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Saturday, December 31, 2011

A Storm of Swords by George R.R. Martin - My, My, What a Tangled Web We Weave


Pros: So many startling twists and turns, you may even gasp aloud once or twice...
Cons: Why is no one smart enough to listen to their animal??

The Bottom Line: This book is the best so far (though I've still got two books to go and two to wait for). And yes, I did go, "Oooh!" aloud at one point.

Welcome to the third installment of George R.R. Martin’s series, A Song of Fire and Ice (no people, the series is not called A Game of Thrones. Just the first book). And I think this is the most intriguing one yet. I’m not even really sure I can do a summary because there’s just so much going on. But as Inigo Montoya once said, “Let me explain…no, there is too much. Let me sum up:”

Joffrey still sits on the throne. Daenerys seeks to build her army in order to march West. Lady Catelyn runs out of hope to see any of her children alive again, even as Robb continues to succeed against his enemies. Tyrion is about to discover certain things – including who now holds the office of Hand of the King. Arya seeks to return to her mother, but so many obstacles are still in her way. Bran travels north in hopes of finding the one thing that he believes can help him – the three-eyed crow. And Jon Snow must survive to return to Castle Black and stop the incoming hoard of Wildlings and perhaps even worse than them…

Just like in the last books, each chapter is given to a different character, and this time we are offered a new perspective:

~Lady Catelyn
~Sansa Stark
~Arya Stark
~Tyrion Lannister
~Davos Seaworth
~Jamie Lannister
~Bran Stark
~Jon Snow
~Daenerys Targaryen

This book is literally filled with shocks and surprises. Stuff that will make you go, “Oh man, that sucks,” and other things that will blow your mind, even if just a little bit. And the punches just kept coming, like watching a mixed martial arts fight and seeing the best fighter out there get hit over and over again by the fighter who was never supposed to win. I’d love to tell you some of them, but there’s just no way I’m willing to spoil any of these surprises. One of them actually made me say “Ohhh” out loud while in the break room at work. I managed to predict only one person’s death spot on. That one I saw coming, but it was still pretty awesome when it happened, mostly because I didn’t expect it to happen in quite such a fashion.

In the past I’d occasionally get engrossed in a particular character’s story and flip ahead to skim a few pages. Not the case here. Oh no. Instead, I’d want to know what happened too much I would skip ahead to their next chapter and freaking read it right then and there. No matter that I would have to backtrack 80 pages once I was done to get back on track. Sometimes I’d even skip ahead a few more chapters to poke around in a few characters’ futures. Maybe I ruined some surprises that way, but I really do not care. Ha! I was just having too much fun reading. I must say that this book is definitely my favorite so far. The battle at the end of Clash of Kings was the meat of the meal, but this was most definitely the dessert. And I freaking love dessert.

So eat up kids, it’s delicious. And we writers say, “Kill your darlings,” which means don’t be afraid to kill characters even if you love them. I don’t know how much Martin loves some of his characters, but hot damn if that man isn’t afraid to kill them off! I’m looking forward to diving into the next book. I can see why people were getting all impatient for the next book to come out. Initially I was fine with waiting, letting the library set me in a long line of 80 or more people to get the book….but this time I told my sister that when she came over for Christmas to bring A Feast for Crows because I needed to get in there and find out where everyone is going and where those paths will take them. And people are going interesting places. Every character leaves off on a highly interesting note.

Granted, this series still isn't for everyone, and I admit, there are times when I lose track of people and who they ought to be, but I'm not as mired in that issue as I used to be. Besides, if you've managed to make it this far in the series, I doubt you're going to turn back now. Not after this one anyway.

Let us end on some important bits: Always listen to your direwolves, never leave the house without dragonglass in the winter, guys who obey anything will obey anything, never underestimate anyone, and there are a lot more undead people walking around (and I’m not walking wights and the Others) that ought to be. My, oh my.

NT

Originally posted on Epinions.com

Notes from the playlist: "To Hell and Back" by Brian Tyler

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Winter's Gift by Monroe Donovan - The Perfect Gift for Christmas Joy


Pros: An exquisitely touching story
Cons: None to be had

The Bottom Line: Where were these books when I was a kid?

I work at Barnes and Noble, sometimes I waltz in to find I’m placed in the children’s section which, more often than not, delights me. Yes, even when there’s a squalling baby in the background. Hey, their kids are in a bookstore, not Baby Gap. That baby can squall all it wants.

However, when I’m there and there’s no one to help, I get unbelievably curious about some of the kids books on the shelves. I want to flippin’ read everything for the simple fact that it looks like so much fun. So one day, when no one was around, I picked up Winter’s Gift by Jane Monroe Donovan and read it.

An old man remembers times when Christmas was a cheery affair. He was living comfortably with his wife and always believed that hope was possible. However, now his wife has passed and he faces Christmas alone. He has almost lost hope completely when he hears a faint horse whinny. It’s a mare who has been separated from her herd, so he leads her into his barn where he falls asleep and she rests. When he awakens Christmas morning, he finds a small surprise next to the mare, looking at him. I’ll let you guess what that surprise is.

This book is so cute and heartwarming it made me say, “Awww!” right there in the store (and then I looked around to make sure no one thought I was weird). The pictures in the book are very soft and beautiful; they convey the Christmas feeling very well, of snow and trees with gentle colors and a very cozy touch. The story, while the lesson of lost and regained hope isn’t foreign to us, this is by no means a dull or even preachy book. It’s simple but strong – any child reading this would see the little catches.

I don’t have kids, but if I did I would certainly read and show this book to my child. It is a little sad when you read about the man losing his wife, in fact, at first that sort of took me by surprise because I’ve never come across death, even in small doses, in a child’s picture book. At least, not that I can remember. But it is a part of life, so there’s nothing wrong with it, and in the end, you get a really good “everything is all right” feeling. It’s a very pleasant happily ever after finish that you can enjoy, as can your child.

Wonderful book – for children and adults alike. Something to look for during the holidays.

NT

Originally posted on Epinions.com

Notes from the playlist: "Have Yourself a Merry Little Chrismas" by Michael Bublé

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Recommended for People with a Sense of Humor

Lamb by Christopher Moore

Christmas is coming - and that means Santa, decorated pine trees inside houses, and of course, Jesus! It's time to make your heart lighter, so why not read the Gospel of Biff, Jesus's childhood pal? Find out just what happened during all those years that aren't in the Bible. Turns out Jesus did a lot of things with Biff right alongside him. It's all fictional, of course, but it is a great deal of fun. Naturally, serious religious people are likely to take some sort of offense to this book, but if you have a sense of humor, you'll enjoy this hilarious bit of creativity. Actually, when I finished this book, I hoped that if Jesus was indeed walking around all those years ago that he had a best friend like Biff.


Notes from the playlist: "The Christmas Song" by Lifescapes

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Recommended for Foxes in Boxes Wearing Sockses

The Lorax by Dr. Seuss

Yep. You're wondering how on earth have I not recommended a Dr. Seuss book yet. I don't know! Very odd. Then again, there are so many good ones out there, it's really hard to pick just one. I guess every now and then I should just chuck one out there, eh? So let's start with one of my favorites. Yes, it's The Lorax. Welcome to where the Truffula Trees grow tall and the Lorax looks over all. The Once-ler appears and discovers the wonders of the Truffula Trees, and before the creatures of the land know it, factories have sprung up, the lakes are polluted, the sky is thick with smog, and the beautiful Truffulas are gone. Can one child bring back the Truffulas with a single seed? Only time will tell. It's a great story and brings with it that little reminder that our surroundings are precious. This is classic Seuss that so many of us read as kids and are delighted to see it still on the shelves today for younger generations. Here's hoping it stays there for many more to come!


