Sunday, June 28, 2009

April and Oliver by Tess Callahan

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Pub. Date: June 2009
ISBN-13: 9780446540599
Pages: 336
Rating: 4 out of 5
Summary: April and Oliver have been childhood best friends. As adults, they drifted but later reconnected after April's younger brother Buddy died. Oliver, now engaged, fights his attraction towards April who's vulnerable after being in relationships with abusive men. April, who believes she is incapable of finding love, also has feelings for Oliver. It's a story of love and loss. Will Oliver and April finally confront their feelings for each other, or will they live with the unspoken truth?
Review: When I saw this book while I was browsing through Books A Million, my first thought was: Hm. April and Oliver. Probably a love story about an old couple or a married couple and their obstacles through the years. I'm not really huge on romance or love stories, but there was something about this book that made me reach for it. I didn't know if it was the cover, but it was certainly pretty.
At first, I found myself annoyed with April. She was a beautiful young woman who chose to get involved with men who abused her physically and sexually. It was like a vicious cycle, and no matter how bad things got, she never asked for help. Drama surrounded her like a moth to a flame. I didn't like her because she didn't appear to have common sense. It went on like this throughout half of the book (maybe even more), and I thought this book should be titled April, not April and Oliver. When she realized that she still had hope to find herself and starting over, finally...finally, that's when I realized that she wasn't so bad. And...surprise! I actually started to respect her.
April's counterpart, Oliver, was a nice guy with a nice fiancee. Their life seemed so perfect, but Oliver has an attraction towards April. Her wild ways should have driven him away, and he afraid of her, yet he continues to try to help her and rescue her when needed. Still he had a fiancee to think about and he found the courage to "wash" his hands off April.
Of course, the story didn't end there. They reconciled but things between Oliver and his fiancee Bernadette were changing. Will they marry or not?
April's character went through more character development than Oliver's. I thought both of their characters should have been equally developed because they shared the title of the book. The ending surprised me, but I also thought it ended too soon. I didn't know if the author was in a rush to finish it or not, but it did feel that way. I wished there could have been more though.
Recommendation: Great book! I enjoyed this. Be prepared to sit down for awhile because it's a real page turner. You will end up getting pulled in and wanting more.

City of Thieves by David Benioff

Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)
Pub. Date: March 2009
ISBN-13: 9780452295292
Pages: 272
Rating: 5 out of 5
Summary: It is 1942, and Leningrad is under siege by the Nazi Germany. Lev Beniov, a Russian Jew, is thrown into jail after being caught for looting. While in jail, he meets the tall, handsome, and confident Kolya who's jailed for deserting his Army. A Soviet colonel decides to spare their lives if they accomplish an outrageous mission: They must obtain a dozen eggs for the colonel's daughter's wedding cake. Sure, a dozen eggs can't be too hard to find, but Leningrad is torn by the war where food supplies had been cut off, forcing Lev and Kolya to go behind the enemy lines.
Review: After reading The Bell Jar and Of Mice and Men, City of Thieves was a breath of fresh air. I was absolutely entertained by this story. It had adventure, suspense, and comedy. I was immediately hooked by the story, and it was impossible for me to put the book down. Mr. Benioff is an awesome writer.
The story started out with Lev who got caught after trying to loot a dead (yes, dead) German soldier whose life ended due to the cold. (This is in the dead of winter in Russia, after all.) He was sent to jail since the dead soldier was actually the Russian government's property, and therefore Lev was stealing from the Russian government. By the way, did I mention that the soldier was dead?
Just when I thought the reason for Lev's incarceration was ridiculous, a Soviet colonel decided to spare him and his companion in jail, Kolya, from execution if they accomplish this amazing feat: Get a dozen eggs so the colonel's wife can bake a cake for their daughter's wedding. Getting a dozen eggs ought to be simple, but unfortunately this was war time. Invaded by the Nazis, Leningrad was cut off from food supplies. The Russians were dying either from getting killed or starving to death.
Lev and Kolya go through plenty of near death experiences such as escaping from Russian cannibals and also from the Nazis. Yet despite the odds of the odds against them, Kolya's humor remained intact. I thought Kolya was a lovable and unforgettable character with his easy going attitude and wise-cracking remarks. Lev, however, held up on his own as a main character. Only seventeen, he was a naive city boy but later showed courage when danger was imminent.
Recommendation: I love this book and it's a keeper. It is highly recommended if you are looking for the following in a book:
1. Action and adventure
2. Comedy
3. A coming of age story
4. A story of friendship

Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)
Pub. Date: January 1993
ISBN-13: 9780140177398
Pages: 112
Rating: 5 out of 5
Summary: Of Mice and Men was a novella that was first published in 1937. This is a story of two ranchers in California, George Milton and Lennie Small. They dreamed of owning their own ranch until an unexpected tragedy happened.
Review: I read John Steinbeck's works before when I was in junior high like The Pearl and Grapes of Wrath. John Steinbeck's a brillant author, and his delivery Of Mice and Men was excellent.
The characters, George Milton and Lennie Small could not be any different. George is a tough, street smart man who acts like a father figure to Lennie who has a mind of a child. Both are determined to work hard and earn money so they can buy a ranch of their own. I really feel for Lennie who is mentally disabled. He loves to pet soft things. In a previous ranch where George and Lennie worked at, an event occurred where Lennie was accused of raping a young girl since he touched a young woman's dress. Both George and Lennie fled to Salinas, and George became extremely over-protective of Lennie. However, despite of George's efforts, Lennie soon gets involved in a dangerous incident.
I was really shocked and sad at the ending, and it raised some ethical questions. I did feel that what George did was reasonable, but was it right? I had some mixed feelings about it. I still gave this story my highest rating only because it's one of the most controversial and interesting stories I've read this year.
Recommendations: This isn't really for the faint of heart. If you're looking for something cheerful to read, Of Mice and Men will probably not be your cup of tea. It comes highly recommended from me if you're looking for a short book to read and if you don't mind reading something thought-provoking.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Read, Reflect, Repeat

One day after work, I decided to check out a small independent bookstore in Deridder, which is about 20 miles away from my town. The bookstore not only offered bestsellers and new books, but also sold used books. Since my funds were pretty limited due to moving out of state, I decided to walk over to the used books section. Lo and behold, I saw the Anne of Green Gables series by L.M. Montgomery.

How I loved the Anne of Green Gables series! I read the first two books when I was in the fifth grade. By the seventh grade, I had read all the series. (It took me awhile to find the rest of the books.) Never tired of Anne Shirley, I re-read them again when I was in the eighth grade.

The Anne of Green Gables series weren't the only books I read multiple times. I enjoyed The Little Women by Louisa May Alcott so much that I lost count how many times I borrowed it from the library. I was in the sixth grade then. Of course, now I own a copy of the Little Women and the Anne of Green Gables series so there's no more frequent trips to the school library.

I never got tired re-reading Sidney Sheldon's The Stars Shine Down. It was a rags to riches story of a woman named Lara. The story was simple but the character, though successful, had her flaws. Lara was someone I was able to relate to (though I'm not, by all means, rich) so I believed that was why I kept re-reading the book.

Even though I knew who the perpetrators were in Michael Palmer's The Fifth Vial, I still kept coming back to this book. The story had so many twists, and it was exciting from the beginning to the end.

How about you, fellow reader? What books have you re-read? How many times? Once? Twice? Perhaps you've read more than that? And why? What made you keep coming back to this book? Was it the plot? Was it the character? Please share. I'd love to hear your comments.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

World War II Books Wish List

I was sitting at my Dad's desk today, hoping to find the Sunday paper, when I stumbled upon a catalog of the Naval Institute Press. I kind of rolled my eyes to myself, wondering what exactly could be interesting about US Navy ships, and who would want to write about books about ships? Well, the US Navy, of course...but that's beside the point. I flipped the catalog open since I was curious what they had to sell.

I was pleasantly surprised that I found some books that held my interest. One such book is called the Sisterhood of Spies: The Women of the OSS by Elizabeth P. McIntosh.

Since I am a big fan of World War II books (fiction and nonfiction books), I just had to get this book. Icons such as Julia Child and Marlene Dietrich actually served in the OSS (Office of Strategic Services) which was a US intelligence agency back in World War II.

Other books that are on my wish list are Germany's Last Mission to Japan by Joseph Mark Scalia and Hitler's Navy by Jak P. Mallmann Showell. I may wait to get Hitler's Navy though since it's almost $70. Yikes!

