Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The Storm Dragon's Heart, by David Alastair Hayden

2012 Book 95: The Storm Dragon's Heart, by David Alastair Hayden (6/26/2012)

Categories: Young Adult, Speculative Fiction

Reason for Reading: This book was provided by the author in exchange for a review. The ideas, of course, are my own. I am not compensated for a good review. :)

My Review: 4/5 stars
Turesobei is the High Wizard-in-waiting for the Chondra tribe, but he dreams of dropping his boring lessons and going on adventures with his father. Then he is given his chance: his father takes him on a quest to retrieve an ancient and powerful artifact that is also being sought by a dangerous cult. Turesobei must learn to be an independent wizard and to trust his companions on this dangerous mission. The Storm Dragon's Heart is a good-old classic high fantasy for children. It was cute and fun, with lots of adventure and young romance. It was a complete story in itself, but left me curious about how the series would continue.

Chosen, Ted Dekker

2012 Book 94: Chosen, by Ted Dekker (6/26/2012)

Categories: Young Adult, Speculative Fiction, Inspirational

Reason for Reading: Ted Dekker is my FAVORITE Christian Fiction author. He's very good at getting a message across allegorically (and not with preachy lectures). Plus his stories are awesome. This is the first book in a young adult spin-off series from his most popular books Circle Trilogy: Black / Red / White.

My Review 3/5 stars
Johnis was disappointed, but relieved, when he was deemed "too small" to fight in the Forest Guard against the evil Horde. However, due to a chance encounter, the supreme leader Thomas Hunter chooses Johnis as one of his four new captains of the Forest Guard. He, and the 3 other new teenaged captains, are sent out on a mission to prove themselves. They end up proving a lot more than Hunter bargained for. Chosen is the first book in a young adult spin-off series from Ted Dekker's popular series Circle Trilogy: Black / Red / White, and is also related to the Paradise series (of which Showdown is the first). This series is meant to work as a stand-alone, but I would highly recommend reading the Circle Trilogy first, since these are the books that build Dekker's fantasy world and Chosen takes place after the events in Red. However, based on reviews of other readers, it's clear that people can enjoy this book even without reading the original trilogy. Either way, this book is good wholesome adventure.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Cro-Magnon, Brian Fagan

2012 Book 93: Cro-Magnon, by Brian Fagan (6/24/2012)

Categories: Science

Reason for Reading: Interest in the evolution of humans

My Review 4/5 stars
Cro-Magnon, by Brian Fagan introduces what is currently known (and speculated) about Cro-Magnons and Neanderthals. Fagan spices up his narrative with imaginative vignettes of Neanderthals and Cro-Magnons as they may have lived. I imagine such vignettes would appeal to most everyone in the general public, including teens, though they may be a little irritating to a hard-core scientist who isn't interested in imaginative speculation (just a guess...I loved them!). Another excellent feature of this book is that it has incorporated historic scientific discoveries about prehistoric peoples with modern science like mitochondrial DNA tracing. Again, this feature would be of interest to most of the general public, but isn't meant for experts--there are a lot of simplifications for the sake of clarity. I think this book is an excellent introduction to prehistoric peoples that could be enjoyed by both adults and teens (even precocious pre-teens).

Religion Explained, by Pascal Boyer

2012 Book 92: Religion Explained, by Pascal Boyer (6/24/2012)

Categories: Other

Reason for Reading: Science, Religion, and History group read with the 75ers

My Review 2/5 stars
The intent of this book is to use anthropology and cognitive science to "explain" why religious beliefs developed (and are still common) in humans. I started reading this book with the expectation that it was intended as popular science; but it assumed that the reader already had a background in anthropology and cognitive science. Boyer made his explanations using terminology that was unnecessarily complex; and although the meaning could be discerned from the context, it made the narrative into very heavy reading. Furthermore, he made many bold statements without providing evidence, possibly because he figured his readers had a background in this area and knew where he was coming from. The examples he did provide often fell short for me as a scientist--I felt there were too many obvious loopholes to the experiments described, and it was unclear whether these loopholes were addressed. Overall, I think this book may be interesting to someone who has already read a lot of literature in this field, but I wouldn't recommend it to someone with a casual interest, nor as introductory material.

The War of the Ember, by Kathryn Lasky

2012 Book 91: The War of the Ember, by Kathryn Lasky (6/23/2012)

Reason for Reading: 15th and FINAL book in the Guardians of Ga'Hoole series (link to 14th book review)

My Review 3/5 stars
In this final installment of the Guardians of Ga'Hoole, King Coryn and the Band must fight a final war against the Nyra and the Striga, who've teamed up to raise an army of hagsfiends. This was a good ending to the series, although it was perhaps a little too sad.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Bring Up the Bodies, by Hilary Mantel

2012 Book 90: Bring up the Bodies, by Hilary Mantel (6/21/2012)

Reason for Reading: Second book in the Wolf Hall Trilogy. Group read in the 75ers.

