Monday, April 13, 2015

loopyker's #CBR7 Review #04: The Martian by Andy Weir

The Martian by Andy Weir book coverI can't believe it has taken me a month to get to writing this review.  I was telling everyone about it when I finished it, but just didn't get it written down.  I had managed not to hear much about this book beforehand.  I can't even remember where it was recommended so that I put it on my library hold list...and then waited months for it to come up since it was so popular.

I will start with what a lot of other people say because it is so obvious - this feels a lot like the movie Apollo 13, but with one person.  Some people say it is like Cast Away, but it doesn't have that crazy edge.  While reading it, I kept thinking that it would make a good movie and when I looked, they were in fact already making the movie. It is scheduled to be out in November 2015.

The "Martian" is astronaut, Mark Watney, from Earth who accidentally gets abandoned on Mars after a failed mission.  A little food and a lot of equipment is left there with him.  But can he figure out how to survive all alone for the years it will take until the next mission arrives?

It moves from one problem-solving, crisis moment to the next.  I did not want to put this book down!  I also don't want to write spoilers.  I really didn't know what was going to happen from one minute to the next.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

loopyker's #CBR7 Review #2 and #3: Book 1 & 2 Sally Lockhart Mysteries by Philip Pullman

The Ruby in the Smoke by Philip Pullman book cover

After very much enjoying several of Philip Pullman's other books (His Dark Materials and companion books, The Firework Maker's Daughter and The Scarecrow and His Servant), I had high hopes for the Sally Lockhart Mysteries.

In the first book, The Ruby in the Smoke, we meet Sally who, at age 16, has been recently orphaned.  She is curious to know more about the circumstances of her father's death after receiving some ambiguous information.  Sally has had a very nontraditional upbringing in 1872 Victorian London, so feels comfortable in asserting her independence to have the freedom she needs to investigate.

In theory, it sounds like exactly the type of book I would really like.  No fantasy, but it touches on my two other favourite genres - historical fiction and mystery. As Sally makes friends, it even gets into the history of photography and stereoscopic photography, which made it more personally interesting to me as an amateur photographer.  However, I still didn't really connect with Sally's character or the plot.

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

loopyker's #CBR7 Review #01: Shadows by Robin McKinley

Note: This review was written in early 2014 and is being posted for the first time now - well after I remember anything about the book to address criticisms I've read from some other reviews.

Shadows by Robin McKinley book cover

I've been a long-time fan of Robin McKinley, so I requested this new one through my Online Library and was excited when it became available days later. It is nice to know that the library requests can work and I wasn't disappointed by the effort. 
I hadn't even heard about Shadows and since McKinley doesn't often do sequels, you never really know what you are going to get. Unlike many of her books, Shadows doesn't have a fairy-tale land setting. It is more like our present-day world, but after the invasion of magic and the resulting technology to deal with that magic. 
Maggie is a 17 year old, in Newworld, where magic is now illegal. Her widowed mother meets and marries a new man, who creeps Maggie out. There is something wrong when she looks at him - extra shadows that seem to have a life of their own. Maggie's world is soon turned on end as the truth of things is slowly revealed to her.
I very much enjoyed McKinley's original take on magic and learning about the "shadows". As usual, she does a good job at capturing the insecurities, but also strengths of a teenage girl and her friends and family, creating believable characters and settings, with enough twists to keep it interesting. Knowing that McKinley is a dog owner, I can also see how that experience and love for her own dogs have made their way into this tale. 
My only complaint is that some parts felt a bit rushed. There is certainly a lot of action once it gets going. The ending is rather sudden and seems like it should be going on to a book 2. I hope it does! But I know McKinley well enough, to know not to count on it. If she gets inspired, it will be done. 

Shadows was a satisfying, fun YA fantasy read, joining the many books by Robin McKinley that I will happily reread and hope for them to be continued sometime. I still always hope her earlier Damar history will call to her to return there someday, but in the meantime, I will enjoy her many different worlds too.

