Friday, February 28, 2014

After I'm Gone

Everyone thought Bambi and her husband Felix had it all. They had money, great friends, and three excellent children. That all changes when Felix is threatened with prison time because some of his business enterprises are not entirely legal. Before he can be sent to prison, he mysteriously disappears. This leaves Bambi and their three daughters without an income, or very much money in savings. Bambi suspects that Felix's mistress Julie has taken their money or knows where it is.

Julie vanishes on the tenth anniversary of Felix's disappearance. Everyone thinks she has gone to join him, until her body is discovered in a park. Twenty-six years after Julie goes missing, her case is reopened. Sandy is a retired officer that works on the city's cold cases. He must figure out who killed Julie, and there are plenty of suspects. He must work through old jealousies, and lies to discover what really happened.

I liked the idea of having a character solve a cold case to tell this story. I thought it was an unique approach to a mystery novel. The story was well balanced with hints about how it would end, but obscuring it with various aspects of the story. I was only able to guess part of the end, which was good. I like it when a mystery does not give everything away too soon.

I was impressed by Lippman's ability to build up to the suspenseful moments. This is not a fast paced thriller. To really enjoy it, you have to be willing to let the suspense build, and devote some time to reading it. There is a switch in what time period it is with every chapter, which I am not a fan of. It was a little distracting at first, but I got used to it as I continued to read. The continual change from past to present actually worked really well for this mystery.

After I'm Gone was the first book I have read by Laura Lippman, and I liked it. I would be willing to read more of her books.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Marie Antoinette: The Journey

Marie Antoinette was the youngest of fifteen children born to Empress Marie Theresa in 1755. She was married to the Dauphin of France in 1770. She became Queen of France in 1774. Marie Antoinette was ill prepared for her role as Queen. Her education was not closely supervised until it was known she would replace her sister in a marriage contract with the Dauphin. Her reputation came under attack as the country faced internal pressures. Along with the rest of the royal family, her lavish spending was one of the many issues revolutionaries had with the royalty, as the poor in France starved. In 1793, she was put on trial and beheaded by the revolutionaries.

This was a fascinating biography. Knowing that Marie Antoinette's life ends with her head being cut off, did not stop me from being completely engaged in the book. Fraser presents Marie Antoinette as a woman with much more to her than many people realize. She had relationship and political issues that were deeply intertwined, which made it difficult for her to meet everyone's expectations. Upon finishing this book, I have a deeper understanding of, and much more sympathy towards Marie Antoinette.

This was a well researched biography that presented a new side to Marie Antoinette. Most people think of her as a cold hearted person that just lavishly spent all the country's money while the people starved. The famous words "Let them eat cake" are usually the first thing anyone thinks of when her name is mentioned. Fraser shows that Marie Antoinette did not say this. An earlier French princess said this phrase, and anytime people were dissatisfied with a later female ruler, this phrase was applied to them.

I highly recommend this biography if you want to learn more about Marie Antoinette. It was well researched, and presented in a very clear and engaging manner.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

My Life In Middlemarch

Rebecca Mead first read Middlemarch while living in a coastal town in England preparing to go to Oxford. She continues to reread Middlemarch throughout her life, and at different moments it provides new insight to her experiences. In this book, Mead discusses the role Middlemarch had played in her life, and how the themes of Eliot's novel are reflected in her experiences. She also discusses her research into the book, George Eliot, and her own memoirs.

Mead provides some interesting points about George Eliot and Middlemarch, but I thought there was too much going on. I wish Mead had picked one or two of these topics to work with and not all of them. It felt a little scattered to be reading about George Eliot one moment, what someone else has written about the time period, Mead's own life, and then about the actual novel Middlemarch. There would have been more depth to this book if only a couple of these topics had been focused on.

I do identify with Mead's experience with reading. Sometimes, there is a book that can continue to captivate you throughout your life. You do not outgrow it, rather you gain new insight into the material as you mature. That is a sign of an incredible book. She discusses how the themes of love being complex, morality, failure, and other major issues Middlemarch raises influenced her own experiences in her life.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher*. This did not change my review, but it did provide me with an early copy. I did like learning more about George Eliot and the book Middlemarch. If you really enjoy George Eliot and Middlemarch, I would recommend giving this book a try. There is a lot of information scattered throughout the book. I personally would recommend trying a biography of Eliot instead, but the personal tone of this book might appeal more to some people.

