Tuesday, December 30, 2014

"Festive in Death" by J. D. Robb

Just in time for Christmas!  I try to get on the library list for the J.D. Robb books as soon as Nora Roberts posts her publishing schedule for the upcoming year.  I was on the list for this book in early 2014....then had a baby.  My hold at the library came and went with me none the wiser.  So imagine my excitement when I was browsing for something to read and realized there was an In Death book I hadn't read...and that there was no wait!

Summary:  Lt. Eve Dallas is a murder cop in 2060 New York.  She stands for the victim and gives her investigations 1010% in order to find justice...even when the newly deceased turns out to be an asshole.  When Eve gets tagged on a homicide right before Christmas, she soon finds herself investigating the life and career of a personal trainer found with a bashed in head and long list of enemies.  In classic J.D. Robb style, Dallas must use her best assets--her wits and her colleagues--to solve the latest crime.

What I Liked:  One of the things I really like about the In Death series is how author J. D. Robb inserts humor into what is usually a grisly murder investigation.  There are usually a few genuine "laugh out loud" lines woven into the story, and "Festive in Death" didn't disappoint.  One of my favorite "in" jokes of the book had to do with boozy Santa Eve and her partner Peabody once shared and elevator with.  Upon running into him a second time:
“Well, stop it or . . . Crap, is that Drunk Santa currently mooning passing traffic?”“Wow, that’s some ugly ass he’s got there. It is Drunk Santa. Oh, please, do we have to stop? Think of the smell. Fear it.”“We can’t leave that ugly ass hanging out on Ninth Avenue.” Resigned, Eve started to pull over, then spotted two hustling beat cops. Pitying them, she kept going.“It’s a Christmas miracle,” Peabody said, reverently.”     -J.D. Robb, Festive in Death
If you read my review of "Thankless in Death" you'll know that I was disappointed that Eve's relationships with friends and family was mostly left out of the plot.  I believe that how Eve interacts with her husband makes her relateable, how she reacts to Peabody, McNab and Summerset makes her funny and how she communicated with her friends makes her human.  If you're like me, you'll be happy to know that Roarke and Peabody are central characters and that many of Eve's friends make an appearance, including Mavis, Reo, Nadine, Dr. Mira, Dr. Morris, Charles and Louise and even Dickhead himself.

What Drove Me Nuts:  I don't have any complaints.  I thought this was a solid story with the great dialogue and excellent character building I expect from the In Death brand.

Rating:  Read it!  It was a solid and fast read.

Other Reviews for this Author:  Concealed in Death, Thankless in Death

Reviewed By:  Tami

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

"When Christmas Comes" by Debbie Macomber

I picked this book up at my local library's seasonal section.  The book jacket mentioned that it was a Christmas romantic comedy, so I was game to give it a shot.  The I remembered.  Oh Debbie Macomber.  How I forget that your books are written for maiden aunts and sweet Grandmas until I'm at page 50.  And by then I feel committed and just can't quit.

Edited to add:  Rumor (aka Google) tells me that this book has been turned into a movie.  Lord help me, but I have an urge to watch it.

Summary:  When Emily's daughter Heather tells her she's not able to home for Christmas, Emily decides to bring Christmas to Heather.  Using an internet house-swap site, Emily trades homes with a stodgy Harvard professor who wants to avoid the distraction of Christmas all together.

As luck would have it, Emily arrives in Boston to find out that her only daughter has taken off on a motorcycle trip to Florida with her boyfriend and she'll be spending her favorite holiday alone after all.  When Charles Brewster arrives at Emily's home, he's shocked to find that the small town of Leavenworth isn't the small prison town he thought, but Santa's village come to life, complete with sleigh rides, carolers and Christmas lights galore.  Christmas is ruined for both Emily and Charles.

Or is it?  The magic of Christmas has a way of bringing the unexpected to even the most loneliest of Christmases.

What I Liked and What Drove Me Nuts:  I did not like nor dislike this book.  In fact, I feel almost nothing for it.  The plot was sweet and the author had some funny ideas.  In fact, I'd say that this book is perfect for sweet Grannies who like to bake, attend church and don't quite understand modern culture or kids these days.  The characters are all a bit proper and the plot is shiny and pure without a spot of mystery or smut in sight.  There were a few funny moments in the story that I appreciated: a situation with a goat, some sassy elves and adults sledding.  But that was it, and it wasn't enough for me.

Rating:  This book is one of those that tells the reader what happens instead of showing them, and for that I can't recommend it.  This book reminds me of something my Grandma would read.  She's in her eighties, if that gives you any insight.

Reviewed By:  Tami

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

"For the Emperor" By Sandy Mitchell

A friend of mine gave me the push I needed to start reading ebooks and said push involved a lot of Warhammer 40,000 books. Also, other friends have been trying to get me to read this series for a while now. 

Summary: This story follows an officer in the Imperial Guard of the Imperium of Mankind in the Warhammer 40k universe. There is a huge collection of books, movies, video games, role-playing games and table top wargames all based in this setting. Humanity is constantly at war with a variety of aliens and internal threats. The Imperial Guard is the largest force of soldiers that stand between the the subjects of Terra and certain doom. There is one particular office in each regiment called the Commissar. It is the duty of the Commissar to ensure the regiment is loyal to the Emperor and ready to serve Him. Commissars are authorized to summarily execute troops under their command, including other officers.

This story follows the exploits of Commissar Cain, a peculiar individual amongst his cadre. Cain is in many ways a psychopath, worrying only about himself with no regard for the well being of his friends and companions. He is constantly calculating the odds of his survival and makes decisions that will maximize it. Despite this selfishness, he is an exceptionally good officer who achieves great feats for humanity and takes good care of the soldiers under him. In fact, Cain is an interesting case-study exploring the idea that a morality can be built out of rationality. That one need not have good intentions in order to behave as a good person.

Anyway, "For the Emperor" starts when Cain is transferred to a new regiment that was formed out the ashes of the 296th and the 301st Valhallans. Both regiments had been severely reduced in their last major battle and many of the officers had been battlefield promotions. Cain comes in as the most experienced leader among them and helps them take the reigns of the rowdy group so that they may once again be a fit fighting force. They are sent to Gravalax where the aliens called the Tau have established a foothold through trading with the locals. The politics are delicate as a war has not started, but the Imperium fears this Tau incursion will lead to a takeover of the planet. Unfortunately, Gravalax is not an important world and few resources can be devoted to the task. Cain and the other leaders are forced to walk carefully in both their fights and their negotiations to resolve the situation.

What I Liked: This is my first ebook and I should note here that I very much enjoyed reading this way. I admit I am addicted to my phone and waste a lot of time on social media or playing with dumb apps. Reading an ebook means I can fulfill my phone addiction and my reading addiction simultaneously.

As for the story, I really liked the narrative style with Cain telling his stories as an unreliable narrator, but then having annotations added in by more reliable source.

What I Didn't Like: My ebook formats strangely, so the footnotes do not work quite the way I want them to.

Rating: Love it! I will definitely read the rest of the series.

Also Read by this Author: Scourge The Heritic, Innocence Proves Nothing.
A side note, Sandy Mitchell is a pseudonym for Alex Stewart.

