Archive for the ‘Reviews’ Category

Christmas lights at Meredith

November 29, 2016 Leave a comment
Categories: Book Reviews

Facebook Meme: 10 Books

About a month ago, a Facebook meme was spreading:

In your status line, list 10 books that have stayed with you in some way. Don’t take more than a few minutes and don’t think too hard – they don’t have to be ‘right’ or ‘great’ works, just the ones that have touched you. Tag 10 friends, including me, so I’ll see your list.

Below are the books that I listed quickly, with a comment or two on each one.
1. Dune by Frank Herbert

I have re-read the book and listened to audio readings dozens and dozens of times.  I find that it is extremely deep and I discover something new each time I read it.

2. Song of Ice and Fire series by George R.R. Martin

Incredibly detailed world building.  Gradations of morality for each character.  Have no idea whether a character will live or die.

3. From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg .  My review here.

I intensely remember some of the scenes in this book.  I re-read the book recently just because of this meme.

4. The Silmarillion by J.R.R. Tolkien

Incredible world building.  Moving, lyrical passages.  Depth of story.  In my opinion, better than LOTR.

5. Deryni novels by Katherine Kurtz

I was fascinated by the alternate world created by the author.  Also, probably some wish-fulfillment to have some of the Deryni powers.

6. The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt by Edmund Morris.  My review here.

The descriptions of Teddy Roosevelt’s early life and his drive were inspiring.

7. Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson

One of the first books I can recall ever weeping over.  Intense, wracking tears.

8. Six Wives of Henry VIII by Alison Weir.  My review here.

The book that first interested me in the Tudor dynasty.  Also remember reading it in the hospital while awaiting results for my mother-in-law.

9. The Boxcar Children by Gertrude Chandler Warner

Wonder at the ingenuity of the kids.  Great ending.

10. Beneath the Wheel by Hermann Hesse

Powerful book.  The main character burns himself out through intellectual studies.

and one more since I thought of it just as I was posting — Decision at Doona by Anne McCaffrey

One of the first science-fiction books I read — given to me by a very important junior high school teacher.

Categories: Book Reviews

Review: From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg

January 1, 2014 1 comment

Mixed UpThe start of the new year is often a time for reflection or nostalgia.  From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler is a throwback to some of the books I read in elementary school. I remember being mesmerized by the idea that two elementary school aged kids could run off to New York City and hide out in a museum for over a week.

I decided to reread the book based on two events recently that brought the book to my attention. First, I completed a Facebook meme that asked readers to list 10 books that were in some way memorable, influential, or just meaningful to the reader even if they might not be fine literature. From the Mixed-Up Files was one of the books that immediately came to mind to me. The second event was a Wikipedia reference in a movie article that mentioned that two adaptations were made of the book; I wasn’t aware that it had ever been made into a movie.

The plot itself is wrapped in a frame story written by Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. In it, two children, Claudia and her brother Jamie, run away to New York City and hide in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Claudia’s initial intention is to escape the “injustice” she perceives at home, but she eventually realizes that her real goal is to experience something new and come home changed. She brings her young brother along because he is extremely “rich” — having about $25 saved up. During their stay in the museum, in which they must deal with security, find a place to sleep, ensure that they can eat, do laundry, and discover additional means of funding, they determine to uncover a mystery of who sculpted a newly acquired sculpture.

For me, one of the most memorable scenes, which has stayed with me for (gasp!) 30 years, is the use of the museum restaurant’s fountain in order to bathe. In it, they discover that patrons have thrown wishing coins, which help to fund their stay a bit longer.

The adventures are simple and the book is quite short, but it is easy to see why it was awarded a Newberry. The banter between the siblings — grammar corrections by a self-satisfied older sister and squabbles over how money is to be spent — is clever and not stilted. The two children are portrayed as uniquely different individuals with different personalities and goals.

Does the book hold up to 2014 vs 1967? In large part, I think yes. The children are not dumbed down nor are they portrayed as adult surrogates. The advent of cell-phones, internet searches, and heightened security concerns are probably the areas of most difference from current day. But the only jarring item is the value of money — having lunch for 75 cents, for example, and surviving in NYC for over a week with little more than $25.


4 out of 5 stars (finished January 1, 2014)


Currently reading:  Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

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Review: The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins

These are some belated notes on The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins, which I made back in April, but am just posting now.

I was very underwhelmed by the story and the series got worse as it went on.

