Thursday, 16 September 2010

Sweep: Book of Shadows by Cate Tiernan (review)

I wanted to like Book of Shadows, the first book in the Sweep series by Cate Teirnan, but I couldn't. Don't get me wrong there were a few things I liked about it, but unfortunately very few.

The story is about a teenage girl named Morgan Rowlands who meets a mysterious new boy on the first day of school name Cal Blaire. Cal is an extremely, good looking friendly boy who instantly becomes popular. He decides to have a party (complete with alcohol) and says that he's invited nearly all the upperclassman. Yet only about twenty kids show up.

This was the first part that was unrealistic. My kids once threw a party and there was rumor that alcohol was going to be at my house. Word spread to three different schools and dozens of kids planned on attending. It's also hard to believe that only 20 kids would show up to a party thrown by the most popular kid in school.

At this party Cal announces that he's a Wiccan witch and is inviting everyone to celebrate Mabon by doing a circle. Half the kids are intrigued and the other half think he's a freak and leave. We learn later that Cal's parents are Wiccan and his mother is a High Priestess. Because of this Cal thinks he's advanced enough to train and initiate his friends into Wicca. He wants all of them to form a coven together. I found Cal to be unlikable, a know-it-all, and seemed to have a cult leader feel about him. At the circle ritual Morgan banishes "limitations" and this opens her up to her new found magickal abilities.

Morgan is at first terrified of her new abilities but curiosity gets the best of her and she decides to start studying Wicca. She frequents a magickal store in a nearby town. There she is told that she is a "blood witch" and given a book about the Seven Clans of witches that form the basis of Wicca and have been at war for the last two thousand years. Later, this same clerk asks her which clan she is from. In Tiernan's world of Wicca, these Seven Clans make up the history of Wicca. It doesn't take a genius to figure out that these Seven Clans are a set up to pit the good guys against the bad guys for the rest of the series.

What I did like about the book was that Morgan's internal and external conflicts about becoming a witch. She was both awed and frightened about the new way she was looking at the world. Her experience was very mystical and mature. All of this was beautifully written and I could certainly relate to Morgan's experience being awakened to the depth and beauty of nature.

What I couldn't relate to was the never ending melodramatic teenage angst of the story. Both Morgan and her best friend end up falling for Cal. They go from being best friends to catty love sick girls. Both declaring that Cal is their soul mate. I know, I know, this IS how teenage girls think. I was a teenager once but now I am a 34 year old woman. Next month I will be 35, and according Carl Jung that is middle aged. I want to read about lovesick thirty-something witches, not teenage ones.

I also had a problem with Morgan's sudden state of enlightenment at the very end. Mystics meditate for decades in order to feel a complete oneness with the universe. Morgan was able to feel it after being to a couple circles? That was a bit hard to swallow.

Will I read more books in the series? Maybe. After reading the blurbs on the back of them I do know Morgan is tempted to use dark magick via the influence of the cult-like Cal. I have a feeling some jealous lovesick girls are going to use magick to get even. That would certainly be interesting. But I don't know if I can stomach more teenage angst.

My rating: Photobucket It was okay.

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert (review)

There is not I single thing that I don't like about Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. This book was funny, real, and had some amazingly spiritual moments. It had insights that made me want to take out a highlighter so I could refer back to them again and again.

The characters in this book are all so full and realistic. I've read books like this where the writer wrote about the forest but we never get much of an idea about the trees. Gilbert writes about individual people in each of the countries. What's even more unique is how she writes about the foreigners in each country. So although she only visits three countries, you really get a global cultural experience.

I've read that this book is highly controversial because Elizabeth starts the book off by leaving her husband. People are furious that she broke his heart. I think she did the right thing. Her husband wanted a child. She did not. The more selfish thing would have been to bring an unwanted child into the world simply to make her husband happy. The kindest thing she could have done (and did do) is divorce him so her could find a woman who was willing to start a family.

