Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Long Lost Reviewer Returns

It's almost five months since I posted my last review. Maybe longer and for that I apologize. First finishing the plans for my wedding and the subsequent party & honeymoon kept me away then once I returned Blogger and my computer/ISP decided not to be friends any longer. It's taken until today to get this issue worked out and huge thanks to the IT guys at work for helping me fix the problem.

I have several reviews in the works, first being a long delayed review of Harry Potter & The Deathly Hallows. From there I have Marley & Me, The Cinderella Pact, Many Bloody Returns, & The Golden Compass. There will be others, but first I have to finish The Golden Compass.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Harry Potter & The Deathly Hallows

I started this book the night it came out and finished it the next day. Like many I raced through the book and I probably missed a few elements. But that's part of the fun when you get to go back and reread books. You get to discover some of the things you've missed.

Overall I think Harry Potter & The Deathly Hallows is J. K. Rowling's best book since Prisoner of Azkaban. The story has a fast pace, the characters are mostly true to themselves and you can see real growth in them throughout the story. Harry's lost some of his wonder at the magical world and he's lost his faith in the wizard government, though I think it could be successfully argued he lost that in Order of the Phoenix. Dumbledore isn't there to guide him and that loss is felt keenly. Luckily he doesn't have to go it alone. As always Ron and Hermione are there, ready to help and support him. One of the things I love about this book is the fact that even though he's dead Dumbledore as a character is still seen in almost every chapter, he's very much a part of the story even though he gets very little actual screen time.

It's interesting to see the way Harry handles Dumbledore's shady past. In The Order of the Phoenix he handled discovering that Dumbledore was not actually all-knowing, but he still believed (as many readers did) that Dumbledore was inherently good. In Deathly Hallows we see that to label him as such doesn't fit. Rowling shows that the wizarding world, just like the muggle world is full of shades of grey. Dumbledore was a good person, but at one point in his life he gave in to the belief that the ends justify the means. I truly enjoy how Rowling uses the revelation of Dumbledore’s past as a way for Harry to grow up and make his own decisions about how to handle the fight against Voldemort.

While I enjoy Harry's growth in this book I marvel over Ron's. Books 4 – 6 sullied Ron for me a bit. He lost some of his innate courage, courage he showed in book 1 when he accepted his role as the knight in the chess match and in book 2 when he faced his fear of spiders (though Aragog and his children understandably strengthened that fear). I'm trying to think of particularly courageous moments in book 3, and I'm not really sure what's the best example. His injury when Sirius grabbed him to get to Scabbers precluded his ability to stand in front of Harry like Hermione did. In any case, Ron's character dissolves in book 4 when he gives into his jealousy and turns his back on Harry. In book five he backs down from his brothers and allows them to get away with murder while he's a prefect when the more courageous thing would be stand up to them and at least attempt to get them to follow the rules. Not to mention his performance anxiety he has once he becomes keeper for the Gryffindor Quidditch team. This isn't the confident budding strategist that Rowling introduced us to in Sorcerer's Stone. Sadly, that person doesn't truly make another appearance until book 7. But when he does, Ron flourishes. He's lost some of his stumbling in front of girls (his involvement with Lavender Brown seems to have helped), he's trying to think like a strategist again, though he doesn’t quite pull it off to the extent I would like, and after a crisis of faith brought on by the One Ring posing as a Horcrux, he shows his commitment to Harry's quest and to seeing Voldemort fall. Bravo for making Ron more than just comic relief once more.

Neville Longbottom is another character that finally comes into his own. He's come such a long way from his start as an almost squib that can barely remember to tie his own shoes much less remember complex spells. I delight in the fact that Neville is the one leading the resistance at Hogwarts, he shows that Gryffindor courage and plays a part in ending Voldemort in a way that shows even though he wasn't marked by a lightning bolt scar like Harry without Neville, the self-proclaimed Dark Lord would've won.

