Friday, July 30, 2010

Review: Bones of Faerie by Janni Lee Simner

I'm going to be amazingly uncharacteristic for myself and write a shorter review for once!  Although I like to wax poetic in my writing, I am going to break my own trend.  Maybe it's my own sadness over leaving paradise in about week, to responsibilities stacked so high I can hardly so over or around them?  Yep, that might be why.  My other reason?  I simply couldn't get into, nor wrap my head around Bones of Faerie, which I had been trying to read for about eight months. *sigh*

Synopsis:  From Publishers Weekly, "It has been 20 years since the war between faeries and humans destroyed everything. Liza, a teenager living in what was once the Midwest, has always been taught that magic kills. When Liza's mother gives birth to a faerie baby with hair clear as glass, her father abandons the infant on a hillside to die; Liza's mother then runs away, and Liza begins to have magical visions of her own. Petrified that her powers might cause death, Liza flees into the woods with her friend Matthew, only to be attacked by deadly trees and rescued by a woman with magic. The plot quickens as Liza realizes that the woman is connected to her mothers past, knowledge that propels Liza into a dangerous journey into the land of Faerie, in search of her mother."

Review:  Yes, it had magic, shapeshifting, and apocalyptic sort of events.  Yes, it had well written sentence constructions and interesting concepts.  I just couldn't get into it.  Now, I realize that because I didn't get into it, doesn't mean someone else might, and actually love it.  I just didn't.  It was hard to get into, the characters were difficult to attach to, and once I did, their bizarre behavior and adventures threw me off.  Yep, it was imaginative, and maybe that's my problem. In this case, I simply didn't have it in me for a drawn out "faerie"-tale with a lot of creepy factor mixed in.

Here are some reviews though that felt just the opposite though, so obviously, don't take my word for it!
Genevieve's Blog :  Something Bookish
Charlotte's Library  (Pros and cons explained.)
Fantasy Book Critic
The Reading Zone (They loved it & had lots of reasons listed why they loved it.)
Pam at Bookalicious even listed it as one of the "Unsung YA"

I'm wondering what my deal is in this case?  I'll be the first to admit that I don't do well with some fantasy and science fiction, so maybe that's what happened?  There is a bit of imagination needed here, and maybe mine has pooped out for a bit?

*FTC Disclosure:  This review was based on a purchased electronic copy of the novel.

I'm actually counting this as my 4th of 12 in the TBR Challenge, as I've had it for over a year, and yet took eight months to read it!  LOL.  I think that should count more as a "To Try To Finish" Challenge!

Do you have any books that have taken you ages to get through?  What were they, and why do you think it took you so long to get through it?

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Manifest Multi-Media YA Giveaway

As a quick follow up to my review of Manifest by Artist Arthur, there is also an awesome giveaway being thrown over at OnlinePublicist!  Here are the details of the giveaway:

Included in the prize pack:
*Finished copy of Manifest
*Manifest totebag
*ARC of Firelight by Sophie Jordan
*ARC of Sapphique by Catherine Fisher
*MP3-CD of Suite Scarlett by Maureen Johnson
*Manifest coin purse & notebook/pen set (not pictured)

To enter, head over to OnlinePublicist to leave a comment and be entered in this awesome giveaway before
12am CST, on Thursday, August 5, with the winner being announced Friday, August 6.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Review: Manifest by Artist Arthur

It's that time of the summer, once again, for me to really start drafting up "To Do" lists for myself, and to start thinking about what needs to be accomplished before I head back to school in about three weeks.  No longer am I drawing up lists based on what I need to read (because those are the funnest lists of all), but instead I'm figuring out what needs to be done around my house and what I still need to lesson plan out before the madness really ensues!  About now, I wish I had a personal assistant, so I could keep reading!

As I've mentioned before, I'm going to be teaching a new YA Popular Fiction class this fall.  On the one hand, I'm super excited, and on the other hand, as I put together brand new materials, I'm wondering what I was thinking!  There is a lot of work that goes into creating new curriculum.  The fun part of the course is that I get to do a lot of reading in preparation.  I've been rereading some of the book I'll be teaching, such as the Harry Potter series, as well as The Hunger Games.  Along with this, I've been drafting up lists of books, as "suggestions" for other books that my students might like to read.  As part of that, I accepted an advanced copy of a new series of young adult books being put out by Harlequin's imprint Kimani Tru.  Like many readers, I thought they were only geared toward romance, so I was interested in learning more about their foray into YA literature.  As part of this new endeavor, I had a chance to read, Manifest, by Artist Arthur, which just came out yesterday.

Synopsis:  From Goodreads, "When fifteen-year-old Krystal Bentley moves to Lincoln, Connecticut, her mom's hometown, she assumes her biggest drama will be adjusting to the burbs after living in New York City.
But Lincoln is nothing like Krystal imagined. The weirdness begins when Ricky Watson starts confiding in her. He's cute, funny, a good listener—and everything she'd ever want—except that he was killed nearly a year ago. Krystal's ghost-whispering talents soon lead other "freaks" to her door—Sasha, a rich girl who can literally disappear, and Jake, who moves objects with his mind. All three share a distinctive birthmark in the shape of an M and, fittingly, call themselves the Mystyx. They set out to learn what really happened to Ricky, only to realize that they aren't the only ones with mysterious powers. But if Krystal succeeds in finding out the truth about Ricky's death, will she lose him for good?"

Review:  Manifest is an interesting blend of the new and popular mystery and paranormal story that so many readers have come to crave.  In this particular story, the paranormal element comes in the form of a group of teens who find they have matching "tattoos" or marks in the shape of the letter "M."  Krystal's power seems to be the ability to speak to the dead, and although this might be cool in most cases, when you're a teen dealing with moving to a new school and the break up of your parent's marriage, it's all a bit much for her.  Although I'm not a teen, I have to admit that I would never want this particular power, as speaking to the dead is a bit creepy in my book, and hard to not get a little shiver when thinking about it!

