Friday, July 23, 2010

Dead Until Dark by Charlaine Harris

iconiconWhen I decided to try out the Barnes & Noble eReader for the iPhone, this book was my choice. My husband and I are really into the True Blood
icon TV series, so I decided to try out the books. Unfortunately, the wait for a copy from my library was going to be quite long, so it seemed like a logical choice for trying out the B&N eReader.

It only took me two days to finish the book, which ought to tell you something about how much I liked it! It turns out the first season of True Blood was pretty true to the first Sookie Stackhouse book — a lot of the scenes were taken directly from the book, so I had that deja vu feeling more than once. But there was also a few things that they left out of the TV show, such as the character of Bubba (I had to look that up online to find out who it was supposed to be, as the clues went right over my head).

One of the things I liked best about Dead Until Dark is the style of narration. It was told in first person, from Sookie's point of view, and the character has a very strong, quirky voice that easily shines through in the narration. The style is fairly conversational, like she's really talking to you, with touches of sarcasm and humor that really bring her character to life.

I can't wait to read the next one — I am looking forward to getting beyond the stuff the TV show has already covered!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Review: Barnes & Noble eReader for iPhone

I love books. I love the feel of a trade paperback in my hand, the smell of an old book's pages, the look of a glossy cover. In fact, I love that last one so much that when I was a teen, I would hold my books as carefully as possible, so that I didn't put big fingerprints on the covers.

As much as I've always liked books, though, I've been really intrigued with the idea of an ebook reader since the Kindle first came out. I'm no friend of Amazon, though, so I was especially excited for the Nook (Barnes & Noble's ebook reader).

nookTM, the world's most advanced eBook Reader: access over 1 million eBooks

Recently I upgraded to a hand-me-down first generation iPhone, and I was elated to discover a little over a week ago that Barnes & Noble makes an eReader for the iPhone and iPad. Of course I downloaded it right away! I wanted to try it out, so in addition to several free classics, I bought my very first ebook. I always have so many books I want to read, so I chose one for which I had a long wait from the library: Dead Until Dark, the first of the True Blood books.

Of course, I finished the book in two days, which brings me to my first complaint of the eReader: I can't afford to buy every book I read! I get most of my books from the library, and usually only buy books that I'm pretty sure I'll want to read again, or will find some value in keeping on my shelf.

Luckily Barnes & Noble currently has a promotion going where you can download free ebooks every week. They are all classics, but hey, I love classics! (You can actually download tons of classics with expired copyrights thanks to Google Books, but these books are scanned, and lack fancy formatting such as bookmarked chapter headings. The promotional free classics, on the other hand, have been formatted for the eReader.)

With exception of the horrifying thought of having to buy all my books (gah), I actually really liked the eReader. Having something to read with me at all times, without having to carry anything additional with me, is almost liberating. I like to always have something to read, but it's not always convenient to carry a book, and I carry as small a purse as possible so there's not room for one there either.

In this respect, I actually think the iPhone eReader is superior to the Nook (or any other dedicated ebook reader). Granted, they are smaller and lighter than most books, but I have enough crap to carry in my purse — I don't need one more thing.

Everything about the eReader's software makes reading on the iPhone a pretty pleasant experience. I like the standard (medium) text size, but it is adjustable if you find it a bit small; and you can change the color scheme to a black, grey, parchment, or colored background if you don't like the glow of the white page. The ebooks are easy to navigate using the table of contents, and you can also bookmark pages, highlight text, and create notes. Plus, you can search in the ebook just like on the computer.

There are other things I like too. Reading in bed, it was nice to have my iPhone in my hand instead of a heavy hardback book. And I was able to sit on the front porch after dark and read without having to turn on the light. (Thanks to the iPhone's automatic dimming of the screen in the dark, it didn't give me a headache at all, either.)

I can't see switching entirely to the eReader, but I am certainly interested in reading a few books on it here and there, especially the free classics. Like I said, though, my biggest complaint is the cost of ebooks. I think someone ought to come up with an ebook lending library for the iPhone, with similar software as the Barnes & Noble eReader, which will allow you to read unlimited ebooks for a low monthly fee. Perhaps, like Netflix, they could have tiered memberships that would allow you to read one, two, or three ebooks at a time. I don't know if something like this is possible, but if someone set something like that up, I would totally join and pay a monthly fee for unlimited ebooks on the iPhone!

