Today's Grateful List/31 December 2015

  • Going to get answers no matter what

Saturday, January 31, 2009

A Couple Of Highly Recommended Reads

As promised (threatened, actually), I've finally gotten around to reviewing a few of my recent reads. One was for the Historical Novel Society (; blogger's doing something odd every time I try to link directly through a word lately), OH Johnny by Jim Lehrer, so I won't post that review here yet. However, I will give you my thoughts on two other excellent reads I can highly recommend.

First up is What I Saw and How I Lied by Judy Blundell. I received this one through the Amazon Vine program, and all I can say Though it's technically young adult, it's so well written that I can safely recommend it for everyone. The whole time I was reading, I kept picturing an old black and white film unfolding in my mind. The author does a fabulous job of evoking the 1940s in a film noir style. Fifteen year old Evie tells the story of her stepfather Joe, recently back from the war and on the path to becoming a successful businessman, and her beautiful mother Bev, and what happens when the family takes an impromptu vacation to Palm Beach during the off-season. Evie's innocence is forever compromised when she discovers that there's a level of deception going on she'd never thought possible, and when it all leads to murder, she's the one who holds the key to exoneration. Or does she?

I hope you are as blown away by this worthy National Book Award honor book as I was. Here's the link to my amazon review, in case you are interested:

The second novel I'll review here is Devil's Brood by Sharon Kay Penman. I actually started this one wayyyy back in November, but just couldn't sustain the attention necessary to get into the 700+ page behemoth. I almost didn't make it this time, either; I have to say Elizabeth Chadwick ( has pretty much spoiled me for medieval historical fiction. This one took so long recapping and getting to the real action that I just plodded along until around page 300 or so, and then it took off. Once it did, I really got into it and finished it with a smile on my face. If I don't agree with Penman's overall take on some of the characters (okay, specifically: don't call William Marshal Will), I can appreciate the depth of her research and the way she brings them to life. Of course, Eleanor of Aquitaine is my personal hero, so anything with her in it automatically gets my attention, and when it's as well done as Devil's Brood, all the better. I can recommend this one to all my historical fiction loving friends with the caveat that you need to keep reading because it does become riveting once the set up is finished. A link to my amazon review is found at
That's it for now. I've got another book to review for HNS and two more for Amazon Vine, plus only, oh, let's say, 500 others lying around here to get to. At this rate I'll need to live to be about 150 to get them all read. That's the plan, anyway.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Warning...Be Prepared for Book Reviews

I finally finished Devil's Brood by Sharon Kay Penman (I ended up enjoying it quite a bit after I struggled through the first 200 pages or so), but haven't done the official review yet. I guess I'm dragging on that, since it took sooooo long to actually finish that 700+ page behemoth, but be prepared for it within the next few days. I definitely have something to say; I'll just have to organize my thoughts coherently and buckle down. In the meantime, I've also read an interesting little book for review for the Historical Novel Society entitled "Oh Johnny" by Jim going to have to think about that one, too, before committing my review to...well, not paper; maybe screen? document? file? anyone?

So while you wait, enjoy this actual road sign from Texas (shared by Gillian from Oz):,2933,484326,00.html


Thursday, January 22, 2009

Ninth Grade Slays Review

Preface one: Blogger won't let me create paragraphs tonight. Ugh.

I really feel the need to preface this review with my anal retentive grammar problem: page 262 has a grammatical error that *should* have been caught by an editor paying any attention at all. Vlad is placing something (okay, blood) in the microwave and the author describes the scene thusly: "...he sat the cup..." The grammarian in me was immediately pulled out of the story as I contemplated why it was missed by an editor and who uses "sat" like that, anyway. I even punched Jeff and read it to him (he of the "would you stop being so anal about grammar and punctuation?" attitude). He caught it immediately. Arrrgh. I wish it didn't bug me so much but IT DOES. Okay, rant over. Now I'll paste my amazon review so you can focus on the actual story, which is truly the important thing. If Vlad thought 8th grade was bad, he's in for a whole other level of awful in his first year of high school. In Heather Brewer's second book of The Chronicles of Vladimir Tod, we see Vlad starting to become more aware of his vampiric qualities while still experiencing the normal problems of high school: homework, bullies, and a crush on a girl with whom he thinks he's blown any chance he had. How he handles all the pressure leads us through Ninth Grade Slays. A lot happens in Vlad's ninth grade year, and much of it takes place away from school. Vlad's uncle Otis arrives back in town and whisks Vlad off to Siberia for winter break to help him discover more of his powers. What Vlad also experiences is a sense of who his father was and how that applies to Vlad; it also begins to give us a glimpse into the idea that Vlad might possibly be The Pravus, a mythical vampire who is born (like Vlad), not created, and who will eventually rule the humans and the vampires. Meanwhile, Vlad's got a new friend in his best friend Henry's cousin Joss; the three boys stick together, though Vlad and Henry are careful to keep Vlad's secret identity. I liked this entry in the series, but not quite as much as the first installment. I kept wanting to see Vlad stand up for himself against the bullies (I just know he's got some super human strength coming soon!), and the whole is he or isn't he the Pravus is a bit draggy. I could see the plot "twist" coming, but that didn't make it less enjoyable. I just hope that the next few books will move the story along a bit more and not mire down in what ifs. Fun, escapist reading, however, and those young adult readers who love vampires won't be disappointed.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Forever Princess by Meg Cabot

