Saturday, January 14, 2012

Non-Fiction Reviews: Louisa May Alcott & We Bought A Zoo

Posted by Simcha 5:01 PM, under | 5 comments

Louisa May Alcott
by Susan Cheever 
read by Tavia Gilbert

When I was a kid my mother took me to visit the Alcott home in Concord, Massachusetts, and I still remember the thrill of being in the very same house that Louis May Alcott lived and wrote in. So it was a bit disappointing to discover, in the course of listening to this biography, that the house I had visited was not really Alcott's childhood home, or that the warm, close-knit family that I had imagine living there didn't really exist. But really, that was the only disappointment I experienced while listening to this fascinating biography of Louis May Alcott, in which I learned so much about the life of this well-loved author. For example, I never knew that Alcott was actually very resistant to the idea of writing Little Women, the book that made her famous. She had absolutely no interest in writing “ a book for girls” but after being pressured to do so by her father, who was promised his own book deal if his daughter provided the desired story, Louisa Capitulated. But Cheever suggests that Louisa got her revenge by leaving her father out of the book that raised her to stardom.

There are many other interesting tidbits in this book which are relayed in a way that left me feeling as if the author was a personal friend of Louisa's, and that I now knew her almost as well. I loved the insights in to her personality and the glimpses into her relationships with some of the other famous writers of the time, such as Nathaniel Hawthorne and Ralph Waldo Emerson.

I admit that this is the only biography of Alcott that I have ever “read” so I don't know how much of the information in it is common knowledge, but most of it was new to me, and given over in a fresh and compelling manner that had me listening to it whenever I had the chance.

Tavia Gilbert also does a wonderful job reading the audio version of this book and I intend to seek out more books narrated by her.


We Bought a Zoo
by Benjamin Mee
read by Gildart Jackson

I've always thought it would be a lot of fun to work at a zoo, feeding the tigers and elephants and playing with the meerkats. So when I saw this book, about a family in England that buys a zoo, I couldn't wait to read about all the adventures I imagined they must have had. I mean, what could be more exciting than owning your own zoo?

Unfortunately this book was far from exciting, with a lot of dry facts about the expenses and logistics involved in acquiring the zoo, much of which I had no interest in reading about. There were very few interesting anecdotes about the animals and pretty much no stories about the family's interactions with them. I thought it was particularly strange that Mee's kids are rarely mentioned and we only hear about his wife when she gets cancer. Mee's account of his wife's battle with cancer is the only time in the story where he shows any real emotion, though he doesn't talk at all about the affect on his young kids (who, again,we hear very little about). For the most part Mee remains distant and factual, making his story a hard one for me to get interested in.

I also had some trouble with narrator of the audio book whose reading felt a bit off to me. He often seemed to emphasis the wrong parts of a word or sentence and after a while his voice began to grate on me. I might assume it was just his British accent, which I'm unused to, but I've listened to other British narrators before, without any trouble. But while I wasn't particularly happy with this book's narrator I doubt the story would have been much improved if read by someone else, or in book form. Though if his kids ever decide to write about their experience living in a zoo, I would certainly be interested in reading that book.

Friday, January 13, 2012

SFF eBooks Deals from Amazon

Posted by Simcha 2:48 AM, under | 1 comment

The Tattered Scroll has a fantastic list of all the scifi and fantasy ebook bargains over at Amazon. For those of you that don't have a Kindle, you can still download and read these books using the Kindle app available on the Amazon website, which is what I intend to do.

I was particularly excited to see that Sasha, by Joel Shepherd, is currently free, because I've heard really good things about this book. And The Black Prism, by Brent Weeks, is one of my favorite fantasy reads of last year, so if you haven't read that one yet I highly recommend you take advantage of the $2.99 offer.

