Friday, December 28, 2012

loopyker's #CBR4 Review #13: True Strength: My Journey from Hercules to Mere Mortal and How Nearly Dying Saved My Life by Kevin Sorbo

OK, I admit that I kind of had a crush on Kevin Sorbo during his Hercules:The Legendary Journeys days. I've always had a weakness for tall guys with long hair - but, he also seemed like a decent guy when giving interviews. I hadn't really thought about him in years, but was extremely disappointed to find out recently that he is now into some of the more extreme Christian fundamentalist propaganda  . It didn't seem to fit with his past public image, so I was curious. In looking him up, I discovered that he had a serious illness and had written an autobiographical book  about it. “Aha!”, I thought. “That might explain the extreme religious views.”

I was pleased to discover that my online library had the audiobook of True Strength, narrated by Kevin himself and his wife, Sam Sorbo.  I hoped to find an explanation for this fundamentalist approach in this book. I was disappointed in that respect, but really enjoyed and connected with the book in other ways.

We all know we are mortal, but many of us like to forget about that at different times in our lives. Kevin Sorbo probably wasn't thinking of it too much when he was in peak physical condition and playing the half-god, Hercules on one of the highest rated syndicated television shows in the world in the 1990's. But, he was was forced to confront that in a sudden, terrifying way. Unknown to all but his closest family, friends and co-workers, at this peak time, Kevin suffered three strokes after an aneurysm in his shoulder caused clots to travel through his body. These resulted not only in damage to his arm, but both long lasting and permanent symptoms such as partial blindness, dizziness, weakness, headaches and ringing in his ears just for starters.

This struck while on hiatus from Hercules, between the 4th and 5th seasons, just after the release of Kull the Conqueror (1997). It was at a crucial point, both in his career and for the continuation of Hercules where a lot of other people depended on Kevin as the star to keep the show going. Hercules hadn't yet reached that magic 100 episode number for the best syndication deals. But fortunately, everyone had a little time to figure things out before filming began again - and it took a lot of creative solutions.

It's been a long time since I've seen Hercules, but I still can remember when the writing suddenly changed with Kevin missing in strange ways - like one episode where he had been turned into a pig or was missing altogether. At the time, I was annoyed at the writing. Now, after reading True Strength, I'm amazed they pulled off hiding Kevin's recovery and disability so well! I found it really interesting to hear about all the little tricks they did to make it look like he was there more than he was and what they used to hide his weakness. He went from doing many of his own stunts to needing a body double to even lift a sword for awhile. He was never able to return to doing even many of the previously easy-to-him stunts.

Besides relating to True Strength as a fan of Hercules and then Andromeda, I very much connected with the personal struggle Kevin went through with his sudden disability. I couldn't be further away from the TV business, or the physical fitness enthusiast Kevin was. But, as someone who became disabled after a car accident, I could relate to a lot of the things he felt and encountered - from the broader implications of not knowing what you are going to be able to do with your life, to the little strange things like developing random food allergies.

I too was knocked down at a high point in my life. It doesn't matter how much money you have or how famous you are - it is the same process of discovery to figure out what exactly happened to your body and what is your “new normal” state mentally, physically and emotionally - and then what to do to move forward with all of that.

Like many people, Kevin had a tough time with his doctors. Some dismissed his symptoms and thought he should get better quickly, while others said the opposite. It became a struggle to know who to trust and believe and to know when to trust and believe his own body too. It is hard enough for us “regular” people to work through this just with ourselves and our families. Kevin had to go through all of this while presenting a public image of a demigod. He had been so good at doing this before his strokes that even doctors and emergency care workers afterwards weren't always taking him completely seriously because he was Hercules.

I read a review of True Strength that criticized Kevin as just a whiner - that he had lots of money to afford doctors and alternative treatments etc. when this particular disabled reviewer didn't. I think they are missing the point of the book. Yes, he had it easier than many people in some ways. But, as I said above - money doesn't really matter when it comes to the internal, personal struggle you go through. Kevin openly admits there were times when he got self-absorbed and depressed and took it out on people like Sam. I think it would be a very rare person indeed who didn't experience that at some point with a big life adjustment like that. It is refreshing to see a real portrait of that kind of roller coaster rather than the myth that disabled people are only inspirational and good people if they are passive, meek and grateful just to be alive and for any charity they receive.

That view of the disabled is perpetuated to make the the charity givers feel good about themselves. It does not treat the disabled as well-rounded human beings - and that is why I am very happy that Kevin Sorbo wrote this book! His celebrity can make other people think about disability in a way that the average person can't. Hopefully, in a way that also makes them more compassionate towards us.

True Strength is an inspirational book. As a disabled person it is good to see that even celebrities deal with the exact same things as we do and that they can rebuild successful lives, both personally and professionally.

Back to the original reason I listened to this book - Kevin's Christian fundamentalism. He talks about coming to terms with his faith in the book, but I didn't really pick up on how he got to the more extreme views. In fact, he talks about some decidedly non-fundamentalist views about things too. I still suspect the strokes had an impact on his more extreme beliefs, but this book is more about Kevin as a whole person and at an earlier time in his faith, so there were no good answers about that.

As an audiobook, Kevin and his wife were excellent narrators and it made the book more personal. It was one of my favourite books of the year and I highly recommend it in audio or print version.

Audiobook
Narrator: Kevin Sorbo and Sam Sorbo
Publisher: Oasis Audio
Duration: 9 hours, 36 minutes
ISBN: 9781608149285
Release Date: January 19, 2012


Hardcover: 296 pages (also available in paperback and e-book versions)
Publisher: Da Capo Press (October 11, 2011)
ISBN-10: 0306820366
ISBN-13: 978-0306820366

Sunday, December 23, 2012

loopyker's #CBR4 Review #12: Tailwavers by Sally Watson

Don't let the self-publishing and home photo cover fool you.  Sally Watson is an accomplished and well-loved author of several juvenile and young adult fiction books published in the 1950's - 1971.  After taking a break from writing she began self-publishing new books, juvenile-adult level in 2006. Among these, is Tailwavers, her first autobiographical book, about her life with a variety of cats and her cat rescue work in England and the US, including correspondence with other cat-loving friends about her thoughts on many things, but always coming back to the cats in her life.

