Going Bovine
by Libba Bray

November 1, 2013 Book Reviews, Books 0

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★ ★ ★ 

Going Bovine by Libba Bray | Delacorte Books | September 2009 | Paperback $10.99

All 16-year-old Cameron wants is to get through high school — and life in general — with a minimum of effort. It’s not a lot to ask. But that’s before he’s given some bad news: he’s sick and he’s going to die. Which totally sucks. Hope arrives in the winged form of Dulcie, a loopy punk angel/possible hallucination with a bad sugar habit. She tells Cam there is a cure — if he’s willing to go in search of it. With the help of a death-obsessed, video-gaming dwarf and a yard gnome, Cam sets off on the mother of all road trips through a twisted America into the heart of what matters most.

Read this one on a long, cramped airplane trip. I bring that up because the odd reading circumstances may have colored my opinions.

Libba Bray (an awesome Texas author with a real connection with her fans) give us unique story over all, even if the road-trip-as-coming-of-age-story thing gets to be a little cliché sometimes… but there’s just enough weirdness to make it different and keep up the head scratching.

The ending drags out a little, and it is not a surprise BUT it still manages to tug lightly at the reader’s heartstrings. Think of this book as a cross between Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Catcher in the Rye. Definitely recommended for readers who like ’em a little weird!

You see that big shiny medal with the “P” on the front cover? That means this book won the prestigious Printz Award in 2010. Fans of Libba Bray, author of  the popular Gemma Doyle series and contributor to some awesome story collections like Zombies vs. Unicorns and 21 Proms, will be pleased to know that she is currently working on Lair of Dreams (a sequel to The Diviners, which was nominated for both the Bram Stoker and Andre Norton awards last year).


Links:


Publication information: Bray, Libba. Going Bovine. New York: Delacorte, 2009. Print.
Source: Public library
Disclaimer: I am not compensated, monetarily or otherwise, for reviews of books or other products.


A Good Day

October 1, 2013 Adventures 0

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Went to the beach down in Galveston with a couple of friends. It was nice.

There’s a lot of housework to be done. And books to read and videos to watch and music to listen to and blogs to comment on.

Today, the world doesn’t feel like such a bad place.


Hawaii – Part 2

September 22, 2013 Adventures 0

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A continuation of Hawaii – Part 1 . . .

Third day

The 3rd (and last full) day of our trip was possibly the best.

We went to Hanauma Bay! Like, for real this time. We got there pretty early. They were preparing to close the parking lot but there was still plenty of space and the line to get in wasn’t super awful.

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Visitors have to watch a quick video about beach safety and the ecology of the bay before entering the park. It was a pretty decent video, I guess, but what really got to me were the people who just kept talking or blowing up their floaties or whatever while it was going, like they clearly didn’t care one bit about either safety or ecology, and sure enough there were way too many damn people STANDING ON THE REEF out in the bay, and this filled me with a MURDEROUS RAGE but I managed not to commit homicide and ruin the rest of our vacation.

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Gary packed his own flippers and snorkel set. I get weirdly claustrophobic with full face masks and snorkels so I just brought some regular old eye goggles.

We picked a shady spot in some grass well back from the beach for our towels and accoutrements, which turned out to be a wise choice because (a) we got to see a mongoose close up and (b) that beach sand was SUPER HOT by mid-afternoon.

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Actually we got to see several mongooses (mongeese?) and also a cat that was apparently friends with them. And I accidentally kicked a pigeon. In my defense, it was trying to nap in the middle of the sidewalk. It was surprisingly fluffy and I feel bad but not that bad because, seriously, it was a clearly idiotic specimen of flying vermin.

But I digress.

We didn’t go all the way out to where the coral got really pretty, where most of the coolest animals could be found, because the current was super strong that day and I didn’t have the flippers with which to fight it, but the reef did go all the way up into the shallows of the bay and there was plenty of stuff to see anyway.

I wish we’d thought to bring an underwater camera along, but it was really nice getting to just swim and try to spot things without having to worry about focus/lighting/movement/etc. So unfortunately I have no photographic proof of the absolute coolest thing that happened to us there. . .

WE SAW AN OCTOPUS.

Dudes, it was a-maz-ing.

