"All good books are alike in that they are truer than if they had really happened
and after you are finished reading one you will feel that all that happened to you
and afterwards it all belongs to you; the good and the bad, the ecstasy, the remorse,
and sorrow, the people and the places and how the weather was."
Ernest Hemingway

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The Goose Girl

The Goose Girl
Shannon Hale

The Summary
"She was born with her eyes closed and a word on her tongue, a word she could not taste.  Her name was Anidori-Kiladra Talianna Isilee, Crown Princess of Kildenree, and she spent the first years of her life listening to her aunt's stories and learning the language of the birds, especially the swans.  When she was older, she watched as a colt was born, and she heard the first word on his tongue, his name, Falada.

"From the Grimm's fairy tale of the princess who became a goose girl before she would become queen, Shannon Hale has woven an incredible...tale of a girl who must find her own unusual talents before she can lead the people she has made her own."

The Good
I really liked The Goose Girl.  Imaginative, emotional, evocative, Shannon Hale's novel hit all the right notes with me for a fantasy/twisted fairy tale.  In particular, I liked that Hale properly developed her primary protagonist.  As a reader, I was glad I had the opportunity to see what Ani saw, to feel what she felt, and, more importantly, to see how she grew and developed as an individual - and a queen.

The Goose Girl is surprisingly complex.  Although I picked up a copy from the children's department of my local library, Hale's novel is incredibly intricate, integrating political strife and astute psychological observations that give the story an unexpected depth.

And I loved the fairy tale storyteller element to it.  It felt like cracking open a Grimm fairy tale book, magical and adventurous, but, at the same time, it felt different and new and exciting - and I really liked that about The Goose Girl.  It's geared for a younger audience, but I enjoyed it nonetheless.

The Bad
I understand why Hale developed the story as she did, why she so carefully paced it to show Ani's development as an individual and a prospective queen; however, I feel like some of it was just fluff.  I can't say I didn't enjoy the asides, the brief detours into mysticism and lore and political conflict, as it did help to develop Ani as a character.

But, sometimes, it slowed me down which I didn't enjoy.

The Ugly
Political Insurrection.  Murder.  War.  Blatant prejudice.  Poverty.

This book had some surprisingly mature themes.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

The Martian

The Martian 2014.jpg
Broadway Books
The Martian
Andy Weir

The Summary
"Six days ago astronaut Mark Watney became one of the first people to walk on Mars.

"Now he's sure he'll be the first person to die there.

"After a dust storm forces his crew to evacuate the planet while thinking him dead, Mark finds himself stranded on Mars's surface, with no way to signal Earth that he's alive.  And even if he could get word out, his supplies would be gone years before a rescue could arrive.

"Chances are, though, Mark won't have time to starve to death.  The damaged machinery, unforgiving environment, or plain old "human error" are much more likely to kill him first.

"Armed with nothing but his ingenuity, his engineering skills - and a gallows sense of humor that proves to be his greatest strength - Mark embarks on a dogged quest to stay alive.  But will his resourcefulness be enough to overcome the impossible odds against him?"

The Good
I loved The Martian.

I am not the most avid fan of science-fiction.  I mean, I've really enjoyed the Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer (see:  Cinder), I like H.G. Wells, and I'm quite a fan for alternate universes and post-apocalyptic thrillers; however, I don't read much in the way of science-fiction.  (The sheer number of labels I've used to designate "fantasy" will tell you that.)  But I absolutely loved reading Andy Weir's novel.

Weir puts so much detail into his work:  he gives you maps of real locations on Mars, he uses jargon and real theoretical physics, he explains chemical reactions (being unafraid to throw a little chemistry into the mix), and, in general, he makes a hypothetical trip to the Martian surface seem like a legitimate venture.  Events, as they unfold, seem incredibly real and believable, like this could really happen - Mark Watney could really exist!  As quoted from the expanded edition, which features a small essay in the back:
"A castaway story for the new millennium, The Martian presents a fresh take on the classic man-versus-nature battle for survival by setting it on the surface of Mars - a planet completely hostile to sustaining human life.  Yet debut novelist and self-proclaimed space nerd Andy Weir manages to make every moment of astronaut Mark Watney's outer-space ordeal painstakingly realistic and believable. 
"At its heart, The Martian is a tale of survival of the geekiest.  Mark's scientific ingenuity, his radically inventive botanical solution to starvation, his ability to address seemingly insurmountable problems with rationality and practicality, his sanity-saving sense of humor, and his understated bravery become a moving testament to the human spirit.  When the ground team at NASA and his crew discover he is alive, their commitment to rescuing one man against all odds likewise speaks to humanity's deeply rooted sense of connection."
This is exactly how I felt about Weir's novel:  I absolutely loved it.

