Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Four Month Challenge, Part 3 - Wrap Up

Since Part 3 ends on June 30 and Part 4 starts on July 1, I thought I'd post my wrap-up. I think I did pretty well - 175 points, yay! Hopefully I can get to at least 200 next time.

5 Point Challenges

Read a book by an author you’ve never read before:
Under Orders by Dick Francis

Read a book with an animal name in the title:
The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents by Terry Pratchett (also for Book Awards Challenge)

Read a book with a proper name in the title:
Will Grayson, Will Grayson by David Levithan and John Green

Read a fantasy:
Victory of Eagles by Naomi Novik

10 Point Challenges

Read an ‘Austenesque’ book:
Jane Bites Back by Michael Thomas Ford

Read a book with a two word title:
Death Masks by Jim Butcher

Read a book that is part of a series:
Fire by Suzanne Collins (2nd book in the Hunger Games trilogy)

Read a book about a real person:
A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly (based on the murder of Grace Brown by Chester Gillette in
the Adirondacks in 1906)

Read a mystery:
The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley (also for Book Awards Challenge)

15 Point Challenges

Read a book with a number in the title:
16 Lighthouse Road by Debbie Macomber

Read a book by an author born in March, April, May or June:
Getting the Girl by Susan Juby (March 30, 1969 - also for Young Adult Challenge)

Read a book with a three word title:
Pretty in Ink by Karen E. Olson

20 Point Challenges

Read a book with a four word title:
Son of the Mob by Gordon Korman (also for Young Adult Challenge)

Read a book by two authors:
Shoot to Thrill by PJ Tracy (mother-daughter team PJ and Traci Lambrecht)

Read a book that has been number one on the NYT Best-sellers list:
Black Hills by Nora Roberts (looks like it debuted at #1 on July 26, 2009)

Review: The Treasure Map of Boys

The Treasure Map of Boys by E. Lockhart
4 stars

Reasons for reading: E. Lockhart is great! 10 in 10 Chick Lit Challenge

Description: "Ruby is back at Tate Prep, and it’s her thirty-seventh week in the state of Noboyfriend. Her panic attacks are bad, her love life is even worse, and what’s more: Noel is writing her notes, Jackson is giving her frogs, Gideon is helping her cook, and Finn is making her brownies. Rumors are flying, and Ruby’s already-sucky reputation is heading downhill. Not only that, she’s also: running a bake sale, learning the secrets of heavymetal therapy, encountering some seriously smelly feet, defending the rights of pygmy goats, and bodyguarding Noel from unwanted advances.In this companion novel to The Boyfriend List and The Boy Book, Ruby struggles to secure some sort of mental health, to understand what constitutes a real friendship, and to find true love—if such a thing exists."

My thoughts: Another great book in this series. At the very beginning I wondered if I was Ruby'd out, but nope, she's still someone I like reading about. I still enjoy her footnotes and obsession with movies. And it's very funny, yay!

I have to say, though, that my teenage self cannot relate to her life at all. She's constantly involved with all of these boys - they're dumping her, kissing her, asking her out, flirting with her, using her, befriending her... For most of my high school life there were hardly any boys (or girls, really) who weren't openly mocking my weight and my weirdness. I can't fathom having her problems with boys and occasionally it got a bit annoying because she's SO boy crazy and either thinks every one is interested in her or doesn't even realize she's flirting with them.

But...that's just Ruby and she is a hormonal teenager and she is pretty badly treated by some of them. Also, her so-called friends are pretty much all fickle bitches, so I felt for her there. Trying to make new friends sucks at any age, but especially then. Ruby's parents are still weirdos and her mom is over-the-top, but their houseboat life sails along as smoothly as anyone's ever does. There's an awesome scene where Ruby stands up against the tyranny of inedible marshmallow figurines at the bake sale. In addition to that, she seems to really grow in this book, realizing which of the boys is a good one and which of her friends aren't.

