Saturday, June 23, 2012

"The Fault In Our Stars" by John Green

318 pages

At age 13, Hazel was supposed to die. Then a medical miracle caused the tumors in her lungs (caused by Stage IV thyroid cancer) to shrink. Now she's sixteen, living on borrowed time. Though she could live for a long time, the cancer will probably come back eventually. And in the meantime, life isn't exactly rosy. Hazel is always exhausted, she can't go to school, and she has to lug an oxygen tank everywhere she goes. If anyone is justified in being depressed, it's her. But her mom thinks a cancer support group will help her get out of her funk, so she goes. And it's there that she meets Augustus, who turns her world upside down. He's hot, he's in remission, and he adores Hazel. For once, things are finally looking up for Hazel. And, of course, that's when things start to fall apart in a way that she'd never expected. 

Oh, John Green. You break my heart again, in the best way possible. Seriously, he's at his best here. One minute I'd be laughing, the next I'd be crying. Just a few pages in, I was completely in love with these characters. I felt like they were real people, people that I'd known my whole life. I'm pretty sure this is the first time that JG has written a book with a female narrator, but her voice feels as authentic as the male narrators of his other stories. This guy just gets teens, period. As for the story itself, "The Fault In Our Stars" completely drew me in and took over my life for a few days, and it stuck with me long after I finished the last page. It made me think about how much life sucks sometimes, how it's so unfair, but also how beautiful it can be, even in the middle of all the awful stuff. I recommend this book for...everyone! If you haven't read it, get off the computer and go read it right this minute. 

Circus of the Damned

by Laurell K. Hamilton
303 pages

Jean-Claude is the master vampire of the city, but his authority is being tested by rival vampires who are much more powerful.  One of those vampires would like to "steal" Anita from Jean-Claude and make her his human servant.  Mysterious vampire killings are also wreaking havoc and spreading Anita thin.  A new love interest for Anita also appears in this novel, who is more "interesting" than he first appears.  Anita is up against many challenges in this book, and must help decide the fate of the city.  Will she stay loyal to Jean-Claude, or will she betray him to another master?

Another action-packed novel.  I find some parts of this novel very difficult to swallow and I feel that Hamilton gets a little more absurd with every novel.  However, I keep finding myself coming back for more.

Friday, June 22, 2012

The Fiddler

by Beverly Lewis
326 pages

Amelia is an up-and-coming classical violinist straining under the weight of her father's expectations.  To seek some relief from the pressure, she has taken up a secret hobby as a country fiddle player.  On the way home from a fiddle contest, she drives into an unexpected rainstorm where she encounters a lone Amish man with similar troubles.  Michael is a 25-year-old Amish man who has yet to make the decision to join the Amish church.  He has sought out higher education and works as a draftsman, and he is struggling between his father's expectations and his own desire to pursue life outside the Amish church. Amelia and Michael influence each other to seek out what they really want in life, and a bit of romance sparks along the way.

I liked this novel, but it's a quick read that is fairly predictable.  Unlike most of Lewis's series, the conflict was resolved within one book.  Since the issues were all resolved within this novel, I'm not exactly sure what Lewis is going to do with the next novels in this series.  However, I was quite pleased that I didn't have to wait a year for my happy ending.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

"Prized" by Caragh M. O'Brien

368 pages

At the end of Birthmarked, sixteen-year-old midwife Gaia Stone survived her escape from the Enclave but found herself alone in a wasteland with nothing but a handful of supplies and a rumor to guide her to a better life. She's leaving behind her parents, who have been killed, and Leon, the boy whom she might have fallen in love with if he hadn't been captured by the Enclave first. Now, in Prized, Gaia and her newborn sister wander in the wilderness before being "rescued" by the people of Sylum, a strange society where women rule and all the babies are boys, meaning that in a generation or two they will all die off. To get by in this strange world, Gaia has to choose between her sister, who means the world to her, and all the values that have always guided her.

I enjoyed this story, but not as much at Birthmarked. There is more whining and less action in this second book. I just don't like Gaia as much in this one. She isn't as decisive or sure of herself. On one hand, that makes her easier to relate to, but for some reason it just annoyed me in this situation. Also, I don't care for Leon much. It's not that I particularly dislike him, but he seems very one-dimensional and I think his behavior and reactions are unrealistic. Despite all of those things that annoyed me, I did get into this book and I'm looking forward to the next one. There's some good excitement brewing about what Gaia's grandmother was experimenting with before she died, and how the people of Sylum could potentially leave. There are some clues about what's going to happen, but it's not totally clear and I predict that there will be some surprises in the conclusion to the series.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The Art of George R R Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire

by various artists, 189 pages
As I mentioned in my post about A Feast  for Crows, I just read and enjoyed the first book of art inspired by A Song of Ice and Fire. As usual, some of the best images are of Jon Snow, the bastard son of Ned Stark, and his dire wolf, Ghost. Jon becomes part of The Night's Watch in the first book, A Game of Thrones, and is sent to the great Wall in the North to serve the realm.

