Monday, October 26, 2009

Necroscope [Lumley]

Book: Necroscope
Author: Brian Lumley
Reason for Reading: for fun
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy

Review: 'Necroscope' is the first in a science fiction trilogy surrounding ideas and themes found in the popular NBC show 'Heroes'. The novel follows 2 main characters, British Harry Keogh (a necrosope who can speak with the dead) and Romanian Boris Dragosani (a necromancer, who learns the secrets of the dead by playing with and sometimes eating, their remains). As Harry is recruited to work for the secret British agency E-Branch, Dragosani is the second in command for Russian's top secret program, The Opposition. As Harry learns to harness his powers, Dragosani begins communicating with a powerful vampire, long buried, and hopes to increase his powers. Eventually, the two men meet and there is a powerful battle.

Overall: a detailed, comprehensive, exciting science fiction novel

Book Junkie's Grade: B+

A Touch of Dead [Harris]

Book: A Touch of Dead
Author: Charlaine Harris
Reason for Reading: fun
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy

Review: 'A Touch of Dead' includes 5 short stories about Louisiana's favorite telepath barmaid, Sookie Stackhouse. A few of the stories fill in gaps between books and should have been read while reading the novels, but for those of us who have to wait another 6months until book 10, this was a good fix!

Recommend: If you are a fan of the series, yes.

Book Junkie's Grade: B

The Sicilian [Puzo]

Book: The Sicilian
Author: Mario Puzo
Reason for Reading: for fun
Genre: Fiction

Review: The literary sequel to Puzo's most famous work 'The Godfather', 'The Sicilian' begins with Michael Corleone tasked with bringing Sicilian outlaw Turi Guiliano and his testament (a handwritten account of treachery and deceit within the Italian government) to America. The book then goes back in time and tells the story of Turi Guiliano-a poor yet beloved young man who becomes both outlaw and legend for the island for his robin hood antics.

More historical than 'The Godfather', Puzo does an excellent job painting the landscape and describing how Turi rose to power and tried to fight both the government and mafia (or 'Friends of the Friends' as they are referred to in Sicily). An engaging read, anyone who is interested in organized crime or heroes in general will enjoy this book.

Book Junkie's Grade: B+

Monday, October 12, 2009

Water for Elephants [Gruen]

Book: Water for Elephants
Author: Sara Gruen
Reason for Reading: book club
Genre: Fiction

Review: 23-year old Jacob has almost completed his veterinary studies at Cornell when his parents are killed in a tragic automobile accident. Unable to focus on his final exams, he abruptly leaves school, jumps a train, and becomes a veterinarian for a traveling circus.

Set during the Depression, '..Elephants' is filled with colorful characters, both human and animal. It is beautifully written and has elements of friendship, romance, murder and secrets. Jacob is a likable main character and while 'reveal' at the end of the book was anti-climatic, this was still an engaging read.

Book Junkie's Grade: B+

Savage Inequalities: Children in America's School [Kozol]

Book: Savage Inequalities: Children in America's Schools
Author: Jonathan Kozol
Reason for Reading: for fun
Genre: Nonfiction

Review: Based on research from 1989 to 1991, Kozol paints a vivid picture of public schools in America. He focuses primarily on poor inner city schools and their wealthy suburban counterparts. Kozol contends that poor children are cheated out of a future due to the appalling standards (lack of funds, not enough teachers, overcrowding), and believes racial segregation is alive and well in America contributing to these conditions.

Kozol does a good job exposing the poverty and decrepit condition with first hand accounts and interviews with administrators, teachers and students in cities such as East St. Louis, Camden, NJ, Bronx, NY, San Antonio, TX and Chicago, IL. Anyone reading this book would have to be heartless to not feel for the children who don't have access to a library, textbooks or toilet paper. He contrasts these schools with excepts from some of the top public schools in America. Comparing the best and worst is such a small slice of the pie that it would have been nice to see a comparison with moderate schools as well.

Kozol explains how property taxes impact school funding and explains how inner city schools are shortchanged. This is a reality and I agree that state funding should be more equalized. However-Kozol seems to have contempt for anyone with money (and especially those who have means to send their children to private school) and makes excuses for many of the parents in these impoverished area. He references suburban schools whose parents raise money so their kids can go on extravagant field trips (they should give the money to other schools) however he claims poorer parents don't have the means or ability (or are too intimidated due to generations of being put down) to take action.

Kozol's conclusion is that inner city "minority" schools near more funding and integration with suburban "white" schools so the minority children have a chance. While I don't disagree that money and integration will help some disadvantaged children, there are other issues that he ignores (crime, teen pregnancy, drugs, truancy) that are a critical part of solving this problem.

Overall-this was an interesting book.

Book Junkie's Grade: B+

Monday, October 5, 2009

Ella Minnow Pea [Dunn]

Book: Ella Minnow Pea
Author: Mark Dunn
Reason for Reading: for fun
Genre: Fiction

Review: Nollop, a fictional island and independent nation off the coast of South Carolina, gives homage to Nevin Nollop, the 'genius' who came up with the phrase 'The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.' Life is almost Utopian in Nollop until letters start falling off the '...quick brown fox...' inscription on a statue of Nollop. The counsel believes the letters falling are a sign from Nollop himself to cease use of the falling letters. One by one, Nollopian's over age 7 are banned from speaking or writing certain letters with severe punishment for those who disobey.

Told in a series of letters between residents, this is a clever read. As letters are banned, Dunn ceases using them and I cannot imagine how challenging writing this was. Anyone who considers themselves a wordsmith will love this book. It is smart, funny, heartbreaking and inspirational. It makes one think of how easy personal freedoms can be removed when a governing body makes decisions with such a grave impact. I could not stop thinking about Nazi Germany and how people around the world rationalized the government's decisions until they finally took action. (This book does not reference WWII or any other war, this is just a parrallel I saw).

Overall, this is one of the most original books I have ever read. A home run for Dunn!

Book Junkie's Grade: A-

Dangerous Pleasures [Small]

Book: Dangerous Pleasures
Author: Bertrice Small
Reason for Reading: for fun
Genre: Romance - Erotica

Review: A widowed mother of 5 children ranging from ages 4 to 17, Annie does not have time for herself. She has not moved on from her husband's death two years ago and she is financially strapped. When she wins a free trip to an exclusive spa in town, she is able to relax and rejuvenate. Before long, Annie is offered a part-time job at the spa with a high salary and perks that seems too good to be true. She works her way up the corporate ladder for the betterment of her family, while exploring her sexuality along the way.

After reading and enjoying a previous book by Small, I was expecting something similar in the ways of a love story with some virtual reality fantasy. Instead, this was an uneven book where I constantly scratched my head saying "this book has jumped ship." The situations were ludicrous (even by erotica standards) and the main character had a complete personality change as the book progressed. Dialogue was stilted and seemed forced. Overall-this was a terrible book.

Book Junkie's Grade: D