Welcome to Take Me Away!!

Hello! Thanks for stopping by Take Me Away, where I review books of a variety of genres. My favorite genres are literary and contemporary fiction, though I also enjoy some mystery/thrillers. I also enjoy sociological and psychological non-fiction. Check out the tabs across the top to navigate the site. All the reviews on this site are categorized by title (fiction or non-fiction) or by author. Check out the "About Jenny" section to learn a little more about me. Thanks again for stopping by, and feel free to leave a comment even if it's just to say hi! =)

Review: Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand

Monday, November 17, 2014

Title: Unbroken
Author: Laura Hillenbrand
Pages: 406
Genre: Non-Fiction, Historical, Biographical
Publisher: Random House
Pub. Date: November 16, 2010


It is November and I finally have my first five star read of the year! I read all the rave reviews when this first came out, but I literally had no. interest. whatsoever. at that time. It's hard to believe I ever felt that way, but it's possible that my interest in war related topics has just increased that much since 2010. (Although, seriously, even if you don't have interest in that topic, in general, you have to read this!) I chose this as my book club pick for the next month, which will be in January, and I'm so glad I chose it because I would have missed out on something absolutely amazing if I skipped this and now I can make everyone else read it too! :)  Plus, I am excited about the movie coming out, directed by Angelina Jolie, and the Oscar buzz it's eliciting!

This book enthralled me. I could not put it down... reading this was the last thing I did before bed each night and the first thing I did each morning (for the few short days I was reading it, anyway). I went into it remembering one specific review that had stuck out to me back in the day; that reviewer stated they could not at all believe that someone had gone through all this and felt much of it must have been fabricated. They also felt it was a very self-serving story. I can see where every time something happened it was like, seriously?? But, in reality, as extreme as it is, I choose to believe it all. And I certainly did NOT come away from this thinking negatively or skeptically of Louis Zamperini. The opposite, actually! And it is insane what Louis Zamperini went through. What I had trouble believing, if anything, was that a human being could endure all that this person endured. That was probably the hardest, but there were many men who endured what he did (and one other who endured being lost at sea for 47 days with him) so we know it can happen. I wrote down a few quotes from Hillenbrand's fantastic writing, but here is one of my favorites:
"Dignity is as essential to human life as water, food, and oxygen. The stubborn retention of it, even in the face of extreme physical hardship, can hold a man's soul in his body long past the point at which the body should have surrendered it. The loss of it can carry a man off as surely as thirst, hunger, exposure, and asphyxiation, and with greater cruelty." (pg. 189, paperback copy).
I feel like in the end, that's what this book and this story are about. Dignity, and how maintaining or restoring it is what makes people resilient. It's how we move forward. This books provides a long look at the best of people and their resilience as well as into the worst of people when they are put into a situation of power and authority. Although this is about the life of Louis Zamperini, I thought Hillenbrand did a great job of narrating not just his life but those of other soldiers as well and narrating the circumstances, in general. I also liked that the book didn't end when the war did. Hillenbrand continues on afterward to describe the aftermath of war on the soldiers including their experiences with PTSD; she includes the outcomes of the lives of the captors, and this last section about the aftermath of the war is just as interesting as the rest of the story. It was also interesting to read this WWII story specifically because almost everything we read about this war is about what took place in Europe, especially in Germany, but the atrocities in Japan were on par with that of Germany and we don't hear much about it.

I just don't have the words... I cannot express what I want about this book because I loved it so much. I had to stop sometimes to reflect on what I had just read or to let myself cry or just to take a breath. But it was always a short break since I couldn't put it down! I would say it's on my list of the best EVER books. I will recommend this again and again... along with a box of tissues.

Review: Frankenstein

Monday, November 3, 2014

Title: Frankenstein
Author: Mary Shelley
Pages: 241
Genre: Fiction
Publisher: Signet Classics (Penguin)
Pub. Date: March 11, 1818


Jason and I chose Frankenstein as our Halloween/October/Fall read-a-long this year. (I read the signet classic mass market paperback version pictured at the top, but Jason read a really nice hardcover that included illustrations which is pictured on the right).

