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.


*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.


Originally posted on

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.....


Originally posted on

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

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Purchased for My Shelf

Physics of the Future by Michio Kaku

A few years ago I spotted Physics of the Impossible, got all googly-eyed, and promptly bought it. So when I saw Michio Kaku had a brand new book with more science goodies inside, I once again got all googly-eyed and knew I had to have it. Full of all sorts of cool science (a lot of which is actually in the developmental stage - nifty!), you may have times where you sit and think, "huh?" but hey, it's bound to happen. It happened in Physics of the Impossible too. Some of this stuff is a bit out beyond my comphrehension, whereas other I have to exercise my already wild imagination. If you like science fiction as well as science fact, then this is your type of book.

Notes from the playlist: "Stripped" by Shiny Toy Guns

Caraval by Stephanie Garber

Whoops! I completely forgot to mention this. Last month I reviewed Stephanie Garber's amazing book Caraval for the web blog I curre...