With the conversational tone of Tailwavers, it is less polished than her earlier books, but still highly entertaining.  Sally's humour and intelligence shine through as strong as ever.  If you are already a fan of Sally Watson, you will enjoy this glimpse into her real life.  But, you do not need to be familiar with Sally to enjoy the stories of the joys and sorrows of living and care-taking of cats which any cat owner can appreciate. 

Sally is a true ailurophile (cat lover) and has written this book for like-minded people.  My own Mr. Cat sat on my lap through much of time reading this.  I was moved to both laughter and tears several times throughout the book and found it a nice, fun read.

(Full Disclosure: I am the web designer for booksbysallywatson.com and received a free copy of Tailwavers from Sally as payment.  But, I do not receive any compensation for sales of her books, or for my review.  I'm just a big fan!)

Tailwavers
Author: Sally Watson

Paperback:
242 pages  (also available in e-book versions)
Publisher: iUniverse (Sept 14, 2010)
ISBN-10: 9781450253772
ISBN-13: 978-1450253772
ASIN: 1450253776
e-book ISBN: 9781450253789

Saturday, December 22, 2012

loopyker's #CBR4 Review #11: The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

I had this review ready to publish last week, but after the recent tragic news about the Newtown shootings in the US I took some time to rethink it.  I don't think that event changes my feelings about about my review below.  I feel that despite the violence in the book, The Hunger Games is more relevant to our current-day reality TV and our culture of competition and voyeurism than to school shootings or violence against children specifically.  But the media attention around such events has haunting similarities. 
- - -

I finally got on the bandwagon and had my first experience with The Hunger Games. I listened to Book 1 as an audiobook. Prior to that I had managed to avoid most of the hype. I didn't want to ruin it for myself if I ever did read the book or watch the movie. I hadn't heard of the book until the movie came out, but several friends had, and loved both the books and the movie, so I was curious but the general description of children having to fight to the death just created Lord of the Flies flashbacks, so I wasn't seriously interested. I absolutely hated Lord of the Flies reading it in class in early high school. I reread it once later to see if I had a different opinion as an adult. I didn't. 
I'm very happy to say that The Hunger Games was a completely different experience. I'm not sure if it was because the viewpoint for The Hunger Games was a girl vs the boys in The Lord of the Flies, or maybe it was because there was a much better back story for the characters leading up to the fighting so that you cared about them a lot more. I have no intention of re-reading The Lord of the Flies for a more direct comparison. Although, now that I'm thinking about it, I think that what stuck with me in The Lord of the Flies was the cruelness of the children, whereas in The Hunger Games is it is the compassionate moments that stay with you afterwards. I much prefer the latter. 

The Hunger Games is told from the point of view of a 17 year old girl, Katnis. She has been the head of her family since her father died when she was 11 years old and her mother went into a depression. They live in a poor, post-apocalyptic North American, coal mining community called District 12. Districts 1 thru 12 each specialize in a different industry and are controlled by The Capitol, mainly through keeping them in extreme poverty. 

As punishment for a rebellion by the Districts many years before, each year a boy and a girl from each District are chosen as Tributes to fight each other to the death. The victor earns much needed food and fuel for their own District for the following year. This is all great entertainment for the sadistic Capitol and its inhabitants, but understandably a source of terror each year for many in the Districts. 

The Hunger Games does a good job of contrasting these two viewpoints. I really felt for Katnis as she tries to understand this and navigate through all the Game preparations surrounded by excited Capitol helpers. I liked that they weren't just thrown into the fighting right away. It was much more subtly horrible to see the parallels of our own reality TV turned into this terrible form of entertainment with the superficial fashion shows and interviews actually becoming potentially life-saving events if they encouraged the audience to sponsor a Tribute with aid during the Games. 

Katnis is a very likeable character and I enjoyed learning about her life. She had already lost much of her childhood and continues to grow up more through this terrible experience. She constantly reminds us about how horrible the situation is without being whiny or preachy - she just reacts with her gut much of the time. She is strong and intelligent and admirable. I cried at a couple of points in the book - balling freely at one point. An audiobook makes that much easier, since the story continues even when your eyes are blurry with tears. 

However, this book is about children being forced to kill children, so you do have to be in mindset to be able to handle that. But, I didn't feel like the violence was really gratuitous or glorified. The ending was satisfying, but certainly left me wanting to go right on to the next audiobook in the series...although, I have to now wait for 62 people ahead of me on the online library waiting list to get through it first. 

I wrote the above right after finishing the audiobook.  I am now eleventh on the waiting list, so that is some idea of how long ago I listened to this.  I can't now recall anything about the audiobook quality, so I must have enjoyed the narrator.  In my opinion the best ones are the ones you don't really notice - it just feels natural to be listening to it.

The Hunger Games (Book 1) by Suzanne Collins  
Reading level: Ages 12 and up 

Audiobook : 
Narrator Carolyn McCormick 
Publisher: Scholastic Audio (Mar 01, 2011) 
Duration: 8 hours, 24 minutes 
ISBN: 9781445834207 

Hardcover: 384 pages (also available in paperback and ebook versions) 
Publisher: Scholastic Press (Oct 1, 2008) 
ISBN-10: 0439023483 
ISBN-13: 978-0439023481

loopyker's #CBR4 Review #10: The Blythes Are Quoted: Anne of Green Gables Series, Book 9 by L. M. Montgomery

I was excited to finally get to this after having been a fan of the Anne of Green Gables series for as long as I can remember.  The Foreword says, "The Blythes Are Quoted is the last work of fiction the world-famous author of Anne of Green Gables prepared for publication before her untimely death on April 24, 1942.... The typescript was delivered to Montgomery’s publisher on the day she died—by whom we do not know; Montgomery evidently intended it for publication, since it is amended in her hand-writing."  This is the first printing that includes Montgomery's entire manuscript.  It is speculated that earlier printings removed some things that were felt to be anti-war at a time when patriotism was heavily favoured.

I had read enough about this last book beforehand to know to expect something very different.  That certainly was the case.  Calling it "Book 9" in the series, is really only because of when it occurs chronologically and that the Blythe family is connected in some ways.  However, if you expect a continuation of the stories in the vein of the rest of series, you will be disappointed.

