Thursday, December 30, 2010

Yearly Recap: A Desk, Favorite Books, Stats and a Giveaway

I thought I’d share with you all my new desk! My Mom and I drove down to Kansas City, about a 3 hour drive one way, and picked it up from a furniture warehouse. It’s home safe and sound now and I just love it! My Dad gave me the chair. It came from a public library, which I think is fitting. I’ve been doing most of my homework on the floor and couch so I’m really looking forward to having my own study space! You might spy the strategically placed Kindle sporting John Steinbeck on the screen. I got a Kindle from my husband for Christmas/my birthday/my anniversary present (these 3 events happen within 11 days). Am I spoiled, or what?

Anyways, here are some of my favorite reads of 2010. Click on the links for my review.

1. Most Hyped Book That Delivered: The Help by Kathryn Stockett
2. It Made Me Laugh Until My Sides Hurt: Rodrick Rules by Jeff Kinney
3. Caused a Cascade of Tears: Maus I and II
4. Pure Fun: The Maze Runner (this is my first review! Wow does it stink! lol) and The Scorch Trials by James Dashner
5. Most Beautiful Language: All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy 

And one book which nearly fits in all of these categories is: The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. This was probably one of the most surprising books I read all year. Here are my reading stats for 2010 which I gathered from my Shelfari profile.
I read 71 Books in 2010.
My average rating was 3.62.
-          Five Stars: 13
-          Four Stars: 29
-          Three Stars: 22
-          Two Stars: 8
One Star: 1
Many of these books were given a half star (3.5) but were rounded up or down (depending on my mood) to fit into Shelfari’s rating scale.

At the end of December 2009 I began this blog not exactly sure what I was going to do with it besides talk about a few books. Well, I read the most books I’ve ever read in a year. I credit blogging for that. Keeping track of what I read has motivated me to read more. I love sharing my bookish thoughts with you all. Equally, I’ve enjoyed reading everyone else’s posts and learning more about literature though your insights!

After looking through my shelves I’ve spied a couple books, Advance Uncorrected Proofs which I won from other bloggers, which I’d like to giveaway. They are Numbers by Rachel Ward and Violet Wings by Victoria Hanley. If you would like to win either or both of these just fill out the form below. The giveaway ends Janurary 28th. The winner will be emailed on the 29th and must respond by the 31st or I will choose another winner. Since I will be mailing the books myself, this giveaway is open to U.S. residents only so I can manage the cost. Extra points for blog posts and tweets (see form). Thanks and Happy Reading in 2011!

Review: Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Foer

Without much of an opening, I’m going to get to the point… There were too many themes and I didn’t feel the novel adequately covered any of them. Is this book about WWII and the bombings at Dresden, 9/11 and terrorism, growing up, growing old,  post-traumatic stress disorder, family, death, childhood … is it a quest book? A great book is able to seamlessly merge several themes. To put it nicely, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close bit off more than it could chew.

I did enjoy the writing style. It’s rather a stream-of-consciousness narration. The point of view shifts between the main protagonist, nine year old Oskar Schell, and his grandfather (who goes by the same name), and his grandmother. We come to know the grandfather through the letters he writes to his son, Oskar’s dad. He writes about Dresden and what it was like during the bombings. I felt these reflections were the strongest part of the novel. However, these reflections didn’t tie in well with Oskar’s story. The grandfather could have been removed without drastically altering the story. So, I’m not sure what the grandfather is doing in it. 

Young Oskar is a very clever and witty boy – too clever. The prose felt very contrived and pushed the “I’m a sad little boy genius” theme too heavily for me. I’ve no doubt smart boys like Oskar do exist. It’s just that Oskar as a character in this novel didn’t work well for me. Oskar’s quest, which takes him all over NYC, was fun to follow but I didn’t feel his encounters with NYC residents added anything to a story about 9/11, war or grieving.The quest itself may have helped Oskar, but the encounters added very little.

I found myself laughing quite a bit. And that’s a good thing because honestly, I found the book to be a downer. There is very little genuine love between the characters (except perhaps between Oskar and his mom) and very little is resolved between characters at the book’s end. For a book about 9/11 and grieving, etc., I don’t like that what I’m taking away from this book is “funny.”

I’ve been harsh, perhaps. I did enjoy Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close well enough. I read it in a couple days. The novel did make me want to come back to it and turn pages. Final Thoughts: Reading this book felt like putting together a puzzle and I enjoyed the exercise.

