Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Book Review: The Body in the Library by Agatha Christie

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Title: The Body in the Library
Author: Agatha Christie
Series: Miss Marple, Book 3
Publisher: HarperCollins
Paperback: 207 pages
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)
The body of a beautiful blonde is found in the library of Gossington Hall. What the young woman was doing in the quiet village of St. Mary Mead is precisely what Jane Marple means to find out. Amid rumors of scandal, Miss Marple baits a clever trap to catch a ruthless killer.



Overall Rating: 4 out of 5

Mystery stories were what started my reading addiction, and although I don't read them that much anymore, it's comforting to return to the genre that made me love reading in the first place. Agatha Christie is an all-time favorite of mine (as can be said for a lot of you, probably!), and while I've read a lot of Hercule Poirot, I haven't read a lot of Miss Marple, which is a shame. The Body in the Library is the third in the series and it's Christie's successful attempt to take a cliched topic and turn it on its head.

I really enjoyed this book. It's perfect summer reading, with its short length and fast-paced plot. As always with Christie's books, the characters are remarkable. There is so much humor and silliness amid all the drama and sleuthing, which makes these books pure entertaining, fun.

The ending was clever and I actually didn't see the twist at the end, which was a nice surprise. It was, however, rushed and I wish we could have actually seen the playout of Miss Marple's trap instead of a recap of it, but that's the only flaw I can find in this book.

In short, this is one mystery that will keep you in suspense all the while keeping a smile on your face. If you find yourself with a few extra hours this summer, definitely keep The Body in the Library in mind.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Book Review: Gameboard of the Gods by Richelle Mead

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Title: Gameboard of the Gods
Author: Richelle Mead
Publisher: Dutton Adult
Series: Age of X, Book 1
Hardcover: 464 pages
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)
In a futuristic world nearly destroyed by religious extremists, Justin March lives in exile after failing in his job as an investigator of religious groups and supernatural claims. But Justin is given a second chance when Mae Koskinen comes to bring him back to the Republic of United North America (RUNA). Raised in an aristocratic caste, Mae is now a member of the military’s most elite and terrifying tier, a soldier with enhanced reflexes and skills.  
When Justin and Mae are assigned to work together to solve a string of ritualistic murders, they soon realize that their discoveries have exposed them to terrible danger. As their investigation races forward, unknown enemies and powers greater than they can imagine are gathering in the shadows, ready to reclaim the world in which humans are merely game pieces on their board.
Overall Rating: 4 out of 5

*Note: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher at BookExpo America.*

Okay, so when I first started reading this, I was a bit flummoxed and I maybe, may have reacted a little too strongly. It went along the lines of:

What is this?! This isn't Richelle Mead! What's all this science fiction stuff doing in here? Where's the witty banter? The paranormal stuff? WHAT IS HAPPENING?!

But then I calmed down. Because, as it turns out, there is witty banter and quite a bit of mythology/fantasy elements. Mead just had to set the scene for us. And after a few dozen pages, I started to really get into the story.

This is definitely a science fiction book (yes, with mythology elements -- SO COOL!) and most definitely not young adult, but I became a Richelle Mead fan through her Georgina Kincaid series, and I actually prefer her adult books. I'm also a huge fan of science fiction -- just transitioning from my expectations of what Mead usually brings to what she brought with Gameboard of the Gods was a little difficult.

With that said, Gameboard of the Gods is brilliant and I am amazed by Richelle Mead's talent and skill all over again. This is a terrifyingly realistic portrayal of a futuristic society in which the government severely limits religious practice, and the gods are starting to fight back. I loved the characters, and I especially loved the tension that fills Justin and Mae's relationship. (But, let's face it: creating a dynamic like that is Mead's forte.) There's also a lot of action where Mae kicks some serious butt.

*sigh* I love strong female characters.

The way the story unfolds is masterfully done; at the beginning, it all seemed very on-the-level and I wasn't really sure where the story was heading, but then clues and pieces of the puzzle started to drop in to create a story and a world I totally wasn't expecting. And it's not like the revelations ever end, either. Right up until the very last page, new facets are added to the world and the characters that live in it. Of course, not everything is resolved and I still have TONS of questions and ponderings about what's to come, but that's why this is a series, right?

Well done, Mead. Well done. I'm hooked.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Audiobook Review: The Templar Legacy by Steve Berry

Title: The Templar Legacy
Author: Steve Berry
Narrator: Paul Michael
Publisher: Books on Tape
Duration: 15 hours, 42 minutes
Series: Cotton Malone, Book 1
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)
The ancient order of the Knights Templar possessed untold wealth and absolute power over kings and popes . . . until the Inquisition, when they were wiped from the face of the earth, their hidden riches lost. But now two forces vying for the treasure have learned that it is not at all what they thought it was-and its true nature could change the modern world. 
Cotton Malone, one-time top operative for the U.S. Justice Department, is enjoying his quiet new life as an antiquarian book dealer in Copenhagen when an unexpected call to action reawakens his hair-trigger instincts-and plunges him back into the cloak-and-dagger world he thought he'd left behind. 
It begins with a violent robbery attempt on Cotton's former supervisor, Stephanie Nelle, who's far from home on a mission that has nothing to do with national security. Armed with vital clues to a series of centuries-old puzzles scattered across Europe, she means to crack a mystery that has tantalized scholars and fortune-hunters through the ages by finding the legendary cache of wealth and forbidden knowledge thought to have been lost forever when the order of the Knights Templar was exterminated in the fourteenth century. But she's not alone. Competing for the historic prize-and desperate for the crucial information Stephanie possesses-is Raymond de Roquefort, a shadowy zealot with an army of assassins at his command. 
Welcome or not, Cotton seeks to even the odds in the perilous race. But the more he learns about the ancient conspiracy surrounding the Knights Templar, the more he realizes that even more than lives are at stake. At the end of a lethal game of conquest, rife with intrigue, treachery, and craven lust for power, lies a shattering discovery that could rock the civilized world-and, in the wrong hands, bring it to its knees.

Overall Rating: 2 out of 5

I wanted to give this religious/mystery/thriller genre another try, because it's so popular! When I dislike a popular book or genre, I feel like I'm not giving it a fair chance. So, even though I did not at all like The Da Vinci Code, I ended up reading The Templar Legacy. I've heard some people call this the "poor man's" Da Vinci Code, but I don't agree with that. It's pretty much the same premise and kind of has the same characters, but the writing is better (and less offensive) than The Da Vinci Code. That still doesn't make this book good, though.

I see the interest that this book may have for people, and if you can overlook writing filled with clichéd phrases and characters, go for it. The plot is interesting and I like that these sorts of novels take a for-granted story and twist it on its head. But I just couldn't get past the writing. There's a lot of telling instead of showing and a lot of unnecessary direction that I feel like I simply didn't need as a reader. When someone started talking, the dialogue would be interrupted to simply tell me that the other person listened. Like this:

Alyssa told Georgina, "Well, I'm not so sure about that."

