Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Sensibility and the Reality of Heaven

One of these days I'll actually blog about one book at a time again. Pft! Where's the fun in that? This way you get an extra long post, an extra pictures, and then you send out words of praise because you don't have to hear from me in a while. That's not really what you think of me, is it? I should stop planting ideas in your head.


I finished Sense and Sensibility and once that was done I decided I wanted something a little bit different before diving right back into the world of Jane Austen. So I took Heaven is for Real  from my sister's shelf and read it in a day. It's quite liberating to read a book in a day after reading a book that took you much longer than that (my own fault, let me assure you).

I was updating my goodreads.com account when I noticed that one of my old teachers gave Sense and Sensibility 5/5 stars. I was suddenly struck with a lack of self confidence. But I stuck with what I planned to give it when I first logged onto the site, 3/5 (meaning I liked it, it was better than okay, I just couldn't bring myself to say I REALLY liked it or loved it). Here's why. First of all, from the very beginning, the book was competing with my love for Pride and Prejudice. There were a few times during the book where I thought, "This just isn't as good as Pride and Prejudice." Perhaps that's not entirely fair, but it's the truth. I did like it more as it went along, and having only seen Emma Thompson's movie rendition of the tale, I enjoyed a lot of the background details and insights that the book provides that aren't as clear in the movie. On that note, I found myself commending Emma Thompson for her work on the movie. She did a very good job in my opinion trying to include all the important aspects of the original work. That's not an easy thing to do. I have a feeling that given time I will come to love this book. You may recall that the first time I read Pride and Prejudice I hated it and now it's one of my favorite books of all time. It is a good story with some memorable characters, but I felt it a little slow at parts and while some characters are memorable, I thought some of the main characters needed a little bit more (meaning more of the love interests than say the Miss Dashwoods).

I first heard of Heaven is for Real while I was attending the Publishing Institute in Denver. I saw it on a shelf at the Tattered Cover (which you should go to if you're ever in the Denver area!) and my roommate mentioned how she'd wanted to read it. By the time I saw it on my sister's shelf, I'd heard a little more about it and thought I'd give it a read. It relates the story of Colton Burpo who had an emergency appendectomy back in 2003. He was lucky to survive. Over the next couple of years, he related to his parents the experiences he had during his surgery...when he went to heaven and back. It's a touching story. It made me tear up a few times. And it's a quick read. It's a story of a family who was blessed with the life of their son. It's about faith and trust in God and that He loves us more than we can imagine. Colton's experience hasn't just affected his family, but he's been able to offer comfort to others because of his experience. If that's not enough to get you interested, it also has pictures! What more could you ask for :)

Monday, October 31, 2011

Jane Austen

Truth be told, I've only actually read one Jane Austen novel (GASP!). I bet you can guess which one that was. That's right, Pride and Prejudice. I've written some thoughts about that lovely story before, so I won't go into much detail again. Suffice it to say, my seventh grader self had a problem with it. My college self and beyond loves it.

I came to know a few of the other stories thanks to movie dramatizations. About a year ago, I decided I wanted to be familiar with all of her novels even though I hadn't read them all. So I did the obvious thing. I watched more movies courtesy of my local library. I can now say I know the general plot of all six Jane Austen novels. I don't have very many books with me currently, but one I do have access to is The Complete Works of Jane Austen. I decided it was about time I read another one. So I started with the first one in the book, Sense and Sensibility, which I am still currently reading.

Although I like it and I'm enjoying some of the insights we gain from book format vs. movie format, I find myself thinking that I don't like it as well as Pride and Prejudice. I still have a bit to go so I'll put no final judgement on it yet, but it raises this question. What is your favorite Jane Austen novel? Or can you absolutely not stand her? If you haven't read the novels, tell me which movie is your favorite. I'd really like to know :)

Based on my experiences with the stories thus far, I would rank them as follows:

1. Pride and Prejudice
2. Emma
3. Sense and Sensibility
4. Persuasion
5. Northanger Abbey and Mansfield Park are currently tied

Leave your comments below! Which is your favorite or least favorite, and tell us why if you feel so inclined.

Oh and lest I forget, HAPPY HALLOWEEN!!

If you're looking for a great book for this joyous occasion, you should look into Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich. It's full of monster fun! You better sing the words on all the Phantom of the Opera pages...or else!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

NaNoWriMo 2011 Edition!

It's come to my attention that National Novel Writing Month is a mere 13 days away. GASP!

How many of you are doing it this year? Last year was my first time, and although I didn't finish by the end of November, I did eventually reach 50,000 words. I was so proud of myself! That novel is the longest thing I've ever written! Let's see if I can do it again! Now to come up with an idea...

You should do it too! Learn more and create a profile at www.nanowrimo.org!

Monday, October 17, 2011

Magic Candy and a Mind Reading Marigold

Last week, I finished two books, both of the young adult genre. We'll present these in the proper order, shall we? That means you're up Candy Shop War! Go on! Move it!

