Monday, October 31, 2011

Turtle Beach by Blanche d'Alpuget

Judith is an Australian journalist sent to cover the refugee crisis situation in Malaysia in 1979. To get access to the refugee camps, she tentatively befriends Minou, a part Chinese wife of a diplomat who offends all the ladies of the political inner circle that she comes across by being as crass as possible. Judith is also dealing with her failing marriage and crosses paths with Kanan, an Indian who she is attracted to and who wants to bring her to some sort of liberated state. All of this slowly progresses to its tragic outcome as Minou waits for her family to show up on the shores on the turtle beach.

Genre: historical; world historical fiction

Rating: 4/5

Notes: Malaysia: World Historical Fiction

An interesting book. I initially thought it was set in an earlier time period or I probably would have skipped on it. There was a lot of what I consider "awards pandering" in it where nothing really happens, but it's talked about a lot. I've always considered that someone trying to write an "important" novel. Usually it involves casual shocking talk about sex, people musing about the failings of life, someone speculating on religion, and general malaise. This book was no different. I could have stood without a lot of the important languishing in the inner moral decay of the characters. I was more interested in what Minou was really trying to do. She was a less than likable character, but she was sympathetic, unlike a lot of the characters who just seem to swan around commenting on stuff.

The book was sometimes hard to follow who was doing what, but the depiction of Malaysia was interesting, if not really flattering. The refugee situation is also something I knew nothing about and it really did seem to be a tragedy. Malaysia was a clash of cultures and religions and the end result was something not particularly pretty a lot of the time. An interesting book, though not as important as I think it would have liked to be.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

In My Mailbox (16)


Huge haul this week because I started buying my supply of World Historical Fiction challenge books. I've found a copy of the reference book World Historical Fiction from some years back and I intend to take a time traveling world tour through it.

From Booksfree:

100 Mistakes That Changed History- Blunders that led to world changing out come.

Airhead- Tomboy Em ends up in a bizarre accident that ends her up in the body of super model Nikki Howard

Majix- Serious teen witch Susan attempts to navigate through high school unscathed.

From Amazon:

Turtle Beach- In 1979, a female Australian reporter is caught in the cultural clash surrounding refugees from Malaysia

Hermitage Among the Clouds- In 14th century Vietnam, Amazing Jewel pursues peace after her father defends the Viets against the Mongols

The Singapore Grip- Members of a British family in Singapore in the 1930s realize too late that they aren't invincible as the Japanese invade

King Rat- A man becomes the unofficial ruler of a prison camp in WWII as he breeds prison rats for food

Eagle Station- Air Force pilots protect Eagle Station's radar in 1968 in Vietnam and wait for rescue

Slow Dance on the Killing Ground- Special Forces in the Vietnam War get rid of undesirable factions of all kinds

The Angkor Massacre- As the revolution of the Khmer begins, a group of different people become involved with Frenchman Lara

Jasmine Nights- Justin, living with his eccentric aunts outside Bangkok in 1963 while his parents work secretly for the US government, learns about American ways from his friend Virgil

The Cambodia File- When Pol Pot's regime takes over Cambodia in 1975, Than Kim barely survives the ensuing chaos

The Scent of the Gods- Su Yen has grown up as an orphan who is baffled about the differences among the people in her home as Singapore becomes a nation

Copilli- Prince Copilli, Aztec warrior, ultimately sacrifices himself for his people

From the school library:

Rise of a Hero- Three young people struggle against the Hrum that have overtaken the kingdom of Farsala

Fire Dragon- A Chinese immigrant and his family at the turn of the century struggle to get by in San Francisco

Master Skylark- A young boy with a beautiful voice is taken away from Stratford-on-Avon by a theatrical group, but more than anything he wishes to be back home with his family

Bright Candles- The experiences of a sixteen-year-old Danish boy during the German occupation of his country in World War II.

Ranger of '76- A young boy gets involved in the American Revolution

The Faraway Lurs- Tells the story of Heather, a girl of the Tree People, who falls in love with Wolf Stone, the son of the chieftain of the Sun People.

