Monday, January 28, 2013

Odd, those Norse Myths

Odd and the Frost Giants – by Neil Gaiman

Fantasy (MG+)
128 pages
Footnotes/Endnotes: No
Illustrations: Yes
Suitable for eReaders: Yes
5 Stars

This delightful tale of Odd, a young lad who helps Thor, Odin, and Loki regain their godly shape from the Bear, Eagle, and Fox they were changed into, and further helps to get Thor's hammer back, and save Asgard, and the human world below, from eternal winter is a fun read! (Phew! that was a long sentence. You may now stop and breathe;-) At first, the Gods try to hide the fact they can talk, but Odd catches them at it, and they admit it. He helps them, and they help him, helping to maintain balance as it should be.

It is listed for Grade 3-6 -- and perhaps I am finally in my second childhood? -- but this was a fun retelling of the old Norse myths, a grand introduction to one who isn't familiar with them.

When you need a couple hours of escape, this is a great book in which to crawl and enjoy that time, that escape, that delightful story. Neil Gaiman does a remarkable job of putting you in the story right from the beginning. Well crafted tale.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Trekking for Tea

China's Ancient Tea Horse Road –Text by Andrew Forbes, Photographs by David Henley

2782 KB / 91 pages
Footnotes/Endnotes: No
Illustrations: Yes
Suitable for eReaders: Not really *
4 Stars

If you are a tea drinker, and interested in the history of tea, this might be an utterly fascinating book. I am neither a tea drinker, nor particularly fascinated by the history of tea, and it was merely interesting.

However, I am fascinated by the history of China, and bought this book for my Kindle. Big mistrake.

There are several photos and copies of paintings in this book that were too small to be enjoyed on my Kindle, and the captions below almost unreadable. And, because I have last year's Kindle, and not the Kindle Fire, they were all in black and white. (They may be black and white in the hard copy, I don't know.)

And the formatting was a tad off putting. there were line breaks where there should have been none, thereby creating paragraphs where there should have been none. Irritating, not major. Okay, major enough I'm grousing about it.

I thoroughly enjoyed the text (except for the formatting issues) and think I would have enjoyed the photos had I been able to properly see them. The map was totally useless. Now, what I would have loved to have read a hard copy book, with a fold-out map (I love maps. One can never have too many maps.) and been able to follow along as I read the text, and viewed the pictures. Alas, the only map was at the very beginning and too small hard to read.

The Ancient China Tea Horse Road was a caravan route, actually several that merged along the way, from China to Lhasa, Tibet, and then on across Tibet and down into Burma, India and other countries. It was actually in use until the Chinese claimed their ancient right to Tibet (Kublai Khan's era, I think). And is, once again, in use, however, there is now a road, instead of a trail.

Porters, and sometimes mules, carried teas, and other trade goods, depending on where one was along the way across high and treacherous trails up the Himalaya Mountains. This route was especially important during WWII and when the Communists were fighting Chiang Kai-Shek. There are actual photos of some of the porters, and an interview in this book. That, alone, made it worth the read. I just wish the photos had been larger. And the map usable.

If you plan a trip to China, or Southeast Asia, read this book. If at all possible, find a hard copy of it. Get a map of China, and follow along, I think you'll find it of interest. 

*NOTE: I was given a Kindle Fire for my birthday, and I have to say that, on the fire, the book is great.  The illustrations are vivid, and the formatting perfect.

Got a Bone in Your Throat?

Bone in the Throat –by Anthony Bourdain

372 KB / 304 pages
Footnotes/Endnotes: No
Illustrations: No
Suitable for eReaders: Yes
4 Stars

Murder mysteries are not my usual genre when I reach for fiction; however, I'd just finished reading Kitchen Confidential (see below) and enjoyed it, so added Bone in the Throat to my Kindle. While it's not the story I would have given to my Sunday School Teacher as a child, it is a story I'd have shared with my Drill Instructor.

This is his first novel and I think he did a pretty good job. It's set in a mobbed up restaurant in New York City. The language is a tad rough for the genteel set, but perfect for the story. I gave it 4 stars more for the publisher than the author. When it was translated from paper to electrons, a lot of formatting was lost, quotation marks dropped, the symbol for the British Pound found it's way into the story as a double, lower case 'l', nothing serious, but enough times (once is too much) to be irritating and cost points – for the publisher, not the author!*

If you are a lover of metaphor, don't bother with this one. Bourdain tells the story straight out, with no creative flowery stuff. When he talks about the sex, it's straight out about the sex. When he talks about the murder it's well described in a few words, not drug out for paragraphs and pages. If the 'F' word offends thee, don't read this. But, do get a life.

