October 29, 2012

Wild Thorn by William Hoffman

Apparently this book is part of a series. But don't let that worry you too much, I didn't realize that until after I read the book, and I don't think it effected the story at all (although who knows what I'd think if I had read the first book). Regardless, it was complete on its own and a decent read.

Charley LeBlanc decides to return back to Virginia to the place of his birth. Along with his girlfriend Blackie, they arrive only to find that a beloved person from his past has been found dead and perhaps murdered. Doing some sleuthing of his own, Charley turns up some inconsistencies in the case, the foremost being that a local wild woman named Esmeralda is the main suspect and the murdered woman her only friend. Knowing some other secrets about Esmeralda, Charley knows that she couldn't have committed the crime. But the more evidence he tries to turn up, the deeper in he gets himself.

Blackie was probably the best character in this book. Even though I didn't particularly like her, she was well written and her character very complete. She felt as if she could be real and had very real emotions. Charley was ok in comparison. Sure he had his shadows in the past as well, but his personality was all over the place. We were told he was a certain way, only to have him do something against that told nature and it didn't make sense sometimes. And even though he was the main character, I never really felt attached to him in any way. All the side characters had a little bit of depth to them, you knew who the good and bad guys were (for the most part) and they all had their little quirks to them. Even though we never actually meet the dead woman, we known enough about her from the stories from other characters and Charley's remembrances that she actually is one of the better characters in the book.

The book started out a little slow at first and I was almost dreading continuing with it. But it did get better and by the end I was glad I had finished it. It may not be the best book I've read in awhile, but it had decently written characters and a unique tone brought on by the dialect of the area. There are some hard themes throughout the book, like murder, rape, violence and of course coarse language. It serves to make the book realistic though and along with the tone of the book, it does seem as if you could be somewhere in Appalachia witnessing everything that has happened. Sure there are some unbelievable aspects (like Esmeralda's story)but even that has some realm of possibility, just a very high odds one. And I was a bit disappointed with the ending, I had expected something quite different than what happened.

I would probably go back and read the first book in this series. And even the third one that there seems to be a setup for. It's just nothing that I will be rushing to get my hands on.

Wild Thorn
Copyright 2002
293 pages

October 28, 2012

Get Up To Speed with Online Marketing by Jon Reed

**This review is part of the Amazon Vine program**

Because of the reviewing I do, I've been targeted at work for working on their online marketing. This means that despite my lack of background in anything marketing, I have to research and come up with ideas for the law firm I work at to better reach a market through social media and other avenues. Obviously despite growing up with technology, this means that I have to learn things I don't already know. So enter this book, which I thought would be a good start.

Get Up To Speed covers a very wide range of topics. Some I already knew, some I didn't really care about, and some I was very interested to learn new things on. From blogging to setting up RSS feeds to twitter, this site covers a lot on how to use popular social media sites. Facebook and LinkedIn are predominant, as is twitter and running your own blog, and youtube even gets some time in this book. There are others, but they are run over rather briefing and don't get the center stage. For all these medias, there are suggestions on how to use it to the best of your ability for your business, in addition to screenshots of some of them, and instructions on how to use some of the different medias in different ways. There are also examples from other businesses on how they used social media to improve themselves.

Reading this at times was very interesting and at other times very boring, like slogging through a dry textbook. I think the problem lay in the detail. While some areas were extensively covered and I learned everything I wanted to, others only had summary descriptions and it left me wondering how to use it properly. For instance, because of how complicated blogs can get with their different pages and other features, I think that chapter could have been widely expanded while Twitter or LinkedIn could have been a little less. I realize that this is probably in the eye of the beholder, but in general I think most businesses would find that more helpful. There is a section on how to get yourself noticed on social media sites, but it was somewhat brief and didn't really clear up anything for me in that regard.

But I did learn a lot of new things. Especially in terms of site analytics. Thanks to this book I found a site to track my own personal blog analytics, which I had wondered about for awhile. There were a lot of links to different trackers like this and other programs that help monitor how sites are doing and their popularity. Which is a boon to business owners who want to see if they are profiting from social media. This book is very educational but for those who aren't as tech savvy, it may be hard to even read this book let alone implement what it suggests. While being a business owner right now means using the internet, a vast majority have only set up a website, if that. And they may not be familiar with the tech speak used in this book, despite it's clear definitions on how to use the different social medias while using that tech speak.

I was disappointed to see that Pinterest wasn't mentioned or Etsy in this book. I don't know that Pinterest was quite at the popularity it is now when this book was in its development, but it was probably around at least. And Etsy has been popular for at least a few years and deserved a mention. It's a very good tool for a lot of small businesses out there. But I guess that that's an inherent flaw in this book. Despite getting out into print fast, like technology itself, it will soon be outdated and not very useful. Media and social media changes every day and a print format while helpful at the moment, will become a door stop after too long.