The Candy Shop War
By Brandon Mull
Young Adult
Published by Shadow Mountain
363 pages

You may know Brandon Mull from his New York Times bestselling series Fablehaven. That's where I first heard the name. I've actually read the first book in the series, but haven't read the others yet. I'm a slacker where that's concerned.

This book wasn't quite what I expected it to be, and once I started reading, I wasn't sure I was going to like it at first. It won me over in the end. I wouldn't put it on my list of favorite books of all time, but it was still pretty good. I think it's a book that will have a lot of appeal for a younger audience (younger as in preteen or thereabouts).

The book tells the story of four kids who just want to make it through school alive and avoid the school bullies. If they have a little opportunity for adventure, that's all the better. One such opportunity presents itself in the new candy shop in town. Mrs. White, the owner of the shop, takes a liking to the kids and offers them samples of her secret candy, candy that gives them extraordinary powers. Thrilled with the ability to defy gravity, change your appearance, and use mirrors as a means of travel, they gladly continue to return to Mrs. White for new candy. But with each new assortment comes a higher price, and when the risks become lethal, suddenly this magical candy isn't worth it anymore. But backing out isn't so easy.

I was expecting this book to have a Charlie and the Chocolate Factory feel. Here's why. The first thing it says on the back cover under praise for The Candy Shop War is, "Mull...dishes up a crowd-pleaser as delicious as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory." Okay, so I've never actually read that one (goodness knows why as I'm a fan of Road Dahl), but having read enough of Dahl's work, I had a certain style in mind, and Mull's book isn't like that. That's not a bad thing, it just threw me off at the beginning.

I also wasn't sure if I was going to like it because of some of the dialogue, and a little bit of how one of the characters acted in the beginning. But once it really gets into the adventure and mystery of it all, I started to like it better, and neither of those things bothered me anymore. Plus it was getting more exciting, and I was genuinely wondering how they were going to sort everything out in the end. I like how things worked out especially because things didn't go according to plan a few times, but they were still able to figure out a way to solve it. I just can't believe I couldn't figure out how they were going to get out of the situation in the end! When it happened, I was like, "Brilliant! That's the only way it could have happened! Why didn't I see that?"

Not a hard read. I can see kids reading it on their own or with a parent or even a teacher reading it in a classroom setting. I always loved when my teachers read to the class. Good times indeed.

Once Upon a Marigold
By Jean Ferris
Young Adult
Published by Harcourt, Inc.
266 pages

Part comedy,
Part love story,
Part everything-but-the-kitchen-sink

That's our introduction to Once Upon a Marigold from the front cover. I'm a bit of a fan of fairy tale like stories, whether they be retellings or very much unique in plot but still with that fairy tale feel. This book fits into that. Like The Candy Shop War, I wouldn't number this book among my top favorites. However, it was enjoyable and had a clever plot that makes me smile just thinking about it.

Every one who knows anything about life at all knows that love doesn't always come easy...especially when you're the foster son of a forest troll. Such is the case with Christian, a lad who ran away from home at the age of six determined never to return. That's when Ed, the troll, found him and took him home. They have a pleasant life together, but when Christian finally gets the nerve to send a p-mail (that's mail by pigeon, don't you know) to the princess across the river, that life is turn upside down and twisted in a complex series of knots. So begins Christian's correspondence with Marigold, a unique princess with the uncanny ability to read minds. He is soon head over heels, but he knows he doesn't stand a chance at winning the heart of a princess. To make matters worse, he discovers Marigold's mother is bent on having the kingdom for herself, even if that means taking drastic measures.

This book is fun, creative, and a quick read. I think my favorite character is Ed, mostly because he tries to use so many well known expressions, but he gets them wrong every time. Christian never quite knows what he means, but he pretends that he does. This book is clever, and it too will have a great appeal for young readers.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Least Favorite Books Ever

I have a feeling I've mentioned some of the worst books I've ever read, but I can't be sure, and I don't know that I've ever told you why they land on that list. I'm going to give you insight into a couple so you don't have to read them if you don't want to. Or perhaps you will read them out of curiosity. I can't stop you, but I can warn you. This is just my opinion anyhow.

Blood and Chocolate

This is a young adult novel about werewolves. That's putting it very simply. There is a movie based off of it as well. I think it was released in 2007. I don't have anything against using werewolves or vampires or other fantastical creatures as part of a plot to a story (you'll notice that there's another book on this list that involves both werewolves and vampires...). Here's what bothered me about this book. I didn't find it believable at all. The main character was supposed to be in love with this guy and that's the major issue of the book as she's a werewolf and he's human. But I just didn't believe it. I couldn't believe that she was in love with this guy. I couldn't bring myself to like the characters. The ending was oddly sweet, but at the same time it gave me a sort of, "What the heck?" and also "Gross?" It's a little hard to explain. But you should probably know the movie differs significantly from the book in how it ends. The movie wasn't that great either, but I may have liked it better than the book.