The book starts off pretty slow, feeling more like journal entries chronicling Krystal's days at school, at home, and at the time she meets her first "dead" person.  By about the mid point in the book, the action picked up, and the mystery behind the death of the dead kid "Ricky" starts to unfold.  I appreciated that the clues dropped throughout the book actually matched with the way it turned out.  In some cases, readers might find this annoying, as they guess the ending; however, I am just the opposite.  I'm not a huge mystery fan for the fact that most writers "break the rules" (so to say) of the plot, and trip you up to shock you.  In the case of Manifest, we learn what happens right along with Krystal, and we realize who has committed the crimes as she does.  Honestly, I like figuring things out, so thanks to the author for creating a solid plot that followed through!

For young adults looking for a quick mystery, with a little bit of magic and romance mixed in, this is a great fit.  As it seems we don't have enough characters of color who take the lead role, who aren't merely talking about cultural angst, I also thought this was a great mainstream novel for all readers to enjoy.  The storytelling can feel a bit like journal entries at times, but has a cohesive story, and interesting teenage characters.

Thank you to Lisa at the Harlequin imprint Kimani Tru for the opportunity to review this novel!

*FTC Disclosure:  This review was based on a review copy provided by Harlequin Books.  No monies were exchanged in reference to this review.

Just as a quick question, does anyone else feel that mysteries should follow their own clues to lead to the end result, or is it just me? 

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Review: No Footprints in the Sand by Henry Kalalahilimoku Nalaielua

As I mentioned in my previous post, I tend to use books as a way of researching something I'm interested in.  Lately, that interest has been more centered on learning more about locations and their cultures.  As part of that, I did a little research on books about or set in Hawaii and found No Footprints in the Sand available in an ebook format, read a sample of the book, and became even more interested in reading Henry Nalaielua's life story.

Synopsis:  From Goodreads, "When Henry Nalaielua was diagnosed with Hansen's disease in 1936 and taken from his home and family, he began a journey of exile that led him to Kalaupapa--the remote settlement with the tragic history on the Hawaiian island of Moloka'i. This is Henry's story--an unforgettable memoir of the boy who grew to build a full and joyous life at Kalaupapa, and still calls it home today. No Footprints in the Sand is one of only a few memoirs ever shared with the public by a Kalaupapa patient. Its intimacy and candor make it, in the words of Pulitzer Prize-winning poet W.S. Merwin, "a rare and precious human document." Nalaielua's story is an inspiring one; despite exile, physical challenges and the severing of family ties, he has faced life -- as an artist, musician and historian -- with courage, honesty, hope and humor."

Review:  For anyone who has ever watched the classic movie Ben Hur, there is this gut-wrenching moment in the film where Ben Hur goes to this rocky canyon to visit his mother and sister, who have been afflicted with leprosy.  They have been cast out by society, with only basket deliveries of food being let down into their valley.  This scene has stuck with me for a very long time, and I've always thought in the back of my mind, "How did they get sick, and do people get sick like that today?"

The answer to this question is a definite yes, as people continue to be diagnosed with Hansen's disease, or leprosy, as it has been known for centuries.  As Henry mentions in his autobiography, leprosy is an inflammatory term that continues to be confusing and frightening to most people.  In fact, reading the autobiography caused me to do a bit of a search into the ways one would get "leprosy," and I have to say that even the World Health Organization doesn't seem to be exactly clear on how you actually get the disease.  They do seem to know that it's a virus, caught through a bacteria, but not the exact ways in which you actually would pick it up, so you can avoid them.  It seems then that the not knowing is the scariest part of the disease, since it can not only shorten one's life with painful disorders, but also marginalize them in any community.  The good news today is that there are medications that can dramatically improve the lives of those with Hansen's disease.

Henry Nalaielua's autobiography was a captivating read, and one that I could hardly put down at night.  In the partial pidgin voice of Henry, himself, the story develops in a straight-forward sort of way that showed his bright personality, and positive outlook.  You couldn't help but love Henry right away. As a young boy on the Big Island, Henry contracted Hansen's disease and was sent away from his family to Honolulu to the hospital, and later to the leper colony at Kalaupapa on Molokai.  This famous colony was established by the famous Catholic Father Damien, who also fell to the disease there.  Throughout his life, Henry seemed to not let his disease keep him from having a life of his own.  He held multiple jobs, married twice, had two daughters, and traveled to many places in the United States and around the world as he worked to improve his own health, and to forward the education of others on the disease that affected so many.  

This autobiography is full of heart, culture, and spirit.  The life that Henry led is amazing, and I found everything about him intriguing.  There is a good amount of Hawaiian culture and spirit in the entire story, and Henry really captured the spirit of the people in the islands.  His drive and endeavor to live his life and take it for what it was, without too much self-indulgent pity was inspiring to me.  From his early experience as a young boy paraded in front of doctors to show the stage of his disease, to his later life traveling to Father Damien's later beatification as a representative of Kalaupapa, all made for a most amazing and interesting life story.

This autobiography is short, less than 200 pages, but full of heart and substance.  The bulk of the text bounces from standard English to pidgin, reflecting Henry's voice and that of his writer.  Although casual and informal in its presentation, I found No Footprints in the Sand to be a captivating read that has me searching out additional books about Kalaupapa, Hansen's disease, and the amazing Hawaiian culture.

*FTC Disclosure:  This review was based off a personal electronic copy of the book.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Reading as Research

Over the past month, I've been interested in reading more about these beautiful islands that make up Hawaii.  At my conference this past week, the participants came from mainly the Big Island, as well as Molokai.  In visiting with them about the cultures and landscapes of their islands, I was intrigued to learn a bit more. 

