Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Angels and Demons, by Dan Brown

Okay, this is the first time in a while that I actually post a review of a book I actually finished reading today! A great improvement, as of late. ^,~

Angels and Demons was an awesome, totally breath-taking read for me! (btw, this isn't the exact cover of the copy was reading, but it looked really cool to me. Fascinating anyway, isn't it? If you tilt your head to read it upside down, the title will look exactly the same way it does right-side up! This kind of trick, known as an "ambigram," actually features a lot in the actual story. I'd never heard of ambigrams before now, so I thought this was really cool!)

This book was written by Dan Brown, author of The Da Vinci Code, which I remembered reading and enjoying very much 1 or 2 years ago. (The book is a ton better than seeing the movie, I promise!) Dan actually published this book and meant for the story's events to come before The Da Vinci Code, so I thought it was a little strange that there's a movie of Angels and Demons now instead of earlier. Oh well, I guess Da Vinci Code seemed the better story, and maybe was a bit more controversial.

Okay, so back to this book: I'll admit that the beginning was a tad slow and needed some momentum to get the ball rolling, but besides that, the entire book was honestly a wild rollercoaster ride of mind-boggling mysteries, adrenaline-pumping action, heart-stopping suspense, cliff-hangers you can't resist at the end of every chapter, and characters that keep you guessing their true intentions right to the finish!!!

Even though this was published almost a decade ago, I feel some hesitation in revealing the story, in case there are some people who haven't read the book yet (it's meant for adult readers, after all). But basically the conflict is between religion and science. There's this whole dirty plot where there's an antimatter time-bomb set to blow up the Vatican City (in Rome) in just hours, so it's amazing that the entire huge book takes place in just one night. Meanwhile 4 cardinals are going to get murdered by an old brotherhood called the Illuminati, and about the only person who can save them is a symbologist professor from Harvard named Robert Langdon, who has to interpret the clues and signs so he can find out where they're hidden. Of course, there are people who help him, but it's hard to tell who is on the side of good or bad.

Just trust me, it's a very riveting read. Only I wouldn't advise seeing the movie first. Not that I have, but I've read the description of the plot on Wikipedia, and it seems too different. They even got most of the names all wrong! I might still watch it, but I don't think I'll like it. But in my opinion, the book is the best!

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Books I just read in Borders ^,^

After a little shopping yesterday, my mom dropped Annette and me off at Borders so we could hang out. I really like it when we do that. ^__^ So on this particular bookstore visit, I took a good look at 4 awesome books and read a couple chapters or more than 20 pages of each one. Here's my impression of them, in the order they were read:

1: Ring of Fire, by Pierdomenico Baccalario ~ Boy, that's a hard name to pronounce! Sounds Italian, doesn't it? Well, if this series gets famous, maybe the author's name will be easier to remember. Anyway, this is the first volume in his 4-part Century series, and I picked it up in the first place simply because I remembered that it was recommended to me by Dave and his Latiener Gang. I read the first 3 chapters, I think, and even though I heard that the beginning is supposed to be a little slow, I thought it was quite well-written. You meet most of the characters right away, including all 4 kids the book is supposed to center on. I didn't read enough to get very into the story, just enough to get a sample and know that it's pretty much hooked me. I needed to put it down though, because I only had an hour in the store and I wanted to see what else there was to read. Still, I definitely say that this book's a keeper. ^_^ Thanks, Lat Gang!

2: This Book Is Not Good For You, by Pseudonymous Bosch ~ Hey, isn't it a coincidence that this author has the same initials as the Ring of Fire author? Oh well. So this book I just had to read, because this is the 3rd book in this really funny "Secret" series. I think that's what it's called, because Book 1 is called The Name of This Book is Secret, and Book 2 is If You're Reading This, It's Too Late. (Really funny titles, huh? ^_~) As might be apparent by his book titles and his pen name, Bosch's writing style and mysterious personality in the world and the book bears a strong resemblance to Lemony Snicket, who is the author of A Series of Unfortunate Events. You'd have to read the first couple books to appreciate this one, but I think this gets off to a pretty good start. This, too, will go right on my "to-read" pile in the back of my mind.

