I signed up at LibraryThing to get some
early review copies of books. I'm going to collect the reviews here for
future reference. You can also read my collected new year's resolution
reading list reviews and general reading reviews:
Prescriptive Stretching, Kristian Berg.
I got this through the Early Review program, and I've been happy with
all the Human Kinetics books that I've won, this one included. It was
a pretty fast read, but applying the lessons learned will take a
while. I was a bit disheartened to read that all my favourite
stretches are specifically called out as not useful to dangerous, but it
gives a good list of replacements. The focus is on doing the stretches
correctly, in proper alignment, to benefit specific muscles. At the
end, a shopping list of stretches is given for specific complaints
(though it could have used an index of stretches recommended for
certain sports). I brought the book to work to keep by my desk so that
I can try to undo years of keyboarding.
Finally Out: Letting Go of Living Straight, A Psychiatrist's Own Story, Loren A. Olson M.D.
Nolo's Essential Guide to Buying Your First Home, Ilona Bray, Alayna Schroeder, Marcia Stewart.
I picked this book out of the early review offerings because I was about to get my permanent residency in the USA. My green card and this book arrived at my apartment in the same week, like some sort of sign. :) I've always resisted buying a house (not wanting to be tied down), but recent conversations have convinced me that it's not an iron chain. This book is continuing the reassurances, and demystifying the process. The language is plain and easy to understand, many experts were consulted on the various steps of home buying, it's very logically ordered, and it has very useful lists of questions to ask of the people with whom you'll work on your house purchase. It comes with a CD filled with forms and extra material as well. My only quibble is that they don't go into a lot of specific details regarding the differences in the process between states, that would have made for some perfect footnotes.
Now that I've done the reams of paper work to get my green card, the amount of paper work required to buy a house doesn't seem nearly as intimidating.
Pale Demon, Kim Harrison.
I squee'd when I saw I'd won an early copy of this - I've read all the other books in the series and own a few of them and was looking forward to seeing the next installation in the story of witch Rachel Morgan, vampire Ivy Tamwood, elf Trent Kalamack and pixie Jenks. This time they're rushing to the west coast where Rachel hopes to survive a trial by the coven so that she can get her life back to somewhat normal. I like that we got to see more of America, including the wild open spaces between cities. There's a lot going on in this book, but it all weaves together well. It's the family road trip for the supernatural set, with assassins on their tail. :) Very enjoyable and we get to see relationships growing and changing.
Arizona Free, Doug Martin
A good idea with poor execution. The plot is pretty simple: a new energy drink craze is sweeping Phoenix and there are some very odd side effects. The author falls back on telling not showing and sketchy characterisation, usually consisting of one line of physical description paired with some annoying quirks (and near the end a completely new physical trait is mentioned about one of the main characters). I could barely tell the two main guys apart, and they've displayed homophobia, sexism and racism. The twist at the end is inconsistent with some of the scenes from other points of view. The best thing I can say about it is that it's a quick read.
Stones of Time: Book Two fo the Damewood Trilogy, Erin Durante.
I got this one as an early review copy, over a year after I won it. Luckily the wait was almost worth it. :) It's the second book in a trilogy and not having read the first one wasn't a handicap as the events are nicely explained. We start off with Nadia imprisoned under guard and being experimented upon in a scientific facility. Her new dragon tailed guard is persuaded to help her break out and she finds the world on the surface confusing after three years underground. It turns out that the area she resurfaces near has started embracing technology while her home kingdom is still at the swords and fire level. The group that gathers to try and stop the bad tech guys is an interesting one, with a sword wielding partial cyborg, his human mistress, her doctor father, and a few gun toting shape shifters (called demons). Prejudices are explored and bonds formed as they adventure and we're given a few more hints about how the world got where it is. The adventure itself is a bit of a macguffin, but it did feel like it got the characters through the middle book in a trilogy in a fun manner.
There were a couple of consistent word mix ups between pore and pour, and reign and rein, but other than that it was a good read.
