Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Book Review: The Case of the Man Who Died Laughing by Tarquin Hall

The Case of the Man Who Died Laughing: From the Files of Vish Puri, Most Private Investigator (Vish Puri Mysteries #2) by Tarquin Hall
Release Date: June 15, 2010
Age Group: Adult
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Length: 320 pages
Murder is no laughing matter. Yet a prominent Indian scientist dies in a fit of giggles when a Hindu goddess appears from a mist and plunges a sword into his chest. The only one laughing now is the main suspect, a powerful guru named Maharaj Swami, who seems to have done away with his most vocal critic. Vish Puri, India's Most Private Investigator, master of disguise and lover of all things fried and spicy, doesn't believe the murder is a supernatural occurrence, and proving who really killed Dr. Suresh Jha will require all the detective's earthly faculties. To get at the truth, he and his team of undercover operatives—Facecream, Tubelight, and Flush—travel from the slum where India's hereditary magicians must be persuaded to reveal their secrets to the holy city of Haridwar on the Ganges. How did the murder weapon miraculously crumble into ash? Will Maharaj Swami have the last laugh? And perhaps more important, why is Puri's wife, Rumpi, chasing petty criminals with his Mummy-ji when she should be at home making his rotis?

Stopping only to indulge his ample Punjabi appetite, Puri uncovers a web of spirituality, science, and sin unique in the annals of crime. (from publisher)

This book was so much fun to read. The mystery was beautifully put together with a cast of quirky and fun characters, and the way it all fit was perfect--I didn't see it coming but it was understandable all the same. Sometimes, what I want to read is a fun and entertaining mystery story, and this book fit that to a tee.

The characters are what made this book so good, I think. Instead of being a simple mystery story--which isn't necessary bad, of course--The Case of the Man Who Died Laughing made me invested as much in the characters as in the actual mystery. They had back story and fun little things that made them entirely unique.

I liked the information about the gurus in India as well. The whole industry has always been interesting to me, and I liked finding out more about it. And the illusions, of course, are always fun to dissect. I was always that person who, while at a magic show, was constantly trying to figure out the trick instead of going along for the ride. So, the inner workings of seeming impossibilities was a lot of fun.

This was a quick, light read that I would recommend to any mystery lover. It wasn't the most emotionally satisfying read, but sometimes it's exactly what you're looking for at a certain time.

Amazon~Barnes and Noble~Goodreads

Monday, July 26, 2010

Book Review: Perfect Chemistry by Simone Elkeles

Perfect Chemistry by Simone Elkeles
Release Date: December 23, 2008
Age Group: Young Adult
Publisher: Walker Books for Young Readers
Length: 368 pages

A fresh, urban twist on the classic tale of star-crossed lovers.

When Brittany Ellis walks into chemistry class on the first day of senior year, she has no clue that her carefully created “perfect” life is about to unravel before her eyes. She’s forced to be lab partners with Alex Fuentes, a gang member from the other side of town, and he is about to threaten everything she's worked so hard for—her flawless reputation, her relationship with her boyfriend, and the secret that her home life is anything but perfect. Alex is a bad boy and he knows it. So when he makes a bet with his friends to lure Brittany into his life, he thinks nothing of it. But soon Alex realizes Brittany is a real person with real problems, and suddenly the bet he made in arrogance turns into something much more.

In a passionate story about looking beneath the surface, Simone Elkeles breaks through the stereotypes and barriers that threaten to keep Brittany and Alex apart.

I love the original story of Romeo and Juliet. I'm a romantic at heart, and I find the idea of star-crossed lovers beautiful. Plus the fact that it makes for a really, really good story. And Perfect Chemistry is the Romeo and Juliet story, essentially, a reimagining I enjoyed reading about.

The characters of Brittany and Alex were far more interesting than the stereotypes it would have been easy to make them. Even Alex, who is practically the definition of the "bad boy," had a lot to his character, and I could see exactly why he was who he was. I think having the story told by both Alex and Brittany made this possible--we got both back stories and were able to understand each character's motivation.

Something about this book, though, just didn't do it for me. I think it might have been the pacing of the action and how it was spread across the course of the novel. Some parts felt a little rushed ("Wait, they're in love? Already?") and some parts dragged on. It wasn't enough to prevent me from enjoying the book, but it did put me off a little.

Overall, this was a fun, sweet book that I loved reading. I think practically every fan of young adult romances would enjoy this story like I did, and I would definitely recommend it.

Amazon~Barnes and Noble~Goodreads

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Book Review: Bel Canto by Ann Patchett

Bel Canto by Ann Patchett
Release Date: April 16, 2002
Age Group: Adult
Publisher: Harper Perennial
Length: 336 pages

Somewhere in South America at the home of the country's vice president, a lavish birthday party is being held in honor of Mr. Hosokawa, a powerful Japanese businessman. Roxanne Coss, opera's most revered soprano, has mesmerized the guests with her singing. It is a perfect evening: until a band of terrorists breaks in, taking the entire party hostage.

