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.