Saturday, April 30, 2011

"Despite the care which she took to look behind her at every moment, she failed to see a shadow which followed her like her own shadow, which stopped when she stopped, which started again when she did and which made no more noise than a well-conducted shadow should."

The Phantom of the Opera – Gaston Leroux

368 pages

Genre:  Classics; Horror; Literature

Summary:  A mysterious entity, who refers to himself in letters as “O.G.," haunts the halls and stage of the Paris Opera House, and whenever people disobey his demands, tragic disasters occur.  After taking a young singer named Christine Daae under his wing, things around the theatre begin to go awry much more frequently.  Will the reign of terror orchestrated by this phantom ever come to an end?

Review:  I first discovered Leroux’s world as an eight-year-old when I went to see Andrew Lloyd Webber’s version of Phantom of the Opera on stage.  The plot completely drew me in from the very beginning, effectively terrifying and enchanting me in one fell swoop.  While the play was a bit different from the book, I was pulled in just as swiftly as I had been during my first experience with this story.

The Phantom of the Opera was a thoroughly engrossing tale full of magic, love, terror, jealousy, revenge, and murder.  While these elements tend to be rather great on their own, the combination in this book was nothing short of superb.  I could feel the terror of the characters as they tried to understand what was going on, and the images the book planted in my mind were rather fantastic, albeit scary.  This book moved quickly from one action sequence to the next, and there was very rarely a dull moment.

All of the characters were rather interesting, but I especially enjoyed Erik (or O.G., as he liked to refer to himself).  Erik was truly a madman, and watching his complete descent into madness was sad, yet fascinating.  Why do I always seem to like villains the best? 

I also really liked Raoul, the lovesick secret fiancĂ©, as he sought to uncover the mysteries surrounding Christine.  Christine herself was a bit meek for my taste and I definitely like the more modern adaptations of her character better, but I still did feel sympathy for her as it related to the situations that she found herself in.

I don’t want to give too much away just in case you aren’t familiar with the story, but the imagination involved when Raoul made his trip in the latter part of the book was quite phenomenal. 

If you like suspenseful novels full of action and terror, The Phantom of the Opera is a must read.

Rating:  5/5

Modern Literature Inspired by The Phantom of the Opera:  The Phantom Diaries – Kailin Gow, Chanson de l’Ange – Paisley Swan Stewart, Phantom – Susan Kay

Friday, April 29, 2011

"He doesn't know which is worse, a past he can't regain or a present that will destroy him if he looks at it too clearly."

Oryx and Crake – Margaret Atwood

374 pages

Genre:  Dystopia

Summary:  In Oryx and Crake, Atwood imagines a post-Apocalyptic wasteland where few humans survived the catastrophic events the book is based around, and genetically altered animals roam freely. The story unfolds through the eyes of Snowman, a survivor, and is a blending of events from both his past and the present.

Review:  When I grow up, I want to be Margaret Atwood.  Atwood’s imaginative plots and the way in which she weaves her poetic language into a beautiful tapestry of images always leaves me in awe, and I find myself pulled seamlessly from my own world into hers. 

While Oryx and Crake wasn’t my favorite of Atwood’s novels, I thought it was still extremely well done.  The world Atwood has created is absolutely terrifying, but what’s even more frightening are the parallels that can be drawn to the world that we live in, especially as it relates to the spread of disease and the role of biogenetic engineering within society.  In the same vein, this book also raises a number of philosophical and moral questions for the reader to mull over, and the answer isn’t always cut and dry.

The characters were quite vibrant, and I especially liked learning about the mysterious Crake.  His motives were not always spelled out, and it was interesting to try and figure out what was driving his actions.  Snowman was also a well-drawn character, and I liked that the story was told from his point of view because he really didn’t seem to know what was happening.  I do wish I could’ve gotten to know Oryx as an adult a bit more, but I was still able to sympathize with her character.

Just a quick warning:  This book discusses child pornography, and the instances in which it is brought up can be quite difficult to read through, so be aware that the subject matter is present.

Ultimately, if you’re looking for a unique dystopia, definitely give Oryx and Crake a try.

