Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Book Review: The Eyes of a King, Catherine Banner

The Plot:  Fifteen-year-old Leo lives in Malonia, a rigid, military state ruled by a usurper who murdered the king.  But there is a prophecy that the prince escaped to mythical England, and will one day return to rule the country.  Leo doesn’t care about prophecies or politics.  He cares about his parents, who were exiled during the revolution, the sergeant at military school who seems to have it in for him, and his little brother, Stirling. Then Stirling dies, and Leo has to overcome his sorrow and guilt.

Catherine Banner started writing The Eyes of a King at age fourteen, and was published at sixteen.  Since she accomplished this before graduating high-school, and I have yet to finish a manuscript, I probably shouldn’t critique her at all.  But this is my blog and I’ll do what I want.  Eyes gets an A for character development, and a D for plot.  The characters are all very realistic, (if a little dramatic and moody) but the plot takes place in the background.  I probably wouldn’t be friends with any of the main characters, but they all feel like people I could easily meet on the street.  Violent takeovers, prophecies, and communication with other worlds are all generally a big deal, but here they seem like an afterthought.  The plot seems like it just something to fill the void between Leo’s bouts with rage or grief.  I love the fact that England is a “mythical place.” The book format, a book being written to a mysterious person, is very unique.  And the plot has potential to be great.  I’ve been told that the plot is much stronger in her second (yes, she already has a second) book, so we shall see.  J 

Monday, May 23, 2011

Book Review: The Devil and Sherlock Holmes, David Grann

           What do Sherlock Holmes, giant squid, and over-the-hill bank robbers have in common?  They are all featured in David Grann’s The Devil and Sherlock Holmes.  Beginning with the tale of the mysterious death of the world’s foremost Sherlock Holmes expert, and ending with “The Devil” (a Haitian terrorist) selling real estate in New York City, this collection of articles from The NewYorker runs the gamut of bizarre stories. Some are heartbreaking, others are fascinating, and all are true; thus proving Sherlock’s belief that “Life is infinitely stranger than anything which the mind of man could invent.”

            I honestly had a hard time finishing this book. To be fair, journalism is not my favorite genre, and several times I felt bogged down with details that didn’t seem to further the plot.  A few articles, like “Stealing Time,” simply did not hold my attention.  But the bigger problem was that the disturbing tales of capital punishment gone wrong, prison gangs, and entire cities controlled by the mob are all true.  Grann is an extremely talented journalist, and all of his articles are well written, but not all are for the faint of heart.  Several of Grann’s interviews contain graphic language, so I can’t recommend this book for younger audiences.  I did enjoy the pieces with a lighter tone, especially “The Old Man and the Gun,” which is about a “gentleman bank robber” who pulled off his last heist at the age of 79. I also appreciated the afterward in most of the pieces, which updated the reader of any developments in the story since the article was originally written.  Even though many of the articles were hard for me to read, they were even more difficult to put down.  I would recommend this book to anyone with an interest in the more unusual side of life.

*Book provided by BookDivas   

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Book Review: Shiver, Maggie Stiefvater

The Plot: Grace loves wolves.  One wolf in particular, the one who saved her from an attack six years ago.  But now a local high-school boy has been found mauled to death, and the whole community is bent on ridding the area of its wolf population.  As Grace struggles to save her beloved wolves she discovers a shocking secret.  “Her wolf,” and his entire pack, are werewolves.  Grace’s wolf, Sam, knows that this will be his last year to be able to change.  When he shifts into his four-legged form for the winter, there will be no return.  Now Grace is in a race against time to find a cure, before Sam loses his humanity forever.

I loved Maggie Stiefvater’s other books, and Shiver did not disappoint!  It is always fun to see an author step away from convention when writing about a standard fantasy character.  In Stiefvater’s world it is the weather, not the moon, that causes werewolves to change.  And the wolves reaching a point of no return in their shifting adds a sense of urgency to the story.  Werewolves aside, the plot and the characters are very believable.  My only complaint is that Stiefvater’s protagonists always fall in love too quickly.  A more developed relationship would Grace and Sam’s fear of separation and loss feel more real.  My favorite part of the whole novel has to be the ending.  It is one of the best, and most heartbreaking, that I have read in a while.  It makes me glad that the next book in this series, Linger, is already out, so I won’t have to wait long to read it!   

Friday, May 13, 2011

Something worth sharing

*When Insults Had Class, when one spoke the king’s English!

