Monthly Archives: January 2015

The Last Unicorn

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The Last Unicorn

I cannot even express how exited I am to start reading this book, especially since I didn’t even know it was a book. I grew up watching the movie The Last Unicorn and was absolutely enraptured by it. The Last Unicorn and The Little Mermaid define my childhood movie watching experience. I must have watched this movie at least 100 times as a kid both terrified and mesmerized by it. The image that still sticks in my mind to this day is of The Red Bull chasing down the unicorn. It was terrifying and exhilarating all at the same time. The red flames from the bull that filled the screen always kept me on the edge of my seat wondering if maybe this time the unicorn wouldn’t escape.

Now I won’t lie, my memory fails me on the major plots of the story only focusing on the parts that used to scare the bejesus out of me which is in part why I’m so excited to read the book. I want to remember the story. I want to be transported back into a storyline I loved so much. Plus the old VHS tape is so worn out it doesn’t play as well anymore.

Since I did love this movie so much as a kid I do have high expectations for this book. Fingers crossed it’s as good as I remember the movie being.

Here’s to some high fantasy and, for those of you who want to know the category for this book battle, a book centering around a non-human protagonist. Happy reading!

One Wild Ride

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One Wild Ride

Before I watched the movie and read this book I, like many people I’m sure, never even heard of the Pacific Crest Trail, or PCT. The full trail spans from Mexico to Canada and took many decades to enact and build. Just imagining how large the trail spans is more than my mind can encompass. The thousands of miles is an incredible feat to hike let alone the differences in terrain and climate. Yet, that’s exactly what author Cheryl Strayed did. She didn’t hike the entirety of the PCT but instead chose to hike from the Mojave Desert to the Bridge of the Gods on the Oregon/Washington border. Strayed hiked a whopping 1100 miles in total!

Wild chronicles Strayed’s hike of the PCT and the reasons she decided to hike the trail in the first place. Following her mother’s death and her divorce from her husband Paul, Strayed portrays the desperate downward spiral she found herself caught up in. In order to pull herself out of this downward spiral, she made the decision to hike the PCT to heal herself. To me, this novel read almost as a confessional. The last phase in her journey to heal the wounds of the past and move on. At times hilarious and heart wrenching, I found myself unable to put the book down. I loved the imagery of the PCT that Strayed evokes in her writing. I could imagine the desert and it’s vastness as well as the Oregon forest and it’s cocoon of trees. The animals and the people Strayed meets on her journey, both friend and foe.

The biggest thing though was how complete the book felt as compared to the movie. The movie, as I mentioned in my previous post, was filled with so many holes I was left a bit confused as to the timeline of things. The book filled in those holes and presented an almost completely new timeline of events. The movie combined different events from different parts of the book to make a scene and I think this was the reason I was so confused. Some of the mash-ups just didn’t quite go, especially now that I know their rightful place in the timeline of events. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the movie but the old adage remains, read the book first. It will make a whole lot more sense.

Final rating: 4/5

Stay tuned for the next book in the battle. It’s a classic!

Wild

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Wild

The next book up in the battle is Cheryl Strayed’s memoir Wild. Now I admit I’ve already seen the movie which is unusual for me because I usually like to read the book before the movie, but alas that’s not the case this time. It will be interesting, though, to do the reverse of what I usually do and compare the movie to the book instead of the other way around. One thing I do hope is that the book fills in some holes left ambiguous by the movie. There were particular scenes in the movie where I guess it was presumed you’d just know who people were and in which state things were happening. The flashbacks and flash forwards in particular weren’t all explained they just kind of happened so I’m hoping the book will make sense of those scenes.

Now, some of my friends have already read the memoir and loved it so I have pretty high expectations for this book. The last memoir I read was The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls and I absolutely fell in love with that book. I even considered breaking the rules of the Book Battle to re-read it because it was that good. But I stuck to the guns of the Book Battle and chose something new. And I must say I’m pretty happy with my choice even having just read the back cover of the book. It sparked my wanderlust. I’ve always wanted to go on a backpacking trip but have yet to do it. Perhaps this book will inspire me to take action and just go for it.

What’s next on your reading list?

Upstairs, Downstairs

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Upstairs, Downstairs

From the first, I couldn’t get images of Downton Abbey out of my head while reading this book. In parts, it’s a mash-up of Downton Abbey and Upstairs, Downstairs about the lives of staff and their wealthy patrons and how they intersect and influence the other. The House at Riverton has all the scandal and drama of Downton Abbey and quite a bit of heart. Told from the perspective of house maid Grace, the story covers about a decade in the lives of the Hartford family. From the fancies and dreams of youth to the traumatizing events of WWI, the characters grow and change with the changing times. However, the passage of time in the book was a bit jumbled for my taste. I never was sure exactly when it was or how old the main characters were supposed to be at that point which caused some head scratching on my part.

