Tuesday, December 31, 2013

"Lover At Last" by J.R. Ward

I first came across the Black Dagger Brotherhood series while reading a book review on the first book in the series in one of my mom's First magazines.  It was during the "Twilight" phenomena and was coined as vampires for adults.  I ordered it from the library and have read every book since.

Please note:  These books are not for the uptight.  They're from the romance category and the author doesn't shy away from sex or sexy topics.  She also doesn't discriminate against same sex relationships, of which this installment covers.

Summary:  The Black Dagger Brotherhood returns!  The latest alpha-male, ass-kicking vampire romance installment showcases the first homosexual romance story I've come across.  Baylock and Qhuinn grew up as BFFs...or at least, that's what Qhuinn thought.  Blay, on the other hand, found himself hopelessly in love with Qhuinn and watched in agony as Qhuinn used sex and danger to counter his emotionally damaged heart.  As the guys grow up, Qhuinn's emotional distance and occasional downright obliviousness finally breaks Blay's heart and forces him to cut Qhuinn out of his life...and himself into the arms of Qhuinn's debonair cousin Saxton.  Except Blay can't stop loving Qhuinn, no matter how hard he tries.

What Blay doesn't know is that Qhuinn has a soft spot for Blay, even thought he knows in his (damaged) heart that he's not worthy of such a male.  Qhuinn tries to let Blay go.  But then Qhuinn is slammed with personal tragedy after personal tragedy that forces his heart to finally open.  But will bygones be bygones?  Will Blay unlock his own wounded heart to accept what Qhuinn is finally offering?

What I Liked:  The author pays respect to the long history Blay and Qhuinn have.  Their love drama has unfolded across several books, and I was afraid that one character would weaken and "give in" to other.  This didn't happen and I was so glad each character stood their ground.

I also enjoyed how Ward dug into the feelings of the supporting characters as Blay and Qhuinn's relationship unfolds.  She doesn't sugar coat the coming out process and she is honest about the characters feelings as they make their big step into being their true selves.  Brava, Ms. Ward.

I also really enjoy how the author touches on past characters from the series to move the plot forward (instead of just checking in) as well as introducing future characters for the next book in the series.  There are a few couples I'm speculating on!

What Drove Me Nuts:  The dialogue is sort of hip-hop fabulous (which I secretly like) and full of acronyms that I have to pause and think about or google to decipher.  I admit that this could be due to my own lack of coolness.  I also think the names of the main characters are a little ridiculous.  Qhuinn?  Zsadist?  Phury?  Vishious?  I totally get that each brother has a Warrior name, but do they have to have to be spelled like that?  My post is full of red lines and I'm pretty sure my spell check is going to revolt.

Rating:  If you like romance and vampires, this series could be for you.  If you're homophobic, you should read this so you can get over it.  But that's just my opinion.

Also Read by This Author:  I've read them all.  For a complete listing, go here.

Reviewed By:  Tami

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

"Monster Hunter Legion" by Larry Correia

I found this book in a used bookstore. I had already read the first three books of the series and decided to grab this one based on that. This one happens to be a signed copy from a book signing I never knew about. Every copy was signed, which was something I've never seen before.

Summary: Monsters are real and governments know all about them. In the US the Monster Control Bureau issues out secret PUFF bounties on paranormal creatures deemed dangerous to the human race. Private contractors compete to clean up these horrors in order to cash in on the huge bounties. In this series you follow Owen Zastava Pitt (aka: Z), a gun-loving accountant who survived a werewolf attack years ago. Like other surviviors, Z was recruited by Monster Hunters International, a private firm. A lot happens in the first three books, ranging from minor outbreaks to game-changing near-apocalypse. The consistent theme from all the books is that the rate of outbreaks is increasing in number and intensity. The MCB is having trouble keeping it off the front pages and private hunters are fearing a world ending event. Z has a unique heritage and subsequently plays a unique role in the monster hunting world. Each book reveals a little more. 

In this fourth installment a wealthy and mysterious benefactor has organized the first annual International Conference of Monster Hunting Professionals. Hunters from all over the world gathered to share trade secrets and brag to their peers. After putting all the hunters in one place, all we need is a monster! Enter the Nachtmar. The rest of the book is trying to find a way to defeat the Nachtmar while government agents play internal politics.

What I Liked: This is a fun action thriller with a variety of monsters and interesting plots and backstories. There are a lot of funny lines and satisfying resolutions. The characters are badass heroes and the villains are scum. It's a good classic framework with modern places, ideas and tools folded in. I also like how the monsters strike the right balance of terrifying, but killable. Guns work, if you use them right.

What I Didn't Like:  Correia's range of dialogue is lacking. All the characters speak with the same voice and slang which is awkward considering the variety of backgrounds. 

Rating: Solid monster action, worth the read, just read them in order. 

Also Read By This Author: Monster Hunter International,  Monster Hunter Vendetta, Monster Hunter Alpha.

Reviewed By: Nick

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

"The Bride Wore Size 12" by Meg Cabot

I added this book to my library reserve list when I was planning my wedding.  At the time I was dying to get my hands on a lighthearted wedding story I could read to get away from the stresses of seating charts and RSVPs.

