Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Five Go Off in a Caravan

Title: Five Go Off in a Caravan
Author: Enid Blyton
Series: The Famous Five, book 5
Genre: Children, adventure
Published: 1946

Recommendation: Not the best of the series, but a fun foray into the adventures of The Famous Five.
Rating: 7/10

Summary: The Famous Five (Julian, Dick, George, Anne, and Timmy) decide to go caravanning during the summer vacation. They follow a circus to their camping spot, befriend Nobby, and soon the adventures begin.

Reactions: I didn't feel like doing any serious reading, so I decided to pick up a book by Enid Blyton that I haven't read before. As kid, I owned the first four books in The Famous Five series and I used to read them over and over.

My favorite book in the series used to be Five Run Away Together, where the kids end up on the Kirin Island living by themselves. As it happens, in this book the kids get to go off on their own as well and the descriptions of their travel, cooking, and fending for themselves is something I enjoyed more than the plot. In particular, images of fresh loaves of bread and butter, eggs, fresh fruit, and ham kept making me hungry throughout the book.

Since the book was published in 1946, there are some distinctly dated scenes. For example, the kids' caravans are drawn by horses. The postcards and telegraph are the common means of communication. Tea time is traditional. Overall, Five Go Off in a Caravan created a very comfortable atmosphere and conveyed a nicely nostalgic feeling.

The adventure itself had a few moments that felt a little forced and the complexity of the plot is definitely aimed at an early teen crowd. The language is fairly simple, but smooth and fitting to the genre. I got what I wanted: an easy, enjoyable read with the characters I grew up loving.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Plum Spooky

Title: Plum Spooky
Author: Janet Evanovich
Series: Stephanie Plum
Published: January 2009
Genre: Mystery novel, humour

Recommendation: Good for fans of the series who want to see more Diesel action.
Rating: 6.5/10

Summary: Stephanie gets to babysit Carl the Monkey, Diesel shows up hunting for an Unmentionable named Wulf. On top of it, Stephanie needs to bring in Martin Munch, a quantum physicist who smashed his manager's nose with a mug and stole a cesium vapor magnetometer.

Reactions: I look forward to some light reading whenever I pick up a book by Janet Evanovich. Stephanie Plum novels tend to be quick, fun, and completely absurd. She destroys at least several cars in any given novel, gets attacked by lunatics, and eats at least a dozen donuts. Plum Spooky doesn't veer off course.

I think the biggest disappointment in this book is the fact that we don't see a whole lot of Ranger. He is the guy who makes things interesting, whereas Diesel just doesn't have the same appeal to me. Since the relationship plotline is almost nonexistent in this novel, Evanovich makes up by adding a dozen monkeys and the Jersey Devil.

A little excerpt:
Carl was in the kitchen, feeding cereal to Rex, when we got home. Carl would drop in a Fruit Loop, Rex would rush out of his can, stuff the Fruit Loop into his cheek, and rush back to his can. Carl would repeat the drill.

“Cute,” I said. “Carl has a pet.”

“Either that or he’s fattening him up for the kill.”

“Do monkeys eat hamsters?”

Diesel shrugged. “They eat pizza with pepperoni.”

Mental note: First thing tomorrow, take Rex to stay at parents’ house for duration of monkey visit.
Overall, Plum Spooky was entertaining, but some of the Diesel jokes seemed a little old and there weren't a whole lot of events that stood out too much for me. An evening worth of relaxation, but hardly the best in the series. Yet, there's something about Stephanie Plum novels that will make me pick up Finger Lickin' Fifteen when it comes out this summer.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Dollhouse Update

A while back, I mentioned how much I was looking forward to watching Dollhouse. So we are about half-way through the first season (it's a short first season, only 13 episodes) and I am not regretting spending my time on this show.

Dollhouse received a lot of mixed feedback in the media. I've heard people complaining about it being hard to connect to, and unfeminist. And I've heard people praise it for going into new territory.

