Tag Archives: blogging

Books: Love and Cola Wars (*****) [YA]

Firstly, and as usual, I received this book free from the author directly for the purposes of review. Despite that kindness I give my usual candid and sometimes acerbic opinions below.

To begin, this is a young adult novel so my criteria for judgement are different than I would tend to apply to an adult novel. The first question to be answered is whether this book contains anything inappropriate for the target audience. On this account, the book is acceptable. There is some mild reference to sex but the characters respond in a realistic and appropriate manner when the topic arises. There’s little of a violent nature and no use of drugs though there is reference to alcohol and attempts to gain such before legal age. There is also a fair amount of sneaking about and lying to adults but this is far from unusual in any book featuring children.

The second question is whether or not there’s anything positive in this book that I would want my kids to read. On the surface this is a modernized Romeo and Juliet with all the usual trappings of young love and obsession. Taken completely at face value the whole thing is rather inane and vapid but there’s a strong undercurrent that’s worth paying attention to. Avoiding spoilers, in this fictional world everything is sponsored from Coke and Pepsi High School to Microsoft University and these affiliations divide the world in a very strict manner. These rigid commercial castes, if you will, are a potent illustration of our own society’s stratified structure. I have no idea if any of this was intentional on the part of the author but I was struck by the way this sociological lesson was presented in a vivid and relateable manner.

The last question I ask is whether the young reader will be entertained. I would have to say that’s a strong possibility among teenage girls. This is an upbeat view of the life of a teenager in love from the inside that’s just modern enough that the readers might see themselves in the main character. I do have my concerns about whether the theme of corporate sponsorship will make these readers turn away since it does at times come across as almost silly, but it’s worth a shot.

In summary, an intriguing little story that at first aroused my strong suspicions but turned out to be more than I expected. Or, at the least, I saw more in it than I expected to. Light, fun and entertaining with a thread of a lesson if you seek it out.

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So I’m pretty much AmaZoned Out

Amazon_2014_03I have to admit that I’ve always been a man driven by obsessions. For half a decade or more I ran a baseball card business that turned no discernible profit yet consumed all my free time. I’ve had jobs that consumed my life and people that consumed my life and hobbies that consumed my life and blogs that consumed my life and through all of it I was deliciously and completely enraptured by the idea of just being busy. Busy with something. Busy writing blogs that nobody read or selling crap on eBay or amassing a ludicrously large collection of rocks. It was always something and I was always busy and the busy seemed to be the primary goal and whatever the other was completely … not primary. It just was.

For the past year or more my ‘busy’ has been Amazon reviews. I reviewed every blasted thing I could get my hands on clawing my way from being ranked 16,000,000 to now ranked #279. That’s a lot of clawing. I feel pretty accomplished when you consider that I did it without being part of the “Amazon Vine” program in which Amazon sends you free stuff to review before anyone else can even have a chance. Those people permeate the stratosphere of review rankings and I’m just a visitor in their lofty realm. For months I busted my ass to get here and now that I’m here the only thing I can really say is, “Why?”

Yes, there are perks, of course. I have more free books sent to me by authors than I can possibly read. Tomorrow I’m going to drag a large box of electronic gadgets in to work for my co-workers to provide feedback on. Yes, there’s lots of free stuff but when you consider the hours it took to cultivate this ranking it works out to earning about $0.27 an hour and most of that is paid in books that are sub-par and electronic gadgets that I don’t really have any use for. Luckily the people at work do sometimes but they’d never have bought them on purpose. I’ve spent all my free time, once again, on vacuous and pointless garbage.

What I regret most is how this whole thing has changed my relationship with books. When I was a wee lad I read in order to escape from my life. In 6th grade I was required to do 10 book reports in a year; I turned in 150. As an adult I became the guy who took notes on every book he read and figured out how he could work ‘pulchritude’ into his daily speech. I was a studious reader who used books for self-improvement. Now, after months of being a slave to the grind of Amazon reviews, I find myself read-skimming just enough to write an informed response. After I’ve produced the required output I find that I remember no more about the book than I could have easily discerned from the dust jacket. I’ve gone from savoring literature to pounding it down my throat like candy on Halloween night.