Notes from the playlist: "Kamikaze" by Owl City

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Beggars in Spain by Nancy Kress - Why Spain Anyway?


Pros: Interesting concepts, philosophies, you wonder where it's going
Cons: Doesn't really go anywhere...

The Bottom Line: Another interesting read with some unique ideas and intriguing ways of presenting certain philosophies...but ultimately I thought, "...So?"

The September book of the 2011 ABC Book Club hosted by Calico Reaction was Beggars in Spain by Nancy Kress. While the premise sounded interesting, ultimately it didn't suck me in. I told myself that if interlibrary loan couldn't come up with the book, then I'd just skip it altogether. I know. Me not make an effort? Even after signing up for the whole year? *shrug* What can I say? I have other things I want to read and I've been disappointed with many of the titles thus far. But onward.

Leisha Camden is a Sleepless - a genetically modified human being that has no need to sleep. Sounds pretty nifty, right? But when people are different, naturally there are those that fear and hate them. The world becomes divided between Sleepers and Sleepless. Eventually many try to cut themselves off and move to a place called Sanctuary. Only Leisha is left to watch as the world changes, eventually forgetting about the Sleepless. But there are those in Sanctuary who won't forget the Sleepers and their persecution of them...

That's the book in a nutshell. The book is divided into four parts, each one jumping ahead about 20 years or so. Things start off in 2008 (haha) where the genetic modifications for babies are in full swing, though the Sleepless part is just getting off the ground. The book finishes out in the 2090s where Sanctuary has moved into space and the Sleepless just can't seem to let things go.

The original blurb for the book is, I think, a bit misleading. Leisha does indeed do a lot of fighting to keep everyone from hating each other, once that doesn't work out how she expected, she literally just shuts down the rest of the book. She still sort of does things but...nothing really interesting. This is one of those books that is just barely interesting enough to keep reading. I could see a lot of people getting bored and putting the book down for a long time before picking it up again and maybe finishing. It's one of those books that I think eventually you begin to wonder, "So....is this going to go somewhere or what?"

It's almost more of a commentary on human society than it is a story. It just uses sleeplessness as a medium. Even then, the whole Sleepless/Sleeper issue fades until the people of Sanctuary (one individual in particular) sort of wig out again. It's easy to see the arguments for both sides, and you may find yourself shifting from one to another as the book progresses. Even near the end, while I supported some of Sanctuary's reasons for wanting to do what they did, their ultimate motivations were still based on Sleeper/Sleepless hatred which by then was pretty much nonexistent. I sat there thinking, "Geez guys, let it go."

But I'm getting ahead of myself and talking too much about things that you probably won't understand. Indeed, it is an interesting book that looks at hate, the way society functions, the concepts of excellence and giving back to the world at large vs. the beggars of society that don't. How far should science go before they've gone too far? Is there such a thing as a perfect society? And would you be missing something important by missing out on sleep?

This story is like watching a long line of events unfold without a clear ending. I can easily see events continue to unfold in the same manner as in the past, so it didn't feel like a concrete ending to me. There's a lot of lead up with some characters that in the end seem a lot more like filler than necessary bits. At the very least these areas could be narrowed down. I've heard that this was actually a novella first - I wonder if maybe it should have stayed that way...or if anything, maybe just not stretched so long.

You know what? The design kind of reminded me of The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress, only with more dialogue.

It's a hard book to review, a hard book to rate. And while I don't particularly recommend it, I do think it does qualify as better than average. I know, that sounds weird, but it's the kind of book that deserves a four star count, but not one I'm going to go around chucking at people demanding they read it. Feel free to read a few pages and see what you think. If you like philosophical arguments, law, scientific rambling, and so forth, this may be for you. Otherwise you may just find yourself checking your watch wondering when it will be over.

Oh, and I don't really buy some of the science the author throws out at us about sleep in the first few chapters, but whatever.

NT

Originally posted on Epinions.com

Notes from the playlist: "Till I Collapse" by Eminem

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Recommended for Kids Who Love Dogs

Henry Huggins by Beverly Cleary

Everyone knows that Beverly Cleary writes some fun stuff. While my older sister read the Beezus and Ramona books, I discovered the joy that was Henry Huggins and his scrawny dog Ribsy. There are several books that feature Henry and Ribsy, and though there is no real order you need to read them in, you might want to start with this one first. This is the story of how Henry found Ribsy, and how he managed to get him home. Cue shinanigans on a bus and some quick thinking on Henry's part. These books are perfect for kids who love dogs, want a dog, or just want a fun story that will make them laugh and put the book down with a smile.


notes from teh playlist: "Ned of the Hill" by Lifescapes Music

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Graveminder by Melissa Marr - Mind Those Graves!


Pros: An interesting world and concept, surprise bad guy
Cons: Took forever to get all those "secrets" out; Rebekkah drove me nuts

The Bottom Line: A good book that, I think, could have been much better with a handful of tweaking.

The October book for the ABC Book Club by Calico Reaction was rather fitting, being that it is the season for ghosts and goblins and all. I've seen Melissa Marr's name on plenty of things before, but they're all teen books. This is an adult book for us older people, but heck, take out the swearing and knock the characters down a couple of ages and we've got ourselves a teen book. Rebekkah sure was angsty and annoying enough to be a teen (no offense to teens but...you know).

Rebekkah hasn't been back to the small town of Claysville in years. But when her grandmother dies, she must return for the funeral. But that's when she feels the need to do things. The same things her grandmother did after people died. And that's not all - something dangerous is lurking through the town. It's hungry and thirsty, and it's Rebekkah's job to put it back in the ground where it's supposed to be. There are plenty of secrets surrounding Claysville - as well as beneath it. Rebekkah needs to understand them and herself before it's too late.

There are a number of good things about this story. I really like Bryan, Rebekkah's would-be love interest (I'll explain that "would-be" thing in a minute), though he had a few of his own stupid moments, such as failing to ask questions that anyone with a brain would ask, or reading a contract - or anything for that matter - before signing it. But his dogged devotion toward Rebekkah was admirable, despite whatever spiritual-type bond they might be forced to have.

The combination of Graveminder and Undertaker was cool, and I liked all the unique things that the Graveminder was required to do. Easy to see why all the Graveminder's needs were seen to by the town. That's a full-time non-paying job right there.

I liked the atmosphere that Marr was able to show us, and the amazing world that lies beneath-ish Claysville. It actually reminded me of Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book in some ways. There were plenty of intriguing little bits that occurred down there, though not all of them made sense. And the story itself, minus all that annoying secret-keeping, was solid. I never saw the answers coming. At all. And when I found out who the culprit was, it had one of those, "Oooooh crappy" moments to it. Like when you realize what the bad guy is doing and who they are and think, "Man...they suck."

However, there were a lot of annoying things about this book, and I gave it high marks primarily for creativity.

First off, Rebekkah was annoying as *expletive*. She was so wishy-washy about Bryan all the freaking time and after a while when I discovered her main malfunction I kept thinking, "Oh my gosh, life is short, get over it already!" She never talked about it and that Bryan never got mad at her for it which, while slightly admirable and impressive, was also annoying. She kept doing this, "Oh hold me, love me, go away" see-saw crap that made me want to either slap her in the face or just punch her in the mouth. Or at least see someone else do it.