Georgina listened.

Alyssa continued, "You see..."

So, that got annoying fairly quickly. Along with that, there was just too much explanation and information dumps, making it a slow, tedious read. If a quarter to a third of this novel were cut out, I think it'd be a better story.

Despite my dislike of the story, I thought that the narration was good. Not anything extraordinary, but enjoyable -- Paul Michael did a good job with what he had. It just didn't hold much interest for me.


Monday, June 3, 2013

Book Review: No Moon by Irene N. Watts

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Title: No Moon
Author: Irene N. Watts
Publisher: Tundra Books
Paperback: 234 pages
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)
Louisa Gardener is the fourteen-year-old nursemaid to the young daughters of a wealthy, titled family living in London, England, in 1912. 
 Despite the bullying Nanny Mackintosh, for whom she is an extra pair of hands, she loves her work and her young charges. Then everything changes. The family decides to sail to New York aboard the Titanic. An accident to the children's nanny, only days prior to the sailing, means that Louisa must go in her stead. She cannot refuse, although she dreads even the mention of the ocean. Memories she has suppressed, except in nightmares, come crowding back. 
When Louisa was five and her sister seven years old, their two-year-old brother died on an outing to the seaside. Since that time, Louisa has had a fear of the ocean. She blames herself for the accident, though she has been told it wasn't her fault. 
If Louisa refuses to go on the voyage, she will be dismissed, and she will never get beyond the working-class life she has escaped from.

Overall Rating: 3 out of 5

No Moon is a story about Louisa, a nursemaid who finds herself in charge of two young children while their family sails on the Titanic. Threading factual information about the early twentieth century within a personal narrative format, Watts gives a general overview of what life was like in the early twentieth century within a story that tells of the tragedy of the Titanic. In some ways, I was disappointed by this book, but I can see how that might be useful for introducing children to the subject of the Titanic and the early 1900s.

The Good Things:

This is a great book for children who are reluctant or beginning readers. The story is simple, easy to follow, short, and moves along quickly. It provides a nice contrast between the people of the working-class and upper-class in England during the early twentieth century, and even hints at the burgeoning of the women's rights movement. I could see elementary school teachers reading this aloud in their class to complement a history unit for this time period. It brings up a lot of things to reflect and learn about, such as women's rights, marriage practices, work practices, family dynamics, etc., which makes it a great starter for a unit.

The Bad Things:

As an adult reader, I was a little disappointed in story's lack of complexity. I think that the emotional response of the Titanic's sinking could have been explored further. Instead, the characters said something along the lines of, "Oh, this is so terrible!" And then the story moved on. On a related note, the characters also seemed over-simplified, and I would have liked to see more growth or change within the side characters.

Overall, I think this is a great introduction to the story of the Titanic and it introduces topics that children could research and explore on their own. It'd be a good pleasure read for kids interested in the subject, but I could definitely see elementary school teachers using this in their classroom as an introduction to early twentieth century England and the Titanic.

*I was provided a free copy of this book from the publisher through LibraryThing's Early Reviewer program in exchange for an honest review.*

Friday, May 24, 2013

Book Review: All Grown Up and No Place to Go by David Elkind

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Title: All Grown Up and No Place to Go: Teenagers in Crisis (Revised Edition)
Author: David Elkind
Publisher: Westview Press Inc
Hardcover: 304 pages
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)
Once our society set aside time for adolescents to grow from children to adults, to become accustomed to their expanding bodies and minds. Now the markers that defined passage—differences in dress, behavior, and responsibilities—have vanished. The institutions that guarded adolescence, such as family and schools, now expect "young adults” to deal with adult issues. Those trends leave teens no time to be teens. All Grown Up and No Place to Go spotlights the pressures on teenagers to grow up quickly. The resulting problems range from common alienation to self-destructive behavior.  
Quoting teenagers themselves, Elkind shows why adolescence is a time of "thinking in a new key,” and how young people need this time to get used to the social and emotional changes their new thinking brings. Many of his ideas, such as the "imaginary audience” that makes teens so self-conscious, have become seminal in adolescent psychology. Already there are more than 175,000 copies of All Grown Up and No Place to Go in print. In this thoroughly revised edition, Elkind also explores the "post-modern family” in which teenagers are growing up. He helps parents and those who work with youth and understand teens in crucial ways, because the root of so many adolescent frictions is the gap between what teenagers need and what our culture provides.

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5

In All Grown Up and No Place to Go, David Elkind talks about how today’s society is increasing the stressors put onto adolescents and decreasing support due to the view that adolescents are sophisticated and able to make adult decisions. Because of this, they also have no time or space to establish their own identities  and create a moral code that will help them make decisions when adults. Elkind stresses that adolescents need to be supported and given limitations so that they do not engage in risky behavior and have time to establish their identities. Additionally, adults should lead by example and base rules on principles rather than emotions. In this way, we can help our adolescents reduce the stress in their lives and achieve an integrated identity.

I think this book is more important than ever. While the passages he uses are largely drawn from fiction (which I found strange) and are slightly outdated, I think that the concepts Elkind present are still relevant and the issue of adolescents facing tougher challenges with less support needs to be addressed both within schools and within the home. And this book gives great advice both for teachers and parents to help adolescents succeed in today's world.

It's not too long and is a relatively fast read -- I do think some portions are unnecessary and can be skimmed, but the key to supporting adolescents is to understand where they're coming from and what they're dealing with. Although I think that there needs to be another updated version of this, what with the internet revolution, Elkind picks up on important ideas that can give adults a better sense of what it is to be a kid today. If you deal with adolescents on a regular basis in your job, or are the caregiver of adolescents, you should give this a read -- I found it to be incredibly helpful.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Book Review: Lord Jim by Joseph Conrad

Title: Lord Jim
Author: Joseph Conrad
Publisher: Broadview Press
Paperback: 455 pages
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)
Joseph Conrad's classic novel about a man's lifelong efforts to atone for an act of instinctive cowardice set the style for a whole class of literature.

Overall Rating: 2 out of 5

Lord Jim is a story about Jim, a guy who spends his entire life trying to make up for an act of cowardice on the sea. It's told through the perspective of Marlow, a man who meets Jim during his trial and who tries to help Jim get his life back together afterwards. I get that this novel is important, as it created a sort of genre within literature, but I could not get into this book. There were moments when I found myself engaged with what was going on, but for the most part, this book bored me.

The language is beautiful, but I hated the way the book is structured. It's told in third-person, but narrated by Marlow. I think it would have been much easier to follow and so much more interesting of it was told in third-person from Jim's perspective, or just told in first-person by Marlow.