All in all this is an excellent book and one I thoroughly enjoyed. It was a fitting end to Rowling’s series but I also take comfort in knowing the Trio survived and should she ever take a notion, they could appear on the written page once more.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince

Many people started rereading the Harry Potter series in anticipation of the final enstalment of the series. Rather than go through the previous six books I chose to just check out the 6th book, Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince, again. And...I didn't finish it. I read about half of it and put it down because sadly it couldn't hold my interest. I love the world of Harry Potter and the first three books I've reread at least five times, but I've only managed to get through the fourth book twice and I've never reread the fifth. My interest in Harry's story hasn't faded, I've grabbed up each new book the day it came out and devoured it over the opening weekend.

With Half Blood Prince, Harry is dealing with a Wizarding World that still doesn't quite believe Voldemort has returned despite the climatic battle at the Ministry of Magic from the fifth book. He's still in school and Dumbledore is finally sharing information with him. Harry's day to day life takes up a great deal of time in this book and for the first time he starts to show interest in Ginny Weasley. I could talk about the time spent on relationships and the way they're written for hours on end, but it's not very important for this review. Harry learns a great deal in this book, both about the Wizarding world, his arch-nemesis, and the usual teenage lessons dealing with relationships. It was an enjoyable read, but I don't think I'll be going back to it for many years to come.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Guns of the South

Guns of the South by Harry Turtledove is not my usual reading material but I decided to give it a try based on an author recommendation. I’m really glad I did, the book is thought provoking, entertaining, and brings historical figures to life giving them a personality that is steeped in historical accuracy but has enough of a novelist’s flair to be true characters. Like I’ve mentioned in a previous post, this book is set in the Civil War, starts in 1864 in fact. The moment the book starts you’re introduced to General Robert E. Lee, a man I read about many many times as a child (I think I was the only one in my middle school to check out his biography more than once). When General Lee is introduced to Andries Rhoodie, history as we know it changes completely. What happens throughout the book is based solely on the question, “What if the South had better weapons?” More specifically, “What if the South had AK-47s?” It’s a fascinating read and Turtledove does an excellent job showing the big picture through Lee and his journey while also showing the common man’s point of view through Nate Caudell, a school teacher from Nashville, NC.

My biggest complaint with this book is still the vocabulary. In the beginning of the book the use of the N-word (I know, still a rather immature way to describe it) pulled me out of the story every time it was used. By the end of the book I didn’t blink when I saw it. It fit the story and that bothered me. The fact that it didn’t faze me by the end, but when I saw it in the book I’m currently reading (The Audacity of Hope by Barack Obama) it jarred me once more. The use of the word is unacceptable to me in modern speech, but I realize that Mr. Turtledove wasn’t making a commentary on today’s speech by using it, he was highlighting the setting of his story. It fit that story, it fit the example Senator Obama used, it doesn’t fit day-to-day speech now and my discomfort with the word is intact. Oddly that was an important realization for me.

Despite that tangent, I can honestly say I enjoyed Guns of the South. I’ve already recommended it to one person and I know I’ll be recommending it to other fans of history and the fantastic. I’m looking forward to getting my hands on another Harry Turtledove novel, as I’d been told, the man does amazing things with Alternate History novels.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Fire Me Up

Fire Me Up is the second book in Aisling’s series and brings back all the enjoyable characters from the first book such as Jim, the demon in a Newfoundland’s body, Rene the mysterious French cab driver that’s always in the right spot to get Aisling out of a jam. And of course you can’t forget the captivating leader of the Green Dragon Sept, Drake. When the book opens, Aisling is certain that Drake is out of her life forever, but like she does with most things in the supernatural world she now inhabits, she doesn’t take her place as his claimed mate seriously. And that’s Aisling’s biggest problem. She’s entered into this world within a world, the supernatural underworld filled with demons, witches, dragons, wizards, and all sort of other creatures that make up our best folklore. She’s out of her depth and in Fire Me Up she is trying to learn more so she can understand this world she now inhabits. But the problem is, she doesn’t take it seriously enough. She only goes so far down the path to understanding before she allows love, life, or a mystery to distract her and it hurts her position with the green dragons, the Guardians she tries to petition for training, and the supernatural community (known as the Otherworld) as a whole.

The book is highly entertaining and readers get to learn so much more about the Otherworld and the Dragon Septs, which was a highlight for me. But throughout the book I couldn’t help but be disappointed in Aisling, her personality is great and I love the chemistry between her and the dragons. But as much as I like her, her attitude towards this world she’s a part of is far too flip. She’s learned just enough to get herself into trouble, but has natural talent (and luck) to get herself out again. She doesn’t consider the consequences very well. Makes for interesting but frustrating reading at times.