Campion Towers- Penitence Hervey, visiting her dead mother's family in England, is drawn into the conflict between Cavaliers and Roundheads, but finds love in the process.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Follow Friday (October 28)

Q. If you could have dinner with your favorite book character, who would you eat with and what would you serve?

I would invite Peeta from The Hunger Games over and we would only have the finest baked goods. Maybe he could teach me how to bake considering I'm awful. I could make a cake that wouldn't actually collapse or stick to the pan. Complex carbohydrates are my kryptonite.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

I Marched with Hannibal by Hans Baumann

Two children hear the story of Hannibal's attack on Rome from an elderly elephant driver. He tells of Suru, his loyal elephant who was the last elephant survivor of the campaign. He travels with the Carthaginians based on the belief that Rome was responsible for the destruction of his home city, yet while he rides along, he begins to question the blind hatred that both sides have towards each other and whether Hannibal is really the great leader that he thinks he is.

Genre: historical, throwback

Rating: 4/5

Notes: #8 of YA Historical Fiction Challenge

Yet another throw back. This one involves Hannibal's march over the Alps. Historically, this tends to get mentioned as an incredible feat that Hannibal did without any losses. In reality it was incredibly unsuccessful for the elephants and a spectacular waste of men driven by a man who hated Rome as much as Rome hated Carthage. This story doesn't shy away from the ruthless aspects of either empire. And the story mainly concerns itself with the elephants rather than the technical aspect of war. Suru is as much a character as anyone else in the novel and the human drama of surviving takes on a much more important tone than what Hannibal is actually trying to accomplish.

There is a nice parallel between what Hannibal is doing and what he criticizes his enemies for doing. In the end, he's no different from then and he causes just as much destruction, a cycle of hate that eventually ends in Carthage being completely destroyed.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Fall of a Kingdom by Hilari Bell

The kingdom of Farsala has never been conquered and the ruling class arrogantly assumes they will never be touched. But a totally new threat confronts the empire in the form of the Hrum, an empire determined to possess anything in their path. Suddenly nothing seems certain and the lives of an upper class, pampered girl, an illegitimate son of a general, and a maimed peasant all cross paths. Farsala as a kingdom has finally met an enemy it doesn't know how to defeat and now everyone needs to decide what they fight for.

Genre: fantasy

Rating: 5/5

The two kingdoms in this book have very definite parallels to Persia and Rome and neither side are shown to be flawless. Kavi has legitimate issues with Farsala as their ruling class is the reason he's maimed. Jiaan just wants to make his father proud even though he's not officially recognized as his son. Sorya also competes for her father's love against the prized legitimate heir and against her distant, cold mother. All of them are flawed characters with major faults, but they are understandable in their actions and they are characters you are willing to invest in.

The plot itself is on an epic scale that many much larger novels like Game of Thrones have tried. Only this one is for those with a shorter attention span. Younger readers would probably be willing to finish this type of epic without getting bogged down. There are plenty of questions asked, such as whether the devil you know in a ruling class is better than the one you don't or not. And then there's the question of survival itself. An excellent book all together.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Royalty's Strangest Characters by Geoff Tibballs

A rollicking review of the strangest, insanest, meanest royalty in history. From obscure to well known and ancient to modern, royalty is shown as the strange creature it often is.

Genre: non-fiction; history

Rating: 4.5/5

On sheer entertainment value, this book was great. The writer is very funny in spots and suddenly royalty becomes fascinating. The problem is that there really isn't a lot of bibliography to know where he got his information and a lot of what he used was apocryphal. This book is also rare as my ability to only find a picture that tiny attests. It's a great read though and makes me want to investigate some of these figures more.

She-Devils by Anne McDuff

A detailed account of some of the most notorious female murderers in recent history. Only serial killers will do for this book and though they are rare, when women do go bad they are terrifying.

Genre: non-fiction

Rating: 4.5/5

First off, the hand on that cover is so weird. I don't know if it's the attempt at nailpolish or what, but it looks strange. Anyhow, for true crime lovers this is a pretty good find. Several of the chapters are very disturbing in what they reveal about what the killer did and I wouldn't recommend it to anything other than adult readers, but it was very readable even though the chapters were long. The author seemed to have done their research fairly well, so I don't doubt most of what was written was accurate. Disturbing, but accurate.

In My Mailbox (15)


From the school library:

Picture Perfect- Ian's friend Teddy has disappeared, but Ian is still seeing Teddy in his dreams and hearing voices and can't remember exactly what he did the morning Teddy disappeared.

Naughts and Crosses- In a racist dystopian society, "Cross" Sephy falls in love with "Naught" Callum leading them down a dangerous path when an uprising tries to overthrow the system.

I Was a Teenage Fairy- A fairy named Mab helps Barbie overcome an abusive past and deal with her future. But is Mab even real?

