Tuesday, December 29, 2015

"Game of Thrones" by George RR Martin

I was introduced to this story through the television show and was looking for a way to try my library's ebook checkout system. I saw this title right away and knew it would be a good read. I downloaded it and read it like an ordinary ebook, but the special library app made sure I "returned" it at the end of the allotted time. 

Summary: In the land of Westeros there are seven kingdoms united together under one king. Each region is ruled by a powerful family and is divided again among lesser lords. What makes this story exciting is that political power ebbs and flows from lord to lord depending on hundreds of decisions, strategies and plots.

This book spends most of it's time centered around Ned Stark and his family. He is the Lord of Winterfell and was critical in helping the king gain the throne from the Mad King who was so horrible that one of his own guards finally killed him. After some key battles were won, King Robert was crowned. And now the king's highest adviser is dead, so Ned has been asked to replace him. As Ned learns more and more about what is happening in the capital, it looks worse and worse.

Every piece is moving in this chess game and there is no way to anticipate how it will all play out. Those of you who have seen the show, it is basically the same story as season one. The big difference with the book is that you get to spend a lot of time inside the head of each character, watching them analyze their situations and weigh the pros and cons of action. In the show you see what they do, but in the book you read why they do it.

What I Liked: I loved the show, and I am glad that the book has the same feel without making me feel like I have to say one is better than the other. Both are amazing.

What I Didn't Like: I'm not sold on the library ebook system. I still can't get over the idea that my software is due back so that someone else can read it.

Rating: Must Read.

Also Read by this Author: None.

Reviewed by: Nick

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

"The Fellowship of the Ring" by JRR Tolkien

I read this book in middle school, and got half way through the Lord of the Rings trilogy. I stopped because I found it depressing and the elven was unintelligible, but now that I am an adult nerd, I feel like I should have all four of them under my belt, and not just the movies. At the library I saw all four in audiobook format and decided I could finally finish the series. 

Summary: This story takes place several decades after The Hobbit in which Bilbo goes on an adventure and happens to find a very useful ring. It is The Ring. Centuries ago, Sauron gave out rings of power to various factions hoping to win their trust and loyalty. And he had a special secret because he made one more ring that was designed to control the others. Sauron lost the ring in battle and it changed many hands until finally reaching Bilbo, a small hobbit in the Shire. Young Frodo inherited the ring when Biblo decided to leave the Shire right around the time Gandalf began to understand the true power of the thing.

As Sauron grows in power and threatens the lives of every race, Gandalf the Grey thought on the fate of the ring for some time, finally deciding that any plan which did not include destroying was too dangerous. Unfortunately, the only way the ring could be destroyed was to drop it in the pits of Mordor where it was forged. The rest of the book is assembling a team to bring the ring to Mordor and destroy it before the wraiths of Sauron can seize it.

What I Liked: Since I liked The Hobbit I appreciate any book in the same universe. Also, this is quintessential fantasy with elves, dwarves, wizards and brave knights. This first book in the trilogy is very hopeful and eager. The characters are worried, but motivated to complete their mission. 

What I Didn't Like: Some of the decisions made by the wise folk are a bit confounding. One option they have is to send the ring to the opposite side of the world, and they figure that Sauron will catch up with it some day, so that's not good enough. It seems to me, that if it delays the problem several generations, its still a win, whereas bringing the ring straight into Sauron's fortress hoping to destroy it seems more dangerous. Also, while I am complaining, Tom Bombadil is older than the world, and bends the world to his will, yet he can't be bothered to help destroy the ring. I mean, he could have totally saved the day without breaking a sweat!

Rating: Recommended.

Also Read by this Author: The Hobbit.

Reviewed by: Nick

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

"The Hobbit" By JRR Tolkien

I read this book in middle school, and got half way through the Lord of the Rings trilogy. I stopped because I found it depressing and the elven was unintelligible, but now that I am an adult nerd, I feel like I should have all four of them under my belt, and not just the movies. At the library I saw all four in audiobook format and decided I could finally finish the series. 

Summary: This book takes place several decades before the Lord of the Rings series and is not technically part of the series, though it does introduce a few characters and provides a context for the trilogy that comes later.

In this book, Bilbo Baggins is a hobbit living by himself in a nice hole safely placed in the Shire. He is tricked by Gandalf, a mysterious old man known for his amazing fireworks and said to be a wizard, who invites a thirteen dwarves to his hobbit hole. Eventually, Bilbo figures out that he is hosting the planning meeting for an expedition to the Lonely Mountain so that it might be reclaimed for the dwarves.

Bilbo joins Thorin Oakenshield and his dwarves on a dangerous adventure eastward. They meet elves, trolls, goblins and eagles as they navigate through the Mirkwood. At one critical juncture, Biblo finds the Ring which eventually sparks the events in the trilogy.

What I Liked: I am a gamer, mostly Dungeons and Dragons style games. When you are playing D&D there is a certain sort of banter where players egg each other on and make all sorts of comments that make fun or make light of the situation no matter how seriously it is supposed to be. I found it very comforting that the characters in The Hobbit sound like D&D gamers! They stumble around the puzzle built for them by Tolkien, then say and act in ways that are a combination of stupid and wise. It's clear Tolkien was having fun with the story.

What I Didn't Like: Frankly, of the four books, this is my favorite one. The ending is a bit weird, since the hero sort of pops in at the last moment, but whatever. I must say one thing, though. Gandalf is not particularly awesome in this book. He can make fireworks and smoke rings, and shows up then disappears at random times, but there isn't much wizardry yet.

Rating: Must Read.

Also Read by this Author: To come later, since I am rereading them.

Reviewed by: Nick

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

"World War Moo" by Michael Logan

I found this book at an independent bookstore called Uncle Hugo's and knew that I just had to read it. I did not see the first book, though, so I picked it up at the library and read that first.

Summary: The biological weapon accidentally released from the government facility has infected nearly every mammal living in Britain. Luckily, the ocean and the Channel have provided a barrier to prevent the spread so far, providing that the blockade does not fail. The virus makes the infected seek out and violently attack the uninfected, but as there no longer are any uninfected available, the is dormant. The infected humans have stopped rioting and destroying, and have begun to rebuild.

China, the United States and Russia control the main military response to the outbreak and are eager to nip it in the bud before it crosses the water, while Brits for the Rights of the InfecTed (BRIT) is scrambling for a way to prevent an attack.

While the international tensions are building, Geldof, our young hero from Apocalypse Cow, is living with his wealthy grandfather when they learn his mother is still alive in Britain, and uninfected. A rescue attempt is organized while Lesley the reporter finds herself in trouble after asking too many questions.

What I Liked: This book has the same style of humor I loved from the first book and provides more insight into the characters I loved. I also really love the interesting scenario that BRIT finds itself in, struggling to make peace with an enemy that they view as prey.

What I Didn't Like: One of the reasons I love apocalypse stories is because they often take a regular guy at the grocery store and suddenly, he has to create a plan to survive the zombie wars. This book doesn't have that feel, as that all happened in book one. Since this is the sequel, the pace is a little different, with some tension from high stakes global politics and some from people taking on dangerous missions.

