Thursday, April 30, 2015

Ramble: Books on Tape

I drove nearly 1900 miles over this past week, two of those days, over 600+ miles. On the way down to Florida, I "read" Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone via book on CD. It was my first experience with an audio book. Oh, boy, did it make a difference. The trip went so fast. But I finished the book on the way down. So, I purchased The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley. I own the book, and I wanted to listen to a book I own, so I could finish the book by the old-fashioned way, if needed. And listening to this book on the way home made the trip a quick as a blink.

While I don't plan to make a habit of listening to books during the normal day, for travel, I'm definitely going to "read" when I drive.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Review: Clever Gretchen and Other Forgotten Folktales retold by Alison Lurie

Synopsis: Sleeping beauties? Not Clever Gretchen or Kate Crackernuts or Manka or any of the other young heroines in this wonderful collection of folktales. Active, witty, brave, and resourceful, these girls and young women can fight and hunt, defeat giants, answer riddles, outwit the Devil, and rescue friends and family from all sorts of dangers and evil spells. (from the back of the book)

Review: Written in 1980, this was probably considered unique collection - fairy tales with strong female characters. Thirty-five years later, it's good, but feels a bit bland. With easy to read prose, this would be an easy read for a mid-grade reader. Some of the stories (The Sleeping Prince) feel like a gender-switch Sleeping Beauty, but almost worse, as the princess still goes through a ridiculous amount of danger for a boy. In other stories, the heroine does it to save family (The Black Geese) or her friends (The Hand of Glory) which is nice to read. My favorite story was Mizilca, because she did not get married at the end! Over all, this is an okay collection but nothing special.

Bookmarks: 6 of 10

Awards: None

ISBN: 0-690-03943-3
Date Finished: 4-19-2015
Pages: 113

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Ramble: Update on Goals

In early March, I posted my reading goals for 2015. I know, better late then never, right? Right.

Anyhoo, I thought I would update you on my progress. 

Evolution: Eh, I'm still slogging through Darwin's Origin of the Species. My word, is this book verbose and complex. I'm finding it difficult to read - so much so, in fact, I'm considering resorting to Cliff's Notes! And the worst part is - He intentionally simplified it so the general masses could read and understand it! I might set it aside and move on to my Darwin Reader by Martson Bates.  

Economics and Fiance: Done! I read Rich Dad, Poor Dad by Kiyosaki and Get a Financial Life by Kobliner. I might, at some point, read The Richest Man in Babylon by Clason, but I consider this goal met!

Memoir and Essay: Haven't even started! And by that I mean, haven't even picked out which ones I want to read!

Mystery and Horror: One down, two-plus to go. I read Sannibel Flats by Randy Wayne White. And while it's more suspense then mystery, there was a enough of how-done-it in the novel to count. 

Science Fiction: Six down, four-plus to go. I read Gamers Fantastic ed. by Greenberg and the first in the The Family d'Alembert Series by E. E. Smith and Stephen Goldin. I just finished Chalker's The Rings of the Master Quartet. Next, I'm going to read Scott's Silence Leigh trilogy, and then the two books of The Rehumanization of Jade Darcy series, also by Stephen Goldin. 

I'm actually progressing faster that I thought, but not enough for me to add more to the goals. Perhaps, if by Summer, I'm nearly complete, I might consider it. But for now, I think this is enough. 

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Review: Sold by Patricia McCormick

Synopsis:  Lakshmi is a thirteen-year-old girl who lives with her family in a small hut on a mountain in Nepal. Though she is desperately poor, her life is full of simple pleasures, like playing hopscotch with her best friend from school, and having her mother brush her hair by the light of an oil lamp. But when the harsh Himalayan monsoons wash away all that remains of the family's crops, Lakshmi's stepfather says she must leave home and take a job to support her family. He introduces her to a glamorous stranger who tells her she will find her a job as a maid in the city. Glad to be able to help, Lakshmi journeys to India and arrives at "Happiness House" full of hope. But she soon learns the unthinkable truth: she has been sold into prostitution. An old woman named Mumtaz rules the brothel with cruelty and cunning. She tells Lakshmi that she is trapped there until she can pay off her family's debt-then cheats Lakshmi of her meager earnings so that she can never leave. Lakshmi's life becomes a nightmare from which she cannot escape. Still, she lives by her mother's words-Simply to endure is to triumph-and gradually, she forms friendships with the other girls that enable her to survive in this terrifying new world. Then the day comes when she must make a decision-will she risk everything for a chance to reclaim her life? (from the back of the book)

Review: After reading this novel, it does not surprise me that it won so many awards. Told in sparse language, in a poem-like format, the reader follows Lakshmi for her poor village to the rooms of a brothel. Her heart break, her confusion and hurt, her hope and despair - it displayed in such a way the reader become Lakshmi, and feels what she feels. A powerful work, one worth reading. I most certainly recommend.

