Monday, April 26, 2010

The Dresden Files Series by Jim Butcher

One of the great things about reading Scifi is that most of the popular authors have at least one series; the series have either a large number of books to read, or a few books that are each about 500-700 pages.  Either way, you get a heck of a good story.

This is the case with Jim Butcher and his Dresden Files series.    Storm Front is the first in his series about Harry Dresden, Chicago wizard.  Harry is a wizard for hire, and from the first novel, you get sucked into his dual worlds of modern day Chicago and  the world of wizards, werewolves, vampires, and every supernatural creature you can think of.  They intersect through Harry, and each new novel finds him growing stronger in his wizard skills, and getting into deeper trouble with the White Council, the Red Court of Vampires, and the Faerie world.

You need to start at the beginning;  each new novel builds upon the previous exploits of Harry.  His faithful side kick is Karin Murphy; a Chicago detective in charge of  investigating "unusual" crimes in Chicago.  Their relationship is complicated and one of the best developments of the series.

I just finished Turn Coat, which is the eleventh in the series.  Butcher doesn't seem to have lost any steam; Harry still has plenty of adventures left to tell.  I've enjoyed each story and the ties that Harry has forged over the years with not only Murphy, but his friends Michael, Will and Georgia, and so many more characters I can't mention without giving too much away!

Changes has just been released, and I haven't had a chance to read it just yet.  An old flame from the past comes back with disturbing news for Harry and sets him off on another dangerous quest.  Will he survive again to fight the dark forces that are threatening to overtake both our world and the nevernever?

If you're looking for another great series, try this one.  It's kept me intrigued for many years, and each story is captivating and a nail biter to the end.  This series would be great for teens  who have grown beyond Harry Potter and are looking for other wizard novels.  They are funny, a bit dark, and will keep you on your toes putting all the pieces together to solve each novel's supernatural mystery.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Little Bee-A Powerful Novel

Little Bee by Chris Cleave is a must read for everyone.  I finished it last night, and had to take some time to process what I had read, it was so moving and tremendously powerful.

Little Bee is a young Nigerian teen who has fled the country and taken asylum in England.  Mistakenly released from a detention center after being held there for two years, she ends up at the house of Sarah and Andrew, who  two years ago shared a life altering experience with Little Bee on a beach in Nigeria.

As I read the novel, I was impressed by the author's ability to so fully draw Little Bee as a funny, bright, imaginative teen who has seen and experienced too much in her life.  So much tragedy runs through this story, yet I found myself laughing at Little Bee's observations about life.  Charlie is Sarah and Andrew's four year old son, who refuses to wear anything but a Batman costume morning, noon, and night.  He will only take it off at bath time.  Charlie forms a bond with Little Bee, and the two together have some of the most interesting conversations in the novel.  

I can't say enough about this novel, but I can't say too much without giving the story away.  I am so glad I listened to my co-workers and finally read it, and I look forward to telling customers about it everyday at work.  It's perfect for book group discussions, but is also the type of book that requires quiet contemplation and a tissue or two.  The end will leave you stunned and smiling through your tears.

Friday, April 16, 2010

A Bad, Bad, Moon

I've read the first two novels in the Susan Beth Pfeffer series about a meteor that hits the moon and causes massive chaos on Earth.  Life As We Knew It takes place in a small town in Pennsylvania.  Miranda is a teenage girl, living with her mother and two brothers and having a typical teen life.  One  night in May, everyone gathers to watch the meteor hit the moon.  Scientists have assured everyone nothing will come of it, and there's a party atmosphere all around the world.

This lasts about as long as it takes for the meteor to hit the moon and the moon to be knocked off course and move closer to the earth.  Suddenly, the moon is looming in the sky, massive tsunamis wipe out cities along the coasts, and craziness abounds.  Miranda has a very smart   Mom who realizes that they have to  prepare for a long summer with sporadic electricity and probably food shortages.  As the summer slowly creeps by, the news that trickles through is not good--earthquakes, volcanoes, and continued flooding are creating chaos.  The sun is lost behind a slow moving cloud of volcanic ash, adding to the food shortages and panic.

