Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Books Read In June

Going from the most recent to the earliest, I reviewed a whopping twelve books this month. There's two other books that I read, but I haven't gotten the reviews written for: Brian's Hunt by Gary Paulsen and Incubus Dreams by Laurell K. Hamilton.

Brian's Return
Gary Paulsen
The fourth book about Brian Robeson. A very quick but enjoyable read where everything is described vividly and with passion.

An excerpt from my review:
In some ways this was the most beautiful of the books, filled with peaceful descriptions of nature and small details about the world. No great disasters such as plane crashes this time, but the story doesn't need them.

Brian's Winter
Gary Paulsen
This is the third book written about the adventures of Brian Robeson after the plane crash. However, this is a unique book as it takes the ending of Hatchet and goes "What If?"

An excerpt from my review:
Just reading about the weather in the Canadian wilderness in winter made me shiver. I've read about trees exploding, but Gary Paulsen's descriptions were so vivid I could almost see it happening, along with other incidents such as the skunk.

The River
Gary Paulsen
After surviving a plane crash and living off of his wits alone in the wilderness, Brian Robeson was rescued at the end of Hatchet. In The River he is asked to go back and do it again in order to teach others how to survive.

A snippet from my review:
I like the way the author has chosen to get into Brian's head, showing his thought processes, and how easy he found it to get back into the mindset he had during his first experience in the wilderness. This time though, he's also exploring (unintentionally) the effects of an extended period without sleep, which are very vividly described.

Hatchet
Gary Paulsen
The Newberry Honor winning survival story and the first of a series of five books about Brian Robeson and his life after he survived a plane crash in the wilderness.

A snippet from my review:
At just under two hundred pages, The Hatchet is quite the quick read I found, finishing it in only a couple of hours, but I also found that I couldn't put the book down until it was finished (when I picked up the next book, The River). This was all true even given the knowledge that Brian had to survive because there are more books about his experiences after the adventures of The Hatchet.

Space Cadet
Robert A. Heinlein
A classic science fiction novel that's stood the test of time, decades of time, and it's still just as exciting and fun to read.

A snippet from my review:
Where Heinlein excels in my mind is in the creation of his characters. They're all very 'real' in these books, with doubts, weak areas, problems, and yet confidence. When working in a group they can come together to overcome separate weaknesses as well. And yet, he's spare with the details and descriptions, making for a fairly short, fast-moving story which can be hard to put down (I ended up finishing the read far too late at night).
Bess Of Hardwick: First Lady Of Chatsworth
Mary S. Lovell
A biography of Elizabeth Shrewsbury (to use just one of her many names), one of the most powerful women in Tudor and Elizabethan times. Interesting, thought-provoking and full of fascinating glimpses into the life of the sixteenth century.

A snippet from my review:
Overall, if you're interested in the Tudor and Elizabethan periods of English history, I highly recommend this book. Not dry in the slightest, and highly readable, Bess of Hardwick also includes two sections of illustrations, photos and paintings, most of which are in full color.
The Tattooed Map
Barbara Hodgson
The first word that comes to mind about this book is "different". The book is lavishly decorated and illustrated, so that it resembles a true diary - sketches, notes, ticket stubs etc. If you kept a travel journal, I'd bet it looks something like this. I know mine did. On top of that, a story that captures you and won't let you go. Having read this book, I'd love to see the places Barbara Hodgson describes, such as Marrakesh.

A snippet from my review:
The Tattooed Map is a moderately quick read, and, in my opinion, one that doesn't disappoint....By the time I'd finished the story, I still knew next to nothing about the characters, but it didn't matter. I was enthralled by their adventures, and I'd still like to know more.
Skin Trade
Laurell K. Hamilton
The most recent of the Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter series, Skin Trade picks up where Blood Noir left off. It also is my new favorite of the newest books in the series.

A snippet from my review:
My first reaction on finishing Skin Trade, the latest book in Laurell K. Hamilton's Anita Blake: Vampire Hunter series was WOW!. Admittedly, this was at somewhere around two this morning. Which should say something. For the last three/four days, this book has kept me up far past my bedtime, because I just had to know what happened next.
Greek Fire, Poison Arrows And Scorpion Bombs
Adrienne Mayor
Focusing on ancient uses of chemical and biological weapons, this is a book which will change your view on Classical and early Medieval attitudes. You don't think they used these horrific weapons? Neither did I. Adrienne Mayor looks at myth, history and archaeology to form this book. Well written and interesting.

A snippet from my review:
We think of weapons of mass destruction, be they chemical or biological as being relatively new things in the scope of history. However, as proved by Adrienne Mayor, clearly they were not. Poisons, fires and disease have been around for thousands of years. Of course people were going to figure out ways to use them for their own purposes.
Blood Noir
Laurell K. Hamilton
The sequel to The Harlequin, and closely followed by Skin Trade, this is one of the books in Hamilton's best-selling Anita Blake: Vampire Hunter series. Not my favorite of the series, but once I got into it, the book was good and left me wanting more. Thankfully I read it just before Skin Trade came out.

A snippet from my review:
This book is shorter than some of Hamilton's books, but the pacing was fast, so the story didn't seem to suffer any. I will definitely agree with some of the reviews I've read that there is a bit too much sex, but that's been the case in all of the books since Narcissus In Chains. It's just become part of the book style now for me.
The Millionaire Next Door
Thomas J. Stanley, Ph.D. and William D. Danko, Ph.D.
A highly rated and bestselling book on personal finance.

A snippet from my review:
Frankly, I found the book a bit disappointing. First of all, and I should have realized it from the start, the book is entirely focused around the United States. I'm Canadian, so a lot of what the authors are mentioning doesn't apply quite the same. Second, the book only has one small line for any strategy other than the one the authors are following in The Millionaire Next Door.

Sigurd And GudrĂșn
J.R.R. Tolkien

The most recent of Christopher Tolkien's releases of J.R.R. Tolkien's many unpublished works. As far as I'm aware, this is also the most different of the books published for general consumption, being in the form of Norse poetry.

A snippet from my review:
Honestly, I liked this book, and I'm now planning to read more of the Norse sagas, as I came to Sigurd And Gudrun with no background knowledge on the subject at all. Although, in the commentary to this book, Christopher Tolkien has done a very good job of explaining the characters and the references that assume reader knowledge in the poetry, so the background knowledge isn't exactly needed.

Books bought in June

Now that I've started participating in Mailbox Mondays this list is redundant, so this will be the last "Books Bought In..." list.

In more or less reverse order, the books are:
  1. Barbara Hanawalt's Growing Up In Medieval London: The Experience Of Childhood In History
  2. Anne Bishop's The Shadow Queen
  3. J.R.R. Tolkien's Tales From The Perilous Realm
  4. Jo Graham's The Hand Of Isis
  5. Jules Watson's The Swan Maiden
  6. Jamie's Food Revolution by Jamie Oliver
  7. The Tattooed Map by Barbara Hodgson
  8. Windflower by Nick Bantock
  9. Skin Trade by Laurell K. Hamilton
  10. Greek Fire, Poison Arrows and Scorpion Bombs by Adrienne Mayor
  11. The Millionaire Next Door by Thomas J. Stanley and William D. Danko

Monday, June 29, 2009

Mailbox Monday - June 29th

After buying no books for last week, this week is a bumper five books.

