Saturday, December 22, 2007

"The Year of Endless Sorrows," by Adam Rapp

I have no idea why there is a garden gnome on the cover of the book. Maybe it's to try and make the reader think that, despite its title, this will be a lovable book. Well, that's a filthy lie.

The main character, a Midwestern boy who moves to New York City to pursue a writing career, has no name. Or at least, it isn't given in the novel. He gets a crappy apartment with his brother, a good friend, and some loser who demands to be called The Loach. He finds a job in a publishing company and does some crap work there. His gastrointestinal wonder of a boss makes him take out his crazy daughter, who meows when they have sex. He hurts his knee while playing basketball, and it leaves him with a severe limp throughout most of the book, though it does inspire him to write his first novel.

Loach never pays any of his bills; he just sits on the couch day-in and day-out, picking his nose, farting, staring at the TV, letting his balls hang out. The best friend, The Owl, starts going mad and drops out of the school he'd been enrolled in. Brother, Feick, abruptly moves out after becoming a critics' darling in plays and finally coming out of the closet.

The new girlfriend, Basha, gets pregnant and decides to have an abortion, but changes her mind after the procedure has begun. They go to a hotel and she bleeds a lot. Then she disappears and goes back to Poland.

Endless Sorrows was a depressing, slow ride of literary hell. I could get through the plot and "endless sorrows" if only Rapp's writing wasn't so pretentious. It was excruciatingly obvious that each line had been carefully thought-out and analyzed to provide maximum impact. It felt as though Rapp was hoping that his novel was going to be lauded for its prose, but it really just bogs down the story. For the love of God, skip this book.

1.5 stars

"Stardust," by Neil Gaiman

Tristran Thorn, (yes, it's Tristran, not Tristan) is a young man who is in love with, of course, the most beautiful girl in town, who couldn't care less about him. During an evening walk when the two see a falling star in the sky, Tristran proclaims that he will do anything for his beloved, even bring her the fallen star. So he sets off to the land beyond Wall, where no one is ever allowed to go, unaware that there are other, more dangerous, people also searching for the fallen star.

As always, Gaiman's writing is funny and imaginative. Stardust is a fanciful story that combines love, witches, pirates and even ghosts. And, as much as I liked the story, I loved the movie version even more. The colors! The scenery! The vibrant characters! Whether you prefer books or movies, get yourself a copy of Stardust.

Book, 4 stars
Movie, 4.5 stars

"The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane," by Kate DiCamillo

Edward Tulane is a china rabbit who is very vain. He wears the best suits and lives in a grand home with a little girl, Abilene, who loves him dearly. Edward does not have feelings, other than disgust if something dirty touches him. One evening, after Abilene's grandmother has told a bedtime story about a princess who never felt love, she whispers into Edward's ear that she is disappointed in him. After Edward is accidentally thrown overboard on the family's ocean voyage to another country, his new journey begins. Colorful characters with sad tales of their own fill this book with tenderness and perhaps even some redemption for Edward.

Miraculous Journey is juvenile fiction, but it's lengthy at 228 pages. Readers will root for Edward to find a home and to allow his heart to feel. Pencil drawings on chapter beginnings liven the text and add depth. Great bedtime story for kids age 9-12.

5 stars

Saturday, October 27, 2007

"An Ice Cold Grave," by Charlaine Harris

An Ice Cold Grave is the third in Harris' Harper Connelly series, and her best to date. Harper and her stepbrother, Tolliver Lang, have been called by a sheriff in Doraville, N.C., to use Harper's unusual talent for finding dead bodies. When she was just fifteen, Harper was struck by lightning, leaving her with the ability to find corpses and know exactly how they died. She even sees the final seconds of their death.

Doraville has lost six teenage boys over a span of 5 years, and the small community is outraged at the incompetence of police. As usual, after Harper has found the bodies of the missing boys and uncovered the terrible ways in which they died, she and Tolliver are detained and forced to continue helping with the investigation. And as usual, Harper is targeted and attacked by the unknown killer.

If you've managed to slug your way through the first book and found that the second was actually enjoyable, you'll finally be rewarded with An Ice Cold Grave. The writing is sharper, the characters more developed, and the suspense is even more heightened. Harper and Tolliver's relationship, which has always been close but strained by an underlying mutual attraction, finally makes a pivotal turn.

