Speed Round

Steaming cup of coffee? Check.

How do I learn how to do this?!


Cuddly blanket and a comfy seat on the couch, complete with cat sitting on my legs? Check.

Let’s get down to the reviews, shall we?

Unfortunately, many of the books on my pile are sequels to others. I have to say, writing a review of a sequel is really hard. How much do I give away? How much do I have to avoid if you haven’t read the previous books? This is my conundrum, but we will see how this goes.


City of Glass by Cassandra Clare
2009, 541 pages

City of Glass is the third entry in Clare’s Mortal Instruments series. Based on reading the book jacket, I think that this was originally supposed to be a trilogy. However, it has since expanded to five books with a spin off series as well.

This book involves main character Clary and friends traveling to Alicante, the city of Shadowhunters, to try and convince them that Valentine, evil Shadowhunter who wants to get rid of all Shadowhunters who accept Downworlds (mortals, vampires, werewolves, etc.), needs to be stopped. There is a battle, naturally.

I did not enjoy this book as much as the first two. It involved some skimming at the end. It just did not have as much suspense as the first two. I was able to guess how things were going to go. I also think that it wrapped up the trilogy pretty well, and so it did not need to include two more books.

Rating: 3 out of 5 bedazzles


If the Shoe Fits by Megan Mulry
2013, 313 pages

I thought that this was going to be some form of romance in which it reinterprets a fairy tale. I like those. It was not that. Sarah James, shoe designer, has a weekend fling with Devon Heyworth, earl of something-or-other. They then decide that they want to be together. Misunderstandings ensue, and they end up happily ever after.

It was not the best of romance. Other issue, totally not enough shoes.

Rating: 2 out of 5 bedazzles

And now we come to the new category of book reviews: the audiobook.

My commute is now about 40 minutes, which means that I spend almost an hour and a half in the car every day. The radio gets boring pretty quickly, so I have decided to begin borrowing audiobooks. My first audiobook, not a success.


The Suitors by Cecile David-Weill
2013, 7 discs and 8 hours 47 minutes

Oh my issues with this book. It was translated from French, and I just wonder if it read much better in French instead of in English. The story is about Laure Etangre and her sister Marie, who find out that their parents are going to sell their Mediterranean vacation home. They are rich, their parents are rich, and their friends are rich. The two girls decide that they should search for rich suitors to marry in order to keep their vacation home. Yeah, that is the plot.

Nothing really happens in the book, just minute descriptions of dinners and lunches and obnoxious people.

Another huge problem: the narrator. I didn’t care for her voice, accent, or the way that she read the book. It was allllll bad times. But I finished it, so I guess good job me?

Rating: 1 out of 5 bedazzles

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I am neglecting my blogging duties…

Well, it is official, the summer has ended. It really ended for me last week, as there was inservice and new teacher orientation to be attended to, but this week it is truly over as today was day two in school for kiddos.

Gone is the ability to read for hours and do nothing while soaking up the sunshine. Instead I have to start planning lessons and finding ways to get kids a little bit excited about literacy. Let’s face it, sometimes that is a tall order. Because of this, I have not been reading as much lately, and I definitely have not been thinking of writing blog entries either. So these will be short, and sweet, and very vague as my brain capacity seems to have shrunk this week. Really, it’s amazing I am even awake at this point, regardless of the fact that it is only 6 pm. This is what the first week of teaching does to you.


The Infernals by John Connolly
2011, 309 pages

Sadly, The Infernals is just not quite as good as The Gates. My theory is that the first one was so well done that there was just nowhere for the second book to go. In this version, instead of the demons coming back to Earth, it somehow ends up that some Earthlings, mostly characters from the first book, find themselves in Hell. Naturally, it is a depressing place. And the story is a little depressing too.

All in all, read the first one, skip the second one. While there are some interesting parts, there just isn’t enough to save it from being mediocre at best.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 bedazzles


Free Range Chickens by Simon Rich
2008, 176 pages

This book is described as a series of jokes. And some of them are jokes, while others are more like short stories. Either way, they were all hilarious. I was going to include my favorite bits, but I think you should just read the book and find them for yourselves. It’s less than 200 pages, you can do this, reader!