The images in the book are varied in style, and most are wonderfully rendered studies of many of the characters and settings in the books. I was surprised at the number of European artists involved. The artists' bios at the end of the book lead you to their websites for further exploration. A second volume has just been published, so there will be more scenes of the Seven Kingdoms and beyond to peruse at your leisure. Well, you have to do something while you're waiting for Season 3 of A Game of Thrones on tv.

A Feast for Crows: A Song of Ice and Fire

by George R R Martin, 753 pages

The 4th book in A Song of Ice and Fire is quite different from the first 3 in the series. The narrative voices of some of the major characters are not included, and new characters are introduced. I miss some of my favorites, but there was enough continuity in the story to get me through it.
Martin claims this a just half of what was to be book 4, and that book 5 (A Dance With Dragons) is the other half. I wonder since there were so many years between the two stories publication dates. While it's not really filler, there is quite a bit of background and stories from the outer fringes of Westeros. So that gives it a kind of "Meanwhile, back at the ranch..." feeling.

That said, I did enjoy the book and the variety of settings. We still followed Jaime, Cersei and Brienne through different parts of Westeros. To me, Brienne emerges as more of a heroic character, and Jaime reveals new facets of his dark and complex character. Though I will say some of the scenes on the Iron Islands and in Dorne didn't engage me as much because I didn't know or didn't like some of the characters there. I am assuming they will play a larger role in later volumes.

So, all in all, it's worth reading to keep in touch with all the plot elements but I just didn't find it as engaging as the first three books.

The library recently acquired 2 volumes of The Art of George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire. This image of Jaime Lannister in his King's Guard armor is from the first volume.  The picture below is from the new cover for A Feast of Crows, so there is a lot of interest in creating art to go along with the stories. It sounds like a beautiful new illustrated edition.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Treasure Island!!!

by Sara Levine 172 p.

          The summaries I had read of this book being about a directionless 25 year old woman who decides to live by the principles she finds in Robert Louis Stevenson's classic, Treasure Island, made me think this book would be like a fun adventure tale. It was more like a psychological and social journey that with many downturns. The second half has some surprises, but not fun adventure. Also, though the woman becomes obsessed with living like a classic children's novel, this is not one and some very disturbing events occur in the latter half.
      I picked it up because it sounded like a fun adventure and on that count it disappointed, but it is well written so I can see why I saw it on many suggested read lists on NPR.


Farewell Summer by Ray Bradbury

202 pages, 2006.

I selected "Farewell Summer" in memory of Ray Bradbury who passed away recently and as my June challenge book since it has summer in the title--the multitasker in me loves the dual functions of a single title.

Anywhoo, "Farewell Summer" is the eagerly anticipated sequel to "Dandelion Wine" as is explained on the jacket, in the forward and afterward. I remember enjoying Dandelion Wine when we read it in school but admitedly had to refresh myself about the plot points before embarking on "Farewell Summer."

Our protaginist Doug returns from "Dandelion Wine," only this time he's not so concerned with the wine and his grandparents as he is making the most of summer as it quickly winds to a close and school takes priority. Doug, his brother Tom, and their gang of friends declare war on some of the elder members of town, and hijinks and corresponding punishments ensue.

"Farewell Summer" is a typical coming of age story, fun and easy to read. There was an aspect of the end that I thought was rather strange, but I'll just leave it at that because I don't want to ruin the end for others. Let me know your thoughts about the end if you happen to read it.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

"The Other Wes Moore" by Wes Moore

233 pages

Two boys named Wes Moore. Both lived in the same decaying area of the same city. Wes A, as I'm calling him, grew up to be a Rhodes Scholar, White House fellow, and business leader. Wes B ended up in prison for murder. When Wes A's mother told him about the man from the same neighborhood with the same name who was going to jail, he was intrigued. He began talking to the other Wes while he was in jail. What started with a few letters became in-person visits, and slowly Wes A began to unravel the two men's lives and what made them different. What he found, however, was that for every question answered, new questions came up.

This is a fascinating story. Ultimately, there never is a big, clear answer as to what separated the fates of these two men; there are lots of small things that contributed to the paths their lives took. I feel like this story is a bit unorganized--it would benefit from some more structure--but it's well-thought out and engaging.