The Lost Flamingoes of Bombay, Siddharth Dhanvant Shanghvi
I won an Early Review copy of this book from LibraryThing. It's gorgeously written but it covers some gritty topics: obsession, murder, death, betrayal, despair. Karan is a photographer living in Bombay and he's given an assignment to photograph a retired pianist, Samar. A film star, Zaira, bursts into the session after her stalker has attacked her trailer on the set of her current movie, seeking comfort from her best friend Samar. Karan is also taken under the wing of Rhea, a married woman (with a mostly absent husband) who gave up her pottery for married life. Art and love and friendship and loyalty also play big parts in this novel. Shades of grey abound, Karan is talented but is prone to needling people, Zaira seems superficial but she's fiercely loving, Samar seems to be a playboy but he takes on corruption to seek justice.
It felt like I got a good glimpse into life in Bombay, being shown both the wonders and the horrors.
Another review on LibraryThing mentioned that it was probably based on the murder of Jessica Lall.
The Mullah's Storm, Thomas W. Young
For some reason I was expecting there to be a fantasy/sci fi element to this book, so I kept waiting for it to pop up, some sort of demon in the storm. But the only demons are the ones that the people are carrying inside themselves. A plane carrying an important political prisoner is shot down in the Hindu Kush and the navigator and the translator have to get the prisoner back into US hands. A huge snow storm is blanketing the region so they have no air support and they're fighting against the cold and the opposing forces to stay alive.
Having read a lot of Jack London as a girl, it was neat seeing what modern military gear can do to help you stay alive in harsh conditions. But as a Canadian military brat, the "Americanness" of the story was sometimes off-putting. The navigator is understandably furious about the atrocities that he encounters but there wasn't a real sense of character exploration, the book felt a bit flat emotionally (he would explode and then reign it in, his dealing with the landscapes and the weather felt richer). The female translator is portrayed well, it's not a romance and it didn't need to be. Some of the language is a bit stilted, but it's worth reading as a modern survival tale.
Expiration Date, Duane Swierczynski
Wow, this was a wild ride. I got this book through the LibraryThing Early Review program, and this is based on an advance uncorrected proof. But it feels done to me, it grabbed a hold of me and I finished it in a day.
Mick Wade has lost his job as a reporter and his mother convinces him to move into his grandfather's apartment in a bad section of Philly. His grandfather is in a coma in a hospital down the street, and all of his things are still in the apartment, including an asprin bottle of pills in the medicine cabinet. When Mick takes some to counter a headache, he's thrown back into his past, to 1972 when he used to live just a few houses down from the apartment he's currently in. He's like a ghost in the past - only a few people can see him, it's hard to touch things, and he can only visit a certain time frame from his birth to his boyhood. He searches through his grandfather's papers and finds out more about his father's death and the people who affected his life. Competing time walkers muddle the events as Mick tries to make things come out better by changing the past, and murder, drug addiction, and insanity, all contribute to the darkness of the story.
The Long Man, Steve Englehart
Got this through the LibraryThing early review program. I haven't read the first book in the series, but we get enough flashbacks that the story so far is pretty clear. Max August has stopped aging, he's perpetually 35 physical years old. He comes out of hiding from the people who killed his wife and his mentor to save an old friend's doctor, but then he has to stick with the doctor until he finds a solution to the magic dart still embedded in her side. They do a bit of globe trotting to try to stop the world domination plan, with interesting enemies trying to thwart them along the way. High level government officials, mercenaries, drug lords and magicians are all out to stop them before they can thwart the zombi army about to unleash destruction upon a whole country. The relationship between Max and Pam is interesting, starting off with her being dependent on him and then as she learns more, it becomes a more equal partnership.
This was *almost* really good. I did enjoy it, but there were some sections that had me shaking my head at clunky language or repetitive phrases (the way alchemists are designated, "point man", some instances of telling rather than showing, and one particularly annoying teen angst moment). It's very rooted in the modern world, from fashion to important events, but I don't think it will seem too dated as time goes along.
The Little Known, Janice Daugharty.
