Monday, August 31, 2015

The Bees by Laline Paull, 338 pages

This is one of those books that I am not sure I actually liked, but it was interesting and made me think so I am glad I didn't put it aside.

Flora 717 is born a sanitation bee.  A priestess bee sees that Flora is different from her kin and moves her to the position of nursery bee because Flora is large, can speak (which sanitation bees normally can't) and she can make the flow needed to feed the baby bees.  From there she moves to forager and fierce defender of the hive, when needed. 

Life in a beehive is a brutal caste system and worker bees such as Flora live - and die - to "Accept, Obey and Serve."  The story follows the life of the beehive for about a year.  It is a tumultuous year with rains, hunger, sickness and the Visitation.  These bees did not appreciate sharing their honey. I gotta say, I'm gonna feel a bit guilty the next time I put honey in my tea. 

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

The Forbidden Library by Django Wexler 384 pages

This book had everything I usually look for in a good fantasy.  Smart characters, interesting twists on magic, and forgive me, but it's all about a library?  Well, sign me up!  I wish it had delivered to its potential.  It had some really interesting and creative stuff going on. The story revolves around a girl whose father dies mere nights after she overhears what appears to be a fairy threatening him.  She is sent off to live with an uncle she never knew she had and finds herself in a houseful of mystery and magic. The coolest touch to the story was that magicians are called Readers and books actually are their source of power.
I listened to this one and I wonder if that was the problem.  I really didn't care for the reader.  She sounded like she was 8 years old, but the book was not told first person and the main character was 12.  Furthermore, I don't think she understands how periods work when found so deliberately at the end of a sentence.  I found myself thinking she'd neglected to finish sentences, or was unsure of their meaning the way her inflection rose.  It was a huge distraction.  So, perhaps the book is better than I'm giving it credit.  I will say that regardless of whether Cassandra Morris has won awards for her reading, I will steer clear of anything else she reads.  I'm afraid I wouldn't be able to give them a fair shake either.

The Greenglass House by Kate Milford 376 pages

The Greenglass House was one of my favorite books I've read lately.  It was quieter, more thoughtful, than many of my recent reads.  The story centers around a boy, Milo, who is of Chinese descent, but has only ever known his adoptive parents.  He loves them very much, but has always wondered what his other family may have been.  This creates some guilt for him and he tries not to think about it.  It's Christmas break and Milo finishes his homework early so he can enjoy his break to its fullest, without surprises or distractions.  Milo also likes things to go as expected, no surprises is the best way to go as far as he's concerned.  However, the very unexpected happens.  Guests begin to arrive at the inn his parents own, and where they all live.  Furthermore, the guests all seem to be very mysterious about why they are there at all.  Milo begins a game with a young girl where he has to use stealth, ingenuity and smarts to outwit a thief.  This was such a great story.  There were stories within the story and it just had a really great feeling to it.  It was constructed as well as any adult mystery and I would recommend it to anyone of any age.

Wicked Charms by Janet Evanovich and Phoef Sutton, 308 pages

This is book #3 in Evanovich's Lizzy & Diesel series.  Lizzy is a pastry chef in a Salem, Massachusetts bakery when she is not helping the sexy, mysterious and magical Diesel track down the seven deadly stones that correspond with the seven deadly sins.  We're on avarice (greed) in this one.

The story involved a dead pirate and buried treasure mateys.  The book pretty much follows the pattern Janet Evanovich's books always do but I seem to always read them and be entertained enough to read the next one.

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman, 337 pages

First of all, for anyone who reads this book, Ove is pronounced "oo-vah."  I had the pleasure of listening to this delightful book that was originally published in Sweden.

Ove is 59, recently widowed and even more recently "retired" against his will from his job.  Ove's pretty much done with life and all of the yahoos who annoy him.

As he's planning his exit, new neighbors scrape his house with their trailer and he unwillingly becomes involved in their life.  I laughed, I cried and I enjoyed every minute of Ove's curmudgeonly story.  If I gave stars, this one would get 5 out of 5.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

My Life in Dioramas by Tara Altebrando 255 pages

This was a really lovely middle grade book about growing up and having to deal with change.  Kate has a lot of things changing in her life.  Her best friend is acting like a different person, one that Kate doesn't always like.  It seems that everyone around her is getting crushes, but Kate is unsure what that even means.  Worst of all, her parents are broke and have to sell the only home Kate has ever known, Big Red, a huge farmhouse with loads of charm.  Kate is heartbroken thinking about leaving the big yard with the stream running nearby, the barn with a resident cat and her kittens, all the memories she has ever known.  Not to mention all her friends.  So, Kate decides to postpone the sale by sabotaging the open house viewings.  Will she be successful and be able to perform in the dance competition still weeks away?  Just in case, or perhaps because she knows it's inevitable, Kate begins making detailed dioramas depicting every room of Big Red.  This was a very touching story with completely believable characters you enjoyed getting to know.  I highly recommend it to 3rd grade readers on up.