Marr's agent, editor, or somebody should have picked up on her POV shifting. She does shift point of views between chapters, say Bryan for one, Rebekkah for another, and then someone else the next time. And while that's not all that bad, if I don't know who these people are initially, it can be confusing. Please at least stick their name at the top of the chapter like other authors do. Likewise, there were several chapters that were completely unnecessary. Like she was trying to weave in multiple story threads that didn't really need to be there. Then there were also shifts within chapters, which was really not cool. We'd be in Rebekkah's head and then momentarily slip into Bryan's. But only for a paragraph. I can handle that sort of thing in romance novels, partly because that's how a lot of them used to be anyway, but not here and not like this. I'm sorry, but someone should have caught that and pointed it out so it could be fixed.

I do have to say that the contract struck between the entity hanging out beneath-ish the town and the original people of Claysville just plain sucks. True, I give them credit that perhaps centuries ago it might have been useful - no sickness and all that - but in today's society it's absolutely useless. I don't understand why Bryan and Rebekkah can't just read it and say, "You know, none of this stuff applies anymore, so we're done." Especially when the alternative is having dead people walking around eating people. Just not a good trade. Even in the beginning, I don't see why the townspeople would agree to such a thing - especially since they thought they were dealing with the devil - but oh well. Then I guess we wouldn't have a book, would we?

And on a smaller, final note, I felt bad for Teresa. I mean, there she is, lying on the table, and then nobody ever mentions her again. Not even her sister, whose POV we've had at least twice before. Another POV that probably could have been cut.

It's a good book, though I honestly think it could have been better. It can be a fun read for Halloween provided you can get past the frustrating amount of time for the "secrets" to come out (even after people started getting eaten, but hey, I guess that's not a priority for some people). The underworld area is the most interesting and the final reveal is a bit of an ugly shock. I'll recommend it, but it's a weak recommendation.

NT

Originally posted on Epinions.com

Notes from the playlist: "A Freak Like Me Needs Company" by Patrick Page

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Ripple by Mandy Hubbard - Hear the Siren's Song


Pros: It's a siren story – how often do you see those?
Cons: Bad guy motivation seemed a little weak, but who cares?

The Bottom Line: A solid story about a girl who is part siren - and her efforts not to kill anyone when she sings. Are you in? I thought so.

I saw the cover of this book and thought, "Hm." I read the jacket and thought, "Ooh." And after I read the book I thought, "Yay."

Honestly, how often do you see a story that features a siren? You know, the women in the sea who sing men to their deaths? The sirens in the story of Odysseus, who made his men plug their ears and tied himself to the mast just to hear their song and not kill himself? Not many, right? Yeah, me either.

That's why I had to get in on this. It sounded like it would be fun, and a teen book only takes a handful of hours to polish off anyway.

Lexi is a siren. She discovered that little piece of information when she killed a boy on her sixteenth birthday. Since then, she refuses to let anyone get close again. She doesn't know who she might kill, and only swims in a lake in the mountains. Failing to swim means being in absolute pain the next day. But then, for some reason, another boy tries to break through her tough exterior. It would be so nice not to be alone again. But does Lexi dare risk it? Fall in love? Or kill again?

Ooooh feel the goosebumps! Haha. This was a good tale. Lexi is a very sympathetic character because she's stuck by herself with some weird curse she doesn't understand, and she has already killed someone by drowning them. She's pretty bummed out. It doesn't help that her friends turn on her like vipers (ah the fickleness of high school kids) afterward. And Lexi, since she knows she's the murderer, she's willing to let them do it because she believes she deserves it. Tough, tough time. It's easy to feel really bad for her when she freaks out a little when Cole, the best friend of the boy she killed, starts being nice to her.

Then there's her siren side. If she doesn't swim every night, it feels as though she's walking on shards of glass the next day (honestly, I don't see how she could stand that - she must have a high pain tolerance because geezo...). She doesn't sleep anymore either. The swimming and singing take care of that. All Lexi wants is to be normal, but she doesn't know what she's capable of. It's a tricky decision for her to make.

Then of course, there's the extra little cog in the wheels. A new kid who may not be normal. But what's his deal? Can he be trusted? I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop, but when it does, it drops hard and suddenly you realize that oh man, that's not a shoe at all... A very nice little surprise. Though I do think the bad guy's motivation is a little weak, I'm willing to let that go because in the end, mythical creatures do what they do because, well, it's what they do. I did like how not everything is resolved between Lexi and other people, interestingly enough I think that makes the book more realistic (siren part aside), and the interactions between Lexi and Cole are touching.

I had a good time with this book. It had good atmosphere, enjoyable characters, and some unexpected action. Take a day to read it and enjoy!

NT

Originally published on Epinions.com

Notes from the playlist: "Rise Above 1" by Reeve Carney feat. Bono and The Edge

Saturday, October 15, 2011

First Grave on the Right by Darynda Jones - Hot, Snarky, and Fun!


Pros: Witty and funny, sexy and exciting
Cons: The writing style on random occasions

The Bottom Line: Recommended to me by one of my managers - good deal! I know I'll be reading the second one!

Usually when people recommend books to me, I brush it off. But sometimes the books they recommend just stick. In this case, one of my favorite managers recommended Darynda Jones's First Grave on the Right. One look at the cover and I thought, "Oh this could be fun." I read the book blurb and with my manager's insistence that the book was hilarious had me hooked. I checked it out of the library once I finished Clash of Kings.

Charley Davidson is a private investigator and "consultant" to the Albuquerque Police Department. What most people don't know is that she's a grim reaper. The grim reaper in fact. Ghosts can see her sparkly come-to-the-light beacon from miles upon miles away, but sometimes they need a little help. Like finding out who killed them. While Charley tries to discover who murdered three lawyers, her dreams are filled with a mysterious but super hot-n-sexy entity that she may actually know. Who is he and what does he want? And can Charley actually get through a day without getting herself injured?

The funny thing is that I read this book right after reading Stacey Kade's Queen of the Dead...and then Meet Joe Black was airing the night I finished this...and the next day some other person-sees-ghost movie was on. Coincidence? Or creepy fate..?

Anywho, this was a fun book to read. Charley is snarky and doesn't take crap from anyone. She keeps her little gift to herself because most of the time people can't take it and freak out. But her father and her Uncle Bob, both of whom worked for the police force, believe her and deal with it because it helps them solve cases and (naturally) get promotions. Her assistant, Cookie, is a fun little character, and the mystery man is ooh-la-la delicious. I look forward to seeing more of him...even after knowing who he is.

My only issue was some of the sentence structures and occasional writing style hiccups. Just very randomly I would have to go back and read a bit because I had no idea what someone was referring to, like a pronoun at the end somewhere - does "they" refer to the cops or the houses or donuts or what? Or when the dialogue went off on a slight tangent and then jumped back to the task at hand - only not quite. It's hard to describe, but I know if I were editing this, I'd mark several places with notes or question marks.

But maybe that's just me. Otherwise I had a great time and I do intend to dig up (hah, pun intended) the second book and then move on to the third. I loved some of Charley's little taunts and descriptions, and laughed aloud at more than one point. At the beginning of each chapter is something either Charley says or that exists on a bumper sticker or a t-shirt. And it's always funny.

More graves please!

NT

P.S. I love the shoes on the cover!

Originally posted on Epinions.com

Notes from the playlist: "Rest Easy" by Natalie Walker

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Queen of the Dead by Stacey Kade - How Will It End?


Pros: Another enjoyable romp with Will and Alona
Cons: Not *quite* as much fun as the first book

The Bottom Line: With "Uh oh" moments and "How will this work out?" questions, it's a solid sequel for ghostly goodness.

The first book, The Ghost and the Goth was something I never thought I'd read. I just thought, "Psh. Cliché." And moved on. But for some reason it kept popping up, so I finally read the book blurb, and then curiosity got the best of me. I read it and thoroughly enjoyed it. And the best part? It wasn't really cliché at all!