From Amazon:

Turtle Beach- Journalist Judith is thrown into a personal crisis as she goes to Malaysia to investigate the international refugee situation.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Follow Friday (October 21)

Q.What superhero is your alter-ego?

Minus the psychotic tendencies, I'd have to say Deadpool. I have a similar sense of humor. Maybe I don't find the exact same things funny, but my delivery is very similar and if I were a superhero I'd be breaking the fourth wall constantly.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Thwonk by Joan Bauer

AJ is an aspiring photographer with love issues. She always tends to pick unsuitable boys and Peter is no different as he already has a girlfriend and AJ's friend keeps warning her is completely vain. Then AJ runs into a cupid ready to grant her every wish. Of course AJ wishes for Peter to love her and suddenly he is completely and embarrassingly in love with AJ. Sometimes what you think you want is not necessarily what you need, as AJ begins to learn the hard way.

Genre: humor; contemporary

Rating: 4/5

This was a cute book, short and fairly funny. The actuallity of having a boyfriend who is sickeningly in love with you with no real basis is amusing, yet you feel like AJ gets what she deserves. Everyone warns her that she repeatedly falls head over heels for boys who have no substance, yet she disregards every single person and careens down the path of heartbreak. It's hard to sympathize with her too much when she repeatedly crashes and burns.

The major issue I had with the book is that AJ seemed too young in her flighty mindset to be a senior in high school who had gone through several boyfriends. She seems smart enough, but we're asked to believe that she's literally gone through about 10 guys without pinpointing her problem of being all concerned with looks. AJ is just unbelievably stupid about some things, and that was sort of jarring. The book is funny though and the speaking voices are entertaining and almost Gilmore Girl- like. It's worth overlooking a few character flaws.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

In My Mailbox (14)


From the school library:

Master Rosalind- A girl in Shakespeare's time disguises herself as a boy so she can play female roles on stage.

From Wal-Mart:

Matched- Cassia is willing to allow the Society to make all the choices for everyone until one day she sees that their choice for mate for her is not what her microchip says it should be, and if that mistake happened, suddenly the possibilities are endless.

Z: Zombie Stories- Short stories about teenagers during the coming zombie apocalypse.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Raised by Wolves by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

Bryn is a human living in a werewolf world after the death of her parents and her subsequent adoption by a pack. She can't figure out why the pack alpha is so concerned about keeping her from Chase, a boy who was attacked and turned into a werewolf by a rabid werewolf. When she finally does talk to him, she realizes the pack has been keeping secrets from her and that the werewolf she thought was dead isn't. She also uncovers a strange ability of her own that suddenly pits her against not only the rabid werewolf, but every other alpha in America.

Genre: supernatural, fantasy

Rating: 5/5

This is, simply put, the best werewolf book I've ever read. The title initially enough to throw me off. It's sort of a cutesy, trite title for a book that's as good as this one is. This book manages to weave it's own mythology in a way that doesn't overlap with anything I've read before. Werewolves aren't portrayed as necessarily good or bad, just feral. While Bryn tries to follow the rules of being a werewolf without actually being one. The levels of emotion in the book are something you don't come across in a lot of YA novels, fantasy especially. The book is hard to put down mainly because there are several layers going on. There's a believable love story that isn't really a love story. There's the mystery of the rabid. There's the mystery of what the werewolf Senate is trying to do in dealing with the rabid. There's the mystery of just what powers Callum actually has. And Bryn is written in a believable voice. She's alternately angry and overly curious, but also does follow the rules to a degree.

This book is literally the best werewolf novel I've ever read and I hope the author either continues with the characters or writes more fantasy.

Follow Friday (October 14)


Q: If you could have characters from a book meet and form an epic storyline with characters from a TV series, which characters would you choose and why?

I would want the characters from Haven in an epic cross with the characters from the Darkest Powers series. Haven the show is all about a town where strange things happen, and the addition of the characters with strange powers from Armstrong's series would work wonderfully.

Nice and Mean by Jessica Leader

Marina is a catty 8th grader who likes to be number one among her friends and hates dealing with the less cool people at her school. Sachi is a well behaved student who never gets in trouble and always follows all the rules. The two are forced to work together on a video project with disastrous results as Marina tries to take over the project and gets into big trouble when she decides to make fun of some of her friends in it. Suddenly the video project becomes a catalyst for Marina to make herself kinder and Sachi to start standing up for herself.