Morton’s forumla is definitely starting her and, perhaps because she’s still finding her rhythm, not nearly as strong as in her later books. The big reveals in the book aren’t all that shocking because of Morton’s constant foreshadowing the reader pretty much knows what to expect. Perhaps most jarring is that effort it takes Morton to arrange her main character, Grace, into the other characters secret lives, even listening in at keyholes, to keep the story moving forward. In fact, Grace is probably the best part of the book. She’s the best fleshed out character of the bunch. I found myself far more interested in the little snippets we gleamed about her life than the lives of the Hartfords. Grace was the quietly subversive one and definitely the one who lived what the other characters only dreamed about.

Despite the little hiccups in the book, I enjoyed it immensely. I like Morton’s formula and she does it well. I especially loved the small scene in the book featuring Agatha Christie.

Rating: 4/5.

For those of you wondering what’s next in the battle here’s a hint. It’s going to be a memoir! Happy reading!!

The House at Riverton

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The House at Riverton

The next book on the agenda is Kate Morton’s The House at Riverton. For any of you curious about the category, this is the popular author’s first book. I’ve read a few other books by Kate Morton, perhaps my favorite being The Distant Hours. I loved the I Capture the Castle feel about that book and the gothic darkness surrounding it.

In the books I have read by Kate Morton, she definitely has a formula she follows for her books and it works splendidly for her. I’m excited to read this first book and see how she has crafted and adapted her formula from here. Each book I’ve read her formula gets a bit sleeker and I can’t wait to see where she started to compare her later novels. In addition, I love the oscillating back and forth between time periods. Morton does a great job of recreating the past, a tad bit melodramatic, but intriguing nonetheless. She is a great one for foreshadowing as well.

This particular book is set during the first world war and then oscillates with the present from the perspective of a main working at Riverton. And naturally mystery and intrigue shortly follow.

Stay tuned for more book battle fun! Happy reading!

Harry Down the Rabbit Hole

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Harry Down the Rabbit Hole

I had such a visceral reaction to the first few pages of this book that I had to step away for a couple days before I could pick it up again. Nesbo is decidedly unrelenting in his depiction of violence and depravity but it does work in the contexts of this book. The scene in question involves a kind of torture device used in Africa called the Leopold’s Apple. Definitely not for the faint of heart. However, looking deeper into the story it’s much less about the violence and much more about the deconstruction and reconstruction of a man. Part police procedural, psychological thriller, and man’s search for answers within himself, The Leopard is one roller coaster ride of a book.

The novel, after I was able to pick it up again, started rather slowly but sure picked up towards the end to the point that I couldn’t put it down. Taking place in Oslo, rural Norway, and even the Congo the novel has many twists and turns I never expected. Nesbo guides you through his red herrings and makes you believe everyone. Just when you think you know who the killer is guess again. Even prized detective Harry Hole is surprised with this one.

My favorite quote from the book occurs when Harry first goes to the Congo. For me this quote solidified much of the book and the way many of the characters interact with each other. Harry and his Congolese taxi driver are talking about a snow leopard and the driver states: “That one is almost impossible to hunt. It is rare, has large territory, only hunts at night. Hides and blends into environs during the day. I think it is very lonely animal, Harry.” This quote applies both to Harry and the people he hunts, two sides of the same coin.

As Harry’s father says, love and hate are the same just the flip side of the coin. Nesbo does an amazing job of showing this disparity, especially in the characters’ relationships with each other. How easy it is to flip the coin on the person next to you and how perhaps the hate you thought was destroying you could be your saving grace.

Now, this is the 8th book in the series and I definitely felt at a slight disadvantage not knowing what had happened in the previous books, since the events were heavily mentioned as influencing personality and behavior. It also makes me want to know more about Norway and the culture there since there are many different dialects brought up and placed on certain people in judgement of reverence.

Overall, I really enjoyed the ride this book took me on. While terrifying, it made me think and read between the lines, exactly what a book is supposed to do.

Rating: 4/5

Stay tuned for the next book in the battle!!

The Leopard Has Arrived

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The Leopard Has Arrived

For the next battle, a book recommended by a friend. For this challenge I’ve chosen Jo Nesbo’s novel The Leopard. One of my good friends from college recommended this book to me because she knows that I like mysteries and scary books. And this one looks like a doozy. I’ve never read a book by this author before but am excited to check it out. I’ve read a few Scandinavian mysteries before, most notably The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and have loved the grit and suspense in them. The pacing is so different from a lot of American mysteries and thrillers, slower and centered around psychological suspense.