So when I saw a second book appear on the shelves, I got excited. More of Will and Alona? Yay! If you haven't read the first book, you need to in order to know what is going on. There are no explanations at the beginning of this book (which is fine with me), so you'd be jumping in blind.

Will is busy doing his ghost-talking thing with Alona at his side when suddenly a pretty girl shows up and interrupts them. The girl, Mina, is a ghost-talker to - the first one Will has ever met aside from his dad. He's determined to learn more about her and the other ghost-talkers she seems to know, much to Alona's displeasure. And when Alona wants Will's help, he's a bit, well, unhelpful. So it's up to Alona to solve her own problems. However, that only leads to many more - and much bigger - problems.

It's Alona being herself and Will being, well, normal all over again, which is fun. The emergence of the ghost-talkers opened up a whole new set of possibilites for these stories, and with so much going on, I started to wonder, "Um, is there going to be a third book?" (One visit to the author's site and yes, there will be.) I kept wondering how the author, Stacey Kade, was going to put these two together permanently. If that was her plan anyway. It seems to have worked out well, but that brings out even more questions as to how the third book is going to work. Very interested in seeing how that goes down.

Though I am personally kind of bored with stupid/corrupt/secretive organizations that go around taking care of some of mankind's problems, I'm willing to see how this plays out. I'm also interested in learning the final bits of information regarding Will's father and just why he killed himself (not a spoiler, fyi).

I can see some people having problems following Kade's logic/rules for the afterworld, such as the necessary positive energy to stick around vs. ghosts that are in no way nice and can actually kill people. But she lets her characters address this and it's good enough for me. Besides, if everyone had all the answers to the afterworld, all of this would be pointless, wouldn't it?

Just like the last book, this one see-saws between Will's point of view and Alona's. Both are written in first person. You'll be left with more questions at the end of this book than you might like, but hey, that's what the next book is for!

NT

Originally posted on Epinions.com

Notes from the playlist: "The Lonely" by Christina Perri

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Leaves by Ezra Stein - A Little Bear’s Wonder


Pros: Absolutely adorable little story with delightful illustrations
Cons: Nothing

The Bottom Line: If you want a cute story for your little one, this is perfect for fall...or heck, anytime!

David Ezra Stein does some great children's books. His illustrations range from downright quirky to "Awww!" inducing. I discovered Leaves last autumn. I kept peeking at it anytime I was at work because the cover was just so darned cute. A bear leaning over to take a look at a leaf on the ground. Finally I got the chance to read all the way through it.

It's a small book. A board book, to be precise, so the pages are nice and thick, perfect for small hands to grasp. Mom or dad can read the book to kids, and they can learn to read as they grow. The story is a simple one. A young bear is out and about one day when he sees a leaf flutter to the ground. He asks the leaf if it's okay, but of course the leaf doesn't respond. Soon, all the leaves are falling off the trees and the baffled bear doesn't know what to do about it. Finally, winter comes and the bear goes to hibernate in his little cave. When he wakes in spring, he discovers...what? All new leaves! Yay!

This book is absolutely adorable. I think Stein uses a mix of mostly watercolors and with one or maybe two mediums to do his illustrations. But he gets the colors perfect and I love his simple style. The bear...omigosh, the bear is so cute! Stein captures the seasons wonderfully. One of my particular favorites is when the bear is snoozing away in his burrow and outside on the snow, other animals bebop around, like birds who leave tracks and squirrels who dash about. Even though the illustrations are simple overall, he does make sure to pay attention to the details.

I don't have kids, but if I did I would buy this book in a heartbeat. Yay autumn and yay colorful leaves and little bears!

NT

Originally posted on Epinions.com

Notes from the playlist: "Dreams Don't Turn to Dust" by Owl City

Saturday, September 24, 2011

A Clash of Kings by George R.R. Martin - Five Kings? Outrageous!


Pro: Engrossing, exciting; I love Tyrion and Arya
Con: Only if you can't handle long books or oodles of characters

The Bottom Line: The second installment in the series, A Song of Ice and Fire, and well worth the library hold line wait.

A few months ago I finally jumped on the Game of Thrones bandwagon. I haven't read good, solid fantasy in a long time, so to be immersed in a world full of knights, kings, direwolves, giants, Others, poison, intrigue, armies, and the last three dragons in existence is a good thing. Initially I was worried that there would be too much court politics stuff going on, there are plenty of other places to visit and other characters to follow to worry about it. Oh, and if you haven't read the first book yet, you really, really need to.

Everyone seems to have declared himself king. No one seems to like Joffrey - and with the people starving within his gates and his severe lack of a conscience, it's no wonder why. Tyrion Lannister is sent to King's Landing to try and rein in the young king and figure out a way to stop Stannis Baratheon and Renly Baratheon from taking the city, while in the north Robb Stark wins battle after battle with Lannister forces. Who will sit on the throne in the end? Will Stannis's dark sorceress grant him victory? Or will Tyrion's wits save his sister and nephew? And everyone seems to have forgotten about Jon Snow and the masses gathering in the North beyond the Wall...

Each chapter is given to a different character just as in the last book, only since we're missing a few character this time, there are a couple of switches:

~Tyrion Lannister
~Arya Stark
~Sansa Stark
~Catelyn Stark
~Bran Stark
~Theon Greyjoy
~Davos Seaworth
~Daenerys Targaryen

Each of these characters has a different side of the story to show, and what stories they are. Despite the fact that Tyrion is a Lannister, I knew from the very first moment that I would really enjoy him. And I do. It's as though he's the only one in King's Landing with any sense. I look forward to seeing what more he has to offer. Heh, maybe he'll be king at some point. And why not? He'd do much better than Joffrey (that kid really needs to be eaten by a dragon or something) and everyone else has crowned themselves king around here...

Arya is my second favorite character to follow. She's such a spunky, strong little girl. I'm still waiting for her to start howling or something and to meet up with her direwolf again. Maybe that will happen in the next book. Bran's narrative almost ties Arya's this time because of his dreams and what happens to Winterfell while Robb is away. Perhaps Robb should have listened to his mother?

Davos made for an interesting look at things from the other side, as he works for Stannis. He's seen things...oh yes, he has. Everyone else offers a little something special, though I'm still relatively bored when Catelyn comes onto the page. Sansa is interesting; I worry for her, though I'm starting to get slightly bored when she comes on the page as well. However, her little dynamic with the Hound is intriguing. I keep wondering what happened to Theon, though I think he's a fool and whatever he got, he deserved, but I suppose I'll have to wait until I get my hands on the next book. And Daenerys...she gets ever closer to her goal of taking back the Seven Kingdoms for herself...

Though the book starts off at a relatively relaxed pace, things wind up - albeit slowly - to a war full of ships, men, horses, weapons, plenty of fire, desperation, and some serious treachery. Sometimes the skipping around of characters from chapter to chapter was frustrating - mostly because I wanted to see what happened next with that particular character. I'd be lying if I said I didn't skip ahead a few times to Tyrion's next chapter, Arya's, or even Bran's just to see what might happen.

Martin does throw out a few little red herrings when it comes to certain characters and their deaths, but I wasn't fooled. Others might be though. But hey, that'll just make things all the more exciting when you find out the truth, eh?

Now I'm on the library's wait list for the third book, A Storm of Swords, which just sounds like it's going to be a party. I look forward to it. I noticed that as I progress, the wait list gets shorter and shorter as well. Are fewer people getting this far in the series? Are they slower readers? Whatever the case, lucky me. Have I mentioned how much I look forward to seeing HBO tackle this particular book? It's going to rock so hard! Whoo hoo! Go fantasy!

