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.
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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