Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Alice In Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

Alice's Adventure in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

This is a hard book to rate. Honestly, most of it is quite silly. I have seen movie versions and adaptations and I knew that it was pretty bizarre. But in the reading, it's a bit...well, absurd. If that is one what is expecting, it's a pretty good book. I think that one has to have a high tolerance for silly puns. Some of which are a bit obscure for a modern audience, but I think that kids that read it during that era would have appreciated it.

What I liked the most about it, is, well, Alice. She's adorable. She has the clear and genuine logic and outlook of a child, and I like that about her. She's a bit precocious, but not in an obnoxious way. If she not had been, well, I'm sure she would have found Wonderland quite scary and maybe had a nervous breakdown. She approaches this bizarre place of Wonderland from her vantage point and takes everything pretty well (and with a fair amount of acceptance), considering...

I laughed pretty loud at the absurdity and I loved the narrator, Marianne Margulies's impersonations of the characters. The croquet game was fantastically written and the court scene was pretty funny as well. I kept yelling "Off With His Head," along with the Red Queen. I thought the end was a bit abrupt, but I guess it makes sense in context. There are some sad, poignant aspects that hit the right note as well (the way that the story hits on the mourning one feels for the innocence and joy of childhood as an adult).

It's nice to have read this book and to see that many versions of the book in tv/movies do a good job of capturing the essence of the novel. Generally, movies don't do so well, but I think Alice has been treated fairly faithfully throughout the years.

I will probably read some critical essays on the work and see what I pick up about some of the hidden meanings and themes and cultural relevance, since I'm not really sure about that. On surface value, it was fun and silly, and pretty enjoyable. I recommend getting this on audio. The puns and songs were a lot more funny this way.

Overall rating: 3.5/5.0 stars.

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Thursday, February 19, 2015

The Grimm Conclusion by Adam Gidwitz

The Grimm Conclusion (A Tale Dark & Grimm, #3) (Audio CD)The Grimm Conclusion (A Tale Dark & Grimm, #3) by Adam Gidwitz
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I am sad that this series is over, but it ends in such a satisfying way. I do think that this series is required reading for those who like fairy tales and especially clever retellings. Each volume ups the ante on the grim aspect of fairy tales. Each book seems less appropriate for a younger audience. I'm torn on that. Mr. Gidwitz is obviously a teacher, and he understands the young minds he writes for. I mean, he has to in order to teach them. I'm going to trust that he knows what they can handle, but my personal limit would be 12 or older for these books. There is way too much dark violence and subject matter for kiddos younger than twelve, to my thinking. Also, the cruelty of adults against children in this book is highly disturbing.

I also think this is the saddest out of the series. Wow, the things that our young protagonists are faced with really tore at my heart. And how the cruelty and neglect they experienced warped something inside of them. Gidwitz deals with the psychology of abused/neglected children in a poignant way without getting too soapboxy.

There are some great life lessons here. Family, loyalty, honor, integrity, kindness, and making moral decisions. These kids have to raise themselves and that leads to some issues when they are faced with adult moral decisions. Along the way they make mistakes and have to learn from them and 'face the music.'

This book breaks the 4th wall in a way that the other ones in the series did not. At first, I really didn't like that about the book, but then I saw how integral it was to the story. It was also good because Gidwitz doesn't follow the predictable pattern I expected.

Johnny Heller truly is an awesome narrator. If he didn't win an award for narrating this series, then he was cheated. He deserves it. He was all in, and you would have to wonder how he didn't get emotionally affected by this book as he read. Not just in horror or sadness, but in hilarity, because this book involves all those emotions.

I am biased. I love fairy tales a lot. Yet, I think that increases my standards for fairy tale retellings. Gidwitz is a writer who clearly loves fairy tales just as much as I do, if not more. He respects the genre, and it clearly is a huge creative influence on him in crafting these marvelous books that add very much to the cultural relevance of fairy tales.

If you have not checked these out and you like fairy tales, what are you waiting for?

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Event by David Lynn Golemon

Event (Event Group Adventure, #1)Event by David Lynn Golemon
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was a very good book, although the start was a little rocky. I think that this is an ambitious story, but the reward was sweet. I haven't read that many Alien Invasion novels, because I don't find them that interesting. However, Golemon took the events of Roswell and made it relevant and also far from cheesy. In fact, he took it in an imaginative direction.

