Friday, March 9, 2012

Ten, Make That Nine, Habits of Very Organized People. Make That Ten.: The Tweets of Steve Martin

by Steve Martin 105 p.

This is a fun breezy read. Of course given it is a book of Tweets you could probably just read them on Twitter, but I preferred them in book form. This saves you all the scrolling and searching trying to find Steve's little nuggets of comedy gold from all the @'s and #'s and all those replies from fans and detractors. Instead you have a delightful little book to access Steve's gems andit also has funny little pictures. Let me say that this book has made me question my position on Twitter. Before I found it annoying and mostly a waste of time (outside of the way it has helped young people in foreign countries find a way outside of oppression of their free speech). Yet I see it has good comedic applications. After all a joke could be fit in 140 characters. Steve surely shows this is very possible. Now not every Tweet in the book is gold, but many made me laugh. However if you don't enjoy Steve Martin's absurd and unusual way at looking at the world with his humor, you probably won't enjoy this book. I love much of Steve's humor and this book of Tweets is a good medium for it.


Soul Confessions

by Monique Miller
281 pages

This novel falls under the umbrella of "Urban Christian Fiction."  Phillip has it all--the perfect family, a nice house, an awesome vehicle, and a new promotion.  Things couldn't be going much better for him.  However, Phillip is hiding secrets about his past, including the existence of a child from a previous relationship.  When his angry ex-girlfriend and the mother of his child, Jeana, reappears in his life, things are turned upside down.  Will his wife be able to forgive him?  Will he finally establish a relationship with his teenage son?

The plot sounded like a great story.  I was sorely disappointed.  The author was preachy at many points in the novel.  I have read a lot of Christian fiction, but this is the first novel where I've actually felt like I was sitting through a sermon.  There were some holes in the plot, and everything wrapped up too smoothly to be believable.  This novel is also full of typos and errors which were abundant enough to be annoying and distracting.  I would NOT recommend this book.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

A Storm of Swords

A Song of Ice and Fire Book Three

by George R.R. Martin, 973 pages

This image is an artist's rendering of The Wall which separates the civilized kingdoms of Westeros from the wild and dangerous North. I listened to all 39 discs of the audiobook, which took me nearly a month. Normally a book that long has a lot of padding, but with the complex plot and the huge cast of characters, Storm doesn't read that way. As in the earlier volumes the viewpoint shifts from character to character, and Martin manages to leave you hanging when the character is in a particularly perilous spot. Once again, Martin has no problem with killing off major characters, but to balance this bloody-minded quirk, he adds some compelling new characters.

Caution: spoilers ahead!

Though Joffrey Baratheon is still the king in the capitol, King's Landing, war still rages in the midlands. His uncle, Stannis Baratheon, the legitimate heir to the Iron Throne, plots from his stronghold on Dragonstone with the help of the mysterious and sinister sorceress, Melisandre. Instead of the Stag of the House Baratheon, Stannis's new banner features a burning heart, symbol of the god R'hllor, the "Lord of Light". R'hllor is a blood-thirsty deity who requires fiery human sacrifices. Melisandre is opposed by Stannis's other advisor, Lord Davos, a battle-hardened veteran of the Battle on the Blackwater.

Robb Stark continues to win victories in the Midlands of Westeros, and returns to his uncle's seat at River Run with a new bride. His mother Lady Catelyn fears this breach of promise by the King of the North will have dire consequences for Robb and his cause. His little sister Arya travels toward River Run herself, but is first held captive by outlaws, then by The Hound, a henchman formerly in Joffrey's service.

Robb's other sister, Sansa is no longer King Joffrey's fiancee, but though she longs to return home to Winterfell, she is forced into a marriage with Tyrion Lannister, the dwarf brother of Queen Cersei. Neither of them wants this marriage, though Tyrion tries to win Sansa's affection.

