May 19, 2017

The violinist from Bulgaria

Because I loved The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova, it really wasn't a difficult decision to pick up her newest novel, The Shadow Land. This book takes place in Bulgaria which is a land I am not at all familiar with beyond Viktor Krum and his Quidditch teammates. (I hope you know what that references because if you don't...let me know so I can review them for you.) You couldn't get further from witches and wizards with this book. The main character, Alexandra, is an American who travels to Bulgaria with emotional baggage (which I honestly could have cared less about) and an intent to teach English. Instead she stumbles into a mystery and a lot of dramatic intrigue. The cast of characters includes but is not limited to a wily taxi driver, an elderly artist, a menacing statesmen with flowing locks, and an intelligent street dog. I was expecting a lot from this novel and I have to admit that I came away disappointed. The characters weren't nearly as compelling or detailed as those in The Historian. **Possible spoilers ahead** The entire backstory of the main character turned out to be pointless. I had thought that there would be some kind of twist at the end but that did not turn out to be the case. For the most part, it was pretty predictable. **No spoilers beyond this point** Kostova still remains impressive when it comes to describing setting and events but as mentioned above the characters felt flat and one-dimensional. However, if you're a fan of historical fiction that is chock full of detailed descriptions then you're probably going to be a fan of Kostova's writing and if you're particularly interested in Bulgaria then you couldn't go amiss with this one. For me, I'm sorry to say, it's a 5/10.

Source: Goodreads

**If you're interested in buying this book or any books really, you can click here or here. The first will re-direct you to AbeBooks and the second will re-direct you to The Book Depository. These are great websites for purchasing books (AbeBooks carries inexpensive used and out-of-print books and The Book Depository ships free everywhere in the world). Full disclosure: I will receive a commission on all sales made by following either of these links. I wouldn't recommend a site that I didn't use and you are under no obligation to purchase anything. :-) **

May 13, 2017

Persistence pays off

The following book was kindly sent to me by the author, B.C.R. Fegan, who requested a review. This book is out now and you can get a physical or ebook copy by visiting the publisher's website, TaleBlade Press, or by checking out Amazon. :-)

The Grumpface by B.C.R. Fegan with illustrations by Daniela Frongia is told entirely in rhyme. It's the story of Dan who is a clumsy dreamer inventor who is simply trying to win over the affections of the girl he's loved from afar. The Grumpface is a creature determined to thwart anyone he comes into contact with no matter how earnest or good-hearted. It's not a huge leap to learn that the main character and Dan have a run-in and shenanigans ensue. If you're looking for a sweet book about a character that never gives up no matter how insurmountable the odds then you should look no further. Added bonus is that this book is told in rhyming verse which hearkens back to the fairytales of old (and which little people especially enjoy). This is one that I think they'll be requesting over and over to read. 7/10

Source: TaleBlade Press

**If you're interested in buying this book or any books really, you can click here or here. The first will re-direct you to AbeBooks and the second will re-direct you to The Book Depository. These are great websites for purchasing books (AbeBooks carries inexpensive used and out-of-print books and The Book Depository ships free everywhere in the world). Full disclosure: I will receive a commission on all sales made by following either of these links. I wouldn't recommend a site that I didn't use and you are under no obligation to purchase anything. :-) **

May 9, 2017

Sculpting the future

Longtime readers of the blog will recall that I've had a certain fear fascination with robots and A.I or Artifical Intelligence. You can check out my posts about books like Our Final Invention which details the growth artifical intelligence into super intelligence or In Our Own Image which is a thought experiment about what the evolution of AI will look like in the future to get an idea of what I mean. Today's book is somewhere in the middle. How to Build an Android: The True Story of Philip K. Dick's Robotic Resurrection by David F. Dufty covers the creation of a robotic incarnation of the famous sci-fi author which (according to its creators) has the ability to learn as it communicates with humans i.e. it is self-aware. The novelty of this machine was that it was created in the image of a man who was known for his paranoia about 'thinking' machines and that it was an artistic as much as technological acheivement. This book chronicled the creation of the android from its inception including the sculpting of the head and body by Dr. David Hanson through to its programming by Andrew Olney. (Not to mention the many volunteers from the FedEx Institute of Technology in Memphis who logged many hours helping to make this dream a reality without any compensation.) The PKD android was a sensation among scientific circles as well as among laypeople because of his realistic facial features, expressions, and his seemingly intelligent responses to questions. However, I am not convinced that he would have passed the Turing Test which proves that he was a self-aware artificially intelligent machine. Moreover, I found this book was lacking in many areas. Each of the chapters seemed to end without any real resolution and the ending fell flat. Also, one of my pet peeves is a nonfiction book without any endnotes or at the very least a bibliography and this one committed that sin. Overall, I'd say that this book would appeal to someone who hasn't done any significant research into this field and wants to dip their toe into that world but for me it didn't make the grade. 5/10

If you want to see the PKD android in action then you can check out the Hanson Robotics website. Be forewarned, if the idea of a seemingly artificially intelligent machine with human-like characteristics freaks you out then you shouldn't go to that website. To see what I mean, take a look at the pictures below. *shudder*

Source: Ascend Surgical
Source: Philip K. Dick Android Project


**If you're interested in buying this book or any books really, you can click here or here. The first will re-direct you to AbeBooks and the second will re-direct you to The Book Depository. These are great websites for purchasing books (AbeBooks carries inexpensive used and out-of-print books and The Book Depository ships free everywhere in the world). Full disclosure: I will receive a commission on all sales made by following either of these links. I wouldn't recommend a site that I didn't use and you are under no obligation to purchase anything. :-) **

May 5, 2017

Which witch is your fave?