Rating: Recommended.

Also Read by this Author: Apocalypse Cow.

Reviewed by: Nick

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

"Risky Game" by Tracy Solheim

I saw a highly rated review of this book on and thought I'd pick it up from the library.  I felt a little guilty, like I was cheating on Miz Roberts, but I figure its OK to take a little break as I wait for the next trilogy to come out.
Image via Goodreads

Summary:  Professional football tight end (see what she did there) Brody Janik is an all-star on and off the field.  Incredibly handsome and a natural athlete, Janik lives a charmed life...until he is diagnosed with high blood sugar.  Afraid his medical condition will hinder his contact renewal, Janik decides to hide his secret from the team.  Except team intern and PhD candidate Shay Everett overhears Janik's secret while spying on the team to gather information to sell to a gossip blogger.

Although Shay works hard---three jobs hard---to support herself through grad school, Shay can't stomach the thought of selling out someone else for some easy cash.  But although Shay decides to keep Janik's secret to herself, Janik soon learns that Shay is in the know, and decides to keep his friends close and his enemies closer via blackmail.

What starts out as a working relationship of convenience soon blossoms into something more as Janik learns to appreciate a woman that challenges him and Shay learns how to rely on someone other than herself.

My Thoughts:  I've never read a sports romance before; in fact I wasn't even aware they existed.  Let me tell you...I've been missing out!  This book was everything I look for in a romance:  witty dialogue, interesting characters, a look into the lives of people with jobs I know nothing about, a sexy romance with believable emotion, funny supporting characters and a happy ending.

Janik and Shay had a snarky, interesting dynamic that made the couple's ascent into love believable.  Janik and Shay didn't fall into love, or even like, right away.  Both characters had to grow throughout the story in order to fall for each other.

Brody Janik is a proverbial golden boy - rich, talented and handsome, but he's also self aware in a way that I found refreshing in a romantic hero.  Janik recognizes that his life is charmed right now, but is afraid of what will happen after football.  This fear keeps his eyes on the prize - renewing his contract - even when he knows he needs more to be satisfied in life

Shay is tough and intelligent and her traits help her keep her eye on her prize - her PhD and and lined up job that will help her save her mom's business.  Emotionally abused by her overbearing Meemaw (side note...ick) Shay's biggest challenge is loving herself enough to let herself be loved.

As Janik and Shay interact, their personalities grow in such a way that their instant sexual attraction turns into real believable romantic chemistry.  And I ate it up like a carton of Ben & Jerry's on a Thursday night.

Rating:  I'll read this again, and I've already requested the rest of the series from the library.

Also Read By Author:  Nada, but I'm going to check out all her stuff.

Reviewed By:  Tami

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

"Gulliver's Travels" By Jonathan Swift

I picked up this audiobook as it is a classic and I never read it.

Summary: Gulliver is a man who spends much of his life at sea, as a surgeon, captain and ship owner. On four separate trips he ridiculously lost and finds himself in a land well beyond anything charted on any map. This premise is a bit absurd, but ultimately, it is an excuse to place Gulliver in societies that look nothing like the British lands he grew up in.

The first land he finds is filled with people incredibly smaller than him. He is enslaved by them and spends much of the time trying to convince them that he is not going to destroy them. The second place is filled with people much bigger than him and he is paraded around like a fancy pet in a special box. The third place is a floating city that rests on powerful magnets that repel the earth. These are scientist/philosophers with their time dedicated to pondering. The forth place, my favorite, is the land of the horse people. Here the horses are intelligent and the humans are of animal minds. These ignorant humans are called Houyhnhnms and Swift goes out of his way to use it as an insult against British elites, over and over.

In each place Gulliver takes careful note of every similarity and difference between the strangers and his own homeland. Much of the book is a critique of 18th century Britain by demonstrating how much better these strangers appear to be. And when similarities are highlighted, they are often so that Swift can use the fictional characters to illustrate the flaws he sees in British society. These observations are delivered as devoid of emotion as possible to give them a feeling of simple scientific truth, which makes the jokes that much funnier.

What I Liked: Swift takes full advantage of the story to comment on the lives of his fellow citizens. He does not

What I Didn't Like: It sounds stupid, but I have difficulty with classics partly because of the language barrier, we'll call it. These days, no one talks like Swift, and it means I have to spend extra effort to figure out what some of the sentences mean. It's not his fault, but it still detracts from the experience.

Rating: Recommended.

Also Read by this Author: None.

Reviewed by: Nick

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

"When Books Went to War" By Molly Guptill Manning

I heard an interview with the author on the radio and a few months later saw the audiobook at the library. 

Summary: As the Nazis gained power they campaigned against certain books, hosting book burnings and eventually banned books outright. As the allies challenged the axis on the battlefield, there was a parallel conflict building up. In America librarians and others united to fight the fascists in the war of ideas. As the Nazis burned them, the Americans distributed them.

In the beginning there were civilan book drives with drop offs all across the nation. They accepted all books and worked to get them into army training camps and deployment centers so that soldiers could select a title and read at their leisure. The idea was to show that America supported freedom of the press and to remind soldiers what they were fighting for.

The book drives proved inadequate because people dropped off books that were unwanted and impractical, especially the large hardcover editions that could not be carried by a soldier in the field. The government then organized a program to publish special Armed Services Editions of various titles selected by a council. The books were custom designed to fit in a soldier's pocket and stay with him until he was done reading it. Many consider the program to be reason millions of people became lifelong readers after the war.

What I Liked: The importance of books in World War II is great. I love the idea of a council whose only job is to get as many books into soldier's hands as a way to fight the enemy.

What I Didn't Like: This book has no story arc or protagonist. There is no compelling build up to keep you reading. If this wasn't an audiobook I am not sure I would have finished.

Rating: If you have an interest in WWII or book history, you might like it, otherwise, probably not.

Also Read by this Author: None.

Reviewed by: Nick

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

"The Bourbon Kings" by J.R. Ward

I'm a big fan of J.R. Ward's Black Dagger Brotherhood series.  I enjoy her over the top characters and her heavy hand with rap references gives me shivers of pure glee.  "The Bourbon Kings" is the first book in a new, non-supernatural series.

Summary:  The Bradford Family is Southern Royalty.  Extremely wealthy and even more entitled, the newest generation of Bradfords play hard and spend harder, without really caring where it comes from or how its made.

Tulane "Lane" Bradford is the youngest son of the family.  Devastatingly handsome and very charming, he lives in New York to escape an unhappy (understatement) marriage, a domineering father, absent mother, messed up siblings and the love of his life, who's heart her broke when he married someone else.

Lane gets a phone call that brings him home to the family's estate, Easterly, where the glamour and privilege enjoyed by the Bradfords starts to crumble.  As Lane realizes he needs to man up, his romance with Lizzie rekindles as his family falls apart.

