Thursday, October 30, 2014

K is for Killer (Kinsey Millhone #11)

K is for Killer (Kinsey Millhone, #11)K is for Killer by Sue Grafton

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

As we kick off letter K, Kinsey finds herself investigating a ten month old potential murder at the request of the victim's mother. Lorna Kepler's badly decomposing body was found in her cabin, leaving the police unable to determine cause of death. Accident? Natural causes? Asthma attack? Or was it murder? Janice Kepler wants answers about her daughter's death, and hires Kinsey to see what she can find out.

Along the way, Kinsey takes a fascinating trip into seedy underbelly of the porn industry, and meets some amusing characters from Lorna's past. We are also introduced to Cheney Phillips, who investigated Lorna's case and is now with vice, and it looks like he might become a regular in the books. Thrown off with timeline assumptions and false clues, we are led along a bit in the dark like Kinsey, but once you get the final piece of the puzzle everything drops into place with a satisfying "clunk".

Kinsey's emotions get the best of her by the end, and she makes a rash decision that has lasting impact. Should she feel guilty? I would not if I were her. You reap what you sow, as they say. I thought it was a satisfying ending to a twisted mystery.

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Friday, October 17, 2014

Fahrenheit 451

Fahrenheit 451Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Imagine a world where books are outlawed. The government dictates what you know. You receive information through television and radio. Technology is everywhere, and free thinking is suppressed. Fireman no longer put out fires, instead they start them, sent out on calls to burn the homes of people who have books.

Guy Montag is a fireman. He burns books for a living. His wife, Millie, lives in a world of television and sleeping pills, and can't (or won't) break away from her technology to really connect with the world, to think, to question. Guy slowly wonders what might be in all of these books being burned. The spark of knowledge takes hold. Montag's internal revolution begins, and opens his eyes to an entirely different world.

Often thought to be a book about the dangers of government censorship, Bradbury says it is instead about how he felt television was destroying literature. I can see why Bradbury feared this, and I think it's important that we always balance our advancements in technology with open thought and discourse. Don't be afraid to speak your mind and argue. Don't be afraid to be wrong. Don't be afraid to learn.

This book an important reminder of how damaging censorship can be, and how important it is to challenge the status quo. Encourage people to read. Read things you don't like. Read things that make you think. Expand your horizons. Then put down your book, and talk about it with someone. Argue, or agree, but share your thoughts. Diversity of thought is vital to maintaining a strong society of advancement and innovation.

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Sunday, October 12, 2014

The Kite Runner

The Kite RunnerThe Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

You know how some books are emotionally draining to read, yet you end up glad you read them? That's this book for me.

Frequently on banned and challenged book lists, the Kite Runner is filled with violence, sexual situations, and extremely unlikeable characters. It's not a happy book. It's the story of an flawed, privileged boy growing up in pre-war Afghanistan who searches for forgiveness and redemption for the mistakes made in his youth. Some scenes were extremely difficult to read. Some scenes made me sad for the characters. Some scenes left me indigent to the violence in the world--the stadium scene specifically. It's a story about how secrets can shape our lives, and it's a story about relationships.

If you can't take dangerous, violent situations involving children, give this one a pass. You will not be uplifted by the end, but I think it's worth reading. Just be sure to have something funny and sweet ready to read immediately after you are done to restore your faith in humanity. Maybe a good Dave Barry book, or The Princess Bride.

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Saturday, October 11, 2014

Around the World in 80 Days

Around the World in Eighty Days Around the World in Eighty Days by Jules Verne

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I first read this book when I was growing up, and it was part of what sparked a life-long wanderlust in me. Imagine dashing around the world, speeding through countries on all modes of transport: trains, boats, elephants, and even a sled. Meeting people from different cultures, seeing others' traditions, and all the while taking on daring feats of heroism. That's what this book is for me. I listened to it on audiobook this time around, and Jim Dale is the very best choice for any English setting. If you didn't fall in love with his narration from the Harry Potter books, you are missing out. He adds an extra layer of special to this book.

In case you haven't read it, eccentric English millionaire Phileas Fogg takes a bet with his fellow chaps at London's Reform Club that he (or really anyone with the time and means) can travel around the world in 80 days.
Oh, you silly Reform Club members with nothing better to do than play Whist and make exorbitant bets with each other. Your life must be very different from mine. Fogg wagers 20,000 pounds that he will return by 8:45pm on Saturday, December 21, 1872. Fogg runs home, grabs his newly hired manservant Passeportout, and rushes off on his quest. Unbeknownst to them, a bank robber matching Fogg's description has robbed the Bank of England, and Detective Fix thinks he has his man in Fogg. He follows them on the trip around the world, deceiving both Passeportout and Fogg and causing delays along the way while he awaits his arrest warrant on British soil.

While racing across India, Passeportout and Fogg save a widowed princess names Mrs. Aouda from a ritual sacrifice and she joins them on the rest of their journey. Spoiler alert! They fall in love as they travel, and are married by the end. This part is the best, and part of my deep, abiding love for this book. Yes, I'm a sap. Obstacles abound, and both manmade and natural delays happen to take them off of their timetable. You will be on the edge of your seat as the party moves across the globe on a race against the clock. It's so good! I especially love the final chapter--such a satisfying ending.

Two things to keep in mind: This book was first published in 1873, and a lot has changed in nearly 150 years. Verne's portrayal of other cultures was quite normal for the time period. As with any classic literature, you need to set aside how society functions now while reading. It's an interesting glimpse into how things have changed, and a great reminder that travel is one of the best ways to expand your mind and thinking. The more you are exposed to people and new cultures, the more you realize how very similar we are at our cores, and learn to celebrate our differences. Travel, explore, learn. Expand your horizons and your perspective. Also, never, ever watch this movie. It is terrible, and a travesty to one of my favorite books.