The Golden Ass

The only part I liked about this book was the story of Cupid and Psyche. Pretty much didn't like everything else. I probably wouldn't have even picked up the book if I didn't have to read it for a class. I didn't care for the sexual content and I just felt the main character was an idiot. That's probably why he gets turned into a donkey. In the end, he's a changed man, but even though moments of redemption and starting anew struck me as boring. Just not my cup of tea I guess. It's been so long that I can't remember very many other details, so I'm afraid that'll have to do. Take a moment to Google the Cupid and Psyche story.

Madame Bovary

I think the common thread in these first three examples is that I just hate the characters or can't relate to them. Madame Bovary is no exception. I hated her. I may view the book a little differently if I were to read it again, but for now, it remains on my list of worst books I've ever read. My complaint may contain a bit of a spoiler so be warned. What I remember about this book is that Madame Bovary is unhappy with her marriage. I think she finds her husband boring or something. It really has been awhile since I've read it. Anyhow, she goes on to have a number of affairs (that number be three if I remember correctly) to try and find what she feels is missing. Well, things don't turn out so hot, and she ends up committing suicide via rat poison. She doesn't die right away either. You get to read about how lovely it is to die in that fashion. Lovely being meant to be taken as sarcasm. It ends with her poor depressed husband, having no idea of what has been going on or what would drive her to kill herself. Quite depressing really. And I just couldn't stand her. Once again, I felt she was an idiot. Maybe I have no heart. I don't think so. My eyes tear up when I watch Newsies, so I know I'm capable of some emotion.

Breaking Dawn

No offense to all those people getting pumped up for part one of the final installment of the Twilight Saga, but Breaking Dawn fits onto this list as well. I read the entire series and was actually enjoying them until I read the last. I found it anticlimactic. There needed to be some element of sacrifice involved I think. I supposed you could say that Bella sacrificed her family and her non-vampire life, but that just didn't feel like a sacrifice  or perhaps just not a big enough one. I didn't like some plot choices, and the ending just fell flat. There was this build up all for nothing, and things just magically work out okay. It was too easy. I could get into more specifics of things, but if you do choose to read it, I don't want to be the one to spoil it for you. I would be curious to know of your reaction to it.

So there you have it. Those are some of my least favorite books ever. And if you like them, more power to you. If you want to share with me why you liked them, feel free to share. Just don't yell at me. I fear the yelling. Besides, I'm pretty sure most if not all of these books have sold really well. Stephenie Meyer is set for life! That's more than I can say for myself.

I asked a few other people what some of the worst books they've ever read are. Here's some that were mentioned:

Sarah's Key
The Scarlet Letter
Anything Stephen King

Your turn. What are some of the worst books you've ever read and what makes them the worst?

Saturday, September 3, 2011

The Hunger Games Trilogy

I finished Mockingjay the other day, and now I'm ready to evaluate the series as a whole. I really enjoyed it. Here's a couple reasons why:

1. Strong female protagonist who kicks butt!
2. Engaging writing style. I wasn't sure how I was going to like the first person present tense going on, but Collins pulled it off really well. I don't think all authors are capable of that.
3. Katniss ended up with the guy I thought she should endup with.
4. It didn't have an unbelievable happily ever after ending. It was happy in the sense that it wasn't one of those stories where the bad guy wins or you're left feeling like you will never be happy again, but the good that comes in the end came with a price.

I can't really think of much I'd have to say against the series. After some thought, the only things that really come to mind are insignificant details. Such as, perhaps Katniss asks too many rhetorical questions to herself. See? Not a big deal. Of course, now you're going to read the series with my example in mind and become annoyed because you notice every single question she asks. Forget I mentioned it.

One issue I've seen raised is the love triangle. Do all teenage girls have problems deciding how they feel about two boys who clearly are attracted to the girl? I never had that problem... Jealous...

But in all seriousness, the love triangle didn't really bother me in this book because there was so much action going on, so many lives at stake, that the love triangle almost sits in the background and then jumps up and down every once in a while to remind you that it's still there. And it gets resolved in the end, in case you couldn't figure that out from my list.

The funny thing is, I didn't choose which guy she should end up with because I totally loved one guy over the other. When reading Twilight, I was totally team Jacob because Edward really annoyed me starting in book two. Sorry, Edward. You're just not my type. In The Hunger Games it was more like reasoning which one I'd most likely fall for were I in that situation and what reason I wouldn't choose the other guy. I'd spell that out for you, but I don't want to ruin the surprise.

One last thing I forgot to mention that I liked about the series, I could never guess what was coming next. Not long term anyway. When I was reading the first one, I had a very small idea of how it would end, but then I always found myself asking, "But how can this go into another book?" Turns out I only had a vague idea of how it would end, and the next two books kept up the pace.

I almost wanted a little more out of the ending. Just two more sentences or so. However, we the readers are also given enough.

The series is a quick read and well worth the time.