Rating: 4 out of 5 bedazzles


New York by Edward Rutherfurd
2009, 862 pages

This is the book that has been sucking up all of my spare time. And I totally skimmed the last couple of chapters. But the book is a freaking doorstop! It’s sooooo long. If you remember, I reviewed Paris, which is similar to this one in that it explores the history of the city through a select number of families, with all of them crossing paths at one point or another.

New York does this as well, but the majority focuses on the Master family, descended from one of the original Dutch families that settled New Amsterdam and which later became New York. It includes quite a few chapters before we even get to the American Revolution, which I thought was interesting just because I had no idea.

Anyway, it goes up through 2008. Yes, there is a chapter on 9/11. And lots and lots of other stuff. It was interesting. But long. And my attention span can’t handle that much longness.

Rating: 2.75 out of 5 bedazzles

Books I Read While Camping

Ahhh camping

Ahhh camping

Camping: the time to sleep outdoors, on the ground, with a giant Snuffleupagus waiting until dark to sniff around and look for tasty treats. (It was actually a raccoon, but it was very loud, and snorted, and sounded enormous) Also, the time to kayak on a lake, in the sun, and chase a loon across the water. Cocktail hour, game time, and lots and lots of time to read. These are the things that happen when camping. With that in mind, here are the books that I finished while camping.

Let’s start off with the bad.


The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
2013, 181 pages

I enjoy Neil Gaiman, I really do. And the reason I didn’t like this one may just be that I was not in the proper mood to actually read it and enjoy it. My friend Alyisha told me I would like it because there are talking cats….but I never got that far. I made it through the prologue and then the first two incidents in the first chapter: the boy has a seventh birthday party that nobody comes to and he gets a cat, which is then run over. That was all I needed to be done. A birthday party with no one coming is just too SAD to even get past.

I’m sure it picks up afterwards, but those were my reasons for not continuing. I will maybe pick it back up in the future, when I’m in a different frame of mind, and it will be okay then.

Rating: 1 out of 5 bedazzles

The mediocre:


Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Ann Fowler
2013, 352 pages

The story is interesting, how Zelda Sayre, Alabama debutante, became Mrs. F. Scott Fitzgerald. Parties, drinks, flitting around the world, Fitzgerald himself, who’s a bit of an ass, and her stints in mental hospitals are all included. Yet for all that this could be truly fascinating, it was just okay.

I’m not sure if it is the use of the pronoun “I” that bugged me, maybe I wanted it to be in the third-person? Maybe that while it was clearly passing quickly through the twenty or so years of her marriage to Fitzgerald, there were no dates, nothing to ground it to. I feel that historical fiction needs to help you figure out when it is happening. Here, there was mostly nothing.

I do have a biography of her on my Kindle, one of those 99 cent deals that they do, and maybe that will help make me like the book more.

Rating: 3 out of 5 bedazzles

The Good


The Shambling Guide to New York City by Mur Lafferty
2013, 368 pages

Why do all of the books that I actually enjoyed have magic and demons in them? This is probably Alyisha’s fault, for recommending them as that seems to be much of what she reads. 🙂 Or I am just sick of reality at the moment? Anyway, this is neither here nor there.

The book starts out with Zoe trying to find a job. She has recently relocated after a disastrous affair with her boss at a publishing house in the South, and has moved to New York City. She’s at the end of her money and needs a job. Lo and behold, she comes across an ad for Underground Publishing, who are looking to hire a publisher to make travel guides for New York City. Zoe immediately applies, because it’s right up her alley. However, the owner and others don’t seem to think that it’s a good idea. Why would that be? Well, they’re demons of course.

Zoe does eventually get the job, and has to learn the ropes of working with the coterie, basically demons/monsters/supernatural beings. Zoe works with a water sprite, goddess of the night, incubus, succubus, vampire, and zombies. While she’s figuring all of this out, the reader does too.