When people think of UFO and alien sitings, the 'little green men' always come up. Also, there seems to be a dichotomy when people speak of aliens, either the kind, friendly little green men or the evil aliens who want to probe and dissect humans, and have a sinister purpose. I really liked how Golemon speaks to this alien folklore in a very cool way. He also threw in the type of aliens that scare me like crazy, you know like the Ridley Scott/James Cameron xenomorphs, animalistic creatures of mass destruction with no pity and no morality, but only a hunger and a desire to propagate? The thought of those creatures of earth is massively scary. So it was a neat mix of what we consider aliens in popular culture.

For the conspiracy theorists, there's a nice bit of government alien coverup conspiracy thrown in. The Event Group is integral to that, but also larger and more expansive. This was a really neat idea that I feel the author can take into many directions. I like the tidbits of other famous history elements that were thrown in, like finding the body of a certain 4th century King of Britain (you know who!).

As I read this, I wondered how the author could take such a broad concept and cover it in the relative short 470 odd pages in a satisfactory manner. He does. The ending was quite epic! I hate that so many people died so horribly in this book. I guess that's how it would pay out if there was an invasion of such brutal aliens, but I still didn't like it. Quite a few wince-worthy moments, but also plenty of cheering as the good guy stick it to the next alien monsters of devastation.

Other than the slow start, my major criticism was characterization. I felt that some the characters weren't as well-developed as I would have liked. I sure did like Senator Lee though. What a character! I would love to meet that guy. I pictured an elderly Gregory Peck as Lee. I liked his assistant, Alice Hamilton. Their relationship obviously was a lifelong bond, and it showed. I also liked Gus, the gold prospector who plays a pivotal role. I did like Jack Collins, but he did seem a bit thin at times. He could have used more fleshing out, I thought. Mainly portrayed as a man of action and deep principle. I would just like more of his inner life. I think that is the brooder/analytical thinker in me. I like to dive deep into characters and explore their inner lives as much as I enjoy action moments. I will look forward to following him in later books, regardless. Sarah certainly could have used more development. She seemed like a throwaway character to a big degree. I know with this ambitious story, it's hard to keep up with all the characters, but I feel that the author should pick the most pivotal characters and develop them to the best degree possible.

I'm glad that this was selected as the group read this month. It was a fun, involving read, and while aliens are not a favorite theme or subject for me, Goleman perked my interest and took me on a varied emotional reading journey with this book.

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Sunday, February 15, 2015

Second Grave on the Left by Darynda Jones

Second Grave on the Left (Charley Davidson, #2)Second Grave on the Left by Darynda Jones
My rating: 4.25 of 5 stars

These books are fab on audiobook. Lorelei King is an excellent narrator. While I'm sure these books are enjoyable reading regardless, they are downright fantastic as audiobooks.

Darynda Jones is a hoot. No pun is too silly for her. Charley is hard to take too seriously, but she's definitely the real deal. Charley feels like every woman's id in some ways. She says and does what she thinks. I mean, she named her breasts and ovaries. But I like that she owns who she is. She had to work hard to be okay with her gift and her persona, even when her family doesn't understand her and some don't even accept her for who she is. I like how Charley is kind of boycrazy. She always notices and often flirts with cute guys. It makes her feel more realistic to me and adds to her distinctive persona. And let's admit, some of us girls are a bit boycrazy (we might not take all the guys home, but we do notice them). I like how the story can be outrageous silliness in some parts and very evocative drama in others.

Reyes is absolutely droolicious. Yeah, I don't like to think about who is his dad is though. But outside of that, yum! He is obviously cray-cray about Charley, and I'm a sucker for that kind of hero, for reals. There is a touching innocence about him. It sounds weird, but that's what I get from him. At the same time, man he's so lethal and kickbutt. He's a great match for Charley. I'm leaning towards Theo James as my Reyes.

I also really like Garrett. I like how they trade wisecracks and how even when he doesn't understand Charley, he's a good friend to her. My Garett is definitely Michael Ealy. I'm crushing on Garrett pretty hard now. I must admit.

