Monthly Archives: February 2010

“Doctor Who: Prisoner of the Daleks” by Trevor Baxendale

Doctor Who: Prisoner of the Daleks (BBC Audio) My rating: 3 of 5 stars

During the days of the New Adventures and the Missing Adventures novel lines, it was interesting to watch various authors allude to “Doctor Who”‘s most popular villains without actually naming them or including them in the story. Thank to the copyrights on the Daleks, the novels couldn’t use the pepperpot monsters in the stories.

Eventually the BBC took over the original novels lines and the Daleks were negotiated back into the line. And then we found out something interesting–Daleks are great on-screen, not so much on the printed page.

Part of the iconic legend of the Daleks is their appearance and their voices–two things that just don’t translate well to the written page. In the same way various authors have had issues capturing the second Doctor in novel form, so it appears that authors have difficulty bringing the Daleks to life on the page.

“Prisoner of the Daleks” is no exception to the rule.

The Doctor arrives on a deserted world, becomes a prisoner and then waits to be rescued by a plucky crew, most of whom will be Dalek canon fodder by novel’s end. The crew is a Dalek hunting crew from the last days of the war between the Earth empire and the Daleks. Based on the rules of history, the Doctor shouldn’t even be there, but he’s stuck there, separated from the TARDIS and trying to get back and escape.

There’s a lot of running about corridors, scenery chewing with Daleks and shouting of “Exterminate!” but it never quite all adds up to the most satisfying of novels. Trevor Baxendale does a decent job of captures the tenth Doctor on the page, but the rest of the supporting cast are largely forgettable.

A nice try, but it comes up short.

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“The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” by Rebecca Skloot

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks My rating: 4 of 5 stars
A fascinating true story of Henrietta Lacks.

Before I read the book, I knew very little about Henrietta Lack, a poor African-American woman who died of cancer in the late 50’s. During treatment at John Hopkins, some of her cervical cells were harvested for testing and to see if they could be reproduced in a lab. The cells are still reproducing to this day and have been used in many of the great medical breakthroughs of the past 50 years.

But Henrietta and her family have been, tragically, forgotten to the pages of history.

Rebecca Skloot spent ten years following the threads of the story to bring together this fascinating portrait of Henrietta, her family and the medical community that has used her cells for so long. Skloot makes the medical sections of the book easily accessible and tells the story of Henrietta and her family with dignity, respect and honesty. What you end up with is a non-fiction work that is easily as fascinating, compelling and absorbingly readable as any of the best fiction on the market today.

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Booking Through Thursday: What Are You Saying?

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Suggested by Janet:

I’ve seen this quotation in several places lately. It’s from Sven Birkerts’ ‘The Gutenberg Elegies: The Fate of Reading in an Electronic Age’:

“To read, when one does so of one’s own free will, is to make a volitional statement, to cast a vote; it is to posit an elsewhere and set off toward it. And like any traveling, reading is at once a movement and a comment of sorts about the place one has left. To open a book voluntarily is at some level to remark the insufficiency either of one’s life or one’s orientation toward it.”

To what extent does this describe you?

Interesting quote and one that sort of describes me. I admit I will read a book on certain exercise equipment (and listen to audio books on others) as a way of distracting my mind and not thinking, “Gee, I could really only do 20 minutes today instead of 30″ or “Man, I’m tired and this is taking forever.”) I know on some level that what I’m doing is good for me, but I like to have both my physical body engaged and my brain engaged. I can’t always just zone out and stare at the people around me or the wall ahead of me. In some ways, using a book or audio book there is the mental way of changing the scenery even if I’m not moving physically.

I admit I read a lot to relax, to escape and to wind down. Sometimes it’s nice to get into the issues others are facing and find some that can be wrapped up (for the most part) by the time we get to the final page.