It’s humorous, well written, imaginative (I assume, it was for me) and a quick read. All of the things that you look for while camping.

Rating: 4 out of 5 bedazzles


The Gates by John Connolly
2009, 296 pages

This one was by far my favorite. It’s as if Douglas Adams wrote it, but made things a bit creepier. It’s full of footnotes, which are surprisingly not annoying, and very entertaining.

The story is that Samuel Johnson and his dog Boswell see the Abernathys, their neighbors, summon the Great Malevolence, or the Devil, open a door between worlds. The GM’s right hand demon, Ba’al, comes through and tries to take over the world, while masquerading as Mrs. Abernathy.

This one I actually started before vacation, so I have some favorite quote bits for you.

First, these are demons: O’Dear, the Demon of People Who Look in Mirrors and Think They’re Overweight and his twin, O’Really, the Demon of People Who Look in Mirrors and Think They’re Slim When They’re Not.

“Nurd gave himself the title of “Scourge of Five Deities.” He “had been something of a bother to five different demonic entities…Schwell, the Demon of Uncomfortable Shoes; Ick, the Demon of Unpleasant Things Discovered in Plug Holes During Cleaning; Graham, the Demon of Stale Biscuits and Crackers; Mavis, the Demon of Inappropriate Names for Men; and last, and quite possibly least, Erics’, the Demon of Bad Punctuation.”

I think the Demon of Bad Punctuation is clearly my favorite.

So it’s funny, entertaining, and all around awesome. There’s a second one, The Infernals, which I will hopefully be finishing this afternoon. Hurray! Read it, I say!

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 bedazzles

Paris


Paris By Edward Rutherfurd
2013, 809 pages

This book is not for the faint of heart. At 809 pages, it is a time commitment. And a shoulder commitment, if you plan on hauling it around in paper form.

I believe I have mentioned, in the past, that I enjoy my books to be linear. I like point A to point B, and in a timely manner. Paris, on the other hand, does not follow such conventions. It spans Paris’ history from 1261 up to 1968. Why would I still read this, you ask? Well, I’m a little bit Paris obsessed.

I studied French for 9 years, studied abroad in France for 3 months of college, and have been to Paris twice. It is my favorite place ever. I still remember seeing the Eiffel Tower for the first time, it was pretty great.

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Anywho, one of the reasons that bouncing around in history doesn’t bother me is that I have taken enough courses on French history to have a bit of background about what is happening during the time. Naturally, there are the usual characters. The merchant, the artist, the Jewish banker, the noble, the working class, the eccentric aunt, the revolutionary. Each of them has their own part to play. Essentially the story that is told, through all these centuries, is told through 6 families. They interact, marry each other in the different centuries, and shows how interwoven lives can be.

Highlights:

Gustave Eiffel appears and the building of the Statue of Liberty and the Eiffel Tower are involved.

Other historical figures that I know about appearing and interacting. I enjoy these things. Monet, famous writers, etc. I enjoy it all.

“He knew his duty…if he married the girl, he’d certainly be doing that. But the family motto also came into his mind. ‘According to God’s will.’ He would be guided by it. If God sent him a sign—if, for instance, his bride should die before their wedding day—that would be a clear signal that God did not want the marriage.” (244) Well, I suppose that would be one way to look at it…funny.

“He bowed and smiled, thought he had still not comprehended that [when the flowers were delivered], neatly tied to the stem of one of the roses was a little packet of cocaine…for cordials containing cocaine were even then being enjoyed, and publicly recommended, by such worth persons as Thomas Edison and Queen Victoria in Britain.” (272) This particular scene happens in 1897. I believe I have already mentioned how crazy I find it that cocaine was just out and about during this time. But I do, and so to find it mentioned is just crazy.

Not So Good:

Medieval times just doesn’t do it for me. So, essentially, all chapters that took place before the 1600s, you know, before Louis XIV and all the Belle Epoque and such, felt like something I had to slog through. Not that it was bad, I still learned things, but I definitely have certain periods that I like to read about and medieval France was not one of them.