Gary gets all the credit for spotting him (or her, IDK, it, whatevs). He was almost completely hidden in this little depression in the coral except for his little eyeballs just barely poking up and keeping a look-out for random swimmers/dinner/potential girlfriends. We floated there for a few minutes and would you believe it — that little dude was just as curious about us as we were about him. Octopuses are notoriously intelligent invertebrates. He just ever so slowly sort of floated up out of his little hidey-hole, keeping an eye on us but becoming less and less shy as the minutes passed. We must have floated there, the three of us just sort of staring dumbfoundedly at each other, until a couple of other snorkelers blundered up and scared the little guy back into his safe spot. It was so great.

I also almost ran into a porcupinefish. I think I startled it as much as it startled me. It was huge! Actually most of the fish we saw there were much larger than I anticipated.

Anyway, the fish were cool, but I just can’t stop thinking about that octopus.

That afternoon we went back to Tiki’s for a late lunch/early dinner.

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It was pretty great. I’m glad we went back. Relaxing atmosphere, good food, amazing view. I just have to rave about the food for a minute. I had a mixed plate with panko crusted fish, kalbi rib eye, and chicken katsu, plus fragrant rice and kimchi and macaroni salad. The macaroni salad thing again!

Later that evening we walked around Waikiki some more. We got some souvenirs/candies for folks back home. We ended up at Duke’s and Gary got me a cute little tiki cup to take home from there. We had a pretty nice night.

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Getting home

The trip home wasn’t too bad. I mean, it sort of sucked to have to leave, but that’s how vacations work.

We had a late afternoon flight so we slept in a little and then had lunch there in Waikiki. We ended up at the airport pretty early. The Oahu airport is actually surprisingly lovely — lots of open air walkways and bright flowers and some nice little shops, too.

We tried to sleep through the “night” on the way back to the states, but we both still had a little trouble adjusting to a normal schedule once we got home. That’s to be expected I guess.

Sneakers seemed to have had a lovely time at his doggy “summer camp” (our vet boards). He came home with a little bandanna and even a little photo fridge magnet. Curiosity was pretty upset at being left at the house all by himself for almost a week (well, not all by himself, the neighbor lady looked in on him every day) but he seemed to recover quickly and didn’t punish us too much.

I’d like to go back again someday. Maybe for a longer amount of time. Gary says that he doesn’t want to wait another 12 years to return. In the meantime, though, we have some great memories and lots of daydream material.

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Hawaii – Part 1

September 15, 2013 Adventures 0

We were lucky enough to get to go to Hawaii a couple of weeks ago!

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Part 1 covers our trip there + the first couple of days.

Getting there

We flew out super early on Monday morning. I learned a hard lesson from our Thanksgiving fiasco of 2 years ag and got us a reservation at a nearby airport parking garage. We’ve used them before and the experience was decent, so I don’t mind recommending them (with the caveat that there was a little snafu with the reservation fees, but the manager of our location kindly cleared that up for us).

We actually had to fly out to Atlanta before catching a connecting flight to the islands, but it wasn’t so bad. The plane we were on was pretty new. Everyone had little screens right in front of them on the back of the headrest part of the seats in front. That way everyone got to pick their own movie or TV show or game — all we had to do was plug in headphones. The movie options were mostly fairly new releases. I watched The Great Gatsby and Monsters University and part of Tangled. The flight would apparently have normally had WiFi, but not this time for some reason.

The first thing we had to do once on the island was pick up our rental from Hertz (we chose them because they had the best deal for USAA members). We got a soft top Jeep Wrangler. It took us a while to figure out how to get the top down and put away because the instruction manual was just not very helpful, but once we managed it we were pretty darn pleased with ourselves.

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First day

We stayed at the Waikiki Marriott which was OMG freaking beautiful y’all. We were literally right across the street from the beach. Our room wasn’t super huge but it was big enough, with a nice little TV and lovely lighting and the most comfiest bed ever. There was a little city view balcony, too, which was lovely.

That first night was just all about relaxation and recovering from the flight. We went for a walk along Kalakaua (the main shopping strip along the Waikiki beachfront) and had dinner and drinks at Duke’s and then passed out pretty early in the evening.

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Our first “real” day on Oahu was dedicated to a jaunt up to the North Shore by way of Mililani, the town where Gary spent his high school years. We stopped to shop and eat and see Gary’s old school and the house that his family used to live in. It was bittersweet for him. A lot has changed in the 12 years he’s been away.

We intended to go to Waimea Bay, but we dawdled around to much in Mililani and couldn’t find any parking for that particular beach. We ended up at Pipeline/Ehukai instead, which was nearly deserted. This beach’s slope is pretty steep and the undercurrent is strong even on its calmest days; it’s actually pretty famous among surfers for amazing (and dangerous) waves. We played in the surf for a bit and sprawled out in the sun and later we watched the little kids being let out of the elementary school across the street as they basically just skipped down to the beach for the shave ice truck and some swim time before dinner.