I enjoyed picturing him as I read this book on the Garrett parts. (big smile)

This is one series where the secondary characters really add so much to the read. I like hearing how Charley interacts with the people around her. Cookie is a fun sidekick/friend/employee and the two of them make a wacky pair in their adventures in this book. Uncle Bob, or UB is an old softie. There are several secondary characters I really liked, and Ms. King made them all distinct in how she narrated their parts.

The mystery was good and I really didn't want to stop listening. It kept me guessing and working my way through the list of subjects. As a result, I ended finishing this in a little over 24 hours. I was making Valentines and doing my drawing homework, and it was great to listen to while I worked.

I'm officially hooked on this series. I'm super glad my library has most of these (if not all) on audio. This is definitely one to do the audios, because Lorelei King's narration is not to be missed. A great mix of paranormal/supernatural/ghost story, mystery and wackiness.

Overall rating: 4.25/5.0 stars

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Silver Shark by Ilona Andrews

Silver Shark (Kinsmen, #2)Silver Shark by Ilona Andrews
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

This was a hard book to rate because the writing is very divergent in the first part versus the last. Very crisp and rather mechanical at the beginning and more descriptive and lush in the last half. I understand why though. Claire goes from being in a gray world in which she is a lethal asset, to living a real life. I think that this is evident in the storytelling.

I can't rave enough about this team of writers, Ilona and Gordon Andrews. Their ability to tell a story with words so well, to convey so many different emotions, and their lack of fear of getting in your face with the violence. And deep down, they are real romantics. I feel like I'm the kind of reader who loves an action/kickbutt story as much as a romance story, and they're great at giving both.

As with Silent Blade, I really like how this is a nod to traditional romance along the lines of Harlequin category books buried in a science fiction action story. In this book, the heroine is in love with and pining for her unattainable boss. She just happens to be a total bad*ss mental assassin who could turn most people's brains into soup with a minimal amount of effort. That was pretty cute, and as a diehard Harley fan, I squeed a little bit. I'll be honest. I liked that Venturo was actually a really nice guy (how cool is it when a hot guy is nice too)? I could feel Claire's conflicted feeling, being in love with him but feeling under his notice. And since it's important to be incognito, she really didn't want to be.

There is a lot of detail given to developing the cultures of the various people, and it's crucial to the story. From Uley to Dahlia, each are very distinctive, and the reader feels Claire's culture shock keenly.

The theme of virtual reality was pretty cool. The descriptions were cinematic and I loved how each psycher saw the landscape differently. I suck at video games, but it reminded me of that andrenaline rush of playing a game and knowing you are going to get nailed to the wall by a better player or the game itself. Of course, Claire had no worries on that score.

This series is so cool. I hope there will be many more books.

Overall rating: 4.5/5.0 stars.

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Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Good Groom Hunting by Shana Galen

Good Groom Hunting (Misadventures in Matrimony, #2)Good Groom Hunting by Shana Galen
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

This was a delightful read. Just what I needed, to get immersed into an escapist story that kept my eyes glued to the page. I think that Josie and Westman are such a great couple. I love how Westman's determination to be a better, more sober man is juxtaposed with Josie's impish desire to be free and do what she wants.

Normally, I'm not a big fan of the hoydenish historical heroine, but Galen does it very well with Josie. Her desire to be a free woman is very understandable and I respected her for it. I liked how she was out and out propositioning Westman in the desire to take a lover with no strings attached. Yes, I hear the record scratching for all the folks who know me. But it really did work for this book. I could see that Josie wasn't anachronistic. She understood, although somewhat naively, that her choices weren't the typical. But after a being in a family where her scary mother holds her on a very tight leash and dealing with the double standards for females, she is determined to live her own life and make her own decisions. She has never gotten over her childish wish to be a pirate like her grandfather.

Westman seems like a good partner, despite the fact that their families are sworn enemies and he's avoiding his old rakish ways, and he's arrogant, bossy and domineering like other men. She's drawn to him in ways that don't quite make sense at first. But as this story unfolds, Josie realizes that there is no way she can keep her heart unattached, and she really doesn't want an uninvolved (other than sexually) lover.

