Joemyjoe’s #CBR5 Review 4: The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

imagesMy dad just read The Hobbit to us, and I really liked it.

Bilbo Baggins is a hobbit who lives in The Shire, a nice green part of Middle Earth. He likes to eat,  smoke his pipe, read his books, and relax. And then one day, a wizard named Gandalf comes to his house and invites him to go on an adventure. Bilbo says NO, because he likes his life and isn’t interested in changing it. Later, 13 dwarves come to his house, thinking Bilbo is going on this adventure with them. They eat a LOT. Bilbo tells them NO, but the next morning changes his mind and runs after them.

The adventure is that the dwarves are trying to find their old home, the city under the mountains (Dale), and the treasure that is there. The city was destroyed 60 years ago by Smaug, the ferocious dragon.

The hobbit, wizard, and dwarves set out and meet good people (Elrond and his elves, and shapeshifters) and bad (goblins, orcs, and wargs). They get attacked by goblins and giant spiders. Bilbo finds a magical ring (and a weird creature named Gollum) that makes him invisible when he wears it.

They are a brave bunch with a lot of courage. When Smaug is finally dead, they find their way into the mountain to get the gold and treasure.

My favorite part was the scenes with Bilbo and Gollum talking in riddles about his “precious” ring.

Bilbo, who started out as a quiet little hobbit, became a brave hero. He brought some of the treasure back home to the Shire (only about 2 small chests of treasure, not 1/14th of the gold as he originally said he would take)! He lived a long and happy life, and eventually told his nephew Frodo all about his adventures.

We watched the first movie this weekend, but I liked the book better.

You can read more of Joemyjoe’s reviews on his mom’s blog.

Scootsa1000’s #CBR5 Review 44: Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

UnknownI apologize in advance for this mess of a non-review.

You guys, I read this a few weeks ago (really, less than a month ago), and already I can’t remember what I want to say about it. I remember that I thought it was OK. Anything else?

I remember wanting to like it more than I did. Everyone else seemed to. I remember not really caring about any of the main characters all that much, and wishing that I did. I remember wanting to know more about the mystery and the secret society, and less about Google and the Clay & Kat (the fact that I just had to use Google to remind myself of the characters’ names seems a bit ironic, I suppose). I wanted more about Neel and how he made his fortune, and more about the fantasy series of books that Neel and Clay loved growing up.

For those who haven’t yet read it, Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore is a mysterious place, unlike other bookstores. Young Clay, recently laid off from his graphic designer job, goes to work there as a clerk, and finds that the store is the facade for an entirely different world. Clay and his friends try to unravel the mystery behind the store’s existence, and we learn a whole lot about book making, fonts, and Google.

Does Google really have special meals filled with specific vitamins for its staff? I can’t imagine that it does, but I thought I’d ask.

Honestly, I don’t think I’ve ever written such a disjointed and wandering review before, but I can barely remember anything about this book. Sorry.

You can read more of my reviews (of books that I can actually remember) on my blog.

Bunnybean’s #CBR5 Review 10: Chrissa by Mary Casanova

Unknown-3I read Chrissa, a book based on the 2009 American Girl doll of the year. It is about a girl named Chrissa and how she stood up to a group of mean bullies at her new school.

She’s the new girl, first of all, which must be so hard. Some mean girls named Tara (the head of the group), Jadyn (who follows along with everything and is sassy), and Sonali (who hates to be mean or hurt anyone but she is Tara’s best friend) gang up on Chrissa for no reason. Chrissa hates her new school. The only good thing she likes about it is that she made a new friend, Gwen, who Tara says is also a loser and they could both create their own little goofy club.

To make matters worse, Tara CUTS Gwen’s hair when Gwen closes her eyes. Then she lied that Chrissa was the one who gave such a terrible trim to Gwen’s bangs. Gwen didn’t even talk to Chrissa anymore, she was so angry! Until Chrissa finally told her parents everything, and her parents talk to the principal and teachers at the school, getting the mean girls in a bit of trouble. Sonali even quits being friends with the “mean bees”, and became friends with Chrissa and Gwen!

I liked Sonali, because she did what her heart told her to, Gwen because she was a good friend, and Chrissa because was strong and was a great main character. I watched the movie and I’m going to read the second book soon.

You can read more of Bunnybean’s reviews on her mom’s blog.

Scootsa1000’s #CBR5 Review 43: Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan

UnknownThis book has a glittery gold cover with hot pink font. And the insides are just as fabulous.

