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Saturday, May 23, 2015

Beautiful Oops by Barney Saltzberg - Good Times With Goof-Ups


Pros: A fun interactive book with plenty of silliness
Cons: Needs a companion book!

The Bottom Line: Get kids' imaginations and creative minds going with this little nugget of joy.

Usually I’m not impressed with pop-up books. Sure, they look nifty, and I can appreciate the effort that’s gone into making them (I sure can’t do it!), but the more elaborate they are, the more prone to damage they can be. You look through them, admire them, and then move on. Other books similar to pop-ups, like lift-the-flap books, are more fun because kids are encouraged to pull things, push things, lift flaps, twist circles, and more. Interactive books are more fun.

Beautiful Oops is by Barney Saltzberg, the same author of Peekaboo Kisses. It’s a different sort of interactive pop-up type book. Instead of teaching kids about animals or telling stories, it inspires them to use their imaginations even when goof-ups happen. It’s kind of like the children’s version of Wreck This Journal.

Inside, there are flaps to lift and little things to peek at. The idea in this book is that little moments of “Oops!” can still be turned into something nifty. A torn piece of paper. Spilled paint. A crumpled paper ball. Even a coffee stain from a mug can become something else. All of them are transformed into something else – elephants, alligators, and more. These goof-ups can be turned into works of art – or just some silly scribbles. Kids are encouraged to use their imaginations and see beyond the oops itself. Sort of like how we spot shapes in clouds. The text in the book points all these things out.

I think my favorite thing about this book is the color. It’s a bright, colorful book with all sorts of mixes and mediums. It’s a small party in a book, and my other favorite part is the stretch out spiral that you pull out of the book and then put your eye to in order to look down. It’s a really nifty effect, and there’s a bit of text down in the center to read. There are plenty of colors and patterns that dance their way down the spiral as well.

The book is rather small in size, but that’s good because for young children that makes it easier to handle as opposed to some of the massive pop-ups on the shelves. I think it’s compact size may also help it to last a little bit longer in kids’ hands (but if they’re keen on pulling out the spiral or tearing off the flaps, then it really doesn’t matter what it’s size is).

The only way I think this could be even better is if there were some kind of companion book to go with it. While that’s not really necessary (what with the current number of activity books out there), I think it would be fun for kids to have an empty book where they were encouraged to let some kind of oops happen and then make something of it. As it stands right now, the best you could do is snap up something by Keri Smith.

Still, it’s a fun little book and definitely worth taking a look at the next time you’re in the bookstore and thinking of buying something cute for your child.

NT

Originally posted on Epinions.com

Notes from the playlist: "Upright Piano" by Without Directive

Saturday, May 16, 2015

The Wilder Life by Wendy McClure - Little Houses Everywhere


Pros: Fun and educational for fans of the Little House books
Cons: Not as much fun if you've never read the books

The Bottom Line: If you loved Laura Ingalls Wilder and her Little House books (like me!), then you'll get a kick out of one woman's journey to see it all.

When we got The Wilder Life by Wendy McClure as an ARC a while back, I had to read it. The premise was just too good to pass up.  I loved the Little House books. When I was a kid, I saved up all my money and spend a whopping $6 to get my hands on the next book. I still have those books too. My favorite is On the Banks of Plum Creek.

But McClure wanted to take things a step further. When she rediscovered her old Little House books as an adult (yep, she still had her books from when she was a kid too), she decided to go on a bit of a Laura Ingalls Wilder adventure. She wants to actually find the Big Woods where Pa's cabin was. She wants to follow the trails in the prairie lands and wade in the one and only Plum Creek (beware of leeches!). She wants to immerse herself in what she calls "Laura World" and pick out the truth of the books from the fiction that everyone so loves. Heck, she even makes butter with a butter churn (apparently not as hard as it sounds - I was shocked) and that molasses candy in squiggly shapes using just a pan of snow.

If you have read the Little House books, McClure will remind of you of all the little things in them. I just started and was only on page 4 when she reaches out to the reader and says, "...because you do remember the button lamp, in the saucer, with the little square of calico that [Ma] twists up and greases into a wick?" Now, I haven't read the books literally in decades, but that was my very first Laura Ingalls Wilder flashback moment, in which I internally shouted, "Omg, yes! I do!"

This book brought back a whole bunch of those memories. Even better, McClure tries out all sorts of things, such as making a bunch of food from the books like salt pork and vanity cakes. Yeah. Who remembers the vanity cakes? Remember how awesome they sounded in the books? Apparently they're made using two pounds of lard. Ha!

It was really fun to follow her around as she sought out the places where Laura and her family lived. If you aren't a super-Laura buff, then you'll also learn all sorts of interesting tidbits and truths about the family, such as Pa and everyone skipping town one night to avoid paying rent they couldn't afford. If you don't want to leave Laura World, that magical fantastical place, then don't read this book and you'll stay there. But if you've long since left it, you'll enjoy every page. McClure reads all sorts of other books and accounts, both by Laura and her daughter Rose, as well as by other historicists and such.

I left Laura World a while ago - long before Ms. McClure. I distinctly remember when driving home from Colorado one year through South Dakota when my father saw a sign announcing that Laura Ingalls Wilder's home was coming up so turn off if you wanted to check it out. The thing that actually strikes me now is that my dad somehow remembered that I liked the books and asked me if I wanted to go see it (this is the man that can't remember my birthday and once a year for several years in a row was always surprised when I said I liked to fish). I remember looking at the sign, smiling a little, and saying, "No, that's okay. I'm good." (Though I think now it would have been nifty to look at from a historical perspective.)

The only issue with this book is if you haven't read the Little House series. This book isn't about the television show (in case you haven't figured that out yet), so that won't help you in the least. My mom read this book before me and she said it was fun, funny, and interesting, but she'd never actually read the books so she wasn't always sure what McClure was talking about. She couldn't relate to her story the way I could. So maybe read the Little House series first, eh? They're a lot of fun anyway!

One last thing is that I think McClure's hubby deserves some kudos for how supportive he is when it comes to his wife's little obsession (hey, if you go and buy and actual butter churn to churn butter, while that's pretty cool, I do think it borders on obsession. And by the way folks - churned butter tastes the same as regular grocery store butter, so don't spend extra money on magical handmade butter because it's nothing special - unless whoever is making it has cows eating actual grass...or if it comes from Ireland...). He also provides some extra amusement to the story, so high-five to Chris.

It's a delightful little story that's relatively quick to get through. You'll have a great time reading it and remembering a bit of your childhood. McClure's favorite was Little House on the Pairie, but my favorites are On the Banks of Plum Creek, Little House in the Big Woods, and yes, Farmer Boy.

All's well that ends well!

NT

Originally posted on Epinions.com

 Notes from the playlist: "Waking Dream" by Natalie Walker

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Wicked Business by Janet Evanovich - Stones, Cupcakes, and Crazy People


Pros: Fast, relatively fun read
Cons: Stupid characters making stupid decisions.

The Bottom Line: It's fast and easy, but I think Evanovich needs to break out of her old formula just a teensy bit.

This is the book #2 in Janet Evanovich’s series featuring Diesel. If you’ve read the Stephanie Plum books, you may be familiar with him. If you’ve read Wicked Appetite, then you should know what you’re getting into. If you’re new to this whole shebang, then at least rewind to the first book and start from there.

Lizzy has special powers – she’s able to sense objects of power. Diesel pops into her life (not a bad thing, since he’s a sexy-licious man) and together they’re after the SALIGIA stones (that’s an acronym for each of the seven deadly sins, mind you). This time it’s the Lust stone they’re after, and just like before, Wulf is ready to stand in their way and burn handprints into people’s necks. So where is the Lust stone? Can it really be uncorrupted? And who’s this new psycho who’s been tossed into the mix? This could be a recipe for disaster. (oh, ho, HO, and Lizzy’s a baker, get it? Shut up, it’s funny.)

Just like with the first book, if you’ve read the Stephanie Plum series, it’s really not hard to see who is who. Lizzy is Stephanie. Glo is Lula. Cara is Connie. While the location of things has moved out of Jersey, there’s still little difference in these characters and their actions and the whole gang in the Plum books. If you haven’t read that particular series, consider yourself lucky, otherwise the similarities will drive you nuts.

This is especially true when it comes down to the actions characters take or don’t take, and their responses to certain things. No one ever calls the police for some reason, and it seems to be a-okay to everyone when a crazy woman comes into the bakery with a blowtorch and starts setting things on fire. I’m sorry, but while I realize that the book is supposed to make the reader giggle, it just makes the characters look downright stupid. The responses aren’t even normal. For example, if a batch of cupcakes got torched, the response would be something like, “Hey, I just baked those,” instead of a desire to run away from this person and call the fire department and the cops. You have a violent character who has already hurt one person, but when they return to the bakery, no one flips out? Or after another character gets kidnapped and then kind of stalked by one of the antagonists, she still thinks elements of that guy are cute?

