Monday, July 23, 2012

"The Art of Racing in the Rain" by Garth Stein

Books about dogs always end up with me getting to the last page a blubbering mess and 'The Art of Racing in the Rain' is no exception my friends. Not like author Garth Stein doesn't give ample time to get yourself prepared - in fact by the time you've put the first few pages behind you it's inevitable that Enzo, the lovable pup in question, isn't long for this world. 

While nearly all of the dog stories I've sat down with end in similar fashion, this is the first time I've read one where the narrator is, in fact, the dog himself. Not the guy who loved and lost him [like the one about the crazy golden retriever] or about how far their people will go to try and hold onto them, death be damned [Dog, Inc]. No - this one is told from the perspective of Enzo, the lab-terrier mix, who has humble beginnings on a farm, believes that humans evolved from dogs, loves car racing, his family and dreams of his next life as a human.

But was it worth the read? If you like dogs and have at least a small interest in the world of race cars than this one is definitively for you. I love dogs, and this particular breed of sappy stories are a soft spot of mine, but about halfway through I found myself bored with the pages and pages of racing history and car references - having to force myself through them to get back to the drama that the author had done such an excellent job of creating. 

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Personal Reading Challenge #1: The Sci-Fi Top 100

Ever since I could hold a book on my own I've been reading, and ever since I've been able to read I've been drawn to Science Fiction. The prevailing theory as to why is pretty straightforward. My father had stacks of them lying around the house when I was growing up and boxes of them in the attic.

Whether it was the pretty covers or the fact that they were easier to get my hands on then library books I chewed through these stacks and boxes and inadvertently became absolutely enthralled with authors like Orson Scott Card and Larry Niven.

As extensive as my father's old book collection was, it did finally run out and I was left to strike out into the literary wilds on my own. While I managed, and discovered some truly great authors on my own, it became more and more difficult to satiate my 2-4 book a week reading habit with good material.

Lucky for me I've grown up during the age of the internet and not too long after I departed for college I found a website that has driven one  of  my more attainable reading goals: Read everything that is listed on the Science Fiction Top 100.

As the list stands today I've only managed to read 28 titles on it. But this is a living list and people are constantly voting on new entries while the current entries get pushed around a bit. In the past that number has been nearing the halfway mark, but I don't think I've ever crossed it.

So is this an attainable challenge? Who knows but it's been a lot of fun and I've stumbled on some great books this way. How do you discover new authors? Do you have a similar challenge for yourself to keep the discovery process interesting?

Friday, July 20, 2012

Free Book Giveaway - Winner's Choice!

Being the new kid in town is never easy but it's easier if you have friends.

So, this is how it's going to work - nothing too fancy, I promise: All you need to do to enter is leave a comment below that includes a book that you'd like to see reviewed by yours truly. I'll randomly select one lucky winner one month from today and buy that book for that person (in any format that you choose). In the meantime I'll use the recommendations in the comments to base the reviews here on the site.

It's a win-win for everyone involved really. I find out what you want reviews for and I give out free books.

But like everything else in life there are some rules.  Good thing I can only think of three:
  • No titles over $20 (sorry I'm not working from tremendously deep pockets here)
  • The title needs to be publicly available on or before August 21st, 2012; and
  •  One entry per person. (Because that's just fair)
All right! I'll see you in the comments!

Batman - The Dark Knight Rises

I know this is a book review site but I love a good comic book movie almost as much as I love books and I couldn't resist reviewing this one.

This particulate incarnation, with a focus on Batman's coming to terms with himself, has to be the best entry of the saga to date. Both "Batman Begins" and the "The Dark Knight" have featured a stellar modernization of the classic villains like Scarecrow, Joker, and Harvey Dent so I had been looking forward to this latest adventure for months. I was not disappointed: This one needs to go directly onto you "must see" of the summer list.

Christian Bale has a knack for playing the batty hero of Gotham. Even with the mildly annoying 'tracheotomy voice of disguise' (which I'll be honest, threw me a little in the first movie), presented his fantastically dark and conflicted version of Bruce Wayne without a hitch. The story this time is Wayne's beloved Gotham City is under threat of a nuclear bomb (surprise!) being wielded by the wickedly twisted Bane. His reasons for holding New York Gotham hostage are deeper than what you might be used to for an action film and may just have you thinking on you're way out of the theater.

With all the highs in this movie I don't want to linger too long on any lows, but I found myself wishing that the relationship Bruce has with Miranda (played by Marion Cotillard) was explored deeper than the 10 minutes of screen time it was allotted. By the end some of the motivations seemed altogether too weak and frankly, unjustified. If I'm totally honest though, I didn't really care and I'm kind of glad that time was taken with the more colorful co-stars where there was obviously a tremendous amount of acting chemistry. Beside - would you rather see Batman getting it on with someone who feels like a non-sequitor more than a coherent part of the story or would you rather see more Alfred

Lastly, the on-screen chemistry between Bale and Anne Hathaway (The Cat (burglar) Woman) and a last minute Robin reveal truly have me wishing this wasn't the final chapter of this Batman before the inevitable reboot in a few years. I'm happy for the masked man when the story closes but selfishly want him to put on his suit just one more time. 