The verdict: Read this series and E. Lockhart's other books (especially Dramarama)!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Review: gods in Alabama

gods in Alabama by Joshilyn Jackson
4.5 stars

Reasons for reading: I really enjoyed her Between, Georgia; this one has been on the TBR list for ages and since the sequel has come out I figured I should get it read , Place name book for What's in a Name? Challenge

Description: "For 10 years Arlene has kept her promises, and God has kept His end of the bargain. Until now. When an old schoolmate from Possett turns up at Arlene's door in Chicago asking questions about Jim Beverly, former quarterback and god of Possett High, Arlene's break with her former hometown is forced to an end. At the same time, Burr, her long-time boyfriend, has raised an ultimatum: introduce him to her family or consider him gone. Arlene loves him dearly but knows her lily white (not to mention deeply racist) Southern Baptist family will not understand her relationship with an African American boyfriend. Reluctantly, Arlene bows to the pressure, and she and Burr embark on the long-avoided road trip back home. As Arlene digs through guilt and deception, her patched-together alibi begins to unravel, and she discovers how far she will go for love and a chance at redemption."

First line: "There are gods in Alabama: "Jack Daniel's, high school quarterbacks, trucks, big tits, and also Jesus."

My thoughts: That's one of the best first lines I've read in ages!! I really enjoyed all of the aspects of this book. First, there's the mystery of why Lena left Alabama and why she promised God she wouldn't have sex, lie or return home. There's lovely, smart Burr and their relationship which has managed to withstand the no-sex clause. There's the bizarre Rose Mae showing up in Chicago and freaking Lena out. And then there's the journey back to Alabama, with Burr, to discover the truth about something horrible that happened a decade ago. It's just a great read, for all of those reasons, and especially for Lena's discovery that, in the end, despite their flaws and the scars left by grief, her family (particularly her fearsome Aunt Florence) loves her and she loves them. This is my second Jackson book and I wasn't disappointed - it's snappy, sad, Southern, smart, and somewhat sweet, all at the same time. I'm now really looking forward to Backseat Saints!

Friday, June 18, 2010

Review: How Not to be Popular

How Not to be Popular by Jennifer Ziegler
3.5 stars

Reasons for reading: Have been meaning to since it came out; 10 in 10 Chick Lit Challenge

Description: "Maggie Dempsey is tired of moving all over the country. Her parents are second-generation hippies who uproot her every year or so to move to a new city. When Maggie was younger, she thought it was fun and adventurous. Now that she’s a teenager, she hates it. When she moved after her freshman year, she left behind good friends, a great school, and a real feeling of belonging. When she moved her sophomore year, she left behind a boyfriend, too. Now that they’ve moved to Austin, she knows better. She’s not going to make friends. She’s not going to fit in. Anything to prevent her from liking this new place and them from liking her. Only . . . things don’t go exactly as planned.

First lines: "Oh crap. What did I just do? My right hand hovers over my phone, fingertips tingling like the sparking ends of live wires."

My thoughts: I liked that this book looked at popularity and how shallow it can be. I'm so saddened by all of the Clique-y books out there - it was nice to see someone being herself, even if it was for rather misguided (though understandable) reasons. It was a bit teen movie-ish - every day Maggie chose a terrible outfit from her dad's thrift store and I could see it totally being a montage. Though I did like her choices (the can-barely-walk kimono was quite inspired). Maggie's loving, hippie-intellectual parents were awesome (her name is actually Sugar Magnolia, after the Grateful Dead song). My favourite scene was when they out-talked, in a completely friendly way, the evil school principal. And it was fairly predictable and the bit right before the end where Maggie gave up and decided to go with the popular bitches was a bit jarring. But overall, it was a good book and I could feel Maggie's pain - I've lived within a few miles of the same house my entire life, I can't imagine what it would have been like to have been uprooted every year.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Review: Will Grayson, Will Grayson

Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan
3.75 stars

Reasons for reading: I really like John Green's writing and David Levithan's work with Rachel Cohn; Book with a name in the title for Four Month Challenge