No. I’m sorry, but no.

There is also one dumb moment that I couldn’t believe. When a person going by the name of Anarchy pops up, no one seems to be able to put two and two together even though the true identity of this person is painfully obvious. Oh, and I am getting a smidgeon tired of Carl the monkey, but so far it’s only a smidgeon.

While the plot itself was fun and the clues were tricky enough that you can’t guess anything, and I really do like Wulf (he says the least, has interesting motivations and actions, and in general doesn’t act like everybody else), I’m finding it really difficult to find the motivation to continue this series. I think it’s going to help a lot that Janet Evanovich doesn’t put one of these out every year (but nor should she have to). That might give me enough downtime that, when the next book does come out, I’ll be willing to give #3 a go.

NT

Originally posted on Epinions.com

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Hannibal Rising by Thomas Harris - They Messed with Mischa


Pros: Chilling, intriguing, will keep you occupied for hours on end
Cons: Only if you don't like the lowest, most horrid points of human action

The Bottom Line: Only read it if it's your cup of tea...

A few months ago I ran out of books to read and found myself stuck at the library. I’d wanted to read Hannibal because I’d been so intrigued by the relationship of Clarice and Hannibal Lecter, and to see if there was any difference between the book at the movie. I’d ended up with The Silence of the Lambs instead, so I just went in order.

Lucky me, Thomas Harris unveiled Hannibal Rising quite recently, so I immediately put my name on the library wait list for the book. 70 people or so later, I finally had the book.

Hannibal Rising treats us to the history of Hannibal Lecter (also known as Hannibal the Cannibal). Those who have read Hannibal may remember that frightening memory of Mischa, Hannibal’s sister, and a few other glimpses into his past that I know made me wonder a great deal about him.

Hannibal Lecter used to live in Lecter Castle in Lithuania, but when he was eight, World War II drove his family from their home into a lodge deep in the forest. With Germans and traitorous villagers roaming around, bombs falling constantly, it is only a matter of time before death visits his family and Hannibal finds himself with only his sister Mischa. But even that is not to last long, and what happens to them will haunt Hannibal’s dreams for years to come. When he is next found, it is stumbling through the forest, a chain wrapped around his neck, and he is put into an orphanage, where the Hannibal we all know today is already emerging.

He is taken in by his uncle, Robert Lecter, and taken to France where he meets Robert’s wife, Lady Murasaki. He begins to recover from his ordeal and discovers the pleasure of art, scents, music, and the finer things of life. He’s a brilliant boy even at 13, and later at 18 is the youngest man to enroll in medical school. But he still occasionally wakes at night, screaming for reasons he can’t remember. He is determined to break into his memory, and when he does, it will bring death to those who killed him when they killed his sister.

It was refreshing for once to read the book before seeing the movie, and in which case, I’m not sure I’d want to see the movie. Not so much of what Hannibal does to the people responsible for basically breaking a young boy’s mind so that it heals into something else, but because of what happens to him and his sister Mischa. I get the feeling I would cry at that point or just feel sick to my stomach. The scariest part of this is that I don’t doubt something like this could have actually happened during the war. Eeeh. *shiver*

I like this book the best when compared to the other two. It seems almost like Harris hit his stride here and everything went like clockwork. The description isn’t too lengthy, but instead is just enough for me to get the image and do the rest of the work on my own. You stick with Hannibal all the way, from Lecter Castle to his move to America and you’re actually rooting for him almost the whole time. Yes, he’s going to creep you out a few times, but I don’t feel much sympathy for his victims.

I thought this book might actually take me longer to read, but the first time I cracked it open I read…and read…and read…and made it almost halfway in just one sitting. I did a few more chapters the next day and finished the remaining part (almost the full other half) last night. You can’t help but get sucked in. With Hannibal you might grow a little bored or impatient, and with The Silence of the Lambs you might know what’s coming (if not then you stand a better chance at getting your nose stuck in the book. But here you just become mesmerized with Hannibal’s transformations, his actions, and anticipation of what you know is going to come.

There is plenty of good stuff in here and I always like to wonder how much research Harris did for this book concerning medical information, Japanese language and poetry, German language, and other historical information. In the Acknowledgement section you get to find out a little but I always wonder at the time frame; how long did you study some of this stuff? It doesn’t matter, but it intrigues me because good, solid information just gives the book that much more power, I like to think.

Not for the faint of heart, you’re going to encounter some unpleasant things in this book. Naturally, that is to be expected, because how else are you going to go from a smart little boy who loves his sister to Hannibal the Cannibal? Actually I still wonder a little why he started eating people, considering the circumstances, it seems like the last thing he would do. But I can easily attribute that to some kind of psychological crack in his mind; something that got wired funny over the years. I wouldn’t call Hannibal insane; that’s the easy way out. We always call people insane when we can’t rationalize their actions or they freak us out too much to be called “normal.” No, Hannibal is something else altogether – and the only way for you to figure out your own assumptions is read all about him.

NT

Note: I was going to make a pun about eating, but I couldn’t. It’s just too creepy now.

Originally published on Epinions.com

Saturday, April 25, 2015

The Devil You Know by Mike Carey - Glad I Don't Know Any Devils


Pros: Ghosts, demons, were-creatures, and a tin whistle.
Cons: A few spots could be cleaned up a little (extra scenes, disjointedness)

The Bottom Line: Apart for the bit of tongue lashing I gave this, it was interesting and entertaining - exactly what I needed.

Mike Carey’s The Devil You Know was right in front of me at work when I was at the Customer Service desk one day. I ended up reading the summary and finding myself rather intrigued. And when was the last time I’d read about ghosts and demons and stuff running around the streets of London? Hmm, never. Or at least, not remotely lately. Though I do find it interesting that this will be the second book with the setting placed somewhere in the Great Britain region (the other being In the Woods, in Ireland).

Anyway, the gist is that Felix Castor is an exorcist. Not “the power of Christ compels you!” kind, but rather a sort of “I see dead people” + pied piper kind. He’s been on leave for a while, but then a job comes his way he can’t say no to. And now instead of a quick ghost-cleansing of the place, he’s found there’s more to things than he thought and it could get him killed if he’s not careful.

Sounds riveting, doesn’t it? See, my problem lately seems to be that either I expect too much, or when I read titles and book blurbs, I get certain ideas into my head that I believe the book will include. Before I rant, there are plenty of good things to say about this book. Felix is a guy you’d like to chat with over drinks, and not always about ghosts either. You give two cents what happens to this guy, and you like his girl buddy, Pen, as well. Likewise, you get interested with the other characters that get involved (well, most of them).

Carey has some great ways of describing things; some that just made me chuckle and think to myself, “That was awesome.” You can see a lot of things fairly quickly – he gives you just enough description so you can make your own image without dousing you with too much detail that can hamper it. And I really enjoy what he did with the whole ghost, zombie, were-being concept. He put some twists on it I’d never thought of before and I’ve never seen either, such as how were-beings come into existence or what zombies are. Many kudos to that because by now, all that supernatural stuff has been beaten to death so much, it’s difficult to twist it into something new and original. Carey manages to do it with style. Oh, and I loved the inclusion of the succubus. High five Mike. Likewise, the method he gave Felix for removing ghosts is very intriguing, my particular favorite phrase was, in regards to where ghosts go when he’s done, “Wherever music goes when it’s not being played.”

While the book is paranormal and mystery-laden fun, there are some troubles with Carey’s delivery and a few scenes. There were a few times where Felix makes connections that I don’t understand how he made them in the first place. Did I gloss over it somehow? Or was it just never really fleshed out? How did Felix know to steal a computer? Especially when he appeared to fail to make a connection that I’d made several pages ago. As for scenes, there were a few that either seemed unnecessary or the way Carey began his chapter threw me off. They always tell us writers (as we work toward the published world) that it’s a very good idea to establish the scene ASAP; who’s there and where “there” is. At least twice I was thinking, “What the heck? Where am I? What’s going on?” at the start of chapters, and several other times a scene would occur and I was left sitting there, paused, wondering just why that had occurred. What function did that scene serve? I can think of two specific ones that have absolutely no attachment to the rest of the book.

