Friday, November 30, 2012

Book review: Breadcrumbs

Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu

Description from Goodreads (below) can be found here along with other reviews. Linking up with Blonde... Undercover Blonde for Book Club Friday.

Once upon a time, Hazel and Jack were best friends. They had been best friends since they were six, spending hot Minneapolis summers and cold Minneapolis winters together, dreaming of Hogwarts and Oz, superheroes and baseball. Now that they were eleven, it was weird for a boy and a girl to be best friends. But they couldn't help it - Hazel and Jack fit, in that way you only read about in books. And they didn't fit anywhere else.

And then, one day, it was over. Jack just stopped talking to Hazel. And while her mom tried to tell her that this sometimes happens to boys and girls at this age, Hazel had read enough stories to know that it's never that simple. And it turns out, she was right. Jack's heart had been frozen, and he was taken into the woods by a woman dressed in white to live in a palace made of ice. Now, it's up to Hazel to venture into the woods after him. Hazel finds, however, that these woods are nothing like what she's read about, and the Jack that Hazel went in to save isn't the same Jack that will emerge. Or even the same Hazel.

Inspired by Hans Christian Andersen's "The Snow Queen," Breadcrumbsis a story of the struggle to hold on, and the things we leave behind.

I didn't love this book. And here's why:

1. It took way too long to get interesting. If I didn't have it on audio (and if it wasn't the only one that had been loaded onto my phone) I probably would have put it down with a bookmark and not reopened it and then realized it was due and said oh well. Seriously, I didn't really get interested until Chapter 15. Fifteen! Out of 25! That's way too late. Especially since it's billed as a fairy tale, but all those fifteen chapters mostly focus on Hazel's life at home.

2. The best characters in the whole book only have one scene, maybe two. And there's a few other things like this -- things that could have been so much more if the author had pushed a little. Instead, she mentioned them and moved on.

3. Hazel was too thick headed, I think. There were a few times she walked into something, even having been warned, and I was like, what are you doing?

I think those are the top three. I didn't hate the book. It was just all right, though.

Although you all know I love books written for a younger audience, it's possible I was just too old for this and/or too much of a writer myself to enjoy it. (Sometimes I get too wrapped up in the mechanics of the story -- the writer makes me see what's supposed to be happening backstage, makes me look up -- any other writers get that?)

Anyway. It's all right. But certainly not my favorite read of the year.

Anyone read Breadcrumbs? I'd love to hear what you think!

Friday, November 23, 2012

Book review: Tuesdays with Morrie

Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom

Description from Goodreads (below) can be found here along with other reviews. Linking up with Blonde... Undercover Blonde for Book Club Friday.

Maybe it was a grandparent, or a teacher, or a colleague. Someone older, patient and wise, who understood you when you were young and searching, helped you see the world as a more profound place, gave you sound advice to help you make your way through it.
For Mitch Albom, that person was Morrie Schwartz, his college professor from nearly twenty years ago.
Maybe, like Mitch, you lost track of this mentor as you made your way, and the insights faded, and the world seemed colder. Wouldn't you like to see that person again, ask the bigger questions that still haunt you, receive wisdom for your busy life today the way you once did when you were younger?
Mitch Albom had that second chance. He rediscovered Morrie in the last months of the older man's life. Knowing he was dying, Morrie visited with Mitch in his study every Tuesday, just as they used to back in college. Their rekindled relationship turned into one final "class": lessons in how to live.
"Tuesdays with Morrie" is a magical chronicle of their time together, through which Mitch shares Morrie's lasting gift with the world.

Before reading this book, I knew that it was a book everyone loved, and that's about it. I'd heard it described in ways that led me to believe it was life changing, one I'd want to read over and over again.

My feeling after reading?


It wasn't bad. I didn't ever want to quit reading it. But it wasn't life changing, either.

Morrie is wise. I agree with pretty much everything he says. We (everyone) should be more focused on family and people, less ambitious about money and power. What really matters is the way you treat people, the interactions you have with them, the effect you have on them.

But really, of all the lessons Mitch learns from Morrie, that's the only one that stuck with me. I couldn't tell you any of his other wisdom because I don't remember it. (and I read it very recently.)

Maybe I'm seeing it too much through my own creative writing experience.