Overall, it was just okay. It certainly was not one of the scariest books ever, as many lists online try to say. Maybe in 1818 the thought of it was scary. I think maybe the theme itself was sort of scary, more so than the actual plot. The theme being how sometimes we get carried away and the decisions we make will haunt us and create horrible consequences.

In case you weren't aware of the origin of this story, Victor Frankenstein is a scientist who decides he can create a living creature, so he toils away in his laboratory until he creates a living being. This creature, who remains nameless, (yes, Frankenstein refers only to the scientist who created the monster), is a gruesome being who scares people in his image alone and whose actions taunt Frankenstein.

This was a pretty sluggish read. Even though it was less than 250 pages, and even though the story itself is interesting enough, it was so drawn out and could have used some editing... Part of this is that it was written in 1818 and maybe that's just how people talked?? (The story is all told in first person, though there are a few different narrators)... but I've read other older classics and didn't always feel this way. I wanted to shout at it to "move on already!" Jason felt the same way. It became a running joke that we each had to sit down and push on through. In fact, the last night I was reading it I only had about seven pages left and just could not stay awake for them, and it felt like it took me forever the next morning to finish those pages!

I mentioned earlier that parts of it were so ridiculous. Frankenstein is considered one of the first science fiction novels ever written. But the science fiction part of it, such as when the monster is created, had me laughing with the lack of reality. Whereas nowadays, even a fictional story would have to have some type of rationality that even if unreal makes sense in the story, in Frankenstein, it was more like... he wanted to create a living being, so he worked hard in his laboratory, and voila! a monster is made! Many parts of the book lacked the kind of detail and polish that could have more thoroughly illustrated the scene; this is despite feeling in other ways that the book was sluggish with over narration.

All that being said, Frankenstein really wasn't horrible... it is just definitely outdated. It was still interesting to read the origin of the story that has become so well known today. I won't even say that I would never read it again... I do think that talking about the themes of the book etc. would make it a good group read. And with Jason and I reading it together, there were many times we were able to talk about the plot and laugh at something ridiculous or be confused together about when something happened or exclaim at a plot point together. It was also very interesting to see how the modern interpretation of Frankenstein differs so dramatically from the original one created by Mary Shelley. Jason feels that reading the illustrated version improved his experience of the book, though that one is a heavy copy so you would need to plan on keeping that one at home!

I give this one 3 out of 5 stars.

Review of Halloween Horror Nights 2014

Monday, October 20, 2014

For my first  off topic post, I thought I would post a review of this year's Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios (in Orlando). This is only the second year that I've attended, but it was so much fun and I wanted to write about it. First, a disclaimer: I won't have the most detailed reviews of each house because I spent a large majority of the time focusing on the upcoming corners, doorways, and curtains, bracing for whatever/whoever was going to jump out at me. We did make it to all eight houses this year which I was super excited about, especially with it being a Saturday night three weeks before Halloween. Really felt like I made full use of my money for the night!

The Houses

http://www.halloweenhorrornights.com/orlando/index.html
The Walking Dead
I knew ahead of time that the two most popular houses would probably be The Walking Dead house and the Halloween house. TWD was in the front of the park and Halloween the back so we decided to just hop in line for TWD since it was only a 45 minute wait when we got there. We were there with our best couple friend(s) and with it being the first house of the night, the wait felt super quick. All I really remember is we heard lots of screaming in this house as we were waiting. This was advertised as the biggest house they've ever had, and it was definitely long. There were zombies jumping out all over the place, on both sides. I screamed and laughed my way through this as I squeezed quickly to the right and then to the left over and over again. They repeated a scene similar to last year's with the jail and the jail cell's being open. There was another scary part with strobe lights and zombies EVERYWHERE. We all loved this one. But I'm also in the camp of people who love TWD house and wouldn't mind at all if they continue to include this one next year again.