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Dinner for us was at Tiki’s, and it was amazing. I had a calamari steak, which I didn’t even know was an actual thing up until that point. There was some decent live music, too. We ended the night back at the hotel bar with more live music and drinks.

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Second day

Our plan for Wednesday was to head down to Hanauma Bay, but we got there way too late. Neither one of us seriously believe the guidebooks’ suggestions to get there early before the parking lot filled up. Too bad! We ended up taking the scenic route around the island, and in this case “scenic route” is not a sarcastic euphemism for the dumb long way ’round. We stopped for lots of photos, of course.

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Of course we had to make a stop at Matsumoto’s in Haleiwa for shave ice. I had some kind of rainbow flavor with ice cream and azuki. It was every bit as tasty as I’d been promised.

At some point we had lunch at Mililani Restaurant, but I can’t for the life of me remember if that was before or after the shave ice. It was a great little “Chinese” (Americanized/Hawaiianized East Asian) place. The atmosphere is maybe not that impressive but there were lots of people in an out, picking up lunches… you could tell it was a popular place with the locals. And for good reason. The food was delicious and the portions HUGE. The funniest thing to me was the inclusion of macaroni salad with every entrée. Apparently that’s pretty common on the islands?

We ended up at Waimea Bay and this time we found parking. It was a tiny bit of a hike to get to the beach but it was so, so worth the wait. There was hardly anyone around at the water was just so clear and calm and cool… it was hard to believe that sometimes in the winter (surfing season in Hawaii) the waves here can get to be 20+ feet, even splashing up to the parking lot high above. Gary and I floated around lazily, watching the small school of silver fish doing the same just feet below us in the crystalline water.

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Later we drove up to Pu’u o Mahuka Heiau, the remains of a major indigenous Hawaiian temple. Gary was particularly excited to show me a path that he fondly remembered that led from the temple through some brush out to a cliff’s edge, where we had a spectacular view of Waimea below.

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Dinner was at Cheeseburger in Paradise, which was… just… not that great. I mean, the food was OK. Our server was rather inattentive. The whole ambiance was just really cheesy, like some kind of Rainforest Café but ocean-themed and for grown-ups.

That mediocre experience didn’t ruin the night, though. We had a lovely little moment on the beach that night.

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Stay tuned for Part 2 next week!


Rose Under Fire
by Elizabeth Wein

September 8, 2013 Book Reviews, Books 0

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★ ★ ★ ★

Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein | Disney Hyperion | September 2013 | Hardcover $17.99

While flying an Allied fighter plane from Paris to England, American ATA pilot and amateur poet, Rose Justice, is captured by the Nazis and sent to Ravensbrück, the notorious women’s concentration camp. Trapped in horrific circumstances, Rose finds hope in the impossible through the loyalty, bravery and friendship of her fellow prisoners. But will that be enough to endure the fate that’s in store for her?

The author of best-selling WWII thriller Code Name Verity has produced another work of the same impressive quality. Fans of Verity will find Rose Under Fire very much to their liking.

Rose Under Fire is the dairy style first-person narrative of Rose, a young American woman who is working for the war effort in England during the 2nd World War.

She flies military planes as a transport pilot; though women at the time were not allowed to be actual fighter pilots or bomb droppers, moving planes and occasionally people from one Allied airfield to another was considered a relatively safe job for them. Of course, this occupation still involved some definite dangers, like malfunctioning equipment and rough weather conditions — not to mention the bombs that rained down on Britain in a near-constant storm of explosive destruction.

The book is split into two parts. The first is a diary of a young woman who is far from home in a war-torn land, who experiences fear and thrills and romance and grief and every other kind of thing you might expect a person in her situation to experience. Rose is brave and perhaps a little overenthusiastic, but she’s certainly a relatable character. She’s an aspiring poet and her poems add a special something to this book-as-journal interpretation of her story. Everything seems normal, or at least as normal as an expat wartime pilot girl can expect… until Rose crash lands behind enemy lines.

The second part of the book is told primarily in retrospect, as Rose remembers and comes to grips with her experiences at the Ravensbrück concentration camp prior to escape and rehabilitation in Paris. This is some real punch-in-the-gut stuff, made all the more startling by being based on actual historical events. Our protagonist meets girls and women who have been experimented on and horribly abused by Nazi guards. Rose herself is soon subject to the kinds of cruelties that are so astonishing that the real concentration camp survivors upon whose own experiences this part of the story is based were accused of exaggeration or outright lies even by their rescuers. Rose struggles to heal, both physically and psychologically, as she relives her POW experience and tries to reclaim her own life.

