Monthly Archives: April 2010

“WWW: Watch” by Robert J. Sawyer

Watch (WWW, #2) My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Robert Sawyer’s second installment in his “WWW” trilogy picks up right where “Wake” left off but, thankfully, does not fall prey to middle book syndrome.

If you’ve not read the first installment, there will be SPOILERS ahead for it. Can’t really talk about book two without giving away the end of book one.

“Wake” ended with Caitlin Decker contacting the growing intelligence emerging on the World Wide Web. The second novel explores their growing friendship and the responsibility Caitlin feels to help nurture this new entity into maturity. Caitlin debates whether or not to tell her parents about Webmind and then later helps the intelligence discover a sense of right and wrong. At one point, Webmind watches a live video cast of a suicide, which leads to the discussion. This section of the novel is one of the more compelling and chilling sections of the novel.

Meanwhile, the United States government has noticed the emergence of Webmind and is taking steps to assure it doesn’t become too powerful. Sawyer also weaves in the story of the apes from the first installment and we finally get to see how this separate thread is slowly colliding with the story of Webmind.

As with the first installment, Sawyer continues to open up fascinating, thought provoking areas of science-fiction and their philosophical ramifications. But he never loses track of his characters, keeping them interesting and growing over the course of the story.

And the novel is one that passes by far too quickly, leaving me eager for the final installment next year.

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Booking Through Thursday — Make Your Choice

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God* comes to you and tells you that, from this day forward, you may only read ONE type of book–one genre–period, but you get to choose what it is. Classics, Science-Fiction, Mystery, Romance, Cookbooks, History, Business … you can choose, but you only get ONE.

What genre do you pick, and why?

*Whether you believe in God or not, pretend for the purposes of this discussion that He is real.

My first thought when I heard this question was this really seemed more Old Testament than New Testament view of God….

And that it’s just cruel to force me to choose only one type of book.

I’d have to go with science-fiction, I think. But that’s only my decision right now and could change if I read a really great mystery or other kind of book in the next few days….

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It’s Monday…What Am I Reading?

Well, it’s Monday and that can only mean one thing….

It’s Monday. What Are You Reading?

Here’s what I’ve read since last week:

WWW: Watch by Robert J. Sawyer
I hit the library jackpot last week with three books I’ve been looking forward to coming in at the same time.   However, it was the new Sawyer novel that grabbed my attention first.  It’s the middle installment of a new trilogy and if you haven’t read WWW: Wake, you’re going to be pretty confused.   The first book put the pieces in place and the second book begins to move them together toward the final installment.   I’ll have to say that the book doesn’t suffer from middle book syndrome with a lot of treading water as we set a few events in motion for the final leg of the journey.  The story concerns an emerging artificial intelligence on the World Wide Web and its unique relationship with Catlin Decker and her family.   Sawyer juggles several different plot threads as they effectively come together, building up to the novel’s final few pages that end on a cliffhanger.  No one is in danger but there are still a lot of things left to resolve and it should make it difficult to wait a year to find out how it all plays out.

Agent to the Stars by John Scalzi
In the preface, Scalzi talks about his being his “tester” novel–the one he wrote to see if he could do it.   It’s the story of an alien race that decides to come to Earth after intercepting our broadcast signals.  They’ve decided not to invade but instead hire a Hollywood talent agent to help them make their big debut.   There’s just one small problem–the aliens are gelatinous and smell pretty foul.

The story takes off from there, alternating between the alien (whose name is Joshua) trying to find a way to live among humanity and Scalzi’s narrator taking funny shots at various Hollywood celebrities and films.   The tone is very much like his “The Android’s Dream” at times with a more Pratchett-like tone to some of the segments.  Thankfully, unlike a lot of imitators, Sclazi can pull off being witty without it feeling forced or overstaying its welcome.  Had I not known this was a first novel for Scalzi, I might not have necessarily guessed.

Jumping Off Swings by Jo Knowles
Ellie and Josh are two teenagers who have a one-night stand in the back of Josh’s van.  The novel starts off in the awkward moments after their coupling and explores their reaction to events as well as that of two close friends.  Told from the first-person perspective of each character, the story switches points of view, allowing us inside the heads of each character and offering a fascinating, compelling and (at times) frightening look at what it’s like to grow up today.

Of course, Ellie ends up pregnant after a mishap with the birth control and the story begins to examine the impact of that on all the players involved.  By going inside the minds of the various characters, we get an interesting view and Jo Knowles captures a lot of the angst and uncertainty of being a teenager without being over the top or overly angsty about it. The novel does look at the decisions made and their impact on each of the characters in an honest, refreshing way.

What I’m Reading Now:

The Dream of Perpetual Motion by Dexter Palmer
Still reading it since the other three books vied for and won my attention.   I know, I know…I’m terribly unfaithful to my books.

Curse of Chalion by Lois McMaster Bujold
Reading it for a book group and honestly, not loving it.  I love the Miles space opera stories, but Bujold’s fantasy just doesn’t grab me.  Every time I try to read it, I get frustrated by it.  I may have to give up on this one again and throw in the towel

Heat Wave by Richard Castle
Audio book.  I like “Castle” and am intrigued by how the novel is referenced on the show.  It’s one of those that makes for a good audio read…it’s brain candy while doing other things.