The Burgess Boys by Elizabeth Strout, 330 pages

This is the August reading selection for the Downtown Library's book club.  The book is mostly set in Shirley Falls, Maine and New York City.  It is the story of Jim, Bob and Susan Burgess, whose father died when Jim was 8 and twins Bob and Susan were 4.  All of the children were affected by his death and how it happened.

They are all now adults.  Jim and Bob are both lawyers in NYC.  Jim, is wildly successful with an upper class wife and family.  Bob is divorced, childless and works for Legal Aid.  Susan, also divorced, lives in Maine with her socially awkward 19 year old son Zach who gets sideways with the law.  The siblings all come together to try and help get Zach out of the legal jam.  Pain, anger, growth, reconciliation and a poignant story follows.

Elizabeth Strout writes a great tale.

Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh, 133 pages

This is a little philosophy book written by Anne Morrow Lindbergh in 1955.  Each of the chapters is titled for a different shell and she uses that shell to muse about different stages and times in a marriage and a woman's life.

Anne Morrow Lindbergh (yes, the wife of the aviator Charles) may have written this book in 1955 but I had no problem applying it to my life in 2015.  What a beautiful book.  The only thing that would have made it better would have been to read it while I was at the ocean.

This is one of those books that I could read over and over again and I'm going to go out on a limb and say one of these days I will read it at the ocean and that will be bliss.

Flunked: Fairy Tale Reform School book 1 by Jen Calonita 244 pages

This was another twist on a traditional fairy tale.  Actually, it twisted a bunch of fairy tales together.  The story is set in Enchantasia, where the princesses rule with kindness and generosity.  Villains, many of them, have changed their ways and are now teachers at a reform school for budding villains and general ne'er-do-wells.  The story follows Gilly, one of the cobbler's daughters (one of many children living in the boot), who is trying to help her family the only way she knows how - theft.  Unfortunately, the local Dwarf Patrol knows her and what she's likely to do.  She's nabbed for the third time and sent to Fairy Tale Reform School.  It's not bad.  At all.  She has a room almost all to herself, nice clothes, classes that would never have been offered at her trade school and all the food she could eat.  She even makes some friends.  But Gilly only wants to get back to her family, she worries that her siblings are going hungry and feels guilty with every bite she eats.  However, not every villain has given up their evil ways and mysterious things begin to happen at the school.  Gilly finds herself playing something of a hero and a detective, mostly by accident.  This was a really fun story and I think the series has a lot of potential.

The Last American Vampire by Seth Grahame-Smith, 399 pages

I read this book because way back when we first added downloadable audibooks, I enjoyed listening to the first book in this series "Abraham Lincoln - Vampire Hunter."

I enjoyed this one too.  Abe is in this book, but the most prominent character is Henry Sturges, who was unwillingly made a vampire when the Roanoke colonists were wiped out in the late 1580s so he's been around a few years.

I got a kick out of the vampiric twist on american and world history.  Great fun.  Maybe not for everyone but Mr. Grahame-Smith totally set it up for a book #3 so I'll be on the look out for that one too.

Road Trip by Gary and Jim Paulsen 114 pages

As the foreword tells us, this started not as an intentional book-writing endeavor, but just a father and son having fun and telling one another a story.  I'm very glad they did.  The book is actually told from the perspectives of a teen boy and a border collie, a very smart dog indeed, alternately.  Ben is pretty upset when his dad announces that he's quit his job to flip houses.  Especially since it means that the sports camp he'd been looking forward to is now not a done deal.  His father is impetuous and spontaneous, Ben and his mother are not.  One more spontaneous gambit is that his father tells him that they are going on a long road trip.  Why?  Because there's a homeless border collie puppy out there that needs them and the shelter is several cities away.  Ben's pretty okay with the new puppy idea, but he's still angry with his dad about the rest of the drastic changes in their lives.  So, he invites his "bad influence" friend to come along.  This is kind of a, well, road trip kind of book.  They have a series of happenstances that makes their group keep growing.  Atticus is the most observant and the most knowledgeable about human behavior, but he's a dog, so only the reader gets to know what's in his head.  All's well that end's well, and while this one was wrapped up pretty tidily, it was a nice trip getting there.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

The Island of Dr. Libris by Chris Grabenstein 242 pages

This is another title by Chris Grabenstein, author of Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library.  I can't say that this one wowed me the way Lemoncello did.  It was good, a solid story, but it didn't have the vibe that the first one did.  In Island, twelve-year-old Billy fears the worst for his parents...divorce.  He is staying at a cabin with his scientist-mother while his father is off trying to make it big in showbiz.  The two couldn't be more different in their basic outlook on life, it seems.  While at the cabin, Billy unlocks a mysterious book cabinet.  When he begins reading, he would swear he could hear the action from the book taking place somewhere out on the island...Dr. Libris' Island.  When he discovers that he has the power to read things into being...well, you can imagine the kind of trouble a kid could get into.  I love that Grabenstein manages to work in some classic tales, whether just referencing them or actually bringing them into the story.  It was an enjoyable book to listen to, I just like Lemoncello's Library better.

