Tuesday, April 20, 2010

60. Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater

My friend Sarah recommended Shiver to me, and I immediately placed a request for it at the library. I will always, always take Sarah's recommendations. Not only does she have good taste but she's also a librarian and YA/children's author. She's currently revising her first YA novel, and I am dying to read it. Luckily, Sarah's in the market for a proofreader so I get to read it before she publishes. You should visit her blog, The Restless Writer, to read more about her writing adventures. (She mentions Shiver and its upcoming sequel in this post.)

The cold. Grace has spent years watching the wolves in the woods behind her house. One yellow-eyed wolf - her wolf - watches back. He feels deeply familiar to her, but she doesn't know why. The heat. Sam has lived two lives. As a wolf, he keeps the silent company of the girl he loves. And then, for a short time each year, he is human, never daring to talk to Grace . . . until now. The shiver. For Grace and Sam, love has always been kept at a distance. But once it's spoken, it cannot be denied. Sam must fight to stay human - and Grace must fight to keep him - even if it means taking on the scars of the past, the fragility of the present, and the impossibility of the future.

Plot summary lifted from the book jacket. Colin typed it up for me because he can't stand my hunt-and-peck typing.

I liked Shiver, but I didn't love it. It's definitely well-written and tells an interesting story. There's one specific reveal of information that I was pretty impressed by -- looking back, the clues are there but the reveal wasn't spoiled. I love that. Stiefvater skillfully laid the groundwork for a sequel, without leaving issues unresolved in a way that would frustrate readers. All in all, I thought it was a solidly decent YA novel.

So why didn't I love it? Shiver is the first YA novel that I've read that I honestly felt like I was too old to read it. (For the record, I'm 29 years old. I'll have to change the About Me section of the blog come November!) For example, throughout the book Sam thinks of song lyrics to describe the way he feels. The song lyrics made me cringe a little. I'm too old and jaded to appreciate them! While I appreciated the story, it just didn't grab me whole-heartedly. I'm not sure yet if I'm going to read the sequel this summer, but I am a little curious about what happens next so I might have to. If you have love for the YA or paranormal romance genres, I recommend trying out Shiver. I would be interested to hear your thoughts on it!

Monday, April 19, 2010

59. If You Have To Cry, Go Outside by Kelly Cutrone

If you watch as much reality TV as I do, chances are you know who Kelly Cutrone is by now. She terrorized the girls on The Hills (and, to a lesser extent, The City), popped up in Project Runway season one winner Jay McCarroll's documentary Eleven Minutes, and now has her own show on Bravo chronicling the ups and downs at her fashion PR firm, People's Revolution. (That last one is Kell on Earth, it's strangely addictive.) She makes for good TV, so I knew that I had to try out her book. I wasn't sure what to expect, but it wasn't too long and I figured this would be probably be a fun way to spend a Saturday afternoon.

Kelly Cutrone has long been mentoring women on how to make it in one of the most competitive industries in the world. She has kicked people out of fashion shows, forced some of reality television's shiny stars to fire their friends, and built her own company -- one of the most powerful PR firms in the fashion business -- from the ground up. Through it all, she has refused to be anything but herself. Kelly writes in her trademark, no-bullshit style, combining personal and professional stories to share her secrets for success without selling out. Let's face it: this is a different world than the one in which our mothers grew up, and Kelly has created a real girl's guide to making it in today's world. Offering a wake-up call to women everywhere, she challenges us to stop the dogged pursuit of the "perfect life" and discover who we are and what we really want. The she shows us how to go out there and get it. Much of our culture teaches us to muzzle our inner voice and follow the crowd; Kelly enables us to stop pretending and start truly living. With chapters on how to find your tribe (those like-minded souls who make your heart sing), how sometimes a breakdown is really a breakthrough, and how there is no such thing as perfection, Kelly also shares practical advice, such as how to create a personal brand and how sometimes you have to fake it to make it.

Summary lifted from amazon.com. 

If You Have To Cry, Go Outside is part autobiography and part how-to. Kelly uses stories from her life to illustrate points she's making, and shares how she has learned from various mistakes. I found it to be a very effective writing style; I was engaged with the personal stories and that made me pay attention when she described her methods for succeeding. I have to say, though, reading this book made one thing abundantly clear to me:


Okay, not really. But I am mildly horrified by Kelly's life story. By my count, Kelly has: had problems with addiction, been married and divorced twice, been totally impractical in countless ways, and taken this absolutely crazy path to enlightenment. I am at my core a very practical person, and some of Kelly's "adventures" had me cringing and shaking my head. She also talks a lot about creating your own religion that honors you; she believes you should study many religions and practice the parts that make sense to you. Now, in theory this makes a lot of sense. But I couldn't help thinking that a lot of it sounded like hippie crap. So I won't be taking all of Kelly's advice but I enjoyed reading it and I did find the experience valuable. Although Kelly came off as kind of out there to me, I think reading what she has to say opened me up to some new ideas. And I appreciate that she seemingly genuinely wants to share what she knows to help the next generation of young women.  