The first one that came this week is Barbara Hanawalt's book Growing Up In Medieval London: The Experience Of Childhood In History. I ordered it the previous week and it arrived about last Wed. Barbara Hanawalt is an author that a couple of my teachers last year recommended to me, and I finally got around to getting one of her books. I've also got The Ties That Bound on order.

The jacket blurb says:

Bringing together a wealth of evidence drawn from court records, literary sources, and books of advice, Barbara Hanawalt weaves a rich tapestry of the lives of the common children of medieval London during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. Much of what she finds is eye opening. She shows for example that contrary to the belief of some historians medieval adults recognized and paid close attention to the various stages of childhood and adolescence. For instance, wardship cases reveal that London laws granted orphans greater protection than do our own contemporary courts. And with her innovative narrative style, Hanawalt brings medieval childhood to life, creating composite profiles based on the experiences of real children, such as Alison the Bastard Heiress, whose guardians married her off to their apprentice in order to gain control of her inheritance.Ranging from birth and baptism to apprenticeship and adulthood, here is a myth-shattering, innovative work that illuminates the nature of childhood in the Middle Ages.

You'd think that after I got my degree, I'd be able to stop buying history books, but that's turning out to not be true at all.

The remaining four books are fiction:

The Shadow Queen by Anne Bishop. I read and reviewed this book when it first came out at the beginning of March and I absolutely loved it. Even though I don't have to re-read it again any time soon, I probably will.

The jacket blurb:
From the national bestselling authora the new novel set in the "darkly fascinating world"("SF Site") of the Black Jewels.
Dena Nehele is a land decimated by its past. Once it was ruled by corrupt Queens who were wiped out when the land was cleansed of tainted Blood. Now, only one hundred Warlord Princes standawithout a leader and without hope.
Theran Grayhaven is the last of his line, desperate to find the key that reveals a treasure great enough to restore Dena Nehele. But first he needs to find a Queen who remembers the Bloodas code of honor and lives by the Old Ways. The woman chosen to rule Dena Nehele, Lady Cassidy, is not beautiful and believes she is not strong. But she may be the only one able to convince bitter men to serve once again.
J.R.R. Tolkien's Tales From The Perilous Realm (Hardcover). To be honest, I have all the stories in this volume (some of them in more than one edition, but to me, Alan Lee's illustrations make the book worth it. All of the illustrations in this book are black and white sketches, but wonderfully detailed for all that. Of the many great illustrators of Tolkien's Middle-Earth, Alan Lee is by far my favorite.

Tales From The Perilous Realm is made up of Roverandom, Farmer Giles Of Ham, The Adventures of Tom Bombadil, Smith Of Wootton Major, Leaf By Niggle and even the essay On Fairy-stories. All of it is introduced by Tom Shippey, the author of The Road To Middle-Earth and J.R.R Tolkien: Author Of The Century.

I doubt I'm going to be reading any time soon though, with the other books on my plate right now. These days I seem to be more collecting books on or by Tolkien than actually reading them.

Hand of Isis by Jo Graham. I've never read anything by Jo Graham before, but the premise looked interesting (and there was a buy three books, get the fourth free sale going on).

The jacket blurb actually says very little about the story:
Set in ancient Egypt, Hand of Isis is the story of Chariman, a handmaiden, and her two sisters. It is a novel of lovers who transcend death, of gods who meddle in mortal affairs, and of women who guide empires.

The final book I bought this past week was The Swan Maiden by Jules Watson. I don't know if I would normally have bought it just based on the jacket blurb, but there was quite a bit of discussion (all of it positive) of the book on a number of the blogs I follow a couple of months ago. Based on that, I went for it.

The jacket blurb:
In this lush, romantic retelling of one of the most enduring Irish legends, acclaimed Celtic historical author Jules Watson reignites the tale of Deirdre—the Irish Helen of Troy—in a story that is at once magical, beautiful, and tragic.

She was born with a blessing and a curse: that she would grow into a woman of extraordinary beauty—and bring ruin to the kingdom of Ulster and its ruler, the wily Conor. Ignoring the pleadings of his druid to expel the infant, King Conor secrets the girl child with a poor couple in his province, where no man can covet her. There, under the tutelage of a shamaness, Deirdre comes of age in nature and magic…. And in the season of her awakening, the king is inexorably drawn to her impossible beauty.

But for Deirdre, her fate as a man’s possession is worse than death. And soon the green-eyed girl, at home in waterfall and woods, finds herself at the side of three rebellious young warriors. Among them is the handsome Naisi. His heart charged with bitterness toward the aging king, and growing in love for the defiant girl, Naisi will lead Deirdre far from Ulster—and into a war of wits, swords, and spirit that will take a lifetime to wage.

Brimming with life and its lusts, here is a soaring tale of enchantment and eternal passions—and of a woman who became legend.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Brian's Return - Gary Paulsen

Brian's Return
Gary Paulsen
Laurel Leaf
Copyright Date: 1999
978-0440413790

According to the cover of Brian's Return:
As millions of readers of Hatchet, The River, and Brian's Winter know, Brian Robeson survived alone in the wilderness by finding solutions to extraordinary challenges. But now that's he's back in civilization, he can't find a way to make sense of high school life. He feels disconnected, more isolated than he did alone in the North. The only answer is to return-to "go back in"-for only in the wilderness can Brian discover his true path in life, and where he belongs.

Brian's Return is the next book in the series about Brian Robeson started in the Newberry Honor book, Hatchet. It follows Brian's Winter and The River.

This is where things start to get weird though. I'm sure I remember in the last two books somebody asking Brian about the fifty-odd days he survived in the wilderness, which made up the story of Hatchet and is explicitly stated in a couple of different places in The River, but at the same time, in Brian's Return he talks about things he saw and experienced in the winter there. Also, the main plot in this book is the first part of Brian's journey to rejoin the Smallburrows, who he met at the end of Brian's Winter, so Gary Paulsen is trying to merge the two timelines.

The problem with racing through all of the books in this series in one evening the way I did is that I can't always remember which detail was in which book. I apologise for that.

More or less though, Brian's Return and Brian's Hunt follow on Brian's Winter. This book shows just how much the experiences Brian had while learning to live in the wilderness changed him. For the first time, we really see him at home and at school. At the same time, it's easy to tell that he is probably going to end up returning to the life he made for himself in the woods (if only because otherwise there wouldn't be a story).

This time though, it's by choice, and he's going to be properly prepared.

As with the previous books I've read by Gary Paulsen, the descriptions were to the point and vivid. This is definitely a well written book. All too often, I could see the scenes he was depicting. Brian's Return is a short, but gripping tale, although it doesn't quite seem to finish the story. Still, at one point, this was supposed to be the final tale.

In some ways this was the most beautiful of the books, filled with peaceful descriptions of nature and small details about the world. No great disasters such as plane crashes this time, but the story doesn't need them.

My advice? Get all of the books at once. You're not going to want to stop reading until there is no more to read.