The Misadventures of Edgar and Allan Poe: Once Upon a Midnight Eerie by Gordon McAlpine 170 pages

This was another really fun, farcical romp with the Poe twins.  Edgar and Allan have been hired to play their great-great-great-great-great uncle in a film.  The production is set in New Orleans and it doesn't take long for our heroes to become friends with some unusual locals.  Namely, the ghosts of some long ago residents.  The two boys, who essentially share one brain, embark on an adventure that has only a little to do with making movies.  They become friends with another set of twins, Em and Milly Dickinson.  With the help of the girls, they might be able to avoid the nefarious villains bent on their demise.  Sure, you need a healthy suspension of disbelief for this one, but it is totally worth it!  Edgar and Allan are so completely likable and the antics they get up to are so fun to imagine, you won't regret giving this middle grade series a try.  I listened to this installment which was read by Arte Johnson.  He was perfection itself.

Tim Gunn: The Natty Professor by Tim Gunn

Let me begin by saying, I love Tim Gunn!  Does that make me biased in this review?  Probably, but I don't care.  I love Tim Gunn.  He is the quintessential example of what a gentleman should be...actually what we should all be.  This book was his take on teaching.  What it means to be a good teacher, and just as importantly, a good students.  The best teachers never really stop being students.  His approach was anecdotal and often humorous.  I love that this was not a so-you-want-to-be-a-teacher handbook, but more that we all find ourselves in the role of teacher, mentor or student during our lives.  How can we be effective, inspiring, and motivating, while letting our students, or children, or employees, or whomever find their own voices?  He told of his failures, as honestly as his successes.  Sigh.  Did I mention I love Tim Gunn?

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Too Close for Comfort by Henry Cline, 201 pages

I read this book as a favor for a friend who knows the author.  It is a self published young adult mystery book, written by a 21 year old author.  I think Henry Cline shows great promise as an author.

Jack Sampson is a senior in high school and two weeks before graduation his best friend Sam Miller commits suicide.  Everyone in the small town of Stanton, Michigan is shocked but Jack thinks there might be more to the story.

I found the book easy to read and the story kept me interested.  My criticism is some of the wording was clunky.  I hope Mr. Cline stays with writing because he can tell a good story.

Rude Awakenings of a Jane Austen Addict by Laurie Viera Rigler, 289 pages

The Downtown Library's book club read "Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict" this year, Laurie Viera Rigler's first Jane Austen Addict book.  This is book #2 and one of the book club members recommended reading it too.  I wouldn't necessarily recommend this book to someone who hadn't read book #1, but it was a delight to read soon after I finished that first book.

This book is the story of Jane Mansfield, who is an upper class young woman from England in 1813.  She wakes up after a fall to find herself in the life of Courtney Stone, a woman in Los Angeles in 2009.  The modern world is overwhelming, but Jane finds herself enjoying many aspects, including showers, electricity, more Jane Austen stories (and even televised!) and freedom from her mother.  However, Courtney's life is a mess and Jane uses her Regency Period sensibilities to try to straighten it out.  Ahh, summer escapist fiction.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock, 304 pages

I wasn't sure what to expect from this novel. I read "Silver Linings Playbook" and "Boy 21" which are also by Matthew Quick and enjoyed them. I saw this book on the shelf at the library and the cover drew me in. (That happens to me a lot. I know you're not supposed to judge a book by its cover but really artistic ones appeal to me for some reason.)

This is the story of Leonard Peacock, a young man in high school who has decided to end his life and that of a middle school friend who has turned into a high school tormentor. He plans to do this on his birthday after giving gifts to a few people who are meaningful to him. The story plays out over the course of this day.

The main character's voice was engaging. Leonard is a kid who is sarcastic and funny and also deeply hurting. He reveals his story both in real time and flashbacks over the course of the day he has chosen to end his life. I found this to be an engaging read although the ending of the book seemed odd to me. As if the author stopped twenty or thirty pages too soon.

Regardless of that, the book that delves into the psyche of a teenager battling depression who has decided that life is too much for him and I give Matthew Quick kudos for how well he presented the character. However, I was disappointed in the strangely abrupt ending of the novel. I believe there was an attempt at ambiguity but as far as I'm concerned, it fell short.

2.5 out of 5 stars from Ethan

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed, 336 pages

I'm not a fan of survival stories so resisted reading this book.  However, my sister told me I needed to watch the movie, which I did and really liked so I gave the book a shot.  I listened to it and I'm glad I did.

Cheryl Strayed decided to hike the Pacific Crest Trail in 1995 when she was 26 because her life was a mess.  Her life spiraled out of control after her mom, Bobbi, died when Cheryl was 22.  Her mom was only 45.

Parts of the book were difficult to listen to because her life really was a mess and she had gone through some horrible situations.  The horse . . . oh my.

But, this book was ultimately uplifting because you know what?   She was able to do this difficult trail and get past her past so she could get on with her life.  So, thumbs up from me and Happy Trails, Cheryl.