Monday, January 31, 2011

How to Ditch Your Fairy by Justine Larbalestier

iconiconWith a 14-year-old heroine and a title like "How to Ditch Your Fairy," it should be pretty obvious that this read is more fun than serious.  Charlie is a freshman in high school in a world that's based on ours but not quite the same.  In this world, kids go to specialty high schools — her school is for sports-inclined kids, and has lots of rules that seem over the top by our standards — and everyone has a fairy that gives them luck in some special area.  For instance, her best friend Ro has a clothes shopping fairy (she always finds great clothes for great prices), one of the girls at school has a boy fairy (makes all the boys her age adore her), and Charlie's mother has a fairy that ensures she always knows what her kids are up to (every kid's worst nightmare!).

Charlie thinks her life sucks, however, because her fairy isn't very helpful — at least not to her!  She has a parking fairy, which means that she always gets the best parking spots, but since she's not old enough to drive yet it just means that everyone else is always vying to get her in their cars with them.  She wants a better fairy, so she is trying to "starve" hers by not getting into a car until its gone, which means she is constantly getting into trouble for being late.

Although the book deals with a lot of typical teenage problems (whether the boy she likes will like her in return), it's a bit tongue-in-cheek at times because of the fairy thing.  When I saw that the main character was only 14, I was worried it would feel too young for me, since YA books are usually written for kids a couple of years younger than the main character — but because the book turned out to be so much fun, I actually enjoyed it quite a bit!  Not a particularly serious read, but if you like YA and want to read something more light-hearted than the typical dark fantasy romance that is so popular right now, you'll really like this one!

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Promise Canyon by Robyn Carr

iconiconThose of you who read my other blogs, or who read this blog a lot, know that I own a horse and like to read about horses.  That was initially what drew me to Robyn Carr's Promise Canyon — I was browsing the new ebooks category on Barnes & Noble's website, and saw the horses on the cover.

I was a bit bored with the book, though.  Maybe part of it was that I only recently read my first romance novel since high school — I'm used to more, um, intelligent reading materials these days.  But I don't think that's all of it — I actually really liked the story between the hero and the heroine, and for the most part I really liked all the horse stuff.  My issues were with the parts of the book that weren't about either horses or the, er, relationship.

This author seems to have written a whole bunch of romance novels about a little rural town, and about a third of this book had to do with the goings-on of the town and the people in it.  Of course, since there are already a number of novels about the town, practically everyone is paired off, either just married, getting married, or with small children.  Sigh. 

All in all, it was a pretty good book, for a romance novel — just not my thing.  Since I haven't read the other books, I didn't care much about the updates on all the town members.  But for someone who has already read Carr's other books and likes this kind of thing, it's a well-written book and will probably not disappoint.

Friday, January 28, 2011

The Lying Game by Sara Shepard

iconiconAfter the seriousness of The Lost Dogs, I knew I needed something a little more fun.  When I first read the summary of The Lying Game on B&N's website a month or so ago, it reminded me a lot of a favorite book from my own childhood, Stranger with My Faceicon by Lois Duncan.  In that book, a girl who turns out to be a twin and adopted, experiments with astral projection, only to get locked out of her own body when her twin enters it and takes over her life, pretending to be her.

The Lying Game is a little different, but has a similar concept: twins, separated at birth, one adopted and the other spending her life in foster care.  The story is narrated by Sutton, the dead twin — an interesting concept that I love — who wakes up (as a ghost) in the foster home of the twin she didn't even know she had, with the realization that she is dead and no memory of how it happened.  The foster girl, Emma, then has to take over her dead twin's life and pretend that she is her in order to try to find her killer.

I didn't realize until the book ended without her finding the killer that this book is the beginning of a series, and the next book isn't due out until August.  Oh well.  I'll definitely read the next one — it's a very compelling story, and I am curious to find out who the killer is, and what will happen to Emma!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Lost Dogs by Jim Gorant

iconiconIt never ceases to amaze me, the selection my library has available in ebooks. One of the last times they added to the collection on OverDrive, I was browsing through the new books when I found this one: The Lost Dogs by Jim Gorant, a book about the Vick dogs, their rescue, rehabilitation, and where they are today.  I was already interested in reading the book, and then I found out a client of mine was reading it and recommended it, so I bumped it up my list.