I loved reading Mark's log entries.  I loved having a glimpse into events on Earth.  And I especially loved the interludes that included his crew mates.  I loved the entire story, how it weaved together the narratives of many different individuals and combined scientific fact and theory to create a seamlessly blended story that kept me captivated from cover to cover.

The Bad
Mark Watney has a bit of a foul mouth (as do most of the other characters), but I can certainly understand why.  I mean, he's stuck on Mars - alone, by the way - with no way to communicate with his crew or ground control back on Earth, and he has a limited supply of food, water, air, shelter, and time if he wants to survive long enough for rescue.

When he says, "I'm pretty much fucked," I feel I can forgive him his strong language because, let's be honest here, he kind of is.

The Ugly
Survival can get pretty ugly, especially when you're trapped in space with limited supplies and nowhere to go.  If you think Mark has it rough, imagine his crew members if they get stuck in space without any advanced supplies.  I don't even want to imagine the desperate measures to which they would resort.

I'll just leave it at that.  I don't want to spoil any surprises.

Friday, September 25, 2015

In Progress: Thunderstruck (Continued)

Broadway Books
Thunderstuck is pretty great.  But I stopped reading.

I haven't picked it up in two weeks.  (If I'm being honest, it's probably been closer to three since I seem to have forgotten it in my work cubicle.)

I've enjoyed Erik Larson's novel, but I'm afraid that I've made a critical mistake:  I put Thunderstruck down and picked up some other books.

The DUFF by Kody Keplinger.  The Martian by Andy Weir.  Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris.  And, most notably, A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin.

So...I was distracted.

With more books.


Saturday, September 19, 2015

Marley & Me: Life and Love with the World's Worst Dog

William Morrow
Marley & Me:  Life and Love with the World's Worst Dog
John Grogan

The Summary
"John and Jenny were just beginning their life together.  They were young and in love, with a perfect little house and not a care in the world.  Then they brought home Marley, a wiggly yellow furball of a puppy.  Life would never be the same.

"Marley quickly grew into a barreling, ninety-seven-pound steamroller of a Labrador retriever, a dog like no other.  He crashed through screen doors, gouged through drywall, flung drool on guests, stole women's undergarments, and ate nearly everything he could get his mouth around, including couches and fine jewelry.  Obedience school did not go good - Marley was expelled.  Neither did the tranquilizers the veterinarian prescribed for him with the admonishment, 'Don't hesitate to use these.'

"And yet Marley's heart was pure.  Just as he joyfully refused any limits on his behavior, his love and loyalty were boundless, too.  Marley shared the couple's joy at their first pregnancy and their heartbreak over the miscarriage.  He was there when babies finally arrived and when the screams of a seventeen-year-old stabbing victim pierced the night.  Marley shut down a public beach and managed to land a role in a feature-length movie, always winning hearts as he made a mess of things.  Through it all, he remained steadfast, a model of devotion, even when his family was at its wit's end.  Unconditional love, they would learn, comes in many forms.

"Is it possible for humans to discover the key to happiness through a bigger-than-life, bad-boy dog?  Just ask the Grogans."

The Good
I loved this book.  I loved every bit of it.

As an experienced journalist, John Grogan has an incredible skill with words and he has a wonderful story to tell that encompasses a universal human experience:  owning a rambunctious dog.  He describes Marley with such careful detail, making sure to catalog the usual problems that (most) pet owners experience and the simple joys of having a devoted dog in one's life.

Honestly, Marley & Me hits close to home.  Having owned pets for most of my life, I know exactly what kind of complications one can run into when owning a dog, especially an aging pet, but I also know how critical they are to our daily lives, how important they are to our hearts and, truthfully, our well-being.

Dogs can be an aggravation.  They slobber, they bark, they tear things up - staircases, bike pedals, wood trim, shoes, clothes, socks, books, and surely more - and they know how to make a mess; however, they are family.  They give us love and affection, joy and laughter.  They are our constant companions through life and, no matter the costs, we love them and care for them.