Summary (from a review in School Library Journal): "Will Grayson's best friend since fifth grade, nicknamed Tiny Cooper, is bigger than life in terms of his physical stature and his personality—the "world's largest person who is really, really gay." Tiny, while seeking the boy of his dreams, has been through the trauma of myriad short-lived romantic relationships and Will has supported him each time his heart is broken. Now, Tiny decides it's Will's turn. At first, Will resents Tiny's matchmaking efforts, but then an amazing coincidence that stems from it brings a new person into their lives. It's another teen named Will Grayson, who is sad and depressed, and captures Tiny's heart. While these and other relationships are connecting, intersecting, and eventually changing, Tiny writes and produces an autobiographical high school musical extravaganza that is really about life. On the night it premiers, everything comes full circle and further validates the presence of the Will Graysons. Based on the premises that "love is tied to truth" and "being friends, that's just something you are," this powerful, thought-provoking, funny, moving, and unique plot is irresistible."

First lines: "When I was little, my dad used to tell me, "Will, you can pick your friends, and you can pick your nose, but you can't pick your friend's nose." This seemed like a reasonably astute observation to me when I was eight, but it turns out to be incorrect on a few levels. To begin with, you cannot possibly pick your friends, or else I never would have ended up with Tiny Cooper."

My thoughts: Well, the first paragraph sets you up for some typical John Green goodness! At first I wasn't sure about this book, it seemed like it was going to be way too angsty for me, especially with the incredibly depressed gay Will Grayson (it's the easiest way to differentiate between the two) and the other Will with his rules of don't care too much and shut up. There was also a lot of does he/she like me, do I like him/her going on and Tiny Cooper is SO over the top in everything from his size to his gayness to his flair for the dramatic.

But once the two Wills met, things started rolling along a bit better. It really is a cool concept - what happens when you hear your name addressed to a stranger in the strangest of locations (I won't give it away, but it's one of the funniest parts). There's a lot of emotion in the book - people realizing they love each other (family, friendship, and romance), feelings getting hurt, people learning about themselves... I also enjoyed that Tiny's rather implausible musical, Tiny Dancer, comes about and is so successful. The songs (pretty much all about Tiny's hugeness or gayness or fabulousness) are rather a hoot. I loves me some musical theatre.

The verdict: I had varying feelings about the book throughout, liking it and not being sure I did and sometimes wondering who the intended audience was, but the ending was lovely and joyful (and surprising), so that went a long way.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Review: I Take This Man

I Take This Man by Valerie Frankel
2.75 stars

Reasons for reading: I've liked some of her previous books; caught my eye

Description: "
Penny Bracket waited two years to marry dream man Bram Shiraz. Then on the morning of the Big Day, while she's trying on her veil, Penny receives the worst two-line letter of her life: "Penny, I can't go through with it. Sorry, Bram."

Penny's hurt and upset. But Esther, Penny's divorced mom, wants Bram's head on a platter. So Mom ambushes the cold-footed coward before he hot-foots it out of town, bonks him on the head with a champagne bottle, and spirits him away to a hidden room in her gargantuan mansion in Short Hares, New Jersey. Esther doesn't want much. All Bram has to do is write personal, heartfelt apologies to each of the two hundred disappointed wedding guests . . . and eat every mouthful of the very expensive gourmet wedding feast that has gone to waste. Then he'll be free to leave.

Penny doesn't want Bram tortured. She just wants answers to "why" . . . and maybe a little revenge. Will she discover her runaway groom is locked away in the attic? Will Bram's widowed father—handsome tough-guy Keith Shiraz—be able to locate his missing son . . . and maybe seduce Esther Bracket in the bargain? Will Bram be able to maintain his athletic figure after consuming two hundred entrees and thousands of baby quiches? Read on!"

First line: "Penny Bracket, twenty-three, looked ghostly in white."