Luckily for my sanity I feel that my obsession has played itself out. I’m ready for a new something or other. Let’s face it, it’s far too much a part of my personality to claim that I’ll do without one. Obsessing is who I am. The real question is whether I’ll find something that actually means something or that adds to the world in any meaningful way. Telling Amazon customers that a particular book will scare the crap out of their children is marginally helpful to the world but has a decidedly limited impact. There are so many choices… The spring approaches, perhaps it’s time to go utterly crazy on the photography side of things again. Or maybe go back to DuoLingo…. or maybe go back to blogging regularly and promulgate the joyful randomness of all the crap I learn in a day.

There are just so many choices and the only issue is that none of the choices seem to matter. In the end, what can I possibly do with my copious first-world free time that will make any difference at all and will also keep me vaguely entertained and properly obsessed? Because trust me…. I’m a powder keg of energy just waiting for the fuse to be lit….

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So were you enjoying my random reviews…? If so….

You may have noticed that over the past decade or so this blog has become a hopeless hodgepodge. Sometimes I write about my crazy family, sometimes I write about some bizarre science thing, sometimes I write about some review of a product that I’ve done. If you have followed this blog and actually paid attention then I applaud you because I’m not sure that I could have. It’s unmitigated insanity in here. So if you’ve fallen asleep then I don’t blame you one iota.

In an attempt to make sense of all this randomness I’ve started yet ANOTHER blog. Yes, I know, this is… #4? At least. But this one… I swear by my mother’s pantaloons… this one will be focused. It’s going to contain all my product reviews and release announcements so if you were following me because of that then you should go over there. Before I give you the link I should give you a bit of background.

Increasingly, the world of online reviews has become a sham. I know this because I’ve seen it first hand. I’ve seen the fake reviews pouring in around my own and I’ve seen my own reviews repressed because they didn’t happen to be what the author wanted to see. The point of my reviews has always been around the idea that there’s a positive and a negative to every product we buy and somebody needs to stand up and bloody well point them out. I don’t have anything to sell and I never will. I don’t have anything to gain. But I do have an opinion on everything and my new blog will be the outgassing of all that pent up criticism. So without further ado…

Scrupulous Reviews

How’s that for total lack of fanfare? Anyway, if you were here for reviews, go there. If you were here to hear about my mother’s pantaloons then stay here. Or go there and stay here. I don’t care. Really it’s your call.

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Short Stories: Weep for Day – Indrapramit Das

Perpetual Sunset

This very brief tale is set on a planet that’s gravitationally locked so that the same side faces the light all the time. This is an intriguing thought since it means that the sun is stationary in the sky as long as you don’t travel and some portion of the planet is bathed in perpetual darkness and hasn’t seen the light of day in millions of years. All the really prime real estate, of course, is on the edges where it’s neither too hot nor too cold and the sun is perpetually in the act of setting (or rising, depending on how you chose to look at it).

The author makes delightful use of this when assigning names to geographical locales. The City-of-Long-Shadows, unsurprisingly, rests on the edge of night and day while the dark, mysterious and eponymous Weep-For-Day resides in an area so devoid of sunlight that no amount of lachrymosity will bring back the sun. These murky depths are the home of the shadowy, ebony creatures known simply as: Nightmares.

Risking spoilers, I’d say the real point of the author’s story is an old one in science fiction. The Nightmare creatures represent a fearful unknown. They reside, risking a cliche, in The Undiscovered Country and as humanity is wont to do, we fill in the mysterious with the most dreadful reality that we can imagine. As the story’s 13 pages wear on, we find that the Nightmare beasts aren’t nearly so unknown and therefore aren’t nearly so scary. In fact from some viewpoints it might just be those who sun themselves in the unending light of day that are more to be feared than the murksome denizens of the black pit of night.

You can read the teaser for this on the Asimov website or do as I did and just go buy the 30th Anniversary collection of the year’s best SciFi.

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Peanuts Every Sunday: 1952-1955 (Peanuts Every Sunday)

Click the cover to view the review on Amazon and vote it helpful if you find it so!

If you’re here then I don’t need to tell you about the content of this particular book because you’re probably already a fan. This is some of the very earliest work in the series and for more casual readers these may not seem like the Peanuts they grew up with in later decades. Despite that difference these are true classics that belong in any collection.

Since I don’t need to tell you about the content, I will go on at some length instead about the quality of the publication itself. Firstly, be careful reading other reviews on this title as they refer to much older editions. If you buy the book from Amazon today you’ll get a huge coffee-table book with startlingly crisp printing and vibrant graphics. This book is what I had hoped for from the ‘Complete Peanuts’ series and is just about everything you could ask for in a reprint series.