 I started off this summer reading Between the Deep Blue Sea and Me, which was an excellent book that delved into one woman's reconnection to her Hawaiian heritage.  After reading that award winner, I switched gears and read No Footprints in the Sand, which is a really great autobiography of a man who was sent to Molokai after his diagnosis of Hansen's disease, or leprosy.  It was a great read, and has left me wanting more. 

As a follow up to No Footprints in the Sand, I've started to read Moloka'i by Alan Brennert.  Although fiction, the set up of this 1800's story of a woman diagnosed with leprosy and sent away from her family to Molokai is compelling.  I'll have a hard time putting it down. 

Last year, Brennert also put out another acclaimed novel, Honolulu, which has received great reviews.

There are a lot of great books out there that explore Hawaiian culture and history.  I'd like to finish reading House of Many Gods, and also Song of the Exile, both by Kiana Davenport.

I have a list of other books categorized as Hawaiiana, but this is a great starting list. 

Have you used reading as personal research, and have you read any of the books listed here?   

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Tapenade or Pesto, Each Spell Love

Pardon my post today, while I digress from reading, to food.  They're a great combination though, if I do say so myself!

I'm a bit late in the game to Pesto sauces and Tapenades.  Come on.  I grew up in Idaho where the only sauces or spreads we used were butter, gravy, ketchup, or barbecue sauce.  Yes, not all that adventuresome when it comes to robust or spicy flavor profiles.  Several weeks ago we discovered this little Italian eatery in Kaneohe that introduced a basket of bread and the most wonderful black olive spread to us.  The thought of that black olive pesto spread has been calling my name ever since.

I have since decided that I have to try my hand at this great recipe, so I've tracked down a recipe that looks very similar to the one that we have eaten at this little restaurant.  The closest to the one I like is called "Black Olive Pesto Sauce" and was found at 

I actually am leaving out the orange zest, and instead including a small strand of roasted red peppers bottled in olive oil (Less than 2 Tbsp chopped).  I happen to keep roasted red peppers on hand now, after including them in quite a few of my pasta recipes and salads.  I think that the peppers are sweet and mild enough, that they will make up that last component I was looking for in this original recipe.  I know that a few other recipes call for capers, which I'm sure are very good in this as well, but I don't keep them on hand. 

Image thanks to Healthy Food For Living
The other delight I've been introduced to recently is Creamy Pesto dishes.  Who knew that pesto could be creamy?  So, I might be the last person on the planet to have discovered this delight, but it's now a "guilty pleasure" dish.  I know they sell packets of "Creamy Pesto" that you can whip up.  *shudders*  I'm just not sure though that a powdered version would get the flavor you're looking for?

Does it look like I'm hungry lately?  There is something about eating a food that you really enjoy and think you could fix for yourself that sticks in your mind.  I'm now feeling a bit inspired to see what I can do with these flavor profiles, especially in the case of the Black Olive Pesto/Tapenade.  These were two newer dishes for me that I really want to try, and will be sharing.

If you haven't had either of these dishes, I recommend that you try them as soon as possible. 

Does food ever strike you in a way that you HAVE TO find a recipe to recreate it?  One step further, do you ever find yourself inspired to create new dishes from the original that you had? 

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

AP Conference Break

This week I'm attending an Advanced Placement Conference, which has left me with very little time.  I actually wasn't 100% sure if I was enrolled to attend, as I hadn't heard anything from them, but SURPRISE!  I was enrolled.  The conference is about an hour and a half drive, so I'm listening to an audiobook as I drive, and then enjoying a really great conference.  I really don't like meetings, but this is a great conference so far.  Once again, I'm reminded why I absolutely love teaching English.  Language Arts really do rock. 

Anyway, this conference threw me off a bit.  I have to say though that I really enjoy the people who are attending this conference.  Everyone in my group is from one of the islands, so it has been fun to "talk story" and get to know one another better.  Also, can I say how much I love their idea on how to dress for a conference?  Most everyone is in t-shirts, shorts, and slippers (island name for sandals, or as we call them, "flip-flops").  Talk about a dream come true!  If only I could attend every meeting in a t-shirt, shorts, and a pair of slippers!

Mahalo, and I'll be back!

Monday, July 19, 2010

Review: Holly's Inbox by Holly Denham

 Synopsis:  Holly's Inbox is a lengthy novel told in epistolary format, made up of emails between Holly and her workmates, friends, and family.  As the secretary of a company, who answers the switchboard and schedules meeting rooms, Holly is living the life of a single woman in London.  Have you ever wondered about what other people write in their personal emails?  Well, now is your chance!

Review:  As a fan of books such as Bridget Jones Diary, Meg Cabot's The Boy Next Door and Boy Meets Girl, I had already read a variety of books that use the email, or epistolary format in telling the story.  While I like the playful way that this style shows the development of a relationship, there does seem to be some advantage to the author jumping in from time to time to guide the story.  In the case of Holly's Inbox, all we get for the story comes directly from emails.  Over half of the novel (which although is made up of short emails, is still over 300 pages) is spent developing our idea of who Holly is, as well as the characters in her life such as her best friends who work at a hotel there in London, her parents who now live in Spain along with her grandmother, and her cohort at work who although sits next to her, spends her day emailing Holly and checking in.  This set up of the basic plot and characters is amusing, but left me wishing for the bulk of the story that I was sure was to come.

By the second half of the novel, a portion of the conflict has been revealed, and Holly is left to deal with what appears to be a messy social life, and a "friend" from her past who she refuses to speak to.  We soon find out that this friend played a major role in her life, but not until the last moments of the book.  It was during these last moments that I really got into the novel and wished I'd had more information.

I can't say that I disliked Holly's Inbox, as I had to keep reading to know what happened, but I did feel like I'd seen this technique before and like it when the author breaks out of the all email format to include some narration.  For chick lit, this novel was fun to read and had me entertained.  It's not hearty reading, but a fun time if you can hang in there and wait for the main action.
*FTC Disclosure:  Review is based on a personal copy of the novel.