Rather than a novel following the Blythes as they grow up, this book is a compilation of short stories and poems.  Most of the short stories are about people unrelated to the Blythe family who gossip about the Blythes at some point to keep that connection to Anne.  In true gossip fashion, some of it is true and some not, but if you know the rest of the series you will know which is which. Sometimes a family member is also a very minor character.  The poems are scattered in the gaps between short stories and are mostly attributed to Anne in little scenes of discussion about the poem and family with Gilbert and the beloved family housekeeper, Susan.  The others are attributed to Anne and Gilbert's middle son, Walter.

Even though it is not a true continuation of the series, it makes the most sense to read this after the others in the series to know who the Blythe family is when they are mentioned and to understand the grief of the family that is mentioned when talking about a lot of the poems.  You have to be paying close attention though to get the details about marriages and grandchildren that are scattered throughout.

For that matter, I really recommend reading the whole series in order to see how Anne grows up.  Montgomery's development of Anne from a young, impulsive girl to a mature woman who has been through great joys and sadness and sees herself in her children as they grow in turn is one of the best things about the series.   (although, I have to say that Rilla of Ingleside  is the book least about Anne, but is my favourite as the children are forced to grow up quickly with the start of WWI.  It is also educational to someone who doesn't know much about Canada's involvement in the Great War and what it was like for the women)

Other people had mentioned this being a darker book, but I didn't feel that as much as I was expecting from those opinions.  I took it in the context of the characters who have been through WWI and are in, or near WWII, like the author herself.  There are certainly some darker, human emotions such as bitterness and dwelling on death and grief, but there are still the familiar themes of gossip and long-lost loves throughout.  If you are familiar with L.M. Montgomery's other work, you will not be surprised by many of the outcomes.

I am not a big fan of "Anne's" poetry.  I admit to having trouble focusing enough to tell the difference between a lot of them.  Familiar themes and style run through many.  

Overall, I was disappointed in that I wanted to know more about the Blythe children as adults and that will always be unfinished now.  Despite being a big change in organization style, The Blythes Are Quoted is still very recognizable as L.M. Montgomery and I'm happy to have read it for that reason.   Not a favourite by her though.
   

The Blythes Are Quoted: Anne of Green Gables Series, Book 9   
Author: L. M. Montgomery
Edited and with an Afterword by Benjamin Lefebvre
Foreword by Elizabeth Rollins Epperly

Ebook:
Publisher:     Penguin Group (Canada)
ISBN:      9780143175346
Release date:       Dec 22, 2009

Hardcover:
544 pages  (also available in paperback)
Publisher: Viking Canada; 1st Edition edition (Oct 27 2009)
ISBN-10: 0670063916
ISBN-13: 978-0670063918

Thursday, December 20, 2012

loopyker's #CBR4 Review #09: Answer Me, Answer ME by Irene Bennett Brown

In my online library, a quote described Answer Me, Answer ME as “An excellent portrayal of a young woman's search for her true identity, a compelling story with just the right elements of mystery and romance.” Sounded like a potentially good, young adult book to me. I was sadly disappointed.

I listened to the audiobook, but I don't think that made a difference to my experience of the story. I can't imagine even the best narrator in the world making me anything but sorry I wasted my time. The only difference is that I didn't notice that the second “me” in the title is written “ME” until looking it up to write this review.

A young woman, Bryn Kinney, is on her own after her grandmother's death. Now at only 18 years old, she is wondering if her grandmother, the woman who raised her, was really in fact her biological grandmother at all and if she has any other family out there somewhere. She has never known who her parents were, so she sets off an a quest to search for answers about her past.

I did not connect with this book at all. I kept expecting something interesting to happen, for there to be some twist for that “mystery” element, but it didn't happen. No, you don't know who her parents are right away, but when things are revealed it is very anti-climatic and if you are paying attention you can figure most things out well ahead of time. As for what I didn't figure out, I didn't feel a strong enough connection to Bryn to really care about. The “romance” mostly meant that a guy was there and wanted to date her, but the big romantic tension was that she felt she couldn't socialize and look for clues to her past at the same time.

In general, there were no real conflicts in other areas either to create the tension necessary for a good story. And what attempts at conflict there were, seemed false to me so I just couldn't get into caring about the character at all. 

Young adults reading this now will also find the technology very out-dated and I expect they would have trouble relating to a search for family without the use of Google and other online options. It is getting harder and harder all the time for even someone my age to relate to that. In a lot of stories, a passing reference to this type of thing isn't a big deal, but in this book there is a lot of talk about how she is actually searching for information by following tips from a book. Many of those tips are still valid, but the lack of Internet searches is more glaring than usual. But maybe I wouldn't have noticed so much if I had been interested in the rest of the story more.


Author: Irene Bennett Brown
Reading level: Ages 12 and up

Audiobook:
Narrator: Laurie Klein
Publisher: Books in Motion (December 16, 2008)
Duration: 6 hours, 23 minutes
ISBN: 9781605481456

Paperback:
208 pages
Publisher: iUniverse (October 20, 2000) (original publication 1985)
ISBN-10: 0595145051
ISBN-13: 978-0595145058


loopyker's #CBR4 Review #08: The Killings at Badger's Drift by Caroline Graham

I'm a fan of the TV show, Midsomer Murders, and the first five books in Caroline Graham's Chief Inspector Barnaby Series inspired this TV show, so I thought I'd see how the audiobooks compare starting with The Killings at Badger's Drift: Chief Inspector Barnaby Series, Book 1 .  I haven't read any of the original (7) print books. 

If you've seen the British TV show, then you know that Midsomer Murders follows the investigations of Detective Chief Inspector Tom Barnaby and his younger sidekick Sgt. Gavin Troy, around the quaint little villages in the English countryside .  These are slower paced murder mysteries when compared to typical American shows.  Runtime per episode is 100  minutes.  If you find these too slow-paced for you, then the 8-13 hour or more length of the audio books won't be to your taste.

Compared to the TV show, I found both the Barnaby and Troy characters less likeable.  DCI Barnaby was missing that subtle, warm humour portrayed so well by actor John Nettles  and similarly, Sgt. Troy was missing the sweetness to his inexperienced bumbling that Daniel Casey (and later Jason Hugh as DS Jones) brought to the roll.

The narration and most character voices were read well by Hugh Ross, however some of the voices for the more flamboyant characters were exaggerated in a way that made them difficult to understand at some points. 