There were two episodes in the series that particularly stood out for me so far. The first was episode 3 that starts out feeling a little cliche, but ends up being very much worth it because of the twist at the very end. It was completely unexpected and opened a lot of possibilities.

The second episode, that was even better, is the latest aired episode, "Man on the Street". There are a number of plot lines going on there and the drama gets pretty intricate in a true Whedon fashion. We get to see the first interaction between Paul Ballard and Echo, we see Mellie in a completely new light, Boyd's character is developed, and we learn a whole lot about Dollhouse politics.

In addition, the episode intermittently shows excerpts of a documentary capturing different reactions to the idea of Dollhouse. The documentary format strongly reminded me of Ted Chiang's short story Liking What You See: A Documentary which does something similar. I haven't seen this done successfully very often, but it works for both Chiang and Whedon quite well.

All in all, the show is shaping up and I am very much looking forward to watching the rest of the season.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Neil Gaiman on The Colbert Report

Carrying over with the Neil Gaiman theme from last weekend, here's a funny video of Neil Gaiman on The Colbert Report.

I found it funny that the very first sentiment aired about The Graveyard Book is the very first thing my mom brought up when I got her to try the book. The start of the book is quite dark, but I see plenty of 10-14 year olds watching horror movies, or forget horror, any action movie these days has plenty of killing and blood in it.

I agree, this is not a book to be read to a 6 year old child before bed, but I am sure that a slightly older audience has probably seen more violence in the video games they play. So the dark beginning of the book being brought up all the time is somewhat surprising.

There were certainly some good responses from Neil Gaiman on the show. I really hope to catch him doing a live talk in these parts sometime. And I still haven't gotten to listening him read his books, but I am planning to.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

How To Talk To Girls At Parties

I am in the middle of several busy weeks at work and not progressing a whole lot with Daemon. But I came across a short story by Neil Gaiman and the title sounded interesting, so I present:

Title: How To Talk To Girls At Parties
Author: Neil Gaiman
Published: Fragile Things: Short Fictions and Wonders, 2007
Genre: Science fiction, short story
Url: How To Talk to Girls At Parties

Rating: 6/10

Thoughts: The story starts with a couple of teenage boys heading to a girl's party. One of the boys is stressing out over how to talk to girls when the other remarks:
"They're just girls," said Vic. "They don't come from another planet."
Knowing that this short story is a piece of science fiction, I immediately got a very strong suspicion that they won't be "just girls". A reader figures out it's not a typical party pretty quickly, but the protagonists are too busy trying to get in some smooching. It's an interesting juxtaposition of teenage and alien cultures, but to me the whole story felt a bit off. I couldn't quite get into it, nor do I feel I could put together the pieces of what Gaiman was showing in the story. To me the ending felt incomplete, and I ended reading it rather puzzled, feeling like I should have been told more of the story. Well, perhaps you can make more sense of it.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

2 Kindle Or Not 2 Kindle

Ever since Amazon came out with Kindle and then with Kindle 2, I've been considering buying one. However, it's a fairly expensive toy, currently priced at $359. Being a somewhat frugal shopper, I have compiled a pro/con list for the purchase.

  • Coolness factor: a new exciting gadget to play with and to show off
  • Fast: I don't have to wait for Amazon to ship me the book I want
  • E-ink: supposed to be great for reading on the screen
  • Notes: can easily take notes while I am reading or mark pages to quote for reviews! I am usually too lazy to do so if I have to find paper & pencil...
  • E-books: I could read more e-books and there's a ton of free reading out there
  • Slim: Looks much easier to hold and carry around than some of the hardbacks I sport around my house
  • Searchable: more property of e-books than Kindle, but when I need to find a particular quote, it's much easier with electronic text.
  • xkcd reason: see comic here
  • File types: Proprietary format for Amazon-bought books that are non-transferable and no native support for PDF files (though it gets half a point for having a converter)
  • Backlight: There isn't one. I won't be able to read in bed with the light off.
  • Library: I like books on shelves. Awesome covers are important. They make me feel welcome when I come home. Kindle would reduce paper book purchases.
  • Commute: I don't have any daily commute time during which I could use a Kindle
  • Airplanes: I suspect an airplane would make you turn the device off for takeoff and landing and long travel is when the slim size would have the biggest advantage
  • Internet: I already have a smart phone with 3G connection. There is no reason to use Kindle to that purpose.
  • Laptop: I've read books on my laptop, but I don't enjoy it as much. What if I have the same reduction in reading experience with Kindle too?
  • Availability: There are more books available in print than as e-books.
After creating the list I am still undecided. Do you have any experience with an electronic book reader? Care to suggest whether it's a worthwhile purchase or not?