I started reading this book in midafternoon and stayed up until 1:30 a.m. to finish. What can I say? I'm a sucker for spooky thrillers.

4.5 stars

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

"Labyrinth," by Kate Mosse

"Labyrinth" moves between two main characters, Alice Tanner in present day France, and Alais in the French city, Carcasonne, in the 12th century.

This book was entirely too long. At 528 pages, "Labyrinth" was more of a well-written history book than a mystery novel. Cathars, the Grail, Egypt, French stuff, bloody wars in the name of religion, etc. I can't be bothered to go into detail.

Basically, a decent storyline, with characters whom you do actually care about, was bogged down by way too much historic detail and an unbelievable ending.

2.5 stars

"In the Woods," by Tana French

Part police procedural, part psychological thriller, this debut novel by Tana French pushed aside the conventional whodunit crime story. There are two major mysteries throughout "Woods," possibly intertwined, with even a dash of political controversy to add to the mix.

Knocknaree, Ireland, 1984, three children go to play in the woods. Two never came back out. The one surviving child, Adam, is found by rescuers unresponsive and clinging to a tree, fingernails broken off into the bark, shoes filled with blood. Adam, unable to speak of or remember what happened in the woods, moves away and changes his name.

Fast forward to present day, Adam, now called Rob, is a detective on an elite Murder Squad. He and his best friend and partner, Cassie, take a case of a murdered little girl who is found in Knocknaree. Similarities between this new case and the one in 1984 begin to take their toll on Rob. With bit by painful bit, memories start coming back to haunt him, driving him to drink. The effects of alcohol and the terror of possibly remembering what happened to his childhood friends crosses over into his job as a detective and the relationship with his partner.

When I finished this book, I was upset at how it ended. I cursed. "What a crap ending," I thought.

I couldn't stop thinking about it, and slowly I came to realize that, had I been the author, I'd have written it exactly the same way. As a reader, I doubt any neat little ending that wrapped up the 20-plus-year old mystery would have satisfied me. Now, the author could be leaving room for a sequel; it's entirely possible. But if not, I'm actually now thinking, "Well done, French. Well done."

4.5 stars

Monday, July 23, 2007

"Abby Cooper, Psychic Eye," by Victoria Laurie

This is the first in a series of "A Psychic Eye" mysteries by author Victoria Laurie. It caught my eye when the book came in for a library patron.

Abby Cooper is a psychic who makes her living by doing readings for people. She tunes in to her spirit guides (she often refers to them as her crew), who communicate with her client's spirit guides. This allows Abby to receive visual signs that allow her to predict or read the future. It all sounds complicated, but Laurie's description makes it all sound so easy. In fact, halfway through reading the novel, I began to feel that Abby's talents were described so uniquely, that I looked up the author's web site. And sure enough, Victoria Laurie is a real-life psychic. Hmm.

Anyway, Abby's job as a psychic intuitive is going well until she fails to foresee the death of one of her clients. She also misreads a giant clue about the gorgeous man she meets on a blind date. She warns him that he should slow down while driving because it looked like he would be meeting with police soon, not realizing that he actually was a lead investigator into some mysterious deaths. Now the police are suspicious of Abby, not believing in her talents. Add in a serial killer on the loose, and Abby's life has been turned upside-down.

This book is a quick, enjoyable read. I plan on reading the other books that follow. Even if you're not a believer in psychic abilities, I think you'll have fun reading Abby's story. And if you are a believer and want to know more about having your own future read, visit Laurie's web site here. I did. :)

4.5 stars

"Remembering Sarah," by Chris Mooney

If you're in the mood for a fast-paced mystery with clever twists, pick up Remembering Sarah, by Chris Mooney.

Mike Sullivan takes his daughter Sarah sledding on a hill one night, despite his wife's protests. Jess Sullivan is an over-protective mom, and Mike thinks Sarah will benefit from taking a few risks. As a blizzard begins blowing in and all the children start heading home, Mike realizes that Sarah is missing. Fast forward 5 years. Mike has never given up hope that Sarah will return home, but his marriage has fallen apart due to his drinking and his beating up the man he believes is responsible for Sarah's disappearance, Father Francis Jonah. On the fifth anniversary of that terrible night, a shocking new clue surfaces, which urges Mike to relentlessly pursue a confession from the dying, defrocked priest.

