Monthly Archives: July 2011

Booking Through Thursday — Burning the Midnight Oil

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What’s the latest you’ve ever stayed up reading a book? Is staying up late reading a usual thing for you?

While I do read before my head hits the pillow each night, I try to make sure I don’t stay up too late doing so.  It’s difficult sometimes because it can get easy to get lost in a good book or to think, just one more chapter.   Sometimes it takes willpower to realize that it will take longer than I expect to read through the end of the story or novel I’m reading and that sometimes it’s better to wait and really enjoy it rather than rush through it.

As for the latest I’ve stayed up, I don’t recall really.



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Review: Ten Things We Did

Ten Things We Did
Ten Things We Did by Sarah Mlynowski
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

On the surface, April is living every teenager’s dream. When he’s transferred to Cleveland, her father allows April to live with her good friend, Vi and finish out the year at school. She’s got a great boyfriend and they’re finally ready to take their relationship to the next level.

Of course, in reality things are slightly different. April soon finds out that her visions of wild parties, endless freedom and lots of time canoodling with the boyfriend are in sharp contrast to the realities of living with her friend and maintaining the illusion to her father and others that there is some kind of adult supervision taking place in their lives. Add to it that at the time when she and her boyfriend should be feeling closer than ever, he’s more distant than ever before, except when he’s jealous about April’s new guy friend.

The premise for “Ten Things We Did (And Probably Shouldn’t Have)” isn’t exactly a new one. We’ve all seen those special episodes of various TV shows where teens are left home alone and all hell breaks loose. The story opens with April’s dad coming by for a surprise visit the morning after a huge party and April trying to figure out how they can clean up in time and how they got to this point. The novel then unfolds, filling in the details of how we got here and the good and bad decisions made along the way. (Good decision: trying to work out a way to stay near her friends for the last part of her junior year. Bad decision: Buying a hot tub).

As a narrator, April brings an authenticity to the story that could be lacking. While the reader may pick up on clues that something is off with her boyfriend, April quickly tries to find ways to gloss it over and write it off. April’s voice sounds like an authentic teenage girl and Mylnowski never allows the situations or temptations facing April and her friends to stray too far from what could happen in the real world. The journey April takes as she realizes things about herself and her family is a fascinating, compelling one. Big props to Mylnowski for creating an authentic, believable, compelling and flawed character for the centerpiece of this novel.

That’s not to say the book is perfect. But it’s enjoyable enough with genuine humor and funny moments interspersed with serious, grown-up moments in which April and her friends must make some big calls and live with the consequences.

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Review: “Doctor Who” and the Auton Invasion

“Doctor Who” and the Auton Invasion by Terrance Dicks
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

One of the first adaptations in the long running Target range of “Doctor Who” novels and still one of the best. It just goes to show that when given time to let a story breathe, Terrance Dicks can do more than just translate a script onto the printed page.

Adapting the first story of the Jon Pertwee era, “Auton Invasion” fleshes out some of the supporting characters, gives a bit more background to some of the regulars and still manages to convey the on-screen story in a readable, accessible way. No one will ever mistake the Target novels for great literature, but this one is solidly written and as entertaining as the TV serial on which is was based.

Listening to it again on audio, I was still impressed by Dicks’ writing, but not as much by Caroline Johns’ reading of the story. It’s solid but not quite in the same league as some of other stories in this BBC Audio range.

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Review: Long Gone

Long Gone
Long Gone by Alafair Burke
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

After spending a long time out of work, Alice Humphrey is pleasantly surprised when she’s approached at an art show about running a new art gallery in New York City. At first, Alice believes it’s too good to be true and her friends believe it’s just an attempt by the handsome young man, Drew, to get her phone number. But it appears Drew’s desire to have Alice run a gallery for a controversial artist is on the up and up. The opening is successful and Alice is excited about planning future shows from other artists.

Then things start to go horribly wrong. A group of protesters show up outside the gallery, saying the photographs being sold are exploiting underage minors. When Drew sets a meeting with Alice the next morning at the gallery, she arrives to find the gallery gutted and Drew murdered. Before long, Alice is in the prime suspect in the police investigation into the murder of Drew.

Adding to the layers of complication is the fact that Alice is the daughter of a Hollywood couple–her father an Oscar-winning director, her mother a former actress–and her brother struggles with a drug addiction. Throw into this mix an FBI agent who is obsessed with Drew and was following him despite being told to drop all contact with the man and you’ve got a story that barrels along at a crisp pace, never allowing the reader to get too comfortable with one interesting revelation before moving on to the next one.