I think people who get upset because Elizabeth left her marriage then traveled around the world are simply jealous because they can't do that. I know because I am one of them. I am a single mother of four. I fantasize about running away to exotic lands to have adventures but I can't do it. I have four kids to raise. Yes I am jealous but that doesn't mean I take it out a woman who was fortunate enough to live out her dream. Instead, I relish every moment in the book and live vicariously through her.

This book is an example of extreme self-care. In this society, it's okay to spend thousands of dollars on cars, houses, and stuff that you can't afford, as well as work a million hours and ignore your family to get that money, but as soon as you declare that you want to live only for yourself suddenly you become the selfish one. What Elizabeth did was not selfish. It was an act of extreme self-care. There's a huge difference. If you read the entire book you realize how unselfish she actually becomes. In the end, the trip becomes about what she can do for other people. If all someone can do is take away from this book is how to be selfish, then frankly they missed the point in the first place.

The point is that finding yourself and finding God is a solitary journey. No one can do either for you. My rating: Photobucket

Movie review possibly coming soon. I haven't decided whether or not I'm going to see the movie since almost every review says it doesn't do the book justice.

Thursday, 15 April 2010

Night by Elie Weisel (review and my only 6 star rating)

I didn't choose Night by Elie Weisel because it was part of Oprah's Book Club but because it is one of the books on the most banned books list.

This memoir is written by a Holocaust survivor. It is hard to read at times because it's so graphic about the torture and inhuman conditions of the concentration camps. I knew the torture that the Jews endured was horrendous but this was beyond my worst imagination. If there is a hell then this is exactly what it is like.

Even at 34 years old, I felt this book robbed me of some innocence that I wasn't even aware that I still had. I never truly understood the depths of the evil in Hitler until I read Night. As I read the book I wished with all my heart that what I was reading hadn't really happened.

However, even though the book shocked me about what humans are capable of, I know that the truth must be told. We have to know the mistakes of our past in order to not repeat them. We have to learn the truth of what is in our history. I think some people try to claim that the Holocaust never happened because it's impossible for them to believe that humans are capable of doing such horrendous things.

This book also changed my views in another way. A truly life altering way. I have always considered myself a pacifist. "War is never necessary" was a motto that I lived by. The only way to stop the atrocities that Hitler and his armies were carrying out was war. You can't talk an evil person into not being evil. Sometimes the only way to save people is to wage war against their oppressors. In certain situations, war is the answer. I never, ever, EVER thought I would say that, much less truly believe it.

This book gets something I have never done before and that is give it a 6 star rating!
Six Stars Pictures, Images and Photos

The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown (review)

I picked up The Lost Symbol from the library. It was a 7-day express book which meant I had to get it read in a week and there was no renewal. This book was soooo good I had no problem reading it fast!

I love all the books by Dan Brown but this is by far his best book ever! It's so complicated and has so many twists and turns that it is nearly impossible to write anything without spoilers so I will do something I rarely do and that is resort to the back of the book blurb.

The Lost Symbol is a deadly race through a real-world labyrinth of codes, secrets, and unseen truths . . . all under the watchful eye of Brown’s most terrifying villain to date. Set within the hidden chambers, tunnels, and temples of Washington, D.C. ...

As the story opens, Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon is summoned unexpectedly to deliver an evening lecture in the U.S. Capitol Building. Within minutes of his arrival, however, the night takes a bizarre turn. A disturbing object–artfully encoded with five symbols–is discovered in the Capitol Building. Langdon recognizes the object as an ancient invitation . . . one meant to usher its recipient into a long-lost world of esoteric wisdom.

When Langdon’s beloved mentor, Peter Solomon–a prominent Mason and philanthropist–is brutally kidnapped, Langdon realizes his only hope of saving Peter is to accept this mystical invitation and follow wherever it leads him. Langdon is instantly plunged into a clandestine world of Masonic secrets, hidden history, and never-before-seen locations–all of which seem to be dragging him toward a single, inconceivable truth.

I will say this one thing and gives a hint about the biggest spoiler of all but Christians will like...possibly love how this book ends. You'll be nodding your heads going "Yep, we were right all along!" At first you will probably hate the book but finish it. You won't be sorry.

