Monthly Archives: September 2011

Booking Through Thursday — Read It Again!

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Have you ever finished a book and loved it so much you went right back and started re-reading it again?

(And obviously, if so, we want titles!)

When I was three, I had open heart surgery.  At the time, I was very into Winnie the Pooh and had a book on tape story of Winnie the Pooh and Tiger Too from Disney.   I “read” this one over and over again in the hospital, according to my mother.

In more recent years, I’ve had books that I’ve looked back into favorite segments or passages after I’m done reading, but I’ve not done a turnaround and read it again in a long time.

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Review: Life As We Knew It

Life As We Knew It
Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

For some odd reason, I’ve been reading a lot of end of the world as we know it types of books the past couple of weeks. And they’ve all managed to convince me that should the apocalypse happen, I am not in any way, shape or form prepared to survive for long.

Whether this is a good or a bad thing, I haven’t quite decided yet. But that said, that thought as well as the sheer bleakness of several of the novels have led to a lot of restless nights, wondering if its time to start hoarding food and stocking up on weapons and ammo.

Of the recent round of end of the world as we know it thriller I’ve read in the past few weeks, “Life As We Knew It” is the most haunting. Miranda is your average 16-year-old girl who looks forward to learning to drive, the prom and her first boyfriend. What’s she not pumped up about is the upcoming event when an asteroid will slam into the moon. But that’s all anyone can talk about at school and on the night of the big event, Miranda and her family are all staring up at the sky when the events happens.

The asteroid hits the moon, shifting its orbit closer to Earth and causing all hell to break loose. Tides shifts, the weather pattern changes and volcanoes begin erupting in places they weren’t before. Miranda’s mother is on top of things, quickly gathering as much canned food and non-perishable items as she can for their pantry and setting about making sure their home is ready for the long haul without modern conveniences. (You know, silly things like heat, running water and medical supplies).

At times, “Life As We Knew It” is a haunting, scary and bleak novel of survival. Told in the form of Miranda’s journal, we hear about the frustration in keeping the electricity on for any length of time in the Pennsylvania community that serves as a setting for the novel. There’s also an interesting thread about Miranda’s new friend who has found religion and her reaction to the events unfolding.

One fascinating sequence sees Miranda noticing a line for supplies and delaying getting in line for a few minutes to tell a potential love interest that the line is there. Miranda is later chewed out by her mother for going after the potential boyfriend and not putting her family first. It’s an effective moment that underlines the desperation that is being felt by the characters and the chilling ramifications of what the new world order is.

And while the novel has its haunting moments, it also has some things that make you scratch your head and go, “Huh?” The biggest is that despite warnings that something catastrophic could happen to the moon when the asteroid hits it, no one does anything to prepare for it beyond baking cookies and pointing telescopes. As we hear about great tidal waves washing out large coastal area and killing millions. It doesn’t make a lot of sense that no one might recommend evacuating the area due to larger tides. (Of course, part of this could be that Susan Beth Pfieffer’s unnamed president is a thinly veiled stand in for George W. Bush and she could be making some type of political statement).

If you’re looking for a book that will fill you with hope about the human spirit and its will to survive, you probably won’t find that here either. This one is bleak, folks. And that’s even before volcanoes begin erupting and surrounding the planet with a thick cloud of ash, dashing hopes for harvesting crops and making the food situation that much more bleak.

“Life as We Knew It” has garnered some reviews and for the sheer world-building power and haunting nature of the story, Pfieffer is to be commended. However, there are still a few flaws to the story that take it from what could be a great book to just a pretty good one.

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Review: Before I Go to Sleep

Before I Go to Sleep
Before I Go to Sleep by S.J. Watson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

With a lot of praise and cover blurbs from some of the most respected mystery and suspense authors working today and rave reviews from various on-line circles, I was pretty anxious to pick up Before I Go To Sleep and see what all the buzz was about.

The premise is a bit like the movie Memento. Each morning when Christine awakes, she’s in bed with a stranger and staring back at an older version of herself in the mirror. Turns out she’s the victim of an accident that doesn’t allow her to process short term memories into long-term memories. She and her husband Ben have left notes around the mirror to explain who she is and what’s happened.

But even with no long-term memory, Christine has secrets. She keeps a journal of the flashes of memory that come back each day, reading it each day and writing down what she’s discovered to that point. And she’s seeing a doctor without her husband’s knowledge to see if she can figure out a way to restore her memory or at least just allow her to create some long-term memories.