On a whim, I picked up Lunch Witch #2: Knee-Deep in Niceness by Deb Lucke. I was intrigued mainly by the artwork (it's a graphic novel) which at first glance seems delightfully whimsical. However, I found myself disappointed with the book overall. The story was only so-so and didn't really do it for me. I've certainly read more engaging graphic novels for this age group. Our main character, the Lunch Witch, was fairly boring. The plot was...threadbare is the only word I can think of to describe it. The highlight of the book were the pets (the bats were especially entertaining). The artwork was hit-or-miss and didn't make up for the bland storyline. I read some reviews for this book after I had finished and it seems that the consensus is that after the first book in the series (oops I started on #2) this one was a bit of a letdown. I've also just discovered that they're making a film adaptation with Kate McKinnon as the lead. Now that I'm looking forward to especially considering how the main character is depicted as such as the archetypal hag and you just know she's gonna be hilarious. With that being said, this book didn't rate higher than a 4/10 for me I'm afraid. I have no plans to continue reading anymore of the series. :-/

I can't find the source of this image. :-(

**If you're interested in buying this book or any books really, you can click here or here. The first will re-direct you to AbeBooks and the second will re-direct you to The Book Depository. These are great websites for purchasing books (AbeBooks carries inexpensive used and out-of-print books and The Book Depository ships free everywhere in the world). Full disclosure: I will receive a commission on all sales made by following either of these links. I wouldn't recommend a site that I didn't use and you are under no obligation to purchase anything. :-) **

May 3, 2017

In the mood for some mystery

Trio for Blunt Instruments by Rex Stout draws us back into the world of Nero Wolfe and his loyal assistant, Archie Goodwin. The last time I visited with these distinguished detectives was back in 2015 (it's been too long!) so I was very happy to get a 3-in-1 with this book. This volume contains the following mysteries: Kill Now -- Pay Later, Murder Is Corny, and Blood Will Tell. As this is a collection, the stories aren't overly lengthy (Murder Is Corny was previously unpublished and was the last novella written by Stout.) but as with all of Stout's writings they pack a powerful punch no matter the length. I continue to maintain that Archie Goodwin is one of my favorite literary characters. His veracity, loyalty, bravery, and overwhelming likability mark him as a singular character that it's nearly impossible not to like. There is something so real about him and his narrative voice as the reporter of Wolfe's cases lends reality and humor. Of course, Wolfe is a singular character in his own right as a true 'armchair detective' in every way.

Kill Now -- Pay Later covers the story of Wolfe's shoe shiner who witnesses something (it's not too much of a shock for me to tell you it's related to a murder I don't think) and comes to Wolfe immediately afterward. Once Wolfe is on the case, it turns out that it's not as straightforward as the police think especially since a subsequent crime is marked as a suicide and the case is considered closed. It's up to Wolfe and Archie to continue the case to its bitter end no matter how winding their path becomes.

Murder Is Corny is an extremely corny title for one of Stout's mysteries as the victim works at a farm that produces corn. <pause for grimace> Archie is pegged as the main suspect after one of his prior flames indicates that he was at the scene of the crime. Wolfe at first demurs as it's 'Archie's private affair' but when he realizes that he stands a good chance of losing someone he relies on he steps in. This one has a lot of moving parts and quite a few memorable characters but what marks it as unique is that Goodwin isn't interested in the main female character. ;-)

And that brings us to Blood Will Tell which opens up with Archie receiving a rather strange package in the mail and snowballs into a dramatic story about spurned love, boorishness, and snappy dressers. I think this one was my favorite of the three because it provided a lot of sidestories to sink your teeth into and it kept me guessing up until the last.

Whatever your taste in mysteries, you can't go wrong with this 3-in-1 because it has a little something for everybody. If you haven't ever tried a Nero Wolfe mystery then this is an excellent place to start.