Summary:  Former teen pop star and current assistant housing director Heather Wells is planning her upcoming wedding at New York's epic Plaza Hotel all while welcoming this year's batch of freshmen to New York College when everything falls apart.  A VIR and his bodyguards cause drama in the dorm, her money stealing mama makes a dramatic reappearance on her doorstep and the curse of Death Dorm strikes again.  Will Heather be able to solve this years mysterious death and still make it to the altar?

What I Liked:  While I love a good and gruesome murder mystery, I also enjoy the more lighthearted (am I really saying this) murder mysteries.  "The Bride Wore Size 12" didn't disappoint.  The plot was downright cute, the dialog was entertaining and the over-the-top characters toed the line at almost unbelievable...but in a way that was so charming it only added to the fun feeling of the book.

What Drove Me Nuts:  There were two things that drove me a little batty, but they were really minor:
  1. The plot and characters really did toe the line between hilarious and completely unbelievable.
  2. This was clearly a recent installment in a series.  And now I have to go back and read the rest!

Rating:  Go into this story with a light heart and you'll enjoy it!

Also Read by This Author:  Abandon, Underworld

Reviewed By:  Tami

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

"The Fault in Our Stars" by John Green

This book showed up on my goodreads recommendation page so I decided to pick it up at the library.  It sat on my nightstand for a week before I cracked the cover.  But once I did...I couldn't put it down!

Summary:  Sixteen year old Hazel meets seventeen year old Augusts in the basement of a church.  Almost immediately Hazel and Augustus feel a connection that bonds the two strangers into best friends and eventually soul mates.  Unfortunately Augustus has cancer.  As does Hazel.  And it's terminal.  "The Fault in Our Stars" is a breathtaking love story about two teens who are wise beyond their years due to the tragic circumstances of their illnesses.

What I Liked:  I thoroughly enjoyed this short, easy read.  The dialog was witty and well written, feeling entirely realistic for kids that illness matured a bit too early.  Almost every character was likeable.  Hazel and Augustus are clearly underdogs in the rough game of life, but you never pity them even during the most heartbreaking scenes.  The story was romantic yet tragic.  The author doesn't cheapen the love story because the characters are teens.

What Drove Me Nuts:  As much as I enjoyed this book, there was one huge plot point that made me sick to my stomach:  Hazel and Augustus, two sweet, likable, fantastic characters have cancer.  Cancer!  The reader knows that Hazel's illness is terminal almost from the beginning of the story, so when she meets and falls in love with Augustus, it's with a somewhat sick feeling that we turn the page.

And don't even get me started on the ending.

Rating:  Read this book.

Also Read:  Nothing yet, but I'll definitely pick up other books by John Green.

Reviewed By:  Tami

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

"Priests of Mars" by Graham McNeill

This book was lent to me by a good friend. He and I both really enjoy the Warhammer 40,000 universe and so he thought I would like it.

Summary: Thousands of years ago, Archmagos Telok built an Explorator fleet to cross the Halo Scar and bear witness to what lay beyond its destructive and obscuring gravity disruptions. No one has heard from him since, but recently a fragment was found. It came from a savior pod launched from Telok's flagship. Also, a message was received that he had found the "Breath of the Gods". These two discoveries were enough to inspire a down and out Archmagos Kotov to follow in Telok's path. After loosing prestige, Kotov knew he would need a big victory to come out on top, so he assembled his own fleet and set out to solve the mystery of Telok's disappearance and bring back the knowledge Telok failed to deliver.

In this book you follow a variety of people in the fleet, the mighty warriors of the Black Templar Space Marines, the mysterious geniuses of the tech-cult Adeptus Mechanicus, the towering Titan war-machines, the lowly bondsmen slaves of the engine room, and the rogue trader who found the fragment. You get see the lives of all these different people and watch them interact as they approach the Halo Scar, an enormous collection of deformed stars clustered together such that they distort gravity in violent and confusing ways. Trying to look at anything beyond the Halo Scar is nearly impossible and navigating through it is a near suicidal task, but the evidence that Telok may have done it and been rewarded is too much to ignore.

What I Liked: McNeill really lets you get to know all the characters in a way that you experience just how big of an adventure they have found themselves embarking on. It is easy to get invested in their story and become concerned that they make it through all their trials. 

What I Didn't Like: All the character development meant that the actual plot was a bit slow. I had assumed the book would include their entire journey, but about halfway through I realized there weren't enough pages to accomplish that. There are at least two sequels, which I intend to read, Lords of Mars being next. I would not be surprised if there end up being several more. 

Rating: I recommend this book for anyone who likes to imagine a futuristic universe well beyond anything we have experienced on Earth. I really do love the Warhammer 40k universe!

Also Read By This Author: None.

Reviewed By: Nick

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

"Homefall" by Chris Bunch

Years ago I read a sci-fi trilogy called the Last Legion. I liked it a lot and even got my best friend to read them. More recently, I was at a used book store that had the fourth book in the series. It never occurred to me that there would be a fourth book, and so was totally shocked when I saw it. This is that book. I read it immediately.