Rating: 4/5

Other Books in this Series:  The Year of the Flood (Book 2)

Read Alikes:  The Road - Cormac McCarthy, 1984 – George Orwell, The Adoration of Jenna Fox – Mary E. Pearson, The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

"Rule #1: You may bring only what fits in your backpack. Don’t try to fake it with a purse or a carry-on. Rule #2: You may not bring guidebooks, phrase books, or any kind of foreign language aid. And no journals. Rule #3: You cannot bring extra money or credit/debit cards, travelers’ checks, etc. I’ll take care of all that." - Peg

13 Little Blue Envelopes – Maureen Johnson 

336 pages

Genre:  YA; Realistic Fiction; Coming of Age

Summary:  After the death of her Aunt Peg, Ginny finds out that she is the recipient of thirteen envelopes with handwritten notes from her Aunt.  Ginny is instructed to open the envelopes one at a time and in chronological order, and after she opens the first, she knows she will soon embark on the adventure of a lifetime.  Will she be able to find out why her eccentric Aunt has sent her on this seemingly pointless endeavor, or will she remain in the dark about what Peg’s true motives?

Review:  I’ll be honest:  after reading Wings, the last YA freebie I got on my Kindle (I reviewed it a week or so ago), I didn’t have high hopes for this book, even though they are in completely different genres. I found that my trepidations were unfounded as soon as I started reading 13 Little Blue Envelopes, and I can’t wait to read the next book in the series.

It was truly enjoyable to accompany Ginny on her European voyage, and I was just as eager as she was to see where her crazy, awesome aunt was going to send her next.  Who wouldn’t want to be sent on a trip to Europe where the destination wasn’t always known, and everything about her journey was contained in envelopes?  Well, I’m sure there are some people who wouldn’t, but I am definitely not one of them.
Each stop taught Ginny some kind of lesson, took her out of her comfort zone, and made her really examine her life and her Aunt’s motives.  Things didn’t always go quite the way she had planned, which, effectively, made the story incredibly believable.  

As far as characters go, my favorites were definitely Ginny and Peg.  Ginny seemed very much like your average teenage girl, and was someone that many girls could relate to; it was great to see her growth throughout the book.  Peg was quite an oddball, and I loved hearing stories about her through other people and the letters she wrote.

If you’re looking for a light, entertaining read that will keep you guessing about where the protagonist is off to next, definitely give 13 Little Blue Envelopes a try. 

Rating:  4/5

Other Books in this SeriesThe Last Little Blue Envelope (expected to be released on April 26, 2011)

Other Books by this AuthorDevilish, Girl at Sea, Suite Scarlett

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Top 5 Best Bands for Writing

In an attempt to finish the novel I started during NaNoWriMo, tomorrow I will embark on what I am referring to as “Operation:  Finish Line."  I did hit the 50k word goal, but I still haven’t finished my project in its entirety, so I’m giving myself 30 days to do so.  I’m pretty sure I’ll be in a caffeine- induced haze for the next month, and I’m okay with it. 

While it will be pretty excellent to have a completed first draft, it will, unfortunately, not leave any time for reading, as all of the characters and storylines will get too muddled up in my head; therefore, I probably won’t be posting any book reviews until I’m finished.  I still, however, plan on posting Top 5 lists a few times this month.

With my impending challenge in mind, I thought it would be fun to put together a list of my favorite bands to listen to while I’m writing.  They aren't in any real order at all, as I enjoy them equally for various reasons.  Here we go…

Nightwish's vocals have an incredible operatic quality to them, and with a combination of powerful music and beautiful lyrics, this band really get my creative juices flowing.  Whenever I listen to Nightwish, I always feel as though I'm writing an epic masterpiece.

Stand-out songs for writing:  Ghost Love Score, Amaranth, Ocean Soul

While I don’t tend to listen to this band very much when I’m not writing, they really help me focus when I am working on something.  Aside from one song (I Don't Care), the songs I’ve heard by them have few lyrics, and they lend themselves really wonderfully to writing.

Stand-out songs for writingWorlds Collide, Burn, S.O.S. (Anything but Love)

Lacuna Coil
Lacuna Coil has been one of my favorite bands for quite some time, and I absolutely love them.  Much like the preceding bands, their rock/metal qualities, along with their lyrics, work really well for writing.

Stand-out songs for writing:  The Ghost Woman and the Hunter, Comalies, Distant Sun

Rilo Kiley 
Rilo Kiley is another one of my personal favorites.  Their music tends to be quite mellow and, for me, the lyrics lend incredibly well to character development.

Stand out songs for writingSilver Lining, Does He Love You?, Wires and Waves, A Better Son/Daughter

Ingrid Michaelson
I've only gotten into Ingrid Michaelson's music during the past year or so, but I really love it.  Her lyrics are wonderful, and the softness of her music makes writing really fun and easy.
Stand out songs for writing:  Corner of Your Heart, Keep Breathing, Maybe, The Way I Am

If you enjoy writing, what kind of music do you listen to?  Do you find music too distracting, or does it help your creative process?  Do you have any suggestions for bands I should listen to while writing?