There's also the fighting Admirals of World War II by David Wragg where he wrote the biographies of admirals that served on both Allied and Axis Powers.

I also plan to buy Manila and Santiago by Jim Leeke, which accounts the naval warfare of the Spanish American War. I know it's not about World War II, but it does tell a little bit of history of my birthplace, the Philippines.
I definitely want to read Stranded in the Philippines by Scott Mills. It's a true story of Henry Roy Bell, who's a missionary, and his family who became stranded in the Philippines during the Japanese invasion in World War II. I think these would be very interesting to read. I remember my grandma used to tell me how she and her family hid from the Japanese soldiers because they were afraid of getting raped or killed or both. They were truly horrible times.

I'm excited to get these books. I may do a review on a couple of them like Standed in the Philippines and Sisterhood of the Spies and I can't wait to share them with you guys.

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Pub. Date: October 2006
First Edition published: 1963
ISBN-13: 9780061148514
Pages: 288
Rating: 4 out of 5

Synopsis: The Bell Jar is the story of Esther Greenwood who is a junior editor of a magazine begins her descent towards depression. It became so severe that she tries to commit suicide, and she goes through therapy. This is a semi-autobiographical book about Sylvia Plath, who also battled her own demons of depression. She committed suicide in 1963.

Review: This was probably one of the darkest books I had ever read. It was very interesting, but there were some things that weren’t clear. For instance, it was never explained why Esther hated her mother in the first place. Esther’s mother obviously played some part that made her childhood terrible, but there were no specifics. Esther never really got over her father’s death either, and she somehow blamed her mother. Again, it was ambiguous.

Some parts were very disturbing like how Esther planned to kill herself a few times. I felt sorry for her especially when she was misdiagnosed by a doctor for mental illness instead of severe depression. The result harmed Esther instead of helping her, and eventually she almost succeeded in committing suicide.

Recommendation: It’s not the kind of story that everyone would like to read, and I think Sylvia Plath was bold to write this. If you are looking for a fun-filled or uplifting book to read, I suggest that you read something else. Esther’s story is the kind of story that no one likes to talk about. I do think it is an interesting book to be discussed in a book club though.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson

Publisher: Random House Audio Publishing Group
Pub. Date: August 2008
ISBN-13: 9780739328958
Edition Description: Unabridged, 16 CDs
Narrated by: Lincoln Hoppe
Rating: 4 out of 5

Synopsis: A man gets into a terrible car accident where he is badly burned. In the hospital, he hovers between life and death. When he contemplates suicide, a woman by the name of Marianne Engle appears in his room. She claims that they have known each other and have been lovers back in the 1350’s! He doesn’t believe her, and she is determined to prove it to him. He finds himself entranced by her and later realizes that he is falling in love with her.

Review: I really enjoyed this book. This was my first audio, and Lincoln Hoppe did an excellent job on the narration. I listened to this audio book the whole time I drove from South Carolina to Louisiana. That’s a 16 hour drive. Not once did I even feel sleepy because I was hanging by every word that was being said. Andrew Davidson’s a wonderful writer. He not only brought me into the story but he also brought me into the main character’s pain. The male protagonist (and I thought it was strange that the author never gave his name) was a drug abuser, alcoholic, porn star, and an atheist. He’s not exactly an ideal main character, but the author wrote him enough for the readers to be sympathetic towards him. The author wrote the burn scenes and the hospital scenes in such detail that I almost thought I was the character. I really couldn’t blame him for wanting to commit suicide.

Marianne Engel was probably one of the most fascinating characters I’ve ever read. At first, I thought she was weird but as I learned more about her past and with the male protagonist, I began to understand her more.

If you hadn’t notice already, I’m all about character development. I think if the characters weren’t interesting enough, then so was the plot. The character development in this book was an A plus. I had never read such an inspiring story about unconditional love.

Recommendation: I had trouble rating this book. It was really between a four and five, but in the end I rated it as 4 out of 5. There were a few things that bothered me such as how the ending dragged on and the details of the burn scenes. It was gory at some parts, and I actually had to skip them. I hate to say that you shouldn’t read it because some parts were difficult to go through because you would be missing out on an excellent story.

