Thursday, June 30, 2011

What I read in June!

It's time for my monthly round up post.  This month was a good reading month, especially since I discovered audiobooks that can be downloaded straight to my iphone.  I've been spending a lot of my driving, sewing, and work time listening to books that I normally wouldn't have time to read.  With links to posted reviews, here's what I read in June:

Dominance by Will Lavender
A Storm of Swords by George R.R. Martin
The Art of Forgetting by Camille Noe Pagan
The Help by Kathryn Stockett
The Peach Keeper by Sarah Addison Allen
A Feast for Crows by George R.R. Martin
Some Girls Are by Courtney Summers
The Girl Who Was On Fire edited by Leah Wilson
Little Bee by Chris Cleave
Mr. Chartwell by Rebecca Hunt

The boring statistics:

Books read this year: 51
Pages read: 18,068
Money saved by reading books I own, books I got from the library, or otherwise free books: $469.29

I recently updated you all on my family, but I give just a few more details of what we've been up to this month.  And by that I mean bore you to death with long descriptions of what our dogs are doing.  Last week we had both puppies neutered (yes, at 14 months, and yes, this is standard practice for giant breeds).  Since they were already under anasthesia for the neuters, we also had their stomachs tacked (again, something giant breed specific, but, in short, it prevents bloat, which is a common cause of death in giant breed dogs).  Stomach tack surgery is much harder on dogs than simple neuters, so the puppies had a two week recovery.  For the past week and a half they have only been allowed out of their crates for potty breaks and short walks.  Basically, they are climbing the walls.  Their stitches will come out on Saturday and they'll be able to play and get baths, both of which need to be done desperately at this point. 

Although he hasn't been able to do any training since the surgery, Chief will still be taking his Canine Good Citizen test in two weeks, so we'll be training hard after Saturday.  The CGC is enough for him to start doing therapy as a reading dog or in hospitals and nursing homes in our area, but we will also go ahead and get his Therapy Dog International certification at the end of the summer.

Dexter, on the other hand, has been having some issues with his good citizen behavior.  He escaped from the vet the other day and ran through the connected PetsMart causing general chaos and panic.  Apparently the innocent shoppers didn't expect to be confronted by 150 lbs of galloping black fur and paws.  Little children screamed, women ran, Luke and I and the vet tech chased him through the store - it was a disaster.  Obviously, we've need to put some time into the recall training with him.  And never show our faces in the store again. 

In our life outside of the dogs (Ha!  Who am I kidding?), we've spent a lot of time with my family.  Sugar Bear is planning her wedding, so I've been trying to help her as much as possible and Buddy graduated from high school and has started planning for college.  I'm working on redecorating our library/living room as well.  So far I've done throw pillows, a slip cover for the piano bench, and book covers for my decoration books.  I still need to finish sewing the curtains.  OH and my USB scanner came, so I've been busy cataloging all my books in LibraryThing.  Once I finish I'll give you my final total of all the books in my house.  Anyone want to take a guess?  I'm thinking at least 1000.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Book Review: Some Girls Are by Courtney Summers

Regina was one of the most popular girls at school until she is accused of sleeping with her best-friend's boyfriend.  Despite the fact that what really happened was anything but consensual, Regina becomes the target of her one-time friends, who decide to make her life at school miserable. 

Writing
Fine.  I think the author did a good job of capturing the voice of teens, but it was typical YA fare.  Nothing jumped out at me either way.

Entertainment Value
Excellent.  I read it in one sitting over the course of about two hours on a rainy Sunday afternoon.  It's a quick read and engrossing.  I appreciated Regina as a character - incredibly difficult to like, but also somewhat sympathetic.  Even as you know she doesn't deserve sympathy, you can't help but feel for her. 

As far as believability is concerned, I think the love-interest aspect is far-fetched.  The story could have carried itself just find without including a romance - and the romance takes away from the story itself in this case.  It makes the plot harder to believe and Regina's character a less sympathetic for me.  Yeah, sure, she's tormented and loses all her friends in addition to this horrific incident that inspired the whole plot, but, consolation prize, she gets a hot angsty boy to make out with.  I wish YA authors in general (and I'm sure there are exceptions to this rule) would realize that readers can appreciate a book like Some Girls Are, even if there isn't kissing and even if the main character doesn't wind up with a boyfriend by the end.