Reviewed by: Nick

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

"Comfort and Joy" by Kristin Hannah

Tis the season to be jolly....or in my case, binge watch Hallmark movies by the light of the tree while sipping hot chocolate and reveling in fuzzy socks. To keep the holiday mood rolling I picked up "Comfort and Joy" at my local library after doing a quick search for Christmas in the online catalog. Did you know there are an obscene amount of books that take place during and around Christmas? I guess I'm not alone in my love for the season.

Summary:  This Christmas is anything but merry for high school librarian Joy, who's recent nasty divorce from her husband has left her shell shocked and depressed. Especially since she walked in on her husband while he was cheating on her. With her little sister. To add insult to injury, when Joy pulled into her driveway after work she sawher sister holding what could only be a wedding invitation. This last act of betrayal spurs Joy into doing something completely out of character. Joy heads for the airport looking to get away from her pain by going anywhere that has an open seat. Joy's purchase of a ticket on a charter plane to Hope, Canada feels like just thing to help her heal in peace. What happens next changes Joy's life forever.

What I Liked and What Drove Me Nuts:  I want to start off by saying that this book was incredibly cheesy. That being said, I enjoyed it more than I thought I would. "Comfort and Joy" was easy to fall into, easy to stay into and quite fast to read.  Kristin Hannah has a way of crafting characters that sucks the reader into the story. Point in case: Bobby. I've always had a soft spot for kids, and now that I'm a mom with the associated instincts and hormones, my heart went out to Bobby from his first appearance on the page. He was such a sad little boy who clearly needed something to help distract him from the loss of his mother and his estranged relationship with his dad. His developing relationship with Joy is just what both of them needed to start healing and was one of the best parts of the story.

I found myself feeling a spectrum of emotions as I tried to understand Joy. Joy is so sad and tired and love starved that I found myself feeling more sorry for her than relating to her. I couldn't--and didn't want to--put myself in her shoes. What I find masterful is that Joy wass clearly depressed and Kristin Hannah crafts Joy in such a way that the reader feels what someone in Joy's life would feel: empathy, frustration and a little bewilderment. Towards the middle/end of the story Joy eventually finds herself and with that the courage to go after what she needs which gave "Comfort and Joy" the feeling of hope and magic all Christmas stories need.

I was also drawn to the resort on the lake. For as long as I can remember I've been fascinated with the idea of running a B&B (which is ridiculous as I can barely cook and dislike body fluids.) The little run down resort in the Pacific Northwest sounded absolutely lovely and like the perfect place to recharge and heal.

There were two moments in the story that were "HOLY COW" moments for me. I can't say more without ruining the surprises for others that may want to read this book, but I will say that I didn't expect either of the moments. This is some feat as I pride myself on my ability to predict what's going to happen next in holiday movies/books. In fact, I might even read the book again to see if I can spot the signs of the second big surprise before the reveal.

Rating:  This is worth a read, but only if you secretly like Hallmark movies.

Also Read by this Author:  Firefly Lane, Winter Garden

Reviewed By: Tami

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

"Blood Magick" by Nora Roberts

Summary:  Branna O'Dwyer and Finbar Burke consummated their young love one magical night when they were teenagers.  What should have been the start of a lifetime together instead tore them apart as a mark developed on Fin that same night---a mark that branded Finn a descendant of the ancient enemy of the O'Dwyers, the evil sorcerer Cabhan.

Now that the final fight between the current Three and Cabhan looms near, Branna must learn to not only accept Finn's help in the battle against Cabhan, but to decide once and for all if she'll let the curse laid by Sorcha dictate her life and relationship with Finn.

What I Liked:  My favorite part of a NR trilogy is her attention to family dynamics and how the interactions between brothers, friends, or in this case, cousins, flavors the individual characters and the essence of the plot.  In “Blood Magick”, main character Branna is independent with a bit of a stubborn streak.  Branna feels the burden of her heritage more heavily than her brother Connor or cousin Iona.  That feeling combined with her preference to do things her own way and her refusal to accept the help of others is one of the main obstacles she must face in the cousin’s fight with Cabhan.

I also found myself drawn to the slices of every day life NR wove throughout the main story.  While the main focus of Blood Magick is the looming magical battle with Cabhan, I found the every day scenes of family holidays, a New Years party and the in and out of Branna's life at the shop just as - if not more - fascinating than the magical parts.

What I Didn't Like:  This is first and foremost a romance novel and I felt that the overall romance between Branna and Finn was a bit lackluster.  Branna and Finn's story was all about overcoming forbidden love, but instead of the heart wrenching sadness of a couple torn apart or the soul numbing sadness of true love denied, the romance just felt...tired.  Almost like Branna and Finn were too tired to fight for their love any longer.

I also couldn't get into the rhymey rhymey spell casting.  But perhaps spending my formative years reading Harry Potter has left me a bit skeptical of spell casting.

Rating:  This was not my favorite Nora Roberts book nor my favorite Nora Roberts trilogy.  That being said, fans of Nora Roberts trilogies (especially those that liked the Key trilogy, Sign of Seven, and Circle trilogies.)

Also Read By:  I've read almost all of Robert's catalog, which you can find at her website.  You can check my other reviews on Robert's books by searching for Nora Roberts in the quick search on the right hand side of the page, or by clicking individual links here:  Shadow Spell   |   Dark Witch   |   Thankless in Death   |   Concealed in Death  |  The Collector

Reviewed By:  Tami

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

"Packing for Mars" by Mary Roach

I selected this book as it looked like an interesting book on space travel and the possibility of sending humans to Mars.

Summary:  This book is an exploration of all the questions you wanted to ask regarding space travel, but couldn't seem to find a NASA article on the subject. Mary interviews several people connected to the Japanese, American and Russian space programs in order to learn more about the effects of zero gravity, astronaut selection and the engineering of spaceships. Most of the book is historical, in that it uses information from the Gemini, Apollo missions and related research from that time period. 

Roach covers a variety of topics including space food, space toilets, space sex, space clothes, space bathing and much more. She also explores rumors of space scandals that NASA has tried to downplay. This is a book written by someone genuinely excited about space travel, but bored with the press releases and official statements. Roach wants to know all the dirty details about life in a spacecraft and shares her findings in this book.

What I Liked: This book is full of side comments in the footnotes. Roach can't help but add little tidbits here and there, like this excerpt from a discussion on drinking while in a spacesuit: "Consumed intravenously, Tang causes joint pain and jaundice, though fewer cavities."

What I Didn't Like: This book did not really look at the possibility of going to Mars. It should have been titled "Packing for the Moon (or ISS)". I had thought it would look into the science of a Mars colony.

Rating: Highly recommended, but for mature readers only as it includes topics that are generally considered inappropriate for children.

Also Read by this Author: None.

Reviewed by: Nick

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

"To Say Nothing Of The Dog" by Connie Willis

This book was lent to me by my aunt-in-law who thought that I might like it.

Summary: This book follows the adventure of Ned Henry, a historian from the year 2057. With the discovery of time travel in the early 21st century, the profession of historian became a lot more interactive. Ned works for Lady Shrapnell, a ridiculously wealthy woman who has devoted enormous amounts of money and resources to rebuild the Coventry Cathedral, which was destroyed in 1940 by the Luftwaffe. Lady Shrapnell insists on recreating every detail exactly as it was right before the air raid, including the Bishop's Bird Stump, an artifact adored by her great- great- (not sure how many) grandmother, Tossie.

