The Reptile Room (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 2)

4/5 (If you’re a kid)

Same review as the first, but with a much sunnier feel due to the location change.  I’m glad not all of them are as dismal as the first, since I don’t think I could have taken much more dark/grimy/dirty/sloven/etc. -ness.


Published in: on July 28, 2008 at 7:04 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Bad Beginning (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 1)

4/5 (If you’re a kid)

Completely mindless, but fun.  I don’t really see the draw of these books, but they’re harmless and quickly over.  I finished 2 full books in this series while waiting in a waiting room (though admitedly I was there for like 4 hours).

This is the first book in the series, and tells how three main characters become orphans.  But really that’s over with on the third page or so.  After that, there are frequent references to how lonely and sad the children are, but not much more about the circumstances.  The book was clearly written for children, so there are a lot of: “I feel disappointed.  That means I am not happy with how things turned out.”  “We know what disappointed means!  Get to the real point of why you’re disappointed!”  But you read that and thought that was just me complaining about the book not getting to the point, didn’t you?  Nope, I mean that to be a paraphrase of what the characters actually say to each other.  About 20 times in the 30 page book.  Though I didn’t really count.  But the definitions they use aren’t bad, and in some cases I was struck by how applicable the definition given was to the book’s use of it.

Anyway, I wouldn’t recommend it exactly, but I did enjoy it enough to read the second one I’d already bought.  Probably not enough to buy anymore though.


Published in: on July 28, 2008 at 6:59 pm  Comments (1)  

A Man Without a Counrty


3 Stars

This collection of anecdotal stories shows off Vonnegut’s writing flair without involving the reader with anything to thought-provoking or memorable. It’s like at the end of an excellent symphony piece when to soloist comes out for an encore. You think, “Oh, that was nice,” but it doesn’t stick with you like the rest of the performance.


Published in: on March 1, 2008 at 9:39 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Anansi Boys


5 Stars

Neil Gaiman is everywhere!  I just picked up Good Omens, a classic collaboration he did with Terry Pratchett (I haven’t read it yet, but soon).  I recently saw a delightful movie called Stardust, which was adapted from a Neil Gaiman book.  And now this.  I actually “read” this audio book about a month ago while I was packing/unpacking (unfortunately the book was too distractingly good for me to get much work done while listening to it), but I haven’t had time until now to catch up on my book reviews.

This my second audio book, but the first one where I felt the media actually added something special.  Previously I considered audio books to simply be a lazy man’s way of reading, but in this case the reader, Lenny Henry, does a fantastic job.  His timing and cadence are perfect for delivering the humor of the novel, whether he is doing the voice for a stodgy British middle manager or an elderly Caribbean witch lady.  This will be the first audio book to live on my bookshelf.

I am sure the paper book is good too.  The story is chalk full of humor, with healthy doses of adventure and magical realism thrown in as well, and the character are amazing.   I look forward to reading a bunch of other Neil Gaiman books in the future.


Published in: on February 22, 2008 at 11:28 am  Leave a Comment  

The Accidental Time Machine


4 Stars

This is a fun, easy read about a guy who accidentally creates a time machine that only goes one way–into the future. Joe Haldeman is among my favorite science fiction writers, and while this book is no Forever War, it is still thouroughly enjoyable, from cover to cover.


Published in: on November 21, 2007 at 7:29 pm  Leave a Comment  

Aunt Dimity Goes West


3 Stars

I do like these Aunt Dimity books, and each time a new one comes out I get all excited. I’m a little disappointed in the latest offerings, however. If this keeps up, an Aunt Dimity novel will drop below three stars! How is that possible?!? Anyhow, on to this book.

These novels chronicle the misadventures of a young mother, Lori, and her family, guided by a ghostly presence in the form of a dead family friend. The long running theme in the past few books is Lori and her twins are in mortal danger from some crazy person her husband represents. This book shows Lori and the twins taking a long summer vacation in small-town Colorado, where she (as always) comes up against a nefarious plot to kill someone/destroy the town. She, of course, foils the plot. Same old, same old.

I did like this book a bit better than the last one–at least this one had a good helping of the supernatural (lots of ghosts, lots of mysteries from decades past, that sort of thing) which is a new twist from the past books. Otherwise, it wasn’t all that memorable as Aunt Dimity books go.


Published in: on November 2, 2007 at 3:53 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Amber Spyglass


3 Stars

I have often wondered if the bad guys won the American Civil War. Like every other grade schooler, I was taught all the reasons why the South had to be smacked down, but I have also since learned that history is often just propaganda from the winning side. My friends think I am crazy, but I still wonder.