Tommy is the sous-chef at the Dreadnought Restaurant. His dad disappeared when he was a kid (assumed mob hit) and his uncle, a wannabee Wise Guy, takes him under his wing and helps his sister, Tommy's mother, raise him. Tommy wants nothing to do with the mob or his uncle, he wants to be a chef, and avoids his uncle as much as possible. But Uncle Sal is, after all, family. And then Uncle Sal needs Tommy to do a favor for him, payback for the help, a simple favor that won't get him in trouble or cause him grief. Yeah. Right.

Tommy and his drugged out boss, the Chef, are now caught in the midst of an FBI operation, drug rehab and threats, Mob mentality, and, well, for a fun read, pick up the book. As stated above, this book does not fall into my usual fiction genre, and until I finished the last chapter, I wasn't sure I'd pick up another Bourdain novel, but I will.

Oh, and if you don't recognize at least one of the Mob Guys, you need to read or watch more news!

*OK, maybe I should change to a 5 star. I received a Kindle Fire, and the formatting is perfect! Why it is good on the Fire and not my older Kindle, I don't know.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Do Ya Wanna be a Chef? Huh? Do Ya?

Kitchen Confidential – by Anthony Bourdain

464 KB/321 Pages
Footnotes/Endnotes: No
Illustrations: No
Suitable for eReaders: Yes
5 Stars

Okay, I admit, I like Anthony Bourdain. I travel the world and enjoy foods vicariously through his TV show, No Reservations that I will never get to see or enjoy any other way. I also admit, right up front, if you think the language of the show is rough, the language in this book is full bore with No Bleeps!

Last year, I read Beaten, Seared, and Sauced, a memoir by Jonathan Dixon on his journey to become a Chef and graduate from the CIA. It was fun.

This year, Kitchen Confidential seemed a natural follow on. Both Bourdain and Dixon attended and graduated from the same CIA campus. Both are male. Both write well. End of comparison.

Bourdain is a Bad Boy from the get-go. I have a soft spot for Bad Boys, at least some. At least those who are at a safe distance;-) This memoir is filled with raunch, booze, drugs, and escapades that had me laughing out loud almost through the whole thing. I started it as a bedtime read, and spent most of today on the sofa finishing it. I don't mind the language if it's in a funny setting. And it is, well, Bourdain.

He tells us when to order fish, and when not to, and why. He explains what really goes on behind the scenes in the kitchen. His crew a missed match bunch of bawdy pirates, who come and go with the tides. And just about the time when you wonder, really wonder, he takes us into a 3-star restaurant, and shows us how a kitchen can be run—with respect, quiet, totally the opposite of New York's Les Halles where he is the Executive Chef (at least at the time of the writing of the book). He points out the differences, and explains why he will never be a 3-star Chef.

Do you think you might like to be a Chef? Do your friends tell you you should open your own restaurant, serve your special foods and drinks for money? Do you harbor that dream of having your own show on Food Network, of becoming the next Iron Chef? Read this book, and think about it, very, very seriously. Then, if you still want to open your own place, go forth and do so. But remember what Anthony Bourdain writes. Remember his descriptions of his hands. Can you stand for 10-17 hours a day, seven days a week? Pay attention. And don't say you weren't warned!

Man's Search for Meaning

Man's Search for Meaning –by Viktor E. Frankl

1803 KB/185 pages
Footnotes/Endnotes: Yes
Illustrations: No
Suitable for eReaders: Depends
5 Stars

I purchased and read this on my Kindle. It has endnotes at each of the 3 sections, and I found it frustrating I couldn't get to them, let alone back to the text. If you are like me, and like to read them, then get the hard copy.

This is not the first time I've read the book, I think it's one of those books everyone should read at least once in their adult life, and probably a few more times throughout the rest of their life.

The first part of the book is about Frankl's time in the Concentration Camps of the Holocaust. What makes his account different from most of the other's I've read, though surprisingly not all, was the attitude he chose to live through his imprisonment, which started out in Auschwitz.

Frankl was of the opinion that our greatest freedom is the freedom to choose our attitude. And that, if you have meaning in your life, you can live through anything, or at least die with dignity.

It was illegal for those in the Camps to actively stop someone who was trying to commit suicide, but Frankl and other's were able to work with several men (men and women were segregated by gender) find a meaning to their life, and to continue to live.

The second and third sections of the book basically described his theory on how to conduct Logotherapy. The book is not clinical, and I think anyone who is interested can easily access the information. It is a quick read, and if you want to apply any of the lessons, I think it will change your life for the better.

I couldn't help but notice how many of what Dr. Frankl taught, was similar to the basics of what Buddhism teaches, though Dr. Frankl was not Buddhist.