Though powerful in its treatment of WWII Nazi atrocities, this book isn’t exactly a tear-jerker. Recommended as a companion read for The Diary of a Young Girl (The Diary of Anne Frank) or for folks interested in realistic early-mid 20th century historical fiction.


Links:

This is a partial draft version of a full review that was submitted for publication to the Galveston Daily News in October 2013. My opinions do not reflect those of my employer.

Publication information: Wein, Elizabeth. Rose Under Fire. New York: Hyperion, 2013. Print.
Source: Public library
Disclaimer: I am not compensated, monetarily or otherwise, for reviews of books or other products.


The Rithmatist
by Brandon Sanderson

August 31, 2013 Book Reviews, Books 0

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★ ★ ★ ★ ★ 

The Rithmatist by Brandon Sanderson | Macmillan – Tor Teen | May 2013 | Hardcover $17.99

More than anything, Joel wants to be a Rithmatist. Rithmatists have the power to infuse life into two-dimensional figures known as Chalklings. Rithmatists are humanity’s only defense against the Wild Chalklings. Having nearly overrun the territory of Nebrask, the Wild Chalklings now threaten all of the American Isles.

As the son of a lowly chalkmaker at Armedius Academy, Joel can only watch as Rithmatist students learn the magical art that he would do anything to practice. Then students start disappearing — kidnapped from their rooms at night, leaving trails of blood. Assigned to help the professor who is investigating the crimes, Joel and his friend Melody find themselves on the trail of an unexpected discovery — one that will change Rithmatics — and their world — forever.

Brandon Sanderson is well known amongst sci-fi/fantasy fans as a prolific source of imaginative epics packed with never-a-dull-moment storylines on top of complex settings and backstories. Sanderson, who is only in his late 30’s, is already the author of 82 distinct works. He is perhaps best known for his Mistborn series and for completing the Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan, who passed away before he could complete his 14-book behemoth.

Most recently, Sanderson was nominated for a Hugo Award for Best Novella for The Emperor’s Soul. He is currently working on 3 different projects and has several more on the backburner; fans will be happy to hear that his next novel, Steelheart, is due out in September. Though his works generally appeal to SF/F genre enthusiasts of all ages, The Rithmatist is his first work to be specifically targeted to middle-to-high-school readers.

The Rithmatist follows the story of a young man who goes to school with people who possess a magical power – but he himself does not possess that same ability. The idea for this story came to Sanderson as he contemplated the possibility of non-magical students attending a magic-focused school, such as the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry from the Harry Potter series by JK Rowling. Sanderson, of course, puts his own spin on the rules of magic. The book is illustrated by Ben McSweeney with examples of typical chalk drawings. Sanderson has clearly put quite a bit of thought into the mechanics of this world’s distinct magical system. The power to animate simple lines of chalk is extended to only a select few students during a one-time initiation ceremony. These young rithmatists are trained to draw chalk circles and lines that can attack enemies, defend positions, and act as small helpful creatures called chalklings.

Joel, our “muggle” in this case, missed out on his initiation ceremony and wishes for nothing more than to be allowed the chance to train as a rithmatist. He jumps at the rare chance to study with a rithmancy professional alongside a particularly apathetic rithmancy student named Melody; they are soon pulled into an investigation of mysterious kidnappings committed by improbable chalk creatures. What he and his new companion discover could change the way rithmancy is used forever.

Though distinctly Sandersonian, The Rithmatist is not an intimidating brick of a book. Younger readers who are just beginning to test the waters of the fantasy genre should definitely get their toes wet with this story. Fans of the aforementioned Harry Potter may recognize and enjoy some familiar elements, but this is in no way a “copycat” series (and yes, Sanderson has indicated his intentions to continue Joel’s story – the 2nd installment is expected sometime in 2015). This book is recommended for teen readers who enjoy detailed magical systems and fantastic plotlines tempered with doses of realistic coming-of-age character development.


Links:

This is a partial draft version of a full review that was submitted for publication to the Galveston Daily News in August of 2013. My opinions do not reflect those of my employer.

Publication information: Sanderson, Brandon. The Rithmatist. New York: Tor, 2013. Print.
Source: Blue Willow Bookshop
Disclaimer: I am not compensated, monetarily or otherwise, for reviews of books or other products.



