Books are cheaper than heroin, but they DO add up....

Amy, Carrie, Chanin and Sarah buy (and read and review) their own stuff. They've been known to shop around from dealer to dealer looking for the best price. If you're interested in slipping them something to try out, just contact us.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

China Road by Rob Gifford

Carrie says:
It should've read like the road trip from hell--two months traveling 2,998 miles from Shaghai to the China-Kazahkstan border. Instead, it read like the end of a really good date the author never wanted to end, the kind where he keeps delaying the inevitable good-bye. Arguably, a two-month trip through China via taxi, truck and bus may be longest and oddest end of a date on record, but it was a lovely good-bye nonetheless.

Rob Gifford, an NPR correspondent, spent six years, from 1999 to 2005, living in China and reporting on Asian news for Morning Edition and All Things Considered. When it was time to move on to the London bureau, he wanted one last memory of China, one last good-bye, one last road trip from hell. In order to accomplish this, he traveled the length of Route 312, China's version of Route 66, interviewing "Old Hundred Names," China's version of John Q. Public.

Of the handful of books on China I've read in the last few months, this one does the best reconciling the paradox of a modern-day ancient civilization. As Gifford writes, "For every fact that is true about China, the opposite is almost always true as well, somewhere in the country." There is prosperity; there is poverty. Times are changing; times are staying the same. Millions are racing toward the future; millions are clinging to the past. In addressing these paradoxes, Gifford writes about the realities and dreams of Old Hundred Names with respect and compassion. He shares his own paradox--his love of the Chinese and his discomfort with and distrust of the behemoth that is China. That love, of course, is the reason what should've been the road trip from hell was really one last, sweet good-bye.

(But don't take my word for it. Here's what Amazon has to say.) Pin It

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

City of Thieves by David Benioff (and a tardy slip)

Tardy Slip:  Please excuse Sarah for not posting a review last Thursday or yesterday.  Last Thursday she was still hovering on Death's door with strep throat and attempting to care for her healthy 13 month-old and her strep-stricken 3 year-old while her husband is vacationing in an exotic locale (or something like that).  Then there was Easter.  On Monday, Blogger would not allow her to actually write AND save/post. 
Signed:  All Things Conspiring Against Her

The Review:
I so want this story to be true. In the interest of full-disclosure, I have a weird thing about Russian history and, of course, World War II (explains the choice of history as an undergrad major) so I was predisposed to like this book. It's labeled Historical Fiction, but in my mind this is a true story of chaos, hunger, desperation, pride, love, and war.  And if that doesn't interest you, you should know this is a story about eggs.  Interested yet?  You should be.  I loved this book.

The book's preface makes it seem as if this is the author's grandfather's tale of living in Leningrad during the German WW II siege on the city.  I don't know how true that is, but I want it to be.  The main characters, Kolya and Lev, are brought together on a quest to find eggs for a colonel's daughter's wedding, as a way for them to avoid desertion charges.  It's with these two contrasting souls (one too young to know any better than the moment in front of him and the other an intellect and romantic caught in a time of war) that the reader experiences a decimated city and outlying Russian villages while on the hunt for eggs.  Their journey shows how low a city, an army, and a people can be in these circumstances, yet still find order and comfort in the most ordinary of things. 

Perhaps what I liked best about the story was, though it was the grandfather's voice and story, it was more about the author's (at least the author in the preface) grandmother.  Though there is love there, don't expect the stuff of romance novels, as the story does an excellent job illuminating the odd ways of love and romance in war.  After all, what says "romance" more than "I won't tell the Germans you're actually a girl."?  This is a story that can only be true during war, and probably only true during war in a frozen Russia - when truth is harder to understand than the greatest of lies.  It's not for the faint of heart (there are even cannibals) but it's worth it.