In other reviews and book guides of The Lost Symbol, I've noticed that people get really upset because Dan Brown isn't always accurate with facts. So what!? It's fiction! Hence, made up, make believe, not real. Does it really matter if Brown got the street names right if the story is really, really good?

On its first day the book sold one million in hardcover and e-book versions in the U.S., the UK and Canada, making it the fastest selling adult novel in history. I can understand whay the critics would want to rip Dan Brown's book apart. Pure jealousy.

I didn't stop reading once I finished The Lost Symbol either. Because so much of the book is based on things that actually exist such as the Freemasons, Washington D.C., and noetics, I've read a handful of guides to The Lost Symbol. The "facts" are just as fascinating as the book.

I don't know if it changed my life but it is one of the most exciting books I have ever read. I gave it Photobucket !

Thursday, 18 March 2010

Push by Sapphire (review)

Even though the title of this version of the book is Precious: Based on the Novel Push the novel is actually Push.

This book is not an easy read. It is written so deeply and the character of Precious is so....complete...that it was hard for me to believe this was a work of fiction. However, at the same time I am relieved that it was. The abuse this teenager endures is completely heartbreaking. Her strength and determination is admirable. She and the other students in her literacy class are nothing short of heroes. Precious and her classmates are all young women who are illiterate or near illiterate. They all have endured only what is in your worst nightmares but they are all working to better themselves.

If you are a sensitive person, the graphic description of physical, mental, and sexual abuse in this book will make it unbearable for you to read. This book seems to address almost every social taboo there is: illiteracy, race issues, abuse, incest, STDs, Down Syndrome, homosexuality, homophobia, social class, the welfare system, education and more.

What's unique about the way this book was written is that it's not written using perfect grammar or spelling. It's written the way Precious would have wrote it. This is why I found it so hard to believe that it was a novel. I have read that it was based on a true story but this isn't entirely true. Sapphire tells where the idea form the book came from here. (Note it does contain some spoilers.)

What was your inspiration for creating such an unforgettable character?
"She's a composite of many young women I encountered when I worked as a literacy teacher in Harlem and the Bronx for 7 years. Over and over I met people with circumstances similar to hers, many with her amazing spirit. I wanted to create a novel with a young person like that. To me she has not existed in literature before. She existed on TV …but as a statistic -- as an 18-year-old HIV+ woman who can't read with two children. I wanted to show her as a human being, to enter into her life and show that she is a very complex person deserving of everything this culture has to offer."

Many people have reviewed this book and walked away completely offended. Sometimes reading about the ugly side of human nature and all of these social taboos is very hard for people. This book takes our Shadow issues and makes us confront them face to face. Other people said the book just made them feel depressed. To those, I say finish it. When you read about the strength of this young woman and how she completely turns her life around and breaks the cycle of abuse, it is utterly inspiring.

I am happy to say this is the first book that I have read that gets Photobucket ! This book truly changed my life!

The Movie
I was disappointed. It was a toned down version of the book. There was no sexual abuse from the mother. You never actually see the mother hit Precious but she tries. Precious barely talks about the abuse so you never really get an idea about the extent of the abuse she has suffered.

Gabourey Sidibe was nominated for Best Actress. I really respect and admire this young woman but I honestly don't think she deserved an Oscar nomination. I found her character spent most of the time staring into space looking confused or sad. Granted that's what Precious does in the book most of the time, but I just didn't think her acting was extraordinary. She rarely showed emotion about anything.

Her mother, played by Mo'Nique, just blew me away. She won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. She truly became this character. I can't imagine how hard it was to play a severely abusive mother. I even liked Mariah Carey's character, Mrs. Weiss. Did she truly care about Precious and want to help her? You're never quite sure. I kind of liked that you never know for sure.

I just wonder how accurate this story was to what life is really like in Harlem. Would their apartment really be that nice? In the book, Precious's mother was a nasty woman who didn't take care of herself. In the movie she was a little obcessed with her appearence. Precious was obcessed with being a movie star. I thought this was portrayed just a little too artsy. Would someone that obcessed with becoming a famous movie star really care so much about reading and writing? I don't know.