Other books in the series:
Hatchet
The River
Brian's Hunt
Brian's Winter
Brian's Return

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Brian's Winter - Gary Paulsen

Brian's Winter
Gary Paulsen
Laurel Leaf
Copyright Date: 1996
978-0440227199

According to the cover of Brian's Winter:
In Hatchet, 13-year-old Brian Robeson learned to survive alone in the Canadian wilderness, armed only with his hatchet. Finally, as millions of readers know, he was rescued at the end of the summer. But what if Brian hadn't been rescued? What if he had been left to face his deadliest enemy--winter?

Gary Paulsen raises the stakes for survival in this riveting and inspiring story as one boy confronts the ultimate test and the ultimate adventure.

Brian's Winter is something unusual. Yes, it's part of the series begun with Hatchet, and yes, there's nothing extraordinary about it being a children's/teens book, but this is the only time I've read something like this before. What makes Brian's Winter unique in my experience is that it is an "alternate universe" type story going "what if.

In this case, the question is "what if Brian wasn't rescued at the end of the summer. How would he survive the fall and the winter?", so in this book, the final pages of Hatchet are ignored.

Just reading about the weather in the Canadian wilderness in winter made me shiver. I've read about trees exploding, but Gary Paulsen's descriptions were so vivid I could almost see it happening, along with other incidents such as the skunk.

As with the previous two books in the series: Hatchet and The River, I found Brian's thought processes as the story progressed to be one of the best things about the book.

There were times while I was reading this book that I felt like shouting at Brian that winter was coming and he'd better start planning for it, but that may simply have been because I'm older than the target audience by a fair margin. Regardless, the story was absolutely gripping (the whole series really), and I stayed up far too late last night in order to read all of the books in one sitting.

With each of the books being around a hundred and fifty pages, that was definitely an easy feat, and one I don't regret. On the other hand, it makes separating my impressions of the separate books somewhat difficult.

Other books in the series:
Hatchet
The River
Brian's Hunt
Brian's Winter
Brian's Return

The River - Gary Paulsen

The River
Gary Paulsen
Yearling Books
Copyright Date: 1991
978-0440407539

According to the cover of The River:
Two years ago, Brian Robeson was stranded alone in the wilderness for fifty-four days with nothing but a small hatchet. He survived. Now the government wants him to do it again - to go back into the wildrness so that astronauts and the military can learn the survival techniques that kept him alive.

This time Brian won't be alone: Derek Holtzer, a government psychologist, will accompany him. But during a freak storm, Derek is hit by lightning and falls into a coma. Their radio transmitter is dead. Brian's only hope is to build a raft and try to transport Derek a hundred miles down the river to a trading post - if the map he has is accurate.

The River is the sequel to the Newberry Honor book Hatchet. In this one, Brian, who has made it home safely after surviving nearly two months alone in the wilderness after the plane crash, has agreed to go out again and repeat the feat in order to help increase the odds for others in similar situations.

However, things, of course, go wrong, and he ends up in almost a worse situation. His companion, Derek ends up in a coma from a lightning strike, so, not only is Brian alone again, he's got to somehow keep Derek alive while getting them home safely.

As the series progresses, it becomes clear that although the language of the books is suitable for everyone from the nine to twelve age group, on up, some of the concepts are better suited to slightly older folks, say, early teens. However, there's no upper limit. I definitely enjoyed reading this book last night.

The whole thing is so vividly written, that I could see almost everything as it happened. Gary Paulsen has a real talent for writing nature in both it's beauty and it's viciousness, ranging from a sunset to the need to hunt for food.

I like the way the author has chosen to get into Brian's head, showing his thought processes, and how easy he found it to get back into the mindset he had during his first experience in the wilderness. This time though, he's also exploring (unintentionally) the effects of an extended period without sleep, which are very vividly described.

This is definitely a shorter book than Hatchet, but it's just as good a read, taking only a couple of hours or less.

Other books in the series:
Hatchet
Brian's Hunt
Brian's Winter
Brian's Return

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Hatchet - Gary Paulsen

The Hatchet
Gary Paulsen
Aladdin Books
Copyright Date: 1987
978-1416936473

According to the cover of The Hatchet:
ALONE

Thirteen-year-old Brian Robeson is on his way to visit his father when the single-engine plane in which he is flying crashes. Suddenly, Brian finds himself alone in the Canadian wilderness with nothing but a tattered Windbreaker and the hatchet his mother gave him as a present -- and the dreadful secret that has been tearing him apart since his parent's divorce. But now Brian has no time for anger, self pity, or despair -- it will take all his know-how and determination, and more courage than he knew he possessed, to survive.

For twenty years Gary Paulsen's award-winning contemporary classic has been the survival story with which all others are compared. This new edition, with a reading group guide, will introduce a new generation of readers to this page-turning, heart-stopping adventure.

Gary Paulsen's Hatchet is a Newberry Honor award winner, among other honors, and it's also turning into quite the lasting book, being reprinted again and again. Enjoyable for all ages, the text is suitable for older children on up, although there are a few scenes that are more suited to slightly older children, such as early teens, as there is a death in the first chapters.

Essentially, the book seems to be a 'coming of age' story, as Brian has to learn (quickly) what he is made of, and what he is capable of doing in order to survive alone in the wilderness, with a hatchet as his only tool. Somehow he's got to find shelter and food. With a lot of luck, he manages it, even though he doesn't have much in the way of wilderness knowledge.

At just under two hundred pages, The Hatchet is quite the quick read I found, finishing it in only a couple of hours, but I also found that I couldn't put the book down until it was finished (when I picked up the next book, The River). This was all true even given the knowledge that Brian had to survive because there are more books about his experiences after the adventures of The Hatchet.

I'm almost certain I hadn't read the book or any of its sequels before, although some of the early scenes are familiar. It's not just Brian's actions that are of interest, but also his thought processes and the self-knowledge he gains through his experiences as he grows up mentally in order to survive.

From what I can see, this should make the next books just as interesting.

Although it's been a few years since I read it, I'd bet that if you liked The Hatchet that you'd also like My Side Of The Mountain and it's sequel The Far Side Of The Mountain by Jean George.

The other books in this series:
Brian's Winter
The River
Brian's Return
Brian's Hunt

Library Loot

Library Loot is kindly hosted by Marg and Eva. I only found the meme earlier this week and I'm finding already that it helps me to go borrow books from the library rather than to buy them (even though they're right there in front of me at work).

This time the books are all kids/teen books: the series by Gary Paulsen starting with Hatchet. Thing is, there's really no clue as to the reading order (aside from Hatchet being the first book).

I ended up borrowing the lot because I've been selling the books to people at work and I have no idea about them. It only helps that the jacket blurbs look interesting as well (besides, I'm a sucker for this type of survival story), and I've enjoyed the Jean George book My Side Of The Mountain. So, they're kid's books. It just means that they're quick reads. I've already finished Hatchet and I just borrowed them a couple of hours ago. Makes a nice change from Laurell K. Hamilton, or academic articles on the medieval world.

The books:
  • Hatchet
  • The River
  • Brian's Return
  • Brian's Hunt
  • Brian's Winter

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Link to an interview by Anna Elliott

Anna Elliott is the author of Twilight of Avalon, which I read and reviewed last month, and I've found a recent interview she did at The Burton Review. Actually, it's a guest post, much like she did at Historical Tapestry when the book first came out.

