Saturday, February 25, 2012

To Say Nothing of the Dog

To Say Nothing of the Dog: or, How We Found the Bishop's Bird Stump at LastTo Say Nothing of the Dog – Connie Willis
Evan’s ESS = 10 out of 10
Erin’s ESS = out of 10
Content = PG-13 (Adult Content, Mild Violence, Thematic Elements, Time Travel)  

“The reason Victorian society was so restricted and repressed was that it was impossible to move without knocking something over.”

“Verity’s Lord Peter’s and Monsieur Poirot’s problem was always that they had too many suspects.  I had never heard of a mystery where the detective didn’t have any.”

Why:  It’s been far too long since we (Evan) awarded top marks to a novel, yet To Say Nothing of the Dog passed our rigorous 10 point inspection with flying colors.  We encountered humor and mystery and love, to say nothing of the fact that this novel was modeled after Jerome K. Jerome’s brilliant masterpiece, Three Men in a Boat. We’ve got all kinds of rosy things to say, so buckle up, people.

Tired, time-lagged, and harassed by an unpleasant boss, Ned Henry needs to escape.  19th century England is offered as the perfect destination and after performing one small task, the main character will have plenty of time for a little rest and relaxation.  Only trouble is, Ned doesn’t really know what the task is.  The other problem is that the small task is actually a large task that could bring on the destruction of the entire time space continuum.  Ah, the unintended consequences of time travel...

Nearly everything about To Say Nothing of the Dog was fantastic; from the Chattisbourne girls and their giggly personality to the strange side effects of Time Lag.  Albeit brief, there was even a much anticipated cameo by the characters from Three Men in a Boat; Jerome, Harris, George, and Montmorency.  While there was never really a memorable blow-milk-out-your-nose moment, the humorous undertone was significant and appreciated.  The corners of our lips were curled up throughout.

To Say Nothing of the Dog was also not a run of the mill time travel book... and instead of a Flux Capacitor our hero uses a much simpler technology called The Net.  An individual’s impact on history is explored as the main character become more and more entangled in a complex mess of matchmaking, cats, and seemingly inconsequential artifacts.  At times the complex plot did have us scratching our heads, but this was mainly due to areas of dryness on our scalp.

The narrative had a definitive P.G. Wodehouse feel with an even wider array of characters.  Ned Henry was the perfect character to lead us through the chaos and Verity Kindle was the perfect compliment, to say nothing of Terence, Baine, and Lady Shrapnell.  Really, the only gripe we have was a blatant PPR (Premature Plot Reveal) related to The Moonstones.  Before we could cover our eyes, the entire whodunit of this Wilkie Collins novel was reviled....  Grrrrr.

We didn’t find ourselves head over heels after Doomsday Book, but this one definitely has us singing the praises of Connie Willis.  On second thought, there won’t be any singing on this blog (you’ll thank us later).  However, don’t let that prevent you from rushing out to try this multi-genre gem!       

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Top 10 fiction books we'd save if our house was....

Question: Top 10 fiction books we’d save if our house was....

Answer: Whether it’s fire or aliens, this week we’ve been asked to choose our 10 favorite books from our personal library? Really, only 10? A small tear is forming in the corner of our left eye... If nothing else this week has forced us to discuss and update our own HLDP (Home Library Disaster Plan). After several tweaks and multiple dry runs, we feel confident we could save 19 books in a matter of 30 seconds. Of course, then we remembered the kids....

Below are the first 10 fiction books and editions we’re going after in case of disaster:

The Hobbit (J.R.R. Tolkien)

The Hobbit

I Capture the Castle (Dodie Smith)

I Capture the Castle

To Kill a Mockingbird (Harper Lee)

To Kill a Mockingbird

Pride and Prejudice (Jane Austin)

Pride and Prejudice

The Eyre Affair (Jasper Fforde)
The Eyre Affair (Thursday Next, #1)

James and the Giant Peach (Roald Dahl)
James and the Giant Peach

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (Douglas Adams)
The Ultimate Hitchhiker's Guide: Complete and Unabridged (Hitchhiker's Guide, #1-5 + short story)

Something Wicked This Way Comes (Ray Bradbury)
Something Wicked This Way Comes

Life of Pi (Yann Martel)
Life of Pi

The Grapes of Wrath (John Steinbeck)
The Grapes of Wrath

Wow that was difficult!  What novels would you save?  Have a great week and head on over to The Broke and the Bookish to join the fun!

Monday, February 20, 2012

Freshman Year & Other Unnatural Disasters

Freshman Year & Other Unnatural DisastersFreshman Year & Other Unnatural Disasters – Meredith Zeitlin
Evan’s ESS = 7 out of 10
Erin’s ESS = out of 10
Content = PG-13 (Mild Language, Adult Content, Teenage Angst, High School Drama)  

“Behind us, kids are heading inside, taking pictures, laughing, and generally not having chats with their mothers.”