-The Innocent Mage by Karen Miller ($2.99)
-The Black Prism (Lightbringer) by Brent Weeks ($2.99)
-The Hedgewitch Queen by Lilith Saintcrow ($2.99)
-Red-Headed Stepchild (Sabina Kane) by Jaye Wells ($2.99)
-Leviathan Wakes (The Expanse) by James S.A. Corey ($2.99..included because this includes Daniel Abraham's the Dragon's Path)
-The Heroes by Joe Abercrombie ($2.99)

See the full list here 

And over at Bookish you'll find a great list of YA ebook deals available at Amazon for $1.00

Find the full list here


Thursday, January 12, 2012

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness and Siobhan Dowd

Posted by Simcha 8:55 PM, under | 6 comments

When I came across a copy of A Monster Calls I was hesitant about getting it. I had heard great things about the book but I also heard that it packs a real emotional punch and I wasn't sure if I was up to being punched, but I decided to chance it anyways.

When a monster appears in Conor O'Malley's yard one night, Conor is not afraid. He has other things in his life that are scarier, such as the cancer that's slowly killing his mother and the terrifying, reoccurring nightmare of falling. So when the yew tree in the backyard turns into a gigantic, wide mouthed monster, Conor stands his ground.

    Conor O'Malley, it said, a huge gust of warm compost-smelling breath rushing through Conor's window, blowing his hair back. Its voice rumbled lowed and low and loud with a vibration so deep Conor could feel it in his chest. 
    I have come to get you Conor O'Malley, the monster said, pushing against the house, shaking the pictures off Conor's walls, sending books and electronic gadgets and an old stuffed toy rhino tumbling to the floor. 
    A monster, Conor thought. A real, honest-to-goodness monster. In real, waking life. Not in a dream, but here, at his window. Come to get him. But Conor didn't run. In fact, he found he wasn't even frightened. All he could feel, all he had felt since the monster reveled itself, was a growing disappointment. Because this wasn't the monster he was expecting. 
    “So come and get me then,” he said.

To his surprise, the monster announces that he is going to tell Connor three stories, after which Connor will have to share his own story with the monster. Conor has no intention of telling his story but is willing to listen to the stories the monster has for him. Except that these stories are strange and confusing, never ending the way that Conor expects. 

A Monster Calls is a short but powerful story that fairly vibrates with the emotions of its protagonist, Conor O'Malley. Connor is full of anger and fear, which the monster begins to help him express, sometimes with frightening results. But even with the monster at his side Conor's fears continue to close in on him as his mother's condition worsens and the adults in his life fail to provide the support that he needs. It's only Harry, with his daily bullying, that satisfies Conor's need for recognition, and eventually even that comes to an end.

I will admit that the ending left me a bit choked up and if I were the type to cry over a book this one would have had me grabbing for the tissues. There were none of the punches that I was braced for but Conor's feelings of sadness, loneliness and anger are so vivid and easy to relate to that I felt emotionally rung out when I turned the last page. Though at the end it was the unexpected relationship between Conor and his monster that touched me the most. 

The book is also peppered with fantastically dramatic black and white drawings which really intensified the atmosphere of the story.

Highly recommended for readers of all ages.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Carrie Goes Off The Map by Phillipa Ashley

Posted by Simcha 3:08 AM, under | 2 comments

I love a good road trip story, especially if it involves a bit of romance, and so when I read the the brief blurb provided for Carrie Goes off the Map I thought this would be a book I would really enjoy.

    Carrie lets her best friend talk her into a scenic European road trip as the perfect getaway from a nasty breakup. Unexpectedly along for the ride is the gorgeous Matt Landor, MD, who sorely tests Carrie's determination to give up men altogether. Careening through the English countryside, these two mismatched but perfectly attuned lonely hearts find themselves in hot pursuit of adventure and in entirely uncharted territory.

Unfortunately there is very little travel, or romance, in this story, which was pretty disappointing. Instead, the focus is on Carrie's struggle to get her life back on track after her fiancée dumps her and all her plans for the future fall apart. The road trip is Carrie's first step towards making a new start for herself, after which she feels prepared to plan a new future and perhaps embark on a new romantic relationship. In other circumstances I would have probably enjoyed the story, but given that I was expecting something completely different I felt let down.