3: The Magician's Elephant, by Kate DiCamillo ~ The first chapter was quite long, so that's all I read. But I think it's still a worth-while book. Have you ever read a book by Kate DiCamillo? She hasn't written many. Because of Winn-Dixie, The Tiger Rising, The Tale of Despereaux, and The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane. Each book is a stand-alone novel, but they're all very sweet stories. The little that I've read so far from her latest release is about a boy who goes to see a fortune teller who tells him his sister is alive, and to find her he has to follow an elephant (?). Which is weird, because elephants aren't common in his village. (Then again, they're not exactly common anywhere else, besides in zoos and in Africa!) Anyway, I think it'll be a good story to get into. I can probably finish it in a wink if I went to the bookstore again and it was all I read.

Last, but certainly not least, 4: Catching Fire, by Suzanne Collins!!! ~ I'm sure pretty much everyone has heard of this book, the well awaited sequel to the Hunger Games. This was the last book I was able to read on my wonderful Borders visit, and most probably the best. I also read this for the longest, covering roughly 80 pages/ 3 chapters in one sitting. I couldn't exactly finish Chap. 3 though, because then my mom came back to pick us up and started whistling for me, so I unfortunately lost my place in the book.

On the plus side however, it's an incredibly good thing I was able to reserve this book from my library! I'm practically never able to get the newest, most hyped up books from the library so soon after they come out, but I got Catching Fire! Well, I don't have it now, but I'll patiently be waiting for it to come in, so that's awesome! ^_^

BTW, here's the link to an ultra-cool contest the Latiener's are having to give away a copy of Catching Fire! You can either get the ARC or the hard copy. More details to enter and win are in the post. I also have the link on my sidebar. Just check the Lats out if you have any interest in owning this amazing book!

Friday, September 25, 2009

Books I haven't blogged about

Hi. Sorry I haven't been book blogging an awful lot lately. ~,~ I'm not going to make any excuses here. I haven't read a lot of books lately, and whatever books I do finish, I keep postponing sitting down to write their reviews. It's really a problem. But enough is enough. I've got a lot of books reserved in the library, two of which I've picked up now, so I need to clear my head and get these books out of the way so I can write reviews later. I'll be very brief with each book, promise.

So the first book I finished that I didn't post about, but definitely should have (=P), is In Her Shoes, by Jennifer Weiner. Now, this book is kind of outside my genre preference (fantasy, sci-fi fiction is more my read, and this was more of a chick-flick. No magic, just a story based on real, grown-up life that could possibly happen to actual people), but I'll admit that this was a pretty good book. Of course, it did take me a long time to actually finish it. I read some of it back in Boston, but the beginning really didn't interest me a lot. Then we came home to Florida and we saw the movie version of In Her Shoes (starring Cameron Diaz, Toni Collette and Shirley Maclain), and I thought the story after the part I was at got pretty good. So I got back to the book and finished it pretty fast after that.
I'm not sure whether the book was better than the movie, but it did have certain plot elements that didn't make it into the film, so I guess you can say it was better. Okay, brief story synopsis: There are two sisters. One is a stressed out but responsible lawyer, and the other is really attractive but doesn't have a lot of brains. This is Cameron Diaz's character, Maggie, btw. Basically she drinks and has sex and gets into trouble a lot, so her sister has to take her in, and Maggie is a big pain. She steals money and shoes (the sisters share the same size) and doesn't have a job. After Maggie does something totally unforgivable to Rose (her sister), she gets unceremoniously kicked out, and then later moves in with a grandmother neither of them knew about, blah blah blah... so the story jumps between sisters and both of them learn life lessons that make them balance out their personalities and Rose gets married and everyone lives happily ever after. That's all I'll say. If you have any interest in the specifics, read this book yourself.
The next book I finished was a graphic novel I read in a Barnes and Nobles in one sitting, Amulet, Book 2: The Stonekeeper's Curse, by Kazu Kibuishi. That's the guy who drew my favorite comics in the Flight series. A pretty cool story. It seems that it'll become a Bone-like series. I really like Kazu's drawing style! Graphic novels rock. ^_^ If you want to check this series out, you ought to start at the beginning. The first Amulet book is The Stonekeeper. I don't remember when I read that, but it was probably last year, because I would have posted about it if I'd read it this year.

