Ender’s Game

5 Stars

When a science fiction book wins the Hugo and Nebula awards, you know going in it’s gonna be good.  Ender’s Game has all the hallmarks of good sci-fi: a future setting, space battles, neat-o technology, relativistic and gravity considerations.  It also has a well written and engaging story about brilliant children training as soldiers by playing war games.  Imagine Lord of the Flies without all the boring bits.

ben

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Published in: on April 15, 2008 at 1:17 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Dark is Rising

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5 Stars

I cannot say enough about this book (you don’t know what you’re talking about Ben!). I first picked up this book when I was in 6th grade, and I’ve made a habit of reading it every few years since. To me, this is the epitome of adventure fantasy. It has it all–an unlikely hero, daring fights, a seemingly insurmountable evil, and just enough humor to take the edge off.

The book is second in the Dark Is Rising series. I liked the first, but not nearly as much as this. The story is of a young boy, Will, who on his 11th birthday finds he is an immortal with an important mission: to unite the signs and turn back the rising evil. The story chronicles his self discovery and mastery of his powers, and the ultimate fight that results between light and dark.

What I especially like about this book is the lack of sugary “good is good and bad is bad” themes that are often present in books of this type for younger audiences. This book has loved ones working for the dark side, and good people doing evil things for the sake of the light. It’s a well written, complex story that is a great introduction into the world of fantasy adventure.

One part has especially stuck with me since the first moment I read this book. A member of the Dark enters into Will’s house on Christmas morning, in an attempt to capture Will’s soul. The Dark has the ability to read surface thoughts, so throughout the whole visit, Will thinks hard about the coming breakfast, instead of the number of secrets running through his mind. As the Dark man leaves, he mentions to Will’s family that they’d better feed him, because he seems to be very hungry. Ever since then, I’ve found myself mildly worried when I’m punching in a password or typing in my pin number. I mean, what if a member of The Dark is around to read my thoughts? So I always think another number while I do it, just in case. : )  Ah, books that stay with you–what more do you want?

–Adrienne

Published in: on March 8, 2008 at 1:19 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Anansi Boys

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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.

ben

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

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time

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5 Stars

Here it is; my first 5 Star book for this website! I first heard about this book when I was working the Download Fest at Shoreline Amphitheater (23 consecutive hours on sight). Working the second stage there consists mainly of sitting around, and reading, if you are wise enough to bring a book. I was not, but one of my co-workers was, and this is the book he was reading. Not only did he say how great it was, but numerous pseudo-circus performers, who were set up next our our stage, also mentioned, as they passed by, how much they loved the book. So I figured I had to check it out. Obviously I liked it. In fact, I read it in under a day.

It is about a boy with sever OCD (imagine and adolescent Monk), who finds a murdered dog and sets out to solve the mystery. It is told in the first person, and it has stark sort of humor that is unique in books I have read. I am not going to go into much details, mainly because I read the book, like, a month ago (been having a hard time keeping up with this whole book blogging thing) but I really really liked it.

ben

Published in: on November 20, 2007 at 10:09 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Amber Spyglass

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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!

–Adrienne

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

The Fourth Bear

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5/5

Very clever, and especially fun if you know a lot about nursery rhymes.  This is the crime story version of what really happened to Goldilocks.

There is a town where nursery rhyme characters live and interactive with normal people.  Given the unique problems and issues this segment of the population deals with, a division of the police force is put in charge of solving crimes relating to this minority group.  Some of the police in this division are nursery rhyme characters themselves, allowing them to really understand the culture.

In this story you get to know Goldilocks, the Gingerbread Man, and a host of other minor nursery rhyme characters.  Detective Jack Spratt, mired in bureaucracy, takes a missing persons case and attempts to find Goldilocks while dodging murder attempts from the Gingerbread Man, someone Spratt had previously put away.  In addition, he tries to figure out the mystery behind the story Goldilocks was working on when she disappeared.  It is about the world of giant pickle growing, which I bet you didn’t know was a competitive sport!

This book would be suitable for any child old enough to understand the language its written in.  It is written as a true crime story, but with a tongue-in-cheek feel to it that will keep you amused.  It is a sequel to The Big Over Easy, which I also recommend.

-TC

Published in: on August 13, 2007 at 4:37 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Big Over Easy

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5/5

Very clever, and especially fun if you know a lot about nursery rhymes. This is the crime story version of what really happened to Humpty Dumpty when he sat on the wall.

There is a town where nursery rhyme characters live and interactive with normal people. Given the unique problems and issues this segment of the population deals with, a division of the police force is put in charge of solving crimes relating to this minority group. Some of the police in this division are nursery rhyme characters themselves, allowing them to really understand the culture.

