read this year, many of them good, many not-so-good, The Hunger Games stands out due to the intense story being told.  I don’t like to spoil this book at all, you simply have to read it.  Don’t expect Harry Potter, approach it with an open mind. (And get Catching Fire (The Second Book of the Hunger Games) too because it’s just as good).

5. I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith – I didn’t read this book as a teenager and I wish I would have.  Written 60ish years ago by the author of 101 Dalmations, this is the story of a 17 year old girl who lives in a crumbling castle with her destitute family.  This coming-of-age story is a must-read for every young woman.

6. The Child Thief: A Novel by Brom – I was enchanted and horrified by this book.  This is the darker story of Peter Pan.  The book is gorgeous and includes beautiful illustrations.  My tastes tend to run dark when it comes to fantasy and this book was no exception. It’s brutal and harsh, make no mistake about that.  In my opinion, Brom did an incredible job retelling the story in a way teens could understand and even learn from, today.

7. The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman – Another dark young adult story.  A sort of “Jungle Book” but involving a graveyard and ghosts instead.  Beautifully written and illustrated and you will get sucked in from the very first page.

8. Her Fearful Symmetry: A Novel by Audrey Niffenegger – I’ll probably take some flack for this one, but I loved The Time Traveler’s Wife and was not at all disappointed by this second book of Niffeneggers.  The story of mirror twins and ghosts and secrets and answers, Niffenegger once again takes science fiction and makes it feel like it could happen to us without us even realizing it.

9. The Mysterious Island (Modern Library Classics) by Jules Verne – I read three books by Verne this year and let me tell you, that’s no easy task.  That man was one of the wordiest, nerdiest authors ever lived I think.  There is so much information crammed into these books that at times it feels as if you are reading an encyclopedia.. only even more dull.  But despite that all, this final book of the 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea trilogy is worth it all.  I’ll tell you what my dad told me, “Read it, it’s mysterious“.

10. Here Be Dragons by Sharon Kay Penman – If you enjoy historical novels and haven’t read Sharon Kay Penman I highly recommend you do so.  This is the first book of a trilogy set in 13th century Wales and dealing with King Llewellyn and his wife, King John’s illegitimate daughter, Joanna.  I recommend this book every chance I get.

Books I was Disappointed with in 2009:

1. The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai – Never a good sign when you cannot clearly understand who the story is supposed to be about.

2. So Long at the Fair by Christina Swartz – Spun my head in circles and then the author just.. stopped writing.

3. A Mad Desire to Dance to Dance by Elie Wiesel – I feel horrible putting anything by Wiesel on here, but this book was the strangest one I read all year.  And it put me in a really bad mood.

4. The Twelve by William Gladstone – Do NOT even get me started on this book.  I’ll just say that by the end of the book I was convinced that the author considered him to be some kind of savior. Ugh. Ugh. Ugh.

5. Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia by Elizabeth Gilbert – What could have been a great story was made.. disappointing by the pure selfishness exhibited by Gilbert in this book.

6. The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson – This book could have been so much more than it was – but instead the author chose to focus on shock elements and not the story he was capable of writing.

7. Skeletons at the Feast: A Novel by Chris Bohjalian – I enjoyed other Bohjalian books, but this one left a bad taste in my mouth.

8. A Trace of Smoke (Hannah Vogel) by Rebecca Cantrell – Again, another book that could have been so much more than it was.

9. Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell: A Novel by Susanna Clarke – I feel bad putting this book on this list, because I really, really wanted to like it.  But I was more annoyed by it than anything else.  Hence, the disappointment.

10.  The Twilight Series (I’m not even going to link to them) – I didn’t read these books this year but everyone constantly asks me if I’ve read them and I am so tired of hearing them talk about it as if these books were some kind of incredible literature.  They are not! They are horrible! Please ask your librarian for something more interesting to read!

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The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown

The Lost Symbol falls between Angels & Demons and the The Da Vinci Code for me. I really enjoyed A&D, didn’t like Vinci at all and this book merits an okay “meh” from me. But up until about the last fourth of the book or so, I really liked it! So why?

I loved the descriptions of Washington, D.C. I loved the explanations of symbolism and a few of the lore sections about things such as the finger pointing up explanation that athletes do. There was no resting either, the book just flies along stringing action between explanation until I felt like my head was going to burst with so much information. And I was pleased he wasn’t delving too deeply into the religious aspect of it all – until the end.

Unlike some other reviews I’ve read, I did enjoy the shoutouts to various social networks. It made the characters come alive for me. There were a few shock moments for me as well and I fell hook, line and sinker for a few moments in the book that turned out to be different than they appeared. Again, a lot of fun until the end.

In the end I felt as if I was being preached at. I don’t care if it’s a secular or a religious book, I hate being preached at. Inside this 500 page novel it appears as if Mr. Brown has decided to let us all know that those who are “worthy” will achieve status as “Gods”. I don’t want to hear that, I want to read a good story. My advice to those who want to read this book is to take it with a grain of salt. What I’ve pulled out of it is some interesting facts about Washington D.C. that I intend to research on my own and I’ve discarded a lot of nonsense that seems to be thrown out there just to cause controversy and get the book to sell.