For example, at one point Felix’s brother pops up. A.) I never knew he had a brother. He’d mentioned a sister, but never a brother. B.) the guy was there all of maybe 5-10 minutes and did nothing that I don’t think Carey could have made Felix’s friend Pen do to help. I saw no point to it, nor did I see any point to it once I’d finished the book. There were also a few times when things seemed a bit disjointed, which mostly occurs at the front when Felix has explanatory flashback moments, such as how his buddy Rafi became possessed. And I really would have liked it if he made it much clearer earlier on who was dead in a scene and who was not. I finally got annoyed at one point.

While there were plenty of paranormal things wandering around, I was slightly disappointed in the claim I’d read on the book, "But what should have been a perfectly straightforward exorcism is rapidly turning into the Who Can Kill Castor First Show, with demons and ghosts all keen to claim the big prize." Okay, that is a flat out lie. Because of that, I went into this thinking something major was going down and all sorts of crap would come out of the woodwork on their own time to try and kill him (even the warning Felix gets from Rafi made it sound like that). Instead, I can think of three separate beings making intentional attempts on his life, a demon, a human, and a were-creature. And these were few and far between – nothing like what I’d expected. Just so you’ve been warned.

Still, it kept me interested, wasn’t a waste of my time, and was fun running around London with Felix with ghosts and demons hanging around, with all sorts of British references to stuff I did or didn’t know about, and even giggled a little when a Burger King suddenly popped up. And yes, this was originally published in London because Carey is, duh, English.

NT

Originally published on Epinions.com.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Dear George Clooney Please Marry My Mom by Susin Nielson - Pamplemousse!


Pros: Hilarious and touching
Cons: Nothing

The Bottom Line: Pamplemousse. Don't worry. There's a reason behind that.

There are some books that you simply have to read the moment you see them. They just sit right at the top of your "To Read" list. That's precisely what happened with this book. I spotted it in the young reader's section and immediately pulled it off the shelf to see what it was about. A few snickers later, I knew I had to read it.

Violet's parents are divorced. She and her little sister are flown from L.A. to Vancouver for special occasions, and Violet's never quite forgiven her father for leaving their mother for some hot babe with bigger boobs. To make matters worse, her mom is now dating pretty much every loser in the history of loserdom. The latest? A guy named Dudley Wiener. Ugh. So she's got a plan: get George Clooney to marry her mom. Her best friend is in on it - and maybe even that really cute boy in her class that Violet keeps bumping into. Of course, nothing ever really goes according to plan in life, does it?

Violet, as a protagonist, is a blast. In fact, this whole book was a blast. I stayed up until 12 in the morning to finish it, it was so much fun. Violet gets herself into all sorts of situations, and I have to say that she's the kind of girl I would love to be friends with. Hanging out with her could easily mean some great stories for when I'm older. She's a very headstrong girl who has her moments of immaturity that even her best friend acknowledges. She's not a perfect person, and has issues to deal with that many kids may also be able to relate to. The book jumps right into these problems, such as divorce, dealing with a new family which includes new siblings, dating parents, and more. However, Nielson does it so skillfully, you can see it, yet it's not just blatantly out there. Kids might not notice it (but you never know), but as an adult I thought, "This could be good for kids who have to deal with this sort of thing." Not only does Violet find herself trying to sort out her parents' life, but has to deal with bullies, protect her little sister, handle her friendship, and figure out what to do when the really cute boy starts talking to her.

Especially after blurting out pamplemousse to him. I really want to tell you what that's about because it was just so darned cute, but I want you to read the book and find out for yourself.

Violet is a very human protagonist with her faults, but she's still a whole lot of fun. I loved Nielson's style of writing (done in first person) and everything that went down in this book. Let face it: I loved everything about this book. To add to that, I was giggling about a multitude of things long after I'd finally finished it. I didn't stop there. I emailed Susin to see if she'd sent a copy to George Clooney (and am proud to say I'm the catalyst that made it happen. Yay!), and I kept sneaking the book up to the Customer Services desk to showcase to everyone who walked up there. I'd like to add that I don't handsell a lot of books. During my entire near-3 year time working at B&N, there has only been one other title I've actively sought to get people to buy. Now I'm trying to find ways of getting this little nugget of joy into people's hands.

Six stars. Buy it and have a blast. That includes you too, George Clooney.

NT

Originally posted on Epinions.com

Saturday, April 11, 2015

The Goblin King - No, Not Jareth


Pros: Some fun ideas
Cons: Could have been so much better...

The Bottom Line: I wanted a good romance book for some fun, fluff reading.  ...Meh.

I keep finding books at work that I want to read, despite the fact that I have a truckload of books on my To Be Read list.  (I swear, one more random book, then I’ll hit the list.  Promise).  And I admit, I’m one of those silly girls who was a sucker for the movie Labyrinth and who likes fairytale stories.  So when I saw The Goblin King on the cart, I couldn’t just ignore it.  Besides, I’d been feeling romancey so I figured, why not?

Roan is a Celtic king (aren’t they always).  At least, he was until a druid cursed him and his men.  Now he has a gold heart and lives in the Shadowlands.  Slowly but surely, they’re fading into goblins, creatures with goldlust in their hearts and no souls to speak of.  So when Eliza, a girl who once called for his help, calls again, he goes to her.  But she’s a grown woman now who knows what she wants.  It may be that Eliza will be able to save him – or push him into the world of goblins forever.

Sounds like fun, right?  It was, a little, but overall I was getting impatient.  I didn’t ever really get a sense of connection with Eliza, and the two threats within the book weren’t very threatening.  At all.  Eliza had to worry about her corrupt fiancĂ©e Steve, but I kept waiting for him to become abusive…but he didn’t.  In which case I finally realized Eliza was a little stupid.  The druid threatening Roan and his men just sort of lurked around, occasionally popping up.  It was mentioned why he cursed them, why he was there, and so forth, but his overall motivation was weak, especially after so many years.  And when he finally did attack Eliza, it was like no one understood how he did it since he wasn’t supposed to be able to do a lot of things.  It was as though the author painted herself into a corner and managed to just squeak out of it because – I assumed – the druid used magic they didn’t know he could do.  Likewise, he was defeated way too easily.

The romance between Eliza and Roan wasn’t very convincing either.  There was no real buildup.  No sense of attraction between the two other than “she’s hot, he’s hot” thing.  Sure, we do get the occasional “Eliza’s got that fiery spirit in her eyes” thing and the “Oh Roan’s such a sensitive guy” bit, but overall they knew essentially nothing about each other and just jumped into bed yippee-skippy.  Heck, near the end of the story, even Eliza admits to herself that she knows virtually nothing about the guy.

(Oh, and by the way, why was Roan’s brother such a jerk?  That reasoning didn’t seem to make sense either.)

I’ll give Shona Husk points for the whole goblin bit, how Roan looks like a goblin in our world and you knew that Eliza would have to get over that bit in a Beauty and the Beast type way for everyone to live happily ever after.  In the general fairytale sense, it was nice, but I still think there’s room for a lot of improvement.  Things could have been added, a lot of the angsty stuff could be removed because it got repetitive, there were some areas that tended to contradict one another, there were occasional point of view shifts right in the middle of a section without a break, and I ran across three typos.

It’s not bad, but I was hoping for a lot more.  There’s to be a second book coming out featuring Roan’s brother Dai, but I don’t think I’ll be reading it.

My recommendation here is a weak one.  I offer that because I know there are people out there who will enjoy this a lot more than I did.

NT

Originally posted on Epinions.com

Saturday, April 4, 2015

The Book of Even More Awesome - Awesomeness


Pros: More awesome things.
Cons: Read sparingly or the writing style will drive you nuts
The Bottom Line: Need a reason to perk up? Read a few pages from the book o'awesomeness.

It’s hard to ignore a book when it’s called The Book of Awesome.  I enjoyed that one, so when I saw that there was a second book I went ahead and read it.  After all, it’s a book full of little things that are simply awesome.  What have you got to lose from that?

This is the next installment – The Book of Even More Awesome.  And that’s really all it is.  Each few pages discusses something that’s awesome in this world.  Those little things in life that make us happy.  Like what, you may ask?  How about a few of the following to make you smile:

Coming back to your own bed after a long trip.  Oh, how I can relate to this.  Especially after a camping trip.  I love camping, but the idea of a soft, warm bed with a big cushy pillow?  Oh yeah, it’s like coming back to a little slice of heaven.  Helps you appreciate just how good you’ve got it, too.

Sneaking cheaper candy into the movie theater.  Hey, why spend $3 when you can spend $0.75?

Stomping dry, crunchy leaves on the sidewalk.  I still totally do this.  Which is why it’s such a disappointment when a leave masquerades as crunchy only to go “pleh” when you stomp it.  But those crunchy ones…ooh.  It’s like running through a bag of chips.

Finally getting that tiny piece of popcorn out of your teeth.  Oh sweet lord, I had that happen yesterday.  Ohyeah.  Sweet relief.