Genre: contemporary

Rating: 4/5

This was actually a tween book, which I had never really read before. This one wasn't bad. A little sacchriney, but Marina really is rather a brat and her issues with her frienemies isn't really resolved completely at the end, much like in real life. The girl she gets into trouble with is no angel and is probably as bad as Marina in her own way, but it's Marina who learns her lesson.

Sachi is possibly too nice for a middle schooler, but her feelings of unfairness about how controlling her parents are of her is accessible to younger readers. Both girls learn a few things about how to treat friends and what is involved in being a trendsetter.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Cossacks by B. Bartos-Hoppner

Mitya wants something more in his life than being trapped in the small Russian village he lives in. When Yermak, the great Cossack leader shows up in the village, he follows him for his chance to be something more than a poor trapper. What Mitya finds is that he is now a part of the first conquest of Siberia, a land cruel and wealthy. He finds a brotherhood in the crude band of Cossacks, but he never finds any joy in the killing and fighting that they do. As he begins to question the cycle of revenge and violence that take place between the Cossacks and the Tartars that they are fighting, Yermak's group is pushed to its limit in one of the most forbidding places on earth.

Genre: historical, throwback

Rating: 4/5

Throwback rating: 5/5

Notes: #7 of YA Historical Fiction Challenge

Again, historical fiction that is older doesn't have as much of a problem holding up under scrutiny most of the time. This book is the same. The most noticable thing might be the sort of stiff language the book uses, but there's also the fact that this book was originally written in German and translated, which may account for some of the stiffness. It also made it harder to connect to the characters because of the formality. Mitya is the only one you really feel any connection to, and he's sort of kept at arm's length because of the rigid writing. What makes the book worthwhile to me is the fact that it was written about an obscure historical subject. I've never seen anything fictional about the Cossacks, much less about the original invasion of Siberia. This is a very very strange subject for a YA novel to be written about, but I suddenly want an updated YA novel on the subject. For a history major, this was interesting and showed insight into a culture that most don't know much about. I honestly felt like someone could turn this into a great historical movie, as the novel was a fictionalized version of actual events. This was a strange topic, but so fascinating, I wish someone would expand on it.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

In My Mailbox (13)


Again not much this week, but a couple to add to the Throwback category.

From school library:

I Marched With Hannibal- A brother and sister help an old man dig for treasure as he tells them about how he was an elephant boy for Hannibal's army when he was young.

Frozen Fire- Dusty gets a mysterious call from a boy who tells her he's dying. As she tries to find him and help him, she believes he may be connected to the disappearance of her brother.

Sons of the Steppe- Story of the youngest grandsons of Genghis Khan and how their paths diverged.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Follow Friday (October 7)

Q. If you could pick one character in a book, movie or television show to swap places with, who would it be?

Caroline from The Vampire Diaries. Not only is she pretty and has become fairly nice on the show, but now she's a rather powerful vampire who has a lovely, supportive werewolf boyfriend who has gone from being extremely hateful to very sweet with her. She's got daddy issues, but I find her father such a shifty judgmental douche that he's not an issue.


Chloe from The Nine Lives of Chloe King. Superpowers and two wonderful guys who would do anything for her. Also a great mother who supports her in just about everything.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

American Gothic by Robert Bloch

Serial killer G. Gordon Gregg has set up shop in Chicago at the turn of the century World's Fair. He seems untouchable as he murders women for their money and kills anyone who could possibly reveal his secret. But then he crosses paths with a journalist who sees through his facade and won't let up. Crystal risks death in her quest to find out Gregg's murderous secrets and she may not be able to unravel them in time to save her life.

Genre: thriller, historical

Rating: 4/5

Throwback rating: 5/5

This is a fictional retelling of the H.H. Holmes murder castle cases, something that was handled so masterfully in Devil in the White City, anything else is going to pale in comparison. Throwback wise, the book doesn't have a problem because it was already set at the turn of the century. There's probably not going to be too much problem with throwback historical novels because of that unless old fashioned attitudes start showing up. This one doesn't suffer from that too much though. Crystal does have to be saved, but she's very proactive in bringing Gregg down and is quite liberated. And if she has to be saved, so does her boss.

The main problem is that the characters are very one dimensional and there seemed like a lot of build up for a climax that didn't cover very much. Part of Devil in the White City's appeal is the relentless grind that builds until both the fair and the serial killings reach their zenith. This book isn't long enough or detailed enough to do so. It's because it's a fiction of something that actually happened, and what actually happened was so much more horrific, the fiction can't compare.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Jaws by Peter Benchley

The town of Amity relies on the business of summer tourists coming to their public beaches. Without the rich tourists, the town dies. When a gigantic great white shark shows up on the coast and begins to pick off swimmers, the town is thrown into a moral dilemma of whether to close the beaches to protect the people or keep them open to have the town survive. Police chief Martin Brody finds himself at odds with the towns people and at odds with the hot shot oceanographer who has come to study the shark. The only answer seems to be to kill it, but how do you kill a creature that no one thought could grow so large and who might be an act of God?

