Monthly Archives: March 2011

Review: I Think I Love You

I Think I Love YouI Think I Love You by Allison Pearson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

It’s 1974 and Petra and her friends are all "in love" with singer David Cassidy. Petra is the ultimate Cassidy fan, making collages of pictures of the singer, subscribing to his fan magazine and knowing all there is to know about David. Petra hopes that someday all this knowledge may come in useful should she ever meet David and the two fall hopelessly in love.

One of the biggest sources of Petra’s knowledge is a David Cassidy fan magazine. And while the letters from fans appear to be responded to by Cassidy, it’s really Bill writing the responses. He’s a college graduate, trying to break into the rock and roll journalism scene whose taken a detour to the Cassidy magazine to pay the bills.

Bill is tasked with coming up with a Cassidy questionnaire contest. The prize: a trip to L.A. to visit the set of the Partridge Family. And of all the people out there, Petra is most suited to win.

The first half of "I Think I Love You" is a coming of age story about Petra and her friends. The story contrasts Petra’s love and obsessiveness about Cassidy with Bill’s reaction to his job. The two both know more about Cassidy than most, but seeing how each reacts to having such a fount of knowledge is intriguing. (Bill hides what he does from his girlfriend for fear of her thinking less of him.)

Were it not for the hook of the Cassidy obsession, "I Think I Love You" might not be as entertaining as it is. Petra’s relationship with her friends and family is intriguing, especially given that her mother doesn’t really understand or support Petra’s interest in the pop music star.

The second half of the story finds Petra in 1998, facing her mother’s funeral and her husband walking out on her. Going through her mother’s things she finds out that she actually won the contest in 1974 but that her mother hid this from her. Petra must come to terms with that as well as her own relationship with her mother and her husband.

As I said before, without the Cassidy hook, this novel wouldn’t be nearly as entertaining as it is. Anyone who’s ever had a youthful obsession with something or someone will identify with young Petra. And those who have looked back on our youthful loves will identify with the older Petra of the second half of the book.

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Booking Through Thursday — Odd Reading Material

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If you’re like me, you grew up reading everything under the sun, like the cereal boxes while you ate your breakfast, the newspapers held by strangers on the subway, the tabloid headlines at the grocery store.

What’s the oddest thing you’ve ever read? (You know, something NOT a book, magazine, short story, poem or article.)

Interesting question this week.  One obvious answer that springs to mind is that during my stricter dieting days, I would read the food labels on everything I bought and/or ate.   I found out that certain cereals (bringing it kind of full circle here) that you’d think were healthy really had more sugar and calories than, say, a bowl of Frosted Flakes.  Of course, I also learned about what a serving size meant and how to compare equal sizes, etc.

Another memory is traveling from northern Virginia to Orlando for a family vacation.  If you’ve traveled this route, you may know what I’m talking about..the South of the Border billboards.   I read just about every one of those things all through North Carolina, imagining that this place must be one of the greatest tourist highlights in the known universe.   Well, apparently they spent all their money on the billboards cause once we stopped there, it was kind of  tacky and tasteless.

But they got what they wanted, I guess…we stopped there.


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Review: The Labors of Hercules

The Labors of Hercules (Hercule Poirot)The Labors of Hercules by Agatha Christie
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

While I respect Agatha Christie for her contributions to the mystery genre, I have to admit I’m not necessarily a big fan of much of her work.

I’ve liked a good deal of what I’ve read, but for the most part little of it seems to end up on my list of favorite mystery stories or she on my list of favorite mystery writers.

But every once in a while, I’ll admit something about a Christie mystery or story captures my attention and I’m inclined to pick it up. In this case, it’s the hook for this collection of short stories.

In the later stages of his career, Hercule Poirot decides that he will take up a series of cases modeled after the legendary labors of Hercules. Each case must someone tie into one of the feats of the legendary hero.