Summary: First, a little bit about the trilogy. It follows two recruits, Garvin Jaansma and Njangu Yoshitaro, of the Confederation Legion who are sent to the outer edge of the known galaxy to a quaint star system known as Cumbre. On their journey the transport is attacked and they barely survive and make it to their destination. On Cumbre it becomes clear that they were the last people to have any news from the capital Centrum. All communication and trade with the Confederation stops leaving Cumbre to fend for itself. Each book is a war, first there is a civil war on Cumbre, then aliens attack, then a neighboring star nation. Throughout the books it is just assumed the Confederation is gone and forgotten, but this fourth book finally addresses the issue. Garvin and Njangu are given command of a special expedition discover what happened to the core worlds. Their commanders had already tried sending drones to Centrum, but all were mysteriously lost. The two soldiers decide to disguise themselves as something everyone loves: a traveling circus! Collecting up performers and a big ship, the Circus Jaansma blasts off on an adventure. They jump world to world investigating the fall of the Confederation and getting tangled up in local politics. These circus/soldiers struggle to keep their identities secret as they piece together clues to answer their biggest questions.

What I Liked: It gave me a chance to revisit a favorite series of mine and see again some loved characters I had missed. It also had a lot of intrigue and spycraft which is exciting. I also found it comical when these ultra-violent soldiers were confronted with subtle politics, like a bull in a china shop.

What I Didn't Like: Bunch glossed over some stuff, making it feel like he was rushing through the book, not really savoring the story. Also, I suspect some of the scenarios would have ended differently in real life, assuming we had the technology.

Rating: I recommend the whole series for some fun military sci-fi action.

Also Read By This Author: The Last Legion, Firemask, Storm Force.

Reviewed By: Nick

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

"Gone Girl" by Gillian Flynn

"Gone Girl" was suggested to me by a dear college friend so I picked it up at the library on my way home from work.  Two days later I had finished the book with a look of sinister glee on my face.  The story was excellently crafted, the characters were well developed and plot was sinister.  Check it out!

Summary:  Nick Dunne and his semi-famous wife Amy don't get along.  In fact, you could say the brilliant couple has been fighting off and on for the last year of their marriage.  And Amy is winning.

On the Dunne's five year anniversary, Amy disappears in what looks like a struggle.  Nick, with no alibi, shortly becomes the number one suspect in the investigation.  As the police take a closer look at Nick, they come across some significant---and damning---evidence that suggest Nick and Amy aren't all they appear to be.

What I Liked:
  • Told in alternating chapters (first Nick, present day, then Amy, past diary entry) the format of the story adds to its appeal.  The mystery unfolds piece by piece and the layers of suspense build as the reader tries to figure out whodunit simultaneously with the characters.
  • The whiplash way in which the characters reveal themselves.  My opinions of Nick and Amy changed rapidly from chapter to chapter.  I experienced a range of emotions as the characters unfolded; mostly shocked, appalled, resigned.  Flynn has a way of crafting characters that are unbelievably believable!
  • The plot could have been ripped from the headlines of today's news outlets.  Did anyone else think "Nancy Grace"?
  • The ending:  I feel that the main characters got exactly what they deserved.

What Drove Me Nuts:
  • The characters made me SO UNCOMFORTABLE.  I wanted to reach into the pages and slap Nick silly multiple times.  Amy....well....lets just say I was happy leaving Amy in the book.
  • There was no good guy.  The only "good" characters were secondary.
  • The ending:  I feel that while the characters got what they deserved, it still wasn't the right ending.  I won't ruin it here, but I suspect I'm not alone in this.
Rating:  Must Read

Also Read by this Author:  Nothing yet, but I'm going to add "Sharp Objects" to my reading list!

Reviewed By:  Tami

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

"Thankless in Death" by J.D. Robb

I am a Nora Roberts addict, so when I heard that she had a futuristic murder mystery series penned under the name J.D. Robb my heart nearly exploded.  I've been a fan of the "In Death" series from the first book and give it my full fledged recommendation.

Summary:  On the eve of Thanksgiving 2060 Lieutenant Eve Dallas catches a double homicide that should be easy to solve.  She knows who the murder is and why he committed the crime.  What she can't find is the man himself...and it looks like he's got a taste for killing and is going to strike again soon.  Can Eve find the bad guy before another innocent life is taken?

What I Liked:  You can't talk about an installment of the Eve Dallas "In Death" series without first exploring why the series in general is so good:

  • The main character, murder cop Eve Dallas, is a bad ass bona fide hero.  She kicks ass, takes names, finds the bad guy and saves the day.  Every time.  She also has just enough flaws to keep her likable.
  • Her romantic interest, Roarke, is gorgeous, rich, powerful, Irish and has the good sense to know his lady is fully capable of handling her shit without his interference.
  • The supporting cast of characters are well thought out, brilliantly described, and totally likable.
  • The series doesn't shy away from crime at its worst.  Even when the murder scenes are hard to read and the villains are truly despicable, they add to the story.
  • The author describes 2060 in detail, from outfits to technology to fashion.  I can only hope to some day wear air skids as I send a memo cube to my uptown honey.