Genre: thriller, throw-back

Rating: 4/5

Holds up to time: 3/5

I've started a new category of book reading I'm going to call "throw-backs", or books that are pretty old, but still available at my school library. I'm not doing this to bash on my library, but see how well certain books hold up to time to a modern reader. Some of these books are so old I'm having trouble finding cover art.

The book itself is considered of interest mainly because of the classic movie. There are a number of differences. First off, the book makes the shark the most interesting character. Brody and the other humans running around are fairly cardboard cut out, but the shark is something else entirely. I wouldn't say you root for him, but you're fascinated by him. He's a mindless eating machine who seems to not want to play be the rules. And there really does seem to be some sense of divine retribution to him. The towns people have made their living off of the "summer people" who come to their town and are more than a little willing to bend the truth, shade the details, and inevitably sacrifice some of them up in the interest of keeping the rest of them coming back. Maybe it's fitting that the shark appears to ruin the town in the end. The more Hooper or Quint try to understand "the fish", the less he seems to follow the mold and they both ultimately die for their arrogance.

So often I think the shark is called "Jaws", but the only thing he's ever really referred to is "the fish". Even his death is one of something that isn't really defeated, but is just at the end up his mission. He dies when everyone who didn't respect the rules of survival are dead. The book does hold up in the department of the shark working. He's still terrifying. Him ripping boats to pieces is still disturbing. The bloody deaths still have impact mainly because the shark isn't shown as evil, just doing what he does. The book doesn't hold up in the fact that there are drug references and plenty of 70s ambiance. There's also some casual racism that I don't think was part of the story. So this is a patchy throwback read that still has some interest.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Why Do Men Have Nipples? by Mark Leyner and Billy Goldberg

A plethora of strange medical questions that you've always wanted to ask your doctor, but never had the nerve to. Like why do you get an ice cream headache? Or what are goosebumps? Or can you get high licking a toad?

Genre: nonfiction

Rating: 3/5

While this book answers some interesting questions, it was the format of it that got it knocked down so far. The "conversations" between the authors between entries was impossible for me to understand since it seemed like rambling and the intros to the chapters really weren't funny. The medical explanations were nice though and generally answered questions that we've all wondered about. It just seems like the book could have been set up in either a more interesting manner, or in a funnier one. As it stands, it seems like they were going for humor and couldn't really figure out how to do it, which just made things rather confusing and took away from some of the interest of the book. Especially when some of the entries were quite clinical and a bit dry.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

In My Mailbox (12)


The school librarian and I were talking about how it's a shame that we can't make current cover jackets for old library books. There's nothing wrong with the plot of the book, but a student will never pick it up based on its horrible, or in the case of some of the old industrial backed school print books, non existant cover art. The last four books on my list I hardly even picked up because they have no cover art and no blurbs on them anywhere to tell you the plot. I know for older school libraries or ones that don't have as much money, it seems like it would be beneficial to have a way to make old, but still readable books, more appealing looking.

From the school library:

The Pact of the Wolves: Bianca tries to unravel the mystery of her boarding school after she hears rumors of witchcraft and a mysterious society follows her.

Forgotten Fire: Vahan lives his life as a wealthy Armenian in Turkey at the beginning of WWI until some of his family starts disappearing and the horror of the Armenian genocide that was perpetuated moves into full swing.

Pretty Dead: Charlotte is a vampire who suddenly starts to feel human emotions against the back drop of Los Angeles wildfires.

American Gothic: A fictionalized account of H.H. Holmes, a female reporter is drawn to the serial killing physician she has begun to investigate.

Jaws: A shark is stalking the beach town of Amity and the police chief takes it upon himself to help kill the destructive creature.

The Cossacks: Fourteen-year-old Mitya leaves his home to join the Cossack chieftain and adventurer Yermak in his campaign across the Urals to take Siberia from the Tartars.

Frankenstein Unbound: Joe Bodenland finds himself sucked through a timeslip that throws him into a world inhabited by Frankenstein's monster; a world that may not be real as he's also able to interact with Mary Shelley.