If you've done any classroom creative writing, I'm sure you've heard the phrase "show, don't tell." And I wonder if maybe that's why none of it stuck with me -- it's great to hear an old man tell me all the things he's learned about life, but I think they would stick with me more if I'd actually known Morrie, if I could see him living his life that way and see what it actually looks like.

I also know that creative non-fiction isn't always completely true. That sounds like stating the obvious, but many may take this book as absolutely true. Morrie was interviewed for national television and you can still find those videos, and Mitch Albom constantly talks about the tape recorder he used. But even if we were both there in the room, my perspective of events might not be the same as Mitch's. So I guess I'm also wary of that (as I would be in any memoir or piece of non-fiction).

So, like I said above, I didn't hate it. But I didn't love it.

Have any of you read Tuesdays with Morrie? Was it what you were expecting?

Friday, November 16, 2012

Book review: The Talisman

The Talisman by Stephen King and Peter Straub

Description from Goodreads (below) can be found here along with other reviews. Linking up with Blonde... Undercover Blonde for Book Club Friday.

On a brisk autumn day, a twelve-year-old boy stands on the shores of the gray Atlantic, near a silent amusement park and a fading ocean resort called the Alhambra. The past has driven Jack Sawyer here: his father is gone, his mother is dying, and the world no longer makes sense. But for Jack everything is about to change. For he has been chosen to make a journey back across America--and into another realm.

One of the most influential and heralded works of fantasy ever written,The Talisman is an extraordinary novel of loyalty, awakening, terror, and mystery. Jack Sawyer, on a desperate quest to save his mother's life, must search for a prize across an epic landscape of innocents and monsters, of incredible dangers and even more incredible truths. The prize is essential, but the journey means even more. Let the quest begin...

My dad has been telling me to read this book for as long as I can remember. My dad doesn't read a lot, so when he recommends a book, you know it's going to be good.

I resisted, with the same answer every time: I don't want to read a scary book.

My dad insisted it wasn't scary and I ignored him until I stumbled upon this audiobook at the library.

He was right: it isn't scary. So don't let the typical Stephen King scariness hold you back.

The Talisman is a typical epic journey -- Jack has a quest to find the Talisman, a mystical object in another (dangerous, confusing) dimension, though he doesn't know what it is or exactly where, other than that it's in a hotel on the east coast. He's not even really sure what it will do.

But he has great motivation: he's been told it will save his mother's life.

Jack's journey also helps him connect with his father, who died five-ish years before the start of the book and who could also flip into the other dimension.

But his journey is dangerous, and there are a lot of people out to get Jack.

I liked this book. A lot. I gave it four stars on Goodreads.

I believed Jack as a character, mostly, and believed his motivation to save his mom and understand his father was enough to get him through all the stuff he has to go through -- which is a lot. A lot.

I liked the characters a lot, especially one named Wolf. Wolf is a human/werewolf and has the loyalty of your favorite puppy. He's sweet and innocent and fierce. I loved Wolf.

But all the characters are unique and believable. There's nothing in this book that's like anything I've ever read.

And you find yourself pulling for Jack, and Wolf, and the other "good guys." Which is a sign of a great book -- when you want the characters to succeed.

King and Straub also created such a cool other world. The Territories, the other dimension Jack can visit, is so different from America. The people are different, the creatures are different. There are even regions to the Territories. The Blasted Lands, which come near the end of the book, were especially fascinating.

One quick warning: though the book isn't scary, per se, there is a lot of graphic stuff. Violence, for one, but also detailed descriptions of the violence. And a weird fixation on genitals, which are described often as part of character descriptions. Weird.

But none of that really ever made me want to stop -- and this was a long book. Twenty four full discs. I wished a little bit that I wasn't listening to it sometimes because it would be easier to skip the graphic parts, but I also loved the narrator and the way he read the characters, so we'll call it even.

Have any of you read The Talisman? It's definitely not my "normal" book (if I even have a normal anymore) but I loved it. What did you think?

Friday, November 9, 2012

Book review: The Perks of Being a Wallflower

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

Description from Goodreads (below) can be found here along with other reviews. Linking up with Blonde... Undercover Blonde for Book Club Friday.

It is the story of what it's like to grow up in high school. More intimate than a diary, Charlie's letters are singular and unique, hilarious and devastating. We may not know where he lives. We may not know to whom he is writing. 

All we know is the world he shares. Caught between trying to live his life and trying to run from it puts him on a strange course through uncharted territory. The world of first dates, family dramas, and new friends. The world of sex, drugs, and The Rocky Horror Picture Show, where all you need is that perfect song on that perfect drive to feel infinite.