Ned is sent a lot of missions, quickly becoming disoriented from time lag. He is finally sent on a simple quiet mission to 1888 where he will be able to rest for 2 weeks and come back refreshed. Unfortunately, everything starts unraveling. One thing after another gets worse and worse, and with the help fellow historian Verity, they try to get everything sorted out before the space-time continuum collapses!

This book is heavily inspired by the Book "Three Men in a Boat" Jerome Jerome and by several old detective series like Lord Peter and Harriet, Sherlock Holmes, and Agatha Christie. There is also a lot of Victorian era poetry, mainly Tennyson.

What I Liked: This is an irreverent book in which Ned is constantly thinking something sarcastic, or hilariously cynical. The humor is multi-level and has well executed running jokes throughout the novel. Ned also spends a lot of time considering how the space-time continuum is kept stable with so many historians bouncing around. The laws of time travel physics are explored and discussed in a way that I found exciting. Also, the cast of characters is wonderfully eccentric, each uniquely interesting and fitting for their role.

What I Didn't Like: I wish I had read more old Victorian murder mysteries.

Rating: Must Read.

Also Read by this Author: None.

Reviewed by: Nick

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

"Endurance: Shakleton's Incredible Voyage" by Alfred Lansing

I selected this audiobook because I was not familiar with the details of Shackleton's expedition. I knew he was an antarctic explorer of some kind, but that was all.

Summary: This is the story of the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition headed by Sir Ernest Shackleton. Lansing has interviewed crew members and read their diaries to piece together the story from start to finish. The story is told in dramatic fashion to match the drama of the journey. It is as though at every turn nature is trying to wipe these 28 men off the bottom of the map and it is only by hard work and a dribble of luck that they make it back to civilization.

As the story is now 100 years old, I can't be accused of spoiling it, so here's the basic plot. Shackleton is looking to be one of the great First's on the icy continent. Someone was already the first to reach the pole, and so he is planning to be the first to trek across the whole landmass. They are to go to the pole and then leave the continent on the other side. A separate expedition is organized to stash supplies on their exit route from the pole so that they need only bring half the gear with them. They take the ship the Endurance into the antarctic ocean and are trapped in ice. They eventually abandon ship and make camp. Shackleton and a small team then takes a lifeboat back across the ocean in search of help. This book follows the hardships and accomplishments of the men who stayed behind and the men who risked everything to save them.

What I Liked: This story has all the terror and excitement found in a sci-fi or fantasy book, and with the added bonus of being true! It is told in a very clear and direct manner so that you feel like the adventure is unfolding before you. Each chapter I was imagining myself alongside the men and wondering what I would do in their shoes. I got excited when they had good luck and became worried when things grew worse. Lansing is great at making the scene real.

What I Didn't Like: N/A.

Rating: Must Read.

Also Read by this Author: None.

Reviewed by: Nick

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

"The Witch With No Name" by Kim Harrison

Image via Goodreads
I started reading the Hollows Series by Kim Harrison when it was new and before the big vampire craze of the mid 2000s.  Man, typing that out sounds so pretentious..."I liked it before it was popular."  But I did.  I found the first book, "Dead Witch Walking" through an Amazon suggestion and picked it up with a Barnes and Noble coupon back when I had unlimited income to buy books.  10 years and 13 books later it's still one of the few series I can't wait to read and shell out the moolah to get my hands on it the day it comes out.  I'm sad to say "The Witch With No Name" is the last book in the series.

These reviews are really hard to write without giving away the ending, and this book in particular has a trickle down effect where the majority of the surprise is in what happens next.  So, I'm being vague on purpose, and I apologize.  If you're curious on what I thought about a particular part, ask in the comments and I'll be happy to add my two cents.  I just don't want to ruin the surprise for anyone.

Summary:  What Rachel Morgan has dreaded from the start has come to pass, and much sooner than she anticipated.  A routine run with her roommates Ivy and Jenks goes horribly wrong when Ivy is hit by car and is left to die her first death in the middle of a public street.  What initially seems to be a horrible accident turns into something unthinkable: Ivy was targeted by Master Vampire and Cincinnati overlord Rynn Cormell to get Rachel's attention.  Rynn wants Rachel to find a way to make good on her promise to find a way to save vampire's souls.  And he's done waiting.

Under a tight deadline with Ivy's very soul at stake, Rachel must call upon her abilities as a witch and day walking demon to do what has never been done before.

What I Liked:  It's bittersweet to come to the end of a series you thoroughly enjoy, but its also nice when the author goes out with a bang, and this is what I feel Harrison did.

The book starts out like old times - Rachel, Ivy and Jenks on a run that somehow goes from routine to life-or-death in an instant.  Rachel is faced with a seemingly impossible task and is forced to rely on her friends, family and her own guts to solve the problem and save the world.  It's a formula that doesn't get old as Harrison cleverly introduces the challenges in fresh ways and relies on charismatic and hilarious secondary characters to move the plot along.

What differentiates this book from the others and what I think makes this particular installment so good is the fact that Rachel as a character has truly grown through the series.  And now the reader can see it.  "Dead Witch Walking" Rachel could not have survived this book emotionally or magically; she would have imploded in the first few chapters.  It was very satisfying to see Rachel handle herself in a way that was adult (mostly) and self actualized (mostly).

I also liked the way the plot rolled along from one action scene to the next.  The story was fast paced and Rachel's biggest challenge to date.

What I Didn't Like:  The story felt like it took too long to tell, but as it's the last in the series, I'll give this a pass.  From time to time I felt like the emotions in the book were a little over done, but again, I feel like the author was writing as if this was her last change to get it all out, so I'll give this another pass.  I also would have liked to see a lot less of the Goddess and a lot more of the Demons.  But that's probably just me.

Rating:  Fans of other books in the series won't be disappointed in Rachel's farewell tale.

Also Read by This Author:  I've read them all.  New readers should start with "Dead Witch Walking"

Reviewed By:  Tami

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

"Hitch-22" By Christopher Hitchens

I selected this audiobook because I have watched Christopher Hitchens debate many people on television and youtube, but had not read any of his books. 

Summary: This is a memoir in which Hitchens reflects on all the stages of his life and the people and places that played a major role. Interestingly, this is mainly focused on his professional and political life, avoiding much of the personal. He describes his relation with his parents, who he oddly refers to as Commander Hitchens and Yvonne. He talks about growing up as a student at a British boarding school and becoming politically awakened. As a young adult he quickly becomes very active in the worldwide socialist movement and visits many countries as part of solidarity actions, including working on a farm in Cuba. He also got an early start at his lifelong profession of writing. Hitchens wrote articles for his entire adult life and was able to participate in the grand discussions that surround major political events and catastrophes. He argued strongly with people on the right and on the left, trying to push forward his own idealist views of a better world.

He was uniquely positioned as an established liberal who supported the war in Iraq. He made several trips to the country and was convinced that Saddam Hussein had to be taken down, which put him at odds with the anti-war movement that surrounded him. He also became famous as one of the Four Horsemen of the Non-Apocalypse for speaking strongly against religion. He was active in many causes throughout his life and he discusses them with a precision that convinces me he kept a detailed diary.