My Thoughts: I'm still torn about "The Bourbon Kings" and its been a few weeks since I've read it. Part of me enjoyed the story in a rubbernecking, guilty pleasure sort of way.  I am endlessly fascinated by the train wreck lives of the idle rich.  Add in dark family secrets, a little bit of intrigue and a quickie in the million dollar wine cellar and I'll be turning the pages faster than a Kardashain can take a selfie.

"The Bourbon Kings" had all of that, but...the characters also left me so cold that I couldn't find it in my bookwormy heart to sympathize with them when the choices they made brought them to the lowest of lows.  These characters aren't just the idle rich, they are entitled to the point of ridiculousness.  They don't own their mistakes unless forced to, don't work for anything they're given, and really have almost no redeeming qualities.

Lane thinks he impregnates a college fling and marries her, despite being in love with someone else.  Then, instead of facing the fact that he made a mistake he runs off to a life of alcoholism and gambling.  Even after he learns that his gold-digging wife aborted their baby.  Although Lane is the male lead of the romance in "The Bourbon Kings", I didn't find him worthy of the leading lady.

Lizzie King, the leading lady of the book, is an an independent, strong willed woman.  She's the head gardener at Easterly, works hard and knows her worth.  Except amid the chaos of the Bradford family, she ends up feeling like a supporting cast member.  I was far more interested in the messed up Bradfords than the romance between Lane and Lizzie.  Plus, I wanted Lizzie to see that she could do better than Lane and run away as far as she could.  A hot body and a Porsche aren't worth it.

My gut reaction to the miserable characters and their glamorous lives is that Ward is bringing each member of the Bradford family to their low point before raising them up.  Towards the end of the story Lane filed for divorce and even took a minor interest in unraveling the mess of the family business.

Point of interest, I still can't wrap my mind around the only lady Bradford.  Ginny, the only daughter of the family, is filled with so much self loathing and fear that she agrees to marry her rapist instead of get a job.  SAY WHAT?  Add in the fact that she doesn't interact with her teenage daughter and can't be bothered to pick up her own clothes, I found absolutely nothing likeable about her except for her taste in accessories.

Rating:  I found the romance lack luster but the family drama titillating.  I'm glad I read it, moreso that I got it from the library.

Also Read by This Author:  All of the Black Dagger Brotherhood series, most of the Fallen Angels series.

Reviewed By:  Tami

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

"Apocalypse Cow" by Michael Logan

I found the sequel to this book at an independent bookstore called Uncle Hugo's and knew that I just had to read it. I read them in order, though.

Summary: The British government created a secret weapons program designed to destroy the food supply of potential enemy nations. The weapon of choice was a virus custom built to infect cows and similar food animals. Unfortunately, the virus got out and infected a slaughterhouse.

This story follows a group of people including a lousy journalist who gets the biggest break in history, a nerdy teenage boy who has the most ridiculous parents and the sole surviving slaughterhouse worker who is kidnapped by the government. They all start out in different places but find themselves thrown together in a world filled with murderous cows.

In the beginning, no one knows how bad it is, and so they try to go about normal life. As the epidemic gets worse, people begin to panic and the government initiates their response plans. The virus spreads to more and more animals until the group finally decide to escape the UK.

Special note, this book won the Terry Pratchett Prize in 2011, with Pratchett writing a forward.

What I Liked: The humor in this book is amazing. There are lots of great puns, hilariously awkward scenes and killer cows. In general, I like post apocalyptic stories, and Logan fully takes advantage of the serious genre all the while making interesting characters and compelling plot. Take out the cows and this is still great writing, but the cows make it that much better.

What I Didn't Like: ......

Rating: Must read.

Also Read by this Author: None.

Reviewed by: Nick

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

"The Passage" by Justin Cronin

Tami read this book a while back and had planned to read the sequel. We picked up this audio book to refresh her memory and get me up to speed.

Summary: In the jungles of South America, a strange virus infects an academic team. The U.S. military quickly establishes a program to research the virus and weaponize it. The virus brings on a dramatic transformation in the victim that turns them into fast, nocturnal blood-suckers. Twelve death-row inmates were the first guinea pigs and did not show the desired effects. One more subject was given the virus, but before the results could be analyzed, the facility fell and the subjects escaped. Quickly the whole continent was infected and the life as we know it is gone.

Years later the survivors struggle to make a living in a world filled with the infected creatures, called virals. Bright lights protect the isolated colony of survivors, and everyone has a job to do. But there are signs that the colony cannot last. Slowly, a plan comes together and an adventure begins.

What I Liked: There's a lot to think about in this book. The virals are fascinating, the characters are well rounded and the plot is compelling.

Tami enjoyed the layout of the plot.  The first half of the book is back-story to the action that takes place 100 years in the future.  The back-story written in such a compelling manner that it might just be my favorite part.  There is something morbidly fascinating about watching society as its known fall.

What I Didn't Like: I realized too late that this is the abridged version. I then wondered what scenes I missed. Also, my favorite character died really early.

Tami thought it was scary, and there were parts that turned my stomach.  But each bit of the plot was necessary to advance the story, so I suffered through it.

Rating: This has all the right elements of a post apocalyptic story. I recommend it.

Also Read by this Author: None.

Reviewed by: Nick (with Tami chiming in)

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

"Going Clear" by Lawrence Wright

I heard about this book when it was being made into a movie. Then I saw it on it the shelf at the library and picked it up.

Summary: This reads like an in depth expose on the church. The book explores the biography of Hubbard and the history of the church from its founding. It starts with a look at Hubbard's life as a science fiction writer and naval officer. It reviews deception in his service record and his injuries. It then goes into the creation of dianetics which evolved into the modern church. There was a significant period where the church was mainly sea-going and struggled with prohibitions in several countries. They endured a long legal battle with the IRS and governments in Europe.

Eventually, the church is accepted as a legitimate religious organization and grows. Much of their energy is spent on recruiting and maintaining celebrity members including a strong presence in Hollywood offering classes and workshops for movie stars. This book takes a close look at how the church treated Tom Cruise and John Travolta. It also has a lot to say about Paul Haggis, a famous screenwriter, producer and director. It examines claims of physical and psychological abuse in the Sea Org (the clergy) and the many practices of the church that have given it the terrifying reputation it has today.

What I Liked: Before this book I did not know much about Scientology beyond the rumors I heard from atheists and critics of the church. After this book I have a better grasp of what the church is like on the inside and what were major events in its timeline.

What I Didn't Like: This book was exactly what I hoped it would be. The only downside to an audiobook is that I don't have the same ease regarding citations.

Rating: Very informative. I recommend it for anyone who wants to know more about Scientology.

Also Read by this Author: None.

Reviewed by: Nick

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

"Fangirl" by Rainbow Rowell

I saw mini reviews of "Fangirl" posted around Instagram I liked the cover, and people seemed to really appreciate the story, so I picked it up from my local library!
Image via Goodreads

Summary:  Cath is your average 18 year old on the cusp of college...well, average if you're afraid of change, confused by normal social interactions and obsessed with a boy wizard.  (So in my experience, average.)