  This completes my 6th and final book read in the E-Book Reader Challenge.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Sunday Catch Up...Again

Another week has zipped on by, and I'm just not sure sometimes where it all goes?!?  I have three weeks left here in Hawaii, and I'm starting that slide into my end of summer panic that always sets in.  I know.  I need a good shaking, and need to just enjoy myself!  What can I say? 

Today we attended a Tahitian dance competition at the Polynesian Cultural Center here in Laie, which was amazing, yet long.  (Tahitian dance is the faster paced dancing done to drums, not to be confused with the slower swaying and dancing with hands that is Hawaiian Hula.)  We didn't realize it would take most of the day, so although everyone on stage was shaking their boo-tays, ours were getting numb from sitting!  I did take some video of some of the performances, but they just didn't take very well.  The best performances were the 4-5 year olds, as I'm sure you can imagine.  They mastered those steps, and could shake, drop, and shimmy like the grown ups!  It was beyond cute, and had as giggling at their straight-faced performances.

Besides community events, we've stayed pretty close to home, and been trying to survive the heat.  I'm NOT complaining though, because I love the hot weather, beautiful blue skies, and green vegetation.  The summer also provides me with one of my favorite book-ish activities...walk-reading.  I've mentioned it before, but I love to grab a book and head out for a walk.  Many other readers have reached out and mentioned that they also can read and walk at the same time.  It seems to me that since I did this as an only child, walking home from the school bus down a country lane after school, that it just carried into adulthood.  Now I call myself the grand master, which makes me laugh!

This week I hope to finish up a few of the following novels:

I don't seem to have any one genre in mind this summer, and have read all sorts of books.  What types of books are you reading this summer, and where's your favorite place to read when it's hot?  I like to cozy up with a book in the winter, so summer is different.  I'm curious to hear where you all read?

Friday, July 16, 2010

Review: Between the Deep Blue Sea and Me by Lurline Wailana McGregor

Here in Hawaii, there is a lot of talk about "aina" or land.  Aina is what gives life to all that we love about this place; it gives life to the culture, to the food, to the people, and obviously to the beauty that is Hawaii.  Because of the amazing beauty of this place, there really is this wonderful, calming spirit that people here tell me is the very real spirit of Aloha. 
For all of the welcoming Aloha spirit one feels upon arrival, there is a battle here among many native peoples to protect and preserve the land.  This struggle is seen among many native cultures today, and one that is fiercely debated.  I have always really loved Native American literature, and have tried to follow a few blogs that highlight Native American appearance in literature and film.  One blog, American Indians in Children's Literature, has been a great resource for me as I continue my interest in Native American cultures.  In fact, it was from this blog that I first noticed Between the Deep Blue Sea and Me as a winner of the Third American Indian Youth Awards List by the American Indian Library Association.  I instantly decided I had to locate this book and read it while I was here in Hawaii over the summer, so I could combine the place, with the novel's themes and ideas.

Here in Hawaii, they have sections in the library that are dedicated to "Hawaiiana."  Generally, you can find great books of history, language, and nature, with a scattering of novels either set in or directly related to Hawaiian culture.  I've looked at a few, but have to say I was most excited to get my hands on this novel by McGregor after learning it was put out by Kamehameha Publishing, which is dedicated to the Kamehameha Schools here in Hawaii.  These schools focus on the preservation of the language and culture of the Hawaiian people, and in educating Hawaiian youth.  In our small neighborhood, we have several girls who attend, as well as families that come from the mainland to bring their children to summer programs run by the Kamehameha Schools.  They are prestigious, and are an integral part of the Hawaiian community here.  As such, I knew that McGregor's book would be an excellent choice in furthering my interest in Hawaiian culture from a literary standpoint.

Synopsis:  From Goodreads, "Moana Kawelo, PhD, has a promising career as a museum curator in Los Angeles. The untimely death of her father - and the gravitational pull of Hawai'i when she returns home for his funeral - causes Moana to question her motivations and her glamorous life in California. Between the Deep Blue Sea and Me is the story of Moana's struggle to understand her ancestral responsibilities, mend relationships, and find her identity as a Hawaiian in today's world."

Review:  Moana's struggle with her life in California, separated from her Hawaiian heritage, land, and culture, bring her to a critical juncture in her life where she must decide what she most wants.  In this short novel, we get the sense that cultural identity is critical to one's happiness.  As with most native stories in literature, Moana has found that her denial of her land and people has brought about a disruption in her world; her ancestors are unhappy, can't be at rest, and Moana herself is unable to move forward without putting things right with the land.

I have to say that I really loved this short little book.  There was such a sense of "ohana" or family, and "aina" or land, that I grabbed my book and headed down to the beach.  In that place, it felt natural to read Moana's story about the spiritual connection she had to this land.  There are many spoken scenes in Hawaiian, as well as prayers all written in the language, that I had no clue what was being spoken.  I know enough phrases to understand greetings, apologies, and foods, but struggled with conversations and prayers (as mentioned).  Even without knowing what they said (and I did have a Hawaiian language dictionary I used in some scenes), it was easy enough to get the gist of what was being expressed.  Also, the use of the language was a nice technique to show how cut off Moana felt without having ever learned it herself, before she took off to be educated on the mainland.  We, like Moana, can then feel like outsiders, and long to reconnect with the culture that is in the islands.
I loved the single thread of discovery that ran throughout the entire novel.  There are not the traditional chapters you find in most books, but sections and dividers that forward the story either with a look back at Moana's father or to something mythical that was explained to both Moana and the reader.  Also, as with many native stories, we find references to the experience of the colonized, and their feeling of being overrun and used by the colonizer (generally the white man).  With this also comes the environmental concerns that all native cultures feel, as they cherish their lands and the sacredness of its beauty and power.  These themes are definitely seen throughout McGregor's story, and are made easier to understand as we watch Moana's struggle with her own identity.

