Monday, December 29, 2008

A Dog Named Christmas [Kincaid]

Book: A Dog Named Christmas
Author: Greg Kincaid
Reason for Reading: for fun
Genre: Fiction
Summary: When Todd McCray, a developmentally challenged young man still living on his parents’ Kansas farm, hears that a local animal shelter is seeking temporary homes for its dogs during the days leading to Christmas, he knows exactly what he wants for the holidays. His father objects, but Todd’s persistence quickly wins out. Soon, the McCrays are the short-term foster family for a lovable pooch the young man names Christmas. But what about all the other dogs who will be forced to spend the Yuletide season in cages? In the days that follow, Todd uses his special gifts of persuasion to encourage his hometown to participate in the “Adopt a Dog for Christmas Program.”

Christine's Review: I received this book for Christmas and was excited. As you know, I am a huge dog lover and the picture on the front looked like my canine baby, Amelia Peabody. So, I dived into the book and enjoyed every page. 'A Dog Named Christmas' is a charming tale of kindness and its affect on others. It is a positive, uplifting story that is perfect for the holidays. Less than 200 pages, it is a quick read that is sure to warm your heart.

Told from the perspective of Todd's father, we learn that he doesn't want a dog because of past traumatic experiences (his first dog died waiting for him while he was away at the Vietnam war and his second dog, acquired in Vietnam, saved his life when he stepped on a land mine). He agrees to foster a dog over the holidays but wants Todd to stand by their deal that the dog has to go back to the shelter after Christmas. He finds himself opening up his heart to the dog, but wavers between keeping him (Christmas) or giving the dog back, so his son understands the importance of keeping ones word.

Luckily, this book has a happy ending for the McCrays, Christmas and many of the other dogs. Todd and his father become dedicated to finding the dogs homes over the holidays and many of these homes become permanent.

Overall, this book has a great message for the holidays.

Recommend? YES [for animal lovers of all ages and children]

Book Junkie's Grade: B+

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

A Wedding in December [Shreve]

Book: A Wedding in December
Author: Anita Shreve

Genre: Fiction
Reason for Reading: for fun
Summary: A few months post 9/11, seven former high school classmates reunite to celebrate a wedding at a bed and breakfast in the Berkshire Mountains. Bill and Bridget, the honored couple, were high school sweethearts who eventually married other people. Now, almost thirty years later, they hope for a second shot at happiness and want to share this special time with those who knew them back in the day. Inseperable in high school, most of the friends have not seen each other since graduation. There is unfinished business to be raked-up, including sharp memories of a foreseen tragedy and the guilt shared by all.

Christine's Review: Although well written, this book was a huge disappointment. We viewed the weekend from three different perspectives: Bridget (the bride), who is suffering from advanced breast cancer; Agnes, an unmarried, childless teacher who is employed at the private school they all went to; and Harrison, seemingly the most 'normal' as he is married, has 2 kids and a good job. The other characters include Nora (who owns the B&B), Rob (a famous painist who is now gay), Bill (Bridget's new husband) and Jerry (the obnoxious, most successful of the bunch). While not physically present, Stephen (Harrison's roommate and Nora's boyfriend who died right before graduation), is also a character in this story.

The premise of this book was decent but where it failed was the execution. By only telling the perspective of 3 people, we never really got to know the other characters. And what we did know/find out, was depressing: infidelity, unhappy marriages, unrealized love, disease. These people didn't have enough positive attributes for me to care what happened to them. The climax (when we find out what really happened to Stephen), was too little too late. I wasn't invested enough in the story to care at that point.

Finally-dispersed through the book was a fictional story Agnes was writing about the Halifax disaster. Although interesting, these sections were long and did not add to the story. They seemed to be included to increase the length of the book, it was very odd.

Overall, this book was boring and trite.

Book Junkie's Grade: C

Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Host [Meyer]

Book: The Host
Author: Stephenie Meyer
Reason for Reading: for fun
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantsasy
Summary: Parasitic aliens who call themselves 'souls' have invaded Earth and taken over most of the human race. Once a 'soul' is placed in a human host, the alien takes over and suppresses the human's mind. When Wanderer awakes in her new body, she finds that her human host isn't so easily overcome.