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin, 2006 (eBook)     Pages: 368
Rating: 3 Stars     Source: Purchased through Kindle Storefront

Monday, December 27, 2010

Review: The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo

What a delightful story. The Tale of Despereaux features a teeny tiny mouse who falls in love with a human princess, experiences betrayal and loss, who faces darknesses unknowable with only a needle at his side and hope in his heart for protection. The book is broken into four parts with the first being little Despereaux’s story.  The second is that of a desperate and twisted rat Chiaroscuro’s story. The third book introduces the poor, abused but aspiring farm-girl Miggery Sow. The fourth book brings all the characters together as Despereaux fights for love, Chiroscuro for revenge, Miggery for attention and the Princess Pea, whom Despereaux loves, is in the dangerous middle of it all.

If you like fairy tales you will probably enjoy The Tale of Despereaux. However, this tale is not quite as dark as many classic fairy tales. We have a damsel in distress and a would-be knight in shining armor. The hero constantly runs up against adults who try to stand in his way and block his love for the princess. Other villains surface to interfere and manipulate circumstances. There is a hint of a magical element in the soup because, as Cook says, “When times are terrible, soup is the answer” (232).

I absolutely loved the narrator’s voice. She addresses the reader several times asking questions, making observations and sharing how she would feel were she in a character’s shoes. I found the writing style cute and charming. I read several chapters aloud to my mom as she drove to Kansas City with me to pick up my new desk. She laughed quite a bit because it’s just such a cute story and the characters are dynamic giving me a chance to test out my voices. I think this tale is perfect to read along with young elementary kids. Have any of you read The Tale of Despereaux? What do you think of it?

Publisher: Scholastic, 2006     Pages: 267
Rating: 5 Stars         Source: Used Bookstore

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Review: The Athena Project by Brad Thor

From the inside cover: “When a terrorist attack in Rome kills more than twenty Americans, Athena Team members Gretchen Casey, Julie Ericsson, Megan Rhodes, and Alex cooper are tasked with hunting down the Venetian arms dealer responsible for providing the explosives. But there is more to the story than anyone knows.
The Athena Project is an interesting mix of science fiction, thriller, mystery and historical fiction. What I liked most about this book was the WWII back story of Nazi experiments which resurface in a horrifying way. The all-girl Delta Force team kicks butt all over Europe as they parachute, karate chop, BASE jump, kidnap and breach and clear bad guy hide outs… all while dressed to kill, in both senses of the phrase.  

The characters could have used a lot more development. Most of the time, the girls were little more than stereotypes. I felt this book might have been called “Bond Girls Strike Back.” The Athena team reminded me of Bond girls but with more brains. Do you remember Bambi and Thumper from Diamonds are Forever? The girl body guards whoop 007 up pretty good before Bond regains the upper hand…anyways! The Athena girls are about as shallow as the Bond girls but they get the job done for King and Country…except they’re not British but American. The slim character development was the only major problem I had with the book. I found the story interesting and exciting and there was plenty of action. Do be aware that this is the first of a trilogy; however, I think The Athena Project has good closure and works well as a standalone novel.

Some may recall that I’m not normally a mystery/thriller type of reader. In an earlier post I talked about how the covers don’t usually draw me in. I’ve only had fair success with the genre, generally feeling unaffected to mildly entertained when finished reading. So, I’m not the target audience. Nonetheless, I had fun reading this book. I can envision The Athena Project becoming a movie and won’t be surprised if it does become one someday.

Publisher: Atria Books, 2010      Pages: 324
Rating: 3 Stars                                Source: As a Shelf Awareness subscriber I received The Athena Project for free from the publisher. Thanks, Atria!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Review: Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

Collins did a fabulous job! What a great ending to The Hunger Games trilogy. The plot had many little unexpected moments that thrust Katniss into difficult situations. I felt the secondary characters really came to life in Mockingjay. They all had important roles to play. The love triangle endures until the choice becomes clear to Katniss who, finally able to let the “act” drop for the cameras, can make up her own mind. I think she made the right choice.

I feel like I need to defend Katniss, our heroine. I know most people enjoyed Mockingjay but I’ve seen a few reviews of some who didn’t like it. They thought there was not enough gore or that Katniss became weak and allowed herself to be bullied. I didn’t find either circumstance to be true, especially the later.

What I liked about Mockingjay:

***************************Mild Spoiler Alert*****************************

-It gave a fairly realistic look at what happens to someone who goes through a traumatic experience. The truth is, that unless one is cold hearted, then killing someone, even in self-defense, is going to affect a person. Also, knowing someone you love is in constant danger is hard to cope with. I’ve been a military wife. I know what I’m talking about. But I can’t imagine having to watch someone I love be used and abused.