I had a hard time relating to the characters (especially Jewel, Jim's romantic interest), and the story was only okay. Yes, this is a "classic" and I'm sure that if read carefully, you could find a great amount of symbolism, political commentary, blah, blah, blah. I just didn't find it interesting or enjoyable.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Book Review: Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Title: Gone Girl
Author: Gillian Flynn
Publisher: Weidenfeld & Nicolson
Hardcover: 465 pages
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)
Marriage can be a real killer.  
On a warm summer morning in North Carthage, Missouri, it is Nick and Amy Dunne’s fifth wedding anniversary. Presents are being wrapped and reservations are being made when Nick’s clever and beautiful wife disappears from their rented McMansion on the Mississippi River. Husband-of-the-Year Nick isn’t doing himself any favors with cringe-worthy daydreams about the slope and shape of his wife’s head, but passages from Amy's diary reveal the alpha-girl perfectionist could have put anyone dangerously on edge. Under mounting pressure from the police and the media—as well as Amy’s fiercely doting parents—the town golden boy parades an endless series of lies, deceits, and inappropriate behavior. Nick is oddly evasive, and he’s definitely bitter—but is he really a killer?  
As the cops close in, every couple in town is soon wondering how well they know the one that they love. With his twin sister, Margo, at his side, Nick stands by his innocence. Trouble is, if Nick didn’t do it, where is that beautiful wife? And what was in that silvery gift box hidden in the back of her bedroom closet? 

Overall Rating: 3 out of 5

I started reading this book for a book club, and I have to say, I struggled dearly. Each time I tried to read it, I quickly found myself frustrated with the characters and the narration. If it were not for the book club, I would have dropped this book into the, “maybe someday, because everyone else likes it, I will read it” pile. But because of this wonderful club that I joined, I ventured further into this “web of deceit, narcissism, and sociopath cat and mouse game,” that I really enjoyed in the end.

As I stated before, the narration was, dare I say it, a nightmare. The author, Gillian Flynn alternates between the two main characters, Nick Dunne and his wife Amy. Nick’s story is told in the present but reflects quite a bit on the past and Amy’s story is told through a diary, alternating between different years based upon the theme, not chronologically. When Amy goes missing and Nick calls the police, I started to focus on the present-day clues, but the next chapter starts with Amy talking about when she married Nick. I had a hard time staying in the present, let alone focusing on the past.

In the middle of the book, I started to become interested. The whole, “is he lying or is he telling the truth,” theme started to draw me in. The media massacred Nick and I wanted to throw the book at him. I felt sure, with his sappy narration and his wicked thoughts, that he had indeed, carried out his wife’s murder.

I found the ending quite satisfying. But because I had to endure the beginning of the book, I didn’t feel it was right to give Gone Girl a five star review. I can tell you this: I’m getting rid of this book. It’s definitely not one that I would read again.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Book Review: The Truth about DIBELS: What It Is, What It Does by Kenneth S. Goodman

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Title: The Truth about DIBELS: What It Is, What It Does
Author: Kenneth S. Goodman
Publisher: Heinemann Educational Books
Paperback: 87 pages
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)
In "The Truth About DIBELS" you'll find out why teachers, administrators, and reading researchers nationwide are emphatically resisting the insidious influence of "DIBELS." Well-known education writers - including P. David Pearson, Robert Tierney, Sandra Wilde, and Maryann Manning - tell you how DIBELS hurts students and teachers and why impairs learning and teaching. They present chapters that: dispel the science and methodology that "support" DIBELS critique the validity of the information that DIBELS spits out demonstrate how DIBELS warps instructional planning to fit its limited measurements - and to fit the political ends of its creators and supporters expose the fiction behind its supposedly miraculous success rates.

Overall Rating: 3.5 out of 5

I think this is an important book for parents and educators to read -- DIBELS is an intervention program that is increasingly being used in schools, and Goodman gives a good overview of exactly what this test measures and the negative effects it can have on children who are learning to read. Basically, this test only measures fluency skills, not actual reading ability, and when children are being put into special programs based on that and then being taught to the test rather than being taught actual reading skills, it creates a lot of problems.

This book provides a great basic overview of the test itself, but it's fairly biased as far as books go. I think that DIBELS can potentially catch poor readers who need to be put into intervention programs to "catch up," but I also don't think that it should be the only tool used in assessing student reading ability. Also, it's important that parents understand exactly what their children are being tested for and what those test results mean -- information which I don't think is made very clear.

Again, this is just a resource for parents and educators to stay informed about the measures being used to test children and what effects those tests can have.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Review: The Sandman Vol. 3: Dream Country by Neil Gaiman

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Title: The Sandman, Vol. 3: Dream Country
Author: Neil Gaiman
Series: The Sandman, Volume 3
Publisher: Vertigo
Paperback: 160 pages
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)
The third book of the Sandman collection is a series of four short comic book stories. In each of these otherwise unrelated stories, Morpheus serves only as a minor character. Here we meet the mother of Morpheus's son, find out what cats dream about, and discover the true origin behind Shakespeare's A Midsummer's Night Dream. The latter won a World Fantasy Award for best short story, the first time a comic book was given that honor.This volume includes issues 17-20 of the original series and features completely new coloring, approved by the author, of issues 17 and 18.

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5

I don't think that this volume is as strong as the previous two, but the stories Gaiman presents are still intriguing and present a different, strange view of the world. Mostly, I think my disengagement came from the fact that the stories in this volume don't heavily feature Morpheus, and they don't really fit into overarching story of the series. (Yes, the summary says that, but I missed that connection from the other two volumes.) Despite that, this is still an excellent read. If Gaiman can be counted on for anything, it's for presenting a surprising, twisted view of the world that will remain with you for weeks, months, even years to come.

Unlike with a lot of other graphic novels I've read, there has yet to be a story in The Sandman that I don't like. While I enjoy some more than others, there is always something that captures my interest within every story. I think this is mainly because Gaiman unflinchingly delves into the demented and twisted while also showing the beautiful side of things. My favorite story from this collection is "A Midsummer's Night Dream" which manages to be funny, entertaining, and horrifying all at the same time. Shakespeare and his troupe perform the play for the fae themselves, with disastrous results for some members of the party.

What I love about the stories from this volume is that with every one, I was put into a fantastical situation that seemed completely removed from reality, and I would think, "What an interesting idea!" And then, the further I got into the story and the more I thought about it, the more realistic it seemed. Despite the fantastical elements, Gaiman presents such clear, truthful representations of people that by the end of each story, I could imagine it all being based on true events. I love literature that can mess with my head like that and make me see the world from different perspectives. And really, Gaiman is the master at being able to mess with readers' heads.

So far, I'm enjoying The Sandman, and if you are at all a fan of dark fantasy, I think you should check this out if you haven't already.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Book Review: The Amethyst Road by Louise Spiegler

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Title: The Amethyst Road
Author: Louise Spiegler
Publisher: Clarion Books
Hardcover: 328 pages
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)
In a society similar to ours in some ways and very different in others, 16-year-old Serena and her older sister, Willow, struggle to get by in a tough, crime-infested urban neighborhood. By birth they are half Yulang, half Gorgio, but are accepted by neither race. The sisters get no help from the Yulang, because Willow’s child was born out of wedlock and the family has been declared outcast. The Gorgios are even worse, trying to take the child away.  
A run-in with social services, aptly nicknamed the Cruelty, launches Serena on a journey that is at once an escape and a quest to reunite her family. With the help of a boy named Shem, who is on a quest of his own, Serena travels deep into the mountains, where precious gems are mined, and across barren plains, where white-clad Trident Riders are terrorizing anyone who is not Gorgio. Along the way, Serena finds the answers she seeks—and some she didn’t even know she was looking for.