And so, the great detective launches into a series of puzzles that are all (for the most part) of much lower stakes than the usual Poirot mystery. There are few stories here that deal with a murder and most involve a lost object or getting to the bottom of a particular issue or problem. Poirot engages the gray cells a bit.

However, while it’s fun to see Christie tie in the mythological stories of Hercules to the detective pursuits of Poirot, I have to admit that many of these mysteries were a bit too obvious in their solution. In just about half the stories, I deduced the outcome or solution several pages before Poirot did as well as the motivation for the "crime" presented in the story. On the one hand, it’s nice that Christie works to put all the details out there and not appear to come up with a solution out of left field. But it’s another if the reader is too easily able to discern the solution before the detective in the story and there’s no attempts to put in a red herring or two.

Part of this could be the limitation of short story telling. There’s less time to develop red herrings in the story.

In the end, I found myself enjoying the idea behind "The Labours of Hercules" more than I did the actual execution of the book.

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Review: Allison Hewitt Is Trapped: A Zombie Novel

Allison Hewitt Is Trapped: A Zombie NovelAllison Hewitt Is Trapped: A Zombie Novel by Madeleine Roux
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When the zombie apocalypse happens, Allison Hewitt is working her regular shift at a local bookstore. Allison and several co-workers hide inside the book store’s office, complete with a security monitor and Allison’s laptop. As zombies wander the store, Allison and the rest of the survivors must band together to survive and consider their next move as they wonder if help will ever arrive.

Told in the form of blog entries, "Allison Hewitt is Trapped" takes a page from "The Walking Dead" and concentrates less on the hows and whys of the zombie apocalypse and more on how it impacts the characters and civilizations that survive. The story is a personal one for Allison as we watch her grow and develop from those first days, huddled together with fellow book store survivors in a back room to a grizzled veteran whose chosen instrument of zombie destruction is a fire axe.

And while it seems as though zombie novels are a dime a dozen these days, "Allison Hewitt" proves there’s still enough life in the genre to keep things interesting and that the genre isn’t getting stale just yet. Most of this success stems from the first-person perspective of Allison. By fashioning the book as a series of blog entries, we get to see a bit of self-reflection by Allison on not only the zombie uprising but also how she is changing over the course of the book. Over the course of the story, Allison changes as a character and person, reacting to the on-going situation.

Madeline Roux wisely starts the story small, allowing us to get to know Allison and her fellow survivors a bit before expanding the novel’s universe over the course of the story. The journey Allison takes feels authentic and the story rises and falls on her emotions, her victories and her defeats.

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Review: Logan’s Run

Logan's Run (Logan, #1)Logan’s Run by William F. Nolan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Can I make a confession here. I’ve never seen the movie version of "Logan’s Run."

I know, I know. I should probably turn in my geek card at this point. Either that or I should dust off the DVD version I picked up for a low price and put the shiny disc into the player and cross it off my list of shame.

For a long time, my excuse has been that I’d never read the book. And once I found out that the book came first, as a book-a-holic, I could at least say that I wanted to read the book first. So, finally after years of searching used book stores and various books swapping sites for a reasonably priced copy of the book, I finally got one. And then it promptly sat on my to be read shelf for a long period of time.

Then, I actually promised the book to a friend who loved the film but hadn’t read the book. So, it was that I finally found myself at a point in time that I felt like it was time I should sit down and finally crack the cover of "Logan’s Run."

Was it worth the wait, the build-up and the hype?

Yes and no.

As with all books that are made into movies, it’s nice to see what the authors originally intended for the world and characters to be on the printed page. The edition I acquired is an old one from the when the movie was out, so I had to resist the temptation to look at the 16 pages of full color photos from the film. Part of it was curiosity to see how my mental image of characters and settings was different and part of it was curiosity to see which parts of the books might be included and which might be dropped. Thankfully, I was able to resist the siren call of full color stills from the movie until after I’d read the final page.