From Publishers Weekly

Author and screenwriter Benioff follows up The 25th Hour with this hard-to-put-down novel based on his grandfather's stories about surviving WWII in Russia. Having elected to stay in Leningrad during the siege, 17-year-old Lev Beniov is caught looting a German paratrooper's corpse. The penalty for this infraction (and many others) is execution. But when Colonel Grechko confronts Lev and Kolya, a Russian army deserter also facing execution, he spares them on the condition that they acquire a dozen eggs for the colonel's daughter's wedding cake. Their mission exposes them to the most ghoulish acts of the starved populace and takes them behind enemy lines to the Russian countryside. There, Lev and Kolya take on an even more daring objective: to kill the commander of the local occupying German forces. A wry and sympathetic observer of the devastation around him, Lev is an engaging and self-deprecating narrator who finds unexpected reserves of courage at the crucial moment and forms an unlikely friendship with Kolya, a flamboyant ladies' man who is coolly reckless in the face of danger. Benioff blends tense adventure, a bittersweet coming-of-age and an oddly touching buddy narrative to craft a smart crowd-pleaser. (May)
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Monday, April 18, 2011

Sweet Valley Confidential: 10 Years Later

Heavy sigh.  Heavy, heavy sigh.  Remember my enthusiasm about this book?  If you missed it, you can find it here.  Unfortunately, the reviews were right and I was wrong.  The book is so bad that I'm mad at the author for even writing it.  Yes, it's that bad.

I was so hoping Ms. Pascal would take the opportunity to develop the twins, Elizabeth and Jessica, into strong women that were doing their part in the world.  I envisioned a novel where they still struggled with their sibling rivalry, but ideally had put their differences aside and had become flourishing citizens.  I was ready for career-minded twins on the verge of marriage or motherhood.  Or maybe they would be returning to Sweet Valley from a stint in the Peace Corps.  I don't know.  I was ready for anything, but instead I got a bunch of nothing.

Instead, I got adultery, divorce, drug use, and alcoholism.  And that was just in the first 115 pages!  It was as if the author decided the only way to prove herself has a hip, 21st century author was to throw in all of the recent headlines from E!News. SPOILER ALERT: Did the twins have a gay brother in the old books?  Well, they do now.   As if all of that wasn't enough, she also threw in a possible murder/suicide.  Why? 

I really couldn't find one thing about the book that I liked.  I tried.  I really did.  But hey, there is ONE piece of good news...the book is lendable on my nook.  The first person that contacts me gets it for free (if you have a nook).  Anyone?  Bueller? Pin It

Thursday, April 14, 2011

River Marked by Patricia Briggs

I want to be friends with a Volkswagen mechanic, and that's probably a sign that I'm certifiable. I already have a host of amazing good friends, I don't drive a VW, and the mechanic in question lives out of state in a fictional world created by Patricia Briggs.

Mercy Thompson, the heroine of River Marked, is seriously cool. In addition to being a self-employed VW mechanic, she's an extremely loyal and resourceful friend. Then there's the part where she changes into a coyote at will, but unlike most were-animals from urban fantasy she wasn't "turned". She was born a skinwalker, her status attributed to her long-passed Blackfeet father. Her skinwalker status also means she changes quickly and effortlessly compared to the bigger, stronger werewolves in these stories. So, really, who wouldn't want to be friends with a loyal, resourceful mechanic who can protect you from all sorts of bad guys?

Perhaps the biggest question is what Mercy would get out of being friends with me other than my utter devotion to her series of books*. River Marked is the sixth book of this series, and it's an adventure that Mercy and her mate, Adam, take primarily on their own--without the usual cast of characters that surround them. Nice people are being lured into the water and disappearing, and it takes Mercy, Adam, and a full cast of First People to put the situation to rest.

It was lovely, for a change, to have Adam as a main character in the story instead of part of the subplots. It was also nice that Mercy learns about herself, her genesis, and her heritage. This story, more than the others, had plenty of Native American history and lore. The enemy vanquished is from that Native American lore instead from the vampires and fae that normally plague Mercy and, by extension, Adam's werewolf pack. So while I've loved all six books this one may be the most complete in addressing all aspects of Mercy's life.

Here's the link to Amazon's River Marked page.