I’m a big fan of reading novels that take place outside of my home state and country. It’s so interesting to read about how other cultures and people relate to each other and how their environment affects mood and pace. I can’t wait to dive right into the Norwegian winter and see what happens.

Stay tuned for the review of The Leopard! What book are you reading next?

Sci-Fi Mystery Mash Up

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Sci-Fi Mystery Mash Up

I have to say When You Reach Me was not what I expected it to be. I guess in my mind, from reading the synopsis on the back, I had conjured an image of a small Nancy Drew being thrown into some kind of crime, solving the case with some mishaps along the way, and catching the bad guys. But this book was something wholly different. Heavily influenced by Madeleine L’Engle’s book A Wrinkle in Time, When You Reach Me follows a 12 year old girl who mysteriously begins to receive letters from an unknown person telling her to write a letter with specific information included.

I read this book in one sitting, it flowed effortlessly from chapter to chapter that I couldn’t stop myself. Like the last book I read for the Book Battle, The Secret Place, this novel also deals with themes of friendship, growing up, and sacrifice. How do you branch out on your own, solve challenges for yourself, and become a better you?

The story begins with the friendship of Miranda and Sal, the epicenter of the book and for the events that follow. After Sal gets punched by an unknown boy, things start to get weird and Miranda begins to receive letters asking her to look for signs in order to prove to her that the letters are real. Of course she’s scared, though probably not as much as most adults would be. Then her friendship with Sal seems over and she can’t understand why. So she has to formulate new friendships and an identity outside of the Miranda and Sal bubble.

And of course there’s the time travel. It’s quite a thinker when the author begins to describe how it could be possible. You have to eliminate the possible, the rational, so that all that remains is the impossible. It’s a conundrum but a wonderful one. This book was incredible, subtle, and touching. I highly recommend it to both adults and to children. There is something here that everyone can connect with.

Rating: 5/5

Stay tuned for the next book of Book Battle 2015. Teaser well!

When You Reach Me

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When You Reach Me

The next phase of Book Battle 2015 is to choose a novel based solely upon the cover. Now I admit, I played around with this a lot and came up with Rebecca Stead’s When You Reach Me. I’ve been wanting to read this book for awhile now and can’t wait to start. The premise is so promising, the blend of science fiction and mystery fascinating. Plus it takes place in the 1970’s in New York and won the Newberry Medal. Where can you go wrong?

The novel’s inspiration comes from a newspaper article about a man who was suffering from amnesia. Apparently while under hypnosis the man recalled his wife and two daughters died in a car accident. However, when he and his wife reunited it turned out that the woman was his fiancee and that they had no children. Taking the article, Stead creates a collage of her own childhood and favorite childhood book, A Wrinkle in Time, and creates something wholly new.

What are you reading next for Book Battle 2015? Anyone read When You Reach Me? 

The Why of Crime

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The Why of Crime

The Secret Place is the fifth book in Tana French’s murder squad series and let me tell you, it doesn’t disappoint. Following young Stephen Moran, who last made an appearance in Faithful Place and is now working cold cases, the novel starts off with a seemingly innocent picture on an index card found by Holly Mackey on a board her school calls The Secret Place. Wanting to move on from cold cases and into the murder squad, Stephen takes the card of Chris Harper, murdered on the grounds between St. Kilda’s and Colm’s, both boarding schools, to Antoinette Conway. Conway has made herself into an almost larger than life ballbuster to survive and thrive in the male dominated murder squad.

Pairing up, both for their own reasons, the two set out card in hand to delve into the lives of teenage boarding school girls, and it’s terrifying. This is mean girls gone bad. Being removed from the outside world, these girls are secluded and totally reliant on each other creating an it’s them against the world mentality. Masterfully, Tana French reveals the layers and layers of vulnerability, cruelty self-preservation, loyalty, and burgeoning sexuality that in this school is akin to a social currency.

There are four girls at the heart of the mystery of who killed Chris Harper and watching them ebb and sway together, like swallows in the sky trying to stay together but ultimately breaking apart, is breathtaking. This book is so much more than a mystery/thriller. In it’s own way it’s a coming of age novel. It’s about becoming aware that everything in life is fleeting. Nothing, no matter how hard you try to hold onto it in your clenched fists, will remain static forever.

The most poignant moment in the novel for me is when Holly’s mother comes home after meeting an old friend from her St.Kilda days and describes how they haven’t been in contact for years no matter how close they were and is not sure after this meeting if they should be in contact. Their lives have taken such different paths and the only thing that connects them is their past. Holly sees, in one moment of true clarity, how everything will change. The four friends will separate because they are all individuals and not the unit they have been for so long. And perhaps it’s this moment that is the real catalyst of the book, creating the desire to throw the card of Chris Harper into the mix.

Final rating: 4.5/5

Stay tuned for the next book in Book Battle 2015!