Friday, October 30, 2009

Review: The Crime Writer

The Crime Writer by Gregg Hurwitz
3 stars

Reason for reading:
Crime novel for the Genre Challenge

Description: "Drew Danner , an L.A.-based crime novelist, awakens in a hospital bed with a scar on his head, blood under his nails, and a cop by his side. Accused of murdering his ex-fiancĂ©e, Drew has no memory of the crime but reconstructs the story the only way he knows how—as a novel. As he searches the dark corridors of his life and the city he loves, another young woman is similarly murdered and Drew must confront the very real possibility of his own guilt."

First line: "I woke up with IVs taped to my arms, a feeding tube shoved through my nose, and my tongue pressed against my teeth, dead and thick as a sock."

My thoughts: The book starts off with a real bang - Drew wakes up from having a brain tumor removed and is accused of murder. It was suspenseful and you really wondered how or if Drew was going to be able to clear his name when all of the evidence was stacked against him. He goes on a reckless quest to find out if someone framed him - so reckless that I found myself telling him several times that he should stop it, he'd only be digging himself in deeper!

L.A. is almost another character in the book. The author has obviously spent a lot of time there and writes eloquently and sometimes humourously about its beauty, superficiality, and cruelty.

The secondary characters are well drawn. Drew's best friend Chic, a former ballplayer famous for dropping a game-losing pop fly, is a great character - wise, calm, and a fiercely loyal and helpful friend. His life with his wife and brood of children is sensitively portrayed, a good contrast to the chaos in Drew's life. Drew also manages to acquire a Little Brother while trying to solve the case - Junior, a wise-cracking, dog-loving, often-in-court graffiti artist.

I think my favourite parts were the pages that replicated Drew's manuscript - basically a book within the book. They had his editor's snarky comments scrawled in the margins, which was an entertaining touch.

By the end the book sort of devolves into more of a typical murder mystery, but there is enough action and enough twists along the way to make it a pretty satisfying book. Not entirely my thing, but it was an interesting read.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Review: Graceling

Graceling by Kristin Cashore
4.25 stars

Reasons for reading: heard it was really good - one of our book suppliers said she was recommending it for all teenage girls who asked her for Twilight!; for the Young Adult Challenge

Description: "Katsa has been able to kill a man with her bare hands since she was eight—she’s a Graceling, one of the rare people in her land born with an extreme skill. As niece of the king, she should be able to live a life of privilege, but Graced as she is with killing, she is forced to work as the king’s thug. When she first meets Prince Po, Graced with combat skills, Katsa has no hint of how her life is about to change. She never expects to become Po’s friend. She never expects to learn a new truth about her own Grace—or about a terrible secret that lies hidden far away . . . a secret that could destroy all seven kingdoms with words alone."

First line: "In these dungeons, the darkness was complete, but Katsa had a map in her mind."

My thoughts: This book kept me up late into the night, always the sign of a great read! Everything about it is well-done - the fantasy setting of the 7 kingdoms, the idea of people being Graced as everything from swimmers to mind readers to fighters, the characters, the romance, the adventure and conflict...

Katsa really has to grow in this novel - she goes from feeling like nothing more than an attack dog, treated with fear and revulsion by almost everyone, to realizing that she is caring, intelligent, and that her Grace is something more than she realized. She grows into her Grace and, along the way, learns how to care about people and allow them to care about her.

The romance element with Po also works well - it's not treacly at all. These two have finally found a person who is both their equal and a complement to their personalities.

The verdict: I can't wait to read the sequel, Fire! This is a novel that works well as everything - an adventure, a fantasy, a coming-of-age story, and a romance! (I wonder what my Grace would be....?)

Friday, October 16, 2009

Borders' 100 Favourite Books of All Time

Zee at Reading in the North posted about this and, like her, I can't resist a good list, either!

I guess Borders asked customers to vote for their favourite books, and this list is the result. So, just for the heck of it, I've bolded the ones I've read and italicized ones I'd like to read.