These glorious insults are from an era before the English language got boiled down to 4-letter words.
*The exchange between Churchill & Lady Astor:
She said, "If you were my husband I'd give you poison."
He said, "If you were my wife, I'd drink it."
A member of Parliament to Disraeli: "Sir, you will either die on the gallows or of some unspeakable disease."
"That depends, Sir," said Disraeli, "whether I embrace your policies or your mistress."
"He had delusions of adequacy." - Walter Kerr
"He has all the virtues I dislike and none of the vices I admire." -
Winston Churchill
"I have never killed a man, but I have read many obituaries with great pleasure."  Clarence Darrow
"He has never been known to use a word that might send a reader to the dictionary." - William Faulkner (about Ernest Hemingway).
"Thank you for sending me a copy of your book; I'll waste no time reading it." - Moses Hadas
"I didn't attend the funeral, but I sent a nice letter saying I
approved of it." - Mark Twain
"He has no enemies, but is intensely disliked by his friends.." -
Oscar Wilde
"I am enclosing two tickets to the first night of my new play; bring a friend.... if you have one." - George Bernard Shaw to Winston Churchill
"Cannot possibly attend first night, will attend second.... if there
is one." -  Winston Churchill, in response.
"I feel so miserable without you; it's almost like having you here." - Stephen Bishop
"He is a self-made man and worships his creator." - John Bright
"I've just learned about his illness. Let's hope it's nothing
trivial." - Irvin S. Cobb
"He is not only dull himself; he is the cause of dullness in others." - Samuel Johnson
"He is simply a shiver looking for a spine to run up." - Paul Keating
"In order to avoid being called a flirt, she always yielded easily." - Charles, Count Talleyrand
"He loves nature in spite of what it did to him." - Forrest Tucker
"Why do you sit there looking like an envelope without any address on it?" - Mark Twain
"His mother should have thrown him away and kept the stork." - Mae West
"Some cause happiness wherever they go; others, whenever they go.." - Oscar Wilde
"He uses statistics as a drunken man uses lamp-posts... for support rather than illumination." - Andrew Lang (1844-1912)
"He has Van Gogh's ear for music." - Billy Wilder
"I've had a perfectly wonderful evening. But this wasn't it." - Groucho Marx

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Book review: Diary of a Part-Time Ghost, Vered Ehsani

In Diary of a Part-Time Ghost, Vered Ehsani creates a world where the biggest dangers can’t be seen. Fifteen-year-old Ash wants nothing more than to blend in with the crowd. But he has the unusual problem of being hunted by shadows.  Not to mention the too-real dreams about his murder.  Then his long-lost aunt shows up and promises to explain everything.  Instead, she leaves him with a warning to avoid the shadows and a mysterious history book that allows him to travel back in time.  On his first trip to the past, Ash discovers a few things.  The most obvious is that he’s a ghost.  And even more disturbing, the same evil that is hunting him on this side of the veil is stalking his ancestors in the past.  Now Ash has a choice to make:  He can hover in the background unseen, or he can take action and protect his family. 

I love the cover art for Diary of a Part-Time Ghost.  The ominous shadows blocking the face on the cover give the impression of mysterious danger, a theme carried throughout the book.  My favorite part of the story is the unusual spin on ghosts.  Ash does not have to die to become a ghost, he just leaves his body on one side of time, while traveling in another.  My biggest complaint about the book deals with the formatting.  Ash relays his experiences through a series of diary entries, but the book is divided into chapters.  I found this disorienting at times.  The story would flow better if the book was divided into separate journal entries, instead of chapters.  There were also a few holes in the plot.  But the end of the book lends itself to a sequel, so the plot could easily be expanded in a second book.  Overall, I wish that the plotline was a little more in-depth, but if you’re looking for an easy read with a unique take on ghosts and history, this book may be for you.       

* book provided by bookdivas.com 

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Breaking News!

I have accomplished my life goal. No, I have not finished raising a Christian family. And I still have a mortgage. And I'm not going to Ireland an time soon.  Okay, my other life goal.  I'm going to be published. In a real book.  My short story "Family Ties" will be in Unconventional, an anthology, due in stores January 2012!!!  Woot Woot!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Book Review: The Da Vinci Code, Dan Brown

The Plot: American symbologist Robert Langdon and French cryptologist Sophie Neveu are thrown together in a bizarre murder, and find themselves targeted as the prime suspects.  Now they have to elude the French police while trying to decipher clues left at the murder scene, in hopes of uncovering the real killer.

What the clues reveal, however, is far more shocking.  The murder victim, Sophie’s grandfather, was the head of the Priory of Sion, a secret society dating back to the time of Christ.  According to legend, the Priory of Sion’s membership included prominent figures, such as Leonardo Da Vinci and Sir. Isaac Newton.  And they protected a secret powerful enough to topple the Christian faith.  Langdon and Neveu must discover the secret, the Holy Grail, before the killer catches them.

Okay, I know I’m a little behind the times on reading this one.  But it is a really fascinating read, as long as you are not too easily offended.  Without doing your own research on the history of the Church, Brown’s (not very positive) views on Christianity, especially Catholicism, can be easy to believe.  He does twist or leave out huge portions of history in order for his story to flow, but this is a work of fiction, he’s allowed to do that.  I was impressed by the amount of codes and double meanings throughout the book, whether the original authors intended them to be there or not.  I also loved the switching viewpoints throughout the book.  It kept m interest without causing confusion between the storylines.  My only complaint is that I occasionally felt like I was back in a college lecture hall.  Brown definitely did his research while writing this book, and to prove that, he filled pages with lists and facts that did not end up being important to the text.  To me, it was like trying to remember a huge amount of material that was not actually on the test.  But, since one of the main characters is a Harvard professor, perhaps that is on purpose.