It was very long. I enjoyed it, but seriously. There were soooo many pages!

So, the author has also written New York and London. I picked up New York for vacation. Camping next week will be spent sitting and reading, reading, reading! I can’t wait!

Long story short, rating: 4 out of 5 bedazzles

Books, Books, Books

I have so many books that I have to have custom made bookcases because I would have to buy numerous regular bookcases in order to fit everything in them. And the problem is getting worse. Although, part of it might be that teaching in elementary schools means that I have gone through and liberated all picture books from when I was young so that they are now in easy reach for lessons. We will not, however, mention the number of children’s books that have been purchased this summer. That would be a mistake. However, if you too enjoy picture books, please buy this one:

It makes me so happy!

Anyway, back to my books. I own novels, teaching books, French books and, for some reason, a lot of crossword puzzle books. I should really finish some of those before buying another one, although that doesn’t appear to be what I do. All of this explains this:

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That, my friends, is the before. I liberated the many boxes and suitcases that had been waiting, full of books, in the garage for a month to have a new home. Sadly, after taking that picture I found two more boxes of books to add to the collection.

Because I need custom bookcases, I decided that I wanted the bookcase to look like steps, and have it get progressively higher up the wall. After coming up with the idea, my father designed and then built them. I painted them and now it looks like this:

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Sadly all the picture books are pretty much under the bed, but you get the idea.

And that, my friends, is the tale of how one day I was crushed underneath a ton of books. (That’s totally going to be how it all ends, I will be crushed by my own book obsession.)

Natural History of Dragons


A Natural History of Dragons: A Memoir by Lady Trent
Written by Marie Brennan
2013, 336 pages

Generally I don’t review the books that I don’t finish. You, my loyal reader of one (just a guess, maybe there is more), said that you were contemplating reading it. I originally said that it was good, so I think you deserve some reasons why I read about two-thirds of this and then abandoned it.

So, I started out all excited and enjoying the book. The book describes the emerging field of dragonology, when no one knew anything about dragons. Lady Trent became a huge researcher in the field. This book describes her getting into the field and her first real adventure.

As I was saying, the beginning was good. Lady Trent, naturally, is not allowed to study dragons as she wants because that is not allowed. I feel like this book is written in the future, but I’m not sure why in the future everything goes back to life in the 18th century or something. Someone needs to explain why that happens in every book, because it does not make sense.

Anyway, Lady Trent begins to do research about dragons. She goes on a mission with some men to find and document the first dragon and to save it for posterity. There were monsters, suspicious villagers, and dragons. Sounds like a good story, yes? No, not so much.

Here’s the problem. The book advertises dragons, and yet they are missing in the story. I read about two thirds, and I think there were a total of five dragons mentioned in the whole thing. Those are not good ratios.

What I first appreciated, the fact that it was written as a real memoir, quickly got boring. I finally could not deal with it.

Summary: It got boring, there were not enough dragons, and all of the writing about how they had to do all this stuff to find a dragon did not make it awesome. Similarly, an evil demon appearing did not save the book.

Rating: 1 out of 5 bedazzles

Cloaked


Cloaked by Alex Flinn
2011, 341 pages

Continuing the fairy tale theme, and still living on the surface of the sun, means that there are more YA novels to read and review!

Cloaked is the story of Johnny, a 17-year old boy living in South Beach and working in his family’s shoe repair shop in a hotel. Princess Victoriana, of Aldoria (I think, or Aldonia), arrives and within a few days of their first meeting asks Johnny for his help.

Victoriana’s brother, the future king of Aldonia (or Aldoria) is missing. He has been turned into a frog by an evil witch who wants Victoriana to marry an evil prince so that he will be king, not the brother. First Johnny thinks that it must be a crazy tale, but then…not so much. Victoriana promises to marry Johnny if he succeeds in his quest.

With the aid of a magic cloak, Johnny goes on a quest to find the missing prince. Along the way he meets talking swans (they are used-to-bes, as in, they used to be human), talking rats, a talking fox, an evil witch and her scary murderous son, giants, brownies (the elves/fairies, not the food) and tries to figure out what to do with the girls in his life.