As the novel progresses, Christine discovers that everything isn’t exactly as it appears. The first page of her diary says not to trust her husband, Ben. At first, she thinks this is because Ben has hidden the fact that they have a child from her. But as the novel goes along, the reader and Christine slowly realize there’s something more going on here than meets the eye.

To say more than that would be to give away virtually all the revelations from the final half of the novel. And, quite frankly, that would ruin half the fun of reading the story.

S.J. Watson captures the fear, uncertainty, panic and paranoia Christine endures each day. The situation is compelling enough to keep the pages turning and it kept me guessing what was really happening to Christine. And while all of that works while reading the novel, the more time that has passed since turning the final page, the less satisfied I feel. It’s not that the revelations weren’t interesting, but I feel like I built up such high expectations for what was to come that the twists and turns didn’t quite live up to it.

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Review: Ready Player One

Ready Player One
Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If you’re a geek of a certain age, you’ll eat Earnest Cline’s Ready Player One with a spoon. Packed to the gills with 80′s references and homages, the novel feels like a printed version of the geeky reference series Spaced.

But geeky homages do not a good novel make. And the good news is that Cline delivers the good in his debut effort.

In the world of the near future, the recession has never ended and the gap between the haves and the have-nots has only grown into a deep chasm. Much of the population seeks refuge in OASIS, a virtual reality MMO that has replaced the Internet. Its creator, James Halliday, passed away years before, leaving his virtual kingdom and real-world wealth to the player who can uncover a series of Easter Eggs within the OASIS program, who call themselves gunters. Gunters are devoted followers of Halliday, reading everything he wrote, studying his life, playing the games he loved and watching the shows and movies he loved and referenced in his journals. Gunters are trying to find the elusive first puzzle to begin the quest and racing against not only each other but an evil corporation that wants to find the eggs and inherit the rights to OASIS so they can begin charging people for its use.

Enter into this Wade Watts, a gunter on the cusp of high school graduation who pieces together where the first egg might be hidden. His discovery sets off a world-wide competition to find the egg and a race against time to keep the evil corporation from finding the final clue and winning the day.

Any book that can make Joust, Monty Python and the Holy Grail and War Games pivotal to its ending wins high marks in my book. Add in that the book is as addictive as many of the old-school video games Wade plays to try and understand Halliday.

I’ve read that the screen rights for this one have already been picked by Warner Brothers. And while it would be fun to see everything that Cline lays out here depicted on-screen, I have to imagine the sheer amount of money involved in getting the rights to every property referenced in this novel will be staggering and probably beyond the movie’s budget. So, do yourself a favor and pick this one up and read it before it heads to the silver screen. This is one of the most highly entertaining, fun reads I’ve had all year.

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Space, The Final Frontier…

Forty-five years ago today, those immortal words were first heard by the American viewing audience.   I wasn’t alive when classic Star Trek first began airing, but I’ve been aware of it for a lot of my life.  A lot of this is thanks to the motion picture franchise.  Ads for Star Trek: The Motion Picture were plastered all across several comic books I had growing up and I recall begging my mom to take me to see it when it arrived at the base theater in Hawaii.   Being a Star Wars fan, I had visions of the movie being something similar…yeah, not so much.

But it still inspired something in me to explore more.  I collected a series of Power Records that featured original adventures of the Enterprise crew and really liked those.   I remember visiting my grandparents in Memphis one summer around this time and seeing that Star Trek was on TV that night.   Again, I begged my mom to watch and she eventually let me, though we had to tune out early.

And then, along came Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and the summer of 1982.  A local station ran a couple of nights of Star Trek repeats in primetime and I tuned in, getting hooked.   Add in a long, cross-country move with a couple of Star Trek novels to help pass the time (one of them was “Mudd’s Angels” which novelized the two Mudd stories and offered a new Mudd adventure) and it was inevitable I guess….

Many of my favorite episodes to this day are ones my dad recommended to me and that we watched together one of my first times through the franchise.  (For example, “A Taste of Armageddon” (aka the one with the war run by computers)).  I’m sure he never imagined what he was creating when he introduced me to the show….

It’s a love I hope to share someday if I’m blessed with kids or with my niece and nephew.  Odds are my nephew could enjoy Star Trek since he already has a love of Star Wars.

Years later, I still love classic Star Trek.  The original 79 episodes aren’t all perfect, but there’s something to like about just about all of them.  In many ways, Star Trek was my first big franchise love.  Classic Trek is my second favorite TV show of all-time, coming in just behind Doctor Who.

And it all began forty-five years ago tonight.  With “The Man Trap.”  Yeah, not exactly a top ten classic, but still a solid introduction to the universe.