Bookmarks: 8 of 10

Awards: ALA Top 10 Best Book for Young Adults 2007, National Book Award Finalist 2007, National Public Radio - Top 100 Books of the Year 2007, Book Sense Pick 2007, California Young Reader Medal 2007, Quill Award 2007, Gustav-Heinemann-Peace Prize 2008, Elliot Rosewater Award 2009-2010

ISBN: 978-078685172-0
Date Finished: 4-19-2015
Pages: 263

Monday, April 20, 2015

Review: The Masks of the Martyrs by Jack L. Chalker (The Rings of the Masters, Book 4)

Synopsis: Even before the renegade pirates of the giant spaceship Thunder had collected all five of the rings that would eliminate the threat of Master System forever, Hawks knew that they still faced even greater problems. The shapechanger, Vulture, was lost on the watery planet of Chanchuck, his fate unknown. Master System's space fleet dogged the renegrades' every step. Hawks suspected that group was harboring a traitor, but he was powerless to act. And, most important, the rebels had not yet figured out how the rings were used - a riddle that seemed to have no solution. Somewhere back on Earth lay the original computer interface, and somewhere in the distant past lay the secret to Master System's demise. As a historian, Hawks had the knowledge to solve the riddle; yet he had to be absolutely sure - for one misstep would destroy them all. (from the back of the book)

Review: This was a fine conclusion to the series. At the start of the book, there were two rings to find (and a third to secure from a bad guy) - so, as a previous reviewer mentioned, this book was a bit rushed. Chalker didn't spend as much time as normal on the different planets they when too. But that didn't mean there wasn't the normal exploration of gender and form and how it affects a society. The loss of Vulture was well-written and touching - particularly because he/she had become a favorite character. And the fate of Raven....
The ending seems a bit....simple compared to the complexity of getting the rings. But even the characters noted this. And I thought the ending was as it should be. Over all, this was a satisfying series, one I shall recommend to anyone looking for a fun, interesting sci-fi read.

Bookmarks: 7 of 10

Awards: None

ISBN: 0-345-34309-3
Date Finished: 4-18-2015
Pages: 340

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Acquisitions: FoL Booksale and Comic Book Shop Loot

I stopped by the local library's booksale, as I always do. It's not a bad sale - $1 a hardback, 50¢ for paperbacks and 25¢ for YA / childrens. And since it's a library remainder sale that also includes donated books, there is wide selection. It's an excellent place to find classics, Newberys, and a the odd history book.

For $17, this is part of what I purchased. Missing from the picture are a book about St. Patrick (for a friend), a Lando Calrissian novel, a Dalai Lama book, and the complete set of Young Master comics (all for the Husband). The rest of the loot is for me!

Included is a history of the discovery of Penicillin, a collection of writings from visitors to America, a newbery book, and a book about "good-time girls" in Alaska during the Gold Rush. I was a bit disappointed that I didn't find any of the sci-fi novels I've been hunting. 

However, later the night, the Husband and I went to a comic book shop that we like. The proprietor received several boxes of old sci-fi books, which, because he doesn't want to inventory for sale, he lets patrons "borrow" if they want to. I spent 20 minutes or so digging through a few of the boxes (I would have dug through them all, but it was late and the Husband didn't want to stay until dawn), and I found one of the books I have been hunting for 2 years. And I picked up two others by authors I enjoy - all free!

