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The Wrap-Up List
The Wrap-Up List
by Steven Arntson
Edition: Hardcover
56 used & new from $0.01

3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting Idea; Needs More, March 4, 2013
This review is from: The Wrap-Up List (Hardcover)
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
In sixteen-year-old Gabriela's world, which is much like ours, some people are unlucky enough to receive a letter informing them that they are going to die. They are given an opportunity to tie up any loose ends, to make sure that nothing important is left undone, and then they are taken by their Death to the Fields, never to be seen again.

Sometimes a person is able to figure out the noble weakness of his or her Death, and is able to acquire a pardon, but this is rare.

When Gabriela receives her Death Letter she is panicked at first, but then becomes convinced that she will be granted a pardon. In the meantime, though, she and her three best friends each need a first kiss.

Gabriela's Death, Hercule, gives her one week to tie up loose ends, and she spends the week getting to know her friends even more deeply, researching Hercule as well as her own family history, and sorting out her thoughts about religion.

The characters in this story are likable. Gabriela grapples with her emotions and relationships with humor and maturity, and I enjoyed reading this book from her point of view. The secondary characters are warm and detailed, and Gabriela's small world is realistic and interesting.

I really wanted more details about the world at large, though. I found it hard to accept the idea of the Deaths without more information. Their presence was taken as a given by all of the characters, and there were archives full of news about them, but the vast majority of this knowledge was not shared with the reader. I found it frustrating not to be able to wrap my mind around what exactly it was like to live with the shadow of the Deaths hanging over the world.


The Longest Race: A Lifelong Runner, an Iconic Ultramarathon, and the Case for Human Endurance
The Longest Race: A Lifelong Runner, an Iconic Ultramarathon, and the Case for Human Endurance
by Ed Ayres
Edition: Hardcover
49 used & new from $0.01

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Bit Formulaic, March 4, 2013
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Ed Ayers is an amazing runner. In this book he embarks on the JFK 50-mile race, an ultramarathon across some difficult terrain. Ayers won the race in the 1970s and now, as a 60-year-old, he aims to prove to himself that he is still a strong and smart runner by breaking his age division record.

Ayers is a thoughtful guy, who deeply cares about the present and future woes of our country and our world. Running fifty miles gives a man a great deal of time to think, and this book is set up so that each chapter deals both with a section of the course and also with concerns Ayers has about weapons and war, global warming, health, and nutrition.

I was most interested in the parts of the book that were about running. The descriptions of the JFK race were interesting, and I liked reading about the other competitors on the course as well as Ayers' personal history of running. Some of the other parts were compelling as well; Ayers is a good storyteller and his descriptions of events from history as well as from his own life were clear and detailed. Sometimes, though, this book felt as though it was really straining for that connection between the running and all of the other parts. The narrative wasn't pulled together cohesively to send one single message to the reader. It felt as though it was meandering.

Perhaps I've read too many running books, but this one also struck me as formulaic, with the back and forth between the race and then a memory, then back to the race again. I suppose there are few other ways to organize a book built around running, but I found myself feeling as though I'd read a handful of other very similar books, and there was not much to make this particular one stand out on its own.


Night and Day
Night and Day
by Virginia Woolf
Edition: Paperback
Price: $18.49
5 used & new from $7.94

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars British Relationships, November 18, 2012
This review is from: Night and Day (Paperback)
Life was tedious in many ways in London of the early 1900s. Ralph Denham, a small-time lawyer, must constantly consider the needs of his mother and many younger brothers and sisters, all of whom have a claim on his time and money. He would like to marry, but Katherine, the girl who has caught his attention at a series of evening social gatherings, is obviously out of his league and seems to disdain him.

Katherine, for her part, also lives a life marked by drudgery. She is the doted-upon only child of wealthy parents, but her mother is a silly flighty woman whose single goal in life is to compose a biography of her father, a famous poet. Katherine finds this work frustrating and wishes to make her escape. She thinks the way might be through marriage to William Rodney, a socially awkward writer who adores her but frequently bores or annoys her.

Mary Datchet, an independent young woman working for women's voting rights, is the only one living an exciting and meaningful life. She finds herself lonely and in love with her friend Ralph, though, despite the fact that he doesn't return her feelings.

Thus romance and courtship, confusion and misunderstanding ensue, at the glacial pace of early British relationships.

