Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Top 10 Childhood Favorites: #10-8

I know, I know.... normally I only post my reviews and thoughts on the books I have recently finished. But I thought it'd be a good bit of fun to do some reflecting for a book report instead. I began thinking about the books that actually fostered a love of reading within me. There were books that I clearly remember reading 800 times or so just because I loved them that much. Now I will not sit here and pretend that my favorite books from my childhood were some of the "great children's books of all time," but to me they were. They are books I will pass down to my children someday to read. Anyways, I hope you enjoy my trip down literary memory lane!

10. R.L. Stine - Broken Hearts

I was the world's biggest R.L. Stine fan! The Fear Street series always promised me an entertaining read. This particular "Super Chiller" was one I remember rereading every February for years! Josie and Melissa start to get threatening Valentines in their lockers at Shadyside High School. Next, girls start turning up dead. Who is murdering the beautiful girls at Shadyside..? You'll have to read this classic high school murderer on the loose tale to find out! (which will probably take the average adult about two hours)


9. James Howe - Bunnicula

My first vampire book... *wistful sigh*. Harold and Chester are a dog and cat team living with a loving family. One day, the family goes to the movies and brings back with them a bunny. The family thinks it's hilarious that they found a bunny in a cage left at the movie theatre and appropriately give him a name that combines his species (bunny) and the movie they were watching (Dracula). Thus Bunnicula he is named. But there's something off about this bunny. He's a bit peculiar, and Chester and Harold vow to get to the bottom of it before something bad happens to their beloved owners! Seriously, this book is so much fun.

8. T.S. Rue - The Pool

I think I am 1 of 17 people who have actually read this book. I think my Oma picked it up for me at one the garage sales that she used to go to every Thursday during the summer. I devoured the book and still have it on my bookshelf. Kelly lands the job of her dreams (being a lifeguard at a hotel). But slowly, more and more poolside accidents befall guests and the lifeguards themselves. It starts to seem like someone - or something - is after them all. Yes, this book is as good as it's B-Movie looking cover. If you loved the Fear Street books as a kid, read it.


It would appear that in my attempt to upload a bunch of book covers that I have angered the BlogSpot gods. So for now, consider this installment #1 of my Top 10 Childhood Favorites. Stay tuned for the next three favorites (or however many I'm allowed to upload) in the next installment!

Maria V. Snyder - Poison Study


This is the story of Yelena. We meet her in her prison cell, where she is being punished for murdering her foster father's blood son. The punishment in Ixia for murder is death, no questions asked. Unless the Commander's food taster dies (which is an inevitability as their job requires them to taste the Commander's food for poison)... If that taster dies, the job offer must be presented to the next in line for execution. And guess who the next person to die is.... That's right, my friends! Yelena.
While Yelena is a somewhat weak excuse for a heroine (in my humble opinion), you still cheer for her. You want her to learn all of the poisons that the Commander's right hand man teaches her. You want her to stand up for herself. And more than anything else, you want her to fall in love with the absolutely delicious Valek (the aforementioned Commander's right hand). More than anything else, when things start going haywire at the castle, you really, really want Yelena (with Valek's help) to overcome the threat presented by her former foster father when he shows up demanding vengeance for his son's murder.
The best part? Valek. No question. He is a perfect candidate for a book crush. He's handsome, serious, artistic, smart.... and an assassin. I mean, COME ON. He's even funny! "It's a dirty way to fight, but I'm late for lunch." Valek is easily the most quotable. He sort of makes other common book crushes look like wimpy, brooding little boys (sorry, Edward Cullen). He is worth reading the book for alone.
This novel is classified as fantasy because of the magic and the poisons. I get it, but I would venture to put this book into a category called Fantasy Lite. It does not slap you across the face with Tolkien-esque fantasy qualities. It's the chick lit version of fantasy - and I loved it. I read this book in one day (granted I was travelling from Chicago back to Ohio, so I had some time). My only regret about reading it so quickly is that I did not have copies of the two sequels to continue Yelena's journey.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

J.R. Moehringer - Sutton

There are few things in this world that make me happier than walking through Barnes & Noble with no set goal in mind. Usually when I go book shopping, it's "Okay, let's hurry and get to the Mysteries section. No, don't check out the special edition classics, you don't need five copies of Pride & Prejudice. Oh, and don't you dare even THINK about going near that Buy One, Get One 50% table..."

But there are a few days a year I allow myself to meander and browse for purchases. One such day was the day this past school year that one of my more... hmm, how to phrase this... quick-fingered students made off with my iPhone. I was distraught. Not because my phone was gone, but because I always thought I was one of the teachers the students actually LIKED (which I was assured I was once word spread that someone took it). I trusted my students, and I take it personally when my trust is betrayed like that. So I needed that retail therapy... specifically I needed that literary retail therapy.

I picked up Edith Wharton's The Age of Innocence, because I'd been dying to read it. And while randomly wandering away from the W's, the cover pictured above grabbed my attention and forced me to pick it up. Once I started reading, I quickly realized that the book itself was just as good as its cover.

This novel is a fictional account of Willie Sutton, a real life bank robber. You've all heard of Al Capone. Willie Sutton was friends with him and even took some notes from the notorious thief. This novel travels back and forth between the events that led to Sutton's arrest(s) and his retelling of his life's work to two reporters. Moehringer gives Sutton a voice that is only too suited to a 1920's wise guy. Sutton details his crimes, his motives, and most importantly his love for a very special woman. It's a truly entertaining read. But what makes it better is that it is based off of a real person. Willie Sutton really lived, really robbed, and really loved. I highly recommend this underrated book. It's a great palate cleanser if you're coming off of a hefty classic (I'd just finished the previously mentioned Wharton novel) or if you're looking for the not so typical beach read.