And one more because oh yes baby, it is indeed awesome:

When it feels like the lyrics of the song you’re listening to were written just for you.  Haha.  Actually for me it’s not so much that they were written for me, but more like God made sure that song played so I could hear it because it matched my mood.  I always laugh and shout, “YES!”

This is only a snippet of what this book has to offer you.  It’s fun and a good read, though I do recommend reading it in snippets.  Perhaps a few pages before going to bed or after waking up for the day?  Once again there are randomly bolded words and phrases (still have no idea why).  But the reason I recommend this book in small doses is because of the way it’s written.  The style is extremely repetitive and reading it in larger chunks actually started to drive my inner editor crazy.  I keep wondering how the agent/editor didn’t pick up on this (maybe they didn’t think it mattered?).

But the style is basically, “So do this, say that, and la-de-da.”  Triple action sentences.  Done in an almost lyrical way in how they read – possibly because there are so many of them.  I mean, almost every page there was a sentence like that, if not more than one.  Here’s a clearer example, “Just lock that door, shutter those blinds, and crank the bumping music.”  Action, action, and action.  It just became too much.  Not so awesome.

Aside from that, it’s a book full of delightful things (some of which may not apply to you, but you can see how they’d be awesome to others) that can help perk up your day – especially if you encounter that particular awesome something later on.

NT

Originally posted on Epinions.com

Saturday, March 28, 2015

If You Give a Kid a Cookie Will He Shut the F*ck Up? - Indeed


Pros: Hilarious, excellent illustrations
Cons: Only if this type of humor isn't your bag.
The Bottom Line: The answer to the title is yes – but only if you're ready for a string of additional consequences to follow.

In the back room one day I was sorting through piles of books left behind by the receiving manager.  When I hit the kids pile I discovered this book.  I also discovered that this was not a children's book.  The second I saw the cover with the bite in the cookie acting as a "u" for the word "fuck" I knew this was something else.

In the tradition (that seems to be picking up speed) of Go the F*ck to Sleep, this book is a parody of the classic, If You Give a Mouse a Cookie.  But this book needs to stay on the top shelf away from little hands, otherwise they'll be asking about the roosters and the police - not to mention some of the language - in this book.

Yes friends, it starts out simply enough.  If you give a kid a cookie, will he shut the f*ck up?  Perhaps for a little while, but you need to take into account sugar rushes, drunken uncles that don't answer the phone, cock fights, police arrests, and potential divorces.  It's a short book, the length of the average children's picture book, but author Marcy Roznick covers all the necessary bases here in order to go full circle with maximum hilarity.

I actually stopped work to read it, I admit.  I laughed almost the entire way through the book.  When one of my managers popped in, I promptly showed it to her.  She got a kick out of it as well.  Not long after that, our community relations manager came striding in and said, "Okay, where's the book?" and read it as well.  Everyone's favorite part was the cock fight, or as Roznick so eloquently puts it, "stop to watch the birdies."

But this book wouldn't be anywhere if it weren't for Miranda Lemming's illustrations.  They are, in fact, rather adorable.  The kids are actually cute, the pictures were bright and perky and the combination of the story and the perfectly executed children's book style drawings went together like peanut butter and jelly.  I thought the roosters were really cute, and when everyone is in jail, take a closer look at the little daughter in the background.  Yes.  Another type of birdie appears.

It's unexpected, but very funny.  I love the illustrations and the way the events connected were great.  And hey, everything even works out! (sort of)  And honestly, what parent hasn't thought this very thing from time to time?  I'm don't have kids, but I'm not stupid either.  (Hey, I work in retail, so I hear plenty of kids screaming their lungs out. Don't tell me the parents are wondering on how to get them to shut the f*ck up.)

This book is perfect if you're a parent in need of a laugh, want a great gag gift for expecting parents, or for whatever reason you can think of.  Point is, you should at least head over to the bookstore and read it.  I guarantee the employees will hear you giggling on the other side of the bookshelves.

NT

Originally posted on Epinions.com

Saturday, March 21, 2015

James and the Giant Peach - Yummy


Pros: Giant peaches, flying seagulls, peculiar things, and Cloud Men
Cons: Only if you object to the phrase "silly ass"

The Bottom Line: When a giant peach is involved, well, what more could you ask for?

Poor James Henry Trotter. He had such a nice life until his parents were gobbled up by angry rhinoceroses. Then he was sent to live with is ghastly Aunt Sponge and Aunt Spiker. But one day a strange man arrives and offers him something in a bag, something that will change his life forever. It seems James will be freed – except he loses the contents of the bag to the ground when he trips and falls. But that doesn’t mean other rather peculiar things won’t start happening, like an old peach tree growing a giant peach. Or some other very peculiar things inside. It looks like James will have his life changed after all…

I remember reading this when I was younger. I remember thinking it was creepy, the idea of swallowing all those weird little green things in the bag. How cool it would be to sail around on a giant peach tied up with seagulls. How awesome it would be to watch Cloud Men at work making things like hail and rainbows.

This is the kind of book that can have a youngster gaping away as you read, or as he/she reads. Some things Roald Dahl doesn’t explain at all – such as how the large insects James meets can talk (magic of course!), but the things he does randomly explain, like how James and the others are able to see Cloud Men and why people on airplanes never do is simply delightful. James is such a cute boy and turns out to be very daring and inventive. The reader gets to travel from England all the way to New York City and have all sorts of adventures along the way.

As usual for Dahl’s style, he doesn’t sugar-coat things. Aunt Spiker and Aunt Sponge get exactly what they deserve and trust me, no one is going to be sorry about it. The Centipede does tend to call people asses, so that can be up to you whether or not you want your child to see it. Personally, I doubt your child is going to go running around repeating it (I didn’t). You might learn a thing or two about grasshoppers and ladybugs, and this might also make your child curious about insects in general. For example, spiders are not evil bugs, and instead are quite useful. (as of this moment I have one living above my window…)

But as we all know, the main purpose of this book is to entertain and get a child’s imagination working. Or an adult’s. The book I bought has Quentin Blake’s illustrations; the semi-scribble yet still-better-than-anything-I-can-draw style. My favorite picture is when the peach goes sailing over the cliff to soon drop into the ocean. I mean, come on, how often do you get to see a picture of a giant peach flying through the air (minus seagulls of course). In fact, sometimes they remind me of Shel Silverstein’s drawings.

Anyway, enjoy it. If you missed it during your childhood, go read it. If you haven’t read it to your child yet, read it. If your child hasn’t read it him/herself yet, offer it up. It’s a great book that can keep kids on the edge of their seats. And it’s quite funny; the moment I started to read about the Cloud Men, it began to rain...

NT

Originally published on Epinions.com as a part of the Fight Illiteracy Write-Off. This book was also donated as part of that event.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Hannibal - Welcome Him to the Palace of Your Mind


Pros: Creepy (not the brain thing, I expected that), insights into Hannibal's mind
Cons: Found myself a little disappointed with the ending, surprisingly

The Bottom Line: Overall, enjoyable. Ever since I saw the movie Hannibal, I’ve wanted to read the book. I totally dig on Anthony Hopkins. Took long enough to get this thing though…

Hannibal is the next book in line after Silence of the Lambs. I’m not sure if it really is labeled as a sequel or not, because it can kind of stand alone, but I figure as long as you have the basic information about Dr. Lecter, Clarice Starling, and their previous, ah, relationship (if you will), then you’re good as gold.

Dr. Hannibal Lecter, aka Hannibal the Cannibal, escaped his confinement in Silence of the Lambs and is breathing fresh air. He’s traveled to Italy and is enjoying all the scents and sights and good things the city has to offer. He’s even taken on the spot as curator of Palazzo Capponi. No one recognizes him and life is good.

Not so for Clarice Starling. Her position in the FBI is slowly being poisoned by the inner politics of jealous members, and an incident has left her disheartened and doubtful. Dr. Lecter has not forgotten about her. A single letter to her stirs up everyone – including the one victim of Lecter’s that lived. Mason Verger, left in a horrific state, wants his revenge on Lecter and knows that Clarice will be the tastiest bait he can provide. And when an Inspector Pazzi suddenly realizes that one Dr. Fell is actually Dr. Lecter, the wheels begin turning in the scramble for Lecter’s life, and maybe even Clarice’s as well.

