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Posts Tagged ‘Books!’

Book review: The Farseer trilogy

Posted by Lissa on December 10, 2009

Short review:  Thumbs-up!

Longer review: One of the nice things about owning a Kindle is how Amazon tries to sucker you. Yes, I mean that!  And more times than not, I am duly suckered.

You see, Amazon periodically offers books for free.  They’re typically books by prolific authors, or the first book in a trilogy or series.  The business folks are hoping that you’ll read the free book and be inspired to buy other books by the author.

That’s how I stumbled upon Assassin’s Apprentice, by Robin Hobb.  (Sorry, it’s not free anymore!)  Shortly followed by Royal Assassin and Assassin’s Quest.*

The trilogy centers around Fitz, the bastard of a noble prince who abdicates his status as heir to the throne when the child is brought to light.  Naturally, this opens the way to wrangling over who will inherit the throne.  Fitz — a likable protagonist with enough character flaws to make him seem real, yet sympathetic — struggles to learn, struggles to grow up, struggles to survive, in a power structure where he has as many enemies as allies.

Add in mind-magic and beast-magic — animals play a large part in all three books — along with heroes and a classic villain, and you’ve got a story sufficient to make me delay cooking my shrimp and grits** until eight o’clock at night.  (I had to know if they lived happily ever after!)

Bottom line:  An entertaining series, well worth the money (especially since I got the first one free), and I’m considering buying more from the author.

*Ever notice how certain words, when typed or spoken too often, become funny-sounding and weird in your mouth?  Like “assassin.”  Or “daughter” or “fund” or “laughter.”  Or maybe that’s just me :)

**Cajun shrimp with bell peppers and tomatoes, served over grits made with chicken broth and a bit of cream, and melted-in smoked gouda.  Thank you Pampered Chef!

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Eyes like a hawk

Posted by Lissa on October 23, 2009

I get my knowledge from the most random of places.  I owe any (sketchy) familiarity with the historical religious quagmire called the Middle East to The Source. I helped diagnose my grandmother’s cataracts thanks to The Clan of the Cave Bear.*

And now  — thanks to The Fiery Cross — I’m wondering if I lack binocular vision.

Physician Claire gives her son-in-law Roger a few eye tests, asking him about which sports he played and which sports were difficult.  She then explains the reason that he could play soccer but not tennis was that he has no binocular vision — that his brain never learned to merge the pictures from his two different eyes to form a true 3-D picture.  Instead, he’s learned to subconsciously judge the distance of things by comparing their relative size.  She assures him that he should still be able to shoot, as many men close one eye while doing that anyway, but warns that he might have difficulty tracking moving objects across the sky.

Every single bit of this applies perfectly to me, right down to the preferred and proscribed sports.

I find it just as easy to go about my business with my left eye covered.  I don’t gain any real depth perception by looking at something with two eyes, rather than just my strong eye.

Is anyone else familiar with this concept?  Do you have the same problem?  Do you know how to test for it?

At the end, Claire assures Roger that many creatures, such as birds of prey, have no binocular vision, as their eyes are on the sides of their heads.  So even if it’s true — I’ve got eyes like a hawk.

But that’s not going to help me when shotgunning clays . . .

P.S. Thanks to everyone for holster advice!  And I definitely plan to buy a bluegun.  I’d mentioned to Mike that we need to practice a bit with him trying to grab my “gun” away from me — and that’s not the sort of thing you do with a real gun!

*I noticed that my Japo’s irises were blue at the edges.  Japo, you will recall, is Chinese; we’re not supposed to have blue eyes.  I thought of how, in The Clan of the Cave Bear, the Clan initially thinks Ayla might be blind because she has blue eyes.  All the Clan members have brown eyes; their eyes only film blue when they’re going blind with old age.  Thinking of this, I mentioned it to my mother, my aunt took Japo to the eye doctor a little while later, and they diagnosed her with cataracts.  True story!

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Book Review: Echo in the Bone

Posted by Lissa on October 6, 2009

You may remember a post I did about the Kindle release issues Amazon had for Echo in the Bone by Diana Gabaldon.  Well, I waited until that Friday before buying it for $13.20.  (It’s since dropped to $9.99, as I expected.  It was worth the $3.21 to have it two weeks ago though.)