The story itself starts off fairly well. The concept of a future society in which overpopulation means everyone submits to death at the age of 21 is intriguing. Logan is part of the police force that hunts down those who don’t want to die and become "runners." Logan is very good at what he does and doesn’t really question his place in things. That is, until the crystal on his hand begins to blink red, indicating he has 24 hours to live.

At times, the concept of people lining up for the death machines to terminate their lives reminded me a lot of classic Star Trek‘s "A Taste of Armageddon." But where that society was fighting a war via computers and counting up deaths to meet quotas and not violate a treaty, the society here is trying to curb overpopulation.

At this point, some interesting ideas begin to crop up, including why this society chose 21 as the cut-off point for its people and what kind of impact it was having on the world. Is part of the future world of "Logan" that people mature faster? And how does the society function when run by the younger set without the older group there to guide them and offer wisdom and/or insight?

Unfortunately, the novel never really delves into any of these questions. It also never delves much into how anything runs with any efficiency since it seems like there’s not a lot of time to train people on how to do things or to give them time to learn new skills. How Logan becomes a great Sandman isn’t really delved into and it’s a question that could and should be addressed.

Instead, the story is more of a straight-forward chase and adventure narrative. In many ways, it reminded me of 24 with characters chasing about from location to location geographically without any consideration for how long it might take people to get from here to there in the real universe. The story also could have used a lot more development in Logan as he goes from a man who decides if he’s going out, he’s going to take out the rebel sanctuary known as "Sanctuary" in his final day to being a guy who is on the run and could be a leader of the new rebellion. As far as I can tell, the book seems to say all you need is love and you’ll become a revolutionary.

It all ends up feeling like the novel is being written to be quickly and easily adapted as a screenplay.

And it may work better as a movie. Looks like it’s time to dust off that DVD and find out.

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Weekly Geeks : 10 Things About You and Your Books

Here’s this week’s challenge: The idea is simple. Tell us ten things about you with regard to books and reading. Let your imagination run wild!

1.  While I have stacks and stacks of unread books in my house, I still am always eager to find a new book recommendation from a friend, a review, browsing the bookstore or library or from a fellow blogger.

2.  I’ve always thought a great scent for a candle would be new book.

3.  While I don’t try to restrict myself to just one genre, I will admit the first section I browse in the bookstore is sci-fi and fantasy.  Second on the list is mysteries.

4.  I have a couple of autographed favorites in my collection.  They range from a couple autographed by Garrison Keillor to almost a complete set of autographed books by Rick and Bubba.  I don’t have any books autographed by Stephen King, but I’d like to have one someday.  Preferably The Stand, The Shining or The Green Mile.

5.  I prefer not to break the spine on books I’m reading.  It causes me to wince when I see people doing it.

6.  While I’d like an e-book reader just for the ability to have hundreds of books on one device that ‘s easy to carry, I still have not taken the plunge.  Part of this is I like the physical weight of a book and turning pages.  Another is I’m not sure which format will win the battle just yet. Third is they all look tempting.

7.   I always prefer to read the book before I see the movie–even if it’s an older release.  I have had Logan’s Run on DVD for a while now and intend to watch it. But only after I read the book.  And tracking down a copy wasn’t easy.

8.  I’m sure I’m not alone in this, but I’d like to write a book and have it published someday.

9.  I am an avid library user. I visit my local branch at least once a week.  I put lots of books on reserve.  This number has increased with book blogging because I’ll see a review or recommendation and want to read it.  I then jump over to my library’s on-line catalog and request it.  Sometimes this leads to my either having a wave of requests come in at once or sometimes having to recall where I heard about a book and why I requested it.

10.  I love using old tickets from games or other events as bookmarks.


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Booking Through Thursday — With Fiction Becomes Fact

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The news has been horrifying and addictive this week, with catastrophe piled on catastrophe, to a degree that–if I had read this in a book or seen it in a movie–I’d be protesting that it was just too unlikely, too farfetched.

But, topics for novels get ripped from the headlines all the time. Or real-life events remind you of fiction (whether “believable” or not) that you’ve read but never expected to see. Or real life comes up with an event so unbelievable that it stretches you sense of reality.