While Carrie does head out on a road trip, circumstances prevent her from driving through Europe, as planned, and instead she gets saddled with Matt Landor and forced to drive around the English countryside instead. During this trip they only visit two locations, one of which is a beach where Carrie spends two weeks getting drunk and sleeping with some guy she picks up there while Matt goes his own way. There were no descriptions of the scenery they passed or of any of the market towns or villages that must have been on the way, which was very disappointing in a book that I expected to be about a road trip.

The relationship between Carrie and Matt is also far from romantic. At first Carrie resents Matt's intrusion on the trip that she had planned to go on with her best friend but eventually she gets used to having him around. After that the two of them remain mostly indifferent to each other for a majority of the trip. Then out of the blue Carrie expresses jealousy of the women Matt is hooking up with, he responds with a smoldering look, and then they are in bed together and in-love. Yup, that's pretty much how it happens. The road trip then comes to an end as Matt and Carrie each return to running their individual lives, while they continue to think about each other and develop their relationship long-distance.

The main problem for me with Carrie Goes off the Map is that I went into it expecting one kind of story but ended up with a very different one. And the truth is that I probably wouldn't have read it, it if I knew what it was really about just because that's not really want to read right now. But there is definitely a large audience for stories of this kind, about women who rediscover themselves after losing, or being rejected by, the men they had loved, and those readers would probably enjoy this story much more than I.

Your Thoughts on Non-Genre Reviews

Posted by Simcha 3:04 AM, under | 4 comments

I would really like to start reviewing more non-genre books, specifically non-fiction, but I've been undecided about what the best way of doing so would be.

Since this is supposed to be a blog for science fiction and fantasy books I've been hesitant about posting too many non-genre reviews here in order to not turn off readers who specifically come here to read about SFF books. I have considered starting a second blog where I would post non-genre reviews but I'm not sure if I have the time to maintain two blogs. So I decided to just ask you guys what you think.

Would you prefer to only read reviews of SFF books here, do you enjoy reading reviews of books in all genres or do you not care?

Please take a moment to fill out this survey.

Thank you!

Sunday, January 8, 2012

New Scifi & Fantasy Releases: Week of January 8th

Posted by Simcha 6:37 PM, under | 6 comments

I've got a short list for you this week which I'm rather grateful for since I have so many other books to catch up on that I'm reluctant to add more to my list.  Though there is one book here that I will be adding to my TBR pile, and that's The Rook by Daniel O'Malley. I haven't heard anything about it yet (probably because I haven't had much time to visit many review blogs, and not because it's not being talked about) but it sound promising.

Hope you have a great reading week!


Science Fiction

Everything Is Broken
John Shirley
Publisher: Prime Books
Release Date: January 10

Twenty-year-old Russ arrives in the northern California town of Freedom to visit his dad. Freedom has peculiarities other than its odd name: the local mayor''s ideas of "decentralization" have left it without normal connections to state or federal government and minimal public services. Russ meets an interesting young woman, Pendra, but before he can get to know much about Freedom or its people, a savage tsunami strikes the West Coast. The wave of human brutality that soon hits the isolated town proves more dangerous to the survivors than the natural disaster. Russ, his father, Pendra, and the other townsfolk must tap all their courage and ingenuity - and find strength they never knew they had - if they have any hope of living to find real freedom!

John Love
Publisher: Night Shade Books
Release Date: January

Moby Dick meets Duel in John Love''s debut novel of Space Opera and Military Science Fiction! Faith is the name humanity has given to the unknown, seemingly invincible alien ship that has begun to harass the newly emergent Commonwealth. 300 years earlier, the same ship destroyed the Sakhran Empire, allowing the Commonwealth to expand its sphere of influence. But now Faith has returned! The ship is as devastating as before, and its attacks leave some Commonwealth solar systems in chaos. Eventually it reaches Sakhra, now an important Commonwealth possession, and it seems like history is about to repeat itself. But this time, something is waiting: an Outsider, one of the Commonwealth''s ultimate warships. Slender silver ships, full of functionality and crewed by people of unusual abilities, often sociopaths or psychopaths, Outsiders were conceived in back alleys, built and launched in secret, and commissioned without ceremony. One system away from earth, the Outsider ship Charles Manson makes a stand. Commander Foord waits with his crew of miscreants and sociopath, hoping to accomplish what no other human has been able to do - to destroy Faith!