What frustrates me the most is when Drake shows up and does his best to make sure Aisling will honor her duties as his Mate during a conclave of the Dragon Septs, she has to make a choice and sadly, she never really does. She wants Drake and wants to help him, but she doesn’t really listen when she’s told that the role of a Mate, a role she willingly accepted, was far more important that she realized. A Wyvern (sept leader)’s mate is more than just his lover or wife, a Mate is an advisor, ruler, and partner; someone who needs to be focused on the Sept’s welfare and interests. It’s a lot to take in and Aisling just doesn’t get it. The consequences of her actions in the previous book are brought to light and she has a very steep learning curve by the end. I’m hoping to see an added bit of maturity in her dealings with the Sept in Light My Fire, the third book of the series.

If you enjoy quirky paranormal mysteries like the Southern Vampire series, and you enjoy feisty heroines like Sookie Stackhouse, you can’t go wrong with Aisling Grey.

Living Dead in Dallas

Another from my Summer of Charlaine selection! (I really didn't intend to have an over-arching theme for the summer, but what can you do?)

Second in the Southern Vampire Series, Living Dead in Dallas is all about how Sookie's gift of telepathy is used by Vampire regent Eric as a favor to his counterpart in Dallas. One of the Dallas vampires has gone missing and Eric expects Sookie to be able to help find him. Instead she makes an impression on the vampires, the humans that want to rid the world of vampires, and the shapshifters she didn't even know existed. No matter what, Sookie's life is nothing if not interesting.

This one is fun, but by taking Sookie and Bill out of Bon Temps, I lost a little enjoyment because the supporting characters weren’t there. Sookie is great in any setting, but Bill just doesn’t hold my attention and even still his screen time was very limited so I had to get used to a new set of supporting characters, which we may never see again. With Living Dead I discovered that Bill isn’t on my top three favorite characters list since he tends to be a bit too cold and removed from Sookie in many ways. While I think this works really well for this character that’s forgotten what it means to be human it doesn’t endear him to me that much. The fact that he tries to see things from her point of view and sometimes will react a bit more like a regular guy is interesting, but when he shares the page with the more outrageous and charming Eric, Bill simply pales. Perhaps if I’d read the first novel before Dead to the World I wouldn’t think so, but Eric won me over in the fourth book. Still, even with the sadly dull and remote Bill, Living Dead in Dallas is a fun and enjoyable book.
Quick Status Update: The past couple of weeks have been hectic and my promised review per week simply hasn't occured. This week I'm planning on catching up with all the June reviews so I can start on the July reviews next week. While I don't intend on flooding the blogosphere I do want to catch up so I can review the books I'm currently reading rather than wracking my brain to remember what happened and exactly how I felt with the last few. Two more reviews for June then it's on to July!

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Poppy Done to Death

I almost forgot this "traditional" mystery I read in early June. After discovering Charlaine Harris through Dead to the World I had to read more. I enjoyed the book too much not to. So June became the month of Charlaine. The next book I took on was Poppy Done to Death, the last book in the Aurora Teagarden series. This is a quiet, traditional mystery in the sense that there's no vampires, telepaths, or other paranormal elements. While I firmly classify it as a mystery there is also a romance element in the form of Aurora's boyfriend, True Crime writer Robin Crusoe. This book is smart and funny with an interesting plot that revolves around the murder of a local woman who happens to be close friends with Aurora (Roe to her friends). It was a quick read, but I didn't figure out who the murderer was until very close to the end. I like it when the culprit isn't obvious halfway through the book. But another thing that I like about the series is slightly superficial. Aurora is a librarian and nine times out of ten I'm drawn to characters that share my profession. Still Poppy Done to Death is a nice easy summer read that I'd recommend to anyone looking for a good mystery.

Monday, July 9, 2007

Dead Until Dark

Charlaine Harris introduces the world to a new reality with Dead Until Dark. The first of the Southern Vampire series, Ms. Harris tells us about how Vampires have always been all around us, but thanks to a Japanese creation of synthetic blood now they can come out of the coffin, so to speak. With that one detail readers are whisked away into the world of Sookie Stackhouse and the small town of Bon Temps, LA.