NT



Notes from the playlist: "The Orgy" by Basil Poledouris

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Recommended for Serious Teens

The Face on the Milk Carton by Caroline B. Cooney

This has been on my Recommend List for a long time - it's just never managed to find a slot to sneak into. You don't necessarily have to be a serious teen at all to read this book, though the subject matter is rather serious. Janie sees a young child's face on a milk carton one day and suddenly realizes - that's me! From there, Janie's life seems to spiral beyond her control as she discovers the truth about her parents, her life, and where she really came from. Cooney does a great job capturing the emotion of this story and to this day I still remember all sorts of individual snippets of this book. The same can't be said for all the books I read, that's for sure. Especially since I read this book when I was in 7th grade. There's a second book after this one that's 99% as good, and I later learned Cooney made a few more for this series, but for me, I'm comfortable with how it ended after book 2. Definitely give this one a try. It's not that long, and well worth your time.


Notes from the playlist: "Hole in the Head" by Sugababes

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Ammonite by Nicola Griffith - I Almost Quit


Pros: Some interesting things, some interesting characters
Cons: Most of the time I got bored, and once I almost quit.

The Bottom Line: If you like this sort of SF you'll be fine, but if you want more excitement and just...more, then look elsewhere.

This was the August choice for the 2011 ABC Book Club hosted by Calico Reaction. While some of the books that have been chosen have been interesting (hmm, I notice that I'm using that particular word a lot with these books...), others have been less than so - at least to me. With so many other books on my plate, my patience is running thin. So I decided, as I began to read this book, that I would do something I don't think I've ever done before.

If the book wasn't grabbing me by the time I hit the 100th page, I was going to quit. Not something I like to do, but I have well over 20 books on my "Want to Read" list, and I didn't want to spend my time with something I didn't like. And let me tell you - I almost put this one down.

Marghe is a SEC rep, and SEC is essentially in bed with Company. They've found the planet Jeep again after hundreds and hundreds of years since its first population of Earth humans. But there's a virus there that kills all men and changes women at the cellular level. As an anthropologist, it's Marghe's job to liaison between the natives and the rest of the people at Port Central. She's also there to test FN-17, a new vaccine against the drug. But when Marghe sets out on her own in a land she doesn't understand, she discovers more than she thought she would - good and bad alike - and when she runs out of the vaccine, she discovers what the virus is truly capable of.

The beginning of this book is, or at least it feels, rather disorganized. Like the author wasn't exactly sure how to move things along to get from the beginning to Marghe's capture by a northern tribe of women. And that's where the book finally gets interesting. I was *this* close to putting the book down, but I made it to page 107 and that's where I was finally intrigued enough to keep going. But in those first pages, I did not like the way Griffith handled the timing of things, I did not like (and still don't) many of her word choices, and in general just found myself bored and not really connecting with any of the characters. When Marghe had a flashback, I almost rolled my eyes in a, "Oh man, are we doing to do flashbacks all the time now?" kind of way. It felt like Griffith was just pushing her way to the meat of the story, so things felt disjointed and awkward until she got to where she was comfortable.

There are a lot of things I just don't like in this book. Griffith tends to describe things like weather and the sky, and that's great, but she completely fails at describing the creatures. I have no idea what the heck a taar looks like, so I just conjured up some shaggy creature like a yak. I think wirrel is unimaginative because it sounds too much like squirrel. Maybe that wouldn't be so bad, but again, I have no idea what the heck it's supposed to look like. And Company as the big bad, um, company, taking over everything is also unimaginative and felt really cliché. In fact, the whole deal with a company trying to eradicate the virus and then exploit all of the planet's resources, not to mention the fact that Company basically owns everything under the sun, annoys me to no end. I'm sick and tired of stories where corporations own everything and they're in complete control and everyone else is just screwed. It's boring! I've heard it a million times! Books and TV and movies alike!

There are times where some of Marghe's past is brought up, particularly her beating on another planet, but Griffith makes that out to be some big deal and then once the information is spoon-fed to us in the form of something very nearly an info dump, it fizzles out into no big deal after all. I thought it might have some significance, but apparently not. Most of the book focuses on Marghe's ordeal, and by the way I thought her reasons for going north were weak and the fact that the head of Port Central (Hannah Danner) allowed her to go alone is pretty stupid. Especially in light of Marghe being the test subject of a new vaccine for the virus.

The other half of the book focuses on Marghe's and other characters' - primarily Danner - need to find themselves. Finding their place in the world. Finding out who they are and how they fit, etc. That sort of thing. Also something that tends to bore me after a while. Griffith wrote at the end that she wanted to show a planet full of women that exhibited the entire spectrum of humanity. So basically nothing is different than if men were involved. And I'm still wondering where they got the horses in the first place - who brings horses on an initial space mission? And who on the first mission thought it would be okay to start breathing the air without thorough testing first.

But whatever, then I guess we wouldn't have a story.

This isn't my type of book, obviously. It does have it's perks and I'm sure that there are going to be plenty others in the book club who enjoyed it. I didn't hate it, despite all my ranting, it's just....well, three Epinions stars average is all. Perhaps if I were more in the mood for a slow, introspective SF book, I'd be more excited about it.

NT


Notes from the playlist: "Bubblin' in the Cut" by Boreta

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Recommended for Everyone

The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank

It's a piece of history. It's a look at the past in a very special way. Anne Frank, her family, and another family they knew were Jewish. They hid from the Nazis thanks to some of their friends. This is a look at Anne's life during that time, closed up away from the world, wondering when she'll ever be safe, ever live in a normal world again. It's not a happy story. It simply ends with one final entry. She and her family were found out and sent to the concentration camps. Anne never made it out. Only her father did. Anne hoped to be a great writer when she grew up. It's a shame it had to happen this way.


Notes from the playlist: "Magic" by Mick Smiley

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Books for Troops!

Hey gang!

Trying out a little something different for now.

In the months that follow, I'm setting up a little donation doodad off to the side. Not for myself, no, no. I often squirrel away money and items in order to send them to troops overseas. I use AnySoldier.com to pick a group of men and women and send the things they need. Most of the time they're bored. Books a great because they're so versatile. Don't need a DVD player or batteries to play books!

But I also don't have a lot of money to spare. It can cost a lot to send a big package of books - even if I use the flat rate boxes. So if anyone's interested and doesn't mind parting with a dollar here and there, more books could go to all the men and women doing the kind of work that would leave the rest of us shaking in our boots. It's all voluntary and every penny will go toward shipping and new books (in case I run out of ARCs). I plan on keeping the donation button up until after Christmas and see how it goes.

So if you want to help entertain some soldiers with some good books but don't have a lot to spare, we can pool our resources and send boxes full of goodies overseas. Yay!

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Recently Finished

Dead Reckoning by Charlaine Harris


Even though the last book did have a plot, somehow I felt this book had more of a plot, even though when I think about it, they're about the same. If you haven't read the series, then this isn't the best place to start, but if you've been reading along, you might as well. It's fun. It's vampire killin' time. Let's put it that way. I'm also glad Sookie just started kicking people out of her house. It's a good read. I read it in about a day. No, wait, there's no "about" about it - I did read it in a day. So it's fast, fun, and if you like the series, it does some interesting things that will make you wonder about the potential changes in the next installment. I think Charlaine Harris can take her time. I'm interested in quality, and for anyone complaining about how long it takes to get the next book - please either be quiet, or go write your own book and see how long it takes you. :)


Notes from the playlist: "Red Dress" by TV on the Radio (The Glitch Mob Remix)

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Recommended for Fairy Tale Folk

Grimm's Complete Fairy Tales (Barnes & Noble Leatherbound Edition)

I adore Grimm's Fairy Tales. I guess it's because I'm such a sucker for fun fantasy. These are all the original tales - where the princes don't always kiss the beautiful maidens to wake them up, where witches die in horrible ways, and you learn everything that wasn't in the Disney movies. Hee. It's actually very interesting to see all the differences. I like this book not only for the stories, but also for the ideas. As a writer of fantasy, I've begun to look for some of my favorite tales and discover how to work them into new ways. Yay! Even better, for every Grimm's Fairy Tale in one really good-looking book, it's a great price. I own a bunch of these leatherbound editions. I'm happy I have the one I do (the cover is different and to be honest, I like mine better). But if you love fairy tales and want all the originals in one awesome book, this is the way to go!


