Tuesday, January 28, 2014

"Dealing With Dragons" by Patricia C. Wrede

I first read this book in junior high, when I stumbled across it while procrastinating in my school's library.  I came across it again on a display at my local library and decided to see if I liked it as much now that I was an adult (and had access to the internet).

I did.

Image from http://pcwrede.com
Summary:  Cimorene is not your usual princess.  Etiquette and embroidery bore her and she doesn't particularly want to settle down with Prince Charming.  To avoid an arranged marriage and a destiny of boredom, Cimorene runs away to the enchanted forest in the hope of finding her own way in the world, outside the normal rules for a princess.  As she runs farther away from home, Cimorene finds herself in the Mountains of Morning and in the company of the fiercest beats in the forest....dragons.

What I Liked:  This story was created by a local Minnesotan author, which always gives me a little tingle of pride.  However; even if Wrede hadn't been from my favorite state, I still would have enjoyed this book.

This alternate take on traditional fairy tales is witty----the main female characters are smart, practical and self sufficient.  "Dealing with Dragons" makes fun of the more ridiculous fairy tale traditions while still embracing the magic and fun of the genre.

"Dealing with Dragons" is incredibly clever.  Wrede uses traditional fairy tale structure, characters and plot lines but gives them a twist that allows for the main female characters to have strength and help themselves and others.

What Drove Me Nuts:  Not much.  At times the story seemed a little slow, but I'm rather impatient so other readers may not notice this at all.

Rating:  A great book for fantasy fans age 8 and up!

Also Read By This Author:  I read all four installments of the Enchanted Forest series in the 90s and hope to re-read them again.

Reviewed By:  Tami

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

"Beginnings" By David Weber

This book is part of a collection of books lovingly called the Honorverse because the first books started by following Honor Harrington, an officer of the Royal Manticoran Navy. I have read nearly all the Honorverse books, but this is the first one since we started the blog. 

Summary: First, a summary of the Honorverse novels, since this book is part of a series. In the year 2103, humanity began colonizing other star systems. The process was slow at first, but with new hyperspace technologies it became possible to travel faster than light and the number of colonies soared into the thousands. In the year 1416 Post Diaspora, humanity colonized the Manticore star system, where Honor Harrington eventually is born and becomes an officer. Most of the books are dedicated to her adventures commanding starships in battle against enemy star nations, pirates, terrorists and incompetence. There are also three spin-off series based on cool characters that are introduced in the main series, but only briefly cross paths with Honor Harrington, one of these series is co authored with Eric Flint. There is one more series called Worlds of Honor, which are collections of short stories which take place in the Honorverse, but do not fit in one of the established series for some reason or other. Typically they are about side characters, or take place a long time ago or just do not fit in the story arch. Also, Weber invites other authors to write short stories for the anthologies.

"Beginnings" is the sixth anthology and includes five stories, two by Weber himself, and one from each of the following: Charles E. Gannon, Timothy Zahn and Joelle Presby. The first story is about a ship captain on Earth, shortly after the Diaspora, investigating a merchant vessel taken by pirates. He navigates the harsh politics of a world torn between its desire to explore and its desire to keep everyone under control while he finds the masterminds behind the crime. The second story takes place in space around the young star nation of Manticore, before Harrington's time. The star nation has experienced an extended peace-time and a mysterious enemy wants to take advantage of the lull in military spending. The vulnerable nation is attacked and the Royal Manticoran Navy struggles to fend it off. In the third story, Allison Chou and Alfred Harrington meet at the university and undergo quite the adventure before eventually becoming Honor's parents. The fourth story is a glimpse into the childhood of Honor Harrington as she wanders around the dangerous forests of her home planet and has a fateful encounter with some treecats. And the last story follows one of the first female officers in the Grayson Space Navy as she navigates uncharted territory.