http://www.halloweenhorrornights.com/orlando/index.htmlAlien Vs. Predator
I've only partially seen any of these movies so I wasn't sure what to expect. This was an interesting one in terms of the set design, but there weren't necessarily too many scares. I did scream out loud which my friend laughed about since at the moment I did nothing had jumped out. But I looked to my right and saw this masked thing just standing there and it freaked me out.


http://www.halloweenhorrornights.com/orlando/index.htmlRoanoke - Cannibal Colony
After the AvP house, and after we'd done a couple of other rides, we moved closer to the back of the park to get to this house, because the wait was only, I believe, 5 minutes at the time! This house was based off the real life mystery about the group of colonists in the 16th century who disappeared... one of the theories is that because they had no food or resources they became cannibals and... well... you know. This house freaked me out! In a completely different way than TWD did. The costumes and sets were amazing in this one. I remember seeing one girl sitting there savagely eating part of another person (his intestines, maybe?) I think this might be the one where in a couple places the scare actors were walking around in the line of people instead of just jumping out from somewhere. This was a good one.

Dollhouse of the Damned
http://www.halloweenhorrornights.com/orlando/index.html
This one was right across from Roanoke, and the wait was only 15 minutes when we got out of that one, so we went straight into this one. As you walk up, you see a cartoon-y looking house and the sound of little laughs coming out of it. This house was CREEPY!! I mean, yeah, I figured the dolls would be creepy, but this caught me off guard. There was this one especially creepy part where I was looking up at a creepy looking doll, and I might have even said out loud "are these real or..." and all of a sudden the super creepy looking one jumped at me.  This one was surprisingly... you guessed it... creepy!!!

http://www.halloweenhorrornights.com/orlando/index.htmlDracula Untold  
This one is based off the new movie. Honestly, I don't remember this one. It wasn't the most remarkable in set design or scares. I mean, I did jump and scream, but as I sit here and write this I literally cannot remember anything about it! Sorry Dracula Untold people. :(


http://www.halloweenhorrornights.com/orlando/index.htmlFrom Dusk Till Dawn
Right after the first vampire one we went to this one. I know nothing at all about this show or movie. This one wasn't really scary either. It was more about the set I guess as well. But since I hadn't seen the movie or anything it didn't mean a whole lot to me. This one felt more like watching a show.



http://www.halloweenhorrornights.com/orlando/index.html
Giggles and Gore
Okay, so by this time of the night we had done all the rides we wanted to do and spent plenty of time in the Simpsons area so the guys could get some Duff beer. (We girls chose to go for Starbucks instead earlier in the night). I've had a fear of clowns ever since I watched Poltergeist at the age of 3... that scene... with the clown that comes to life! But I will say I reigned in the fear significantly after reading then watching It last year... I just had to remind myself that Pennywise was Tim Curry, and then I wasn't afraid anymore. BUT, I was still super apprehensive about walking into a "haunted" house full of clowns jumping out at me. But really, this one wasn't bad at all. I was super proud of myself. It was scary and fun. Some of the clowns were freaky looking, but some weren't. The ending of this one was awesome. Lots of fun.


Halloween
http://www.halloweenhorrornights.com/orlando/index.htmlThe last house of the night. This was one that I was most looking forward to, but the line was so long all night.. getting up to 75 minutes at one point that we saw so we kept putting it off. By the time this was the only house left, the wait was 60 minutes. It was 12:40 am. Our friends decided they were done for the night and left. Jason and I hemmed and hawed and then finally decided we just must do this one. For almost the entire wait we were looking at a house in the middle of nowhere, with the Halloween theme music playing loudly over the speakers. Scary! And we were so lucky that the wait time of 60 minutes was incorrect, and we ended up waiting only 25 minutes! We are so glad we did. Like they said, this one was like walking through the movie, Halloween. Michael Myers jumped out from everywhere with his knife raised in the air. I had seen a video of a girl going through this house alone so I had an idea what to expect. I was terrified of what I knew was coming - the hallway full of Michael Myers on each side! I won't tell you if one was real or not... you can go and see for yourself! ;) There was also a "scene" from the movie with a girl sitting on the couch and Michael Myers jumps out and attacks her as you walk by. And the ending of this was awesome as well. I screamed and laughed a lot with this one!! I happened to find a video of this one online if you are interested... looks like it is an official video so hopefully I'm not doing anything wrong linking to this one: Halloween House Video