Since I started writing this review, I have seen a couple of the more recent Midsomer Murder epidsodes where John Nettles has left and has been replaced by his cousin with the convenient name of DCI John Barnaby, played by Neil Dudgeon.  I'm glad that I saw this after listening to the audiobook.  It makes this new TV DCI Barnaby character more understandable.  I feel like he is much more like the original DCI in the book version of Badger's Drift.  Similarly, and unfortunately for the sidekick - now DS Ben Jones, played by Jason Hugh, they seem to have made his character more immature to have the relationship between the DCI and his underling closer to the book, instead of looking like he has gained some experience working with the first DCI Barnaby.   I am curious to see if the sidekick character develops better in both the TV show and books in the Chief Inspector Barnaby Series.

As for the story, it is a traditional type of murder mystery.  An elderly spinster sees something she shouldn't have and gets killed to hide the secret.  DCI Barnaby has to figure out if it was in fact a murder, and if so, then what was the motive?  There is a little more adult content in this then in the TV show - enough that I made a note to mention it, but not enough that I can remember specifics now.  I don't like to say much about the plot or characters since it is a mystery. 

The Killings at Badger's Drift: Chief Inspector Barnaby Series, Book 1
Author: Caroline Graham
Audiobook:
Narrator: Hugh Ross
Publisher: AudioGO Ltd  (Mar 01, 2011)
Duration:  8 hours, 24 minutes
ISBN:  9781445834207

Hardcover:
264 pages (also available in paperback and ebook versions)
Publisher: Adler & Adler Pub; 1 edition (January 1988)
ISBN-10: 0917561414
ISBN-13: 978-0917561412

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

loopyker's #CBR4 Review #07: Daring Greatly by Brené Brown

I've watched exactly one full episode of Katie - the Katie Couric show. I heard that Jenny Lawson, aka The Bloggess was going to be on an episode, so I had to watch it. Brené Brown happened to be the main guest on the same show and she made such an impression on me that I immediately convinced my boyfriend to buy me her book, DaringGreatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live,Love, Parent and Lead

So, I took a little break from my usual fiction books to read this research-based, self-help type of book. It took me a little longer than usual to get through it - not because I wasn't interested, but because I had to keep stopping to make notes on post-its and discuss things that I found interesting with my boyfriend. He hasn't read the book himself yet, but he probably knows what half of it says already from me! So, this book just had to jump the queue in my ever growing, waiting-to-be-reviewed book list.

I think virtually everyone can see themselves and others in at least parts of this book somewhere. I found meaning in so many sections of it, that I did something I've never done before - I bought it for someone else before I even finished reading it (two people actually, with the help of my boyfriend). I also recommended it to others - and still do.

This isn't a touchy-feely self-help book. Brené Brown is always referring to her research, in a way that the scientific mind in me appreciates, but she still makes it very accessible to non-researchers by relating it to every-day people and situations, including many from her own life. For a short version of her style and some of the topics covered in Daring Greatly, check out the video of her very popular 2010 TEDxHouston talk, ThePower of Vulnerability , which she performed before writing this book.

If you like that Ted talk and you want to hear more, then read Daring Greatly as soon as you can! I will be rereading it for sure. It is the type of book that will mean different, but still meaningful, things to you when you reread it, depending on the personal struggles in your life at the time.

I made so many bookmarks that I don't really know what to pick to say for this review. I can't pick just one quote, so I won't even try. You can check out the book's site for that kind of thing. What spoke to me overall, is the idea of how we are in a culture of “scarcity”, thinking we aren't “enough”, that we are failing somehow as a person - physically, emotionally, financially - whatever, and how that leads to fear, shame and guilt, withdrawal/shutting down, and in worst cases, even addictions or lashing out. But, in the end, we need to be brave and let ourselves be vulnerable, whether what we do is successful or not, because that is the only way to fully experience life and joy. We can't shut out just the bad stuff selectively. When we try, we shut out the good stuff too. We need to learn to face things, and work through things to be happier and less stressed and to feel loveable and worthy of belonging and love. And in all of this, I also found her findings about some gender differences especially eye-opening and thought provoking.

In Daring Greatly, Brené Brown doesn't present things in the unrealistic positive thinking attitude that so many self-help books like to get stuck on. These are hard issues for people. Brené herself needed help to work through it in her own life, as you will have heard in the TED talk. The goal isn't to never feel fear, shame or inadequacy or to be 100% happy all of the time. The goal is to recognize what you are feeling, when you are feeling those things and to learn how to feel them and deal with them in a constructive way so that you can be the person you want to be, for yourself most of all, but also for your relationships with your significant other(s), your children, your co-workers and your community. It isn't always a comfortable process, but that is OK. That is normal and healthy and a part of living.

I really can't think of any adult I know who couldn't benefit from this book at some level. I would be surprised if people couldn't related to at least part of Daring Greatly and I highly recommend it for everyone. It can truly be a life-changing type of book to those who are open to it.

Author:  Brené Brown

Brené Brown, Ph.D., LMSW is a research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work. She has studied vulnerability, courage, authenticity, and shame for more than a decade and has had her research featured on PBS, NPR, CNN and more. 
 
Reading level: Ages 18 and up
Hardcover: 256 pages (also available in Kindle and audio versions)
Publisher: Gotham (September 11, 2012)
ISBN-10: 1592407331
ISBN-13: 978-1592407330 

I didn't see this until after I had read the book. It looks useful to me though for people who like this kind of thing:  Daring Greatly Readers Guide (PDF)

 

Sunday, October 14, 2012

loopyker's #CBR4 Review #06: The Angry Earth: A Story of the New Madrid Earthquakes by Sally Watson

This is one of the newer books from one of my favourite authors, Sally Watson.  Sally is well-known for her juvenile fiction published through 1954-1971 (my favourite, Jade,   among them), but she began self-publishing new books in 2006 - present .

The Angry Earth  is one of Sally's more recent adult-level books, but it is still without the explicit violence or sex that you find so often in other historical fiction.  I much prefer Sally's style. 

I read this a few months ago, coincidentally just past the bicentennial of the main event inspiring this story -  the start of the New Madrid Earthquakes of 1811.   The New Madrid Seismic Zone is in the U.S.A. along the Missouri, Kentucky and Tennessee border, but also goes into Illinois, Indiana, Arkansas and Mississippi.  (more info. on Wikipedia: New Madrid Seismic Zone )  Even though these were massive earthquakes, and they could happen again, very few of my American friends seem to have heard about it!  Certainly when we think of earthquakes in the U.S.A., we think of the west coast, not the south/mid-west.