I’m not sure that answers the question, but there you have it…

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A New Challenge: The Classics Challenge

Surfing around, I came across The Classics Challenge.   Looking at my pile of TBR books, I realized I have a number of books that fall under the category of classic and I’m hoping this challenge will give the motivation to pull them up a bit higher on my list and actually get around to reading them.

You can sign up HERE.   I’m going for the entree level, though I may jump up to feast…

Here’s the rules:

**Choose Your Level (Keep reading for Bonus)
1. Classics Snack – Read FOUR classics
2. Classics Entree – Read FIVE classics
3. Classics Feast – Read SIX classics

**Rules/Guidelines
1. Cross-posting with other challenges is allowed (and encouraged!)
2. Audiobooks are fine
3. Re-reads are acceptable, BUT books must be finished after April 1st to count for the challenge
4. Lists don’t have to be set in stone; you can change your selections at any time
5. Have Fun!!
6. You do NOT need a blog to participate.

**Bonus!! (Optional)
In the past two challenges we compiled a list of books that we think might be considered classics one day. I’ve wiped out that old list so we can start fresh, but to get an idea of what others suggested in the past, see HERE and HERE. To start off the list, I’m going to suggest Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver.

Leave your suggestion (one please) in the comments below. If you want to participate in the bonus round, choose a book from the list and read that in addition to the classics you have picked (e.g., if you are doing the classics snack, you will read five books total and so on).

I realize this means you may have to wait to make your list or leave the bonus book as “tentative” if you choose to participate in the bonus round, but I’m hoping this is a modern twist on the old classics challenge.

What is a Classic?
Am I going to define what a classic is? Nope! There are lots of definitions offered on the Internet, but we all have different opinions so don’t stress too much. In the comments below, I’d love if you would give a (one please) recommendation for a classic you would suggest to beginners or apprehensive readers–maybe something lighter or something engaging. I’ll compile a list.

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“Soulless” by Gail Carriger

Soulless (The Parasol Protectorate, #1) My rating: 2 of 5 stars
At the end of “Soulless” first time author Gail Carriger says that one of her inspirations for the story was the idea of what if you set an urban fantasy during Victorian times. Given the quirks of the society, it’s a fascinating concept and that hook alone is enough to make me want to like “Soulless.”

Unfortunately, the novel is too much a product of the current publishing climate in which a majority of the books hitting the market must have vampires, werewolves or (as is the case here) both. I’ll give Carriger credit that her vampires are genuinely evil, scary and frightening and not misunderstood, sparkling creatures of the night. And her long-standing conflict between the two sides is a lot better realizes than the invented for the sake of creating romantic tension conflict that we have in a certain other bestselling series that shall not be named.

But there were times reading “Soulless” that I felt as if this book was being tragically mis-marketed. The cover proclaims it a novel of “vampires, werewolves and parasols” and the character of Alexia Tarabotti, a woman born without a soul who is able to negate the supernatural powers of various creatures she encounters, is an intriguing one. But there are moments in the story that I wanted to throw the book aside and scream with frustration–most of them concerning Miss Tarabotti’s interactions with a certain Lord Macon, who just happens to be the head of the werewolves. The novel spends a lot of time focused on the etiquette of the times and their forbidden romance. It’s straddling a lot of conventions–not only steam punk, but also Victorian romance and urban fantasy. The problem is that the transitions are rarely seamless, leading to the novel seeming disjointed and coming to an abrupt halt at various points during the narrative.

Alexia spends a lot of time reflecting on her status–not only as soulless but also as a perceived old maid (at the age of 26!)–as well as the romantic entanglement with Macon and doting on food. It’s the scenes with Macon where the novel grinds to a complete halt, becoming a romance novel, complete with pages on end about kissing, weakness in the knees and warming of the nether regions. All well and good if it went on for a paragraph or two, but when it ends up taking place over three or four pages and then being ruminated about for the next several more, it serves only to bring the story screeching to a massive halt.