It took me a while to figure out how to read this e-book, I kept opening up the PDF on my computer and then closing it again after reading a sentence. I eventually decided to print it out, double sided, four pages per side and broke out my reading glasses. :)
A young boy, Knot, picks up a bag of cash that a bank robber drops in an alleyway. He's about to go back and live with his drunkard of a mom in a tiny filthy food-free shack, giving up his aunt's nice house where he's been living for the summer. He tries to make everyone's life better by handing out the found cash, but things don't turn out as planned. Money intended for a wheelchair turns into a bike that he envies, money to buy food gets used on booze, and money given to the church gets attributed to being from his mom instead of Knot, though the mistake does inspire her to clean up and straighten out. He's thrown together with the daughter of a violent pulp mill foreman. A young preacher and a visiting preacher inspire both Knot, and he keeps trying to help people, not using any of the money on himself (though he does hope that if he give some to his aunt she'll buy his cousin a bike and he can get the old one).
It took a little while to get into the rhythm of the language, and there were some colloquialisms that took me a while to parse out, but I was soon engrossed in the story, immersed in a just post segregation American south, feeling the young boy's pain as he suffers deprivation due to his mother's drinking.
Women's Home Workout Bible, Brad Shoenfeld.
I was excited when I learned that I'd won a copy through the Early Review program, I've been working out at home for a few years now and was eager to get more tips to make my workouts better. The book definitely delivered. I learned some new stuff on the biological level, and got lots of new sets of exercises to try out. The book is great about breaking down equipment purchases by budget (from less than $100 to $2500+) and workouts by goal (conditioning, sculpting, core strength, fat burning). I was pleased to find out that I don't need to buy any equipment to do half the individual exercises, and he includes the same exercises using different equipment from each budget range, so there's no requirement to buy a multistation machine if you only want to get resistance bands. The safety notes are great to see, he gives suggestions on which exercises should be avoided in certain situations.
My only quibble is that some of the language is condescending, probably in an effort to target female exercisers. If you don't have a traditional family and skip putting on makeup and fixing your hair before going to the gym, you can roll your eyes at the rare sentences that include those assumptions and go on to extract the reams of useful information. No explicit weights are given, just number of repetitions and suggestions on intensity, so you have to do a little initial work to figure out which weights you need to start with.
I'm probably going to transcribe the workout routines into my own format so that I can note down dates, weights, reps, etc for each day, a sample to photocopy would have been nice to see in the book since it's hard to get it to lay flat. The advice closely adheres to the personal trainers that I've consulted through various gyms in the past and I look forward to trying out the routines in the book.
Update: I did the beginner cardio workout and it kicked my butt. Good set up of intervals and intensity, and I can see adjusting it as I get better.
Truly, Madly, Heather Webber.
I really enjoyed it. Lucy Valentine is convinced to take over her father's match making business when he leaves for a vacation to escape a scandal. Her parents are interesting, I was a bit sad that they were out of touch on a tropical island for most of the book. But there's a rich cast of characters keeping Lucy busy, from the sexy ex firefighter and current PI upstairs, the reporter trying to get a story, her best friends bringing stray animals and cold feet to her door, her surrogate father asking for a match, and her grandmother forcing blind dates on her. But somehow, it doesn't feel like too much. The story is mainly driven by Lucy trying to figure out how to use her talent to find lost objects when there's a missing boy and a found body to deal with. She's quirky, smart, she procrastinates and does math problems to calm down, and she's really quite charming.
Day of the Assassins: A Jack Christie Novel, Johnny O'Brien.
This is a fast paced young adult novel, following Jack and his friend Angus as they get caught up in a conflict between current and past members of VIGIL. The VIGIL organisation is a group of scientists who developed the capability to travel through time, but decided that it was too dangerous to use. Some members, however, thought that the benefits outweigh the dangers, and are trying to use the device to stop the assassination that started WWI while the rest of the organisation races to stop them.
Jack and Angus are thrown back into 1914 and are pushed and pulled by the various factions, until, ultimately, they have to decide which side they're going to fall in with. Things are complicated by Jack's family being tied to the organisation and Angus's very existence being dependent on WWI having happened.
There were some instances of telling rather than showing in the narrative, the action would jump to a different location and Jack would think about how he got there. Also, the WWI video game as a framing device was unnecessary, the scene was set sufficiently by their history class. Using current technology (cell phone like devices that have intermittent time signals) as well as anachronistic weaponry being sent back to the past (esp. a WWII tank), tended to break the flow of the story, acting as Macguffins. The emotional ride was good though, with Jack struggling with trying to figure out who to believe, and what would be the right thing to do. People get betrayed and killed, and Jack grows up fast. There were enough hooks left dangling to make me wonder where the series will go next. Overall, a decent young adult book, but it would be even better with a few small edits. The ARC was in good shape, though, I only spotted one typo.