I think Westman is a super sweetie. I really felt respect for him that he had faced how ugly his actions were before he shipped off to India. He wanted to be a better man and make amends. He desired Josie, but in his mind, she was just the kind of woman he'd loved to get involved with when he was a conscienceless rake. However, Josie is different. She's ready to meet him as an equal. She might be inexperienced in comparison, but she's a passionate woman and the only woman for him.

The love scenes are very steamy and well-written. Josie and Westman have great chemistry and you could see that love wasn't far behind. The ending was very romantic. Westmore's gesture turned me into a buttery puddle on the floor. I really needed a strong romance story this weekend, and this fit the bill. I loved how even though their family issues weren't fully resolved, they made a united stand as a couple who were deeply in love, together and fully committed to each other.

I love the camaraderie between Josie and her cousins. They are all different foils for each other, and great partners in crime. If you haven't checked out this older series, you should if you like fun, sexy, exciting, adventurous historicals with heroines and heroes who are perfect for each other, but don't find out until you do about that.

The adventure aspect is a crucial part of this story, and I liked how Galen intersperses letters and correspondence from the history of their grandparents. I still have a fascination with pirates and while this is past the golden age of piracy, it fits well in this story through Josie and Westman's familial heritage as grandchildren of pirates.

There really is much to love about this book. I'm being more picky about giving five star ratings, but this is very close. It was the right book at the right time. Looking forward to continuing this series!

Overall rating: 4.5/5.0 stars.

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Sunday, February 08, 2015

The Whispering Skull by Jonathan Stroud

The Whispering Skull (Lockwood & Co., #2)The Whispering Skull by Jonathan Stroud
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

This follow-up in the Lockwood & Co series lives up to the promise of The Screaming Staircase. Stroud does good when it comes to ghost fiction. While his characters are all by nature children (an important plot point of the series, since only children can clearly see and deal with the ghostly threats that are plaguing England), Stroud doesn't go easy on them. They face some very nasty ghostly threats, and the reader is fully along for the ride.

I am a huge fan of a good and scary ghost story, and there are parts of this novel that are genuinely thrilling. I strongly recommend grabbing this on audiobook. Katie Lyons does an excellent job.

The trio of main characters, Lucy, George and Lockwood, make a great team. Lucy is the 1st person narrator, and the readers feels everything she experiences. Lucy has the 'talent' of hearing ghosts. There is a ghost attached to a skull that George stole from his former employers. George is a geek when it comes to ghosts, and he is nearly obsessed with the idea of communication with a type three ghost, the strongest communicators among the spirits. He performs all kinds of weird tests on the skull, but thus far, it has only communicated with Lucy. Lockwood is the dashing head of the Agency. Lucy still holds him in awe, but she is starting to know him better and realize that he needs her and George as much as they need him. I liked how Lucy and George are like siblings they way the fight with each other and trade insults, but also look out for each other and have each other's backs.

Aptly named, this story is about the growing communication with the skull that Lucy is experiencing, and the dire consequences of that. The skull itself is pretty creepy and disturbing, and I could definitely see why Lucy hated the skull.

I really like how the story builds so well in these books. While I can't say that things start out calm, by the end of the novel all the stuff has hit the fan, and the risk to the leads is very real. Not only from ghosts but from morally bankrupt human beings as well.

Atmosphere is probably the number one requirement of a ghost story. If one asked any of the ghost story masters, they would agree with me, I'm sure. Stroud has endowed this novel with plenty of fantastic atmosphere. He also knows that building tension is also important. Check! There are scenes in this story that almost brought goosebumps on my skin. The ghosts in this book are genuinely lethal, and even the harmless ones are still plenty creepy. The manner in which these hauntings manifest definitely helps to make the most of both atmosphere and tension.

I really like this series, and this book was equally good as the first, if not better. There were a rare few moments where I felt like my interest wavered and the story lost momentum. But overall, the plotting was excellent. While I didn't expect to find a good mystery, he definitely delivered one, and I was happily satisfied and surprised at the reveal. I definitely have to give this 4.5/5.0 stars

If you don't read juvenile/middle grade fantasy or horror, you need to start doing it now, and add this series to the top of your list of future reads.