What I Liked: I learned a lot about Hitchens' life before youtube and how he established himself in the political and journalistic spheres as someone worth listening to. It gives me a lot of context in understanding his positions in various debates and made me think about my own positions.

What I Didn't Like: Hitchens was married at least once, and had at least one kid, but beyond that I know almost nothing about his personal life after reading this book. It makes him feel incomplete.

Rating: Not for the average reader. Great for political science majors or fans of Hitchens.

Also Read by this Author: None.

Reviewed by: Nick

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

"The Last Boyfriend" by Nora Roberts

Part two of the Inn Boonsboro trilogy brings the Montgomery brothers to the punch out phase of construction, a step closer to solving the mystery of Lizzie and the undeniable connection between Owen Montgomery and long time family friend Avery McTavish.

Image via Amazon.com
Summary:  Avery McTavish has loved Owen Montgomery since she was a little girl.  She even declared him her first boyfriend before her age hit double digits.  As most young crushes do, her infatuation faded into the background as she worked her way through college and the opening of her own restaurant, Vesta, on the town square.  However, now that Avery sees Owen every day as he works on the Inn, her feelings are starting to rekindle, and she's not sure how to take the next step...or if she even should.  Centered around the final phases of construction on the Inn, "The Last Boyfriend" matches super organized and controlled Owen with the spontaneous and fun loving Avery.

What I Liked:  I really liked this story and have to admit its my favorite of the series.  Something about one of the title characters being spreadsheet obsessed really gave me something to relate to.  Who wouldn't love a gentle giant with an obsessive need to make lists and ensure everything is as prepared as can be?

As the reader, I can definitely tell that Nora Roberts feels that the soul of the series resides within the Montgomery brothers, as one of the predominant themes is the connection between family, those of blood and those we choose.  And I like that.  I often wish I saw more of my own siblings so I really enjoy reading about brothers that are obviously best friends well into their thirties.  Maybe its because I'm a new mom to a baby boy, but the obvious love the and closeness of the Montgomery family really hit a tender chord in me.

I also rather liked Avery, although I'm usually annoyed by Robert's "bouncy, spontaneous" female leads.  While Avery was prone to dancing in place (yuck) and over-enthusiasm (blech), Avery's personality had a solid core based in hard work and determination that came through loud and clear, which gave her more substance than I expected.

Overall I thought the story hit all the right notes for a romance:  the main focus of Owen and Avery's evolving relationship was interwoven with between fascinating and heartfelt side stories that touched on Clare and Beckett, the expanded Montgomery family and Lizzie's history with the Inn.

What Drove Me Nuts:  I still think the ghost story is totally unnecessary.

Rating:  By far my favorite of a series I thoroughly enjoyed.

Also Read By This Author:  I've read almost all of Nora's books, and a full book list can be found on her website.  I've reviewed:  The CollectorShadow SpellDark WitchThankless in DeathConcealed in Death, The Next Always

Reviewed By:  Tami

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

"Shadows in Flight" By Orson Scott Card

I selected this audiobook because I have already read eight books in this universe and really love the main character, Bean. 

Summary: This is this fifth book in the Ender's Shadow series and takes place about 400 years after the events in the first four books. Bean is flying through space with three of his children at near light speed, so that they will age slower than their friends and relatives back on Earth. Without this intervention, they would surely die in their twenties as everyone else grew old. They spend much of their energy researching their peculiar and rare genetic disease which makes their minds and bodies grow at the a constant pace. Their brains are perpetually learning like an infant, becoming geniuses at toddler age, but the constant growth means they will not stop in adulthood. Bean, in his twenties, is at the edge of death as his heart struggles to supply blood to is enormous body, even at 1/10th Earth's gravity. These four adventurers discover an ancient Formic ship and explore it to learn all kinds of new things about their one-time enemy. This story spends a lot of time exploring the inner thoughts and vocal debates between the four travelers.

What I Liked: This book takes the time to answer some of the lingering questions from the other eight books and develops more background on the Formics. Card really did make an interesting and exciting world which is a treat to read about.

What I Didn't Like: This is a low tension book, compared to the earlier Ender's Shadow series, and it felt shorter (and apparently is shorter). On a different note, I should say that Orson Scott Card has expressed many political views that I personally find distasteful and disrespectful, and makes me hesitant to give him money.

Rating: I recommend the whole series from Ender's Game to this book, though this is not the most exciting of the series.

Also Read by this Author: Ender's Game, Speaker for the Dead, Xenocide, Children of the Mind, Ender's Shadow, Shadow of the Hegemon, Shadow Puppets, Shadow of the Giant, The Memory of Earth, The Call of Earth, The Ships of Earth, Earthfall.

Reviewed by: Nick

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

"The Next Always" by Nora Roberts

"The Next Always" is the first installment of Nora Robert's Inn Boonsboro series.  The three book tale takes place in the charming town square of Boonsboro, Maryland.  What really appeals to me about this series is that Inn Boonsboro actually exists in real life as it does in the book series...in fact it is now on my bucket list of things to do before I'm confined to a rascal.

Summary:  Beckett Montgomery and his brothers are working on a building rehab that hits close to home.  In fact they're renovating the Inn on the local town square that captured their mother's heart.  While Beckett's specialty is architecture, he's not afraid to lose his suit and get his (big manly) hands dirty on the job.  Beckett gets satisfaction from bringing new life to the building, working with his brothers, and from the occasional run ins with single mom and town bookseller Clare Brewster...the same Clare he's been pining for since high school.

"The Next Always" introduces readers to the sassy and sexy Montgomery brothers, to sweet and strong Clare and her determined and lovely closest friends and to the showpiece of Boonsboro - the Inn on the Square.  Beckett and Clare connect and spark romance amid the hope of renovation, the mystery of a local ghost and the love and chaos only a close family can truly bring.

What I Liked: 

  • I enjoyed the characters in "The Next Always".  I felt like the great Ms. Roberts spent a good amount of time fleshing out the characters and giving them solid background stories that made their reactions in the book believable.
  • Both Beckett and Clare are solid and likable in way that makes the reader root for them.
  • I'm a sucker for all things HGTV so the story's strong focus on the renovation of the building really appealed to me.  I find renovations absolutely fascinating and enjoyed reading about finishes and punch out lists.
  • I also liked reading about Clare's bookstore.  I would love to work in that bookstore.
  • The unfolding of the love story between Beckett and Clare was sweet.  While it followed the traditional romance pattern (man meets woman, they fall in lust, they secretly love, they fight, breakup, reconcile, happy every after) the story its self was interesting enough that it felt genuine and plausible.
What Drove Me Nuts:
  • I'm so over ghosts in romance stories.  This aspect of the story line was totally unnecessary.  (Of course, if you like ghosts, this might be for you!)
  • The stalker.  Oh the stalker.
What Might Drive You Nuts:  I read some online reviews, and think some of them bring up some good points.  These things didn't bother me, but may bother you...
  • Inn Boonsboro, Vesta Pizzaria and the town bookstore exist, and they are owned by Nora Roberts.  This book and the rest of the series could be construed as a giant advertisement for her establishments.
  • Several reviews mentioned that this book is a rehash of the MacKade brothers series.  I haven't read that series (but totally will now), but since the MacKade stories were published mid-90s I feel like there might be enough differences to make it worth your while.
  • The characters and story line follows the same pattern that all Nora Roberts series follow.  If you're looking for something fresh and new....well....
Rating:  I really enjoyed it!  Even though the characters and plots of all Nora's books follow similar patterns, her setting descriptions keep me coming back for more.