Between the Deep Blue Sea and Me is actually not a young adult novel that is told to relate to teens, but Moana's adult struggle and the method of the storytelling here are readily accessible to teen readers on up.  I really loved the beauty of this story, and the Hawaiian culture that is imbued throughout the novel.  If I were teaching English here in Hawaii, I think I would definitely put this on my list, and even though I'm not teaching here, will suggest it back home.  I highly recommend checking out this small gem of a novel for its more serious look at Hawaii's struggle to protect and preserve their culture and "aina."

*FTC Disclosure:  This review was based on a library copy of the novel.

This novel counts as my final book in the 2010 Young Adult Reading Challenge, and is 12 of 12.  Another challenge bites the dust!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The W's of Reading: The Lesser Knowns

 I've been doing a bit of book trolling lately, and have come up with quite a list of books that I'd like to read.  The thing is, I've noticed that I'm seeing a lot of great books, but a lot of the same ones being repeated.  On one hand, that means they generally are good books that we all want to get our hands on.  That also helps great authors get the kudos they deserve!  On the other hand, I've been thinking a lot about the lesser known books that we read all the time, and bring to people's attention.  I love that moment when someone shares a book that I've never heard of! 

Here's the deal, and don't get me wrong, I really love any and all book recommendations.  I'm just wondering about those books out there we've read before and loved, those older books that seem to feel timely again, and those books that have had a quieter round of advertising.  I'm picturing someone trolling through the shelves of a really great library (maybe even their own), and finding a great book they want to share. 

If I went trolling through my own library, here are a few reads that I think are fantastic, and I would smile if I saw them pop back up in book reviews:

Okay, so maybe I really loved Meg Cabot's Pants on Fire because I was going through and reading all of her books and had taken this one with me on my mega trip through Greece and Turkey.  We had a long day on a bus, and I tore through this one in no time flat.  It was so cute and fun to read that my friend Doc read it, and then we passed it off to a young teenage girl in our tour group from Australia.  We all loved it, and it's a fun memory!

Another book I love, but haven't seen talked about much anymore is Shogun, by James Clavell.  It's one major read, and takes a commitment to get through it, but is FANTASTIC and sucked me in with all the action.  Funny enough, by the time the book was over, I also felt like I understood a few simple phrases in Japanese.  Great read!

 One of my all time favorite authors is James Welch, and the book that converted me over to his Native American novels was Fools Crow.  I originally read this as an undergrad, and again as a grad student, but really came to love the book on its own merits, outside of the classroom scrutiny we read it under.  It is an amazing fictional look at the Blackfoot Indians and their culture, and remains a favorite of mine.

Another ethnic read that I really enjoyed was Gloria Whelan's Homeless Bird.  It's a fast, young adult read that sucked me into the life of a child bride who was eventually left to fend for herself on the streets.  It is a moving book, and one that haunts me still.

The last one that I wanted to mention was Time's Arrow by Martin Amis.  Readers might recognize the author's name, as he is a famous author in the UK, as is his famous father Kingsley.  This particular novel is written backward from the normal narration style.  Yes, backward.  The beginning of the novel is actually where the main character dies, and as you keep reading, you find out the hows and whys and wheres of the story until you reach what would have been the usual beginning.  I have to admit that I couldn't put this one down, because I kept trying to guess the story. 

I'm sure there are a lot of books that either no longer get any advertising because they're outdated, or because they only reach specific audiences.  Either way, I love to see random books reviewed on the blogosphere, and on other book review sites. 

What books do you really love, but rarely see pop up on sites?  Any books that you'd like to drum up some support for or that you recommend to other readers?

Monday, July 12, 2010

Review: The Dead Tossed Waves by Carrie Ryan

Thankfully I was able to get my hands on the second book to follow up The Forest of Hands and Teeth, which I read last summer, and was able to check out The Dead Tossed Waves from the local library.  I had joked around that I didn't know where they were shipping the book, because it took a month of being "in transit" before arriving here.  When I went to check it out, the lady at the counter said, "Oh, this came from the Big Island."  Wait.  Do they really share library books between islands?!?  I guess they do.  This was one book I wasn't going to let get away from me, so I hurried to read it so I wouldn't have to renew it.  Talk about a carbon footprint!

Synopsis:  From Amazon's product description, "Gabry lives a quiet life. As safe a life as is possible in a town trapped between a forest and the ocean, in a world teeming with the dead, who constantly hunger for those still living. She’s content on her side of the Barrier, happy to let her friends dream of the Dark City up the coast while she watches from the top of her lighthouse. But there are threats the Barrier cannot hold back. Threats like the secrets Gabry’s mother thought she left behind when she escaped from the Sisterhood and the Forest of Hands and Teeth. Like the cult of religious zealots who worship the dead. Like the stranger from the forest who seems to know Gabry. And suddenly, everything is changing. One reckless moment, and half of Gabry’s generation is dead, the other half imprisoned. Now Gabry only knows one thing: she must face the forest of her mother’s past in order to save herself and the one she loves."

Review:  As with The Forest of Hands and Teeth, I felt like I couldn't put the book down.  The book opens with a pretty dramatic scene where Gabry and her friends have gone into the Dark City and encounter a couple of crazed Mudo who are out for their blood.  The drama of this scene left me flipping pages.  In some ways, I was disappointed that there wasn't an instant tie in to the first book, but over time, I started to see that it really did pick back up where the other left off, just a lot later.

