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The Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict

Title: The Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict
Author: Trenton Lee Stewart
Genre: Children/YA (Ages 9 on up)
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Pages: 480

The Gist: Before there was a Mysterious Benedict Society, there was simply a boy named Nicholas Benedict. Meet the boy who started it all….

Nine-year-old Nicholas Benedict has more problems than most children his age. Not only is he an orphan with an unfortunate nose, but he also has narcolepsy, a condition that gives him terrible nightmares and makes him fall asleep at the worst possible moments. Now he’s being sent to a new orphanage, where he will encounter vicious bullies, selfish adults, strange circumstances — and a mystery that could change his life forever. Luckily, he has one important thing in his favor: He’s a genius.

The Review:  I’ve never read any of Trenton Lee Stewart’s books, so I haven’t read any of the books in his Nicholas Benedict series.  I don’t remember how I discovered The Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict, but I’m glad I did.  The cover attracted my attention: I love the color scheme and the drawing style.  If I could get this cover poster-size, I would frame it and hang it I think it’s that cool.

I had fun reading The Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict.  The book deals with bullying so some of the plot is predictable, but Stewart creates distinct characters who creatively deal with their problems in the orphanage.

What I love best about The Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict is that Nicholas loves to read.  His mind constantly runs and he does not let his narcolepsy stop him from accomplishing his goals.  Instead, he incorporates it into his adventures setting up fail safes in case he falls asleep.  But it’s not just narcolepsy that Nicholas deals with.  The loneliness and trust issues help drive his natural love of reading.  The library becomes his refuge and books become his best friends before he really makes any friends at the orphanage.  And he puts his knowledge to good use in many ways.

While I am not nearly as smart as Nicholas, nor do I have narcolepsy, and I was never an orphan as a child, I can relate to the loneliness and bullying issues.  Like Nicholas, I escaped to books to find solace, to escape, and to acquire knowledge.  As an adult, I enjoyed reading a story whose main character (as a child) falls completely in love with books.  Any adult bookworm who reads The Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict, will relate in some way to this dynamic: childhood trials feed the inborn desire to read thus creating a life-long love affair with books, words, and learning.

Anyway, that’s how The Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict hit me.  Readers of any age will enjoy the danger, the mystery, the secrecy, and the adventures that Trenton Lee Stewart includes in The Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict.

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Sacré Bleu: A Comedy d’Art

Title: Sacré Bleu
Author: Christopher Moore
Genre: Fantasy, Historical Fiction
Publisher: Harper Collins
Pages: 416

The Gist: In July 1890, Vincent van Gogh went into a cornfield and shot himself. Or did he? Why would an artist at the height of his creative powers attempt to take his own life . . . and then walk a mile to a doctor’s house for help? Who was the crooked little “color man” Vincent had claimed was stalking him across France? And why had the painter recently become deathly afraid of a certain shade of blue?

These are just a few of the questions confronting Vincent’s friends—baker-turned-painter Lucien Lessard and bon vivant Henri Toulouse-Lautrec—who vow to discover the truth about van Gogh’s untimely death. Their quest will lead them on a surreal odyssey and brothel-crawl deep into the art world of late nineteenth-century Paris.

The Review:  I enjoyed Sacré Bleus uniqueness and I’m impressed with Moore’s mix of historical fact with surrealism and fantasy to bring Paris’s late 19th century art world to life.  I will never see another Monet, Van Gogh, or Toulouse Lautrec painting the same way again.  Especially Lautrec.  An added treat: at least in the e-book edition, the paintings throughout the novel are in color and are reproductions of real pieces you can see in a museum.

However, it took some time for me to get into the book.  I don’t know if it’s the book’s pace (it was a little slow to me at first), its strangeness combined with its subject matter or what.  But once I fully suspended my disbelief, I had a great time reading Sacré Bleu.  It’s tawdry, shameless, shamelessly tawdry, and shamelessly irreverent — everything you’ve come to expect in a Christopher Moore novel.  What surprised me about Sacré Bleu is its solid foundation in history and art history with the Impressionists at its center.  Moore poured a lot of research into this novel.

