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"I may not know how to fly but I know how to read and that's almost the same thing."-- Gregory Maguire, Out of Oz

"...while finding true love was one of the most splendid things that could happen to you in life, finding a friend was equally splendid." -- Felix J Palma, The Map of the Sky

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Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Ten Books I'd Love to Read With My Book Club



My picks for the Tuesday Top Ten, as invented by The Broke and Bookish. This week's theme is: Ten Books I'd Love to Read With My Book Club/If I Had A Book Club (or you could pick a specific kind of book club -- like if you had a YA book club or an adult book club or a science fiction book club etc.) I didn't pick a "themed book club"; instead I chose books base on the significance I thought they had, and my desire to hear other peoples' views on those books. 

      1. The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
      2. The Casual Vacancy by JK Rowling
      3. Let the Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist
      4. The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak
      5. American Gods by Neil Gaimen
      6. Winter's Tale by Mark Helprin
      7. The Call of the Wild by Jack London
      8. The Tiger's Wife by Tea Obreht

These next two books, I actually can't vouch for, but I've been dying to read them.

      9. Watership Down by Richard Adams
      10. Dune by Frank Herbert

By the time you see this post, I'll be sitting under a blizzard, pretending to be living in a Syfy channel movie, "Ice-pocalypse" and I don't know whether or not I'll have internet...So keep warm, stay safe, read on.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

#timetoread

National Readathon Day!

I didn't realize that was a thing, but my GoodReads account informs me it is...A four hour block of reading, and it's happening today.I think it ought to be called International Readathon Day and get the whole world involved, but I guess GR wasn't feeling that ambitious. I've pledged to read: Native Dancer by John Eisenberg.

What are you reading today?

Friday, January 23, 2015

Hollow City by Ransom Riggs

Hollow City (Miss Peregrine's Peculiar Children, #2) by Ransom Riggs


“I had come to the island to solve my grandfather’s mystery, and in doing so I had discovered my own.”

Hollow City picks up right where the first novel ended. Jacob and his peculiar friends are trying to take rowboats across the sea to the mainland, having just survived an attack by wights. Their time loop has collapsed and Jacob is stuck in 1940 until a ymbryne can send him back home. Miss Peregrine can’t do it; she’s sick, stuck in bird form, and if they can’t find another ymbryne soon, she will be lost to them forever. So Jacob must help the peculiars evade capture while trying to find the last free ymbryne.

This book has inspired me to invent a new adjective: creepadore -- when a thing is creepy and adorable at the same time. As in, “This book is so creepadore!” LOL. As with the first book, this story pits the expected innocence of YA child-heroes against the horror of unseen evil forces and combines all that with strange vintage photos to create a slightly disturbing picture book.

I loved how the characters dialogue reflects both innocence over age, and the time from which each character first originated. When the characters find their first loop, Emma declaration of “We’re somewhenelse!” made me laugh. She’s a kid even though she’s not a kid. I was surprised to find that Emma and Jacob were growing together, too, toward a romantic subplot. I didn’t really think the book needed a romantic subplot, it had a lot going on to begin with, but as the story continued, I was surprised to find I didn’t mind it. It wasn’t overly distracting, and in some ways it made their character evolution more believable; as they struggled with choices, they encouraged each other or called bullshit when necessary. It didn’t feel cheap, forced, or meaningless.

I enjoyed seeing the scope of what these peculiars are capable of; when the first book introduced them, they were living their lives in sanctuary, having fun with their abilities. In this book, fleeing for their lives and fighting back when cornered, the reader gets to see how dangerous these kids’ abilities can be when used as weapons. In that way it was interesting to see who wants to rush forward to battle; you’d think Bronwyn’s formidable strength would make her an obvious candidate, but she just wants to protect people, while Hugh with his stomach full of bees turns out to be a deadly enemy. And it’s hard to forget Millard, invisible nerd, dropping exploding chicken eggs where they’re least expected.

Speaking of exploding chicken eggs, I don’t know what I’d do with an Armageddon chicken, but I want one. Although I suppose if I had one I’d wind up on some sort of homeland security watch list. The world of peculiars continues to expand as the children search out other loops and find one that’s a menagerie of peculiar animals. Most of the loops have been raided already, leading Miss Peregrine’s peculiars to ask, and find the answer for, the obvious question: How are the hollowghasts even getting in? It isn’t supposed to be possible.

