Friday, October 31, 2014

Out of the Dark

Cover image for Out of the dark / David Weber.Out of the Dark by David Weber, 381 pages

Out of the Dark was originally a short novella published in a collective called Warriors that I have previously blogged about. Weber with the encouragement of friends decided to expand the novella into a full length novel. Having liked the novella and hoping the novel would take it farther I gave it a read.

Out of the Dark is about an alien species that comes to Earth to enslave the population to work for it. To take the fight out of the people and make them submit they destroy nearly every government installation and military base. The surviving population is left fighting for its existence.

Sadly the book ends nearly the same place as the novella. But I realized that reading the novella was like reading cliff notes. It gives the highlights and parts that are important but skips over a lot of backstory. The novella also left out lots of details and characters that I think the novel is better off for having. At times though Weber can get a little carried away trying to describe everything but he tries to keep it in character. A good example is a gun nut debating the best ammo to use and giving the weight and power of each. Is that detail needed, no but would a gun nut be thinking about it when considering ammo, almost certainly.

Overall Out of the Dark is good up until the last couple chapters. After that point the book is either horrible or still good depending on if you like the ending. If you can accept it you will like it, otherwise I can easily seeing people slamming the book shut and throwing it across the room.

Passive Agressive notes

Cover image for Passive aggressive notes : painfully polite and hilariously hostile writings, and just plain aggressive / [compiled by] Kerry Miller.Passive Aggressive Notes: Painfully Polite and Hilariously Hostile Writings, and just Plain Aggressive by Kerry Miller, 161 pages

This came through in our collection of best sellers and it seemed interesting enough to merit a read. The book is basically a note per page so that means there are roughly 150 or so notes in the book. Some are quite good and funny. Others are more of meh and move on.
Like most books in this genre it is good for a chuckle before moving on to something else.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

A Fancy of Hers/The Disagreeable Woman

A Fancy of Hers/The Disagreeable Woman by Horatio Alger
179 Pages

Having heard of the Horatio Alger rages to riches stories that seem part of the American Psyche I  thought it might be fun to read one as my entry for 100+ year book.  Not surprisingly the stories are a little dated but the basic premise is one commonly found in American books and movies.  Those who are basically good and hard working will be rewarded while those who are negative and hateful tend to lead unhappy lives and in the end get their comeuppance. 

The Wolf in Winter

The Wolf in Winter by John Connolly
416 Pages

Part of the Charlie Parker series, Connolly combines the  supernatural with the mystery and thriller.  In this book the town of Prosperous, Maine has survived the ups and downs of the economy better than the surrounding towns and its citizens seemed charmed and impervious to harm.  When the daughter of a local street person disappears, Charlie Parker begins to investigate the disappearance and it leads back to mysterious goings on in the town. 

This was actually the first book I've read in the series even thought it is the 7th book.  While somewhat entertaining, there were some plot holes and inconsistencies in the storyline that were distracting and I couldn't help but compare to the Preston/Child collaboration that puts out books in a similar vein.


A Spool of Blue Thread

A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler
304 Pages

From the book description ..
"It was a beautiful, breezy, yellow-and-green afternoon." This is the way Abby Whitshank always begins the story of how she fell in love with Red that day in July 1959. The whole family--their two daughters and two sons, their grandchildren, even their faithful old dog--is on the porch, listening contentedly as Abby tells the tale they have heard so many times before. And yet this gathering is different too: Abby and Red are growing older, and decisions must be made about how best to look after them, and the fate of the house so lovingly built by Red's father. Brimming with the luminous insight, humor, and compassion that are Anne Tyler's hallmarks, this capacious novel takes us across three generations of the Whitshanks, their shared stories and long-held secrets, all the unguarded and richly lived moments that combine to define who and what they are as a family.


I have long been a fan of Anne Tyler and find most of her books deal with families and family relationships.  There isn't necessarily a lot of action or fantastical events occurring in the book but you become engrossed in the characters and get to know each member of the Whitshanks.  This book is coming out in Feb 2015 and I strongly urge people who like realistic portrayals of the family dynamics to put this title on their hold list.

Paideia

Paideia: The Ideals of Greek Culture by Werner Jaeger, translated by Gilbert Highet, 1070 pages (3 vols.)
 
http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1232610513l/6123316.jpgThis monumental work traces the historical development of the Greek concept of paideia, which can be translated as "education".  Education, in this sense, is the cultivation of the individual in the shape of an ideal of human development, this ideal forming the center of the traditional understanding of culture.  "Education" thus differs from "training", which is the acquisition of practical technical skills.  In addition to being concerned with the upbringing of children, paideia was at the heart of the classical understanding of art, as well as the individual and his relation to the state.
 