I’m used to reading Moore’s novels Fool, Bite Me, You Suck, and A Dirty Job.  Those books do not have a historical basis if I recall.  Fool is just another take on Shakespeare’s King Lear.  With Sacré Bleu, Moore uses real people, events, and places to create his latest twisted story.  No longer just names listed in a book, in Sacré Bleu Monet, Van Gogh, and Toulouse Lautrec become real people with quirks, bad habits, and great passions.

In Sacré Bleu: A Comedy d’Art, Christopher Moore blends surrealism, fantasy, and historical fiction seamlessly together to bend space, time, and memory to bring a subtle creepiness to the story that flows from beginning to end.  Sacré Bleu, a wacky tale, discusses the source of artistic inspiration and the price required to obtain artistic genius.  It’s a story about love, creativity, inspiration, suffering and sacrifice, and the color blue. If you’re a history buff of any sort and like books that slide into odd dimensions or peek behind reality in some way, read Christopher Moore’s Sacré Bleu: A Comedy d’Art.

 
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Posted by on April 23, 2012 in Book Reviews, Christopher Moore

 

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Shadow Of The Titanic

Title: Shadow Of The Titanic
Author: Andrew Wilson
Genre: Nonfiction, History
Publisher: Atria Books
Pages: 416

The Gist: In the early morning hours of April 15, 1912, the icy waters of the North Atlantic reverberated with the desperate screams of more than 1,500 men, women, and children—passengers of the once majestic liner Titanic. Then, as the ship sank to the ocean floor and the passengers slowly died from hypothermia, an even more awful silence settled over the sea. The sights and sounds of that night would haunt each of the vessel’s 705 survivors for the rest of their days.

Although we think we know the story of Titanic—the famously luxurious and supposedly unsinkable ship that struck an iceberg on its maiden voyage from Britain to America—very little has been written about what happened to the survivors after the tragedy. How did they cope in the aftermath of this horrific event? How did they come to remember that night, a disaster that has been likened to the destruction of a small town?

The Review: I don’t usually read books about the Titanic, and I don’t  usually watch shows about the Titanic.  If I have watched them, the shows usually talk about the Titanic’s structure  and the actual damage the iceberg inflicted on the ship.  I have found that once you watch one good show on that aspect of the disaster, all the other ones are just repeats.

However, what I really wanted to know about was the people.  And there isn’t that much written on what happened to the survivors once they resumed their lives.  Andrew Wilson’s Shadow Of The Titanic addresses this issue.  Wilson researched for this book thoroughly and in Shadow Of The Titanic he presents a thought-provoking, heartbreaking, and inspirational book. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on April 12, 2012 in Andrew Wilson, Book Reviews

 

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Not Alone: Stories Of Living With Depression

Title: Not Alone Stories Of Living With Depression
Edited By: Alise Wright
Genre: Memoir, Psychology, Mental Health
Publisher: Civitas Press
Pages: 194

The Gist: Author and editor Alise Wright’s Not Alone: Stories Of Living With Depression is a collection of short stories from people who suffer or have suffered from depression.

The Review: Each story in Not Alone: Stories Of Living With Depression reveals real people and their real struggles with depression.  Wright divides the book into sections so each set of stories in each section has its own theme. These sections– Awareness, Acceptance, Recovery, and Post-Depression Reflections break up the book’s stories into manageable, readable chunks.  However, these section themes and its contributions seem to mirror the chameleon-like nature of depression itself:  Often, it seems that the essays don’t completely fit the section theme.

For example, in the section Recovery, many of the writers still deal with depression and its effects.  These essays show that a person doesn’t forget an episode of depression.  Depression, even if a person never has another episode the rest of his or her life, permanently changes that person’s perspective on life in some way. And  a person always remembers the damage and the chaos depression wreaked in his or her life. In those respects, depression never really goes away. So have they really recovered?  What does recovery from depression actually mean? Or rather, what is recovery from depression?  Not having another episode or managing a chronic cycle?  For each contributor, recovery from depression means something different.