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Review: Warriors of the Storm by Jack L. Chalker (The Rings of the Master, Book 3)

Synopsis: For centuries, Master System ruled unchallenged. Then a small band of renegades commandeered the spaceship Thunder and fled into pirate territory. Now they are prepared to seize the five coded rings that together could shut down Master System - and return human destiny to human control. With them went the one variable that didn't figure in Master System's equations: Vulture, a shapechanger capable of absorbing the body and memories of any other organic being. Without the information Vulture could collect, the rebels could never infiltrate the worlds where the rings where hidden. Each ring was better protected than the last. And as each ring drew the band further into Master System's web, Vulture became aware of a possibly more insidious danger. An unknown entity with the power to elude Master System seemed to be giving the rebels an unseen hand. But the question was - whose side was it on?... (from the back of the book)

Review: Admittedly, my expectations for this work were mixed. The first two where interesting and engaging, and I figured this one would be the same. And yet, several reviews mentioned this as the weakest of the four. For my part, I found it as good as the previous two, but in a different way. Chalker spends most of the book exploring two cultures, how biology and gender and form and birth and mind form the basics of any society. While this may seem boring to some, I found it interesting. Chalker didn't get verbose, exploring through action and dialogue, not long-winded paragraphs. The plot moved briskly enough and left at a lovely cliff-hanger. I'm eager for the final installation.  

Bookmarks: 7 of 10

Awards: None

ISBN: 0-345-32562-1
Date Finished: 4-15-2015
Pages: 338

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Review: Pirates of the Thunder by Jack L. Chalker (The Rings of the Master, Book 2)

Synopsis: Hawks had refused to help the ambitious Lazlo Chen in his quest to find the five gold rings that could break Master System's hold over humankind - and that refusal had landed him on the deadly prison planet of Melchior. But when Hawks and some fellow prisoners engineered a bold escape, it seemed almost too easy. Hawks guessed that Chen was pulling the strings, but he couldn't shake the feeling that there was a another, greater power involved. And that scared him. Now the stakes are rising, and Hawks was more determined than ever to find the gold rings. But Master System was out to capture him, and Chen was trying to follow him - and the only place his small band of rebels could hide was smack in the middle of pirate territory.... (from the back of the book)

Review: The book is aptly named, being that most of the story is spent setting up their pirate operation, and not hunting the rings. And while I enjoyed it, I'm concerned being that they still need to secure all five rings and they only have two more books to do it in. I enjoyed the new characters introduced, and the further exploration of the original. And again, bad things happen. People die. There is more ship-to-ship battles, and I really liked Chalker take on space travel and how that worked. I'm still hooked on the series, and just as eager to see where it leads as I was at the end of the first book - and more so with this one because of the hung mystery dumped into the story in the last chapter!

Bookmarks: 7 of 10

Awards: None

ISBN: 0-345-32561-3
Date Finished: 4-13-2015
Pages: 306

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Review: Lords of the Middle Dark by Jack L. Chalker (The Rings of the Master, Book 1)

Synopsis: Long ago, legends had it, the machines rebelled, wiping out most of humanity and exiling the survivors in widely scattered reservations where they lived according to their ancient cultures. Master System ruled unchallenged, since the key to breaking its control - five microchips disguised as gold rings - was long forgotten. And Master System was careful to keep it that way. Then an Amerindian called Hawks stumbled across secret information about the five gold rings and their purpose. And on the other side of the world, a Chinese girl genius dared to interfere with a computer system to avoid an unhappy future as a humble and obedient Oriental wife. Suddenly, Master System was after them both - and it looked as if their only hope lay in the finding the five rings themselves. (from the back of the book)

Review: Published in 1986, one would think this story would feel dated. And yet, it doesn't, for the most part. Issues like free-will, gender, racism, control and power, morality, and slavery all get woven into a prose that explores these things without devolving into being preachy. And considering the time period, the portrayal of women and minorities is more progressive than I expected. There is a bit of stereotyping, but considering the main protagonists are a Male American Indian and a Female Chinese, it's not bad. The characters are fascinating, each unique, with depth and flaws and quirks. Chalker didn't shy away from having bad things happen to them, either. And the whole concept of someone being able to re-write your personality, to fit whatever they wanted, and you would never know? Terrifying. The book was a little slow to start and it took a while for me to catch the jargon of the world. But overall, it's a fine start to the series and I'm eager to see where the story goes.

Bookmarks: 7 of 10

Awards: None

ISBN: 0-345-32560-5
Date Finished: 4-10-2015
Pages: 356

Friday, April 10, 2015

Review: Esther: The Star and the Sceptre by Gini Andrews

Synopsis: A fictionalized retelling of the story of Esther, from the Bible.

Review: Since childhood, Esther has been a favorite story in the Bible. I enjoy collecting and reading retellings. This, I believe, was my first, read many years ago. I remembered details of the story, but wasn't able to remember the title. So, I post my query on a group on LibraryThing that helps you find lost books. And the first response was correct! This is my favorite retelling. Perhaps because it follows closely to the biblical story, adding in carefully researched historical points and logical fictionalizations. Also, neither sensationalizes the story with sex and violence (like The Gilded Chamber) nor turn it into a sappy romance (like One Night with The King), Andrews achieves a balance that is pleasing to read. In the end, reading this again, well, it was just as good years later.