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Friday, October 10, 2014

The Haunting of Hill House

The Haunting of Hill House The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This might not be a book to read late at night if you have an active imagination.

Have you ever been in an old house and felt some strange energy? The feeling of eyes on you while your back is turned? Of unexplained sounds, shadows, or smells? Older houses can have a sense of presence that isn't found in newer homes, whether it be from the residual energy of the lives lived in it over the years, or a collection of old items filled with memories. Welcome to Hill House, perfectly drawn with a turret, doors and windows that shut on their own, mazes of rooms, and an oppressive presence around every corner.

A classic story of psychological terror, the Haunting of Hill House tells the tale of an old mansion which holds many secrets. Supernatural researcher Dr. Montague rents Hill House in an attempt to prove, or disprove, the claims of a haunting. He invites a collection of people who have been rumored to have past experience with the supernatural, but only 2 join him: Eleanor Vance, a shy woman who has spent her life caring for her invalid mother until she passed away, and Theodora, a free-spirited, bohemian artist. They are all joined by Luke Sanderson, the heir to Hill House and who must be present as part of the terms of the lease.

Soon after arriving, Eleanor and company begin having unexplainable experiences. Whether or not all of these events are supernatural is left up to the reader to decide, but the circumstances seem to be centered around Eleanor, and the book is very much about her and her journey. Gothically dark and spooky, Jackson takes us on a ride full of twists and turns, and it all culminates is an ending that leaves you wondering, but is still strangely satisfying.

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Monday, October 6, 2014

The Queen of Attolia (The Queen's Thief #2)

The Queen of Attolia (The Queen's Thief, #2)The Queen of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I was told by many people that book 2 in the series is stronger than book 1. I'm not sure I agree, but I can see how it would hold a different appeal. The Queen of Attolia is a different type of book than The Thief--more "politics of the kingdoms" instead of a traveling adventure heist. The political maneuverings were interesting and the 3rd-person perspective gave things a more well-rounded feel, but still something was missing for me.

I can't quite put my finger on why I don't love these books. While I enjoy the storyline and the characters, there is something that doesn't connect with me about the writing style. The pacing is slow and steady, even when it should be exciting like an escape or a battle. And both books lacked in details so I kept feeling like I had missed something along the way. I still like the series and I will continue reading, but it could easily fall into 4 star territory and it's missing the mark so far, and almost verging into 2 stars instead.

I did enjoy Eugenides more than I did in The Thief. I felt we got more insights into him this time around and I thought she did a good job with the portrayal of his PTSD. Oddly, this made him a more likable character to me. Rather than immediately move past things after the action in the beginning, we get insights into how Eugenides is coping, or not coping with his return to Eddis. It helped me to better understand him. But I still felt a lack of insight into Attolia. I understood more about Eddis than I did about her. I needed more information to truly accept the ending from both Eugenides and Attolia's perspective. It felt a bit like, "Surprise! Here's all of the things you didn't know. The End. Read book 3 to find out what you missed in book 2!"

I know it sounds like I hate the series, but I really don't. I like it, and the books are well-written, but something is lacking. Maybe I will feel differently about book 3.

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Friday, October 3, 2014

Eleanor and Park

Eleanor and ParkEleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I adored this book. I picked it up at the library based on just the title, having heard it recommended as a fantastic read by someone on Reddit. I'm glad I didn't read any reviews or the synopsis before getting it, as it was a bit like unwrapping a present.

Eleanor is a misfit from a poor, dysfunctional family. Her stepfather is deplorable, and her mother is broken and weak. Park is the token Asian kid in this neighborhood of Omaha (half-Korean), and straddles between his popular friends and being himself. Thrown together on the bus, an odd friendship evolves into romance. Rowell did a great job of capturing first love and the awkwardness of high school / finding your place in the world. The dichotomy of Park's family (they were pretty fantastic, lucky boy) and Eleanor's awful home life (not only poor, but abusive and scary) was perfectly drawn for me. My heart ached for Eleanor, and for Park as he was introduced to a world that he never imagined from the safety of his home.

The ending wasn't what I expected, but still satisfying. To be honest, I'm a little emotionally wrecked by the last few chapters, and need a moment to collect myself. Definitely recommended--4 stars.

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Shades of Earth (Across the Universe #3)

Shades of Earth (Across the Universe, #3)Shades of Earth by Beth Revis

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A mostly satisfying conclusion to the Across the Universe series. The ending was cheesy, but I liked it. Don't judge me for liking a happy ending the best.

Amy, Elder, and half of the population have left Godspeed to form a new colony on Centauri-Earth. The new planet is dangerous and isn't the world Amy hoped it would be, even with her parents unthawed along with the rest of the team from Earth. And quickly find they aren't alone and must pull together, shipbornes and earthbornes, to survive.

The dynamics of the series change with the new setting. We get far less of Elder and more about Amy, her relationship with her parents, and her survival on the planet. Even Elder's thoughts were mostly about her. I felt book 2 was more of a focus on Elder, and this book evens things out by having more of a focus on Amy. The one thing I would have liked was a epilogue set in the future to let us know how the colony survived, because I like to tie a bow on things.

I'm glad I checked out this series from the library without knowing anything about it. It is a good addition to the ever-growing young adult dystopian fiction world with the added bonus of being set in space. 3 stars.

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