Hmm … I can’t quite come up with an outright question to ask, but thinking about the theory of fiction and how it can affect and be affected by real world events can act as a buffer between the horrific events on the news and having to actually face that horror. So … what happens when the line between fiction and reality becomes all-too slim? Discuss!

Interesting topic this week, especially in light of how the storyline on this week’s episode of The Event paralleled what was happening in the real world.  (I don’t watch the show anymore, but I saw a Jeer of NBC for airing the show on-line).

In many ways, it reminds me a bit of what happened during the third season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The day after the tragic events at Columbine occurred, Buffy was set to air an episode that dealt with a student’s desire to do harm to his classmates.  Thanks to an infection of demon blood temporarily giving her telepathic powers, Buffy overhears the thought and spends much of the episode trying to stop it.    Out of sensitivity to what happened the day before, the episode was shelved.  At the time, I understood and just hoped that we’d eventually get to see the episode once things calmed down a bit.   However, the reaction reached absurd heights just two weeks later when the WB pulled the second half of the two-part season finale because a plotline involved bringing crossbows and such to the graduation ceremony to battle the mayor after he turned into a giant snake.  Apparently, we didn’t want to risk alienating the psychotic public servants who had ties to the occult and were turning into big giant snakes crowd.

Of course, eerie predictions from fiction are nothing new.  I recall when 9/11 happened that a lot of people pointed out that the pilot to The Lone Gunman had a plot about terrorists wanting to crash planes into the World Trade Center.  (It had aired a few months before).  And, of course, at the time, there was discussion of whether or not 24 should be pulled and if The X-Files with its mythology of trust no one in the government could and should continue.  And while there are some parallels, I think a lot of us took comfort in watching Jack Bauer take on and defeat terrorists.  Also, anyone who’s watched the show knows its a fantasy since no one can drive around DC, LA or New York from location to location in under ten minutes as the show so often did.

Seriously though, I do think it’s interesting when popular entertainment or literature has parallels with the real world.  I don’t necessarily think banning or not allowing anyone to read it is the wisest course.  Bringing this back to books, I’m reminded of the furor that comes over certain books and their being damaging to young minds.   And to that, I say, yes certain books given to certain people when they’re not ready for them can have a negative impact.  But that’s where I think parenting and the community steps into things and has a responsibility.  As a friend of mine said a few days after Columbine, if I’m so disconnected from my kids that they can build pipe bombs in my house and I don’t know it, I’ve failed as a parent.

I think there is such a thing as age appropriate for reading material and popular entertainment.  And while we can argue about whether or not the MPAA does a good job of rating films, we can at least argue they do give some guidelines to parents.  And I also feel that by banning or forbidding kids and adults from reading certain books, you only make them more appealing and encourage them to seek them out more.  Instead of saying to a kid, “No you can’t ready Harry Potter” or “No, you can’t read Catcher in the Rye,” instead take the chance to do some real parenting or mentoring.  Read it with them, talk to them about it,  encourage them to come to you with questions.   If you disagree with a certain principle or philosophy espoused by a book, movie or other form of entertainment, at least be able to discuss why you do and back it up with arguments and points.

I also think that too often we’re willing to believe the hype about something and not really take the time to investigate it for ourselves.


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Review: Warbreaker

WarbreakerWarbreaker by Brandon Sanderson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

One of the big reasons I tend to avoid epic fantasy is the notion that I’m so far behind on every epic fantasy series out there today, that I just don’t have the time or inclination to invest in catching up on them. Either that or the times I’ve dipped my toes into the epic fantasy universe, I’ve found myself frustrated by first or second installments that are more content to tread water for much of their page count and could easily have seen the plot condensed down to one really solid book.

Then along comes Brian Sanderson with "Warbreaker." Published as a self-contained, epic fantasy story with a lot of rave reviews, I decided to put aside my pre-conceptions and give the story a try.

