This Blog is Dedicated to our dear friend Karen.
When she left this life she left a hole in our hearts as well as several to be read books.
We, her friends, will read these books for her.
This blog will be a sort of book club for us to post our thoughts and feelings about the stories and feelings we have of Karen while we read.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

#50 The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion


Definitely mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, for what it is - a romantic comedy about a man with (undiagnosed) Asperger Syndrome and his project to find the perfect mate - it's very well written. It's fun, at times funny, and romantic in places.
On the other hand, it often feels like Don's autism is used solely as a vehicle for comedy. And, while I'm not an expert in the subject, I question some of the information shared. Don feels the need to follow a strict routine; any deviation from the schedule causes him extreme discomfort (typical among those with autism). But the author implies that, with just a little effort, schedules and routines can be broken without any lasting repercussions. From my (limited) knowledge of Asperger's, I doubt that's the case.
It seems that Simsion had an opportunity here to tell a funny, engaging story, while at the same time giving factual information about autism; it appears (at least to me) that he didn't manage to do that.


Thursday, February 2, 2017

#418 The Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett


I've only ever read two other books by Terry Pratchett - Good Omens, which he cowrote with Neil Gaiman, and the first Discworld book, The Color of Magic. I really liked Omens, but at the time, I was all about Gaiman, so (because it was not entirely a Gaiman story) I didn't *love* it. And I didn't quite get Pratchett's humor when I read Color of Magic.
But, approaching this book, I was more receptive to the funny bits. This is (I think) partly because it's a Young Adult book, but it's also partly because of the Wee Free Men themselves - the Nac Mac Feegle. I mean, they help around the farm, like pixies, but they speak with a brogue, they wear kilts, and they're blue - they're not pixies, they're *pict-sies*! They're hilariously written, and they're a big part of why I enjoyed this book so much.


#288 The Lost Hero by Rick Riordon


Riordan's first series, Percy Jackson and the Olympians, dealt with the demigod children of the Greek gods. In this newer series, we're introduced to the idea that those Greek gods and their Roman counterparts are just different aspects of the same beings. This first book introduces us to three new kids - Jason, Piper, and Leo - and the chapters in the book alternate among their points of view. We're also introduced to a lot of new supporting characters, from other campers in the various cabins at Camp Half-Blood (give it up for my brothers and sisters in the Hypnos cabin!) to various gods and other figures from Greek mythology - most of whom are damaged versions of their legendary selves. Riordan does a good job of teaching readers about the true mythological figures and stories, while entertaining us with new action and humorous situations.

My only real complaints are that the story felt a bit slow at times, and that the girlfriend/boyfriend stuff between Jason and Piper was unnecessary.


Friday, January 27, 2017

#291 The Lake House by James Patterson


The single worst book I've read by Patterson. So many ways that this is bad:

- A twelve-year-old girl and a boy of about the same age have sex. But it's ok, because they're bird-people and they mature at a different rate. Also, the girl lays two eggs. No one even knew she was, I don't know, pregnant? Is that what we call it?

- Frannie - the narrator - dies. It's not really a spoiler, because she gets better. I don't even understand this one. She's dead, and suddenly nurses are removing wires and tubes and stuff. Are these the same nurses who were working for the bad guy? And now they're helping revive Frannie?

- The bad guy. Or should I say "guys", because he has 4 or 5 clones who are also maybe robots? And he killed his wife and replaced her with a... robot? who performs oral sex on demand.

- really, the whole biotech angle of the story. Apparently they're able to "shuck" a donor; that is, they remove all the internal organs all in one piece. Like, altogether, all at once. Because science?

- bird people. human/bird hybrids.

- really, the worst part? Not the plot, or the made up science, or the crappy, anticlimactic climax. The worst part is the general writing. Here's a sample:

This was not good! Kit and I rode in the Suburban on a dirt road as far as it would take us, and fast. The damn trail just dead-ended into the mountain face. We were in the middle of nowhere. Smack dab.
Staring at a cold, hard rock face.
Not good at all.
"You could say that this is the end of the road," Kit quipped from his place behind the steering wheel. "Damn it. Damn Max."