I like the details in this story, the glimpse into what life would have been like in this time and place. The ending seemed inevitable, although I found Mary to be the most interesting character in the novel and I was wishing to get more of her life than this book gave.


The Elementals
The Elementals
by Francesca Lia Block
Edition: Hardcover
86 used & new from $0.01

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Haunting, November 18, 2012
This review is from: The Elementals (Hardcover)
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Ariel's world is collapsing. A year ago her best friend Jeni went to visit the college both girls planned to attend. Ariel was sick and had to stay home at the last minute. While visiting the school, Jeni disappeared without a trace. Ariel's parents probably would have prevented her from going away to college after this tragedy, but then Ariel's mother is diagnosed with cancer, and it seems better for their daughter to be away as her mother undergoes harrowing medical treatments.

Armed with fliers, Ariel is determined to do what the police have been unable to do--figure out what happened to her friend. But once at college, faced with having to handle classes, a terrible roommate and her boyfriend, and a crowd of new friends who are both terrifying and intoxicatingly appealing, Ariel sometimes loses track of the mission she assigned herself.

I love the tone of this story--one of mystery and barely veiled danger. Ariel's friends are intriguing and very disconcerting at the same time, and I found myself in near-constant suspense as Ariel was pulled deeper into their strange reality, making questionable choices and barely skirting danger at every turn. Her story was so heartbreaking and she made herself so vulnerable, it was sometimes hard to read. I found the conclusion to be worth it, though, and I was glad to have been able to follow Ariel through her college journey.


Running Ransom Road: Confronting the Past, One Marathon at a Time
Running Ransom Road: Confronting the Past, One Marathon at a Time
by Caleb Daniloff
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $25.00
87 used & new from $0.01

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Chasing Past Demons, September 16, 2012
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In his younger days, Caleb had a serious problem with alcohol and drugs. He started drinking as an adolescent and the inability to know when to stop meant that he ruined much of his school experience, treated others terribly, and was a disappointment and embarrassment to himself and others around him.

Then, Caleb decided to stop. AA didn't work for him, so he found something that did--running. He started off with short distances, small tests of endurance. Then he worked up to longer and longer runs, until he finally felt capable of tackling a truly impressive goal--a marathon. Not just one marathon, though. Caleb felt the need to run marathon after marathon, always with a time goal in mind but also a goal of dealing with parts of his unpleasant past.

Over the span of a year and a half, Caleb runs in Boston, where he'd lived in his twenties; in Moscow, where he spent his teen years; in Vermont, where he'd worked after college; in Massachusetts, where he'd flunked out of boarding school; in New York City, where he'd gone to grad school; and in Washington, D.C., where he'd been born.

Interspersed with narratives about running the races themselves are flashbacks to the times when Caleb existed in these spaces, and the memories he has of them. Many of these sections were unpleasant, and even painful to read, as they paint a picture of a young man who seems absolutely determined to ruin his own life.

Caleb offers little explanation for the destruction. He doesn't seem to want to blame anyone, although it seems that the relationship he had with his parents was pretty strained. He was an awkward kid who found it hard to fit in. More than once he mentions bedwetting. He also doesn't much go into his path to sobriety, except that he did it for his wife (at the time his girlfriend) and her daughter, and he ran a lot.

The book, really, was mostly about running. It was about setting goals and dealing with what happens when you frequently don't meet them, and learning to go on to set new goals. Fighting the battle against alcoholism was only a secondary point, but I thought the book was interesting just the same.


Giving Up the Ghost: A Story About Friendship, 80s Rock, a Lost Scrap of Paper, and What It Means to Be Haunted
Giving Up the Ghost: A Story About Friendship, 80s Rock, a Lost Scrap of Paper, and What It Means to Be Haunted
by Eric Nuzum
Edition: Paperback
Price: $13.94
92 used & new from $0.01

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Inconclusive, September 16, 2012
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The beginning of this book was intriguing. The narrator tells an amusing story of himself and a couple of friends getting into some trouble as teenagers, and then reveals that he's had more than his fair share of friends killed over the years. It almost seems like people who become close to him end up dead. This may or may not have something to do with the fact that, as an adolescent, he was convinced that he was personally being haunted by a small girl who seemed to be trying to communicate something to him.

It seemed as though this was going to be a fascinating story of how the haunting girl was connected to a particular friend of the narrator's who helped him to get through some of the hardest times of his teenage years. Perhaps there was something about this relationship that meant that the narrator was affecting the people he knew--bringing about their deaths in some way. Maybe he was cursed.

