Monday, April 23, 2012

CBR IV: Book 13: Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children - Ransom Riggs

Argh. This book. I wanted to like it. It had an interesting premise. Lots of creepy pictures and a story tying them all together. About halfway through the book I wanted to throw my Kindle across the room if I saw one more damn stupid picture.

Basically, the author found a bunch of weird pictures and wrote a story about the pictures.  Frequently he had to stretch to make the story fit the pictures.  It was just bad storytelling.  Basically, there is a kid named Jacob.  Growing up, his grandfather told him tall tales about the kids he went to school with.  He talked about kids that could fly and ones that had bees inside of them.  Then he dies, and Jacob finds out that Grandpa was not completely full of shit.  He travels to a remote Welsh island and finds Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children (Hey, that's the name of the book!).  As many other reviewers have pointed out, it is basically Charles Xavier's school from X-Men, except these kids are annoying pussies instead of well-characterized badasses.  They are stuck in a time loop in the middle of WWII so they can hide from some kind of monsters that want them?...I think.  Honestly, I read this over a month ago, and I am a little fuzzy on some of the details.  I just remember that Jacob falls in love with a girl that used to be his grandfather's girlfriend.  Ick.  Also, frustratingly stupid pictures.

Of course this book ends on a cliffhanger, because every damn book has to be a series.  Did I mention how grating the pictures became?  Yeah, I won't be reading anymore of these.  I'm not sure if anyone over the age of 13 would appreciate this one.

1/5 Stars

CBR IV: Book 12: Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything - Steven D. Levitt & Stephen J. Dubner

*Audiobook review

I think I have read more non-fiction for pleasure this year than I ever have before.  I saw this book in the store for years, and I was intrigued by it's bizarre cover - it looks like an apple, but inside is an orange!  Craziness! However, I never found the time to read it.  Then I saw the movie pop up on my Netflix Instant.  I was hooked.  This was in the similar vein of Mary Roach's great books, Stiff and Bonk and my favorite NPR show, Radiolab - science made interesting!

Freakonomics asks questions such as, "What is more dangerous, a gun or a swimming pool?"(the pool) and "How much do parents and names really matter?"(not that much).  Some of the answers were surprising.  In the chapter on whether teachers cheat, the authors made a compelling case of why "No Child Left Behind" is a terrible policy.  Teachers had a persuasive reason to cheat and increase their student's scores on standardized tests.  They wanted to keep their jobs.  Some schools were even giving cash prizes to the teacher with the highest scores.  Any time you introduce a strong enough reward, people will cheat.  Even Sumo Wrestlers.

Levitt & Dubner have written a second book, SuperFreakonomics, and they also have a blog and podcast.  I have been catching up on past episodes and I look forward to reading their next book.  Believe it or not, these guys made economics funny!

4/5 Stars

Sunday, April 22, 2012

CBR IV: Book 11: The Tower, the Zoo, & the Tortoise - Julia Stuart

I loved this book. This book was comparable to Amelie or Chocolat. This book was funny and sweet and sad and poignant and whimsical and adorable. It was not some manic-pixie-dreamgirl whimsiquirkalicious concoction. It felt genuine.

The Tower, the Zoo, and the Tortoise is the story of Balthazar Jones, a guard at the Tower of London. Just previous to the novel, he and his wife, Hebe, lost their 10-year-old son Milo. He just died in his sleep.  Neither of them has been able to properly deal with their grief, so Balthazar has developed odd habits like getting up in the middle of the night to collect different types of rain. Hebe works at the lost-and-found office for the London Underground, and spends her days trying to find the owners of such odd objects left on the subway as a gigolo's diary, a magician's cabinet, and cremated remains. One day, a government official arrives at the Tower and declares that the Queen has decided that instead of housing her royal menagerie at the London Zoo, it will be moved to the Tower.  This is an effort to increase tourism, which the residents of the tower despise. Balthazar is put in charge of the project, since he is the owner of the world's oldest tortoise.  Wackiness ensues.  

This novel has a host of odd and quirky characters, all of whom are suffering from some sort of heartache or loss.  I just realized that I'm making it seem as thought this is a sad book. This is not a sad book, in fact, some parts were hilarious.  The reverend is a closet romance novelist who is desperate to find a wife.  I could definitely re-read this book.  

5/5 Stars

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

CBR IV: Book 10: Fool - Christopher Moore

*Audiobook review

I loves me some Christopher Moore. His brand-new novel, Sacre Bleu is sitting on my bedside table waiting for me to dive right in. My first Moore novel was A Dirty Job, and I thought it was amazing. I've also read his vampire trilogy, and my review for Lamb was actually published on a couple of years ago. I'm also a Brit-Lit nerd, so a Christopher Moore novel spoofing Shakespeare was a must read for me. Fool was definitely one of my favorite novels.

Fool is the story of Pocket, the diminutive court jester of King Lear. The dude who disowned his youngest daughter just because she wouldn't kiss his ass in front of his entire court. Yeah, THAT King Lear. Pocket is bawdy. Just randy. He's screwing half of Lear's court, a couple of the daughters, and before he came to Lear's court, a couple of nuns. Then a ghost shows up and wackiness ensues. There are witches, war, and murder most foul.

There were a lot of little Shakespearean in-jokes peppered throughout the novel. I loved this book. I could listen to this all over again and love every second of it. I just love Moore's novels, and Euan Morton was a terrific narrator. This made doing the dishes much more enjoyable.

5/5 Stars.

Monday, April 16, 2012

CBR IV: Book 9: World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War - Max Brooks

I loved this book. I didn't think that I would. I am sick to death of zombie-mania. This isn't a zombie book. Well, it isn't just a zombie book, and there are certainly a few, "Run, Bitch, Run!" moments, but it is so much more. From a sociological standpoint, I felt that this book realistically captured what would happen if a world-wide epidemic broke out. This book was smart. Seriously.