Short review:  Meh.  Worth reading if you like the series, but I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone who wasn’t a devoted Outlander fan.

Longer review:  I’m not going to lie, I found this book disappointing.  I’m glad I read it, of course, and I’ll re-read it, because I’m a sucker for the characters and the storyline.  But the book itself?  Struggling.

I think Ms. Gabaldon forgot that we love the series because we love Claire and Jamie (and perhaps now Ian, Roger and Brianna).  We don’t buy her books because we’re feverishly curious how she imagines Benedict Arnold behaved to those around him, nor how General Simon Fraser met his demise.  I think it was a huge mistake to weave in plotlines from her Lord John books; it felt like she was repeatedly stating hey if you’d bought all my other books this part would make more sense to you. Well, I’m not interested in that series, so all you’ve done is muddy up your Outlander world and added confusion.  Nice job.

Furthermore, I was really surprised at some of the simpler errors.  For example (no spoiler), the book starts off with Jamie watching Brianna meet with young Lieutenant William.  And then later she writes that Jamie hasn’t seen Willie since he was twelve.  Ms. Gabaldon, don’t you read your own books before they go to publish?

And, of course, there’s the ending — or lack thereof.  Without spoilers, I can tell you that she leaves all the characters thrashing about in different places and times with absolutely no resolution or anything close to it.  Truly, it gives the impression that she realized no one could hoik the book about if it got any heavier, so she sputtered out, threw up her hands and went off to go have tea.

So there you are.  If you’re an Outlander-addict, you probably want to know what happened enough to suffer the shortcomings of Echo in the Bone.  If you’re not, I seriously recommend you save your money and buy something else.

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Kindle vs. Hardcover, and resisting temptation

Posted by Lissa on September 24, 2009

One of the reasons I’m madly in love with my Kindle is the quick delivery-instant gratification it provides.  I mean, you can pre-order a book and it shows up at midnight.  Pull the trigger (heh) on a purchase and start reading sixty seconds later.  Heaven!

So it’s currently killing me by inches that I haven’t ordered the latest Diana Gabaldon, Echo in the Bone.  It’s been available for TWO WHOLE DAYS!  And I could have it in SIXTY SECONDS!  If I’d pre-ordered I’d have had it Tuesday morning at 12:01 AM!  But then I’d have paid thirty cents MORE than the hardcover price, which wrecks one of the two major premises for buying a Kindle, i.e., cheaper prices than hardcovers.

What’s interesting to me is watching a publisher try to figure out the proper price and delivery for the Kindle version of a book that will most certainly show up on the NY Times Bestsellers.  Do they release it on the same day, or hold off for a week in the hopes that more people suck it up and buy the hardcover?  If they publish the Kindle book on the same day, should they charge the same amount as the hardcover, or $9.99 (as they will once it makes the actual NY Times list)?

My feeling is that Amazon.com screwed the pooch on this one.  If you check the Kindle discussion here, you find rather a lot of unhappy customers.  To sum up — they had a Kindle edition available for pre-order, but for the same price as the hardcover.  Then the link disappeared.  Then, in the week before release, they added back a Kindle version, but for thirty cents more than the hardcover AND releasing two days later.  Then, less than 24 hours after release, they dropped the Kindle price by three bucks.  And apparently those who pre-ordered before Amazon disappeared the link didn’t get the book.

I was quite impressed with Amazon’s handling of the 1984 Charlie-Fox; the apology was a real apology (i.e. “hot damn we screwed up and we’re sorry” rather than the “sorry if you were offended” crap you hear so much nowadays) and the $30 was much appreciated.  I’ll be interested to see how they manage this latest glitch.

In the meantime, it’s an exercise in self-control that this big, juicy, delicious book could be at my fingertips in sixty seconds.  My plan is to wait until Saturday morning — well, okay, probably Friday night — as that will allow me to read through until I finish the book without having to take a work vacation day.  PATIENCE, Lissa.  Patience.

. . .  WANT!!!

