beach read · Book Review · series books · Summer Read · thoughts

Author Review: Charlie N. Holmberg

It’s not often I review authors, but Charlie N. Holmberg intrigues me.  If you remember, the first five chapters of Magic Bitter, Magic Sweet hooked me over Christmas break, only to leave me disappointed when the novel went sour.  Another five chapters at the end of a Dark Magic ezine hooked me into The Fifth Doll.  While I enjoyed this book significantly more than Magic Bitter, Magic Sweet, The Fifth Doll still felt like it could have been tighter, stronger, and edited a bit more.  If there is one thing about Holmberg, it’s that she can write a hell of an opening to her novels.  With the second one I picked being so much better than the first, I dropped into The Paper Magician series.

It is in this series that Holmberg seems to find her stride as an author.  Gone are the random acts of violence and plots holes that leave you scratching your head and enter a very very very young adult genre book of magic, love and adventure.  (And by very, I do mean this book would probably be a crowd-pleaser for the female pre-teen types.)  The first book in the series, The Paper Magician is currently the number one best seller in Teen and Young Adult Historical Fiction on Amazon.

As with Magic Bitter, Magic Sweet and The Fifth Doll, Holmberg builds an entire world with her writing placing magic in London in the late 1800’s and setting her main character, Ceony, on the road to earning her magician-ship via an internship with a very quirky bachelor, Emery Thane.  Ceony, the stereotypical poor girl working her way through the crusts of society with her hard won education, is to learn the magic arts of paper from Emery, who despite his unusual behavior and poor taste in clothes is witty, smart, caring and devastatingly handsome.  As expected, Ceony develops the worlds biggest crush on her mentor, leaving the reader to slog through many pages of teenage angst.  Mercifully, Holmberg spares us the double angst of Twilight and Ceony goes on an adventure with her heart attached to a single male.

Ceony is an unlikely hero and her back story is a bit vague.  We know she has multiple siblings, came from the poor side of town and has a near perfect photographic memory.  However, I would have liked to know more about her beyond the fact that she was poor, incredibly smart and a good cook.   I could have also done without all of the endless meal planning, prep and descriptions of food Ceony gives.  Unlike Magic Bitter, Magic Sweet, where these things had a place, it felt odd to be reading about her culinary skills which never added anything to the actual plot line.

After reading six of Holmberg’s novels, I’ve found she has a way of slipping in random events or traits that never flesh out the character or develop the plot further, they’re just there.  Also, character development is not her strong point.  The Good Guys are overly good and pure and righteous.  The Bad Guys are overly bad and a bit stereotypical.  The characters themselves are never fully fleshed out and developed into living, breathing beings who exist outside of Holmberg’s pages.  Again, perfect for the preteen crowd, not so much for more mature readers.

While Holmberg wraps up The Paper Magician relatively quickly, the other three books , The Glass Magician, The Master Magician and The Plastic Magician all follow the same pattern.  Ceony adventures her way through magic and mystery, using her photogenic memory and quick wit to battle bad guys.  As the story unfolds, Holmberg’s writing improves, however it’s her world building that leaves the reader stunned, rather than her character development.  I particularly enjoyed the way Holmberg took paper and gave it so many different magical traits.

All in all, Holmberg’s writings can be described as immature.  They aren’t emotional inspirations nor are they mentally stimulating.  They aren’t meant to be scrutinized or picked apart or even thought about too deeply.  They are purely enjoyable tales that you can read quickly without much investment.  These are the kind of books I read after finishing traumatic books like The Kite Runner.  Holmberg is a fairly young writer and her skill in world building (and writing the first five chapters) is immense.  With time, I hope she hones her character development and tightens the plot lines, which in my opinion, will take Holmberg from immature flighty young adult novels to something much much deeper and I can’t wait.

Until next time, cheers!

-R

 

beach read · Book Review · Books to Movies · children's books · Greek Mythology · Mythology · Secret Hideout · series books · Summer Read

Percy Jackson & The Olympians vs Harry Potter

PERCY JACKSON THE LIGHTNING THIEFAnticipating a nice slow week at the beach, I set off on Amazon and Overdrive for something interesting.  I was craving something Harry Potter-esque without the deep tomes.

Cue Percy Jackson and The Olympians.

The first book in the series book popped up on my Amazon Kindle Unlimited freebies with a heading like  “If you liked Harry Potter, you may enjoy Percy Jackson.”  Amazon was right.  I absolutely enjoyed Percy Jackson and The Lightning Thief.  It was an excellent beach read that could not be put down.  I even got a sunburn because I couldn’t be bothered to move while reading!  These books are easy reading and I read the first two in two weeks.