Bookmarks: 7 of 10

Awards: None

ISBN: 0-310-20180-2
Date Finished: 4-6-2015
Pages: 271

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Review: The Art of Video Games: From Pac-Man to Mass Effect by Chris Melissinos and Patrick O'Rourke

Synopsis:  In the forty years since the first Magnavox Odyssey pixel winked on in 1972, the home video game industry has undergone a mind-blowing evolution. Fueled by unprecedented advances in technology, boundless imaginations, and an insatiable addiction to fantastic new worlds of play, the video game has gone supernova, rocketing two generations of fans into an ever-expanding universe where art, culture, reality, and emotion collide. As a testament to the cultural impact of the game industry’s mega morph, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, with curator and author Chris Melissinos, conceived the forthcoming exhibition, The Art of Video Games, which will run from March 16 to September 30, 2012.* Welcome Books will release the companion book this March. Melissinos presents video games as not just mere play, but richly textured emotional and social experiences that have crossed the boundary into culture and art. Along with a team of game developers, designers, and journalists, Melissinos chose a pool of 240 games across five different eras to represent the diversity of the game world. Criteria included visual effects, creative use of technologies, and how world events and popular culture manifested in the games. The museum then invited the public to go online to help choose the games. More than 3.7 million votes (from 175 countries) later, the eighty winners featured in The Art of Video Games exhibition and book were selected. From the Space Invaders of the seventies to sophisticated contemporary epics BioShock and Uncharted 2, Melissinos examines each of the winning games, providing a behind-the-scenes look at their development and innovation, and commentary on the relevance of each in the history of video games. Over 100 composite images, created by Patrick O’Rourke, and drawn directly from the games themselves, illustrate the evolution of video games as an artistic medium, both technologically and creatively. Additionally, The Art of Video Games includes fascinating interviews with influential artists and designers–from pioneers such as Nolan Bushnell to contemporary innovators including Warren Spector, Tim Schafer and Robin Hunicke. The foreword was written by Elizabeth Broun, director of the Smithsonian American Art Museum and Mike Mika, noted game preservationist and prolific developer, contributed the introduction the introduction. (from the online description)

Review: My Husband and I saw this exhibit at the Chrysler Museum in Norfolk, VA and it was spectacular. I knew I had to own the book. Having the book is almost like having the exhibit in your hands. Although the exhibit used screens, artifacts, and interactive pieces (i.e. games you could play), the book captures the written portion and the overall feeling of the exhibit. With glossy pages and a unique organization system, it is clear much thought went into this book. The authors did a good job of harnessing and expression the idea that video games are more than just games, but an art form that incorporates the best thing about books, films, and technology. I agree. I enjoyed reading the history of the video game. And although they left out several of my favorites (World of Warcraft and Mortal Kombat), I see why they chose the games they did. A must read for any video game fan!

Bookmarks: 8 of 10

Awards: None

ISBN: 978-1599621104
Date Finished: 4-6-2015
Pages: 216

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Review: Women, Food, and God by Geneen Roth

Synopsis: Women Food and God is Geneen Roth's masterwork, the final book she intends to write about the subject that has fascinated her since she wrote the bestselling When Food is Love two decades ago. . From the very beginning, the listener is in the grip of an intelligent, humorous and thoughtful teacher who unravels the beginning of addiction until it's logical end: a human who has denied themselves the ability to think and feel. Whether the drug is wine or chocolate, the essence of the problem is the same - opting out of life. Women Food and God is both a powerful argument for personal investigation and change as well as a how-to that provides the listener with 7 basic guidelines for eating (the most important being never diet) as well as tools that Roth has developed over many years - and hundreds and hundreds of women - who have taken her seminars and workshops. (from the online description)

Review: Given my continuing issue with obesity and food, when I found this for pennies as a thrift shop, I snatched it up. The bases for Roth's ideology is more esoteric than I prefer. Lots of references to Buddhist and Hindu traditions, lots of importance placed on mediation, self, and feelings. As an INTJ, this is not my cup of tea. At all. Her advice seemed fluffy and touchy-feeling, lacking practical application and having an unhealthy obsession with self. Buried among the dribble lay a few bits of good information - think about why food controls you, learn why you lack control, what emotion does food trigger, all that sort of thing. I'll carry away some bits of good advice from this book, but overall, this isn't the sort of book for me.