The book detailed everything you might want to know about the Vick dogs — how they were living before the raid, the rescue, how the case panned out and many of the difficulties law enforcement faced, and finally, the rehabilitation of the dogs.  The book follows a handful or so of the dogs through their time in the shelters and, later, in foster homes.  All but a few of the dogs were rehabilitated, and the majority of them have been placed.  A few have even become therapy dogs.  Many of the dogs were never actually fought, and in general it seems Vick and his buddies failed miserably at breeding fighting dogs, but still  — the fact that so many were successfully rehabilitated is a testament to these dogs' characters!

The author talks a lot about the prejudice against pit bulls and how misplaced it is, which I thought was great — he is using a very high-profile, high-interest story to help debunk some of the myths about pit bulls.  He gives a history of the breed over the last several hundred years, and also gives a history of which dogs have been labeled as "dangerous" over the years.  Did you know that in the 19th century, bloodhounds were feared and discriminated against, just as pit bulls are today?  And around 1900, that prejudice shifted to German shepherds.  During all this time, pit bulls were so trusted as family dogs that they were actually called "nanny dogs" because how they were with children.

It's a very interesting book, sometimes heartwarming and something heartbreaking, but also important because of its message about "breedism" (not a word used in the book).  I am strongly opposed to breed-specific legislation (BSL) and I believe in rehabilitation, so it was very encouraging to read about how successful those efforts were in the most famous dogfighting case in history.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Shadowfever by Karen Marie Moning

iconiconI've gotten a little behind again on blogging about the books I've read! I actually finished Shadowfever a week ago — despite kind of a crappy week last week, I read through it pretty quickly, considering it was about twice as long as the other books in the series.  I thought I'd be through it in a day, like I was with the others, but that was before I saw how long it was!

Like I said last week, one of the biggest advantages to ebooks that I have discovered is being able to download them just after midnight Eastern time on the night they are available.  Shadowfever came out the 18th, last Tuesday, but I was able to download it a 10:20pm my time Monday night.  How's that for an advantage?

I'd been anxiously awaiting this book for a while, so being able to download it that early was a big deal.  The previous book in the Fever series, Dreamfever, ended with the most agonizing cliffhanger I've ever experienced in a book.  Shadowfever answers your worst fears from the end of Dreamfever, but it's also very satisfying.  I don't dare say more, for fear of spoiling it for those who haven't read it, but let me just say this: It's a wonderful book, and a very fitting end to the series.

Only I don't think it will really be the end.  Maybe the end of Mac's story (and then again, maybe not), but there are still some questions left to answer, some characters whose stories weren't resolved.  Oh, I hope there will be another book!

Monday, January 24, 2011

Ebooks outselling print copies?

For those of you who are still skeptical about the ebook takeover, check this out: According to Book Buzz, ebooks have outsold print copies for the top books on the bestsellers list for three weeks in a row now.

E-express: The post-holiday surge in sales of e-books continues. For the third week in a row, more than a third of the top 50 books on USA TODAY's Best-Selling Books list sold more e-book copies than print versions. Among the 19 books more popular in digital form was Kathryn Stockett's novel, The Help, a sleeper hit from 2009. It has been so popular in hardcover (79 weeks in the top 50) that the paperback won't be released until April. Putnam president Ivan Held won't say if the publisher fears the e-book (at $12.99) is cutting into sales of the hardcover (listed at $24.95), but did say, "We are thrilled that new readers continue to discover The Help nearly two years after it was published."

Pretty amazing when you think about it, especially when you consider that bestsellers such as The Help are typically priced over the $9.99 mark that many consumers consider the maximum they'll pay for ebooks. The ebook industry has come a long way!  I know a lot of people insist that ebooks will never replace regular books altogether, and while I agree with the fundamentals of that statement, it certainly seems that they could compete in popularity.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

A significant advantage to ebooks

Monday night I got to enjoy one of the best advantages of ebooks that I've found yet.

You might remember that I've been waiting for Shadowfever, the fifth book in the Fever series, since November.  I read the first four books then, and thanks to the biggest cliffhanger of an ending I've ever encountered, I've been waiting on the edge of my seat (so to speak) ever since for the last book to come out.

Shadowfever was scheduled to come out on the 18th.  I preordered the ebook around Christmastime and settled down to wait.  I was hoping I would be able to download the ebook in the wee hours of the morning, and guess what?  At exactly 10:20pm my time (12:20am on the 18th in New York), the ebook became available, and I was able to start reading fully 8 hours before even the East Coast folks could even pick up the book at the bookstore.