And what about the photos, some of which are creepier than others. You’ve get rather peaceful scenes like a silhouette on a beach, strange landscapes and architectures early on, which were tame compared to some of the images that appeared later. Like the photo I assumed (and hoped) was a post-mortem portrait of two grown men “sleeping” in a small bed, with two skeletons wedged in between them (one of which was kind of gooey looking). Ransom Riggs managed to incorporate photos both peaceful and grotesque into the story to create a unique atmosphere.

The closer I got to the end, I begin to realize: there’s too much going on. There’s no way this can end well, if it’s going to end at all… And sure enough, a cliffhanger ending rears its infuriating head. The only thing left to say now: Where the Hell is Book 3?

Rating: 5/5

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Quotable Thursday


I just finished Hollow City and it made me invent a new word: creepadore: (adj)--when a thing is creepy and adorable at the same time. Here's a snippet:

"Do all the animals here talk?" I asked.
"Just Deirdre and I," Addison said, "and a good thing too. The chickens won't shut up as it is, and they can't say a word!" Right on cue, a flock of chickens bobbled toward us from a burned and blackened coop...
..."What happened to their coop?" Emma asked.
"Every time we repair it, they burn it down again," he said.

I'm hoping to have the review finished today and posted tomorrow!

Quotable Thursday originally brought to you by Bookshelf Fantasies.

The Lost World by Michael Crichton

"Too much change is as destructive as too little. Only at the edge of chaos can complex systems flourish."

Ian Malcolm, presumed dead at the end of Jurassic Park, is alive and giving a lecture on Chaos Theory and Extinction when overzealous paleontologist Richard Levine shows up. Levine is tired of studying bones; he’s heard rumors about strange animals in Costa Rica and about Ian Malcolm’s extended stay there. He wants to put together an expedition to locate a “Lost World” where animals survived extinction and are still living in seclusion. Malcolm says no such place exists, but he’ll be happy to help if it’s ever found. As Levine begins to track down the last known rumored site of his Lost World he realizes he’s being monitored and all his careful planning means nothing if he isn’t the first one there. Lewis Dodgson is back and he wants what he paid for: dinosaur eggs. Levine rushes unprepared into the Lost World, forcing Malcolm to organize a rescue party…

This was certainly an interesting sequel, although I think it lacked the focus of the first novel. I loved that not one, but two children managed to stowaway on the trailer and, unlike the movie, neither one of them were related to Malcolm. Because in a world where genetically engineered dinosaurs roam free, who needs the added drama of teenagers fighting with absentee dads? I liked that it was, to some degree, Richard Levine’s fault that the kids got dragged into this. Levine’s blind ambition, disregard for human life, and pomposity makes him a hard guy to like; so it's easier to place blame on an unlikable character than the guy everyone liked from Jurassic Park. But in turn, Ian Malcolm was a little less likeable this time around. His character has had a complete overhaul. Instead of being the know-it-all pessimist who just knows this is a bad idea and wants to spend all his time explaining why… He’s curious. He thinks that somehow studying dinosaurs outside cages will be less dangerous than when they were in them. This is a man who thought dinosaurs were a bad idea before they tried to eat him. Clearly the blood loss from his previous stay in Costa Rica has damaged his brain.

Crichton’s characters reunite on the island of Isla Sorna, surprised to find that evidence of human intervention is all around them. This is Site B: InGen’s top secret manufacturing plant. The scientists, unable to stop disease from spreading, released their wards to grow in the wild; offering Levine and Malcolm the unique chance to study dino-behavior. I found most of the explanations as to why dinosaurs behaved a certain way fun, but found it laughable that it never once occurs to anyone throughout the course of the book to sit still, shut up, stay together until the helicopters returned…Although I suppose if they behaved themselves the plot would be about a bunch of people sitting in a tree. The only thing I didn’t like about dinosaur behavior and its explanation: velociraptors as bad parents. The reason given for this is that they were raised in a lab and never learned mothering behavior…But the same could be said for any of the dinosaurs and the other species managed just fine. So that explanation fell short. I suspect it was easier to vilify raptors when they were turning on each other and instead of trying to give an explanation for that behavior, MC should have just left it alone. But I loved the idea of chameleon carnitaurs and feathered T-rex babies. The descriptions of scenery and wildlife were beautifully done and it made up for the parts that made no sense.