The Angry Earth follows the immigration of a privileged family from France, who due to a change in circumstance end up in a small frontier town in the U.S.A. of French and English.  Their poor, twelve year old maidservant, Fleur, is left with most of the responsibility of getting them started in this new place, becoming one of the strong and independent heroine's that are Sally's specialty.  In this already challenging setting, the family and town then all face the total upheaval of their lives and homes when the earthquakes begin. 

As with all of her historical fiction books, Sally has researched this thoroughly and includes many real historical figures in the town of New Madrid and beyond.  As a Canadian, growing up with the War of 1812 history all around my area and even reading this during the bicentennial of the War of 1812, I was interesting in the little bits of history mentioned leading up to that war.   I also appreciated the musings and debates of the characters about still very relevant topics.  In today's current American and Canadian political climate where it is popular to insult intelligence and many feel they are sufficiently educated more by FB one-liners and comedic satire than even attempting to really learn about the issues, the thoughts of a character pondering the goals of this new country to rule themselves through the democratic process stuck with me:

"Yet how could men who know no history rule intelligently?  Europe sensibly educated its ruling classes.  But if all men should rule--and even possibly women one day: who knew?--then all must be educated, and well-educated, or such a democracy would destroy itself by its own ignorance. "  

Overall, I felt that the story took a little longer to get going than most of Sally's books, but that once it got going it was as compelling as her others and I couldn't put it down.   I felt for the characters' loss and terror and confusion and was pulling for them to come together.  And as so often happens with Sally's books, I didn't want it to end and when that inevitably happened, I immediately started looking up some of the historical references to continue the story for myself.  Google and Wikipedia make that so much easier now.  :)


This is an entertaining read for those interested in historical fiction, strong female characters and/or natural disasters.

More of Sally Watson's books centered around American history:
The Hornet's Nest (Scotland and America - Virginia, 1774)
The Delicate Pioneer (Seattle, 1852)
The Haunted Schoolhouse (California, 1892)

(Full Disclosure: I am the web designer for booksbysallywatson.com and received a free copy of The Angry Earth from Sally as payment.  It is treasured!  But, I do not receive any compensation for sales of her books, or for my review.  I'm just a big fan!)
 
The Angry Earth: A Story of the New Madrid Earthquakes
Author: Sally Watson
Versions available:
    Paperback 242 pages, 8.8 x 5.9 x 0.6 inches
    Kindle Edition e-book
    NOOK Book e-book  
Publisher: Booklocker.com, Inc. (October 28, 2009)
ISBN-10: 1601459998
ISBN-13: 978-1601459992

Monday, July 23, 2012

Waiting Book List

As has been all too usual, health issues surprised me again and I still haven't been able to get back to reviews.  But I have kept reading and listening to books.  Sometimes, I even remember to take notes for eventual reviews. :)  I've probably forgotten some, but here is a list of books I remember reading since I wrote my last review.  Hopefully I will get to them before I completely forget my impressions of them!

Books to Review
  1. Anne's House of Dreams:  Anne of Green Gables Series #5 (audio) by L. M. Montgomery
  2. The Golden Compass: His Dark Materials Series #1 (audio) by Phillip Pullman
  3. The Subtle Knife: His Dark Materials Series #2 (audio) by Phillip Pullman
  4. The Amber Spyglass: His Dark Materials Series #3 (audio) by Phillip Pullman
  5. Tailwavers (print book) by Sally Watson
  6. Matched: Matched Trilogy #1 (audio) by Ally Condie
  7. Crossed: Matched Trilogy #2 (audio) by Ally Condie
  8. Emotionally Charged (ebook) by Selina Fenech
  9. The Angry Earth (print book) by Sally Watson
  10. Fated Hearts (ebook) by P.R. Mason (too short for CBR4)
  11. Drippy the Peg Legged Rainbow A Story for Demented Children (ebook) by John H. Carroll. (too short for CBR4)
  12. Gwen's Ghost (ebook) by Alicia Rasley and Lynn Kerstan
  13. Borrower of the Night: Vicky Bliss Series #1 (audio) by Elizabeth Peters
I will try to do better in getting reviews for these!  And of course, the list will keep growing as I continue to read.

Update Oct 14, 2012: More books (in no particular order - and I've probably forgotten some since I got bad at even keeping track)

14.  Lyra's Oxford  (audio)  by Philip Pullman (too short for CBR4)
15.  The Scarecrow and His Servant  (audio)  by Philip Pullman
16.  The Firework-maker's Daughter  (audio) by Philip Pullman
17.  The Night of Four Hundred Rabbits (audio)  by Elizabeth Peters
18.  Devil-May-Care  (audio) by Elizabeth Peters
19.  Tuck Everlasting  (audio) by Natalie Babbitt
20.  True Strength: My Journey from Hercules to Mere Mortal --and How Nearly Dying Saved My Life (audio) by Kevin Sorbo
22.  The War of the Worlds  (audio) by H. G. Wells
23.  United Tates of America  (audio) by Paula Danziger
24.  Dangerously Funny: The Uncensored Story of "The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour" (audio) by David Bianculli
25.  Classics of Childhood, Volume 2:  Classic Stories and Tales Read by Celebrities (audio)

Update December 19, 2012: More books added to the waiting to be reviewed. Again, not necessarily in the order I read/listened to them.  Just what I can remember 'cause I am not good at keeping lists of this.

26.  Answer Me, Answer Me (audio) by Irene Bennett Brown
27.  The Cat Who Killed Lilian Jackson Braun: A Parody (audio) by Robert Kaplow
28.  Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live,Love, Parent and Lead(print) by Brené Brown
29.  The Hunger Games: The Hunger Games Series, Book 1 (audio) by Suzanne Collins
30.  Louisa May Alcott: A Personal Biography (audio) by Susan Cheever
31.  Murder is Binding: Booktown Mystery Series, Book 1 (audio) by Lorna Barrett
32.  What I Saw and How I Lied (audio) by Judy Blundell
33.  The Hanged Man: Maps in a Mirror Series, Book 1 (audio) by Orson Scott Card
35.   Sweep Series, Books 1 and 2 (audio) by Cate Tiernan
36-38.  Sweep Series, Books 3-5 (e-book) by Cate Tiernan
39.  The Jackal's Head (audio) by Elizabeth Peters
40.  The Killings at Badger's Drift: Chief Inspector Barnaby Series, Book 1(audio) by Caroline Graham
41.  The Blythes Are Quoted: Anne of Green Gables Series, Book 9 (e-book) by L.M. Montgomery

Friday, April 13, 2012

Selina Fenech's Art Collections

I've been distracted by a lot of personal stuff lately, but I promise I'll get back to the book reviews.  I have listened to several audiobooks and read one print book that I have waiting to be posted here.