Reading this book actually makes me want to see the movie again. Though I can’t picture Anthony Hopkins as Thomas Harris’s Dr. Lecter, he is very enticing nonetheless. But on the subject of this book, it’s a very engaging read. True, it can get boring a few times when you certain parts, but in the end it turns out that those parts were necessary and you don’t regret reading them anymore. For example, Harris gives us an entire chapter devoted to just Inspector Pazzi’s past and a major criminal abduction that eventually was turned over and sort of ruined him. While reading this I thought, “Why do I care?” Later, while it is possible that we could have done without all that information and maybe just the basics, you do get a sense of, “Ok, that’s more understandable now.”

I like that we are allowed into Lecter’s mind in this book, mostly getting that recurring memory of his sister Mischa, which was particularly horrific. Other things in this book seemed kind of strange, such as Mason’s sister and her motives. Interesting, but still weird.

Again, Harris writes this with a few strange quirks of his own. As in Silence of the Lambs, many chapters began in a present tense style before going back into the more commonplace past tense. I was ready for that and it didn’t bother me as much, but what did throw me off was the sudden appearance of “we” and “you” in this book. Like all of a sudden Harris has decided to involve the reader more than just reading. It does work in a very odd way, so I can’t really fault him for it, but I could see the possibility that others will not accept it as easily. It is pretty abrupt when it does show up. There was one extended incident where even I started to wonder, “Ok, how long is this going to go on?”

If you haven’t seen the movie, expect to be reading some interesting and, ah, slightly messy stuff. After you read this, just know that the movie is pretty darn close to the book with a few necessary and understandable cuts (not in the gore department either, heh), so beware. There are a few times when I wish Harris would detail the action a little more as it tends to happen so quickly I have to reread parts to make sure I hadn’t missed anything or that I was entirely sure of what happened.

It takes a while for Hannibal and Clarice to meet up, so if you were hoping for a reunion around the middle of the book, you’re going to be disappointed. It isn’t until around page 400 of the 486 page book. From then it was interesting, and went as I expected (not sure what you expect, heh heh), but as for the final end, I’m not quite satisfied. I can say it was not what I was expecting, and while I find it interesting, it doesn’t quite work for me. I was hoping for something in between the movie end and what I got here (both are complete opposites). This ending was almost too fairy-tale like for me. Too easy, too happy. I couldn’t entirely believe it. Not with Starling’s character.

Oh well, you can’t please everyone. That’s fine. It was still a good read. :)

NT

Originally published on Epinions.com.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Clifford Keeps Cool - Hot Dog!


Pros: Clifford is cool - even when he's hot.
Cons: Nope.

The Bottom Line: Everyone can relate to Clifford's predicament - even if it is in a much smaller way...

Let me first say that I’ve never reviewed a book for children who fall into the age group for Clifford books. Let me also say that I’ve never read a Clifford book in my life (I know, how sad is that?), and I don’t have kids. Well then, let’s see if I can pull this review off for all the parents out there.

Clifford, of course, is a big red dog. Just like all dogs during summer, he gets hot. But while most dogs can hop into a kiddie pool with their owners or go inside a house and laze in air conditioning, Clifford has it rough. Clifford’s owner remembers what things were like last summer; poor Clifford just couldn’t get cool in the really hot weather. He tried a lot of things, but none of them worked. Luckily, the little girl that owns him had a great idea.

Cute story. Poor Clifford. It’s hard for a big red dog to cool off and the author, Normal Bridwell, comes up with a lot of good ways that might actually work. Too bad Clifford can’t get away with them. This is primarily a picture book when you think about it; each page has maybe a sentence or two on it, the rest of the page is filled up with illustrations of Clifford splooshing into a pool or lounging on an ice skating rink. I thought it was kind of funny when I got near the end when Clifford hangs out under a waterfall and I saw a boat with people in it floating in the river above him. I thought, “Heh, boy those people are a bit close to the edge,” only to find out they’d been put there on purpose. Clifford saves the day! Hooray!

I don’t see any reason for children not to enjoy this book. The illustrations are cute (I like Clifford’s “Oh gosh, I’m so silly” look on one page) and it makes me curious as to how other Clifford books go. The text is simple so many children will be able to read this on their own or with help from an adult. Kids these days as breeze through Harry Potter books at surprisingly young ages, so I’ll bet a lot of them wouldn’t have a problem with Clifford…at all.

I don’t think you necessarily need to read Clifford books in any order (I don’t think they really have any order), though you might consider getting the first book in order to find out the little girl’s name (as it’s never mentioned here but I believe it is in other books) and maybe even how she got Clifford. Hey, I figure if I’m curious, your child might be too.

Overall – enjoy!

NT

This book went to a child in need: this review was a part of the Fight Illiteracy Write-Off hosted by hadassahchana on Epinions.com. Though National Literacy Month is in September, let’s try to fight illiteracy all year round!

Saturday, February 28, 2015

The Winter Witch by Paula Brackston – Or the All Seasons Witch…


Pro: A solid read
Con: Pace may drag for some; a few odd thought moments

The Bottom Line: While not *quite* my cup of tea, there are plenty out there who will enjoy it.

This book was displayed on our “If You Liked Outlander” endcap at work. Which made sense I suppose. We’re back in time, we’re in Ireland (yes, I am aware Outlander takes place in Scotland), and we have a man and woman thrown together who will hopefully fall in love with one another.

Morgana is a witch – this much is clear. But in the world she lives in, such a thing is hidden away. In order to help keep her safe and cared for, her mother agrees to a marriage between Morgana and Cai Jenkins, a widower from far away who doesn’t know anything about Morgana. He’s only ever seen her at the marketplace, but from those small encounters he believes the two might come to love each other. But there’s something lurking in the place that Cai lives. It wants something that Cai has. Morgana, with all her power, may be the only thing that can stop it.

The book alternates between Cai’s point of view and Morgana’s. There are a few awkward things with this. Morgana’s point of view is done in first person, so we get everything, “I stirred the pot,” etc. Cai’s, however, is third person, so “he did this,” and so forth. At times Cai took some getting used to because the narrator seemed to start off very distantly – very omniscient – before sinking back into Cai’s thoughts so we’re more in tune with him. It felt odd at times, though ultimately not too much of a big deal.

It can take a bit of getting used to Morgana for some people. Morgana hasn’t spoken since her father left when she was a child. As it’s frequently stated in the book, it’s not that she can’t speak – she just chooses not to. This means when we’re in her point of view, we get almost zero dialogue. The only dialogue around is from other people, but when it’s just her and Cai or her and another character, it’s all one-sided. I personally didn’t have an issue with it, but I know the lack of dialogue can drive some people batty.

As for the story itself, it’s pretty simple. Cai hopes Morgana will eventually fall for him, Morgana does find herself falling for Cai, but the two have a very bumpy relationship throughout. Meanwhile, an evil presence wants a very special well that sits on Cai’s property and does whatever it can to drive Morgana away since her attachment to Cai and her power pose an impediment. When these two things aren’t being brought to light, there’s a lot of introspection and walking about the wilderness. There are a few issues, though.

First is that when one character attacks Morgana, she keeps thinking, “He was so nice – how could he go so bad like that?” And yet even after it’s 110% clear the evil person was behind it, she still doesn’t connect the dots. It’s also very clear early on who the antagonist is, and Morgana knows this – yet does nothing to stop or even slow her. Granted, Morgana doesn’t exactly know how to wield her power with ease, once she knows there’s something nasty trying to get to Cai and the magical well, one would think she ought to do everything she can to at least put up some kind of protection. But I guess without the bad things occurring we wouldn’t have much of a book.

The other issue I have is really more of a plot hole. It’s stated several times that Morgana has to be accepted by the Witches of the Well in order to wield the well’s power. And it really sounds like she has to be cool with them or A.) Bad Things Will Happen, or B.) she gets zero chance at handling the well’s power. So why does the antagonist want it? She won’t be able to use it – right? Doesn’t she need the OK from the Witches of the Well to handle the power? I never understood that. I just kept thinking, “Why are they so worried? If Morgana has to do all this stuff to play with the well, isn’t the other chick just going to get kicked out? Or killed?” Maybe there’s a loophole I don’t know about, which I guess there is because at one point the bad witch absolutely just strolled in an used the well, but it still didn’t make sense to me.

On the whole, though, it’s a fairly good read. You have to be able to handle relatively slow-paced stuff, plenty of description (but it’s good description), and all the aforementioned stuff, but this kind of thing is good for those that like magic realism books. So I feel like if you enjoyed books like Garden Spells or Chocolat, this is up your alley.


NT

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Bet Me - Cute Shoes


Pros: A book with a woman at a healthy size instead of that 00 crap.
Cons: How many times can the whole guys-betting-on-women stuff be done?

The Bottom Line: Cute. Not phenomenal, but cute.

When I was in a writing program, before each residency we read from one of the chosen genres that time around. At that time, it was Romance’s turn and they chose Bet Me by Jennifer Cruise. Not a bad choice.