What I loved about this book was that it wasn't about some hot-shot FBI agent solving the case in 48 hours. The anguish and torment the father, Mike, feels about his daughter's disappearance felt so real. You never give up hope because he never gives up hope. This book was so good that I shared it with both my sister and a co-worker, both of whom finished in 2 days. There are a few loose ends, but ultimately, I thought it was great.

4.5 stars

Saturday, June 23, 2007

"The Nature of Monsters," by Clare Clark

In The Nature of Monsters, set in 18th-century England, 16-year-old Eliza Tally becomes pregnant by a devious young man from a wealthy family. Eliza's mother strikes a bargain with the man's father, selling off Eliza to be an indentured servant to an apothecary in London. Eliza believes she is to be rid of the child, and after a year, may return to her home with her reputation secure. However, apothecary Grayson Black has a much fouler plan in store. He is intent on making a name for himself in the science world, believing he can create freaks of nature by manipulating a pregnant woman's emotions, environment, and fears. Eliza's only comfort at the Black manor is her unlikely friendship with the half-wit servant, Mary. Eliza must find a means of escape before her master's unhealthy obsessions harm newly pregnant Mary.

This book is not a light-hearted read or beach book. It is dark and disturbing. I'm a fan of horror novels, but this was more frightening in that I could imagine it actually happening. There are no ghosts or goblins, no axe murderers. It is 1718, where women have no voice and no choices.

The writing was thorough, detailed. Though I did wonder if Eliza's dialogue was appropriate, since she used a fair amount of "big" words for a peasant. Yet at other times, such as when speaking to a bookseller, she seemed not to fully understand when he would quote prose or poetry. It was clear that Eliza was a bright girl, so why then the difference of her comprehension level? Also, I wonder if most people then did have such an extensive vocabulary and modern times have weakened our language skills, or if Clark just took artistic license with her character. Either way, I still loved this book.

5 stars

Sunday, June 10, 2007

"The Society of S," by Susan Hubbard

I've been on a vampire kick lately. There are some pretty good series out there, my favorites being the Sookie Stackhouse and the Betsy Taylor series. Then I picked up this book, The Society of S. And it was so good, I didn't want it to end.

Ariella Montero is a sheltered girl whose mother vanished the day she, Ari, was born. Ari is homeschooled by her father, an educated man with lupus. As Ari gets older, she notes startling differences between her upbringing and that of her friends. Her father confesses what she has been secretly piecing together; he is a vampire, and Ari is part vampire and part mortal. She sets out on a roadtrip that leads to her mother and the truth about the past.

The Society of S is a coming-of-age story that is smart and tender. Hubbard's writing is absolutely beautiful. What would have been a cutesy and typical supernatural story in another writer's hands, Hubbard has created a well-paced, thoughtful, and interesting book that I will not hesitate to read again.

5 stars

Saturday, May 12, 2007

"Skinny Dip," by Carl Hiaasen

This is my first Carl Hiaasen book, even though I've had numerous people ordering me to read one. So I finally did, and you know what? I liked it.

Joey and Chaz are on cruise to celebrate their second anniversary. But on their last night as the ship is sailing back into Florida, Chaz pushes Joey overboard into the Atlantic Ocean. The next morning, he puts on a frightened-husband act for the police, who start searching immediately for the missing wife. Chaz, however, has given them false information to the last time he saw Joey, ensuring that the search will be conducted in the wrong area and that Joey will never survive.

Lucky for Joey, even though her husband is a biologist, he's a complete idiot. Joey, a champion swimmer, manages to swim for hours before finding and clinging onto a bale of Jamaican marijuana. She is found by Mick Stranahan, an ex-cop who lives alone on a nearby island. He helps her recuperate and, after agreeing not to notify the police of her whereabouts, sets out to help Joey figure out the reasoning behind her husband's murderous actions. Oh, and maybe drive Chaz a little insane, too.