In this story you get to know Humpty Dumpty, who it turns out is a womanizer who was really more clever with money that you’d probably have given him credit for. When he turns up in pieces at the bottom of his sitting wall, the Nursery Crime division is called in. Detective Jack Spratt takes the case, and even though sometimes he seems to bumble his way through it like Inspector Gadget would, he is very tenacious about getting the bad guy(s). There are plenty of great laughs along the way, and this book would be suitable for any child old enough to understand the language its written in.

It is written as a true crime story, but with a tongue-in-cheek feel to it that will keep you amused. There is also a sequel, called The Fourth Bear, that I recommend.

-TC

See Adrienne’s review of this book!

Published in: on August 13, 2007 at 4:26 pm  Comments (1)  

Son of a Witch

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5/5

I liked this book even better than its prequel, Wicked.  It continues the story from the point of view of someone who was a child in the first book.  It switches back and forth from the past to the present for the first half or so of the book, and does so very cleverly.  When the present is being narrated you are wondering how the characters got to this point, and when the past is being narrated you are wondering how that past led to the present you’ve read about.  Its all very interesting and keeps you into the story.

This book is even more adult than the last, including more than hints of the adult themes that were hinted at in the first book.  There is less political intrigue, which made the second story make more sense to me but makes it feel a little like the author abandoned a piece of the first story without explanation.

The ending is clearly a segue to another sequel, and I would love to read it if there ever is one.  I had a lot of fun with this book, and even think I caught some subtle references to some of the “Wizard of Oz” sequels, including how Ozma was kept hidden.

-TC

Published in: on August 8, 2007 at 11:16 am  Leave a Comment  

Wicked

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5/5

I really liked this book. I think it was clever, engaging, and I liked that it was an unfamiliar take on a familiar story.

Full disclosure: I am a rabid Wizard of Oz fan. I have read all of the original 12 and some of the ones after, and I own most of them. I even have a tattoo that includes Oz references. So it was natural for me to check out this new form of a story I love so much. But when you really know a story, it can be hard to hear a distorted version of it.

This book does not have that problem. There are enough neat references that a fan of Oz would understand and appreciate, but the story stands on its own and isn’t even really about the events of the movie or original books. This story mostly takes place before those events, and shows us “the real story” behind the Wicked Witches, the Wizard, and other characters we know from the original stories. This keeps it from feeling like a “wrong” version of the story, though it does take great liberties with the world you’re used to from the movie.

There are adult themes, and the feel of the book is nothing like “The Wizard of Oz”. I wouldn’t recommend this book to children younger than high school, probably. Its an easy enough read for adults, but includes political and adult themes that make it not a super-fast book.

-TC

Published in: on August 8, 2007 at 10:56 am  Leave a Comment  

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Spoiler free)

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5 Stars

Just under 12 hours ago I received a box in the mail…a box our mailman insisted on putting into my hands only (despite the best efforts my husband. Our mailman will be getting a Christmas present this year). I have spent the last 12 hours lying on our couch, listening to symphonies and burning lemon-scented candles while I devoured the final chapter in this series. I will not spoil anything for anyone here, though. It is impossible to write a comprehensive review, in my opinion, without going into detail about the story, so my full review will be posted in about a month. That should give most Potter fiends plenty of time to read the book and discover all the secrets for themselves. Until then, here is my abbreviated opinion:

This book was very, very good…easily my favorite of the series. Maybe it was the nonstop action; maybe it was the attention to detail; maybe it was the obvious way Ms. Rowling crafted the entire series to climax perfectly around page 679. Whatever it was, I loved it.

–(a very tired) Adrienne

See Ben’s review of this book!

Published in: on July 22, 2007 at 3:03 am  Comments (2)  

The Golden Compass

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5 Stars

It’s not often that a book comes along that you can sit down and read over and over again, and still be as fascinated the 50th time as you were the first. This is one of those books. I stumbled upon this book several years ago when I was looking for books on tape to listen to while I worked on my thesis research. I picked up the abridged version of The Golden Compass in the children’s section, and found that I just couldn’t stop listening. I couldn’t even work on mindless tasks while listening–I was that into the story. So I looked it up on Amazon and found it is part of a trilogy named “His Dark Materials” and there were two more fabulous books to be read! What a happy day! Anyhow, I bought the set and I haven’t looked back.

This is the first book of the trilogy, and introduces the first main character: Lyra. Lyra is a 12 year old girl residing in a parallel universe. She lives in Oxford in Jordan college, raised by the Scholars who study there. During a visit from her powerful and elusive uncle, Lyra disrupts an attempted assassination and gets sucked into a fascinating adventure involving missing children, armored fighting bears, a band of gypsies, and rip in the sky leading to another world. Oh, and did I mention the daemons? In this universe, a person’s soul is embodied in a companion animal that cannot leave the side of its person. The daemon has the ability to change shape while its person is a child, but as the child matures, his daemon takes on its permanent shape, which just happens to be a reflection on the true personality of its person.