Our main girl is Minerva Dobbs (or just Min) who overhears a bet being made between ex-boyfriend/dirtbag David and playboy Calvin. Ten thousand dollars says Cal can’t get Min into bed within a month. Now the hitch – what exactly does Min hear? Does Calvin really take the bet? And why on Earth do they keep bumping into each other for? Is it really fate?

That’s the book in a major nutshell, really. There’s Min’s friends, her sister’s wedding, everyone’s parents, David, and Calvin’s ex-girlfriend to deal with. While it isn’t a layered book, obviously, it does well in keeping from turning boring. I mean, after all, who reading this hasn’t heard of the whole men-betting-on-women plot? It’s one of those books you read for fun, to enjoy yourself while you’re on break at work or just kicking back and drinking a cup of coffee.

Likewise, the characters aren’t horribly 3D either, but I doubt you’ll much care because they’re fleshed out enough to get all the points across. You quickly start to hate David, you think Cal’s ex-girlfriend has major issues, and even if you don’t believe in one of Min’s friends hooking up ridiculously fast with one of Cal’s buddies, it’s no big deal. Hey, nothing wrong with hoping and believing in the fairy tale, right? It’s all about the happily ever after.

There’s plenty of sexual tension in the book, but very little sex (in case you’re curious). Half the time you’re just hanging out with Min and her friends, Min and Cal, or Min elsewhere probably thinking about Cal. Yet it’s still rather entertaining, though I still wish Min would have lost it on her mother the same way she stood up to Cal’s parents. Which, by the way, leads me into the size issue of Min. I’ve read other romance books and remember hearing about flat stomachs, trim waists, blah blah blah. Here, I was delighted to find that Min was a lovely-sized girl, likely a 10 or 12. I wanted her to freak out on her mother because her mom kept telling her she was fat – a ridiculous claim because 10 or 12 is NOT fat by any means. Frankly, I’ve heard that’s the size most women either are, or should be. It was just nice for a change to read about a heroine who wasn’t a size 4 and under (while I, ironically, am a size 4 – metabolism through mom). And anyway, starving oneself is not going to make you lose weight anyway, so that’s a pathetic “diet option.”

Er, right, the book. Sorry about that. I’m just sick of the stereotype crap. Anywho, it’s a fun book. Bright and chipper, with the necessary amount of tension and happy clapping at the end (no, no one actually claps, but you might in a sort of “yay!” fashion). Actually, I think the part I liked the best was the last chapter where you get to hear what happened to everyone once the happily ever after part went through. I always have loved the end tidbits that let you know where everyone went.

So yeah. Go read it. Enjoy. Oh, and about the title - Min has a lot of fun, unique shoes. And yes, there is a reason for them.

NT

Originally published on Epinions.com.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

The Silence of the Lambs - Hardly Any Lambs, Actually...


Pros: Loved the characters, interesting read, nicely done
Cons: Verb tense switching, can easily be substituted for the more visual movie

The Bottom Line: When you're done, go check out the real Death's Head Moth - it's super cool looking...

A week or so ago I had to leave the house for a few hours so it could be shown to potential buyers. Now, I’ve got a list of books I want to read, so whenever I leave the house for showings, I head to the library and scope out new possibilities. Except half the time I end up ordering books from other libraries anyway. Still, this time I was hoping that Hannibal would be on the shelf for me to read. I'd seen the movie and thoroughly enjoyed it and wanted to see how its paper counterpart would treat me. That’s right – enough of this Fear Street kid stuff and into bigger and better things.

Well, much to my dismay, Hannibal wasn’t there. But Silence of the Lambs was. I actually hadn’t intended to read all of it…but I figured why not? Might as well read this first anyway and see how the novel by Thomas Harris differs from the movie. Haha…

Clarice Starling, FBI agent in training at Quantico. Pretty student with exceptional skills. Jack Crawford, head of the Bureau’s Behavioral Science section has noted Starling’s dedication and has come up with an assignment for her. No one has successfully interviewed the infamous Dr. Hannibal Lecter, aka Hannibal the Cannibal. Lecter has killed nine (known) people and had a taste of most of them. However, he is also highly intelligent when it comes to psychology, and it may be possible for him to add some insight into the FBI’s latest case.

Buffalo Bill, as the media has dubbed him, has been snatching up women, skinning them in various places, and dumping their bodies in the river. There is no pattern, no understood motive, and no way to find out where he will strike next or where he is located. What began as a simple interview with Dr. Lecter turns into a multi-state hunt by Clarice, seeking out clues to Dr. Lecter’s words that can lead to the capture of Buffalo Bill. There is more to this than just kidnapping and murdering women, and to figure it out, she has to get inside Lecter’s head – after allowing him inside hers – and must overcome her own prejudices, self-criticism, and ignorance of others to save Buffalo Bill’s latest prey.

If you are like me and happen to be curious of how this compares to the movie, let’s just say you can watch the movie and not miss much of anything. At all. The movie actually follows the book as close as I’ve ever seen a movie version do before. There are only minor alterations, and they only add to the movie.

In this way, I am a little disappointed. I was hoping for more details, more interaction between Lecter and Starling, things that weren’t in the movie that would have been great there. No such luck. The description is actually pretty cut and dry. That’s not to say it isn’t good description; some of the ways Starling sees Crawford were good and I enjoyed her little thoughts that popped up from time to time. And I never knew Lecter had six fingers.

Taking the movie out of the equation, it’s a good book. Good story, steady plot, very nice pacing, and dialogue that went right with the characters. One thing I particularly liked is some of the detail Harris put in when it came to guns, the moth, etc. It makes me wonder how much research Harris did before working this novel out. Unless it’s all fake, but somehow I doubt that. Real life detail always adds an extra bit of zing to a book. I’m certain I’d be a lot more excited about this book had I never seen the movie. However, I did like other parts of this book because they explained things to me I don’t believe I ever caught in the movie. Maybe I wasn’t paying attention, I don’t know, but I never understood what Starling was doing asking questions near the end in the little town in Ohio when she knew the SWAT teams were moving in on another house near Chicago. Now I do. Hooray.

One thing Harris did that I don’t really get and wasn’t really fond of was switch his tenses. Most of the time a chapter would start out in present tense “The desk faces east and Crawford stands next to it,” and then a few paragraphs later would slip right into past tense, “Starling walked from the room and went down the hall.” I failed to see the purpose of this. Personally, I don’t like tense flopping unless it’s used to emphasize something, but it didn’t seem to do that here and I can’t exactly figure out why Harris did it. To get us back into the moment quicker? To lure us in more somehow? I can only speculate. I got used to it after a while, but it still struck me as odd.

I very much liked Clarice Starling in this book. She was bright, strong, and a much cooler Starling than I ever took Jodie Foster for. I never liked her in that role and was excited when Julianne Moore took it in Hannibal. Starling to me was much younger here, sharp and ready to go. Lecter, admittedly, was creepier in this book because I couldn’t picture him as Anthony Hopkins, haha. Hopkins was simply great and creepy in his own way, but this Lecter and the way he was described, was just…something that could lead to skin crawling. I enjoyed all the character insights Harris gave his readers.

A very good and compelling book. It can be difficult to put down at times – especially when you’re looking forward to the Lecter-Starling chit-chats. Now to read Hannibal and then revert back and check out the newest Thomas Harris installment, Hannibal Rising.

NT

Originally published on Epinions.com.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

In The Woods - What's In There?


Pros: Fascinating in a strange way
Cons: Problems with main character, ending leaves a lot to be desired

The Bottom Line: If you like mysteries (or that CSI stuff), give it a try. If not, *shrug*

I know this blog is called "A Bookseller Recommends," but let's face it - it's pretty much turned into a review blog at this point. After all, I'm bound to run out of recommendable goodies at some point. So, time to review one I’m not so happy about.

When I read the blurb for Tana French’s In the Woods I was immediately intrigued. A boy found alone in the woods with his two friends missing? Four scratches cutting through the back of his shirt? His shoes filled with blood? Whoa – what happened?? And now, years later when the same boy, Adam Rob Ryan, has become a detective, a girl is killed in those same woods. Is there a connection? Could he finally remember what happened all those years ago in the woods, and will it help catch the young girl’s killer?

Hmph.

Ok, now, don’t get me wrong. Yes, I gave this book four stars because overall, that is what it deserves. French has some impressive description going on, and as a writer who struggles with good description, I give credit where it’s due, certainly.

On the same note, I enjoyed her female character, Cassie, a great deal. She had her secrets, but she was strong, smart, and knew when to pick her battles. Even though she’s dealt with some sticky situations of her own, she’s managed to keep her head on straight.