**If you're interested in buying this book or any books really, you can click here or here. The first will re-direct you to AbeBooks and the second will re-direct you to The Book Depository. These are great websites for purchasing books (AbeBooks carries inexpensive used and out-of-print books and The Book Depository ships free everywhere in the world). Full disclosure: I will receive a commission on all sales made by following either of these links. I wouldn't recommend a site that I didn't use and you are under no obligation to purchase anything. :-) **

April 28, 2017

Short and sweet

I've fallen for Dev Petty and Mike Boldt again. I Don't Want to be a Frog reunites us with our spunky frog friend and his glasses-wearing dad as he continually asserts that he'd rather be anything except a frog. Once again, the humor and illustrations pair together perfectly to tell a fantastic little story about an adolescent amphibian that doesn't feel overly satisfied with his lot in life. (Frogs have to eat bugs after all. Yuck!) Get ready for the end because it's sure to cause howls of laughter with the little people in your life as you read it out loud to them. I could go on and on about how much fun I think this book is but I have to get back to reading. :-P

PS This is definitely one for storytime.

Source: Writing for Kids (While Raising Them)
**If you're interested in buying this book or any books really, you can click here or here. The first will re-direct you to AbeBooks and the second will re-direct you to The Book Depository. These are great websites for purchasing books (AbeBooks carries inexpensive used and out-of-print books and The Book Depository ships free everywhere in the world). Full disclosure: I will receive a commission on all sales made by following either of these links. I wouldn't recommend a site that I didn't use and you are under no obligation to purchase anything. :-) **

April 25, 2017

So many books and so little time

I'd like to talk about a few books that I've picked up and ultimately decided not to finish. For most of our lives, we are told to always finish what we've started. This message is especially hammered into our heads by teachers who tell us that what we read will be used on exams or on papers. I think this is why it has been difficult for me as an adult reader to let go of guilt when I decide that a book isn't right for me. Maybe the book isn't written with me as the reader in mind. Perhaps I had expectations of the book that weren't being met. However, I think the biggest reason why I put down books (and this is what's happened to me recently) is that I wasn't in the mood for them. That's it. There's a chance (pretty slim in some cases) that years down the line I'll grab these books and devour them. There's also the chance that I'll never feel any level of interest in them. And that's okay, ya'll.

Let's talk about some of the books I've recently sampled and ultimately quit. The first one really cut me to the quick because I had waited nearly a year for it to become available at the library. The book in question was Justine by Lawrence Durrell (Yes, it is that Lawrence mentioned by Gerald.). It is maybe the most pretentious, misogynstic book I have ever had the displeasure of holding in my hands. I don't care that it was written before these things were called out. Ugh, I hated it. I made it until part 2 and then I rather happily quit reading any further. The second was Watership Down by Richard Adams. This book came highly recommended to me especially in light of how much I enjoyed Moletown which uses animals to discuss social changes in society. I got about 75 pages in and found that I was looking for anything and everything to do except pick it up and read it. There was nothing inherently wrong with the book. The writing was done well, the characters were diverse, and the storyline was unique. I just didn't have any interest whatsoever.

What's always annoying is when you highly anticipate a book and then it falls disappointingly flat. That's what happened with The Terranauts by T.C. Boyle. This promised to be a highly interesting science fiction novel about a group of people who are chosen to conduct an elite ecological experiment. The goal of the experiment is to see if it's possible to recreate these conditions off-planet and survive. I read 150 pages of this hoping that it would turn around from being overly sexualized, inane chatter about the people hoping to be chosen for the experiment. That didn't happen. I wanted high level sci-fi and I got tawdry romance instead. *crying piteously* That leads us to the fourth book and most recent: The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón which was translated by Lucia Graves from the original Spanish. This was another recommended read (these are always the hardest to let go because you feel obligated) and so I really did try quite hard to get through it. As some of you may know, I'm not a fan of explicit sex scenes in books because I don't see their point. In this book, there's one very near to the beginning and it involves an 11 year old. That was the warning bell. The inherent mystery of the book didn't feel overly complicated to me and because the writer kept harping on sex (it seemed overly gratuitous to me) I lost interst very quickly. I don't even think I made it 75 pages in before I ultimately gave up the ghost. (I looked up the synopsis afterward and I was right about the mystery's solution so I don't feel overly guilty about quitting this one to be honest.)

This has been a rather strange reading year thus far for me. I've reached about halfway to my personal reading goal and yet it feels like I haven't read that much. I think a large part of that are these books which I diddle daddle over because ultimately they hold no interest for me. Meanwhile, I'm wasting time with these non-starters when there are literally hundreds of thousands of other books out there just waiting to be enjoyed. That's the key right there. Why feel guilty over a book that doesn't strike your fancy when there are SO many books in existence? The biggest takeaway is to HAVE FUN. I hope you guys are having a great week and I'll be back on Friday with a review of a book that I did enjoy. XD

**If you're interested in buying this book or any books really, you can click here or here. The first will re-direct you to AbeBooks and the second will re-direct you to The Book Depository. These are great websites for purchasing books (AbeBooks carries inexpensive used and out-of-print books and The Book Depository ships free everywhere in the world). Full disclosure: I will receive a commission on all sales made by following either of these links. I wouldn't recommend a site that I didn't use and you are under no obligation to purchase anything. :-) **