And I’m glad I did.

"Warbreaker" is the story of two sisters. The oldest has been brought up to marry the god King of a rival kingdom in order to fulfill the terms of a treaty signed years before. As the date of the wedding looms larger, her father decides to send his more rebellious younger daughter in the stead of the older one. It’s not done out of a political maneuver but instead out of the fact that he can’t bear to see his eldest daughter given in marriage in such a way. But that doesn’t mean those in the court and surrounding it don’t see it as a political move and the pre-cursor to an impending war.

Also in play are the Returned–people who have died and come back as god-like beings. Each Returned is granted one Breath that can be used to heal or restore a person. Many of the days of the Returned are spent hearing the petitions of people who want that Breath. The only problem is that in giving up the Breath, the Returned will likely cease to exist. Of course, the various Returned are also involved in the politics of the world and the potential ramping up to the war.

In "Warbreaker" having Breath–and the amount you have–is a pivotal part of the universe. Some people sell their Breath to save their families while others hoard it in an attempt to consolidate power. The magic system of the novel works around the various levels of Breath characters have and if and how they can use it.

Weighing it at just over 600 pages, "Warbreaker" never feels that long. Sanderson has created a fascinating, compelling universe and magic system within the pages of the story. He also has a set of compelling characters to follow. And while the novel occasionally follows the tropes established in other novels, it still throws in enough twists and turns to keep the reader interested and keep the pages turning.

The biggest point of the story is that its all complete within one story. You can the entire story from start to finish and while there is a door open for Sanderson to possibly revisit this universe in a future story, it would be a nice addition rather than a necesssity.

If you’re not usually inclined toward epic fantasy (like I can be), this one is worth your time and attention. I enjoyed it enough that I’m willing to take a chance on Sanderson’s current epic fantasy series. And for me, that’s saying a lot.

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Booking Through Thursday — Distractions?

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Do you multi-task when you read? Do other things like stirring things on the stove, brushing your teeth, watching television, knitting, walking, et cetera?

Or is it just me, and you sit and do nothing but focus on what you’re reading?

(Or, if you do both, why, when, and which do you prefer?)

I’m not a good reading multi-tasker, except when it comes to audiobooks. I listen to those while exercising, doing tasks around the house, etc. As for reading, I prefer to focus on what I’m reading. The only distraction I’ll sometimes allow is instrumental music.


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Book-A-Holic Confession

It’s that time of the month–the time I get to wrestle with frustration.

What’s frustrating me, you wonder.

My local library system.   I have nothing against the library system I use.  In fact, I’m one of their biggest fans.  But every once in a while it frustrates me.

A lot of this stems from a monthly newsletter I receive in my in-box, detailing a half-dozen or so new science-fiction and fantasy novels that are coming into print.  Invariably, there’s at least one I want to read and I’ll click on the helpful “reserve it” link in the newsletter only to find, more often than not, the book isn’t available at my library.

I then mutter to myself under my breath and become frustrated.

I’ve talked to the librarians about this on numerous occasions, asking if there’s some way they can get an advance copy of said newsletter and at least have the books on order.   Unfortunately, this is not the case.  And while I understand the library system doesn’t exist only to provide me with the materials I want to read, I still wish if they were going to advertise these new books, they’d at least get them.

And while I know one solution is to keep the newsletter and come back to it a few days or weeks later when the library may have ordered the books, I’m not sure this will work for me.   As I learned in classes in school, an impulse buy on a book or magazine can happen within five seconds.   These books are impulse books (unless it’s an author I regularly read) and often times, I may have forgotten about them days or weeks later.    Part of that is entirely my fault, but you when you’re a book-a-holic, sometimes you just move on to a different book or books as your next impulse reserve.

Anyway, I figured since I’ve shared this frustration with friends, family and anyone else who would listen in the real world, this month I’d inflict my rant on the Internet.

I think I feel a bit better…..

But you’d better check on me in a month.

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