After I’ve finished a good book, I usually head over to Amazon to check out the reviews and see if there were any insights or interesting tidbits that I missed or see if anyone else felt a certain way about this character or that event.  When skimming reviews for Percy Jackson, I was blown away by how many people felt Rick Riordan had followed a bit too closely in J.K Rowling’s footsteps.  This was interesting, because while reading the book, not once did I think “Wow..this is just like Harry Potter”.

After discussing with my favorite bibliophile, we both agreed the reviewers panning Percy Jackson as a Harry Potter knock off had done a lazy comparison of the two books.  Yes, they both involve magic.  Yes, they both have a ridiculously smart female character that the male characters depend on.  Yes, they both have a somewhat silly sidekick.  But honestly, that could be any young adult series in this genre and calling Percy Jackson a cherry pick on Harry Potter is a bit like saying The Hunger Games cherry picked from 1984 or The Maze Runner.

While the Harry Potter books derive directly from the vast imagination of their author who created an engagingly dynamic world, the PJ books overlay classical Greek mythology into modern day life.  Riordan does this incredibly well and weaves the Greek myths into a coming-of-age tale while also adding his own spin and a little bit of modernization to the personalities, stories and descriptions of the Greek Gods and mythical creatures.  His characterization of Ares, for example, as an aggressive biker thug was spot-on.   Riordan peppers the books with ancient Greek phrases that add a little dash of mysticism to the stories, while also feeling a teensy bit familiar.  I liked knowing the history and myths surrounding the Greek gods and creatures and seeing how Riordan wove them into this tale.  It’s easy to see how this series would inspire young readers to follow the PJ series with something else rooted in Greek mythology.

While there is a fair amount of magic involved in PJ, it is always limited by the original Greek myths; unlike Harry Potter, in which magic itself is a main character capable of many great and seemingly unlimited things.

Unlike Harry, who grew up an orphan with his terrible extended family, Percy has a loving mother and a distant, somewhat disappointing relationship with his father, Poseidon, the Sea God.  While Harry’s parents are lodged forever in the story as the perfect loving parents who died battling evil, Percy often grapples with anger, confusion and irritation with his missing father while balancing the usual preteen love and annoyance with his incredibly understanding and supportive mother.  Percy’s complicated relationships with his parents are handled incredibly well in an age appropriate manner that kids can relate to.  Harry’s parents, on the other hand, are put on a pedestal and frequently out of Harry’s reach, making it a bit harder to relate to that parent-child relationship.

The world J.K. Rowling created for Harry Potter was absolutely unlimited in place, description and location.  As the primary setting for the HP books, Hogwarts plays a huge role in the story of Harry Potter and with all of the quirky personality it displays, can essential be considered a character itself.  The three friends set off on the occasional adventure elsewhere, but Hogwarts occupies the majority of their adventures.

The PJ books are again limited to Greek myth and the modern world.  These books read more like the Odyssey, with Camp Half-Blood acting as a temporary home base while Percy and friends race around the world to ancient places like Mount Olympus, The Underworld, The Sea of Monsters, and the island of Polyphemus which are hidden in modern locations.  The description of LA as the secret entrance to the Underworld, for example, was particularly delicious.

And finally, we reach the comparison of Hermione to Annabeth.  Both are presented as incredibly smart and capable young ladies who seem ages older than their male counterparts.  This frequently leaves them as the voice of reason and in the case of Hermione, the default caretaker of the group.  For the most part, Hermione was a bit of a know-it-all outcast and a bit of a show-off with a chip on her shoulder.  She was frequently trying to prove herself as a Muggle Witch and maintain her place among her peers.

Annabeth, however, as the daughter of Athena, tends to show more restraint and wisdom for her age.  Her knowledge tends to show itself in her extensive planning and unlike Hermione, who tends to always be right, Annabeth has been known to falter, particularly with the Siren’s song.  Unlike Hermione who tends to always be the caretaker, Percy and Annabeth tend to share caretaker duties.  Their relationship feels a bit more equal than the relationship between Harry and Hermione.

And of course, we can’t forget about the Greek Gods who dip in and out of the PJ stories, interfering and guiding, setting traps and leaving life lines.  While Harry Potter has some minor religious undertones now and then, the PJ characters deal heavily with the presence of celestial beings.  They waiver between believing in the Gods, being a pawn of the Gods and being part of the Gods.

All in all, the PJ books are enjoyable, quick to read and I enjoyed the incorporation of the Greek Gods.  I wouldn’t classify them as anywhere near Harry Potter knockoffs, and hope those shunning this series as an HP knockoff give it another chance.

