Thursday, December 31, 2015

2015 Wrap-up and Some Mini Reviews

Again, I fell short of my Cannonball Read 7 goal, but am happy that I at least made it to double digits with 10 proper reviews in 2015.  I've signed up for only 13 for 2016, so even with planning a wedding, I may get there.

Looking back at my book list for 2015:

My favourites of 2015:

The Martian by Andy Weir, closely followed by The Dark is Rising Sequence by Susan Cooper.  I just finished that, so I will do reviews for those books as my first of 2016.
The Martian cover
I have now also seen The Martian movie, which I enjoyed.  As expected, they had to leave some parts out, but it kept the feeling of the book.  I enjoyed both, but, unsurprisingly, I recommend reading the book first.

My worst of 2015:

The Mortal Instruments Series by Cassandra Clare.  There was a lot of excited buzz about the first books when they came out.  I didn't pay much attention and just put them on my wish list.  I really regret not having paid more attention.

I have a lot of artist friends and I think maybe some of them liked that art plays a significant role in the beginning.  There were moments of cleverness, so I could see potential and hoped things would get better as it went on.  No, it got worse.  The characters didn't develop, and instead seem to get even more flat and repetitive. I wanted to yell at them for being so stupid a lot of the time.  I don't think they learned one thing through all of their many life and death experiences, except perhaps Simon at times. 

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

loopyker's #CBR7 Review #10: Belzhar by Meg Wolitzer

I can't remember how this book got on my wish list.  I haven't read anything else by Meg Wolitzer.  I generally stay with young adult books and she is more known for her adult books than this YA one.

Belzhar audiobook cover
In any case, I put Belzhar on my list at some point and it became available recently.  I had no idea what to expect, but was quickly drawn into a world of troubled teens.   The story is told from perspective of a high school student named Jam.  After the loss of her boyfriend, she has trouble coping and is sent to a boarding school in rural Vermont called The Wooden Barn.  Here she is placed in a class called "Special Topics in English", with a handful of kids, who are each dealing with their own post-traumatic issues.

Nobody knows what the class is or how people get into it.  They only study the life and work of one author for the year and this year it is Sylvia Plath.  I haven't read any Plath myself to comment on the interpretations of her work and the influence on the students.  But with her history of mental health issues, it seemed plausible that the students could relate to her.

As the students reluctantly start their homework, they being to discover something special about the journals they have been given to write in and the class itself.  Could the journals really be magical?  Or is there something even more wrong with themselves than they thought?

loopyker's #CBR7 Review #09: World's Greatest Sleuth! by Steve Hockensmith

I first discovered Steve Hockensmith in my library with his Pride and Prejudice and Zombies books.  While I am a big fan of the original Pride and Prejudice, I thoroughly enjoyed Hockensmith's addition of the zombies and his humour, so looked for more of his books.

World's Greatest Sleuth! audiobook coverHappily, my library has the Holmes on the Range mystery series as audiobooks, and I listened to the first four in quick succession.  By the last one, The Crack in the Lens, it was getting a little repetitive and I didn't enjoy it as much, but still hoped there would be more.  And recently I discovered my library has added the 5th audiobook, World's Greatest Sleuth!

Brothers, Gustav (Old Red) and Otto (Big Red)  Amlingmeyer are the stars of this series.  American cowboys in the 1890s. The older one, Gustav, is reserved and illiterate, but is fascinated by Sherlock Holmes' skill at detecting after his brother reads him the stories.  They, somewhat understandably, believe the stories are about a real detective.  Gustav has his own skill at detective work and with the help of his brother, they solve several mysteries, becoming their own unlikely version of Sherlock and Watson.

loopyker's #CBR7 Review #08: The Princess Bride by William Goldman

The Princess Bride audiobook cover
"IF YOU ENJOYED THE MOVIE, YOU'LL CERTAINLY ENJOY LISTENING TO ROB REINER, THE MOVIE'S DIRECTOR, READ THE BOOK."  was what the online library listing promised me.  They even shouted it.  They couldn't have been more wrong.

I would like to be really clear about this.  I don't want to get yelled at.  This is a review for the audiobook.  Very different from the movie.  I love the movie.  It became an instant favourite when I saw it over 20 years ago.  I've enjoyed it many times since.

I also read the book many years ago.  It was disappointing.  Some of my favourite lines from the movie are not in the book. But, there is more back-story detail added which can be entertaining.  If there wasn't the comparison, I would probably have thought it was a good book.  But, I would wonder what the big deal was with the fans of the movie, if I went only by that.

So, with this in mind, I already had lower expectations for the audiobook.  But Rob Reiner directed this popular movie.  Surely he must know how to read it well.  No, no he does not.  Which is ironic.  The story starts as someone reading the book to a sick boy.  Peter Falk does this well in the movie.

In the movie the boy rolls his eyes at the idea of being read a fairy-tale type book.  But, as fans of the movie know, even though on the surface it has romance and a princess (to-be) and a prince, this is a story for any age and any gender.  There are heroic challenges and fights, good versus evil and "true-love" with a little magic thrown in and mostly, with a lot of humour for both young and old.  It is just a lot of fun.

However, you would not know it by the way Rob Reiner reads it.  He rushes through much of it like he has something else to do and just wants to get this over with fast.    It is so rushed it can be hard to follow even who is talking without the appropriate pauses or even subtle voice differences.