Overall - yeah, I'd definitely recommend it.  It's a fast read on an interesting and timely topic, even if it doesn't always ring 100% true.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Decatur Book Festival Highlight: Mary Kay Andrews



Mary Kay Andrews has been a favorite author of mine for quite a while, so seeing her on the DBF schedule has me really excited.  Andrews writes what I suppose would be classified as chick lit, but her focus on the South gives her a completely unique voice.  It doesn't hurt that she writes about the place I love most: Georgia!  Nothing about Ringgold, yet, but she has a book set on Tybee Island (Savannah Breeze), which is special to me and my family.  My extended family owns a real estate business/resort on the island and I've spent many happy summers there.  I love reading books set in a place that I know well. 



At DBF this year, Andrews will be promoting her newest release, Summer Rental.  I actually already have a signed copy of this one, won from the All 4 Alabama auctions.  But I'm sure I'll be bringing quite a few others to be signed.  I'm also dying to meet the author in person.  I've emailed her to tell her how much I've enjoyed her books and she emailed back, which is always a big deal to me.  I love when authors acknowledge readers - I feel like authors are celebrities, so hearing from one makes my day.  I'm also sure that her reading/panel will be amazing.  Please make it a point to see Andrews if you're at DBF, especially if you are a fan of all things Southern.  I have it on good authority from Joanna at A Worn Path that Andrews is absolutely hilarious.  You can read my review of her book Hissy Fit here

A list of her books:
Hissy Fit
Savannah Blues
Savannah Breeze
Blue Christmas
The Fixer Upper
Deep Dish
Little Bitty Lies
Summer Rental

Andrews also writes mysteries under the name Kathy Hogan Trochek.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Book Review: The Help by Kathryn Stockett

After listening to the first three Song of Ice and Fire books on audio, I realized that I enjoy listening to the written word almost as much as I enjoy reading it.  Discovering how easy it is to download audiobooks to my ipod from the library website just made it that much easier.  I've always been put off by audio in the past because I would always fall asleep within the first few minutes.  But what I've learned in the past few weeks is that you don't have to just sit down and twiddle your thumbs while you listen to a book (I know, brilliant revelation!).  I've been listening while I drive to work, while I do the dishes, and while I sew.  And it's not only increased the number of books I can experience in a month, but has also given me more time to spend on my crafts.  All of that to say, I listened to The Help on audio.  I'll be adding a review of the narration to the writing and entertainment value portions of my review for audio books from now on. 

If you are like me and have somehow made it through the past year without reading this book, now is the time to fix that.  I didn't know much about it going in - just that it was the story of some white women and their relationships with their black "help", set in the south during the 1960's.  If you're interested in more details, you can read the publisher's blurb from Goodreads

Writing
I was blown away by the writing.  Honestly, because of the book's popularity, I feel like maybe I should find something to critique to show how literary I am, but I've come up empty.  I was amazed that this is the author's first novel and I am convinced that any criticisms are based only on the fact that praising the writing of a popular book is "low-brow."  Stockett writes a beautiful novel, full of rich detail and character, but not overly wordy.  She has created a multitude of balanced characters, and narrates the book in three distinct, yet uniquely endearing voices.  I thought she also did an amazing job of capturing the Southern voice and of showing multi-faceted characters - flawed yet still lovable (except for Hilly, but isn't she a great "love to hate her" character?)

MST3K
Since this was my first foray into audio in several years outside of the Song of Ice and Fire books (and how could those ever be boring?) I was nervous about the book not holding my attention.  I have absolutely no complaints, however.  From the first chapter, I was enthralled.  I usually take a nap or watch tv on my lunch breaks to give my mind a break, but I could not stop listening to The Help.  I listened every second I could - in the car, when I didn't have students in the library, on my lunches, and while I sewed at night.  I loved every word and cried my eyes out when it was over.  Completely engrossing.

Audio
I highly recommend this one on audio.  There are three readers - a different reader for each narrator - and I really enjoyed hearing completely unique voices.  In a book with multiple narrators, it helped me keep track of who was speaking.  Each reader does an amazing job.  Their voices are beautiful and they capture the Southern accent well.  If you're not used to audiobooks, this is a good one to start with.

Overall - highly recommend this book.  Read it, listen to it, and go see the movie in August.  I'll be there the day it comes out!  This is definitely a must-read, must-listen-to, must-experience.  It's completely worth it. 