Then I realized this book was a memoir, so none of that was the case.

Eric was a strange boy who found it hard to fit in. He didn't do well in school and he tended to act in outlandish ways that isolated him from his peers. When he was in high school, he drank too much and took handfuls of pills at random. This behavior continued into college. Eventually the only person who seemed to want to be with him was Laura.

Laura wasn't interested in a romantic relationship, but she and Eric spent almost every night together, driving around and listening to music and talking about everything. When Eric entered into a psychiatric hospital, Laura still didn't desert him.

Then at the end of the summer, Laura went away to school and everything changed.

In the present, Eric is obsessed with places where ghosts are said to appear. He travels around the country to haunted locations, looking for some hint of a presence beyond our world. He seems to want to validate his childhood experience with the little girl he thought haunted him, a haunting that the people at the psychiatric hospital questioned ever existed.

The relationship between Eric and Laura was interesting. She was a good friend to him and a solid support when he needed it. I admired the way that Eric was able to pull himself together, to decide that suicide wasn't the way and that he could make something of his life.

The rest of the book just seemed inconclusive. The search for ghosts wasn't all that interesting to me, as I don't believe they exist in real life and so didn't expect to see evidence of them in this memoir. Also, there was no real conclusion to the story of Laura, either. It seems that both the author and the audience were left with very little idea of who she really was and what her motivations were. The backstory of her life during the time when she was so important to this story was disappointing.


The Templeton Twins Have an Idea: Book One
The Templeton Twins Have an Idea: Book One
by Ellis Weiner
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $14.21
113 used & new from $0.01

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Cute, fun book, August 18, 2012
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Abigail and John Templeton are twelve-year-old twins whose lives have recently been turned upside-down. Their mother has died and their father, an inventor and professor, has decided that the family must move to a new home, close to a college that will allow him to use their space to work on his most recent invention. Once in their new home, though, the family is shocked to find themselves targeted by a former student of Professor Templeton's, a man holding a grudge who isn't afraid to use the professor's children to get what he wants.

The plot of this book is light and amusing, and the characters are quirky and interesting. The twins are smart and fun to read about, and kids will enjoy their series of adventures.

The real charm of this book, though, is twofold. First, there is the narrator who speaks directly to the reader, in a snobbish and slightly peevish voice. This style is very much reminiscent of the narrator Lemony Snicket, from "A Series of Unfortunate Events" books. This story is not nearly as dark as those stories, but the narrator's tone is similar and is wickedly amusing. Second, the book is illustrated here and there with diagrams as well as pictures of the action from the story. Although the drawings in my book are only rough copies, I can see great potential in them for adding to the humor already in this book.

I would imagine this is the start of what will become a popular series for kids.


Les Miserables
Les Miserables
by Victor Hugo
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
191 used & new from $0.01

6 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Very Long, August 18, 2012
My first knowledge of this story comes from the musical version, which means I already was aware of the basic plotline when I began reading the book. I also recently enjoyed reading "The Hunchback of Notre Dame," so I thought I might like this novel equally well.

Jean Valjean has recently been released from prison, and his lot in nineteenth-century France is not a pleasant one. He is despised and rejected by everyone in the town he encounters, and grows more bitter and angry with every step he takes. A kind bishop takes him in and, through charity and compassion when Valjean steals from him, convinces him to become a good man who devotes his life to God.

Valjean, after a bit of brooding, takes this lesson to heart, becoming the mayor and major benefactor of a town. He sets up a successful business, keeps to himself, and donates large amounts of money to the needy. He is a shining example of perfection, although he is officially a wanted man for stealing a small amount of money shortly after leaving the bishop's home. Soon, though, a test of his conscience arises. A man who is thought to be him is being sentenced in his place. Valjean feels as though he must reshoulder the burden of his crimes. But at the same time, a woman who used to work in his factory is dying a terrible death which will leave her small daughter alone and unprotected, in the clutches of people who hate and abuse her. Valjean has the power to make things right for the child, but only if he avoids prison.

Thus begins the tale of Valjean, protector of the child Cosette, for whom he seems some kind of angel. She must, at all costs, remain ignorant of his past and untainted by his status as former prisoner.

There were many parts of this book that I really enjoyed. I loved the way the characters were interconnected, and I also loved reading the backstory of many of these characters. It was interesting to have a more in-depth view of the bishop, and of Fantine, Marius, Eponine, Gavroche, and many others in this novel. The story is told well, with flashbacks to the past when necessary to flesh out the characters and to give the reader a better understanding of their motivations.