The Scare Zones
Okay, I just wanted to add something little about the scare zones. First there was The Purge. I've seen both the Purge movies which have such an awful premise but, well, I still watched them. Basically, in a future world the government allows all crime to take place on one night of the year, including murder. In the second one, a couple's car breaks down as they are on the way home, so they are essentially stuck outside downtown in the middle of the Purge. So I was super scared of this one, but was by far the weakest scare zone. I think I only saw two of the Purge characters total (plus a couple chain saw people) in the few times we walked through there. Another one was the Bayou of Blood which was set in Louisiana with the voodoo culture. There was a thick green fog that made that one creepy. There was supposedly a human sacrifice show every so often but I didn't see it. There was Face Off which was definitely the best one. This is based off the show of the same name on SyFy where contestants create scary and gruesome masks. (I haven't actually watched the show but that's what I understand). The characters were amazing, and the scare actors in this one were super active and totally got into their role. And the last one was actually the first one when you walk in the park... Masquerade. I only saw this one while it was still light out so it wasn't as scary. Some of these actors were alright, but there was one girl that was creeping me out even in the light.

So that's it! I had so much fun and would definitely recommend this event!





The Sunday Salon

Sunday, October 19, 2014


Looks as though I got myself in a little over my head with my reading "commitments" this past month after doing so well the month before! Somehow I ended up committing to the read-a-long for Something Wicked This Way Comes which I did start... to Frankenstein with my husband which I did start... to Cartwheel with my sister which I did start... any one recognize a pattern? Not to mention I had been slowly making may way still through The Stand but haven't looked at that one in a while. Really, I haven't done much reading at all lately. All the same reasons. Yesterday, I finally picked a couple books back up again and got a lot of reading done. I've been sick (again) so I spent all day Saturday at home.

As for Frankenstein, up until yesterday I'd only read a couple chapters and was really not into it. My husband felt the same way. And does it seem like every book written in the 1800's is in the format of someone writing a letter to someone else about the narrative of someone they met and that's what the actual book is? Seems like I've seen a lot of that! But yesterday I did get a lot further and it's picked up a little.That being said, it is a ridiculous story in many ways and you have to be willing to suspend disbelief. I'll explain more when I'm done reading it!

Something Wicked This Way Comes I am also not far in at all, but the story itself was reminding me every so slightly of Stephen King ONLY because of the theme with the two young boys... cue It or Stand By Me. I will get back to this later, but probably not one the read-a-long schedule.

Cartwheel, based off of the Amanda Knox story, is one I have been wanting to read for a while. I happened to be with my sister recently at Barnes and Noble and she decided she wanted to read it and that we should each read it together. Plus we get extra points for it on our family reading challenge... (have I mentioned that before)? As part of that we each identified five books we wanted to be sure to read this year and we all get extra points if we read any off the entire list and that's on there. Again, I'm only shortly into this one, but wow, the main girl (the one who would be the Amanda Knox of the story) is very difficult to like!

On the blog front, has anyone else with blogger had issues renewing the payment for their domain? I initially had a whole paragraph about this but decided better of it... don't want to insult the owner of the blogger platform I'm using! Suffice it to say, my balance is paid and I am good to go, but it was not easy!

On another blog related note, I've always felt pretty strongly about keeping this blog strictly about the books, but I decided that I'm going to post about other things every now and then... it's ridiculous that I feel a weird sort of guilt or unease about this!! But the other things I plan on posting about, so far anyway, are all still related to the theme of "taking me away" and being an escape from the often harsh realities of every day life! Tomorrow I will be posting my review of Halloween Horror Nights which I attended last weekend!