What I loved about this novel is the way Miranda acts like a typical teen.  At first, no big deal.  Then, as the months go by, she comes to understand people are dying, people (including her own family) are starving, and the world will never be the same.  I asked my niece, who's fifteen and has read the books, if she "got" the seriousness and sadness of the novels.  She immediately said "Yes! I think about my family and what I would feel if this was happening to me."  Phew.  The kid gets it.

                                              The second book is The Dead and the Gone and it follows Alex and his sisters Bri and Julie as they cope with the same catastrophe in New York City during the same months that Miranda is living in Pennsylvania.  I found the second novel to be even more riveting and just heartbreaking.  Alex's father is in Puerto Rico for a funeral, and his mother was called to the hospital to help in the crisis.  The problem here is that Puerto Rico is wiped out by a tsunami, and the subways were flooded by the influx of water into New York City--people were trapped and drowned.   Alex doesn't know if his parents are alive or dead.  He's a 17 year old who has to take on the responsibility of survival for both himself and his two younger sisters without any parental guidance.  It's a nail-biter of a story filled with images of a city under siege and people doing whatever they have to in order to get food and survive.

These books are great teen reads, but don't hesitate to pick them up and read them yourself.  Discussing them with  a teenager is enlightening.  And, it's pretty creepy that a few nights ago we experienced a meteor flashing by in the sky (it landed in Wisconsin) and the Icelandic volcano is spewing so much ash it's prohibiting air travel in Europe.  My niece and I laughed about it this morning--and we both kinda got a little freaked out at the timing of reading the books and what's happening now.  She's picked up the third in the seriesThis World We Live In and will probably finish it tonight.  I will read it in the next week and let you know.  

These novels are excellent reads and will keep you up at night.  So run--I say run! to you local bookstore and pick them up.  After you've finished, and stopped watching the sky nervously, and stockpiled your canned goods,  relax and go about your life.  


Saturday, April 10, 2010

Can't Read Just One!

I am a person who cannot read just one book at a time.  It is physically impossible for me to concentrate on one story.  I usually have two to three books going all the time.  Some I devour quickly, others take a little longer.  Two weeks on one book is my limit.  There are those that I just can't get into at that time, and I'll set them aside and pick them up later when I'm in the right frame of mind to appreciate the story.

I've had people ask me "How do you find the time to read?"  And I always say, " I make the time." It's the same as anything else in life.  If it's something you love, and you have a passion for it, you carve out a place in your day to enjoy it.  Even if it's only a few quick pages before I go to work, or managing a chapter before shutting off the light at night, I always read everyday.  I don't know how to drive in unfamiliar places, because I would rather sit in the passenger seat and read!  Maps don't count.

I have thought of keeping a list of what I'm going to read next week, next month, or what I'd like to read this summer, but I realize it's impossible for me to even attempt it.  The list would last about one week.   Every week, I say to myself "Self, you're  going to  finish this book in a few days and start on this other book next."  And each week, I go to work, walk the store, and say to myself  "Self,  you've got to get that book and read it now!"  I can never catch up; when I get close to finishing multiple books, I take one of my days off and sit and read until they're all done.

I figure I have enough books  purchased and put on my bookcases to see me through a winter like the one in Laura Ingalls Wilder's The Long Winter.  I would gladly twist straw for hours to burn in the stove if it meant I could keep my books safe to read!  Actually, with the winter we've just had, I think I will stockpile more books for the next winter.  The bookstore is only minutes from my house, but heaven forbid I don't have back-up books in case of bad weather!  And now I have my nook for extra reading space.

So now I'm reading a wide variety of books--The latest paperback from Jim Butcher- Turn Coat  featuring Harry Dresden, Chicago wizard extraordinaire;  a civil war spy novel/love story called All Other Nights by Dara Horn, and the second in a teen series called The Dead and the Gone by Susan Beth Pfeffer.  This will probably change sometime this week, as I pick up something else lying about the house and dive into it.  There is no help for me!  

I'll be sure to provide  some bookalicious babe reviews as soon as I can; but for now, I have some reading to do.  Just so you know, I've purchased the first novel in the George R. R. Martin saga A Song of Ice and Fire called A Game of Thrones.  It's 800 pages...  :}

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

A Book and a Nook

I am someone who likes the smell of a book.  Maybe I ate paper as a child, maybe I chewed on my Hop on Pop by Dr. Seuss too much and absorbed something strange.  Whatever it is, I cannot imagine my house ever being empty of books.  But, I have a wee house, and I can only visit Ikea for bookcases a limited number of times before I have to either move or make some weighty decisions about my books.