This book was dramatically different from its movie. The first half of the storyline is spent searching for Levine who is searching for dinosaurs. Sarah Harding is late to the party, not early. Dodgson does not arrive with a mini-army so you kind of know his chances of success aren’t going to be high. The T-Rex’s never get off the island. In the end, the book and the movie only ever share two scenes: 1. the kidnap of a baby T-Rex and 2. the raptors hunting human prey through long grass. Needless to say, if you're a fan of this book you don't need to see the movie...If you're a fan of this movie you're in for a surprise.

While I enjoyed this book enough to give it a four star rating, I’m not ashamed to admit I prefer the flashy thrills of the movie version. Bogging the story down with all that science and speculation gave me way too much time to think about all the plot-holes even as the suspense pulled me forward through the pages…

Ratings: 4/5

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton


"...you cannot make an animal and not expect it to act alive. To be unpredictable. To escape. But they don't see that."

Before I say anything about the book, I need to say Jurassic Park and Jurassic Park: The Lost World, are probably two of my all time favorite movies so I can’t really help but compare the books to the movies. I’ve probably watched those a thousand times. The movie were perfection and set the bar high; I never read the book because I was afraid it would suck and then how would I view the movie? Alternatively, what if the book was better and then the movie suddenly sucked? The third movie was a total disappointment. It would be a long time before I figured out the third movie had no book to support it, and I would then attribute the bad plot to the fact that the story had been nothing more than box office fan fiction. Now with advertisements for a fourth Jurassic Park, and a second fan fiction, I found myself once again intrigued and captivated by test-tube dinosaurs… And hoping the 4th is a better fiction than the 3rd considering it too is inspired by its predecessors and not actually based on a pre-written plot-line. So I worked up the courage and opened the book.

A short summary probably isn’t necessary with the story’s fame, but just in case, here goes. Eccentric billionaire John Hammond is the founder of a biotechnology company, InGen. He’s working on a top-secret project: A state of the art genetics lab with a resort on a privately owned island off Costa Rica where the main attractions are genetically engineered dinosaurs. But after locals begin complaining of strange animal attacks, Hammond’s investors want the project investigated for safety reasons. Enter paleontologist Dr. Alan Grant, paleobotanist Ellie Sattler, mathematician Ian Malcolm, and lawyer Donald Gennaro; it’s their job to assess the park’s value and safety measures. Also meet John Hammond’s grandkids, Alexis and Tim who’re just here for the tour. Unfortunately, they’re all arriving in time to witness what happens when a disgruntled employee takes revenge on a dinosaur zoo. Chaos ensues.

I’ve never been more relieved by a book’s excellence! Of course, the book was very different from the movie in some ways. John Hammond isn’t a jolly Santa-like Dino-nut who wants to bring adventure to the world’s children; oh no, he’s just an overambitious money-grubbing douche-bag who won’t listen to reason. And Alan Grant? He loves kids. (That was actually harder to get used to!) And if you’ve seen the movies and know that the velociraptors are supposed to be the villains of the story; they are but the T-Rex is almost as bad. Maybe he can’t see you moving, but he’s going to track you like a bloodhound.

I actually didn’t mind the differences. It was like having two people look out the same window and having them each describe their first impression. Nobody ever views the world exactly the same way as the person next to them, even when they’re looking at the same thing. So going from the movie to the book was like experiencing the story through someone else’s eyes. It was just as beautiful as before, just different. I loved ‘seeing’ the paddocks teaming with strange animals for the very first time; hearing about the sounds they could have produced, feeling character reactions. The banter between long-winded Ian Malcolm and the employees were fascinating even as Grant stood by, being both a main character and oddly quiet observer.

My only complaint with the plot had to do with Arnold finding the products of Dennis’s sabotage. Something about “the security system is down.” Basically, security is security; it’s not an either or kind of thing. How can a company so genius it can use DNA to raise the dead forget to think about two separate security systems? Or rather why would human security and animal security be tied so disastrously together? It seems you would have to worry about locking down the humans at a resort in the event of an animal escape. It would also seem in the event of a natural disaster you’d want those fences on a different system, on a back up generator, to protect guests… Or am I forgetting the year this story was written; maybe with tech at our fingertips I’m forgetting how limited it once was. And I’m not saying the fictional-theoretical security system couldn’t still have been sabotaged, I’m just saying regardless of human interference, one system to control both inhabitants of the island seems rather short sighted…

The book was a fun adventure with just enough science talk to make the story plausible. The movie version may have changed some things around, it still managed to keep the integrity of the book. Although, the two endings were very different… So different it made me think about The Lost World and of course now I’m reading that.