While some may find the book to be a semi-slow read, and though a few times I did get a little Monty Python “Get on with it!” impatient, as a whole, I was intrigued, stuck in the whole case with everyone else. This isn’t fast, dashing murder mystery adventure. Rather, it’s more realistic in that the detectives got stuck several times with no leads, nothing to do, and were trying to find their way through the mire of all their troubles. There was clue searching, forensic dealings with a normal time frame (none of this CSI crap), interrogations, and legal hang-ups. Murder cases don’t solve themselves overnight (most of the time anyway), and this one spans weeks. You’re not following every single cup of coffee – but you do follow them when it’s important.

Half of the book focuses on the case and its difficulties. The other half focuses on the main character, Ryan, and his problems with the case and its relations with his past, as well as his relations to his partner Cassie. This is where some of my problems begin. I can appreciate Ryan’s issues, his angst, and the ways this new case is sort of screwing with his brain. However, the way French began the book kind of threw me off. In some ways Ryan seemed a little bipolar in that the way I initially got a dark vibe from him and thought of him in that light the remainder of the book. As such, it became really weird when he joked like any other fun guy with Cassie. He joked, laughed, and acted like there were no problems in his life at all. I know, people can do that, but because as a reader I was so immersed into his thoughts all the time (which were never, ever nearly that chipper) it just seemed really weird. And the way he described himself, it didn’t seem like he was the guy that could joke. I was just thrown off a lot of the time.

My second main problem is the red herrings that French threw in there – if they were red herrings at all. At one point there was almost a Stephen King-like creature that could have been stalking the woods. There are at least three very strong incidences that point to this, and yet it is never explained nor debunked, and in the end I really wanted to know what the point of it was. Likewise, the whole previous case involving Ryan when he was a child. I ask – what was the point of it? Just to get him screwed up further? To ruin him? Show his problems? I have major, major issues with the ending because of these things. By page 300 I was getting really impatient and when page 418 rolled around I wanted at least one of three things to happen in order for me to be at least partially satisfied. None of them happened. In some ways, it’s almost like there was no resolution at all.

I’ve read that in order to have a good story, your reader needs to feel satisfied at the end. Like something has been accomplished. Nothing, to me, was accomplished save maybe one important thing, while the rest just floundered and either annoyed me greatly or bored me. I know, not all stories have happy endings and this particular book reflected life as it often tends to pan out. However, while I’m often able to accept an ending where the hero doesn’t ride off into the sunset, successful, stories that are dreary like a clouded day that reflect life at some of its low points without any oomf to the end annoy me greatly (as I’ve said). Heck, if I wanted something like this, I could watch the news.

That’s why the last star isn’t there. A not-so-great hero and a scant ending. Still, I can’t deny the meat of the rest of the book. I give this a tentative recommendation. It’s good – you just can’t expect a filling end. Just keep that in mind if you decide to read the book. That way you can’t say I didn’t warn you.

NT

Originally published on Epinions.com.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

The Witches - What You Need to Know About Formula 86 Delayed Action Mouse-Maker


Pros: Crazy take on witches; great story; mice are awesome!
Cons: Never.

The Bottom Line: Need to know the real story about creatures that are called witches? Then this is the story for you!

I’ve had this book…oh, forever. Actually the one I have now used to be my sister’s. Of course, if you look at the picture above, that’s what is coming out now (and the one I’m sending to a child in need of a good book – not my 20-year old copy). I’ve always loved the story (and honestly, the movie adaptation is pretty good too) and I figured it could be something a kid would enjoy as much as I did.

Witches do not ride around on brooms. They don’t wear black cloaks and wear pointy hats. REAL witches look like ordinary women, out and about just like anyone else. There are a few things you can look for, and if you notice them, be sure to steer clear – especially if you’re a child! One little boy knows all about these things through his grandmother. When the two take a trip and stay in a luxurious hotel, he notices a few things about the group of ladies staying there. They seem to all be witches! But what can one boy do against so many witches, especially once he gets caught! You’ll have to read to find out.

I loved Roald Dahl’s wacky, completely different take on witches. Instead of the typical Wizard of Oz, Halloween style witch we have all come to known, Dahl’s witches are ghastly creatures that seek only to rid the earth of children. Ambitious yes, but they have a lot of scary and strange methods of doing it. The stories the grandmother tells the boy are very imaginative, as is the rest of the story. It’s so much fun and it leaves you on the edge of your seat until the very end. Read this to your kids and just watch their little eyes go wide as they hang on the words. His description is great; everything is so vivid, some of it might make you all cringy and other times you'll smile and giggle. It's written in first person, so you get the whole story from the boy who lived it, which makes for a neat take - especially when you find out what happened to him!

I particularly loved the ingredients that go into Formula 86 Delayed Action Mouse-Maker (loved the name of the potion as well). I thought it was all very ingenious, really. The end of a telescope to make the child grow smaller? An alarm clock set to a specific time to make sure the change happens right as scheduled? I want to also mention the dialect put on the Grand High Witch’s dialogue. I always thought it was great and I never had a problem reading it. Her whole manner is perfect for the character. She’s mean – even to her own fellow witches, the way a really nasty character should be.

You get illustrations by Quentin Blake as well. He’s got a weird little style to his drawings, but it gives them character. They’re a bit Shel Silverstein-ish if you’ve ever seen his work. If you find a book that doesn’t have these illustrations, I suggest looking for a book that does because they’re a lot of fun. ….And his mice are so cute.

As a child, this was a great book. As an adult, this is a great book. I recommend it to anyone of any age. It could give your kids a bit of a thrill, but if they can handle Harry Potter then heck, this is just kid’s play.

Enjoy!

NT

This review was a part of the September 2007 Fight Illiteracy Write-Off hosted by hadassahchana of Epinions. This book was sent to a child in need of a bit of literary magic.

Originally published on
Epinions.com.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

1984 - It's Sex Gone Sour


Pros: Makes you think, for sure.
Cons: Slow pace; an obvious outlet for exposition by Orwell; discouraging ending.

The Bottom Line: If society ever bans or rations chocolate, I'm going to riot. Who's with me?

I’d first heard about Nineteen Eighty-Four in college. People commented on how good it was, how close our society was coming to the one in the book, how impressive it was for Orwell to create something that resonates so soundly, even today.

When I had to choose five novels to read for my graduate term, I made a point to put this one on the list. I wanted to see what was so great about it. In fact, I was excited to finally read it. I was expecting something along the lines of Fahrenheit 451 or even The Giver. Not quite.

The year is 1984. Or at least, that’s what the Party says it is. Winston lives in a world where Big Brother is always watching you; telescreens put up in rooms can observe and listen to just about everything that goes on in your home. Winston’s job is to falsify information of the past, so that the Party is always right. Sex should be joyless. War is Peace. Freedom is Slavery. Ignorance is Strength. But Winston doesn’t believe in these things. He’s staring to think down with Big Brother, and when a girl hands him a piece of paper that says “I love you” he finally makes some decisions he knows will ultimately lead to his death.

You’ve been plopped into a futuristic setting almost similar to that of V for Vendetta (if you’ve seen that movie). Nothing is truly illegal, but if you do something the Party doesn’t like, you’re vaporized. You never existed. I went into this book thinking something was going to change, even on a small scale. I was disappointed. No, I’m not saying Winston was killed or something, but while in other dystopian novels I’ve read at least the hero has some semblance of a decent ending to his story, there is none here.

As you read, you may find yourself bored at times. Much of this novel is Winston thinking, considering, and going over memories that in some ways have nothing to do with everything else that is going on (at least not that I could see – if someone wants to enlighten me, please do). The rest of the action is Winston at work, moving from place A to place B, and hanging out with the girl, Julia. At one point you even end up reading a part of a book that Winston is reading, which is nothing more than expository writing that, while it does have some interesting information, can begin to drag. Even when something finally does happen near the end, you get a lot of dialogue that is essentially rhetoric.

Now I know what Orwell was trying to do when he wrote this. I’m sure pretty much everyone does. He was already ticked at his present with the class divisions and control certain levels had over others. This book amplifies that to a frightening degree, and the scary part is that some countries freaked out and banned this book because of its political implications, among other reasons. Well, I got mine at a library not too long ago so I think the U.S. is still okay.

Despite the way the book is constructed, as well as the fact that the ending is a huge letdown and quite depressing (though you can look at what some critics have said about the appendix that deals with a language called Newspeak in the book, and get some lighter feelings about things that way), it is good ad evokes plenty of emotions in you. You automatically rebel against the things presented, such as constant monitoring, the robotic manner in which people live, the suppression of sex and the use of all that pent up frustration to be transformed into hatred (and holy crap does that remind me of Jim Breuer and his reason why terrorists are so angry! Haha!), and so forth.