  • I didn’t buy the main plot point of using children for the games and glorifying their deaths.  I could buy something closer to The Running Man with criminals, but not children.
  • I did think it was a good move to have some breaks in time between the books — it doesn’t have to be a continuous narrative
  • I appreciated the fact that not all characters are going to make it through alive (although I’m not sure there were any characters that I cared enough about)
  • The world building, for me, was too light. A bit of mystery left to the imagination is good but I would have liked to have seen a few more glimpses into how things got to be how they were.
  • The second book was essentially a rehash of the first, just worse.  The plot for book three was messy, chaotic (not in a good way) and seemed to just fizzle out as if the author ran out of ideas and just decided to stop.
  • The love triangle was weak.  It went on so long and so angst-y, that I didn’t care anymore.
  • For me, it’s easier to read first person narratives with the main character being male, which may be one reason that female readers (including those that may not typically read in the genre) may find it appealing.
  • So many of the characters had little depth to them.
  • I liked the idea of some of the Machiavellian politics and intrigue, but thought it was underdeveloped in the books
  • I think the author needed to introduce a bit of humor from time to time
  • What might be interesting is if the author wrote a few additional books or short stories from another point of view — perhaps President Snow, one of the gamemasters, or just someone else in the know — and find out that much of what Katniss though was going on is actually wrong à la the Ender books (Ender’s Game and Ender’s Shadow are prime examples) by Orson Scott Card.

I haven’t seen the movies yet and might watch the first one if it shows up on Netflix Instant.

Average 2 out of 5 stars (finished April 2011)

Categories: Reviews Tags: , changes to titles with multiple download files

One really positive change I’ve seen in more recent titles produced (or perhaps distributed?) by relates to how they split the audio files into multiple parts.  Often the titles I read are too large for a single file, so they are split into 3-5 parts “to make the download easier”.  I’ve noticed that audible seems to be adding some verbiage at the beginning of the title saying, “And now part two of <insert title here>” which is extremely helpful when I am listening in the car or mobile.

I hate accidentally skipping a part and questioning myself why a character is suddenly dead who was alive a few seconds ago….

Categories: Musings, Product Reviews

Review: The Ballad of Beta-2 by Samuel R. Delaney

January 3, 2012 2 comments

I have started to develop a fondness for some of the science fiction novels/novellas of the 1960’s and 1970’s. I find that many of the ideas are clever and the writing is very tight.  I had read two of Delany’s novellas, Empire Star (highly recommended) and Babel-17 which you can find together in an omnibus edition. I ran across The Ballad of Beta-2 at a local used bookstore recently.

The conceit of this story is an anthropological study of a ballad composed by the people of a multi-generational colony ship. A student is assigned the task to decipher the history and meaning of the song. The words of the song are intelligible, but have either highly stylized meanings or the original terms have evolved over time, making the real message obscure.

The protagonist travels to the site of the surviving ships in a small research vessel which has the technology to create temporal bubbles. Once there, he attempts to locate records, both written and sound recording, to explain what happened to the ships and their inhabitants.

I found the novella very original in its themes of language shifts, idioms, and imagery, which rendered the original song mysterious to other civilizations.  Like Empire Star, it’s a story that almost has to be read again immediately after finishing to fully enjoy the book.

4 out of 5 stars (finished January 2, 2012)

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Audible iPhone App upgrade to iOS5

November 7, 2011 2 comments

I recently upgraded my iPhone 3GS to iOS5 and wondered if my Audible stats such as badges and total listening time would be copied over when restored. I really like the app and hoped that I could continue to track my reading time.

The answer is: yes, but you must create a backup (or have a current backup) of your iPhone, iPad, or iTouch device first. After iOS5 is installed, you will restore your apps from the backup. All of my statistics and badges returned without any issue.

The only issue I encountered was that some (all?) of my downloaded audio files were corrupted or unavailable. In Audible’s FAQ, there is a message that some customers were receiving an error message, “Error playing title”:

This is because the storage location of downloaded audiobooks has changed in order to fulfill Apple’s iCloud requirements.  To recover from this error, please go to App Settings menu, then tap “Refresh Complete Library”. Once your library has refreshed completely, please re-download the titles you were listening to and playback should work again.”

I did lose my location in my book, but everything else worked correctly.

All in all, this was a minor inconvenience compared to the rather painful upgrade itself.

Categories: Product Reviews