A huge disappointment.  This is one of the few times where, without a doubt, I recommend the movie over the book.  And with even less reservations, I recommend both over the audiobook.  Don't bother with the audiobook.  Anyone who just listens to that will miss what the fans like in the others.

1 star for the audiobook
3 stars for the book
5 stars for the movie


Title: The Princess Bride (audiobook)
Author: William Goldman
Narrator: Rob Reiner  (movie's director)
Publisher: Phoenix Books, Inc. (Feb 06, 2007)
Duration: 2 hours, 32 minutes

Other formats: paperback/Kindle ebook
Print Length: 480 pages
Publisher: Mariner Books; Reprint edition (October 8, 2007)
(original published by Harcourt Brace Jovanovich (USA) 1973)
ISBN-10: 0156035154
ISBN-13: 978-0156035156
Kindle ASIN: B003IEJZRY

Note: A lot of formats say "abridged".  This is part of the joke, that William Goldman says he is abridging another book.  It makes it confusing to know if there is a real abridged version of William Goldman's work.

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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.

loopyker's #CBR7 Review #07: Unsinkable: A Memoir by Silken Laumann

Many Canadians like myself remember Silken Laumann's amazing perseverance after a severe leg injury, to win a bronze medal only 10 weeks later at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona.  Even without the gold, she was one of the hero stories of the game, and certainly an important one for Canada.

One day, I happened across an interview to hear her talking about her memoir, Unsinkable.  She sounded quite passionate and open about her life, so I looked forward to reading it. After a long wait on my library's list, I was expecting something like a Canadian version of Kevin Sorbo's book True Strength, that I enjoyed reviewing in 2012.

But, maybe my expectations were just too high.  Many people give Silken's book top reviews, but it fell a little flat for me.  It had a lot of interesting parts to it.  But, I didn't connect with it much personally, like I did with True Strength.

I did find the behind-the-scenes glimpses of the rowing community, her injury and women's sport interesting, but not gossipy.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

loopyker's #CBR7 Review #06: Watermelon Summer by Anna Hess

I entered the generous Spring Fling 2015 book giveaway with no knowledge of any of the authors except, Selina Fenech from my previous review.  I was given many free ebooks from that and intend to read and write honest reviews on them all as a thank-you.   It is just taking more time than I had hoped.

Having no idea what to expect, I was very pleasantly surprised by Watermelon Summer.  It is just a nice, sweet book.  An easy, fun read.

18 year old Forsythia, decides she would rather know about her biological father's life and the intentional community where she was born than go on her planned trip to Europe before college.  It is a coming of age story where she decides what is really important in her life and  how to work hard for it.  But her idealism is also kept grounded by supportive family and friends.

Looking up author Anna Hess, you can tell that she draws on a lot of real-life experience in homesteading as her character Forsythia works to revitalize the intentional community.

Saying this book is "refreshing" seems to be cliché with a title like "Watermelon Summer".  And I do see it a lot in a glance at other reviews.  But, that is really the word I also jotted down when reading the book.  Especially refreshing to me was that there is a romance in the book, but it isn't rushed.  It isn't the over-the-top-all-consuming eternal love that seems to be so popular in young adult fiction these days.

This is a story about a girl wanting to get to know more about her roots, not because there is anything wrong with her current life - she just wants to know more about where she was born and what her biological father is like.  That she also meets a really nice guy along the way is just a bonus.  

It is written in first person with Forsythia telling us about her summer.  It worked well, with conversational humour thrown in.

3.5 stars

Note:  I'm not sure about the author.  I originally won Watermelon Summer as an ebook in the Spring Fling giveaway.   That was in Kindle format and listed the authors as "Aimee Easterling & Anna Hess".  However, the current listing on Amazon is only as a paperback and it is by Anna Hess alone, so that is what I'm listing it as here.

Title: Watermelon Summer
Author: Anna Hess (see Note above)
Paperback:  174 pages
Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform; First edition (December 6, 2013)
ISBN-10: 1494405806
ISBN-13: 978-1494405809


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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.

loopyker's #CBR7 Review #05: Memory's Wake by Selina Fenech

Memory's Wake audiobook cover
Who would you be if you couldn't remember who you were?

Memory is a teenager who awakens in a land of magic with no idea who or where she is.  She is quickly discovered by another girl, Eloryn and together they flee some chasing men who have a dragon at their command.  The action in this story starts right away and keeps going.  The two find friends and more enemies along the way as they try to figure out who Memory is, while Eloryn works to save her country from an evil King.

As a long-time fan of Selina Fenech's artwork, I bought her first novel, Memory's Wake, when it first came out and was later gifted the audiobook to write a review after having read the full trilogy.

This is a good, solid first book.  It has somewhat of a Terry Brooks - Magic Kingdom feel to it somehow and compares favourably.  Having said that, I think after reading the other books in the trilogy and her Emotionally Charged book, I think this is the weakest.


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)

10) Memory's Wake by Selina Fenech (audiobook)

11) World's Greatest Sleuth!: A Holmes on the Range Mystery by Steve Hockensmith (audiobook)

12) Belzhar by Meg Wolitzer (audiobook)

Other books I read this past year:

Sky Dragons by Anne McCaffrey & Todd McCaffrey
I'll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson
Neil Patrick Harris by Neil Patrick Harris (audiobook)
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
The Mortal Instruments Series - Books 1-somewhere around the beginning of 5 by Cassandra Clare
The Dark is Rising Sequence - Books 1-5 by Susan Cooper

I will do a mini-review for some of the ones that didn't get proper reviews for my last post of 2015.