"Fangirl" is about a girl who goes to college for the first time and finds herself totally out of her element.  Cath starts off alone, intimidated by her new life and a little scared to take the next step into adulthood.  She'd be just fine back at home, sharing her bedroom and her love of Simon Snow fanfiction with her twin sister, keeping track of her depressed dad, and eating from every taco truck in sight.

But college forces everyone to grow up, whether they're ready or not.

Cath soon finds herself making friends with her kinda-scary roommate, co-writing a story with a kinda-cute guy from her creative writing class, and learning about herself outside of her role as twin sister, daughter, and superstar fanfic writer.  Oh, and she meets a man.

My Thoughts:  Good books take the reader through a range of emotions as the story progresses.  "Fangirl" was no different.

I started out uncomfortable, possibly because Cath hits a little too close to home.  She's so anxious about starting college that she spends all her time in class or hiding out in her room.  Going to the cafeteria in her dorm or talking to her roommate are too much for her.  I can relate to this, as my own freshman (and sophomore....and junior) years were quite similar.  Because of my personal experience, and because I know what it's like on the other side, I was uncomfortable and at times disappointed in Cath for letting her anxiety keep her from meeting people and experiencing new things.

As Cath branches out beyond her dorm room, I got more comfortable with the story and started to revel in Cath's quirkyness.  Cath is unashamed of her obsession with the wildly popular Simon Snow series.  She revels in total lack of desire to party with her sister.  And she loves a good hipster sweater.  While Cath has a penchant for crying that occasionally made me want to punch her in the face, her quick comebacks and good heart kept me cheering her on.

Then there is sadness.  So much sadness.

And then there is the ending.  But you'll have to read the book to find out if it's happy or not.

Rating:  I recommend it, and I'll read it again.

Also Read By:  None, but I'll check out more by Rainbow Rowell

Reviewed By:  Tami

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

"Doomed" By Chuck Palahniuk

This is the sequel to Damned which I enjoyed. I listened to it as an audiobook.

Summary: Madison Spencer is a ghost. She spent time in Hell, and on Halloween she returned to the land of the living. If a ghost leaves Hell on Halloween, they must return by midnight, or be stuck in the mortal realm until the next Halloween. Madison missed midnight and began to settle in for the year. Like the previous book, this one has two intermingled stories. The story is presented as a series of blog posts, often referencing other users' comments and questions.

The first is a flashback to when Madison was a child, focusing on a long stay with her grandparents in upstate New York. She becomes interested in Darwin and goes on a Naturalist adventure. She then finds herself in a terrifying situation and recounts the death of her grandparents. Throughout these retellings we see the clues to a larger conspiracy to shape Madison's fate.

The other story follows Madison as a ghost while she stalks her parents. They hire a paranormal investigator to locate her. The investigator operates by overdosing on drugs and having near-death experiences where he then talks with ghosts. He finds Madison and escorts her to her parents who have built up a cult. In the previous book, Madison had instructed her parents to do a list of bad deeds in order to guarantee their family would be reunited in Hell. Madison told them she was in Heaven, and as they are world famous celebrities they shared the instructions with their followers. The cult of Boarism developed in which everyone is offensive, but no one takes offense. This new religion then takes an apocalyptic turn that has Madison worried.

What I Liked: This book builds off the first and answers many questions. It also develops the plot, bringing it to a new level. I love the little details Palahniuk includes, making the world feel immediate and real.

What I Didn't Like: This book has the single most disturbing death scene I have ever read or watched. It is described in careful detail and involves some very disgusting elements. It might haunt me forever.

Rating: I enjoyed this as a sequel as it fills out a lot of the story and builds on it, but it was not as compelling as the first book.

Also Read by this Author: Fight Club, Damned.

Reviewed by: Nick

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

"Exist" by Jennifer Cazey Daniels

I saw an instagram post soliciting bloggers to read an ARC of "Exist."  The book would be free in exchange for an honest review.  Here are my honest thoughts.

Summary:  Ember is a psionic, or a person who is more than human.  She has powers that allow her to read minds and feel/broadcast emotions.  When her soulmate breaks her heart, she disappears.  Although she is no longer visible, the Shadows are able to find her, and Ember must run for her life before they take her over.  As she searches New York City for others like her, she comes to terms with her powers and a legacy she didn't know she had.

My Thoughts:  I think Daniels has several good ideas throughout Exist.  Psychics + love stories + epic battles are a sure-fire recipe for an entertaining book.

However, I feel that Daniels put a lot of plot into her story without truly exploring any of the details for very long.  "Exist" almost feels like a summary an entire series instead of a standalone novel.  I want to read the story of Ember's past:  Ember grew up an orphan, raised by a government agency.  What happened to her while she was there?  The reader is told that she escaped the agency and I'd love to read about her daring and probably brutal escape.  Shortly after her escape she met the love of her life, Aden, and it was a love like no other.  Tell me more...was she able to instantly trust him, or was it a long process for her, seeing as she hadn't ever loved or trusted before.  (Or had she?)

Ember's life changes after her breakup with Aden.  She disappears for goodness sake!  I'd like to read more about why this happened---was it just because the breakup left her feeling insignificant or is there something deeper?  After the breakup, Ember takes off to hide from the Shadows chasing her.  This could be a tale on its own.  How does she get to NYC?  Does she meet anyone or learn anything on the way?  I'd love to see this story end with the epic first showdown with the shadows.

Finally Ember learns about the guild, her past, and the expectations her new society has for her..  This is a great opportunity to go into detail about the different kinds of psionic powers.  Let's see them in action.  Ember suddenly goes from shy girlie girl to warrior, without much in between.  I want to see her transformation!

There is so much unexplored potential in this book - I'd like to read more than what there is.

I'd also like to see Daniels take the time to polish her work.  There were some errors that could be fixed that I personally found distracting, and think others would as well:  the dialogue formatting was inconsistent, making it hard to tell who was speaking.  There were some situations where spell check chose the wrong word (ie her instead of he).  And towards the end of the story some of the sentences changed tense in the middle of the line.

Finally, I'm the type of reader that is frustrated by being told instead of shown.  I had a hard time connecting to Ember because of this.  I felt like she endured crazy, intense, interesting transformations but instead of seeing them unfold, I was just told they happened.  The only times I felt like I got to see what the characters were thinking were through massive chunks of monologue that seemed to go on for longer than was needed to get the point across.  But then again, I'm older than the target audience so it could only be a matter of taste.

Overall I think this is a decent first attempt at a young adult novel.  I like the plot lines and appreciate the creativity and effort that went into the story. It feels like a first draft to me, rather than a second draft or ARC ready copy.  I hope Daniels finds a professional editor who can help her break the story down and refine her ideas.

Rating:  "Exist" has a Mocking Jay meets New Moon vibe that I think the young adult audience will enjoy once the book has been polished and reworked.

Reviewed By:  Tami

Note:  Although I received an Advanced Reader Copy of "Exist" for free, all thoughts and opinions are my own.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

"Stardust" by Neil Gaiman

I asked "what should I read next" on our Facebook page and Alex told me Neil Gaiman - Stardust specifically.  Alex didn't disappoint.