A comment on the charts and pictures in this book. There were some that I tried to look at that already appeared to be changed a little bit. Social media updates rather quickly so don't walk into this book thinking you'll be able to follow the pictures exactly. Take some time and read the words, those are what stay the same rather than the site layout. That being said, the excerpts in regards to the businesses themselves telling their stories (and not the excerpts involving the charts and pictures) were interesting to read and a good look at how social media actually works for a business.

But for now, if this book is purchased in the next couple of months, maybe a year at the outside limit I think it will be moderately helpful for a small business who wants to get their word out there on social media. I know that I'll be implementing one or two things I found here at work, although a lot of it was extraneous. A good resource for some things, but don't let this book be your only look into online marketing.

Get Up To Speed With Online Marketing
Copyright 2012
248 pages

October 25, 2012

How Angels Die by David Michael Harding

**This book was received as a free advanced reader's copy**

I bounced back and forth between liking this book and not liking it.  There were several elements I appreciated, excitement, adventure, strong female characters.  But I had some difficulties with some of the characters, and with the pace of the book as well.  After mulling it around in my head for a little bit, I came down right in the middle on this book, enjoying it, but not being overly thrilled.

Claire and Monique are two sisters that have come of age during the French resistance against the Germans.  Both work for the Resistance, a small band of rebels intent on making life difficult for the Germans in their city.  But they do it in very different ways.  Monique gets the Intel; which means dancing and charming the German officers in the city and giving them what they want.  Claire however will have none of that, she would rather have a gun in her hands and bullets flashing around her to do her part for the Resistance.  And they clash quite frequently as a result of their different approaches.  But things are changing, the Germans are getting harder to allude and Monique finds herself more than just attracted to her latest mark.  With no end to the war in sight, it's very hard for the sisters to keep doing what they believe in.

I like Monique.  In fact, she was my favorite character.  I thought she had charm, did what she had to do, and was actually quite believable in the way she handled herself.  Her sister Claire on the other hand I just couldn't relate to.  I know some people have an obsession that takes over them, but Claire's hate for all things German was so strong that it was somewhat unbelievable at times.  I even thought her a bit dense when she was supposedly being presented as a brilliant young fighter.  I'm sure we can blame much on youth, but her overall activities and thoughts made me not care for her at all and I really didn't care what happened to her in the book.  Monique's German officer was written quite well at least.  Even though he was supposed to be a bad guy in this book, he was made real and did a good job of showing that in war there are several shades of gray.  The other side characters were ok but we're never really given more than glimpses of them to form attachments.  They're mentioned, and some even have back-stories, but they are very much secondary to the sisters and we aren't given enough to be overly concerned about their fates.

The plot was reasonably good.  I liked the idea of the two sisters each fighting the war in their own way.  And while I found Monique's story more compelling than Claire's, hers definitely served a purpose in the book overall.  I can't comment much on the history because I've never really learned about the French or their resistance during the war, but it didn't go into too much detail on certain events so it seemed plausible to me at least.  I wouldn't read this book for a history lesson, but it does give an overall theme for the time.  The book started out at a great pace, I was drew in wondering what was going to happen with the sisters.  But then, about halfway through the book it suddenly sped up, all sorts of things started happening, and it became a little implausible.  In fact, for a book that was so gritty in detail and believable, the ending is downright sappy.  I thought I had stumbled into a book where another writer had finished the last couple chapters because it was so unlike everything else in the book.  But that's all I'll say on the matter as to not spoil it for someone who wants to read the book.  And when I say the writing is gritty I mean it.  There is violence, murder, rape, cussing and a myriad of other unsavory things in this book so if you are a reader of gentle disposition, you have been warned.  I appreciated it though as war isn't pretty, and this reflected that sentiment.

It was an entertaining read and while I thought there was much that could be improved on in the book, it won't cause me to shy away from any more of Harding's works.  If I see another book out there by him I would pick it up and read it.

How Angels Die
Copyright 2011
410 pages

October 22, 2012

Moonlight Becomes You by Mary Higgins Clark

So this is the first Mary Higgins Clark book that I have read.  My first question is, where did the title come from?  I totally thought this was going to be a romance (actually not even sure where the book came from, just found it on my shelf).  But anyways, it's not a romance, it's a mystery.  And I found it average, it took me quite awhile to get into it.

Maggie has just been reunited with her beloved step-mother who went out of her life at an early age when her father and Nuala divorced.  Tragically, just as they were reuniting, Nuala is found dead on the eve of her dinner party.  As the sole heir to Nuala's estate, Maggie sticks behind in the town to tie up some loose ends, and visit some of Nuala's friends for her.  It's during this time that she begins to become suspicious about Nuala's murder and some of the things that are happening at a retirement home nearby.  But her snooping around could cause some issues as well as most people like to keep their secrets hidden.