The idea behind having the Mudo, the Returned, religious zealots, and any other number of interesting twists to this new society were pretty interesting.  Other dystopian or apocalyptic novels have introduced the ideas of zombies or foreign creatures and diseases into our society, but I did feel that this young adult novel leans more towards the drama./human element of the situation than pure science fiction.  In both of the novels by Ryan, you get a real sense of the main character because of the way the story is told in first person narration.  That technique also annoyed me at times though, as your limited view of the story and the world in general, was aggravating at times.  That narration did flip to some of the other characters at times, but the first person "I" can feel so self-indulgent at times that every scene could really be blown into giant, over dramatic proportions.  In fact, I often found myself saying, "What the heck?!?" every time Gabry seemed to change her mind about those significant to her.  Many scenes in the novel seemed to leave off with a "da, da, dum" that felt soap opera like, at the very least.  While the emotional drama fit the whole teen, zombie storyline, I still really liked the novel and couldn't wait to pick it back up whenever I could.

As far as dystopian teen novels go, this is one of my favorites.  The high drama might feel like a bit much, but is still really good and had me caring a lot about these characters.  It would be a good idea to read the first book, The Forest of Hands and Teeth, before diving into this second book so that the back story makes better sense.  On the whole though, both are really great reads, and I have no idea how this one will end up!

According to GoodReads, book three in this series, The Dark and Hollow Places, will be out in March of 2011. 

*FTC Disclosure:  This review is based on a library copy of the book.

This book counts as my 11th in the 2010 Young Adult Reading Challenge.  One more to go, and I'll have another challenge wrapped up!

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Summer Spotlight: How to Party

This has been a wonderful summer so far, and except for one nasty sunburn that's peeling away, I've enjoyed sun and surf.  We've had two sets of visitors here over the last two weeks, so reading has been a little sporadic.  Here's a little bit of what we've been up to.

Close by along the North Shore is Waimea Bay, and up the valley behind it is the Waimea Valley Audubon Center.  The Center has beautiful gardens, natural vegetation, Hawaiian archaeological sites, and a waterfall at the end of the trail that runs whenever the rainfall is high.  

For those of you who are Lost fans, this is where Kate and Sawyer had a bit of a frolic in the pool at the base of the waterfall and end up seeing dead people in the water.  I believe that it was in Season 1? Well, this is that waterfall.  Don't let it fool you though.  Five of the seven times I've been up there, it was dry!  This was a real treat, and I was glad my friend got to see it flowing.

On Friday night we went to a neighbor's 75th birthday party, and can I tell you, that was some party!  I've now decided that our Polynesian friends know how to celebrate.  There was a wonderful luau, with enough food to eat yourself into a food coma, an amazing singer who sang island music, and beautiful, spontaneous hula dancing by several ladies in our community who are amazing to watch.  Below are a couple of video clips of the entertainment.

This last video was the grown children of the birthday girl, dancing the hula to a local song they used to sing when taking tourists down to Laie Bay (Hukilau Beach Park) for a traditional hukilau.  Last year I blogged about a hukilau we went to, and this was a little song that went along with it.  The clip is short, only about half of the song, but is a fun snapshot.

 I want to throw parties like this, where I set up giant tents and haul out the eats.  Why don't my friends, family, and neighbors bust out in cool songs and dance?  Okay, so I don't know that I really want them to, but wouldn't it be cool if it WAS normal?

Friday, July 9, 2010

The W's of Reading: How Do You Recommend a Book?

As a teacher, I'm always asked for book recommendations.  In that role, I can usually direct a student towards a good book from our reading list for the class, or I can at least direct them to books that will add to what we've studied. On the other hand, I also get asked by friends, family, or even strangers for help in finding a good book. Here's what I've observed about recommending books:
  • People like to see how much you've actually read, so when you're in a bookstore they'll walk around saying, "Have you read this?  What about this one?  Did you like this one?"  As if you didn't know it already, you find out pretty quickly where your reading interests lie.
  • Giving a book summary can become a careful dance in not giving away the main "twist" of the story.  Nine times out of ten, the person I'm recommending to will say, "Just tell me.  I don't think I'm going to read it anyway."  Why they want me to give away the entire story is beyond me, because inevitably they say, "Huh.  That sounds kind of good."  I then feel guilty that I gave it all away, even though I know, deep down, that they could have read the same summary on a book site, right?
  • If you don't care for a genre, yet you know the gist of what a book is about, they still don't trust you because YOU don't read those books.  For instance, I don't read thrillers (for the most part), so although I know what Jeffrey Deaver writes, I haven't really read his books nor want to.  It's not that they're not good books; it's just that I don't care for them, and I have a million other books I do want to read.
  • It can often take a real interview process to get out of someone what they DO like.  I find myself asking what they have read, or in the case of those who simply don't read (and those are the ones I delight in finding a great read), I inevitably have to ask what is their favorite movie.  Everyone loves a good story, so you just have to find the one that best fits them.
  • Once in awhile, I've noticed that I can match the person's personality and interests to a book that mirrors them in some way.  Several years ago I directed a family member who was reluctant to read, but loves the mountains and wild animals, to the young adult author Will Hobbs.  That did the trick, and he was off and reading!
  • Sometimes you just have to trust that a book you loved, and has received other great reviews, might catch their attention as well.  Here's the thing though.  I just won't do it while standing in front of my own bookshelves, because if I really love it, I can't bear to part with my copy.  In those cases, I keep extra copies that I can handle loaning out and not getting back.  Yes.  I realize I'm a bit neurotic and selfish.  For instance, my UK Adult Hardback version of the Harry Potter novels are NOT lenders, so I have US paperbacks I'm more than happy to share!
Ultimately, it's the love affair with a book we're searching for.  Honestly, I want the person to not just enjoy the book I recommended for them, but to love (or enjoy) it so much that they would like to repeat that experience.  In the end, isn't that what all readers are doing?  Every time I pick up a new book, I wonder to myself if it will be that book that steals my heart and never leaves, that book that makes me want to stay up all night reading, that book that makes me sad to close its cover, THAT book that has me thinking about it for days after.  I think that what we're doing when we recommend a book is really an effort to turn someone else on to reading in a way that makes it one of the five senses, so they now need six:  sight, touch, taste, hear, smell, and READ!