It also serves to rob any and all momentum the story builds up in the early pages as Alexia kills a vampire at a party after being attacked. It robs the storyline of vampires, werewolves and how they are organized in such a time and the implications of the ability to turn humans into vampires without the usual process of its drive and depth. It would be more interesting if we spent more time developing Miss Taraboti into a character who is more than just the definition her society places on her.

Unfortunately, the novel never rises above any of this. It has a solid start but unravels quickly.

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“Never Look Away” by Lindwood Barclay

Never Look Away: A Thriller My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Opening with a scene ripped from most parents’ worst nightmares, Linwood Barclay’s “Never Look Away” morphs into something more chilling, disturbing and unexpected. Local reporter David Harwood and his wife Jan have taken their four-year-old son for a day at the local theme park. David and Jan’s marriage has been up and down the past few months and David is secretly relieved when Jan suggests a family outing. But the day out becomes a nightmare when the stroller with their son vanishes. David finds the son but now his wife has vanished without a trace and all the clues point to David being the prime suspect in her disappearance.

For the first half of the “Never Look Away” Barcley amps up the suspense, putting in place a lot of varying bombshells and red herrings for the novel’s stretch run. David is pursing a story about the new privately owned prison that is scheduled to be built in his town and the behind-the-scenes perks for local officials that may be buying their vote. This subplot looks at the nature of reporting today and is fascinating enough even if it eventually doesn’t lead anywhere of major impact to the story.

We also find out that Jan isn’t all she claims to be and watching this plotline. Jan’s story goes from, at first an interesting one to slowly descending into cliches. It may not help that a current plotline on the hit TV show “24” mirrors what the backstory for Jan.

“Never Look Away” begins with a four-year-old’s fear of rollercoasters and then quickly becomes a literary one. The twists, turns and drops the story goes through will keep you on board, though as the ride comes to an end you may be a bit let down by the overall experience. It’s a popcorn thriller of a book.

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“Swim the Fly” by Don Calame

Swim the FlyMy rating: 4 of 5 stars
Every summer, Matt and his friends Coop and Sean set a goal for themselves. This summer, it’s to see a girl au natural. And not on the Internet or in Playboy, but a real live girl.

The trio also spend each summer on the local swim team. But this summer, something is different. Kelly West has moved onto their swim team and Matt would do anything to get Kelly’s attention–even volunteering to swim the 100 m butterfly section of the relay. The only problem–Matt can’t swim the butterfly and it’s one of the hardest swim strokes to pull off for one lap, much less the four required for the 100 meter.

“Swim the Fly” relates the story of Matt’s misadventures from the summer in question. In many ways, the book reminded me of the first two “American Pie” films with a center of hormonally imbalanced teenagers having misadventures on their quest for the ultimate goal. And just like the first two “Pie” installments, “Fly” has the same heart at the center. These aren’t totally irredeemable horn dogs looking to see a bit of naked female flesh. These are real teenagers who funny and may be a bit recognizable.

The subject matter may be a PG-13 and, at times the book does have a PG-13 rating. But it’s a fun, entertaining and authentic feeling story that will have you smiling, laughing and sympathizing with Matt at each and every turn.

One of the most enjoyable books I’ve read this year.

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Booking Through Thursday: Olympic Reading

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You may have noticed–the Winter Olympics are going on. Is that affecting your reading time? Have you read any Olympics-themed books? What do you think about the Olympics in general? Here’s your chance to discuss!

(And for the record? My favorite Olympics book is Joy Goodwin’s The Second Mark which tells the story of the three figure skating pairs involved in the 2002 Salt Lake City controversy. The controversy is actually the smallest part of the story–the fascinating part is learning about the training of the three teams–Canadian, Russian, and Chinese. Just saying. And yes, I AM watching the Olympics on tv each night.)

I’m reading more during the Olympic break, but it’s not so much fewer TV choices (we still have “Lost,” and “24”) and having time off to recover from a minor surgery.