Through Charlie, Chbosky has created a deeply affecting novel that will spirit you back to those wild and poignant roller coaster days known as growing up.

I went back and forth a few times between giving this book three or four stars on Goodreads. I didn't hate it. But I didn't love it. Maybe I should even actually give it two, which Goodreads says means "It's OK."

Charlie is an interesting narrator. At the start of the book, he seems to only have had one friend, who committed suicide, and now he has no friends. He often stands on the sidelines just observing life.

Then, a mentor-type English teacher challenges him to actually start living.

Charlie makes friends with just the people to help him do that.

I've seen reviews for this book that questioned its appropriateness for a Young Adult audience, or people who were uncomfortable with a lot of the things talked about. 

And it's true that there is a lot of content that many parents might find questionable. Charlie talks about masturbation and date rape. He does drugs. There are some sexual scenes, and some characters do intimate things with people they don't really care for. Charlie drinks and does drugs. And he's only 15 at the start of the book.

If I was a parent and my teen was reading this book, I'd want to have those awkward conversations with them about all of these topics, just to make sure they understood the consequences of sex and drugs and alcohol.


I think this book probably speaks to a lot of teens where they're at, and that's what YA is all about. Young adults go through a lot of stuff. For a lot of teens, deciding whether to drink, have sex, do drugs -- that's the world they're facing.

So I think Charlie is a character they might be able to relate to.

I guess I'm just saying, be prepared for some adult content with this book.

Other thoughts:
1. I related to Charlie's challenge of making sure he lives his life as much as he observes other people living. I'm a wallflower.

2. One thing I really related to was a scene where Charlie gives everyone a perfect gift and they're all shocked. I think that was spot-on for someone who finds him/herself on the sidelines a lot. You have time to notice things and know people, even if they don't know or notice you.

3. Charlie cries a lot. And he thinks too much. He was hard to relate to in most ways, and honestly a little whiny, which my writing teachers always said was a big no-no.

4. I had heard people say they never saw the ending coming, so then I was trying to guess the ending the whole time, and I was waaay off. And now you'll try to guess too.

...This is maybe an awful review. It's kind of a heavy book. It left me more with feelings than with thoughts.

Have any of you read The Perks of Being a Wallflower? What did you think?

Friday, November 2, 2012

Book review: The Chosen One

The Chosen One by Carol Lynch Williams

Description from Goodreads (below) can be found here along with other reviews. Linking up with Blonde... Undercover Blonde for Book Club Friday.

Thirteen-year-old Kyra has grown up in an isolated community without questioning the fact that her father has three wives and she has twenty brothers and sisters, with two more on the way. That is, without questioning them much---if you don’t count her secret visits to the Mobile Library on Wheels to read forbidden books, or her meetings with Joshua, the boy she hopes to choose for herself instead of having a man chosen for her.

But when the Prophet decrees that she must marry her sixty-year-old uncle---who already has six wives---Kyra must make a desperate choice in the face of violence and her own fears of losing her family forever.

1. Carol Lynch Williams does a great job portraying the community. What I mean by this: she shows the good, too, not just the bad. As soon as Kyra is "chosen" to marry her uncle, as a reader you immediately start rooting for Kyra to get the aych-ee-double-hockey-sticks outta there. But the author does a great job demonstrating why exactly that's a difficult choice for Kyra.

2. I got really invested in this story. It's really easy to put yourself in the shoes of most of the characters (the non-bad guys, anyway) and wonder what you'd do in their situation. I wanted everyone to get their happy ending. I was thinking about it when I wasn't listening to it. Which covers two of the biggest most important things for me to really like a book: I have to care about the characters, and I know it's good if I can't stop thinking about it.

3. I want to know what happens next. Also a good sign.

4. For any audio-bookers out there, I think this one was particularly well read. Although they pronounced her name "Kee-rah" and I would have said "Kiy-rah."

5. I just find the whole environment and subject fascinating. A really cool peek into someone else's world that might not be real but totally could be. A very different way of living life. And a ticking time bomb of potentially having to marry an old man in your family. Yeesh.

Overall, I really liked this book. It's an easy read -- written in the voice of a 13 year old -- and a quick one. I recommend it!

Have any of you read The Chosen One? What did you think?


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