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Saturday, February 07, 2015

Justice League of America, Volume 2: Survivors of Evil by Matt Kindt

Justice League of America, Vol. 2: Survivors of EvilJustice League of America, Vol. 2: Survivors of Evil by Matt Kindt
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was a nice chance to see some less represented characters front and center: Stargirl and Martian Manhunter. They are members of the Justice League of America and the only ones who can help liberate the Justice League members who are entrapped in a psychic prison, and evert world destruction.

Together, they make their way through a surreal set of challenges in which they are incorporated into or witness the punishing illusions that their fellow superhero colleagues are subjected to. In the process, they must face their own fears, and tap into inner wells of courage.

I wasn't familiar with Stargirl, but she seems like a good analog for the average girl. While I think most young women and girls look up to Wonder Woman, we're not Amazonian princesses (with goddess-like powers), and there will always be a realization that Wonder Woman is in some ways an unattainable standard. However, Courtney is an average girl, albeit one who has gained access to a staff that gives her extraordinary powers. Her youth and hope is a real asset in this crisis.

This is a three star rating because I didn't get into the story that much. I felt I was just trying to finish it so I could return it to the library. Perhaps it was hard to connect to the story outside of Manhunter and Stargirl's dilemma. I much preferred the previous volume, with the ensemble cast who kept my interest. If my library keeps getting these, I'll keep reading them.

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Thursday, February 05, 2015

Catwoman, Volume 4: Dollhouse by Judd Winick, Guillem March (Illustrator)

Catwoman, Vol. 2: DollhouseCatwoman, Vol. 2: Dollhouse by Judd Winick
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

I liked the artwork in this volume much better. Selina's features aren't harsh in this version, and she does have the sharper, intelligent beauty of a cat. The story was pretty good, but the ending was a bit anticlimactic as far as the Dollhouse storyline. It was really disturbing what the Dollmaker was doing to those poor streetwalkers. I'm glad that they had Catwoman to fight for them.

I liked Catwoman's team-up with Spark. The inclusion of the Talon storyline was good too. Catwoman's sympathy for the Talon made sense in light of her antiheroic/villainous reputation. Catwoman continues to toe the line of moral ambiguity. Her actions are often spurred on by self-interest even if she does the right thing.

Looking forward to the next installment.

Overall rating: 3.5/5.0 stars.

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Sunday, February 01, 2015

Terminal Freeze by Lincoln Child

Terminal FreezeTerminal Freeze by Lincoln Child
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was a little 'blah' for me. But I think I don't care for monster stories. I don't like twiddling my fingers and waiting for characters to be picked off by the monster. I also didn't like how predictable it was for who would die. It was like Child was mainly killing off the jerky characters. While I am not saying that I want to see likable characters killed off, it seems too calculated to establish a character as a putz and then kill them off. It was a bit sadistic of the author, quite frankly. Also, there were characters I didn't know if they made it at the end of the book. Honestly though, I wasn't too sad about one of the characters who got eaten. That's terrible of me, I realize it.

I did like the descriptions of the frozen North a lot, but that's because I love cold weather and winter settings. I live in Texas, so I don't get nearly enough 'winter.' When I feel hot and I really miss winter, I even day dream about there being a good two feet of snow on the ground and playing in the snow. That crunching sound it makes when it's a newly fallen powder. Yup, that's how much I love winter and snow.

Probably my favorite part of this book was the look at winter as a brutal adversary in itself. Now that I could get behind. My favorite part was when the refugees from Camp Fear had to drive across two ice lakes. That was fascinating and it was probably the most exciting moments of the story.

I didn't quite like the concept of the predator itself. It never came together as concretely as it should have. Also, some characters who had promise were underutilized. Logan promised to be an intriguing character, but he was barely in the book. Also, Marshall didn't have much charisma as a lead. Considering his tragic past, I think he didn't have his fears challenged enough in the long run. Usuguk felt a bit one-dimensional to me. The native shaman who provides spiritual/cultural background for the story.

I think this book is a low three stars for me. I rarely give under 3 stars, so getting a three isn't a compliment per se. It's more like saying it's a blah book that didn't offend me enough or I didn't dislike enough to rate lower. It wasn't a bad book, by any means. Just mediocre.

I am thankful for the suggestion to read this for our Action/Adventure Aficionados group read. It was pretty listenable as an audiobook. I am grateful that I found it at my library in audiobook, but I don't think I could have committed to finishing this in print. It just didn't get me excited enough.

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