So you can imagine my happy surprise when the underlying story of His Dark Materials is revealed towards the end of the second book of the trilogy, that thousands of years ago the bad guys won a great war in heaven, and all of Christianity is just their propaganda.  This concept, unfortunately, is not explored very much and instead resides in the background.

In the foreground of The Amber Spyglass is a slow and boring tale of childhood friendship and first love, or something.  I kept expecting the pace to pick up like it did in The Subtle Knife, but it never did.  I kept waiting for the big reveal, but it never came.  It wasn’t a bad book–just disappointing after its two predecessors.


Published in: on October 8, 2007 at 10:03 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Amber Spyglass


5 Stars

Siiiiiiigh. Don’t you just love and hate that feeling when a really great book ends? It’s such a bitter sweet sensation…I have this strange way of reading the last several chapters of such a book. I’ll read really quickly, then stop at a great part (especially if I’ve read the story before) and put the book aside for a short while just to relish the knowledge of how good it’s going to be. Then I’ll devour the next few chapters, then stop again, and the last couple of pages I read and reread and reread slowly to draw it out as much as possible. Needless to say, the last chapter of this book took forever to get through, and I loved every second of it.

This is the third and final installment in His Dark Materials trilogy, and while I think The Amber Spyglass is my overall favorite, this is a very close second. The story deals with the overarching storyline that was in all three books–the rebellion of the people against the Authority. This plot is much more violent and intense than the last two, and a good portion of it takes place in battle. There is really way too much to sum up here, but the characters are timeless, the actions full of treachery and nobility, and the love story is classic.
One of the greatest parts of this book is the obvious religious (and anti establishment) views of the author. They are so subtly woven into the first two books, then he just comes right out and says them in the last. I probably wouldn’t have liked it at all if I didn’t like the message he was sending. I suggest that if you have particularly strong feelings about religion, read this book with caution. Know that the author obviously hates organized religion as it stands today, and he does not hide the fact. He does make some compelling observations about humankind and the nature of being alive, while cleverly weaving in the most basic of bible stories. I loved it. Love, love, love!


Published in: on August 18, 2007 at 11:05 am  Leave a Comment  

At the Villa of Reduced Circumstances


3 Stars

Hee hee! What an interesting and strange book. This was one of those short, easy reads, and happens to fall into the generic fiction category (that means it’s kinda weird). The story involves a professor at a German university, engaged in professorial pastimes such as planning the demise of his rivals, and worrying who will try and take over his office during his sabbatical. You know, just a normal day in academia. The professor receives an invitation from the Cuban government to receive an honorary degree, and he naturally jumps at the chance, especially since his arch nemesis is green with envy at the news. Then the fun begins–during his stay in Cuba, the professor inadvertently becomes part of a military coup (which, according to the book, is quite common), and is named leader of the country. Leader in name only, of course, as his position is one with a short life span. He solves his dilemma in his cerebral way and goes on to bigger and better things, such as investigating his suspicion that his best enemy temporarily took up residence in his office.

The book was fun and clever, especially given I work in an academic setting, and the antics of these fictional professors really aren’t all that far off. The writing was crisp and clean, and the slap-stick-yet-dire situations were comical and tense simultaneously. I suggest this as an easy read where you don’t want to think much. It probably won’t stick with you for too long, which is perfect for vacation or bedtime. Enjoy!


Published in: on August 18, 2007 at 11:03 am  Leave a Comment  

Aunt Dimity and the Deep Blue Sea


3 Stars

Oh, Aunt Dimity. I adore these books. This series is really just a bunch of silly little mysteries with a twist: one of the major characters is a ghost. Fun! This installation sees our heroin, Laurie, in mortal danger from some source or another (as per usual), so her husband sends her and their boys off to a secluded home on an island where he thinks they will be safe. Danger and mystery follows Laurie around, though (it wouldn’t be a silly little mystery without that), and she must find out what all the intrigue is about. She nearly gets killed in the process.

While this book was OK, I’ve noticed that Aunt Dimity is becoming less of a character. The earlier books featured the relationship between Laurie and Dimity, and found Laurie calling on her spectral friend for everything from love advice to some other-worldly investigations. In this book, Laurie did most of the stuff herself, with Dimity making a token appearance to “check things out from this side.” It was underwhelming to say the least. I hope this trend does not continue.


Published in: on August 17, 2007 at 1:12 pm  Leave a Comment  

Alice in Wonderland


2 1/2 Stars

Ah, classics. You know, it’s interesting to look at stories in context–there are those that were amazing or revolutionary when they came out, but they spawned so many new areas of imagination that the subsequent writings outstripped the original. I think that is what happened with Alice. I’m sure when it was first published, the images and situations were beyond fantastic. Don’t get me wrong, they still are amazing, but there are so many things “pushing the envelope” that are obviously based on Wonderland, that it’s just not new anymore.