After that I suppose I didn't read much else, but recently I tackled this huge, literally encyclopedic book that I think I read in just a couple days straight. It's called Iconic America, by Tommy Hilfiger. There are hundreds of colorful and really neat pictures of famous American inventions, sport stars, foods and restaurants, works of art, famous songs and musical groups, dates and events people will always remember, celebrities, brand names, movies, and other things that have reached iconic status today. This book is a seriously educational history lesson that was fascinating and fun to read! It sure makes you feel good to be American. ^_^
Okay, last book. I promise. Last night I finished this really cute picture book that was adapted from the spectacular Stephen Sondheim musical, Into the Woods. The story is very accurate and the artwork is wonderful, but I definitely think the play version is a ton better. The book version can't possibly compete with actually hearing the music, or with the characters singing the songs, or with the comic acting abilities of the actors, or even with the laughter of the audience when there's a funny scene. Also in the book, the characters aren't able to give the narrator over to the Giantess, because how can you take away the story-teller in a book? So the musical was definitely funnier and better in every way. Therefore, my advice if you still would like to read this book is to see the play first, and then appreciate the adaptation later.

There! I am done with my task. And now you are done with your task of reading this post! Congratulations. ^_^

9-29-09 ~ Edit: I'm sorry! It seems I've left a book out! Well, actually I suppose it's not really a book anyway, because it's purely virtual, but I still didn't write about it! It's been a while now, but I've finished reading Midnight Sun, by Stephanie Meyer. A wonderful masterpiece that will sadly never be completed or published. As one can see from my reviews of all the books from the Twilight Saga, I was totally in love with the story and its characters, so to further explore that world was just a must for me. I read it quite sporadically, over a wide period of time, but I eventually finished it. I'm sorry to say that I forget exactly when, but I'm sure it was very soon after we came home from Boston! So here's the scoop: Midnight Sun is the story of Twilight as told by Edward Cullen's point of view, instead of Bella's, so while the story is very much the same, there is a whole other incredible dimension to it. Even though it ends very abruptly and I wished dearly I could continue reading the story, I really enjoyed reading Midnight Sun and I think other Twilight fans will too. It's very easy to check the story out if you're interested. Just click the link above, for Midnight Sun, and you'll go straight to a PDF file that has all 12 chapters. Of course, Stephanie Meyer obviously meant this to be slightly a rough draft, so I can spot some errors, but it's Stephanie Meyer, so I forgive her. ^_^ Really, I don't think you'll be sorry. Thank you for indulging me.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Hourglass Door, by Lisa Magum

I'd heard a lot of good things about this book in a couple places. Like, it was almost the new "Twilight" or something like that. But I didn't pay that much attention to it until my friend, Jacoby (who reviews here every once in a blue moon), wrote about meeting the author, Lisa Mangum, at the Authorpalooza a month or so ago (ooh, I wish I could've gone ~,~). He gave huge props to her book, and since I trust his taste I decided to take it out from my library.

Friends, this book is the real deal! Truly amazing! I'm so glad that I was able to read this book, because it was awwwwwe-some! (I want to sound like an aussie surfer dude when I say that, btw. ^,~)

The people were really pretty much right when they said it was like Twilight. Similarities? It was told in the first person view-point of the girl, Abby, she meets a hot guy, Dante, who is actually much older than he appears, they fall in love, and there are others of Dante's kind who want to hurt her and other humans. Differences? Well, thankfully there's a lot of those, so this story still feels pretty original.

For one thing, I'll say a big NO that this is not another book about vampires, thank goodness, although for the longest time I was truly knocking my brain to figure out what the heck Dante was, so I labeled him as a vampire temporarily. But just so you all know, he's not. Another difference is that unlike Bella, Abby actually has a boyfriend before this attractive, Italian stranger comes into her life. Obviously though, this dude is absolutely no match for Dante. There are other, smaller comparisons to be made, such as the fact that Abby's family situation is a normal one (both mom and dad + little annoying sister), she's more adventurous and not exceedingly clumsy like Bella is, and the whole story kind of centers on the subject of time travel, but I think you should know what the basic story is, so you have a good idea if you'd like it too or not. (And I dare you not to like this book! I think it's great!)