The problem I had with this book was not, of course, the main plotline or the character descriptions. The problem was with the meandering tangents down which the author tended to wander. Perhaps if I were reading this book at the time when it was written, I would find the description of the intricacies of the Battle of Waterloo to be absolutely fascinating. Instead, I found these many pages to be incredibly dull and unnecessary. Likewise the description of the sewers of Paris and the ire directed at nunneries.

I dislike reading a book in which I find myself skimming huge chunks of pages. I felt it was unfortunate that there was such deviation from the actual story, which was so compelling on its own without these interruptions.


Bliss (Bliss Bakery Trilogy)
Bliss (Bliss Bakery Trilogy)
by Kathryn Littlewood
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $14.84
74 used & new from $0.01

7 of 10 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Unsympathetic main character, August 3, 2012
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Rose's family owns a successful bakery in a small town. What few people know is that they own a magical cookbook and the things they bake often have healing properties.

Rose feels unappreciated. She adores her handsome older brother, who mostly ignores her in return. She also has a funny little brother and an adorable little sister. Rose is the overlooked one, the dependable daughter who can't get anyone to notice her.

When Rose's parents are called out of town on an emergency, they leave her the they to the magical cookbook. Rose knows she should keep it safe, but can't quite resist the idea of doing a little magic and proving she's special. Soon, though, things spiral out of control and the entire town is in the midst of chaos. Will Rose be able to sort things out before her parents return?

I liked the basic premise of this book. The idea of a family in possession of a magical cookbook is a compelling one. I also liked the idea of an evil relative come to steal the family secrets.

I really disliked Rose, though. She was a doormat--insecure and weak and malleable to everyone else's wills. Her parents placed too much responsibility on her, and I couldn't help feeling like it was because she was a girl, which rubbed me the wrong way. She was so desperate for attention that she was willing to do whatever her brother or aunt wanted, even when it went against her own feelings.

The book was one preventable catastrophe after another, and got less fun to read as Rose made consistently bad choices.


11/22/63: A Novel
11/22/63: A Novel
by Stephen King
Edition: Paperback
Price: $11.29
158 used & new from $5.17

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars History lesson, August 3, 2012
This review is from: 11/22/63: A Novel (Paperback)
Jake is a divorced high-school and adult-education English teacher. His life is unremarkable, even boring.

Al, the owner of a local diner, shatters that boring life with a secret.

Below the storeroom of the diner is a portal. It opens, unfailingly, on the outskirts of a small town on a sunny afternoon in September of 1958. For years Al has been venturing through this portal in order to buy hamburg at 1950's prices. Every time he steps into the past it's a clean slate, and regardless of how long he stays, he reemerges into the present just two minutes later than he left.

Over time Al had experimented, making small changes and seeing how the present day handled them. Then Al has his major brainstorm. What if someone used the portal to stop the assassination of President Kennedy? Stopping this murder could prevent the cascade of tragedy that followed in this country, and make for a better future for everyone.

By the time Al has gathered enough information about Lee Harvey Oswald to conceivably prevent Kennedy's murder, he is on death's doorstep himself and is unable to go through the door again and wait five years for the right moment to strike. He needs someone to take up the mantle, and he decides that Jake is just the guy to do it.

Jake is reluctant and disbelieving at first, but then he starts to see potential in this plan. He also sees a way to help someone he knows personally who had a tragic past.

Armed with a fake ID, some old money, a lot of sports results, and a huge stack of research on Oswald's day-to-day movements, Jake steps into the past.

There is a great deal of waiting around from 1958 to 1963. Jake fills that time by getting a job, moving into a town, and making some personal connections. The problem is that personal connections complicate things, and Jake can't afford to lose focus as he tries to save the future.

I loved the whole concept of this book. Jake is a great character--a good guy given the opportunity of a lifetime and determined to see it through despite the repercussions. The cameo of a couple of past King characters was so well done; I love the intertwining stories and the reason behind Jake's student Harry's tragedy.

The ending of the story was perfect. I was worried about what direction the novel would take at the end, but I thought it was really well done and made sense with the rest of the story.

As someone who wasn't alive at the time in which this story takes place, I found the history of Oswald to be fascinating, and I enjoyed the history lesson as much as Jake's personal journey.


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