*I've long thought that my contribution to any of the fictional friendships I would claim would need to be of the early-nerdy, pre-witchy Willow research-type contribution that served Buffy so well. Yes, yes. I know. Certifiable. I've spent way too much time thinking about this, but I read about the coolest, booty-kickingest fictional women, and I wouldn't be much of a fictional friend if I didn't contribute SOMETHING. Pin It

Monday, April 11, 2011

Just After Sunset by Stephen King

Sarah says:
My siblings and I read pretty much all of Stephen King's works up until we became "adults."  And we haven't dropped him entirely, it's just that our adolescent fascination with some of the world's scariest (in my opinion) stories has been satisfied to a degree and we've moved on to other things.  I still love Stephen King though.  I know he's not "literati" and that his works aren't the stuff of heavy hitting literature, but the man tells a really great story.  And if you've only seen the movies "Shawshank Redemption," "Stand By Me," and "The Green Mile" you should read the books as proof of that.  Because they're even better than the movies.  (Also, The Shining is even scarier as a book.  If you haven't read it, do so but be prepared to put it in the freezer.)  All that being said....

We're both getting older.  Mr. King relies less on his former scare tactics and I'm just fine with that.  I had saved this book to read on vacation thinking I would need the bright lights and constant company as distractions from the fright (I like to do things like watch episodes of Paranormal State but ONLY at the gym because I, ever so logically, figure that a gym is the last place someone would haunt).  Turns out I could have read this when I first got it.  There were some scary stories, but mostly just well written tales of sadness, loss, fright, obsession and desperation.

I am always surprised at how easily an author known for "horror" can move me to tears.  One story about a phone call two days after a death had me clutching at Kleenex.  He articulates love, loss and the effects of death well.  The story of a dream premonition was the scariest of the collection because of its plausibility. I could imagine it happening; see it so clearly in my head that I thought maybe it had been a movie I'd already watched.  As far as I know it's not, but that's how well Mr. King tells a story.  A story involving a circle of eight in Ackerman's Field was the most like his earlier short stories.  I almost wish he would develop it into a novel.

While some of the stories from this collection are already fading into the background, this Constant Reader enjoyed walking back into the fray of short stories with an old favorite.  Grab some tissues and a night light and read on.  Bonus; it's now in paperback!

From School Library Journal:
In King's latest collection of short stories (following 2002's Everything's Eventual), he presents 14 tales that range from the philosophically themed, to one in which the author gleefully admits to playing with the gross-out factor ("A Very Tight Place"), to "The Cat from Hell," which makes its hardcover debut some 30 years after its original publication as part of a contest in Cavalier, one of the gentleman's magazines that put food on the table in King's early years as a writer.  In his introduction, King cites his stint as guest editor for the 2007 edition of Best American Short Stories as an impetus to return to the form in his own writing.  Several of the works included here were written following that experience.  Finally, as King has done previously in his collections, at the end of the volume he provides the reader with brief insights into the inspirations for each tale.  Recommended for all popular fiction collections.  Pin It

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Septimus Heap, Book One: Magyk by Angie Sage

Amy says:   
My thriftiness got the better of me again and I downloaded this book for free from Barnes and Noble.  I read it to see if it was something my 9 year-old daughter might be interested in.  Being that is the first in a series of six, I was hoping to like it so she would have another go-to series to keep her busy for at least the first part of summer. She reads faster than I do so it won't last her the whole summer, but I might be able to get three or four weeks of peace out of a six book series. 
My main complaint with this book also happens to be one of my pet peeves:  words misspelled on purpose.  As evidenced in the title, magyk is misspelled  and is misspelled throughout the entire book.  In fact, most words dealing with wizardry and sorcery are as well, with no explanation given.  I should probably loosen up and just roll with it, but I can't.  Also unexplained were words in bold print for seemingly no reason.  Again, they were words dealing with the topic at hand but I found it almost overwhelming to have so  many words in bold print on EVERY. SINGLE. PAGE.  Annoying. 
I also must admit that I am a Harry Potter snob, so it was unlikely I was going to give this book a fair shake.  I tried, but I just couldn't get into it.  There were a multitude of characters, so much so that it was hard to keep them all straight.  If I had trouble, I doubt a 9-12 year-old could keep up either.  The one thing I did appreciate was the love and unity of a solid family unit around the main characters.  It was a refreshing change to see wizard characters with the support of a family to get them through their scary and sometimes deadly troubles. 
Book summary:  At birth, Septimus Heap is carried away for dead, and his father, Silas Heap, is entrusted with a baby girl.  When the villainous Supreme Custodian tries to assassinate the now 10 year-old Jenna, who, it turns out, is the daughter of the murdered queen, the girl flees to the Marram Marshes along with some family members, the ExtraOrdinary Wizard, and a young army guard known only as "Boy 412."  Pursued by the servants of the Necromancer DomDaniel, and aided by an engaging array of magical beings, they finally prevail in a satisfying and fairly exciting conclusion.
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Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Sweet Valley High Confidential, 10 years later...