Melanie Stryder is a feisty young woman who refuses to leave behind her loved ones (who are in hiding). She will do anything to get them back, but must rely on Wanderer to help her.

Christine's Review: This is Meyer's first adult book and I had high expectations. After reading her addictive young adult Twilight series (over 2k pages in just a few days) I knew she had the capability of writing a compelling story. I was not disappointed. This book starts off slow but after 100 pages or so I was completely engrossed in the story. Although the book has a sci-fi element, the underlying themes are friendship, sacrifice and love. The characters are well developed, multi-faceted and interesting.

There are three main parts to this book. In the first part, Wanda (as she is eventually called) is implanted into Melanie's body. Although she has lived for thousands of years and on many different planets, this is her first time on Earth. She has acccess to her host's (Melanie) memories, and experiences human emotions (hunger, pain, love, etc) and she is overwhelmed. She is also overwhelmed by Melanie, who refuses to disappear. Wanda is working with her Seeker (soul who tries to track humans, think of them like police) and lets her know about Melanie's younger brother and lover. This is the slowest part of the book.

In the second part of the book, Wanda agrees to work with Melanie to find Mel's younger brother (Jamie) and lover (Jared) when she realizes she too loves them and wants them to be safe (even though she has never met them, she experiences Melanie's feelings toward them). After locating them (along with Mel's Uncle Jeb and a small colony of human survivors) Wanda faces a tough road of discrimination and hatred when the humans believe she is trying to lead the Seekers to their hiding place. Wanda is eventually accepted by most of the humans and finds herself in a love quadrangle between Melanie, Jared, Ian (a man in the camp) and herself. This was my favorite section of the book. There were elements of adventure, suspense and heartbreaking scenes filled with raw emotion. (yes, I teared up a few parts!)

In the last part of 'The Host' Wanda must decide whether to reveal her biggest secret to the humans, and decide how much she is willing to help humans in their plight to take back earth. As any of you who have read the Twilight series know, Meyer loves a happy ending and this book was no exception. It wrapped up a little to 'tidy' for my taste but she did leave a door open to a sequel (I'm not sure if she has one in the works yet).

Overall, this was an interesting, heart warming book that will make you think twice about humanity.

Book Junkie's Grade: B+

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Dragonfly In Amber [Gabaldon]

Book: Dragonfly in Amber
Author: Diana Gabaldon
Reason for Reading: for fun
Genre: Romance - Historical
Summary: This is the second book in the popular Outlander series. The book starts with Claire traveling to Scotland with her twenty year old daughter Briana (1968). Claire plans to tell Briana about her true paternity with the help of Roger Wakefield, a local professor and historian.

The book then flashes back in time (1744) to where the first book in the series (Outlander) ended: Paris. The book follows Jamie and Claire as they attempt to stop the Jacobite Rising. Unsuccessful, they eventually travel back to Scotland were Jamie is forced to fight for the Stuart's after his name is forged on a letter to Charles Stuart pledging his allegiance. Although initially successful in battle, Jamie and his men (from his town) know the tide is turning against them (the Jacobites). With Claire's historical knowledge, she and Jamie are aware that the battle of Culloden will occur and the Scots will not win. Knowing this, Jamie takes Claire back to Craig na Dun (to the time portal) so she can survive the battle and the aftermath. Prior to time traveling, Claire tells Jamie she is pregnant. Claire travels forward in time while Jamie stays in Scotland, prepared to fight and die.

The book then returns to 1968 where Claire reveals that Brianna was the child she was carrying when she time traveled and Jamie was the father. Roger informs Claire that Jamie did not die during the battle.

Christine's Review: This is the second book in the popular Outlander series, which combines romance, historical fiction and science fiction. While I thoroughly enjoyed the first installment, I cannot say the same for this book. I am not someone who shies away from long reads (each book in the series is just under 1000 pages) but I had a difficult time finishing this. I was stuck in the mid-600's for a few months.

Certain parts of the story were quite interesting: the return of Jack Randall (a sadistic character from the first book who was presumed dead), Claire's interaction with the King of France and Jamie's spying activities. Other parts were sad: Claire's miscarriage, rape, child abuse and Jamie's incarceration. Of course, I also enjoy the romance aspect of the book: Jamie and Claire have an intense, powerful love and Jamie always puts Claire's needs above anything else. Unfortunately, these positives sections aren't enough to save the book. Once Jamie and Claire move to Scotland, the book stalls. The historical context should inspire an invigorating read, but instead inspires sleep.