What I Liked: Being a huge fan of the Honorverse, I love these little stories as they provide insight into events that are hinted at in the books, but never explained. It's like the saying about New York, “There are 8,000,000 Million Stories in The Naked City”. Well, these anthologies are a great opportunity to see bits and pieces of the other stories on the fringe of the main story line.

What I Didn't Like: These are short stories, and there is a chance Weber will never expand on your particular favorite. And in the anthology you end up jumping from story to story that you come out of the reading groove more than usual, but that is true will all short stories. It's also strange to have four different writing styles in one book. They emphasize different politics, technologies and conventions, which can be off balancing.

Rating: Must read. The Honorverse universe is the best setting for a book.

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

Reviewed By: Nick

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

"Watership Down" by Richard Adams

I picked this audio book because I remembered that several people had read it when I was younger and I wondered if I had missed something.

Summary: This is the story of two rabbits, Hazel and Fiver, who fear their warren is aboutto be destroyed by humans and decide to leave. They recruit several other rabbits to join them and they head out on an adventure. They cross dangerous rivers, fight off predators and encounter other rabbits. They find hutch rabbits on a farm, a seagull, human traps, other warrens, trains, cars and a world of other strange things. Their adventure puts them in danger over and over and it is through cleverness, gumption and luck that they persevere. 

When the adventure lulls, the rabbits tell each other stories of the legendary rabbit El-ahrairah, an incredibly clever guy who could trick any of his enemies into working for him. And each chapter starts out with one or two quotes that relate to the events of that chapter. 

The book is written from a rabbit's perspective meaning that human contraptions are described as a rabbit might see it. Also, great care is taken that the rabbits don't do things that are not possible. They never use thumbs, for instance. The book also uses a rabbit language called Lapine which has words for all the things a rabbit might find important, but for which a human wouldn't have a nice word.

What I Liked: I am a fan of adventure stories and this is an epic tale. The character development is good, even though they are rabbits. I liked the stories of El-ahrairah and enjoyed each of their challenges in turn. 

What I Didn't Like: Hmmm.  (Tami notes:  this book is about bunnies.  BUNNIES.)

Also Read By This Author: None.

Rating: Highly recommended. 

Reviewed by: Nick

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

"Lies My Teacher Told Me" by James W. Loewen

 Originally, my brother gave me this book years ago. I recall being on a plane headed for South America reading it. I do not recall seeing it when I returned. Whatever happened to the poor text is forever a mystery, but it inspired me to pick it up as an audio book for Tami and I to listen to on the way to work. 

Summary: Loewen selected the twelve most used textbooks in high school American History classes. He then spent years reading and analyzing all twelve and talking with college students in his classes. This book is the result of that research. Loewen's major conclusion should be obvious from the title. He argues strongly that American History textbooks are not vehicles for historical facts, but a way for students to learn the multitude of American myths that our nation has come celebrate. He criticizes textbooks for pretending that good old USA is always the good guy, no matter what. Similarly, textbooks deify our founding fathers and other famous figures by either hiding their crimes or justifying them in bizarre ways. He spends a lot of the book clearing up many of the big myths to give the reader clear and factual information. He also goes into the metadata, discussing the amount of space devoted to different purposes, for example comparing number of words used for the War of 1812 and the Vietnam War and other such events. He talks about the historians who work for the publishers to show that many of them have published very truthful academic work outside of school textbooks, and goes into the dynamics of textbook publishing to show how a person fully aware of the truth might end up echoing the same old myth.

What I Liked: This book is a refreshing look at the way in which history classes are used for reasons other than teaching history. I also learned a lot from this book about what really happened when Columbus came to America, bringing with him an endless tide of Europeans.  

What I Didn't Like: It was a little outdated. This book was published in 1994 and the success of the internet has made myth-busting both easier and harder. This book is written right at the end of the non-internet era and so it never comes up in the discourse.

Rating: This is a must read if the only thing you know about history is what you learned in school.

Also Read By This Author: None.

Reviewed By: Nick