Friday, December 21, 2007

Blood is the New Black by Valerie Stivers (2/5 stars)

I picked up this book on a whim in the used book section of a Barnes and Noble near my house. I had been reading some heavier books and wanted something light and funny that I could breeze through before the Christmas holidays. This book fulfilled that need, but didn’t deliver a whole lot more.

The book follows Kate McGraw, a pre-med student, who gets an opportunity to work an internship at a premier fashion magazine called Tasty. Kate is granted the opportunity though contacts that her aunt Victoria has. At first Kate is reluctant to take the job because of some dark history her mother had with the fashion industry. Despite the dark memories of how Kate’s mom abandoned her husband and daughter; Kate decides to look past that and, drawn in by her own love of fashion, accepts the job at Tasty. When Kate starts working there she finds that her co-workers are very different from normal people, and not just in a fashionista way.

There were more things that I disliked about this novel than liked; so lets start with the positive first.

- This was a quick, fun novel to read.
- There were some creative ideas about Vampires. First being that you need the appropriate “vampire-gene” to be turned. Secondly that vampirism actually infects you with a materialistic nature, you have a need to shop and buy expensive cloths.

- All of the characters in the book seemed rather dead (no pun intended; okay maybe a little pun intended) to me. They were very one-dimensional with no depth at all.
- Kate was kind of unemotional about the whole thing. I mean, if I found out my co-workers were literal blood-suckers I would be a lot more shocked about it and not so blasé.
- This book was very much like a sweet snack. It was shallow and unfulfilling. There were no lush descriptions, no strong emotions, and no real point to anything that happened.
- The climax of the book, like the rest of it, fell flat for me.
- The romance between Kate and James also fell flat. It was very choppy with no continuation. Very on again, off again, without much actual development occurring.
- The style of this book is so simplistic that at times it felt like I was reading a novel by a 10 year old who really knows their fashion facts.

Given the extended lists of dislikes, it was still an okay book. It was a light, slightly humorous read. If you are looking for a quick, okay read to pass some time this book might be for you. If you are looking for something original and inspiring, humorous or engaging I would try reading a Sookie Stackhouse book by Charlaine Harris or some other similar writer of this genre.

Eats, Shoots and Leaves by Lynne Truss (4/5 star)

I was very curious about this book; it is a best-selling novel that is primarily about punctuation, how can you go wrong?

The layout to the book is fairly simple and the style is replicated for each chapter. In each chapter Truss tells some funny anecdotes about the punctuation being discussed; she give some examples of how misusing the punctuation can change the meaning of the whole sentence. She then discusses the proper use of the punctuation and follows that with a history of how the punctuation got to be where it is today. Full chapters are given to the discussion of the comma and the apostrophe. Colons, semi-colons, braces, etc. are combined in the two final chapters.

Now you are asking, “How can this book be interesting?” If you have ever wondered if you are doing your punctuation properly, it will be interesting. If you have ever wondered where the strange punctuations we use come from, it will be interesting to you. If you have never wondered any of the above, then the examples of punctuation missteps given will probably have you chuckling anyway.

There were a lot of things I liked about this book and some I disliked. I will give a list of each below.

- I liked the humor in the book.
- Descriptions of how to use the punctuation were easy to understand.
- The brief histories’ of the punctuations were also interesting.
- Truss does a good job of comparing American and English punctuation; so even though Truss in an English author, us Americans don’t feel left out.
- The book was nicely organized and well-written (although this should be a given considering the topic).
- This book really drives home the point of how subjective punctuation is and how flexible and variable the rules of punctuation are.
- It really made me start to pay more attention to my usage of punctuation.
- The anecdotal stories about punctuation usage provide great examples and are interesting.

- In some cases it makes the proper use of punctuation more muddy than ever. It drives home the fact that the more you learn about a thing, the more you realize you don’t (and never will) fully understand it.
- There is a lot of self-gratifying (for the author) ranting about the misusage of punctuation. This could be good or bad depending on if you relate to the author’s rants or not.
- An English author wrote this book; there are many references in English language that might be confusing to an American reader. Many of the punctuations have different names in British English than in American English – the author does make an attempt to address this.
- The topic of “where will books be in the future” is briefly visited in the last chapter. This is such a large and controversial topic that I think it might have been better to not bring it up at all than to mention it, but then say that it’s not going to be discussed.
- This book also makes me think way too much about my punctuation now; I suppose that could be a good thing.

Overall this was a good book to read. It is not that difficult to read and is a great layman’s book on punctuation. It provides great insight into the controversial world of punctuation debate and usage. If you have ever been in doubt over whether or not you have a semi-colon addiction; this is the book for you!

Friday, December 14, 2007

Abarat by Clive Barker (5/5 stars)

This is the first children's book I have ever read by Clive Barker. I know that he is much more well known for his works of horror. However, I was very impressed by this book.

I listened to this book on audio book. The audio book was very well done. I think the guy who read the audio book must be the same person who read Stephen King's Dark Tower series on audio book. At least they sound very similar since I keep getting flashbacks to when I listened to the Dark Tower; maybe it is just that Clive Barker and Stephen King have a somewhat similar writing style. The only bad thing about listening to this on audio book is that I missed out on all the neat color pictures. I have the paper version at home so I still got to see the pictures, just not while I was reading the book.