The only negative I’ll bring up is that it’s almost too nice to actually read. The paper is thick stock; the dust jacket is pristine; it’s a durable hardcover. It’s like having a new car that you park far from the front of the lot so nobody parks near you. I feel guilty sitting down to actually read it for fear that I’ll get something on it or some simple mischance will mar its perfection. If you have no such compunctions then you’ll be fine.

In summary, this is the book you want and makes a breathtaking gift for any fan of the comic. I live in fear that the binding may give out after years of reading but if a few pages make their way lose then they’d all be suitable for framing. It’s just THAT high quality.

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These Week(s) in Review…

There’s no denying that I’ve been massively remiss in posting as of late.  Perhaps it’s better if I post things as they come up rather than trying to wait for the end of the week which will inevitably become several weeks.  Anyway, click on the book covers to view the full review.

 

Firstly, and as usual, it must be noted that I didn’t buy this book. Instead, it came to me for free as the result of a Shelf Awareness giveaway. Despite that kind consideration, I give my candid opinions in this review. Also, it should be noted that I’m not a Christian so it may seem a bit odd for me to be reviewing Christian literature. Nonetheless, I’ll review this book based on its literary merits and ignore any philosophical differences I may have with the genre.

On the positive side, the book is very competently executed and it’s set in a period of history that’s always amusing and vastly underutilized in literature. Pittman gives us a colorful and alluring rendering of the era and some fairly interesting characters.

To the negative, the Christian aspects of the novel seem to be an affectation and are poorly integrated. It’s almost as if the author recognized that no mention of religion has been made in X number of pages and therefore has the characters suddenly decide to pray. I have great respect for literature in which the characters make Christian choices and live Christian lives but Pittman’s novel seems to include prayerful interludes just for the sake of staying in the Christian genre. Lastly, the cover art appears to be a fairly horrifying photoshop job. Others in my family saw the cover sitting on the shelf and stated rather quizzically, “Doesn’t really look like your sort of book…?” without even cracking the cover.

In summary, this would make an interesting novel if it would only make up its mind what it wanted to be.

 

On the positive side, the author has chosen a great theme. He takes on childhood illness from the viewpoint of the patient and this always makes for a powerful and evocative story. We all too often fail to realize the weight of such circumstances on the afflicted especially when they’re so young.

Sadly, the negative side of this book far overshadows anything positive I could possibly say about it. The editing is atrocious; the text is filled with typographical and grammatical errors. The dialog is stiff and robotic and the vivid descriptions of the sick child are interlaced with this bizarre science fiction sub-plot akin to “Osmosis Jones” or “Fantastic Voyage”. I’m agog that the author would take the book in such a direction. What could have been a heart-rending portrayal of a dire situation is turned into a literary laughing-stock.

In summary, this book is just not worth the time. Generally, I never give out less than three stars unless the book is unreadable or socially irresponsible. This book is as close to unreadable as I’ve seen in quite a while. I hung on to it tenaciously for a long time in hopes it would have great soul but it turned out to be a train wreck. I like the idea but the execution was completely lacking.

 

Firstly, it should be noted that I religiously avoid reading the back jackets of books, so going into this one I had only the cover and the subtitle “A ghost story” to go on. Because of that I spent a fair amount of time looking for the literal ghost only to find that the ghosts that haunt William Bellman are of a completely different sort than one generally expects from children’s literature.

On the positive side of things, this book is a deliciously subtle story of one man’s haunted life. Setterfield weaves her story and her characters together with a sagacious and haunting assiduousness that pulls the reader gently along from one short chapter to the next. This is an acutely wrought novel with a tenacious grip on realism while still washing the entire scene in an afterglow of the supernatural. I’ve not read anything this well written in quite some time. Our author brings us a tale as unhurried and as natural as life itself.

The only real negative I can put forth is really more of a warning to potential readers. This is a great book but it’s likely not for everyone. For those accustomed to the pablum of easy modern literature, I suggest humbly that you look elsewhere. For those reading by the pool in the joyous light of day, perhaps your time is better spent between other pages. But if you find yourself in a darkened room listening to the rumble of far-away thunder, then this may be the book for just that setting. It is not a gripping thrill ride, but it does take you gently by the hand and pull you quietly into another world where the sky harbors a thousand watching eyes and time does not undo all wrongs nor heal all wrongs.

 

Since this is a children’s book it should be noted that I approach the review from a different viewpoint, focusing on appropriateness for young readers and general coherence and execution.