Overall, this book is long and boring. If you read Outlander and intend to follow the series, I recommend reading a detailed summary online and skipping to the third book.

Book Junkie's Grade: C-

The Cat Who Could Read Backwards [Jackson]

Book: The Cat Who Could Read Backwards
Author: Lilian Braun Jackson
Reason for Reading: book club
Genre: Fiction
Summary: Jim Qwilleran is a seaonsoned reporter who accepts a job as feature writer for the Daily Fluxion, a local paper for an unnamed midwestern city. Quill is assigned to write features on the local art scene. He meets George Bonifield Mountclemens, the paper's recluse art critic, who writes mostly scathing reviews of local shows and has enemies all over town. Mountclemens lives with his all-knowing cat Koko in a lushly furnished house and offers Qwill a tiny apartment in his building at a nominal rent. Two murders occur and Qwill finds himself in the thick of the investigation with Koko the cat by his side.

Christine's Review: This is the first book in the popular 'The Cat Who..' series which has over 19 books to date. Braun has created a title character (Qwill) who is entertaining, witty and fun to follow. Although the first murder occurs approximately 100 pages into the book, Braun introduces many flamboyant characters that keep the story flowing. I have no experience in the art scene but from what I hear, her depictions of artists (quirky, narcissistic, jealous) is right on target. Written in 1966, Qwill investigates both murders the good old fashioned interviewing people. This is a nice departure to more modern books that focus on forensics. By the end of the book, Qwill solves both mysteries and acquires a trusty companion, Koko the cat.

Overall, this book is a quick, fun read. It would be perfect for a flight or car trip.

Book Junkie's Grade: B

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The Book Thief [Zusak]

Book: The Book Thief
Author: Markus Zusak
Reason for Reading: recommended by friend
Genre: Fiction
Summary: The book follows Liesel, a nine-year old German girl during WWII, as she falls in love with books, words and thievery. We are introduced to her foster family, friends, and life in Germany under Nazi rule. Her world is turned upside down when her family hides a Jew in their basement.

Christine's Review: Simply put, this book was excellent. It is a haunting tale with varying themes of abandonment, friendship, sacrifice, loss and love. Although marketed as a young adult book in the US, this book is without question a great read for adults (in fact, it is marketed as an adult book in Australia, the author's home country).

You would be hard pressed to watch the History Channel these days to catch a program that is not about WWII and/or Nazi Germany. It is easy to assume we know everything there is to know about this tragic time and thus pass on a book that (we assume) recycles previous told stories. In lieue of a traditional narrator, the story unfolds from Death itself. You are probably thinking: Death as the narrator? It seems so depressing. However, Zusak is a skilled author who is able to draw in readers and paint a vivid picture of German life with a combination of love, fear and sacrifice.

First, let's address Death. Using this non-traditional narrator, Zusak is able to unfold the story of Liesel while linking her story to historical events seamlessly. Death is simply doing its job of collecting souls around the world.

I don't want to add too many plot details for those of you will plan to read this, but I will say that the characters are vivid and detailed. We are presented with (some) German citizens who tried to do the right thing under difficult circumstances. We catch a glimpse of what life was like for children growing up during this time and how they strove for normalcy when life around them was crumbling.

Overall, this book is a tale of family, friendship and love. It is an emotional read that is worth it.

Book Junkie's Grade: A

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Where the Heart Is [Letts]

Book: Where the Heart Is
Author: Billie Letts
Reason for Reading: book club selection
Genre: Fiction
Summary: Novalee Nation is 17 years old and 7 months pregnant when she is abandoned at Wal-Mart by her boyfriend. Finding herself in a small town where she knows no one, she builds a new life for herself and her child.