I did like the story…maybe I have just been exposed to it so much in so many different forms (musicals and songs and movies and video games and analogies and essays and sermons and lectures and television shows and whatnot) that reading the original was just mediocre. I am embarking on studying the author and his work, so perhaps in actual context I’ll love it more.


Published in: on July 30, 2007 at 9:05 pm  Leave a Comment  

Abel’s Island


3 1/2 Stars

You know what I love? Reading a book that I suddenly remember reading when I was in grade school. I distinctly remember reading this book in 5th grade and then having to make a diorama of the island. I didn’t put much effort into the project–mom and dad left me home alone for the afternoon to “get my work done” which translated into “watch TV.” Ah well. On to the book!
This is a Newbery honor book (1977), and it seems this Newbery board preferred the younger-type books in the late seventies. Abel’s Island is a cute little story about an aristocratic mouse who gets blown away in a storm and ends up stranded on an island for a year. There he learns to take care of himself for the first time in his life, and discovers he has a talent for sculpture. I think of it as a self help book for third graders–you know, kinda like how-to-survive-and-become-your-best-in-the-process, but with cute furry animals (and a frog). Of course everything turns out great in the end, and everyone lives happily every after.
This was a quick and easy read, although not something I’d recommend for those looking for an interesting adult story. This is definitely for younger children. I liked it, but then I had a idea as to what to expect.


Published in: on July 30, 2007 at 8:53 pm  Leave a Comment  

Artimis Fowl Eternity Code


3 Stars

This book was mostly great. Here’s the thing–I hate Artemis Fowl. If you read my other review of this series, you know this. For those of you who don’t know, this series is centered around a pompous young boy who uses evil ways to run the family’s illegal businesses. Now, I love evil protagonists…that’s not the issue. If an author is able to create a character that is a murderous, vile villain and still make me love him, then that author deserves an award. Artemis Fowl is not such a character. He’s just hateful. When I read a book and want to smack the main character, that does not bode well for the rest of the story. Anyhow, I picked up Eternity Code with trepidation, convinced I’d hate it. I didn’t. Well, I didn’t until the end at least, but I’ll get back to that in a moment. This series has several books, and Eternity Code is the latest. In this story, Artemis gets in over his head with an American businessman, and Artemis’ bodyguard gets shot in the chest. Artemis realizes he actually loves someone like a father and has to figure out how to save the bodyguard’s life. Throughout this quest, he calls in some favors, realizes that he has to act like a decent human being to get some things done, and actually acts like a friend to his so called loved ones. It was great! He was still an evil mastermind who could plan and execute complex, multifaceted missions that are a treat to read. He was still the smartest 11 year old on the planet. He still had lots of money. But he wasn’t a bastard, and that was fabulous. This is what the rest of the books should have been but weren’t. Now, this kept going until the last chapter. In the last chapter, Artemis has his memory erased and he goes back to his stupid, hateful self. Damnit! How could the author do this to us? I was willing to believe that the author just had to figure out his character, let him grow, before he perfected him. I thought that Eternity Code was the ‘coming of age’ story of Artemis and we’d be able to read about his manipulations while actually like this anti-hero. But no…that couldn’t happen. He had to succumb and put Artemis back just the way he was in the stupidest manner possible. Gah!!!


Published in: on July 19, 2007 at 5:38 am  Leave a Comment  

Afternoon of the Elves


3 1/2 Stars

Have you ever noticed that sometimes you’re just in the mood for a simple, child-like read? No? Just me, then? Well, I was, and this book hit the spot. It’s a story about a 6th grader who lives next door to the weird girl in class. She makes friends with the weirdo, and they play at having elves in they yard. It’s a tale of friendship and gives a nice lesson about being kind to people and not pulling normal little girl crap. I liked it.


Published in: on July 18, 2007 at 5:54 am  Leave a Comment  

Aunt Dimity and the Next of Kin


3 Stars

This is just another in a great series. Not the best, but a great book to curl up with in front of a fire. In this story, Lori befriends a dying woman who leaves a mystery behind. I’ve noticed Aunt Dimity is becoming less and less of a character in the series, and I hope this doesn’t continue. It’s like the author is trying to make these books like all those other mysteries out there, and it’s unfortunate. I hope it doesn’t continue.


Published in: on July 18, 2007 at 5:44 am  Leave a Comment