Friday, December 20, 2013

Red Sparrow

TyRed SparrowRed Sparrow by Jason Matthews
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I like me a great spy novel. This was a spy novel but it was not great. It had some great concepts, however, that were never fully realized, and some pretty lame filler. The best part of the book is the recipes at the end of each chapter that told how to make foods that the characters ate in the preceding chapter. Needless to say the characters ate a lot. But for a foodie like me, it was a great tie-in. They all sounded delicious.
Another great concept is Dominika, the newbie spy, can see colors around other people, indicating that they are warm, trustworthy, or evil, sinister. Does she ever really put that to good use? No. In fact, she often misreads things like an ordinary person, so what is the use of her super power?
She is also essentially forced to go to Sparrow school, where spies learn to seduce to gain information. It is too detailed in my opinion, of degrading sexual exploitation. Especially since she never uses the techniques she learns. It only serves to make her hate the people she works for. Which could have been done in a different way.
I'll admit I liked Nate, the American spy, and his colleague Benford. MARBLE, the asset, was equally likeable. The plot and characters were pretty cliche for a spy novel, but I liked it nonetheless. John le Carre it is not, but if you feel like Polish dumplings along with your double cross, it's not too bad.

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Monday, December 16, 2013


Reached (Matched, #3)Reached by Ally Condie
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Why does every author writing in YA fiction feel like they have to write a trilogy? What was magic with Matched gets watered down, repetitive, and grinds to a halt before we reached the end of the series. If Stephanie Meyers doesn't have a poetic bone in her body, Condie more than makes up for it. The problem is, that as much as I like poetry, it tends to be achingly slow. And this novel flows like crystallized honey. Which is stored somewhere in that wasps nest she refers to at least 5 times but has no significance. That is the other problem with this lyrical book...she refers to objects, colors, and events so many times you feel there must be some hidden meaning, but no, just everything in Cassia's world reminds her of something trivial that happened in book 1 or 2, so read up before you attempt to plow through this. It was an okay story, just disappointed how it dribbled out at the end, when it had such a promising start.

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Friday, December 13, 2013

Enders Game

Ender's Game (The Ender Quintet, #1)Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I loved this book. It had a clear narrative, great story with an awesome twist, and plenty of Big Issues to think about, namely, why do we go to war (literally and figuratively) and what should our strategy be? Is there room for compassion or do you have to beat your opponent so badly he will never think about hurting you again? How do we judge those who are different than us and could a clear line of communication be all that is needed to resolve conflict? How is how we judge others linked in with how we judge ourselves?
Although it is about children, the mood is darker than I thought it would be (esp. with the word game in the title) but it paved the way for Harry and Katnis, and did a better job of it.
The only part that seemed confusing/extraneous was the story line of Valentine and Peter in their roles as political commentators.

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Gone Girl

Gone GirlGone Girl by Gillian Flynn
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was an interesting book with an intriguing twist. I didn't like any of the characters, though, and without a character to empathize with, it was hard to get involved whole-heartedly. It made me think about what love is, what marriage is, and how by binding yourself legally, financially, emotionally to another person, it changes you. How it changes you, for the good or the bad, is that wholly up to you, or does it depend on the person we chose to bind ourselves to? The decaying town was the perfect backdrop for this decaying, sick relationship.

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Wednesday, November 13, 2013

The Pillars of the Earth

The Pillars of the Earth  (The Pillars of the Earth, #1)The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The story opens with the hanging of a jongleurs, or a traveling storyteller, and it is essentially the story of why and how that happened and the characters involved in that scheme. The story is told like a jongleurs might tell it, with characters that are either very good and wise and others that are evil and cruel, though none of them essentially change. There is love and death, epic battles and amazing miracles. There is witchcraft and politics, pious monks and ruthless nobility. There is much hardship and suffering, small triumphs and dissappointments. But in the end, like every good story, everyone gets what he deserves. Oh yeah, and during this all a cathedral is built...a framework to hang the rest of the story on. If you are looking for a good story, this is a good story...but don't expect much else.
What I liked about the story: the clever and sometimes unexpected ways that the characters were able to overcome trials, especially Prior Phillip; that some of the men of God were rewarded with inspiration and miracles for their faithfulness and were portrayed as smart, clever, and compassionate.
What I didn't like: the sex scenes didn't need to be so detailed, in my opinion; there were several pages of descriptive architecture language that was hard to get through. An illustration here or there could have helped.