Diagnosis: It's a quick read, but it's a quality read.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Therese Anne Fowler - Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald

When beautiful, reckless Southern belle Zelda Sayre meets F. Scott Fitzgerald at a country club dance in 1918, she is seventeen years old and he is a young army lieutenant stationed in Alabama. Before long, the “ungettable” Zelda has fallen for him despite his unsuitability: Scott isn’t wealthy or prominent or even a Southerner, and keeps insisting, absurdly, that his writing will bring him both fortune and fame. Her father is deeply unimpressed. But after Scott sells his first novel, This Side of Paradise, to Scribner’s, Zelda optimistically boards a train north, to marry him in the vestry of St. Patrick’s Cathedral and take the rest as it comes.
What comes, here at the dawn of the Jazz Age, is unimagined attention and success and celebrity that will make Scott and Zelda legends in their own time. Everyone wants to meet the dashing young author of the scandalous novel—and his witty, perhaps even more scandalous wife. Zelda bobs her hair, adopts daring new fashions, and revels in this wild new world. Each place they go becomes a playground: New York City, Long Island, Hollywood, Paris, and the French Riviera—where they join the endless party of the glamorous, sometimes doomed Lost Generation that includes Ernest Hemingway, Sara and Gerald Murphy, and Gertrude Stein.
Everything seems new and possible. Troubles, at first, seem to fade like morning mist. But not even Jay Gatsby’s parties go on forever. Who is Zelda, other than the wife of a famous—sometimes infamous—husband? How can she forge her own identity while fighting her demons and Scott’s, too? With brilliant insight and imagination, Therese Anne Fowler brings us Zelda’s irresistible story as she herself might have told it. (from

Back when I was my students' age in 10th grade honor's English, my English teacher Mrs. Allen assigned us to read The Great Gatsby. I fell in love. I loved everything that Fitzgerald wrote, from the way he developed his characters, to the way he used beautiful language to capture a time in history that I had never before studied. Because I loved Gatsby so much, I learned a little bit about Fitzgerald's life. So I had heard about his "crazy" wife Zelda who tried to bring about his literary downfall... and wasn't too pumped to read a novel in her defense.

When I'm wrong, I'll admit I'm wrong. I was wrong. I LOVED reading a novel in her defense. After reading Fowler's depiction of Zelda and of Scott, it's safe to assume that they brought about each other's downfall. They were two of a kind and wore each other out. Fowler does an excellent job of blending fact and fiction. The glimpses she gives us of other famous celebrities of the time are refreshing and... well, fun. She describes Hemingway's lady-killer attitude, but also hints at a homosexual interest in Scott. There are also delightful cameos by Cole Porter, Gertrude Stein, Pablo Picasso, etc.

Overall, I would have to say that I truly enjoyed reading this window (albeit fictitious) into the Fitzgeralds' lives. It definitely kicked my Fitzgerald juices into high gear and urged me to finally get around to reading Tender Is The Night, which has been on my reading list since I was 16. So thank you, Ms. Fowler.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Jean Plaidy - Madonna of the Seven Hills

The most beautiful woman in Rome, Lucrezia Borgia, was born into a family—and a destiny—she could not hope to escape . . .
Fifteenth-century Rome: The Borgia family is on the rise. Lucrezia’s father, Pope Alexander VI, places his illegitimate daughter and her only brothers, Cesare, Giovanni, and Goffredo, in the jeweled splendor—and scandal—of his court. From the Pope’s affairs with adolescent girls to Cesare’s dangerous jealousy of anyone who inspires Lucrezia’s affections to the ominous birth of a child conceived in secret, no Borgia can elude infamy.

Young Lucrezia gradually accepts her fate as she comes to terms with the delicate nature of her relationships with her father and brothers. The unbreakable bond she shares with them both exhilarates and terrifies her as her innocence begins to fade. Soon she will understand that her family’s love pales next to their quest for power and that she herself is the greatest tool in their political arsenal. (from

I am normally the historical fiction fan that devours anything about the Tudor family. So when Showtime made the series about him and his wives, I was thrilled. Obviously it had to come to an end... I mean, the man couldn't stay alive to marry EVERY woman in England. But with the show off, I needed something to fill the void. Luckily, Showtime felt my pain and gave the world The Borgias. I admit, I knew nothing about them except that Lucrezia was supposedly one of the most sexually perverse women in history. I had to read about this woman and find out who she was before Showtime turned her life into something that borders on pornography...

Jean Plaidy, a personal favorite of mine, has created a world for Lucrezia that completely drew me in. She tells the story of Lucrezia's father becoming Pope. Papal history buffs will love the details about the election of the Borgia Pope. However, those who are reading solely for the courtly intrigue will not get too bogged down in the politics.

In my studying and reading about these Borgias to build some background knowledge before diving head first into Jean Plaidy's series, I found a lot of talk about an incestuous relationship between Lucrezia and her brother Cesare. There also were rumors about a similarly inappropriate relations between Lucrezia and her father, Pope Alexander. Plaidy hints at the relationships (especially with Cesare), but she paints Lucrezia as the victim who does what she can to spurn any true advances.

Whether you believe in the Borgia incest or not, no one can deny that they were indeed an interesting family. If you have good Borgia book suggestions - send them my way!