Maggie's an ok character.  I found her a bit distant and while she's supposed to be that way, it resulted in me not really caring that much about her character.  In fact, it took me almost until the end of the book to really warm up to her, and even then I think it was the suspense more than actually liking her.  There's a revolving cast of men in her life as well and while they're easy to keep track of; they also aren't really that developed as character.  Especially Earl Bateman, a professor with an unusual hobby.  He just felt a bit unneeded.  And while the bad guy was unexpected I wish there would have been more clues leading up to showing who it was throughout the whole book.

This was definitely a mystery, and as said before while there were some clues, there wasn't enough that I really could make an educated guess on who the killer was until close to the end.  Maybe someone else caught something, but I like solving puzzles and this one just didn't lend itself to showing clues.  Otherwise the writing was descriptive and you could tell that Clark thought about her setting quite a bit, especially the details of the retirement home.  It sounded quite posh to me.  There wasn't really romance, Maggie has a few suitors that stop by to see her, despite her coldness to them, but as far as a fully developed romance, that's not something to expect, even with the title.  The pace is very slow in the beginning and it was hard to get into the book, especially with not really caring about what happened to Maggie, but about two thirds of the way in it started getting interesting and finally captured my attention.

An ok book, I can't say that I'll seek out any books by Clark, but if more magically appear on my bookshelf like this one did, I'll probably read it.

Moonlight Becomes You
Copyright 1996
255 pages

October 16, 2012

The Lady and the Peacock by Peter Popham

*This review is part of the Amazon Vine Program*

Ok, I have to admit, I'd never heard of Aung San Suu Kyi before this book. Actually I had to go look up Burma on a map because it wasn't something I recalled from any of my geography courses either. So aside from that sad statement on the public school system and my failure at learning more outside the system, I'm learning now, and that can't be anything but good, right? That being said, this book, while a wealth of information, was a very hard read, and a bit confusing at times as well.

Aung San Suu Kyi is the daughter of a famous general who was a favorite of the people and assassinated at a very young age. When her mother becomes ill, Suu leaves her husband and two sons in England, and goes back to Burma (aka Myanmar) to be with her mother and care for her. It is while there that she sees firsthand how the country is struggling under the military rule imposed on it and finds herself lifted up as a campaigner for a democratic Burma. This makes her quite a few enemies though and despite her working towards a better future for her country, Suu is imprisoned under house arrest for nearly twenty years and faces several other hardships as a result of her involvement.

When Popham is actually writing about Suu, there's a lot of detail. Right down to the clothes she is wearing and what he apparently thinks she is thinking and feeling. A lot of it seems to be speculation though and considering the author has had very limited time with her, I wonder how much of it is real. Her companions and of course the figures in the opposing military parties are not written nearly as sympathetic. Compared to Suu, everyone else is largely a downtrodden person that's just made better by her being in their life whether they know it or not. Maybe I'm exaggerating a little on that, but that did seem to be a prevalent theme. I recognize she's a wonderful lady, but there's just a bit too much worshipful prose about her in this book to make her seem real to me.

The book is actually more of a history book though. Every person in relation to Burma's military and political realm that you can think of is probably listed in here. It's actually quite confusing when paired with all sorts of acronyms beings used, intrigues, plots and everything else. In addition, the timeline is a bit skewed and jumps around as well, which just makes for hard reading when dealing with something non-fiction. I did learn a lot, but I had to go back and keep re-reading certain parts in order to learn those things as the book just did not flow well and was a bit too wordy. I think eliminating some of the non-informative parts (like what Suu was wearing and what her companion thought of the bathrooms) would have helped make the reading a little clearer and I could have read without distraction. I also would have liked to read more about Suu than the military and other people; there was a lot of her, but since I thought this book was all about her it was surprisingly taken up by a lot of topics besides Suu as well. This book actually would have made two very good separate books had the author taken the time to separate the topics.

Lots of information and I did learn things that I never knew before (plus developed an interest in Burma). I just wish it had been pared down a bit and placed in a sensible timeline, it would have made for better reading.

The Lady and the Peacock
Copyright 2012
400 pages + Notes & Index

October 14, 2012

The Lucky Dog Matchmaking Service by Beth Kendrick

This was a cute book, I read it cover to cover in one sitting. I knew from the cover it would probably be interesting, and I was right. I had a real problem with some of the characters though, and that's what kind of ruined the book for me in some regards, making it a 3.5 star kind of book.

Lara is very good with dogs. So good in fact that she is known as a matchmaker of sorts for people and their dogs. She can find a stray the perfect home. Too bad she's not as good at matchmaking in other regards though, especially with her own love life. When she and her boyfriend have a fight over her rescued dogs, Lara finds herself homeless, and back living with her mom, who's not the most maternal of people. But she also gets new opportunities in the form of dog training clients from this move too, so thinks are starting to look up.

Lara is an ok character. She's strong willed in some ways and flaky in others, but for some reason it just doesn't mesh together and make her seem like a real person. I think she gets walked on too much, and that it is excused too easily during the book. Her boyfriend I didn't like at all either, and I'm not sure what she saw in him really. The same with her parents, I can understand a child being attached to someone because they are a parent, but she would have been better to just walk away from the both of them. The only really redeeming character in this would be her friend Kerry, and even she had problems of her own.