One last thing. The full book title is If You Have To Cry, Go Outside: And Other Things Your Mother Never Told You. I would just like to go on record that my mother did tell me that. (And it has come in handy a few times.) Thank you, Mom!

58. Cage of Stars by Jaquelyn Mitchard

At some point I added Cage of Stars to my master spreadsheet that tracks what books I have read for this project and what books I might want to read for it. For the life of me I can't remember when I heard about it or where, but I have a vague memory of thinking the plot sounded interesting. Unfortunately, I haven't been able to find any articles or reviews about this book on my usual sites, so I can't recall exactly why it sounded interesting. 

Ronnie Swan is a sheltered young girl from a deeply religious family whose childhood abruptly ends when she witnesses the murder of her two younger sisters. At not quite 13 years old, Ronnie is baby-sitting on a bright fall day, hiding in the shed as she waits for her sisters to find her. Instead of their excited laughter, there is only silence. When Ronnie opens the door, it is to a sight that will crack her life in two. The murderer, Scott Early, is a young graduate student suffering from schizophrenia who is given treatment, rather than punishment. Upon his release from the mental health facility a few years later, Ronnie's parents meet with Scott and his wife and find relief in forgiveness. Ronnie, who went from a carefree girl to an overburdened adult in a child's body in a matter in minutes, cannot. As she enters adulthood, she carefully plans out her revenge and sets out to hand Scott the punishment she feels he never received.

I drew from the (really long) plot summary on jackiemitchard.com while composing the above overview.

I really can't remember why I wanted to read this book, but I have a feeling that I thought it was more suspenseful. You know, will Ronnie be able to carry about her plan? That kind of thing. This book is really more about the process of grieving and ultimately very sad. I think you're supposed to find it uplifting at the end, but I didn't. I generally take away the sad instead of the uplifting, though.

I would advise you to steer clear of this book if you have no interest in the Mormon faith. Ronnie's family is Mormon, and there is a great deal of information about the religion and day-to-day life of a practicing Mormon family. It's as though Ronnie, our narrator, is telling this story to someone unfamiliar with the subject and has to take frequent tangents to put everything into context. I happen to have known most of the information already, so I got bored a lot. (Side note: I have a weird fascination with the FLDS cult and learned more about the LDS than I expected to when reading up on the fundamentalist off-shoot.) I don't know, maybe it was just that Ronnie's faith was such a big part of her life, motivations, world view that all of the background information simply couldn't be avoided. For whatever the reason, it didn't appeal to me.  

There were bits of foreshadowing that I liked, as always, but they fell a little flat at the end. Overall, the pace was kind of slow and I felt bored most of the time. It became a book that I just had to get through, which is never good. I don't necessarily think this is a bad book, it's just not what I expected and not really what I'm interested in. 

Sunday, April 18, 2010

57. The Godfather by Mario Puzo

I don't really remember why I chose to read The Godfather. I saw the movie once in high school; a few of my friends who took the film class were assigned to see a showing of the movie adaptation at the Main Art in Royal Oak and I tagged along. I vividly remembered the scene with the horse head, but other than that I just remembered it being really long. But for some reason, I thought of The Godfather when I was trying to find a book in the movie adaptation category and I suddenly felt really excited to read it. (And it didn't hurt that the edition for Kindle on PC only cost $6.39.)

I couldn't find a succinct plot summary anywhere, so I thought about attempting to write one myself... but come on. You know the basics, right? (If not, do a quick Google search and you'll find over 3 million results to sift through. Go ahead, I'll wait.)

I was not expecting to like The Godfather as much as I did. It is a definite page-turner, or whatever the equivalent is when you're reading on-screen, and each time I had to stop reading I was anxious to get back to it. The book opens with the wedding of Don Corleone's daughter Connie, just as the movie version opens, and it's a very effective way to immerse readers into this world. I found it easy to keep track of who the characters were and what was happening, which I was a little surprised by. After all, there is a lot going on. But Puzo doesn't overwhelm you with information, and I found myself hungry for more background and more information. I was completely engrossed in this new setting and then the story moved into the war between the five families, and it became very suspenseful. That was actually my favorite part of the book, which is unusual for me -- I've mentioned time and time again in these reviews how I get lost in action sequences. So I was pretty impressed while reading that I was so hooked during this part. 