Do you like recommending books to people?  How often do you get asked to recommend a good book to someone, and how do you go about doing that?

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Review: Definitely Dead by Charlaine Harris

As with many of you, I have had a busy (in a good way) couple of weeks.  We've had a couple of visitors here over the last couple of weeks, so I have found myself only reading at bedtime.  I'm not complaining though, since we've been having lots of summer fun that included a beach day that covered me in a blistering sunburn.  I didn't want to sunburn, but I will admit to a great swim in the ocean, followed by a nice bit of sunshine to dry me off.  That's one of those memories to help carry me through a long winter later, right?

One book I managed to finish up was Definitely Dead by Charlaine Harris, which I got through pretty quickly on my Kindle.  I'm in the middle of several books right now, but the electronic format of this book made it easy to hold and forward pages when I was sleepy!

Synopsis:  In this sixth installment, Sookie learns that her cousin Hadley has been murdered and left everything to her.  Hadley was a vampire, and had a "relationship" with the vampire Queen of Louisiana that left her new husband, the vampire King of Mississippi a little jealous.  In the midst of Sookie taking on the responsibility of packing up her cousin's apartment and figuring out who murdered her, she has also begun a new friendship and flirtation with a shifter named Quinn, but has recently found out devastating news about her relationship with Bill that has left Sookie feeling vulnerable and unsure of herself.

Review:  While some reviewers found book six slow, I thought the story in book six introduced new characters and situations that are obviously going to set up books down the line.  Because I'm not always into long, drawn-out mysteries, I actually enjoyed this novel for its straight-forward action and plot development.  Yes, there were still mysterious actions going on in the story, but they are answered rather quickly, and only aid in propelling the story on a bit more. 

On the whole, I liked the new characters and the direction the series has taken.  The story has become even more paranormal than it was before (if possible), and it should be interesting to see where it goes.  I can't say that the writing is sparkling (no vampire pun intended), but the story telling is interesting and holds a twist of comedy and drama that feels strange for this type of novel.  It's hard not to care about Sookie and her life.  Really, I think that while Sookie's strange draw to every man she associates with can be a bit annoying, that you do grow to want to see her safe and happy! 

If you've been reading this series and already read this installment, did you like the new characters and direction of the series, or did you find it jarring?

*FTC Disclosure:  This review was based on a personal electronic copy of the novel.

This book counts as my 5th in the E-Book Reader Challenge.  One more, and I'll have another challenge in the bag!

Monday, July 5, 2010

New Moon & Eclipse: The Benefits of a REread

Warning: Spoilers from the book included in my discussion of the movie.

Like many Twilight readers, we headed out last week to watch Eclipse.  After being a little disappointed by New Moon (please say someone else giggled at the scene that shows Bella and Edward running through the forest), I was a little nervous to see Eclipse, but have to say that I actually quite enjoyed the film.  I can't say that I paid enough attention to discuss the cinematography, the musical score, or even the action sequences enough to really speak about them with any authority, but will say that as for plot lines that I'd worried about and waited to see, I think they got them.  Nervously, I waited for the moment that Edward would propose, hoping it wasn't overly dramatic, or something too cheesy.  They seemed to play out that scene with a lighter hand than I expected, so it turned out better than I thought.  Overall though, I enjoyed the film, and it had me thinking about how they might film, and/or split up Breaking Dawn into the last installment.

Having revealed that I enjoyed the film, let me follow it with my thoughts on why I think that was the case.  In June, I started rereading both New Moon and Eclipse.  After the last film, I felt like I needed to go back and reread the story so that I could remember some of what happened.  In part, because I finished the novel only minutes before we walked in to watch the movie, I think I then had the story fresh in my mind.  This helped me really place everything going on, and anticipate certain scenes.  Not that I didn't know that rereading a book before a film was good if you felt shaky about the plot, but I think I'd underestimated how much better a film can be if you really remember the storyline.
As I've mentioned in other posts, I always like to read a book before seeing the movie version of the story.  Nine times out of ten, the book ends up being better than the movie because of the amazing detail the book can go into, while the movie tends to put visually what I only could imagine.  Reading and viewing have their pros and cons, and you can sometimes be gambling with being frustrated over a poorly made movie of a book you love, but sometimes you do get a nice surprise.  For me, that was Eclipse in this scenario, and I think that my last perusal of the novel helped make it a better viewing experience than with the second film.

Have you ever reread a novel before seeing the film, and thought it helped you enjoy the film more?  If you had a chance to see Eclipse last week, what did you think, better or worse than the second?

This non-review actually counts as my third and fourth in the E-book Reader Challenge, as well as the ninth and tenth in the 2010 Young Adult Reading Challenge.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Happy Independence Day

For everyone in the United States today, I hope you have a wonderful and safe Independence Day!  We'll be going up to watch fireworks from the North Shore later in the evening, and otherwise, just hanging out.  I'm hoping I don't seem rude if I grab my book to read during any down time, but I know I won't be able to help myself!

Whether you're at home enjoying a nice Sunday, or out celebrating the 4th, I hope you have a great one!

Friday, July 2, 2010

Review: Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

Since I'm not sure how the weekend will shake down, I wanted to write my review and get it posted before things get crazy.  My BFF Doc is heading home on Saturday night, and another friend is flying in at the exact same time, so we'll be trading off visitors. In the meantime, I'll get my thoughts about Catching Fire down!  What can I say though, that hasn't already been said?  I'll try to keep this short...if I'm capable!

Yes, I finally got around to reading the two books in The Hunger Games series so that I can now say that I get the "Team Gale" or "Team Peeta" buttons on people's blogs, or random conversations about said teams on Twitter.  What team am I on?  Well, I think I want to see where things go with Gale.  I'll have to wait until August though to see how all of that shakes down though, eh?