The plot was cute though. And that's what saved this book. I liked the concept of a dog matchmaker and all the hard work that was put into finding good homes for dogs. That kind of thing just gives me the warm fuzzies. And when it was talking about the dogs the descriptions were better and the ideas were better too. Kendrick took the time to make you want the best for these dogs, more so than for the human characters. I did think the ending moved a little fast and things were resolved a little too quickly as well, but for the most part the book maintained a decent pace.

Cute, and while it could have used better characters it was still worth the read. I would probably read more by this author.

The Lucky Dog Matchmaking Service
Copyright 2012
320 pages

October 09, 2012

The Dogs of Babel by Carolyn Parkhurst

I majored in Linguistics, so after reading the premise of this novel, and discovering the main character was a Linguist, I of course had to read it.  Well it turns out that there's not much about linguistics in this novel, but it was still a very good read.

Paul Iverson falls for Lexy pretty quickly.  Having been married before, he doesn't think she'll be interested in him, but he decides that whimsical artist Lexy is for him.  And surprisingly, she likes him back.  So when one fateful day, he comes home to find police in his home and Lexy dead in the backyard, having fallen from an apple tree, his world is set into chaos.  But there's little things changed about the house that he notices and it leads him to believe that there was more to her fall than he thought.  But the only witness was their dog Lorelei, and she can't tell him what happened, at least not right now when he hasn't begun to teach her to speak to him.

Paul is a pretty tragic character.  You can see his mind working through the grief and even the grief making him change and do things he might not consider doing otherwise.  It's very realistic.  He also shows an amazing amount of patience with Lexy and it actually restores my faith in humanity a little more to know there are people out there that accept their significant others for who they are.  Granted this is a character in a book, but I'm sure there are real life people like him out there.  Lexy, I found very selfish.  Even though we only really view her through Paul's memories she was kind of manic and it just really instilled how much patience he actually had.  There are other side characters in this book, but none I really connected to; it was just Paul and the dog Lorelei for the most of it.  And that was fine, they were all that was needed to tell the story.

The whole plot was the mystery of Lexy's death, but I think that it also included the emotions and grieving process Paul was going through.  And for the most part it was realistic, a person that upset would want to find out what happened, even if it means that he wants to teach his dog to talk.  Desperation makes people do strange things.  I should note that there are some tough subjects in this book; suicide, animal cruelty, violence.  And the animal cruelty is sad and sometimes described vividly, it was hard to stomach the thought of it.  But the overall story was well told and it definitely made you feel something as you were reading it.

I would read more by this author.  This book, while sad, was very well written and explored a lot of emotions.

The Dogs of Babel
Copyright 2003
261 pages

October 07, 2012

The Girl Who Chased the Moon by Sarah Addison Allen

I like Allen's books. They always seem to have whimsical aspects to them that I just can't get enough of. And this one is no different, despite some troubles with the book, I enjoyed it overall and thought it had that same sense about it that her other books have.

After the death of her mother, Emily makes the trip to Mullaby, NC to stay with her grandfather, who to her surprise, turns out to be a giant. But that wasn't the only secret her mother kept from her, as she goes about town meeting people, she discovers that her mother appeared to be running from her past, and that some people blame Emily for her mother's faults. But one boy, who has cause to not like her family, is drawn to her, and Win Coffey has secrets all his own. Meanwhile, Julia has returned to set things in order after father's death and it seems that part of that is taking over his business until she can settle the debts and sell it for a profit. But that plan nearly backfires on her when she encounters someone from her past whom she has had painful memories of all her adult life. But she has other goals in mind, and as she runs the restaurant, she also bakes cakes non-stop, in the hopes that something good will happen from it.

Emily is such a nice girl and a pleasant surprise to read about. Often teenagers are described as bratty non-listening whiny individuals and while I'm not arguing that's true for some, there really are some delightful teenagers out there too. So I'm glad Emily got to be representative of that. Win on the other hand I didn't like. Too mysterious and his motives too weird, he just didn't make sense in the novel, even if you do allow for the magical aspects of it. Julia also was a very good character and while my childhood was nothing like hers growing up, I really felt like I could identify with her. She also had a good match in Sawyer, even if he did stir up feelings in her that she didn't want to think about. Emily's grandfather I thought was vastly under-used in the novel. He had the capacity to be such a bigger part of the story and I was disappointed to not see him appear more.

The plot was somewhat predictable, but that's ok. It was smooth reading and enjoyable and I loved all the magical elements that Allen included. She has a way of working them in seamlessly that makes it seem like something that could actually happen. And her descriptions of food, although not overly wordy, are delicious and part of what I look forward to in her books. So is her description of small town South and the kind people who can inhabit such a place. Part of that use of description though does include a sex scene, so reader, you have been forewarned if that's not to your taste. I was a little disappointed that the ending cut off so short. I can only hope that maybe there's a sequel in the works, but somehow I doubt it. I just didn't want the book to end there.