Also Read By This Author:  I've read almost all of them, and a full book list can be found on Nora Robert's website.  I've reviewed:  The Collector, Shadow Spell, Dark Witch, Thankless in Death, Concealed in Death

Reviewed By:  Tami

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

"American Chronicles World War I" by National Public Radio

I selected this audiobook because I am a regular listener of NPR and generally curious about World War I (partly because of watching Downton Abbey and partly because of an amazing history teacher in high school who made the class play a complicated homemade game which demonstrated quite effectively how the Great War began. 

Summary: This is an audio collection put together by the NPR staff. As far as I can tell, this is only available as an audiobook, which kind of makes me feel like it's not a "real" book, but whatever.

This collection is made up of a series of interviews with journalists, historians, authors and WWI veterans, each talking about some aspect of the war, or its legacy. They cover a wide range of topics including the Battle of the Somme, outbreaks of peace, airplanes, the sinking of the Lusitania and the Bonus Army in Washington, DC. The interviewers are all regular journalists or hosts found on NPR shows, which made me sometimes forget if I was listening to the radio or a CD.

WWI is such a strange war because it is a clash of the old and the new. The soldiers seem to be from an older age, but their weapons are entirely modern. When I think about it, I imagine Civil War soldiers with machine guns and 1400 pound artillery shells. Whole cities were wiped off the map and tens of thousands killed in astonishingly short battles. And this mass combat has left its mark on the world today.

As a side note, I want to say this book inspired me to watch the 1916 propaganda film The Battle Of The Somme which includes over an hour of genuine footage from the battle, mostly from the artillery units. I gave me a haunting feeling to stare into the faces of young men who lived (and many died) nearly 100 years ago. 

What I Liked: I learned a lot from this audiobook and felt that the interview method was a very effective way to present this information.

What I Didn't Like: They did not make much of an effort give a comprehensive timeline or overview of the war. They highlighted interesting parts of it, but assumed the listener would be able to look up whatever additional information they wanted.

Rating: This is a perfect example of why I love NPR. I am going to check out their other American Chronicles collections.

Also Read by this Author: None.

Reviewed by: Nick

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

"The Wordy Shipmates" by Sarah Vowell

We picked this audiobook based on the fact that I like authors who contribute to public radio programs and Tami has a copy of this book in softcover, but has not gotten around to reading it.  

Summary: This book is a non-fiction account of the colonies in and around the land that became Massachusetts. Sarah Vowell spent years reading primary sources from the era and visiting sites important to the history. The source she explicitly refers to the most is the personal diary of John Winthrop, who played a central role in the founding and managing of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Vowell discusses the lives of the colonists before they ever left England, and what it was like to sail across the Atlantic. She quotes often from the men and women, directly from their written words. She discusses the early years of the colony, including the life of the Charter, the religious disagreements and the banishments doled out for those who were deemed a danger to the colony. The native Americans also play a big role in this book, for their continuous relations with the Europeans. At times they were allies and at times they were at war. Vowell explores the reasons for both, with a personal interest since she can trace her descendants to both sides of the ocean, pre-Columbus.

What I Liked: Vowell let a lot of the historical figures speak in their own words a lot, using a lot of direct quotes from letters, diaries and texts written at the time. I learned a lot about the colony, as I never really studied this particular group in school and felt no compulsion to investigate before this book.

What I Didn't Like: This audiobook has multiple voice actors, including Vowell herself. Each character has a unique actor for when they are quoted. It was fine when they recited a paragraph or more, but Vowell often would quote a single word of phrase and it was really disorienting to hear two voices interrupt each other while working to finish a sentence. I wish that they had handled it differently. Of course, you wont notice that if read the book.

I also found the material was presented in a form that reminded me of a history lecture. Tami did not finish the book, and I doubt I would have been able to finish without the audiobook setting the pace for me.

Rating: Skip it, unless you are a fan of Sarah Vowell.

Also Read by this Author: None.

Reviewed by: Nick

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

"Cauldron of Ghosts" by David Weber and Eric Flint

We I have been reading the Honor Harrington series for years now, always anticipating the next book. I have already reviewed one book and gave a summary of the series then.  

Summary: This book is part of the Honorverse, but does not follow Honor Harrington herself. Instead, it follows Victor Cachat (of the star nation of Haven) and Anton Zilwicki (of the star empire of Manticore) as they carry out a huge mission against the Mesan Alignment. In this spin-off Honorverse series, Victor and Anton have been working together professionally for many years, despite being from different nations. They are united in the common cause of ending genetic slavery, a crime committed most extensively by the corporate rulers of the planet Mesa. In previous books, these special agents uncovered a centuries-old plot being carried out by a secret organization called the Alignment. Deciding that time was critical, Victor and Anton pull together an elite team of agents to bring to the planet Mesa and gather more intelligence regarding the Alignment's future plans. To carry out their mission, Victor uses the criminal networks that arose out of the seccy population, a class of disenfranchised descendants of freed slaves. Things move quickly as everyone tries to get ahead of everyone else.

What I Liked: This is classic Honorverse material. Everything is high stakes, intergalactic combat. I love the Victor/Anton story arch because it is heavy on spy games and politics. They are a pair of master spies, always at the top of their game and it is fun to see that in action.

What I Didn't Like: So, there are two things to keep in mind regarding this book and a few others in the series.

Firstly, there are multiple authors. Weber is the primary author and plays a hand in all the stories. He gets credit on all the books and it is his brain-child. Flint is the secondary author and is the custodian of Victor Cachat. Flint clearly writes a lot of the book when Victor is involved and Weber takes a backseat. I love Weber's writing style, but I am not as big a fan of Flint. He loves to hurry things along, while Weber is content to let the plot unfold gracefully. In this book, a lot happens and it happens very quickly. I let it slide because I love the series, but it makes it hard to suspend disbelief.

Secondly, I am the kind of reader who goes slow and sees each word. I know, I should learn to speed-read or something, but I like the way I read and I notice things most people miss. Having said this, I have noticed that early Honorverse books had few typos. The publishers clearly spent the time proofreading the books before printing and cleared up the mistakes. At some point, I suspect they stopped proofing. The typos increased in frequency and impact. For example, this book has a scene repeat, and the two versions cannot be reconciled on multiple points. It suggests no one proofed the final draft and that bothers me.

Rating: This is not the best book in the series, but I highly recommend the whole series, including this volume.

Also Read by this Author: 
Main Honor Harrington series: On Basilisk Station, The Honor of the Queen, The Short Victorious War, Field of Dishonor, Flag in Exile, Honor Among Enemies, In Enemy Hands, Echoes of Honor, Ashes of Victory, War of Honor, At All Costs, Mission of Honor, A Rising Thunder, Shadow of Freedom
Crown of Slaves series: Crown of Slaves, Torch of Freedom
Saganami Island series: The Shadow of Saganami, Storm from the Shadows
Star Kingdom series: A Beautiful Friendship
Anthologies: More Than Honor, Worlds of Honor, Changer of Worlds, The Service of the Sword, In Fire Forged, Beginnings

Reviewed by: Nick

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

"The Collector" by Nora Roberts

Did you know that I'm a sucker for a good romance novel?  It's true, they've been my [not so] guilty pleasure since middle school.  Whenever I want something that isn't too deep and will be sure to have a happy ending, I check out the latest in the romance section at my local library.  And while my tastes have changed from medieval bodice rippers to more contemporary fiction, I'll always have a soft spot for a good old love story.

