Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

The Adventures of Tom SawyerThe Adventures of Tom Sawyer – Mark Twain
Evan’s ESS = 8 out of 10
Erin’s ESS =  out of 10
Content = (Name Calling, Mild Violence, Pirating, Whitewashing)

“Certainly.  Of course.  That’s part of it.  And always coming to school or when we’re going home, you’re to walk with me, when there ain’t anybody looking – and you choose me and I choose you at parties, because that’s the way you do when you’re engaged.”

Why: Tom Sawyer was surely required reading during our elementary school days.  In fact, it was probably assigned to us multiple times, yet, much of the storyline eludes us.  Okay, now stop right there...  We know what you’re thinking, so spare us the underhanded comment about the state of our memory or the lengthy span of years since our grade school days.  The cause for misremembering has much more to do with...  Actually, it’s almost entirely owning to the fact that.... On second thought, the reason isn’t all that important.  Let’s just move onto the review...

For those individuals currently living under a rock or suffering from Temporary Plot Displacia (TPD), Tom Sawyer is about the misadventures of a boy named... Tom Sawyer.  Oft accompanied by his best friend, Huckleberry Finn, the pair is constantly on the lookout for adventure and mischief.  Rarely do the boys think more than a few second ahead, and while this strategy lands Tom in hot water more than once, it also serves his town well in the end.  Whether he’s using his considerable skills to talk his way out of whitewashing a fence or inadvertently tracking down criminals, Tom’s exploits make for great reading.  We can only feel saddened for poor, poor Becky Thatcher...
We’re sure it’s been said a bazillion times before, but we loved how Twain captured the spirit of boyhood in Tom Sawyer.  The innocence of pursuits like Tom’s sudden interest in whistling is eerily similar to how our own son has recently taken to snapping.  Every aspect of boyhood is touched upon in the novel: adventure, superstition, rebellion, love and several others we’re sure we’re missing.   The tone for the entire novel is set at the beginning in the humorous and irrational fight scene between Tom and the boy exiting Sunday school. 

Tom Sawyer was also surprisingly readable despite a few fears we had been holding onto from our aforementioned grade school experiences.  We may even consider reading this novel with our own children, although the pages are covered with new ideas to drive parents crazy.  On second thought, we might let the school system handle this one.... 

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

And Yet Another Reading Challenge for 2012!

For several weeks we’ve (Evan) been pondering the ramifications of joining the Mount TBR Reading Challenge for next year.  The rules of this challenge state that all books must only come from a participants own personal library.  This is problematic considering most of the books on our 2012 TBR list physically reside at our local library.  Hopefully you can now see our conundrum, nay quagmire.

However, during our aforementioned pondering, the research wing of Two Bibliomaniacs brought to light that our current percentage of books completed from our personal library is right around 54.7%.  This will not do, sir! 

We have hence decided to set out on a monumental climb of Mt. Ararat, which requires us (Evan) to read 40 books from our personally owed TBR pile. *gulp* Our planned checkpoints are listed below:    