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Your Comment: PREV1/26|view allNEXT Walnut Cake with Caramel Whipped Cream Caramel plays a delightful role in both the whipped cream and drizzling sauce in this walnut cake recipe, making it a sweet two-for-one caramel deal. Walnut Cake with Caramel Whipped Cream 12345 Makes: 12 servings Prep: 25 mins Bake: 35 mins to 40 mins 325°F save to recipe box Salted Caramel-Ginger Macaroons Impress guests with this sweet-and-salty French recipe. A few drops of yellow food coloring give the cookie its earthy hue, with a beautiful caramel color that is au naturel. Salted Caramel-Ginger Macaroons 12345 Yield: About 30 sandwich cookies Prep: 35 mins Stand: 30 mins per batch Bake: 9 mins save to recipe box Try all our salted caramel recipes! Dried Pear and Chocolate-Caramel Tart Sweet, juicy pears meet smooth, rich caramel and chocolate in this rustic make-ahead dessert recipe. Cinnamon and nutmeg play supporting roles to bring in fabulous fall-spiced flavor. Don't forget to add extra caramel sauce to each slice! Dried Pear and Chocolate Caramel Tart 12345 Makes: 8 servings Prep: 35 mins Cool: 1 hr Bake: 10 mins 450°F save to recipe box Caramel-Toffee Cheesecake Creamy cheesecake, rich caramel, and chocolate-covered toffee pieces form a delicious dessert trifecta. A gingerbread crust adds another dimension to this caramel dessert with a satisfying crunch. Caramel-Toffee Cheesecake 12345 Makes: 16 servings Prep: 45 mins Bake: 1 hr 30 mins 350°F Cool: 2 hrs save to recipe box Find the perfect dessert just for you! Caramel-Apple Pudding Cake This gooey dessert combines raisin-caramel cake with warm cinnamon-apple pudding. It will be hard not to have all 12 servings by yourself! Caramel-Apple Pudding Cake 12345 Makes: 12 servings Prep: 25 mins Bake: 25 mins 350°F save to recipe box Caramel Apple-Cherry Pie The recipe for this fruit-packed pie calls for orange juice, lemon peel, and vanilla bean paste to complement its cranberry-apple filling. The end result looks and tastes just like fall! Caramel Apple-Cherry Pie 12345 Makes: 10 servings Prep: 2 hrs Chill: 40 mins Bake: 1 hr 15 mins 350° save to recipe box Avoid Burnt Crust Create a colorful and equally scrumptious Caramel Apple-Cherry Pie! Learn how to make a fall-leaf piecrust and protect the delicate layer from burning in the oven. Hazelnut and Cherry Caramel Clusters It only takes six ingredients to make these tasty bites that pack a flavorful punch. A generous drip of caramel goes a long way with the almonds and dried cranberries. Hazelnut and Cherry Caramel Clusters 12345 Yield: 18 pieces Stand: 1 hr 10 mins Start to Finish: 30 mins save to recipe box Caramel Apple Pie Add caramel to make a classic an instant favorite. If the caramel alone doesn't have you convinced, the sweet and crunchy brown sugar crumb topping will make you unable to resist. Caramel Apple Pie 12345 Makes: 8 servings Prep: 40 mins Bake: 50 mins 375°F save to recipe box Salted Caramel-Chocolate-Bourbon Cupcakes Adult guests can get their sweet fix and night cap with one bite of this dessert! Just a bit of bourbon goes into this sweet-and-salty cupcake recipe for an irresistible flavor combination. Salted Caramel-Chocolate-Bourbon Cupcakes 12345 Makes: 32 servings Yield: 32 to 34 (2-1/2 inch) cupcakes Prep: 50 mins Stand: 30 mins Bake: 18 mins 325°F save to recipe box Cappuccino-Caramel Oat Bars A coffee-lover's dream dessert, these bars are packed with robust coffee flavor! Enjoy them with your after-meal cup of joe for the perfect coffee-caramel combo. Cappuccino-Caramel Oat Bars 12345 Yield: 48 bars Prep: 30 mins Bake: 20 mins 350°F save to recipe box Creamy Caramel-Pecan Rolls Put these warm and gooey caramel-pecan rolls on the table as a dessert that ends your day on a high note or a breakfast that ensures a sweet start. Creamy Caramel-Pecan Rolls 12345 Yield: 24 rolls Prep: 25 mins Rise: 1 hr Bake: 20 mins to 25 mins 375° save to recipe box Almond Flan with Golden Caramel Golden almond custard brimming with caramel sauce promises a sweet experience. Stick your serving plate in the oven for a minute to help the caramel spread with ease. Almond Flan with Golden Caramel 12345 Makes: 8 servings Prep: 30 mins Bake: 50 mins 350°F Cool: 30 mins save to recipe box Chocolate Chunk and Caramel Pecan Pie Those with a sweet tooth will be giving thanks for this rich, chocolaty, and oh-so-sweet pecan pie topped with a luxurious, golden caramel drizzle for the ultimate sugar kick. Chocolate Chunk and Caramel Pecan Pie 12345 Makes: 8 servings Prep: 35 mins Cool: 30 mins Bake: 45 mins 350°F save to recipe box Chocolate, Hazelnut, and Caramel Thumbprint Cookies Use a spoon to make your mark on these cookies by creating a small dip in each one to later fill with gooey caramel and chocolate. Top with a whole hazelnut to add an elegant finishing touch. Chocolate, Hazelnut, and Caramel Thumbprint Cookies 12345 Yield: about 36 cookies Prep: 40 mins Chill: 1 hr Bake: 10 mins 350°F per batch save to recipe box Aztec Chocolate Caramel Popcorn Basic caramel corn is a thing of the past. This recipe spices things up by adding chocolate, cinnamon, and espresso to the mix. An optional dash of ancho chile powder creates sweet heat. Aztec Chocolate Caramel Popcorn 12345 Makes: 40 servings Yield: 20 cups Prep: 30 mins Bake: 20 mins Oven: 300°F save to recipe box Caramel-Pecan French Silk Pie This no-bake pie recipe hides a decadent layer of caramel and pecans under the fluffy, indulgent chocolate filling. Use a leaf-shape cookie cutter to create a decorative piecrust perfect for fall. Caramel-Pecan French Silk Pie 12345 Makes: 8 servings Prep: 40 mins Chill: 5 hrs to 24 hrs Cook: 15 mins save to recipe box Caramel-Hazelnut Brownies Think brownies can't get any better? This brownie recipe with a bit of hazelnut liqueur and a decadent layer of caramel will change your mind. Caramel-Hazelnut Brownies 12345 Makes: 36 servings Prep: 30 mins Bake: 45 mins 350°F Chill: 15 mins save to recipe box Caramel Apple Upside-Down Cornmeal Cake The fact that you can make a mouthwatering cake with cranberries, apples, caramel, and pecans in under an hour is sure to turn your world upside-down. Caramel Apple Upside-Down Cornmeal Cake 12345 Makes: 8 servings Prep: 35 mins Cook: 8 mins Bake: 30 mins 350°F save to recipe box