Summary:  Lila Emerson has a fascinating life.  By day Lila supports herself via house sitting for the ultra rich and writing supernatural teen fiction.  By night she pulls out her binoculars and takes a peek or two into the fascinating world of New York's elite apartment buildings.  She isn't spying, so much as letting her imagination run a little wild as she makes up stories about each apartment's occupants.  One night as Lila is peeping from window to window she see's a passionate fight in one of her regular windows that soon turns deadly.  In shock, Lila calls the police to report what she saw.  The next day she meets the handsome, rich, overbearing Ashton Archer and finds herself sucked into the mysterious world of high art, love and murder.

What I Liked:

  • One of the things I find that Nora Roberts does so well is to make the world in which her characters live believable and sympathetic.  "The Collector" is about very rich people doing very bad things with a little love and who-done-it thrown in the mix.  Normally I would roll my eyes after the first few chapters, but the characters ended up so likable that I kept with the story even though I personally have a hard time relating (or aspiring) to the filthy rich.
  • "The Collector" felt like a hybrid between Robert's "In Death" series and her usual stand alone romances.  The plot held gruesome murder in which no one was safe, truly evil bad guys and an interesting mystery.  It also stuck to Robert's usual formula for romance:  woman meets man, instant attraction, beginning of a new relationship, big fight, dramatic scene, happy ever after.  It's that last bit I like the best.  There's enough sad in the world that sometimes you just want happy at the end.
What Drove Me Nuts:
  • It took me a lot longer to get into this book than it does a usual Roberts romance.  I had a hard time relating to the characters (super rich and sexy with ultra unique jobs) and didn't feel like Roberts gave them quiet enough depth to be totally believable.  I'm not sure if this is because my life has changed so much in the last year or so that I no longer relate to the single and looking or if I'm just falling out of another romance phase.
  • Parent issues.  We all have them, but it seems like one out of every three of Robert's heroines has parent issues.  I'm ready for someone well adjusted and normal.  Thanks in advance. ;-)
  • I recently finished Robert's "The Art of Deception", one of her first forays into writing and found the heroes a little too similar.
Rating:  I hate to say it, but skip this one.  Robert's has written much more engaging stand alone romances, and if you're looking for one, I suggest you try Whiskey Beach.  You'll get murder and art, but also much more engaging characters.

Also Read By This Author:  I've read almost all of Robert's catalog, which you can find at her website.  You can check my other reviews on Robert's books by searching for Nora Roberts in the quick search on the right hand side of the page, or by clicking individual links here:  Shadow Spell   |   Dark Witch   |   Thankless in Death   |   Concealed in Death

Reviewed By:  Tami

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

"The Ocean at the End of the Lane" by Neil Gaiman

This book was chosen based of a recommendation from a friend that is as much (if not more) of an avid reader as I am.  I got this book from the library and started reading it without knowing a single thing about it.
Image via Wikipedia

Summary:  A young boy (and now that I think about it....he is nameless) and his father find their stolen car at the bottom of a hill a mile from their house.  Sprawled across the backseat is the body of their boarder, dead from asphyxiation.  This gruesome discovery triggers an extraordinary chain events commencing with the appearance of Lettie Hempstock and ending with a terrible evil that must be banished.

What I Liked:  I'm finding it hard to put this story and my feelings toward it into words.  It's almost like it was more of an experience that a story, and one that I think is probably very personal to each reader.  So lets start with the basics:  "The Ocean at the End of the Lane" was quickly paced, extremely well written and had a rich plot that was both beautiful, enchanting and at times terrifying.

The story was told from the point of view of a 7-year-old boy, and while the main character's reactions were appropriate for a young boy, I found that the author used language that put me in the place of the main character and solicited adult reactions.  The story completely sucked me in and I found myself reacting to situations instinctively as the narrator experienced them

I also enjoyed that outside of the narrator all the main characters were women.  And these aren't run of the mill women...they were powerful, strong and moved the plot along.

What Drove Me Nuts:  There were moments in this book that made me uncomfortable, and I'm not a fan of being uncomfortable.  While I understand and appreciate a great books' ability to take the reader through multiple emotions, I was really disturbed by the bathroom incident towards the middle of the book.  I was further disturbed when the narrator accuses the antagonist of forcing his father to do something, and the antagonist replied "I don't force anyone to do anything."  It was mentioned multiple times that the antagonist was trying to give people what they want, so that response haunted me a bit.  Could a parent really want that for their child?  There were also several moments where I felt something like fear...but I'm a chicken so the average reader might not notice.

Rating:  To be honest, I'm still working through how I feel about this book.  I enjoyed it, but parts of it were unsettling enough that I don't know if I'll read it again.  Could be hormones.  Could just be my reaction.  I do, however, think you should check this book out.

Also Ready by this Author:  Nothing, but I'm curious to read more.

Reviewed By:  Tami

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

"Don't Know Much About Geography" by Kenneth C Davis

We picked up this audiobook from the library because we both find geography interesting and and thought it might be fun.

Summary: This is a question and answer format text that goes over a wide variety of geography questions. It is broken up into sections called lessons and feels very much like something a substitute teacher might use when the geography teacher was out sick and didn't leave any instructions.

A variety of questions are asked, one at a time. Some are really bizarre and others are open-ended. The author then answers each question to the best of their ability, including historical references. There is no plot to this book, but instead is an FAQ. The level of questions are around high school, which for many of them meant I knew the answer already and for others it meant I had a vague memory of learning about the topic, but let the knowledge fade over the years.

What I Liked: Some of the information was very interesting. And the author had a subtle political bias that matches my own.

What I Didn't Like: I would have preferred something with a story arch, not just a series of questions. I have read very informational books with compelling narratives holding everything together and had hoped for that with this book.

Rating: Might be interesting for k-12 students, but then again, we have the internet now.

Also Read by this Author: None.

Reviewed by: Nick

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

"The Second Summoning" by Tanya Huff

When I finished the first book in Tanya Huff's "Keeper" series the end of June, I immediately begged, bribed and tricked my Aunt into lending me the second book in the series.  My awesome powers of persuasion, and the promise that she'd get it back four years quicker than the first book, convinced her to deliver the goods into my hot (pregnant, swollen, crabby) hands.

Summary:  What happens when a Keeper finds herself falling in love with a normal man?  If that Keeper is Claire Hansen, she pushes that normal man as far away from her as she can so she doesn't have to admit the truth.  What happens when that Keeper's trouble-making younger sister and back talking cat convince her to admit her feelings to herself?  Angels fall from the heavens and demons rise from the bowels of the earth.

A life changing interaction between Claire and Dean turns into a battle between good and evil as an angel and demon find themselves walking on the Earth and learning how to deal with their corporeal bodies for the first time.