Summary:  Tristran Thorn is in love with town beauty Victoria Forester and will do anything to gain her love in return...including promising to retrieve a star that has fallen beyond the wall and into the land of Faeire.  When Victoria agrees to Tristran's quest, he packs his bag and with his father's help heads beyond the wall.  Tristran soon learns that Faeire is a complicated world with strange rules, stranger creatures and danger hidden around every corner.

My Thoughts:  I thought this book was quite lovely.

The action was really well paced in "Stardust" and cleverly played out.  Tristran's quest for the star (which really turns into his quest for self discovery) introduces him to a hairy little man that helps him outfit himself for the adventures to come - escaping a killer forest, managing a murderous family feud and escaping the clutches of countless villains.

And there was an airship, y'all.  AN AIRSHIP.

The language was excellent - each word chosen to evoke a feeling or memory for the reader that keeps them (or at least me) eagerly turning the pages.

My only complaint was that the story ended much too soon.

Rating:  I'll read this one to Owen when he's older.

Also Read By:  The Ocean at the End of the Lane - Tami  |  Nick

Reviewed By:  Tami

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

"Damned" by Chuck Palahniuk

I liked Fight Club enough that when I saw more books by Palahniuk I picked them up. This one is the first in a series. 

Summary: Madison Spencer is dead. At the age of 13 she got high, blacked out and woke up in a Hell surrounded by other damned souls. The form of the book is a series of letters that begin with "Are you there Satan? It's me Madison". She narrates two distinct stories that unfold side by side throughout the book.

The primary story follows her experiences in Hell in which she meets other kids and tries to figure out how things are organized in the afterlife. Demons roam the land slaughtering poor humans, whose bodies are reformed after every death to be eaten, dismembered, stabbed or squished over and over for all eternity. There is also a formal bureaucracy which manages incoming souls, career assignments and appeals. Madison's friends show her the ropes, including how to use the currency and how to make the system work for her. She finds a job as a telemarketer and acts on some bold initiatives.

The second story is made up of Madison's memories from her pre-dead existence. She was the daughter of a famous movie star and a powerful business executive, spending much of her life flying from home to home all over the globe. Her childhood is a mixture of normal growing up and totally bizarre events that might only happen to someone so wealthy as her. Palahniuk uses this as an opportunity to highlight some absurdities in our culture, especially criticizing rich liberal Hollywood elite. Madison recounts events that ultimately lead up to her death and discovers what was originally hidden from her.

What I Liked: This book is written in a compelling style, where Madison tells compact, but satisfying tales about herself, all of which build up to create a coherent narrative with a proper plot. It builds in such a way you have no idea what to expect until it happens, at which point the story only becomes more interesting.

What I Didn't Like: When I read it, I did not know it was first in a series, and so I thought the conclusion would be more complete. Instead, this ends on a bit of a cliffhanger, which leads into the second book.

Rating: I am realizing that Palahniuk must only write disturbing books. I am somewhat embarrassed by the idea someone else might read this book and wonder if I am a psycho for liking it. So it's hard for me to say this is a Must Read knowing that basically everyone will find something highly offensive or overly gross to continue reading it, but I recommend it despite that.

Also Read by this Author: Fight Club

Reviewed by: Nick

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

"Big Little Lies" by Liane Moriarty

I picked up this book because of instagram - people were raving about it without giving any detail on what it's about.  I'm going to do the same below. (Kidding!)
image via goodreads

Summary:  Madeline is outspoken, glamorous and a fierce mother of three.  Celeste is beautiful, rich, and just a little frazzled with wild twin boys.  Jane is scared and shy, a single mom in a new town.  The one thing all three women have in common: five-year-old children starting Kindergarten in the new school year and personal issues they want to avoid.

Madeline's ex-husband has moved back in town and is slowly stealing their daughter away.  Celeste's marriage isn't what it seems.  And Jane?  Well, Jane is just trying to figure out what steps to take next.

And then Kindy Orientation day arrives and a school yard accusation sets so much drama into motion that lives are ruined.  Literally.

My Thoughts:  This book tickled all my fancies - a murder mystery (that was a true mystery...we didn't even know who died until the very end), characters with personalities ripped from Real Helicopter Parents of Australia, and a masterfully crafted plot that had me roaring with laughter and shaking with rage from one minute to the next.

I could go on and on (and on) about why everyone should read this book.  But I've got to wake up with the baby tomorrow, so I'll keep it short and give you my three favorite aspects of "Big Little Lies":

I loved Madeline, even though I didn't always agree with her actions.  She's a delightful mix of fierce loyalty and brash tempter that is completely unapologetic and enormously delightful.  From her interactions with her husbands and children to her antics with the other school yard mom's, Madeline is a lead character I can understand and root for.

I also really enjoyed the way the book was put together.  The murder mystery unfolds told from the point of view of Madeline, Celeste and Jane, interwoven with random one-liners from the other Kindergarten parents.  You learn the hearts of the three main characters, but also see them as others in the book do - flaws and all.

Lastly, I was really impressed with the way Moriarty intermingled classic chick lit drama with some pretty serious themes.

Rating:  Oh, calamity!  (You'll get it when you read it.)  I'd definitely read this one again.

Also Read By:  Nothing, but you bet I'm going to read every other book Liane Moriarty has written.

Reviewed By:  Tami

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

"Fight Club" By Chuck Palahniuk

Fight Club was one of those movies I loved the first time I saw it, but never owned it. One day I saw the audiobook at the library and decided to listen. 

Summary: Considering how many stories don't survive the book-to-movie jump, it was to my happy surprise that the plot is very much that of the movie. Obviously, there were differences, but I am comfortable with the idea that it basically amounts to glossing over of the more complicated bits.

For those of you who have never seen the movie, the plot goes something like this. We follow the life of an unnamed protagonist, often referred to as Jack, due to his habit of saying "I am Jack's broken heart" or "I am Jack's cold sweat". Jack is a Recall Coordinator for a major automobile manufacturer and his job is to investigate accidents and determine if it is more profitable for the company to issue a recall or not. He suffers constant jet-lag and develops insomnia. His exasperated doctor tells him if he wants to see real suffering he should go to a support group for people with brain parasites and Jack quickly becomes a regular at several support groups, despite not suffering any of the ailments. Jack finds the emotional release is just what he needed to sleep soundly.

Jack then meets Marla, another "tourist" at the support groups, and then meets Tyler Durden while on the beach. Marla and Tyler trigger a series of events that are totally outside of Jack's control. Tyler becomes the leader of a fight club which grows into something more.

What I Liked: Palahniuk has a very clean writing style that is both detailed and nuanced but easy to understand. He has a fascinating technique of repeating sentences at different points in the story in order to link the events. By picking the right sentence to repeat, he can summon up exactly the right event from earlier in the book and reinforce an important theme in the book. Also, Palahniuk is very good at writing around important details so that important truths can come out as stunning revelations.

What I Didn't Like: This is an unsettling book.