This book was part mystery, part quest to save the Florida Everglades. With quite a bit of humor thrown in. The only thing that bothered me was the budding romance between Joey, who is young and hot, and Mick, who is like 53. Why do male authors always do this? There's nothing that shows why the characters like each other or anything. I'm just supposed to believe that an age difference like that doesn't matter? Pah.

4 stars

"Heart-Shaped Box," by Joe Hill

Oh, baby. I love me some scary books, and this did not let me down. Papa Stephen King should be very proud of his son.

Judas Coyne is an aging rock star with a penchant for the macabre. He enjoys collecting creepy things, such as a used hangman's noose or a snuff film. When Jude's assistant tells him there's a woman online looking to sell a suit that is haunted by her step-father's ghost, Jude is game. The suit arrives in a heart-shaped box, and it isn't long before Jude becomes aware that he and his girlfriend, Florida, aren't alone in the house.

The ghost is Craddock McDermott, step-father to recent suicide victim and former girlfriend of Jude, and he is determined to end Jude's life. This book is a wild ride of horrific images. I got creeped out several times, so Hill has definitely lived up to expectations. It wasn't just page after page of blood and gore, although there was some of that, too. It was a descent into personal hell, with ringing self-recrimination and torment. It was awesome.

5 stars

"Something Borrowed," "Something Blue," and "Baby Proof," by Emily Giffin

On the morning after her 30th birthday party, Rachel wakes up next to Dexter, her best friend Darcy's fiance. Rachel, the self-proclaimed good girl who has always put popular, beautiful Darcy's needs before her own, feels shockingly little guilt. While having nagging regret about hurting her best friend, Rachel's feelings for Dex continue to grow as their one-night stand turns into a full love affair. Yet Dex and Darcy's wedding day looms ever closer.

While Emily Giffin took a great chance at portraying her main character in a potentially unfavorable light, I loved Rachel. I rooted for her. This, Giffin's first book, was impossible to put down.

4.5 stars

Think Darcy got the raw end of the deal? So does she. Giffin's second novel is a follow-up to Something Borrowed. This is Darcy's side of the story. While she may have had a fling of her own, she still feels horrified and betrayed at the thought of her best friend and fiance together. And when Darcy ends up pregnant and then abandoned by her secret lover (spoiler: Rachel's ex-boyfriend!), she is mocked by co-workers and given the cold shoulder by her mother. She takes refuge at her old friend Ethan's place in London. After Ethan lets her know in no-uncertain terms that she has a lot of growing up to do, Darcy eventually starts to make progress in becoming a better person.

4.5 stars

I thought this was going to relate with the previous two books by Giffin, but no. This book stars Claudia, a book editor who is married to the love of her life, Ben. Their initial common bond was the fact that neither person wanted children. Several years into the marriage, though, Ben's biological clock starts ticking. Claudia suffers through a few months of intense baby pressure from Ben, his family, and even their friends. At an impasse, Claudia moves into her best friend Jess's house while she goes through her divorce. Though she starts a hot affair with a work colleague, Richard, Claudia begins to doubt her decisions when she finds that Ben has begun dating a younger woman.

This book was excellent, though very sad to read about all the pressure that was put on Claudia. I was frustrated that her friends and family would give her such grief over not wanting a baby, and more so that her husband couldn't accept her decision. Lots of things to think about while reading this one.

4.5 stars

"Fairest," by Gail Carson Levine

An important part of working at a public library is knowing which books are suitable for young adults or children when parents are looking for suggestions. I introduced Fairest to a woman looking for a birthday present for her 13-year-old niece, and she was quite pleased.

Levine, author of the popular Ella Enchanted, brings us a tale loosely based on Snow White. Aza is a very gifted singer with a very homely outward appearance. Her ugliness was the cause of her abandonment as a baby, though she was cared for and loved by innkeepers. At 15, Aza has discovered that beyond her singing capabilities, she can also throw and mimic any voice. By chance, she gets to accompany a duchess to a royal wedding, where the new queen, Ivi, discovers Aza's secret talents. Ivi blackmails Aza into becoming her personal attendant and throwing her voice to make the queen sound like a beautiful singer. When the court discovers the deception, Aza must flee the castle to save her life.