Christine's Review:
First, let me start off by saying this book was made into a movie (starring Natalie Portman and Ashley Judd) in 2000. It is one of those feel good flicks (you know the type, the kind that plays on Lifetime) and I saw it a few years ago. I'm one of those people who prefers to read a book prior to watching the movie adaptation, because I like to visualize the characters and scenes myself. There is a certain thrill of a story unfolding on a page vs. a movie screen (and the book is almost always more rewarding).
Since I already knew the basic plot, I found myself comparing the book to the movie. That being said:

This book was an Oprah book club selection and alternate selection of the Literary Guild. As such, I had high hopes and was greatly disappointed. I did not dislike this book-it was "okay." A poor, uneducated, pregnant teenager is abandoned by her boyfriend. She is taken in by a woman who becomes her surrogate mother, gets a job, finds a best friend, goes to school and eventually falls in love. Of course-she is beautiful, has a heart of gold and everyone loves her and her baby. Overall, it is a story of love, hope and survival. I appreciate 'feel good' stories like the next person but parts of this book were so unbelievable it was infuriating. For instance:
-After Novalee (the main character) is abandoned by her boyfriend, she becomes homeless and secretly moves into Wal-Mart. She does not look for a job or suitable housing. Although it is never explicitly explained, I don't think she ever had any prenatal care throughout the entire pregnancy either. However, once the baby is born, she immediately becomes a super responsible mother, it just didn't jive.
- Novalee was abandoned by her mother at age 7. She sees her again TEN years later and believes her mother when she says she wants to help Novalee get an apartment and help with the baby. Even if you didn't see the movie beforehand, anyone could see that her mother would disappear after Novalee handed over her entire savings. Novalee is someone who (after her mother left) was raised in foster homes-she should have more street smarts. I understand Letts was showing how naive she was, but come on!
-Novalee goes on birth control after the birth of her daughter (good decision) but fails to read the instruction booklet or listen to the doctor about how it works. This seems completely unrealistic to me. She is portrayed as someone who loves to read and is a responsible mother, it just doesn't fit with the character.

Additionaly-the book contains chapters discussing Willy Jack (the boyfriend who abandoned Novalee). Although Letts tied their stories together at the conclusion of the book, I felt she could have wrapped up the book differently (while maintaining the happy ending) and eliminated his story completely. There was also a section involving child rape that could have been left out.

Overall, this book was 'eh.'

Book Junkie's Grade: B-

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Book Junkie Beginnings

J.D., Julia and Amelia are the loves of my life. But my first true love? Books! It all started with the Wilton Cake Decorating Book around age 2. I would sit in one of our kitchen drawers (the one closest to the floor, which is the only one I could reach) and make up words to go with the pictures. Eventually, I learned to read and from that point on, there was no stopping me.

Most parents struggle to get their kids to open a book. I don't think my parents ever had this problem. In fact, I sometimes got in trouble for reading too much (in elementary school I discovered the temperature gauge for my electric blanket made a fabulous nightlight which enabled me to stay up to the wee hours reading..of course, I would be a total bear the following day being overtired). In the early years, I loved the adventures of The Berenstain Bears (The Spooky Old Tree is my fave), Harriett the Spy, The Babysitters Club and a great tale of pigs 'Oink and Pearl' (I wanted to name our family dog Pearl after the character..I was outvoted though and she became Kelly). For as long as I can remember, regardless of how busy I was (with school, work, or just life in general) I've always managed to carve out some time for books.

While I read mostly fiction, I will delve into anything that I find interesting. I love books that make me cry (The Notebook, The Dive Off Clausen's Pier, The Bridges of Madison County), books that make me laugh (the Amelia Peabody mysteries, British chick-lit), books that make me think about them long after I've finished them (We Need to Talk About Kevin, The Blind Assassin, Never Let Me Go) and books that transport me into a different world (Harry Potter series, The Glass Castle, Twilight series, most mysteries). There really is no limit to all the different types of books I love: mysteries, trashy romance novels, literature, history..they all give me a fix.

I've been pondering a 'book blog' for awhile and while I will mostly review books, I hope it inspires some of you to dedicate more time to reading. Even if you can only squeeze in a chapter a night, it is better than nothing! Or for those of you who hate reading or only read magazines..maybe you'll find that you love books after all (I'm just trying to spread the book love around!!). And for fellow book lovers like me, please email me book suggestions, I love suggestions.

One of my favorite quotes of all time:
"A book is a present you can open again and again."