In the meantime, check out Selina's 2nd art book here: Gothic Beauty

Sunday, February 12, 2012

loopyker's #CBR4 Review #05: The Lighthouse Land by Adrian McKinty

The Lighthouse Land introduces us to a 13 year old boy in New York City, who has survived cancer via an arm amputation which has left him mute from the shock.  His life changes for the better after he and his mother inherit their own small island and home off of the coast of Ireland.   There he becomes friends with a boy-genius his own age and they discover a portal to another world.  After becoming friends with a girl on the alien planet, they help to fight the pirate-type race who are attacking her people.

Again, I chose to listen to the audiobook version for this review.  At the beginning of The Lighthouse Land, I did not like the use of the future tense "you will".  Maybe it was a little more confusing hearing it, rather than reading it, since it is unexpected.   Fortunately, this does not continue for very long, and I stopped myself from giving up on it too soon. 

I also thought that the narrator, Gerard Doyle, sounded amateurish, by tending to end his sentences on a high note.  I was shocked to discover that he has won numerous narrating awards, including Best Voice in Young Adult Fiction in 2008.  So, I'm very curious now to listen to something else he has narrated to compare.  I did feel that his voice was better suited to the characters later in the book, rather than the ones in the New York setting.  I'm not sure if this was the writing or his voice, but Gerard was almost certainly chosen as narrator because of the Irish setting after New York.

Overall, I thought this was just an OK book.  It was certainly not one of my favourite science fiction/fantasy books.  I didn't find the plot very original and the boys at times seem very young and other times overly mature for  their age, making it seem very inconsistent and forced.  I have not read McKinty's adult books, although I understand, they have a lot of graphic violence (so I probably won't be listening to them).  My guess is that he does not translate his skills as well to Young Adult as authors such as Terry Pratchett or Neil Gaiman do.  Both of them masterfully translate their dark sides to be suitable for younger readers without over-simplifying and feeling unnatural.

However, this wasn't a completely terrible book either.  After having invested the time in getting to know the boys a bit, I did like it enough to want to continue to the next book to see what happens to them.  But I'm not in a rush to do that and have already both listened to and read books since this one, so I better get to those reviews soon too!  :)

The Lighthouse Land
The Lighthouse Trilogy, Book 1
Author: Adrian McKinty

Audiobook version
Narrator: Gerard Doyle
Publisher: Blackstone Audio, Inc.
Duration: 9 hours, 59 minutes (unabridged)
ISBN-13: 978-1441771537
Release date:  January 4, 2011

Hardcover Version
Pages: 372
Publisher: Harry N. Abrams (October 1, 2006)
ISBN-13: 978-0810954809


Saturday, February 11, 2012

loopyker's #CBR4 Review #04: The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare

Original Hardcover cover

I've held on to my copy of The Witch of Blackbird Pond since I was about 11 years old and have re-read it many, many times. In a time when the word “witch” brings up images of Harry Potter-type stories, it might be helpful to clarify - this book is historical fiction, NOT fantasy. :) “Witch” refers to the Puritan colonist ideas of what a witch was in the 1600's. Generally, anyone who was a little different, especially a different religion, might be accused of being a witch in league with Satan. For this review I decided to listen to this old favourite in the audiobook version for the first time, to compare it to the experience of reading it myself. 
 
The Witch of Blackbird Pond starts with a 16 year old, free-spirited girl named Kit, traveling on a ship from Barbados to Wethersfield, Connecticut - a Puritan colony up the Connecticut River, in 1687.  Kit was raised by her wealthy grandfather in Barbados in a completely different lifestyle from the Puritans. But after his death, she is now on her way to live with relatives who she has never met before. Kit struggles to fit into her new life and to understand the Puritans, but, while her relatives try to be welcoming, they make little effort to understand her in return. It is quite the culture shock for her to go from having wealth, status and slaves to being poor and an outsider having to learn daily household chores.

Kit does her best to become friends with her cousins, Mercy and Judith, while they are all getting to know each other and are developing romances with the very few eligible young men around. But eventually, she rebels against the intolerance of the community and finds comfort by becoming friends with the lonely, old Quaker women who lives at Blackbird Pond.

The book ends with an old-fashioned Puritan witch hunt and Kit finds out who will really stand up for her and for justice when it counts.

While I've always thoroughly enjoyed it when I read this book, I found the audiobook, narrated by Mary Beth Hurt, lacking something.  As it started, I was initially disappointed with some music competing with the narrator's voice, but that soon ended and only recurs briefly again at the end. But it is completely unnecessary and detracts from the reading. Then, my second disappointment was that the narrator's voice did not suit what I had in my mind for Kit's voice. I was afraid that it would ruin the whole book for me, but it eventually grew on me enough to go unnoticed most of the time. Mary Beth was good at doing both a young girl's voice and an older woman's voice - it was the main character's teenage voice that didn't seem right to me. 

And a little side-note - there were a few scattered technical glitches, of voice skips. I don't know if that was just my download, or if it would be in other library audio versions too.

I've very seldom thought a narrator had the “wrong” voice before. A few have just been bad in all respects, but the good ones, are usually good all around too. So this problem was a new experience with audiobooks for me. I've also both read and listened to the same books before, but I'm not sure if I've done it in this order since at the moment I can only recall buying a book after enjoying the audio version. So perhaps it is just harder for an audiobook to live up to my own imagination. I hope to find more library audiobooks to compare to other printed favourites to better determine this.

This book will appeal to readers who enjoy juvenile historical fiction books with feisty, young heroines. It is recommended for ages 8 -10 and up, although the younger readers may have a little difficulty following the politics of the time. But anyone may enjoy looking up the real historical figures and places, such as Wethersfield and the Buttolph-Williams House.