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The problem with reading too much

Posted by Lissa on August 13, 2009

All my life, I’ve been a bookworm.  My sister was two years older and always passed along any good books assigned in school, so I was always at least two years ahead in reading level.  I used to smack into lampposts and trip over things because I always had my nose stuck in a book.

I wasn’t always reading Shakespeare, mind you.  (In fact, I’ve read shamefully little Shakespeare, something I really will have to remedy some day.)  No, I got my start with Garfield comics.  My poor family — I can’t even begin to guess how many comics I “recited” to them, describing what happened in each panel complete with exact dialogue.

There are certainly a number of advantages to being a bookworm.  My grammar is acceptably decent, even though I never studied grammatical rules.  I can’t diagram a sentence to save my life and I’ve no idea what the present progressive is unless I translate the meaning from Spanish, yet I’ve corrected mistakes made by lawyers at Ye Olde Financial Company.

The best part of being a book-lover is that you’re rarely bored.  I don’t mind eating a meal by myself, in a restaurant or at home; a book is company enough.  I can tolerate long waits at the car shop if I’ve got my nose buried in a book.  I have a friend whose brother, while college touring, packed his X-BOX to hook up to the hotel TVs; what else was he going to do at night?

And now that I have a Kindle, I’m even more in love with reading.  It fits nicely onto the shelf of the elliptical machine at the gym so I can read during my morning workout; it gets whipped out when the line at the fish counter at Shaw’s is moving very slowly; it makes the glacial pace of the post office tolerable.

At any time, in any place, I can sit down and be happily absorbed in a book.

And that’s one of my problems.

There are some people who are frenetically busy and jittery, who clean constantly.  There are some people who just don’t feel comfortable if the area around them is untidy.  There are some people who clean when they get bored, who vacuum and dust as a means of alleviating ennui.

Why can’t I be one of those people?

Hell, I had a friend back in high school who, when given a bit too much of the party refreshments, would feel a desperate need to CLEAN.  (That was awesome for the rest of us, by the way.)

I read someone like Their Wicked Stepmother, who wakes and has coffee, a load of laundry and breakfast before I’m usually awake in the morning, and I’m in awe.  Lyn insists she’s not a neat freak; that “My general rule is: vacuum twice a week, mop once a week, bathrooms scrubbed once a week. Everything else as needed.”  (Crap.  When was the last time I vacuumed the bedroom?)  Meanwhile, I just want to curl up on the couch with my cat, my husband, a cup of coffee or a glass of wine, and my Kindle.

Obviously, part of becoming a responsible adult is learning to balance what you want with what you need to do. Furthermore, I’ve no doubt that when human kittens (eventually) join our family, my leisurely book reading will become a thing of the past as I struggle with diaper rash (Milk of Magnesia works!), bodily fluid expulsions and the sixth sense that tells small children EXACTLY when you’re either eating or resting.  (I helped raise two younger brothers.  I pretty much know what we’re in for.)

I know a lot of my readers are bookworms as well.  Tell me, y’all — how do you balance your household chores with your desire to gobble down books?  Got any tips for me?  (I hope the answer is not books on tape.  I’ve only listened to a snippet of one, once, and I wanted to gouge out my eardrums.)

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Why Bloggers Need Kindles

Posted by Lissa on June 4, 2009

This is it, folks.  This is the ultimate, absolute argument and proof why readers who blog must have a Kindle.

I’ve mentioned before that I’m a fan, for a myriad of reasons – it’s lightweight, it’s portable, you can buy books simply by flipping on the Whispernet (think cell phone reception, but without having to buy a coverage plan) and going to the Kindle store, you can carry a whole library in your purse, tons of classics are online for free (or nearly free), you don’t get ink smeared on your fingers, you can hold a 1000-page book in one hand while brushing your hair with the other, and – best of all – you need never fear being stuck at the airport or a diner or a coffeeshop without something great to read.

It’s not without fault, mind you – they’re certainly not cheap, you’ll have to re-buy a bunch of books in your library, maps and illustrations are crude at best, and it takes longer to flip back and forth to an index in the back.  You don’t get that lovely old-book smell that many bibliophiles crave.  They’re not for everyone.