4 stars
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Title: Shadows
Author: Robin McKinley
Age Range: 12 and up
Book format: ebook/hardcover/paperback
Print length: 367/368 pages
Publisher: Penguin Books (September 26, 2013)/Nancy Paulsen Books (September 26, 2013)
Kindle ASIN: B00BPDN2SI
ISBN-10: 0399165797
ISBN-13: 978-0399165795

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Rating system:
1 star (didn't like); 2 stars (OK); 3 stars (good); 4 stars (very good); 5 stars (favourite)

Also check out Cannonball Read for a variety of book reviews from many others.

Monday, April 06, 2015

I'm Still Here/Book List

Wow.  I had so many books I wanted to review in 2013 and 2014 that I just wasn't up to writing about.  Life (and death) keeps getting in the way.  I even went for a long stretch last year where I wasn't reading or listening to any books at all.

I did still sign up for Cannonball Read again.  I'm determined to actually make my goal one of these years. It is up to year 7 for CBR now.  Good for them!  I'm glad there are people that kept up with it better than I did.  I was less ambitious and signed up for a half-cannonball (26 reviews), but am getting to a slow start again.

I did write one review last year, that I didn't post, so I will get to posting that soon.  I will need to reread some of the favourites that I meant to review before.  It has been too long for me to remember details.  In the meantime, I have been reading new books this year that are already piling up. 

Book list read and waiting for reviews:

1) Torchwood - The Sin Eaters by Brain Minchin (audiobook)

2) The Martian by Andy Weir (ebook) (review here)

3) The Ruby in the Smoke (Book One: Sally Lockhart Mysteries) by Philip Pullman (audiobook) (review here)

4) The Princess Bride by William Goldman (audiobook)

5)  Unsinkable: A Memoir by Silken Laumann

6) The Work: My Search for a Life That Matters by Wes Moore (audiobook)

7) The Shadow in the North (Book Two: Sally Lockhart Mysteries) by Philip Pullman (audiobook) (review here)

8) White Hart by Sarah Dalton (YA Spring Fling ebook)

9) Watermelon Summer by Anna Hess and Aimee Easterling (YA Spring Fling ebook)


Saturday, February 01, 2014

2013 - The Lost Cannonball Year, Part I

As I mentioned in my previous post, I wasn't able to do book reviews last year like I had planned, but I still read many books.

So, as part of getting organized for Cannonball 6 , here are short ratings of some of the books I read in 2013.

1. Sweep Series Books 1-15 (also known as The Wicca Series in some countries) by Cate Tiernan (audiobooks and ebooks)

Sweep: Book of Shadows by Cate Tiernan cover
I started this series in 2012 with the audiobooks (for the first couple or so) and then continued with the ebooks in 2013 to finish the whole 15 book series.  The audiobooks really set things up well for defining the characters and I continued to keep that voice in my head while reading the later books.   I'm not quite sure it would have been quite so good without those at the beginning.

These books were short on description and vocabulary, but were fun, quick reads.  For me, they blur together more like really long chapters, rather than completely separate books.  They combined the usual teen issues of fitting in and sexuality with discovering your own identity and abilities - in this case, some paranormal ones.  I liked that as the main character was discovering her witch heritage, her Catholic parents were not made out to be stereotypically stupid or rigid, nor the teenager overly rebelious and disrespectful.  It is a loving family.  And likewise, the lesbian aunt isn't the stereotypical "gay", but rather just part of the family. 

Book #7, The Calling was the weak one out of the group and really was just a set up for Book #8, Changeling.  But, I still recommend that you read them all, and in order, to fully appreciate the story.

I was sorry that they ended when they did, but glad that the last book Night's Child jumps ahead into the future to give a bit of closure...but I still would have liked more.

4 stars for the series as a whole

- x - 

2. Virals and Seizure by Kathy Reiches (audiobooks)

Virals by Kathy Reichs cover
These are Books #1 and #2 of a juvenile/young adult series about Tory Brennan who is niece of the forensic anthropologist Temperance Brennan from Kathy's more adult books, her Temperance Brennan (Bones) series.