World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War is the story of how the Zombie epidemic began in rural China and how it spread across the world. Different governments denied or covered up the existence of the epidemic until it was too late. Instead of just telling the story from one perspective, the author uses several dozen different points of view, so it's almost like reading a short story anthology. There are narrators from every viewpoint one can think of: government officials, scummy businessmen, army soldiers, and chubby internet nerds. My only complaint is that some of the stories were just too short. As soon as I got attached to a character, their segment was over.

Brooks seriously considered all of the possible differences in fighting an army of re-animated corpses. For one thing, they don't feel fear, so fear-based weapons are useless. As are smoke bombs, and to an extent, nuclear weapons. The most fascinating aspect, however, was the different governmental reactions to events. North Korea disappeared. They pulled all of their citizens into underground bunkers, including many who were probably infected. One narrator stated that there are probably millions of North Korean zombies just waiting to come out and re-infect the world. Creepy.

5/5 Stars.

CBR IV: Book 8: Teaching People, Teaching Dogs - Dani Weinberg

Teaching People Teaching Dogs

I'm a dog trainer, so I read a lot of dog training books, and I need to count every book I read if I'm going to get a half-cannonball. This is a book written by a dog trainer specifically for dog trainers. I bought the kindle version since it cost half of the paperback. Yay technology!

I picked up a couple of good tips for dealing with students, especially on how to give constructive criticism. It also focuses on getting students to see the good in their dogs, instead of thinking that they live with a demented Hellbeast. The author also stresses the importance of getting students to practice with their dogs at home, even going so far as telling them how many minutes they should practice each exercise per day.

This was a quick read, and had a lot of great tips. This really is just a book for dog trainers. I can't see anybody else getting a lot out of this book.

4/5 Stars

Thursday, April 5, 2012

CBR IV: Book 7: Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science & Sex - Mary Roach

Despite what you may think from the title, this book is not porn. Bonk is a non-fiction book about the history and stigma of sex research. This book is about as non-sexy as you can get. This book made me so squeamish that I frequently had to turn it off and scream. I listened to this as an Audiobook, and a couple of times, I almost drove my car off the road.

Mary Roach is nothing if not detailed. This book is extensively researched. She writes about the research of Masters and Johnson and Alfred Kinsey in the 1950s. She writes about modern day sex researchers and even has sex with her husband in an MRI. There are chapters on male orgasm, female orgasm, masturbation, and anything else you can think of. The most disturbing section was about Victorian attitudes towards sexuality. Little boys had to wear a contraption at night that ensure that if they had a nocturnal erection, they would be in pain. Thankfully, we have come a long way since then.

This book was fascinating and educational, however this is not a book I would recommend for someone with a weak stomach. Some sections are fairly graphic and disturbing.

4/5 Stars.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

CBR IV: Book 6: Grave Peril: The Dresden Files: Book 3 - Jim Butcher

I read this book 2 months ago, so I am foggy on the details. I also read books 1 & 2 of this series back in 2010, so I'm fuzzy on the back story as well.

Harry Dresden is a wizard-for-hire in modern-day Chicago. He frequently works with the police department on their "Special Investigations" unit. He has helped them stop rogue wizards, werewolves, and vampires. He's also kind of a smart-ass so he has made many enemies not only in the supernatural world, but on the police force.

Someone or something has pissed off the ghosts in Chicago. They are raging and rampaging all over town. The novel starts with Harry and Michael Carpenter, a holy knight, trying to stop an evil ghost in the infant ward of the hospital. They soon discover that the ghost has been tormented and driven mad by a torture spell. Then a bunch of stuff happens that I don't remember and don't want to spoil if you haven't read the book.

I really enjoy this series. It is like a hardcore detective novel mixed with the supernatural. It is reminiscent of the early Anita Blake: Vampire Hunter novels. The good ones. Before they turned into supernatural orgies. Not that Harry is a priest. Just not the total slut-bag that Anita turned into. I also love Harry's snappy one-liners and witty asides. I recommend it, but read Storm Front and Fool Moon first.

4/5 stars

Sunday, April 1, 2012

CBR IV: Book 5: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks - Rebecca Skloot

Full Disclaimer: I am about 2 months behind on my reviews. My plan is to review a book a day until I get caught up, but I am fuzzy on some details on the last 8 books I have read. Poopnuggets!

I first heard about Henrietta Lacks and on an episode of Radiolab called "Famous Tumors". I love, love, love, Radiolab, and I was fascinated by the story, so when I saw the book at an airport bookstore, I knew I had to read it. Henrietta Lacks was a poor, black woman in the 1940s. She went to the "colored ward" at John's Hopkins to receive treatment for cervical cancer. The tumor was removed, and some of the cancerous cells were scraped and preserved, which was routine for the time. The patient gave no consent, nor was it asked. The cancerous cells were then grown in a lab, and they became the first cells that could live independently of a human body.

30 or so years later, Henrietta's cells are the most used cells in cell research, and their name has been shortened to HELA. Henrietta's children don't discover this fact for decades, and when they do, they are very confused. They have little education and at first they think that Henrietta is still kept alive in a lab somewhere. This story is about how her children come to terms that John's Hopkins "stole" their mother's cells that that corporations are now profiting from them.

I loved this book! I have been recommending this book to everyone I can. Even though this is a non-fiction novel, it is very engrossing. It reads like a detective novel, treatise on civil rights, a discussion on patient's rights and doctor/patient confidentiality, and a beginner's genetics textbook. I couldn't put it down.

Five/Five Stars