But they ARE for every single blogger who likes to post about books, for this one simple reason:

You can now highlight a passage, make notes on it, and access it online at the new Kindle website.

That’s right.  Instead of laboriously typing out a passage you want to quote or discuss, double- and triple-checking it for accuracy, you can easily highlight it in your Kindle, go online, and cut-and-paste the relevant text.

You can’t beat that.

Coming soon – my long-overdue review of Wild Swans by Jung Chang, delayed solely because there were so many passages to quote that I knew it would take me forever to transcribe.  For example:

Location 4870:  I was extremely sad to see the lovely plants go. But I did not resent Mao. On the contrary, I hated myself for feeling miserable. By then I had grown into the habit of “self-criticism” and automatically blamed myself for any instincts that went against Mao’s instructions. In fact, such feelings frightened me. It was out of the question to discuss them with anyone. Instead, I tried to suppress them and acquire the correct way of thinking. I lived in a state of constant self-accusation. Such self-examination and self-criticism were a feature of Mao’s China. You would become a new and better person, we were told. But all this introspection was really designed to serve no other purpose than to create a people who had no thoughts of their own.

That took me five seconds.  Done.  Bada-boom.

All hail Kindle!

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All hail Heinlein!

Posted by Lissa on May 13, 2009

Re-reading Stranger in a Strange Land for the umpteenth time and came across this gem:

There comes a time in the life of every human when he or she must decide to risk “his life, his fortune, and his sacred honor” on an outcome dubious.  Those who fail the challenge are merely overgrown children, can never be anything else.  Jill Boardman encountered her personal challenge — and accepted it — at 3:47 that afternoon while convincing a ward visitor that he simply could not bring a dog onto the floor even though he had managed to slip it past the receptionist and even if the sight of this dog was just what the patient needed.

Delicious!

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Kindle alert!!!

Posted by Lissa on February 9, 2009

The Wall Street Journal had an article about it, Amazon.com has changed their home page and the browser page for Kindle 2 is already crashing sporadically due to demand:

Amazon.com Inc. is announcing a new version of its Kindle e-book reader on Monday. And, in a sign that the electronic book is gaining clout in the publishing world, Amazon is also expected to say it has acquired a new work by best-selling novelist Stephen King that will be available exclusively, at least for a time, on Kindle.

Many publishers have long feared that Amazon would persuade a major author to write for its Kindle on an exclusive basis. Although retailers such as Barnes & NobleInc. have long published their own books, they have struggled to find distribution outside their own stores. But Amazon has already proven that it can sell as many Kindles as it can manufacture. Indeed, Amazon is working to overcome the supply problems that have plagued the device.

It’s not being released until February 24, but you can try and pre-order it, if you like.  I absolutely positively unequivocally adore mine; I’d recommend it to anyone who likes to read (and can afford an expensive toy). 

After all, being without a Kindle can cause you to have nightmares . . .

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Book Review: The Twilight Series

Posted by Lissa on December 1, 2008

Well, you already know my weakness for vampire fiction, so it will hardly surprise anyone that I took a gander at the Twilight series.  Short review: A bit young — I think teenage girls are the main demographic target — but definitely read-worthy, and potentially addicting; I finished all four books over the weekend.  (See, THAT explains my lack of posting!)

Longer review: Okay, pretty classic storyline going here — turns out, vampires live among us, and gee whillikers, not all vampires are evil.  Bella (teenage heroine, aged seventeen) meets up with Edward (vampire heroine, also aged seventeen although he’s been seventeen for quite a while).  Luckily for Bella (and our story), Edward happens to belong to a rare family of vampires that don’t eat humans.

With such a seemingly-trite storyline, you may wonder why I (and half of America, seems like) found the story addicting.  Three simple reasons:

1) The writing is good.  I’m not pretending it’s Jane Austen, but there’s a good deal of humor, which always makes a book tastier.

2) Vampire books are fun.  No, seriously!  Check out the success of Laurell K. Hamilton and J.R. Ward and Anne Rice; all three exploited a simple not-all-vampires-are-evil premise and laughed all the way to the bank.  (Yes, I do have all three authors in my bookcase.)