Rating: People who don't like this book will think that people who do like are mentally ill, and for that reason I am hesitant to say that I liked it. A lot of people would be offended by the content of this book including language, sex, violence, disturbing mental states and more. I recommend it anyway.

Also Read by this Author: None.

Reviewed by: Nick

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

"Z Plan: Blood On The Sand" By Mikhail Lerma

Mikhail Lerma reached out to us about this book since I love zombie stories and gave me an ebook copy to read. 

Summary: Cale is an American soldier stationed in Iraq. He is part of a supply crew that mans and defends convoys as they move shipments around the country. It's not considered a front line unit, but in the messy battlefield that is Iraq, no one is out of danger. Cale and his friends are on base when orders are given to initiate a communications blackout and eventually a total lockdown.

Nervous, the soldiers find themselves defending the base from an unidentified enemy that is intent on killing and eating them. The chain of command falls apart and every soldier is left to make their own decisions. Cale and some others decide they need to get to home and begin moving west.

Cale is a determined survivalist, trying to get home and to help his companions along the way. He is easy to like, and I would definitely choose him as a partner during the apocalypse. 

What I Liked: Lerma started writing this book when he was deployed in Iraq and has the perspective to write how an individual soldier might be introduced to the zombie apocalypse. I really liked the plot of the book, following Cale on  his series of adventures, working toward his ultimate goal.

What I Didn't Like: This book is Lerma's first novel and there is some room for improvement.

Rating: Recommended. I plan to read the next two books in the series.

Also Read by this Author: None.

Reviewed by: Nick

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

"Fool Moon" by Jim Butcher

I'm not going to lie.... I've been putting off book #2 of the Dresden Files for over a year.  I think it's because I don't want to like the series.  My husband and his band of merry gamers love the Dresden Files and I feel like if I add them to the list of books I enjoy it'll push me over the edge from somewhat cranky loner to full on geek myself.  And I really don't want to fall into that category.  I watch too much reality TV for that.

But pick up "Fool Moon" I did, and I fear there's no going back.

image via goodreads
Summary:   When a series of gruesome unexplained murders occurs in Chicago, Lt. Karrin Murphy knows there's only one wizard to call:  Harry Dresden.  And not just because he's the only self-acknowledged wizard in the United States.  Dresden is pulled onto the scene of a brutal and bloody murder with almost no evidence, except a large wolf paw by the body.  Harry uses his knowledge of the arcane, his talking skull Bob and information from an overly friendly demon to learn who the likely culprit may be...and where they may strike next.

My Thoughts:  The reason I read the Dresden series isn't to think all that much about what I'm reading.  It read them to be entertained, pure and simple, and Fool Moon does the trick.

Fool Moon begins with Harry dining with a younger colleague in the local wizard bar.  She asks him for help on something complex and dangerous, and his inner white knight refuses to help her--what she's asking is dangerous and above her skill level.  Harry's choice ends up in her dismemberment and sets Harry on a path to his inevitable near doom.  (Don't worry, reader, this seems to happen every book and to my knowledge the series is still going strong.)  What follows next is the epitome of entertainment - gruesome murders, hilarious encounters with Bob the skull, more insight into Dresden's own past, and an action packed who-dunnit that keeps the reader guessing til the end.

Rating:  A nice installment in the series.

Also Read By:
     Tami:  Storm Front 
     Nick:  Skin Game

Reviewed By:  Tami

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

"Ender in Exile" by Orson Scott Card

This book is part of the Ender's Game series and as I have read the first five books plus the parallel Ender's Shadow series, I figured it would be worth my time. I listened to this as an audiobook on my phone.

Summary: At the end of Ender's Game we get something of a denouement in which humans colonize the old bugger worlds and a few satisfying details wrap up the story. In this new volume, the last couple chapters of Ender's Game are expanded greatly. We get to see Ender dealing with his new status as the most honored and most feared human in existence, loved and spurned by the masses. We get to see what life is like on the second wave of colony ships as they rush to their new homes and trail blaze a new political path as people begin to live light years away from each other. This is the first time civilians have had to deal with the realities of relativistic speeds compounded with the technology of cryogenic freezing makes for some interesting problems with ages and seniority.

We also get a glimpse into the world of Peter and Bean who are the stars of Ender's Shadow. If you loved that parallel series, there is some material in this book you might be interested in.

What I Liked: Ender gains some insights as to how he really won the war against the buggers and does a lot of reflection. This book is the denouement readers needed after the intensity of the first book.

What I Didn't Like: Honestly, this book was boring. I listened to it as an audiobook which means I did not have to do anything to keep up a good pace. There is very little action, even non-violent action. What builds the tension is finding out what doesn't happen.

Rating: Not the best of the series, but if you have already read most of them, it answers a lot of questions.

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, Shadow's in Flight, The Memory of Earth, The Call of Earth, The Ships of Earth, Earthfall.

Reviewed by: Nick

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Great Books for Babies [0 to 12 months]

Reading to babies is important - it provides cuddle time with caregivers, helps expose baby to new vocabulary and maybe, just maybe, encourages them to sit still for a few minutes. (But maybe that's just wishful thinking)

Good Books for babies have engaging pictures, fun stories and are quick enough to pass the wiggle test.  Great books for babies are all of the above, and make the parents laugh.

Check out my favorite five books for babies 0 - 12 months below:

[01] The Boss Baby by Marla Frazee
A satirical (and hilarious) look at the similarities between the new baby and the workplace boss.  Hilarious situations, clever pictures, and short enough to pass the wiggle test.

[02] Giraffes Can't Dance by Giles Andreae and Guy Parker - Rees
A wise cricket reminds Gerald to be brave and embrace his unique style.  Elegant rhymes, colorful pictures and a great lesson for kids of all ages.

[03] Penguin and Pinecone by Salina Yoon
Penguin learns that the love of friendship can survive any distance.  Part of the "Penguin" series.  A bit longer with a heartwarming twist and endearing characters.

[04] Hush Little Monster by Denis Markell
Find out what Papa Monster sings to his fuzzy green headed son as he prepares for bed.  A parody of the classic "Hush Little Baby".

[05] This is Not My Hat by Jon Klassen
When fish steals a hat, he gets more than he bargained for.  A clever book parents will enjoy reading 80 times in a row.

Note: All book cover images courtesy of Goodreads.com

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

"The Liar" by Nora Roberts

Oh Miz Roberts.  You do it again.

Summary:  The first time Shelby fell in love, she was young.  Her whirlwind marriage to the rich and handsome stranger swept her off her feet and into a world of glitter, glamour and privilege.  Until he died in a freak boating accident that left her and their small daughter alone and unsure of how to move ahead with their lives.  But her husband's death wasn't the worst thing that happened.  As Shelby begins to recover from her husband's loss and begins looking into managing her own future (or "adulting" as I like to call it) she learns that her husband wasn't who he appeared to be, that her very marriage was a sham, and that cleaning up someone else's lies is more expensive than she could have ever dreamed.