One thing about Not Alone: Stories Of Living With Depression did surprise me.  The majority of contributors come from a Christian, evangelical background. Not coming from such a background, I found this aspect of the book interesting.  Throughout Not Alone: Stories Of Living With Depression, the writers wrestle with faith and depression.  How does a born-again Christian, who is supposed to have absolute faith in Jesus reconcile this with having depression?  I think that’s a big question, and I think anyone of any faith at some point, in some way wonders why G-d allows depression into his or her life.

Wright’s Not Alone: Stories Of Living With Depression contains humor along with the grim realities of depression.  I found this book interesting and helpful.  The writers of these stories wrote them to inspire and help others who have depression with the main messages being:  Seek help, and you are not alone.

Because you’re not alone.

 
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Posted by on April 5, 2012 in Alise Wright, Book Reviews

 

Born At Midnight

Title: Born At Midnight (Book 1 in the series Shadow Falls)
Author: C.C. Hunter
Genre: Fantasy (YA)
Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin
Pages: 416

The Gist: One night Kylie Galen finds herself at the wrong party, with the wrong people, and it changes her life forever.  Her mother ships her off to Shadow Falls—a camp for troubled teens, and within hours of arriving, it becomes painfully clear that her fellow campers aren’t just “troubled.”  Here at Shadow Falls, vampires, werewolves, shapshifters, witches and fairies train side by side—learning to harness their powers, control their magic and live in the normal world.

Kylie’s never felt normal, but surely she doesn’t belong here with a bunch of paranormal freaks either.  Or does she?  They insist Kylie is one of them, and that she was brought here for a reason.

The Review: Born At Midnight by C.C. Hunter, the first in the series, has everything a young adult could want: teenage angst, racing hormones, the search for identity, teenage romance, and supernatural entities. I read this book as an electronic book and got it on sale.  The sample chapters seemed interesting enough, and I hadn’t or reviewed a YA book in a long time so I gave Born At Midnight a shot.

At first I wasn’t sure if I could get used to or past the teenage angst or slang (pretty clean slang).  At first I thought “Okay, a YA book with the tried and true (and over done?) plot of troubled teen with parents who don’t “get” their kid,” but I hung in there.  Around chapter 3 I really got into Born At Midnight and I enjoyed the read.  Born At Midnight contains a real plot that includes universal issues every teen addresses at some point–fiction world or real world.  For example, how does a person handle his or her racing hormones?  How do I fit in to a group of people I don’t know?  How do I fit in to a group of people I do know?  My parents are driving me crazy! What do I do?  Of course, Born At Midnight develops around the issue of having a supernatural identity (thankfully found only in the fiction world), and C.C. Hunter develops all of these themes well and with humor.  Hunter has the teenage voice and attitude down pat.  As I read Born At Midnight, the characters Kylie, Melissa, Della, and the others rang true as teenagers trying to find their way from childhood into the confusing world of adulthood.

There were several funny situations that struck me as authentic.  For example, Hunter hits the perfect social/friendship dynamic among Kylie, Melissa, and Della.  One minute they’re arguing, the next minute they’re laughing themselves silly and those struck me as very, very true.  And the puzzle of her identity that Hunter gives Kylie was interesting to me even though I’m an adult, which means that I didn’t get bored.  It was enough of a puzzle that I tried to figure out the answer, and while I figured out the puzzle before finishing it, I still enjoyed the story and read to the end.  In actuality, Born At Midnight has more than one puzzle and some of the answers are not discovered at the end.  This means I’ll end up reading the next book soon.

As an electronic copy, St. Martin’s Griffin formatted Born At Midnight properly.  The only errors I found in the book were a couple of typos that a proofreader had missed.

Final Thoughts: As an adult, I enjoyed reading C.C. Hunter’s Born At Midnight, and I think this book would appeal to almost any teenager.  The slang is clean and the romance is clean and not overly graphic.  If I were a parent considering this book for my teenager, I’d give Born At Midnight a green light.