Jaeger surveys the whole history of Greek culture up to the time of the Macedonian conquest.  The first volume covers the time from the heroic paideia of Homer and the pastoralism of Hesiod through to the comedies of Aristophanes and the cosmic harmonies of Pythagoras.  The second volume is devoted to Socrates and Plato, while the third covers the rhetoric of Isocrates and Demosthenes as well as Plato's later work.
 
This is a work of formidable learning and encyclopedic scope, presenting hundreds of years of thought and development, including epic poetry, tragedy, rhetoric, political science, comedy, history, and philosophy.  As Jaeger notes, Greek culture forms the foundation of the West, and Western civilization returns to it again and again, whenever it is exhausted and needs refreshing from the source.  This is a compelling distillation of that source.

The Butterfly and the Violin



The Butterfly and the Violin by Kristy Cambron   330 pages

Present day Manhattan: Art dealer Sera James saw a beautiful painting as a young girl. She has made it her life’s work to find that painting, which has been missing for decades. The painting’s subject is that of a young female violinist with a shaved head and a number tattooed on her forearm. In my mind’s eye, I see a black-and-white painting with the girl’s eyes in color. Her assistant, Penny, gets a lead on the painting. It’s owned by a wealthy San Francisco family, and Sera rushes to try to obtain the painting. 

That’s one story in the complex novel.

1942-1945 Europe.  First in Vienna. Adele is Vienna’s Sweetheart. At sixteen, the young woman is a violin prodigy. She plays the most beautiful music Austrians have ever heard. It doesn’t hurt that Adele is also a beautiful young woman. Her father is a high-ranking Nazi, and Adele is often called upon to play for the upper echelons of the Third Reich. She has fallen in love with one of her colleagues, Vladimir Nicolai, and has embraced his mission to help a Jewish family flee the city. Once it’s know that she’s been involved with Nicolai, she is arrested at her family’s home and sent to Auschwitz. Second, Auschwitz. Adele struggles to survive the harsh realities of the concentration camp, but she is housed in a special musical group. 

That’s the other main story line.

The Butterfly and the Violin is one of those stories that weaves back and forth, which I like. The thing that struck me the most is how Adele was forced to play a violin, not only to stay alive, but as the concentration camp inmates were marched in and out of the camp, some to work, some to die.

The story lacked an overall tension, and wrapped up much too quickly. I give The Butterfly and the Violin 4 out of 5 stars

Users, Not Customers

Users, Not Customers: Who Really Determines the Success of Your Business by Aaron Shapiro, 243 pages

In Users, Not Customers, Shapiro turns our focus to the digital users of a business rather than the tried-and-true customers. Shapiro argues that users--here defined as digital followers or users of websites, with an emphasis on "digital--are the key to creating a successful business, and outlines the ways in which a company can capitalize on this segment.

While Shapiro makes some excellent points about website usability and rolling out tech innovations at the right time (it does your company no good to be first to market with something if it's riddled with bugs or if the supporting tech isn't yet ubiquitous), a lot of what he says may be difficult for a small company to implement. Paradoxically, it also sounds difficult for well-established brick-and-mortar businesses to make the switch to user-centric design without some major cash going into it. There's a lot to be gleaned from this book, though I don't know that many companies can use all of it, at least not all at once. It's worth a read though, if your business is in the market for a digital overhaul.

Champion

Champion by Marie Lu, 369 pages


This appears to be the third book in the Legends trilogy and I felt like it wrapped up pretty well.  June is one of the three Princeps-Elect, meaning she is being groomed to possibly be the head of the Senate.  Day has become the hero of the people and is occupied with caring for his younger brother, Eden.  Busy with their individual lives, Day and June haven’t spoken in several months.  However, a crisis looms once more.  Just as peace negotiations between the Republic and the Colonies begin to look hopeful, a plague breaks out in the Colonies.  Because they believe it is from an old Republic weapon (and they are probably right) they are demanding a cure before they will consider a peace treaty.  The Republic doesn’t have a cure, but with further testing on Eden, who they think is patient zero for this illness, they may be able to create one.  Day, of course, is not willing to risk his brother, now that he has him back.  The situation appears to be at an impasse, but things are not always what they seem.  Although the book is tied up a little too neatly, it’s still a fun read and teen fantasy/dystopia fans will probably enjoy the story.

The Paper Magician

The Paper Magician by Charlie N. Holmberg, 214 pages


Ceony Twill didn’t get to choose which branch of magic she would get to study.  She wanted to be a Smelter, but there is a shortage of Folders, so she is stuck with paper.  She is apprenticed to Emery Thane, who is odd but nice.  Almost immediately, she finds out that he was actually the unknown sponsor that financed her year of study at the Tagis Praff School for the Magically Inclined.  Thane turns out to be a good teacher and Folding turns out to be different than what she expected.  When an Excisioner, a worker of Blood magic, breaks into Thane’s home and rips his heart from his chest, Ceony must find a way to track down the Excisioner, get back Thane’s heart, and save his life, without getting herself killed, of course.  A really good story, fantasy fans will probably like this one.