Monday, April 18, 2011

"We Greeks get married in circles, to impress upon ourselves the essential matrimonial facts: that to be happy you have to find variety in repetition; that to go forward you have to come back where you began." - Calliope

Middlesex - Jeffrey Eugenides
529 pages
Genre:  Literary Fiction; Bildungsroman
Pulitzer Prize Winner (2003)

Summary:  Middlesex is the story of the Stephanides’, a Greek immigrant family who migrated to Detroit after their village was burned down during a devastating war in the 1920s.  The story unfolds through the eyes of Calliope, a hermaphrodite, and she explains why it’s important to go back that far in her story, even though she wasn’t born until much later, as it helps to explain what made her who she is. 

Review:  I tend to be a pretty quick reader; it’s just the way my brain interprets information.  With Middlesex, however, I found myself lingering over the pages much longer than I usually do, as I really wanted to ensure that I was completely absorbing every passage.  This book was lyrical, exceptionally well-written, and I think I would place it in the top ten best books I’ve ever read.

Middlesex allowed me to run the gamut of emotions, from extreme happiness to incredible sadness.  The book shook me up, freaked me out, made me laugh, and made me think, and I couldn’t help but feel emotionally involved with the story.  Each character was extremely well done and unique, and I felt as though they were sitting right next to me, telling their stories.  I really liked that Middlesex was told through the eyes of Calliope/Cal.  I don’t think I’ve ever read a story told by a hermaphrodite before, nor had I ever really thought about it, and it must have been incredibly hard for Cal to find out about it so late in life.

One of the best things about Middlesex for me was the focus on Detroit.  I’ve been a metro-Detroiter for my entire life (minus a year in grad school), and I’ve always heard stories about what the city used to be like.  There are still reminders of its former glory downtown (it’s not a complete wasteland, as the media likes to portray it), and it was wonderful to see the Detroit of the past come to life.  I could see the men toiling away at the factory, feel the terror of the consequences of rum running, and hear the shouts during the race riots.  Part of my family actually immigrated to Detroit around the same time as the family in the story, and while we aren’t Greek, it was really cool to get a glimpse of what life might have been like for them.

I honestly can’t recommend this book enough.  If you’re a person who enjoys really well-written family sagas with a nod to history, Middlesex is an absolute must read.

Other Books by this Author:  The Virgin Suicides, The Marriage Plot (should be released later this year)

Rating: 5/5

“You don’t have a heartbeat, Laurel. You probably don’t even have a heart.” - David

Wings - Aprilynne Pike
294 pages
Genre:  YA; Urban Fantasy - Fairies

Summary:  Having been homeschooled all of her life, Laurel and her family move to a new town where she is enrolled in a public school.  Right away, Laurel notices she’s a little bit different from everybody else:  she only eats whole foods (mostly foods full of sugar, like fruit), she doesn’t get cold all that often, and her hair is perfect without her having to do anything to it.  Things get even weirder for Laurel when she wakes up one morning and notices a mysterious growth on her back.  Will she discover the mysteries surrounding her life, or is she really just a freak?

Review:  ::sigh::

This book had a lot of flaws, didn’t really do anything for me, and I’m very glad that I got it for free on my Kindle.

One of the biggest things that bothered me was the way in which events unraveled throughout the story.  Everything seemed rushed and unfinished, and everything was way too easy for Laurel.  She started her first day of school, and as soon as she walked in the door, she met a guy and a whole new group of friends.  Really?  Not buying it.

The characters were rather one-dimensional, and I didn’t care about what happened to any of them.  Laurel’s relationships became very serious way too quickly, and it didn’t make them seem believable at all. 

I’m sure some people would like this book, but it definitely wasn’t my cup of tea.

Rating: 2/5

Other Books in this Series:  Spells (Book 2), Illusions (Book 3)

Read Alikes:  Wicked Lovely by Melissa Marr City of Bones by Cassandra Clare

Saturday, April 16, 2011

“A beautiful thing is precious, no matter the price. Those who do not know how to see the precious things in life will never be happy.” - Magda

Beastly – Alex Flinn
304 pages
Genre:  YA, modernized fairytale

Summary:  Set in present day New York City, Beastly is a retelling of the classic fairytale Beauty and the Beast from the perspective of the beast.  Kyle is handsome, popular, rich…and a grade-A douchebag who picks on everyone that isn’t as attractive as him.  After angering the wrong girl, Kyle finds himself changed into a hideous monster, and the spell can only be broken with true love’s first kiss.  Will Kyle learn to be a better person and see people as what they are on the inside, or will he be doomed to remain in his present state forever?