As Grogan pointed out, "A dog judges others not by their color or creed or class but by who they are inside.  A dog doesn't care if you are rich or poor, educated or illiterate, clever or dull.  Give him your heart and he will give you his."

And that's just about the best thing there is.

The Bad
I have no complaints about Marley & Me.  It's an exceptionally well-written story that appealed to me for its emotional depth and its ability to relate to the reader.

The Ugly
I cried.

I'm not joking.  I bawled like a baby at the end of this memoir, because, like the other members in the Secret Brotherhood of Dysfunctional Dog Owners, I know exactly what it's like to own a crazy canine and what it's like to lose one of the best friends you'll ever have.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Bonus: The Ice Dragon

The Ice Dragon
George R.R. Martin

The Summary
"The ice dragon was a creature of legend and fear, for no man had ever tamed one.  When it flew overhead, the ice dragon left in its wake desolate cold and frozen land.  But Adara was not afraid.  For Adara was a winter child, born during the worst freeze that anyone, even the Old Ones, could remember.

"Adara could not remember the first time she had seen the ice dragon.  It seemed that it had always been in her life, glimpsed from afar as she played in the frigid snow long after the other children had fled the cold.  In her fourth year she touched it, and in her fifth year she rode upon its broad, chilled back for the first time.  Then, in her seventh year, on a calm summer day, fiery dragons from the north swooped down upon the peaceful farm that was Adara's home.  And only a winter child - and the ice dragon who loved her - could save her world from utter destruction."

The Good
I enjoyed The Ice Dragon.  It reminded me of a traditional fairy tale, full of mystery and magic - and, of course, dragons.  Although it really does read as more of a children's novel, I enjoyed it fully.  I finished it in a matter of minutes (literally over my lunch break), but I found that loved reading Martin's book.

Despite its small stature, The Ice Dragon includes all my favorite qualities in a book:  detail, suspense, fantastical creatures, intriguing heroines, adventure and drama.  For its size, it brimmed with creativity and life, having a fullness of depth that I really enjoyed.

The Bad
I don't have anything bad to say about the book.  It was a short story, but I enjoyed it immensely.  If anything, I might complain that it was too short - and I wished it had been a full-fledged novel.

The Ugly
The Ice Dragon is essentially a story about a little girl, an outcast in her village, who befriends an ice dragon - one of the most feared and despised creatures in this freezing realm - and she becomes something of a hero, but at a terrible cost.  Tragedy is laced through the novel, death and destruction and loss becoming a permanent fixture in Adara's life.

Monday, September 14, 2015

44 Horrible Dates

44 Horrible Dates
Eddie Campbell

The Summary
"What I have to tell you in this book will seem almost unreal.  But you are going to have to keep reminding yourself that these are real dates.

"For everyone who can empathize and knows what it's like to be on at least one crappy date, this book is for you.

"For everyone who wants that dinner back or sat through a boring, horrible movie only to determine that the person you were with was a complete and utter tsunami, this book is for you.

"For everyone else, buckle your seat belt and turn off your phone, because a massive car wreck is about to begin."

The Good
For the most part, I enjoyed Eddie Campbell's 44 Horrible Dates.  It's candid and shocking and, truthfully, it is like a massive car wreck - and I just couldn't look away.  I mean, some of the individuals he dated are absolutely horrifying.  It's just too gruesome to look away.

Some parts were funny:  Campbell is candid and blunt, and his brutal honesty paints a vivid picture that's sometimes hilarious, sometimes dramatic.  It's an interesting look at one man's love life as he struggles to meet the right the right person and, more importantly, discover for himself what he wants in a relationship.

The Bad
44 Horrible Dates wasn't a great book.  I had fun reading it, and I enjoyed it for the most part; however, I don't think that it was a great book.  A chunk of it felt like shock value, as if the writer was trying his hardest to scandalize his readers, and another chunk of it just felt like one long litany of complaints.

The Ugly
Some of Campbell's dates are awful - no, not just awful, but truly disturbing, disgusting, and alarming.  You have Pierre (aka the "Hot Dog"), of course, but then there's drugged up Roger (aka In-n-Out Burger) or Walter (I'll leave that one out to see for yourself) - and any one of the other 41 horrible dates that Campbell has had in his lifetime.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

In Progress: A Game of Thrones

I surprised myself today and picked up A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin.  Admittedly, I was wondering about the hype surrounding his novels and, moreover, why the television show seemed to have gained such a massive following, seemingly overnight.

And then I read the first chapter.