1.       Thursday Next: First Among Sequels – Jasper Fforde
2.       Stiff Upper Lip, Jeeves – P.G. Wodehouse
3.       The Little Friend – Donna Tartt
4.       The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana – Umberto Eco
5.       White Oleander – Janet Fitch
6.       I Know This Much is True – Wally Lamb
7.       Redeeming Love – Francine Rivers
8.       The Story of Edgar Sawtelle – David Wroblewski
9.       Sea Glass – Anita Shreve
10.   Last of the Mohicans – James Fenimore Cooper
11.   The Smoke Jumper – Nicholas Evans
12.   Sons of Fortune – Jeffrey Archer
13.   Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil – John Berendt
14.   The Girl who Stopped Swimming – Joshilyn Jackson
15.   Insomnia – Stephen King
16.   Wolf Hall – Hilary Mantel
17.   Every Breath You Take – Judith McNaught
18.   The Pilot’s Wife – Anita Shreve
19.   The Sands of Time – Michael Hoeye
20.   A Separate Peace – John Knowles
21.   The Hunt for Red October – Tom Clancy
22.   Code to Zero – Ken Follett
23.   Away Laughing on a Fast Camel – Louise Rennison
24.   Dancing in my Nuddy-Pants – Louise Rennison
25.   Knocked Out by my Nunga-Nungas – Louise Rennison
26.   Then He Ate My Boy Entrancers – Louise Rennison
27.   The Hunchback of Notre-Dame – Victor Hugo
28.   A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthurs Court – Mark Twain
29.   The Awakening – Kate Chopin
30.   End of the Spear – Steve Saint
31.   Adelé – Emma Tennant
32.   Pirate – Ted Bell
33.   Sense and Sensibility – Jane Austen
34.   For Whom the Bell Tolls – Ernest Hemingway
35.   Lady Chatterley’s Lover – D.H. Lawrence
36.   The Hours – Michael Cunningham
37.   The Adventures of Don Quixote – Miguel De Cervantes
38.   A Journey to the Center of the Earth – Jules Verne
39.   The Outsiders – S.E. Hinton
40.   The Little Balloonist – Linda Donn

If we can accomplish this admirable feat our percentage read will climb to 61.4%.  Now, if only we knew how to Yodel!  Thanks to My Reader’s Block for hosting this exciting challenge!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Rabbit, Run

Rabbit, RunRabbit, Run – John Updike
Evan’s ESS = 7 out of 10
Erin’s ESS =  out of 10
Content = (Adult Content, Language, Sexual Content, Domestic Dysfunction, Running)

Why: Whew buddy, this one was intense.  Had it not been read on an e-reader, there’s a high probability that it would have been chucked across the room.  It literally took us four months before we felt comfortable revisiting Rabbit, Run in review form.  We’ve said before that novels that move us emotionally deserved to be praised. Huh, well, we might need to revise our stance...

Harry Angstrom’s life pretty much peaked in high school as a standout basketball player.  Now, with his second child on the way and nursing an unfulfilling job selling kitchen appliances, Harry wants out.  Specifically, he wants to run... like a rabbit, although that’s his nickname too.  The rest of the novel is pretty much concerned with where Rabbit decides to run.  Oh, and there’s this huge “Jude the Obscure” event that happens near the end too.     

Let’s just get it on the table.  We can’t stand Harry “Rabbit” Angstrom.  In his inability to adjust to adult life and the responsibilities that follow, he chooses a path of cowardice and selfishness at every turn.  He shows almost zero remorse for the impact his poor decision making has on those around him and thinks that by simply showing up; the world owes him a debt of gratitude.  Furthermore.... actually, we better force a topic change before we say something we’ll regret.

Honestly, the novel was intriguing.  The controversial subject matter was presented in a very realistic and fair manner.  Love, marriage and family were all explored throughout and the narrative pulled no punches as it ventured into the most uncomfortable and awkward situations.  Despite our oft irritation at the main character, the story kept us engaged until the very end.  And then, just like in Jude the Obscure, the event that took place in the bathroom knocked us off the couch (and nearly made us nauseous).  Oh, how we wish we could elaborate...        

Bravo to Updike for taking on a topic as universal as personal responsibility and presenting it in such a unique manner.  Unfortunately, ole Rabbit was just a little too unlikable and the event at the end made us squirm a little too much.  We’re still unsure if we’ll continue on with the series, but we’d love to hear thoughts from someone who’s read Rabbit Redux...      

Friday, November 18, 2011

Another Reading Challenge for 2012!

Watch out - we’re starting to get challenge fever (on a slightly unrelated note we may be starting to get an actual fever, in which case you should also probably watch out...)!