* Crown Publishing does not require a review or stipulate what kind of review should be given if you are inclined to review the book. It was simply part of a promotional event for their book. Winning this book does not change my review. It merely provides me with a book I might not have heard about or gotten to as soon.

Friday, February 21, 2014


Tris and several other trusted people from the rebellion--now calling itself the Allegiant, decide they must leave the city and see what is beyond the walls. They are hoping to discover something to stop a new civil war that is about to tear the city apart. What they discover outside the wall shocks them, and completely changes what they thought about their city and the world.

This is the third book in the Divergent trilogy. I was excited to finally get to the last book. The reactions people had to this book was the reason I wanted to read this series. I was astonished when Allegiant was released to discover the author had received threats because of the way she ended the trilogy. I decided I wanted to know what the big to do was all about. I was unsurprised to learn I had guessed correctly why fans were so angry. I figured it was one of two likely possibilities regarding the story. I do not want to ruin the ending, but I was happy that Roth had ended it the way she did.

The third book gives us more information about the world these characters are living in, and why they are set up into the five factions, and how important that actually is. I understand why some of the information was saved to be discovered at the end, but wish more details had been present a little sooner in the story to make us feel truly invested in the world.

I thought the trilogy was interesting. It was mostly predictable, and I had to keep reminding myself that the main characters were teenagers every time I got annoyed with them. I think a younger audience would really enjoy this trilogy. Roth had an interesting idea for a dystopian world, but the story focused more on the characters and their relationships rather than a whole world with these characters you love in it. 

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

The Complete Fairy Tales Of The Brothers Grimm

I have been trying to find an edition of The Grimm Fairy Tales that would make me happy for years. I was pleased to discover the Jack Zipes translation in a used bookstore. He is a well known expert in his field. Not only has he translated the fairy tales, but he has written extensively about them. In this edition, Zipes translated all two hundred and fifty tales collected by the Brothers Grimm. He has also included twenty-nine tales that are rarely included in most editions, and narratives from the Brothers Grimm's papers and letters.

The tales included are direct translations, and are not expanded on. They are simple and short. I like the simplicity that is presented here. There are also some beautiful illustrations included that add to the pleasure of reading these tales. It should be noted that the Brothers Grimm did not intend these tales for children. Although, I loved these stories as a child. It is still one of my favorite collection of fairy tales, and has a firm spot on My Favorite Books list. One of my favorite things about the Grimm version of the tales is that there is no effort to sensor the brutal details that were an original part of the tales.

Some of my favorite tales are: The Queen Bee, Snow White and Rose Red, The Lazy One and The Industrial One, and The Three Sisters. I like that the tales are not sanitized for readers. I find them much more interesting to read. While not all aspects of the tale are real-animals do not speak etc. I do think it is more realistic than versions that have everything magically turning out perfect in the end. I also like comparing different versions of fairy tales, so it is always fun to read these more original tales.

If you do not mind your stories a little dark and violent, I would recommend reading The Grimm Brother's version of these fairy tales.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Maul: Lockdown

Darth Sidious sends his apprentice Darth Maul undercover as a prisoner who committed murderer to the space penitentiary Cog Hive Seven. His mission, is to find an arms dealer and make a deal for a nuclear bomb. Cog Hive Seven is no ordinary prison. The inmates are pitted against each other in fights to the death, which can be viewed from anywhere in the galaxy, and people can place bets on the fights. Maul must discover the identity of his contact while fighting for his life in the random bouts, and he has been instructed not to use the force. He cannot give away he is a Sith Lord.

I won a copy of this book from the Goodread's First Reads Program*. This was very exciting for me, because I am an avid Star Wars fan. The Star Wars universe is one I enjoy revisiting, and the stories about the Sith are often some of the better ones. I did not enjoy this book as much as I typically do a Star Wars book. It seemed like a generic science fiction story that had characters and names from Star Wars. Some of the words and goals seemed more consistent with our world than the Star Wars universe. I did not feel like I had entered the world of Star Wars.

I had hoped to learn more about Darth Maul while I read this book, and that sadly did not happen. The story was very much about what was happening in the moment, and did not really develop Maul's character. Maul's non-force skills were impressive, but I was left wondering why I was reading about a character who is driven by rage and his force ability, if he was not going to use them at all?

The book went on much longer than it needed to. The end of the book was much more interesting than over half the book. A story should engage the reader long before this one did. Overall, I would recommend reading a different Star Wars book.