I enjoyed the message that will be vital to young readers; beauty isn't everything. Character and self-worth are more important. I also liked that the book was fast-paced, warm, and not preachy. Only one thing annoyed me. Because the book takes place in a land called Ayortha, where singing was valued above all else, there were a ton of songs. It got old pretty fast, although I could totally see a movie musical being made from this book.

4 stars

Friday, April 13, 2007

"The Stolen Child," by Keith Donohue

In The Stolen Child, 7-year-old Henry Day runs out into the woods after an argument with his mother. He climbs into the hollow of a tree, determined not to be found. While his family and the townspeople search desperately for him, Henry is abducted by hobgoblins. A changeling takes his place, transforming himself to look like the real Henry Day, as Henry is forced to live out his days with the hobgoblins.

Two narrators give life to this book. The new Henry gets a second chance at a human life and all the sorrows and conflicts that come with it. The old Henry, now called Aniday by his fellow changelings, has a very difficult time forgetting his former life.

I loved, loved, loved this story of loss and heartbreak. The Stolen Child is Donohue's first novel. It weaves magic and fairy tales into a profound look at our inner child and how the grass isn't always greener on the other side. Here's one of my favorite passages from the novel, where Aniday is contemplating all he's lost:

The most merciless thing in the world is love. When love flees, all that remains is memory to compensate. Our friends were either going or gone, their ghosts the best our poor minds could conjure to fill love's absence.

5 stars

Sunday, April 08, 2007

"Autobiography of Red," by Anne Carson

This book was recommened to me by the lovely Metamorphose over at Anything Fun is Wrong. I finished it a couple of weeks ago, but I've held off reviewing it because I'm not sure how I felt about it.

Autobiography of Red is loosely based on the myth "Geryoneis," but Carson has made it contemporary. In this disturbing novel in verse, Geryon has red skin and wings. His childhood is marred by the painful learning of even the most elementary things. He is sexually abused by his older brother. Geryon's refuge is behind a camera lens and creating his own autobiography. Then as a young man, Geryon comes to love Herakles, an older boy who briefly shares the affection and passion, only to leave at the height of Geryon's love.

Years later, their paths cross again in Buenos Aires, along with Herakles' new lover, Ancash. The trio venture through South America together, tension brewing until violence erupts between Ancash and Geryon.

Here is a sad yet beautiful story that leaves more questions than answers. If nothing else, the freestyle verse is amazing.

4 stars

P.S. If possible, familiarize yourself with the myth before reading. Or just read the reviews on Amazon.

"You Suck," by Christopher Moore

Sequel to Bloodsucking Fiends.

This time around, Jody turns Tommy into a vampire against his wishes. Now they're both vulnerable to attacks that may happen during the daytime. To safeguard themselves, they enlist the help of 16-year-old goth girl Abby Normal.

Look for lots of return characters, including the Emperor and his dog companions, the two homicide dectectives, ancient vampire creator Elijah, and the Animals. New to the book is a blue (literally) whore named, duh, Blue.

This book was definitely funnier than the first, but it's all due to journal entries by Abby. She writes vicious insults and bemoans her earthly life, then ends most entries with an update on her sister's lice. Though Abby is merely a vampire minion, she steals every scene.

4 stars

Saturday, March 24, 2007

"Five Men Who Broke My Heart," by Susan Shapiro

This is another example of the benefits I receive from working at the library. I get to see all the books other people are reading. Someone ordered this book, which I promptly ordered for myself.

Journalist Susan Shapiro's memoir is an account of a midlife crisis due to her approaching 40th birthday and infertility. When her ex-boyfriend Brad shows up, Shapiro begins reliving old memories and feelings. My favorite line as she's meeting Brad for lunch is, "Damn. I still love him." Then later she thinks, "Damn. I still hate him." So true.

Though happily married, Shapiro begins digging into her past, locating her top five biggest heartbreakers to interview them about their relationship, to find out their version of what went wrong. Yes, it's a little self-indulgent, but wouldn't we all like to confront and analyze at least one of our past relationships? We'd only hope to be this honest and funny about it.

4.5 stars

Saturday, March 17, 2007

"Bloodsucking Fiends: A Love Story," by Christopher Moore

After being attacked in an alley, Jody awakens two days later to find she has been turned into a vampire. She has to get used to her new lust for blood, incredible strength, and aversion to sunlight. Enter C. Thomas Flood, a small town boy in the big city for the first time. Tommy is a wannabe writer who gets a job on the night crew of a supermarket, where he and the other members bowl with frozen turkeys, drink beer, and shoot at pigeons.

