The Mitford Series By Jan Karon

A simple, easy to read series that is one of those that you read and wonder why you wasted the time, then eagerly pick up the next book and do it all again. Plots are easy to predict, characters attempt to be interesting, homey, but end up being sachrine.
The basic plot centers around an episcopal priest, who is what everyone wants in a church pastor. Even though Karon attempts to show his humanness, a sense of impossibility surrounds all the situations. A bit heavy on “altar calls” and prayers, the book reads like most “Christian” novels, do this and you will walk the golden streets in heaven. Still the people are fun, the recipes interesting and the read easy. One can go to work and still read the 8 books in a little over a week.

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Published in: on April 28, 2008 at 3:25 pm  Leave a Comment  

Everything on a Waffle

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2.5  Stars

It’s usually a pretty safe bet to pick up a Newbery Honor Book…most of the time those panel members really know what they’re talking about. I was a little disappointed with this one, though. Every once in a while, the people who choose the books go a little crazy. In this case, it seemed like the panel members just didn’t want the little readers to have to deal with any heartache or drama. I’ll explain in a minute.

The story was an easy read (as I figured, given the subject and all). It was about a young girl who lost her parents and had to live with her uncle, a real estate developer. He moves to her small town with grand ideas about upgrading it, much to the chagrin of the locals (including the local diner owner, who’s claim to fame is serving all meals on a waffle, hence the name of the book).

I guess the real problem I had with this book was it had the potential to be a real story, but it copped out right at the end. Too bad! It could have been great.

–Adrienne

Published in: on March 1, 2008 at 11:23 pm  Leave a Comment  

A Dilly of a Death

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2.5 Stars

Ah, silly little mysteries.  This is one of the books I picked up off the new mystery section, and you can just tell by the title that it’s going to be a stereotypical silly little mystery. This one had it all–female main character who has nothing to do with law enforcement (she runs an herb shop in a small town) who gets roped into the mystery and does all the solving.

It was really unmemorable–the only reason I even remember that the woman was an herbalist is because my mom loves these books (she’s an herbalist) and I remember that there was something to do with dill pickles because of the title. Ah well. I’ll probably read the rest of them…it’s still better than reading romance novels. 

Published in: on March 1, 2008 at 10:45 pm  Comments (1)  

Sweet as Sugar, Hot as Spice

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2.5 Stars

So I don’t like romance novels…I think I’ve made that clear. However, when a friend handed this to me, saying “I didn’t like the novels either, until I read this!” I thought I’d give them a chance. I should have known better (this is the same friend that started teaching just to meet a boyfriend. They got engaged before the semester ended. That’ll end well).

Anyhow, onto the drama in the book. This story was about an independent woman, who, in an obviously rebellious move, has opened her own sex education firm specializing in naughty videos showing the curious what good sex is really like. Her uptight but rich mother and very conservative and traditionally married sister both disapprove of her chosen profession, and wish she would just settle down and get married. She, of course, has different ideas. Blah blah blah, forbidden-love-cakes. Insert typically boring girlie movie storyline here, but with waaaaaay more uncomfortable sex. Seriously. It was like every page. Wait…maybe that’s why my friend loved these books? Huh. I know way too much about her now.

My overall impression? I still hate romance novels. They aren’t that interesting, the story isn’t great, and they are really just vessels for badly written sex scenes. I mean, at least some of the traditional ones have the laughability aspect going for them.  This book was written as if the author thought “I know…I’ll make the romance novel a real book again!” then wrote this series. Yep, a series. I really, really hope Tracy will decide she wants to read romance and read the entire rest of the section. Bleh. But it was still better than The Eight.