Another delightful read by Allen. I'll read her books anytime I can get my hands on them.

The Girl Who Chased the Moon
Copyright 2010
269 pages

The Sugar Queen by Sarah Addison Allen

I just recently became acquainted with the books by Allen.  And just as recently became a fan.  Her first book, Garden Spells, I loved to pieces.  This one I liked nearly as well.  It's just as charming as the other, and has its own magical elements.

Josey is somewhat of a recluse.  As a rather temperamental child, she mellowed into an adult woman who is run by the whims of her bother.  Her only solace is the hidden closet of sweets that she has, and the travel magazines to accompany them.  With no friends, her daily thing to look forward to is a visit from the mailman who she is attracted to.  But then, one morning she wakes up to a visitor inside her closet; an older woman who's on the run from a boyfriend, and since she knows secrets Josey doesn't want to divulge, Josey lets her stay.  Della makes her get out and meet new people too, and with that comes some emotions and experiences Josey has never had before.

Josey is an ok character.  She seems very real with her flaws and wants for sweets.  Her mother completely domineers her, and it makes you want to shout at her sometimes, but this whole novel is about her growth, so at least it seems authentic.  Her love interest, the mailman Adam, was nice enough, but I didn't really understand him or his motivations.  And the other side characters all had their own quirks.  The only one I didn't really like was Josey's mother; I just thought she was a deplorable person without any redeeming qualities.  At least Josey had the maid I suppose.  Chloe, kind of the almost other main character in this book had some unique qualities too that I appreciated, especially since her's involved books.

The plot was fairly predictable, but it was still so nice that you couldn't help but forgive its predictability.  I liked the descriptions of the sweets Josey craved and the sandwiches her friend made.  The sandwiches most of all; give me one of those over a piece of chocolate anyday.  There was a lot of drama in this book and sometimes it moved a little too fast for me to keep up.  But by the end everything was sorted in my head and it did have a nice twist I was expecting.  Unlike the other book of Allen's there wasn't any descriptive love scenes or a great deal of violence.  Little things were mentioned but never brought forth in any detail.  It should be mentioned, that in the particular edition I read, there were some deleted scenes that the author kept out of the book.  They were interesting, but I am glad they weren't in the main story itself.

A very nice book.  I will definitely keep reading any book Allen puts out.  I know they're all bound to be quite magical.

The Sugar Queen
Copyright 2008
294 pages

October 06, 2012

Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen

This was a very charming book.  Absolutely delightful.  I was attracted by the cover and that's what made me pick it up, but the story was wonderful too.

The Waverly's are known for not being quite right; something about them is just different from the other people in town.  But then again the townsfolk family lines are all known for something.  For instance, the Hopkins men always marry older women the Clark women have a certain prowess in bed.  But the Waverly's, what they do is out of the ordinary, and the garden of their's, with its special apple tree, is just the beginning.  Claire Waverly, who spent her first six years of life with her nomadic mother, doesn't like change, she prefers to work at her catering business living up to people's expectations.  But when her sister Sydney comes back, with daughter Bay in tow, she knows she has to learn to like a little change, if only for their sakes.

I like both of the Waverly sisters.  They couldn't be more different, but you can watch them grow closer throughout the novel.  And the way that was done was authentic.  Bay especially was a sweet little girl and her presence was definitely needed in the novel.  But I think the best character was Evanelle.  She was interesting and her role in the book was pretty important.  She just had a way of knowing what was needed.  Even the leading men in the book were likable but not too perfect as to be unbelievable.  I found myself rooting for them the whole way.

While the plot kind of meandered, it did so in a nice way.  You just wanted to know what would happen for the sisters.  And the apple tree, doing its thing, just kind of worked along with that.  There were several subplots, about the townspeople, and this actually brought some needed points in the novel.  It showed that people are going to do what they're going to do, despite what the "main" people of the book are doing.  And they also taught some important life lessons; and who knows if that was the author's intention.  Descriptions abound in this book and I especially loved all the different foods that Claire made.  I only wished there were some recipes included, but alas, I didn't see any.    I should point out that there is sex, violence, and mentions of abuse in this book.  They aren't over-glorified by any means, but rather important to the story as a whole.

One of my favorite books I've read this year.  I just found it very charming and the characters very likable.  I'll definitely be reading more books by Allen.

Garden Spells
Copyright 2007
290 pages

October 04, 2012

Animal Farm by George Orwell

I have a mixed relationship with Orwell.  At times I greatly enjoy his works, and at other times (1984 I'm talking about you) I just can't bring myself to appreciate what are well known as classics.   Luckily, Animal Farm is one of the ones I can appreciate.

Ready for a Revolution, the animals at Manor Farm have had it with the way they have been treated by their human owners.  A rebellion breaks out and drives the humans away from the farm and the animals take it over for themselves.  They all chip in to do the hard work, but as time passes, certain animals raise themselves as leaders and begin delegating, promising great hopes of tomorrow for the other animals.  More and more the perfect society morphs into what they used ot know, with many of them being unaware of it.