Friday, October 11, 2013

City of Bones

City of Bones (The Mortal Instruments, #1)City of Bones by Cassandra Clare
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

This was a typical teen fantasy with romance thrown in. It reeked of Harry Potter...see flying motorcycles, boys as rats, magic wands...mixed in with Twilight...see werewolf showdown with vampires. But then it goes to places no teen book has or should lust, crushes with your brother. And I am not a not a fan of the trend of romanticizing tattoos. BTW the movie was better and made more sense. Skip this series.

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Thursday, September 26, 2013

Taps on the Wall

Taps on the Walls: Poems from the Hanoi HiltonTaps on the Walls: Poems from the Hanoi Hilton by John Borling
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I really wanted to like this book. What can you say critically about poetry written by an pilot shot down and in an Hanoi war prison? All alone in a cell with a bucket, the only way to keep sane was to be mentally active. So he created poems and shared them by tapping them on the walls to the other prisoners. It is a great story in of itself. And the poems, with strokes of brilliancy here and there, are interesting enough. My main bone of contention is with the set-up. So many of the poems require insider knowledge of the airman's lingo and while there was a glossary in the back, it was a pain to constantly flip back and forth--plus there was no telling if a phrase was part lingo or poetry or what. It would have read MUCH better with footnotes. And, honestly, as much as I wanted to like and be inspired by his poetry, except for a few lines here and there, I was underwhelmed. I think it was more his incredible story rather than the merits of his poetry that got him published. But see, I feel like a cad even admitting that much...

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Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Loving Frank

This was a very interesting book about Mamah Borthwick's affair with Frank Church. I liked that it was based on a real person, especially since no novelist could have gotten away with the shocking ending. The thoughts from the women's movement were interesting. I thought it was interesting that she clamped onto the ideas that justified her actions. I do like the idea that housewives should be valued more...even though Mamah thought that idea was setting the movement back. I couldn't help comparing the actions of Mamah with Anna Karenina's, even though one is based on fact and one is purely fictional. Good, solid, interesting read.