On the question of appropriateness for young readers, this book has done marvelously. In general I scowl at any children’s book that contains sexual or drug content and this novel contains neither problem. It does have some light violence but nothing that kids won’t have picked up from any mainstream cartoon. In the vein of profanity I don’t tend to judge harshly but this novel even avoids that problem and does so in a clever and entertaining way that’s consistent with the general story line. Dukes’ novel is as pure as the driven snow and somehow still remains very real and entertaining. It doesn’t SEEM sanitized but through some miracle of authorship it really is.

Stepping back and speaking more generally about the novel, the author has provided a brilliant and witty take on what is, I’m am sure, a standard daydream of every young person. Our protagonist has ultimate and unlimited freedom but what happens when suddenly he doesn’t? What tangled complications await in a world with no responsibility and limitless possibilities? In addition to its tendency to provoke deep contemplation, the writing style is witty and made even me, a perennial curmudgeon, laugh aloud in spots. The writer has found that intangible balance between teaching the reader something and entertaining them at the same time. Any teen will stumble upon a hoard of new words begging to be looked up in the dictionary and probably spare at least a few cycles for the complexities of causality and consequences of seemingly simple actions. That lesson is worth the price of admission.

In summary, this one was a rare treat. After a long recent string of losers, ‘Caught in a Moment’ is just the sort of book I’d want my own kids to read. Clean, erudite and with a moral or two hidden in spots for those who will only seek.

 

I’d put this book in the genre of concentric psychological horror. The main character is a published novelist and short-story writer and his stories appear as brief vignettes within the main body of the work. I assume that these stories are examples of Conlon’s own short story work. So this is a novel that is several stories embedded in a larger encapsulating (though mostly unrelated) narrative.

To the positive side, Conlon has an immaculate grasp of how to say just enough about a situation to get the reader’s attention and erect an air of tension in a situation. His imagery is vivid and surreal yet still retains an element of plausibility that is rare in any novel dealing primarily with the metaphysical. Conlon’s work reminds me strongly of Lovecraft in its deep yet inexplicable feeling of terror. The reader is on edge but can’t quite explain why that is so. One factor in which he deviates strongly from turn of the century horror though is his raw and unapologetic portrayals of sexuality. While I would not go so far as to call the results erotic, he is certainly not afraid to deal candidly and skillfully with the topic.

To the negative side, the novel as a whole did seem to lack the incisiveness of the individual sub-stories. As a reader I’m tempted to go back and re-read the stories within the story and ignore the more protracted narrative. In the vein of the larger narrative, it seemed to stumble a bit as it tried to explain the metaphysical aspects of a particular event in the story. I was severely jolted out of my reverie of enjoyment at the first mention of the words “soul catcher” and subsequent explanation. I will say no more for fear of spoilers but know simply there are a few rough spots that are easily enough ignored.

In summary, the novel demonstrates a great deal of artistry. The book is very much worth while though at times skimmable to cut down a bit on bulk. The stories-within-a-story are pure gems and if you read nothing else then take the time to read those. They are easily picked out as they are printed in a different font than the rest of the novel.

 

In a nutshell, this is the retelling of the King Author myth spanning from Author’s birth through his rise to the kingship. As Authurian legends go, this one tends towards the strictly realistic and pulls no punches about the state of the world at the time.

On the positive side, Hume’s writing is beyond reproach. I found myself constantly entertained at her use of appropriate and timely language which pulled me to my dictionary repeatedly and with unbridled glee. This is a book that educates while it entertains. Anything she chooses to write in the future will have my utmost attention. Here is a tale that is woven with intricacy and detail that is unrivaled.

On the negative side, and this is a negative side that is rather implied by my perceptions of the tastes of other readers, this is not a book that speeds along with any great rapidity. The book goes on for almost 500 pages and while I was entranced by the intricacies, I can imagine other readers finding themselves in the arms of a rather intransigent ennui. The book does move slowly but the arc that it traces is an epic one.

In summary, this is a book to approach in an unhurried and open-minded manner. It has much to teach you, not the least of which is vocabulary. It’s not a book for a single solitary rainy afternoon but instead one to be taken a few chapters at a time over the course of a week. It is a book to be pondered over and digested slowly. As epic tales go, this is a fresh and delightful retelling but don’t expect to swallow it in one go. Take the time to savor and learn from what it has to tell you. I look forward to the subsequent volumes. This is a book for the thinkers among us.