But I digress, on to what I liked about the book:  This was a new take on an "In Death" story.  Instead of trying to figure out the killer's identity, Eve knows "who did it" from almost the beginning of the book.  The big challenge this time around it to catch up to the killer, to get inside his head, and to figure out who he's going to kill next before he accomplishes the deed.  The premise felt fresh and I enjoyed it immensely.

What Drove Me Nuts:  I love the dynamics between Eve and her family and friends, but this installment offered little insight into Eve's personal life.  The author falls back on Eve's fights with her husband to show Eve's emotional side, and the fights often feel cliche and repetitious this far into the series.

Rating: I liked it!  Fans of Nora Roberts and light mystery will get a kick out of this series.

Other Books Read by this Author:  The whole series!  For a complete listing read more here.

Reviewed by:  Tami

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

"Rocket Men" by Craig Nelson

This book appealed to me because I am becoming very interested in space travel and colonizing other worlds. I didn't know a lot about the Apollo program before this book and wanted to know more. I borrowed it from the library and started listening to it with Tami, but she quickly lost interest.

Summary: This dense, 17 hour audiobook has everything you could want to know about humanity's journey to the moon ... and everything you didn't. This is a detailed account of the Gemini, Mercury and Apollo programs, including a deep look at the origin of rocket science. All the big names get a part, including Goddard, Von Braun, James Webb, Kennedy, Armstrong, Aldrin, Collins and plenty more. It goes into the politics of World War II, the cold war and domestic support for space exploration. It talks about rocket science and surviving in space. It goes into the lives of the astronauts and uses a lot of quotes from primary sources. It delves into the fears of the NASA employees and what they did to minimize the dangers. This book is a truly comprehensive look at our trip to the moon.

What I Liked: This taught me everything I know about moon trips. I feel like I can talk intelligently about NASA history now that I have finished this book.

What I Didn't Like: It felt a lot like a history lecture, and not a particularly great one. It had a whole heck of a lot of quotes, which are awkward in an audiobook. I glossed over parts of it without really listening.

Rating: Tami didn't make it past the second disc. If you are really curious about the moon missions it is a good choice, but if you are ambivalent,  avoid this book.

Other Books Read By This Author: none

Reviewed By: Nick

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

"The Sands of Mars" by Arthur C. Clarke

I first saw this book at a used book store and decided to buy it based on the author alone. Arthur C. Clarke is regarded as one of the fathers of modern science fiction, inspiring generations of incredible writers. I had to get a look at his work for myself. (Note the 25¢ sticker, which suggests it was offered up at a garage sale at some point in its life.)

Summary: In this adventure we follow our unlikely hero, Martin Gibson. He is commissioned to visit the Mars colony and write a series of articles for the public back home. He is the only passenger on the maiden voyage of the spaceship Ares and becomes familiar with the skeleton crew. When he reaches Mars he befriends several colonists and explores the various outposts. Soon he stumbles upon a huge secret previously hidden from Earth and has to decide what to do with the information.

Also, Clarke describes a lot of the science behind colonization and the precautions people have to take to ensure their safety. He uses this 1952 to help people imagine the future that seemed so inevitable at the time and make them comfortable with the idea of space travel.

What I liked: Clarke treats this fictional account as a serious prediction of one possible future. It's not pie in the sky whimsy, but an attempt to imagine the world of his children and grandchildren. That makes the text feel very real and immersive. Clarke also adds interpersonal drama and some exciting discoveries to make the story more than a simple tale of interplanetary sightseeing.

What I Didn't Like: This was published in 1952, so there was a lot of guesswork regarding the Martian surface. He gets some basic facts wrong because no one knew better at the time. Also, despite the fact Clarke writes really well about machines and space, he struggles writing about human psychology in this book.

Rating: This is worth reading if you are curious about classic sci-fi.

Other Books Read By This Author: None.

Reviewed By: Nick

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

"But Enough About Me..." by Jancee Dunn

I saw this book on my friend Julie's Goodreads wish list and thought I would give it a try.  I'm a sucker for a funny life story and this did not disappoint!

Summary:  Jancee Dunn grew up a typical 80's Jersey girl:  big hair, loud parties and lots of music.  Her early years pouring over liner notes led her to a job as a reporter at Rolling Stone magazine and lifetime of hobnobbing with celebrities from Dolly Parton to Bono.  Dunn paired her life story with hilarious anecdotes from her more memorable interviews, including tips on how to get the lead singer of a band's attention and how to glean interesting facts from even the most prosaic interview.

What I Liked:  Dunn didn't shy away from moments that painted her in an unflattering light.  She came across as (brutally) honest about her journey from a nerdy rock chick just starting out to an aging hipster trying to find her next path in an industry that glorifies youth.  Dunn's more hilarious moments include the story of her interview with Dolly Parton as well as her own thoughts on why sharing a beach house is a terrible idea.  I also really enjoyed Dunn's stories about her family; you could see the love on every page, even the ones where she scammed her sisters out of money as a pre-teen holding "sales" in her bedroom.

What Drove Me Nuts:  Not much.  There were times in the story that I wished someone had given Dunn a good reality shake, but those uncomfortable moments are human and I appreciated her candor in their telling.