Why:  We decided to step a little out of our comfort zone and head back to high school for some good old fashion teenage drama.  Plus, the title made this one nearly impossible to pass up...

Let’s just start by saying that Kelsey Finkelstein has some lofty expectations for High School.  Surrounded by her 3 BFFs she sets out to accomplish some serious image building.  Yet, as you might imagine, things take a turn for the worse as soon as the first day of school begins.  Bullies, misunderstandings, and boy trouble quickly become the norm as Kelsey must fight to salvage her year.

Probably the thing we liked best about Freshman Year and Other Unnatural Disasters was the way the novel captured the High School-ish feel and everything that goes along with THAT.   The drama at school felt real.  The overreacting and misunderstandings amongst friends came across as genuine.  Even the oft delicate relationship between parent and teen was reminiscent of years gone past.

We also enjoyed reading about the numerous misadventures of Kelsey.  Whether it was on the soccer field or the stage, nothing came easy.  It’s also very difficult to write a character with so much frustration, yet Meredith Zeitlin managed to keep the main character likable throughout.  The dialogue at the beginning was a little forced while trying to acclimate the reader to the story, but once things got going the plot contained plenty of unpredictable commotion to keep things interesting until the very end.    
Overall, Freshman Year and Other Unnatural Disasters was an enjoyable read that did nothing to help reduce our own parental fears of the forthcoming high school years... *gulp*

Editors Note:  This book was generously provided as an advanced review e-book.  

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Redeeming Love

Redeeming LoveRedeeming Love – Francine Rivers
Evan’s ESS = 8 out of 10
Erin’s ESS = 10 out of 10
Content = PG-13 (Sexual Content, Adult Content, Violence, Loathsome Men, Redemption)

"I want you to love me. I want you to trust me enough to let me love you, and I want you to stay here with me so we can build a life together. That's what I want."

Why: It would be unfair to say that the male bibliomaniac went into this one kicking and screaming, but let’s just say it’s been sitting on the shelf for a LONG time.   Our (Evan’s) excuses officially ran out sometime in January... 

After two decades of being manipulated and mistreated, Sarah’s only option was to shut herself off emotionally to the rest of the world.  Now, as a hardened prostitute, nothing fazes her and no one is able to crack the thick wall she’s constructed around her life.  It isn’t until she meets a man named Michael Hosea that she learns God is about to turn her life upside down.      

Redeeming Love gets two thumbs ups and both hands don’t belong only to the female bibliomaniac.  This novel is probably the best Christian Fiction we’ve ever read and loaded with inspiration.  To read about the mistreatment of Sarah, almost entirely at the hands of men, was heart-wrenching.  The physical and emotional scars the main character had accumulated over her life were so deep that every time she relapsed, it was easy to understand (yet so hard to read).  And the villains... oh, did they ever boil our blood.  The hypocrisy of their judgmental attitudes nearly caused us to start popping large quantities of blood pressure pills.

The love experienced between the two main characters was truly remarkable and encouraging.  It was also fascinating that through all the pain and hurt, it only took a handful of people showing kindness to start Sarah on the path to recovery.   The plot never felt rushed and the problems felt realistic.  Many of the characters experienced growth and it was great to be able to exert such a wide array of emotions. Whew... now I think we need a nap.

Editor’s Note:  For those male readers out there, Redeeming Love isn’t nearly as bad as the title suggests.  However, in case of any temporary eye redness, we recommend two strong doses of Ian Fleming followed by twenty minutes of Clive Cussler.  In more serious cases don’t be afraid to supplement with a movie containing deadly robots or droids.     

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Top 10 Books That Broke Our Heart

Question:  Top 10 books that broke our heart.

Answer:  This year we’re flipping cupid on his head and ranking the top 10 books that broke our heart.   Some broke our heart a little and some broke our heart a lot, yet many on the list are our favorite reads of all time.  Let’s just hope your Valentine’s Day ends with a little more happiness....

1.      I Capture the Castle (Dodie Smith) – We love you Cassandra!
2.      Gone with the Wind (Margaret Mitchell) – Why Rhett?  Why Scarlett?  Why?
3.      Never Let Me Go (Kazuo Ishiguro) – What a great novel.   We figured out what was going on just in time to enjoy the super sad ending.
4.      Wuthering Heights (Emily Bronte) – Hopefully your Valentine’s Day looks nothing like this novel.
5.      The Book Thief (Markus Zusak) – It’s never a good thing when death narrates your story....
6.      Birdsong (Sebastian Faulks) – Such a complex novel and through it all is a tragic, tragic love story.
7.      The Time Traveler’s Wife (Audrey Niffenegger) – After Back to the Future who would have thought time travel could be so messy... Poor Clare.  Poor Henry.
8.      Love Story (Erich Segal) – It’s been 15 years since we read this one and it still gives us a burning sensation in our throat.  So heartbreaking!
9.      The Notebook (Nicholas Sparks) – We don’t make a habit of reading too much by this author, but the very, very end of this one did us in.  Soooo touching. 
10.  Anne of Green Gables (L.M. Montgomery) – Funny, lighthearted, yet incredibly touching at the end.

What other novels broke your heart?  Have a great week and head on over to The Broke and the Bookish to join the fun!

Saturday, February 11, 2012

From Russia with Love

From Russia with LoveFrom Russia with Love – Ian Fleming
Evan’s ESS = 7 out of 10
Erin’s ESS = out of 10
Content = PG-13 (Violence, Adult Content, Sexual Content, Nudity, Narrow Escapes) 

Why: We knew going into this one that it would be difficult to ignore the expectations set by the movies franchise.  Still, there were questions we needed answered...  Would Ian’s Fleming’s Bond live up to the likes of Sean Connery, Roger Moore, and Daniel Craig?  Would literary Bond’s Martini be ordered with the same confidence and single-mindedness as seen on screen?  Would Bond’s ability to escape during a prolonged and overly detailed bad guy exposition be just as satisfying in novel form?  Hmmmm...

Early on, James Bond is identified as the target of a well organized Russian organization bent on taking over the world.  *cue thematic and equally ominous laughter* Add a highly attractive female as bate and it would seem that the fate of MI6’s favorite child would be all but sealed.  Not so fast!  Foiling the plan will take every bit of Bond’s survival instincts and award winning smile.  Will he perish in his attempt to save the world?  The ending might just surprise you....

We are happy to report that the literary James Bond met our expectations.  Yes, there were a few things we questioned, like why was our hero found wallowing in a profound state of paperwork when he was finally introduced?  What the heck!  He’s supposed to be out shooting bad guys and playing games of high stakes poker, not filing TPS reports...  Still, our overall experience was positive and for the most part Bond was just as cool a character in page form as he is on the screen, although he does get injured a little more.  Oh, and some of his one-liners were a bit lacking. 

Once From Russia with Love got going, the plot was very suspenseful and filled with a cast of great bad guys (and girls).  The scenes on the Orient Express were especially entertaining, although between Ian Fleming and Agatha Christie, this train doesn’t seem like the safest way to travel.  Anyway, we thought it was awesome that the highly trained, efficient, no personality, assassin had a copy of a P.G. Wodehouse novel at one point.  Actually, the only parts of the novel that annoyed us was the occasional politically UN-correctness.  At one point the female lead actually encouraged James to beat her if she ever ate too much and got fat.  Really? 

We do hope to continue reading more James Bond in the near future and thanks to a rare helpful tip from our research department, will be giving Casino Royale a try next, which is supposed to be book 1 in the series.  Any other James Bond aficionados out there?

Monday, February 6, 2012

The Last of the Mohicans

The Last of the MohicansThe Last of the Mohicans – James Fenimore Cooper
Evan’s ESS = 5 out of 10
Erin’s ESS = out of 10
Content = PG (Violence, Adult Content, Sleepy Narratives)

Why: Not since Moby Dick has a novel come along with such formidable sleep inducing properties.  Take heed – do not read this novel while operating heavy machinery or swimming after 9 o’clock.  No matter how hard we tried, feigned interest was the only type of interest we could muster.  We even tried turning to the female bibliomaniac and just before leaping off the couch proclaimed: “Stay alive, no matter what occurs.  I will find you!”  Alas, nothing...

The novel starts when a party of British soldiers are deceived by their guide and nearly led into an ambush of scalp losing proportions.  The effort however, is thwarted by frontiersman and all around good guy, Natty Bumpo, and his two Mohican pals.  The rest of the novel is an elaborate game of cat and mouse with various characters being captured by the Huron Indian tribe and then rescued and then captured and then rescued.    

At the end of the day, we were unable to fight through the tedious prose that destroyed The Last of the Mohicans.  Somehow Cooper managed to extract all the excitement from the French and Indian War.  Not one of the many high speed forest pursuits and suicidal rescue attempts managed to register on our internal adrenaline-o-meter (yes we have one of those).  Maybe we went into this novel expecting something too much, but it probably doesn’t help that Daniel Day-Lewis was flipp’in awesome as Hawkeye in the 1992 film adaptation.   

From a historical perspective it’s hard to argue against this novel’s merit.  Everything from geography to the culture was presented in painstaking detail, though we’ll let someone smarter than us judge the accuracy.  In a way, this novel was like The Swiss Family Robinsons where all the excitement was overshadowed by the overly descriptive narrative.  For instance Natty Bumppo (Hawkeye) had something like eleven different names (maybe closer to 4 or 5) depending on which character was addressing him. 

All we can do is pat ourselves on the back for not abandoning this read well before the finish line.  We consider this a glorious accomplishment not for the faint of heart...