It all starts when an Italian "exchange-student" arrives in Abby's school while she's rehearsing a play, Much Ado About Nothing. (Actually, it starts when she sends an application to this really cool sounding college called Emery, but I don't think it's that important of a detail. It doesn't have a lot to do with the main story.) Despite her having a boyfriend, Jason, Abby takes an interest in Dante right away, just as he obviously takes an interest in her. Since he mysteriously knows nothing about Shakespeare's play, they meet and have breakfast in a cafe and get to know each other. Unfortunately, this guy is really secretive, and Abby can barely get a thing out of him. They hang out for what seems like hours, but when she goes back home it's as if she was only gone for 30 minutes. Definitely weird.

I won't reveal too much, since I'd like for you guys to fully enjoy it yourselves, but other plot elements in this book include an impossible invention created by Leonardo da Vinci, an awesome rock band named Zero Hour whose members don't turn out to be as awesome as all that, a couple school dances in which very strange time-related things happen, and a journey to a very surreal River Bank.

Let me also say that one of my favorite characters, besides the famous couple of this novel, is Dante's care-taker/ father figure, Leo. For want of a better word, he's very... cool. Like, he runs this neat club called the Dungeon, where teens can hang out and get drinks and listen to live music and have a great time. He's really friendly and nice to everyone, and he reminds me strongly of the head of Twilight's Cullen clan, Carlisle, who for all intents and purposes is Edward's father. They're both really great characters.

I absolutely loved the writing style of this book. It's not just that it reminded me of Twilight's style (which it did), but I am really a big fan of first person story-telling, especially if it's by a girl I can identify strongly with. But besides that, the story really did pull me in and almost refused to let me go. It was a fun, emotional, adventurous roller-coaster of a read that I thoroughly enjoyed. I hope you will feel the same way too, when you read it.

Sorry it's been a while...

Yeah, I really am sorry that I haven't been reviewing books all that often, ever since I reviewed "Eat, Pray, Love." Trust me, I wanted to post, I really did. I was just... busy...

Yeah yeah, pretty feeble excuse, I know. But guess what?! Today I've gotten back to reviewing, and I've already posted about 4 (actually 5) books so far! If you want to check them out, I suggest you scroll down a little through this blog, or click the "Older Post" link a couple times, or you could even click the links in my archive list on the sidebar. (Gee, don't I know my way around Blogger or what? ^,~)

Hope you enjoy these reviews of mine. And once you're done with those, don't you worry. More book posts will be just around the corner. I promise!

I also promise to do my best never to fall so far behind and get piled up on books I've read and want to review, ever again. It's really too hard to keep straight what happens in so many books. Honestly! But it's okay. I believe I'm completely cured now. ^_^ From now on, as soon as I finish a book (or maybe at least a day after, so I've got time to think about it and stuff), I will review it.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Alvor, by Laura Bingham

So yesterday something really cool happened. A friend gave me my own copy of Alvor for my 18th birthday! I thought it was super-nice of them, and that this book made a fantastic present. You may or may not know this, but I really love the author, Laura Bingham's blog. It's how I found out about her book in the first place. Actually, I found out about Laura from the great James Dashner's blog ^,^. He's awesome, possibly my all-time favorite author (sorry, Rowling >,<). Not just because he's a great writer of best-selling books, but because he's reputed as being an extremely nice guy. I believe it too, since he sent me an ARC of his new book, Maze Runner, about a month back. (Neener neener neener! ^_~)

Anyway, back to Alvor. I forget when, but I first read chapter 1 straight from Laura's blog (if you want to see it too, it's right at the bottom of her blog. Pretty conveniant, I'd say!) and I decided I was hooked after that. I knew I had to find out what happened next, and I learned it had been out for a while now, but I couldn't find it in my bookstore when I looked for it. But finally, I got it as a pre-birthday present. How awesome is that? And now I can review it and say what I think about it...

Um, this is really weird and awkward for me to say, but... I, uh... didn't exactly... like it.

I promise that I'm not saying this lightly, or with an easy heart. I've heard nothing but good things about this book. Dashner himself wrote a blurb saying how amazing Laura's debut novel is, how it leaves you thinking a lot by the end. I've read great reviews from other blogs as well as author interviews, and convinced myself that this author and her book were gold. Well trust me, I still LOVE Laura and her blog immensely, and think that she's gold, so this is absolutely nothing against her as a person. But if I'm going to be honest, with myself and with my readers, I have to admit that, for me, Alvor was not.