 

I’m exceptionally late to the party on this book so I won’t attempt the usual Positives/Negatives bit as I usually do. This book was a real perplexity for me. I spent the majority of the text trying to figure out if the central figure of “Life” (as described in the back-cover description) was an actual physical person or a metaphor for human existence. Unfortunately, even after 486 pages I still don’t really know for sure.

This book has a property that I’ve not found in a title for quite some time. I consider myself a fairly attentive and avid reader but it’s seldom that a book makes me late to work and then late to bed and generally takes over my life. For the few days it took to finish it I did little else but read this book and find ways to compress my other daily duties to accommodate more time for it. I learned during this period just the perfect way to balance a bowl of morning cereal while reading. The only problem with all this is that I’m not actually entirely sure why it was such a fascinating book.

At least in part the ambiguity of one of the main characters has a role to play in this miniature obsession. I love nothing more than a good mystery to be unraveled and even now I’m left rather unsatisfied and confused on this topic. It’s also, perhaps, because I can relate to the main character. She shuts herself off from others with lies and keeps the world at a distance. This resonates with me personally but my weapon of choice is humor and deflection. Books are often very personal and in many ways this one was a mirror. At times a terrifying mirror, but a mirror nonetheless.

In summary, I was utterly enthralled by this book. At least to some extent probably irrationally because I’ve failed to understand the concept of “Life Audits” that may be commonplace in Ireland, but still the fact remains that this book really roped me in. It’s probably a good thing I’m not trying to come up with positive/negative analysis because I’d be hard pressed to criticize a book that consumed my entire life rather joyfully for two solid days.

 

In a nutshell, this is one of the most powerful books I’ve read in half a century on the planet. Walls’ story of her childhood is not only easy for me to relate to but it also makes me just downright angry. Her parents reeked of an abominable failure to be responsible and look out for their own children that just shakes me to my very core. While this is 300 pages of small type this is just the sort of book you could inhale at one passionate gulp sitting outside on a summers say. If you start reading you’ll be lucky to escape before the last page.

Generally, I try to balance my reviews by describing both the positive and the negative of a novel but in this case I’m hard pressed. “The Glass Castle” could easily be described as a modern classic as it sums up with great vividness an all too common situation in the half-century. The free-thinking hippies cum parents who completely failed to give a damn about their own children are all too prolific and Walls describes her own beautifully. My only realistic negative results from the ending which seems clipped and far too succinct. I suppose in this format there’s little choice in the matter but I could have anticipated another 300 pages or complete omission of the end.

In summary, this is by far the best memoir I have read in recent recollection. The author’s view is candid and heartfelt but does not commit the sin of meandering into self-pity like many would in this situation. This title is a best seller with a heart and soul and a pointed comment to any parent who fails to recognize the needs of their own child. I cannot recommend this one enough.

And so ends the weeks that were. As always, click any of the book covers to visit the reviews in question and feel free to vote them ‘helpful’ if you find them so once you get there.

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The Week in Reviews

I’ve been remiss in my posting duties for a while but not in my reviewing duties. As always you can just follow me here and not have the lag if you prefer.

Altered is the sequel to Gennifer Albin’s novel ‘Crewel’ in which she describes a world of technology run amok after an alternate World War II. This is a teen-lit novel so it’s an easy read and one of the few teen novels that I don’t rip to shreds for being thematically inappropriate. As always, click on the image for my more complete review.

Like Altered, ‘Relic’ is teen post-apocalypse literature. This time the polar caps have melted and the remnants of humanity are trapped on an island in the Arctic. This too is teen literature that I’m not afraid to give to a child. It was a good week in that regard.

Lastly in the realm of books I’m late to the party on ‘Wonder’. This is certainly a very simple and breezy read but it’s got a good message to convey. It’s been out long enough though that it’s likely I’m nearly the last person to read it. It’s become pretty standard reading in a lot of middle school curricula.

Finally, I have something outside the realm of books but still of interest to the wordy crowd who likes to read. As any of my readers know I get a lot of stuff free on my doorstep but this one you can download for free yourself. It’s a rebus-based word game for the Kindle and Google play. It’s downloadable to try for free at the moment and though it lacks a bit in polish it will offer hours of entertainment. Throw it up on the TV for a family game. The author would appreciate honest reviews so don’t hesitate to leave him one and tell him that the Tattered Thread sent you. As always, click the image to access my full review and get a copy of your own.

Alright, that’s the random stuff that’s rumbled through my life since last I wrote.  See you next time!

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