Most of the post discusses the background for Twilight of Avalon, it's inspirations, and the setting of fifth century Britain. There are also some interesting hints for the events of the next book, Dark Moon of Avalon (I think that's the title, anyway).

Given that I absolutely loved Anna Elliott's book, I found this to be a very interesting post with some good points on the ever-growing legend of King Arthur. If you're a fan of Arthurian literature, check it out (and perhaps check out the book as well).

Book Rambling: Dan Brown and The Lost Symbol

Dan Brown's newest book, The Lost Symbol will be released on September 15th of this year. The book involves the same characters as The Da Vinci Code, which was a long term best-seller. They've got me talking up pre-orders for The Lost Symbol at work now, and here's where I'm completely puzzled.

Given the way that The Da Vinci Code sold (and still sells to a lesser extent), I'd have been prepared to believe that there were lots of people who have been waiting eagerly for the new book to be released.

However, most of the people I mention it to say that they don't like Dan Brown's books (some do so very firmly to say the least!). Today I talked to somewhere between thirty and forty people, and got only four luke-warm responses and one success. I've had similar responses over the past several days as well (with no successes). Statistically, it's not done too accurately, or with a large sample, but my experiences left me wondering. Where are the people who liked his books?

For The Da Vinci Code to have been such a best seller, they have to exist somewhere, so where are they? Ordering from online perhaps, rather than in the stores?

Monday, June 22, 2009

Book Meme

I saw this at Curmugeonry and thought it looked interesting. I do recognize quite a number of the books on the list. I don't know where this list comes from, so one wonders how the books on it were chosen. It's a pretty eclectic assortment. I've never seen one of these where you say which books you won't read before, so that's a new twist.

Does anyone know who started this list?

Look at the list of books below. Bold the ones you've read, italicize the ones you want to read, cross out the ones you won't touch with a 10 foot pole, underline the ones on your book shelf, and asterisk* the ones you've never heard of.

1. The Da Vinci Code (Dan Brown)
2. Pride and Prejudice (Jane Austen)
3. To Kill A Mockingbird (Harper Lee)
4. Gone With The Wind (Margaret Mitchell)
5. The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King (Tolkien)
6. The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring (Tolkien)
7. The Lord of the Rings: Two Towers (Tolkien)
8. Anne of Green Gables (L.M. Montgomery)
9. Outlander (Diana Gabaldon)
10. A Fine Balance (Rohinton Mistry)*
11. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire(Rowling)
12. Angels and Demons (Dan Brown)
13. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (Rowling)
14. A Prayer for Owen Meany (John Irving)*
15. Memoirs of a Geisha (Arthur Golden)
16. Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (Rowling)
17. Fall on Your Knees* (Ann-Marie MacDonald)
18. The Stand (Stephen King)
19. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (Rowling)
20. Jane Eyre (Charlotte Bronte)
21. The Hobbit (Tolkien)
22. The Catcher in the Rye (J.D. Salinger)
23. Little Women (Louisa May Alcott)
24. The Lovely Bones (Alice Sebold)*
25. Life of Pi (Yann Martel)
26. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (Douglas Adams)
27. Wuthering Heights (Emily Bronte)
28. The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe (C. S. Lewis)
29. East of Eden (John Steinbeck)*
30. Tuesdays with Morrie (Mitch Albom)*
31. Dune (Frank Herbert)
32. The Notebook (Nicholas Sparks)*
33. Atlas Shrugged (Ayn Rand)*
34. 1984 (Orwell)
35. The Mists of Avalon (Marion Zimmer Bradley)
36. The Pillars of the Earth (Ken Follett)
37. The Power of One (Bryce Courtenay)*
38. I Know This Much is True (Wally Lamb)*
39. The Red Tent (Anita Diamant)
40. The Alchemist (Paulo Coelho)*
41. The Clan of the Cave Bear (Jean M. Auel)
42. The Kite Runner (Khaled Hosseini)*
43. Confessions of a Shopaholic (Sophie Kinsella)*
44. The Five People You Meet In Heaven (Mitch Albom)*
45. Bible
46. Anna Karenina (Tolstoy)
47. The Count of Monte Cristo (Alexandre Dumas)
48. Angela's Ashes (Frank McCourt)
49. The Grapes of Wrath (John Steinbeck)
50. She's Come Undone (Wally Lamb)* (Isn't this the title of a song?)
51. The Poisonwood Bible (Barbara Kingsolver)
52. A Tale of Two Cities (Dickens)
53. Ender's Game(Orson Scott Card)
54. Great Expectations (Dickens)
55. The Great Gatsby (Fitzgerald)
56. The Stone Angel (Margaret Laurence)*
57. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (Rowling)
58. The Thorn Birds (Colleen McCullough)*
59. The Handmaid's Tale (Margaret Atwood)
60. The Time Traveller's Wife (Audrew Niffenegger)
61. Crime and Punishment (Fyodor Dostoyevsky)
62. The Fountainhead (Ayn Rand)
63. War and Peace (Tolstoy)
64. Interview With The Vampire (Anne Rice)
65. Fifth Business (Robertson Davis)*
66. One Hundred Years Of Solitude (Gabriel Garcia Marquez)
67. The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants (Ann Brashares)
68. Catch-22 (Joseph Heller)
69. Les Miserables (Hugo)
70. The Little Prince (Antoine de Saint-Exupery) (hated it!)
71. Bridget Jones' Diary (Fielding)
72. Love in the Time of Cholera (Marquez)*
73. Shogun (James Clavell)
74. The English Patient (Michael Ondaatje)
75. The Secret Garden (Frances Hodgson Burnett)
76. The Summer Tree (Guy Gavriel Kay)
77. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (Betty Smith)
78. The World According To Garp (John Irving)
79. The Diviners (Margaret Laurence)
80. Charlotte's Web (E.B. White)
81. Not Wanted On The Voyage (Timothy Findley)*
82. Of Mice And Men (Steinbeck)
83. Rebecca (Daphne DuMaurier)
84. Wizard's First Rule (Terry Goodkind)
85. Emma (Jane Austen)
86. Watership Down (Richard Adams)
87. Brave New World (Aldous Huxley)
88. The Stone Diaries (Carol Shields)*
89. Blindness (Jose Saramago)*
90. Kane and Abel (Jeffrey Archer)*
91. In The Skin Of A Lion (Ondaatje)*
92. Lord of the Flies (Golding)
93. The Good Earth (Pearl S. Buck)
94. The Secret Life of Bees (Sue Monk Kidd)*
95. The Bourne Identity (Robert Ludlum)
96. The Outsiders (S.E. Hinton)*
97. White Oleander (Janet Fitch)
98. A Woman of Substance (Barbara Taylor Bradford)*
99. The Celestine Prophecy (James Redfield)
100. Ulysses (James Joyce)

Recent Tolkien-themed posts around the Blogosphere

I've been seeing some interesting posts on Tolkien and the Lord of the Rings (among his other works) around the blogosphere lately. This is an interesting one here, raising some points I hadn't considered at all: Omnivoracious: There And Back Again: Five Reasons Tolkien Rocks.