–Adrienne

Published in: on March 1, 2008 at 10:28 pm  Comments (1)  

Building Harlequin’s Moon

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2 1/2 Stars

Larry Niven is famous for writing the Ringworld series, the first book of which I have (mostly) read and not much liked. However I have enjoyed reading other books of his which have been co-written with other authors. This book he wrote with someone named Brenda Cooper, but I did not like it. I takes place in a future where artificial intelligences and nanotechnology have run amok. A bunch of people flea Earth for a far away planet called Ymir, but run into some engine trouble on the way and have to make a pit stop in a barren star system, at a gas giant called Harlequin, where they can spend some time terraforming one of it’s moons into a livable enough planet to build a supercollider, with which they can create antimatter to power their ship the rest of the way to Ymir. Unfortunately, after a generation or two, some friction develops between the moon born labor and the bosses on the ship. This all sounds pretty interesting to me, but after this set-up nothing happens for most of the book. It’s like The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress without all the good bits.

ben

Published in: on March 1, 2008 at 9:38 pm  Leave a Comment  

Knock Three Times!

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2 1/2 Stars

I do enjoy children’s fiction, and I must say that, given the choice, I will always pick a good classic children’s story over almost anything else. (Unless, of course, the new Odd Thomas is coming out…in which case I’m totally reading that. May 20th baby!).

I got this book on MP3 with my new MP3 player for Christmas, and have spent the last several weeks listening to it during my commute to work and school. It is the story of a brother and sister who receive a grey, pumpkin-shaped pin cushin for their birthday. During the full moon, the cushin comes to life and leads them on an adventure into the Possible World, through the large tree in their garden. There, they meet many intersting characters as they attempt to track the pumpkin down and end its reign of terror.

The story was quaint, and reminded me of The Phantom Toll Booth with its tendency to preach about life. However, it wasn’t nearly as good as Toll Booth, and had a hard times coming to terms with itself. Was it a cute teaching book meant to educate young ones about life’s problems? Or what it a fantasy meant to simply entertain? The story never quite chose a path, which left it wanting. There also seemed to be areas that could have done with more explination or description–it’s almost as if an editor went a little crazy, telling the author she couldn’t put too many descriptives in or she’d lose her target audience. I hate when adults underestimate children.

Overall, I enjoyed the story, and looked forward to my 8 minute commute everyday. If you’re looking for a quick read, or know someone who wants to get into fantasy-type literature, this is a good story to start with.

–Adrienne

Published in: on February 18, 2008 at 10:08 am  Leave a Comment  

Empire of Ivory

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2 1/2 Stars

I am tiring of this series of books. The setting is great–not just the time and place, but also the characters, especially the dragons, are very interesting– but the stories are getting kinda old, even though each one is different. In this one our protagonists venture to Africa, where great adventures ensue. This was an easy read, and not bad, but it sure wasn’t great. This setting would, I think, make for a good video game or perhaps television series, but I am not too excited about the upcoming fifth volume.

ben

Published in: on December 9, 2007 at 12:20 am  Leave a Comment  

Rocket Ship Galileo

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2 1/2 Stars

This story of three boys who build a rocket ship to the moon is Robert Heinlein’s first published novel, one of a series of juvenile fiction books he wrote early in his career. What is juvenile fiction, you ask? After reading this book, I gather that it is a book targeted at grade school boys, as opposed to adolescent boys for whom most Heinlein books are written. Instead of unrealistically accommodating women, this book has cloying science lessons and life advice.

The story itself is pretty good, but weird considering the timing. It takes place in the future … of 1947, when the book was written. It was also really, really slow. I almost was unable to finish it, and fairly loathed reading it, until the very end. At the end the book gets super exciting, and I might just go ahead and read the follow up books, at some point.

ben

Published in: on December 8, 2007 at 12:16 am  Leave a Comment  

The Big Over Easy

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3.5 Stars

My friend Tracy started telling me about this book a long time ago. Eventually she dropped it off and I finally got to read about all the fun, imaginative things she had mentioned. I love it when friends give me books they are excited about!
It was a really fun read. The story is about a real place in the world where fairy tales are embodied and live among us. The fairy tale characters (and their inevitable stories) are policed by Jack Sprat (shall eat no fat) and his partner Mary Mary (quite contrary). This particular story revolves around Mary Mary’s first case with underdog Jack (he is forced to work nursery crimes while his ex-partner and frenemy gets the bigger busts) as he investigates the death of Humpty Dumpty. He sat on a wall, you see, and had a great fall. No one could put him together again, and now Jack and Mary Mary must piece together the evidence (hee! I’m clever) and figure out what happened.