3) Like the Harry Potter books, the Twilight books seem ALMOST believable.  It’s the kind of plot that has you kicking yourself — “Why didn’t *I* think of writing that?”

And yet, it’s something more. 

To be honest, I think this is the female equivalent of a well-done Batman, or Spiderman.  Growing up, what guy doesn’t want to step into those shoes?  What guy doesn’t want to believe that his awkward, gangly growing pains could be consumed in a frenzy of super-heroism if a radioactive spider happens along?  What grown-up guy doesn’t enjoy a well-made superhero movie?

What gangly, awkward teenage girl doesn’t have a massive crush on a guy and think, “He would never, never, never be interested in me, I’m not worth it”?

Bella feels that way about Edward; she knows she could never be smart enough, talented enough, beautiful enough to earn his attention, let alone his regard.  Yet as it turns out, she is unique in the entire world and has his full attention.

Simple, sure.  But it tugs at my heartstrings all the same: Bella’s absolute certainty that her major crush won’t — can’t — like her in return; the miracle that he actually does; the constant self-doubt and amazement that somehow this glorious creature loves her.

Of course, I could be wrong.  Perhaps only girls who go through an ugly duckling phase — mine was, oh, from when I was about twelve till I turned seventeen — recognize those feelings of loneliness, of unworthiness, and rejoice that somehow Bella was lucky enough to be intrinsically what Edward would want and need and desire.

Ah, well.  Lovey-dovey stuff aside, there are great themes to these books: friendship, self-sacrifice, restraint, family bonds, and men (er, vampires?) not afraid to be men.  (Remember this post?)  And, parents, the morals found in these teenagers are practically . . . Victorian.  Surely that makes them good books for your dear ones to read :)

To conclude: No, I do not eat my words regarding “the new teeny-bopper fetish — that o-so-studly (gag) teenage (vegetarian!) vampire.”  I never claimed to have high-brow tastes, y’all; consider me a 28-year-old teenybopper.  At least it’s older than the Little House books!!

P.S. I was playing my Classical mix while blogging, which includes the Hoedown from Rodeo

MIKE: “Am I the only one who caught the irony?  That you’re playing the “Beef! It’s what’s for dinner!” song while the pot roast cooks?” 

ME:  “Ummmm, no.  I just like that song!!”

Apparently my irony-meter is broken!

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Plus, I’ll bet he could kick Harry Potter’s pasty little butt

Posted by Lissa on November 26, 2008

Via The Corner, it turns out that the new teeny-bopper fetish — that o-so-studly (gag) teenage (vegetarian!) vampire — has some pretty old-fashioned manly attributes that the teeny-boppers adore:

Apparently, the perfect guy should:
be too much of a gentleman;
be really smart;
smell extraordinarily nice;
have eyes only for you even if he is surrounded by hot girls;
quote Shakespeare;
stand in front of you in a protective way when you are in danger;
give you his jacket when you are cold;
have morals;
love you for what you are inside, not for how you look;
be charming;
sparkle in the sunlight;
have a nice family;
always pay for everything;
have been pretty much single since 1901;
hold your face while he kisses you

And just think how much they’ll SQUEE when they find out you can have all that — and from a guy who doesn’t drink blood!!  (Well, they can have most of it, anyway; I tend to think poorly of women who expect men to pay for everything, men who sparkle in the sunlight usually have an offputting addiction to body glitter, and if he hasn’t dated since 1901 . . . well, the times they are a-changing, y’know?)

And the funniest part?  An old-fashioned gentleman who had all of those attributes listed above but DIDN’T happen to be a blood-drinker of a different species would probably be labeled as an old-fashioned, out-of-touch fogey by those girlies.  Truly, it is to laugh.

(P.S. The article refers you to the actual site with “50 Edward Cullen Characteristics That Every Guy Should Have” and I know I should have sifted through there for my list, but DUDE — they lost me at “10. Have an extended an [sic] sophisticated vocabulary”, “14. Suddenly appear out of nowhere and kiss you passionatley [sic]” and “20. Quote Romeo ( Shakespear ) [sic].”  Oh HELL to the NO.  This job doesn’t pay enough for mental torture like that.)

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