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5

I can't believe this book isn't more popular than it is -- it's so good! I actually had a hard time deciding which genre it would fit into (in my opinion, always the sign of an interesting, complex story), but I think "alternate history" works best. The book follows the story of Serena, a half-Yulang, half-Gorgio who has been declared outcast because her sister had a child out of wedlock. When that child is taken away by the bureaucratic-loving Gorgios, Serena attacks two people working with social services (an agency nicknamed the Cruelty) and has to escape when she believes she kills one of them.  A boy named Shem offers to help her, and together they set off on a journey to get their lives going on the right path.

I am a huge fan of coming-of-age stories, especially when they involve a headstrong girl who needs to learn when to use her temper and when to curb it in order to survive in the world. Through her journey, Serena learns that there are actually good people in the world who are willing to help those in need, and sometimes, situations aren't as black-and-white as she'd like them to be.

The real strength of this book lies within the characters. They are so relatable, complex, and interesting. I liked that Spiegler didn't reveal everything about Shem in the beginning -- his motives for helping out Serena aren't fully revealed into rather late in the novel, and I appreciated the mystery his character represented. As always with coming-of-age novels (probably the main reason why I like them so much), the characters show a great amount of growth throughout the story.

Also, the storytelling is fantastic. Nothing is cut-and-dry, there are plenty of surprises and twists to keep you flipping the pages and wanting more answers. I don't think The Amethyst Road has enough action to be considered a true adventure book, but I felt like that's exactly what I was reading. I had a hard time putting the book down once I picked it up, because the stakes were high and I needed to know that everything was going to turn out all right.

There are some problems that I would expect from the first book of an author. Sometimes, we are told things instead of shown them, but they were really minor, especially compared to all the good stuff within this story.

If you can find this, pick it up. It's so worth the read. I'm planning on reading Spiegler's other book, The Jewel and the Key, and I hope she writes more.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Book Review: Doctor Who: Prisoners of Time Vol. 1


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Title: Doctor Who: Prisoners of Time Vol. 1
Authors: Scott and David Tipton
Illustrators: Simon Fraser and Lee Sullivan
Publisher: IDW Publishing
Paperback: 104 pages
Expected Publication Date: 4 Jun 2013
Summary: (taken from the publisher's website)
November 23, 1963: A day that changed the world forever. That day saw the broadcast debut of Doctor Who, which was to become the longest-running science-fiction series on television. And now 50 years later, we pay tribute to one of the greatest pop-culture heroes of all time with this special series, which tells an epic adventure featuring all 11 incarnations of the intrepid traveler through time and space known simply as... the Doctor.

Overall Rating: 3 out of 5

Is everyone ready for the 50th anniversary? I am! And I love all the cool stuff coming out to celebrate Doctor Who's birthday. This collection of comics is one such thing, and while I love anything Doctor Who related, I wish this could have been better.

Prisoners of Time, Vol. 1 is a collection of 5 comic book stories featuring the first five incarnations of the Doctor getting into a scrap, getting out of it, and then having his companions disappear. Because I received this as an ARC, I've only read the first 3 Doctors' stories, so keep that in mind. In any case, it's an amazing premise, and I'm getting antsy waiting to read how it all ties together. However, in terms of story, I just wish there could have been more. The stories just didn't fit the page constraint, which made the resolutions feel rushed.

Also, when it comes to comics, I expect some sort of important visual element that enhances the story -- something that makes it so that if it were told in another format, something would be lost. That didn't happen. The art isn't anything spectacular -- I think this story would have been just as good in a novel format (maybe better, given how rushed it all was as it is).

Despite those things, I enjoyed the stories and I really enjoyed getting to spend more time with the first incarnations of the Doctor. Having watched some Classic Who, I thought that the writers did an excellent job in capturing their personalities and that of their companions. Some old monsters were also brought back, which is always a plus for us Classic Who fans. I'm interested to see how the story continues and how it wraps up. While I thought the first three stories fell a bit flat, the overall idea promises a spectacular resolution.

*I received a free copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.*

Monday, May 6, 2013

Book Review: The Children of Henry VIII by John Guy

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Title: The Children of Henry VIII
Author: John Guy
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Expected Publication Date: 1 Jul 2013
Hardcover: 272 pages
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)
Nothing consumed Henry VIII, England's wealthiest and most powerful king, more than his desire to produce a legitimate male heir and perpetuate the Tudor dynasty. To that end he married six wives, became the subject of the most notorious divorce case of the sixteenth century, and broke with the pope, all in an age of international competition and warfare, social unrest, and growing religious intolerance and discord. Henry fathered four children who survived childhood, each by a different mother. 
In The Children of Henry VIII, renowned Tudor historian John Guy tells their stories, returning to the archives and drawing on a vast array of contemporary records, personal letters, ambassadors' reports, and other eyewitness accounts, including the four children's own handwritten letters. Guy's compelling narrative illuminates their personalities, depicting siblings often scarred by jealously, mutual distrust, bitter rivalry, even hatred. Possessed of quick wits and strong wills, their characters were defined partly by the educations they received, and partly by events over which they had no control. Henry Fitzroy, Duke of Richmond, although recognized as the king's son, could never forget his illegitimacy. Edward would succeed his father, but died while still in his teens, desperately plotting to exclude his half-sisters from the throne, and utterly failing to do so. Mary's world was shattered by her mother Catherine of Aragon's divorce and her own unhappy marriage. Elizabeth was the most successful, but also the luckiest. Even so, she lived with the knowledge that her father had ordered her mother Anne Boleyn's execution, was often in fear of her own life, and could never marry the one man she truly loved. John Guy takes us behind the facade of politics and pageantry at the Tudor court, vividly capturing the greatest and most momentous family drama in all of English history.

Overall Rating: 3.5 out of 5

There is something so fascinatingly twisted about the Tudor family that I can't help myself when some new thing about them comes out. I don't care what it is: TV shows, films, books, whatever. I love reading about this crazy, messed-up family!

So, of course, there's a lot information out there about Henry VIII and the Tudor family in general, so what is it that makes this unique and worth getting versus all the other stuff out there? Unlike many other books I've read about the Tudors, John Guy goes directly to the source and doesn't offer much speculation about relationships, actions, or whatever else that people like to speculate about. Because of that, I think there's a good overview of the family dynamics, which I don't think is explored very often. So, that was nice. The downside to this is that it gets a bit dry and there's A LOT of listing of presents the children received at Christmas, or just listing in general.