These are animals, of course we're going to like them better than a story about people.  Who can't be charmed by a horse who wants to work hard or a donkey that just seems a bit gloomy.  And I think it's a brilliant way of putting the authors outlook on certain societies and government out there.  And the subtle way that it's done is most impressive too.  The pigs have brains, there's no denying that and it was interesting to see how Orwell used them to present the change in power amongst the animals.  I do think Orwell was a bit unfair to some of the animals though; there should have been a few outstanding cases amongst some creature other than the pigs, just like there are a few outstanding people amongst an unfair government as well.

Obviously this is based on the authors interpretation of communism.  But I think the bigger lesson, rather than focusing on any particular government, is that when you have a group of sentient beings, there are going to be some that want more power than others, and no equality can exist in such a dynamic.  No utopia will ever be reached because of this trait of humankind either.  It just so happens it's represented by animals in this book.  And this book isn't very long.  It doesn't even reach a hundred pages in my version which is astounding when you think about how much detail and how many ideas are packed into it.  And it's presented well without feeling rushed.  Although I do have to say, I would have appreciated it being even longer and more ideas being thrown out there.  As good as it is, I definitely can see it being even better.

A four and a half star book for me.  It's definitely a classic and presents a unique outlook on the power struggles that exist in life.

Animal Farm
Copyright 1945
85 pages

October 03, 2012

The Death Cure by James Dashner

Wow, how disappointing. Granted I found the series just average anyway, with the first being the most interesting, but this one just completely fell flat for me. Still, I'll put my usual disclaimer here, don't bother reading this one unless you've read the others. This series is meant to be read in order.

Having defeated the trails by Maze and the barren land known as the Scorch, Thomas and the other survivors are taken to WICKED headquarters. There, they are presented with the opportunity to regain the memories taken from them, but Thomas is suspicious. He hatches a daring plan to escape, but with all the variables that are presented by WICKED, he's never sure he's doing what he's supposed to do, or what they have planned for him. And as the disease known as The Flare keeps spreading, will they even have enough time to come up with a cure.

I didn't really have any compassion for Thomas at all in this book. Nothing he did was logical or made any sort of regular sense. It's like he was just doing things to keep the plot moving without rhyme or reason. And everyone else kind of fell into the backdrop as a result. Characters that were such a big part of the first two novels barely got any time in this one and I think it really lost something because of that. The only other character that really had any time in the book was Brenda, and even she wasn't the character that we were familiar with from the previous book. It might as well have been another person.

The plot also didn't have much of a point. The ending was a cop out in my opinion, but I won't say anything further than that as not to spoil it for anyone. And the variables and trials made no sense whatsoever even after the end of the novel where you would expect it to be explained. It's almost like Dashner didn't think that part out and had to throw something together to at least make an ending. And it doesn't work. There is a lot of violence in this book too, and while some of it is appropriate, some of it just seemed meaningless, like filler. If I have to summarize everything about this book, it just didn't provide satisfying answers.

Not a good ending to the series and as a result not a series I would particularly recommend. There are better dystopians out there.

The Death Cure
Copyright 2011
324 pages

Flexon Vale by Raeden Zen

*This book was received as a Free Advanced Reader's Copy*

I can freely admit that this isn't my style of book. In fact, I expected something more of a dystopian with some satire based on the back description on the cover that talked about super technology. But I was wrong; while there are some elements of satire in this book, it definitely was not really a dystopian in the general sense of the genre.

Chason Vale is the manager of a large hedge fund. Thanks to his intelligence and a partner named Felicia Sandorf who has remarkable ways of getting information, he is also one of the richest people in the USA. But his life isn't complete, reeling from the news of a beloved football coach and the scandal surrounding him, Chase is desperate to find satisfaction in something, and a new business deal is too irresistible to give up. Then there's Julian Flexon, a college student with a love of drugs, alcohol, and earning money, he manages to get himself in trouble quite often, and there is a parallel between the two characters and their actions.

Chason and Julian are not really likable characters. And that's fine, main characters don't always have to be likable, but I didn't really connect with any of them. My main complaint is that it's very hard to sort out who's talking about what, when, where, why when reading about them. I was halfway through the book before I could figure out who was being focused on. It doesn't help that both have the same taste in pursuits and the only difference is one is grown with a family and the other in college. Some of the side characters were ok though. Like Sierra, Chason's wife. She was someone that I was able to identify with. I do think it should be noted that the football scandal had people who acted very much like those in the real life Penn State scandal, and this is something Zen notes in the beginning of the book; so if that's a touchy subject for some people, they may want to steer clear.