Monday, July 29, 2013

The Passage

The Passage (The Passage, #1)The Passage by Justin Cronin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Ok. I can't believe I picked out another apocalyptic novel by choice. Or one having to do with vampires. But I did. And I loved it. Cronin does an excellent job of introducing you to characters and developing them deeply in a matter of pages. He also does an excellent job of developing a story full of mysticism, violence, and love that you actually believe. The only reason it is not 5 stars is that there are some chapters where the violence is really hard to read, but it helped to understand the desperation of the situation. I can't wait til the paperback version of sequel, the twelve, comes out on the July 30th. I'll be tucked away in the reading room, wondering how the handful of humans left will survive...

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Saturday, July 27, 2013


Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and RedemptionUnbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was one of my favorite books of all time. It was incredible what he went through--His story is extraordinary, unbelievable, inspirational on so many levels. And Hillenbrand is a perfect biographer: she disappears behind her subject, letting the story tell itself. When she does peep in from time to time, her comments help the reader appreciate the dire situation he was in and his incredible resilience and optimism. Truly an inspirational story!

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Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Cleopatra: A Life

Cleopatra: A LifeCleopatra: A Life by Stacy Schiff
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I didn't know anything really about Cleopatra, or that time period, before I read Cleopatra. She really did lead a fascinating life and I can see why books, plays, and movies have used her as their subject--Everything is almost jaw-dropping over the top--from the knee-high carpet of rose petals to the month long celebrations of their self-appointed claims of deity to Marc Anthony, dying, scaling a wall to die in his lover's arms. Schiff tries hard to defend Cleopatra from her detractors--sometimes a little too much so for it to be truly unbiased. And Schiff's wordy and esoteric narrative often gets in the way of what is by itself a fascinating subject.

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Saturday, April 13, 2013

anna karenina

Anna Karenina Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I loved this book. Maybe I just needed some meat after all the post-apocolyptic YA fiction I seem to be to be reading lately. I thought it would be laborious to get through, and although some of the Russian issues, especially with Levin, took a little patience, the whole of the book was spectacular! Loved it, loved it, loved it.

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Friday, April 12, 2013

Ella Minnow Pea

Ella Minnow PeaElla Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is a clever book. A book about letters told in the form of letters. A book full of lipograms and and pangrams, it is clever, clever, clever. It is so clever that it can get a bit tiresome. The letters included are from so many people that it is hard to keep track of who is talking and while the plot lines are understood easily enough, I didn't make any character connections. So while you can't help but be impressed by the vocabulary and linguistic arcobatics used to write the novel, it is awfully hard to care about the plight of the Nollopians. There are some good talking points about blindly obeying authority; setting up "false gods"; and the power of language, and how the loss of words leads to a loss of self. I think Avi's Nothing But the Truth uses the episolary format better, and Stephen Hall's The Raw Shark Texts is an amazing novel about the power of words.

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Thursday, January 24, 2013

One Shot

Jack Reacher: One Shot (Movie Tie-in Edition): A NovelJack Reacher: One Shot (Movie Tie-in Edition): A Novel by Lee Child
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Everyone I know who has read this book (or rather series) before seeing the movie says the same thing,"I can't believe they put Tom Cruise as Jack Reacher...I mean, the guy is supposed to be huge!" But having never heard of Jack before watching the movie, I say Tom is a better Jack than Jack is. A guy that big and tall would have a much harder time melting into the crowd and being a drifter than plain old ordinary Tom. Plus, it seems more likely that 5 locals would think they could out-fight Tom, than some jolly giant--so it makes a better plot point. Plus, I liked that at the climax, Tom had to really fight his way in...Jack made it look too easy...(almost no resistance from Vladimir, come on, where's the fun in a showdown?).
Another better thing about the movie--they got rid of his posse. Way too many people in the climax of the book. It makes it seem more like a circus of misfits with people dialoging to themselves and running around without their shoes than a calculated attempt at rescue. They also cut out a lot of superfluous things Jack did to evade the cops.
The good things they did keep--giving him a knife at the showdown, the dare at the shooting range, the quarter. I can't say I would recommend the book or the movie, but in this case the movie is better than the book.

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Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and SweetHotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I liked the period of time and events that took place in this book. I don't think we as Americans like to think of rounding up Japanese-Americans and sending them to camps during WWII. It was a great springboard for discussing issues of immigration, culture, perception, in our book club. I felt like the book itself was a little overly sentimental and predictable. But it was fine story--I just wish we could have peeked a little bit more into the Japanese themselves, what life was like in the camps, their thoughts and feelings.

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