Now, don't get me wrong. I can certainly step back and see why most people would like reading Alvor. The story is a pretty good one, and I believe it had lots of promise and potential. I just think the way the story was told... it didn't exactly sit right with me. I also completely understand that this is only Laura Bingham's first venture as an author, which is fine! Not everyone has to be a J. K. Rowling, or a Stephenie Meyer on their first try. Still, I must admit that I was a bit disappointed with the result.

So here's the story, for those who still would like to take the chance. (And I thorougly welcome you to, so you can attempt to prove my opinions wrong.) The main characters are a pair of 15-year old boy/ girl twins, Bain and Erin, respectively. Mostly the book is from the girl Erin's view, but sometimes it goes to Bain's side too. One day, these twins go exploring and find a mysterious cottage in the woods that they're sure they've never come across before. After that, the adventure takes off from there.

There's a big underground maze of magical rooms where the twins start training with swords and magic arts. They gain different powers and gifts from these rooms, for example, Erin can tell by a person's aura whether they're telling the truth or not, and Bain can spot things that are magical that normal people don't notice. Also huge differences between the twins is that Erin discovers that she loves to fly (be it on pegasus horse or on dragon) and Bain doesn't, and that Bain seems to like sword-fighting a lot more than Erin does.

So why are they doing all this training? Because they eventually learn that if they keep it all up, they will soon turn into elves. Who tells them all this? Oh, a few fairies (or alvor), their elf teachers, a dragon and their Fairy God Mother. (Who actually used to be Cinderella's own godmother, although she points out that she certainly didn't sing "Bibbidy Bobbity Boo!") I don't know. Perhaps I'm wrong (I often am), and I don't mean to be cruel, but does that sound right to you?

A couple things that I didn't like was how strongly I was reminded of two particular books. I understand that I've said before how books I review reminded me of other books, and that this was considered a good thing. In this case, it wasn't. First off, anyone ever hear of Michael Scott's Nicholas Flamel trilogy? There's "The Alchemyst," "The Magician" and "The Sorceress." I only read the first two, and I've pretty much decided I didn't want to find out what happened in the last book. Anyway, this series is ALSO about magic boy/girl twins, with the girl being the good one and the boy being the one who's kidnapped and led astray by the bad side, and so I didn't exactly like how Alvor seemed almost to mirror that.

The other book series I am forcibly reminded of is the Inheritance Cycle, by Chistopher Paolini. Unlike the Nicholas Flamel books, I am a big fan of all the volumes released in this series so far: "Eragon," "Eldest," and "Brisingr." What Alvor reminds me of here is the fact that Erin makes firm friends with a golden dragon, named Pulsar, in a way that I've only ever associated with Eragon and his sky-blue dragon, Saphira. They can read each other's minds (even at great distances, except on certain occasions), having a dragon helps significantly boost her understanding of magic, and there is nothing that either of them like better than flying high above the clouds with Erin riding upon Pulsar's back. ALL of these things can be found pretty much in exactly the same way in the Inheritance Cycle. I have to admit, that didn't sit well with me at all!

Alright, that's all I'm going to say about this book now. I didn't mean to sound angry with the book. I'm not. But as you can see, certain plot elements did conspire to turn me off from enjoying this particual novel. Not to mention that I occasionally spotted a spelling mistake or two, and this book has already been out for awhile, so there must be thousands of copies all with these same mistakes. That usually helps put me out too. I just wish I could've had a better experience reading this book.

HOWEVER... If I happened to have a rating system in this blog, say 5 out of 5 stars or something like that, you'd be pleased to know that despite my sour attitude towards this novel, I would award the book 4 stars, and not a measly 1. This is because I truly think the author is talented and I support her wholeheartedly in polishing up her craft. I'm sure that the sequel will be a big improvement.

I hope that if Laura happens to read this review, she will not be offended or become downhearted, because that is absolutely not my goal in publishing this post. All I'm doing here is giving some brutally honest feedback and constructive criticism. If this happens to be difficult for you to accept, trust me. It was difficult for me to write, and admit. But I feel greatly relieved having gotten all this off my back, and I'm positive that you will see that my opinions are just as helpful as those who love your book unconditionally.

If you'd like to email me about your feelings on this, Laura, you are more than welcome to. You have my address. ~,~ For the rest of my readers, I greatly apologise for the length and content of this review. Feel free to comment if you'd like your feelings to be known,