Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Happy Halloween!: Fave Scary Reads

Happy Halloween, readers!  I have had a great time delving into some spooky and thrilling reads this month, in honor of this ever-so-eerie day.

Since college, I haven't focused much on the horror genre (or at least not more than any other genre).  But when I was in middle and high school, that was almost the only thing I read.  Looking back on it, I'm kind of amazed that my middle school Reading and Language Arts teachers never marched me to the school counselor's office.  All I read was Fear Street, and all the stories I wrote involved murder, suicide, and death in general.  'Twas a different era, I suppose.  Thanks for trusting that I wasn't a psycho, teachers!

Nowadays, I still love to pepper my reading with scary books.  Books give me enough of a scare-factor that I feel sufficiently creeped out, but they don't overload me with horrifying special effects and gore the way the movies do.  The beauty of reading is that you can visualize and focus on the plot elements at your own pace, in your own head.  They can still freak me the eff out, but it's easier to walk away if I need a breather.  This is what keeps scary books on my TBR list.

Thus, in honor of the awesomeness that is Halloween, I'm highlighting some of my all-time favorite scary reads, from my dark days as a horror-writing youngster to now.

The Scary Stories books by Alvin Schwartz

I had all three of these books in elementary school, and they are still scaring the pants off me to this day.  The stories themselves are straight-up frightening, but paired with the pictures?  They're like the visual equivalent of The Ring.  GAHHH!  In hindsight, I can't believe these were marketed to fourth graders.  Do kids still read these, or have they been banned because the children of the 80's showed too much mental damage?

Christopher Pike teen novels

When I hit middle school, Christopher Pike and RL Stine were my homeboys.  I would read any Fear Street you threw at me.  But in terms of the scare factor, Pike always won out.  Stine's books were always a little campy and predictable, but Christopher Pike went straight for the gritty, gory, sex- and drug-infested teenage horror story.  Again, probably a bit much for my 11-year-old self.  But these books still stick with me as awesome reads.  Chain Letter was one of my faves.

Relic by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child

I have no idea why I took this book out of the library in middle school.  Apparently I wandered into the adult section and ended up with this at random.  I read it three times, and every time I didn't sleep for days.  If you've seen the movie (with Julianne Moore), it's kind of cheesy.  But the book was no joke.  Now remember--I was in middle school.  It might not be so scary to me now.  But back then, the crazy Amazonian beast roaming the halls of the Natural History Museum was a nightmare.  I still think about it every time I visit the AMNH in New York.

Helter Skelter by Vincent Bugliosi

What's scarier than nonfiction horror?  This is the story of Charles Manson and the Manson murders, in full and disgusting detail.  I read this in high school (came strongly recommended by my MOM...and I wonder why I was drawn to horror novels).  If you like true crime, this is the ultimate.

Pet Sematary by Stephen King

As an adult, Stephen King is my horror master.  I've read a ton of his stuff, but Pet Sematary might be tops on the list for me in terms of fright.  A family moves into a new house, and discovers an ancient burial ground in the woods behind it.  It contains powers that are beyond the imagination--and of course, those powers are abused accordingly.  Burial ground + dead pets + little kids = totally twisted.

What were your scary favorites throughout the years?

Wondrous Words Wednesday (3)



Halloween Edition!  All these creepy words come from 'Salem's Lot by Stephen King.  Man, does that guy have a vocabulary, LET ME TELL YOU.

Wondrous Words Wednesday is hosted by Bermudaonion each week.  It's an opportunity to share new words you've encountered in your reading, or highlight words that you particularly enjoy.


Here are three of my favorites new-to-me words from 'Salem's Lot.  All definitions from Dictionary.com.


1. viscid.   "The shadows of coming night had already pooled into it, like something viscid and alive."

adjective
having a glutinous consistency; sticky; adhesive; viscous.

2. cerements.   "He wanted to see EVIL with its cerements of deception cast aside, with every feature of its visage clear."
noun
1a cerecloth used for wrapping the dead.
2.  any graveclothes.

3. malefic.  "A great hush had fallen over the woods; but it was a malefic hush."

adjective
productive of evil; malign; doing harm; baneful.

What are your new words this week?

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Book Review: Coraline by Neil Gaiman


Title: Coraline
Author: Neil Gaiman
Publisher: HarperCollins
Publication Date: August 4, 2002
Source: received from Cass in the All Hallow's Read book swap!

Plot Summary from Goodreads:


Coraline's often wondered what's behind the locked door in the drawing room. It reveals only a brick wall when she finally opens it, but when she tries again later, a passageway mysteriously appears. Coraline is surprised to find a flat decorated exactly like her own, but strangely different. And when she finds her "other" parents in this alternate world, they are much more interesting despite their creepy black button eyes. When they make it clear, however, that they want to make her theirs forever, Coraline begins a nightmarish game to rescue her real parents and three children imprisoned in a mirror. With only a bored-through stone and an aloof cat to help, Coraline confronts this harrowing task of escaping these monstrous creatures.


My Review:

When I was filling out my preferences for the All Hallow's Read swap (courtesy of My Friend Amy's blog), I had a hard time summing up what type of book I preferred.  I love Stephen King, but I've read a ton of it.  Some crime thrillers are great for me, but others fall terribly flat.  I've read 1 Neil Gaiman novel, want to try more, but not sure what.

Well, turns out that lucky me was paired with Cass from Bonjour, Cass!, and I was pleasantly surprised to find a copy of Coraline in my mailbox.  New-to-me Gaiman, but a middle-grade novella--very different from my previously-read (and loved) Neverwhere.  Plus, I haven't seen the movie, so the plot was entirely unknown to me.  I was intrigued!