Rating:  This would be a great book to take along when travelling, because each chapter was broken into its own vignette.  I was able to pick it up on plane flights without loosing any satisfaction from halting the story mid-book.

Other Books Read by This Author:  N/A

Reviewed By:  Tami

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

"I'll Mature When I'm Dead" by Dave Barry

This audiobook was picked up at the library. Tami selected it because the title sounded funny. Dave Barry is a humor writer from Miami who's column has been syndicated in over 500 newspapers. He also received a Pulitzer Prize for a column he wrote.  

Summary: In journalism most articles need to go across the editor's desk and Barry can't always get his ideas to fit into the limitations set by the paper. So he writes books when too many ideas need to be put on paper. This book is a series of unconnected stories covering a variety of topics including weddings, journalism, dogs, babies, church, and more. Each story is riddled with punchlines presented as truth. Sometimes it was difficult to tell when he was joking and when he was simply stating fact. These are longer pieces than would be found in one of his articles meaning that he could go into detail and really build up some punchlines over an extended period. 

Things We Liked: It was really funny and Barry is definitely an experienced writer. He is also amazing at describing situations that are so relatable it felt like he was recalling my own memories.  Tami's favorite piece was Barry's closing story of his son's wedding in New York City.  His astonishment at the mechanics and cost involved were hilarious while his heartfelt joy at his son's marriage was sweet and sentimental.

Things We Didn't Like: It was too short. 

Rating: If you are a human and like humor, check it out.

Other Books Read By This Author: Nothing yet, but expect some in the future.

Reviewed By: Nick and Tami

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

"The House at Tyneford" by Natasha Solomons

Summary:  Elise Landau is the cossetted youngest daughter of Viennese author Julian and opera singer Anna.  She is a bit spoiled and much adored and doesn't have much care about the world that is exploding around her.  On the eve of Germany's invasion of Austria, Elise's parents arrange to have her sent overseas as a housemaid.  Elise is instantly turned from the one being waited upon to the one waking up at dawn to serve in dining room.  A few weeks into her stay, the young son of the manor arrives home from university and his life...and Elise's...change forever.
What I Liked:
  • Almost every character is extremely likable, from Elise's parents to the master of the manor
  • Elise does so much growing throughout the story that you can't help but root for her
  • The setting is amazing.  You can almost hear the ocean waves crashing and see the storm lanterns glowing
  • The twist ending, which I dared not hope for

What Drove Me Nuts:  I really enjoyed this book.  The ending wasn't a perfect happy every after, but I actually feel OK with that.  Happy Ever After isn't true to World War II and I like that the author respected that.

Rating:  Beautifully written.  If you like Kate Morton, you'll enjoy this book.

Reviewed By:  Tami

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

"My Beloved World" by Sonia Sotomayor

Summary:  It's hard to imagine a Supreme Court Justice growing up in the projects of the Bronx, but those are the roots that shaped Sonia Sotomayor into the first Puerto Rican Supreme Court justice in the United States.

This autobiography recounts Justice Sotomayor's life from her earliest memories dancing at house parties hosted by her glamorous and superstitious Abuelita, her diagnosis of juvenile diabetes in grade school (at the time a death sentence), her struggles to learn English and get passing grades in Catholic school, the hard work that brought her to the Ivy League, a failed marriage, working with Prada and her eventual road to public service.

What I Liked:  I was pleasantly surprised at how open this book was.  Sotomayor did not shy away from superstition, alcoholism, the prejudice she faced in the era of affirmative action or her views on having children.  The story was told as a narrative, in more or less chronological order and with emotion that felt both genuine and wise.

Whats Drove Me Nuts:  Not much!  I would have liked to read more about Sotomayor's professional life, but I understand why she spent so much time on her formative years.  It was inspiring to read how someone who literally came from nothing managed to work her way to the top of her profession.

Rating:  Read it!  Really, this book was a bit like reality TV, but where you root for the main character to win the whole shebang from the first introductions.

Reviewed By:  Tami

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

"Ravenor" by Dan Abnett

I have been a fan of the Warhammer 40k sci-fi universe for several years now. I am currently the Game Master of a weekly Dark Heresy game (think D&D in space) which takes place in this setting. So when I saw this book on the thrift store shelf I knew I had to read it.

Summary: This book follows Inquisitor Ravenor, a crippled psyker who uses his mind-bending powers to investigate serious crimes in the dreary Imperium of Man. He has a team of highly trained Acolytes who help him in his work and he commands them through telepathy. Ravenor discovers a drug-dealing cartel and believes it is more than simply a supply-chain for despairing addicts. He believes the 'flects' have a sinister origin, tainted by forbidden xenos. He directs his team through the dangerous criminal underworld and discovers a conspiracy beyond just the flects. There is a lot of gun-fighting and detective work on futuristic worlds and starships with epic environments that stretch the imagination. 

What I Liked: Abnett has a mind for adventure, knowing how to pace a story so that it is always interesting, but not overwhelming. He also has an attention to detail that lets the reader know he is not just improvising the plot to make it end up how he wants. I also like the feel of the Warhammer 40k universe, which Abnett is famous for portraying very well.