What I Liked:  This book is hilarious, in an unconventional, quirky, possibly Canadian way.  While Claire, Austin the cat, Dean and Diana have their moments of glory, the story's focus on Samuel and Byleth is what truly makes this book shine.  The hilarity of an angel and a demon learning to deal with hormones and normal body parts as they make their way in the world had me literally laughing out loud.  Add in the nods (and occasional slams) to late 90s pop culture and you have a recipe for awesomeness.

What Drove Me Nuts:  While clever and full of wit, I felt like there could have been a bit more action to the plot.  The evil wasn't very evil (just hormonal) and the good was sort of doofy.  Actually upon further reflection, that's actual genius by the author.  Well done Ms. Huff.  WELL DONE.

Rating:  If you liked "Summon the Keeper", mocking late 90's trends, Canada or talking cats, check this next installment out!

Also Read by This Author: Summon The Keeper

Reviewed By:  Tami

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

"Skin Game" by Jim Butcher

I have been reading the Dresden Files series for several years now and started because many of my friends introduced me to the first book. I have recently gotten Tami to read the first book, and you can check out her review here.

Summary: Since this is book #16, let me first give a summary of the series. This is the first person testimony of  Harry Dresden, a wizard who lives in modern day Chicago. He begins his career as a freelance private investigator, who openly advertises his magical ability and uses it to solve mysteries. He has some key friends that help him out when things get complicated, each with their own unique abilities, magical and mundane, that make the difference between success and failure. Each book is a life and death investigation with Harry precariously placed in a position where he can tip the balance either way, but he doesn't have the info to make the right choice until the very end. This formula, used is basically all the books, is best summarized by a neat quote out of the newest book:
"The radio blared with static and a woman's voice spoke in the tones of a news commentator. '...other news, Harry Dresden, Chicago wizard, blindly charges toward his own destruction because he refuses to recognize simple and obvious truths which are right there in front of him. Dresden ignored several excellently placed warnings, and as a result is expected to perish in the next forty-eight hours..."
This is one of hundreds of examples of Butcher having fun with the reader by incorporating into the story a wink and nod that he is right there with you as you laugh at Dresden's adventures.With Dresden as the narrator, he will often throw in a joke, nerd reference or a shameful apology, as appropriate, giving the impression that the book is the transcript from a time Dresden recounted his tales on stage in front of an audience. And I can only imagine how fun that would be!

I am hesitant to put too much of the plot for Skin Game because the Dresden Files culture is very much anti-spoilers. So here is your warning that I will be providing spoilers for any book that comes before Skin Game but I will try and avoid spoiling this book.

In this book Dresden is living in self-imposed isolation on his island, because he fears the entity sharing his head. As the pain increases, and his friends become more distant, Mab comes to him with an offer he can't refuse. Harry is forced to work with his most dangerous enemy, so that Mab can repay a debt. Harry is forced to walk a thin line between helping the villain and betraying him at every turn. To fulfill the debt, Harry teams up with a group of bad guys and breaks into a vault to steal treasure of unimaginable value. 

And of course, he has three days to do it.

What I Liked: YES.

What I Didn't Like: N/A.

Rating: MUST READ.

Also Read by this Author: Storm Front, Fool Moon, Grave Peril, Summer Knight, Death Masks, Blood Rites, Dead Beat, Proven Guilty, White Knight, Small Favor, Turn Coat, Changes, Ghost Story, Cold Days, Side Jobs. 

Reviewed by: Nick

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

"The Night Circus" by Erin Morgenstern

One of my former co-workers and generally awesome person hosts a monthly book club.  While my advanced pregnancy rarely lets me stay awake late enough to attend the meetings, I almost always read the book.

I'm not generally a fan of the circus.  Clowns make me uncomfortable and I often feel like the bearded lady and I have a little too much in common.  These two things made me a little nervous to pick up "The Night Circus".  Would I really like a book about a circus?  What kind of story can the author tell that hasn't been told a thousand times already?  But pick it up I did...and here's what I thought:

Summary:  All is not what it seems at Le Cirque des Reves.  Open only at night, the Circus of Dreams rolls into town unannounced and seems to appear magically overnight.  The circus enthralls its guests with its back and white atmosphere, amazing acts and tents that seem to put even the most creative imagination to shame.

But all is not as it seems.  For deep within the circus, two illusionists are playing a game set into motion when they were children.  Neither player knows the what it will take to win nor just how high the stakes are.

What I Liked:
  • I thought the premise of the book was quite interesting:  two young people are raised and trained to play in a game in which they do not know their opponent, what it takes to win, and what will happen if they loose.  Played out in the Circus, each opponent seems to be limited only by their creativity and abilities.
  • The side characters and side stories were quite interesting  Usually filler, the supporting cast in The Night Circus added to the plot and helped move the story - which covered years - along in a way that was mostly reasonable.
  • Magic.  There's something about magic in a story that transports me into another world so completely that I have no trouble accepting things that would normally cause me to side eye the story.  The magic scenes in The Night Circus were rich with detail and described in a way that was completely captivating.
What Drove Me Nuts:
  • The story was a little slow in parts.  I felt like the plot took a tad to long too long to be told.
  • The ending was a little unsatisfying.  I won't say too much for fear of giving anything away, but I rather expected the book to go out with a bang instead of sort of....fading away.
  • The Circus was assumed to be amazing and magical and secondary characters consistently described the Circus in such a way, but upon further reflection I felt the author could have done more to show how the Circus and its players earned the status.

Rating:  Amid a fantastically imaginative setting with interesting characters and a plot that twists and turns unexpectedly, The Night Circus is a great book to read if you're looking for something that is fun and strange and just a little sad.

Also Read By:  Nothing yet, this is a debut novel by the author.

Reviewed By:  Tami

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Fantastic Summer Reads for Young Readers

Somewhere out there is that one book that inspires a young mind to become a reader.

I didn't really start reading until I was in fourth grade.  The summer I turned nine my family moved to a new town to live with family for awhile and I had to start a new school, adjust to a new home and try to make new friends.  The fact that my younger brother and I were two of only four new kids in the entire school was an added bonus to the already challenging time.  Already much taller than the other kids and painfully self conscious and shy, I turned to books to help make the lonely days a little easier.

The first books I remember reading and loving was The Baby-Sitters Club series by Ann M. Martin.  Between the pages I found a group of uniquely different girls that loved kids, had adventures and were always there for their best friends.  I devoured them.

While I eventually grew older than Kristy, Claudia and the gang, I developed a fondness for loosing myself in a good story after a long day of school and homework.  A habit was born and since I fourth grade hardly a day has gone by that I haven't read a few chapters pages of a book.

Over the weekend I started thinking about what to get my nephew for his eighth birthday.  Legos came to mind.  As did a video game.  Or a water gun.  Or even a gift card to buy an app or two for his tablet.

But then it came to me:  a book.  A truly great chapter book that will inspire him to share one of my greatest passions...reading.  It's actually a really daunting task, trying to think of a book an active 8-year-old would like when there are so many other ways to spend his time an energy.  I did some research online and found some great lists, such as this one from NPR, but when it comes down to it, I want to give him a book that I loved as a kid in the hopes that if he doesn't love it this summer, he'll pick it up in a few years and discover something magical.  So I present to you:

[1]  Harry Potter by J. K. Rowling
The unwanted burden of his Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon, young Harry resigns himself to his cousins castoffs, daily bullying and the inevitability of a ho-hum life.  As his eleventh birthday nears Harry begins to notice strange things happening.  An awful haircut grows out overnight, a hideous sweater shrinks until he can no longer wear it and he has an actual conversation with a snake!  Then one day an owl delivers an old fashioned envelope addressed to Harry.  From that moment on, Harry's life turns into an amazing adventure in which he learns magic, finds the true meaning of family and friendship and sets out to save the wizarding world.  The Potter series isn't afraid to help kids explore fear, friendship, loss and the meaning between good and evil.