*The Goodreads First Reads program does not require winners to give a review. Winners are encouraged to review the book, as the authors and publishers offering the books for free are trying to get the public interested in their book. If a review is given, it is not stipulated that it should be positive or negative, only an honest review. Winning this book does not change the nature of my review, it merely provides me with early access to this book.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Til We Have Faces

The myth of Cupid and Psyche is told from the perspective of Psyche's sister Orual. Orual loves her sister as she loves no one else in the world. She helped raise her when Psyche's mother died giving birth to her. Orual despairs when the priest demands Psyche as a sacrifice to please the gods. When she goes to find her bones and bury them, she discovers Psyche alive and well. She is disturbed by Psyche's belief that she is married to a god, although she has never seen him. She forces Psyche to look at her husband and see who he really is. The consequences are dire for both Orual and Psyche. This act pushes them both into new trials that they must both pass if Psyche is to be reunited with her love.

Cupid and Psyche is one of my favorite myths. I fell in love with this retelling by C.S. Lewis. You do not have to be familiar with the original tale to enjoy this version. Lewis gives new depth to the tale by exploring the emotions the short original myth only mentions. The layers in the story allow you to appreciate new depths every time you read it. Love plays a predominant part in this story, but it is not simply romantic love that is explored. Jealousy, love as a weapon, obsessive love, and devoted love all show how love can enrich your life or destroy it.

I was captured by the realness of the characters. The emotions they feel, the struggles they face are very real. I could identify the with the characters, and cared about what would happen to them, even though I knew how they would end up. In knowing these characters we come to know a part of ourselves.

Lewis captures the range of human emotions beautifully. Every time I read this book, I am completely engrossed in it. I think it is my favorite book by C. S. Lewis, and it has a place on My Favorite Books list. If you like exploring favorite tales told in new ways, you should read Til We Have Faces.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Nick And Tesla's Robot Army Rampage

By: Bob Pflugfelder and Steve Hockensmith

In this book, Nick and Tesla try to figure out who is robbing the stores in Half-Moon Bay. While following up on some leads, they encounter robots the criminal is using to help steal from the stores.

I won this book from a Quirk Books Promotional event* with the first book. My nephew and I read this together, and we thought it was great! We both agreed that it was even better than the first book: Nick and Tesla: High Voltage Danger Lab. The robots were an interesting element to the story. The first book introduced us to all the characters, and now in the second one, we are able to focus more on the adventures Nick and Tesla have, and their experiments. 

There are some really cool plans included in this book to make your own robots. This series is excellent at encouraging children to be interested in science and to use their imagination to experiment with ordinary objects.

Q&A with Alejandro

Did you like the book?
I liked it! It was a very good one.

How did it compare to the first book?
I liked it more. It had robots.

What was your favorite part?
When they were trying to find the bad guy. They didn't find him right away. It was funny with the robobugs. Also the part where they used the hoverbot. I liked that they were trying to make a floating car in the lab.

Who was your favorite character in this book and why?
Uncle Newt, Nick, and Tesla. Nick and Tesla because they are doing mysterious stuff like trying to find out who the robber is. Uncle Newt because he is a scientist.

Did the story go how you expected it to?
I didn't expect who the robber was.

Would you recommend this book to your friends?
Yup, it was pretty good.

Did you do any of the experiments?
Not yet. I want to make the robobugs, because they are like the hexbugs I like to play with. I want to know how to make them. I also want to make the hoverbot. It was my favorite because it flies.

Will you read the third book in the series Secret Agent Gadget Battle?
Yes. The next book sounds interesting.

Thank you Alejandro for reading and reviewing this book with me. I can't wait for our next book!

*Quirk Books does not require a review or stipulate what kind of review should be given if you are inclined to review the book. It was simply part of a promotional event for their book. Winning this book does not change my review. It merely provides me with a book I would not have read, or gotten to as soon.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Eating On The Wild Side

Starting with the nutritional history of our most common fruits and vegetables, Robinson explains how nutrition has slowly been bred out of our food. Comparing wild fruits and vegetables to what we currently grow on farms and in gardens, she illustrates how little nutrition we are getting from our cultivated crops. To eat on the wild side, is to discover which of these foods has the most nutrients, what kind of nutrients, and how to cook your food to get the most nutritional benefit from it.

I found that even the explanations that were in scientific terms, were easy to follow. The book is organized in a clear way, so if you want to review before you go to buy your produce or cook it, it is easy to find the relevant information. There are charts at the end of each chapter that make it easy to use the information talked about in the chapter for making decisions about which produce to buy.