The author does a great job brining in all the great nursery rhymes–from Old Mother Hubbard to Wee Willy Winky. It was fun the way he did it–he put each character into the setting of their nursery rhyme, but didn’t spell it out. I found myself reciting the rhymes as each character was introduced. Do you know how hard it is to remember some of these?!? I couldn’t think of the Wee Willy Winky one at all (apparently he ran through town at 8 or something) and I kept getting the real version of Old Mother Hubbard mixed up with Andrew Dice Clay’s version (it went something like this for hours: “Old Mother Hubbard went to the cupboard to get her old dog a bone…something something something, something something else…damnit! And gave her a bone of his own! What the hell is the real rhyme?!?”). Thank goodness for Google.
Anyhow, the story clever, the characters fun, and the chance to revisit some beloved nursery rhymes priceless. There is that annoyance factor of the arch nemesis doing everything to undermine our hero’s work, and I hate that type of thing. You know what would be awesome? Punching fictional characters. Malfoy is next on my list. The great news is this is the first book in a series that follows Mr. Sprat on his investigating duties. Think CSI in nursery land. Fun for us!

–Adrienne

See Tracy’s review of this book!

Published in: on August 18, 2007 at 10:56 am  Comments (1)  

The Legend of Luke: A Tale from Redwall

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2 1/2 Stars

This is, like, the tenthish book in Brian Jacques’s beloved Redwall series. The series follows the adventures of a community of kindly woodland beings (mice, squirrels, bunnys, otters, moles, et al) and their ongoing struggles against foul vermin (rats, stoats, ferrets, etc). The stories are, generally, a joy to read for children and adults alike.

In this volume, Martin, the mouse-hero of Redwall Abby, heads out to learn the fate of his father Luke, who left home when Martin was child to hunt searat pirates, and never returned. Martin and his party have some adventures on their way to finding some of Luke’s old companions, who pass along Luke’s story. Then they all head back to Redwall for the usual feasting and such.

Luke’s story was quite fun to read. The rest of the book was pretty boring. This is one of my least favorite Redwall books.

ben

Published in: on August 17, 2007 at 5:42 pm  Leave a Comment  

Muletrain to Maggody

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2 Stars

Oh, silly little mysteries. This Maggody series is the epitome of the silly little mystery, but it isn’t a very good story in general. I’m not sure what it is about the books that rubs me the wrong way, but reading each new entry is more like a chore than a treat. At least it’s a fast read.

The Maggody series is about a small town, Maggody, which is policed by a woman from the big city. She grew up in town, married and moved to New York, then returned when her marriage fell apart. Her mother got her the job of chief of police for the town (not a great honor since there is only one policewoman in the station) and she spends her time alternately dreaming of getting away and half heartedly chasing whatever bad guy presents himself. She also must deal with the characters in town, not the least of which is her overbearing and bar-owning mother.
Muletrain to Maggody is unmemorable, really. A civil war reenactment descends on the town, and our heroin must deal with the craziness of the participants, while investigating a suspicious death that may or may not have to do with hidden gold. Of course various members of the community must stick their noses into the business and the good chief has to work everything out.

I’m not sure what it is that makes this series so mediocre…perhaps the lack of unique characters or the utterly predictable plot. Whatever the problem, these books have yet to grip me in a way that makes me look forward to the next sequel.

–Adrienne

Published in: on August 12, 2007 at 8:57 am  Leave a Comment  

Alice in Wonderland

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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.