My Thoughts:  I imagine writing Contemporary Romance is incredibly hard.  Or maybe it's just hard to write a good Contemporary Romance.  And near impossible to write a Contemporary Romance that is good and that I also like.  Unless, of course, you're Nora Roberts.  Nora (as I call her in my head.  Lord knows if I bumped into her in the street I'd call her Goddess of All Things Romance.  Or just stand there mouth agape and beet red.  But I digress.) knows how to write a strong heroine that can still fall head over heels in love---without losing an inch of herself.  In fact, that's why I enjoyed "The Liar" so much more than I expected.

I can appreciate Nora's set up for the romance between Shelby and Griff.  The first time Shelby fell in love, she was consumed by her husband's overpowering personality.  She wore her hair how he preferred, she lost touch with her friends and family, and she let him run her (and her life) until she was little more than a trophy.  And she was horribly burned because of it. Shelby lost herself and paid the price for trading herself for a man.

Shelby has to build her life, and her self, back up from scratch on her own merits.  She's smart enough to swallow her pride (and this I can admire, as I'm not sure I could do it) and move home to her family, who she knows still love her even after she cut them from her life.  What I like best about Shelby's phoenix moment is that while Shelby is brought low, she relies on her family - and herself- to rebuild her life into something of which she can be proud.

If I had to pick out one flaw in the book (and its not so much a flaw for me, but may be for others) is that I found Shelby's fall and rebirth far more compelling than the love story.  Don't get me wrong, the love story was sweet, romantic and honest....but also very familiar to the avid romance reader.

There were also some resemblances to the In the Garden trilogy that might turn some readers off.  (Not me...I hadn't yet read the trilogy so the similarities weren't apparent until after I'd read the earlier trilogy.)  The biggest similarity was between Shelby and Roz Ashby's scoundrel ex-husbands.  They were both liars, cheats, and out to get their ex-wives.  I actually had a moment where I wondered if they were the same guy.

Rating:  I'd read it again.  (And probably will.)

Also Read By This Author:  I've read almost all of Roberts' 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  |  Blood Magick  |  Blue Dahilia

Reviewed By:  Tami 

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

"Death or Glory" by Sandy Mitchell

As I have started reading the Ciaphas Cain series, here is the forth installment. 

Summary: This adventure follows our anti-hero Commissar Cain as he is lost and confused behind enemy lines. His unit is sent to a planet infested by an ork invasion. As the transport ships enter the star system, they are attacked by ork vessels. Cain's ship is damaged and in a desperate attempt to avoid death, Cain dives into a lifepod. He and Jurgen spend weeks alone in the tiny craft as the fly toward the battle.

They crash in the middle of a desert with little idea where they are, much less where their unit landed. The first inhabitants they meet are orks on patrol and they work to get their bearings. Cain, eager to regain the protection afforded by his unit, is determined to get out of ork territory. He and Jurgen slowly but surely collect supplies and rally together human survivors in the wasteland so that they can punch through the enemy lines.

We see in this book Cain's skill with civilians more than with soldiers as is typical in the previous books. We also see humans using a lot of ork technology in order to get through it all. 

What I Liked: This is classic Cain, with lots of decisions between Bad and Worse. There is just the right amount of suspense and hope mixed to make it satisfying read.

What I Didn't Like: Of the four Cain books I have read, this was the least exciting. It's a lot of battles and not a lot of investigation. I recall the earlier books having a lot more analysis of the situation, trying to find the traitor and such. In this book the lines are clear, and all that remains is fighting, which I don't find so interesting.

Rating: This is my least favorite book so far in a great series. Hopefully the next books will be better.

Also Read by this Author: Scourge The Heritic, Innocence Proves Nothing, The Traitor's Hand, Caves of Ice, For the Emperor.
A side note, Sandy Mitchell is a pseudonym for Alex Stewart.

Reviewed by: Nick

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Blue Dahlia by Nora Roberts

I didn't always read only Nora Roberts...but it sure seems like it now.  Ever since my son was born last August, I've been drawn to books that are quick reads, are easy to pick up and put down (repeatedly) and have happy endings.  So Ms. Roberts is a natural choice.  I'm sure the variety of books I read will pick up some day, when I spend less time changing diapers and more time on myself.
Image via Barnes & Noble

Summary:  Stella is a single mother of two active and adorable boys.  After the tragic and unexpected death of her husband, she finds herself at a loss and looking for a fresh start.  She decides to move back home to Tennessee and sets up an interview to manage a local garden center, In the Garden.  The interview with the owner, the formidable Rosalind Harper, goes well and soon Stella finds herself and her two boys moving into Rosalind's estate, Harper House.  Stella jumps head first into her job and soon finds herself pitted against In the Garden's hunky and grumpy landscape designer.  Soon Stella finds herself not only learning a new job in a new city, but working on a decades old murder mystery and falling in love.

My Thoughts:  I would like this book for the throwback 2004 references alone, but there's more to like about this book than Britney references and early 2000s slang.  (Although they are glorious.)

What I liked most about this story, and what I feel is a running theme throughout Robert's work, is the the sense of contentedness about the characters.  The main characters like their jobs, love their families and are just overall happy with life.

Of course, they never start out that way.  Blue Dahlia in particular starts out with an average woman (finally!) just trying to keep it together after a horrible tragedy.  She has bills and kids and struggles a bit trying to figure out the best and right thing to do for her family.  I can relate to that, and think many other people can as well.  The reader roots for Stella, so when the hunky and grumpy Logan peaks Stella's romantic interest, you root for her.  And you know Stella can handle Logan, because hello, she can handle her job and her kids and still have time to take her dog Parker out on a walk.

Of course, then Stella finds her dream job to which she is passionate and well suited, with an awesome and understanding  boss, gets to live in an (albeit haunted) awesomely historical and grand house with a great commute, reliable child care and someone to cook all her meals, all the while falling desperately in love with a big ole' hunk of man with a steady paycheck and his own place.  And if you're like me, you feel a tiny bit irritated that Stella has great skin, a collection of designer shoes and doesn't have to sit in rush hour.

But maybe that's just me.

Rating:  This was a good book, and a perfect read for spring time.  It got me excited about yard work for a good hour, until I realized how much I dislike bugs and dirt.

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  |  Blood Magick

Reviewed By:  Tami

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

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

Well, when I saw this audio book at the library I had forgotten that Tami had already written a review, but this book is new to me, and so I wanted to write my own review.  Ah, well. Neil Gaiman has a very good reputation among certain reading circles that I know. He is guaranteed to provide quality writing and creative storytelling. 

Summary: This book is presented as a man trying to recount his childhood on a rural road with some interesting neighbors, the Hempstocks. The tale starts with the family renting out a room and one of the tenants dying. This leads to a series of supernatural events that involve a spirit that goes around giving people what they want with disastrous results.

Much of the story has the next tenant, Ursula Munkton, as something of a villain. She seduces the boy's father and controls their lives. Much of the boy's problems come directly from Ursula.

Lettie Hempstock is a young girl living with her mother and grandmother. The three of them know more about the universe than they let on, with only hints sprinkled about the story. Lettie helps the boy with his problems and that forms the bulk of the book.  