Synopsis:  "Against all odds, Katniss Everdeen has won the annual Hunger Games with fellow district tribute Peeta Mellark. But it was a victory won by defiance of the Capitol and their harsh rules. Katniss and Peeta should be happy. After all, they have just won for themselves and their families a life of safety and plenty. But there are rumors of rebellion among the subjects, and Katniss and Peeta, to their horror, are the faces of that rebellion. The Capitol is angry. The Capitol wants revenge."  (Goodreads)

Review:  As with The Hunger Games, I did think that Catching Fire started off pretty slow.  The difference between the two books was that in book one, I felt like I knew what was going to happen, yet still needed the story spelled out to me so that I had a solid background.  In book 2, I really didn't feel as though I knew what was going to happen, which was nice.  Because of the way their society was set up, you begin to realize in book 2 that there must be a lot more going on in the "Capitol" (government) than we at first believed, and that gives the entire book a real sinister feel.  The evil that the Capitol doled out on its citizens was cruel and unnecessary, and had me considering what I would do.  This is the question that Katniss had to ask herself, as she was turned into a major catalyst for a rebellion that she didn't even realize she had started.

As I said, I enjoyed book 2 a bit more.  I didn't ever really feel like I knew what was going to happen next in this installment, which kept me flipping pages by the last 150 pages.  There is a fair amount of terror involved again in the story, along with characters fighting for survival.  Collins has created a well-written complex story, with well-developed characters, that I liked a lot more, and felt more invested in by this point.  After reading this second book, I can also say that if you haven't yet read these books (or feel hesitant to because everyone else already has), to give them a try.  Things really pick up in the story and get more complex and engaging as you read farther into these books.  Overall, this dystopian story, although familiar in some ways, is really engaging and has you caring about its characters in no time at all.
 Watch for the final installment in The Hunger Games series, Mockingjay, out on August 24th.  I'll be waiting, along with everyone else!

*FTC Disclosure:  Review based off of a purchased, personal copy of the novel.

This review counts as my 8th out of 12 in the 2010 Young Adult Reading Challenge.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Off to July!

I'm having a difficult time wrapping my head around the fact that June has come and gone.  For me, it was a great reading month.  I got through eleven books this last month, and am still going strong! 

So, I know that right now everyone is raving about the newest Harry Potter trailer, and I will admit to watching it several times.  I've also seen lots of discussions about the release of Eclipse, which came out yesterday.  In fact, we're off to go see it this afternoon, so we'll see how good it really is!  I have to say though, that I was also REALLY excited to see the trailer for Pillars of the Earth, which comes out on Starz! at the end of July.  I don't have Starz!, but will be praying that the miniseries comes out on DVD as quickly as possible.  If you'll remember, Pillars of the Earth was one of my favorite reads of last year.  If you haven't yet read it, I really do recommend it as one of those books that takes a major commitment, but is well worth your time!

As I anticipate the film adaptation of yet another great book, I thought I'd share the trailer!

Are there any books coming to film that you are anxiously awaiting?

Film Review: The Last Station

As a follower of  Lights, Camera..., History!, I had heard about and followed some of the production of The Last Station, a play to film about Leo Tolstoy.  With cast members like Christopher Plummer, Helen Mirren, and James McAvoy, I knew the film would have great acting power behind it.  I didn't get a chance to see it in the theater, but did finally view it on DVD and have had a lot to think about ever since.
Synopsis:  The premise of the film was the last days of Leo Tolstoy (famous author of War and Peace and Anna Karenina), played by Christopher Plummer.  During the last days of his life, and under the high regard of his followers in his movement, Tolstoy has turned his back on his privilege and money and been pressured to sign over the rights to his writing, to his movement.  His wife, played by Helen Mirren, vehemently fought these endeavors, and in that fight had to constantly remind her philosophical, "saint" of a husband, of her passionate love for him.  Her constant efforts all seemed to be in an effort to keep her husband grounded in their life together, and their family, all whilst he has been built up by everyone around him.  

As a side story, James McAvoy's character was assigned as a secretary to Tolstoy, and as such, asked to record everything said by the movement's revered leader.  In this role, he was expected to stay celibate, which is severely tested when he meets a beautiful young woman in the movement.  Both Tolstoy's passionate and tempestuous relationship, along with his secretary's, serve to ask serious questions about love and what is important in a person's life.

Review:  There were moments throughout this film that I felt bored by the dialogue, paranoia, and drama.  At times I felt confused by the interjection of high drama next to light moments of love and romance.  However, the acting really did carry it through.  The film was dramatic in all the best ways, that although slow in the middle, with a fairly gratuitous sex scene that had me a little uncomfortable, did actually lead up to a very dramatic ending that leaves the viewer thinking about the message. 

Each of the characters did an amazing job in their roles, drawing out the dedication and passion that all felt for and about Tolstoy and his ideals.  You really did get a sense of the hope that his philosophy offered, but in our modern context, I couldn't help but see the ways such a social structure would also fall apart.  I think it is because of the juxtaposition of the philosophy, with the viewers' modern sensibilities that we see why Tolstoy's wife felt so passionately about breaking through to her husband and having access to him in the way a wife should.

The final scene, which really should come as no surprise, is the final moments of Tolstoy's life.  Watching his wife say her final goodbyes spoke volumes to the power of real intimacy, regardless of power or position.  Regardless of Tolstoy's impact on society or even his movement, the real sense of the man came from those who knew and love him most.  I felt that these scenes were absolutely powerful and moving, although hard fought for after a slow moving mid section of the film.  I would definitely recommend the film for its message and great acting, but will admit that some of the film was a bit drawn out.  If you like philosophical, period dramas, then I would recommend this film