If you ask me, that's a significant advantage to an ebook: the ability to get it the night before, especially if you are a night owl reader, like I am!

Monday, January 17, 2011

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

iconiconNot to go overboard with the virtues of ebooks, but this is one of the reasons why I am so thrilled that the library offers ebooks through OverDrive now — and that I can read them on my iPhone.  I've been on hold for the paper copy of this book at my library for at least 6 months, maybe even more, and I still am number 11 on the list.  But because fewer people read ebooks, I was able to get the book from OverDrive within about a month, even though my library only has 2 ebook copies.

(Unfortunately, I should note that more people are starting to figure out the virtues of library ebooks.  When I put my hold on this ebook, there was 12 or 15 people on the list.  Now there are 47.  However, that is still better than the 500 or so that were on hold for the paper copy when I first requested that hold.)

Anyway, I saw the Swedish movie The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo several months ago, so I knew the basic storyline, and my mom had confirmed that it was pretty sure to the book, except in a few minor instances.  I really liked the movie, and I've heard everyone raving about how good the book is.  But I have to honestly say that if it weren't for all that, I might have been really tempted to give up a few chapters in.  Similarly to Three Seconds, it took about 100 pages before it started getting really compelling.  Much of the first quarter or so of the book was setting up the rest of the story.  But it was, ultimately, an amazing story, so that's okay.

Unfortunately, I have a fairly long wait for the next two books.  I should have put my request in before I got this one, before the wait got so long, but I didn't think of it until there were already about 30 people on the hold list.  I learned my lesson, though, and now I'm on the wait list for both the next two books!






Read the eBook - I did!

Sunday, January 16, 2011

The Host by Stephanie Meyer

iconiconThose of you who have been reading my blog for a while know that I really liked Stephanie Meyer's Twilight Saga, which I read about a year and a half ago — and that lately I've been reading a lot of other books in the YA dark fantasy genre.

I've wanted to read The Host for a long time, but I didn't get around to it until I recently discovered it in the list of my library's ebooks that could be read on my iPhone.  I was really excited when I found it!  In general wait lists on ebooks are much shorter than the other books at the library, because there are so many fewer people reading them, but it still took me a little over a month to get this one.

As much as I loved the Twilight Saga, I think I may have actually liked The Host more.  The reviews I found on Barnes & Noble's website indicated that it really gets its hooks into you after about 100 pages, and I definitely found that to be true.  I was so hooked, in fact, that I read the last half of the book last Thursday afternoon — I picked it up for a little lunchtime reading, and couldn't put it down!

I also read in the reviews that the end was surprising, but I actually was pretty sure I knew what was going to happen.  Even so, I sobbed my way through the last 30 pages!

This book has been billed as "science fiction for people who don't like science fiction," and although I do read some sci-fi and fantasy, I would have to agree.  This was one of the best books I've read in a while!

Saturday, January 15, 2011

The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff

iconiconNote: The image link is to the bargain hardback, which is currently the cheapest edition, but won't last long.  Get it while you can!

The 19th Wife was actually a very different sort of novel than what I usually would have read.  I saw it in the list of ebooks available from my library, and it seemed pretty popular, so I decided to try it out.

The novel is really two separate stories: a 20-year-old boy who was kicked out of the Firsts (Mormons who still practice polygamy and live in camps away from the rest of civilization) six years ago, and has come back to Utah because his mother has been accused of murdering his dad; and the story of Ann Eliza Young, a real woman who divorced Brigham Young in the 1870s and spoke out again polygamy.  Although David Ebershoff gets a lot of the historical material from Ann Eliza's memoir, Wife No. 19, and other historical sources in the archives, he stresses in the afterward that her story is fictionalized, and that he has tried to fill in the gaps in her story.

The novel alternates between Jordan Scott's attempts to find out who really killed his dad and clear his mother, and Ann Eliza's story, told as if from her memoir (although, if I understand the afterword correctly, the "memoir" is actually writtenby Ebershoff).  Newspaper articles, Wikipedia articles, and other sources are also used, and all of these are written by Ebershoff as well.  It's a little confusing to try to figure out what is real and what is not, but it's also a fascinating way of telling a story — and an interesting look at the woes of plural marriage.

I've read a couple nonfiction books on the subject of Mormon polygamy, so I guess you might say the subject interests me a little.  If you are interested, the books are God's Brothel, a collection of stories by Andrea Moore-Emmett of various women's experiences as plural wives, and Shattered Dreams, a memoir by Irene Spencer.  Both books are well-written but shocking to anyone who doesn't know much about polygamist culture, or that it still goes on today within the confines of our supposedly civilized country.