We had so much fun this year that we decided to tackle The Back to the Classics Challenge again in 2012!    Even with an extra read and enhanced categories for next year, we’re determined to come out on top.  After considerable deliberation, our picks are below:

  1. 19th Century Classic – The Mayor of Casterbridge (Thomas Hardy)
  2. 20th Century Classic – Birdsong (Sebastian Faulks)
  3. Reread a Classic of your Choice – A Tale of Two Cities (Charles Dickens)
  4. A Classic play – Hamlet (William Shakespeare)
  5. Classic mystery – The Moonstone (Wilkie Collins)
  6. Classic romance – Captain Corelli’s Mandolin
  7. Classic translated into your language – Love in the Time of Cholera (Gabriel Garcia Marquez)
  8. Classic award winner – Goodnight Mr. Tom (Michelle Magorian)
  9. Classic set in a country that you will (probably) not visit – Kim (Rudyard Kipling)

Are we overlooking anything?  Special thanks to Sarah over at Sarah Reads Too Much for hosting this fantastic challenge!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

First Official Reading Challenge of 2012!!!

Once again it’s that glorious time of year when we get to map out our reading goals for the upcoming year.  There are several reading challenges we plan to sign up for in 2012, but the first one that caught our attention was The Sir Terry Pratchett Reading Challenge for 2012! 

This challenge will provide us with the perfect motivation to continue our progress through the Discworld series.  The rules are pretty flexible so at this point we plan to commit to the five books listed below.  While this is only a fraction of the 40-ish Discworld novels published, it will boost our overall total to 9.  Yikes, we really do have a long way to go....  

  1. Reaper Man
  2. Wyrd Sisters
  3. Hogfather
  4. Men at Arms
  5. Soul Music

Good choices?  Or are there other Discworld novels we should move to the top?

Special thanks to Hannah over at Once Upon A Time for hosting this fantastic challenge!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Something Rotten

Something Rotten (Thursday Next, #4)Something Rotten – Jasper Fforde
Evan’s ESS = 9 out of 10
Erin’s ESS =  out of 10
Content = PG-13 (Adult Content, Violence, Mild Language, High Speed Croquet, Literary Character Duels)

“If the real world were a book, it would never find a publisher.  Overlong, detailed to the point of distraction and ultimately, without a major resolution.”

Why:  Time to explore another Ffantastic novel by Jasper Fforde!  We should once again state Ffor the record how Ffond we are of the Thursday Next series.  So much Ffun and Ffull of surprises...  Ffine we’ll stop it with the extra “f” thing, but he started it.....

Exhausted after a brief hiatus in the book world, Thursday Next returns to England with her infant son, Friday Next.  The pair is also accompanied by none other than Shakespeare’s Hamlet, on a journey of personal growth.  Immediately, Thursday is thrust into controversy and finds that getting her old literary detective job back is the least of her worries.  Let’s highlight some of the drama: The Windowmaker, a highly trained assassin, is on her trail.  The evil Goliath Corporation is making plans to become an organized religion in order to prevent an unfavorable prophecy.  And the only way nuclear Armageddon can be averted is if the unlikely Swindon Mallets can somehow win the Croquet Superhoop championship.  And you think your life is stressful....     

The more we got into Something Rotten, the more we enjoyed it.  Coming off The Well of Lost Plots (which is still our favorite) there was some concern over book four being a letdown.  We should have known better.  With so many new character and awkward situations thrown into the mix, it’s hard not to be satisfied.

On the character side, there was the arrival of Hamlet who added all kinds of awkwardness to the narrative.  Unfortunately, we’ve never actually read Hamlet, which blinded us to many of the references.  Still, we enjoyed this new character and loved his personality improvements near the end.  Also, while we didn’t see much of little Friday Next, it was hilarious that as a baby he only speaks Loriem Ipsum.  It’s these little things we love about this series!

From an event standpoint, we thought Evade the Question Time was a top rate political commentary show.  The literary character stand-off between the Cheshire Cat and Kaine was a rare delight - basically a duel in which both participants summon literary characters to fight their battles... impressive.  Also, we think there could be a real future in high speed croquet.  The final game was quite exciting as both teams rushed to hit their ball into the final post. 