I'm sorry, but this post could JUST.NOT.WAIT. 

I can still remember tracing my fingers over the spine of every single Sweet Valley High book on my bookshelf while dreaming up new ways to earn money so I could buy the next one in the series. Ahhhh.  Those were the good old days.

So how in the world did I miss that the author of the original series, Francine Pascal, had released Sweet Valley High Confidential, 10 Years Later....??  Elizabeth and Jessica Wakefield are back?  Clearly I have not been spending near enough time surfing the web for useless information as I should be.  I owe it to the nine followers of this blog to know these things, don't you think?  Here is where I insert my shameless plug to click that little "Follow" button on the right toolbar.  (It makes us happy, so go ahead).  You wouldn't want to miss any more exciting book news, would you?

And yes, I bought the book and have started reading it.  And yes, it will be my next review.  And yes, I am probably going to reread all of my Sweet Valley High's now. Pin It

Monday, April 4, 2011

This Side of the Grave: A Night Huntress by Jeaniene Frost

Carrie says:
I like vampire stories, but I'm not, necessarily, a fan of vampires.  In some of my favorite stories (Joss Whedon and Buffy, I'm looking right at you) vampires are evil and must be destroyed.  In some of my other favorites stories (Hi, there, Charlaine Harris and Sookie Stackhouse), vampires are contributing members of society.   It's probably more of a case of me liking a strong fantasy story with a good mythology and engaging characters than a general preference for vampires.  (No mystery why Twilight left me cold and more than a little nauseous, then.)
Having said that, when a vampire story is done right, it's so lovely.  (Super sigh.) I do love me a really good vampire story, and Jeaniene Frost always provides.  I was first drawn to Night Huntress series because the main vampire reminds me (A LOT) of Spike from Buffy and Angel fame.  I came for the resemblance, but I stayed for Bones' own merit.  Well, his merit, his looks, his accent, his powers and the bootie-kickin' company he keeps. 
This Side of the Grave is the fifth Night Huntress book, and there are two other spin-offs from the main series.  I recommend them all.  What did I say I liked?  Oh, yeah,  a strong fantasy story with a good mythology and engaging characters.  Frost delivers.  She also delivers humor and steamy romance.  One of the nice things about this being the fifth book in a series is that the characters have grown.  Cat, the Night Huntress herself, or the Red Reaper as the vampire community calls her, has gone off half-cocked in the past.  She's managed to learn a lesson or two on the way, so the reader doesn't need to suffer through her repeating her mistakes ad nauseum.
This time Cat and Bones and Company are battling a ghoul mastermind that was introduced in earlier books.  I don't think it requires a spoiler alert if I tell you that the good guys (and girls and ghouls and ghosts) win the day.
Here's what Amazon says.
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Reviews of Tina Fey's book

I read The New York Times review of Tina Fey's book, and it sounded like something that should be shared.

Here's the link. Here's the link to the review from Time as well. They like her. They really, really like her.

It looks like Sarah Vowell and Tina Fey will be two of the first books I buy when my Lenten sacrifice has ended. Pin It