Pride & Prejudice – Jane Austen
To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee

Lord of the Rings – JRR Tolkien
My Sister’s Keeper – Jodi Picoult
Twilight – Stephenie Meyer
Harry Potter & the Philosopher’s Stone – JK Rowling

The Time Traveler’s Wife – Audrey Niffenegger
Book Thief – Markus Zusak

1984 – George Orwell
Magician – Raymond E Feist
Thousand Splendid Suns – Khaled Hosseini
Bronze Horseman – Paullina Simmons
Shantaram: A Novel – Gregory David Roberts
Gone With The Wind – Margaret Mitchell
Power of One – Bryce Courtenay
The Davinci Code – Dan Brown
Angels & Demons – Dan Brown
Alchemist – Coelho
Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte
Cloudstreet – Tim Winton
Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini
Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte
Memoirs of a Geisha – Arthur Golden
Anne of Green Gables – LM Montgomery
Catch-22 – Joseph Heller

Eat, Pray, Love – Elizabeth Gilbert
Holy Bible

The Hobbit – JRR Tolkien
Life of Pi – Yann Martel
Fortunate Life – AB Facey
Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland – Lewis Carroll
Cross Stitch – Diana Gabaladon
Fine Balance – Rohinton Mistry
Child Called It – Dave Pelzer
Mao’s Last Dancer – Li Cunxin
Tomorrow, When The War Began – John Marsden
Angela’s Ashes – Frank McCourt
Dune – Frank Herbert
Catcher in the Rye – JD Salinger

Great Gatsby – F Scott Fitzgerald
One Hundred Years of Solitude – Gabriel Garcia Marquez
April Fool’s Day – Bryce Courtenay
Pillars of the Earth – Ken Follett
Perfume: The Story of a Murderer – Patrick Suskind
Ice Station – Matthew Reilly
Shadow of the Wind – Ruiz Zaf
Briefer History of Time – by Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow
Eragon – Christopher Paolini
Little Women – Louisa May Alcott
Tuesdays With Morrie – Mitch Albom
Persuasion – Jane Austen
Lovely Bones – Alice Sebold
Atonement – Ian McEwan
Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy
Animal Farm – George Orwell
Clockwork Orange: Play With Music – Anthony Burgess
Little Prince
& Letter to a Hostage
Charlie & the Chocolate Factory – Roald Dahl
Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe – CS Lewis
Love in the Time of Cholera – Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Really Short History of Everything – Bill Bryson
Crime & Punishment – Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Lion Called Christian – Anthony Bourke
God of Small Things – Arundhati Roy
Tully – Paullina Simons
Time to Kill – John Grisham
Marley & Me – John Grogan
A Suitable Boy – Vikram Seth
Count of Monte Cristo – Alexandre Dumas
American Gods – Neil Gaiman
Road – Cormac McCarthy
Brave New World – Aldous Huxley
In Turkey I am Beautiful – Brendan Shanahan
Breath – Tim Winton
Jessica – Bryce Courtenay
Animalia – Graeme Base
Secret History – Donna Tartt
Godfather – Mario Puzo
Interview with the Vampire – Anne Rice
Girl With The Dragon Tattoo – Stieg Larsson
Stand – Stephen King
Bridget Jones' Diary – Helen Fielding
New Earth: Create A Better Life – Eckhart Tolle
Seven Ancient Wonders – Matthew Reilly
Wild Swans: Three Daughts of China – Jung Chang
The Notebook – Nicholas Sparks
American Psycho – Bret Easton Ellis
The Belgariad – David Eddings
Captain Corelli’s Mandolin – Louis De Bernieres
Looking for Alibrandi – Melina Marchetta
PS I Love You – Celia Ahern
Prayer for Owen Meany – John Irving
Thorn Birds – Colleen McCullough
Confederacy of Dunces – John Kennedy Toole
Good Omens – Neil Gaiman & Terry Pratchett
Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas – Hunter S Thompson
Chocolat – Joanne Harris
The Princess Bride – William Goldman
Great Expectations – Charles Dickens

So, a few of my actual all-time faves are on this list - The Princess Bride, Anne of Green Gables, Bridget Jones' Diary, and Pride and Prejudice. A couple of my guilty pleasures are, too - The Notebook and Angels and Demons. That's the cool thing about a list by "the public" - it's more likely to have popular fiction on it. They don't have to be "the best," they just have to be ones people enjoyed.

A lot of the books aren't surprising, but I have to say there are quite a few I've never even heard of. I'm also surprised about Animalia by Graeme Base - an awesome picture book, but I wouldn't have thought it had that wide an audience - not compared to, say, Where The Wild Things Are or Goodnight Moon.

