Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Curse of the Romanovs by Staton Rabin

No spoilers.

The Curse of the Romanovs
Author: Staton Rabin
Year of Publication: 2007
Genre: Fantasy, historical fiction, YA
Pages: 271
First Line: "'Mama! Mama! -- it hurts! Please, God! Mama, come kill me!"
Summary: Alexei Romanov, heir to the Russian throne, is in deadly danger.

It's 1916, the struggling Russian people are tired of war and are blaming their Romanov rulers for it, and some are secretly plotting to murder the young heir and his family. But nobody outside the palace knows that Alexei suffers from a terrible bleeding disease, hemophilia, which threatens to finish him off even before the family's enemies can. The only person able to help Alexei is the evil and powerful religious mystic Rasputin -- and now Rasputin is trying to kill him too! Desperate, Alexei flees through time to New York City in 2010, using a method taught to him by the mad monk himself.

In New York, Alexei meets smart and sassy Varda Rosenberg, and discovers she is a distant cousin. Varda is working on a gene therapy cure for hemophilia, as the disease still runs in the family. When Alexei learns that history shows that his entire family will be assassinated in 1918, he and Varda travel back in time to the Russian Revolution, with Rasputin hot on their heels. Will they be able to rescue Alexei's family before it's too late?

Source: Back of book

Review: First, let me just apologize for the typing quality of my last review. Having just copy/pasted to use the template for this review, I saw there were numerous typos. For this I am sorry. Now, the book about which this review is, was not bad. It seemed to take forever to get going but once it did, I was fairly satisfied and interested. Rabin admits to altering many of the historical facts and dates in numerous pieces after the book (which are interesting, for the most part -- if you read this book, read the pieces after the actual story) which was somewhat disappointing to learn, but she does justify many of the alterations with reasons. The book is "rated" for readers 12 years and older, but if you are a parent of a 12-year-old, I may give the book a read through first, just to be sure the child is emotionally ready for it, particularly the pieces after, but the ending of the book as well as other parts sprinkled throughout. It can be a difficult book to read emotionally if the reader becomes attached to the characters. Recommended for those interested in the Romonovs' history.

Worst part: The grandfather complex was not discussed at all. I really felt it should have been.

Best part: The last few parts were very well written (aside from the very end) and definitely served to increase the emotional bond with the characters.

Grade: C+

Other Books by This Author: Betsy and the Emperor and Black Powder

61 / 50 books. 122% done!

Friday, August 13, 2010

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

Minor spoilers, if any.

Title: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
Author: Rebecca Skloot
Year of Publication: 2010
Genre: Nonfiction, biography, science
Pages: 328
First Line: "There is a photo on my wall of a woman I've never met, its left corner torn and patched together with tape."
Summary: Her name was Henrietta Lacks, but scientists know her as HeLa. She was a poor southern tobacco farmer who worked the same land as her slave ancestors, yet her cells -- taken without her knowledge -- became one of hte most important tools in medicine. The first "immortal" human cells grown in culture, they are still alive today, though she has been dead for more than sixty years. If ou could piel all HeLa cells ever grown onto a scale, they'd weight more than 50 million metric tons -- as much as a hundred Empire State Buildings. HeLa cells were vital for developing the polio vaccine; uncovered secrets of cancer, viruses, and the atom bomb's effects; helped lead to important advances like in virto fertilization, cloning, and gene mapping; and have been bought and sold by the billions

Yet Henrietta Lacks remins irtually unknown, buried in an unmarked grave.

Now Rebecca Skloot takes us on an extraordinary journey, from the "colored" ward of Johns Hopkis Hospital in the 1950s to stark white laboratories with greezers full of HeLa cells, from Henrietta's small, dying hometown of Clover, Virginia -- a land of wooden slave quarters, faith healings, and voodoo -- to East Baltimore today, where her children and grandchildren live and struggle with the legacy of her cells.

Henrietta's family did not learn of her "immortality" until more than twenty years after hder death, when sicentists investigating HeLa began using her husband and children in research without informed consent. And though the cells had launched a multimillion-dollar industry that sells human biological materials, her family never saw any of the profits. As Rebecca Skloot so brilliant shows, the story of hte Lacks family -- past and present -- is inextricably connected to the dark history of experimentation on African Americans, the birth of bioethics, and the legal battles over whether we control the stuff we are made of.