“Long Gone” builds up a palatable sense of something more is going on here than meets the eye, especially in the early chapters. Alafair Burke weaves together several seemingly unconnected threads into a rich tapestry as we slowly discover dark secrets about everyone connected to Alice and the investigation into Drew’s murder. And the novel even delivers a stern warning about being careful to monitor your digital footprint. The parties involved in setting up Alice take advantage of her lack of security on her social networking profile to set up events and even cast suspicion upon her.

And while the novel builds up a full head of steam for the first two-thirds of the story, the ending doesn’t quite come together as neatly as I’d hoped. Burke puts all the pieces onto the board early enough that the ending doesn’t feel like it’s cheated or come too far out of left field. However, it’s still not as satisfying or compelling as the set-up leading up to the dramatic revelations in the final section of the novel.

“Long Gone” was still intriguing enough that I’m planning to seek our more novels by Alafair Burke, though.

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Booking Through Thursday — Re-Read

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What’s the first book that you ever read more than once? (I’m assuming there’s at least one.)

What book have you read the most times? And–how many?

I’m not sure it really counts, but growing up I had a book on tape version of Winnie the Pooh and Tigger Too.  As a kid, I loved Winnie the Pooh (my mom crocheted me stuffed Pooh bear that I still have to this day…saving it for my kids.)  Anyway, at age three I had heart surgery and I think I got this book and tape set either in the hospital or before I went into the hospital.  And I listened to it a LOT.  My mom says she can still recite whole passages from it.  I’m not sure how many times I’ve heard it or read the book, but it was quite a few.

When it comes to non-recorded books, I’d have to say that I’ve probably read most of the Ramona series by Beverly Cleary more time than I can count.    I wore out paperback copies of them growing up.   When my niece and nephew started reading, those were some of the first books I gave them as presents and I hope they enjoyed them as much as I did.

I can’t recall how many times I’ve read each book in the series, but I can still vividly recall certain moments from the various books, such as Beezus and her terrible haircut, Ramona’s first day of kindergarten (“Wait here for the present”) and so many more.

In my later years, I haven’t re-read as many books as I used to….


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Review: The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest (Millennium, #3)The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest by Stieg Larsson
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Turning the final page of The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest was a relief in a lot of ways. It was a relief to finally get the novel of my to be read pile, but it was also a relief that the series was over and we won’t have to spend any more time with the series. What started out as an interesting mystery series become a series of diminishing returns across the second and third books. And it seems like the same set of issues kept rearing their head time and again with these novels, especially this installment.

So, while part of me wanted to give the book a pass because Larrson passed away after completing work on it and that means he may not have had time to edit or polish it like he would have the first two, part of me thinks it probably wouldn’t have made that much of a difference in the overall final product.

Knowing what small details I do about Larrson’s life, it’s not hard to once again see Mikael Blomkvist as a bit of Mary-Sue character for Larrson. There is no wrong that Blomkvist can’t right through his passionate crusade against whatever villain or monster he’s currently facing, there’s no woman who can resist him for long and he’s always right about every single thing and the world would be a lot better place if everyone just listened to him and did what he said. Again, this wasn’t quite as evident in the first book, but in the second and especially the third it becomes annoying quickly. At a certain point, Salander begins inserting an expletive into his name each time she thought about him and it’s easy to see why.

That doesn’t mean that Salander comes off much better in this book. She’s relegated to the sidelines for a large portion of the story because of the events that closed the last novel. And while we’re clearly meant to root for her as an anti-hero and to understand the factors from her life that helped create who she is today, in the end it’s hard to work up much, if any sympathy or empathy for her as the novel progresses.

Then you throw in the other typical Larrson excesses such as the unrelenting product placement for Apple products and an obsession with telling us what every character dined on or drank at every meal for the entire course of the novel and you’ve got a novel that just begins to collapse under its own weight. And that’s even before you have the requisite info dumps you have to sit through to set up the "plot" of the story.

The first novel worked because it focused on the partnership of Salendar and Blomkvist. Each novel since has introduced a myriad of other characters and investigators and lost that focus. And the novels have been the weaker for it. I appreciate Larrson trying to do a bit of expansion to his fictional landscape, but the characters have to be more that paper-thin one-dimensional ones who all tend to blend together after ten or twenty pages.

In the end, it appears the "Millennium" trilogy was little more than a one-hit wonder. The first book is solid, the other two aren’t really worth the effort and time. A shame really to see such promise squandered.

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