So, what do you think? Any of the italicized ones that I should skip? Any that I didn't pick that I have to read? Did any of your faves make the list?

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Review: Such a Pretty Fat

Such a Pretty Fat by Jen Lancaster
3.5 stars

Reasons for reading: I've had Lancaster recommended to me several times, I liked the sound of her snarkiness; I needed some weight-loss motivation; first book for the Fall Into Reading Challenge

First line: "Today on the bus a guy called me a fat bitch."

My thoughts: I wasn't sure what to expect from this book. The last time I read a weight-loss memoir, it was the abysmal Food and Loathing. It left me feeling pretty flat. But Lancaster's reputation for humour is well-founded - I enjoyed this one a lot.

One of my favourite parts was when she and her friend got on a riff about how no-one ever uses "You have such a pretty face..." for anything but being overweight. It's never followed by anything like "...if only you weren't as dumb as a bag of hair" or "...too bad your children were spawned by Satan."

I liked that Jen didn't care either that she was fat or a bitch with the guy on the bus. I've been called both separately and at the same time, and I've never managed to be particularly nonchalant about it (there's usually crying involved). Actually, one of the sad parts of the book was that she started out with really amazing self-esteem and gradually lost it as she tried to diet. It seems like it came back, thankfully, but I really felt for her, since I already feel bad most of the time, and I find that becoming obsessed with eating right and exercising does definitely put lots of pressure on my already iffy self-esteem.

I was glad to see a realistic portrayal of weight loss - that it is possible with hard work, but you'll have setbacks and it won't be easy. You're going to be angry, sore, frustrated, and hungry. Jen also came to the conclusion that losing weight and getting healthy has a lot to do with growing up - even if you're almost 40. At almost-35, I think I'm in that same boat.

The only slightly non-"realistic" thing was that, of course, trying to lose weight became Jen's job. I could spend hours counting calories and having double-workout days, too, if I didn't have to work 8 hours a day. I think it was great that she was able to do it, and obviously she couldn't have written the book if she didn't, but most people don't have that luxury. And I'm not saying she doesn't realize that - I'm just a bit sensitive when people lose weight outside of an average person's life and then we all feel we should be able to do it easily. I've never really forgiven Oprah (all you need is a personal chef and trainer at your beck and call 24/7!) for it, actually.

The verdict: I'll definitely be reading more of Jen's books for some good laughs. And, she helped inspire me to start going to a personal trainer! So, thanks, Jen!

Friday, October 9, 2009

Celebrate the Author: PG Wodehouse

Love Among the Chickens by PG Wodehouse
3.5 stars

Reasons for reading: I lurve PG Wodehouse and am celebrating his October 15, 1881 birthday for the Celebrate the Author Challenge

Description: "Jeremy Garnet has never particularly liked chickens, but his friend Stanley Featherstonehaugh Ukridge is convinced that they are the route to certain fortune. Needing a bit of a break from London, Garnet is talked into accompanying Ukridge to his new poultry farm in Dorset. Unfortunately, when Ukridge is around things never seem to go according to plan, and with the additional complications of angry professors, threatening creditors, misbehaving chickens - oh, and true love to boot - Garnet's holiday in the country is looking less restful by the minute!"

First line: "'A gentleman called to see you when you were out last night, sir,' said Mrs Medley, my landlady, removing the last of the breakfast things."

My thoughts: The description states that this is the novel that first made Wodehouse famous. Huh, I had no idea! I would've thought it was the first Jeeves book. But this was still a fun romp, if not as excellent as Jeeves and Wooster. The Wodehousian language is there, I particularly enjoyed a section where Garnet refused to be sneered at by a chicken.

Ukridge is an oaf and an occasionally wise fool. He gets to be a bit much, but he's pretty amusing. It's hard to believe that he gets people to go along with his schemes, but he must have some kind of charm. Garnet is a bit bumbling but fairly normal. I liked that he was an author, there were some funny bits involving the faint praise accorded his novels by the newspapers. There are typically Wodehousian scrapes involving locked houses, tipped boats, and saying the wrong thing at the wrong time. And there's love at first sight, who can resist that?