-When you’re sick physically, emotionally and psychologically it is easier to be taken advantage of. Even if Katniss had been unscathed by her circumstances it still would be difficult to know who to trust and how to act. What was a 17 year old to do? Spit in the face of district 13 who gave her people shelter just because she had suspicions? I don’t think so. 

******************************End Spoiler*********************************
Throughout the series, but especially in Mockingjay, I liked the focus on media. Almost as much as on the battle field, the war for the districts is waged on television. Katniss’ appearances on T.V. cause the balance of power to rock back and forth. The Fourth Estate, the watchdog, a.k.a. the media, is supposed to watch out for the interests of Everyman. But who’s watching the watchdog? I like the opportunities this series gives 
kids to think of larger issues in our society. 

Publisher: Scholastic, 2010           Pages: 390
Rating: 5 Stars                                 Source: I won this book from The Nerd’s Wife! Thanks!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

We Have a Winner!

I'm rather proud of myself. I wrote a Javascript program to generate a random number to choose today's winner! Number six, it's your lucky day! Congratulations to brandileigh2003 who won a $35 giftcard to CNS Stores!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Musings of a Hopping Grad Student

Hmm.... that post title seems questionable. I'll go with it. In this post you will find
This week's Hop question is:  "What is the thing you like most about reading book blogs?  Is it the reviews, author guest posts, articles, giveaways, or something else entirely?"

I really enjoy blog articles. Whether they are fancy shmancy and well researched or a more personal, impromptu piece, I find that blog articles give me a look at the person behind the blog. They also invite comments and can bring out a lot of discussion. I do like book reviews. I view reviews as the staple ingredient of a book blog. But any book talk is good talk. 

I am officially done with my first semester of graduate school! I submitted my final project/paper last night and it's a relief to be done! Here are the top 5 things I enjoyed from this semester:
  1. Meeting lots of new people who share my interest in libraries.
  2. Finding out what exactly librarians do... which turns out to be a lot of complicated things.
  3. Reading about the history of librarianship and libraries.
  4. Writing a paper about video games in libraries. (I would tell my husband I was "doing research" when playing games. He wasn't buying it.)
  5. Creating my own Web page was much "easier" and a lot more fun than I anticipated.
I should add that simply surviving this semester feels like an accomplishment worthy of celebration. I have told my husband he is taking me out tomorrow to see The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader and to eat some Mexican food!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Review: Eaters of the Dead by Michael Crichton

I was totally surprised by this book and really enjoyed it. First of all, I like books that have layers of narration. So, as in Heart of Darkness, there’s an unnamed narrator quoting the main character (Marlow) the entire story. Or, like in Washington Irving’s stories (i.e. Rip Van Winkle) there’s this guy, Geoffrey Crayon, pretending to be the author who is supposedly writing the book from some documents he found. I love that sort of literary device.

So, when Eaters of the Dead opened by announcing the recovery of a famous manuscript, and that this book was the most accurate retelling of the original account of Ibn Fadlan’s epic adventure of one of the first encounters of an Arab with Norsemen, well, I was eating it up. And the first chapter is actually from a real manuscript which Crichton uses as a way introduce the voice of the Ibn as narrator before taking over the writing process.  

My husband read Eaters of the Dead when he was a kid and remembers it being one of his favorites. So, I decided to give it a try. What my husband didn’t realize, and what I began piecing together while I read, was that Eaters is a retelling of Beowulf. I read Beowulf a couple years ago for a class so some of the names of people and places, like Rothgar (Hrothgar )and Heorot, were familiar. Many names have been changed or altered so I had to wait for the story to unfold before I was like, yeah, this is a sweet retelling of Beowulf! Now, I remember Beowulf being terribly boring. Eaters of the Dead is not boring. It was spooky and sometimes funny.

Some of you may know the movie that was based off of this book – The 13th Warrior with Antonio Banderas. The movie is ok. It’s fairly entertaining. But no surprise, the book is better. It was just a lot of fun to read.  I think I prefer Crichton’s historical fiction books better than his urban sci-fi books. I liked The Great Train Robbery, too. Technically, Eaters is sci-fi but it’s set a long time ago so I’m saying it counts as historical fiction.

If you like tales of sea voyages, Vikings, cultural clashes or good old fashioned sword fights then this book may be for you.

Publisher: Avon, 2006 (orignally 1976)     Pages: 304
Rating: 4 Stars                Source: IC Public Library

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Tis the Season for a Giveaway From CNS Stores!