My thoughts: This was an odd book. It had some laughs but it was very over-the-top and odd. The author Q&A at the back said that Frankel had the idea of what would make a mother harm someone for her child, and a jilted bride came to mind. And I liked the basic concept, because I can imagine an enraged mother-of-the-bride wanting to bean the groom with a champagne bottle and I thought the forcing him to eat the food and write the return address labels for the gifts was hilarious. But the Q&A also discusses Frankel's career as a sex columnist and this comes out a bit too much. I'm not squeamish about sex, but the discussion/resolution of the issue that ultimately breaks up Penny and Bram really reads like something straight out of a sex advice book. It seemed like Frankel picked the sex problem and forced it into the book - I found it hard to believe that a groom would jilt his bride over it.

And then there's other weirdness - the fact that Esther happens to have a video-monitored safe room in her house (it's explained, but...eh), their bizarre (though entertaining) Russian "housekeeper" Natasha who up and leaves after 20 years of service, the fact that Keith Shiraz doesn't mind that Esther assaulted and kidnapped his son, and a weird twist that leads to a rather hasty, too-tied-up happy ending.

I also second this observation by a LibraryThing user: "And the numerous typos were very distracting - didn't anyone proofread this book after it was sent through spell-check?" It was quite annoying.

The verdict: If you're in the mood for quirky chick lit, it's a quick read with some laughs, but emphasis on the quirky.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Review: 16 Lighthouse Road

16 Lighthouse Road by Debbie Macomber
2 stars

Reasons for reading: a friend recommended Macomber to me; Number title for Four Month Challenge

Dear Reader,
You don't know me yet, but in a few hours that's going to change. You see, I'm inviting you to my home and my town of Cedar Cove because I want you to meet my family, friends and neighbors. Come and hear their stories—maybe even their secrets!

I have to admit that my own secrets are pretty open. My marriage failed some years ago, and I have a rather…difficult relationship with my daughter, Justine. Then there's my mother, Charlotte, who has plenty of opinions and is always willing to share them.

Here's an example: I'm a family court judge and she likes to drop in on my courtroom. Recently I was hearing a divorce petition.

In Charlotte's view, young Cecilia and Ian Randall hadn't tried hard enough to make their
marriage work—and I agreed. So I rendered my judgment: Divorce Denied.

Well, you wouldn't believe the reaction! Thanks to an article by Jack Griffin, the editor of our local paper (and a man I wouldn't mind seeing more of!), everyone's talking.

Cedar Cove—people love it and sometimes they leave it, but they never forget it!
See you soon…

First lines: "Cecilia Randall had heard of people who, if granted one wish, would choose to live their lives over again. Not her. She'd be perfectly content to blot just one twelve-month period from her twenty-two years. The past twelve months."

My thoughts: This didn't really do it for me. I was expecting something cozy about small-town life and I sort of got it, but everyone in Cedar Cove just had too many problems. I know you need conflict for a story, but I was expecting it to be about things like...I dunno...who wins the Best Pie ribbon at the fair or something. But no - it starts out with Cecilia Randall, mentioned above, who wants to eradicate the past year because her newborn daughter died while her husband was at sea in a submarine. Babies dying does not hook me into wanting to read a book! And then there's the bastard of a husband who vanishes (He leaves the town librarian, can you imagine?? Who would do such a thing?) and the older creepy guy who wants a sexless relationship with the judge's daughter. Happy endings or at least okay resolutions abounded by the end, but it was just too much unhappiness and unpleasantness to get there.

I think it would appeal to a certain type of patron, so I'm glad I know about her for people who may ask at the library, but I don't think I'll be reading another one, certainly not in this series.