Now, I understand why his Song of Fire and Ice series is so wildly popular and why he has received so much praise for his work:  A Game of Thrones is freaking fantastic.  No joke, it's absolutely amazing (and I've only finished a handful of pages).

Initially, I was dissuaded by the sheer enormity of the book - over 2,000 pages on my little tablet and equally imposing in hardcover form, I must say - and I wasn't impressed by the popularity of his novels.  Many novels have reached similar levels of popularity (like Twilight, Fifty Shades of Grey, etc.) and have performed poorly in my estimation, despite fanatical appreciation for it.

However, I'm pleased to say that my fears I would be disappointed by A Game of Thrones (or, worse, simply wouldn't like it) are unfounded.  Even after only reading the first handful of pages, I was immediately and completely hooked.  Although I haven't read much, I've realized that Martin has an incredible capacity for creativity and detail, making his writing intricate without being too bulky or unwieldy or dense.

Having only set foot into the world, I can't say much more than I already have.  I suppose I could be jumping the gun a bit by offering praise prematurely, and it's entirely possible I could dislike A Game of Thrones by the end (which has happened in the past); however, I just have a good feeling about Martin's novel.  It's hit the best points I can find in a fantasy novel:  accessible prose, steady development, suspense, detail and intricacy - and, of course, maps.

A fantasy writer can never go wrong with maps.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

The Bible's Cutting Room Floor: The Holy Scriptures Missing from Your Bible

Thomas Dunne Books
The Bible's Cutting Room Floor:  The Holy Scriptures Missing from Your Bible
Dr. Joel M. Hoffman

The Summary
"The bible you usually read is the abridged version.  Some holy writings were left out for political or theological reasons, others simply because of the physical restrictions of ancient bookmaking technology.  At times, the compilers of the bible skipped information that they assumed everyone knew.  Some passages were even omitted by accident.

"In The Bible's Cutting Room Floor, acclaimed author and translator Dr. Joel M. Hoffman gives us the stories and other texts that didn't make it into the Bible, even though they offer penetrating insight into the Bible and its teachings.

"The Book of Genesis tells us about Adam and Eve's time in the Garden of Eden, but not their saga after they get kicked out or the lessons they have for us about good and evil.  The Bible introduces us to Abraham, but it doesn't include the troubling story of his early life, which explains how he came to reject idolatry to become the father of monotheism.  And while there are only 150 Psalms in today's Bible, there used to be many more.

"Dr. Hoffman deftly brings these and other ancient scriptural texts to life, exploring how they offer new answers to some of the most fundamental and universal questions people ask about their lives.  [...]  The Bible's Cutting Room Floor reveals what's missing from your Bible, who left it out, and why it's so important."

The Good
I picked up The Bible's Cutting Room Floor at my local library.  I was intrigued by the premise:  I knew about the various books of the Bible that were sometimes included and sometimes not, but I knew very little about the books themselves - and, worse, I couldn't say why these books were excluded.

Why was the Life of Adam and Eve struck from the record?  Why were the Books of Enoch, which were once so popular, barely recognized in modern religion?  And just how important was John the Baptist to religious history?

Hoffman is an excellent writer - very clear, very precise if a little dry on occasions, but he has a scathing wit that appears every few pages and delivers an unexpected jolt of laughter - and he weaves a great deal of detail into his work.

I can appreciate the depth of detail in The Bible's Cutting Room Floor, looking from the Dead Sea Scrolls to the Septuagint to the modern King James version, comparing and contrasting all the chapters that we sometimes no longer find, gives Hoffman's work an informative edge.  For research or study purposes, The Bible's Cutting Room Floor is an excellent resource.

The Bad
Admittedly, reading Hoffman's book proved to be slow going.  Hoffman provides a thorough examination of the forgotten (and, sometimes, purposefully ignored) books of the Bible, which I enjoyed; however, even in the first few chapters, his narration becomes repetitive.  That is, Hoffman has a very bad habit of rehashing information and repeating what he just said, which I didn't enjoy.

And it was a little dry.  (Very, very dry truthfully.  I was parched for some other reading material in the midst of finishing The Bible's Cutting Room Floor.  I binged on a little light reading after I finished.)

The Ugly
Not all the stories in the Bible are, shall we say, "nice."  There are some stories involving eternal damnation, fallen angels and evil spirits, abject cruelty, penance and failure - and so on and so forth.  It really isn't a pretty picture.