And while I understand that there are some who love the new effects, I’m still not entirely sold.  I love how incredible the re-mastering has made the original series look again–so vibrant and colorful.   I’m seeing things I’d missed for years on UHF stations and VHS tapes.   But I’m glad the Blu-Rays let me toggle between updated effects and the originals.  If the new effects bring in new fans, who discover why I love this series so much, so be it.  Hopefully they see the great stories, the Kirk/Spock/McCoy dynamic and all the other little things that make Trek among the greatest tv shows ever made.

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Booking Through Thursday: What Ya Reading?

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What are you reading now?

Would you recommend it?

And what’s next?

Right now, I’m in the midst of a couple  things.

The first is Mile 81, the new novella by Stephen King.  I’m resisting the urge to read it all in one sitting because I am such a fan of King’s.

Next up, I’m continuing my end of the world as we know it reading thread with Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfieffer.  Asteroid slams into the moon, devastation results.   It’s good but I’m having a hard time getting into it having just finished another end of the world type of book with Directive 51 .

Also reading Twenty Boy Summer because it came under attack a few weeks ago by the guy who got a school district to ban Slaughterhouse 5.  Note to all would-be-book-banning persons–if you want to get me curious about a book, ban it.   I’ll naturally want to see why it was banned, no matter if it’s my usual choice of reading material or not.  In this case, it’s not my usual choice of material, but darn if I’m not enjoying it.

And the biggest reason I’m not making the progress I’d like on those three books is that the new Laura Lippman book The Most Dangerous Thing arrived at my house.   I found Lippman on a recommendation from Stephen King a few years ago and have consumed her books since.  She’d be classified as a mystery writer, but that’s really a disservice.  Her books do have the elements of a mystery but they generally tend to examine the impact of a crime or criminal act on her characters.   Bless you Amazon Vine for giving me the hook-up!

Needless to say, I recommend all the books I’m currently reading and for a variety of reasons.

Next up, I’ve got a good stack on the Kindle to choose from, though part of me is leaning toward Slaughterhouse Five because of the whole banning issue.  I’ve also got the latest Harry Dresden novel sitting on my shelf, just begging to be read.  Of course, what I plan to read next could easily change between now and the time I finish the books I’m in the midst of reading!

 

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Review: Directive 51

Directive 51
Directive 51 by John Barnes
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

“It’s the end of the world as we know it…”

In Directive 51 John Barnes sets about destroying civilization as we know it and then examining what it would take to put the world back together again from those various pieces. In 51, the end of civilization is brought about by a fringe group that one day decides to release a nano-virus plague that feasts on much of our modern technology, rendering it useless. It can also eat the rubber in tires, thus removing the automobile from the equation as well. Even though the group, known as Daybreak, is loosely connected via Internet chat boards, it’s still remarkably effective in its plan of destruction.

Barnes also throws in a political storyline, involving terrorists hijacking the vice president’s plane and wanting to crash it into Game Seven of the World Series between the Angels and the Pirates. The crash will also release the nano-virus in large quantities as well, so they have that going for them. The sitting president, in the midst of apparently cruising to re-election, is forced to shoot down the plane and then can’t stop grieving long enough to fulfill his role as President. Meanwhile, his opponent is making political hay by looking Presidential. Eventually, the leader of the free world steps down and invokes Directive 51, which creates a line of succession should the president be incapacitated.

Fairly interesting for the first third of the book (detailing the events of the first day of Daybreak’s attack), Directive 51 becomes rapidly less interesting the longer it goes along. There is some thinly veiled political commentary here that you will either eat up with a spoon or will find you extremely annoyed. I have to admit I found myself somewhere in the middle, sometimes embracing what Barnes had to say through his characters, while other times rolling my eyes.

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Booking Through Thursday: Weather

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While my town dries out of record-setting, epic flooding from Hurricane Irene, let me ask you:

What’s your book with weather events? Hurricanes? Tornadoes? Blizzards? Real? Fiction? Doesn’t matter … weather comes up a lot in books, so there’s got to be a favorite somewhere, huh?

Two of my favorite books are Lake Wobegon Days and To Kill a Mockingbird and both offer plenty of weather.

Lake Wobegon Days tells stories of each season in the small town and how the weather has an impact.  And while it’s not included in Lake Wobegon Days, one of my favorite stories by Garrison Keillor comments on the hot weather.  It’s “Pontoon Boat” and it talks about how it’s so hot outside, but no one in the town will comment on it being so hot.

As for To Kill A Mockingbird, the opening of the book is striking in how it describes the warm, Southern afternoon.  And the heat from the summer is almost a character in the story.

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