I haven't yet read any of the Bones series to compare how Kathy's style translates to a younger audience level.  Overall, they were OK.  I liked the first book better, although both got a little repetitive and fell back on the over-used idea that teens never learn and will keep doing the same thing to get into the same trouble.  Some parts were a bit too corny for my taste too and I thought that Seizure tried too hard to get into a popular theme (pirates), rather than focusing on the uniqueness of the characters.

As an audiobook, at least the first one included one of the few really good uses for sound effects that I have heard.  All too often, they are just a distraction when in an audiobook. (I think it might have been dropped for the 2nd one - I can't remember now.)

3 stars for Virals; 2 stars for Seizure

Saturday, January 04, 2014

Catching Up 2012 (what I meant to do early 2013)

OK, so as you can tell, 2013 didn't go so well for the book review thing.  Grrr.  It turned out that I didn't have access to a laptop for most of the year, so in the limited times when I did, I had too many other things to catch up on even though I read many books.

I will try to get back into things now with Cannonball 6 .  I've signed up for a half-cannonball (26 reviews).

But first, so my mind, and some rough notes are cleared, I will give a short rating to some of the books I can still remember from 2012 and 2013 that I didn't get to.  Some of the best ones, I will leave and hope to do a quick re-read this year to do a proper review.

From my 2012 list:

1.  Matched and Crossed (Matched Trilogy books 1 and 2) by Ally Condie (audiobooks)

Matched by Ally Condie, CD coverI listened to these after The Book Hoarding Dragon's review of Matched piqued my interest.  I was not disappointed.  I liked how Matched started out looking like a utopia vs. something like The Hunger Games.  It made the conflict between safety and freedom more thought-provoking and relevant for today's world.  So, mixed with the universal themes of young unrequited and forbidden love, there were more compelling ideas about rebellion and the importance of language and creativity needed to even form and communicate those ideas.

By the time we get to Crossed, we see the situation for the full dystopia, it really is.  I didn't like it quite as much as Matched, but still enjoyed it and want to read the conclusion.  (still waiting to see if my library will get the audiobook in)

5 stars to Matched; 4 stars to Crossed 

- x -

2.  The Scarecrow and His Servant and The Firework-Maker's Daughter by Philip Pullman (audiobooks)

The Scarecrow and His Servant by Philip Pullman, audio cover
I'm only putting these together because they are shorter (juvenile) books by Philip Pullman.  Very enjoyable with some good humour and, like his famous His Dark Materials Trilogy some good role-reversals and twists.  I especially liked the scarecrow character.

4 stars to both

- x -

3.  Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt (audiobook)

I hadn't read this before and only saw the 2002 movie trailers which looked like a paranormal teen romance.  This wasn't like that

Monday, February 04, 2013

2013 Book List

I'm going to try to keep a more accurate list of waiting-to-be-reviewed books this year for CBR5...and hopefully not let things get as out of control as last year, but considering the list I've already built up, it isn't the best start. :)

I'll be doing Cate Tiernan's Sweep series as one review when I finished with it.  I read the first five books last year and didn't get to reviews and they are such quick reads that I can't keep them separate and they seem more like parts of one big book to me.

The list in no particular order:

1. Sweep Series: Spellbound (#6), The Calling (#7), Changeling (#8) - Cate Tiernan (e-books)
2. Virals - Kathy Reiches (audio)
3. Seizure - Kathy Reiches (audio)
4. Od Magic - Patricia A. McKillip (audio)
5. The Eternal Ones - Kirsten Miller (audio)
6. A Conspiracy of Genes - Mark de Castrique (audio)
7. Catching Fire: The Hunger Games, Book 2 - Suzanne Collins (audio)
8. The Cat Who Went Into the Closet: The Cat Who Series, Book 15 - Lilian Jackson Braun (audio)
9. Bookmarked for Death: Booktown Mystery Series, Book 2 - Lorna Barrett (audio)
10. My Anecdotal Life - A Memoir - Carl Reiner (audio)
11. The Best Short Stories of Mark Twain - Mark Twain  (audio)
12. Echoes of the Fourth Magic - Chronicles of Ynis Aielle, Book 1 - R. A. Salvatore (audio)
13. Cinderella's Secret Diary: Lost (Book 1) - Ron Vitale