Gideon's Corpse (Gideon Crew #2)
Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child
Publisher: Grand Central
Release Date: January 10

A top nuclear scientist goes mad and takes an innocent family hostage at gunpoint, killing one and causing a massive standoff.
A plume of radiation above New York City leads to a warehouse where, it seems, a powerful nuclear bomb was assembled just hours before.
Sifting through the evidence, authorities determine that the unthinkable is about to happen: in ten days, a major American city will be vaporized by a terrorist attack.
Ten days. And Gideon Crew, tracking the mysterious terrorist cell from the suburbs of New York to the mountains of New Mexico, learns the end may be something worse--far worse--than mere Armageddon.

Star Wars: Darth Plagueis
James Luceno
Publisher: LucasBooks
Release Date: January 10

Darth Plagueis: one of the most brilliant Sith Lords who ever lived. Possessing power is all he desires. Losing it is the only thing he fears. As an apprentice, he embraces the ruthless ways of the Sith. And when the time is right, he destroys his Master—but vows never to suffer the same fate. For like no other disciple of the dark side, Darth Plagueis learns to command the ultimate power . . . over life and death.

Darth Sidious: Plagueis’s chosen apprentice. Under the guidance of his Master, he secretly studies the ways of the Sith, while publicly rising to power in the galactic government, first as Senator, then as Chancellor, and eventually as Emperor.

Darth Plagueis and Darth Sidious, Master and acolyte, target the galaxy for domination—and the Jedi Order for annihilation. But can they defy the merciless Sith tradition? Or will the desire of one to rule supreme, and the dream of the other to live forever, sow the seeds of their destruction?


A Path to Coldness of Heart (Last Chronicle of the Dread Empire, #3)
Glen Cook
Publisher: Night Shade Books
Release Date: January 10

At long last, the conclusion to Glen Cook's Dread Empire saga has arrived! King Bragi Ragnarson is a prisoner, shamed, nameless, and held captive by Lord Shih-kaa and the Empress Mist at the heart of the Dread Empire.
Far away in Kavelin, Bragia's queen and what remains of his army seek to find and free their king, hampered by the loss or desertion of their best and brightest warriors. Kavelina's spymaster, Michael Trebilcock, is missing in action, as is loyal soldier Aral Dantice. Meanwhile, Dane, Duke of Greyfells, seeks to seize the rule of Kavelin and place the kingdom in his pocket, beginning a new line of succession through Bragia's queen, Dane's cousin Inger. And in the highest peaks of the Dragona's Teeth, in the ancient castle Fangdred, the sorcerer called Varthlokkur uses his arts to spy on the world at large, observing the puppet strings that control kings and empires alike, waiting... For the time of the wrath of kings is almost at hand, and vengeance lies along a path to coldness of heart.

Kyle Chais
Publisher: Karen Hunter
Release Date: January 10

In the in between are the Nameless; names are for masters and they have none. They live in the Nameless realm; between being saved and being destroyed. They are Fallen. One Nameless spends his time watching humans in New York City and, in his endless eternity of boredom, becomes intrigued by a drunk named Aurick Pantera. One day Aurick, a reckless gambler, is about to be killed by a gang over his debts. Nameless feels sorry for him, and possesses his body to save his life. He then decides that he rather likes being in a human body; the chance to taste, smells, and touch. He uses Aurick’s body to fulfill all of his wildest dreams – become a rock star, have a successful psychiatric practice, and pursue star journalist Helena Way.
Until, three years after possessing Aurick, the other Fallen take notice of these random achievements and begin appearing to Aurick. They are tired of waiting in Nameless and are ready to start a war—their only chance to cease this painful eternity of waiting and either be saved or be released. Aurick is stuck in the middle. Join the ranks and finally be released to Null for atrocities against mankind, or can his love for Helena, his budding friendships, and his growing concern for all humans grant him salvation?