Another post, which is more about the poem Beowulf than it is about Tolkien made for some interesting reading here.

One to keep an eye out for later this year.

The Medieval Challenge is something I just discovered. Unfortunately it's already done for this year. Hopefully they'll repeat it for this year/next year.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Library Loot


Library Loot is kindly hosted by Marg and Eva.

And, it's a great way to find new books. I'm planning to use it to encourage myself to go to the library more often. As it is, I tend to buy the books I want to read, which habit is just encouraged by working in a book store as the books are right there in front of me. It doesn't help that the books I want to read are often not in the library (right now I'm searching for Mercedes Lackey's Joust, as I have book two, and but can't find book one.

Item two: I borrow books from the library, but I have so much available to read at home, in combination with books I'm buying that the books go back when due, but unread.

Anyway, my two library books for this post:
  • Vlad by C.C. Humphreys. A retelling of the story of Vlad Tepes, the infamous Dracula. Should be good, if I get it read. I enjoyed his The French Executioner and the first two of the Jack Absolute series.
  • Sanctuary by Mercedes Lackey. This is the third of the Dragon Jouster series, which starts with Joust, and then Alta. I've read the series before, but never got to the last book. Now, of course, I can't find the first one.

Space Cadet - Robert A. Heinlein

Space Cadet
Robert A. Heinlein
Ballantine Books
Copyright Date: 1948
0345260724

According to the cover of Space Cadet:
Only the best and brightest--the strongest and the most courageous--ever manage to become Space Cadets, at the Space Academy. They are in training to be come part of the elite guard of the solar system, accepting missions others fear, taking risks no others dare, and upholding the peace of the solar system for the benefit of all.

But before Matt Dodson can earn his rightful place in the ranks, his mettle is to be tested in the most severe and extraordinary ways--ways that change him forever but would still not prepare him for the alien treacheries that awaited him on strange worlds far beyond his own.

Space Cadet is a good read for anyone from age 13 on up. Despite being written in 1948, this book is both dated and not. It's dated (literally) because of the dates mentioned in the story (one of the pieces of history mentioned is that a ship traveled between Earth and Mars in the 1970's, about a century before the book takes place). And yet, the dates don't get in the way of the story. I've read some science fiction set in the near future where specific dates have now passed us by, where the real world and the book conflict enough to jar the reader out of the story. Not the case here.

Although the technology in Space Cadet is rather basic at times, such as the subjects that Matt studied/skills he had on becoming a cadet (for example, using a slide rule and knowing shorthand), it doesn't get in the way of the story. One thing Heinlein's done that I haven't seen done in much other science fiction is an emphasis on exact mass/weight for space flight. The story is a bit more oriented that way than any others I can think of off hand.

Heinlein has also created some interesting traditions in his various space services as well, such as the mustering of the Four for the Patrol and the traditions of the Marines.

Where Heinlein excels in my mind is in the creation of his characters. They're all very 'real' in these books, with doubts, weak areas, problems, and yet confidence. When working in a group they can come together to overcome separate weaknesses as well. And yet, he's spare with the details and descriptions, making for a fairly short, fast-moving story which can be hard to put down (I ended up finishing the read far too late at night).

I liked Space Cadet a lot, but what I'm trying to figure out now, is if I've read it before. There was a time a couple of years ago where I was reading my way through Heinlein's books, when I'd first discovered them. Now I can't remember which ones I've read and which I haven't.

Space Cadet is a short, fun read. As I said earlier, it might now be classed as one of Robert Heinlein's juvenile stories, but it's really good for everyone of all ages. If you like classic science fiction, you should give this one a try. It's certainly held up to the past sixty years well, being re-printed yet again just a couple of years ago.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Bess of Hardwick - Mary Lovell

Bess Of Hardwick
Mary S. Lovell
Abacus
Copyright Date: 2005
9780349115894

According to the cover of Bess of Hardwick:
Bess of Hardwick, born into the most brutal and turbulent period of England's history, did not have an auspicious start in life. Widowed for the first time at sixteen, she nonetheless outlived four monarchs, married three more times, and died one of the most powerful women the country has ever seen.

The Tudor age was a hazardous time for an ambitious woman: by the time Frances, Bess's first child, was six, three of her illustrious godparents had been beheaded. Plague regularly wiped out entire families, conspiracies and feuds were rife. But through all this Bess Hardwick bore eight children and built an empire of her own: the great houses of Chatsworth and Hardwick.

I bought this book something like a year ago now, so A: I don't remember exactly what I was thinking at the time, although it was probably something like"hey, this looks interesting, and I've got a gift-card begging to be used", and I might have been inspired by having seen the movie Elizabeth: The Golden Age, and B: Bess of Hardwick fits as one of the books filling the TBR challenge that I'm participating in.

Regardless of all that, I found, the first time I picked up the book to read (soon after I bought it), that it was absolutely fascinating. I didn't finish it at the time, mostly because I was reading it on one of my trips where I go through a used bookstore. I always intended to read it through though, and I finally got to it this past week.

Although the Tudor and Elizabethan periods are a bit later than my true interest area, I found this biography to be full of fascinating tidbits of information, not just on the life of Bess Shrewsbury, but also on life in general for the upper classes of the day. Mary Lovell has included all kinds of little snippets on furniture, clothing, education, food, finance and more, all of which helped to bring the characters and time-period to life for me as I was reading.

Mary Lovell also freely included quotes from letters, account books and other documents of the day, both official and personal, in the book, all of which helped to demonstrate the atmosphere of the time period.

Despite the fact that Bess and her family are the primary figures in the biography, there is plenty of information about other notables of the period, including the numerous Royal figures she outlived: Elizabeth, Henry VIII, Edward, and Mary. Also, Mary, Queen of Scots has a sizable role in Bess's life.

Even though the period of Bess's life, the mid/late fifteen-hundreds and the first decade of the sixteen-hundreds is after the main thrust of the period I've done the most reading about, I still found in interesting to note the continuation of trends and attitudes from the earlier period, such as the remains of the feudal structure of society.

One of the classes I took last semester spent a fair amount of time examining the feudal system in England. I think that that background knowledge only helped in reading Bess of Hardwick in the understanding of some of the feuds and the like, although it wasn't necessary at all in terms of the understanding of the book as a whole. It just seemed to enhance things for me a bit.

Overall, if you're interested in the Tudor and Elizabethan periods of English history, I highly recommend this book. Not dry in the slightest, and highly readable, Bess of Hardwick also includes two sections of illustrations, photos and paintings, most of which are in full color.

Monday, June 15, 2009

LibraryThing's 100 Books for 2009 Challenge

I've found and joined yet another challenge for this year. This time it's a LibraryThing group: 100 Books for 2009.

As far as I can tell, the premise of the challenge is set out in the group title: read a hundred books in 2009.

I'm also going to list and link the books I read here, starting with my backlog for the year as of tomorrow. I counted the reviews since January 1st and I've already read fifty books.