Review: The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Title: The Sparrow
Author: Mary Doria Russell
Pages: 405
Genre: Fiction; Sci-Fi; Christian
Publisher: Ballantine Books (Random House)
Pub. Date: September 9, 1996


I had heard of The Sparrow once or twice before and knew it to be highly underrated (in terms of how well known and popular it was) and heard it was amazing and life changing. (Read the reviews on any site... you'll find mostly 5 star reviews all touting similar reactions). So with the recent read-a-long hosted by Trish at Love, Laughter, Insanity, and my recent desire to jump back into blogging and reconnecting with the book blogging world, I decided to join right in. I have very mixed thoughts after reading this. First let me explain briefly what it's about as well as any confusion you may have at reading the genre categories!

The basic plot is about the Jesuit Society hearing alien transmissions from another planet, so they send a team to investigate and learn about what other possible life forms there are. Bad things happen there, though, and only one person returns to Earth where he is interrogated, questioned, judged, etc. The narration flips back and forth from the current time (year 2060) after Emilio Sandoz has returned and from 2016-2019 when this mission started. The flip flopping of the narration adds to the tension because you know something horrible happened and just a little about it and the other narration builds to that end we're all trying to figure out.

This was a heavy book to read -- dense in its 405 pages. It was actually more engaging than I expected it to be in a lot of ways. But I can see where a lot of readers felt the middle dragged.. but I think it's not that it dragged but that it's that the focus was on the life found on the other planet, Rakhat. I felt like I learned. SO. MUCH.... only it is all fiction, LOL. I don't read a whole lot of scf-fi or fantasy so I may just not be used to how the genre works, but I don't remember in the few things I have read of having to focus as much on specifically learning the terms, the cultural factors, etc. as opposed to learning it indirectly through the movement of the story itself. The reason for all that here was because the main characters' purpose in going to this world WAS to learn these things, so part of moving the story along, I suppose, was learning and explaining these things. How their language works. Why they speak the way they do. What their culture is like. How it operates economically. I just sort of felt like maybe it was a bit much... maybe I just feel guilty that I can tell you so much about the Runa and Jana'ata and Ruanja and K'San and Kashan and Supaari VaGayjur and spacial observation vs. non-visual etc. etc. but I'm still working on understanding a lot of real life things in history and current events.... LOL!! It also took me about 1/2 to 3/4 of the book to really start to connect to most of the characters.

The other thing is that I expected to find some great insights into faith and related philosophy and, for me, it wasn't as significant as I thought it would be. I did take away some thoughtful little nuggets. But I guess I had just expected more and wanted it to be life changing for me too. That being said, I also think that there is a lot to talk about and I think that after discussing things with other readers I would maybe come away with more. There were horrific things in this book and some of it did seem extreme. I understand that the extreme nature was maybe necessary to emphasize the point of Emilio's bitterness, but yikes! There was one part that did make me cry having to do with one of the kids on Rakhat. I usually consider something in a book affecting me like that as a good thing.

So for these reasons, I was pretty torn and had mixed thoughts after finishing the book. The book itself was good... yes, and overall I did enjoy reading it. But I wouldn't necessarily recommend it. Only to those who very genuinely have an interest in this book and topic. I have found in reading the reviews on the book sites that this is one of those books people either LOVE or HATE. Obviously, I don't fall into either extreme, I seem to be the exception! There is a sequel, Children of God. I am curious what happens, but I'm feeling so/so about reading it again. Then again, I did invest all that time in learning about that world so maybe I should go for it. :)

And just an interesting thought I had while reading this; in some ways, this reminded me of State of Wonder by Ann Patchett which I loved. They're both about traveling to a foreign environment for research and controversial issues about the culture that is encountered. Anyway, just had to throw that in there!