Thursday, October 16, 2014

Audio/Book Review: "A Room With A View" by E.M. Forster

It all starts with wanting a room with a view, as promised by the woman who ran the Italian pension where Lucy Honeychurch and her cousin/chaperone Miss Bartlett were staying.  It ends with a terribly frightening decision that Lucy must make regarding happiness for the rest of her life.  While staying at the Italian pension, Lucy meets the Emersons, father and son, and while she is somewhat taken with them, it is clear that the rest of her society deems them unworthy for whatever reason.  Lucy fights her attraction to the younger Emerson, George and ends up returning to her English country home.  She is subsequently courted by Cecil Vyse, who while being only sort of agreeable to Lucy, does have the approval of society.  Re-enter George into her life, and Lucy must decide between the two men and what they will mean for her future.

I listened to most of this book on audio, and I'm pretty sure that I missed some parts because of the whole "paying closer attention to the road than the audio book" thing.  Still, I rather enjoyed this book.  This really makes a point to show how silly and snobbish "high society" was, and how a rebellious way of thinking was slowing making its way into the norm - rebellious in that a woman thinking for herself might be okay if not encouraged, for example.  Miss Bartlett drove me crazy, and I think her character was a great way to help Lucy shine.

There were a couple quotes that grabbed my attention that I'd like to share:

"It is so difficult-at least, I find it difficult-to understand people who speak the truth." p. 8

 "Passion should believe itself irresistible." p. 105

*****
A Room With A View
by E.M. Forster
Bantam, 1988.  First Published 1908
Blackstone Audiobooks, 2008
204 pages
7 CDs, 7 hr 15 min
Source:  Purchased Used, Audio from Library
*****

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Monday, October 13, 2014

Book Review: "The Truth About Alice" by Jennifer Mathieu

Even if you weren't at Elaine O'Dea's party that night, you've heard about Alice Franklin.  Everyone at Healy High heard about how she (probably) did two guys in one night at that party.  The rumors just got worse when one of those guys, the football team's star quarterback Brandon Fitzsimmons, died a few weeks later in a horrible car accident.  After all, everyone says that Alice caused the accident by (supposedly) sexting Brandon while he was driving. Everyone is a expert on all of the things that Alice (probably) did, so let's hear this story from four people all involved in the gossip mill in one way or another - either by spreading the rumors or by not standing up for Alice.

This story is told in a rotating point-of-view format.  The main narrators are Elaine who hosted the party, Kelsie who is/was Alice's best friend, Josh who was Brandon's best friend, and Kurt who is the school's genius outcast and Brandon's next door neighbor.  I could picture each of these character's telling their stories while sitting and feeling uncomfortable on some television interview stage.

I feel like this is an important story for teens to read and hopefully discuss.  It points out easily just how damaging gossip can be, how quickly it can spiral out of control, and how painful and life-altering the effects can be for the victim.  The story is told very simply and isn't very long so I can see this being recommended to older teens who are reluctant readers or maybe read below level, or to teens who have a particular interest and want a very quick read.

And my personal take on it?  I love the message, hated almost all of the characters (its true here again that I always like the nerds; they are my people), and absolutely hated the ending.  I really wanted something to cheer for, to rally behind - and I felt cheated.  What did you think?

*****
The Truth About Alice
by Jennifer Mathieu
Roaring Brook Press, 2014
199 pages
Source:  Purchased New
*****

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Thursday, October 9, 2014

Book Review: "The Running Dream" by Wendelin Van Draanen

When we first meet Jessica, she is opening her eyes in the hospital and taking in all that happened:  riding on the bus home from the track meet where she set a new record, the truck that plowed into the bus, the fact that she has lost one of her legs.  Jessica lives to run and now she can't even walk?

This story takes you through Jessica's journey, all from Jessica's point of view.  We see her dealing with the grief of losing her leg which symbolizes the life she had and loved as well as her dreams for the future.  We also see her struggle to comes to terms with her new reality and to not only make the best of it, but to not give up on her dreams.

I think the most important thing though is that this story could have gotten really preachy or didactic or overly moralistic, but it doesn't.  It does take you through what it is like to get a prosthetic limb though.  The narrative also stays within the realm of realistic possibility of what a sixteen year old would feel, say or do in this situation.  Granted, it does stay pretty surface level and doesn't get too deep.  But I think that will help keep this book most appealing to younger teens. This would be a quality read for those in grades 7-10, especially those interested in overcoming trauma, handicaps or even the power of friendships and working toward a goal.

*****
The Running Dream
by Wendelin Van Draanen
Knopf, 2011
332 pages
Source:  Library
*****

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Monday, October 6, 2014

Graphic Novel Review: "Ranma 1/2: Volume 1" by Rumiko Takahashi

Two old friends make a deal:  the son of one will marry one of the three daughters of the other.  When Ranma arrives to meet the girls, he is matched up with Akane - the one who likes him the least.  She is quick tempered and has been trained to fight well.  Ranma is also very skilled in martial arts, but has this issue/curse  that makes his life difficult.  Whenever he is splashed with cold water, he becomes a girl and stays that way until he is splashed with hot water.