Jody meets Tommy and convinces him to be her daytime protector. As if learning her new powers and needing security from sunlight weren't enough, Jody's creator, an 800-year-old vamp named Elijah, is playing a sick game. He's leaving dead bodies for the police to find, all seeming to lead back to Jody and Tommy.

It's not the most clever plotline, but I'm telling you...funny. I laughed a lot while reading this book. It's definitely a quick read (done in 2 days), and I know I'll be picking up the sequel soon.

4.5 stars (extra points for making me laugh)

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

"Fangland," by John Marks

Fangland is unlike any book I've ever read, though it has been called a new take on Bram Stoker's Dracula. Forget the romantic vampire who seduces his victim before plunging his fangs into her neck. This book's dark villain uses a bucket and knife for his bloodletting, but it's his song of whispered places of the slain that drives to madness.

Evangeline Harker is an associate producer at the news show The Hour (think 60 Minutes). She is sent to Romania to scout the location and meet with crime lord Ion Torgu for a possible interview. Once there, she meets fellow American Clementine Spence, who travels with Evangeline to Transylvania, where she is scheduled to meet Torgu. After they part ways, Evangeline is abducted, not to be heard from again for months.

Now, the first third of the story was all Evangeline's to tell. And it was a creepy one, let me tell you. I could visualize it as a movie. I'm not usually scared by books, but this one was giving me goosebumps.

Then the rest of the book went back and forth between journal entries, emails, and so on. A virus infects the staff of The Hour, making editors and producers start losing their minds and, for a few, even their own lives.

I don't know how much I liked this book. It was definitely different and clever. There were some very spooky parts, which I liked. I think maybe if I had written this book, I would have stuck to one narrator. Possibly two. And I'm not sure exactly what thoughts the author wanted to leave the readers with, a sense of media as an outlet for the evils of the world? Or is it that we've become immune to the horrors out there, and by ignoring it, we're creating a greater injustice? Hmm... Deep thoughts.

4 stars

Saturday, February 24, 2007

"May Day: A Murder-by-Month Mystery," by Jess Lourey

May Day follows former English major Mira James to a Minnesota small town when she agrees to house-sit during a friend's extended vacation. Newly employed at the local library and newspaper, Mira tries to acclimate to her surroundings. She's soon hot on the trail for truth after her new romance with a handsome archeologist abruptly ends with his murder.

Lourey writes with an amusing intimacy about this midwestern small town and its kooky inhabitants. Mira is a very likeable and hilarious character. How can I not relate to an English major turned part-time librarian stuck in a small town? Thank goodness I haven't found any hot dead guys in my reference section. But I thoroughly enjoyed this quick, very funny book.

4 stars

"Running with the Demon," by Terry Brooks

For some strange reason, I gave my dear blog readers the opportunity to suggest one book each for me to read this year. Tusk was the first to eagerly suggest a favorite, I assume, of his. So his was the first book I chose to read. And, incidentally, Running With the Demon is the first book in a trilogy.

Now, I'd like to start off by saying that, while I don't normally go for the fantasy novels, I have enjoyed a few. Unfortunately for me, this was not to be one of those few.

Nest Freemark is an adolescent girl who is by no means ordinary. She has magical powers (that she's not allowed to use), can see creatures no one else can, and is unaware that she's the rope in a crucial battle of tug-of-war between good (the Word) and evil (the Void). She's stalked by a Demon with a personal interest at stake. John Ross is a Knight of the Word who has come to protect her.

The story has everything you can think of: creepy shadow people called Feeders, an ancient evil monster, teenage love, magic, dysfunctional families, a steel mill strike. I guess there's a pretty good foundation for a decent story, but I was unmoved. Maybe if I hadn't been a Tolkien fan, I'd have liked it more. However, there were too many similarities to Lord of the Rings for me to appreciate Brooks' novel. Need some examples?

*LOTR had Ents, giant trees who can talk and walk and are crucial to the battle.
*Running had Pick, a 6-inch magical character made of twigs who can talk and walk and is crucial (at least in the first novel) to one of the battles.