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Book Review: Dominance by Will Lavender

This book has such a great cover, doesn't it?  You've got the old books and parchment forming the bloody axe - how often do you find a thriller with a cover that references the Russians?  From the cover alone you can surmise that it's going to be smart and creepy - and it completely delivers.  It's a literary thriller, which you don't find too often, that alternates between past and present.  In the past section, a group of college students are hand picked for a class taught by a literature professor convicted of committing two horrible murders and covering the bodies of his victims with books.  The class, taught via video from the professor's cell will cover murder/mystery in novels.  In the future, the professor has been pardoned, but the class members who have since moved on with their lives are starting to die one by one and their bodies are covered in books. 

Writing
Good, above average for the genre.  I LOVED all the literary references the author threw in, especially those to Crime and Punishment, which is one of my favorite classics.  There were a few situations I found hard to believe - an established liberal arts university is having a convicted serial killer teach class from his jail cell - and the class is held in an abandoned building's basement late at night?  That's very convenient for adding mood/creepiness, but not really believable.  Also, for probably the first 100 pages or so I really felt like I was reading a variation of Silence of the Lambs.  The sophisticated, incredibly smart villain manipulating the young woman from his prison cell - how can you read that and not think Hannibal Lechter?  Soon, however, the story takes on its own voice and I had forgotten all about Hannibal by the end.

MST3K
Awesome.  So much smarter than many thrillers and the literary aspects make it even better.  It was smart and scary at the same time.  And a very good scary.  Like a pull the covers up to my chin scary.  BUT, it was scary without resorting to graphic violence and/or sex.  I feel like a lot of recent scary movies and books have moved away from the psychological and more toward the sexual.  They use sexual violence as a way to shock and scandalize the reader, and insert lots of gore in just to make sure we're paying attention.  I love that Will Lavender manages to keep us entertained by his story and his characters and not by shock value or tittilation.  There are some extremely creepy characters in this book, and some very scary situations, but those situations aren't based on sexual violence, which is a welcome relief.  Think the original Psycho as opposed to the Saw or Hostel franchises. 

If you can handle the creepiness, I say go for it.  It is a wonderful scary tale without the tropes of sexual violence and gore that are seen way too often for my taste and often cover a lack of plot and character development.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Decatur Book Festival Highlight: Introduction/Terra Elan McVoy

If you're friends with me in real life, I'm sure you've heard me talk about how excited I am for the Decatur Book Festival in September.  A whole bunch of Nesties will be there, both Nestie besties that I already see regularly and some I've yet to meet!  I absolutely cannot wait for September 2-4.  The highly anticipated (at least by me) list of authors was released and it is amazing!  There are going to be so many awesome authors and illustrators.  To keep up the excitement and spread the word, I'm going to start a series of DBF Highlights up until the Festival.  Once or twice a week I'll feature an author who will be there and that author's books.  Once the actual schedule is posted, I'll also feature some of the events and maybe even tell you a few of my favorite spots to check out on your downtime within walking distance. 



Since this is my first post, I want to feature the organizer of DBF, who is also an amazing author and a really nice person (I got to meet her a few weekends ago at the Little Shop of Stories signing).  Terra Elan McVoy not only devotes a huge amount of time to the planning and organization of DBF, she also writes amazing YA books and is a major YA advocate.  Last year at DBF I picked up a signed copy of her book After the Kiss.  This year she'll be promoting and hopefully signing copies of her newest book The Summer of Firsts and Lasts.  If you like YA, she's an author you need to check out, regardless of whether or not you'll be at DBF. 

Sunday, June 19, 2011

In My Mailbox (17)

Welcome to In My Mailbox, Reader Friends!  I got some great books to share this time, but I also got an amazing gift from Simply Bags, a company that specializes in personalized bags.  They sent me one in my favorite color (pink!) with my blog name embroidered on the front. 





You can see that there is PLENTY of room inside for books.  I've decided it will be this year's Decatur Book Festival bag, since it can fit so much!  Thank goodness I'll have Luke with me this year to haul it around.  Thank you a million times to Simply Bags for the beautiful bag!

Speaking of Decatur...Crystal and I headed to Decatur last weekend for a book read/signing featuring Maureen Johnson and Sarah Elynowski.  We both fell in love with Little Shop of Stories last year at DBF and were so excited to see some amazing authors there.  I picked up copies of Gimme A Call and The Last Little Blue Envelope and had them both signed!  In addition to hearing two hilarious YA authors, I got to spend the day with Crystal, which is always awesome.