Review:  In all honesty, I approached this book with a great deal of trepidation.  Beauty and the Beast has always been one of my favorite fairy tales, and while I was eager to read a tale with a modern spin, I was also quite worried that my expectations would be a bit too high and I’d end up disappointed.  Thankfully, that wasn’t the case.  I found this book to be thoroughly enjoyable, entertaining, and quite an easy read.

While I could see the plot twists coming from a mile away, Beastly moved along at a nice pace and kept me interested throughout.  The main characters were really well drawn, and I particularly enjoyed seeing the positive changes in formerly pompous Kyle, even if those changes did seem a bit rushed.  Kyle and Laura’s relationship was very sweet, and I even found myself giggling and “awwing” aloud at times.  It was also really easy to hate Kyle’s dad, and I liked that I wasn’t able to get to know him throughout the book.  As in Kyle’s life, his father was distant in the book, and I was able to brush him off the same way Kyle did.

The references to other works of literature was rather fantastic, and I especially loved the time spent on Jane Eyre, as it’s one of my favorite books.

At first, I didn’t really like the chat room type thing that was established at the beginning of the text, but it really grew on me after awhile, and it was rather cute that all of the people placed under spells had a way to connect with one another.

If you’re a fan of modernized fairytales, give Beastly a try. 

Rating:  4/5

Books by this Author with the Same ThemeCloaked

Read alikes (different spins on fairytales)Wicked, Mirror Mirror, and Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister (all by Gregory Maguire; for more mature readers), Beauty by Robin McKinley

Friday, April 15, 2011

“Sometimes I think I’m nothing but what other people have done to me—a big collection of brainwashing, surgeries, and cures.” - Tally Youngblood

Specials – Scott Westerfeld
384 pages
Genre:  YA Dystopia

Summary:  Specials, the third book in the Uglies trilogy, picks up with our narrator, Tally, becoming a member of The Cutters, a select group of young Specials within Special Circumstances.  While her terrifying beauty strikes fear into the hearts of some, others have become a bit more skeptical about everything, including life within the city.  Since Tally is now a Special, her job is to ensure that everyone in the society conforms to the standards set by the city, and, ultimately, to find and destroy the New Smoke forever.  Will she be successful in her endeavors, or will she give in to the memories of the Old Smoke that she just can’t seem to let go of?

Review:  This series has truly been an enjoyable guilty pleasure for me, as the books are incredibly easy to read and the dystopian society Westerfeld has imagined is quite interesting.  Basically, I can check my brain at the door and just enjoy a good bit of fluff for awhile.  Much like the rest of the series, Specials also embodied these traits, and I devoured it in one sitting.

While the writing of the series as a whole is rather lackluster, the plot itself really propels the book forward, and for the most part, it kept me engaged, even though there were a few slow parts.  The changes in Tally were really interesting in this book, as we see her as physically strong and powerful, while also possessing the ability to render herself invisible just by touching a button on her clothing.  I also really liked that people were finally starting to realize what was going on around them, and it was interesting to watch as Tally struggled with what she should do about it.  

One of the things that kind of drove me crazy was the number of times that Tally called Shay “boss.”  Yes, we get that she’s technically your boss, but do you really have to call her that in every other sentence? Argh!  Tally’s narrative also became a bit tiresome after awhile, as she whined quite a bit throughout.  Boohoo, your life is so hard…shut up.

While this novel isn’t deep, it does have underlying themes of the dangers of consumerism, greed, and the adverse effects of deforestation.  When taken into context, the characters being completely brainwashed makes sense, as the element of control is necessary in the eyes of society.

Ultimately, if you’re looking for a light, fun read and a unique dystopian world, the Uglies series is worth checking out.  

Rating:  3/5

Other Books in the Series:   Uglies (Book 1), Pretties (Book 2), Extras (Book 4; same world, different narrator)

Read alikesCity of Ember series, Unwind, The Hunger Games

Thursday, April 14, 2011

An Introduction of Sorts


I'm Heather, a twenty-something Youth Services Librarian from somewhere in the Midwest.  I've been blogging for many, many moons, and about five or so years ago, I decided that I wanted to create a book blog...yes, I'm just getting around to it now.  Ah, the joys of procrastination.

I haven't quite decided everything that this blog will consist of, but I know for sure that there will be book reviews...lots and lots of book reviews.  I may also compile some bibliographies, read alikes, and other random lists, as I'm asked for them quite often, and believe it or not, making lists is quite fun for me.

Aside from reading and drinking way too much coffee, I enjoy writing, listening to music, telling super lame jokes, and wandering around aimlessly.

I guess that about covers it.  I'll post some reviews soon, so stay tuned!