On a slightly more serious note (let’s not get too carried away), bravo to Fforde, who, as it turns out, CAN do sentimental.  The ending caught us by surprise and was quite emotional.  Oh, and if events in your life aren’t working out as you had expected, just know that you can probably blame Denmark for your problems....   

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Swiss Family Robinson

The Swiss Family Robinson (Puffin Classics)The Swiss Family Robinson – Johann David Wyss
Evan’s ESS = 6 out of 10
Erin’s ESS =  out of 10
Content = (Minor Adult Content, Aggressive Animals, Disastrous Falls, Male Donkeys Called by Their Other Name)

Why: Ugh, what happened to Roberta, coconut bombs, family animal races, and pirate alarms?  Seriously, how did they not get incorporated into the novel? Someone get Johann David Wyss on the phone!

Shipwrecked off the cost of a tropical island, the Robinsons must forge an unlikely partnership with nature and circumstance to ensure their survival.  They must utilize every bit of their intellect to conquer, build, gather, plant, and tame.  Not only does the family survive, but they find a way to thrive, while at the same time constructing an epic tree house.  But, like anyone who’s ever spent time marooned on a deserted island knows, the next catastrophe is always right around the corner... 

Okay, so it took some time to adjust to the fact that the novel doesn’t contain certain really cool elements included in the Disney movie.  Less of the action and more of the categorizing every specific plant and animal species on the island, which as it turns out, was quite extensive. We can appreciate the fact that the novel was written as a journal and that given a similar fate, our own journal might attempt to capture much of the same information.  Unfortunately, the plot struggled to hold our attention. 

It was pleasant to read about a family that actually respected one another and pulled together for a common purpose, however, certain character talents were a bit hard to believe.  The dad was pretty much master of everything, whether it was lassoing animals, identifying countless edible plants, or whittling little whatevers.  The mom was a world class gardener and chef – she figured out how to make a porcupine soup that was apparently to die for.  Plus, the children needed no more than one or two tries before they were experts.  Fine, we might be over dramatizing things just a bit, but the Robinsons were more a cross between the Crocodile Hunter and Survivorman than a family of missionaries.

Okay, let’s get to what’s really bothering us...  How could the Robinsons decide to live in the cave over the tree house (As readers, you have the “Two Bibliomanics Iron Clad Promise” that the aforementioned fact isn’t central to the plot)?  We’ve heard all the problems related to personal safety and the other immaterial arguments.  We still want to know how someone could possibly not decide to live in a tree house if they had the opportunity.  Where’s the romanticism in that?  At least tell us where’s the awesomeness?

We’re a bit all over the place on this review, so in summary: glad we read it, but it could have been better.  Thank you.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

The Prince of Mist

The Prince of Mist (Niebla, #1)The Prince of Mist – Carlos Ruiz Zafon
Evan’s ESS = 8 out of 10
Erin’s ESS =  out of 10
Content = (Adult Content, Violence, Intense Thematic Elements, Clowns, Mist)

Why: We know Carlos Ruiz Zafon can do adult literature, but we had to judge for ourselves his prowess in the YA genre.  Not only did he pass with flying colors, he also managed to scare our pants off in the process...

When the Carver’s move into a cottage house near the beach, only the sinister cat watching their progress can know what’s in store (unfortunately, we’ve been unable to confirm or deny reports that the cat is actually an unregistered animagus).  The family’s thirteen year old son, Max, doesn’t have a good feeling about the new situation and decides to investigate.  After exploring a creepy sculpture garden and conducting one or two opportune interviews he decides the history surrounding a local family are not as they seem.  Time is running out and if Max can’t figure out a way to stop the Prince of Mist, well, let’s just say that things won’t end advantageous for our young hero.