Coraline is a short read, but it instantly transported me back to fifth grade, when I adored Roald Dahl's Matilda (and probably re-read it 10 times that year alone).  If you've read both books, you might think that's an odd comparison, but I actually see many similarities.  Two young, brave heroines, using their fantastical worlds to their advantage to outsmart the wily adults that rival them.  No wonder my long-repressed fifth-grade-self was awakened!  I think Matilda and Coraline would get along quite well, in fact.  And have many stories to share.  (Plus, they're both Brits, so hometown advantage.)

However, the obvious difference between these two books is the scare factor.  While Matilda does have its moments (that Miss Trunchbull was a bear), Coraline is written with the Gaiman creepiness that I easily recognized from the adult-focused Neverwhere--and actually, there were several plot points that seemed to mirror things I read in the adult novel.  For example, the corridor between Coraline's flat and "other mother's" flat reminded me very much of the Night's Bridge in Neverwhere.  And the constant appearance of rats = Neverwhere's Rat Speakers.

Gaiman does not set out to ruin our children's psyches though.  In Coraline, there is less full-on fright, and more of an underlying sense of creepiness.  An uneasy atmosphere, created through the disconcerting imagery he provides.  The black button eyes?  The long-nailed white hands?  The quiet-but-always-watching rats?  None of these things are downright terrifying on their own (okay, maybe the eyes.  That was creepy), but taken all together, they provide just enough discomfort to make your spine tingle.

A bit more about Coraline herself.  What a precocious and amusing character!  Some of her interactions with her parents made me laugh quite a bit:
"'I didn't think you played with your dolls anymore,' said Mrs. Jones.
'I don't,' admitted Coraline.  'They're protective coloration.'
'Well, be back in time for lunch,' said her mother." (p 153)

And much like the hero-children I mentioned in Stephen King novels, her young innocence and wisdom are what lead her to triumph over her more senior foes.  (Page 20: "Coraline wondered why so few of the adults she had met made any sense.  She sometimes wondered who they thought they were talking to."  Parents just don't understand, y'all.)

I've nearly gone on here as long as the novella itself.  Can you tell I enjoyed it?  This was truly a book that transported me, mentally, back to my elementary- and middle-school reading years.  It is perfectly creepy enough for Halloween, and the eerie feel of Gaiman's other work shines through.  But Coraline's personality adds a lightness that makes this perfect for younger readers. 

(They might still have nightmares about the black button eyes though.  I'm not making any guarantees there.  Yick.)

Check out some other reviews of Coraline:
On A Book Bender
Reading Lark
The Cheap Reader
On The Wings of Books

What recent reads remind you of your childhood favorites?

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Book Review: 'Salem's Lot by Stephen King




Title: 'Salem's Lot
Author: Stephen King
Publisher: Doubleday
Publication Date: October 1, 1975
Source: received as a gift in a book swap

Plot Summary from Goodreads:

'Salem's Lot is a small New England town with white clapboard houses, tree-lined streets, and solid church steeples. That summer in 'Salem's Lot was a summer of home-coming and return; spring burned out and the land lying dry, crackling underfoot. Late that summer, Ben Mears returned to 'Salem's Lot hoping to cast out his own devils... and found instead a new unspeakable horror.

A stranger had also come to the Lot, a stranger with a secret as old as evil, a secret that would wreak irreparable harm on those he touched and in turn on those they loved.

All would be changed forever—Susan, whose love for Ben could not protect her; Father Callahan, the bad priest who put his eroded faith to one last test; and Mark, a young boy who sees his fantasy world become reality and ironically proves the best equipped to handle the relentless nightmare of 'Salem's Lot.


My Review:


My love for Stephen King knows no bounds.  It started when I was in middle school and read The Shining for the first time.  Since then, I have meandered my way through the majority of his more famous works, and many of the less well-known ones too.  But for some reason, 'Salem's Lot eluded me until now.  I decided Halloween time was the perfect season to take care of that!

And what can I say that hasn't already been said?  This is a vampire story that makes me question why I ever wasted time reading the Twilight series.  (Not that I didn't already question that, but...you know what I mean.)  The Volturi have nothing on Kurt Barlow.

There is a lot of the violence and horror that Stephen King is known for (not surprising, since this is one of his earliest works).  The book did a great job keeping me up at night, wondering if the neighbors were going to try to climb through my window and go for the jugular.  Automatic literary scare points for that.  But as is typical of King horror, it isn't a mindless string of bloody deaths and empty storylines.  You get connected to the characters (and yes, you have to say some grotesque goodbyes to some many of them).  King includes a prologue that I kept referring back to throughout the book, because in the beginning, it's hard to make full sense of it--but by the end, you want to go back and re-read it to see all of the "ah-ha" moments he added in.  He's a master of putting a small detail on page 20, and then having it come back to punch you in the face on page 323, when you've fairly well forgotten it.