The filmmakers had to cut out a lot when putting together the movie, and I think they made smart choices. I re-watched the movie after finishing the book, and it seemed like they chose to include all of the parts of the book that I liked the best. But there's no comparison here for me -- I definitely like reading the book better than watching the movie. I don't think the movie envelopes you in this world as effectively as the book does. For example, Michael's trip to Italy. In the book, Michael spends a lot of time with one of men who he's staying with and learns from his stories about how his father's world works. He comes back to New York with this greater understanding of his father and is comfortable joining the family business. In the movie, Michael's trip is kind of pointless. I think they tried to make the murder of his wife Michael's motivation for working with his father, but I'm not buying it. 

Also, I prefer the pacing in the book. This may be due in part to the fact that I didn't grow up loving the movie. I do know people my age who have seen the movie a million times and are totally devoted to it. I think watching it for the first time as an adult, you'll probably find the pacing of the movie to be extremely slow. That's one of the things that Colin mentions in his review of the movie, and I agree with. Although, he really didn't enjoy the wedding scene and thought it was overly long. After reading the book and re-watching the movie, I told him how much longer that scene could have been! But honestly, you don't even think about that when you're reading. For me, the time reading really flew by and I was sad when I finished the book. It's the kind of book that I wish I could read for the first time again. 

Saturday, April 17, 2010

56. Y, The Last Man, No. 1 Unmanned, by Brian K. Vaughn

I knew about this series of graphic novels because of Lost. I'm the type of viewer that reads four or five blog recaps after each episode, because I can't possibly take in all of the details and wrap my mind around the bigger picture at the same time. (It's a tough show.) After one episode, last season I think, all of the posts I read mentioned that Hurley was reading Y the Last Man in one scene. For some reason, that title stuck in my mind and I recognized it when I asked around for graphic novel recommendations and a couple of people brought it up. I could tell that Colin thought it would be cool if I read it, and I love when he thinks I'm cool, so I checked out volume one, Unmanned, from the library.

Yorick Brown is an escape artist; has a fabulous girlfriend who's traveling in Australia; and possesses a genetic make-up that's allowed him to survive a plague that killed every male being on the planet except for him and his pet monkey. Yorick is the last man on earth, and in the resulting chaos, he must find a way to help save the human race. At least that's what the (now all-female) government thinks. Yorick would prefer to find his girlfriend, but it's hard to get a flight halfway around the world when almost all the pilots and mechanics are gone. It's hard enough to drive down the block, since the streets are jammed with the cars of men who were behind the wheel when the instantaneous plague hit. Furthermore, the entire social fabric has gone to hell, with gun-wielding wives of Republican representatives insisting on getting their husbands' seats and tribes of latter-day Amazons claiming males were meant to die. Since Yorick's mother is a congresswoman, he's protected by secret spies. And his escape skills come in handy when he's trapped first by a marauding garbage-woman and then by his mother, as she tries to keep him from doing anything stupid. Meanwhile, who are the mysterious Israeli soldiers who seem so gratified by the situation, and why is Yorick's sister so intent on joining the Amazons? 

Plot summary lifted from amazon.com. 

I can sum up this review in one sentence: Dude, it was awesome! No, really it was. I loved it. This world is intensely interesting; I love reading about these characters and how each react to this bizarre situation. Unmanned has a little bit of everything: tongue-in-cheek humor, action, intrigue, pathos. I was really disappointed when I found out that the library doesn't carry all of the volumes, because I immediately wanted to devour the rest of them. I'll probably invest in buying them at some point; I can see tearing through them and then re-reading more carefully every once in awhile. I highly recommend checking this series out. 

Oh, and here's a screen grab of Hurley with his copy on Lost:


Monday, April 5, 2010

On an unrelated note...

This is totally how I act when Colin's making dinner.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Hitting the Wall.

I've gotten to the point in this project where it's starting to feel like work and it's not as fun. I'm not really excited about the books that I have lined up to read next. I feel kind of blah.

Yup, right on schedule: I've hit the wall.

And to be honest, I'm not surprised. When I was training for the Breast Cancer 3-Day, the same thing happened. I got training fatigue. If you commit to a big, long-term project there's going to come a point (or two) where you don't feel inspired anymore. It happens. So I'm trying to put this in perspective and not take this feeling too seriously.

I decided to read something fun and quick -- I would liken it to cotton candy -- to give myself a jump start back into the fun mode. And seriously, what better way to do this than to read Sweet Little Lies by Lauren Conrad? Yes, the sequel to her first YA novel that I loved, to almost embarrassing degree.

Stay tuned. This project is far from over -- in a good way.