On Butterflies

March 17, 2013 Adventures, Geekery, Museum Musings 0

My mother came to town recently. It was a nice little visit. We ended up going to HMNS and — get this — we went in the Butterfly Center.

That may not seem like a big deal to you but it is to me. You see, I’m afraid of butterflies.

Not, like butterflies specifically. Just anything with more than 4 legs in general. Spiders and wasps are the worst, but other “cute” creatures like ladybugs or, yes, butterflies are still pretty awful. I can’t even eat shrimp if the legs are still attached.

But… we went into the little tropical habitat and I didn’t run and I didn’t scream and, most importantly, I didn’t smush any rare live specimens. We even saw an Atlas Moth which was surprisingly really cool. So: VICTORY.

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Book Review Fangirling – A Memory of Light

February 8, 2013 Books 0

First can I just say:

FINALLY

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Book 14: A Memory of Light
[That link takes you to the Goodreads page for this book.]

Edited 1/1/2015 to add: This is not really a book review, so the regular star ratings and stuff don’t apply. I wrote this post long before I started really blogging about books on a regular basis. I may do a re-read of this series in the future though.



Thoughts

Even though it’s been nearly a month since the book was released — a month since I dashed down to the bookstore and purchased the first hardback I’ve bought in over a year — I still find it difficult to fully express all the feels I have about this book.

I don’t know if the ending really could have been any better. No, no, I don’t mean the book was perfect — after all, after 14 books and 23 years and the death of the original author, how could it be? But I think that it was exactly the end that we needed.

I don’t want to write too much about it here, because I know several people who are still reading, or who are waiting for the ebook release in April, and some of them occasionally read my blog, and I don’t want to spoil this book for them. Besides, other folks have done a much better job of really hashing out the details than I ever could:

Brandon Sanderson’s blog on release day: It’s finally out.

Non-spoiler review of AMoL from The Thirteenth Depository.

“Dear Robert Jordan”: a letter from fan/friend Jason Denzel.

Book review at HuffPo.

Brandon Sanderson’s post-AMoL #TorChat on Twitter.

The book printing process at Quad Graphics in Pennsylvania.

Leigh Butler’s spoiler-free review at Tor.

Leigh Butler’s spoilerific and rather stream of consciousness-y review at Tor.

Part 1 of Tor’s WoT: AMoL “re-read” series.

I have to say that I’m not sure about the open-endedness of the ending. Not that I expected some sort of Happily Ever After with a White Picket Fence and 2.5 Children (Per Wife) kind of ending, just… I still have so many questions and there are still so many loose ends and probably none of that will ever be addressed outside the realm of fanfic. In fact, that’s probably exactly what the authors intended.

– – – – – –

Where is a reader to go from here?

There are plenty of other epic fantasies out there, I guess. And, even better, plenty of speculative fiction in general.

I’m moving on the A Song of Ice and Fire series now. A coworker was kind enough to lend me the first season of Game of Thrones and now I feel more compelled than ever to tackle those brick-like books. But now that my commute is taking up a bit more time, I think I’ll be listening to the audio versions instead.

I’ve become more and more interested in YA over the past few years, too, to the point that several items on my to-read list have been pushed back a dozen times or more in favor of some shiney YA thing that I just can’t resist because oh, it’ll only take a couple of days to read. The great thing about YA is that the “genre” stuff is just as (if not more) common and respected as the “literary” stuff.

I have all kinds of reading plans for the coming year, though, plans that don’t necessarily involve SF/F (or at least not only SF/F). More about that in the year-in-review post(s) next month (maybe).


Xmas @ the Library: Deck the Shelves

December 16, 2012 Geekery, Library Life 0

Sung to the tune of “Deck the Halls”

Deck the shelves with books and movies,
Fa la la la la la la la la.


‘Tis the season for fake pine trees,
Fa la la la la la la la la.


Don we now our tacky sweaters,
Fa la la la la la la la la.


Like we’re real Yuletide go-getters,
Fa la la la la la la la la.


See the patrons try to find things,
Fa la la la la la la la la.


Panic as the phone ring ring rings,
Fa la la la la la la la la.


Follow me through the dusty stacks,
Fa la la la la la la la la.


While my patience slowly cracks,
Fa la la la la la la la la.


Forgive some fines and look for lost books,
Fa la la la la la la la la.


Shush loud children and dodge lewd looks,
Fa la la la la la la la la.


Eat some cookies and chug coffee,
Fa la la la la la la la la.


Santa’s here at the library,
Fa la la la la la la la la.