Monday, July 19, 2010

We Need to Talk about Kevin by Lionel Shriver

iconiconSeeing as how enthusiastic the response has been to my last post — a review of Columbine by Dave Cullen —I thought I'd share what I read right before reading Columbine: We Need to Talk about Kevin, by Lionel Shriver.

A couple of months ago, I also read So Much for That by the same author. (Yes, I have plenty of catching up to do on this blog.) I liked that book so much (and I will blog about it later) that I decided to read this one, from a few years ago.

We Need to Talk about Kevin is about a high school shooting, but the narrative is told after the fact. The narrator, the shooter's mother, is writing letters to her husband about their son's life, but the reader knows what it is leading up to. There are a few surprises, but you know basically what Kevin did. He is still alive, in juvenile hall, so you also get to see a few glimpses of him a year after the fact — and his relationship with his mom.

The book is a fascinating and compelling story, and Shriver's skill at ramping up the suspense is admirable. The novel is also a depiction of a mother's relationship with her son, not to mention a question of how much a parent is to blame for how their kids turn out, so it addresses some pretty tough issues. In the novel, the mother, Eva, knew from the beginning that something wasn't right about Kevin, but her husband accused her of not liking him, always assuming the worst about him, etc. He often prevented her from properly disciplining Kevin, too. Sometimes you get the feeling that Eva kind of blames him for that, even though she talks about herself as a bad parent.

By the end of the novel, you come to realize that Kevin's entire childhood, Eva's entire parenthood, has been a clash of the titans, so to speak — Kevin versus Eva, and everyone else was merely pawns in the game. It is only when the game has played itself out that Eva can look back on everything, and relate it to her husband as it really happened.

I won't tell you anything about the end, because it's quite a shocker. The entire novel leaves you with a sort of sick fascination at how Kevin is — you can't stand him, but occasionally there is a moment when you find you can appreciate where he is coming from.

What I think is interesting, especially having read Columbine right afterward, is the question of what makes a kid decide to do something like that. Cullen talks of Eric as a psychopath who enjoyed the idea of causing other people pain, whereas he presents Dylan as a severely depressed teenager and a follower. We Need to Talk about Kevin, while fictional, hypothesizes about it from a different point of view. It's worth reading!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Columbine by Dave Cullen

iconiconIt's been a long time since I've updated my blog, but it's not for lack of reading. I have a lot of catching up to do, and I will do my best to remember everything I've read since last time I blogged. But first, the book I finished most recently: Columbine by Dave Cullen.

For those of you who don't know, I live in the Denver Metro area, but I grew up in unincorporated Jeffco — the area known as Littleton to the post office and everyone who has heard of the Columbine school shooting. I attended Chatfield Senior High, Columbine's sister school and rival, and although I graduated two years before the massacre, my sister was a sophomore at Chatfield when it happened. I knew people who went to Columbine at the time, and was even friends with someone who knew Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold.

I'm not sure what I'm trying to say here, except that I had something of a connection to what happened. I feel awkward about saying so, because to those who were there, my connection would be diddly squat, but then again, I have more of a connection than the average person who just saw the reports on the news.

In any case, what it comes down to was that I had some personal interest in Dave Cullen's Columbine. There was a lot in it that I didn't know, for all my supposed connections — I believed many of the myths, but then again, according to Cullen even a lot of the Columbine students came to believe them. But hopefully his book will start to change that, as he systematically debunks all of the popular myths, while providing a well-researched look at what really did happen.

Some of the myths he sets straight:

* None of the supposed triggers were accurate. Doom, Nazi influences, bullying, etc. didn't have anything to do with it. Eric Harris was a psychopath who conceived of an attack that would outdo folks like Timothy McVeigh.
* Likewise, individual kids were not targeted. If the plan had worked the way it was supposed to, hundreds of kids would have died.
* The date of the attack, April 20th, wasn't because it was Hitler's birthday. It was originally supposed to happen on April 19th, the anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing, but Eric wanted more ammo.
* Cassie Bernall wasn't asked if she believed in God, and then shot because she said yes. Eric looked under her table, said "Peek-a-boo," and shot her before she had a chance to say anything. The actual exchange happened between Dylan Klebold and Valeen Schnurr, after Dylan had already shot her, and she lived.

Columbine is exhaustively researched and well-written. The narrative is written similarly to a novel with flashbacks, shifting back and forth from the attack and aftermath from the students', teachers', and parents' points of view, to the events in Eric's and Dylan's lives that led up to the attack. I think just about anyone would find the book interesting and easy to get hooked into, but as a Littleton teen at the time of the shooting, I found it especially compelling.