 
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Posted by on March 23, 2012 in Book Reviews, C.C. Hunter

 

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Unseen Academicals

Title: Unseen Academicals
Author: Terry Pratchett
Genre: Fantasy
Publisher: Harper
Pages: 400

The Gist: The wizards of Ankh-Morpork’s Unseen University are renowned for many things–wisdom, magic, and their love of teatime–but athletics is most assuredly not on the list.  And so when Lord Ventinari , the city’s benevolent tyrant, strongly suggests to Archchancellor Mustrum Ridcully that  the university revive an erstwhile tradition and once again put forth a football team composed of faculty, students, and staff, the wizards of UU find themselves in a quandry.  To begin with, they have to  figure out just what it is that makes this sport–soccer with a bit of rugby thrown in–so popular with Ankh-Morporkians of all ages and social strata.  Then they have to learn how to play it.  Oh, and on top of that, they must win a football match without using magic.

The Review:  I enjoy Terry Pratchett’s twisted humor and in Unseen Academicals there’s plenty of it.  He highlights the silliness of politics, fashion, and the press.  He pokes fun at the assumptions people make about individuals and groups of people.  Despite the dysfunctionality of the city, Ankh-Morpork functions and thrives with wealth and overcrowding.  And while this commentary takes place in an imaginary city containing imaginary folk such as trolls, dwarfs, and vampires, Pratchett’s really writing about our own world.

What I love most about Pratchett’s writing style (aside from his irreverent humor) is how Pratchett times the punch lines.  His timing builds anticipation so I wanted to keep reading.  I knew something was coming but I didn’t know what which made this book fun to read.  And another aspect that I love about Unseen Academicals is that it all comes together.  The book has a plot and character development.  At times I wondered how Pratchett was going to tie all together.  Everything seemed to be a bit disorganized, but as I read on everything made sense.   The main characters are likeable (even Lord Ventinari), and while there were a couple of slow spots, the book provided a fast-paced read.  Another thing I noticed was a lack of footnotes.  Pratchett’s books often have footnotes that provide more information related to Ankh-Morpork ‘s culture, but in Unseen Academicals these footnotes (thankfully) rarely appear.

For the past few weeks I’ve wanted to read something light, funny, and fantastical.  Terry Pratchett’s Unseen Academicals fulfilled my reading needs. I had fun spending time in Ankh-Morpork and I was a bit sad when I had to leave.

 
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Posted by on March 20, 2012 in Book Reviews, Terry Pratchett

 

Shakespeare’s Counselor

Title: Shakespeare’s Counselor
Author: Charlaine Harris
Genre: Mystery
Publisher: Berkley Prime Crime
Pages: 243

The Gist: Cleaning lady Lily Bard is a pro when it comes to keeping the exteriors of Shakespeare, Arkansas, absolutely spotless. But it’s the dirt below the surface that really keeps her busy. Even Lily herself has her share of secrets. . .

That’s why she’s joined a weekly group therapy session–to open up and finally face the past. That sounds positively enlightening, until the gruesome murder of a fellow member sends a terrifying warning. But which person in the group is the message meant for? Why? And who next will suffer the consequences of a killer’s head games?

The Review: I enjoyed reading Charlaine Harris’ Shakespeare’s Counselor. It’s a quick read. As with most of her mysteries that I’ve read, it’s short and Harris gets to the action quickly. It’s not too difficult who figured out “dunnit”, but I still found Shakespeare’s Counselor worth finishing because I wanted to be sure of my conclusion and to find out how Lily changes by the end of the book (I’ve already read a few of the previous books in the series). What I found most interesting (as I do with most mysteries set in small towns) are the relationships between neighbors, friends, couples, and co-workers.

Charlaine Harris’ Shakespeare’s Counselor is a good read for the commute to work, a good choice for a 24-hour reading marathon, or a quick and pleasant read for a Saturday afternoon.

 
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Posted by on February 21, 2011 in Book Reviews, Charlaine Harris

 

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