But the most interesting "couple" in the book are Jaime Lannister and Brienne of Tarth. Lady Catelyn arranges for Jaime to escape the dungeons at River Run so she can get her daughters Sansa and Arya back from the Lannisters. However, she charges the warrior maiden Brienne of Tarth to make certain that Jaime makes it back to King's Landing for the exchange. They are hunted across the midlands and fall into bad company. While initially loathing one another, each of them earns the other's respect. I found this new aspect of Jaime's character surprisingly likeable, even though he remains something of a blackguard. The flawed characters of Jaime and Tyrion are in the end more interesting than the more honorable Starks, implacable and unyielding as they are.

The plot is already Byzantine, and even in the fourth book new characters, cities and lands are explored. The series is supposed to be 7 volumes and it is entertaining in its own twisted complexity. Though Martin will never equal Tolkien by my reckoning, he has some skill with world-building. And you never know which characters will be dead by the end of the book!

Cold Vengeance

Special Agent Pendergast series
by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child 356 pages

If you like puzzle books and fast-paced thrillers, meet Special Agent Aloysius Pendergast. For me, Pendergast has the mind of Sherlock Holmes and looks like a strong, lithe Elf Lord. He always wears Italian tailored black suits (unless he's in one of his myriad disguises) and happens to live in the Dakota just off Central Park. Oh, and he sometimes works for the FBI.

More frequently we find Pendergast involved in his own investigations with his sidekick, Lieutenant Vincent D'Gosta, a sometimes NYPD detective. Quite often these investigations have a paranormal element which can be delightfully creepy or bordering Lovecraftian territory. Pendergast made his debut in the 1995 thriller
Relic about an Amazonian monster let loose in the Museum of Natural History in New York. His subsequent cases have ranged over the globe, from the sewers of New York, Africa, the edge of a volcano in Italy, and a lost Tibetan monastery.

In the volume before this one,
Fever Dream, Pendergast finds out that his wife's death while on safari in Africa was not a tragic accident. Someone had put blanks in her rifle. What Pendergast finds next is a vast web of conspiracy which crosses continents. NYPD Captain Laura Hayward, D'Gosta's lover, tells Vincent that Pendergast is reckless and lethal. More than once she reminds Vincent that Pendergast's perps rarely ever make it to court. They die.

Cold Vengeance, Pendergast's brother-in-law Judson Esterhazy thinks he's murdered the FBI agent, but the Scottish police can't find Pendergast's body. This begins a cat and mouse game between Esterhazy and Pendergast which leads them back to the United States. Pendergast believes his wife might still be alive, somewhere in hiding. When he delves deeper into Helen's origins, he finds troubling ties to a Nazi doctor/war criminal. The climax comes when a German black ops assassin comes to New York to murder Pendergast and anyone else involved in the investigation. Have the Nazis gone underground in Germany only to re-surface in New York sixty-six years later?

Fever Dream
and Cold Vengeance appear to be the first two novels in a trilogy within the Pendergast series, as Preston and Child did with their earlier trilogy about Diogenes, Pendergast's brilliant, criminally insane brother.

Though some fans haven't liked their recent novels as much as the earlier ones, I still think Preston and Child are the best paranormal thriller writers around. Pendergast has his own website and there are fan illustrations on the Internet as well. Some think Paul Bettany would be the best actor to play Pendergast. This earlier post by another book blogger explains why she thinks Agent Pendergast is the modern Sherlock Holmes. So, the game is still afoot!


The Collegium Chronicles, volume one
by Mercedes Lackey, 335 pages

This is the first work of Lackey's that I have read, a new series of novels about the founding of the Collegium in Valdemar. It introduces Mags (short for Magpie), a young slave living a brutish existence in the crystal mines. When a herald arrives on the scene, Mags is rescued and learns he is one of the Chosen. Magical horses called Companions choose their riders, and a telepathic connection is formed between horse and rider. The horses are very smart, and it is through his Companion Dallen that Mags learns to make his way in the Collegium for heralds. Because he's an outlander, Mags has a hard time making friends. Soon however, he is befriended by Lena, a Bardic student and Bear, A Healer trainee.