Notes from the playlist: "Crescendolls" by Daft Punk

Saturday, August 6, 2011

World War Z by Max Brooks - Zombies Done Right

 

Pros: Strong enough that it got me thinking: how I would handle a zombie apocalypse
Cons: The format may turn off some; no idea *when* this takes place
 
The Bottom Line: It's definitely a different sort of book, one that may or may not give you the willies, but will likely make you wonder - would you survive a zombie outbreak?
 
 
The July book for Calico Reaction's 2011 ABC Book Club. I'd been meaning to read this for a long time. Brooks is the creator of the Zombie Survival Guide - a big seller in the store.
We've seen it all before.  In movies.  In other books.  Tales of people trying to survive during a zombie apocalypse.  There are so many takes on zombies now, too.  Do they walk?  Can they run?  Do they think?  So many questions - let's hope we never found out.
 
But Max Brooks seems to have taken the idea of zombies and thought it out in a very real way.  He's considered all sorts of possibilities, such as mass evacuations, wintertime and frozen zombies, survival methods, rebuilding afterwards, and much more.  Brooks has built his story upon the zombies we're all used to; the slow, stumbling types that need a shot to the brain to kill them.  The kind that can be cut in half and still function.  The kind that moan and groan and keep going like the Energizer Bunny from beyond the grave until they die or find more suitable prey.  And what happens when they go fall into water like rivers and oceans?  Brooks has an answer for that too.
 
World War Z isn't your typical story.  There is no central protagonist.  Instead, the book is a series of interviews that the author has with survivors of the war.  That can actually make it difficult for some readers who need or would rather have a traditional style story.  This was actually the July choice for the ABC Book Club, and a few people actually didn't finish it, something I found interesting in itself.  But that aside, there were times when even I got impatient.  Sometimes I found the stories, well, a little boring.
 
The author takes us across the globe to different people, from the former Vice President of the United States to a blind man in Japan who survived in a forest alone.  He speaks with owners of dogs trained to deal with zombies, and a young woman out killing zombies half frozen in the ice.  It's a wide array of characters, and because of this sometimes I got confused when people would reference others.  I'd wonder, "Was that person interviewed?  Am I supposed to know who that is?"  He takes you from the very beginning of the zombie war to some of its final stages.
 
I can understand why this is housed in the fiction section of the store rather than the science fiction or horror section (though Barnes & Noble doesn't actually have a horror section).  It's not so much about the zombie war as it is humanity's reaction to it.  How we panicked.  Why millions of people died.  How the pandemic spread.  How we fought back.  How we grew innovative and resourceful.  How we survived.  Brooks brings in the psychological aspect of it for soldiers fighting against zombies.  Points out how politicians and bureaucrats can completely screw things up (though that's not really anything new).  Oh, and by the way, the zombie attack is China's fault. Thanks China.
 
The biggest issue I had with this book was that I had no idea when the war took place.  I had no sense of time, and the things Brooks tossed out didn't help.  People would reference past events that we're used to, like Vietnam and past presidents.  This made it sound like the war took place either in the 1990s or in the 2000s.  And yet the technology that some of the soldiers had when they started to fight back was well beyond what we have now.  It was cool, to be sure, but it threw me off completely.  Their gear was more like 2030s than now.  Was the zombie war to have taken place in an alternate universe?  I never understood, and anytime Brooks threw out a token of time, it only served to throw me off again.
 
It was engaging.  It didn't have the sort of interviews - or perhaps it was style I was looking for - that I thought it would have, but it made for a pretty good read.  The creepiest part was that it got me thinking: What if there was some kind of zombie apocalypse?  Would my family and I survive?  I knew if we could get into the woods, particularly Colorado's Rockies where we were most comfortable, we probably could.  The biggest problem I foresaw was actually getting to that location.  Too many cars on the roads trying to go somewhere.  I thought about it a lot and started freaking myself out.  Especially because of my sister and how she lives across the state.  How would she be able to get to us?  Would we have to abandon her?  It gives me the willies to even think of stuff like that.  And that's what makes this book creepy.
 
Of course, if you don't start getting paranoid and thinking like Forrest Griffin, you'll just enjoy it for what it is.  It's good stuff.  Definitely different, and one of the driving forces behind the zombie revival (pun not initially intended, but hey, it works doesn't it?) in the publishing world.
 
NT


Notes from the playlist: "Secrets (Matrick Lightning Edit)" by OneRepublic & DjMatrick

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Purchased for My Shelf

Listography by Lisa Nola


Not so much a book to read as a book to play with (sort of like Wreck This Journal). It's a simple premise - each page has a different question or subject you can make a list about. Yep, that's it. But it's fun to think of things for hypothetical situations - "What occupations would you like to try?" - to things that will bring back memories - "List bands you've seen live." - and things that will make you think - "List the ways you've changed since your teens." You can also make a few lists of your own at the back, and at the front you can look through the entire list of, well, potential lists. It's a fun thing to do that will show people a little bit of yourself (if you're keen on sharing). So have a good time!


Notes from the playlist: "Captain Jack's Theme" by Ben Foster

Saturday, July 16, 2011

F in Exams by Richard Benson - A for Effort


Pros: Hilarious answers
Cons: Only if some of these people didn't get the points

The Bottom Line: Ever find yourself stuck on a test question and throwing in a snarky answer instead? Well, here they all are at once!

I love stumbling upon books at work. That's how I found the nifty Wicked Plants and plenty of other cool books. Sometimes it's fiction, and other times it's something ridiculous like this book.

F in Exams has a simple premise. When a student finds him or herself unable to give the correct answer, they offer up something else - an answer that's wrong yet right all at once, and always very funny. These are hilarious answers to all sorts of questions, and if you don't find at least one of them amusing, I think there's likely something wrong with you.

Some of the questions may even still be right, but the student has done something else to make it funny, such as throw in a drawing for kicks. But most of the time they're just not what the teacher is looking for - even if I'm sure they're technically right in some manner. And these aren't just all snarky answers either. Some of them are surprisingly witty. In fact, if I were a teacher and a few of these slid across my desk, I'd just have to give a few points simply for sheer creativity.

The book is relatively small in shape and is only 130 pages long. There are chapters for each subject one might encounter in high school; Chemistry, English, History, Math, and so forth. You'll quickly breeze through all the hilarious answers and wish there were more at hand (and yet at the same time, you may wonder just what these students' test scores were and think perhaps it's okay that the book isn't bigger, if you catch my drift).

So, how about a few quick samples so you can see the kind of amusing things you'll be getting into?

Q: What is the highest frequency noise that a human can register?
A: Mariah Carey

Q: What was the main industry in Persia?
A: Cats (complete with cat doodle)

Q: Give a brief explanation of the meaning of the term "hard water."
A: Ice

Trust me. Find this little blue book in a bookstore (or even look inside it online) and flip through it. You'll be laughing in no time.

