Friday, July 31, 2015

Review: Anastasia Krupnik by Lois Lowry

Synopsis: To Anastasia Krupnik, being ten is very confusing. For one thing, she has this awful teacher who can't understand why Anastasia doesn't capitalize or punctuate her poems. Then, there's Washburn Cummings, a very interesting sixth-grade boy who doesn't even know she is alive. Even her parents have become difficult. They insist she visit her 92-year-old grandmother who can never remember Anastasia's name. On top of that, they're going to have a baby -- at their age! It's enough to make a kid want to do something terrible. Anastasia knows that if she didn't have her secret green notebook to write in, she would never make it to her eleventh birthday. (from the online description)

Review: Anastasia is an adorable, likeable, relatable character. She reminds me too much of myself at 10. I adore her outlook on her life, her parents, school, and friends. And her little green notebook, where she writes things she hates and things she loves - and how those things often change columns - is marvelous. As for her adjusting to a new sibling - Lowry wrote that well. And when Anastasia learned to deal with growing old and dying, Lowry allows us to learn alongside her. I recommend this for any middle-school child, in particular those dealing with new siblings or death of family members, but also, for anyone like me, who just enjoys escaping the adult life for a time.

Bookmarks: 8 of 10

Awards: None

ISBN: 978-0440408529
Date Finished: 7-26-2015
Pages: 144

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Review: The Duchess War by Courtney Milan (The Brothers Sinister, Book I)

Synopsis: Miss Minerva Lane is a quiet, bespectacled wallflower, and she wants to keep it that way. After all, the last time she was the center of attention, it ended badly—so badly that she changed her name to escape her scandalous past. Wallflowers may not be the prettiest of blooms, but at least they don’t get trampled. So when a handsome duke comes to town, the last thing she wants is his attention. But that is precisely what she gets. Because Robert Blaisdell, the Duke of Clermont, is not fooled. When Minnie figures out what he’s up to, he realizes there is more to her than her spectacles and her quiet ways. And he’s determined to lay her every secret bare before she can discover his. But this time, one shy miss may prove to be more than his match… (from the online description)

Review: I've read only Courtney Milan books and didn't enjoy them. But when this popped up for free on my kindle, I decided to give her one more try. I'm glad I did. I greatly enjoyed this book. Yes, the heroine's secret is a bit far-fetched, but the characters overall are well-done. In particular, Milan's secondary characters add much to the story (which makes sense as her secondary characters become mains in other books). I found the Duke's idea of reform a bit naive, but I'm not sure if that is the writer's fault or actually, part of his character. As for the heroine, I thought her flaw was well-done and realistic, and added depth to her, as did her way of thinking in tactics. My only qualm was that they fell in love awfully quick - over the span of a few weeks. But this is typical of most romance novels, and not something that shall be held against Milan.

Bookmarks: 7 of 10

Awards: None

ISBN: 978-1937248284
Date Finished: 7-24-2015
Pages: 265

Monday, July 27, 2015

Review: Quidditch Through the Ages by Kennilworthy Whisp (J. K. Rowling)

Synopsis: This is a brief, light-hearted overview of Quidditch and it's begins and nuances.

Review: I enjoyed this! Amusing and informative, I most enjoyed reading about the America take of Quidditch, our attempts at playing and our fevor for Quodpot, a ridiculous spoof of football. That being said, I'm a Quidditch fan and will be forever. My only qualm about this book is it was too short!

Bookmarks: 7 of 10

Awards: None

ISBN: 0-439-32161-1
Date Finished: 7-19-2015
Pages: 56

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Review: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them by Newt Scamander (J. K. Rowling)

Synopsis: A Harry Potter "textbook", this is an index with introduction to all the magical beasts that inhabit the world of Harry Potter.

Review: This is a fun, thin volume that lets one, for a moment, pretend you are on your way to Hogwarts and this is your textbook. Part of the "story" behind the book is it is a copy of Harry's and includes his comments and notes - which are quite hilarious. The layout is easy to read, but still enjoyable for the adult reader. My two favorite animals are the Kneazle (I want one) and the Chizpurfle (a nearly invisible creature that, in the absence of something magical to knaw, will attack modern electronics). Given how often my computer has issues, it makes the Chizpurfle almost believable. This is a must-have book for any Harry Potter fan, and a enjoyable read.