The ending to the movie was unrealistic and a little too Pollyanna in my opinion.

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Dear John by Nicholas Sparks (review)

I decided to take a break from reading Pride and Prejudice. It turned out to be a quick break because I devoured Dear John in less than a day. I haven't read a book from start to finish like that since I read the final Harry Potter book.

This book is told from John's perspective. I must say it is both refreshing and really cool to read a romance told from a guy's point of view. John is a bad boy who doesn't know what to do with himself so he decides to join the army. While on leave and visiting his father, he meets Savannah. She's a good girl who knows that the tough looking, tattooed soldier isn't what he appears to be when he rescues her purse from sinking into the ocean.

The two fall head over heels during a few weeks in the summer. There's only one problem. John has to go back overseas and finish out the time he's enlisted to the army. John and Savannah manage to keep thier relationship together (barely) and John is about to end his commitment and go home and marry Savannah. True, they really barely know each other and have entirely different lives but Savannah is the one good thing in John's life and he's determined not to let her go.

But then America is changed forever on Sept 11. John must decide whether or not to go home to Savannah or re-enlist when his country needs him most. His relationship with Savannah is irrevocably altered. I won't say anymore because I don't want to give any serious spoilers.

Savannah isn't the most likeable character, but I think that's what Sparks intended. This story is about John and how he sacrifices over and over again but ends up getting his heart broken by her. In the end, he has the chance to be with Savannah if he truly wanted. I'm dying to tell you more but I don't want to ruin the ending.

This book felt almost like a reverse of The Notebook. I think I may have fallen in love with John myself. One thing I liked about this book was that it was so real. It felt like I was reading about someone's actual lives where nothing ever turns out as planned.

Another cool thing about this book was the story of John and his dad. Savannah suspects that John's father has Asperger's syndrome. The story of John and his father's relationship was worth reading this book in itself.

I would highly recoomend this book to everyone, especially guys who are curious about the romance genre but want to read a male's story. If you are looking to introduce a guy to the world of romance, this is the book you need to have him read.

My rating is an enthusiastic Photobucket!

I plan on reviewing the movie in the near future. All I know so far is that Savannah is a blonde not a brunette and John does not have the sexy tattoos that he has in the book. My daughter's best friend was very disappointed about the tattoos. I also saw the last 30 seconds of the movie and know it doesn't end like the book. Instead, the movie has one of those endings that are actually a non-ending and you get to imagine what happens. Meaning, unlike the book, John can have a happier ending.

Marked: A House of Night Novel by P. C. Cast and Kristen Cast (review)

Marked: A House of Night Novel by P. C. Cast and Kristen Cast was recommended to me by a friend who suggested this series for those that are fans of The Twilight Saga.

I loved this book! My favorite part about each and every series of vampire books that I read is how the author, and in this case authors, create their own vampire universe.

This story is about sixteen year old Zoey Redbird, who has been marked by a tracker as a fledgling vampyre. Now that Zoey has been marked and is going through The Change, she must attend a finishing school called House of Night. There she will learn everything she needs to know about being a vampyre.

However, something unique happens to Zoey before she gets to House of Night. She is marked by Nyx, the Goddess of Vampyres and is different from any fledgling, and for that matter any Priestess that has gone before her. I won't tell you anymore because I don't want to give away any spoilers.

This book was really good. The action in it is a lot like the Harry Potter series. I don't mean to compare especially because they are also at a school, but I think It's just that style of adventure book .

I do have a two small complaints. My first criticism is that the book takes place over less than a week, and that time frame seems just a little bit unrealistic for the changes that Zoey goes through. Second, it's a series so the story is set up in a way that you have to read the next book to find out what's going on regarding one of the storylines. Granted this is a great hook to get you to read the next book, but it also happens to be a pet peeve of mine. I like my books to have all the loose ends tied up nicely in a pretty bow.