The Witch of Blackbird Pond
Author: Elizabeth George Speare
Young Adult Historical Fiction
 
Audiobook cover
Audiobook (unabridged)
Narrator: Mary Beth Hurt
Duration: 6 hours, 33 minutes
ISBN:  9780739330289
Release date: Oct 31, 2006

Hardcover:
Pages: 249 
Publisher: Houghton Miffline Company (December 1, 1958) 
ISBN-13: 978-0395071144
Awards: Newbery Medal in 1959


Sunday, January 29, 2012

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

loopyker's #CBR4 Review #03: Circle of Magic Series by Tamora Pierce


I listened to all four audiobooks in this series in rapid succession right before signing up for CBR4, so I will treat them as one review since I can't really separate them completely in my memory now.

The Circle of Magic series begins with Sandry's Book, with the individual stories of four lonely, outsider children. Each is from a very different background (noble, merchant, trader and thief) and has either been abandoned or orphaned in some way. Each is found by a kind man, and taken to a private school of sorts. There each finds their way to a teacher and mentor who turns out to be a mage in a special kind of magic - a different kind than is well-known in this world. Given the title of the series and hints along the way, it is no surprise to anyone except the children's characters that each posses their own rare kind of magic (weaving, weather, metal and plant).

As you can tell by the book titles, each of the four books, is from the point of view of one of the children (3 girls and 1 boy), but all four are still main characters in each book. The first book, Sandry's Book is rather slow to get started as it introduces all the characters and locations and really is more about setting up the rest of the series. The four children are getting to know each other and figuring out their new lives. There is finally some real action with the group of four at the end which ends up binding them in a way that is important for the rest of the series. Together they form a completely unique magic which keeps changing and surprising them in the later books.

Surprisingly, since I read a lot of young adult fantasy, this was the first Tamora Pierce book I've read! I was a good, average, juvenile-young adult fantasy book that interested me enough to continue to the next in the series, Tris's Book.

Tris's Book begins soon after Sandry's Book ends. The children are now bonded both my magic and by growing friendship. They are learning more about their abilities and how to control their magic, but still have a long way to go. However, there is a pirate attack on the way, before they are prepared. These are not the “nice” pirates of some stories, but the ruthless kind.

For me, Tris's Book was the weak one in the series. I found it predictable and emotionally flat. It also depended more than I liked on the cliche of children not listening to what they are told to do and getting into trouble when they should have known better. However, by then I was invested enough in the characters to want to continue to the third book, and I'm glad that I did.
 
Daja's Book, is the third in the series. By now the children are very good friends and are taking their magic for granted at times, while they still have things to learn and discover about it. Daja is from the most unique culture, with a different sense of honour and duty that we come to better understand through this book. An accident with her metal magic produces something that interested my artistic sense and I enjoyed that unexpected aspect of her blacksmithing talent.

In Daja's Book, the children also learn more about the serious consequences and responsibilities of magic, for themselves and for other mages as they travel with their teachers. Through this they start to show more maturity. Fire and drought provide the scene for more physical adventures that are more compelling than the previous book, so I happily proceeded to the fourth book.

Book four is, Briar's Book - Briar being the only boy in the group of four. Despite being the boy, he is one of the more sensitive of the group, but hides it well in a non-wimpy way. As a gardener myself, I enjoyed his work with plants throughout the series. This books gives us a much more emotional view into Briar's past and current life.

The children have now learned and matured enough to be doing some work on their own, but are still connected through their magical bond and friendships. In contrast to the physical adventures of the previous book, Briar's Book, deals more with the internal fears of illness, separation and death within their current lives which also brings up past trauma for those who had lost friends and family before.

I enjoyed this book the most out of the series because of this emotional component and maturity. However, it wouldn't have near as much impact as a stand-alone book and I would still recommend reading the series in order to watch the characters grow and develop.

Overall, I enjoyed the series and the characters. The overall message of tolerance and respect for other cultures and non-stereotyping of genders was not presented in the gimmicky way that has bothered me in other books before. Anyone who has felt like an outsider can probably relate to at least one of the children, if not more.

I enjoyed the quality of this series as audiobooks, read by Tamora Pierce and a full cast of voice actors. I will definitely be looking for more audiobooks published by Full Cast Audio, which also specializes in family-friendly books. This series is recommended for ages 10 and up. I look forward to reading the sequel series, Circle of Magic: The Circle Opens and Tamora Piece's many other books in the future. 

Circle of Magic Series
Author:  Tamora Pierce
Read by: Tamora Pierce and Full Cast
Publisher: Full Cast Audio
Audiobook: Unabridged

 
Circle of Magic Series, Book 1
Duration: 5 hours, 49 minutes
ISBN:  9781932076691
Release date:   Nov 02, 2002

Circle of Magic Series, Book 2
Duration:  5 hours, 37 minutes
ISBN:  9781932076783
Release date:  Dec 31, 2003

Circle of Magic Series, Book 3
Duration:  5 hours, 25 minutes
ISBN:  9781932076790
Release date:   Dec 31, 2003

Briar'sBook (UK title The Healing in the Vine )
Circle of Magic Series, Book 4
Duration:  6 hours, 32 minutes
ISBN:  9781932076813
Release date:   Jun 01, 2004
 

Monday, January 16, 2012

Book Related Links

Just some book-related links I've looked at recently.

US World Book Night

"We need 50,000 book-loving volunteers to fan out across America on April 23, 2012! Just take 20 free copies of a book to a location in your community, and you just might change someone's life. 

The goal is to give books to new readers, to encourage reading, to share your passion for a great book. The entire publishing, bookstore, library, author, printing, and paper community is behind this effort with donated services and time. And with a million free World Book Night paperbacks!"

The US sign-up date is by Feb. 1.  There are also UK and Ireland sites.


Author Name Pronunciation Guide

Here author's say their name, sometimes with stories about their naming or meaning of the names too.