Bookmarks: 7 of 10

Awards: None

ISBN: 0-439-32160-3
Date Finished: 7-18-2015
Pages: 42

Friday, July 17, 2015

Review: A Noble Masquerade by Kristi Ann Hunter

Synopsis: Lady Miranda Hawthorne acts every inch the lady, but inside she longs to be bold and carefree. Entering her fourth Season and approaching spinsterhood in the eyes of society, she pours her innermost feelings out not in a diary but in letters to her brother's old school friend, a duke--with no intention of ever sending these private thoughts to a man she's heard stories about but never met. Meanwhile, she also finds herself intrigued by Marlow, her brother's new valet, and although she may wish to break free of the strictures that bind her, falling in love with a servant is more of a rebellion than she planned. When Marlow accidentally discovers and mails one of the letters to her unwitting confidant, Miranda is beyond mortified. And even more shocked when the duke returns her note with one of his own that initiates a courtship-by-mail. Insecurity about her lack of suitors shifts into confusion at her growing feelings for two men--one she's never met but whose words deeply resonate with her heart, and one she has come to depend on but whose behavior is more and more suspicious. When it becomes apparent state secrets are at risk and Marlow is right in the thick of the conflict, one thing is certain: Miranda's heart is far from all that's at risk for the Hawthornes and those they love. (from the online description)

Review: *THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS* I was sadly disappointed in this story. The premised sounded so interesting! But, it just fell flat. The center of heroine's, Miranda, internal conflict was her "longing to be bold and carefree" but she's a lady and has to act like one. But I never felt like she actually could be bold. So, she wants to cry or laugh whenever she feels like it, but can't, because she's a lady. How is that bold? It seemed Miranda often confused boldness with good manners. She wanted to be rude or emotional when the situation was better served by self-control - and then complained about being stifled. Compared to other stories I've read with "bold" female characters, Miranda felt tame and boring. And that whole her-trust-in-men-is-ruined thing? The author never explained that, just tossed it in when it seemed to move the plot along. It seemed like a more interesting point of character for the heroine, but one that was only used to create a plot point and not something that actually defined the character. Which is a pity. It's been done before, but the idea of a rich girl learning that most men only want her for her money can be used to give the heroine depth. But Hunter uses it poorly and vaguely, and added into all the other cliches, makes the story of jumble of hacked ideas.
As for the hero, he seemed dull. There is allusions to a cruel childhood and some unpleasant family relations, but it felt like that was added to give him the cliched tragic past. It had little to do with his character or behavior. As for the villain - meh. The butler did it? Really? And it was his cousin - whom, according to the hero, they grew up like brothers and had all the same privilege and whose life he saved and then, wham! Suddenly, cousin is an evil guy? It made no sense.
Also, a lot of the hero/heroine interaction seemed contrived. Lost in the woods together? Lame. They had little chemistry and no humor. The hero is desperate to marry heroine, she asks for three days to decided, then he doesn't show up to hear her answer and doesn't seem worried about it. If he was so desperate for her answer, how come he seemed not to care about missing their appointment. Often their interaction felt vague and shallow and cliched. I never really felt any struggle - and the letter thing - which sounded interesting in the blurb - was rather stupid and short lived, and felt forced. The duke sent the letter to himself? Stupid. It would have made better sense to have someone else mail the letter to the duke. I'd rather hoped for more of the story to center on the letters. Oh, and the Marlow-valet is actually the Duke thing - boring. Another cliched plot device - the heroine falls in love with the lowly servant - but, oh look, he's actually a fabulously wealthy duke!
The secondary characters also felt contrived. Convenient best friends in both town and country. Older brothers who are perfect and protective, in particular the one who showed up out-of-nowhere. The pretty popular younger sister and the strict mother - these are cookie-cutter characters. The mother seemed to also be chiding Miranda but never the younger sister, and not in a "mom's favorite" sort of way, but in a "author needed a plot device" sort of way.
There also seemed to be too many other plot devices - the evil aunt, the mysterious spy, the collection of criminals-turned-loyal-servants, the kidnapping and rescues - in the end, it was just jumbled and vague and not interesting.
My last complaint is the God-Faith thing. That was just tossed in there randomly, with out order or believability. Half the time, I didn't realize she was actually praying - I thought she was just using God's name as an exclamation! The author's use of scripture and prayer as the thing that kept Miranda strong seems like a good idea, but it came off cheap. Miranda never actually struggled with her faith or doubt in God, and the things she was praying about seemed...trite. Yes, not getting married can be painful. But she's a wealthy, rich, much-loved young woman who - what? Didn't have the strength to make it through her oh-so-hard life? If she's read the bible that much, she would have picked up the idea of gratitude and stopped being such a twit about her circumstances.
Hunter has the makings of a fine author. But she wants more practice. This book has too many early-write mistakes. Compared with books produced by some of the current greats - of even, okay - romance authors,it's clear that Hunter needs to step-up her game to make her work less cliched and more interesting.