Is Crazy Rich Asians a great piece of literature? Good god, no. But I had a terrific time reading it and have been gleefully recommending it to friends. And I felt super-cool when I saw that one of my best friends from High School was thanked in the acknowledgements section — like I was just one degree of separation away from all of this madness.

Crazy Rich Asians is the single most batshit crazy book I’ve ever come across. Its about the uber-wealthy, .1% Southeast Asian population — in this case, mostly based in Singapore. Its a world of private jets, couture wardrobes, overseas educations, and $40 million weddings. Oh, and also backstabbing snobs who love to gossip. Awesome.

Nick Young (born in Singapore) and Rachel Chu (ABC – American Born Chinese) have been dating for two years in New York. They are both professors at NYU and are so alike in so many ways. Rachel’s family loves Nick, but Nick’s family doesn’t even know that Rachel exists. Until…Nick brings Rachel home to Singapore for the “wedding of the year”. Nick is the best man for his friend Colin, a billionaire playboy, who is marrying the most famous, most glamourous Asian supermodel ever. Rachel has no idea what she’s in for.

The descriptions of sheer excess are absolutely insane. The shopping excursions, real estate portfolios, and bachelor/bachelorette parties made me laugh out loud, because I really didn’t know how else to react. But underneath the ridiculousness, there was an interesting commentary on wealth, excess, and prejudice particularly in Singapore and Southeast Asia.

This isn’t Shakespeare, but Kevin Kwan can write. Its been dubbed as “the ultimate beach read”. Well, Summer is over, but I still enjoyed the hell out of it. I haven’t been this entertained by a book in quite a while. I’ll keep an eye out for Kwan’s future works, for sure.

Scootsa1000’s #CBR5 Review 42: Paper Towns by John Green

Unknown-1I was on a roll of books that were amazing and great and I loved them. And then.

I really thought I would love Paper Towns. I had only read one John Green book before (yes, of course, The Fault in Our Stars), and had very high expectations for the rest of his stuff. But this book really rubbed me the wrong way.

I know, Margo Roth Spiegelman is the “manic pixie dreamgirl” type that boys — like Quentin — can’t help but love from afar. But I saw nothing even remotely likable or enjoyable about Margo, and frankly, was annoyed that the entire book was about finding her when I never once felt that she wanted or should be found. Ugh.

What I did want was for someone — Margo’s parents, the detective, Quentin’s parents — to get Margo some professional help. Clearly the girl had some major problems. Quentin’s parents were psychologists and did nothing, said nothing. This drove me crazy.

I didn’t like Margo one bit and wish they had simply looked through her records, found Mermaid Avenue, listened to it, and said, Hey, This is Really Good. The End.

What I did like was the world of Quentin’s friends. I loved Radar and Ben, and even Lacey later on. I loved the real high school world described by Green — from band geeks to popular kids — and the realization at the end of senior year that nothing from the past 4 years matters anymore.

But I despised Margo and found her to be selfish and manipulative. And Quentin’s obsession with her made me dislike him, as well. Sorry.

And I couldn’t help but wonder what my own parents would have said or done if I had decided to skip out on my high school graduation to drive thousands of miles across the country to find my crazy neighbor. I’m pretty sure they would have said NO.

Enough with my complaining. I didn’t like the book because I couldn’t stand the characters. The End.

You can read more of my reviews on my blog.

Scootsa1000’s #CBR5 Review 41: Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

UnknownAt this point, I really don’t know what I can say about Rainbow Rowell that I haven’t already said. Or preached, I guess, would be a better term. If you haven’t read Eleanor & Park, what are you waiting for? If you haven’t read Attachments, well, I’m not sure I want to know you anymore.

And now, here we have Fangirl. And again, come on. Go out and get these books. Read them right now. Use your Amazon Prime account or run to the library. You won’t be sorry.

Fangirl is about identical twin sisters Cather (Cath) and Wren. They are freshman at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln and have very different feelings about it. Wren is excited — she wants to meet guys and party and drink and live it up. Cath is a bit more of a homebody (that’s really saying it lightly) and isn’t really very enthused about doing anything but sitting in her dorm room and writing. She doesn’t even find out where the cafeteria is until a few weeks into school when her roommate (the wonderful Reagan) drags her forcibly, realizing that Cath has been living on jars of peanut butter and boxes of protein bars.