And, I let myself have a little fun at B&N.com and pick up a couple books there - they have price tags, but each book was actually half off the marked price!

The Selected Works of TS Spivet and
Juliet Naked


Dismantled and
I Know I Am But What Are You?

And Forbidden came for review this week - I'll be reviewing it later this year for the Faith and Fiction Round Table

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Book Review: The Art of Forgetting

Oh, Reader Friends.  I'm sure you've seen me mention before how surpremely hard it is to write a negative review of a book that you are reviewing FOR someone.  Nevertheless, because I love you all, I must be honest.  This book has a great permise but on a scale of I Really Hate It to Best Book Ever, this one earns a solid Meh.  It's about two women who have always had an unbalanced relationship since they met in high school - one is domineering and the other is very compliant.  The alpha friend is in an accident that causes her to lose her memory and also causes a dramatic personality change.  The story revolves around how this changes their relationship as well as how it changes their self-perception.

Writing
Decidedly average.  I didn't have major complaints, no glaring errors, appropriate grammar and editing, etc.  But a good portion of dialogue seemed to be less than genuine and definitely stilted.  I had a hard time imagining a real person speaking the way some characters speak in the book.  I also felt like there were several scenes that served no purpose for the overall plot.  It was really up and down for me.  I'd read a passage and be annoyed that it existed, and then read another passage and be back in the story.  It wasn't consistently interesting or well-written.

MST3K
Again, inconsistent.  There were times I wanted to keep reading and find out what happened.  Other times I didn't care and had to make myself keep reading.  I think the overall largest problem I had was how little the "alpha" friend was in the story.  I felt like from the description, we were going to have some crazy lady behavior.  Or at least some serious drama. The whole drastic personality change, and the mysterious lover from the past (there's a mysteriously creepy lover from the past who is not supposed to be creepy) made me think that we would have some action.  Lady fights or at least arguments.  That kind of thing.  Excitement.  But the woman with the memory disorder moves away and is barely in the story at all.  She makes  few telephone appearances, but we really don't get any good arguments.  The passive friend continues to be passive-aggressive.  The pushy friend continues to be pushy and aggressive-aggressive. 

I'm trying to rein myself in some here, because it wasn't as bad as I'm making it sound.  There were moments of tension and points where I really did care what happened in the story.  Overall, though, I have to say that I think it was largely forgettable.  Ask me a year from now and I doubt I'd be able to tell you what it's about without looking up my review.  So ultimately, I think it's not one I'd recommend.  I think there are other books that are more well-written and more interesting. 

The good news is that I am not the only person on the TLC tour for this one, so feel free to check out the other reviews.  Several people on the tour really enjoyed this one.  For a balanced look, check out some of their reviews as well!  As always, thank you to TLC for sending me a copy to review!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Instead of blogging...

I've been busy doing!  I haven't posted anything since Saturday, and each day I keep telling myself to remember to take pictures and post some of the book-related things I've been up to (lots of new books to post, my CueCat scanner review, and a book signing with Maureen Johnson and Sarah Mylnowski), but somehow I've still not gotten around to it.  Tonight, I promise!

Anyway, I thought I'd catch you all up on life at the manse.  It has been incredibly, ridiculously hot.  Which means I've spent a fair amount of time laying around moaning and groaning and wishing I could figure out a way to create a climate control suit that I could wear from the house to my car, which is about the only time I venture outside in the summer.  Luke caught me and Chief trying to escape the heat and napping on the floor the other day.  I love that baby.  He's started his therapy dog training and is doing great.  Dexter is doing agility this round of classes. 

I recently planned and carried out another graduation ceremony.  My boss said it's like I throw a wedding every three months, and I completely agree.  The planning that goes into it is ridiculous and the event itself always wears me out.  And now that I've finished the June graduation, I'll move right into planning the September.  Note to self: for September graduation, don't phone in the cake order - write it down!  They  had a little grammar issue on our reception cake:

And, finally, no pictures yet, but I've been sewing up a storm.  I've redone all of our library throw pillows and made curtains out of canvas drop cloths.  I'm going for a less formal, brighter theme this time around.  I'll post before and afters when I'm done.  I hope to finish adding some color to the curtains this week and finish recovering the gossip bench and the piano bench to match.  I'm also working on the first piece of clothing I've made since my 4-H days in middle school.  I'm making a summer skirt and so far it has been crazy hard.  But I'm approaching the end and hope to have pictures soon!   