Until next time, happy reading!

 

ps.  Due to the fact that nectar and ambrosia kills mere mortals, a shot of Greek ouzo will do just fine.  Opa!

 

Bad Ass Women · beach read · Mimosas · Self Help · Summer Read

The Doctor Is In

If there is one type of book I can’t resist, it’s a good old fashioned self help book.  I just can’t help it.  They’re fun, easy to read and occasionally you’ll find a gem in the heap of unconventional life advice.  Self help book are like the flea market of literature.  You never know what treasures you’ll pull out of the pile.  We’re at the beach again this week and my trusty Kindle companion has been Dr. Ruth Westheimer.  Prior to reading “The Doctor Is In”, my knowledge of Dr. Ruth consisted of: cute little old lady with a funny accent giving sex advice.  Post read, I want Dr. Ruth to be my spirit animal. the doctor is in

At only 4’7″ tall, this German Jew refugee has led enough life for ten people.  After escaping Germany on a kindertransport and earning a degree in housekeeping from her Swiss boarding home, she relocated to Israel, becoming a sniper (!) for the Israel army.  In Israel, she became a teenage bride and migrated to France with equally young husband.  After a brief marriage, Dr. Ruth chose her education over marriage and spent the next five years in France.  After another marriage, the birth of her first child and relocating to America, Dr. Ruth found her home and a slew of degrees in New York.  It wasn’t until her 50’s that this wickedly funny therapist found her calling and catapulted to fame on her radio show.  The rest as they say, is history…a history spanning over three decades, 35 books, and countless tv and radio shows.  Dr. Ruth is now a staple of American pop culture!

With a history like hers, it would have been very easy for Dr. Ruth to settle where she was and stick with her lot as a child refugee, a migrant house keeper, a poor single working mom.  Instead, she made the best out of every situation, often edging her way into opportunities, experiences and adventures that were both interesting, scary, and worth the risk she took to get there.

After reading countless self-help books written by numerous bad-ass women, I can say that Dr. Ruth without a doubt, takes the cake.  While most self-help books for women encourage confidence and taking risks, Dr. Ruth’s age and background bring a depth of energy, experience and reality that can be somewhat lacking in other books of this sort.  Yoga books in this genre, in particular, can be harder to connect to.  The author’s story can feel out of touch or out of reach, particularly when they pack up their life and spend months at yoga retreats in exotic locations.  As an ambitious woman with loads of impatient energy and an honest writing style, Dr. Ruth is easily relatable.  We’ve all employed a sneaky trick or two to catch a man,  plotted and schemed for way to advance our careers or relationships, and jumped into things head first while still feeling totally unprepared , scared, worried, and impatient.  This complete relatable-ness makes reading “The Doctor Is In” comparable to sharing secrets with a giggling grandmother over mimosas at a bridal shower.  It’s fun, it’s enlightening and it’ll leave you in a good mood.

Happy reading my friends!

 

 

 

audio books · Bad Ass Women · beach read · Biography · Book Review · Comedy

Yes, Please by Amy Poehler

yes please“Famous people are never as interesting as your friends.” – Amy Poehler

While waitlisted for the library’s copy of Tina Fey’s “Bossy Pants”, I decided to check out Amy Poehler’s memoir, “Yes Please”. Poehler read her own book for the audio version, so I went into this book eager and excited to learn more about her, only to fall quickly into waiting for the good stuff. Throughout the seven hour audio book, Poehler droned endlessly through random haphazardly ordered stories and long (LONG) lists of all of the people she ever knew. Reading “Yes Please” was like reading a script while it’s still being written and simultaneously like meeting someone interesting at a party only to realize they’re incredibly boring and there’s no polite way to escape.

Poehler juggled writing “Yes Please” with caring for two kids under 6, a divorce and a busy booming career schedule. In that vein, the entire book presents itself as a half hearted attempt to write down some “funny shit” after everything else had been managed for the day. To ease some of her burden, both of her parents and Seth Meyers contribute to “Yes Please”, which felt cheap and out of place. She also started her book with an excessive amount of complaining about how hard it is to write a book.

This complaint sets the tone for the remaining pages as “I didn’t really want to do this but all of my peers wrote books, soooo….”