The Infinite Moment Of Us

The Infinite Moment Of Us by Lauren Myracle, 316 pages


Wren is just graduating high school and instead of going to college in town, as her parents expect, she is planning to defer college for a year and travel to Guatemala to help teach English to young children.  She is dreading telling her parents but she needs to get away, to become her own person.  Charlie is also graduating college and plans to attend Georgia Tech.  His foster family is wonderful but Charlie has been let down so many times, he doesn’t trust himself enough to completely let himself be a part of the family, except for Dev.  Even though Dev is also a foster child, he has whole-heartedly accepted this family as his own and Dev is the only one that Charlie truly calls family.  This summer, Wren and Charlie officially meet, get to know each other, and fall in love.  This is the story of their summer, their experiences with first love, and their journey to find themselves.  This is definitely a book about relationships and love, so it will probably appeal more to teen girls.  I enjoyed it but it has some pretty explicit sex scenes so it’s probably a book to recommend to older teens and might have some of that new adult crossover appeal.

Divided We Fall

Divided We Fall by Trent Reedy, 374 pages


Danny joined the Idaho National Guard at 17.  Although he still had his senior year of school to complete, the guard was only supposed to be a part-time thing, so he’d finish school and still get to follow in his father’s footsteps, military-wise.  When protestors in Boise fill the streets, angry about the upcoming legislation regarding the new federal identification cards, the Idaho Guard are called up to bring order to the city.  Unfortunately, Danny accidentally fires a shot, causing several shots to be fired both by the Guard and civilians and resulting several wounded and dead.  The governor plans to defend their actions and to protect them from prosecution but the president is calling for their surrender to arrest and several people in the country are calling for their heads.  When the state of Idaho sets up blockades to keep federal troops out, Danny has to decide which oath he is going to follow, the one made to the state, or to the country.  A good action filled story, a lot of boys will like this book.

The Cracks In The Kingdom

The Cracks In The Kingdom by Jaclyn Moriarty, 468 pages


This is the second book in The Colors Of Madeleine series.  Elliot, who lives in Cello, and Madeleine, who lives in the World (England, to us), have continued to communicate by letter through the crack they have found between our two worlds.  Elliot has begun using this connection to try to help Princess Ko, whose family has disappeared.  She believes that they have been sent to the World and has been devising plans to get them back.  Since most of the kingdom is unaware of the disappearance, this has been covert.  Of course, if Elliott is caught he is likely to be executed, since any type of communication between the two realms is expressly forbidden.  And time is running out.  An invitation has arrived for the King that cannot be refused and if he isn’t back in three months, Cello will likely be at war.  On a better note, two agents have been working to find Elliot’s father, who has also been missing, but they believe they have located the Hostiles who were responsible and it appears that they are willing to negotiate to release Elliot’s father.  A really good fantasy novel with some action, but more introspective.  Teens that like a quieter fantasy novel will probably like this series.

Obsidian Mirror

Obsidian Mirror by Catherine Fisher, 378 pages

This is the first book in a new series.  Jake is convinced that Oberon Venn, his godfather, has murdered his father and now he is finally going to have the chance to confront him about it.  Jake’s father, who was Venn’s best friend, disappeared while visiting with Venn a few years ago.  Since then, Venn has paid for Jake to go to boarding school but has never seen him, until now.  Sarah is a young woman who has appeared at Venn’s doorstep.  She is there on a mission but Venn is willing to let her stay because he can use her.  When Jake arrives also, he learns that the truth about his father’s disappearance is more complicated than he realized, but it’s possible that his father is still alive.  The trick will be whether they can find him and bring him home.  Because this book is the first in a series not all of our questions are answered in this book, however, the end wraps up enough of the story that it is not disappointing.  With a lot of action, this science fiction/fantasy thriller will engage a lot of teens who enjoy these genres.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The Bookseller

The Bookseller by Cynthia Swanson
352  Pages

Kitty/Katherine is the main character in a novel set in Denver in the 1960's.  Kitty is running a failing bookstore with her best friend Frieda when she starts to have spells where she imagines she has a different life.  She is married to Lars and has 3 children. She is more elegant and well-dressed but her friend Frieda is no longer a part of her life.  In this reality, things seem better but as time progresses it becomes apparent that there are troubles here as well.  

An interesting premise but not handled as well as Jo Walton's book "My Real Children".  

