Sunday, May 19, 2013

It's a common theme in self-help books. I read twenty-two today.

Book Review!

My youngest sister (isn't that awkward phrasing. I usually say "my little sister" but I've been told that that can hardly be accurate. Which is actually true. I'm shortest in the family. But still, what am I supposed to say?) asked if I had read anything good lately, naturally I went on and on. To which she said, wow, sounds like time for a book review. So let me get started.

Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman

The Story:
There is an "above ground" London and an "underground" London, and Richard has an unexpected encounter that shifts his life from the normal, ordinary, even mundane London Above to a new and different life in London Below. In London Below, he embarks on a quest and because of the various tasks, learns new things about himself.

The Review:
I really enjoyed this. I like fantasy as a genre, but sometimes the worlds that authors are trying to create are really difficult to actually get in to. That was not the case with this book. It was easy and understandable. Richard joins a group of people and goes on a very typical-seeming fantasy quest. But I thought the novel was clever and had it's normal twists and turns that made it interesting. The characters were good and engaging.

Totally recommend it. And I would read more Neil Gaiman.

Gifted Hands by Ben Carson

The Story:
This is the true story of Ben Carson's life beginning with his childhood and then the start of his career to become a world-famous neurosurgeon. He is know for separating twins who were conjoined at the head.

The Review:
I thought this was a fantastic story. Ben Carson is very gifted and has amazing stories about his surgeries and his patients. What has stuck with me more though was what he told about his mom. She had a 3rd grade education, but made sure that both her sons worked their hardest and did their best. I was so impressed by her rules that she imposed when her kids were young and how they rose to meet her extremely high expectations. Seriously an amazing story.

The one detraction that I do have to say about this is that it is not well-written. And I found that so disappointing, because his life is so interesting and the writing was just so flat and didn't convey any of that. He actually had a ghost writer for this (although the ghost writer is acknowledged on the cover so maybe not totally ghost-y), and I just found myself thinking, wow, why pay a ghost writer? Or better, why not pay me? I can do better!

Despite that, I totally recommend this book.

Need by Carrie Jones

The Story:
So some teenage chick has to go live with her grandmother. Once she's there she discovers weird things happening and gold glitter. And the kids who have immediately befriended her are all a little weird and then she finds out they can shape shift. So can her grandma. And there's a bad pixie king who's out to get her, but really wants her mom.

The Review:
Why are all YA books rewrites of Twilight?

Ok, I'm starting the review that way a little sarcastically so that you can get the idea that I wasn't a fan of this. But I also mean it as a serious question. Why can't someone write a YA book that is something different?

I hated this. I don't recommend it.

Front Page Fatality by LynDee Walker

The Story:
The crime reporter for the Richmond Times goes to get the story on a case. As she interviews and works on the story, she begins to see more connections and finds she has a much bigger story.

The Review:
I enjoyed this. I thought it was cute. ... Ok, most mystery writers probably don't want their work described as "cute." But what I mean was it was light and entertaining. Although the case did get pretty big, it was not a dark mystery. It was still pretty light and you knew it would all work out. I liked the main character. She was fun. Think more along the lines of Castle.

Recommend it.

Swamplandia! by Karen Russell

The Story:
Swamplandia! is a family-run theme park in the Florida everglades. The theme and main attraction is alligators. The mother swims with gators, the father and kids wrestle gators, etc. The story begins with the mother dying from cancer, and what follows her death is a fight to keep Swamplandia! open for tourists and to keep the family together.

The Review:
This was billed as quirky and fun. It's definitely quirky. But because it starts with the mother's death, it's not fun. It basically tells the disintegration of a family. I compared it to The Glass Castle (a must-read), because the parents have chosen a weird/quirky alternative lifestyle and dragged the kids into it with them without seeming to realize the impact. The difference is The Glass Castle tells the story of the kids banding together to get out, but Swamplandia! just tells the story of everything falling apart. It was very sad and made me anxious as I read it.

Besides the topic, it is beautifully written and I was really sucked in and caught.

That said, it's an iffy recommendation. I didn't enjoy it necessarily, but it was definitely worth the time.

World War Z by Max Brooks

The Story:
It is ten years after the zombie apocalypse and the living humans' fight against the zombies. Our narrator interviews people all over the world in order to understand what happened to prepare a report for the UN. This though tells the human factor. He compiles all the interviews to tell us how the people reacted and responded and the impact of the zombies and the war against them.

The Review:
Lesson 1: Emily should not read zombie books right before bedtime.
Corollary 1: Emily should not start watching "The Walking Dead" no matter how many people recommend it.

And the funny part is I loved this book. I thought it was a great premise and set up for this type of story. I thought that it was creative with the types of people that were interviewed and how they told their stories. I bought into the entire thing, and was so sucked in that when I finished and left my house (or just put the book down and looked around me) I was like What's wrong with you people!! How can you just go on with a normal life after the zombie apocalypse!!

That being said, this was really rough. The language was rough, the subject matter was rough, it was a rough book.

And totally worth it.

The Art Forger by B.A. Shapiro

The Story:
There was a robbery at the Isabella Stewart Gardner museum of art in Boston. Millions of dollars worth of paintings were stolen, and it remains the largest unsolved art heist in history (Truth). Then (and this part is fiction) a painting is delivered to Claire Roth and artist who pays the bills by painting reproductions of famous masterpieces and specializes in Degas. She is asked to reproduce the painting, and when she opens it, she discovers that it is the stolen Degas.

The Review:
I totally loved this book. Aren't we all just fascinating by a huge heist? And money is cool, but art... stealing art is pretty impressive. So the theft angle was intriguing. And then as Claire works to create a master forgery of Degas' art, we get all kinds of stories of other famous forgers and how they accomplished their work and how they were caught. It was really fascinating.

Claire's story is also an interesting one. So I really enjoyed all the aspects of the book, and thought they were really woven together very well. It was a good, intriguing read. I recommend it!

The Magic by Rhonda Byrne

The not-a-story:
So this, as you can see, is one of the parts to "The Secret."

It is all about gratitude. It is basically a 28-day challenge to increase your gratitude and recognize the good in your life no matter what else is going on.

The Review:
I'm finally writing a review of this, because I finally made it through all 28 days straight. I worked on it for quite a while, but had to keep starting over.

I like the premise of gratitude. I know that I can definitely be more grateful, and I liked having particular tasks assigned that helped me to recognize the good that I have in a bunch of different areas.

If you feel like you could use more gratitude, I'd suggest checking it out.