This is a book I think you should read on your own time as opposed to being assigned to, mostly in cases like kids in high school. It’s not for everyone and I can easily see high school kids throwing their books and yelling “Down with Big Brother!” I mean, it would be rather ironic for this book to become canon, you know? Either way, it’s bound to get your juices flowing and you’ll want to start up a conversation with a friend about government/class control. And that’s a good thing.

NT

Originally published on Epinions.com.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Metro Girl - It Ain't Stephanie Plum


Pros: A fun read on a nice day, interesting plot
Cons: You can easily see the Stephanie Plum in it.

The Bottom Line: I still maintain that Josh Holloway would be the best candidate for the part of Sam Hooker.

At the time, I was still waiting on Plum Lovin’, the midway novel between books #12 and #13 in Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series. I spotted Metro Girl, which is outside of the series, and stood there for a moment before having one of those “Eh, why not?” moments and plucking it off the shelf.

Ok, it’s not Stephanie Plum…but it is. Here’s the rundown.

Alexandra “Barney” Barnaby is a regular gal. Average, works for an insurance company, lives in Baltimore, has a rather unexciting life just like most people. Then her brother Bill calls from Miami around 2am one night, not making much sense, then there’s a scream and he disconnects. Not exactly something a sister ever wants to hear from a sibling. She flies down only to find Bill is missing and he’s “borrowed” popular NASCAR driver Sam Hooker’s boat. Hooker figures his best chance at finding Bill and his boat is to stick with Alex – but that might be a bad choice considering now there are many unsavory characters after them because of what Bill has done. Everyone is getting a bit more than they bargained for when it comes to Bill’s actions, leading to something about Cuban gold and an extremely dangerous item that cannot fall into the wrong hands.

Let’s say for a moment you’ve never read any of Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum books. In that case, you’re pretty well off. Sure, the characters don’t have too much depth, surprisingly especially Alexandra even though she’s narrating the story in first person. We only get the surface info on everyone, even though Alex throws out tidbits of her life here and there, we just never seem to truly get into anyone. And, by the way, it is way too easy for some things to happen; Alex has never been to Miami before and yet it’s like she has connections everywhere. She meets two women for maybe 10 minutes and already they’re digging up information for her like they work for the CIA. Yeah, you can find anything on a computer these days, but it still bugged me a little. And then Hooker had some ridiculously impressive connections as well. Sorry, it’s just a little too easy. Not sure how you would do it otherwise, but still.

Along those same lines, some people react in ways you’ll probably think, “No one would do that.” Or if they did, it wouldn’t be in the same manner. For example, the two get threatened that if they don’t stop looking for Bill, they’ll be killed, and yet they continue like it’s no big deal. Maybe you would continue, but you’d be a whole hell of a lot more careful and paranoid, at least I’d think so. In the end it’s all about the fun of the plot and multiple characters. They’re fun as well, don’t get me wrong, the whole book is amusing to read and will entertain you until you finish it. I do like the plot though, it’s nice and different. And as usual Evanovich has the sort of dialogue that will make you chuckle out loud.

Now say you’ve read the Stephanie Plum series. You can easily see a lot of the characters translated over to this book. They’re not exactly the same, but you can see elements of them, as well as some of the similarities in the way people act and things they say. Alex sort of bumbles around like Stephanie, she hates guns like her, and uses some of the same vocab. Hooker is his own man, though he has plenty of Morelli-like elements. Rosa is Lula, Maria is Connie, Judey is Sally Sweet, and you have a semi-psychotic bad guy who does the whole reveal-my-entire-plan thing, and two guys that Alex and Hooker keep bumping into and manage to escape each time. It’s different enough that you can enjoy it for what it is, but I’m sure Stephanie Plum elements are going to pop into your brain now and then as you read along.

Despite all that, it was a pretty decent book. It isn’t going to win any awards and it’s not going to become a classic, but if you’re impatient for some Stephanie Plum-like stuff or just want something fun to read, this is your book.

NT

Originally posted on Epinions.com

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

I'm Back....Again.

Apologies to those out there who may read this blog. I went on a bit of a hiatus again, didn't I? Sorry. Life is hectic and I am often forgetful and - I won't lie - lazy. Though to be fair (to myself), I've barely been reading these days. Combined with the fact that I thought I'd had more than just November's book posts ready to go. It wasn't until not too long ago that I realized that they'd stopped on the 22nd.

I suppose perhaps I'll update you a little bit on what I have happening in my life. I work 40 hours at a bookstore. I work uneven additional hours freelance writing at other times. I've continued to write, and as it happens have published a second Figments Fable for those of you who may have enjoyed the first, or for anyone who likes fractured fairytales. There aren't any werewolves or (typical) supernatural creatures in the new one, but it's a take on one of my favorite Grimm's tales that I think doesn't get a much love as so many others. Likewise, it's also available in paperback this time around, if you fancy yourself an actual book rather than the electronic version.


I've also started another blog. Yes. I know. Kind of stupid of me to begin another when half the time I can't even maintain this one. But ever since Epinions.com shut down I've had nowhere to post my reviews. While that's fine for books since I can do that here, it pains me that I no longer have any reason to review soundtracks, which is something I really enjoyed doing. So now I have this - The Soundtrack Junkie blog, where I'll be reviewing all my soundtracks. To be honest, 90% of those reviews were previously on Epinions.com, but as I buy new ones on a fairly regular basis, and there are several I own but never got the chance to review, there will be some newly written material posted. Maintaining it won't be a problem since I have so many pre-written reviews, I already have the entire year planned out to where each month will be themed in some fashion and will typically feature 6 reviews per month.

Having done that, I'm also no longer going to post little musical suggestions at the bottom of my book reviews. Much of the time those are soundtracks anyway, and often the tracks I point out in my reviews. (Unless, gentle readers, you guys really liked that tidbit in which case I'll keep it, but I doubt anyone cared either way).

So now I'm going to try and get back into the swing of things, so expect a review tomorrow and then I'll get everything back on the regularly scheduled time of every Saturday per month.

We green?

Saturday, November 22, 2014

What's Your Poo Telling You? by Josh Richman and Anish Seth - For the Curious or Serious

 


Pros: Funny and surprisingly informative
Cons: Only if you don't like poo
 
The Bottom Line: Come on, you know you've always wanted to know about poo.
 
For some reason my soon to be brother-in-law has a strange fascination with poo. I surmise there’s a long story there, though I’m not even sure where that story starts. Anywho, while doing some book shelving one day, I stumbled upon a tiny hardcover book entitled What’s Your Poo Telling You?. How could I not look at it? Book stores have so many wacky books in them, you might never truly realize it until you spend a day in there, seriously perusing the stacks. Try it sometime.
 
After informing my sister and telling her I was thinking of getting it for her fiancee for Christmas (to which she replied with an emphatic “Yes!”), I realized there was absolutely no way I could have this book sitting in my room for several weeks without giving it a read through. It’s a very small book, only about 6 x 4.5 inches or so and only 96 pages. It’s a slim little book, one that can be totally innocuous if you weren’t looking too closely at the shelf.
 
So what is your poo telling you? Depends on what type of poo you happen to have at the time. This book is, in a word, awesome. Hahaha. Really, it goes through all sorts of different poo types, from the perfectly pinched log (or The Clean Sweep as they call it) to Pebble Poo to Performance-enhancing Poo (or as I always called it, Nervous Poo), to numerous others. If there’s a poo type, it’s in here, trust me, complete with some synonyms as well as what Dr. Stool has to say about that particular poo. For example, why some types of poo sink and others float. What causes some poo to come out all snake-like. Why you may have that sense of accomplishment, or Poo-phoria after going. It’s like the pocket encyclopedia to poo!
 
What’s more, you also get little nuggets of information, random trivia, and tidbits of history that all relate to poo in some way or another. Not to mention some rather amusing illustrations. Reading this review you might think, “Gross” or “Weird” or something along those lines, but this book isn’t necessarily all for laughs. It really does have valuable information and after all, since we all do it, there really isn’t anything wrong with wondering about poo and why oh why a few kernels of corn made it all the way through your digestive tract.
 
Honestly, this book gets my full support and I see no reason why someone should get offended by this book (unless that person just really, really does not like poo). I’m not saying you should go out and buy this for grandma (as she might give you a weird look that says, “Why on earth did you buy me this?”), but for yourself or someone you know would have a riot with this book, by all means. Even if you’re uptight about poo, try giving it a read. You may feel yourself loosen up a bit. ;)
 
NT


Notes from the playlist: "Bananaphone" by Raffi

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