Cath is a gifted writer, and almost all of her time and energy go into writing Simon Snow (think Harry Potter, but a magician, NOT a wizard) fanfiction. Cath is one of the most popular fanfic writers out there, and her speciality is writing slash fiction about Simon and his vampire roommate, Baz. Not exactly your typical college activity.

Cath meets a few friends — she has a major crush on her writing partner, Nick, and she becomes friendly (against her will) with Reagan. But more than anyone else, she bonds with Reagan’s boyfriend, the simply adorable Levi.

Reading about Levi made me want to go outside for a walk in the sun (or in the snow, or whatever) and drink Gingerbread Lattes from Starbucks. He made me want to read The Outsiders and go to museums. Levi is the kind of guy you want to know in real life, and his “joie de vivre” leaps off the page with his every word and movement.  Rainbow Rowell has a real gift for writing sympathetic male characters (Park, Lincoln) that are better than most men you’ll ever meet in your life.

Of course, not everything in Cath & Wren’s lives is centered on college. Their dad is home, alone, which isn’t a good thing. He’s a bit manic (the word bipolar is never actually used, but I’m guessing that’s the situation) and doesn’t always remember to eat, or sleep, or even go home from work without his girls to remind him. And their mom? Out of the picture for the most part. She left the girls on 9/11, never to return. But she decides to check back in with them all these years later, not as a mom, but more as a “friend”. This doesn’t really go over too well, if you can imagine.

I loved pretty much every minute of this book. Thank you, fellow Cannonballers, for spreading the word about Rainbow Rowell and getting her on my radar.

My only complaint about this book? That I finished it, and there aren’t any more books by Rainbow Rowell to read right now. Her next one doesn’t come out until 2014.

 You can read more of my reviews (of Rainbow’s books and others) on my blog.

Joemyjoe’s #CBR5 Review 3: Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls

imagesThis is a book about a boy named Billy who really wanted some hunting dogs (red bone coon hounds, to be specific). Billy lives in Oklahoma, in the Ozarks, about 100 years ago. He saved up all of his money for two whole years to get the $50 he needed to send away to Kentucky for two puppies. He asks his Grandpa to help order the puppies, and when they arrive in the nearest city, Billy walks by himself to get his dogs (its over 20 miles each way!).

Billy loves his dogs. He names them Old Dan and Little Ann, after a carving he sees in a tree (Dan + Ann). And he teaches them how to hunt raccoons.

They catch a lot of coons and give all the hides to his grandpa. His grandpa signs Billy’s dogs up for a hunting contest. Little Ann wins first prize (a silver cup) for best in show. And Billy’s dogs catch the most raccoons all week — they win $300 and a gold cup. Billy is so proud of them.

But the ending is really sad. I don’t really want to say too much about it, but my mom was crying.

The story is told by Billy as an old man, when he comes across a red bone coon hound being attacked by other dogs. He takes the dog home to feed it and take care of it for a few days, and he starts to remember his own dogs that he loved more than anything.

I really liked it. I’d give it 5 stars, but it was really sad.

You can read more of Joemyjoe’s reviews on his mom’s blog.

Scootsa1000’s #CBR5 Review 40: Joyland by Stephen King

UnknownI’ve been reading Stephen King books since I was going in to the 8th grade, many, many years ago. I’ve probably read more than 90% of everything he’s published since then (there are lots of those random short stories floating around, in magazines I’ve never heard of). I’ve loved a lot of his stuff (hello, Dark Tower books 1-5, how are you?). I’ve been less than enthused with some of his stuff (Under the Dome! Song of Susannah!). But I can’t think of a single book by King that I’ve ENJOYED as much as Joyland, ever. I had such a good time reading this book. It was fun. What more do you need to know?

Joyland is a coming of age tale (which nobody does like King) about a guy named Devin who is a student at UNH in the 1970s. He gets his heart broken and decides to get some fresh scenery, taking a summer job at an amusement park in North Carolina. Joyland is filled with colorful characters, lots of “carny” speak, and of course, a mysterious ghost story. Rumor has it that a few years before, a young woman was murdered in Joyland’s haunted house, and her ghost still haunts the ride for a select few who can see her. Devin hasn’t seen her, but he sure would like to.

Devin also has the pleasure of meeting young Mike Ross (a dying young boy, who, because this is Stephen King, has a bit of “the touch”), his beautiful mother Annie, and their delightful Jack Russell terrier, Milo. He befriends them and gives the boy one of his dying wishes — to spend a day at Joyland.

Of course, the two plots intersect and overlap each other. And while the ending isn’t what I’d call “happy”, I still enjoyed every last bit of it.