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Faith and Fiction Roundtable: A Canticle for Liebowitz

This is one that's been on my TBR list for quite a while, but that I probably wouldn't have read any time in the near future, except that it was a Faith and Fiction Round Table book.  It's actually a pretty timely read: post-apocalyptic fiction with a Christian twist.  And by that I most certainly do not mean what you typically think about Christian fiction.  I mean that it centers around a future society that is dominated by the Catholic church after a world-wide nuclear holocaust.  So while the book focuses on Christianity and its impact on a devastated world, it isn't written with a set agenda or a lesson to teach. 

I enjoyed all of the discussion around the book, but one part in particular jumped out at me.  In the book, we see the development of society from the dawnings of a new civilization through several hundred years to another society on the brink of collapse.  The position of the church and its relationship to education/knowledge and humanity are contrasted throughout the book.  In the first section, we see the church desperately trying to retain the written word, education, and history in a society that doesn't value any of those things.  As time goes on, we see the church continuing to preserve the arts, but also lose their focus on humanity as a whole.  By the third section, what began as a monastery devoted to preserving knowledge for the purpose of preserving humanity has become so enthralled with scholarship and learning that they have neglected to care for people. 

I went to a Christian high school and one of my favorite classroom discussions centered around what our teacher referred to as a "monastic ghetto."  He was referring to a specific time period in church history as well as what is a common problem for churches.  The church as a whole (the body of Christ) and individual churches can become so centered on what is happening within their own four walls that, like the monks in the book, they can't see or empathize with the suffering of people outside the church walls.  There may be people who live in the shadow of the church building who never see compassion or mercy or even a second glance from the church itself.  Even in a church focused on the "good" things - missions, membership, knowledge, and Bible study, we can neglect the very things that should set us apart - eyes that see the suffering of the outside world, the world that is often only a few steps away.

I'd love to hear from my Reader Friends who read this book.  Did you think that the last section in particular was very reminiscent of the modern church and its insular tendencies?  Or do you disagree?  How should the church respond during times of war and suffering?

Friday, June 10, 2011

Book Review: Where She Went

This is the sequel to a book I reviewed a month or so ago, If I Stay.  Where she went follows the main characters of If I Stay, Mia and Adam, as they cope with the aftermath of Mia's family's accident.  Three years have passed and Mia and Adam are no longer together.  Adam has become a famous rock star and Mia a cello prodigy.  They have a chance encounter in New York that will change both of their futures.

Writing
Ok.  I still didn't have the same blown away experience that I've seen many others have with the author's writing.  Most commonly, I hear it described as lyrical, and I just dont' see it.  It's not that the writing is poor or in any way flawed, but I also didn't find it a literary gem either.  The writing, for me, was typical contemporary YA  -  the story takes center stage above the writing as an art form. And on that note...

MST3K
I love the story.  I really enjoyed If I Stay, but I liked Where She Went more.  I loved having Adam as a narrator and getting to see his thoughts and feelings.  And I also liked going back and forth in time and seeing what was happening in the present day as well as what had happened over the past three years.  I read it in one sitting and immediately passed it on to Bestie.

I recommend it if you like YA and you're looking for a good story that deals with heavier plot points than boyfriends and mean girls at school.  It's good contemporary YA that doesn't fall into the "issue" category or the "lighthearted reading" category. 

And finally, I want to ask you, Reader Friends, a question.  I've been thinking about it quite a bit since I read If I Stay and it would fit better with that review, but you'll have to take it here.  Let's you are in a car accident that kills your entire family.  Your parents and any siblings.  You are severly injured and will have a difficult recovery.  Given those circumstances, would you choose to continue living or would you choose to die and be with your family?  For those of you who are adults, would your answer change now that you are grown, married, living on your own, working full time, raising kids, etc?

I've thought several times since reading If I Stay about what I would do.  Honestly, I think that given the choice to live or die when I was in high school, knowing that my parents, Buddy, Sugar Bear, and David were all dead, I probably would have chosen to die.  I can't imagine choosing to continue living at that point in my life without my family, even though I know that is not the typical "Christian" answer.  But at the point I'm at now, I know I would choose to live.  I have Luke, and the little boys, and the cat child to think about.  And I have a life of my own now.  In high school so much of "me" was really about my family.  Now I have a career, a home, and a life outside of my parents and siblings.  And I'm certainly not saying that I don't love my parents or my siblings.  But I think I would feel differently now about life without them.  What about you?