Young Adult

Destiny's Fire
Trisha Wolfe
Publisher: Omnific Publishing
Release Date: January 10

It’s the year 2040, and sixteen-year-old Dez Harkly is one of the last of her kind—part of a nearly extinct race of shape-shifters descended from guardians to the Egyptian pharaohs. Her home and her secret are threatened when the Council lowers the barrier, allowing the enemy race to enter the Shythe haven.  As the Narcolym airships approach, Dez and her friends rebel against their Council and secretly train for battle. Not only is Dez wary of war and her growing affection for her best friend Jace, but she fears the change her birthday will bring. When Dez’s newfound power rockets out of control, it’s a Narcolym who could change her fate… if she can trust him.  Dez’s guarded world crumbles when she discovers why the Narcos have really come to Haven Falls, and she's forced to choose between the race who raised her and the enemy she's feared her whole life.

A Million Suns
Beth Revis
Publisher: Razorbill
Release Date: January 10

It's been three months since Amy was unplugged. The life she always knew is over. And everywhere she looks, she sees the walls of the spaceship Godspeed. But there may just be hope: Elder has assumed leadership of the ship. He's finally free to enact his vision - no more Phydus, no more lies. But when Elder discovers shocking news about the ship, he and Amy race to discover the truth behind life on Godspeed. They must work together to unlock a puzzle that was set in motion hundreds of years earlier, unable to fight the romance that's growing between them and the chaos that threatens to tear them apart.

The Gathering Storm
Robin Bridges
Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers
Release Date: January 10

St. Petersburg, Russia, 1888. As she attends a whirl of glittering balls, royal debutante Katerina Alexandrovna, Duchess of Oldenburg, tries to hide a dark secret: she can raise the dead. No one knows. Katerina considers her talent a curse, not a gift. But when she uses her special skill to protect a member of the Imperial Family, she finds herself caught in a web of intrigue. An evil presence is growing within Europe's royal bloodlines—and those aligned with the darkness threaten to topple the tsar. Suddenly Katerina's strength as a necromancer attracts attention from unwelcome sources . . . including two young men—George Alexandrovich, the tsar's standoffish middle son, who needs Katerina's help to safeguard Russia, and the dashing Prince Danilo, heir to the throne of Montenegro, to whom Katerina feels inexplicably drawn. The time has come for Katerina to embrace her power, but which side will she choose—and to whom will she give her heart?

The Rook
Daniel O'Malley
Publisher: Little, Brown & Company
Release Date: January 11

"The body you are wearing used to be mine." So begins the letter Myfanwy Thomas is holding when she awakes in a London park surrounded by bodies all wearing latex gloves. With no recollection of who she is, Myfanwy must follow the instructions her former self left behind to discover her identity and track down the agents who want to destroy her.
She soon learns that she is a Rook, a high-ranking member of a secret organization called the Chequy that battles the many supernatural forces at work in Britain. She also discovers that she possesses a rare, potentially deadly supernatural ability of her own.
In her quest to uncover which member of the Chequy betrayed her and why, Myfanwy encounters a person with four bodies, an aristocratic woman who can enter her dreams, a secret training facility where children are transformed into deadly fighters, and a conspiracy more vast than she ever could have imagined.

Paranormal Romance

Lothaire (Immortals After Dark #12)
Kresley Cole and Robert Petkoff
Publisher: Gallery Books
Release Date: January 10

From the humblest of beginnings a millennia ago, Lothaire the Enemy of Old rose to power, becoming the most feared and evil vampire in the immortal world. Driven by his past, he will not rest until he captures the vampire Horde’s crown for himself. The discovery of his Bride, the female meant only for him, threatens to derail his plot.
Elizabeth Peirce is a mere mortal, a glaring vulnerability for a male with so many deadly foes bent on annihilating anything he desires. Yet soon he discovers his Bride’s secret. A magnificent power dwells inside the fragile human, one that will aid his quest. But to possess that power, he will have to destroy her. Will Lothaire succumb to the torments of his past, or seize a future with her?


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