Quick read, had a lot of fairy tales mixed in and referenced, and was generally a good time.

Rating: 4 out of 5 bedazzles

Leaping Beauty


I feel that I live there. Seriously, this weather is ridiculous! It’s hot, and sticky, and it turns me into a vegetable who cannot see the point of moving. It feels like the sun is trying to cook my brain and it will ooze out my ears. If I were a zombie, now would be the time to make my attack. Seriously. No one should run in this heat, and it causes all sorts of questionable decisions and the inability to form coherent thoughts. It would be prime zombie-dining-time. But that is not what this is about, although it is actually related.

Due to the hot weather, I am all about the easy reads. This means that I have spent a lot of time with YA novels, and with general books for kids. I am also teaching summer school for the next three weeks and we are doing a unit on fairy tales. This brings us to today’s pick.


Leaping Beauty and other animal fairy tales by Gregory Maguire
2004, 197 pages

The premise is that Maguire (he of Wicked fame) took common fairy tales and retold them with twists, and animals at the main characters. For example, Goldilocks becomes “Goldiefox and the three chickens.” Hansel and Gretel becomes “Hamster and Gerbil.” I love it for that premise alone. Oh, but it gets better.

In the story, “Leaping Beauty,” instead of the princess being destined to prick her finger on a spinning wheel, the frog princess is destined to “bite down on a stray explosive from some stupid human engineering project, and you shall blow yourself to smithereens!”

“Hamster and Gerbil” opens with the following paragraph:

“Once there was a happy family who lived in a beaver dam. Not surprisingly, they were beavers. That is, the father and the mother were beavers. The children were adopted. There was a boy named Hamster and a girl named Gerbil. Not surprisingly, they were a hamster and a gerbil. Hamster was the hamster, and Gerbil was the gerbil.”

Finally, “The Three Little Penguins and the Big Bad Walrus”:

“Once there were three little penguins who lived in an igloo with their mother. The oldest penguin liked to eat fish. The middle penguin liked to eat fish. The youngest penguin liked to get dressed up in a ballet costume and put on a show. This was not usual for penguins, and it worried old Mama Penguin a lot.”

If these things do not convince you of the joy that is this book, I am not sure what will.

Rating: 5 out of 5 bedazzles

YA Palooza!

My life is a bit hectic. Moving, jobs, online class, upcoming trip to Canada, teaching summer school and my summer is pretty much booked. And yet, there is still a need for reading fun things that are not curriculum related (seriously, so boring!!). So, this morning I went to my new library, got a card and then raided the YA section. And so now, here I am.


City of Bones by Cassandra Clare
2007, 485 pages

I admit, I grabbed this one because it was in a book display with books that are turning into movies. I usually hate jumping on a bandwagon, particularly those that involve movie tie-ins.

However, the Pooka recommended it and also, I liked it. Go figure!

The main thing that this has going for it is that it is way darker than the usual YA stuff. Much less romance, less angsty teenage girl, more kicking ass and taking names.

The gist of the book is this: Shadowhunters live in our world. They are supposed to protect the DownWorlders and mundanes (humans) from demons and general awfulness. Clary is a teenage girl who is suddenly introduced to this world that lives parallel to the regular, mundane world. She makes some friends, kills some demons, et cetera, et cetera. Also, there is an evil Shadowhunter who wants to enslave all mundanes and Downworlders.

So, it sort of sounds like the plot from some of the Harry Potter books, but again, it’s darker.

My favorite things:
1. There is a cat named Chairman Meow. Brief appearance, but awesome name.
2. This quote. There is a discussion about how real men are terse and then this: “That’s why when major badasses greet each other in movies, they don’t say anything, they just not. The nod means, ‘I am a badass, and I recognize that you, too, are a badasss,’ but they don’t say anything becasue they’re Wolverine and Magneto and it would mess up their vibe to explain.” 🙂

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 bedazzles


City of Ashes by Cassandra Clare
2008, 453 pages

Sequel to City of Bones. On a side note, why do so many YA novels have sequels, and then a hundred other books that follow? Why isn’t one good enough? Anyway, not the point.