While I was reading The 19th Wife, I also downloaded (free from Barnes & Noble, via Google books) Ann Eliza's actual memoir.  It would be interesting to read her story as she originally intended.  It's a shame we don't know what actually happened to her.

Although a large part of this book obviously took place in present day, I am labeling it as historical fiction, simply because Ann Eliza's story is so central to the novel.  It's a long novel, and I found the jumping back and forth a little confusing at first, but I ended up really enjoying it!

Friday, January 14, 2011

Horse People by Michael Korda

iconiconI haven't had much good luck with touchy-feely horse memoir-type books.  The Man Who Listens to Horses (Monty Roberts) and A Girl and Five Brave Horses (Sonora Carver) were both really good, but then I read a bunch of somewhat disappointing collections of stories, such as Hope Rising and Horse Crazy.  I guess maybe the difference is that those are more of feel-good "gift book" type books that you buy for someone who likes horses, rather than something a horse owner buys for themselves.

Anyway, Horse People was a different sort of book.  It is written by an editor in the book publishing business, about his experiences as a horse person over the years.  He has some really funny stories, such as when the author of a book he had edited assumed he was a much better rider than he was, and took him on all of these daredevil rides during a short visit — knowing that I'm not a great rider myself, I could really relate to the hysterical stories of all the near-misses he experienced during that visit.

He writes about a much different horse world than what I know — the East Coast seems to be a bit different than out here in the West — even though many of us still ride English (including me), I don't think it's as intensely English.  He also writes a lot about the fox hunting and eventing worlds, which I know next to nothing about.  Even so, there are a lot of things I can recognize from my own experiences as a horse owner.  It's a funny and occasionally sad book — I teared up when his wife had to put down her beloved horse Nebraska, for instance.

Most horse lovers will probably love this book, even if it's not the world they personally know — in fact, that is sometimes what makes it so funny, such as when he finds himself fox hunting in Virginia on a horse determined to kill him (and when he, as he puts it, sympathizes with the fox rather more than the hunters).  Although those who don't own horses (but still love them) will probably still enjoy the book, knowing something about the horse world — specifically how crazy some horse people can be — is sometimes a prerequisite for understanding the humor in the anecdotes!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Why are ebooks so expensive?

A lot of people complain that ebooks are too expensive for a virtual product.  After all, you can't resell an ebook to a used bookstore when you are finished with it, and most people assume that most of the cost of physical books has to do with the expenses of printing, storing, and shipping the books.

The New York Times put out an article that does the math for us, and in actuality, printing costs aren't as high as you think.

Math of Publishing Meets the E-Book

According to this article, printing, storing, and shipping the average hardback only costs about $3.25 (so it would be even less for mass market paperbacks).  And there are many other expenses than printing to consider.  There is the author's royalty (usually about $3.90 on a hardback, $2 or $3 on an ebook) and the cost of marketing.  Also, don't forget a lot more people than just the author collaborated on the book — the publisher also pays cover designers, editors, etc.

The article breaks down the specific costs better than I do, but suffice it to say that when people complain about all the money publishers are saving with ebooks, they aren't considering the many costs other than printing and shipping that are associated with publishing books, even ebooks.

Torment by Lauren Kate

iconiconI've mentioned before that one of the disadvantages of library ebooks is that they simply stop working when your allotted time is up, and if you're not finished, too bad.  So when I realized I only had a few days left to read Torment, I took a break from The 19th Wife in order to do so.  I hate not reading books all the way through, one at a time, but I also didn't want to have to wait to get this out again — because there were others waiting for it, it almost certainly would have been a month or so before I got it again.

I read Fallen a little over a month ago.  I'd been seeing Fallen and Torment around at the bookstore, and finally decided to try it, since I've been reading a lot of the YA dark fantasy genre lately.  I really enjoyed Fallen, but I have to say I think I liked Torment even more.

After discovering that the boy she is so attracted to is a fallen angel, and that she has been reincarnated every 17 years over many centuries as part of his eternal punishment (to want her but to have to see her die a thousand times), Luce is sent to a school in California where she will supposedly be safe from the many supernatural creatures who are trying to kill her.  Of course, Daniel still can't stay away from her, any more than she can stop trying to find out more about their history (and her past lives), which continually puts her in danger.