If I had a hard copy, it would be on the shelf next to my copy of Sunflower by Simon Wiesenthal. Both excellent books, both by survivors, both easy reads of a difficult subject.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Sometimes I'm Witchey, Sometimes I'm Not...

The Serpent's Kiss: A Witches of East End Novel –by Milissa de la Cruz

750KB/330 pages
Footnotes/Endnotes: No
Illustrations: No
Suitable for eReaders: Yes

I purchased this book on the Kindle Daily Deal, intrigued by the title (love a really good witch story) and did not read any of the reviews. Had I done so, I would not have bothered. It is Book 2 of 3 books. And it reads that way.

There seemed to be little substance in the book, now I understand why -- it was merely a bridge between two other books. Unfortunately, I probably won't invest my time (or money) in either Book 1 or Book 2.

The setting is a delightful village of North Hampton, and the characters are fun. There was a lot of humor, which I like, the writing seemed solid, and it's probably too bad that Book 2 was offered on the Daily Deal rather than Book 1. I do wish the publishers of series books would put the number on the cover, ie, Book 2 of 3, to help readers understand what they are buying, especially when the purchase is made online.

As a stand alone book, I don't recommend this. As part of the series? Well, I can't recommend it because I haven't read the rest of the series. I am giving it an Amazon rating of 2 stars because it did not make me rush back to the computer to purchase any more of her books. (Please understand, I have picked up and read series books starting in the middle, on more than one occasion, only to rush back to the bookstore as soon as I finished to purchase the remainder of the series. While frustrating to start in the middle, it isn't the end of the world. In this case, though, it is the end of the series, at least for me.)

Sunday, January 13, 2013

How to Subdue and Properly Use your Editor

The 10% Solution –by Ken Rand  (Self-editing for the Modern Writer)

95 pages
Footnotes/Endnotes: No
Illustrations: No
Suitable for eReaders: Yes

If you are a writer, you need this book. You need to read it, and read it again, and probably again through the years. It belongs on your desk, within arm's reach.

Do you know a writer? Buy them this book!

The most difficult thing for a writer to do is write and turn off her editor. The editor is loud, obnoxious, and says, "Me, me, me" until the writer agrees to let the editor play. The editor must be told, with great firmness, that he can play when the writer is finished. Rand explains how to do that.

He also explains, in very easy steps, how to edit your own manuscript. I've known about cutting 10% for years, but he shows the how, as well as explains the why, to get it done.

This is not the end-all be-all 'How To' book for writers, but it is an important book to have in one's library. Actually, it should be on a writer's desk, right next to her copy of Stunk & White's The Elements of Style.

I've known for years this book existed, and I'm sorry I didn't get my copy sooner.

I would write more, but I have a story I need to edit....

Another Day in the Magic (Yawn!) Castle

Mesmer, Book 2: Favoured (A Three Towers Fantasy) –by Isabella Amaris

Fantasy, Alternate Universe
Footnotes/Endnotes: No
Illustrations: No
Suitable for eReaders: Yes

The first book was a fast read, and an engrossing story. The second book, not so much. The premise should be great fun as our heroine, Lea, who was raised in a kingdom that taught there is no such thing as magic, and believes it, finds herself in a magical kingdom.

Unfortunately, for this reader, the heroine is not likable. She's spoiled, forever apologizing for trying to escape and insulting her host (captor?) and his magic. She always loses; he always wins.

There is a hint of romance, which neither seem able or wanting, to pursue. Me, either.

Lea meets the Countess, Cecily Rose, in the magical castle and I don't like her, either. What I did find humorous, the first time (by the umpteenth it was annoying) was Lea's inability to see herself in Cecily. They truly mirror each other.

In my review of Book 1, I stated the characters were moderately interesting, the world moderately intriguing. By the end of Book 2, I find the world still moderately interesting, but the characters in need of a good spanking! They are all arrogant, spoiled, and not very likeable. Well (spoiler alert), Greybeard the cat is cute, cuddly, and so far likeable. Sad, isn't it?

Like Book 1, Book 2 ends on a cliffhanger. Will I bother with book 3? I honestly don't know.

There were some formatting issues in this book that obviously bothered me, or I wouldn't have noticed them so often – several open quotes got lost in the Forbidden Forest. Irritating.

A few very modern phrases crept into the story that didn't fit. They also jarred.

I think if the author read, and used, The Ten Percent Solution –by Ken Rand, and took out more than ten percent, she would have a great story. She might find herself with a trilogy of novellas rather than novels, but they would be tighter and more interesting.