Monday, June 6, 2011

Book Review: A Clash of Kings

Ok, I was iffy on continuing with the series after Game of Thrones, but because Luke and I enjoyed discussing it so much, I decided to continue and I'm so glad that I did!  The second book really steps things up, plus some of the Nesties are reading it now, so I'm discussing with them as well.  It really defies summary, though.  I can't tell you what it's about without going into super long, boring detail and ruining parts of the first book, so the best I'll give you is a link to the Goodreads page.  If you are just DYING for a summary you can read what the publisher has to say about it here.  Basically, in this one, there are a lot of people who have declared they are kings and they are clashing over who will be THE king.  I will try to limit major spoilers, but I will be mentioning specific characters and how they evolve, so if you are like Luke and don't even want to know which characters are still living in each book, avert your eyes.  On to the review:

Writing:
I feel like Gurm did a bit better with his writing in this one.  In my review of Game of Thrones I listed my issues with the writing - here's an update on how I think Clash of Kings improved in those areas:

Characterization: In Game of Thrones I took issue with the lack of characterization.  I found many of the characters to be flat and static - basic stock characters.  To some degree this remains the case: Joffrey is still a sociopathic, evil little twit.  But, many of the main characters develop more fully in this book.  Sansa, Sandor Clegane, and Jon Snow are three who really came to life for me in this one.  Rather than remaining flat and static, we see them evolve as people and nuances into their personalities are introduced.  I love learning what a character's motivations are, and Gurm has shown himself to be very good and slowly revealing layers of motivations.  I particularly loved Sandor Clegane's experience during the seige of King's Landing and the way Gurm wove his history into that scene.

Predictability: I continue to waver on this one.  On one hand, I see a lot of the "twists" coming.  On the other hand, they usually still take me by surprise due to pacing and such.  For example, I may "know" that a character is going to die due to heavy handed foreshadowing, but the circumstances surrounding the character's death will completely shock me.  But there is still some aspect of "whatever I think is least likely to happen will happen".  I've also decided that Gurm is very good at keeping the reader emotionally invested in the story.  Just when I feel that all hope is lost and I'm so disheartened by circumstances, he will bring my hope back with a rousing battle speech or act of heroism.

Plot Complexity: Again, I think this improved to some degree but not enough to make it particularly good writing.  We still have a million and one characters, places, and events, but Gurm did a much better job of developing histories for those people, places, and events and providing us with a deeper understanding of the world he has created. 

So overall, I'd say the writing has improved, but is still not what I would consider particularly great.

MST3K

I have to say that my entertainment experience in reading this one was much better.  It's not that the first book didn't entertain me, but I was iffy on continuing the series.  Clash of Kings left no doubt in my mind that I will be finishing the series and eagerly awaiting the new installments.  I'm loving all of the story lines and there are times when I literally could not stop listening to the story.  Several nights I spent quite a few hours listening while I sewed or listening at my desk when work has been slow.  I also listened obsessively in my car.  The story definitely sucks you in, and the growth of the characters in this book led me to care much more about what happens to them.  The twists in the book keep you guessing and the pacing is more steady. 

I still maintain that sections are too detailed.  I like description that adds to the story or adds to the beauty of the words - Gurm's descriptions don't really do either.  The story is unchanged by a list of the 77 courses served at a feast or a description of each warrior's armor.  Such descriptions are also not emotionally evocative and don't contain any deeper symbolism.  They are just boring.  Thankfully, the descriptions are limited and always surrounded by various intrigues, shocks, and scandals.  I love a good backstabbing story and backs are stabbed left and right in this one.

My three warnings still remain: graphic sex that is also usually perverted in some way; graphic violence and depictions of war/torture; and if you're all worked up over the fact that these fictional people in a fictional medieval society do not treat women the way we want women in modern reality to be treated, you will likely not change your opinion after reading this one.

Taking those cautions into regard, I recommend the book for some of my readers.  This one is difficult because I am really enjoying it and the discussions I'm having with Luke and my friends as a result.  On the other hand, I am reluctant to recommend it to all of my readers because I know I have quite a few friends who wouldn't enjoy it.  Bestie, for instance, would hate this series. 