This book continues with the general supernatural beings: werewolves, vampires, fairies, demons. Clary and her friends are trying to figure out some things, like what the evil Shadowhunter is up to. There is much soul searching and new information to be learned. Naturally, a big battle plays a large part of the story.

How’s that for concise?! I don’t want to give anything away because the series is good, and this one just builds off the first one, so, read them! That is my suggestion. The second one did not disappoint at all.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 bedazzles


The Selection by Kiera Cass
2012, 327 pages

Ok. Imagine that you are reading The Hunger Games. Now, same future world with castes, same people trying to earn a living and dreaming of a better life. Same lottery thing. However, instead of a lottery to become a Tribute and fight other people to the death, it’s a lottery to find a new princess for the land of Illea. All girls send their names to a selection committee and then are chosen to meet and woo the prince…or the prince will woo them. Their family will also move from whatever caste they are now (One through Eights, Eights being awful, Ones being the best) and will become Ones….or Twos. I haven’t quite figured out the caste situation yet.

America Singer, who is a singer, and a Five, has fallen in love with Aspen, a Seven, and that’s just not going to work. He convinces her to put her name in for the Selection, and she is chosen. That means she moves to the capital to try and win the prince in marriage!

I really enjoyed this book. Since it was about a million degrees today, it was almost as good as ice cream. I just sat and read and enjoyed. I think one of the reasons that I enjoyed it is that this girl is no push over. She doesn’t suddenly go nuts over the Prince just because she should. She sticks to her guns and really thinks about what she wants. None of this falling in love and being married to a soulmate at 17 or whatever. She actually thinks about it! Hurray!

(I’m not ruining anything. How else could there be a sequel if she decided super fast?!)

The other thing that I enjoyed is when you get snippets of the “history” that was created for this future world. The country of Illea was once North America. However, China took over the United States, because we owed them so much money. It wasn’t great when America was run by China, so all of North America came together to fight, and thus, it became Illea, with a king and queen instead of presidents. I also enjoy that some neighboring royals came to visit who were from Swedway…perhaps Sweden and Norway have become one?

Rating: 4.75 out of 5 bedazzles


Shopping, Seduction and Mr. Selfridge, Lindy Woodhead

Reading this has made me realize one very important thing. I could totally be rich living in the 1920s. I mean, there were no limits! Want an airplane, sure, go out and get one! You want a castle, go find some member of the nobility hard up for cash, and voila! Castle is yours! Flappers wore shoes with a place in the heel for a compact, for their makeup…..or their COCAINE! I don’t know why the cocaine is the part that I find so crazy, but it makes me do this:

(Yes! Minions! New movie out tomorrow and I’m super excited!)

The book isn’t actually all about that, but a lot of it is. It follows the career off Harry Selfridge, who started working at Marshall Fields before moving to England and building the giant store, Selfridges.

It looks like this, is in London, and Selfridge had a lot to do with what it looks like.

He dated actresses, spend ridiculous amounts of money gambling and was eventually fired from his own store. Regardless of this, Selfridge was actually important in creating the world of shopping. And we all know that I enjoy that world immensely.

Selfridge created the first true department store where people could
1. touch the merchandise
2. see everything laid out in tasteful displays instead of having everything either in the back or crammed together
3. browse without being hounded by store clerks
4. shop in a Bargain Basement
5. view elaborate window displays. The man created window shopping!

He was also the first to recognize the importance and effectiveness of advertising—and did a lot of it. He had many events in his store, including fashion shows, displays of airplanes and demonstrations of television (in the 1920s, who knew?!) He also had demonstrations by the professional sports players of they day, which coincided with sales on specific sports equipment, naturally.

Consensus: Very interesting history of shopping, but could focus a little more on his crazy personal life. Man had some serious issues.

Rating: 3.25 out of 5 bedazzles.