There are so many things wrong with the book. And I don't understand why. I know Patterson can write reasonably well; I've read other books by him (alone and in collaboration with other writers) that are entertaining and well-written. But this one is so very bad.


Thursday, January 12, 2017

#98 Katya's World by Jonathan L. Howard

Katya's World (Russalka Chronicles, #1)

Not a great book. A decent book, yes, but not a great one.

During a great period of space colonization, the planet Earth sent residents of a region of Russia to populate a planet entirely covered by water. They would have given the planet a miss, but it's rich in minerals they need back on good old mother-Earth.

The aquatic geography of the planet is a key element in the story, in that everything has a naval feel to it. The people live in big underwater cities, and they travel everywhere by submarine. The claustrophobia and aquaphobia nodes in my brain tingle just thinking about it. But the maritime setting of the book actually leads to one of my complaints: there is so much navy-speak and so many technical terms and equipment related to water travel that I wasn't familiar with. The character Kane spends a good deal of time explaining Earth terms for the benefit of Katya, but the author doesn't do nearly as good a job explaining naval terms to the reader. As another reviewer pointed out, some of these terms and ideas (including the technology aboard the Leviathan) are so crucial to the action in the book that the reader needs to understand them well. I didn't understand them, so I found myself confused at points where the action was at its busiest.

I also was disappointed in some of the character development (or lack thereof). The author vaguely mentions that Katya's father died in the Terran-Russalkan War, and that her mother died as a result of an accident, and that's why she lives with her Uncle Lukyakin, but he doesn't give us much detail. Lukyakin himself fought in the War, and that's apparent when his battle skills resurface later in the book, but we don't know much more about his past. Kane has all kinds of issues and secrets, and some of those secrets are revealed, but things brought up early on are just left to fade away. (At one point, when it looks like Lukyakin has died, Kane offers sympathy to Katya. Katya tells him there's no way he could know the pain she's experiencing; his face blanches and he practically runs from the room. When another character learns what Katya has said, she implies that Kane has undergone huge tragedies himself, but we never hear more about it.)

Because the characterization is so simplistic, but the technical aspects are so advanced, there seem to be two books - one is a basic young adult dystopian novel, while the other is a more advanced science fiction novel. Neither of them is particularly well-written. And ultimately, that may be why - though I like the book - I don't *love* the book.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

#411 Be The Pack Leaderby Cesar Millan


(Read as part of our "Reading with Karen" project. I'm kind of surprised she had this book on her to-read list, since her Yorkie Chubbs is such an incredibly good dog. Maybe she watched some of Cesar's show and wanted to learn more about him.)

So many people try to deal with their dogs (and other animals) from a human reference point. They think animals think of things in the same way as humans, and that's just not the case. For example, dogs are pack animals, and they approach things from that pack animal mentality - where do I fit into the pack? What is my "job" in the pack? Who is the pack leader?
On his television show, Dog Whisperer, Cesar Millan helps people address problems with their dogs by approaching the problem from that same pack mentality - whether it's a dog not recognizing the "alpha dog" status of its owner, or a dog who's stressed out about conflict among the humans in the household, for example. This book is essentially Millan explaining how pack animals think, and showing readers how to establish themselves as the pack leader in their dogs' minds.
One of the main points made throughout the book is that dogs respond to the energy and non-verbal communication put out by their owners. You place yourself as the pack leader, and keep your dogs from being stressed out, by putting out calm, assertive energy. Millan gives lots of great examples of how this helps you to work out problems with your dogs, but I wish he had done a better job explaining how to project that calm-assertive energy.
There are a few other minor issues that I have with the book, but for the most part, it's a good resource for people trying to establish a strong, respectful relationship with their dog.


Tuesday, December 13, 2016

#287 Button Button Uncanny Stories by Richard Matheson


As with any collection of short stories, there are some that really shine,and others that... don't. "Button, Button" is classic Matheson, with that Twilight Zone feel that made him such an important contributor to that show. "Shock Wave" has a similar feel to it. "A Flourish of Strumpets" was a funny take on door-to-door prostitution. "Tis the Season to Be Jelly" was just... strange. But the best piece, in my opinion, was the only poetry piece in the book: "The Jazz Machine".