–Adrienne

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

Cirque du Freak

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2.5 stars

I enjoy creepy stories–those ones with the slightly disturbing covers and the uncomfortable premise that stick with you during the dark part of the night well after you closed the back cover. This looked like one of those, and I’ve noticed that creepy tales directed at the teen set are much better in imagination terms than those who target adults. Have you noticed this? Most every adult horror story involves a serial killer; a nearly human monster who is a serial killer; a supernatural being that looks and acts a lot like humans that is a serial killer; or an unknown hostile energy from the great beyond that kills lots of people, like a serial killer. It’s like adult stories work within the parameters of perceived reality, and place the embodiment of horror (read: serial killer) in that reality, or bring to life a character from human mythology that has historically embodied horror and places it in reality. I’ve read countless books about vampires, ghouls and goblins, and evil spirits that prey on the living. But even in the books from the supernatural being’s point of view, I find that a rigid set of physical laws must be followed to make the book “realistic.” After all, if it’s not “realistic” no one will “buy it” in any way, shape or form. I hate this philosophy.
You only really find stretches of imagination in children or young adult literature, and even then it can be iffy. There is a much higher density of good, imaginative horror that takes you completely out of reality and into a whole new world. Isn’t that the point, after all? Well, this is what I was hoping for when I picked up Cirque de Freak. The front cover was suitably creepy with a distorted and screaming face superimposed over a rotted out theater; the pages were decorated with images of spiders, and the title was compelling. The story, however, didn’t quite live up to the hype.
I’m not sure where it fell flat; the premise was good: a group of boys find a flyer advertising a banned freak show taking place at midnight in a rotted out old theater. Only two can go, and these two witness terrible and amazing things. After the show, one boy hangs back to blackmail a vampire (I know!) and ends up rejected, while the other boy plots to steal a deadly spider and ends up begrudgingly becoming the vampire’s assistant. Interesting, no? For some reason, the story just didn’t gel. The characters seemed to constantly act in stupid, unreasonable ways (which I just hate! Hate, hate hate! Honestly, if you’re going to bother to set up a character in a particular way, why have him act out of character constantly? If I can’t imagine myself making those particular decisions given the predefined characteristics, then the character rings very, very false. Forcing a character to act strangely for the sake of the storyline smacks of plot-driven, uncreative writing. In my opinion, of course) and the plot twists themselves, while compelling, just seemed like a prequel. It was almost as if the author wanted to do a series of books (which I later found was true–I think he’s on book 11 of this series now), and simply needed 200 pages to begin the whole thing so he could get started on the real story telling. I don’t like that. Each book should be good in and of itself, regardless of the series to which it is related.
There were some fine points to this story, I must admit. This book is the first in a series about a vampire and his young assistant as they travel the world and have vampiric adventures. This set up also played with the question of what happens when someone becomes a vampire and they have to leave their previous life behind? I’ve noticed in all the other vampire-based books I’ve read, this issue isn’t really confronted. All vampires-to-be either have no ties to the earthly plane, hate what ties they do have, or are in a family that doesn’t mind the thought of an undead relative. This book looks at a normal twelve year old, with a loving family, good friends, and years to go in school. He plays soccer, he does homework, he picks on his little sister…and he makes a deal with a vampire to save the life of his best friend. Once the deal is made, the boy must turn part vampire and become an assistant, thus effectively ending his life. He fakes his own death, but must suffer through his own funeral as he lays comatose in his coffin waiting for the effects of a drug to wear off. It’s an interesting premise, especially as the boy hears the pain his family is going through, and thinks about all the things in his life he will miss. So that was good, but not quite enough to save this obvious attempt at the beginning of a series. I hope the next books make up for it.

–Adrienne

Published in: on July 18, 2007 at 11:01 pm  Leave a Comment  

Cat

2 1/2 Stars

This is one of those books in the Flowers in the Attic series, which is basically teen girl fiction. This involves a girl named Cat who is going through group therapy due to childhood trauma. We get to learn, eventually, what trauma sent Cat to the group, as well as the backgrounds of her group mates. It took me just a couple of hours to read this. If you want a quick, easy book for a trip, I’m betting everything in this series is written the same way.

–Adrienne

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

Unnatural Death: Confessions of a Medical Examiner

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2 1/2 Stars

This is a true crime book written by a fellow at the American Academy of Forensic Sciences. He runs the Bring Your Own Slides session at the annual meeting, and he was the main medical examiner for New York. He’s a pretty funny guy in person, but this book was full of bitching and moaning about the judicial process and a lot of self adoration that left a bad taste in my mouth. He did talk about a few interesting cases, but for the most part he critiqued how law enforcement and upper management treated him during his tenure as a medical examiner, and this got very tiresome.

–Adrienne

Published in: on July 18, 2007 at 5:40 am  Leave a Comment