This book (and, incidentally, the trilogy) has a very strong theme of religion running through it. The central aspect of the story involves the struggle of the church against new notions, and its attempt to silence other gods. I generally don’t like these types of themes, but Philip Pullman has the ability to craft the religion in such a way that it works beautifully with the story, and the action would suffer without it. I want to write many, many more pages explaining the story, but I really can’t do it justice. Besides, I don’t want to ruin it for anyone who hasn’t read the book yet–it’s that good of a book. This is the fourth time I read the book, and I still found myself just sitting and reading for hours on end (and even busting through deadlines and missing dates because of it. How sad am I? It’s such a good book!!). I’m currently reading the next book in the trilogy, The Subtle Knife; at least, I’m reading it until my copy of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows shows up this morning, so it may take me a bit longer to finish the trilogy this time around. Stupid Harry Potter!

–Adrienne

Published in: on July 21, 2007 at 11:35 am  Leave a Comment  

Mind Hunter

5 Stars

My friend Ivan recommended this book to me (he’s into forensic psychology) and it took me a while to get around to it. However, once I did I was really, really happy. These types of books are a crap shoot–sometimes you get to deal with the inflated ego and bitch-mongering of the author (See Confessions of a Medical Examiner) but that wasn’t the case with this book. The author was very down to earth, willing to admit mistakes and say he didn’t know all the answers, and ultimately came across as human. His stories were fascinating, and he did a great job of chronicling the evolution of the psychological unit at the FBI. The book is now the basis for the TV show Criminal Minds (the best new crime drama on TV, in my opinion) and it shows. Simply a great book.

–Adrienne

Published in: on July 18, 2007 at 5:51 am  Leave a Comment  

Anne of Green Gables

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5 Stars

Now, it may just be because I’m a girl, or because I watched the television show growing up with my favorite cousin and aunt, or because I’m a redhead, but I think this is one of the best stories ever written. Ann is an orphan who is adopted by a lonely brother and sister pair who need someone to help around the farm. They are expecting a boy, and instead get Ann. Ann is a talkative, precocious, clumsy and witty young girl who worms her way into the heart of everyone she meets. The adventures she has are typical of any imaginative girl in the world, and her ability to be embarrassed and contrite are funny to read. Overall, a fantastic story populated by fantastic characters in a fantastic setting. I liked the book better than the show, and that’s saying something, since I own the dvds and have watched them so many times I pretty much have memorized the dialogue.

–Adrienne

Published in: on July 18, 2007 at 5:31 am  Comments (1)  

Odd Thomas

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5 Stars

Not often does a mystery/thriller book come along that incorporates the supernatural and human elements with such finesse. Odd Thomas (the actual name of our hero–last name “Thomas” first name “Odd”) is able to see ghosts. Not talk to them, just see them. They let him know when things need to be taken care of. Odd is a great character–he is unassuming, kind, interesting, and doesn’t care for money. He works at a diner because he likes making pancakes and wants to make people happy. He has a girlfriend named Stormy who has a matching birthmark, so he thinks its fate. (Turns out Stormy had the “birthmark” tattooed to match Odd’s natural one…girls are sneaky like that). His life plan includes selling shoes in the future, because that sounds interesting, although he may turn to tire sales if he gets married. Odd is also able to predict major disasters by tracking certain spirits who feed off the misery of humans. Most of the story revolves around him trying to figure out why his sleepy little town is suddenly inundated with such spirits, and how to stop the inevitable from happening. I laughed, I cried, I read the book twice in a week. Now that’s a good book.

–Adrienne

Published in: on July 18, 2007 at 5:29 am  Comments (1)  

The Elegant Gathering of White Snows

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5 Stars

I loved this book! It’s the story of a group of women who meet once a week for drinks and general socializing. Each has her own terrible problems, and one meeting they all decide to go for a walk. The walk continues for days and day as each woman finally takes the time she needs to work through her personal crisis. The walking women capture the imagination of the nation and inspire others along the way. It’s heart warming and touching and every other warm, fuzzy word imaginable, and it was the perfect gift for my mom last mother’s day with a bottle of wine and a box of truffles. A sexist pig of an acquaintance of mine thought it was the most absurd thing he’d ever heard of (I quote “Well,that’s stupid. They women in that story just ran away from their problems!”), which only made the book more potent in my eyes.

–Adrienne

Published in: on July 17, 2007 at 9:19 pm  Leave a Comment