Prude Note: This is a CLEAN book - meaning, other than a few heated kisses, there is nothing sexual mentioned or described in the story.

Note: I received this book free at part of LibraryThing's Early Reviewer Program, in exchange for my fair and honest opinion

Bookmarks: 5 of 10

Awards: None

ISBN: 978-0-7642-1432-5
Date Finished: 7-8-2015
Pages: 270

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Review: Murder of Crows by Annie Bellet (The Twenty-Sided Sorceress, Book 2)

Synopsis: They say you can never go home again. If only that were true. Game store owner and nerd sorceress extraordinaire Jade Crow knows death stalks her in the form of her murderous ex-lover, Samir, a sorcerer who wants to eat her heart and take her power. With the help of her friends, and sexy tiger-shifter Alek, Jade trains for the inevitable confrontation. Until her estranged father shows up begging for help. Someone or something is murdering the crow shifters of Three Feathers ranch and her father believes sorcery is the only way to stop the killings. Faced with an unknown foe, a family that exiled her decades before, a deepening relationship with Alek, and Samir's ever-present threat, Jade will need all the power she's gained and then some to stop the Murder of Crows. (from the online description)

Review: I purchased this after reading the first. It was good. Bellet creates characters with depth and flaws, even the secondary characters. With fine pacing and plot, it was worth the $3 for the digital version, even though it's not very long.
Jade returns to her home and family at the request of her father - the same man who tossed her out at 14. I don't want to spoil it, but we learn the answers to questions about Jade's past, but those questions are replaced by others - and we still don't know much about her ex-boyfriend, the evil sorcerer. I enjoyed the twist on the Native American folklore and the further exploration of Jade's magic. Her interactions with Alek felt plausible, and I'm interested to see where they go and where Jade's story goes. 

Bookmarks: 7 of 10

Awards: None

ISBN: 978-1500948245
Date Finished: 7-1-2015

Pages: 162

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Review: On the Origin of the Species by Means of Natural Selection by Charles Darwin

Synopsis:"The Origin is one of the most important books ever published, and a knowledge of it should be a part of the intellectual equipment of every educated person. . . . The book will endure in future ages so long as a knowledge of science persists among mankind." — Nature
It took Charles Darwin more than twenty years to publish this book, in part because he realized that it would ignite a firestorm of controversy. On the Origin of Species first appeared in 1859, and it remains a continuing source of conflict to this day. Even among those who reject its ideas, however, the work's impact is undeniable. In science, philosophy, and theology, this is a book that changed the world. In addition to its status as the focus of a dramatic turning point in scientific thought, On the Origin of Species stands as a remarkably readable study. Carefully reasoned and well-documented in its arguments, the work offers coherent views of natural selection, adaptation, the struggle for existence, survival of the fittest, and other concepts that form the foundation of modern evolutionary theory. This volume is a reprint of the critically acclaimed first edition. (from the back of the book)

Review: It is only fair that I divide my review into two parts: Writing and Content:
Writing: Darwin is obviously writing from a different century. With complex syntax and extensive vocabulary, both scientific and non, his writing is dense, convoluted and so very boring. Even if one makes allowances for the difference in writing styles, I still find his writing to drag on and on. Darwin stated he wrote this work for the masses, and I grant that he gave it a valiant effort, however much he failed.
Content: Brilliant. From someone who was raised (and remains) a believer in Creationism, I have to say his work is logical, scientific, and well-thought out. He answered well many of the main arguments against his ideas. He mentioned many experiments conducted to further study his findings, and mentioned many works by contemporary naturalist that he drew on to reach his conclusion. As someone trained in the sciences, this does much to improve my thoughts about his ideas. Despite what many people say - Evolutionist and Creationist alike - Darwin's work is factual and logical, and demands serious consideration from anyone claiming to want to know the truth. While I have not reconciled my belief in a creator-God and the evidence of evolution, reading Darwin is a start for me and I recommend it as a start for anyone wishing to find the truth.

Bookmarks: Writing: 5 of 10 /  Content: 8 of 10

Awards: None

ISBN: 978-0-486-45006-3
Date Finished: 6-30-2015
Pages: 318