My Review 4/5 stars
In this second book of the Wolf Hall Trilogy, Mantel brings to life Thomas Cromwell during the reign and fall of Anne Boleyn. I've noticed a few reviews saying that Bring Up the Bodies isn't quite as good as Wolf Hall, though I'm not sure why people feel this is so. This book is slightly lighter reading, and much more straightforward, than Wolf Hall, and I think that makes up for any slight loss of lyricism. Also, some people may not have liked Cromwell's character as much in this book as in the first, but this was necessary for historical accuracy. If anything, Mantel has made Cromwell more human and likable than I'd ever imagined him to be. And this, I think, is the magic of Mantel's writing. This book is about the people, not the events. And she has taken a rather slimy, vengeful, self-serving historical figure and delivered a man that we can relate to...and even like. So, personally, I think this book was slightly better than the first.

The Last Vampire, by Christopher Pike

2012 Book 89: The Last Vampire, by Christopher Pike (6/20/2012)

Reason for Reading: I used to read Christopher Pike when I was in middle school. Around the 7th grade, I decided he wrote trash and moved on to bigger and better books (literally). A few years back, I saw this book and whimsically bought it. I've finally gotten around to it...and come to the conclusion: My 7th grade self was very discerning. And my 30-something self should be ashamed of not trusting 7th grade self. Serves me right for reading a book entitled Thirst No. 1.

My Review 1/5 stars
Thirst No. 1 is a compilation of the first three books in a series written by Pike in the mid-90's. I only made it through the first book, The Last Vampire, so that's what I'm basing this review on. The basic plot-line is that a 5000-year-old vampire falls in love with a teenager and fights for her life against another 5000-year-old vampire. At first, I was impressed that Pike incorporated Hindu mythology into his plot (albeit with no dedication to the spirit of Hinduism). And the writing wasn't as bad as I thought it would be. But then I realized how flat the characters were and how many loopholes the story had. I remembered why I didn't like Christopher Pike--he scandalized me with his sexually active teenagers. I was less scandalized at 32 than I was at 12, but I still feel the casual "of course they're sexually active" style was inappropriate for teen literature. I simply don't think writers of teen books should make sex look like such a casual, unimportant act. However, I was prepared to finish Thirst No. 1 until the end of the first book. Total cliffhanger! And unnecessarily so. The only purpose of this cliffhanger was to leave the readers incomplete so that they'd rush into the next novel. One or two more sentences would have left the reader feeling complete. Personally, I feel authors should FINISH THEIR BOOKS!!!! What trash! Blagh!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The Old Gringo, by Carlos Fuentes

2012 Book 88: The Old Gringo, by Carlos Fuentes (6/19/2012)

Reason for Reading: In celebration of the life of Carlos Fuetes (November 11, 1928 – May 15, 2012). This was a group read on 75ers.

My Review 4/5 stars
The Old Gringo is a biographical novel about the alleged disappearance of Ambrose Bierce in Mexico during the revolution. Bierce travels to Mexico because he wants to be killed--and to be a good-looking corpse. Despite these simple desires, Bierce ends up in a dangerous triangle with a General of the Revolution and an American woman. This is a very difficult book to review because it is so deeply symbolic. I think the main idea is that life is like a dream--a dream in which people are prisoners of their pasts. Because of the dream-like quality of the prose, the book is heavy reading; it's not for everybody. However, those who appreciate symbolic and tragic literature will certainly enjoy The Old Gringo.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Complete Triathlon Guide

2012 Book 87: Complete Triathlon Guide, compiled by USA Triathlon (6/17/2012)

Reason for Reading: LibraryThing ER book. I'm training for a triathlon and was hoping this book would provide some useful tips--but it was for athletes more advanced than I.

My Review 4/5 stars
This is a comprehensive guide to training and competing in triathlons. It begins by covering the basics of creating a yearly training regime, then describes training strategies and technique drills, it discusses techniques to use prior to and during races, and finally discusses injuries, nutrition, choosing gear, and choosing a coach. Although this book is advertised for triathletes of all levels, it would be most helpful to experienced (or very determined) athletes or for coaches. This is not a book for beginners or for people who just want to train for triathlons simply "for fun" or to get into good shape.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Rage of Lions, by Curtis Jobling

2012 Book 86: Rage of Lions, by Curtis Jobling (6/17/2012)

Reason for Reading: Second book in the Wereworld series

My Review 3.5/5 stars
In this second installment of the Wereworld series, young Wolflord Drew goes on a mission to capture his angry half-brother, the Werelion Lucas. Meanwhile, civil war is brewing in Lyssia. I was really impressed with the world-building of the first book of this series, Rise of the Wolf, so I eagerly rushed to get the second book as soon as it was published. Rage of Lions was action-packed, while thickening the plot by introducing moral dilemmas--the consequences of bad choices with good intentions. I think this book didn't quite hold par with the first one, but it was certainly enough to keep me eager for the third installment, Shadow of the Hawk, which is coming soon. I was a little disappointed with the cliff-hanger ending. I understand that Jobling can't tie up all his loose ends, but certainly he could have made it a little more satisfying.