I also felt like the ending was rushed and Elizabeth I's story wasn't fully explored, which was a bit disappointing for me, especially since a good amount of time was spent on her siblings. And I get that going over a long reign is much more complicated than going over her siblings' histories, but I would have liked a better summary of what she accomplished. Maybe in another book?

In any case, don't get this if you're looking for some sort of dramatic story reminiscent of The Tudors TV show. The Children of Henry VIII is very much based on historical documents. But the great thing about this particular royal family is that it's interesting without any dramatization.

*I received a free copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.*

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Book Review: Blood Makes Noise by Gregory Widen

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Title: Blood Makes Noise
Author: Gregory Widen
Publisher: Thomas & Mercer
Paperback: 442 pages
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Summary:
In 1955, the corpse of Eva Peron vanished from a Buenos Aires vault. With it went a key to a bank box filled with gold. Only one man knows where the body is hidden: disgraced former CIA agent, Michael Suslov, a witness to the night Evita's body disappeared. Sixteen years later, he agrees to retrieve the body, hoping the mission will grant him absolution for the terrible sins of his past. But, a pair of rogue CIA agents intervene, wanting Evita's treasure for themselves. What began as a recovery mission becomes a race for justice and the fight of Michael's life.

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5

I was excited to get the opportunity to review Blood Makes Noise, because I had studied Evita Peron in school and have always been fascinated by her. I also love historical thrillers, so for me this was a golden opportunity. I must say, my excitement dwindled early on, because the first and second parts of the book are extremely wordy. The author over-writes many chapters and I found my mind wondering a lot. The third part of the book was fantastic, fast-paced, thrilling and just what I expected from the beginning.

The beginning of the book takes place in 1947, where only two people bear witness to one of the most secretive acts of Evita Peron. The first part of the book focuses on CIA agent Michael Suslov, the central character in Blood Makes Noise. The author goes into great detail to explain Suslov’s upbringing, and the tragedies that have plagued him. During Michael’s career in the CIA, he formed a bond with Argentine military intelligence officer, Hector Cabinillas. Hector only trusts Michael, so when he needs to move the preserved body of Evita Peron, he calls on Michael to do it. In 1956, another tragedy strikes Michael that becomes too much for him to bear. So begins his descent from grace, and ends with his reprimand and resignation from the CIA.

Sixteen years later, Michael, being the only one who knows where the body of Evita is stored, is asked to bring her back to Buenos Aires. Using this opportunity to redeem himself, he races against rogue CIA agents to complete his mission. So this is where the book really gets interesting. The writing is fantastic. I felt like I was there.

This book was written based upon historical facts. It’s up to each person’s interpretation as to whether the events are as depicted in this book. I must say, I have read a lot of books about Evita, and this book comes as close to the truth as I would perceive it. If the whole book was written with the same intensity as the third part titled “Her,” I definitely would have given it a five star review.

*I received a free copy from Media Connect in exchange for my unbiased review.*


Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Book Review: Spirit House by Mark Dapin

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Title: Spirit House
Author: Mark Dapin
Publisher: Atlantic Books
Paperback: 368 pages
Expected Publication Date: 1 Aug 2013
Summary: (taken from The Book Depository)
David is thirteen and confused. His mum has gone off with her lover and sent David to his grandparents to give her new relationship some 'space'. David's grandfather, Jimmy - a Jewish war veteran and survivor of the enforced labour on the Thai-Burma railway - is seventy. Haunted by the ghosts of long-dead comrades, the only person he can confide in is a thirteen-year-old from a different world. Funny, wise and deeply moving, Spirit House is a remarkable story of war and the fall of Singapore, of the bonds of friendship and the bonds of grief, and of a young boy making sense of growing up while old men try to live with their past.

Overall Rating: 2.5 out of 5

While beautifully written and an inherently interesting, moving subject, I think that Spirit House could have been organized more effectively. First, David is supposedly the main character of the novel, but we don't get to spend much time with him. Instead, we have a brief page or two that sums up his thoughts about his current situation of living at his grandparents' home while his parents are figuring themselves off, and then we're back to Jimmy's story about the war. So, don't let the summary confuse you. Despite the fact that David is the "main character" and that this novel is supposed to be about his journey into adulthood, this is really a book about Jimmy.

Now, don't get me wrong, Jimmy's story is great. It's interesting, the dialogue is witty, and the characters are memorable. (The biggest strength of this book is characterization.) Spirit House gives a lot of food for thought. It's full of great ideas that we should think about and discuss. However, the format just didn't cut it for me. I think Jimmy should have been the main character. David's story doesn't add much of interest and not a lot of time is even spent on him. Jimmy, on the other hand, spends most of the novel narrating his story about being a POW in Singapore.

I also prefer novels to be more exposition than dialogue, and that just wasn't the case in this story. It may seem like a small detail, but format is everything to me. Scripts and comics are made for dialogue-heavy storytelling, not novels.

Despite that, the characters are excellent; getting to read about them and learn about them was a pleasure. I especially enjoyed reading about Townsville Jack; he is by far my favorite character of this novel. The story itself is interesting, though it's hard not to get frustrated about the format through which it's introduced. Overall, I think those who simply like a good story will enjoy this novel. For those who are like me and get caught up in format and writing style, you may have some problems with keeping yourself in the story.

*Thank you to The Book Depository for providing me with a free copy in exchange for an honest review.*

Monday, April 29, 2013

Book Review: The Start of Everything by Emily Winslow

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Title: The Start of Everything
Author: Emily Winslow
Publisher: Allison & Busby
Expected Publication Date: 24 Jun 2013
Summary: (taken from The Book Depository)
Outside the city of Cambridge, the badly decomposed body of a teenage girl is found washed up in the flooded fens. Detective Inspector Chloe Frohmann and her partner Morris Keene are called in to establish the identity of the victim. They must work quickly to solve the mystery of her death before the press pounces on the salacious story. 
Meanwhile, Mathilde Oliver, the autistic daughter of a Cambridge don, is attempting to trace the writer of a series of letters addressed to 'Katja', a student at Corpus Christi College who doesn't seem to exist. Across the hallowed paths and storied squares of Cambridge University, Frohmann and Keene follow a sparse trail of clues. The nameless body and obscure letters eventually lead them to Deeping House, an imposing country manor. Here they begin to unravel a web of passions and secrets, of long-buried crimes and fresh horrors ...

Overall Rating: 3.5 out of 5

The Start of Everything begins when the body of a teenage girl is found washed up in the fens. Told from multiple perspectives, the novel follows the two detectives, Chloe and her partner Morris, as they track down the identity of the girl and the person who killed her. Interwoven are stories and flashbacks from people who become involved in the murder, or who were involved in the murder when it took place.

My favorite thing about this book is that it's a smart, complicated mystery that makes you think and takes time to sift through. All too often, mysteries are dumbed down or only about the romance or the drama while the mystery takes place on the side. In The Start of Everything, we get interesting, complex characters and the mystery really takes center-stage. I'm a fan of stories that take the time to show multiple viewpoints within multiple timelines, so for me, this was perfect; however, I can see people getting confused as they adjust to this sort of storytelling.