Bookmarks: 6 of 10

Awards: None

ISBN: 978-1-4165-4307-7
Date Finished: 4-5-2015
Pages: 209

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Acquisitions: Three Stacks

Over the last four weeks, I've been book shopping three times - and I came home with a lovely stack each time. This in addition to my regularly scheduled arrival of a few books a month purchased with gift cards or ARCS for LibraryThing.

But enough talk - here are pictures of my new acquisitions!

March 8, 2015

March 21, 2015

April 4, 2015

Monday, April 6, 2015

Review: Holy Week Sonnets by Philip Rosenbaum

Synopsis: A collection of sonnets centered about the events of Holy Week, as told in the Bible.

Review: Poetry is not normal fare for me. I'm a speed-reader, so reading poetry forces me to slow down. Poetry is about each words, savoring and tasting it - which is something abnormal for a speed-reader. This was a perfect choice. The book itself was lovely - red fabric covers and spine, thick ivory paper with embossing. It felt perfect in the hands. Each poem covered one page, with the facing page have the book, chapter, and verse of the Bible. Only half the book was poems. The latter half was those verses from the Bible written out. The poems were lovely - introspective without being too emo and appropriate for the last week of Christ's life. I would recommend as excellent Holy Week reading. They might also make fine words to meditate on, if that's your thing.

Bookmarks: 7 of 10

Awards: None

ISBN: 1-889274-21-6
Date Finished: 4-3-2015
Pages: 105

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Review: The Secrets of Sir Richard Kenworthy by Julie Quinn (The Smythe-Smith Quartet, Book 4)

Synopsis: Sir Richard Kenworthy has less than a month to find a bride. He knows he can’t be too picky, but when he sees Iris Smythe-Smith hiding behind her cello at her family’s infamous musicale, he thinks he might have struck gold. She’s the type of girl you don’t notice until the second—or third—look, but there’s something about her, something simmering under the surface, and he knows she’s the one. Iris Smythe–Smith is used to being underestimated. With her pale hair and quiet, sly wit she tends to blend into the background, and she likes it that way. So when Richard Kenworthy demands an introduction, she is suspicious. He flirts, he charms, he gives every impression of a man falling in love, but she can’t quite believe it’s all true. When his proposal of marriage turns into a compromising position that forces the issue, she can’t help thinking that he’s hiding something… even as her heart tells her to say yes. (from the back of the book)

Review: Once again, Quinn has written a book that is both heart-felt and humorous. More so than many of her others, this one has a depth that was surprising. And while I figured out the secret rather early in the story, this only made watching the characters more interesting. I wasn't sure how things would turn out - indeed, until the very end. But the way it did turn out was perfect. Quinn has a knack for making characters with realism and depth - even secondary characters are fleshed out (which makes sense because those secondary characters often become main characters in future books). This was one of my more favorites of her work, and I highly recommend.

Bookmarks: 7 of 10

Awards: None

ISBN: 978-0-06-207294-8
Date Finished: 3-28-2015
Pages: 378

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Review: Imperial Stars by E.E. Smith with Stephen Goldin (The Family d'Alembert Series, Book 1)

Synopsis: The galactic Empire of Earth, faced with a cunning plot to dethrone the the rightful Emperor, turns for help to its top agents: Jules and Yvette d'Alembert, superhumanly-strong natives of the triple-gravity planet DesPlaines. Only the legendary d'Alemberts have the know-how and the quickness to succeed where every other agent has failed. But to do so, they have to crack the defenses of the mightiest fortress in the galaxy. (from the back of the book)

Review: I picked up the fifth in the series at a thrift shop, and it looked intriguing, so I purchased this first book for pennies online. It proved as amusing as I'd hoped. Written in the 1972, it has all you'd expect from a cheesy space opera. With lasers, flying cars, strange planets, gold lamé hot-pants, and villain with a goatee and red silk robes - hell, there are even communist! While the plot is somewhat predicable and far-fetched, it in no way detracts from the book. Action, humor, dastardly deeds, and heroic feats - this book has it all! I highly recommend if you are looking for a pleasing, light, read.

Bookmarks: 7 of 10

Awards: None

ISBN: 0-425-00592-2
Date Finished: 3-28-2015
Pages: 143