January:
  1. Google Adsense For Dummies - Jerri Ledford
  2. Dies The Fire - S. M. Stirling
  3. The Adept: The Templar Treasure - Katherine Kurtz and Deborah Turner Harris
  4. Writing In History - Jeffrey Alexander and Joy Dixon
  5. Dagger Magic - Katherine Kurtz and Deborah Turner Harris
  6. Death Of An Adept - Katherine Kurtz and Deborah Turner Harris
  7. The Protector's War - S. M. Stirling
  8. The Blue Sword - Robin McKinley
  9. Starship Troopers - Robert Heinlein
February:
  1. The Crusades: A Very Short Introduction - Christopher Tyerman
  2. Dream Warrior - Sherrilyn Kenyon
  3. Upon The Midnight Clear - Sherrilyn Kenyon
  4. The Automatic Millionaire Homeowner - David Bach
  5. Mr. Bliss - J.R.R. Tolkien
  6. A Meeting At Corvallis - S. M. Stirling
  7. His Majesty's Dragon - Naomi Novik
  8. Throne Of Jade - Naomi Novik
  9. The Black Powder War - Naomi Novik
March:
  1. Tangled Webs - Anne Bishop
  2. Moon Called - Patricia Briggs
  3. Blood Bound - Patricia Briggs
  4. Iron Kissed - Patricia Briggs
  5. Cry Wolf - Patricia Briggs
  6. The Shadow Queen - Patricia Briggs
  7. The Shadow Of Saganami - David Weber
  8. Storm From The Shadows - David Weber
  9. Bone Crossed - Patricia Briggs
  10. Beast Master's Ark - Andre Norton and Lynn McConchie
April:
  1. Dark Lover - J.R. Ward
  2. On Basilisk Station - David Weber
  3. Lover Eternal - J.R. Ward
  4. Lover Awakened - J.R. Ward
  5. Lover Revealed - J.R. Ward
  6. Lover Unbound - J.R. Ward
  7. The Athenians And Their Empire - Malcolm McGregor
  8. Bloodhound - Tamora Pierce
  9. The Worlds Of Medieval Europe - Clifford R. Backman
  10. Women Of The Raj - Margaret MacMillan
  11. Daughter Of The Blood - Anne Bishop
May:
  1. Island In The Sea Of Time - S. M. Stirling
  2. Lover Enshrined - J.R. Ward
  3. Lover Avenged - J.R. Ward
  4. Twilight Of Avalon - Anna Elliott
  5. Time Enough For Love - Robert Heinlein
June:
  1. Sigurd And Gudrun - J.R.R. Tolkien
  2. The Millionaire Next Door - Thomas J. Stanley and William D. Danko
  3. Blood Noir - Laurell K. Hamilton
  4. Greek Fire, Poison Arrows and Scorpion Bombs - Adrienne Mayor
  5. Skin Trade - Laurell K. Hamilton
  6. The Tattooed Map - Barbara Hodgson
  7. Bess Of Hardwick: First Lady Of Chatsworth - Mary S. Lovell
  8. Space Cadet - Robert A. Heinlein
  9. The Hatchet - Gary Paulsen
  10. The River - Gary Paulsen
  11. Brian's Winter - Gary Paulsen
  12. Brian's Return - Gary Paulsen
July:
  1. Brian's Hunt - Gary Paulsen
  2. Incubus Dreams - Laurell K. Hamilton
  3. The Swan Maiden - Jules Watson
  4. Memoirs Of A Geisha - Arthur Golden
  5. By Heresies Distressed - David Weber
  6. The Ash Spear - G. R. Grove
  7. Hand of Isis - Jo Graham
  8. The Serrano Connection - Elizabeth Moon
  9. Joust - Mercedes Lackey
  10. Alta - Mercedes Lackey
  11. Sanctuary - Mercedes Lackey
  12. Aerie - Mercedes Lackey
August:
  1. Standard Of Honor - Jack Whyte
  2. Order in Chaos - Jack Whyte
  3. Nefertiti - Michelle Moran
  4. Stargate SG1 The First Amendment - Ashely McConnell
  5. Stargate SG1 City of the Gods - Sonny Whitelaw
  6. Stargate SG1 The Barque Of Heaven - Suzanne Wood
  7. Defenders of the Faith - James Reston Jr.
  8. Chalice - Robin McKinley
  9. Hunting Ground - Patricia Briggs
  10. Curse of the Tahiera - Wendy Gillissen
September:
  1. The Heretic Queen - Michelle Moran
  2. The Man Who Loved Books Too Much ARC - Allison Hoover Bartlett
  3. Cleopatra's Daughter - Michelle Moran
  4. Bitten - Kelley Armstrong
  5. The Quest Of The Holy Grail
  6. Catfantastic V - Andre Norton and Martin H. Greenberg
  7. Against The Tide Of Years - S. M. Stirling
  8. Ghosts of Ottawa - Glen Shackleton
October:
  1. Gone-Away Lake - Elizabeth Enright
  2. Return To Gone-Away - Elizabeth Enright
  3. Geisha, A Life - Mineko Iwasaki
  4. Defenders of the Scroll - Shiraz
  5. Bad Moon Rising - Sherrilyn Kenyon
  6. In Celebration of Lammas Night created by Mercedes Lackey - Ed. Josepha Sherman
  7. The Fiery Cross - Diana Gabaldon
November:
  1. Lady of The Forest - Jennifer Roberson
  2. Lady of Sherwood - Jennifer Roberson
  3. The Eagle's Daughter - Judith Tarr
  4. King And Goddess - Judith Tarr
December:
  1. Gwenhwyfar: The White Spirit - Mercedes Lackey
  2. Changing The World - Ed. Mercedes Lackey
  3. Griffin And Sabine - Nick Bantock
  4. Sabine's Notebook - Nick Bantock 
  5. Samson's Walls - Jud Nirenberg
  6. Torch Of Freedom - David Weber and Eric Flint
  7. Divine Misdemeanors - Laurell K. Hamilton
  8. The Golden Mean - Annabel Lyon
The current total number of reviews is 102.
I successfully completed this challenge!

The Tattooed Map - Barbara Hodgson

The Tattooed Map
Barbara Hodgson
Raincoast Books
Copyright Date: 1995
1895714915

According to the cover of The Tattooed Map:
Somewhere in Northern Africa, a woman traveler awakens with a mysterious mark on her hand, a mark that soon grows into a tattoo. So begins the enigma of The Tattooed Map, in which intrepid traveler Lydia journeys with her friend and former lover, Christopher, in search of antiques and adventure.

Lydia records her daily experiences in a journal, keeping track of hotel addresses and conversations, and pasting such flotsam and jetsam as maps, photographs, and drawings into her diary. She records her shock and dismay as the marks on her hand reveal themselves to be a detailed map of an unknown territory.

Later a cryptic Moroccan man explains the map's connection to a spiritual and physical journey she must make. Whey Lydia disappears unexpectedly, Chris takes up her diary to record his search for her - and for a way to unravel the riddle of the Tattooed Map.

In her rich and captivating first novel, author Barbara Hodgson guides us through the exotic world of Morocco, with its maze-like streets, musty shops, and unexpected secrets. Mysterious, enveloping, and thoroughly evocative, The Tattooed Map will make you want to embark upon a journey - if only you could be sure of your return.