Half Broke Horses, Jeannette Walls.
This novel covers the life of the author's grandmother from birth to when the author's mother is married and starting a new life. Lily was born in a mud hut on the banks of a river, broke horses as young as 6, was an untrained teacher during a shortage, riding 500 miles on her horse to the schoolhouse, and another 500 miles back home after 3 years, moved to Chicago and eventually to Arizona, learning to drive and fly along the way. Lily's a very strong woman, and I found myself enthralled with her story and empathising with her, right up until she started teacher her daughter the lessons that she felt were necessary. At that point I could feel myself slipping into the daughter's shoes and resenting the meddling, which I take as a sign of the author's skills. Lily's story is uplifting, a series of setbacks each followed by surging forward, standing up for herself and the women around her. The book flows along really well, short sections reading like stories told one by one over time, but forming a coherent whole.
I'd recommend the book if you like memoirs, and stories about living in the southwest of America during the early to middle decades of the 1900's.
Baby Jesus Pawn Shop, Lucia Orth.
I asked for this novel because I've been dating a Filipino for over five years now, and have half promised to go to Manila sometime.
First, a minor format quibble, the breaks between short sections of text were distracting, I expect them to mark discontinuities in the story and here they didn't, more providing mental pauses in the reading.
That said, I can't quite say that I enjoyed the story, as it's not a happy fun light read, it's dark and tense and harrowing. Death and torture and oppression are ever present in the lives of those in the novel, and people are often weighing speaking out against surviving. It's set in Manila in the 1980's as Marcos is dying from kidney failure and the opposition is targeting his generals and cronies, trying to pave the way for a more sympathetic president. Rue's husband works for the American Embassy, trying to keep US bases open in the Philippines, and Doming is their driver. He's wanted from years back as an illegal labour organiser, his friends as subversive students. He's been trained by a priest and thinks too much for his own happiness. Rue's kept a bit insulated from the day to day realities of living in a corrupt society, but as the scales fall off of her eyes, she edges closer and closer to danger.
The writing is spare in style, but there were turns of phrase that had me pausing to savour them. The tension between Doming and Rue is believable and the relationship is handled with grace. There was only one English translation of a food name that was wrong, the rest made me drool over memories of dishes that have been cooked for me. I've picked up a lot of Philippine geography and culture over the past few years, and this book felt like it expanded my knowledge of the darker side of what it means to have grown up under Marcos. Mar 26/09
High Vistas: An Anthology of Nature Writing from Western North
Carolina to the Great Smoky Mountains, Volume 1, -1900?, George
Ellison, illus. by Elizabeth Ellison. I like travel writing,
historical fiction, and hiking, so I was pleased to get this book through
LibraryThing's Early Review program. It's a non fiction book, but each
excerpt is like a little story about the author's experiences in this
region. It's an area that I've traversed on the interstate, but now I'd
really like to go camping and hiking on the mountains described. The stand
out essays for me were the one talking about climbing Grandfather peak and
the one lyrically describing a huge storm attacking the peak on which the
group was camped. Botanists and bird watchers, surveyors and naturalists
are all represented in this collection, and it's a fascinating glimpse
into the history of the region. The bibliographic sketches of the authors
that precede each selection are illuminating as well. Feb 1/09
Walking the Dog, Charles Davis. I got a copy through the
Early Reviewers group, and raced through this while traveling over the
weekend. It's a series of interconnected short stories set on the island
of Santa Margarita y Los Monjes, told in the first person and from the
point of view of a man who resorts to walking the dog when he needs to
ponder, relax, or just get away from his family. His Aunt Dolores is the
mother of The Boys, a couple of cretinous low lifes who are always causing
trouble. His uncle's funeral is the event in the first story, with Aunt
Dolores going ballistic over the uncle's mistress showing up for the
service. There's also a shaman/witch doctor on the island who's consulted
when drastic measures need to be taken, such as suspending gravity to
reverse a curse that he provided Aunt Dolores. All the stories are really
funny, and don't even really need the magic to work. The conceit of ending
each tale with the author taking the dog for a walk gets really strained,
but I'm willing to forgive that for the sheer number of laughs that the
bodies of the stories gave me. Dec 19/08
Tengu the Mountain Goblin: A Connor Burke Martial Arts Thriller, John Donohue.