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When I was home over Thanksgiving my dad suggested to me that I read a book titled The Mysterious Island by Jules Verne.  I hadn’t heard of this particular novel, but was familiar with 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea so had a general idea of what the book might be like.

So I began to research The Mysterious Island.  In researching I discovered that it was, in fact, part of a sort of trilogy written by Verne.  The first book in the trilogy was 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and written as sort of a companion book to Leagues was a book titled In Search of the Castaways (or, as the author originally titled it, The Children of Captain Grant).  So, in November I began a journey through 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, followed by Castaways and just yesterday finished up the trio with The Mysterious Island.  Following are my reviews for each novel.

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (Rating: 4 out of 5 stars)

As an adventure story, there are few that can touch this classic. I remember reading through this book around 10 years old and how much I loved reading about all of the various life forms beneath the sea. I also credit this book for my fascination with all things aquatic.

There’s a lot of criticism on all of the technical jargon included in this book and I don’t really understand that. If this doesn’t interest the reader it’s simple to just skim over the information and or skip it altogether. It’s not vital to the story, it just enriches it. But enrichment aside, the story does well standing on its own.

Jules Verne’s interest in science is so incredibly apparent. He really was a man before his time. Everything had a plausible explanation (although I admit to not having much knowledge in the areas he was writing on).

His characters were rich and full of life. Nemo was deliciously mysterious throughout the entire length of the book. The Dr., his man servant and Ned all had their own distinct personalities.

My father recommended I read this book again (he actually wanted me to read the third in the trilogy – In Search of the Castaways being the second, and The Mysterious Island being the third) and I’m glad I did. So often people talk about the classics and if you haven’t read one in a while it seems like the stories are remembered as dull and hard to read, but once again, as I dove back into this classic book, I was reminded of why I read so many of them as a young teenager.

In Search of the Castaways, Or The Children of Captain Grant (Rating 4 out of 5 stars)

Another romping adventure by Jules Verne. This was a new book to me and I love it with a book immediately starts out with a great people, objects and an incredible mission. Not just a note in a bottle, the bottle is found in a shark! Immediately I was sucked in.

There was fantastic adventures through Patagonia and Australia and New Zealand. Brushes with bandits, cannibals and the tribal people. In all of his writing, Verne comes off as respectful and full of admiration for the natives of the lands he’s writing about. He’s full of information (as much as was available at that time) and does not hesitate to make fun of his own country, in the form of the French geographer, Paganel.

A very satisfying, fun, educational read. I enjoyed it even more than 20,000 Leagues just because the descriptions of places were much more entertaining to me.

The Mysterious Island (Rating 5 out of 5 stars)

I loved and hated this book. In The Mysterious Island Jules Verne creates a story similar to The Swiss Family Robinson story that I grew up loving. But this book is much more in depth and provides an intriguing mystery to spice things up.

Five men escape from America during the Civil War in a balloon. They are blown far south and are wrecked upon an island with no supplies.

Verne goes in depth in how the men manage to make a colony out of nothing. In their party are an engineer, a newspaper man, a freed slave, a boy and a sailor. With their combined knowledge (and the superb knowledge of the engineer) they manage to make an island life worthy of making even a modern person wishing to visit.

Throughout the book Verne drops “mysterious occurances”. These keep the reader highly interested despite pages and pages of descriptions that Verne is notorious for. Despite the slow movement throughout 75% of the book this is, by far, my favorite of his novels. If you are interested in survival (and the men in this book are what a “real” survivor is) and science this book is certain to satisfy you

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In Guenevere, Queen of the Summer Country by Rosalind Miles we about the old Author legend from the viewpoint of Princess (Queen) Guenevere. More depth is given in this story then normal in stories about Arthur to Guenevere and her mother’s kingdom.

There were a few things I did enjoy about this book. When viewed at as a fantasy novel there were all the ingredients that make a good one. Light magic and dark magic. Twists and turns, betrayals and true love. It was all there and the writing was good enough so that it flowed together easily.

Now, what I didn’t enjoy about the book. Instead of being a fascinating novel, the author felt the need to delve into harlequin-type descriptions in order to convey the depth of the love Lancelot and Guenevere had for one another. It made me take this book and the story held within it quite a bit less seriously. Miles description of Merlin and the relationship he had with Arthur was a believable one. I never have bought into the myth that he was a good man and only looking out for Arthur’s best interests and the story told here is a good counterpoint to the other stories of Merlin.

Overall, a solid three stars for this book. It wasn’t horrible, it didn’t make me want to put it down – it just wasn’t what I was hoping for.

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Michelle Moran has yet to disappoint me. Cleopatra’s Daughter covers the life of Kleopatra Selene and her twin brother, Alexander from the ages of 12-15. The death of Marc Antony and Cleopatra are included in this tale as well as “what happened to them” section at the end of it.

As she did in Nefertiti and The Heretic Queen, Michelle Moran makes her characters come to life. I found myself laughing and crying my way through the book and fascinated with the characters who seemed to thrive on the page. My only complaint is that the book was too short (at 422 pages no less!). I’ve known the story of Cleopatra and Marc Antony, so learning about her daughter was quite the treat. Moran is historically accurate (with a few exceptions she details out) and manages to tell the story without making it dry.

If you are a fan of Philippa Gregory and interested in reading some other historical fiction I highly recommend Michelle Moran.

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