I first read The Tattooed Map years ago, I guess it was when it first came out, although the copy I had then was a paperback. Somehow in the years between then and now though, the book disappeared. I forgot the title, and the author, although the storyline more or less stuck in my brain. I couldn't find the book again, no matter who I asked. Finally, I asked about it last month on the Name That Book group on LibraryThing. Within a day, as I raved about it in a post here, they identified both the book and the author.

Anyway, I finished reading it last night/this morning, and the story was as good as I remember it being. I still don't exactly know how to classify it though. I know it's fiction, but is it fantasy, teen, or something else?

Whatever it is though, the book is nearly unique in my experience. The story is written in the form of diary entries, and the pages are very lavishly illustrated with scraps of writing (things like names, phrases and words, schedules, photo descriptions), maps, snippets of this, that and the other and even little sketches. But most of them are key to the story as well. Looking at all of the scraps on the pages is certainly a fun part of the reading experience, and it was one of the things I remembered about the book in the years I was searching for it.

Also, there are no page numbers on any of the pages. If you're going to put the book down, either memorize the illustration on the page, or have a bookmark handy. On the other handy, I doubt you'll want to put the book down until it is done with.

By the time I'd finished the story, I still knew next to nothing about the characters, but it didn't matter. I was enthralled by their adventures, and I'd still like to know more. None of it is explained in any way, and I don't want to give more details and examples in case I spoil it.

The Tattooed Map is a moderately quick read, and, in my opinion, one that doesn't disappoint. I know that sometimes the anticipation makes a book a letdown when I finally get to read it, but not in this case.

If you can find The Tattooed Map, I recommend it for a read. I know I'm going to be keeping an eye out for any of Barbara Hodgson's other books, and if anyone's read any of them, I'd love to hear your opinions.

Mailbox Monday

It's been a pretty quiet week in terms of books this week. I only bought the one book:

Jamie's Food Revolution
Hyperion
Jamie Oliver
Copyright: 2009
978-1401323592

The latest of Jamie Oliver's cookbooks, this one is geared to simple and quick meals. So far, the ones I've tried (only three of them) have all turned out to be delicious, and I plan to keep cooking from it. The photos are great, and he's done something a little different: instead of just a full size photo of the final result, Jamie Oliver has included a series of photos depicting the preparation process step by step.

Mailbox Monday is hosted by The Printed Page.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Site Update

I had the bright idea of trying one of the many custom templates out there for Blogger today. I've wanted to use a 3 column layout for a while, so I spent some time today looking through the sites listed recently in the Blogger Buzz and found a nice one to try.

It didn't work out. The process deleted all of the widgets on my blog (there's really too many of them, but I use them all), screwed up a half dozen other things, and didn't work as all of the features were linked from places like photobucket (which were all over their limits).

I've just spent the last couple of hours reverting to my old template and reconstructing the widgets (or most of them). In the process though, I've removed a couple, so maybe the blog will load a bit quicker now.

Needless to say this was time I could have been spending reading, and I'm not inclined to try changing to a custom layout again any time soon.

Edited to add: I've changed the template again anyway, to another of Blogger's built-in layouts. This time the width is adjustable, so there's less wasted screen-space, and the white background should make the site more readable. On the other hand, I preferred the sans-serif font of the previous template. Oh well, you can't have everything if it's not a custom design.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Book Rambling: Cookbooks


If you're going to post about a cookbook, at what point do you feel it is fair to review it?

Surely it would take too long to try every recipe, but when do you think you've given a book a fair shake? I'm wondering because I have an ever growing collection of cookbooks that I've bought. Some of them I haven't tried any recipes from yet, others I've only done a few. The latest addition is Jamie's Food Revolution, which I bought tonight, and I have to say, looks very good. Of course, I'm no expert cook.

On a semi-related thread, what attracts you to a particular cookbook? The author (or other major figure involved)? Is it a T.V. show you've followed? the layout of the book? or is it some other reason entirely?

For myself, it's a combination of the recipes and the layout. The majority have to be not too complicated, and be something I think I'd like to eat. I'm also attracted by the format used in all three of the books above, where every recipe has its' photo. I don't watch cooking shows, so although I'm aware that a particular chef has a show, it doesn't otherwise (as far as I'm aware, anyway) affect my choice.

Jamie's Food Revolution has taken that one step further, and given a step by step series of photos for the preparation of the dish as well as a picture of the finished result.

How about you?

Utterly Amazed

I just have to say that I'm utterly amazed right now. I'm watching the stats for All Booked Up fly right through the roof. I thought yesterday was amazing, when I had 60 visits. Today is jaw-dropping then. Only 9 a.m. and already there's over a hundred.

Thanks everyone.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Skin Trade - Laurell K. Hamilton

Skin Trade
Laurell K. Hamilton
Berkley Books
Copyright Date: 2009
978-0425227725

According to the cover of Skin Trade:
When a vampire serial killer sends Anita Blake a grisly souvenir from Las Vegas, she has to warn Sin City’s local authorities what they’re dealing with. Only it’s worse than she thought. Ten officers and one executioner have been slain—paranormal style.

Anita heads to Vegas, where’s she’s joined by three other federal marshals, including the ruthless Edward. It’s a good thing he always has her back, because when she gets close to the bodies, Anita senses “tiger” too strongly to ignore it. The weretigers are very powerful in Las Vegas, which means the odds of her rubbing someone important the wrong way just got a lot higher.

My first reaction on finishing Skin Trade, the latest book in Laurell K. Hamilton's Anita Blake: Vampire Hunter series was WOW!. Admittedly, this was at somewhere around two this morning. Which should say something. For the last three/four days, this book has kept me up far past my bedtime, because I just had to know what happened next.

In Skin Trade Hamilton has gone back, at least somewhat to the early days of the series, when most of the story was centered around the crime Anita was solving. It worked. Up until the end of the book, there's very little sex, which makes for a nice change.

There's very little from most of the main/secondary cast of characters in St. Louis, as the majority of the action takes place in Los Vegas (as anyone who follows Laurell's blog, probably knows already). At the same time, we get a lot more from Edward, Olaf and Bernardo, which is sure to please a lot of people.

The role of the were-tigers is growing as the books progress. I can't help but wonder what's going to happen in the next book, but that's how the Anita Blake books usually leave me. This one sure had a few twists, which I really don't want to spoil.

What I found though, as the book progressed, is that I'm really going to have to reread Incubus Dreams, as apparently, the villain of this book played a role in that one. Also, the events of Blood Noir come back to haunt Anita here. All of this series are interconnected now. Although I started out reading the Anita Blake books out of order as I could borrow them from the library, I wouldn't want to do that since about Narcissus In Chains. Now, I think I'd be completely lost.

There are times when I've doubted the wisdom of buying these books the day they first come out (namely with Cerulean Sins and Blood Noir, one of which I haven't read since the first time, and the second, which I didn't read until a few days ago), but not this one. I loved it, and I'm probably going to keep buying them right away. Something about this series has captured my imagination.

Unlike Blood Noir, which was quite thin, at least compared to Skin Trade and some of the other recent books, you really get your money's worth in the latest installment of the series. It is just a few pages short of five hundred pages, and packed with action.