With all these different viewpoints, Emily Winslow covers a lot of big topics and does it well -- this is a book that makes you think, and I love that. Whether it be the difficulties of living with autism, what it's like to be a woman in a job dominated by men, what it's like to come back after injury in a high-risk job, sibling rivalry, family dynamics, etc. I came into this book thinking it'd be a fun mystery, but I loved how Winslow surprised me by delving into really serious, deep issues. Kudos to her.

The characters are all fantastic. I have to say, Mathilde is my favorite and I'm sad I didn't get to see more from her perspective, but I think Winslow did an excellent job in showing how she experiences the world differently from most people.

However, the ending just didn't really cut it for me. While the mystery gets solved, I still didn't get a good feeling of resolution. Some people like that, but there were a couple of loose ends I was hoping to see a conclusion for. Also, the book is separated into parts and the way the story moves through these parts is a bit jarring. I didn't mind the multiple perspectives, but the timeline was a bit strange to follow and took some getting used to. Again, this isn't a terrible thing, but it did take me out of the story a little bit.

Despite that, there is so much to love about The Start of Everything. The writing is beautiful, funny, and smart, and the mystery itself is just fantastic.

*Thank you to The Book Depository for providing me with a free copy in exchange for my honest review.*

Friday, April 26, 2013

Book Review: The Seers - New World Order by M. D. Kaczkowski

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Title: The Seers: New World Order
Author: M.D. Kaczkowski
Publisher: Scilestial Fiction Press
Paperback: 304 pages
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)
Welcome to a new world where science and spirituality are not separate, but coexist on opposite ends of the same spectrum. Creator M. D. Kaczkowski sheds light on the unseen laws of the universe with a fantastical, page-turning thriller. The Seers introduces a world where good battles evil for the world’s soul. The fate of humanity rests in the hands of the Seers, a handful of humans with the rare ability to see the unseen, who call their Angels into action to do battle with Demons. This captivating, fast-paced story blends two classic genres: part apocalypse and part detective story. Through the characters’ lives, readers are introduced to the prophets of humanity, known as the Seers. Between chapters, Dr. John Alderson, a well-traveled Seer-physician, shares his inside knowledge and encourages readers to delve deeper by guiding them to sections in The Seers’ Handbook, which makes up the final third of the book. Welcome to the universe of The Seers. Your journey has only just begun.

Overall Rating: 5 out of 5

Oh my goodness, this book is great. The writing is outstanding, the storyline is amazing and this book does what no other book has ever done: takes the reader into a different realm. The author, M. D. Kaczkowski, has set the stage for a new dimension of writing that will keep even novice readers entertained.

Kaczkowski uses interactive technology, which spans the barrier between the written word and multimedia to bring an incredible story to life. At the end of each chapter are QR codes. By using your smartphone, you are able to access more information and links that give detailed information, movie clips, music and pictures to enhance the story.

The plot is a creative masterpiece! Bringing spirituality and science to the same level, Kaczkowski shows readers a provocative storyline in the battle of good vs. evil. The main character, Detective John Scarcepho, has long suppressed his ability to see the unseen. Once assigned to a murder case, that looks to be the work of a serial killer, Scarcepho will have to learn that the spirits, he thought were demonic nightmares are fighting for control of the universe. Only a few people known as Seers have the ability to see them.

When I first started reading the book, I wasn’t fond of the QR codes, because I didn’t want to leave the book and focus on the multimedia portion. But as I got further along in the storyline, I decided to check them out. I was surprised at the enormous amount of details that were offered. After I watched the clip of New York in the 50’s, I was hooked. There are times when it’s not convenient to utilize the media information but it does NOT take away from the storyline at all, in fact, it adds a lot to it.

 When I finished the book, I spent a lot of time going back over the multimedia information which again is utterly amazing and a lot of fun to look at. M.D. Kaczkowski brings book reading to a higher level of enjoyment. I can’t wait to read the next installment.

*I received The Seers by M.D. Kaczkowski compliments of Media Connect for my honest review.*

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Book Review: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

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Title: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Author: Stieg Larsson
Translator: Reg Keeland
Publisher: Knopf
Series: Millennium, Book 1
Hardcover: 465 pages
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)
Mikael Blomkvist, a once-respected financial journalist, watches his professional life rapidly crumble around him. Prospects appear bleak until an unexpected (and unsettling) offer to resurrect his name is extended by an old-school titan of Swedish industry. The catch—and there's always a catch—is that Blomkvist must first spend a year researching a mysterious disappearance that has remained unsolved for nearly four decades. With few other options, he accepts and enlists the help of investigator Lisbeth Salander, a misunderstood genius with a cache of authority issues. Little is as it seems in Larsson's novel, but there is at least one constant: you really don't want to mess with the girl with the dragon tattoo. 
Overall Rating: 3 out of 5

I admit it, I watched the movie before I read the book. (The Swedish version, NOT the American version. The Swedish version is perfectly good and I don't understand why Hollywood decided they needed to make their own.) Because of that, I actually put off reading the novel for awhile -- I didn't think I would be as captivated as I was with the movie, since I already knew what was going on with the mystery Blomkvist is supposed to solve. But, I felt bad not reading the book first, so I gave it a try and I still really enjoyed it.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is about a journalist named Mikael Blomkvist who has been convicted of libel. But, because he's such a thorough researcher, a rich man named Vanger hires him to investigate the disappearance of Vanger's niece, Harriet -- a case that's nearly 4 decades old. He ends up meeting an investigator named Lisbeth Salander, a computer genius with some serious issues. Enlisting her help, the two find that it's sometimes dangerous to dig around in cold cases.

My favorite aspect of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is the characterization. I love how Stieg Larsson is able to write in Lisbeth's point of view while still keeping the sort of distance that she keeps with other people. Despite reading the story from her close third-person perspective, I still didn't understand very much about her, and I loved that! She's not the type of person to reveal personal information, so I was glad that I was able to connect with her while still feeling the distance that the other characters felt upon interacting with her. For keeping that distance, Larsson is a genius.

Despite that, the writing style of this book kept pulling me out of the story. I think a lot of the background information could have been edited out, especially when there's just an exhaustive info. dump of the history of various companies and such. Obviously, some of this is necessary to set the scene, but these sorts of passages go on for pages, and are a bit boring.