The verdict: Spend some time chuckling among the chickens.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Review: Vodka Neat

Vodka Neat: a Faith Zanetti thriller by Anna Blundy

2.5 stars

Reasons for reading: The title/cover caught my eye on our New Books shelf; Thriller for the Genre Challenge

Description: "Vodka Neat features Faith Zanetti, a war correspondent with plenty of libido, good looks, a great sense of humor, and a zest for life that never quits. She's the new Moscow correspondent for a leading newspaper--chosen for the job because she married a Russian when she was a teenager. But the minute she steps on Russian soil, she is instantly arrested in connection with the murders, fifteen years before, of a couple from a neighboring apartment. She was drunk at the time, but surely not that drunk. In order to solve the mystery, what she needs to do is find the charming Russian black marketer she married as a nineteen-year-old. And when she finds him, her problems really begin."

First line: "Moscow 1989 - There was a do at Dom Literov, the literary house."

My thoughts: I didn't hate this book, and Blundy clearly knows Russia really well, which was interesting, as I don't know much about it. But it just wasn't my thing. For one, I didn't really get the "thriller" part of it. I felt it was more like a mystery. There were some twists and a climactic, violent scene, but I didn't really feel, well, thrilled. The basic plot had some good parts (the actual mystery of who killed the couple next door and a horrifying case of mistaken identity) but there were almost a few too many twists on the way to resolving it. Blundy's obvious knowledge of and love for Russia bogged the book down, I found - there was too much discussion of the cold, the bleakness, the weirdness of the country and the rampant alcoholism there (whether you're Russian or not). Perhaps if I'd read the first book in this series, I'd have felt warmer towards Faith, who is getting over the loss of her mother and a mental breakdown, which I assume happened in volume one. I admired her toughness, but she's a very messed-up human being (although there may be a tiny bit of light at the end of her tunnel by the end).

The verdict: I thought Kirkus Reviews summed Faith and the book up well: "A hard-drinking, foul-mouthed protagonist in Putin's Russia, occupying a landscape nearly as depressing as she is. "

Monday, October 5, 2009

Review: Peace, Love, and Baby Ducks

Peace, Love, and Baby Ducks by Lauren Myracle
3.5 stars

Reasons for reading: The title/cover; I like Lauren Myracle's books; another book for the Young Adult Challenge

Description: "Growing up in a world of wealth and pastel-tinted entitlement, fifteen-year-old Carly has always relied on the constancy—and authenticity—of her sister, Anna. But when fourteen-year-old Anna turns plastic-perfect-pretty over the course of a single summer, everything starts to change. And there are boys involved, complicating things as boys always do. With warmth, insight, and an unparalleled gift for finding humor even in stormy situations, beloved author Lauren Myracle dives into the tumultuous waters of sisterhood and shows that even very different sisters can learn to help each other stay afloat."

First line: "I'm out by our pool with my sister Anna and my best friend, Peyton."

My thoughts: This book looks at two sisters who are starting to grow apart as they grow up. They can come together again, but they need to break out of the roles of big and little sister. Carly is a well-drawn character, complete with some typical teen annoyances - she defines herself as different than everyone at "Holly Roller" high school by what she thinks she's not rather than what she is. She also, for all her complaints about life as a rich kid, doesn't seem to have any problem living in a big house with a pool and being given a credit card to go clothes shopping with, for example. But all of Carly's rebelling does show that she at least thinks about things like racism and poverty, unlike the entitled, plastic kids at her school. Anna can be a bit of a brat, but she's definitely hitting puberty without much help from either her mother (who thinks her budding bosom means she's fat) or sister (who's jealous and can't get over her role as know-it-all big sis).

Other characters include bad boy love interest Cole who is obviously bad news to everyone but Carly (who is almost painfully stupid about it, but then, she's a teen girl in lust), while lovely, quiet, and Dutch Roger waits in the wings for Carly's blinders to come off. Everyone should have a Roger! Vonzell, Carly's new friend and the only black girl at their school, is a welcome breath of reality and true friendship, while Peyton, with her hair extensions and fakeness, has definitely reached the end of her usefulness as a pal. The girls' parents seem to be almost caricatures of aloof rich parents at times, when they're not making hurtful comments about the girls.

The verdict: A good sister story - both girls manage to come out stronger at the end. And...there are baby ducks involved! You can't go wrong with a book that has baby ducks in it.