I think it's important, especially as I am open about my faith and obviously come to any book with a Christian worldview, to acknowledge that this book has some serious moral issues that many of my readers (and I myself) find offensive.  I do NOT recommend this book for teens and I do NOT recommend it for those who are easily swayed by what they read.  I do recommend it for people who are strong in their own beliefs and open to experiencing a worldview that exists outside of our own without the moral standards found in the Bible.  This is a fictional world where Christianity does not exist, so the questions raised regarding morality when there are no absolute moral standards are quite interesting and make for good discussion, especially in light of the fact that our society is largely made up of people who do not believe in absolute moral standards. 

I plan to address the issue of morality more in my review of the next book, but before I do I'd be especially interested in hearing feedback from any of you who have read the series on the morality in the book and how you would compare it to our culture's view of morality, especially if you have a point of view that differs from my own.  I'd love to be able to quote some others who have read this book and may feel differently about the content and the morality questions raised in the book than I do.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Book Review: The Internet Is A Playground

We're all fairly familiar with the concept of trolling right?  The author of this blog-turned-book is basically a troll who publishes his internet interactions with friends, co-workers and anonymous strangers on his site/blog (27bslash6).  The thing about the book is that it's funny and entertaining enough at first.  But the more you read, the more you start to get the sense that the humor isn't clever or anything above the ordinary - the trolling consists mainly of making fun of people on the internet.  Which, ok, let's admit, people say and do dumb stuff online and it can be interesting for a minute or two to see them put in their places.  But a whole book?   At some point it just becomes easy mockery of people who aren't really even fighting back.  And if it were "real life" I'd want nothing to do with it.  I've heard people go back and forth on whether or not the site is even real and whether or not the conversations that the author posts are real, but in the end I don't really care.  It's just not that funny.  And I found the humor to be crass and offensive. 

It's a do not recommend.  It's not that I don't have a sense of humor about the internet, it's that I don't think the humor in The Internet is A Playground is clever or particularly funny.  If you feel like you really need to read a humorous blog-to-book with hilarious cartoons, try The Oatmeal's 5 Very Good Reasons to Punch A Dolphin In The Mouth.  

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Book Review: Night Road by Kristen Hannah

I'm a pretty big Kristin Hannah fan - just like I'm also a Jodi Picoult and Jacquelyn Mitchard fan.  And it's not really because the writing is spectacular, but because I can't put them down.  This one was no exception.  It's a recent release and I think it'll make a great summer/beach/pool read.  The book tells the story of Jude Farraday, a typical helicopter mother, and her twins, Zach and Mia.  Mia has a hard time making friends when she enters high school until Lexi arrives.  Lexi comes from a background of abuse and neglect and has spent much of her life in foster care.  Jude worries about the friendship that develops between the twins and Lexi, but overlooks her concerns about Lexi's background when she sees how much Lexi helps Mia become a part of the group.  During their senior year of high school, however, each character's life is changed forever by one devastating decision (insert dramatic music here). 

Writing: I hope I don't say this too much on here, but I feel like every time I review a book like this I need to reiterate WHY I have two review sections.  For me, "well-written" and "entertaining" are two completely different things.  I want my blog to focus equally on the academic as well as the entertaining, which means being able to judge a book by its merits in each category.  So when I say on here that I don't think a book was particularly well-written, I don't mean that the book was "bad" (whatever "bad" means in terms of books).  The writing in Night Road isn't poor.  There aren't grammar mistakes, there aren't gaping plot holes, the characters are all interesting.  But we're also not talking deep or lyrical or intense.  It's typical "women's lit" and I don't mean that in any sexist way, I mean it in the way that it is comparable to what you'll find if you google women's best sellers.  All that to say, I don't recommend this book for the writing, but...

MST3K: I definitely recommend it for the story.  You don't pick up a Kristen Hannah book and expect to read Gabriel Garcia Marquez.  And thank goodness.  Because when I'm in the mood for an engrossing story that I'm going to be unable to put down, a story that's going to make me cry, and a story that will shock me with its ending, and a story that I'll breeze through, I'm not looking for Marquez.  Just like when I sit down to watch a show like House I'm not expecting to see a medical documentary.  Characters can be exaggerated, aspects of the story can be contrived, and sometimes a predictable ending with just the right amount of happiness and sadness is just what you want to read.  And in this case, Night Road was exactly what I wanted to read. 

I highly recommend it to any lovers of women's lit - if you like Picoult, Mitchard, Kittle, or any of the other major women's lit authors, you'll love this one!  It also doesn't hurt that the cover is gorgeous.