Revelations, by Elaine Pagels

2012 Book 85: Revelations: Visions, Prophecy, and Politics in the Book of Revelation, by Elaine Pagels (6/17/2012)

Reason for Reading: General interest in Church history and apocalyptic literature

My Review: 4/5 stars
In her newest book, Pagels explores the history of John of Patmos' Book of Revelation. She outlines what we know about John of Patmos, what he was trying to say with his preaching, and how contemporaries may have responded. The second half of the book covers the history of Christianity in the first two centuries C.E., with emphasis on Pagels' favorite topic of disparate beliefs among early groups. She completes the book with a description of how the Bible Cannon was chosen, with some suggestions about why John of Patmos' Book of Revelation was the only apocalyptic literature included. Pagels' writing is clear and interesting, though a bit repetitive--especially if you've read some of her earlier works. If you're interested in early church history, especially the disparate groups of Christians, then this is the book for you. If you're interested in apocalyptic literature in early Christian history, then the first half of this book, and the tail end, is for you.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Wolf Hall, by Hilary Mantel

2012 Book 84: Wolf Hall, by Hilary Mantel (6/13/2012)

Reason for Reading: 12 in 12 group read

My Review 4/5 stars
Wolf Hall is a highly acclaimed historical novel about Thomas Cromwell's early career first working for Wolsey and then for Henry VIII, engineering the rise of Anne Boleyn as Queen. Mantel brings various historical characters to vivacious life, expertly highlighting their virtues and vices. Her lyrical prose sweeps the reader into the story. I loved this book and am eager to start Bring up the Bodies, the second book in the trilogy. However, I'll note for the sake of potential readers: this book is heavy reading and has a unique writing style which many people find confusing. I listened to the audiobook, which was particularly difficult to follow because of Mantel's unique use of pronouns. Although Simon Slater's performance is exceptional, I think the physical book may be easier to follow. Knowledge of the events described is not necessary for enjoyment of the book, but would greatly enhance it.

Insurgent, by Veronica Roth

2012 Book 83: Insurgent, by Veronica Roth (6/7/2012)

Reason for Reading: Second book in the Divergent trilogy

My Review 4.5/5 stars
The second book in the Divergent trilogy picks up almost immediately after the end of the first book. Tris explores the boundaries of friendship and betrayal as she fights to reestablish balance in her torn-up world. Like Divergent, Insurgent isn't JUST an exciting dystopic novel with unique world-building and enticing protagonists, it is also a deeper book which will make the reader see areas of grey the in the choices the characters make. It's a suspenseful, fun, and thoughtful book. I definitely recommend it to anyone who reads dystopic YA lit.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Divergent, by Veronica Roth

2012 Book 82: Divergent, by Veronica Roth (6/2/2012)

Reason for Reading: Curiosity

My Review 5/5 stars
The future Chicago has 5 factions of people, each representing a moral value: Amity, Dauntless, Candor, Erudite, and Abnegation. At the age of 16, Beatrice Prior and all her classmates must choose which faction to join. Beatrice struggles with the choice—does she follow her desires or does she choose to stay with her family? I was deeply impressed by this book. This isn’t ANY YA-dystopia-with-strong-female-lead. This is an amazing coming-of-age story that explores the meanings of morals, identity, and courage. Furthermore, Roth has managed to create a female lead who is strong while still leaving her human AND keeping her morals intact. Beatrice is an admirable and courageous young woman, despite her youthful identity crisis. Roth has also written a suspenseful and intriguing tale—I read the book in one sitting because I simply didn’t want to stop. The action is exciting without being gore-spittingly violent. Sure, there’s violence…there has to be for the plot to work. But Roth describes the scenes so well that people can imagine as much (or as little) gore as they wish. Gore is not inserted for its shock value. Divergent is exciting enough that all action-lovers should be thrilled, and the people who appreciate a more deeply meaningful story will be satisfied. I can’t wait to read the next!

PS FYI I'm comparing it to The Hunger Games, which I found to be tastelessly violent with a rather unlikeable main character. But that's just me! :)