With the first novel of a series a writer has to throw a lot of information at readers while still gaining their attention and interest in the characters. Setting up a environment, a world so similar to the "real world" with only one or two differences could be glossed over, but that's not what happens. Instead readers are shown (instead of just told) the dangers to both vampires and humans. Along the way you meet Bill the Vampire, Sam Merlote - Sookie's boss and occasional star of fantasies, her womanizing brother Jason, and a cast of characters that you enjoy visiting in other books in the series. Sookie is a reluctant sleuth, but she is a brave one. She sets out to figure out who's causing a series of murders in Bon Temps with only the smallest hesitation. Her humor and outlook on life are fun additions to the story and will keep you coming back to the series.

Two books down, thirteen more to go before September 1st.

Not quite a review (I will get back to that, I promise), but still about books.

After a blog post from the Looking For Group guys, I went in search of an Alternate History book, one I've picked up and put down over and over again: Guns of the South by Harry Turtledove. This time I'm giving it a good go and man, it's fascinating. Getting into the mindframe of General Lee and his officers as well as the foot soldiers like Nate Caudel is incredibly interesting. The twist that makes the story an alternate history is one that just makes you go, "Wow, what if?" Though I have to say, while probably historically accurate (and Mr. Turtledove is well known for his research) the repeated use of the n-word (yes, I abhor that word enough to not write it) is one of those things that does twist my stomach a bit every time I see it. It's so interesting to read about the mindsets, but man...the phrasing, that insult side by side with some of the nicer thoughts about the African-American characters just bugs me. And even though I know it was probably an accepted, almost expected use of the word in day to day speech, it comes close to pulling me out of the story every time it's used. I'm taking my time with this one, but I figure I'll finish it before July 20th. I have to, otherwise it'll get abandoned for the weekend while I read Deathly Hallows. :)
Coming up: a review on Charlaine Harris's first Southern Vampire book Dead Until Dark.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Dead to the World

June has been the month of Mysteries. Paranormal Mysteries in fact. In May I jumped back in time with Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series, an old favorite, but I just had to step away in the middle of the 5th book. There's only so much historical fiction I can take at once, so I started looking for something completely different and found Charlaine Harris's Southern Vampire Series.

Since I was checking the books out from the library I started with Dead to the World, which is actually the 4th book in the series. The main character, Sookie Stackhouse is a cocktail waitress with an extra gift, the ability to read minds. She lives in a world, not much different from our own, except for the vampires that freely roam the earth and are out of the coffin, so to speak. Because of Sookie's gift she finds the company of vampires soothing since she can't read their minds the way she can humans.

Her optimistic outlook on life and her feisty nature make Sookie a great heroine and an intriguing woman to the supernaturals around her. Her love life is one that while prominent in the story, it doesn't interfere with the two mysteries she's trying to solve. One on behalf of the vampires and one that is much more personal, the disappearance of her brother. In a way the resolution to these mysteries seems to happen awfully fast, but at the same time, at 320 pages, there's not a way to draw out the conflict too much. Dead to the World was a good introduction to the Southern Vampire series and made me want to continue reading about Sookie and the rest of the characters.

Oddly enough, Sookie and her friends in Bon Temps, Louisiana reminded me of the cast of characters from Mitford, North Carolina found in the Mitford series by Jan Karon. Two extremely different genres, but the small town atmosphere, and camaraderie that comes from that small town (and small ensemble) comes through in both series. Since reading Dead the the World I've gone back and read the first two books in the series. Looking forward to getting the third in July.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007


To anyone who decides to check out this blog, welcome!

I'm a pretty fast reader so I hope to update this blog on at least a weekly basis if not more often.

What's this blog for? Well, it's an offshoot of my personal blog, one that will probably tell readers quite a bit about me, as you can learn a great deal about a person through thier reading interests. This blog is for simple reviews about books that I read this summer, depending on how I enjoy the review process, I may continue on past the summer. We shall see.

Pull up a chair, settle in with your beverage of choice and indulge in a little reading on the bright side of life.