This Giveaway is Now Closed.

The Prairie Library is hosting a $35 gift certificate giveaway compliments of CNS Stores! CSN Stores has over 200 online stores where you can find anything you need whether it be a chic handbag, children's luggage or even cute cookware! Check out the full stores here.

Hurry and sign up because this giveaway ends Monday, Dec. 13th at 11:59 pm central time! Please read the requirements carefully! I've tried to keep it simple.

Giveaway Logistics: 
---Open to residents of the U.S. and Canada only. 
---Fill out the form below. Comments are nice but do not count as an entry. 
--- Must be 18 or older to enter. 
---Winner will be contacted Dec. 14th and must reply by Dec 15th! I will email the winner's information to Jocelyn at CNS Stores and she will email the gift certificate code to you!

For extra points you may: 
---Tweet this exact message: "@Chellebcool is hosting a $35 CNS Stores giveaway at The Prairie Library!" with a link to this post. 
---Devote a post on your blog or website about the giveaway with "Tis the Season for a Giveaway from CNS Stores!" in the post title and a link to this post. 

Friday, December 3, 2010

Negative Reviews - Do You Post Them?

I thought this week's Hop question was a good one. I know many bloggers are not comfortable posting a "negative" review. I'm with Jennifer. Everyone's entitled to their opinions and should feel comfortable sharing them on their own blog. But it takes guts to be the voice of dissent and can be a little scary. Here's the official question: "What very popular and hyped book in the blogosphere did you NOT enjoy and how did you feel about posting your review?"

So, yes. I have posted less-than-stellar reviews for popular books. Three come to mind: The Passage (3 stars), A Great and Terrible Beauty (2 stars), and Evermore (1). No one can like everything they read. If you read much you're bound to hit a few duds along the way. But I think even a dud can teach you something about the way you read, the way you think about the content and, more generally, what you like and don't like reading. 

A part of The Prairie Library's function is to provide reviews, not only for books I think are good but bad ones, too. Any review is subjective and I certainly don't think I'm an expert on reviewing (far from it). Another function of this blog is to simply share my thoughts with the reading community. Conversations about disappointing books can be just as fun and robust as talking about good ones. I'm learning to be confident (hopefully not cocky) about sharing my opinions. Opinions change, and I reserve the right to change mine, but sharing them is what this blogging thing is all least for me!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Review: The Scorch Trials by James Dashner

You know you’ve caught the Flare when:
  • Your thoughts are hard to focus
  • You aren’t afraid to drop 30 feet to the ground
  • You’ve forgotten why you ever wanted to escape the Scorch
Thomas and the Gladers left the Maze only to begin another round of trials by WICKED (World in Catastrophe Killzone Experiment D). If you thought The Maze Runner was exciting then you won’t be disappointed with The Scorch Trials.

As Thomas’ memories slowly come back he figures out he is more connected to WICKED than he ever knew. The mind games keep the Gladers in a constant state of confusion and cause Thomas to question everything he knows about himself and his friends. To top it off, the Gladers are informed they have a disease known as the Flare which causes people to lose their minds and slowly mutate into zombie-like creatures known as cranks.

The cranks were creepy and not your typical zombies. Some of the not quite full-blown cranks are still able to talk and groups of cranks roam together in groups according to the stage of the disease. Definitely creepy. As was the setting. Dashner does a good job describing the crispy, sun-baked Scorch which the Gladers must travel across. Some of the descriptions were a little gruesome. This is a violent book. People get hurt and die which only adds to the mystery surrounding WICKED’s intentions.

Like Thomas, I never knew exactly what was going on, who to trust or what to expect. The only thing you can expect is that WICKED is going to run its experiments on the Gladers and will stop at nothing to get the data it’s looking for. I’m with Thomas – how can WICKED by good (no pun intended)? I’m really looking forward to the third book to find out what the trials are all about and how Thomas and Teresa are connected to it all. So, no you won’t get any definitive answers in this book – just the kind of answers that make you ask more questions.

As with the first book, The Scorch Trials is fast paced. Each chapter is short, only 3-5 pages long and ends with a teaser making it a good book for reluctant readers. The prose is fairly simple and linear but the plot is interesting and exciting. Dashner knows how to create suspense. It was the perfect book while I was busy in school and needed something fun to read.

The Scorch Trials is book two in the Maze Runner Trilogy.
Publisher: Delacorte, 2010.     Pages: 368       Recommended Age: 13 and up
Rating: 4 Stars                           Source: IC Public Library