Monday, June 15, 2009

The Help by Kathryn Stockett

Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)
Publishing Date: February 2009
ISBN-13: 9780399155345
Pages: 464
Rating: 5 out of 5

Synopsis: Meet three women from Jackson, Mississippi: Skeeter, Aibilene, and Minnie. They lived in the turbulent times of the civil rights movement during the 1960’s. It was a time of change, a time of fear, and time of new opportunities. Despite the whole country was transforming its laws for equality, Mississippi still clung to its segregation laws.

Although Skeeter, Aibilene, and Minnie came from different backgrounds, their desire for change united them. They decided to write a book that will voice their experiences and their pain. Yet the book could cause them grave consequences that will affect the rest of their lives.

Review: If you want to read a book that will make you think for days, this is it. I became so engrossed in it when I started reading that I actually finished the first half of it in one day. It was that good.

The characters are unforgettable, even the minor characters. One of them is Hilly Holbrook who I love to hate. I admire Skeeter, who decides to stand up in what she believes in even though it hurt her relationships with her friends. Then there’s Aibilene, a black maid who takes care of the infant Mae Mobley with so much love because the mother refuses to pay attention to her. Another pair of characters that provided the comedy relief is Minnie and Celia. They are hilarious! I could not help but root for Celia, the underdog; and I am in awe of Minnie who despite her belief not to get into “white people’s business”, decides to help Celia.

I think Kathyrn Stockett does a wonderful job of telling the characters own stories in their voices. She tells the story so well without being stereotypical. This book is enjoyable to read from the beginning to the end. It’s very hard to put down.

Recommendation: Truly an excellent story! If you like to read about the South, or even if you don’t, get this book. It’s keeper.

The Lemonade Award

I received an award from Book Dragon of Book Dragon's Lair. Thank you so much! It is such an honor to be nominated.
The Lemonade Award is a feel good award that shows great attitude or gratitude. Here are the rules for accepting the award:
1) Put the Lemonade Award logo on your blog or post.
2) Nominate at least 10 blogs that show great attitude or gratitude.
3) Link to your nominees within your post.
4) Let the nominees know that they have received this award by commenting on their blog.
5) Share the love and link to the person from whom you received your award.
Here's a few that I have nominated:
I will be looking out for blogs since I need 7 more to nominate. I have to go to work now so I will leave this list as is.
Congratulations to the winners. :)
Here's three more I've nominated:
Congratulations to Alaine, Anna and Michele! :)

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Reviews Posted and Some Updates

As promised, I posted my reviews on Tallgrass and Sherlock Holmes: The Hound of the Baskervilles. These reviews were done last night, but it was getting late so I didn't bother posting the links until this evening.

I have also decided to set aside Those Who Save Us by Jenna Blum for now. Currently, I am reading The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath.

I have also updated my blog, One Hundred Books to Read 2009. I've completed 27 books so far. As much as I would love to do reviews on all the books I've read, I don't think I can or will. I started the challenge pretty late and I was right in the middle of moving. I think that if I try to review every book I've read since January, it will take the fun out of blogging. Isn't that why we started blogging in the first place? For fun? I know I did. :)

I mentioned that I will do a review on The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson, but I will also do a review on The Help by Kathryn Stockett. They are both excellent books. So stay tuned and come back soon.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Back from the Dead

Okay. So the title is a bit morbid, but after a month without any updates, I certainly feel like this blog is being resurrected. I surely hope I haven't lost any readers. Now that I have internet access again, I can update more often like I used to.

Is everyone having a great summer so far? Summers in Louisiana arrive early and stay late during the year. Honestly, this is my least favorite time of the year. Fall has always been and always will be my favorite season.

This weekend I will be posting a couple of reviews on The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Tallgrass by Sandra Dallas. I have written them by longhand since I didn't have access to my computer for awhile. I also plan to do a review of the The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson sometime in the future.

Right now, I am reading Those Who Save Us by Jenna Blume. I'm just not sure if I should continue reading it though and it's not because the story's bad. The plot is actually good but some parts are too degrading to read. I'll have to decide whether or not I should set it aside for now and read it later.

There you have it. My first post after one month. I apologize for taking so long, and I hope to see you all here again soon.