It was interesting reading this after Meditations on Violence, some of the principles in that book were reinforced here (moves that are needed in real life but cannot be used in the dojo). I'd requested this book as an early review since I'm fascinated with Japanese folklore, but the Tengu doesn't appear for very long in this story, though he's working behind the scenes. Disparate groups of people are drawn together to save a young woman kidnapped in the Phillipines, and Burke and his brother are drawn in when Burke's sensei is used for the ransom drop. There's a bit too much of telling rather than showing in the text, as Burke's inner monologue is shared with the reader, and then there's some things that are left out to heighten the tension but just end up feeling like they're sprung on the reader with no build up. The different fighting styles and the confrontation between the military groups and terrorists are interesting to read about, but at times it felt like a non fiction book wrapped up in a thin plot. Recovery from the injuries sustained in a fight are dealt with realistically. Overall, I enjoyed the book, but it could have benefited from another pass by an editor.
Meditations on Violence, Sgt. Rory Miller.
I'm coming at this book having had 2 self defense classes years ago, so I'm not necessarily the target audience, but I got this book as an early review copy and have been enthralled. It's a quick read, the advice no nonsense and sounding like he's talking to you over a beer, swearing included. The author has tonnes of personal experience to draw on, and he's really down on formal martial arts, and extensively lists why training mostly won't work in real life encounters. I talked to a friend of mine who's been training in martial arts for years, and he's come to similar conclusions as the author, so it was nice to get corroboration.
One bit of advice reminds me of the Han Solo quote, "Never tell me the odds" - if you're not told something is impossible, you can sometimes figure out a way to do it. So much of self defense is mental, giving yourself permission to be rude and/or violent. I like his concept of having "Go" buttons: things that happen that you've decided ahead of time will trigger an immediate and violent response.
Any Given Doomsday, Lori Handeland. I got this as an
early review copy through LibraryThing, after a bit of a drought in
winning copies. I should have been clued in when I saw Kelly Armstrong
quoted on the front that I'd be in for a wild ride. :) Liz Phoenix is
an ex cop working as a bartender, she got her partner killed when she
followed a psychic hunch. But then she gets a mental summons from her
childhood guardian and she's plunged further into the supernatural
world than she's really comfortable with. There are hints of
Buffy:TVS, and LKH's Anita Blake books (Handeland cites LKH as a key
influence, the sex is uber hot but it feels like it actually is
integral to the plot here), but the author has crafted a world hiding
next to ours that drew me in and kept me reading - I finished it in
one sitting. I'm definitely going to track down the second book when
it comes out, I want to learn more about the Navaho magic that she's
exploring, and to find out where Jimmy went. One quibble is that the
villain of the piece has a pretty lame line at one point that made me
roll my eyes, I think the rest of the chapter had explained the thing
he said. The first chapter is a little rough, but the writing smoothed
out quickly and drew me along.
Innocent: Volume 1, Shawn Granger. Innocent, an angel
living on Earth, and David, a sociopath whose urges have been reined
in to only kill those who have been judged, break a swath through the
city, killing those whose souls have been lost. The art changes with
each numbered book included in this collection, giving some
interesting takes on the characters. My favourite, for the dark humour
and hint of background for David, is when the two go over to David's
mom's house for supper, and the neighbour tries to kill them with a
jar of poisoned cookies. :) "Interrogation" was twisty and turny, and
"The sword" started off as a typical super hero fight, with all the
overblown dialogue that entails, but ended on a more human note.
Some of the stories seemed unrelated, I've gotten used to reading
comics with over arching plots. This volume ends on an unresolved note
(part 1 of ?) which will have me hunting down volume 2 to see what
happens next, but I still feel annoyed, because part of why I like
reading collected series is to avoid the cliff hangers. Overall, a
decent start to a series, and I'm interested to see what happens next.