This book definitely has a knowledgeable tone to it. That being said I'm not much interested in the world of finance so I can't say whether or not the parts of the book that talk about it are accurate or not. They read as being accurate, but I definitely wouldn't take them to heart when playing the stock market just to be on the safe side. And aside from that, it's just not an engaging topic for me so I found myself looking forward more to the flashbacks of the college days where I could understand even if I couldn't identify with what the kids were doing. I thought the subplot of the football incident was done well and liked that it drew from real life events, so that was a positive aspect of this book. The main plot meandered along at a decent pace, but then in the last part of it, it suddenly went lightning speed and I completely lost track of what was going on. I do think the book could be benefited by going back and slowing it down so that it makes more sense.

It should be warned that there is plenty of cursing and descriptive sex in this book; just so the reader can be fairly warned. It didn't detract from the book at all in my opinion though, but rather showed the mood of the book and its characters.

This isn't a book I would probably return to reread. I found the premise interesting but ultimately could not sink into the book and enjoy the reading experience. Perhaps someone with a different taste from mine could appreciate it more, but for me, this book hovered somewhere between two and a half stars and three.

Flexon Vale
Copyright 2012
202 pages

October 02, 2012

The Scorch Trials by James Dashner

The Scorch Trials is the second book in the Maze Runner series by James Dashner.  I always recommend starting at the beginning of a series, and this one is no different, but to be honest, I had a hard time following this one even having read the first.

After escaping the maze, Thomas and Co. only think they are somewhere safe when all of a sudden, they find themselves in the middle of another test.  This time they're turned loose in the Scorch, a hot dry area with sickened "zombies" roaming about.  They all have the sickness too, and are told that in order to get the cure, they must reach a place one hundred miles away in just a few short weeks.  From there it's fighting death and facing betrayal and Thomas has to make several decisions that aren't easy.  But the need to survive is strong in him.

Thomas isn't that great of a character.  I don't connect with him at all and it seems like things happen a little too easy and coincidental for him.  With everything being a test it's hard to say that that isn't on purpose, but without revealing enough of those tests, as a reader I simply don't care.  Some of the characters I did really like, like Minho, take a back seat in this book too and it's always about Thomas, which gets a little wearisome since I don't care for him.  Teresa too doesn't improve with this book and in an odd sense, she and Thomas really are perfect for each other, because I rate them at the same level of interesting.  The new girl, Brenda, at least has some fire and real human emotion in her.

The plot moves along very quickly but even so it was filled with violence and different descriptions that would make your eyes bug out.  This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it just seemed like filler to me.  Yes this is a middle book, but it can have a decent plot of its own without merely being words to connect two other books.  I also wonder at how some of the things in this book are written, we have description but it isn't really complete.  I can't picture the places they are talking about very well or even the people.  Thomas himself is supposed to be sixteen, but I always get the impression that he's younger than that based on his description.  It just is hard to form an idea in your head on what the world is like with the little information given.

This is just average reading for a dystopian novel.  It has an interesting idea but there's so many loose ends and the fact that this book was filler does it no favors.  I want to know what happens so of course I'll read the last book, but I can only hope it improves on the flaws of the first two.

The Scorch Trials
Copyright 2010
360 pages

October 01, 2012

The Last Unicorn by Peter Beagle

I grew up with the Last Unicorn movie.  Obsessively watched it in fact and loved every moment of it.  And then just recently I came across the book.  Well of course I had to read it.  And I truly did enjoy it; there were a few things that I would have liked to see done better, but really, this is a great piece of fiction and I can see where the wonderful movie got its inspiration.

A unicorn, who's lived in the woods for a very long time, has just gotten word that she's the last.  Which is strange to her, unicorns are solitary creatures and maybe the others are just hiding.  But it's enough to pique her curiosity and get her moving to see what happened to the rest.  But danger follows her on her journey in the form of men, witches, and dark King's.  And even though she gains some helpful companions, she starts to lose herself and forget her journey, even though the future of the Unicorns can only be rescued by her.

The unicorn is a very unique character in this book.  Beagle presents her as having different emotions from humans and I think he does it very well.  She's somewhat foreign but still has some base instincts that we can relate to.  Her companions, the Magician and the Molly, are also quite wonderful.  The Magician Schmendrick is a complex character that it's hard to tell sometimes whether he is quite wise or just has dumb luck and even while he can be infuriating at times, you can't help but want him around.  Molly is just solid and steady and comforting, both for the other characters, and the reader.  Even Haggard, the evil King is a great character and while he is somewhat evil, you actually can feel pity for him.  Overall the characters just do a great job of expressing emotion and wisdom and there's a lot of lessons fit into this book.

Having seen the movie first I was surprised by all the extra parts of the novel that weren't in the movie.  It doesn't detract from either media, but it made me consider things about the characters that I had never thought before and explained quite a few things about their motivations as well.  I do think the pace was a bit rushed with all that extra added in though.  This book could have easily benefited from an extra hundred pages to keep it flowing smoother.  But it was still magical and one of the better fantasy books that I've come across.  Add in the reminiscence of my childhood and I was hooked.

This is definitely going on my "keep" shelf.  As I've been paring down my books only a special few make it there too, so that just proves how special the book is.  Definitely a fantastic read.