This curse is used in such a funny way - it is like slapstick comedy in a manga art form.  There are all these romantic entanglements for Akane, it seems everyone except Ranma is in love with her but she doesn't return this affection.  The guy she likes happens to like someone else...  and it is all sorts of awkward.

I think what I liked most about this is the crazy exaggerations and over-the-top action.  It is kind of crazy in a light-hearted and enjoyable way.  A villain is introduced too, and while he seems to be super strong and determined, his motive is still kind of a mystery (or else it was just as revealed and is again over-exaggerated) and he has at least one original flaw that is exploited with humorous results.   I've already requested volume 2, so I will read on.  It is fast and fun, so why not?

*****
Ranma 1/2: Volume 1
by Rumiko Takahashi
VIZ, 1993
300 pages
Source:  Library
*****

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Thursday, October 2, 2014

Book Review: "The Things You Kiss Goodbye" by Leslie Connor

Bettina Vasilis thinks everything is great when she starts dating basketball star Brady Cullen.  Her overprotective father actually allows her to leave the house with him, sometimes and Brady is really very sweet with her all summer long.  When school starts up again in the fall, things don't seem so wonderful anymore - but Brady is her ticket to some freedom and time out of her house.  She doesn't see that she has any real options, no good way out.  After a particularly bad day, Bettina runs into a kind, handsome, older man that she comes to know only as Cowboy.  Cowboy offers her a friendship unlike any that she's ever had before.... and maybe a solution to her problems.

I hadn't really heard anything about this, I just sort of impulse bought it while browsing the shelves.  So, yeah.

It took me a long time to be comfortable with the writing style.  The whole "first act" if you will felt a whole like telling, not showing or feeling.  I'm still not completely convinced of the relationships that were being explained...  and I feel bad saying explained, but that's how it felt while reading.  The dialogue between Bettina and, well just about anyone but definitely Cowboy, always sounded off... strange.  And I wasn't really down with Cowboy either.   At least, not with a high school girl.  Creepy.

So, no.  I can't say that I was a big fan of this one.  I still did read it until the end... so there is that.  So go for it if you'd like....  but I'm looking forward to something else.

*****
The Things You Kiss Goodbye
by Leslie Connor
Katherine Tegen, 2014
356 pages
Source:  Purchased New
*****

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Monday, September 29, 2014

Book Review: "Something Real" by Heather Demetrios

17 year old Bonnie Baker has grown up on television - literally.  She, her twelve siblings and her parents were the stars of the long-running hit reality show Baker's Dozen.  However, since the show was cancelled 4 years ago, Bonnie has done her best to become anonymous.  She's changed her name, changed her appearance and flies under the radar at her public high school.  Just as she is starting to feel comfortable with having real friends (who have no idea about her past), not to mention actually talking to the boy she's had a crush on, Bonnie's world gets upended again when the cameras show up in her home.  Her parents have signed on for another season without giving Bonnie any warning.  Suddenly Bonnie needs to confront the events that cancelled the show four years ago while trying to keep any semblance of a normal, real life - the life that isn't allowed on reality TV.

This came highly recommended to me and I am so glad I listened!  I pretty much fell in love with most of the characters here - Bonnie, her brother Benton, her love interest Patrick, Benton's boyfriend Matt, her girlfriends.....  I even ended up liking her bitchy sister Lexi.  Her parents, well, I never liked them as well as anyone associated with the show's production.  But the core group of characters are utterly fantastic!  They came together for a fresh, fun story with a bit of romance, a bit of scheming, and one incredible ending.  I'd actually say that the only thing that annoyed me were all the TM symbols all over the place, but I get that it was done to be purposefully annoying so I don't think that even really counts.  I'm looking forward to reading more from this author!

*****
Something Real
by Heather Demetrios
Henry Holt, 2014
404 pages
Source:  Library
*****

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Thursday, September 25, 2014

Audio Book Review: "Ready Player One" by Ernest Cline

It is the not too distant future and the world has pretty much gone to hell.  The real world that is.  Nearly everyone, okay everyone, prefers to "live" in the OASIS - a virtual reality that began as a computer game but has become a way of life.  Wade Watts is no exception.  He is a "gunter", or someone who is hunting for an Easter Egg the creator of the Oasis, James Halliday,  has hidden somewhere in the virtual landscape.  This egg isn't just any little thing though - the person who finds it first wins Halliday's entire fortune and takes control of the OASIS.  The race for the Egg involves critical thinking, intense gameplay, potential alliances, and lots of amazing '80s pop culture/video game references.