NT

Originally posted at Epinions.com

Notes from the playlist: "Valse Moderne" by John Leach & George Fenton

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor - Not Onyesonwu


Pros: Quite different from anything you've read in a while
Cons: The ending is slap-dash and confusing

The Bottom Line: Time to read a book that puts all the touchy issues out there without preaching about them. It makes you think, but doesn't force you to.

Welcome to post-apocalyptic Africa. The Nuru and Okeke are killing each other. For years the Okeke have been slaves to the Nuru, but now they are trying to rise up, and the Nuru put them down in return. Onyesonwu is an Ewu child - a child of violence (rape). She is shunned and feared. But she has extraordinary powers. She can shape shift. She can visit the spirit world. And now she is about to embark on a journey that will change the lives and the history of the people of her world. Now it is time to face the meaning of her name - who fears death.

Despite the darkness in this book, it was a great change from everything I'm accustomed to reading. I haven't ventured to another continent for a while, and I honestly don't think I've ever been to Africa in a novel (at least, not that I can remember), much less a post-apocalyptic version. The author, Nnedi Okorafor, doesn't hesitate to bring up a lot of topics people usually prefer to leave out of their work or at least mellow out a little. In here you'll get genocide, rape, racism, sexism, female circumcision, and more. Don't let that scare you away from this book though, really. The things Okorafor uses aren't pushed at you in some agenda. She uses all of these elements as story elements. They further the plot, and each has significance. Yes, even the cricumsicion.

Now, if you try to attach some sort of similarities to skin color in Okorafor's story and today - don't. People have been trying to figure it out and she does in some interviews mention where she got inspired, but overall, this is the future folks, and people don't have quite the same skin color as they do now. This isn't a white vs. black thing - it's a Nuru vs. Okeke thing, both cultures that don't actually exist in reality. Still, the concept of slavery and suppression does exist and are meant for the story and hopefully to make one think.

Onyesonwu is an interesting character. You'll often root for her because she goes through so many awful things, and still at other times you'll wish she would just chill out a little. She can be impulsive, quick to anger, and emotional at moments when doing the opposite would serve her better. Usually she doesn't do the opposite because someone is telling her to and obeying isn't exactly is something Onye is fond of doing. Still, you'll hope she wins and that the ending won't be what you expect - even if you know what it will be about halfway through the book. And even Onye knows, but she perseveres.

I was glad that Okorafor utilized so many other characters. Mwita, Onye's soulmate, is a great guy and I really liked him. She also has several friends who made Onye's ordeal a little better. At first I was worried they might just fade away, but they stuck around, which was nice because they added some extra dimension to the story as well.

I don't want to get into things too much because I don't want to spoil anything, but I do have to say that the ending could have been better. Not different - just worked on a little more. This book was the June reading for Calico Reaction's book club, and pretty much everyone agreed that the ending was rushed. Even now I'm not exactly sure what Okorafor wanted to do or what she intended. I'm not really sure or even convinced about a few things, and disappointed in at least one aspect, but it's not a very big one.

But if you're good with visiting a genocidal area of post-apocalypse Africa, interested in seeing magic in it's most powerful forms, and can handle some touchy subjects (I had a Darth Vader "NOOO!" moment when the circumcision rolled around. Not so much because it was graphic or I didn't want to read it, but just because I'm aware of how many issues that awful practice can lead to and just....BAD, you know), then you'll read this book morning until night hoping that everything works out in the end...and hey, maybe it does...

NT

Originally posted on Epinions.com

Notes from the playlist: "I Can Carry You" by James Newton Howard

Saturday, June 25, 2011

A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin - Winter is Coming


Pros: Full of kings, giant wolves, dragons, intrigue, battle, and more.
Cons: Only if you can't handle long books with plenty of court politics.

The Bottom Line: It's a solid fantasy book, full of rich history and multiple stories. If you want a lot of magic and excitement though, look elsewhere.

Yep. Nicole's finally read George R. R. Martin. Or you could say I jumped on the bandwagon. Hey, with HBO making a series featuring Sean Bean and Jason Momoa (yum!) how could I resist? Besides, for years people have been telling me I should read them. Well, one down, six to go (yes, I know there are only four books on the shelf - he has three in the works).

Enter a land where summers and winters can last for decades at a time. Where a massive Wall keeps the Others at bay in the far north. In the south, plots brew and politics reign. It is decided by the king that Lord Eddard Stark of Winterfell is to be the next Hand of the King. The previous Hand died under rather...interesting circumstances. He hopes to find out why he was murdered and so leaves his beloved home for a place where, if you play the game of thrones, you win or you die. Surrounding his story are the stories of his children whose lives will help shape this land of the Seven Kingdoms. And across the sea is another force seeking to return-one with the blood of the dragon.

That's the best I can come up with short of pasting in the blurb from the back of the book. Each chapter is given to a different character, which makes for some nice diversity in point of view shifts:

~ Lord Eddard Stark - Lord of Winterfell
~ Lady Catelyn Stark - Eddard's wife
~ Jon Snow - Eddard's bastard son
~ Sansa - Eddard's eldest daughter
~ Arya - Eddard's youngest daughter
~ Bran - Eddard's second youngest son
~ Tyrion Lannister - dwarf son of Lord Tywin Lannister
~ Daenerys Targaryen - youngest daughter of King Aerys II Targaryen

Everyone is often in a different place. While many of them start out their particular narratives at Winterfell, they eventually split up and go to all sorts of different places. Frankly, I wish I had a big topographic map of Martin's world so I could really get a sense of where things are and how much of a pain it is to travel - or even better, one of those raised relief maps. That would be nifty. You get to see the massive Wall in the north, which keeps out the Others as well as brigands. You travel to King's Landing where all of the ugly backstabbing court action happens. You get to move down the Kingsroad with an army or two on their way to pummel one another (that's where I think a good map would be the most handy).

Everyone, with their different ages and places in life, has a unique piece of the story to tell. Sometimes I even found myself skipping ahead to that person's next chapter to see what happened to them before flipping back and continuing in order. My particular favorites were Daenerys, Arya, and Tyrion.

Whether you can handle this giant story depends on what you like to read. I enjoy fantasy, but I like fantasy with less court politics. I tend to avoid that sort of thing because politics suck no matter where you are. So if you're hoping for all sorts of battles with ugly creatures or magic everywhere etc., this isn't the book for you. There are those sort of fantasy elements, but they are few and far between. Still, I also like a good, well-written story, which is why even all the politics didn't get me down. While this book wasn't sort where I was so enthralled that I had to keep reading (if I hit a Catelyn chapter, I found it pretty easy to make that my stopping point), the stories were intriguing enough to keep me interested (particularly the three above). Likewise, Martin gets extra points for including the direwolves and all their awesomeness. Me, pass up a book with giant wolves that aren't evil? High fives all around.

I loved Martin's descriptions, even if I think he is one of the only guys I've ever read that describes clothing and armor in detail *almost* every time someone appears on the page. But he makes it sound so cool, and does it quickly and effectively that it's okay. The trickiest part about this book and probably the subsequent books is all the people and all the names. There are a lot of them to keep track of. Even Martin acknowledges at the back that there were truckloads of details to keep in mind and pay attention to. I think I might have been okay had he not used more than one name for a person on multiple occasions. You might get full names (Lord Petyr Baelish), slightly shortened names (Lord Baelish), first names (Petyr), or a nickname (Littlefinger). And just like that, four names. If you don't pay attention, you'll get lost rather quickly. And as I said, there are a lot of people involved.

I'm definitely going to continue reading the series (after the way this one ended, how could I not?), but I'm not leaping to purchase all the books yet. I can get them from the library, and I'm perfectly content to wait. Besides, I have other books I need to read on deck, so I'm all right with the break between novels.