The Last Unicorn
Copyright 1968
248 pages


The Maze Runner by James Dashner

The Maze Runner was a book that came recommended to those who like dystopian novels and in general the sort of fiction that's being put out for teens right now.  As most of those can be hit or miss I approached it with trepidation.  The results; I thought it was ok, but not nearly as good as it was hyped up to be.

Thomas wakes up in a dark box which rises to the surface of a hostile world.  Here there are just boys who are doing their best to survive, and he's the newbie who's entered their world.  Aside from once a month supply deliveries, they are on their own.  The have their own little place to sleep and grow food, but outside those walls is a maze none of them have been able to solve.  And if they are unable to solve it, they don't get to go home.  The special task of handling this running of a maze is given to the select few, known as Runners.  And you would think solving a maze would be easy when there's so much time to do it; but dark things come out at night, and the maze is always changing.

I couldn't really connect with any of the characters in this book.  There were some stand out ones, sure, but the large majority of them just didn't spark that connection.  Especially Thomas, he's our main character and while I can appreciate his intelligence and fortitude, I don't particularly like him and am really sort of ambivalent to him.  The same goes for the only girl in the story, Teresa, who was just a little too perfect.  The only character I really did like was a boy named Minho, who had a bit of spunk to him and was a runner.  There were a couple of "bad guys" I suppose and the author made it easy to dislike them, so that was saying something at least.

The plot was ok.  I liked the maze concept and why they were in there and I thought the ending had a nice twist.  But the pacing was a little rushed and everything seemed to happy a little too easy for the main protagonist.  I realize that it was somewhat supposed to be, but it lessened the sense of excitement and struggle that you wanted to perceive in this book.  Being dystopian, it just should have been harder to do what they were doing.  I did like the beginning though, as Thomas is dropped into this world it has a whole different lexicon that he has trouble understanding at first.  And it's the same for the reader, but as he starts to understand, we begin to understand the different slang terms being used, and that made the book kind of realistic.

It's not a bad book, just not up to par with some of the other dystopian series out there.  I will of course read the rest of the trilogy though and hope that it improves with each book.

The Maze Runner
Copyright 2009
374 pages

A Galaxy of Immortal Women by Brian Griffith

**This book was received as a free advanced reader's copy**

I'm fascinated with Chinese culture and with Women studies.  So a book that combined the both of them was right up my alley.  And this book was truly interesting.  Coming from an author who himself says he's not sure he's qualified to write this kind of book, I appreciated his honesty and his want to learn more about the culture; it's like he tried to really talk to the women of China and understand what they were saying.  And I think that even furthered the enjoyment of the book a little more for me.  This book not only details some of the history of China, but it also explores its religions, and its outlook on women.

All kinds of topics are explored in this book.  Confucianism, Daoist, Goddess religions.  They're all here and women's impact on them are explored as well.  It also offers a very broad history of China and its rulers, mainly focusing on the aspects religion played upon the different rulers, and how each ruling society treated women and their place in the household or government at large.  Several small stories, such as legends about different figures considered to be raised to goddess-hood are included in the book.  And a particular favorite of mine was the short story of the two lovers, separated in the stars by an overbearing father.  These little gems of stories helped explain the people's thought processes through time and their secret hopes for what they wanted with their lives.  There were also topics considering the Partnerships formed between women and men, family values as considered by different ruling regimes and even a glossary was included to list the Goddesses and other religious beings.  There was also a great deal of sources listed and an index.

There were many people mentioned in this book.  Some real, some not, but they were all treated with the same courtesy.  I was actually a little amazed at how non-judgmental this book seemed to me.  Different figures were presented factually without a lot of bias thrown against them.  The author was just doing that, stating facts, rather than going on long tirades against different decisions and political aspects.  I did like the mentions of the different goddesses (the outhouse goddesses were especially interesting).  Each had their own unique story and something different that they represented and some of them were even real people at some point so it was interesting to see what qualified someone to become a religious figure.  Since this book is mainly about women, the men may be described a little overbearing, but it wasn't done accusingly at least.

I liked all of the different topics this book covered.  In fact, my only complaint is that I had a hard time keeping track of the timeline in this book as it bounced around a bit.  There were some charts in front to help with that, but I would have liked for a little more of a straight timeline to keep things in line in my head.  But other than that it was a very easy to read book considering the it covered a lot of big topics.  The language was clear and precise and not hard to understand despite it being an educational sort of book and I can see most people picking it up and enjoying it.  Although it is more geared towards women, I can see men interested in history, China, or religion enjoying this book quite a bit.  It does offer a different view of China than what one normally expects.  And although I don't know enough about China or its history and religions to comment on the authenticity of this book, it seemed exceptionally well researched and the large index bears witness that some research was actually done, so I'm satisfied with that.

A different look at China and its religion; a good non-fiction to pick up if you're interested in the country.

A Galaxy of Immortal Women
Copyright 2012
281 pages