What I Didn't Like: Honestly, not much. I felt like an idiot when I realized some of the characters had already been introduced in the Eisenhorn series, which I have not read yet, but I don't think that detracted any.

Other Books Read by This Author: Gaunt's Ghosts (which I recommend)

Reviewed by: Nick

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

"Harry, A History" by Melissa Anelli

Summary:  "Harry, A History" is a retelling of the Harry Potter phenomenon of the late 90's/early 2000's as told by one of the most well known super fans of the time:  Melissa from The Leaky Cauldron.  The book is broken into chapters centered around a Harry Potter trend:  Wizard Rock, Potter Conventions, Fan Fiction, Book Bans, Release Parties and everything in between.  Each trend is outlined and interwoven with the author's own experiences with the trend.

What I Liked:  I enjoyed "Harry, A History" because it reminded me of my own love of Harry and the gang.  I got caught up in the author's excitement and was reminded of my own joy at each new release and my subsequent sorry when the series ended.

I also really enjoyed the inside look at the lengths true super fans went to in order to express their love of all things Harry.  Wizard rock?  "Shipping"?  I had no idea that people took fandom so far and it was fascinating to get a glimpse at the mania.  I'm actually glad I didn't know of all the HP outlets at the time, because I would have been one of the 20 somethings wearing a "Save Ginny" t-shirt.

What Drove Me Nuts:  Each chapter was written with what felt like its own beginning, middle and end.  Since the book was marketed as a history, I expected the chapters to follow a stronger chronological order.  The historian in me cringed at the timeline skipping.

I also wish the author had spent a little more time on her experiences running The Leaky Cauldron.  While she provided excellent insight into the various avenues of superfandom, the adult in me was also curious about the business aspect of the time, too.

Rating:  If you loved the Harry Potter series, check this book out.  I guarantee it will rekindle great memories and your appreciation for the boy who lived.

Also Read by This Author:  N/A

Reviewed By:  Tami

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

"Never Have Your Dog Stuffed" By Alan Alda

Tami and I watched every episode of the West Wing together (a show where Alda has a big supporting role) and we both grew up with M*A*S*H on the television. We decided that Alda would be interesting, and we were right. We picked this one up as an audio book and listened to it in the car.

Summary: This is a memoir in which Alda reflects on his life from his earliest memories as the son of a travelling burlesque comedian all the way up through the end of Scientific American Frontiers in 2007.  The story is told through vignettes of his unique and unconventional boyhood and as well as through well thought out analysis of what it means to be a comedian, an actor, a host and a "civilian".  Alda reflects on his father, who was a mentor and rival and tries to come to terms with his mother who suffered from a near debilitating mental illness.  Alda reminisces about supporting his family through "professional" gambling while taking any acting gig he could get and his time at M*A*S*H where he was able to hone his writing skills and define himself as one of the most well remembered television actors of his time.

What We Liked: Alda has a lot of experience writing and a very good sense of humor. The entire audio book was fun to listen to. There were a number of jokes and funny stories mixed in with more serious memories, including boarding school, his thought on religion and his efforts during the equal rights movement. We learned a lot about the actor who we only knew as the man on the screen.

What We Didn't Like: He didn't talk about his time on the West Wing!

Rating: If you like Alda as an actor, you should read this book.  If you don't know who he is, you should read this book

Also Read By This Author: Nothing yet.

Reviewed By: Nick and Tami.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

"Dead Ever After" by Charlaine Harris

Summary:  The last installment of the Southern Vampire series finds Sookie Stackhouse in one last supernatural pickle.  Perpetually unlucky Sookie is working at Merlotte's bar when her former friend and co-waitress Arlene walks in the door.  As Arlene had previously been in jail for arranging to have Sookie crucified, this is not a good thing.  Arlene's arrival triggers a series of events that has Sookie arrested for murder and her supernatural friends rushing to her side to help clear her name.

What I Liked:  I've got a soft spot for Sookie, even though she makes terrible life choices and has a strange addiction to Walmart, so my feelings toward the book may be a little biased.  "Dead Ever After" was a nice attempt to wrap up a long-running series.  A bunch of old characters made cameo appearances, and the author tried to write a legit murder mystery.

Was it genius?  No.  Was it a nice, easy summer read?  Absolutely.

What Drove Me Nuts:  The plot was forced, the story line was predictable and the end didn't really resolve anything.  When a series ends, I want to know that it's over.  This ending left too many possibilities open.

Rating:  It was OK.  If you've read the rest of the series, check it out.  If you haven't, skip it.

Also Read By This Author:  Dead Until Dark, Living Dead in Dallas, Club Dead, Dead to the World, Dead as a Doornail, Definitely Dead, All Together Dead, From Dead to Worse, Dead and Gone, Dead in the Family, Dead Reckoning, Deadlocked.

Reviewed By:  Tami

Sunday, September 1, 2013

September 2013 Virtual Book Club Pick: "And the Mountains Echoed" by Khaled Hosseini

"I suspect the truth is that we are waiting, all of us, against insurmountable odds, for something extraordinary to happen to us."  -Khaled Hosseini

Summary:  "And the Mountains Echoed" begins with Abdullah and Pari, young siblings from a small Afghanistan village, travelling through the desert with their father on their way to visit their uncle in the city.  What happens when they arrive sets forth a spiral of events that will separate them from each other and set them on paths to very different lives.