NT

*It's kind of interesting to see how many people actually continue on with this series. I put a hold on the next book, and the wait in line is much shorter than for this one.

Notes from the playlist: "Lonely Dusk" by Machine Vandals

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Little Pink Pup by Johanna Kerby - A True Piggy Story!


Pros: A super cute tale of a piggy and some puppies
Cons: I think the design of the book could have been a bit better

The Bottom Line: If you love stories that warm the heart and involve animals, this is a book you ought to take a look at.

Pink was just a little piggy. A really little piggy. So little, he was the runt of the litter, and anytime he tried to get milk from his mama, his other bigger siblings would push him out of the way.

That's when the owners of the pigs decided to give Pink a chance with their dachshund, Tink. She'd just had a puppy of her own and fostered a few others, so adding in Pink sounded like a good idea. It was. Pink soon became one of her puppies - a pink puppy! He hung out with his new siblings and did well. He was still a runt (when he was 3 pounds, his siblings were 12!), but that was okay. When he eventually returned to the barn, he always got visited by his new siblings and even had his doggie bed brought in!

It's often a customer that will draw my attention to a fun book, and that was the case here. We had two in stock - I've been trying to sell the other one because it's such a cute book. Though I think some of the pictures and the overall way they're presented could have been done a little bit better (kind of like an awkward cut and paste - a surprise considering this is from a big publishing house), it's enough that kids will read, see the pictures, and know what's going on.

I'm a big sucker for stories like these. I love great animal tales with happy endings and unique pairings. The images are photographs taken by the owners. They'd put them online and got such a following they decided to turn the story into a book. I think it was a good move. It's a really cute story and kids will be delighted to see the tiny piggy all cuddled up with a bunch of puppies. I mean, come on - piglets and puppies? It's cute overload in this book! And you can't tell me Pink isn't 100% comfy in his doggy bed in the picture of him sleeping in it. Hah - it's like a real world Babe! Minus the sheepherding part, of course.

Strangely enough, Barnes and Noble places this story in the nature section rather than the non-fiction picture book section. If you can't find it, just ask someone. The text is simple, not too much per page, so it's a relatively easy read for kids. It's worth taking a look at, and kids who love animals or a little bit of goofiness will appreciate this heartwarming story.

NT

Originally posted on Epinions.com

Notes from the playlist: "Palm Tree Escape" by Hans Zimmer

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

June Book Giveaway!

It's that time again! Free books, free books! Everybody loves free books!

To win a book, Tweet, Like, or otherwise link to this blog. That's it! Then leave a comment anywhere on this blog with a link to your tweet or blog or whathaveyou so I can take a peek for myself. Don't forget to include your email address in your comment so I can contact you in case you win.

There are seven books to choose from, but I'm only giving away one!

Click HERE for further rules and details about my book giveaways.

Here are the books available for the giveaway. They vary wide in audience and genre. They are in paperback format, except for Praying For Strangers, and Okay For Now which are hardcover. Click the covers for more information about the book.



Think about which book you want and throw a link my way. The contest will end Monday, June 27th at 12:00am (central time). The winner will chosen via random number generator and be notified via email on the 28th. I will also leave a post announcing the winner that day as well.

Good luck!

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson - Sumerian Computer Drugs

Pros: Um...different.
Cons: A lot of little things (style, dated, abrupt ending, etc.)

The Bottom Line: It was an interesting book, but it's not as good after you've already experienced similar things.

For the May book in Calico Reaction's 2011 Book Club, Snow Crash got chosen. I picked it because it sounded like a good time and I wanted to read something by Neal Stephenson. Wish granted, though I'm pretty indifferent on the results.

I started reading this book late and actually only finished yesterday. A lot of times I had to force myself to pick it up and keep reading because I just wasn't all that into it. You know when you get a book that's interesting and has some nifty stuff going on, yet it doesn't do it for you? Yeah, it was one of those.

Hiro Protagonist (yep, that's his name) delivers pizzas for the Mafia and is the greatest swordsman in the Metaverse (think the Matrix...or maybe Tron). He's pretty handy with his sword in reality too. A new drug is circulating - Snow Crash. And it's doing some pretty funky stuff. Though he's not too excited about getting into the mix, Hiro has no choice but to deal with a wildcard guy named Raven whose brain is hotwired to a nuke, a Kourier girl named Y.T. who can skateboard (if you can call it that) like no one else, the Mafia, and an ancient virus that's about to bring about the Infocalypse. Heavy stuff man.

Sound weird? Well, it is. In the world Stephenson creates, there's no nations anymore - at least, not like we know them. Everything's run by giant companies and all sorts of weird stuff. The United States is pretty much gone, with land cut up into areas for everyone else like the Mafia, Mr. Lee's Greater Hong Kong, and plenty of others. Advertisements glow in your face, technology is everywhere and nowhere all at once, and generally it sounds like a place where I'd probably have to shoot myself. It doesn't sound like there's open land anywhere. Frankly, I kept wondering where people were getting their food. The whole place sounded like one bit city with tons of roads and slums and all sorts of junk. Overpopulated and overloaded. It sounds like the sort of society that, once it began, would only run for about 20 years before folding and collapsing in on itself. But I digress.

Snow Crash is sort of like a Dan Brown novel mixed up with Blade Runner with some crack thrown in. It takes technology and tries to blend it up with Sumerian theology and then some. While reading it, I thought that Stephenson must have done a heck of a lot of research (at the end he acknowledges that this book was really hard to write - which I believe). There's a lot of interesting stuff in there, yet I still failed to see quite how the Sumerian bits matched up with what was going on in the present. I mean, I know what Stephenson was doing, but I just don't see how it could work. I wasn't buying what he was selling.

Because this book was written in '92, there is some dated stuff in there. I found the timelines confusing, because people were in WWII and Vietnam, and yet it sounded like the time Hiro lived in should have been well into the 2000s. Instead it sounded more like he kept it in '92 - just a radically different version of '92. It didn't work for me. And I about keeled over when one girl said (twice), "Smooth move, Ex-Lax." Are we doing that? REALLY? Ugh. That was a stupid phrase when it came out. Why would you even include that in your book? And because I've already seen and read so many things that do what Stephenson does, even if he did do it first (or was one of the authors to do it first), the impact is lost on me.

I also wasn't a big fan of the style Stephenson went with. It's written in present tense, which is often reserved for first person "I" format. Instead, we're in third person. And it was almost like Stephenson waffled between the typical third person view and an omniscient style. It was hard to get into. Personally, I'm not a fan of present tense, but I've read plenty of stories where the author does it well. Here, I don't think it worked very well.

The beginning was a little confusing because of it - I didn't know if we were following some random pizza dude or the actual main character. Things eventually got more interesting, but it seemed to take a while for the story to get where it intended to go. About two-thirds of the way into the book things got a lot more interesting and I found it harder to put the book down. But then I hit the end and actually said out loud, "Wait - that's it?" I flipped a few pages to make sure I really was at the end of the book. It was really abrupt and I was still left with some questions. The sudden ending made it seem like everything that had happened wasn't really such a big deal after all. And it felt strange not to end with Hiro and use Y.T. instead.

It's different enough and strange enough with some great use of language and innovation to merit the four stars. Despite all my fussing, it is above average. I can't relate to people who loved it bunches, and in truth, the head of the Book Club herself kept falling asleep while reading it - which I can understand. It appeals to a certain audience I think, which is fine. So I do recommend it, but if you find you can't work your way through it, you might as well stop and move on to something else. But otherwise, you might end up falling in love with it. I did really like Y.T.....

NT

Originally posted on Epinions.com

Notes from the playlist: "Break Your Heart" by Taio Cruz

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