Eliot and His Age

 
Cover image for Eliot and his age : T.S. Eliot's moral imagination in the twentieth century / Russell Kirk.In 1953, cultural critic Russell Kirk (Redeeming the Time) informed his friend TS Eliot of his intention to write a book on "The Age of Eliot".  After eighteen years (and Eliot's death), that book appeared under the title Eliot and His Age.  Kirk traces Eliot's path from his birth in St Louis (2635 Locust St) to his burial in East Coker, but the bulk of the book is devoted to an analysis of Eliot's work, fitting for a man who believed that "there is, in all great poetry, something which must remain unaccountable however complete might be our knowledge of the poet." 
 
Kirk locates the heart of Eliot's work not in the ephemeral world of things that pass away, the world of "relevance" and fashion, of Lawrence's "chewers of newspapers", but in the "permanent things" that endure eternally.  In this reading, Eliot's life work, his poetry and drama but especially his criticism, aimed at the revitalization of history and tradition as the only way to bring water to the wasteland.  Change must surely come, but if it is not rooted in respect for the past and concern for the future, it will inevitably be sterile.  However, Eliot was more pessimistic than Dostoevsky, who famously wrote, "Beauty will save the world."  Literature, in the modern world, can only ever appeal to a minority.  Its purpose is not to overwhelm but to preserve.
 
A book by a master writing about a genius.  It does demand a certain knowledge of Eliot's creative work, but one of the advantages of living in the age of YouTube is that it is not difficult to find dramatic readings and presentations of virtually everything he wrote (I personally recommend the BBC Radio presentation of The Cocktail Party and Fiona Shaw's reading of Part 1 of The Waste Land).

The Promise

The Promise by Ann Weisgarber
320 Pages

 The book opens in October 1899 with the death of Oscar William's wife.  She extracts a promise from Nan Ogden to look after her husband and child.  We move to August 1900 and Catherine Wainwright is in disgrace in Dayton, Ohio, having carried on an affair with her cousin's husband.  With limited choices she rekindles a relationship with Oscar and accepts his proposal via mail.  She travels to Galveston, Texas to get married and find a place in the Williams household.

What the reader knows (maybe) is that Galveston is going to be devastated by a hurricane which is described as the worst disaster to ever hit the United States with approximately 8,000 deaths.  In the book the disaster is not the main character but rather the delicate relationship between Oscar and Catherine is center stage as well as Catherine's relationship with Nan, who feels displaced.  Readers of historical fiction will most likely like this book.


Raging Heat

Raging Heat by Richard Castle
292 Pages

This series of books is based upon the TV Series Castle that runs on ABC.  The inside joke is that they pretend that  the books are actually being written by the fictitious character Richard Castle and have a picture of the actor Nathan Fillion on the back cover.  In reality we don't know who is writing the books.

Surprisingly the books have been fairly good, fast paced mysteries and while Raging Heat is not the best of the bunch it still beats a James Patterson book any day. 

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Neonomicon

Cover image for Neonomicon / Alan Moore, story & script ; Jacen Burrows, art ; Juanmar, color. The courtyard / Alan Moore, story ; Jacen Burrows, art ; Antony Johnston, sequential adaptation ; Alan Moore, consulting editor ; Juanmar, color.Neonomicon by Alan Moore and others, 176 pages

With Halloween quickly approaching the display shelves thankfully change over to the strange and creepy books. This one caught my eye and it was interestingly described as Lovecraftian. Knowing that I was well braced for weird and strange. I wasn't however expecting so much adult material from such a shot graphic novel.

The plot is basically serial killers keep turning up that are killing their victims the same way. The only difference is in what trophy they keep. As the investigation continues it spirals down past weird and into what truly can only be described as Lovecraftian.

If you can make it past the weird language, the same that Cthulhu followers use in Lovecraft's books, and the graphic adult imagery this book is pretty good. It still has the cheesy horror story vibe to it but not enough to make me not want to continue reading.

Kingdom Keepers VII The Insider

Kingdom Keepers VII The Insider by Ridley Pearson, 609 pages

Cover image for Kingdom Keepers. VII, The insider / Ridley Pearson.Since Krista has already reviewed this book I won't go to deep into the summery. This is the final book in the Kingdom Keepers series, and as is to be expected it is the ultimate showdown between those that seek to protect the magic of the Disney parks, and the villains who are set on destroying it. This is definitely a series that should be read in order. I thought this book was rather well written, especially since Pearson collaborated with the fans of series to write parts of this book. For the final book of a series it left a lot of questions at the end, which I am hoping is just Pearson laying groundwork for a new series set after this one. Over all I think that this series is great, and that people who enjoy Disney, as well as fantasy will enjoy reading it.