Zafon has a way of writing that instantly pulls you into his stories and The Prince of Mist was no different.  It also helped that we listened to the audio presentation and spooky background music played at the most climatic times.  During our early morning commute, the sculpture garden and shipwreck scenes were creepy enough that the addition of music nearly caused us to turn on the interior light of our car.  That being said, why don’t more audio books incorporate theme music?  That’s our big idea of the day...  Our few experiences have been overwhelmingly positive and only enhance the overall production.  How cool would it be if Howard Shore or John William wrote a score for the final scene between Bob Ewell and Scout Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird?  Or what about something dramatic for the final conversation between Simon and Cassandra in I Capture the Castle?  Who’s with me?   

Okay, back to The Prince of Mist...  Actually, there isn’t a whole lot more to say - excellent story, with a satisfying twist and plenty of fast pace action.  Best YA horror story we’ve come across, although this might actually be the first of its kind for us.  Plus, if you aren’t already petrified of clowns, this novel should do the trick.  

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

2011 Reading Challenge Update - October

Another month in the books and another two challenges vanquished.  The 2nds Challenge was a worthy foe and the 100+ Reading Challenge... well, let’s just say we have a questionable year end video planned that will touch on this adversary...

October was our highest book completion month to date, highlighted by The Prince of Mist, Bag of Bones, Water for Elephants, Lost Boys, and Leave it to Psmith.  We didn’t have any lowlights to speak of, although Gormenghast and The Swiss Family Robinson didn’t shatter any literary ceilings.  We also made absolutely no progress in our Books to Movies Challenge, which probably deserves a separate post. 

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

A Town Like Alice – Nevil Shute
The Fountainhead – Ayn Rand
Leave it to Psmith – P.G. Wodehouse
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies – Seth Grahame-Smith & Jane Austen
Stranger in a Strange Land – Robert Heinlein

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

Books to Movies Challenge – 3/6
Gothic Reading Challenge – 8/8
Back to the Classics – 8/8
What’s in a Name Challenge – 6/6
2nds Challenge – 20/20
100+ Reading Challenge – 109/100

On a loosely related topic, a Halloween Miracle occurred during last night’s quest for candy.  Midway through the evening our children came across a “take one” bucket full anti-candy (yo-yo’s, whistles, stickers, etc.).  Our son came running towards the street full of excitement and announced, “Look at this awesome bookmark!”  Ah, words that warmed our bookish minded hearts. 

Also, props to the very talented female Bibliomaniac on her splendid Angry Birds costume!!!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Top 10 Emotion Producing Books

Question:  Top 10 Emotion Producing Books.

Answer: This week it might be easier to venture over to our top 25 lists on the left hand side of the blog.  Our favorite books are those that produce strong emotions, unless of course, they produce too much emotion in which case they get chucked across the room.  Sorry for the lack of surprises on this week’s list...

  1. The Pillars of the Earth (Ken Follett) – What a rollercoaster ride!  The Hamleigh’s are one of the most villainous family’s in all of literature.  How easy they made it to cheer for Jack, Philip, Tom and Aliena.
  2. The Kite Runner (Khaled Hosseini) – The end scene caused eye redness for almost a month.
  3. Les Miserables (Victor Hugo) – Despite the length of this novel, it left us with a feeling of get-up-out-of-the-chair-and-do-something-to-make-the-world-better feeling.
  4. Wuthering Heights (Emily Bronte) – Hate and anger are pretty much the only two emotions utilized during the reading of this book.  Have we mentioned before that we absolutely LOATH Heathcliff? 
  5. The Harry Potter Series (J.K. Rowling) – Pretty much every emotion is called upon multiple times throughout this series.
  6. Pride and Prejudice (Jane Austen) – Yep.
  7. Jude the Obscure (Thomas Hardy) – This novel would fall into the throwing across the room variety.
  8. Bag of Bones (Stephen King) – At the time we wanted to pick Max Devore out of his wheel chair and inflict pain.  Our therapy sessions are ongoing...
  9. Three Men in a Boat (Jerome K. Jerome) – Side splitting laughter.
  10. Gone with the Wind (Margaret Mitchell) – This one almost falls into the throw across the room variety, yet how can we possibly stay angry with Rhett and Scarlett??? 

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