I liked that for each section there was a recipe that used the healthiest kind of each ingredient, but it used methods Robinson suggested to increase the nutritional value of the food. Some of these suggestions were as simple as: baking your potatoes the day before you eat them and storing them in the fridge to decrease the spike in your blood sugar, eat your broccoli the day you buy it to preserve the natural sugars and cancer fighting properties, or press your garlic ten minutes before using it. I tried out two of her recipes in the book. One was an Armenian Lentil Soup. I was surprised how much I actually liked it. I am not a fan of lentils, but have been trying to eat them more as they are very healthy. I served the soup with homemade flatbread, and it was delicious! I also tried the Kale Chip recipe. Every recipe I had tried before had been too salty or very oily. These were perfect! A great replacement for potato chips.

Kale Chips I made with the recipe from the book

A common reason people give for not eating well is the cost. If this concerns you, I would recommend reading this book. It will help you understand how to get the most nutrition for what you are buying. I also liked learning why certain foods are more nutritious than others. The history of how some foods became such a huge part of our diet, and why they are no longer as good for us was very enlightening. I also liked how she encouraged people to eat locally or grow their own gardens, as the fresher your fruits and vegetables are, the healthier they are for you.

I heard an interview with this author about this book on the radio. I was immediately intrigued. I am very interested in trying to eat healthier, and in learning more about the food I eat to help me make the best choices possible, so I can live a healthy life. I found this book to be very informative, and helpful towards my goal of improving my food choices.

If you care about what you eat, and want to be healthier, I recommend reading this book.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Caleb's Crossing

Bethia Mafield lives in the Great Harbor settlement in the 1600s. Her father is a Calvanist minister, and he and her grandfather run the community. She longs for education, but her father limits her opportunities to learn because she is a girl. When she is twelve years old she meets Caleb the son of a Wampanoag chieftain. They teach each other their language and the beliefs from their culture. One of her father's projects becomes educating Caleb in the hope of converting his tribe to christianity.

Brooks based this story off the real life of Caleb, the first Native American graduate of Harvard. There is limited information available about Caleb. She relied heavily on what is known about settlements in the area and Harvard at that time Caleb was alive. From this she tried to try to piece together what Caleb's experience might have been.

I read this with one of my book clubs. I think this is my favorite book by Geraldine Brooks that I have read so far. I thought she managed the use of language from the period while making it understandable to the modern reader quite well. I appreciate when an author is able to do this without annoying or creating difficulties for the reader. I appreciate the skill Brooks uses to bring attention to people and events that aren't as well known. Her honesty in her explanations about what was fact, and what she wrote for the story was excellent. I like to know this when reading historical fiction.

The story is from the fictional character Bethia's perspective. I thought given the lack of exact information for Caleb's life, this was an interesting way to write his story. This also gave us an intimate view on how difficult it can be to cross into another culture, particularly when the cultures are hostile to one another.

Overall, I thought this was an interesting book to read. Fans of historical fiction will enjoy this book.

Monday, February 3, 2014


Five year old Jack has never left the 11x11 room he was born in. He thinks that the room is the whole world. During the day he learns, plays, and eats with his mother. At night his mother puts him in the wardrobe to sleep in case Old Nick visits them. Jack loves the room, but he starts to realize how unhappy his mother is in her prison. As his curiosity about things outside grows, so does his mother's desperation to escape. She hatches a plan, and unfortunately, it depends on Jack who is not certain he wants to leave.

This book is narrated from Jack's perspective. Although interesting to see what this experience would be like from a child's perspective, I did not care for how it worked in this book at all. Jack is a limited narrator. He has limited understanding about what is happening, and is unwilling to try to understand. His language abilities are constrained by his lack of exposure to proper speech, but this seems strange given his supposed advanced reading and math ability. It becomes very annoying to read all of his grammar issues. This highlights one of the plot conflicts in the story, that some of his thoughts were clearly too advanced for this particular child. It is not worth the constant aggravation of the narrator to deal with a thin plot that lacks plausibility.

It is a quick read, mainly because I wanted to get it over with. I was increasingly frustrated with the book, and knew I needed to finish it quickly, or I never would. Because of the lack of plausibility in the plot, and the irritating narration, I recommend finding a different book if you are interested in understanding what it is like for a person to survive these horrendous circumstances.