Thursday, March 5, 2009

White Witch, Black Curse

Title: White Witch, Black Curse
Author: Kim Harrison
Series: The Hollows, book 7
Genre: Urban Fantasy, novel
Published: 2009

Recommendation: another excellent installment into The Hollows series that will please the fans.
Rating: 8/10

Summary: Rachel and Ivy are looking for Kisten's murderer whom Rachel still cannot remember. At the same time a banshee stirs up trouble when she puts Glenn in the hospital and FIB starts to investigate.

Reactions: I've been looking forward to reading White Witch, Black Curse and the book doesn't disappoint. I enjoyed it for all the reasons I usually enjoy The Hollows novels: enjoyable cast, fast-paced adventure, and witty dialogue. It's hard to put a finger on one detail and call it exceptional, but the plain notes make a lively tune together.

This book continues the storyline surrounding Kisten's murder. I really like Ford, the FIB psychologist who is trying to help Rachel regain her memory of the night of the incident. He is a human with a unique special power: the ability to feel the emotions of others around him. It makes him particularly perceptive and gives him a unique ability to explain other characters. He reveals a few interesting facts to the readers, but more than that he gets his own role to play in the plot and he's a refreshingly level-headed addition.

The banshee investigation makes for some fun reading too. We get exposed to another race and their unique abilities pose some new challenges for Rachel's grab and tag approach. As in the earlier books, we get to watch Rachel get stuck between a rock and a hard place and wiggle her way around. There's also a romantic plot line and plenty of hormones flying around.

Overall, it's just something fun to read. The message is not deep, the book is written for enjoyment and the best sort of escapism. I found it hard to put the book down while it lasted and disappointed when it ended. Now I am left looking forward to the next book in the series, hope it's coming soon!

First Lines:
The bloody handprint was gone, wiped from Kisten's window but not from my memory, and it ticked me off that someone had cleaned it, as if they were trying to steal what little recollection I retained about the night he'd died. The anger was misplaced fear if I was honest with myself. But I wasn't. Most days it was better that way.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

February Recap

February is a short month to start with and this one went by really fast for me. A lot of the reading got done on a plane during my vacation, so I actually made it to my target figure of 4 books this month. Also very excited about Dollhouse coming out this month, I really hope it stays on air longer than Firefly did.

Quite a bit of diversity in my reading this month too. I hopped from fantasy, to sci-fi, to children lit, to urban fantasy. It's nice to have a variety of books handy, I usually have quite a few epic/heroic fantasy novels in my queue, but I was not in the mood for these in February.

Here's the tally for the month.

Books Read: 4
  1. Caine Black Knife by Matthew Woodring Stover
  2. The Outback Stars by Sandra McDonald
  3. The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
  4. One More Bite by Jennifer Rardin
Favorite Book: The Outback Stars

Stories Read: 1
  1. Lost and Found by Sandra McDonald
Male: 2
Female: 2

Posts: 15

This month commeters are (in blog post order):
Smirking Revenge, SparklingBlue, Carl V., wend, Andrey, ediFanoB

Thanks for replying to the posts! Always much appreciated :)

Search Queries
The most popular query this month leading to this blog is "the republic of thieves delay". Lots of disappointed fans are searching the web for information about what's happening with The Republic of Thieves. Well, let's hope Scott Lynch's new installment is worth the wait.