I love Meg Cabot's Princess Diaries series, even when the series bogged down in the middle with Mia acting way too typically teen-ish. But with the final three books, Cabot's in good form and Mia's sent off into her life in the best possible way. I tore through this one fairly quickly, which is a bit of a shame since it's the final one. But Cabot's really done a terrific job of bringing Mia realistically into her final days as a senior (living with one of those people in my house right now has given me terrific insight into what a terror I must've been at the time). I'll share my amazon review with you below, wherein I attempt to analyze more in-depth just what makes this series and Forever Princess in particular such satisfying reads. You can vote at

BTW, for whatever bizarre reason, when I copy and paste my reviews, blogger insists on not allowing me to insert paragraphs. Geez.


Princess Mia's back, and it's senior year, which makes it almost two years since the last book left off. What's Mia been doing all this time? Well, dating JP after breaking up with Michael, bringing democracy to Genovia, applying to colleges, NOT talking with former best friend Lilly, hanging out with former enemy Lana, and secretly writing a romance novel for her senior project. Mia's done a lot of thinking and maturing during this time, and she's put aside her journal to focus on her novel, which she hasn't shared with anyone besides her senior counselor. But now the book's done, college looms, she's turning eighteen, and Michael is back from Japan, a successful inventor who wants to be her friend. What's a princess to do? Heck if Mia knows!

I admit that this series bogged down mightily mid-way, but with the last two books and this final novel in the series, Cabot has brought us full circle and beyond. Mia may still be essentially the same, but the maturity fairly oozes from her pores as she faces her former love and her future. While Mia's choices are the same as many graduating seniors, of course she's got to consider what's best for her country as well, and that's just one of the things that makes this a fitting finale.

I never really cared for JP as a love interest for Mia, naturally preferring Michael since he was her first true love. So to see how these two former loves interact after time has separated them is not only intriguing, it's heart-warming. You'll be rooting for them from the moment Mia gets another whiff of Michael's neck! Cabot does her best work in building tension, even if Mia is frustratingly dense at times in her insistence on being with "good guy" JP. It's not a spoiler to say there's a happy ending; we're talking Meg Cabot and the Princess Diaries here. But what's so bad about that? I found myself grinning ridiculously throughout as Mia and Michael do a careful dance around one another until fate finally reunites them.

Cabot does a credible job of showing just how a senior feels in the days coming up to graduation, and the added burdens of Mia's father running for prime minister of Genovia, her eighteenth birthday party, dealing with Grandmere, and a final confrontation with Lilly all bring the turmoil realistically to life. The humor is well done as well, and I loved how Cabot has updated the series by having the friends text each other relentlessly. When I look back at Mia in the first few books compared to how she is now, you can see the transformation not just in looks, but in attitude and confidence. Cabot captures the transition from geeky nerd to confident young woman perfectly, and that alone would be reason to recommend this entire series.

I am pleased with Forever Princess for lots of reasons, many of which I've already mentioned. I love how Mia has learned to handle herself, even if she still makes goofy decisions or embarrasses herself at times. Cabot bravely has Mia make a big decision about sex, which shows just how far Mia's come. But the fact that I feel like I know Mia intimately is the ultimate compliment to Cabot's skill. Forever Princess is a fitting culmination that sends Mia off, not into the sunset, but into the sunrise of her adult life.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

What Kind of Reader Are You?

What Kind of Reader Are You?
Your Result: Literate Good Citizen

You read to inform or entertain yourself, but you're not nerdy about it. You've read most major classics (in school) and you have a favorite genre or two.

Dedicated Reader
Obsessive-Compulsive Bookworm
Book Snob
Fad Reader
What Kind of Reader Are You?
Quiz Created on GoToQuiz

I am a Literate Good Citizen:
You read to inform or entertain yourself, but you're not nerdy about it. You've read most major classics (in school) and you have a favorite genre or two.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