The tone of this book reminded me a lot of Alice in Wonderland and is, initially, a similar premise. Candy Quackenbush lives in Chickentown, MN and, during an assignment for school to write a paper on interesting things in Chickentown (a decidedly uninteresting town), runs into a mystery concerning a man who committed suicide in a hotel room. A strange nautical device is found in the dresser drawer of this hotel room. Candy finds herself obsessing about the symbols on the device. Candy is fed up with her boring life in Chickentown, her beaten down mother, and her abusive father. After a particularly bad scene in class at school, where Candy gets sent to the principals office, Candy decides to just leave school and go walking. She finds herself in a vast prairie outside of Chickentown. While there she runs into an 8 headed man, John Mischief, and ends up helping him to light the lighthouse in the prairie (which Candy thought was an abandoned building). Following some crazy events Candy finds herself swept off to Abarat and swept into a crazy adventure there.

This was a really great book. It is wildly imaginative and full of non-stop action. I loved the way Candy accepted her adventures with ease (since *anything* is better than Chickentown). I also loved the numerous quirky characters that Candy ran into along the way. Candy seems to have a knack for getting people's attention and getting drawn into trouble. There are tons of interesting good and neutral characters in this book. There are also some very interesting villains. The villians in this book are particularly special. There are numerous levels of evil, making you wonder who the *real* villain is. All of the villains have a lot of depth to them, you can see multiple sides to their character. This makes them seem somehow less ultimately evil but more scary and unpredictable.

The description in the book is wonderful. The plotline rolls along gracefully taking Candy from one adventure to the next. Even though many different characters are introduced and interact with Candy, none of it seems forced.

The only disappointment I had with this book was that I thought that the storyline with John Mischeif didn't get much closure; I am sure this storyline will be revisited in the next book. I am also curious as to what is happening back in Chickentown; does Candy's mother know she is missing?

This was a great book. I would read it to slightly older children though since at times it is very violent and it deals with issues of suicide and torture at points. Great book, I am excited to read the next one.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The Lone Drow by R. A. Salvatore (3/5 stars)

The Lone Drow is the second book in The Hunter's Blade trilogy by R. A. Salvatore. This book details the struggle of the Mithril drawven army to hold off increasing numbers of orcs and trolls and tells of the struggle of Drizzt to deal with what he thinks was the demise of all of his friends. Drizzt drops back into the "hunter" mode that he found so useful in Menzoberanzzan; and dispatches many of the orcs in his style. Drizzt continues to struggle with his killing of Le'Lorinel, while the two surface elves work to try and bring Drizzt to reason before he gets himself killed.

This book delivers all of what you expect from a R. A. Salvatore book. There are a lot of well-written action sequences and lots of battle. There are some heart-rending sacrifices in the heat of battle...oh and did I mention some battle?

There were a few things that really annoyed me about this book. The first was Drizzt himself. His story in this book was annoying. He is struggling with the fact that he believes his friends have all been killed, okay I get that. The thing that puzzled me is that he also mentions that he believes that some of his friends are still alive but he is too afraid to go and find out who made it and who didn't. So...he is upset because everyone is dead and he is upset that somebody might be alive? I understand that Drizzt is supposed to be a deeply emotional character but this logical loop is a bit much considering that he is also supposed to be intelligent.

Second thing I didn't like...the title of the book. This book suggests that the majority of the time is spend with Drizzt. Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately given Drizzt's addled state of mind, the majority of the time is spent dealing with the dwarves and the orcs and their battle. I have a sneaking suspicion that this title was meant to draw people in to read about their favorite character Drizzt, when in fact Drizzt didn't get the majority of page space.

Third thing that bothered me was how fractionated the story was. I know Salvatore usually bounces between a few different storylines and that is fine. This book was his usual stuff to the nth degree. Sometimes you had less than 1/2 a page to read until he switched perspective on you.

All in all this book was okay. It was a necessary evil to get through the storyline to the next book. I found this book very hard to get through; it took me forever to slog through each page. The story started to pick up again in the end and recaptured my interest in the last couple chapters. I was going to take a break from this series before reading the last book, but the last few chapters convinced me to go on and read the last book of the trilogy right away.

Monday, December 3, 2007

The Thousand Orcs by R.A. Salvatore (4/5 stars)

The Thousand Orcs is the first book in The Hunter's Blades trilogy. The Hunter's Blades Trilogy follows Drizzt and his companions starting where the Paths of Darkness series left off. Although I have the collector's edition with the whole trilogy of the books in it, I decided to review the books separately.

Bruenor and company are on a trek to Mithril Hall where Bruenor is to be crowned king. Wanting one last adventure before he is stuck on the throne in Mithril Hall, Bruenor decides to go after some orcs that have been causing trouble throughout the countryside. Bruenor and company quickly find out that the orc trouble is far more extensive than they originally thought.

This book was basically what you would expect from R. A. Salvatore. So with that in mind, if you like Drizzt and his friends and in general like R. A. Salvatore then you should read this book. On a side note though there are some good and bad things about this book.

- Excellent action scenes, just like you would expect from Salvatore.
- Good character development between Cattie-Brie and Drizzt.
- It was interesting to learn more about the frost giants.
- All-in-all a good old classic dungeons and dragons type tale.
- Drizzt's introspective interludes are interesting as always (if a bit predictable)

- The books ends without any wrapping up. Many of the characters are in the middle of literally running for their lives.
- A number of well-liked secondary characters are killed without even a backward glance.
- I got a bit sick of Drizzt *still* whining about how awful he felt for killing Le'Lorinel (I think that's how it's spelled) in the last book.

All in all I got what I expected and wanted out of this book. I think if I hadn't had the whole trilogy I would've been a bit peeved at how this book ended.

Here is a link to the trilogy on amazon: