Saturday, July 30, 2011

Where the Red Fern Grows

Where the Red Fern GrowsWhere the Red Fern Grows – Wilson Rawls
Evan’s ESS = 7 out of 10
Erin’s ESS = 6 out of 10
Content = (Violence, Hunting, Bullying, Perseverance, Raccoon Slaughter)

Why: After missing the opportunity to fall in love with this novel in our youths, we did the next best thing and engaged our six year old son in a read-along.    

As a young boy growing up in the Ozarks, Billy Colman wants nothing more than a hunting dog of his own.  His family is unable to provide the necessary financial help, so Billy decides to take matters into his own hands.  For two long years of hard physical labor he scraps and scrapes the necessary funds.  However, once Billy finally gets his pups the hard work of training his hounds to hunt raccoons begins.  Does the threesome have what it takes to win the gold cup at the annual coon hunting championship or are more sinister forces at play...    

The plot of this novel is a secret to precious few people.  Where the Red Fern Grows stands proudly alongside Old Yeller as the YA novel most likely to make its readers melt into a puddle of tears.  Even though the plot held few secrets for us, the novel itself had plenty of pleasant surprises.  First, we were amazed at the novel’s depth.  The commentary on life and loss was well thought out and incredibly thought provoking.  As well, the process of Billy saving and sacrificing for his hounds left us with more than a few lessons on patience.  Second, not since Pongo and Missis have we seen a closer bond between animals displayed in literature.  How can you not fall in love with Little Ann and Old Dan (even for someone who isn’t much of a dog person... *cough* Evan *cough*)?

As previously mentioned, we got to experience this novel with our son, who just so happens to be a crazy dog lover.  Unfortunately, he has a cruel dad who won’t let him have a dog leaving him no choice but to live vicariously through literature...  Needless to say he connected with Billy at once, although he couldn’t begin to comprehend the concept of saving his money for 2 years to get something he wanted (teaching moment perhaps?).  He also struggled with the detailed coon hunting parts which did have a tendency to bog down the narrative for anyone without an ardent interest in the sport.  Overall, though he enjoyed the story and looked forward to the nightly read.  Maybe Old Yeller next?

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Top 10 books tackling "tough" issues

Question: Top 10 books tackling “tough” issues

Answer:  We’re not saying we agree with every last idea presented in the books below (we’re not saying we don’t either), but we applaud the authors for taking on some pretty significant issues.  Pardon our carelessly general categorizations this week – time was unkind...

  1. To Kill a Mockingbird (Harper Lee) – Racial injustice
  2. Catch-22 (Joseph Heller) – Government/military bureaucracy
  3. Animal Farm (George Orwell) – Farm animal uprisings... wait no, oppressive regimes
  4. The Grapes of Wrath (John Stienbeck) – Plight of migrant workers
  5. All Quiet on the Western Front (Erich Maria Remarque) – Consequences of Combat  
  6. Les Misérables (Victor Hugo) – Social Injustices
  7. Atlas Shrugged (Ayn Rand) – Excessive government regulations
  8. Fahrenheit 451 (Ray Bradbury) – Censorship
  9. The Handmaid's Tale (Margaret Atwood) – Women's rights
  10. A Fine Balance (Rohinton Mistry) Social injustices

Have a great week and head on over to The Broke and the Bookish to join the fun!

Friday, July 22, 2011

Perfume: The Story of a Murderer

Perfume: The Story of a MurdererPerfume: The Story of a Murderer – Patrick Süskind
Evan’s ESS = 5 out of 10
Erin’s ESS = out of 10
Content = R (Adult Content, Violence, Language, Sexual Content, Human Hibernation)

"Odors have a power of persuasion stronger than that of words, appearances, emotions, or will. The persuasive power of an odor cannot be fended off, it enters into us like breath into our lungs, it fills us up, imbues us totally. There is no remedy for it."

Why:  We can honestly say that Patrick Süskind has taken the art of olfaction further than anyone else in the world of fiction.  Unfortunately, we found that maybe this topic is better left underappreciated....

Jean-Baptiste Grenouille was born a sickly boy with no body scent and a superhuman sense of smell.  Weird combinations, but just go with it for now...  Over the years, Grenouille learns to refine his uncommon nasal abilities and becomes a very talented perfume maker.  He also happens to develop a flavor for murder and a singular fascination with preserving the odors from a recently murdered corpse.  It takes more than a few attempts to refine his technique...  Before long, his ambitions and ego lead him down a path to develop a scent so perfect and so powerful that he will be able to control the deepest of human desires.     

If the above summary of Perfume comes across a little creepy, then we apologize for not articulating our thoughts very well.  Our hope was to come across ALOT creepy.  Yes, the full title of this novel (Perfume: The Story of a Murderer) helped us set our expectations accordingly, yet no warning could have prepared us for what was to come near the end.  *blushing*  But we’re getting ahead of ourselves... 

Perfume is a unique book and in some ways unlike anything we’ve ever read.  With so much focus given to the scent of smell, it was interesting to look at different situations and settings through the lens of this underappreciated sense.  The narrative was also effective in showing just how powerful the scent of smell can be and the writing itself was beautiful and deep.  We also enjoyed the provocative look into the ancient art of perfume development and production.  Really, the entire first half the novel was fascinating if not groundbreaking in the genre of olfactory fiction.  Unfortunately, things took a pretty ugly turn.

Two things.  The idea of controlling entire populations with an intoxicating scent was a bit much – especially when you consider the effect of said scent being released into the open.  Also, Jean-Baptiste Grenouille was a little too creepy for our tastes.  The main character was just... yuck.  Technically, a character who displays the characteristic of yuck, means the author has done a admirable job.  In the case of Grenouille...  not so much (how long does an individual need to stay in a state of semi-hibernation living off bugs?).

In summary: very high points for uniqueness and very high points for creepiness.  In this case, the later isn’t a good thing. 

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Top 10 novels teens should be required to read

Question: Top 10 novels teens should be required to read

Answer:  Ideally, we want our hypothetical teenagers to read a wide range of novels... OUTSIDE the YA genre.  You might find a few YA books on our list this week, but our main goal is to prepare teens for a lifetime of reading.  We’re also assuming that many of the great YA books are already on their “un-required” reading list...      

  1. To Kill a Mockingbird (Harper Lee) – Amazing book!  Amazing narrator!
  2. Pride and Prejudice (Jane Austen) – Literature’s classic love story, although any Jane Austen book can be substituted here.
  3. The Hobbit (J.R.R. Tolkien) – The epic adventure that led to another 3 part epic adventure...
  4. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (Roald Dahl) – So many readers (including us) missed this great author in their youths. James and the Giant Peach or Matilda can also be substituted here.
  5. Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging (Louise Rennison) – This is one of the funniest teen diary books we’ve come across.  Teens should be careful to avoid being as shallow as the main character... 
  6. David Copperfield (Charles Dickens) – Our opinion has changed over the past few months, but this novel is now our favorite by Charles Dickens.
  7. Bag of Bones (Stephen King) – Any Stephen King will do, and with close to a bazillion novels published there are plenty to choose from.
  8. The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy (Douglas Adams) – “Don’t Panic” is the number one rule all teenagers should live by...  Okay, there might be a few others, but not panicking shouldn’t be undervalued.  This “guide” has more than a few tips!  
  9. Persepolis (Marjane Satrapi) – Personally, we’re not that into graphic novels, but this novel was excellent.  Plus, it helps further the quest to read a variety of different genres.
  10. Gone with the Wind / I Capture the Castle / Jane Eyre / Rebecca / A Room with a View – Take your pick!  We know our favorite, but any 1 of these 5 novels will provide a worthy final choice.

Have a great week and head on over to The Broke and the Bookish to join the fun!

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Dragon Rider

Dragon RiderDragon Rider – Cornelia Funke
Evan’s ESS = 7 out of 10
Erin’s ESS = out of 10
Content = PG (Name Calling, Mild Violence, Exciting Escapes, Brownies)

“I’m perfectly happy to know the world at secondhand.  It’s a lot safer.”

Why: Does a greater bond exist than that between a boy and his dragon?  We offer a definitive maybe...

Human settlements have always presented problems for Dragons, and when word reaches Firedrake that his home will soon be under threat, something drastic must be done.  He decides at once to set out for a fabled land where dragons are able to live in peace and seclusion.  Though, before he can begin his journey, he must visit a renowned mapmaker.  One that turns out to be a mouse...  He also encounters an orphaned boy who happens to have the time and the aspirations for an epic quest.  Together, the pair set out in search of *drum roll* the Rim of Heaven.    

Before we go into detail about how great Dragon Rider was, we’re under obligation to mention that one of the Two Bibliomaniacs didn’t make it past the first chapter.  Apparently, a talking mouse bringing a warning to a pack of dragons isn’t interesting enough.  Apparently, a quest to establish peace and safety to a threatened mythological species is hardly noble enough to demand her attention.  Apparently... Okay, we’ll be done. 

Actually, Dragon Rider isn’t great, just good, but it does have plenty to offer any wonderful person interested in fantasy and adventure.  We’re talking Dragons, mountain dwarfs, and a brownie with a pessimistic disposition.  While the danger probably wouldn’t make Dirk Pitt sweat, there’s still plenty of suspense and mystery to keep the weekend adventurist entertained.  The novel moves quickly around the globe to many interesting locations and keeps the reader wonder just how many narrow escapes can be packed into one book. 

We also enjoyed the bond between orphan boy and dragon.  The pair grew closer and learned a couple important life lessons along the way.  The supporting cast was strong as well.  Twigleg the homunculus will always maintain a special place in our heart and Gravelbeard the mountain dwarf, while prone to making some regrettable decisions, was quite memorable. 

Overall, Dragon Rider wasn’t on par with Inkheart, but is still worthy of your time.  And if you don’t feel like reading the text, Link from Encino Man does an excellent job with the audio version...

Editor’s Note: For anyone not familiar with the exploits of Dirk Pitt, he literature’s version of Indiana Jones and James Bond all rolled into one.  Plus, his one-liners are so much better and only a bit more shallow....      

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Top 10 authors we'd love to meet

Question: Top 10 Authors we’d love to meet

Answer: Not quite sure there are any authors we’d actually DIE to meet, but we’d be willing to negotiate a small appendage to have lunch with any of the below names.  Sorry for the utter lack of commentary this week, but we couldn’t think of 10 creative ways to say we really, really, really want to meet each author.  

  1. J.R.R. Tolkien (The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings) 
  2. J.K. Rowling (Harry Potter series, The Tales of Beedle the Bard, Quidditch Through the Ages) 
  3. Jane Austin (Pride and Prejudice, Emma, Northanger Abbey)
  4. Harper Lee (To Kill a Mockingbird)
  5. Charles Dickens (David Copperfield, Great Expectations, Bleak House, A Christmas Carol)
  6. C.S. Lewis (The Chronicles of Narnia, Mere Christianity)
  7. Stephen King (Bag of Bones, The Langoliers, The Green Mile, The Regulators)
  8. Dodie Smith – (I Capture the Castle, The Hundred and One Dalmatians)
  9. Jaspier Fforde – (The Thursday Next series)
  10. Margaret Mitchell (Gone with the Wind)

Have a great week and head on over to The Broke and the Bookish to join the fun!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Jamaica Inn

Jamaica InnJamaica Inn – Daphne Du Maurier
Evan’s ESS = 7 out of 10
Erin’s ESS = 5 out of 10
Content = PG (Adult Content, Violence, Domestic Cruelty, Looting, Inhospitable Lodgings)

Why:  Given the fact that we LOVED Rebecca, it’s almost unforgivable to think how much time has passed between Du Maurier novels.  Fortunately, the Books to Movies Challenge came along and provided us with the perfect excuse. 

On the heels of her mother’s death, Mary Yellen sets out for her new home at the notorious Jamaica Inn.  Expecting to find the same Aunt Patience from her childhood, what she actually encounters is far worse than Stephen King’s worst nightmare.  Her Aunt is a broken woman and her uncle is a complete jerk-bag (a wide range of derogatory terms can be used here).  And then there’s the inn itself – let’s just say there’s a reason the rooms at the inn aren’t available to the public...

The book.  While Jamaica Inn doesn’t belong in the same class as Rebecca, it was still a solid read.  The setting was fabulous and established the gothic feel right from the beginning.  The characters were also unique in their ambitious personalities.  Mary’s courage was inspiring and her determination in the face of injustice made us stand up and cheer.  Aunt Patience played the part of meek and unconventional wife perfectly.  And then there’s the landlord...  Rarely does a character come along with so few redeeming characteristics as Jos Merlin.  (Actually, it does reminds us of someone else from classic literature that we loath.  What was his name again?  Oh yea, Heathcliff!!!).  Really, the only piece lacking was an ending to match the suspense and intrigue of the rest of the novel.  Unfortunately, for one of us (hint- ERIN!) this was a pretty big miss. 

The movie.  We chose to view the 1939 Alfred Hitchcock adaptation and honestly, the movie was a train wreck from the beginning.  One of the greatest features of the book was the mystery surrounding the questionable activities at the Jamaica Inn.  Using a few well placed sentences following the opening credits, the movie took all of two seconds to spoil the surprise.  Characters were changed and removed unnecessarily and the “new and improved” ending was very hokey.  It also didn’t help that the audio quality was just as poor as the overacting.  By the end of the movie one of us was playing Falldown on her IPod and the other one was starting to brainstorm the top 10 rebels in literature on his laptop...      

The book clearly won this less than epic battle.  Read the book, don’t watch the movie.  And if you happen to find yourself wandering around Bodmin Moor in Southwest England, stop by the real Jamaica Inn and have a drink – just watch out for ghosts.  Or if you prefer the Caribbean, you might want to try an entirely different Jamaica Inn located in Ocho Rios, Jamaica...   

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Top 10 Rebels in Literature

Question: Top 10 Rebels in Literature

Answer: This week we celebrate those literary characters that stood up for what they believed!

  1. Atticus Finch (To Kill a Mockingbird) – Atticus didn’t have a cool motorcycle or spiky hair, but he fought for what was right, despite what was easy. 
  2. Rhett Butler (Gone with the Wind) – Rhett marched to his own music and had plenty of style doing it.
  3. Neville Longbottom (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows) – This was a great book for Neville.  We knew he always had it in him and when he emerged from the portrait his legacy as a rebel was indisputable.
  4. Elphaba Thropp (Wicked) – Even though we liked the musical 1000 times better than the book, it’s still impossible to ignore Elphaba’s spirit.  She definitely knew how to Defy Gravity!
  5. Katniss Everdeen (The Hunger Games) – With the help of Peeta, this remarkable girl inspired all of Dystopian North America to take action against an evil regime.   
  6. Guy Montag (Fahrenheit 451) – Guy may very well be the most noble of all the rebels considering his stance against book burning
  7. The Help (The Help) – With only a few chapters left to go, it seems appropriate that we should include Aibileen, Minny, and Skeeter in this week’s list.  What a good book (so far)!
  8. Equality 7-2521 (Anthem) – This unique character was willing to risk everything for freedom and love.
  9. Aliena (Pillars of the Earth) – She rebelled against some of the most wickedly vile males in all of literature – over and over and over again.
  10. Winston Smith (Nineteen Eighty-Four) – Anyone brave enough to rebel against Big Brother deserves a spot on our list. 
Have a great week and head on over to The Broke and the Bookish to join the fun!

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Books to Movies Challenge - July Check-In

Time for the July Books to Movies Challenge check-in!  We’re one month into the challenge and we’ve already seen some great progress. Surprisingly, movies have been faring admirably well against books. Can’t wait to see how this month shapes up...

Personally, we’ve managed to produce one review so far, but another one is right around the corner...

Be sure to include any of your July reviews in the below linky so we can stop by and have a read!

Saturday, July 2, 2011

2011 Reading Challenge Update - June

How’s it even possible that half of 2011 is already gone? Seriously? Actually, we have some theories, but most of them are conspiratorial in nature and better saved for a later post. Plus, it’s above 90 today in tropical northern Indiana and the local pool is calling our name. Let’s hurry up and get down to business.

The simple fact that we’re only 32% away from completing our goal of 100 novels makes us want to perform a giant cannonball into water during the above referenced trip to the pool. We’ve read a few great books since our last check in (Mort, The Well of Lost Plots, I Capture the Castle, and The Wastelands), a few that were medium (Enchantment, The Body, Jamaica Inn), and one that was quite annoying (Stranger in a Strange Land).

Here are the reviews that we posted in June that fit into our 2011 Challenges.

The Princess Bride – William Goldman
The Color Purple – Alice Walker
Mort – Terry Pratchett
The Well of Lost Plots – Jaspier Fforde
Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell – Susanna Clarke
The Looking Glass Wars – Frank Beddor

Here’s an update on our 2011 Challenge. All the glorious details can be found

Books to Movies Challenge – 1.5/6

Gothic Reading Challenge – 6/8

Back to the Classics – 7/8

What’s in a Name Challenge – 3/6

2nds Challenge – 19/20

100+ Reading Challenge – 68/100

In July we have The Help, Morality for Beautiful Girls, and The Phantom of the Opera to get excited about!!! How’s everyone else doing in their 2011 reading endeavors? Send us a link so we can check out your progress!