The IBS Healing Plan: Natural Ways to Beat Your Symptoms,
The book is well organised, with important information
repeated in the chapters that call for warnings or caveats, so you can dip
into and out of it. There's lots of information about herbs and spices and
what they can be used for, as well as tips on foods that trigger or ease
symptoms for people. Popular drugs as well as stress reduction techniques
and tips on how to live with IBS are included. Some things are repeated
multiple times, it would be useful to have a section in the back where you
can look up all the qualities of a certain food or supplement; granted the
index is TBD, so it will probably cover this request handily.
I appreciate that the author provided an extensive reference section at
the end, citing the studies and papers that are mentioned in the text
(hopefully they'll be explicitly linked to the mentions in the final
copy). The parts concerning exercise are shorted in some sections, but
there is elaboration later on.
All the advice is tempered by "it works for some people, you have to find
what works for you", but there are so many tips that you'll be sure to
find something. I requested this book to review due to being diagnosed
with IBS while working at a very very stressful job. Just by reading the
introduction I realised how lucky I was: mine's triggered by stress and I
"only" get intense pain in my abdomen. I've developed coping strategies
and rarely have a flare up, and it was reassuring to see everything I've
done listed in the text. I wish I'd had this book years ago! Even though
I'm generally fine now, there are some things that I'll be trying out the
next time my gut decides to rebel.
The ARC is rife with copy editor level mistakes, which made it hard for me
to get into the flow of reading it. There are also a couple of outright
errors (6 feet instead of inches in one place).
Sobibor, Michael Lev. This was the first book that I was
alloted in the random drawing. I had a bit of a wait before receiving it,
getting it at the end of January when I received the notice that I'd "won"
it near the end of December. The book is a fictionalisation of the
events around the uprising of inmates at the Sobibor death camp in the
1940's, using a young boy, Berek's, point of view to draw us in. The
introduction, "Michael Lev, Sobibor, and Russian Yiddish Culture", is a
mine of background information as well as some spoilers for the main
story. I skimmed over the spoilers, reading the background material to
orient myself in the time and place in which the story is set. We start
off with Berek and Rina as young children, running from their homes to
avoid death. They're shown kindness by strangers, but hiding in the forest
doesn't work forever and Rina is captured. Berek voluntarily enters the
death camp to search for her, but he's too late. The introduction praised
the author for telling the story without unnecessary melodrama, but Rina's
death was handled so off handedly, with no reaction from Berek, that it
was jarring - I wasn't sure at first what had happened to her. Later in
the book, the author explicitly addresses this, but at the time of reading
I was thrown off. But now Berek is stuck in the death camp, aiding an
artist and then a jeweler, trying to survive the random cruelties of the
guards. The plot cuts over to the arrival of Russian prisoners of war,
foreshadowing that the leader of the eventual uprising is among them and
giving their backgrounds. Berek is almost invisible in this period, a
silent witness, but he runs when he's provided the chance. The aftermath
of the uprising, tracking down the Nazi's who survived, forms the rest of
the book. Some of the passages were hard to localise, Berek moves around a
fair amount, and we're exposed to some of the thought processes of the
criminals that are brought to trial, sometimes without a clear indication
of which voice we're hearing. There are a lot of foot notes sprinkled
throughout the book, explaining Yiddish and German terms, but sometimes
they seem to err on the side of the obvious. Granted, some day just what
the Third Reich was may be obscure, but for now it was jarring to jump
down to the bottom of the page to read the simple explanation, an
interruption in the flow of the text, my personal preference is for end
notes. I think it would have worked well to have a glossary page for the
non-English words. Overall, it was a fascinating read. I hadn't known
about this death camp before, and I did appreciate the spare nature of the
story-telling, as it's an emotionally charged topic, but at times it went
too far with the cut and dried, clinical style. I'm still thinking about
the events in the book (some of the foot notes listed what happened to the
people later in their lives), but I didn't get emotionally drawn in during
the telling of the story. Some of the passages would have worked better
with more elaboration,, in some it felt like the author was working too
closely from historical documents, falling into a non fiction documentary
style rather than a novelisation. Feb 3/08