Other than that, this is a good story. I can see why it's so successful and why people love it. It's has mystery, intriguing characters, and it's a fairly fast-paced read. If you  haven't managed to read this yet (No judgment! I was right there with you.), give it a try. Even with knowing what was going to happen, I enjoyed it.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Book Review: The Choice by Nicholas Sparks

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Title: The Choice
Author: Nicholas Sparks
Publisher: Warner Books
Hardcover: 272 pages
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

Travis Parker has everything a man could want: a good job, loyal friends, even a waterfront home in small-town North Carolina. In full pursuit of the good life -- boating, swimming, and regular barbecues with his good-natured buddies -- he holds the vague conviction that a serious relationship with a woman would only cramp his style. That is, until Gabby Holland moves in next door. Despite his attempts to be neighborly, the appealing redhead seems to have a chip on her shoulder about him...and the presence of her longtime boyfriend doesn't help. Despite himself, Travis can't stop trying to ingratiate himself with his new neighbor, and his persistent efforts lead them both to the doorstep of a journey that neither could have foreseen. Spanning the eventful years of young love, marriage and family, The Choice ultimately confronts us with the most heart-wrenching question of all: how far would you go to keep the hope of love alive?

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5

I enjoy reading Nicholas Sparks's books, and The Choice is no different. It's fast-paced and easy to read, which I appreciate with my busy schedule. Also, I was able to put it down for a week and pick it up again without forgetting or being confused about where I was in the story.

This is a basic Nicholas Sparks book -- Travis is a veterinarian and is perfectly fine with being single until Gabby moves next door and they both can't stop thinking about each other. The Choice follows Sparks's familiar pattern, but it's still enjoyable.

The ending was a twist for me, and I liked that. I am not going to say whether it's tragic or happy, but with everything that goes on in the beginning, I didn't at all expect what happens in the end. That was pleasant, because when I pick up a book by Sparks, I feel like I know exactly what's going to happen. It's nice when he is able to surprise me.

Sparks's stories are about love and hope -- which are always great subjects -- and The Choice is no different. I recommend this one.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Book Review: The Duck Commander Family by Willie and Korie Robertson

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Title: Duck Commander Family: How Faith, Family, and Ducks Built a Dynasty
Authors: Willie and Korie Robertson
Publisher: Simon and Schuster
Paperback: 272 pages
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)
Faith. Family. Ducks—in that order. This book gives readers an up-close and personal, behind-the-scenes look at the family in the exploding A&E show—Duck Dynasty. This Louisiana bayou family operates Duck Commander, a booming family business that has made them millions. You’ll hear all about the Robertson clan from Willie and what it was like growing up in the Robertson household. You’ll sample some of Willie’s favorite family recipes from Phil, Kay, and even some of his own concoctions; and you’ll get to know the beautiful Robertson women. You’ll hear from Korie about the joys and hardships of raising a family, running a business, and wrangling the Robertson men while staying fashionable and beautiful inside and out. Discover more about the family dynamics between brothers Willie, Jase, Jep, and parents Phil and Kay. You’ll even meet a fourth brother who isn’t in the show.

Overall Rating: 5 out of 5

As a new fan of the Duck Dynasty show on television, I was excited to buy a copy of Duck Commander Family because I wanted to know more about the Robertson clan. This book definitely did not disappoint me. It’s well written, honest and very entertaining.

I loved the fact that Duck Commander Family is written from the points of view of both Willie and his wife Korie. There is definitely a difference in the way they were both raised as children, so to get the two perspectives enhances the reality of the book. Willie, a “redneck” country boy, was raised with a lot less money than Korie, who is a self-proclaimed city girl. So when the two get together, it’s fun to see the dynamics of clashing cultures.

The book centers on the Duck Commander business, which has been operating for over forty years. Phil Robertson, who is Willie’s father, started the business in his house. With a lot of hard work and salesmanship, Phil, along with the rest of the family members have made duck calls a multi-million dollar business, with Willie as CEO. This is not just a G-rated story about backwoods country folk who got rich. This is about raising and redefining the meaning of family, to include adoption, foreign exchange members, and friends.

My favorite part of Duck Commander Family is getting to know each character a lot more. Whereas the TV show Duck Dynasty does not reveal each member of the main characters' families, the book does. That depth alone makes it worth buying the book, and adding that it is extremely well written makes it a well deserved best seller!

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Book Review: Once Upon a Curse by Anna Kashina and others

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Title: Once Upon a Curse: Stories and Fairy Tales for Adult Readers
Editor: Anna Kashina
Authors: Peter S. Beagle, Siobhan Carroll, Imogen Howson, Anna Kashina, Nancy Kress, Lucy A. Snyder, Cindy Lynn Speer, Patricia C. Wrede
Publisher: Dragonwell Publishing
Paperback: 250 pages
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)
Fair maidens, handsome princes, witches, and fairy godmothers all show their dark and dangerous side in this anthology inspired by myths and fairy tales, retold by some of the best authors in this generation and by some upcoming new talents. Each beautifully crafted story brings an unusual twist to the traditional tale, from Cinderella’s story told from the not-so-kind fairy godmother’s point of view, to the Bluebeard tale showing the lure of this dark and dangerous man that drives young girls to rush willingly to their fate.

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5

It's rare for me to wholeheartedly recommend an anthology, but I am recommending this one. Once Upon a Curse is a collection of amazing fairy tale interpretations from some pretty fantastic authors. With short story collections, I usually only like a couple and am neutral about the rest, but for this one there isn't one story that I didn't like. Most of them, I loved.

There are some things keeping me from giving this book a perfect rating. The last story definitely could have been cut by at least ten pages. While it was interesting to read about all the different cultural retellings of Cinderella, I don't think it was necessary to the main plot and all the stories-within-the-story made it drag. There were also a couple of others where the endings fell a bit flat, but not enough to make me dislike them outright.

There are two Sleeping Beauty stories in here (both excellent), along with Bluebeard, Cinderella, "Diamonds and Toads," among others. Anna Kashina has become my new favorite fantasy author with her story "Solstice Maiden," and I most definitely plan to check out her other works. If you're at all a fan of fantasy, you will find at least one story in this book to love (although, I'm betting that you'll find more). These stories are all entertaining, full of twists, and have interesting characters.

*I received a free copy of this book from the publisher through LibraryThing's Early Reviewers program.*

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Book Review: On Writing by Stephen King

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Title: On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft
Author: Stephen King
Publisher: Washington Square Press
Paperback: 297 pages
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)
"Long live the King" hailed "Entertainment Weekly" upon the publication of Stephen King's "On Writing." Part memoir, part master class by one of the bestselling authors of all time, this superb volume is a revealing and practical view of the writer's craft, comprising the basic tools of the trade every writer must have. King's advice is grounded in his vivid memories from childhood through his emergence as a writer, from his struggling early career to his widely reported near-fatal accident in 1999 -- and how the inextricable link between writing and living spurred his recovery. Brilliantly structured, friendly and inspiring, "On Writing" will empower and entertain everyone who reads it -- fans, writers, and anyone who loves a great story well told.
Overall Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Having read quite a few books on writing, I now expect to disagree with some rules that writers put out there -- no joke, Stephen King is quite the master, but I'm not as offended by adverbs as he is. His process of drafting is also vastly different from mine. However, I have found that writing is more of a personal discovery, and it really does differ with each writer.