[2]  The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley
Orphaned Harry Crewe travels to the Homeland's remote desert outpost of Daria to live with her brother Richard. Shortly after her arrival, Corlath, King of the desert people arrives at the fort to warn the Homelanders of a terrible threat.  The Homelanders ignore Corlath's warning and he leaves in anger.  Later that evening,
seemingly out of the blue Corlath returns to the fort and kidnaps Harry.  What at first seems like a terrifying and confusing event turns into a series of self discoveries that helps Harry find her purpose in life and strength in herself.  The Blue Sword is an easy to read story with a strong female lead that shows that girls can do whatever they set their mind to, even if everyone else is telling them they can't.

[3]  The Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder
Laura lives with her Pa, Ma, Mary, and her beloved dog Jack on the frontier of America in the mid 1800s.  Little House in the Big Woods describes what life was like for five-year-old Laura and the Ingalls family as they traded labor with friends and family deep in the woods of Wisconsin in order to  prepare for the upcoming winter months.  Told in an engagingly endearing way, no topic is taboo as Laura recalls what it was like to help slaughter pigs for meat, farm the land for daily food and the ups and downs of living in a one room log cabin far from neighbors and family.  This series gives a fascinating look at what life was like 150 years ago, long before indoor pluming and grocery stores.

[4]  Matilda by Roald Dahl
Young Matilda Wormwood is extraordinary in a very ordinary family.  An avid reader and intelligent beyond her years, Matilda is a bit of a prankster who uses her amazing sense of concentration to play pranks on people she feels deserve to learn a lesson---mainly her dishonest parents and cruel teachers.  One day Matilda connects with a young teacher who recognizes Matilda's brightness.  Miss Honey mentors Matilda's unique mind and opens her up to a whole new world of books and learning.  Full of mischief and magic and discovery, Matilda is a fun read for kids and parents alike.

[5]  The Giver by Lois Lowry
Jonas lives in a Utopian society that has elected for "sameness" in order to eradicate fear, anger, hunger and war.  Each family is created for compatibility, citizens are assigned jobs that are suited for their skills, and all needs are met equally.  During their twelfth year, each young person is assigned to the job he or she will have for the rest of their lives as an adult. During the assignment ceremony, Jonas is assigned to become the next Receiver of Memory.  As he learns what it means to receive the memories the public lost in their quest for sameness, Jonas learns the depth of what humanity has given up.  Will he be able to live within society now that he knows what is missing?

While these five books made the largest impression on me in my youth, I feel like there are a few others that deserve honorable mentions:

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

"Summon the Keeper" by Tanya Huff

Moment of honesty:  My Aunt lent me this book back in 2010 and I hesitated to read it because one of the main characters was a cat.  That talks.  I'm not sure why this prevented me from giving the book a shot---especially since my Aunt is usually spot on with suggestions---but it did.  What's more ridiculous is that I've read books full of magic or vampires or talking horses.  I guess it was just something about the cat.  Four years later when I moved into my new house with my husband, I came across a box of books that had been loaned to me and that I intended to read "someday".  I picked this one off the top of the pile and sped through it in a few days.

Summary:  When a Keeper feels a Summoning, she must follow the command.  That's how Claire Hansen finds herself checking into Elysian Fields Guesthouse Bed and Breakfast on a blustery Canadian evening.   When Claire wakes up the next morning, she finds herself not only the new owner of the Guesthouse, but with a note warning her to stay out of room six.  And also a hole to hell in the basement.

Along with a sassy cat, an innocent hunk and an amorous French Canadian host, Claire must find a way to seal the hole to hell and deal with the problem in room six before she finds herself stuck to the site forever.

What I Liked:
  • The dialog in this story is hilarious.  From Claire to the Cat to Hell itself, everyone has snarky comment to make.  I found myself laughing out loud more than once.
  • While the plot followed traditional fantasy story lines, the twists and turns it took were new (to me) and very cleverly thought out.  The author didn't make any mistakes and there weren't any gaping plot holes to be found.
  • The author is just a good writer.  She introduced the rules of her world slowly and in a way that made sense to me as the reader.  It was fun to stumble across new concepts as the book progressed.
  • The guests that popped in and out of the guesthouse kept the story moving and brought moments of hilarity and absurdity to the plot.  A sexy musician vampire?  Werewolves?  A hideously annoying elderly neighbor?  Yes please!
  • Overall, this book was just fun.  And fine.  I liked the talking cat.

What Drove Me Nuts:
  • There wasn't much I disliked about the book, once I got over the thought of  talking cat.
  • The book was written in 1998, so the technology references may make some readers guffaw.
  • Don't get me started about the fashion.  It's just so.....Canadian.....
Rating:  Fantasy lovers, add this to your must read list!

Reviewed By:  Tami

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

"Snow Crash" By Neal Stephenson

I picked up this book at a used bookstore because a friend of mine has quoted little bits of it for the last several years. I saw it and thought, "Well, let's see what this is all about".

Summary: It is modern day, but certain trends have reached an extreme. The government has become a near-irrelevant entity as laws dissolved under the weight of corporate might. The US president is an obscure figure, unrecognizable to the masses. All valuable real estate has been claimed and developed by various corporations who have built up their franchises. There are franchises for roads, restaurants, neighborhoods, jails, police, schools, deliveries, you name it. People are citizens of their franchise, and register their vehicles that way. Messengers have dozens of barcode/visas that get scanned as they enter each different zone. Crime is suppressed by private security, the mafia run around with the word blazoned on their jackets and fear no one. Areas that are not profitable are franchise ghettos, where the poor are left to suffer in the worst possible conditions. This is also a world of high technology. Vehicles go faster, computers are more powerful, virtual reality is everywhere, tires adapt to the ground, cyber animals guard buildings and everything is being scanned by everyone.

In this world Hiro is a master hacker and swordsman, delivering pizza. He meets up with Y.T. a RadiKS Kourier who delivers high value packages by magnetically harpooning vehicles and trailing behind them on a skateboard. Hiro and Y.T. meet quite randomly on the job and soon get sucked into a high-stakes investigation. Hiro learns that one man has been spending the last several years preparing to take control of the whole world using an obscure idea he discovered in Sumarian texts.

This book explores the ancient and futuristic, solid reality and the virtual Metaverse, the common good and selfishness. It is really a perfect book for this era of human civilization as it is a commentary on where we are and where we might go while telling a really exciting story.

What I Liked: This is a very fast-paced book with a lot of action and investigation. The tech is fun to think about, since we are on the edge of making a lot of it. Hiro is a very compelling protagonist, as he is both highly-capable, and totally laid-back. There are a lot of cool ideas about how the brain could work like a computer that fuel the main story.

What I Didn't Like: [This area intentionally left blank]

Rating: Must read.

Also Read by this Author:  Nothing yet.

Reviewed by: Nick