But what begins as a life-threatening scenario slowly evolves into something quite different. Friendship, compassion, and the chance for great love lead the characters to forget the real danger that has been set in motion and cannot be stopped.

Ann Patchett has written a novel that is as lyrical and profound as it is unforgettable. Bel Canto is a virtuoso performance by one of our best and most important writers.

This book was beautiful. And fascinating. And heartbreaking. And so many other things that I can't quite figure out how to say. I'm going to try to keep this review from being simple gushing, but be warned that I might not entirely succeed.

This novel is about a group of diplomats and other important or wealthy people who are held ransom by a terrorist group for money and for the release of certain political prisoners. When the government refuses to give in, a very long stalemate begins and the story of Bel Canto begins. This novel was in fact based on an actual situation in Lima, Peru; an interesting bit of information that I wasn't aware of while reading the book.

The characterization in this novel was amazing. The party is taken hostage very early in the story, so we slowly discover who the characters are while they're already prisoners, fleshing out the characters slowly and through their actions rather than any previous knowledge we might have had. The terrorists, too, were made into interesting and fully-formed characters. The reader starts to empathize with them as the hostages do, making the "villain" in the story much harder to spot. By the end, I was rooting for the terrorists as much as I was rooting for the prisoners, which was a brilliant piece of work on the author's part.

The ending to this book was gorgeous, too. I knew, I knew it was coming, but in my blissful ignorance still ended up so emotionally attached to these characters that every moment mattered to me.

In my personal opinion, you should go read this book. Now, if possible. It was truly a fantastic story, and I'm really looking forward to reading more from this author.

Amazon~Barnes and Noble~Goodreads

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Upcoming Releases: 6/14/10-6/21/10

I'm most excited about:

Crispin: The End of time by AviRelease Date: June 15, 2010
(from Barnes and Noble) Avi guides his hero toward a final, very satisfying destiny in this wonderfully realized conclusion to the Crispin trilogy. With Bear, their mentor and protector, dead, Crispin and the disfigured girl Troth wearily wander the French countryside. Finding refuge at a convent, the two ultimately make the wrenching decision to part when Troth decides to stay with the Sisters, comforted that she'll never again be shunned for her appearance and having accepted her own destiny as a healer. Bereft of his only friend, Crispin e
ventually falls in with a band of traveling musicians, who, he finds out in increasingly suspenseful scenes, are murderous thieves who hold a terrified boy in thrall. The story of how he and the child, Owen, escape their clutches makes for a heart-stopping read. As in the other titles
in the saga, characters and setting are expertly r
endered. The ending is almost unbearably intense and leads to a deeply moving final scene in which Crispin learns that Bear will always be with him. Thrilling and beautifully wrought.
I read the first book in this trilogy ages ago and I remember loving it. I had no idea the book was first in a series, but as soon as I found out I decided that I need to read the rest of the series--and with this book I can!

Other recent releases: (links go to the Amazon page)
Adult Fiction

Release Date: June 15, 2010Frankenstein: Lost Sou
ls by Dean Koontz
Lowcountry Summer by Dorothea Benton Frank
Promises to Keep by Jane Green
Stories edited by Neil Gaiman and Al Sarrantonio


Release Date: June 15, 2010
Avatar: The Last Airbender (The Art of the Animated Series) by Bryan Konietzko and Michael DiMartino
Release Date June 18, 2010

Young Adult Fiction

Need by Carrie Jones
What are you excited about this week?

Friday, June 11, 2010

Mini Review Bunch 1

I'm so sorry I haven't been around this blog in a little while, but school has been insane for the past few weeks what with finals and all. I'm happy to say that this Tuesday marks my final day, so I'll be able to devote a lot more time to reading and to blogging.

I decided to post a whole bunch of mini reviews for the books I haven't had a chance to get to yet on this blog. If I wait for too long, they'll never get done--and there are too many amazing books on this list!

Fire by Kristin Cashore
Release Date: Available Now
Age Group: Young Adult
Publisher: Dial
Length: 480 pages
Fire, Graceling's prequel-ish companion book, takes place across the mountains to the east of the seven kingdoms, in a rocky, war-torn land called the Dells.

Beautiful creatures called monsters live in the Dells. Monsters have the shape of normal animals: mountain lions, dragonflies, horses, fish. But the hair or scales or feathers of monsters are gorgeously colored-- fuchsia, turquoise, sparkly bronze, iridescent green-- and their minds have the power to control the minds of humans.