And of all the characters in the book, I have to say I rooted for Mark Petrie the hardest.  I read a book blog post last week that was stellar--it talked about the way Stephen King writes so many whip-smart child characters, who are often able to triumph over evil opponents in ways that adults cannot.  (If you wrote that post, email me!  I want to reference it, boo to me for not bookmarking it.)  Mark Petrie is a perfect example of this.  At just ten/eleven years old, he's not who you'd probably pick first on your ultimate vampire-killing team.  BUT YOU SHOULD.  And King references many times where Mark, as a child, is able to act swiftly and forcefully because he is not laden with the need to overreact or overthink situations, as an adult would:
"With no pause for thought or consideration (both would have come to an adult--his father, for instance--and both would have undone him), Mark swept up the cross, curled it into a tight fist, and said loudly: "Come on in, then." (p 262)

I had vaguely noticed this in other King novels (It, The Shining, Firestarter, etc.) but I think it was illustrated more strongly in Mark's case because in the group of people making the last stand against the vampires, he is the lone child surrounded by adults.  King sees a power in children that many other authors do not, and it translates well in the horror genre where so many evils await.

Oh, and the ending?  Was awesome.

I could go on for days (there are also a lot of metaphors about how 'Salem's Lot illustrates American society after Vietnam...), but I'll let you Google that stuff and stop here.  Obviously, I loved this book.  It's a horror novel with so many twists and complexities, you won't want to put it down.  Plus, it's the perfect pick with Halloween coming up in a few days!

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Small Fry Saturday #3: Underpants, Thunderpants! by Peter Bently



It's time for installment #3 of Small Fry Saturdays!  This is where I do a weekly showcase of books that my Small Fry is currently reading.  Feel free to do a SFS post on your blog (with the graphic above) or leave a comment below about your favorite kiddie reads.


Underpants, Thunderpants! by Peter Bently
(illustrated by Deborah Melmon)

A couple of weeks ago, we headed over to Barnes and Noble with a gift card that had just a few dollars left on it.  And what can you buy with just a few bucks at B+N?  KID BOOKS!  Hubs, Small Fry, and I browsed the racks, until we came upon Underpants, Thunderpants.  Hubs and I started cracking up at the title, so we had to go for it.  Small Fry seemed to readily agree, as he refused to let go of the book once we handed it to him (inciting a small meltdown when the cashier had to scan it).  What can I say, the kid is passionate about literature.

The first read in the car on the way home revealed a cute and colorful work of children's lit.  Poor Dog leaves his underpants on the clothesline to dry, but a storm comes in and makes them fly all over the world!  They end up in forests and oceans and everywhere in between, with some animals that put the undies to hilarious uses.

The rhyming and silly adventures in this book are great.  As Small Fry gets older, I can tell this is going to be a book that he will giggle his way through.  And the illustrations are awesome--very bright and visually stimulating for the young ones.  As an adult, my one qualm is that we never find out what happens to Dog!!  Does he get the darn underwear back?  Does he just go to Target and hit up the next Hanes sale?  I NEED TO KNOW.  Good thing Small Fry is too young to understand the meaning of a cliffhanger ending yet.

What are your favorite silly kids' books?

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Book Review: The Mistaken by Nancy S. Thompson


Title: The Mistaken
Author: Nancy S. Thompson
Publisher: Sapphire Star Publishing
Release Date: October 18, 2012
Source: e-ARC provided by Reading Addiction Blog Tours for an honest review


Plot Synopsis (Goodreads link):

Tyler Karras is an honest man, a transplanted Brit living the American dream, but his charmed life takes an unexpected turn when his brother, Nick, is coerced into joining ranks with San Francisco’s Russian mafia. Ty intervenes to secure Nick’s freedom, yet only succeeds in incurring their wrath. With no choice but to accept Nick’s new life, Ty returns to his own, but his dreams are dashed when his wife—pregnant with their first child—is killed, the victim of a reckless crime.

Despondent and bitter, Ty macerates his grief in alcohol. From the depths of the bottle screams a voice, howling for vengeance. His target is a stranger, the woman who drew his wife toward her death. He doesn’t know her, but he’ll find her, and when he does, he will make her pay, for a deal has been struck with Nick’s Russian associates, enslaving her into a life of bondage. But as Ty moves forward in a cloud of alcohol, he mistakes the wrong woman for his intended victim and now all his plans have gone straight to hell.

With his eyes made clear by the stark reality of his mistake, Ty is driven, compelled by remorse and a relentless sense of guilt to make amends and protect Hannah Maguire, the innocent woman whose life he has derailed. He vows to keep her safe and out of the Russians’ hands, but they’re holding Nick as leverage to force Ty to complete their deal and turn over the girl. Once again, he must fight to free his brother, miring all three lives in further jeopardy. But Ty can’t do it all: Save the girl, his brother and his own soul. One of them must make the ultimate sacrifice.

My Review:

First and foremost, I should point out that despite the description above, this book is romantic suspense, not just suspense.  I didn't realize that at the outset, and it threw me a bit when more of the romantic elements took the lead (especially toward the end).  That said, some of the romance in the book worked for me.  I loved Tyler and Jillian's relationship--I thought it was fun and "real", for lack of a better word (they loved each other deeply, but they had their flaws).  The tragedy surrounding Jillian's death was heart-wrenching, and Ty's extreme grief and need for vengeance is palpable.

Tyler and Nick's relationship is also very well illustrated.  It changes dramatically throughout the course of the novel, as they navigate around Nick's irresponsibility and Tyler's need for control.  It makes for a complex and thoughtful look at the push-and-pull between two brothers.

Thompson also did a great job building suspense throughout the novel.  This was the biggest plus for me.  The scene when Tyler and Hannah first meet had me at the edge of my seat.  There are also some interesting twists towards the end that I did not see coming.  Thompson makes good use of multiple narrators (the chapters jump between Tyler, Jillian, and Hannah's POV)--this allows for a richer view of the story, and amps up the thrills as you wait to hear from each character.  Good suspense needs to leave me biting my nails at times, and it needs a certain level of unpredictability--check and check!

However, there were some things in this novel that threw me.  The biggest issue I had was with Hannah.  Hooooooey, does this woman have the world's biggest case of Stockholm Syndrome or what?  Tyler nearly brutalizes her, and then she spends the rest of the novel lusting after him.  I had a very, very hard time reading those scenes, and I just couldn't get behind Hannah's emotions at all.  This made the ending (which was a little too perfectly-tied-up) difficult for me to swallow.  Maybe it's because I was a Family Studies major in college, but I just wanted to yell, "GIRLFRIEND, GET THEE TO A THERAPIST!" for the majority of the novel.  It's hard to feel sympathy for such a weak female lead.

There were also a few details throughout the book that just didn't fit..  Some of them weren't huge plot points, but it's always tough when you're wrapped up in a story, and then you suddenly have to stop the flow of your reading to consider why a certain piece of the action seems out of place.  For instance--there are several times when Tyler binge drinks (we're talking entire bottles of tequila, plus beers, in one sitting), and then does things like drive (fully alert, and noticing the well-manicured lawns) to Hannah's house, or shoots an intruder dead-on in the forehead.  I've seen too many episodes of Intervention to find this realistic.  There was also his single-handed rampage in a Russian warehouse near the end, where he takes out tons of Russian mobsters despite having no previous fight experience.  It was hard to believe he was able to do it with only the anger in his blood.  These events weren't believable.  It made for a choppy reading experience.

As you can see, my review of this book falls all over the map!  But my summary is this: if you like solid suspense with a dash of romance, and you want complex characters with a rich variety of POV, The Mistaken will provide that in spades.  However, you'll probably have to suspend your sense of reality at some points...and be okay with Hannah's awkwardly needy persona.  3 Goodreads stars

*I did also note a favorite quote from this book:
"Whoever said vengeance is sweet was wrong. It’s the thought of vengeance—filtered
through memories that haunt and torment—that is sweet. Not the act itself. The act is vile and bitter."

Check out the other blogs on this tour!

October 20 - Reading Addiction Blog Tours - Meet and Greet
October 20 - Books For Me - Review
October 21 - Overflowing Bookshelves - Review
October 25 - The Well Read Red Head - Review
October 28 - Reviewing Shelf - Review
October 29 - Beth Art From the Heart - Review
November 1 - My Reading Addiction - Review
November 5 - TE Garden of Books - Review
November 7 - My Cozie Corner - Review
November 12 - Taking it One Page at a Time - Review/GuestPost

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Wondrous Words Wednesday (2)



It's Vocab Nerd time again!

Wondrous Words Wednesday is hosted by Bermudaonion each week.  It's an opportunity to share new words you've encountered in your reading, or highlight words that you particularly enjoy.


Here are three of my favorites new-to-me words from recent reads.  All definitions from Dictionary.com.

1. tintinnabulation. (This was used as one of the character's passwords in Feed by Mira Grant)
noun
the ringing or sound of bells.

2. temblor.   "I sucked in large gulps of air in an attempt to still the temblor erupting from within me."  (From The Mistaken by Nancy S. Thompson)
noun
a tremor; earthquake.

3. crepitate.  "A minute later the Marsten House loomed ahead of them, dark and crepitating, and Royal felt the first thread of real fear worm its way into his belly."  (From 'Salem's Lot by Stephen King)
verb (used without object), crep·i·tat·ed, crep·i·tat·ing.
to make a crackling soundcrackle.

What are your new words this week?

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Giveaway winners!

The winner of my audiobook copy of Rogue by Mark Sullivan is...

Ann!

She won via an email subscription entry in the Rafflecopter giveaway.  Check your email, Ann!

Also, it was a few weeks ago, but I forgot to post about the winner of my One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest giveaway for Banned Book Week. That winner was...

Jessica R.!

She won via a Tweet entry in the Rafflecopter giveaway.  Jessica has already received her book and bookmark, and is (hopefully) happily reading away. :)

I love book giveaways.  They make me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Book Review: In The President's Secret Service by Ronald Kessler

Title: In The President's Secret Service: Behind the Scenes With Agents in the Line of Fire and the Presidents They Protect
Author: Ronald Kessler
Publisher: Crown
Publication Date: August 4, 2009
Source: borrowed from the good ol' public library via my Kindle

Plot Summary from Goodreads:

Never before has a journalist penetrated the wall of secrecy that surrounds the U.S. Secret Service, that elite corps of agents who pledge to take a bullet to protect the president and his family. After conducting exclusive interviews with more than one hundred current and former Secret Service agents, bestselling author and award-winning reporter Ronald Kessler reveals their secrets for the first time.

Secret Service agents, acting as human surveillance cameras, observe everything that goes on behind the scenes in the president’s inner circle. Kessler reveals what they have seen, providing startling, previously untold stories about the presidents, from John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson to George W. Bush and Barack Obama, as well as about their families, Cabinet officers, and White House aides. 

Kessler portrays the dangers that agents face and how they carry out their missions–from how they are trained to how they spot and assess potential threats. With fly-on-the-wall perspective, he captures the drama and tension that characterize agents’ lives.

In this headline-grabbing book, Kessler discloses assassination attempts that have never before been revealed. He shares inside accounts of past assaults that have put the Secret Service to the test, including a heroic gun battle that took down the would-be assassins of Harry S. Truman, the devastating day that John F. Kennedy was killed in Dallas, and the swift actions that saved Ronald Reagan after he was shot.

While Secret Service agents are brave and dedicated, Kessler exposes how Secret Service management in recent years has betrayed its mission by cutting corners, risking the assassination of President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, and their families. Given the lax standards, “It’s a miracle we have not had a successful assassination,” a current agent says.

Since an assassination jeopardizes democracy itself, few agencies are as important as the Secret Service–nor is any other subject as tantalizing as the inner sanctum of the White House. Only tight-lipped Secret Service agents know the real story, and Ronald Kessler is the only journalist to have won their trust.

My Review:

Hey, Americans!  In case all the hate-ads and yard signs didn't tip you off, November 6 is Election Day!  And what better way for me to celebrate this time of awkward conversations with your opposite-leaning friends, than to review a book about politics.  However, never fear--this is not a political book full of hot-button issues and diatribes.  Kessler covers presidents on both sides of the fence in this tell-all book about the Secret Service.

First off, I have to say that I found the book's description a bit misleading.  Based on the title, I was hoping for some historical information about the Secret Service, and interesting anecdotes about the men and women who served with the agency.  There is some of that--and those were my favorite parts of the book.  Stories of thwarted assassination attempts, explanations of the training agents must go through, descriptions of how a typical Secret Service detail manages itself--that stuff is fascinating!

But those pieces of history and interesting tidbits did not seem to be the central goal of Kessler's research, unfortunately.  No, this book focuses much more on the presidents' personal lives, and it my opinion, plays out like a Perez-Hilton-esque expose rather than a serious political nonfiction.  You learn about how Jimmy Carter was a complete cheapskate; how JFK kept his lady-callers a secret; and (most unnecessary detail of all) the size of LBJ's penis.  Kessler shows no compunction about sharing this type of information.  He claims that this is because presidents are public figures, and so we deserve to know about their private mistakes.  However, as a reader, it just made me feel uncomfortable, and a bit embarrassed for the past leaders of our country.  It also didn't seem entirely relevant to the Secret Service, other than the fact that he got these juicy bits from the agents themselves.  This made me confused about the real purpose of the book.

The book does end with some more interesting facts about how the Secret Service has devolved into a horribly mismanaged organization--it's amazing to see how security issues are sometimes taken so lightly by these undertrained and overworked agents.  I appreciated that kind of revealing (and publicly important) information.  But I wish the rest of the book showed that level of useful journalistic discovery.

I do wonder if I would have enjoyed this book more, had I learned more about it beforehand and realized that it would delve so deeply into the presidents' personal lives.  Maybe I picked this one up for the wrong reasons (wanting factual vs personal information).  But despite that, I still am not a huge fan of how Kessler put this book together.  The awkwardly personal details cheapen the power of the solid historical and agency-specific information that he managed to uncover.

Overall--not the serious journalistic work that I was hoping for.  But if you don't mind a little peeping-tom look at the leaders of our country, this book could be right up your alley!

And hey, Americans--go VOTE on November 6!!

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Small Fry Saturday #2: Duck & Goose Find A Pumpkin by Tad Hills


This installment of Small Fry Saturday calls for a seasonal read.  My Small Fry has been carrying this book around the house with him all week!


Duck & Goose Find A Pumpkin by Tad Hills

I found this book on sale at B+N after last Christmas, and I figured I would buy it and stockpile it for the next time fall came around.  Now, Small Fry is at a stage where he's paying more attention to his books, and this one has been a lot of fun for pumpkin-picking time!  Duck & Goose actually have a whole series of books that follow their adventures, and we like this one so much that I'm sure we'll be seeking out more.  In this one, Duck and Goose see their friend Thistle walk by with a pumpkin, and they set out on a search to find one of their own.

This one immediately got a thumbs-up from me because Duck and Goose are freaking adorable.  I mean, LOOK at the cover.  Too cute.  But the rest of the illustrations are great too.  The book itself is not long, but Small Fry likes it because it's got a nice rhythm ("Is our pumpkin up in the apple tree Goose?  No!  Is our pumpkin under the water Duck?  No!" etc).  I like how it teaches different action and place words (over vs under, up vs down, etc).  Definitely a good book for the younger kiddos.

This is a short, cute read, and perfect for the season.

Have you read any Duck & Goose books? Do you have any other fall favorites for kids?

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Book Review: Feed by Mira Grant

First off--apologies for not being a very good comment responder the last few days.  I'm home with a sick little boy, so things have been crazy around here!  I promise I will come back to Earth soon.

Title: Feed
Author: Mira Grant
Publisher: Orbit
Publication Date: May 1, 2010
Source: borrowed from the good ol' public library

Plot Summary from Goodreads:

The year was 2014. We had cured cancer. We had beaten the common cold. But in doing so we created something new, something terrible that no one could stop. The infection spread, virus blocks taking over bodies and minds with one, unstoppable command: FEED. Now, twenty years after the Rising, bloggers Georgia and Shaun Mason are on the trail of the biggest story of their lives - the dark conspiracy behind the infected. The truth will get out, even if it kills them.

My Review:

First and foremost, I will take this opportunity to share a zombie joke.

What do vegetarian zombies eat?

Graaaaaaaaaaaaaains.

Okay then.  Now that you've survived my poor attempt at humor, on to the book.  I love zombies.  I'd heard good things about this novel (the first in the Newsflesh trilogy) for a while, and with Halloween coming up, I figured I could use some zombie-chomping goodness in my life.  However, despite what the description sounds like, this is not a book about the zombie apocalypse, per se.  It takes place 20+ years after the zombie horde has arrived--so the world has already had ample time to fight and contain the infection.  That's not to say the zombies aren't a threat anymore (because they are...oooooh yes they are), but the world's survivors have had time to figure out how to live around it.  There's an entire generation that never even remembers going about their lives without zombies.

That's the generation that Georgia and Shaun are a part of, and they come equipped with a cynical worldview to match.  Georgia is the primary narrator, and I quickly took a liking to her voice.  She's persistently sarcastic and skeptical, which is a POV that could easily get annoying as the sardonic one-liners start piling up.  But I thought that Grant wrote it well, and I appreciated Georgia's humor paired with her overall bitterness towards...well, everything except her brother, and the pursuit of truth.

On top of that, the world-building in this book is phenomenal.  Grant thought through every part of what this post-infection life would include, from the virology behind the disease, to the social ramifications of its containment.  I got caught up in it early on, and it's a big part of why I'll be looking for the next two Newsflesh books soon.

As for the action--DUH, there's zombies.  Biting, moaning, flesh-hungry zombies.  So you will get your fill of that.  But there's also political corruption, media wars, and conspiracies.  (Oh, and fellow bloggers will be happy to hear that bloggers have taken over the media in 2040, so there is hope for us yet!)  It's important to realize that the zombies are not always center-stage in this book--they are the reason for everything that's happening, but the actual story here goes far beyond that.  I could see how that might throw people off, given the description.  But I liked that Grant took the often-done zombie idea and put a new spin on it.

There is one ginormous "OMG, WTF" twist that had my jaw hanging open and my eyes glued to the page.  I don't want to give anything away, but I think Grant did something very risky there.  I'd love to chat about it with anyone who's read the book.

Overall, this one was a win in my book.  Great narrator, non-stop plot movement, and a dystopian world that's believable enough to suck you in within the first few pages.  I'm excited to see what the second book of this trilogy has in store!

What are some of your favorite zombie reads?

(And hey, don't forget my audiobook giveaway is still going on, HERE!)

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Wondrous Words Wednesday

Time to hit you with some knowledge!

Wondrous Words Wednesday is hosted by Bermudaonion each week.  It's an opportunity to share new words you've encountered in your reading, or highlight words that you particularly enjoy.  I run into new words while I read ALL THE TIME, so I decided to start keeping track and sharing them with you.  #vocabnerd!

Here are three of my favorites new-to-me words from recent reads.  All definitions from Dictionary.com.

1. uxorious. "Men capable of being uxorious."  (From Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn)
adjective
doting upon, foolishly fond of, or affectionately submissive toward one's wife.
(That's a great word!!)

2. ungulate. "Assuming you're talking about the incident last August and I didn't somehow miss an ungulate attack?"  (From Feed by Mira Grant)
adjective
1.
having hoofs.
2.
belonging or pertaining to the Ungulata, a former order of all hoofed mammalsnow divided into the odd-toed perissodactyls and even-toed artiodactyls.
3.
hooflike.

3. petards.  "There will always be people for whom hate is easier when it's not backed up by anything but fear.  And I will always do my best to hoist them by their own petards."  (From Feed by Mira Grant)

hoist by with one's own petard: hurt, ruined, or destroyed by the very device or plot one had intended for another.

What are your new words this week?

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Teaser Tuesday!

Teaser Tuesdays is hosted by MizB at Should Be Reading.  Here's the rules:

• Grab your current read
• Open to a random page
• Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
• BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
• Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!
My Teasers:
“It's always best to question the survivors before they can start deluding themselves about the reality of what they just went through.  After the adrenaline fades, half the people who survive a zombie attack turn into heroes, having gunned down a thousand zombies with nothing but a .22 and a bucket of guts, while the other half deny that they were ever close enough to the undead to be in any actual danger.”

I can't wait to give you my full review on Feed later this week!

Monday, October 15, 2012

Audiobook Review + GIVEAWAY!: Rogue by Mark Sullivan

Title: Rogue
Author: Mark Sullivan
Publisher: Macmillan Audio
Publication Date: October 2, 2012
Source: audio CDs provided by the publisher for an honest review

Plot Summary from Goodreads:

Two years ago, Robin Monarch was maybe the best black top level CIA operative. But one day, in the middle of an operation, with his team around him in the field, Monarch walks away, leaving his old life and friends behind without a word of explanation.
 
Now this ex-soldier, ex-operative, and orphan with a murky past is a thief, stealing from the super-rich and has surfaced in St. Tropez. But when a complicated, high profile jewel heist goes wrong, Monarch is led into a carefully woven trap designed to force him to complete the very same mission he walked away from years ago. 
 
It will take all of his skills (as well as those of the team he burned) and all of his cunning, if Monarch is to thwart the violent and deadly goals of the very powerful cabal who will do whatever it takes to bring the very dangerous "Green Fields" technology under their control.


My Review:

This book easily caught my attention, because most other reviews I found mentioned similarities to Jason Bourne.  Whoa now--big expectations there!  Who doesn't think Jason Bourne is the ultimate action hero?  So after all that hype, I wanted to see if Robin Monarch really matched the bad-assedness of Bourne.

Early on, I realized that that was not a fair comparison--and not because Monarch fails to hit the bar.  Oh no!  His action sequences are great, and I could definitely envision him kicking some arse on the big screen.  (I give Sullivan a lot of credit for this--it can't be easy to write out a complicated fight scene and have it come off as both unconfusing and believable.)  

It's just that Monarch is a very different sort of character than Bourne.  First of all, he's less 'lone wolf' and more 'team player' (think Bourne meets A-Team?).  Monarch has a group of CIA operatives that stick with him through thick and thin in this novel, and are ready to back up his every ninja-like move.  (And their own action sequences will keep you on your toes, as well.)  He also has a more personal, Robin-Hood-esque backstory, which slowly unfolds throughout the novel and adds a lot to the plot as a whole.

After the first part of the book, I just decided that Robin Monarch holds his own as Robin Monarch--not Bourne, or Bauer, or anyone else.  No comparison necessary.

Beyond my thoughts about Monarch, I found this book to be a solid espionage thriller: you get everything that you'd expect from the genre.  The action starts early and doesn't let up.  There are lots of two-faced villains, mobsters, terrorists and (duh) spies.  Technological innovation and weaponry abound.  Plus, Monarch and his team end up all over the globe--from the foulest slum of Buenos Aires, to the high-class resorts of St. Moritz.  And contrary to Bond-style spy stories, while Monarch does have a few lovely ladies on his arm along the way, there are no strong romances in the novel--which for me, is a plus.  I wanted to focus on how Robin was going to evade the next baddie, not whether he would bed every female along the way.

There were some downsides.  The biggest one was the unveiling of the "Green Fields" technology.  This is kept secret for the majority of the novel, and is built up to be a world-ending, catastrophic sort of technological advance.  As a result, I was expecting something that would truly make my mind go numb.  Maybe I don't have enough appreciation for what Sullivan was trying to describe, but I just wasn't wow'ed when the reveal finally happened.  Green Fields is a question mark from the very beginning, so having this be a disappointment was a bit of a letdown.

Also, I found Monarch's constant repetition of his "rules" to be a bit cheesy.  The story behind the rules he lives by is explained as part of his history, but that didn't make it less odd when he answered a question with "Rule number four: no sudden moves" or something of the sort.  I see how Sullivan was trying to make this a unique and cryptic part of his character, but it didn't work for me.

I can't forget to mention the audio: Jeff Gurner is a fantastic narrator for this book!  His voice is intense, perfectly matching the tone of the novel.  Plus, he had to handle an amazing array of accents (everything from Argentinian women to Russian men), and he jumped into all of them seamlessly.  I'd say the only voice I disliked was that of CIA agent Agatha Hayes (she sounded more man than woman), but given the range he exhibited with everyone else, the voice of this side character didn't ruin the experience (it made me laugh, more than anything).  Gurner makes this worth a listen for sure.

Overall, if you like the spy-thriller genre, you should add this one to your list.  It keeps a fast pace, and Monarch is more than just your typical CIA operative.  I was disappointed in the reveal of the much-sought-after Green Field technology, but there are enough other twists at the end that it still felt like an explosive conclusion.

Sound interesting?  Then enter a chance to win a copy!

I am giving away 1 audiobook (CD format) of Rogue by Mark Sullivan.  It's only been listened to once (by me!), so it's in great condition.  This book made my commutes fly by, and I'd like to pass that on to another lucky reader.  (And thank you to Macmillan Audio for providing it in the first place!)

Just enter the Rafflecopter giveaway below for your chance to win!  Giveaway closes on October 22 at midnight and winner will be contacted by October 25. a Rafflecopter giveaway

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Deja Vu Review (2)

The Deja Vu Review is hosted every Sunday by Brittany at The Book Addict's Guide.  It's a chance to mini-review books that I read pre-blog.  This week's topic is to choose some of the longest books you've read.  I was tempted to jump right to Stephen King (The Stand and Under the Dome?  Hello!).  But I read a lot of King, so I mixed it up.  Instead, I have 2 very different books to contribute!

War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy

Yes, I read this monstrosity a few years ago.  It was my ultimate reading challenge for a long time; I had a vision in my head of completing W&P and automatically receiving a bejeweled crown and years of adoration from all that came into my presence.  Instead, I received looks of genuine puzzlement ("Wait...you didn't do it for a class or anything?") and carpal tunnel after holding up that heavy tome for 3 months.

Okay, it wasn't as bad as all that.  It's actually a pretty decent novel (English professors the world 'round are keeling over at me calling War and Peace "pretty decent").  There are a lot of intersecting storylines, all sorts of romantic drama, and hello!  War!  With Napoleon!  Good action there.  It's hard to keep all the Russian names straight, and the second epilogue made me want to cry (it's very philosophical, and I may have skipped it), but otherwise, if you have the time, it's not the boring trudge that everyone makes it out to be.  The bonus is that it will make you interesting at cocktail parties.

I Am Charlotte Simmons by Tom Wolfe

I told you I had two very different books to review!  I Am Charlotte Simmons is actually on my all-time favorites list.  It follows the title character as she begins her freshman year at fictional Dupont Univerity (a thinly-veiled Duke).  Charlotte is a bit sheltered, having been raised in a small North Carolina town.  She does not expect that she will so quickly have to deal with things like sex, drugs, and other debauchery when she reaches campus.  The book follows her throughout her first year, as her innocence and values are continually challenged, and she tries to discover herself through a new lens outside of her small town.

I read this book not long after I graduated from college, and I think that is a lot of why it spoke so loudly to me.  If you had the "traditional" 4-year university experience (living on campus, away from parents for the first time, etc), I'm sure at least some part of this book will resonate.  Wolfe does an awesome job of fleshing out Charlotte's character, and paints a realistic portrait of university life (as much as parents and college administrators probably wouldn't want to admit it).  Yes, it is long--but Wolfe takes his time telling Charlotte's story, and it's worth the extra pages.  I've been meaning to re-read this one for a while, because it's worth savoring again!

What are some of your longer reads?