Thursday, July 19, 2012

"Optical Delusions in Deadwood" (Deadwood Mysteries #2) by Ann Charles

'Optical Delusions' is the second installment of Ann Charles' Deadwood Mysteries. The basic idea behind the series is that single mom, Violet, has moved back to Deadwood with her twin children, becomes a realtor and sells houses to make what living she can. All this while she navigates the waters of a troubled, but steamy romance and tries to sleuth out the details of a classic who-dunnit with a supernatural twist.

But that's not the whole story. Violet might be an average, single mom, struggling to keep her job and her kids fed but she's after the happenings in book one, she's making herself a name as Deadwood's famous Ghost realtor. This leads her be contacted by a pair of mousy women who live in a beautiful house, that just so happens to abut an old strip mine, be the location of a grisly murder-suicide and oh yeah... it supposedly haunted. Desperately trying to convince herself and her friends that representing the property is a good idea the facts start to stack against it and the mystery really starts to take off.

As a whole, this installment has definitely been more enjoyable than the last, (see my review of book one here), as Ann Charles seems to have found her stride with this motley crew of characters. While this one was only indulged because of its Free to read with Amazon Prime, you can be sure that I'll be checking out book three.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

"Nearly Departed in Deadwood" (Deadwood Mystery Series #1) by Ann Charles

'Nearly Departed in Deadwood' was a fast, sometimes humorous but mostly average read. The main character Violet is the kind of character that will remind most people of someone they know and is almost too easy to understand: she's a single mother whose moved to a new town to get a restart while mooching off her Aunt. All while her two children both annoy her and desperately try to find her "a man" in equal measure.

The secondary characters are colorful, but the plot and the way the romance resolved are both teetering on the edge of predictable. That said, even though the resolutions are fairly obvious early on the author still manages to eek out a few interesting twists.

Overall, this title wasn't a bad use of the free monthly from Amazon Prime read and since it seems like next installment of Ann Charles' Deadwood is available in the Kindle Lending Library it's already lined up in the 'to-read' queue in hopes that her sophomore effort is just a little bit sharper.

Fifty Shades Trilogy: "Fifty Shades of Grey"; "Fifty Shades Darker"; "Fifty Shades Freed" by E.L. James

[The review that follows is for all three books of the 'Fifty Shades' trilogy]

When every woman you know has gone crazy about a book - to the point where you feel like you might be in mortal danger if you don't comply - you either read it or run for the hills screaming. I speak here of a specific kind of mortal danger that is usually reserved for only the most horrifying science fiction robot take-overs. These hostilities usually start with a horde of already converted nearest and dearest swooning something like: 

"You haven't read it yet?! Oh we need to fix that deary" 

{Insert creepy, glazed over expressions and a copy of the book being flown at your face} 

"You'll love it, I promise. Just relax..."

But I digress.

I won't be breaking any new ground by telling you all what you know already: these books are porn.

Future Robot Overlord

The story arch is flimsy at best and only serves to deliver the reader from one page of hotness to another making it easy to see why something like this climbed the New York Times best seller ladder so quickly. Not that I fault the sex-starved masses for falling for Ana or Fifty's certain style of kinky - but I'm just not impressed.

What I am is worried. Seems like those robots will have an easier time forcing us into slavery than I'd originally hoped.

"The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer" by Michelle Hodkin

When I first sat down with The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer I was skeptical. It was tough not to feel like I was about to voluntarily be burned by some cheesy, teenage romance novel with a fantastic twist - again. [I can't be the only one still a little sore over reading a thousand pages of "Sparkling Vampire" drivel, can I?]

But you know what? I don't feel burned at all. The story that Michelle Hodkin weaves in her first novel is interesting, dark and compelling. The main character Mara is well rounded... well... as well rounded as teenage girl can be I suppose... and her relationship with Noah doesn't feel like it's being forced down my throat.

My one and only complaint is that like many other books in the genre a large percentage of the heroine's hurdles are solved by having access to another character's bottomless bank account. While this may have proved original at one point, its clearly not anywhere near realistic and has become a shameful and obvious cop-out that used to avoid having to come up with creative solutions to their character's problems.

Even with that one, extremely small critique, when push comes to shove the author still manages to deliver a surprising, thoughtful, sometimes creepy, and altogether solid read with a cliff hanger that just begs to read the second title in the series due out in October.