I actually purchased this book some time ago, but when I saw that Wil Wheaton narrates the audio book - I knew I had to work that in somehow.  Because, Wil Wheaton.  So I borrowed the audio from the library and brought both on a road trip.  I listened to most of it and finished with the print version.  I'm really glad I did it that way, because  - seriously - WIL WHEATON - and also I would have had no idea how to pronounce some of the words anyway.

The thing is, while I adore 80's pop culture, I have never been a huge gamer.  This did not matter.  I understood plenty of what was going on - the entire novel feels like you are on a quest in a video game - and maybe I understand gamers a bit more now.  This story is exciting, suspenseful, funny, and also kind of scary when you think about it.  It really isn't a huge jump between today's reliance upon near constant connection to the Internet and being fully plugged into something like the OASIS.  It is easy to see the appeal with a virtual world - you can look and sound the way you want, you can project the personality that you find most comfortable and impressive, and you totally get special powers or magic to do some awesome things.  But you just can't forget about the real world.  During this hunt, a greedy corporation with zero morals uses the real world to attack other gunters in order to knock them out of the competition.  The way this is accomplished is horrifying, and can also be a warning to real world today.

I loved this book and really wish I hadn't waited so long to experience it.

*****
Ready Player One
by Ernest Cline
Narrated by Wil Wheaton
Broadway Paperbacks, 2011
Random House Audio, 2011
372 pages
15 hours 46 minutes
Source:  Purchased New & Library
*****

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Monday, September 22, 2014

Book Review: "Breathe, Annie, Breathe" by Miranda Kenneally

Annie hates running and has always hated running.  So why is she training to for a marathon?  She is doing it in memory of her boyfriend who died tragically and suddenly at the beginning of the school year.  She feels guilty, like it is her fault Kyle died....  and as much as she hates it, she likes that she is focused and is following a schedule as part of her training.  It is helping her.  Enter Jeremiah, her running coach's brother.  He has his own set of issues, but Annie still feels drawn to him - at least as a friend... but these feelings create a whole new set of guilty feelings.

I think this is the fifth book of Kenneally's set in this area of Tennessee, but it is the first I've read.  I have a feeling that some characters were introduced or included mostly as a gift to those who have read all of the books...  but I didn't have any problem with that.  I may read some of the others someday.   But I wanted to read this because it is in part about a girl who hates running but learns how to do it anyway.  This appealed to me as one who has spent this entire summer doing more exercise than ever before in my life and while I want to learn how to run, I haven't quite taken that leap yet.  Annie's schedule scares the crap out of me but seems incredibly realistic.  That aside, I did have some small issues with the writing style - nothing major, just some things that didn't seem necessary to repeat and such.  I honestly wondered if it was an attempt to be more inside Annie's head, but it wasn't consistent enough for that.  Not a deal breaker for me, and I really ended up liking Annie quite a bit.  Also, Jeremiah.  Annie's tougher than she thinks she is, and Jeremiah is softer than he lets on.

All in all I did enjoy this and will recommend to older teens interested in grief/survival/romance stories or stories about reinventing yourself.

*****
Breathe, Annie, Breathe
by Miranda Kenneally
Sourcebooks Fire, 2014
307 pages
Source:  Library
*****

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Thursday, September 18, 2014

Book Review: "Forget Me" by K.A. Harrington

Morgan's boyfriend Flynn died in an unsolved hit-and-run accident, and she's still grieving.  Her best friend Toni suggests she post a picture of him online and say something sweet about him for closure.  As Morgan does this though... the social networking site's facial recognition software asks if she wants to tag him as "Evan Murphy".  Weird, right?  Curious, Morgan and Toni decide to check up on this Evan Murphy and find that he lives a couple towns over, is very much alive, and looks exactly like Flynn.  EXACTLY.  It's too strange to be just a coincidence, right?  Or is it stranger to consider that Flynn may have faked his own death?  Looking deeper into this unusual circumstance puts Morgan, Toni and even Flynn/Evan (?) in the middle of a mystery and cover-up much larger than they could have imagined.

This is such a fun mystery!  I fell right into all the twists and turns - to the point that I think I read about 200 pages in one sitting.  Every single time something lead me in one direction, everything would change again.  I am always a little disappointed if I figure it all out too early, but that was absolutely not the case here.  It all gets a little creepy too, which I always enjoy.  I mean, look at that cover!  One of the themes in this book is abandonment, and the town where it takes place is full of abandoned places like houses, mini-golf courses and even an amusement park.  Have you ever seen those pictures of abandoned amusement parks?   I kept picturing those while reading...  even if the action wasn't taking place in the park itself, it still was in the same town - and it just felt so creepy.  I loved it.

*****
Forget Me
by K.A. Harrington
Putnam, 2014
276 pages
Source:  Library
*****

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