An Abundance of Katherines

Two funny things about the book An Abundance of Katherines by John Green: 1) We have an abundance of A Katherine in our house with the youngest daughter, who is abundantly Katherine-like at all times, and 2) this is not the cover of the book I read (but I think I might like it better). This is my second John Green novel in a row, and I think my reading of it suffered a bit because of that. Don't get me wrong; I loved this book and I think John Green is ~abundantly~ smart and humorous. But when you read two books about road trips back to back, you start to wonder why the author chose the same device for both books (which I believe were also written back-to-back, but I might be wrong about that). Still and all, this book is laugh out loud funny, poignant, and ass-kicking from the word go. If I just couldn't wrap my mind around a guy (only a senior in high school) having dated 19 girls all named Katherine (I'm sorry, but as the parent of a Katherine, I have to say there really aren't all that many around, and even if you count the minute encounters of smart kid camp, it just *isn't* possible), I still liked the concept and loved the characters. The fight scene might be one of the best actual fight scenes ever written, especially with Muslim but not religious Hassan yelling "Three on one!" and going back in. Genius. Makes me wonder if John Green wasn't a child prodigy himself.
Below is my amazon review, which is much longer and probably a bit more intellectually written...or then again, maybe not. Hope you enjoy it.
I'm now off to really immerse myself in the 1100s and my personal heroine, Eleanor of Aquitaine (don't tell anyone, but in my mind I've named my car Eleanor after said heroine...that woman was phenomenal and packed more living into her 82 years than most of us could in 182).
Picking up a book by John Green is a guaranteed treat; you know you are going to become friends with a host of teens who will make you laugh, make you think, and make you recognize yourself in them. An Abundance of Katherines is no exception, and it's a fun ride from the first pages.
Colin Singleton is a child prodigy who wants to make his mark in the world and prove that he really is the genius everyone's expected him to be. To that end, he's working on a Theorem that will predict how relationships will go, and he has the experience to draw from: Colin has dated 19 girls, all of them have dumped him, and all of them have been named Katherine. So when Katherine #19 dumps him, Colin's best friend Hassan talks him into a road trip designed to clear Colin's head so he can focus. What they actually find, however, is Gutstop, Tennessee, and a girl named Lindsey who is perfectly happy to remain there for the rest of her life. After striking up a friendship with Lindsey, her mother invites the boys to stay in Gutshot and work for her for the summer. What follows is a series of interviews, hornets, new girlfriends, a fight, and a secret hiding place as the boys learn more about themselves than they'd figured they ever would.
Green is a terrific author who knows just how to enliven a story with humor and then bring it back to the original concept subtly. I loved that Green didn't make all the Tennesseans seem like simple-minded hicks (being from Tennessee, this is a particular irritation of mine). Green is obviously a very smart man, and I loved the footnotes that explained the languages used and gave fascinating details about the conversations. My ability to imagine one boy falling for nineteen Katherines was sorely stretched, though; it was the one point of the book that kept sticking me and pulling me out of the story. But other than that, I laughed and enjoyed this book tremendously, and I would give it a solid 4.5 stars. Recommended for readers of all ages who love a good road trip tale.

Friday, January 02, 2009

Paper Towns

I had fully intended to finish this book, Paper Towns, before the end of 2008, but well, I got sidetracked. :) So I ended up finishing it on the first day of 2009, so that makes it my very first book on my new list. A place of honor, I suppose.
I really enjoyed this book by John Green; he's very good at getting inside his characters and not talking down to his audience. I love the humor, mostly because I know a bunch of teens who actually talk exactly that way and do many of the things Green's cast did. What I didn't particularly care for was the ending; after all the angst, mystery, and set up, it came off as a "what a letdown" moment. I won't say more since it would be a spoiler, but I will say that there was way too much philosophizing and not enough closure. But honestly, this is a terrific book, and well worth the effort of getting to the ending. Posted below is my amazon review which gives fuller details and background.
In John Green's young adult novel Paper Towns, Quentin has always known neighbor and fellow senior, Margo Roth Spiegelman; the two even discovered a dead man in the park when they were in sixth grade. But as people do, the two grew apart as they headed for high school, with the vivacious, outspoken Margo becoming the center of the popular crowd while Quentin found friends on the fringes of the band and similar pursuits. They were still cordial but not buddies, but that was okay.
Fast forward to the final stages of senior year, and one warm Florida night when Margo suddenly appears at Quentin's bedroom window, beckoning him to join her on a wild night of adventurous revenge. What can a guy do but agree? So the two spend much of the wee hours traveling to others' houses, wreaking havoc, and finally end at Sea World. Quentin arrives home a changed young man, ready to take on the world, but Margo...well, Margo disappears. Thus the adventure continues as Quentin discovers clues to her whereabouts and becomes obsessed with finding the girl who has stolen his heart.
John Green knows how to get inside his characters and bring their emotions to life, and he sprinkles his story with a great deal of humor. The story is relatively fast-paced, and the uncovering of Margo's clues provides tension as well as insight to the personalities of all those involved. While Quentin remains doggedly committed to finding Margo, his friends are more realistic, providing him with support and stability. My favorite part, though, is the road trip; the idea of five friends on a mission in a mini-van both made me laugh as well as believe that yes, they actually could accomplish their goal. Least favorite part? The actual ending. Without giving away what happens, I will say that achieving the goal of the mini-van buddies was definitely a letdown, a sort of "hmmm...that's it?" moment. Too much philosophizing with no big payoff.
This is an excellent novel, with lots of fun moments and great wordplay. The stunts pulled in Quentin and Margo's ninja night are simply the best, and the masterful way Green lays out the mystery is perfect. In actuality I would have given this novel a strong 4.5 stars for entertainment value alone. Recommended for readers of all ages.