Overall the book is really, really good. I will definately be reading the entire series. There's four books in all. There's also rumored to be a House of Night movie in the works. My rating is an enthusiastic Photobucket.

Julie & Julia by Julie Powell (review)

I managed to spend the first three weeks of January without reading an entire book, yet somehow I read all of Julie & Julia in the past two days. I've had the book for awhile now but since the movie recently came out on DVD, I decided to read it. I can keep the movie rental as long as I want so the reason I read the book so fast is actually because it was so good,

I normally hate books on cooking. Memoirs, cookbooks, diet books filled with recipes...all because I really suck at cooking. This memoir gave me hope that with a lot of practice I just might be able to overcome my lack of skills in the kitchen.

But this book was about so much more than just Julie's project of cooking through Julia Child's 1961 classic Mastering the Art of French Cooking and blog about it. (Her blog is called The Julie/Julia Project.) The book is also about her biological clock and her desire to have a child, her job working for the government that was in charge of creating the 9/11 memorial, her life in New York, and her marriage.

What I found most fascinating was not Julie's cooking project, but her life in New York City. She talks about her experience of September 11 and dealing with the aftermath. You learn about all the different kinds of supermarkets and neighborhoods where Julie must go to get her ingredients. She lives the cliche New York City life that people like me in Indiana only fantasize about. I adored Julie. She is a foul-mouthed, sexual being who finds cooking erotic and explains it graphically at times. She loves the excitement of stormy weather and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. She has no idea what she wants to do with her life. (We have these things in common along with sharing the same name.)

Some of the book was hard to swallow, pun intended. I'm a carnivore. I love eating meat but even some of the recipes that Julie makes had me squirming. She cuts into a live lobster, cooks cow brains, calf spleen, and debones a duck. I'm no poster child for PETA, but I felt very sad for these animals. I was curious to see if PETA ws outraged by the book and sure enough they are pretty ticked off. I found this quote, "Upon closer inspection I found a woman who had taken the Julie and Julia challenge, vegan style. (You know that movie about Julia Child’s cookbook that all the vegans I know, including myself, refuse to see because of the scenes with cruelty to animals.)."

I must say that there was something very primal about doing all that stuff to the animals. In fact, Julie apparently enjoyed it so much that she went on to do butchery. No joke. She even has a second memoir out titled Cleaving: A Story of Marriage, Meat, and Obcession.

The ending wasn't entirely satisfying. I had expected Julie to have some kind of revelation after finishing The Julie/Julia Project but instead her life just continued as before. Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this memoir. My rating Photobucket

I am doing the 30 Books To Movies Challenge so I will also review the movie and compare it to the book.

The movie was so different, but in a good way. Basically, the book was Julie's story and the movie was Julia's story. As far as cruelty to animals, the only scene where anything was done to a live animal was when Julie puts three live lobsters in a pot. All the other scenes involved animals that were already dead.

Julia's story starts out with her being unsatisfied with her life and looking for something to do with herself. She wants to cook but can't find any French cookbooks written in English. She finds herself in a beginning cooking class and is quite bored with it. The only more advance class consists of all men. Julia is "fearless" and despite being looked down on by the other men and the woman who runs the school, she becomes the best chef in her class. Who knew Julia Child was such a feminist?

Because of a chance meeting, Julia forges a business partnership with the writers of a French cookbook in English. The rest of Julia's story is about getting the cookbook published and Julia starting her television show. It was really quite boring.

Julie's character is boring as well. She's not the sassy, potty mouthed blogger like in the book, Instead, she comes off as a self-absorbed, whiny, childish woman. The scenes where she is at work dealing with 9/11 were depressing. Only the lobster scene is funny and that's if you aren't horrified by the idea of boiling lobsters alive. Well there is also the scene where Julia Child reaches into a pot of boiling water to take out some pasta and says "It's as hot a a stiff cock" which would have been hilarious but the botched editing totally ruins it.

The ending of the movie, like the book, is a complete letdown. Julie wasn't really any different than the beginning of the story. Julia Child, however, was completely a new woman who turned herself into a household name.

The book was definitely better.