Yes, in true King fashion, the scene in which we find out “whodunnit” is a bit clunky, but I’m going to let it slide this time. It really didn’t deter from my enjoyment of the story.

This is King at his best — think Rita Hayworth & Shawshank Redemption or Stand By Me — where he tells a nostalgic story with a sympathetic narrator. Yes, there is a ghost and a bad guy, but the story is more about a good guy growing up to become a good man. I highly recommend it, to King’s Constant Reader and the non-King reader alike.

You can read more of my reviews (with lots of Stephen King) on my blog.

JOYLAND map

Bunnybean’s #CBR5 Review 9: Percy Jackson and the Titan’s Curse by Rick Riordan

Unknown-6I read the third book in the Percy Jackson & the Olympians series: The Titan’s Curse.

Percy and his friends Annabeth and Grover are sent on a mission to find two new half-bloods at a boarding school in New Hampshire. Something goes wrong, there is a battle, and they are rescued by Artemis and her hunters. But Annabeth is kidnapped and may be in terrible danger, and it’s up to Percy and his friends to save her.

The goddess Artemis is also captured by someone that Percy and his gang don’t know. The half-bloods need to save Artemis and Annabeth, and stop a new villain called The General and their old enemy Luke from getting their evil army stronger.

Back at the camp, the students receive a prophecy that states:

Five shall go west to the goddess in chains,
One shall be lost in the land without rain,
The bane of Olympus shows the trail,
Campers and Hunters combined prevail,
The Titan’s curse must one withstand,
And one shall be perished by a parent’s  hand.

The students who are sent on the quest are: Zoe and Bianca (two of Artemis’ best hunters), Grover, and Thalia. Even though Percy isn’t chosen, he tags along anyways. He really wants to save Annabeth.

It was hard to save Annabeth and Artemis, though.

Atlas was the person who captured them both. He made Artemis hold the universe for him, and he threatened that if she didn’t hold it, he would kill Annabeth. He wanted to get revenge on the gods. But Percy and his friends came along and saved them.

Sadly, only 3 people survived on this quest: Grover, Percy, and Thalia. Bianca sacrificed herself for the quest. And Zoe turned out to be Atlas’ daughter, who was killed in the battle against him.

But the quest had succeeded! And all is well until the next book, The Battle of the Labyrinth.

You can read more of Bunnybean’s reviews on her mom’s blog.

Scootsa1000’s #CBR5 Review 39: Lexicon by Max Barry

Unknown-4About 8 years ago, when Bunnybean wasn’t even a year old, we moved from Boston to the Washington DC area. And I went from being a working mom to a stay-at-home mom. And at first, I wasn’t very good at it. I couldn’t get Bunnybean to sleep when she was supposed to, and spent a lot of time driving around so that she would nap in her car seat. And then, randomly, one day, I saw Christa Miller (we loved her from Scrubs!) on the Ellen show talking about the book she had written the introduction to that was about helping your baby develop healthy sleep habits. I ran out to Borders the very next day and bought the book. And soon, Bunnybean was sleeping like a champ.

But I digress…because of this book, I started to pay a bit more attention to Christa Miller. I realized she was really smart and funny and watched CougarTown just because of her. She was one of the first people I followed on twitter. And she gives great book recommendations, too. She recommended Where’d You Go, Bernadette? months before I had heard of it. and so, a few weeks ago, when she said that she stayed up all night reading Lexicon, I knew I’d be reading it next.

Thanks, Christa. Another great choice.

Lexicon starts out with a man named Wil being accosted by two strange guys in an airport bathroom. They ask him a bunch of non-sensical questions and then inject a syringe into his eyeball, with no explanation. Bang — all of this in the first page or two, and the book barely lets up from there.

Told in alternating narratives and timelines, Lexicon is about a secret government agency that monitors the power of words and the persuasion that certain words have over certain people.  The bulk of the plot is centered around an ancient and powerful word that is let loose in Broken Hill, Australia, provoking the citizens of the small town to commit unspeakable acts. Who brought the word there? And why?

Max Barry brings this crazy world alive with a lot of humor and action. I haven’t enjoyed an action book like this in quite a while — I hate to compare it to The Rook (because that book really does stand on its own), but Lexicon did remind me of it several times. But all in a good way. I really enjoyed it and will look forward to reading more Barry in the future.

 You can read more of my reviews (as well as Bunnybean’s!) on my blog.