Included in the book are vignettes that are very different from, yet somehow tie, back to Pari or Abdullah:  A plastic surgeon from Greece, two ex-pats from California, an Afghani warlord and more.  Each story is unique but themes are the same:  family.

"And the Mountains Echoed" tells a complex story of loss, love, healing and family in a way that resonated in my bones for days after.  If you've read the book (or plan to read it), I've got some questions I'd love to discuss.  If you're interested in answering (or have a question of your own) respond in the comments.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

"The Wave" by Walter Mosley

I (Nick) listen to public radio a lot and the woman who hosts the morning show is a bibliophile. She regularly interviews authors and makes non literary guests talk about books. One of her favorite authors (because of the Easy Rawlins series) is Walter Mosley. I've heard her interview Mosley and when I saw his name at the library I figured it would be a safe bet.

Summary: In this book we follow Errol Porter in his journey of despair. Before the book starts, his father dies, he loses his job, his wife moves out to be with another man and he rents out the garage of the home he once owned. To cope with his misery he finds comfort in the arms of women. Many women. As he sleeps in his makeshift studio apartment, his phone wakes him up in the middle of the night, over and over. Instead of reporting the prank caller, Errol takes it upon himself to find the obviously disturbed man and care for him. What he learns is that the man is infected with a strange bacteria that wield powerful and awesome abilities. The Department of Homeland Security quickly moves in to get a handle on the situation and are eager to violate civil rights. In this crazy adventure Errol learns secrets about his father, the government and the history of life on earth.

What We Liked: Nick liked the idea of the bacteria invasion and plan to use it in a role-playing game I am running.  Tami didn't like much about the book, other than the fact that some of plot choices were ludicrous to the point of laughter.

What We Didn't Like: Errol sleeps with a surprising number of women, which is hilarious because the main character comes across as totally unappealing.  And Mosley describes a surprising number of men naked without advancing the plot.  There were a lot of scenes where Mosley just tells you something happened or told you how the characters felt when he could have painted a mental picture. It made the book feel distant and poorly written.  As a reader I didn't feel any emotional connection to the characters, so I didn't really care when Errol was probed or probed someone himself.  (And that happened quite a bit.)

Rating: Not recommended. I might try his Easy Rawlins series, but I'm in no hurry.

Also Read By This Author: Nothing.  And it might just stay that way.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

"The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul" by Douglas Adams

I aquired this book at the same time I picked up Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency, which works out well because it is the sequel. 

Summary: This book starts with Kate Schechter witnessing a powerful explosion at the airport. Terrorist organizations take credit and utility boards apologize, but the official investigation turns up no explanation as to what caused it. There are no deaths, except possibly the check-in girl who leaves not a single trace. Unrelated, Dirk Gently is hired as a bodyguard for a successful record producer who fears for his life. When his fears manifest, Dirk searches for the killer. His non-linear investigation tactics lead him on a crazy adventure for the truth. His path crosses with Kate's and they enter into a hidden world of beings who are out of their place and out of their time. They are witnesses to a great and powerful conflict typically obscured from the view of mere mortals.

What I Liked: Douglas Adams is a funny author and can deliver dry humor in such a way that makes it feel serendipitous. He pokes fun at the government, religion and society in general.

What I Didn't Like: This book follows a very roundabout path and relies heavily on coincidences to move the plot forward. It felt more like a stand-up comedy routine than a novel.

Also Read By This Author: Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy (and sequels); Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency

Rating: If you like British comedy fiction you'll enjoy it, though it is not Adams' best work.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Virtual Book Club: September 2013

Have you ever thought about hosting a book club but didn't have the time or energy to host a meeting?  Have you ever wanted to join a book club but been hesitant to commit to a regular meeting?

We've got a solution for you!  A Great Book's Virtual Book Club!

On the first of each month we'll post this month's book club selection and some information on the book.  In the comments section, we'll post a few questions to start a discussion.  If you have something to say, simply click the reply link to respond.  If the book interests you, great!  Pick up a copy and answer the questions at your own speed.  We'll keep the post up indefinitely so you can see what others are saying.

Each month's book club post will be linked to the Virtual Book Club page at the top of the screen.  This will make it easy to find each book's questions and to see which books are up next.  If you're new to A Great Read, this will be a great resource to see what other's thought of a book!

The only rules for the club:  Be respectful.  It's fine to disagree, just be respectful when doing it.

That's it!  Stay tuned for the September book club pick and questions to be posted on September 1!

Thursday, August 15, 2013

"In The President's Secret Service" by Ronald Kessler

This audiobook was handpicked off the shelf of our local library. We selected it because it reminded Tami of the West Wing and Nick had vaguely remembered an interview with the author he'd maybe heard on the radio. We listened to it in the car together. 