However, I have purchased  the new e-reader from Barnes and Noble called the Nook.  I dithered for months, thinking I would never betray my beloved hardcovers and paperbacks by reading something on a "device".  One day, at work, I just decided "what the hell" and bought it.  I immediately had to play with it, and see for myself what the Nook offered.

I'm very pleased with my Nook.  It's called Super Nook, joining my family of Ipods named Papa Pod, Super Pod, and Super Wee Pod.  It's my happy family of electronics.  Bud thinks I'm crazy, and maybe he's right.  I wonder sometimes myself!  I am pleasantly surprised that I figured out how to use the Nook without a seminar for the clueless.  The manual actually being on the Nook helped, too.

I started out slow, dowloading samples of books I might be interested in reading.  One sample was  Twenties Girl by Sophie Kinsella.  I was happy to see it was  about two chapters in length; enough to see if I really wanted to keep reading.  I then hit "purchase" and within seconds the whole novel was on my Nook.  I just finished it this morning, and am delighted with both the book and the experience of reading it on the Nook.  The print was crisp and clear; no eye strain at all.  I could easily turn pages by either pressing the button on the side of the Nook, or swiping the bottom of the Nook display.  I could either leave a bookmark, or simply shut off the Nook, and it would take me right back to where I left off.  I'm not one to highlight passages, or write notes in my books, but Nook lets you do that, too.  Now I can keep enjoying all the books I want, but not have to worry about which pile to put them in around the house.  Of course, I've already bought a few books this week in paperback, so I still have a bit of a problem with space.  I may have to start  checking  the real estate ads after all!

So--Twenties Girl.  What a fun read!  Lara is the main character.  Her great aunt Sadie has died at 105 and her family has reluctantly gathered at Sadie's funeral.  In fact, they're the only people there, and none of them visited Sadie in her nursing home, or really cared a bit about her.  As the funeral begins, Lara is the only one who hears and sees a young lady dressed in twenties clothing who is yelling about her missing necklace.  Guess who?  Yep, it's Sadie.  She wants Lara to find her necklace, a long string of beautiful beads with a dragonfly pendant that she wore for 75 years.  She can't rest without it.

Lara can't get rid of Sadie, who proceeds to wiggle her way into Lara's life, providing Lara with some hilarious scenes  involving her ex-boyfriend, a potential new man, and her struggle to keep her headhunting business afloat.
Lara also learns along the way  that Sadie was much more than anyone ever knew, and that our age on the outside isn't always the same as how we feel on the inside.

In a time where we sometimes forget where we came from, this is a novel that reminds us that our parents, grandparents, and everyone who came before us were once young, happy, and just maybe bustin' a move to the Charleston, staying out all night, and enjoying life.  This was a fun, enjoyable read, and I look forward to Sophie Kinsella writing more novels like this one.  If you enjoy Jane Green or Emily Giffin, you will like Twenties Girl.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

The French Gardener--Oh, to Have This Garden!

I just finished reading The French Gardener by Santa Montefiore.  A friend I work with recommended it, and I'm delighted to say it's a treat to read.  The main character in this story is the garden surrounding an English country estate owned by Miranda and David, transplanted Londoners.  Miranda is left alone with her two children while her husband works in London all week.  She hates the country life, and is tired of everyone in the nearby village telling her how beautiful the gardens of her estate were years ago, when Ava and her husband Phillip lived there.  The story moves between Miranda's life, and back to 1980 and Ava's life.

Miranda decides to hire a gardener to bring her grounds into some order, and along comes a handsome, mysterious Frenchman named Jean-Paul who agrees to bring  the gardens back into a glorious vision.  Of course, there is more to him, and more to the story.  If you love gardening or just like to dream about it, this is the book for you.  It combines beautiful gardens, an illicit love story, and the lives of people both past and present who are searching for happiness and contentment.  The village characters are fun background players to the main story, and you can see how Miranda slowly thaws and realizes the utter contentment living in the countryside can bring to a soul.

Give it a try--I bet you won't be able to stop yourself from buying a bouquet of flowers, or deciding this year to plant some color into your world.  And since this is a family blog, I will say no more about plants, gardens, and gorgeous Frenchmen.  Enjoy!