At best, I rate this a 2 star, and that's more for the gumption it took to get them written and published, than for quality or story.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

A good Laugh Amongst Friends

Seriously...I'm Kidding –by Ellen DeGeneres

256 pages
footnotes/endnotes: Yes (* on page one and notes on page last)
Illustrations: Yes – line drawings made to color
Suitable for eReaders: Yes (read it on my Kindle)

I am not a fan of talk shows, but I am a fan of Ellen DeGeneres. She's cute, she's funny, and she doesn't use put down humor – at least that I've seen. She is also, like Michael J. Fox, an incurable optimist. Since I do most of my reading at night, in bed, before sleep, I want something that won't give me nightmares when I turn off the lights, and if I get laughs in my dreams, so much the better.

Ellen has a lot to say in this book. I haven't read her others, but they are now on my list. If it is possible to feel better for having read a book, I feel better for having read this one! This book is hilariously laugh out loud funny, it is uplifting, and there are a few nuggets of gold sprinkled throughout. Including, I think, The Secret. Since she shared it with her readers, I'm going to quote it here:

"Happiness comes from within. You have the power to change your own mind-set so that all the negative, horrible thoughts that try to invade your psyche are replaced with happy, positive, wonderful thoughts."  She goes on to state that, "Happiness is a journey, not a destination."

I have found both those statements, in one form or another, to be true. Also true is that, "Happiness is a choice, and not always an easy one!" by Richard Bach

So if you need a little happiness in your life (and who doesn't?) get a copy of this book and read it. The chapters are just the right length to read while sitting in the Throne Room;-)

Need a good escape? Read, Seriously...I'm Kidding! Need a bunch of laughs? Read, Seriously...I'm Kidding! Need answers to life's niggling questions? Read, uh wait, Seriously...I'm Kidding;-)

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Mesmerizing - Almost

Mesmer, Book 1: Sanctuary –by Isabella Amaris

Fantasy, Alternate Universe
324 pages
Footnotes/Endnotes: No
Illustrations: No
Suitable for eReaders: Yes (free for Kindle at time of this post)

This is a fast read, the story engrossing enough to keep me reading, though I got a little tired of our heroine, Lea, and her bull headedness.

The story opens with her in the Forbidden Forest, escaping something horrible. She'd been captured and tortured, but we don't know why, nor do we know how she escapes. She is from a country that does not believe in magic, in any form, and finds herself rescued by a young man, Caleb, and taken to the castle of Gabriel, a Magi.

Lea has an over riding urge to flee, to escape, to get back to her country, and she doesn't believe in magic though it stares her in the face every time she opens her eyes. Although I found Lea a bit of a whiner and brat, I admit I enjoyed the story, over all.

I hurried to the end, to find out what she escaped from, how, and why she needs to return to her kingdom immediately, if not sooner only to be left with a cliffhanger ending and none of my questions answered.

This is the first of a trilogy, and I will get the second book; however, I think if the book ended with the answer to some of our questions, and the positing of others, rather than a cliffhanger, I would have liked it better.

The characters are moderately interesting, the world moderately intriguing. I will probably get book 2, but if my questions aren't answered, at least to a degree, I'm not sure I'll care about book 3.

For a free book, I'm not complaining about the price. And what the heck, it's calorie-free brain candy;-)

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

When Men Become Gods

When Men Become Gods – Mormon Polygamist Warren Jeffs, His Cult of Fear, and the Women Who Fought Back –by Stephen Singular

294 pages
Footnotes/Endnotes: No
Illustrations: Yes (b/w photos)
Suitable for eReaders: Yes

I have read a few books by and about some of the women who escaped the polygamist lifestyle, and all of them were riveting. However, they were primarily about the women, and this book is primarily about Warren Jeffs and how he controlled his people, and, ultimately, how his downfall was brought about.

It took me two days to read this book. Had I forgone food and sleep, it would have been a "one sit read." I found it very interesting reading the backstory of how Jeffs was eventually captured, and his church brought down.

If you have ever watched the TV series, Big Love, and thought to yourself that polygamy isn't all that bad, after all, they're all consenting adults, I can only say to you to do some serious reading. Read Carolyn Jessop's book, Escape; read When Men Become Gods.

And if you think it can't be so bad, or the women would leave, think again. If they have been taught that leaving is not only evil, but condemning their very souls to Hell, if they are beaten and held against their will until they "keep sweet," if they have never known any other life, or even of any other life because their education is controlled (read: nonexistent), they have no radios, televisions, libraries, etc., if they have no way to earn a living, how do they know they can leave.

And what about the Lost Boys who are thrown out as uneducated young teens because they are competing for the girls for wives?

It is nothing more, nor less, than religious terrorism in our country. Radical, fundamentalist Islam is no different than the FLDS.

When Men Become Gods. Buy it. Read it.