10 Impressive People Who Educated Themselves With Only a Library Card

Granted it's a little harder to get somewhere these days without a piece of paper showing your education, but it certainly gives you something to think about!

loopyker's #CBR4 Review #02: Dewey the Library Cat: A True Story by Vicki Myron and Bret Witter




This review is for the audiobook only. When looking for “Dewey” books it can be a little confusing, so to clarify - this is the juvenile adaptation (grades 3 and up) of the original adult version, Dewey: The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World. There are also international versions simply called Dewey by other publishers. In addition to those, there are illustrated children's books Dewey: There's a Cat in the Library! and Dewey's Christmas at the Library for the kindergarten to grade 2 children. All, of these are about the same cat, Dewey Readmore Books, who brought joy to many people of all ages.
Dewey the Library Cat begins with the discovery of a sad, frozen, little grey kitten in the book return box of a small-town public library. After being brought back from near-death with a warm bath, it was discovered he was actually a sad, frost-bitten, little orange kitten. The librarian, Vicki Myron, who found him bonded instantly with the little guy and, with the approval of the City, he became the official “library cat” and lived in the library, except for when it was closed for holidays.
The book has many sweet stories of how Dewey impacted the lives of many of the staff and patrons of the library. It takes a special cat to have the personality to welcome so many different people! Many accounts tell how he did this while entertaining and comforting many people during his 19 years of life at the library, leading to world-wide fame. A satisfying, heartwarming book for those who enjoy cats and/or animal-human bonding stories. It just makes it better that it is also a true story.
As an audiobook listener, I missed out on the photographs, but there are photos and videos available on the Dewey web site and the Spencer Public Library. The narrator, Laura Hamilton, sounds like she would be right at home in a library reading this to juvenile aged children, but not so much that adults can't enjoy this audio version too.
My only little problem with the book, even as a cat-lover who constantly talks to her own cat, is that the anthropomorphism of Dewey's motivations and actions by Vicki can be a bit much to take at times, but they weren't enough to take too much away from the book. And, just a warning if you are getting this for a tenderhearted young person, Vicki does describe how Dewey gets ill in his old age and is put to sleep. A very emotional part of the book for readers of any age.
Overall, I enjoyed the audiobook and Dewey for a light and entertaining read. I listened to much of it with my own cat sleeping on my lap. It left me wanting to know more about Dewey, and from all of the information I see up on the web site, I'm guessing that many others had the same response. I've already added the next book to my list for future listening.

You can find more about Dewey, Dewey products and the newer book, Dewey's Nine Lives at the Dewey website. There is also a the Facebook Page, Dewey .

Author: Vicki Myron with Bret Witter
Narrator: Laura Hamilton
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Duration: 4 hours, 13 minutes (unabridged)
ISBN: 9781441885517
Release date: Oct 12, 2010

Hardcover: 224 pages
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers; 1 edition (May 3, 2010)
ISBN-10: 0316068713



Monday, January 02, 2012

loopyker's #CBR4 Review #01: Audition: A Memoir by Barbara Walters

My very first book review ever!  This review refers to the *unabridged* audiobook version of Audition: A Memoir narrated by Bernadette Dunne.  There is another audiobook available - an abridged version, read by Barbara Walters herself, which I have not listened to.

I really knew nothing about Barbara Walters' personal life and hadn't thought too seriously about her work, besides irregular watching of 20/20, her interview specials (Oscar Night Specials and 10 Most Fascinating People) and even less often, The View.  But, I've paid enough attention to know that she is a well-respected broadcast journalist who has interviewed, not only celebrities, but many important political personalities as well, so I was interested to learn more about her life and personal feelings about the people she interviewed.  I wasn't disappointed.

This was one of the longest audiobooks I've listened to at 26 hours and 46minutes  (624 pages in the print version), but it kept me interested much more than I expected.  Bernadette Dune does a wonderful narration job, sounding similar enough to Barbara in maturity to have the same feel, while leaving out the quirks of Barbara's voice and speaking style which I think I would have tired of well before the end.   Bernadette is also a talented voice actor for reading the quotes from a variety of different well-known people from Barbara's personal and professional life.

Barbara begins by introducing her mentally challenged, older sister Jackie - a subject she has been very private about before.  This sets the tone of the personal aspects of the book with Barbara looking at her family-life from her earliest memories forward with the maturity of hindsight and the courage to reveal her own faults and, at times, selfishness.  I found the the stories of her father's great successes and failures and the toll on the family interesting and revealing.  And to me, the details of Barbara's marriages, other relationships with men and the challenges of motherhood vs. career, made her seem more human than her TV persona. 

Since Barbara's career was already well-established during my childhood, I hadn't thought much about a woman's difficulties in entering a broadcasting career.  I found the stories about her struggles to get taken seriously professionally, for herself and for women in general, to be enlightening.  It was a big deal for a woman to finally be recognized as a "co-host" and not just a decoration beside the male host.  Women today often forget that it really wasn't all that long ago when things were so different.

Audition then touches on details of many of the interviews that had the biggest impact for Barbara, personally or professionally.  For myself, I found this interesting even though most of the political figures were before my time (or age for me to have have noticed).  One problem, for me at least, with an audiobook - it can get a little confusing hearing foreign names in different sections and remembering exactly who is who.  Apparently, the print version of Audition has a comprehensive Index and list of interviewees to help interested people follow this better.

As we follow Barbara's career through 20/20 and The View we can see how the American audience moves more and more towards celebrity culture and gossip at the cost of political awareness.  This is then the ultimate reason that Barbara gives for deciding when it was the right time to leave 20/20.  (Another problem with doing reviews from library editions of audiobooks, is that I can't find the quote I really wanted for this since I no longer have access to it - but, IIRC, she had a scheduling conflict between a President and a reality TV star - the producers chose for her to interview the reality TV star.  I found this telling.)

Overall, Audition was one of the few books where I found myself wanting to discuss it with others afterwards.  I think a big part of why I found it compelling was that I really had no expectations of who Barbara was as a "real" person.   If you are expecting Barbara's book to be a shining example of professionalism and virtue, you are going to be sadly disappointed in her.  She is human and she has faults, but I think Audition gives you a real feel for her motivations, whether you agree with her choices or not.  She is not always the best writer, but she has lived an interesting life and met a lot of interesting people and is not afraid to give her thoughts and opinions on much of it in this book. 


Audition: A Memoir by Barbara Walters
Unabridged Audiobook narrated by Bernadette Dunne.  (not to be confused with the abridged version read by Barbara Walters)

Duration:  26 hours, 46 minutes
Publisher:  Books on Tape (a division of Random House Inc.)
ISBN:  9781415943687
Release date:  May 20, 2008
Category:  Nonfiction, Autobiography