This is my first five star rating of 2015. I’m pretty excited about it.

Rating 5/5

Friday, January 16, 2015

Symbiont (Parasitology 2) by Mira Grant


“Humans have been trying to clean up the world ever since they figured out soap and water. I think that’s what their Devil really taught them…
…That was the true fall from grace. You can’t be part of nature if you’re trying to be clean all the time.”

SymboGen, pharmaceutical pioneers, designed a solution for the world health crisis. They've genetically altered a tapeworm to combat allergies, diseases, and even act as birth control. Main character, Sally Mitchell becomes the poster child for SymboGen, after almost dying in a car accident and being saved by her patented Intestinal Bodyguard. But once the Intestinal Bodyguards begin waking up and attacking their hosts’ bodies, Sally begins to search for answers and discovers that the last six years of her life were a lie…

Symbiont’s one-liner synopsis, “The enemy is inside us,” doesn’t quite cover it. The enemy is inside us, but it’s also next to us, down the street from us, chasing us…The enemy is everywhere. The enemy involves mad scientists, military doctors, genetically altered tapeworms, blood relatives, and corporate jackasses. With the exception of Sal’s boyfriend, Nathan, no one can be trusted. To Dr. Cale and Steven Banks she the world’s most valuable prototype. To Sherman, she’s a weapon to be controlled and wielded. To her own father, she’s a science experiment gone wrong. And now she’s torn between humanity and her species; saving one might mean having to destroy the other…If the warring sides don’t kill her first.

The story opens with the delightfully disgusting imagery of a 3-foot tapeworm swimming through a politician's aorta… And after that, I really couldn’t put it down! But I will say, as exciting and creepy as a parasite-apocalypse is, I was surprised to find Sal was remarkably less likable this time around. The innocence that made her so endearing in Parasite made her seem so enormously stupid in Symbiont. For example, Dr. Cale who’s proved herself to be untrustworthy and unhinged wants permission to perform brain surgery on Sal…The obvious answer should be a resounding, “Hell no, I’m not letting a crazy person root around in my brain!” But Sal, no matter how many times she gets stabbed in the back, is determined to trust bad people. There were times when the villainous types were doing their evil villain monologues and I just wanted her to stand up and say enough’s enough… and her responses were never angry enough for me. Why isn’t she angry? She keeps saying she’s not going to let herself be controlled anymore and it’s consistently a lie to herself.

I was surprised at her so complete attitude change on Adam and Tansy: instead of being creeped out by their nature and obvious character quirks, she threw herself into loving them wholeheartedly.  It wasn’t so much character evolution, as it was just more convenient for the author to move the story along. I was worried she was going to start calling Dr. Cale: mom. Thankfully, she didn’t.

Despite Sal’s failure to achieve any major character development, the characters around her grew more complicated by the second. The fact that most of them are evil didn’t hurt any. You’ve got Sherman, the lab assistant who just happened to be a giant tapeworm in some dude’s head; he wants world domination and he’s got a pretty damn good plan to get it. You’ve got Dr. Cale, the new age Dr. Frankenstein, looking to fix the problem her “children” have created. Steven Banks, genius corporate scientist, looking to manipulate the new health crisis to a profitable ending. And how could we forget, Colonel Mitchell; the cold bastard who wants to save the world, scrubbing it free of the tapeworm menace, and doesn't feel too bad about donating his daughter as a lab rat to do it. And then there’s the brain damaged, parasitic zombie horde getting in the way, making every step a little more dangerous, no matter which character you wind up rooting for.

I enjoyed this book even if I wish more thought had been give to Sal’s character. I was certainly disappointed to hit the last page and realize I had to wait to find out how it all ends. I want the third installment now…

Rating: 4/5

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Evan Burl and the Falling by Justin Blaney

Evan Burl and the Falling (Vol. 1-4) by Justin Blaney


“Not all who dream are asleep.”