Seventeen-year-old Fire is the last remaining human-shaped monster in the Dells. Gorgeously monstrous in body and mind but with a human appreciation of right and wrong, she is hated and mistrusted by just about everyone, and this book is her story. (from Goodreads)
I loved Graceling, and if you enjoyed it as well you will definitely like Fire. The main character is similarly strong and relatable to Katsa from that novel, and I loved reading about her and found myself righteously angry and happy for her in turn--exactly on cue, which shows me just how brilliant Kashore is at manipulating emotions. The plot flowed well, the romance worked and wasn't overly cheesy or predictable, and I adored the characters. My one complaint would be that it was a little too similar to Graceling, and I had a little bit of déjà vu while reading the book. I wouldn't recommend reading the two in close succession like I did for that reason.

Charmed Thirds by Megan McCafferty
Release Date: Available Now
Age Group: It really bridges YA and Adult
Publisher: Crown
Length: 368 pages

Things are looking up for Jessica Darling. She has finally left her New Jersey hometown/hellhole for Columbia University in New York City; she's more into her boyfriend, Marcus Flutie, than ever (so what if he's at a Buddhist college in California?); and she's making new friends who just might qualify as stand-ins for her beloved best friend, Hope.

But Jessica soon realizes that her bliss might not last. She lands an internship at a snarky Brooklyn-based magazine, but will she fit in with the überhip staff (and will she even want to)?

As she and Marcus hit the rocks, will she end up falling for her GOPunk, neoconservative RA...or the hot (and married!) Spanish grad student she's assisting on a summer project...or the oh-so-sensitive emo boy down the hall? Will she even make it through college now that her parents have cut her off financially? And what do the cryptic one-word postcards from Marcus really mean? (from Goodreads)
This book made me want to beat my head against a wall.

I loved Sloppy Firsts. I loved Second Helpings even more. And I didn't like Charmed Thirds at all.

There were some good points--like the very, very beginning and the very, very end--but the entire middle was so boring. And Jessica, the main character who I loved so much, became annoying and made a bunch of incredibly stupid decisions. And she whined in an unamusing way, which is one of my pet peeves for book characters.I skimmed like crazy through this, because I just didn't feel like reading pages of boring, inane nonsense. What happened to this awesome series?

To be fair, there were some moments that made me smile. Jessica's niece was wonderful and there were some really beautiful observations about the effect we have on other people's lives that I really enjoyed reading. Also, her family was fleshed out a little more and I started to appreciate them more than I did before.

At this point though, I'm not sure I'll pick up the next book in the series. I've heard bad things about the next two books as well, and I don't want the first two books to be ruined for me forever.

That...was not a mini-review. So I'll leave it with Charmed Thirds and wait a little while before tackling more from the endless list of read and unreviewed books.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Book Review: What the Dog Saw and Other Adventures by

What the Dog Saw and Other Adventures by Malcolm Gladwell
Release Date: October 20, 2009
Age Group: Adult
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Length: 432 pages

What is the difference between choking and panicking? Why are there dozens of varieties of mustard-but only one variety of ketchup? What do football players teach us about how to hire teachers? What does hair dye tell us about the history of the 20th century?

Here is the bittersweet tale of the inventor of the birth control pill, and the dazzling inventions of the pasta sauce pioneer Howard Moscowitz. Gladwell sits with Ron Popeil, the king of the American kitchen, as he sells rotisserie ovens, and divines the secrets of Cesar Millan, the "dog whisperer" who can calm savage animals with the touch of his hand. He explores intelligence tests and ethnic profiling and "hindsight bias" and why it was that everyone in Silicon Valley once tripped over themselves to hire the same college graduate.
Malcolm Gladwell may be my favorite nonfiction author, though I admit I haven't read many of them. He takes a topic that I've never considered before, then weaves it into an incredible story which makes me feel like maybe it isn't useless trivia after all. Even when it actually is.

This book is a collection of Malcolm Gladwell's best articles with the New York Times Magazine reaching back into the 1990's It's organized into three categories, but the topics definitely jumped around with every new story, making sure I never got too tired of one kind of story.

Some of the articles were less interesting than others, of course. I found myself forcing through a few of the ones in the middle--but it was alright, because I could skip them without losing track of the flow of the book. Like reading a book of short stories, any articles that didn't grab me could be passed by.

The best part about this book is that it makes you really think about all kinds of information you'd never thought of before. For example, Gladwell's views on plagiarism were fascinating, and I'd never heard the argument presented in the way he did. It made me reevaluate some of my ideas, and I loved that about it.

Amazon~Barnes and Noble~Goodreads

Friday, May 21, 2010

Book Blogger Hop (7)

Time for the Book Blogger Hop! Head over to Crazy for Books to find more excellent book blogs or to join in, and feel free to comment here if that's where you're coming from.