OVer the decade it took to uncovery this story, Rebecca became enmeshed int he lives of the Lacks family -- especially Henrietta's daughter Deborath, who was devastated to learn about her mother's cells. Deborah was consumed with questions: Had scientists cloned herm other? Had they kille dher to harvest her cells? And if her mother was so importnat to medicine, why couldn't her children afford health insurance?

Source: Back of book

Review: My first college assignment for Hollins University. Although it was an interesting read, I found myself easily distracted through the first quarter of the book or so. Afterwards, it was difficult to put down, except during the bits concerning law and scientific history, which interested me less than the story of Henrietta herself and her family. Deborah is a very likable person, and Rebecca's narration of her journy with the Lacks makes you feel as if you were there, too. I'm not sure I learned a whole lot from this book -- at least, I'm sure I won't remember much of the technical things. But it was terribily interesting while reading it. Anyone should read this -- black, white, North, South, East, West, male, female (although I have a feeling a woman might get more out of it than a man), this book is really something everyone should read.

Worst part: Definitely the medical/scientific/law history stuff. That didn't keep my attention at all.

Best part: I was particularly interested in Deborah's life, especially as a teenager and the situation involving Galen. I also really liked Bobbette, Deborah's sister-in-law.

Grade: B++

Other Books by This Author: None, but she has written several articles for various publications.

60 / 50 books. 120% done!
So, just a little note, guys. I'm not officially a part of the TAG any more because I'm officially too old -- I'll still be stopping in when I'm in the neighborhood, although it won't be too often, because I will be going to school in Virginia. However, I will still be posting reviews here as I intend to keep reading! I will be majoring in creative writing at Hollins University (for those of you who don't already know) and then getting a master's degree in library science. In any case, I will continue to review as much as possible, partly because I'll be doing it anyway for my personal blog, and partly because no one else does! (But please do, anyway!) Thank you all for reading, if anyone does.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Jekel Loves Hyde by Beth Fantaskey

Title: Jekel Loves Hyde
Author: Beth Fantaskey
Year of Publication: 2010
Genre: YA, Science fiction, romance, fantasy, literary
Pages: 282
First Line: "I buried my father the day after my seventeenth birthday."
Summary: Jill Jekel has always obeyed her parents' rules -- especially the one about never opening the mysterious old box in her father's office. But when her dad is murdered and her college savings disappear, this good girl is tempted to peek inside, because the contents just might be the key to winning a lucrative chemistry scholarship.

To better her odds, Jill enlists the help of gorgeous, brooding Tristen Hyde, who has his own dark secrets locked away. As the team of Jekel and Hyde, they recreate experiments based on the classic novel, hoping not only to win a prize but to save Tristen's sanity. Maybe his life. As things heat up in the lab, though, Jill's accidental taste of a formula unleashes her darkest nature and will compel her to risk everything -- even Tristen's love -- just for the thrill of being...bad.

Source: Back of book

Review: I really liked this. Saccharine when it came to the romance, but I didn't feel it was in an obnoxious way. Cute and interesting. Well put-together. Jill was maybe slightly crazy for forgiving Tristen so many times, but both characters were fairly human in everything they did. The story was really original, if not a little drawn out in some ways. I felt too many things happened and the book really should have ended about half-way through, but, of course, with the scenes which had already happened, extended. Definitely worth picking up. You don't have to read The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde to enjoy, but it might give you slightly more insight.

Worst part: Jill was slightly inconsistent in her character and personality. Just enough to notice. But I really felt the whole thing about her being under the potion was kind of unnecessary.

Best part: Okay, seriously -- authors need to stop creating such attractive fictional characters. Unless it becomes possible to make me a fictional character as well. (IE -- I loved Tristen.)

Grade: B+

Other Books by This Author: Jessica's Guide to Dating on the Dark Side.

59 / 50 books. 118% done!

Also, congratulations to everyone who participated in the Summer Reading Program, as well as those of you who won a gift certificate! Thanks to Friends of the Derry Public Library!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Jane Bites Back by Michael Thomas Ford

Minor spoilers.