What I Plan to Read:

Well, I ordered the novel version of “Iron Man 2″ today and a new “Star Trek” book is coming out.  I’ve also got the new Connie Willis book just calling to me and then there’s that new Elizabeth George novel I mentioned last week…

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Booking Through Thursday — Earth Day

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It’s Earth Day … what are you reading? Are your reading habits changing for the sake of the environment? What are you doing for the sake of the planet today?

Right now, I’m very distracted by a lot of books.  I’m listening to the audio book of “Heat Wave” because I’ve got back into enjoying “Castle” on ABC.  I’m reading “Curse of Chalion” by Lois McMaster Bujold for a book group and I’m also working on “The Dream of Perpetual Motion” as well.  As if that weren’t enough, I just got in three books at the library I’ve been anticipating and then there’s the new Elizabeth George novel sitting on my shelf just calling to me….

I don’t think my reading habits have changed for the sake of the environment.  While I would like an e-book reader at some point, to me you can’t replace the feel of a book in your hand while reading. The smell, the textile nature of turning pages, the ability to flip and see how much longer a chapter is or how long the next one is to see if you want to stay up just a bit later and read it.

That said, I’ve recycled some books when they’re old and falling apart.  I recycle my phone books and try to be a good steward of the gift of our planet.

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It’s Monday! What Are You Reading?

For the past few weeks, I’ve seen this meme lurking on several other book blogs I visit and I’ve thought–next Monday, I really need to play along.  Then it’s Tuesday and I find myself going “D’oh! Maybe next week!”

So, here we go.  It’s Monday! What Are You Reading?

What I read last week

14 by J.T. Ellison
A serial killer mystery set in Nashville, Tennessee.  I currently live near Nashville and work downtown, so it’s fun to have real-world settings be used in the novel and to go, “Oh, I’ve been there” or “Oh, I know where that is.”   The novel worked fairly well, but it fell into the trap of trying to be too much of everything for everyone.  It has a serial killer novel coupled with touches of a romance novel (it’s not a bodice ripper, but it does have the scorned ex- and our heroine is trying to solve the mystery before her wedding.)   There were a few twists and turns I saw coming before they are revealed in the story, but overall I found it a compelling enough page turner to keep me interested until the end.  And interested to pick up another book by Ellison in the near future.

Doctor Who: Castrovalva by Chistopher H. Bidmead (audio book, read by Peter Davison)
It’s a straight-forward adaptation of the television story by script-editor and writer Christopher H. Bidmead.  Bidmead does try to sew up a few plot holes from the television story.   However, given the visual nature of the story and the revelations about the nature of Castrovalva in episode four, I think this is one story that works better on the television screens.  I found myself yearning to pop the DVD in and re-watch it several times as I listened.  Or maybe that’s because I listened while jogging and was ready to be in front of the TV enjoying a cool glass of water with my feet up….

Changes by Jim Butcher
The twelfth installment in “The Dresden Files,” which I’ve called the most satisfying fantasy series currently being published.  Nothing Butcher does here will change that opinion.  If anything, Butcher raises the game for the series but offering a book so full of revelations, turning points and plot twists that it’s virtually impossible at times to put down.  When you start a story with the revelation that our hero has a daughter he knew nothing about who has been kidnapped as a pawn in the on-going war between magical forces and that’s a minor revelation by story’s end, you know you’ve got something great on your hands.  Butcher does end the novel on a cliffhanger, which only makes me that much more anxious for the next installment.   (I plan to do a longer review at some point if I can make it more than just–wow, that was good!)

The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt
Holling Hoodhood is a Presbyterian, facing his seventh-grade year at Camillo Junior High in Long Island in 1968. Each Wednesday, half of his class goes to Catholic classes while the others attend Jewish classes at their local churches.  Holling is left to spend the afternoon with Mrs. Baker, who he assumes hates him because he’s left behind for her to watch over.  After a disastrous incident involving cream puffs and chalk dust, Mrs. Baker decides that she and he will read and discuss the works of William Shakespeare together.  And so begins a fascinating friendship between two people who might not otherwise see eye to eye but bond over the works of the Bard.  No, it’s not one of those inappropriate student-teacher relationship books.  It’s a good-natured memoir of a year in school at a time when our country and the world faced political and social unrest.  The backdrop of the Vietnam War is never forgotten and it does have an impact on the story.  The book is touching, funny and heart-felt.

What I’m Reading Now

The Dream of Perpetual Motion by Dexter Palmer
Steampunk novel.  Only about 50 pages in, but so far it’s interesting.  It may get put aside when a certain book gets released tomorrow.  Which is a segue way to…

What I Plan to Read

This Body of Death by Elizabeth George
It’s a new Lynley and Havers novel.   I’m excited…..I love Elizabeth George.  I’ve had it on pre-order for months now and it should arrive tomorrow or Wednesday.