Of course there are evil doings in the city, and it falls to the 3 students and Dallen to make certain that matters are cleared up. The relationship between Herald and Companion is an interesting one, which kept me reading. The trio of friends reminded me a bit too much of Harry, Ron and Hermione, which I found distracting. It probably would have helped if I was familiar with the larger world-building Lackey has done in her other series.

While I enjoyed reading it, I don't know that I found it compelling enough to continue on with the series. I may go back to it, but now I am engrossed in reading two other popular fantasy series,
A Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin, and the Dresden Files by Jim Butcher.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Storm Front by Jim Butcher

322 pages

The first book of the Dresden Files series, Storm Front offers a lot of entertainment and action. Harry's view of the world is comical yet cynical, which is apt for a wizard whose life and reputation are on the line. Dresden must solve not only a murder mystery, but find a missing man, all while trying to save his own life from a rampaging wizard.

A fantasy series set in modern-day Chicago, this book is a great introduction to the world of Harry Dresden.

The Color of Magic

224 pages

Terry Pratchett is considered a master of fantasy and The Color of Magic, the first of the Discworld series, does not disappoint. Firmly a comedy, this book introduces readers to Rincewind, an inept wizard-school dropout. He and his travel companion Twoflower are caught up in a literal game of dice being played by the gods.

Though a bit dense at time, this book is light-hearted and willing to poke fun at fantasy, science fiction, and pop culture.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Before I Go To Sleep

Before I Go To Sleep
by S.J. Watson
359 pages

So I first heard about this book at Staff Development Day during one of the class-things. I decided to put it on hold after reading a review of it on here. It came in real fast and as soon as I started reading it I was hooked. It was a real page turner. The previous review of it on here was correct in that the ending is not what you expect it to be. I really enjoyed this book not only because it was so well written, but it gave a fascinating look at how our memory works, and how are memories help us to understand who we are. Love love loved this book.

ps. Just realized I'm the fourth person to read/review this book so that's why this review is short and sweet.

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

335 pgs. I know - I'm waaaayyyyy behind on this one. I've had this on my shelf for a few years now and it kept getting passed over for other things. I think subconciously I didn't want to read about the violence against animals that I had heard about. Those scenes were painful but not impossible to get through. I find anything about circus life appealing and while this wasn't my favorite on the subject, I appreciated Gruen's research on the topic and overall it's a fast, good read.

White Girl Problems

White Girl Problems
by Babe Walker
273 pages

This is a memoir that started from a blog. Babe Walker is an LA debutante who doesn't have to worry about money or getting a job or...anything really. She's *kind of* a bitch and you really want to hate her. But it was actually her bitchiness that I kind of admired. She had a "sorry I'm not sorry" sort of attitude and didn't really care about what other people thought. Me being a "yes" person, it was refreshing to hear a voice that wasn't afraid to say "no".

Now, none of Babe's "problems" are really relatable (she went to rehab because she spent $250,000 at Barney's in one day), but they're kind of funny. Here are my faves:

#6: My major in college was picking my major with a minor in being really bored

#7: I'm too pretty to be crying right now

#10: Sorry for texting you 93 times last night

#12: My waxer knows me better than I know myself

#14: I miss you, unless you miss me, in which case I'm over you and into me being me

#21: Every job I've ever had is the worst job I've ever had

#22: I'm never drinking again, except for the occasional glass of white wine, vodka sodas, on holiday or my   birthday month

Monday, March 5, 2012

"Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?" by Mindy Kaling

222 pages

You might recognize Mindy Kaling as Kelly Kapoor on NBC's "The Office." You may or may not know that she is also a writer for the show. After reading this collection of personal essays, you'll feel like you're practically her best friend. She writes in honest detail about her own life, from her childhood to landing her job at "The Office," as well as some general observations about the world.

I love "The Office," so I figured that I'd enjoy anything written by one of the show's writers. This book exceeded my expectations, high as they were. I was laughing out loud on almost every page! Mindy seems to be both self-depreciating and confident at the same time; she feels good about herself in general, but she's not afraid to make fun of her quirks and flaws. I liked learning about how she built her career and getting the inside scoop on how things work at "The Office," too. Sure, it's just a light, fun read, but you've got to have those once in a while and this is the best thing I've read in a while for getting out of a bad mood. I know the year is young, but I'd say this one will be on my "Favorites of 2012" list.