Title: Jane Bites Back
Author: Michael Thomas Ford
Year of Publication: 2010
Genre: Fantasy
Pages: 299
First Line: "It was not, of course, exactly what Jane had written to her sister that long-ago Christmas Eve, but the sentiment was the same."

Summary: Two hundred years after her death, Jane Austen is still surrounded by the literature she loves -- but now it's because she's the owner of Flyleaf Books in a sleepy college town in Upstate New York. Every day she watches her novels fly off the shelves -- along with dozens of unauthorized sequels, spin-offs, and adaptations. Jane may be undead, but her books have taken on a life of their own.

To make matters worse, the manuscript she finished just before being turned into a vampire has been rejected by publishers -- 116 times. Jane longs to let the world know who she is, but when a sudden twist of fate thrusts her back into the spotlight, she must hide he real identity -- and fen doff a dark man from her past while juggling two modern suitors. Will the world's most beloved author b able to keep her cool in this comedy of manners, or will she show everyone what a woman with a sharp wit and an even sharper set of fangs can do?

Source: Back of book

Review: Entertaining. Not a literary masterpiece or anything, but told with an enjoyable style. The second half of the book (maybe the last two-thirds, I'm not sure) were definitely better than its counterpart. Fairly original, aside from the fact that it's about vampires -- it was well executed in that respect, I felt. This is the second book I've read that had Byron as a vampire, though. I couldn't find anything about legends of him being a vampire, so I don't know what's up with that trend. I actually found a quote from him (at least it said it was from him) which said he didn't like the idea of vampires or whatever. In any case, a pretty fun read with decent characters. I'm interested to know how close they are to the real people. Worth a read, and will probably pick up the sequel.

Worst part: Jane's attraction to Kelly felt extraneous and irrelevant. I wish it hadn't been included.

Best part: I felt the bookstore really came to life, especially with Lucy. Also, it was easy to forget that a man had written the book.

Grade: B-

Other Books by This Author: Jane Goes Batty, The Road Home, What We Remember, Suicide Notes, Changing Tides, Full Circle, Looking for It, and Last Summer.

58 / 50 books. 116% done!

Monday, August 2, 2010

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith

No spoilers.

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies
Author: Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith
Year of Publication: 2009
Genre: Classic, fantasy, humor, romance
Pages: 317
First Line: "It is a truth universally acknowledged that a zombie in possession of brains must be in want of more brains."

Summary: As our story opens, a mysterious plague has fallen on the quiet English village of Meryton -- and the dead are returning to life! Feisty heroine Elizabeth Bennet is determined to wipe out the zombie menace, but she's soon distracted by the arrival of the haughty and arrogant Mr. Darcy. What ensues is a delightful comedy of manners with plenty of civilized sparring between the two young lovers -- and even more violent sparring on the blood-soaked battlefield. Can Elizabeth vanquish the spawn of Satan? And overcome the social prejudices or the class-conscious landed gentry?

Source: Back of book

Review: Oh, God. So fantastic. Brilliant. I've read the original at least twice, and I've read all of Austen's other novels, except for Northanger Abbey. And I love this book. It was funny, clever, interesting, and insightful as far as the original goes. I feel like I got a lot more out of this than the original. Granted, I was twelve when I read P&P the first time, but this is so good. A lot of people may feel that it is a sort of defiling or something of Austen's original, but it's really great. I loved this. Definitely worth a read, although I think you'll get more out of it and enjoy it more if you've read the original. I honestly hope this is made into a movie. Also, the discussion questions which follow the novel are hilarious and meant for entertainment; so be sure to check that out as well.

I will note that the characters are slightly different, or at the very least severely exaggerated, in this book. The illustrations even add to that. I feel if this was made into a movie, it would be even more difficult to recognize it as P&P solely because of the differences from the original characters, but they're different in a way that makes it fantastic.

Worst part: There were some lulls in the text that seemed zombie-less and I felt a few places could have used a little more zombie action.

Best part: The idea itself is brilliant but the general execution was wonderful as well.

Grade: A+

Other Books by This Author: Quirk Classics published other books such as Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters and Android Karenina.

57 / 50 books. 114% done!