Ironically enough, I just finished a YA book called “Swim the Fly” which is about a teenage guy who volunteers to swim the butterfly for his swim team to impress a girl.  Not a Winter Games sport, but a Summer Games one.

I will add I did watch some women’s curling yesterday while recovering.   For some reason I find it fascinating…

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Booking Through Wednesday–Encouraging Reading

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Suggested by Barbara H:

How can you encourage a non-reading child to read? What about a teen-ager? Would you require books to be read in the hopes that they would enjoy them once they got into them, or offer incentives, or just suggest interesting books? If you do offer incentives and suggestions and that doesn’t work, would you then require a certain amount of reading? At what point do you just accept that your child is a non-reader?

In the book Gifted Hands by brilliant surgeon Ben Carson, one of the things that turned his life around was his mother’s requirement that he and his brother read books and write book reports for her. That approach worked with him, but I have been afraid to try it. My children don’t need to “turn their lives around,” but they would gain so much from reading and I think they would enjoy it so much if they would just stop telling themselves, “I just don’t like to read.”

I think that a love of reading is something that should be encouraged early and often in life.  I think if you plant the seeds that reading is fun early in life, it will bloom later in life.  That said, I think the best way to encourage a non-reader to read is to find things they will want to read and not discouraging them from reading them because they aren’t “great literature.”

I was recently listening to a radio program on the “Doctor Who” tie-in novels published by Target.  For those of you who may not know, the novels were adaptations of the “Doctor Who” serials published in the 1970s and 80’s when the television show wasn’t repeated often and there wasn’t VHS or DVD to watch them over and over again.  At one point, the commentator brings up the point that the books would get boys reading something because of their interest in “Doctor Who” and that, at times, educators weren’t happy about it because “it was only ‘Doctor Who.'”

I feel like this can happen a lot with the choices that boys and teenage boys can make in their reading material.  We’re often drawn to graphic novels, comic books, sci-fi and fantasy, tie-in novels, etc. and sometimes when we read them, there’s a bias by teacher, parents, etc against them.   Also, I really think we need a revolution in publishing as well to target young boys.  I wandered by the young adult section of the bookstore and if you just look at the covers, you can tell that a majority of the books are marketed toward young women.  Which is fine, but we need to have some good alternatives to encourage the young guys to want to pick up the book as well.  And despite the old adage, many times books are judged by their covers.

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“Along for the Ride” by Sarah Dessen

Along for the Ride My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Auden isn’t your typical teenage girl. She’s a driven student at school on her way to a prestigious university. Her focus on the academic side of life has meant that her social life suffered a bit–she’s never really had close female friends and her prom date stood her up to go to an academic conference.

Auden is also haunted by the spectre of her parents’ divorce. Their frequent late night arguments have turned her into a night owl.

The summer after her senior year, Auden decides to spend time with her father, his new wife and her new step-sister at the beach side community. While there, she finds a job at her step-mother’s clothing store and watches as her father begins to repeat the same patterns that led to the dissolving of the marriage to the mother. She also begins to stay up old night with the mysterious boy who holds a secret and has withdrawn from the close circle of friends he used to hang out with on a regular basis.

“Along for the Ride” presents Auden as one of those teenagers whose had to grow up too fast for her own good and, at various points, has served as the parent to both her parents. Her mother sees her new friends, her possible boyfriend and her life with her father as a possible rebellion and rejection of the academic path she wants for Auden and not as a chance for Auden to have the chance to be a teenager for a while.

While this isn’t a typical novel for me, I kept reading because of the authenticity that Dessen brings to the story of Auden. Her voice rings true and the characters she meets and interacts with all seem real. Auden’s frustration with her parents is real and the story of her brother meeting a woman very much like their mother and getting engaged to her is a nice touch. The only thing I didn’t like was how compactly and easily everything is wrapped up by the novel’s final lines. It works too hard to give us closure.

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