Amy & Roger's Epic Detour

by Morgan Matson, 343 p.

This might possibly be the perfect book for me: romance (check), road trip (check), not obviously falling in love (check), awesome music references (check).  I totally couldn't stop thinking about it when I wasn't reading it, and when I was reading it I couldn't bear the thought of putting it down.  Amy isn't obnoxious, Roger is a normal dude with his own life.  I just love it and want to read it again and again.

Flash Burnout

                     by LK Madigan, 332 p.

I really enjoyed this book.  There's something about guys reads that really works for me sometimes.  The voice is really clear and easy to get through sometimes.

(Sorry to be so brief.  Got lots to write!)

February Stats

Hi everyone,

Eleven of us participated this month and read 96 books and 27,386 pages! The leaders are:

Jenny Ertel: 17
Chelsea Estes: 13
Tysha Shay: 12

Chelsea: 4,074
Tysha: 3,870
Heather: 3,684

Participation points
Chelsea and Tysha: Tied at 26!
Jenny: 17

Chelsea and Tysha got lots of extra points by adding reviews to Coolcat/Encore--a quick and easy way to get extra points.

We had two recommendations for best review: Sarah Bean Thompson's review of Daughter of Smoke and Bone and Night of the Living Dandelion reviewed by Nina Tzaneva. Way to go!

We have a challenge for you for March and April. This year's Big Read title is The Maltese Falcon, so you will get TWO extra participation points if you read and review it. Also, you will get one extra point for every Bruce Hale and/or Ridley Pearson book you read because they will be speaking here as part of the Big Read.

Thanks for your reviews, everyone!

Sunday, March 4, 2012

"Chopsticks" by Jessica Anthony and Rodrigo Corral

272 pages

This is basically a scrapbook of photos, letters, text messages, and more that tells a story. And what an interesting story it is. After her mother died, piano prodigy Glory retreated into herself and her music. Her single father raised her with a rigid schedule and a lot of pressure to be the best. Now, as we learn in the first few pages, 17-year-old Glory is missing. From there, readers flash back to the events leading up to her disappearance, which include a whirlwind romance with the boy who moves in next door.

"Chopsticks" is one of the most interesting books I've read in a while. Obviously, the format is unique and fascinating in itself. There's lots to look at on almost every page, and the items shown facilitate a lot characterization despite the lack of words. The pages just make you feel Glory's emotions: loneliness, happiness, depression, etc. Furthermore, clues to the mystery surrounding Glory's disappearance are hidden among the pages. When I got to the end, I thought about it for a long time. I couldn't quite put all the pieces together on my own, but after talking to some friends about it, I've got some interesting ideas about what went down. I don't want to put any spoilers here, but I'm looking forward to hearing what other people think of it and what they think happened!

Bull Rider

by Suzanne Morgan Williams
241 pages

Cam is a skateboarder just entering the ninth grade.  He has grown up on a Nevada ranch where his family raises cattle, and all the males in his family are bull riders--except him.  Cam's older brother Ben is a champion bull rider and is also a Marine serving in Iraq, until an IED explodes near him causing paralysis and traumatic brain injury.  Now Ben faces a long recovery and will never ride a bull again.  Cam's family life is turned upside down by Ben's injury and recovery.  Ben becomes depressed and gives up on recovery.  Cam turns to bull riding, something he swore he'd never do, to help lift Ben's spirits.  Cam thinks that if he rides a particularly vicious bull, called Ugly, he can turn things around for Ben, but many obstacles stand in Cam's way.

Overall, this is an interesting read.  It gives teens a chance to read about tough topics in a readable format.  You sometimes hear about the effects of TBI on the veterans who are suffering from it, but you rarely hear about the effects it has on their families.  It also gives an inside look at bull riding and how it actually works.  I liked most of the book, but I thought the last two pages were really corny.