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Small-Fry Saturdays #1: Pouch! by David Ezra Stein


These days, in between the many novels I read for fun, I read a heck of a lot of children's books!  My 15-month-old has an enormous stash of books that nearly puts my own collection to shame.  At this age, he tends to cycle through them (one week he loves Goodnight Moon; the next, he won't look at it), but when he has a favorite, it must be read ALL THE TIME.  So I get pretty familiar with some of his selections.  I may or may not have Chicka Chicka Boom Boom committed to memory (stop getting out of bed, A.  Just stop.).

So, I decided to put this to good use.  Every Saturday is now Small Fry Saturday here at The Well-Read Redhead.  Each week, I'll feature a current favorite of my very own small fry (which, by the way, I think is a fun new nickname for him here on the blog), and look for suggestions from all of you for any future favorites I might be able to introduce.  Sound good?

I'm not going full-on meme with a linky and all that just yet, but if you do want to jump in on your blog, feel free (and let me know in the comments!).  This first one is posting a little late, but I will be earlier next time around, promise.

My very first selection is going to be Small Fry's current favorite:


Pouch! by David Ezra Stein

We received this book in the mail through the Imagination Library.  It is ADORABLE.  It's about Joey, a little kangaroo who is just starting to explore the world outside his mama's pouch.  Every time he comes out to explore, he meets something new (bees, birds, etc), and gets nervous, yelling, "POUCH!" and jumping back to his mama.  (I told you, cute, right?)  But he keeps getting back out there to explore again, going a little further each time...until he gets an unexpected surprise.

This is a cool kids' book for so many reasons.  Obviously, it has positive messages (don't be afraid to explore your world, your parents are supportive, etc).  Small Fry loves it every time we get to yell "POUCH!" as Joey goes back to his mom.  It's also fun to do different voices for the various animals that Joey meets.  Plus, the illustrations are great.  Small Fry loves to flip through this one on his own and just stare at the pictures.

I had never heard of this book before we got it in the mail, but it's definitely been a hit so far!

Have you read Pouch!?  Do you have any new suggestions that are similar to this book?

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Book Review: Every Day by David Levithan

Title: Every Day
Author: David Levithan
Publisher: Knopf
Publication Date: August 28, 2012
Source: borrowed from the good ol' public library

Plot Summary from Goodreads:
In his New York Times bestselling novel, David Levithan introduces readers to what Entertainment Weekly calls a "wise, wildly unique" love story about A, a teen who wakes up every morning in a different body, living a different life.

Every day a different body. Every day a different life. Every day in love with the same girl.
There’s never any warning about where it will be or who it will be. A has made peace with that, even established guidelines by which to live: Never get too attached. Avoid being noticed. Do not interfere.

It’s all fine until the morning that A wakes up in the body of Justin and meets Justin’s girlfriend, Rhiannon. From that moment, the rules by which A has been living no longer apply. Because finally A has found someone he wants to be with—day in, day out, day after day.
My Review:
I heard a lot of excitement about this book in my online book club, because there are a lot of women there that ADORE all things Levithan.  I've only read one other of his books (The Lover's Dictionary), and while I liked it, I wouldn't say it blew me away.  However, the premise of this book sounded interesting, so I gave it a shot.

And...I am so glad that I did.  Based on the description, I thought this was just going to be a YA romance with a twist.  But honestly, I wasn't thinking it through enough.  I mean, dwell on it for a minute: what it would be like to wake up as a different person every day.  You wouldn't identify as male or female.  You would embody the definition of "walking in someone else's shoes"--you would understand what it is like to be fat, thin, mean, kind, lazy, athletic, pregnant, a nerd, an addict, a musician...the list goes on.  And yes--you wouldn't make attachments or fall in love.  At least not easily.  But what an amazing viewpoint to consider.  Big kudos to Levithan for creating this captivating and unique POV.

This perspective makes the book much more than just a romance.  A and Rhiannon's relationship is extremely complex, and I enjoyed watching them navigate it.  And there are twists and turns of the OMG! variety (I was not expecting that in a romance-based book).  It is certainly a YA novel--the details of A's existence are rather simplistic (ie. he always inhabits a body in Maryland, until he ends up in a body that moves to another part of the country...obviously a very convenient situation for this story).  And there are many messages in the book about peer pressure, LGBTQ issues, drugs, etc. that are not hidden by any means...meant to speak without confusion to the YA audience.  However, I think I'm only gripey about that as an adult reading a YA novel--a young adult would probably find it more thought-provoking and less "okay okay, I get it."  It's appropriately written for the genre.  And the LGBTQ themes were especially well-handled and thoughtfully conveyed.

(While we're talking about the genre--is it just me, or is it way easier to cut class in high school these days than it was 11 years ago?  Seriously, these kids were constantly popping in and out of school like it was NBD.  And apparently every 16-year-old has enough cash to go out to dinner/get coffee/go shopping whenever the mood strikes.  YA novels are so enlightening sometimes.)

The ending got a thumbs-up from me.  This did not get anywhere close to a cheesy teenage romance.  The conclusion was equal parts surprising, fitting, and beautiful, and it leaves you with just enough questions so that you don't feel like the author tied it up too tight.

Overall, this was both a quick read, and an engaging one.  I appreciate Levithan's creativity in shaping A's life story.  I also like the fact that he isn't afraid to hit touchy issues head-on in a YA novel.  You just have to be prepared for the directness in how those issues are handled, with far less nuance than an adult novel.  Even so, I'd recommend this to any high school kid I know, and probably most of their parents.
 
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