Poehler is a very talented and funny comedian. She has great timing and an unbelievably versatile character list. Her pro-women, live-and- let-live motto of “Good for her, not for me” felt refreshing and sincere. She’s a fantastic writer and most of the material in this book could easily be translated into hilarious skits. With that said, storytelling is not Poehler’s strong suit. The background, performance, and build-up that set a punch line on stage or studio do not translate well into print (or audio.) In fact, after skipping around the audio book and listening to the chapters recommended by Amazon reviewers, I finally hit the very last chapter, which Poehler performs in front of a live audience. While the rest of the book felt flat and annoying, her live stuff was really funny! Poehler is a comedian, not a story teller.

In general, “Yes Please” bounces around Poehler’s idyllic middle class suburban childhood to her dream job on SNL to a lovely celebrity life full of famous friends. Her parents lovingly supported her career choice of waitressing and improv. She lived happily in an unsafe Chicago neighborhood where she suffered no real misadventures or scares. She encountered no major setbacks or failures on the road to fame. She’s always been blessed with great friends, great roommates, has great kids and she is eternally grateful for her fantastic life. According to her book, the worst things Poehler has encountered thus far in life were her friendly harmless meth-addicted landlords who enjoyed cleaning, a pile of human poop on the sidewalk, and offending someone once (through no fault of her own) and then waiting five years to apologize.

Despite all of the stories shared, Poehler never shares anything intimate or personal. The pages are full of happy safe tales of no great import or consequence, making it much too long and much too vanilla.

At 329 pages, “Yes Please” could have done with some heavy editing. It also would have helped to kick out 90% of the name-dropping going on in this book. Nearly every person Poehler’s worked with (famous or not) is mentioned in this book. While SNL super fans and people familiar with the comedy circuit may enjoy these stories, it was exhausting (and BORING!) trying to keep track of who she’s talking about and who they are and why they’re even in her book.

And so my friends, I conclude these ramblings with the fact that “Yes Please” became one of about three books I just could not read all the way through. This book actually turned me off of anything Amy Poehler until the very last chapter in which her live comedic performance changed my mind. After listening to her perform live, I decided to dislike her book and how she read it, instead of just disliking all of her.

Until next time, happy reading y’all.

And if you like Amy Poehler, stay away from this book and stick to her performance stuff instead.

children's books · Favorite Books · Grandparents · library

7 Books for Grandmother’s to share with their Granddaughters

7 Books for Grandmothers to share with granddaughtersAs the one year anniversary of my Grandma’s passing creeps slowly closer, I’ve been drawn subconsciously to all things reminiscent of her.  During the months after her passing, I found myself dialing her number on the way home from work to share a funny story or searching in a drawer for the perfect postcard to mail.  Catching myself in these moments hurt deeply and I had to delete her phone number from my contacts using my laptop.  It felt too intimate, too personal somehow to do this on the phone itself.  While these moments have mercifully ceased, the other day, I found myself drawn to a section in the library that held all of the books my Grandma read with me as a little girl.

Flipping through the books, I realized that most of these books shared a common theme of strong independent girls and young women.  In her own way, Grandma was planting the seed in my mind; affirming, cultivating and accepting those traits in me.

Reading together bridged the gap between us throughout the middle school years, giving us something common to discuss during those years which are notoriously difficult and known for moving children away from their grandparents.  Reading books like the Little House on the Prairie series and Blue Willow also opened up a gateway for Grandma to share her own story and those of her parents and grandparents.  These stories fueled my (very unusual for an adolescent) passion for history, Westerns, and ancestry.

I highly recommend these 7 books for Grandmothers to share and read with their Granddaughters.  Most of these books have been adapted into movies, giving Grandmas one more activity to share with their Granddaughters after finishing the book.

  1. Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren
  2. Heidi by Johanna Spyri
  3. Black Beauty by Anna Sewell
  4. Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder
  5. Blue Willow by Doris Gates
  6. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by Frank L. Baum
  7. The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

Happy Reading!

p.s. These are also wonderful books for Mothers to share with their Daughters!

beach read · Book Review · Fruit Beer · Historical Fiction · Sangria · Summer Read · WWII

Weekend Reading: The House By the Lake

The House by the Lake - Ella Carey - Book Cover

There’s nothing quite as inexplicable as staying up all night to finish reading a good book.  It’s not like the book is going anywhere…and the story won’t change…but I still can’t put it down.

This weekend, I went on a bit of a book bender and read The House By the Lake and Everything We Keep.  A historical fiction that bounces between pre-WWII Europe and San Francisco, The House on the Lake was a quick, if not totally satisfying, read.  The story follows Anna, a successful café owner, as she journeys through pieces of her Grandfather Max’s life and attempts to patch together his life story while holding hostage her own broken heart. Continue reading “Weekend Reading: The House By the Lake”