There is a lot to appreciate in this book, though. I like the fact that King gives a lot of examples to prove his points. I learn so much more from examples than from simple explanations, so I really appreciated that. I also like that when King sets down a rule, he doesn't make it an absolute and even admits to falling victim to sloppy/indulgent writing himself. When he talks about how you shouldn't use adverbs, he straight-out admits that he wishes he used fewer, which is nice. It gives the book a very helpful, conversational feel instead of a "I know everything, so this is what you should do" kind of thing.

The one thing that I really loved about On Writing: you can tell, throughout the entire thing how much King loves to write. He completely lays out the magic, and the utter pleasure of creating a story. I so enjoyed that. Besides giving solid writing advice, he inspires his readers by making them want to write. While reading, I kept thinking to myself, "I want to start on my story right now." Few books have that power.

Anyone interested in writing should read this book. It's a fast-paced, entertaining read -- not at all like the dry reference-type book I think of when I think of "how-to" books. You'll enjoy it, you'll learn some good tips, and you'll be inspired. There's nothing more anyone can ask for.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Book Review: My Sister's Keeper by Jodi Picoult

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Title: My Sister's Keeper
Author: Jodi Picoult
Publisher: Atria Books
Paperback: 512 pages
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)
Anna is not sick, but she might as well be. By age thirteen, she has undergone countless surgeries, transfusions, and shots so that her older sister, Kate, can somehow fight the leukemia that has plagued her since childhood. The product of preimplantation genetic diagnosis, Anna was conceived as a bone marrow match for Kate -- a life and a role that she has never challenged...until now. Like most teenagers, Anna is beginning to question who she truly is. But unlike most teenagers, she has always been defined in terms of her sister -- and so Anna makes a decision that for most would be unthinkable, a decision that will tear her family apart and have perhaps fatal consequences for the sister she loves.
Overall Rating: 3 out of 5

In My Sister's Keeper, Anna sues her parents for the rights to her own body, because they keep using her as a donor for her older sister, Kate, who has leukemia. There is a lot going on in this book -- Anna and Kate have an older brother named Jess who is the stereotypical "teenage screw-up"; Anna hires a lawyer named Campbell, who shockingly ends up being the ex-boyfriend of the appointed guardian ad litem; Anna's parents are going through marital problems because of all the stress and lack of communication, etc. Really, it's a typical set-up for a book with pretty typical characters.

Despite that, I really enjoyed the first three-quarters of the novel. It was fast-paced, entertaining, and the characters were so dysfunctional that they were kind of fun to read about. There were some moments when I was able to connect with them, which allowed me to continue with the story. I like the way the point of view shifts from character to character -- actually, this was my favorite part of the novel. Picoult shows a very well-rounded view of the situation, which helped to understand the characters' reactions and where they were coming from. If it was just from one person's point of view, this story would have seemed incredibly melodramatic and unrealistic. Also, it's obvious that the Picoult put in the time to research leukemia and the hospital setting. All of the medical stuff rang true to me, which I appreciated.

But my enjoyment of the book ended when things started to wrap up. A lot of people mention hating the ending, and I didn't at all mind the events that happened, but I did mind the changes that took place in the characters. When everything was nearing a close, all the characters underwent some sort of strange epiphany that gave them perspective and made them better people. All at once, they realized the real root of their problems and just decided to be better people, it seems. I would have liked this to happen more gradually, which would have taken away from some of the drama in the middle, but it would have made the transformations so much more believable. And it happened so quickly that I was just left frustrated and wondering why they all couldn't have realized that two hundred pages ago when their transformations actually could have been helpful.

Also, I HATE when the only reason a couple isn't together is because of some stupid misunderstanding or lack of communication. It's annoying enough (though believable) when this is short-term, but Campbell and Julie spend years in that limbo of lack of communication (and of course, after all those years of heartbreak and what-ifs they still "love" each other). It's just not the most interesting choice to make in terms of relationship issues.

Anyway, I think some people will be able to forgive the ending and get real enjoyment out of reading this story. It's good, but I think the characters and the ending could have been so much more interesting in this type of situation.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Ramblings on Being a TV Addict

I spend a good portion of my life in the world of TV shows.
Thanks to http://kristal.screeninvasion.com for the gif!
I know that I watch too many – the result of a cable subscription, DVR, Amazon Prime, and a Netflix instant streaming account. Of course, that means I’m always partially living in a fictional world. While doing real-life things like going to class and working, I’m also thinking about the books I’m reading or the shows I’m watching – or both. With books, it’s nice, because if I need to visit those characters or places right away, I can put real-life on hold for another hour and continue reading. TV is different, though. I’m at the mercy of the TV scheduling gods. The ones that have somehow decided to put 5 of my favorite shows on Thursday nights and hardly any over the course of the week. Regardless, I still love them, and there is nothing better than sitting back with some food and a drink on a Thursday night to catch up with my favorite shows. But when these weekly updates of these fictional places and people are taken away from me, I become frustrated.

I’m not the only one. On Facebook, Twitter, the half a dozen other social media sites, I see my feelings echoed among my friends and family:

Thanks to http://xgiuls.tumblr.com for the gif!

As if we truly have nothing better to do than to spend 1 hour watching 45 minutes of a show and 15 minutes of too-loud, over-colorful commercials.

With Netflix, it’s different, and it’s strange to compare watching a show live-time to watching a show on Netflix, where all the seasons and episodes are at least a year old and are all posted; no chance of interrupted storytelling, just hours and hours of TV bliss. Twenty-two 45 min. episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer? Sounds like my kind of weekend.

Thanks http://myhausismessy.tumblr.com for the gif!

But then, I think about people who watched it when it was running on TV. Buffy was popular and had a huge fan base. More than likely, the fans ranted and raved over all-too frequent interruptions in programming. But there are only 22 episodes in a year-long season. Out of an entire year, only 22 weeks contained one new 40 min. episode of Buffy. That means that for 30 weeks of our year, we’re not even watching new episodes of our beloved TV shows (though we may be thinking of what could happen next, and watching reruns).

My question is: How do these TV people do it?! For less than half the year, we watch these shows. But personally, I can get really attached to the people and the world contained within them. They are my friends; I think about them constantly. I think about what they would do in certain situations, and laugh at things they would find funny. Some people look down on TV as superficial, trashy, waste-of-time, unintellectual, or whatever. But I think it’s an art-form that takes an incredible amount of skill, creativity, and ingenuity (and yes, luck). The people who make good TV shows (I’m talking about ALL that are involved – cast, crew, writers, etc.) that others fall in love with are, quite frankly, geniuses. To be able to create such realistic and intriguing situations, and to create characters that I feel like are real people – I hope they don’t use their superpowers for evil.

I write this as I wait for my shows to come back so I can enjoy the last few episodes before the boredom of summer TV re-runs hits. Although, I am taking suggestions for shows I can watch on Netflix. ;) All I can say is that I’m glad for fantastic summer shows like Doctor Who (even though waiting for this last half of the season was TORTUOUS) to take me away during summer.