Still, both of the two most recent books have been set outside of St. Louis, and I'm missing the interactions that go on there (although not Richard. Since Cerulean Sins I've found that I'm not that fond of him) and I hope the next book will return to the rest of the characters.

Skin Trade, although it seems to have resolved a few of the issues of recent books, has left plenty for the next books, especially if the return to solving crimes. If only the issue's that Anita's been having with the police she has to work with. Not to mention the everlasting personal issues she has.

Overall, I found that I really liked this book, and I'm inclined to think it will make both camps of Hamilton's fans happy. There's plenty there for those who like the new, relationship-centric aspects of the story, but she's returned to the crime-solving that attracted readers to the early books as well.

Greek Fire, Poison Arrows And Scorpion Bombs - Adrienne Mayor

Greek Fire, Poison Arrows And Scorpion Bombs
Adrienne Mayor
Overlook Press
Copyright Date: 2009
9781590201770

According to the cover of Greek Fire, Poison Arrows And Scorpion Bombs:
Flamethrowers, poison gases, incendiary bombs, the large-scale spreading of disease... are these terrifying agents and implements of warfare modern inventions? Not by a long shot. Weapons of biological and chemical warfare have been in use for thousands of years, and "Greek Fire, Poison Arrows & Scorpion Bombs," Adrienne Mayor''s fascinating exploration of the origins of biological and unethical warfare draws extraordinary connections between the mythical worlds of Hercules and the Trojan War, the accounts of Herodotus and Thucydides, and modern methods of war and terrorism.
"Greek Fire, Poison Arrows & Scorpion Bombs" will catapult readers into the dark and fascinating realm of ancient war and mythic treachery-and their devastating consequences.

You don't have to be an expert in classical and early medieval history to enjoy this book. Adrienne Mayor has written a book that anyone who likes history can enjoy reading and learning from.

Although the main thrust of the book is centered on the Classical era and the world of the Greeks and the Romans, there are also incidents from Chinese, Indian and Middle-Eastern sources discussed as well. In terms of time frames, the incidents go all the way up to the early to mid fourteenth century, alhtough most of them, as I already said, come from Greek and Roman sources.

For each of the incidents described, whether it be from Thucydides, Dio Cassius etc. or legends and myths, Greek Fire, Poison Arrows and Scorpion Bombs describes the incident, then gives archaeological evidence backing up the author's conclusions along with any modern experiments proving or disproving her opinion. At the same time, she goes into detail about the mindset of the time towards these weapons of mass destruction, their problems for either side and also looks at similar modern issues, especially in the U.S.A.

We think of weapons of mass destruction, be they chemical or biological as being relatively new things in the scope of history. However, as proved by Adrienne Mayor, clearly they were not. Poisons, fires and disease have been around for thousands of years. Of course people were going to figure out ways to use them for their own purposes.

Some of the examples, though clearly 'low tech' were still extremely ingenious, and I'd bet, if used today, would still cause problems and distractions, such as the scorpion and snake bombs. Other ideas though, are just strange to the modern mind set, such as some of the recorded recipes for poison. Still, when broken down the way they are in this book, they make a sort of sense.

There are times though, when I wish the author had gone into more detail, such as the section on Hannibal using vinegar to crack rocks, along with the other uses mentioned. I wouldn't mind knowing why it worked.

Greek Fire, Poison Arrows and Scorpion Bombs is an interesting book on history, and one, frankly, that I wish I'd had while classes were still in session. If only because of the above mentioned incident with the vinegar on heated rock. The books I was using for a term paper disregarded the whole thing, and here's one saying that the ancient authors were right. Would have been helpful for said term paper.

One thing's for sure. This book is going to make me think a bit differently about the ancient world and their attitudes towards warfare. I'd gotten the traditional background in my classes on ancient heroism and beliefs, and here's a completely different perspective.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The Strain - Guillermo Del Torro and Chuck Hogan - Preliminary Review

The Strain
Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan
William Morrow
Copyright Date: 2009
978-0061558238

According to Amazon.com's description:
The visionary creator of the Academy Award-winning Pan's Labyrinth and a Hammett Award-winning author bring their imaginations to this bold, epic novel about a horrifying battle between man and vampire that threatens all humanity. It is the first installment in a thrilling trilogy and an extraordinary international publishing event.

The Strain

They have always been here. Vampires. In secret and in darkness. Waiting. Now their time has come.

In one week, Manhattan will be gone. In one month, the country.

In two months--the world.

A Boeing 777 arrives at JFK and is on its way across the tarmac, when it suddenly stops dead. All window shades are pulled down. All lights are out. All communication channels have gone quiet. Crews on the ground are lost for answers, but an alert goes out to the CDC. Dr. Eph Goodweather, head of their Canary project, a rapid-response team that investigates biological threats, gets the call and boards the plane. What he finds makes his blood run cold.

In a pawnshop in Spanish Harlem, a former professor and survivor of the Holocaust named Abraham Setrakian knows something is happening. And he knows the time has come, that a war is brewing . . .

This is my preliminary review of The Strain, although it may also be my only one. Currently, I'm just under half way through the book. It's weird, I'm not exactly enjoying the read, but I still can't put the book down for once and for all. I have to know what happens next. I just can't stand to read more than a little bit at a time.

Not because the writing is bad or anything like that, but because the book is a horror novel. And, boy, is horror the right term. From the very first pages, The Strain had me creeped out. Nearly every scene ends with increased tension, before changing to another viewpoint and starting all over again.

The biggest problem I have with the book is that I don't normally read horror (aside from the Laurell K. Hamilton books, which I still dispute being horror).

On the other hand, I was curious about Del Toro's style, given that he's the director in charge of the upcoming Hobbit movies. If horror is his forte, I hope he'll limit himself aside from any scenes in Mirkwood. There, he can have free reign. His background as a movie director shows through in the styling of The Strain: there is scene after scene that I could see being on the theater screen just from the way it was described. I would be very surprised if this book and it's upcoming sequels were not going to be made into movies in the next few years. On the other hand, while it will make a very good movie, I don't think I'd want to see it. The book is creeping me out enough. Having the (vivd) descriptions portrayed visually would be even worse. If you like horror, this book will probably suit you very well. Certainly most of the reviews I've seen on the chapters/indigo site have been very positive, as have the ones on the Amazon.com page.

Some of the people I've talked to have described The Strain as being very Steven King-like, particularly comparing it to his earlier works. Not having read any of those, I can't say for sure either way, but given some of the things I've heard about his books I'd probably agree just on the basis of descriptions.

I'm rather comparing it to what I remember reading of Richard Preston's The Hot Zone, which I read years ago, and have more or less forgotten. Still, some things have stuck.

One neat thing is the book itself under the jacket. The cover isn't plain or cloth-covered like so many books are. Instead, the cover is decorated with a foggy red picture. Yet another, minor, layer of creepiness.

Also, given the current trend towards vampires as not evil, especially in teen books and urban fantasy, Del Toro has gone back to the very earliest vampire stories, making the vampires, or at least Mr. Leech, out to be complete evil. I'm still not sure about the rest, but it certainly makes for a very different story.

I have to know what happens, so I'm going to keep reading for a while, but it'll probably be slow going, simply because I also need to be able to sleep at night.

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