Summary: This non-fiction book is a tabloid style peek into the lives of the Secret Service and their protectees. The author interviewed several active and former agents before writing the book and includes all kinds of stories from assassinations, escapes and investigations. It also goes into the history of the Secret Service and extensively explores the critiques put forward by former agents and their analysis of Service politics. Alan Sklar reads this edition and his voice has the deep authoritative sound which is perfect for this book.

What We Liked: The candid stories revealed how presidents act when the camera is not on them. It also talked about many of the exciting threats that the Service neutralized and never got in the news.

What We Didn't Like: The book is kind of a random assemblage of stories, strung together without good transitions. And the author shows his political bias in how strongly he critiques some presidents compared to others.

Rating: If you like non-fiction police stories (or TMZ), you'll like this book.

Also Read By This Author: Nothing yet!

Reviewed By: Tami and Nick

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

"The Secret Keeper" by Kate Morton with Book Club Questions!

Kate Morton is one of my favorite authors.  Her stories are cleverly written, have immensely likable characters and always have a surprise twist at the end.  Every time I see a new Kate Morton, I immediately move it to the top of my "must read" list.  She's never let me down!

Summary:  Sixteen year old Laurel is pouting in her family's tree house when she spots a strange man approaching her mother and baby brother.  In the next few moments, Laurel witnesses a terrible crime that will become a secret she holds for her entire life.  And that's just the prologue!

The Secret Keeper crafts two central timelines which alternate between the chapters in a riveting race to the finish: Dorothy, Vivien and Ben, whose paths collide in WWII during the Blitz and Laurel's modern day search for her mother's secret past.

What I liked:  I love the way Kate Morton crafts her stories.  The Secret Keeper touched upon subjects that pique my interest and combine them in a unique and interesting way:

  • Revenge, misunderstanding and tragic pasts
  • The unfolding of a love story in England during the Blitz of WWII
  • Memorable, complex and charming characters with defined personalities and motivations
  • A murder mystery where the back story and the modern day investigation race to the finish
  • Family dynamics shown in a funny yet realistic way

What drove me nuts:  I loved this book, so there wasn't much that hit my nut-o-meter.  There were times when some of the characters drove me a little nuts (hello Dorothy) but those layers added so much to the characters that in the long run, I was kind of glad for her and her ways.

Rating:  MUST READ

Also read by this author:  The House at Riverton, The Forgotten Garden, The Distant Hours.
{Note:  All of these books are worth a read!}

Reviewed by:  Tami

Bonus Book Club Questions:

Thursday, August 8, 2013

"Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency" by Douglas Adams

I received a copy of this book through a friend of a friend who was trying to sell it at a garage sale. I really enjoyed other books by Douglas Adams and so I figured I would enjoy this one too.

Summary: This story follows Richard MacDuff, a successful computer programmer working for the eccentric businessman Gordon Way. He is reunited with a former professor, Reg, who is shrouded in an aura of mystery. He also reunites with an old college friend, Dirk Gently, who has become a private investigator. Dirk is an astoundingly intelligent person, but does not conform to traditional logic paths. Instead, he sees each individual case as being entangled with the universe, leading to very peculiar detective work and problematic billing. The three find themselves on a crazy adventure to save the world.

What I Liked: Douglas Adams is very good about establishing early in the book a series of minor jokes which escalate, seemingly by coincidence, as the book progresses. Each time the joke reappears it seems like the final punchline, funnier than before. At the beginning of the book I thought it was slow, not really sure if it was worth continuing on, but by the end I was laughing out loud and having difficulty explaining the elaborate jokes to Tami. The final punchlines were so simple and delivered with Adams' dry sense of humor, if taken out of context they would appear dull. But cleverly placed in the book, each punchline was a solid hit.

What I Didn't Like: The book had a slow start. In Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy the book starts by putting the main character in mortal danger and the excitement continues from there. In this book, it takes a while for anything exciting to happen, and even longer for Richard to be pulled into it.

Rating: If you like comedy mixed with science fiction this is a must-read.

Also Read By This Author: Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy (and sequels)

Reviewed By: Nick

Monday, August 5, 2013

"Sisterland" By Curtis Sittenfeld

Summary:  Twin sisters Vi and Kate have "senses" that allow them to occasionally see the future---which childhood friend's father is cheating, which high school classmate is going to die young, even who they themselves will one day marry.

As they grow up through a strange childhood, tumultuous teen years and into adulthood, Vi embraces her extra sense while Kate wishes for nothing more than to be a normal stay at home mom of two.
When Vi predicts a major earthquake on national TV, Kate is forced to come face to face with everything she fears most; her own psychic ability, being tied to her eccentric twin sister and worse...that her sister's terrible prediction may come true.

What I liked:  This story was about so much more than ESP, although Kate's ability to sense the future played a major factor in developing her as the main character.  Sisterland is about the relationship between sisters that are so incredibly different yet achingly similar.  It's about growing up and dealing with life the best you can.  And it reminds us that no matter what life throws at us, it all comes back to family.

What drove me nuts:  The main character tried so hard to be normal that she ended up a little boring.  Until the very end....

Rating:  Definitely worth a read!

Also Read By This Author:  "American Wife"

Reviewed By:  Tami

The Great Books Uncovered

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