Evan Burl lives at Daemanhur Castle under the supervision of his evil Uncle Mazol. Evan finds a magical book belonging to Mazol and steals it; he believes Mazol has been using this book to communicate with the man he believes to be his father…His father sends a letter through the book insisting that Evan will grow to be the most powerful and evil Sapient (wizard) that the world has ever seen; that Evan should be destroyed before he can suffer a Falling and change the world for the worse. Determined to prove the letter wrong, Evan dedicates himself to two things: 1. refusing to use Sapience and 2. protecting the Roslings. The Roslings are 12 little girls who are sent to Daemanhur through the sky inside of caskets -- who aren’t allowed to eat, who can’t get sick, and who can’t die -- and are forced into slavery. When the seemingly impervious Roslings start to fall ill and die, Evan is forced to confront his destiny ahead of schedule.

I read and reviewed the ARC of Evan Burl and the Falling-Vol 1-2 last year. The story was an Indie novel picked up by a publishing house. Like many Indie’s the story was not without its flaws; but the bones of the story were fantastic even if the writing needed a little polishing. I gave it 4 stars. In return for my review of Vol 1-2, I was sent this copy of the polished version with its second half intact. I am incorporating parts of my first review into this, my second, making changes where necessary.

The Prologue starts off with the dramatic imagery of a literal fall through space; doing exactly what a good prologue should: making the reader wonder how our character got there in the first place. First time around, the chapters were hard to get through -- JB deciding to throw us right into a plotline with very little explanation for why things are happening or what certain things mean... Brilliance was overshadowed by confusion. Second time around, the paragraphs are more organized, sentence structure smoother, and punctuation and pronouns are being used more correctly. Most improved of all, JB remembers to take the time to introduce us to our main character, which makes the beginning easier and more enjoyable.

The story doesn’t waste anytime, opening with confrontation, magic and mystery. The atmosphere of the story is what really sucks you in; sure in the world of YA Novel, you’ve read one Boy-Wizard maybe you feel you’ve seen them all. But there’s something frightening about Evan Burl’s world: a creeping paranoia neither he nor the reader can escape. This isn’t an orphan wanting to be the hero; it’s an orphan terrified of being the villain and not knowing who, in his dark world, can be trusted. Just as before, I couldn’t put the story down. Just as before I had the questions: Who is Evan Burl? Who can he trust? What are the Roslings? And what the hell is going on?

Instead of trying to answer these questions in any sort of hurry, Justin Blaney fearlessly continues to expand his magical world into a paranoia fueled crazy train of magical happenings, murder, treachery, and insanity. Imagination is the key to Sapience and the more it is used, the harder it is to separate fiction from reality.

Except this time, I had something I didn’t have before. The promise that I was heading toward a concrete ending. If you thought Evan's life was hard in the early chapters...Wait until Anastasia, Claire, and Terisma get involved. No, they’re not Roslings, they’re Evan’s sisters and they’ve been left specific instructions on how to deal with Evan Burl… Fortunately for Evan they can’t agree on anything.

Last time I said I adored this book and I gave it a four star rating. This time the book was better and I loved it all the more, but it is still falling short of five stars. And now I’m going to justify that rating. Blaney’s got talent and the story is fantastic; I’m not saying either of those statements is untrue. But getting signed by a publishing house means the price tag on this book just went up; I have a certain expectation for books that come out of legitimate publishing houses, even new ones. Indie authors are less expensive, less edited--you get what you pay for: raw talent bogged down with mistakes.

If you pay for a finished book it ought to be finished. (The fact that mine was gifted free is entirely beside the point) And the sad reality is, even the revised edition still had its fair share of mistakes. The author still confuses like-sounding words such as reigns/reins and woman/women. Pronouns are still incorrectly used in a couple of places. And this time around he added something in that was just plain lazy: The Black Leopardi. All the work put into this beautiful novel, and then JB lost his mind and cut corners with something simple as a jungle cat. If you’re going to invent a cat, invent a cat. Otherwise Black Leopard will do just fine.

If you want to read a new take on Boy-Wizard or if dark fantasy-magical mystery sounds like it might be fun (I certainly thought it was!), and a few mistake don’t necessarily send you into troll-review mode then give this book a go. Even with its handful of problems, the story is worth the time.

Rating: 4/5