*LOTR had the Elven Lady Galadriel, who showed Frodo visions of the past, present, and future.
*Running had the Lady, who chose John Ross to become a Knight of Word, and gave him the gift (or curse) of dreaming the future.

*LOTR had, obviously, the ring, which Frodo had to bear despite the toll it took upon him.
*Running had a sword that John Ross had to use as a staff or cane because becoming a Knight inflicted a limp upon him, so that he was never without his sword.

There were other things, but you get the idea. I read Amazon's review, along with those of readers, and they all seemed to love the book. Good for them, I guess. But once you've read Tolkien, nothing much compares.

3 stars

Saturday, January 27, 2007

"Sickened: The Memoir of a Munchausen by Proxy Childhood," by Julie Gregory

I stayed up late last night just to finish this book. I couldn't put it down. It's the true life story of a child growing up being deliberately sickened by her own mother. Julie Gregory's childhood was a series of doctor's visits, tests, unnecessary surgeries, and gross mistreatment at the hands of her parents.

Interspersed in the book are Gregory's real medical records, with only the names of physicians and hospital officials blacked out.

While it was Gregory's mother who insisted Julie was sick, always in pursuit of some "answer" to her mysterious medical conditions, both parents physically abused their child. But they always presented a united front in public, able to convince the world of a close-knit, loving family. Julie Gregory's love for her family and desperate need to please her mother ensured that no one would ever know about the abuse. In fact, the family eventually came to take in elderly veterans and foster children, all destined to suffer at the hands of Julie's mother.

Not since reading A Child Called It have I been so appalled and horrified at the living conditions and mistreatment of a child. But Gregory's story doesn't end tragically. This book is well worth the read, not only for the content, but for impeccable writing. I had to keep reminding myself that the book wasn't a work of fiction.

5 stars

Friday, January 26, 2007

"Secret Society Girl: An Ivy League Novel," by Diana Peterfreund

"Think The Da Vinci Code meets Bridget Jones."

Need I say more? Okay, if you insist.

Amy Haskel is a junior in a prestigious college, Eli University. She works as an editor at a literary magazine and assumes she'll be joining a not-so-secret literary club. To her immense surprise, she gets "tapped" to join the ultimate boys club, Rose and Grave, the oldest and most powerful secret society on campus. Amy is part of the very first class to have women tapped to join, and soon she's hanging out with senators and CEOs. What could be better? Unfortunately, there are some members who are outraged at women joining, which leads to threats.

Mostly the book was fun and enjoyable. I was a little annoyed with the main character's commitment phobia. It didn't really ring true to me. It felt more like the author was trying to fit more in the novel than just cloak-and-daggers. There is a sequel on its way. I don't know if I'll read it, but for the most part, I did like this book.

4 stars

"Dead Until Dark," by Charlaine Harris

I've been lazy about updating, haven't I? So sorry.

Dead Until Dark is the first in a series of Southern Vampire Mysteries by Charlaine Harris. It's the story of a barmaid named Sookie Stackhouse, who has the unusual ability to read minds. The world Harris creates is filled with vampires, who have recently made their presence known to the rest of the world and become legal citizens. They can now exist on artificial blood, so humans have nothing to fear. Or do they?

There are some sort-of good vampires and really evil ones, too. And the first vampire Sookie ever meets becomes her first boyfriend. (It's a little hard to date regular guys since Sookie can read their minds and know exactly what they think about her body and such. Vampires are like a blank canvas.) But being with a vampire has more than the obvious drawbacks (he's dead and drinks blood), such as violence following in his wake. And soon the small town of Bon Temps, Louisiana is spotted with the deaths of women who have all been with vampires.

Sookie is an extremely likeable character. She's only high school educated, but uses things like a word-a-day calendar to educate herself. She's a little back-woods, but she's also sweet and funny and unforgettable.

I have read all of the other books in this series currently out, but I won't be reviewing all of them. Suffice it to say that I enjoyed each one. If you care to check them out as well, I'll leave you with a list of the titles in order.

4.5 stars

Dead Until Dark
Living Dead in Dallas
Club Dead
Dead to the World
Dead as a Doornail
Definitely Dead
All Together Dead (to be released May 1, 2007)