Review: Specials

Specials by Scott Westerfeld (The Uglies, book 3)
3.25 stars

Reasons for reading: I've enjoyed the series; Young Adult Challenge

Description: " "Special Circumstances": The words have sent chills down Tally's spine since her days as a repellent, rebellious ugly. Back then Specials were a sinister rumor -- frighteningly beautiful, dangerously strong, breathtakingly fast. Ordinary pretties might live their whole lives without meeting a Special. But Tally's never been ordinary. And now she's been turned into one of them: a superamped fighting machine, engineered to keep the uglies down and the pretties stupid. The strength, the speed, and the clarity and focus of her thinking feel better than anything Tally can remember. Most of the time. One tiny corner of her heart still remembers something more. Still, it's easy to tune that out -- until Tally's offered a chance to stamp out the rebels of the New Smoke permanently. It all comes down to one last choice: listen to that tiny, faint heartbeat, or carry out the mission she's programmed to complete. Either way, Tally's world will never be the same."

First line: "The six hoverboards slipped among the trees with the lightning grace of playing cards thrown flat and spinning."

My thoughts: I'm getting a bit of series fatigue with this one (seems like it was supposed to be the final book but then Extras came out). The constant descriptions of flying on hoverboards is getting a bit old (if I read the words "lifting fans" one more time, I was going to scream). The cruel-pretty Specials are really interesting to read about, but Tally has just become one - I guess we didn't need to hear about the operation.

In this book, however, we found out that there are other cities out there that aren't as insanely controlling as Tally's - it's interesting to see that there's another option in this dystopian/utopian world. Tally does always seem to be the one who is most adaptable, no matter what they do to her (Shay calls it being self-centred) and in this book she needs it more than ever as she single-handedly must try and stop a war.

The series certainly does make you think about the present and the future and how we can find a balance between Westerfeld's view of the "Rusties" destroying everything and the world of these books where people's brains are damaged by the government to keep them in line and avoid today's problems. I don't know the answer yet, but I don't think it's brain lesions.

The book ends on a very environmentalism-ish note - Tally is very concerned with people cutting down "the wild" just like us Rusties did. So I expect Extras will have even more of that theme, so I'm not entirely sure if I'm interested. But I'll probably finish out the series.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Review: The Espressologist

The Espressologist by Kristina Springer
3.25 stars

Reasons for reading: Sounded fun; cute cover; 10 in 10 Chick Lit Challenge

Description: "What’s your drink of choice? Is it a small pumpkin spice latte? Then you’re lots of fun and a bit sassy. Or a medium americano? You prefer simplicity in life. Or perhaps it’s a small decaf soy sugar-free hazelnut caffe latte? Some might call you a yuppie. Seventeen-year-old barista Jane Turner has this theory that you can tell a lot about a person by their regular coffee drink. She scribbles it all down in a notebook and calls it Espressology. So it’s not a totally crazy idea when Jane starts hooking up some of her friends based on their coffee orders. Like her best friend, Em, a medium hot chocolate, and Cam, a toffee nut latte. But when her boss, Derek, gets wind of Jane’s Espressology, he makes it an in-store holiday promotion, promising customers their perfect matches for the price of their favorite coffee. Things are going better than Derek could ever have hoped, so why is Jane so freaked out? Does it have anything to do with Em dating Cam? She’s the one who set them up! She should be happy for them, right?"

First lines:
Large Nonfat Four-shot Caffe Latte
Cocky sex-deprived butthead guy drink. Expect only the utmost stupidity to come out of his mouth. So-so body, could stand to work out more. Crappy dresser. Dramatically stares at a woman who comes in with a boob job. He looks like he is going to hurt himself in the contortions he is twisting into . . .

My thoughts: This is a cute little book. Fairly predictable, but still fun. Quite a few reviews used the rather obvious "frothy" as a description, but it fits. I really enjoyed the coffee-matchmaking premise. There was humour and romance. I liked that Jane was able to stand up to her nemesis, a bitchy girl named Melissa. KIWI Magazine's review included this observation: "In the style of Jane Austen’s Emma, Jane can make matches for everyone but herself." I didn't get the Emma thing when I was reading it, but I can sort of see it now.

By the way, I'm a small Christmas-time peppermint mocha, myself. Not sure what that says about me. :-)