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Booking Through Thursdays — Beginning or the End


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In general, do you prefer the beginnings of stories? Or the ends?

Interesting question.

I do love the beginning of a book, that moment of anticipation when you have that wide span of pages before you and so much unlimited possibility.  But there’s also something about a good, satisfying ending once you’ve been on the journey.   With some books, I can’t wait to start and get back into the world or universe within the pages of the book.  There’s such an unlimited sense of possibility at that moment.  That plus that new book smell (assuming it’s a new book).  Seriously, they should make a scented candle version of that.  (Yankee Candle…get on it!)

One thing I will say is that when it comes to a series, I hope that the author has an end point in mind before the journey begins.   And a plan to release them.  I know a lot of fantasy fans who are frustrated with George R.R. Martin because of his long period between releases of installments of “A Song of Fire and Ice”  And while I’d like to see the author spend time crafting the book and making it worth the time instead of just dumping something out there to sell some books, I can also sense the frustration they feel at not knowing if there will be an end point or if the author will reach it within his or her lifetime.  It’s why I’m glad Stephen King finally realized that he should finish up the Dark Tower series while he could instead of potentially leaving it unfinished.   Same reason I haven’t started the Wheel of Time books…that and being about a billion pages behind.

I think I’ve wandered just a bit off topic here….

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“14” by J.T. Ellison

14 My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Part of the fun of reading “14” is the novel’s setting. Set in and around Nashville, it’s fascinating to see various settings, place and restaurants show up in the fictional world of homicide detective Taylor Jackson.

For the second installment in the Taylor Jackson series, J.T. Ellison pits Jackson against the Snow White serial killer. The killer held Nashville in a grip of terror years before and then disappeared. Now the killer is back and up to his or her old tricks, selecting victims who look like Snow White and leaving them behind with deep red lipstick and some kind of strange residue on their temples. Taylor faces a race against the clock to find the killer when a young girl who fits the killer’s target profile is taken from a bar. Taylor also faces the ticking clock of her upcoming wedding, hoping to solve the crime before she leaves on a few weeks of honeymoon bliss.

The ticking clock both helps and hinders “14” at several points. In many ways, the concept of a race against time is similar to that used on the TV series, “24” and the strengths and weaknesses of that are apparent here. Certain things happen in the course of the story that strain the credibility of just how long it takes to move from one point to another geographically.

The story is an intriguing one and had it been left merely as a serial killer/detective thriller it might have warranted a higher rating from me. However, the story brings in some personal aspects of Taylor’s life to the story that, at first, seem a bit of a distraction from the driving force of the narrative. But it doesn’t take long to figure out that Ellison isn’t bringing these in for no reason and to figure out some of the novel’s turning points before Taylor does. I don’t mind seeing and hearing about the personal lives of our heroes in these kinds of stories (half the reason I read each new Elizabeth George installment is to catch up with her cast of characters), but I do wish these segments had been a bit more authentic and didn’t feel as forced as they do.

Through most of the book, Ellison shows a flare for telling a good mystery story and I’m intrigues enough by “14” to give some of her other offerings a try.

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“Greater Love” by Robert Whitlow

Greater Love (Tides of Truth) My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Robert Whitlow’s “Tides of Truth” series comes to a satisfying conclusions with “Greater Love.”

The last in the series left Tami Taylor with some decisions to make about her future–both in the professional and personal arenas. “Greater Love” opens in Tami still struggling to find the answers and looking for wisdom and guidance not only from her friends and family but also from God. Readers of this series will recall that Tami was raised in a very conservative Christian denomination and throughout her life has looked to Bible and God for guidance in making decisions and how she relates to the world. That hasn’t changed with “Greater Love” and, in fact, becomes even more relevant to the on-going struggles Tami faces as the novel unfolds.

I’ve been a fan of Robert Whitlow since I discovered his books on the library shelf years ago and have eagerly awaited each new installment. Watching him grow as a writer has been a pleasure and “Greater Love” continues to show that growth. Whitlow’s greatest strength is his creation of real, compelling and authentic characters and situations. This extends beyond his central cast of Tami and her two suitors to everyone that Tami comes into contact with.

But the story of “Greater Love” isn’t just about Tami’s personal journey, though that may be of the greatest interest to a majority of readers. It’s also about the redemptive power of love and putting others before yourself and loving them as God intends. Whitlow shows us this in the story of Jessie, a teenage run away who is arrested for stealing a bag of doughnuts from a local bakery. Tami is assigned her defense and must try to uncover the truth behind the girl’s lies and fears. While the legal aspect of the story isn’t quite as solid as that displayed in previous Whitlow legal-driven thrillers like “The List,” the storyline effortlessly integrates with the personal and spiritual struggles Tami faces.

In the end, “Greater Love” is a satisfying conclusion to the “Tides of Truth” trilogy. As a character, I’d enjoy seeing more from Tami Taylor, but for now this part of her story is complete. And now I’m left waiting another year for whatever Whitlow has in mind next for his readers. Whatever it is, I’m sure it will be worth the wait.

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