What I Liked: This story is written almost in the style of magical realism where the world is presented as normal, but normal has a broader definition in the book than for we in the real world. This is partly because the main character is a child who is still getting oriented in the universe and asks questions more out of curiosity than disbelief.

What I Didn't Like: This is a forgettable story, for the most part. I couldn't write this review without reading a synopsis first, which I find surprising.

Rating: Entertaining.

Also Read by this Author: The Graveyard Book.

Reviewed by: Nick

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

"Factory Girls" by Leslie Chang

I heard this book mentioned in a discussion about the modern economy and then saw it on the library shelves.

Summary: Leslie Chang is an American journalist who spent several years conducting interviews in China. The main focus of this book is on the rise of factories and the migrant workers who fill them. She interviews several workers and a few of them maintain contact over the years even as they change cities and industries. Chang goes into detail regarding their working conditions and their social lives. She tours the various places of their lives, including taking a trip back to the farm from which one of the migrants was born. She highlights the ups and downs, including how most migrants seem to see factory work as an opportunity to rise economically. They are constantly improving skills and jumping from job to job, hoping to make it big. Chang also talks about the control that the factories have over workers, including deciding where they sleep, how many hours they work and even if they are allowed to collect their last paycheck.

Chang also takes the time to explore her own past and contrast it with the workers. Chang's great-grandfather was regionally powerful before the communist revolution. He was a government official and lived in a large compound, and controlling a large amount of land. Her grandfather was an important mining engineer during the Japanese invasion and eventually assassinated during the cultural revolution. Her family moved to the United States and Chang sees similarities in her personal migrant story and the girls who work the factories.

What I Liked: This is a good long perspective on the changes in China without feeling like a defense of any particular argument. She reports what she finds and lets the reader draw their own conclusions. This is the most comprehensive book I have read on China and I found it enlightening.

What I Didn't Like: Even though she compares the two themes of the factories and her family, it still felt like maybe they should have been two different books.

Rating: Recommended.

Also Read by this Author: None.

Reviewed by: Nick

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

"The Rosie Project" by Graeme Simsion

I've had "The Rosie Project" on my to-read list since it came out.  I came across it on a new release newsletter published by my local library and thought it sounded good, so I put in a request.  When my turn eventually came, I wasn't able to get to it before it was due and returned it unopened.  Repeat five or six times and eventually I got tired of the process and just read it.  I'm so glad I did!

Summary:  Don Tillman is a genius in everything except social skills.  So when he gets it in his head that it's time to get married, he goes about the process as any genius would: he creates a 16 page questionnaire to filter out the smokers, the drinkers and the perpetually late.  Don's survey, dubbed "The Wife Project," is intended to help him find his perfect match without wasting a bunch of time.

When his first candidate appears at his office door, Don is flabbergasted by what he finds.  Rosie couldn't have possibly completed the questionnaire in a compatible manner and is completely unsuitable.  But after spending time with her, Don finds an excuse to see her again.  And against all logic, see her again.  Soon Don is finding excuses to see Rosie every chance he can get until "The Rosie Project" begins and Don's life changes forever.

My Thoughts:  I really enjoyed this book for a lot of reasons.  The characters are all interesting and charismatic.  Don drove me absolutely nuts in an endearing, charming, immensely likable way.  Rosie was as real as it gets and stayed true throughout the book.  Gene was over-the-top, a little sad, but loyal to his friend.  The interactions between Don and Gene and Don and Rosie felt genuine and natural in a way that was totally believable.

The plot of the book was complex, fascinating and had me on my the edge of my seat with questions as the story progressed:  Who is Rosie's real dad?  Will Done realize that Rosie's a great catch?  Will Rosie realize that Don's not so bad?  Did Gene have a thing with Rosie? What is Gene going to do next?  I particularly enjoyed reading about Don's fascinating life.  As someone (a little) obsessed with charts, timelines and spreadsheets, I found Don's minute by minute schedules completely fascinating and weird and glorious.  I loved watching Don adapt to change and grow throughout the book as he came to realize that not everything can be planned ahead.

And the best part.....the ending.  But you'll have to read the book to see why.

Rating:  I'll read this again, and I just requested the sequel from the library.

Also Read By:  Nothing.,...yet!

Reviewed By:  Tami

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

"Talking With My Mouth Full: My Life as a Professional Eater" by Gail Simmons

Dear Gail: You made it abundantly clear that you dislike bloggers, perhaps even hate them, so I apologize in advance for this post.  Just pretend it doesn't exist.  (This should be an easy feat for you.)

I'm one of those people that is totally obsessed with the Food Network, even though the chances of me actually eating something made on the show are slim to none.  Although onions make me cringe and I prefer my meat to come in plastic packaging, the allure of someone who is passionate about their craft is something I just can't get enough of.  And so I picked up this book.

Summary:  First of all, Gail Simmons is Canadian.  Canadian!  I should have known, as the vast majority of my favorite reality stars come from Canada.  But love of the great peaceful North aside, Gail (if I may presume to call her so) has led a fascinating and somewhat charmed life.

Gail grew up as the youngest child of three, to parents that had a plethora of international flair.  Her father's people came from South Africa and her mother worked for the UN before she settled into motherhood and working from home so she could be more available for her children.  Her parents exposed Gail and her brothers to a wide variety of food and instilled in them a sense of competitiveness and fearlessness that helped Gail forge a dream career before the field even existed.  "Talking With My Mouth Full" explores Gail's early childhood and young adulthood and their impacts on her love for food before diving into her early careers as a chef at some of New York's finest restaurants.  Her experience as a New York chef, along with a side of luck, led her into what is arguably a tough but amazing series of jobs.

Gail Simmons is most popularly known for her work with Food and Wine magazine, as a judge on Top Chef and host of Top Chef: Just Desserts.  (And probably more, but I haven't had time to watch tv since 2010 so you'll have to trust google on this.)

My Thoughts:  Each time I read a book by a celebrity chef (or in this case celebrity foodie) I find myself pleasantly surprised.  I'm not sure what I expect going into them, but I generally find that the chef/foodies are passionate, charismatic and generally really interesting people.  Gail Simmons is no exception.

I loved the stories Gail told about her family.  Her mom seems like a quintessential role model - supportive, interesting but with enough motherly expectation to keep her kids in line.  I'd love to read her biography some day.  Her father is no less fabulous - a South African lawyer who enjoys brewing his own beer, making pickles and adventure.  With parents like these, how could Gail be anything but fascinating herself?  (This is a rhetorical question.  I have fascinating parents and am particularly boring myself.  It happens.)

I also loved reading about how Gail's career unfolded, from culinary student who wanted to write about food, to culinary graduate who understand that to truly be an expert on food writing, she'd need to experience food at a much deeper level than just eating it.

Rating:  This would be a good book to bring on vacation.  It's a good read (although doesn't quite catch my fancy enough to read again.)

Also Read By:  None.  But check out our reviews on books by other celebrity chefs!  Kitchen Confidential

Reviewed By:  Tami