I think the reason why I liked this one so much more is because in Torment, you can really see Luce's personality emerge as she learns more about her past — and, ultimately, refuses to be a pawn in the eternal struggle any longer.  She still loves Daniel, but she is starting to have her own ideas about what she wants.  I like that side of her much more than the somewhat timid damsel in distress from the first novel.

The ending is one heck of a cliffhanger, and unfortunately the next novel, Passion, isn't due out until June.  And I thought the wait for the last book in the Fever series was long!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Bright Young Things by Anna Godbersen

iconiconHow I found this book is kind of a funny story.  I've read books by Anna Godbersen before — in fact, you can find my reviews of her other books here:

The Luxe
Rumors
Envy
Splendor

But I had no idea that she'd written a book about the 1920s.

I've become quite interested in the 1920s since I planned a 1920s-themed wedding when my husband and I got married in 2007.  I've started really liking the clothes, the hairstyles, the antiques, and the ideas of the era.  It was a period where women were really pushing the envelope for the first time, deciding to wear, drink, and do what they wanted and to hell with what anyone thought about it.

Anyway, I recently had an idea for a novel I want to write, which will be set in the 1920s.  As part of my research for the setting, I was browsing Barnes & Noble for books about the 1920s, and I came across this one.  Like I said, I've read all of Anna Godbersen's other books, but I hadn't known she'd started a new series about the 1920s.

Of course, once I found it I had to read it.  I put a hold on it with my library, but ended up getting it as an ebook through OverDrive.  Yay!  (I've been reading more and more ebooks lately, and the more I read them the more I prefer that format.)

The story lacks some of the more sinister plotting and planning that happens between the young ladies of the Luxe Series, but is still really quite good.  Cordelia Grey and her friend Letty Larkspur run away from home and go to New York City in 1929, determined to make a better life for themselves than hanging around their small Midwestern town.  Cordelia wants to find her father, and Letty is determined to become a star.  Along the way we meet Astrid, a New Yorker who is every bit the 1920s girl that Cordelia and Letty want to be.

Of course, neither Cordelia or Letty understand their new world, and both of them make mistakes that jeopardize the fragile new happiness they have both found.  Astrid has problems of her own, and in some ways her decision may be just as foolish as her new friends' mistakes!  Although I can't find anything yet about whether this is going to be the first book in a series, it certainly seems like there is plenty of room for a sequel!  Hopefully there will be, as I loved this book just as much as Godbersen's Luxe Series!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

If I Stay by Gayle Forman

iconiconThis book stalked me until I read it. Seriously!  I kept seeing it around — at the used bookstore near me, online, and finally in the list of OverDrive ebooks my library offers.  Have you ever had that kind of thing happen to you?

Anyway, I figured I probably should read the book so it wouldn't keep following me around, and I am so glad I did.  It was amazing, and even made me cry a little!  I don't often cry at books, even the sad ones, and then usually only the ones where animals are involved.  But this one made me cry.

The book gets started right away, and plays out over a very short period of time, with lots of flashbacks to explain things as you go along.  It's a wonderful way of telling a story, and makes this a very fast read.  I read it nearly in one sitting, which I actually recommend, because it's so short and because it makes so much sense that way.

In the first few pages, Mia is in a car accident with her family, and I mean a bad accident.  While her physical body goes into a coma from her injuries, her soul is aware of everything that is going on.  In astral projection-style (anyone ever read Stranger with my Face?  I was addicted to that book as a preteen), she watches over her body and her family, walks us through her memories, and ultimately realizes that it is up to her whether she stays... or whether she lets herself die.

This is an amazing book, whether or not you normally read YA fiction, and I highly recommend it!

Monday, January 10, 2011

Barnes & Noble's Nook pays off!

Barnes & Noble seemed to do really well over the holiday season.  Hubby and I go to our local B&N at least once or twice a week, sit in the cafe, and read, and we had definitely noticed how much more crowded it was than usual.  It's been years since I've seen really bad holiday shopping crowds, yet parking was at a premium for the last couple of weeks before Christmas.  Most interestingly, we noticed after Christmas that there were a lot of people there with brand-new Nooks, asking how to use them and playing around with them while drinking coffee in the cafe.

It seems our perceptions were accurate.  Barnes & Noble reported that their in-store holiday sales were 10 percent higher than last year's... and the website's sales were an astonishing 78 percent higher.  Wow!

Digital Divide Propels Barnes & Noble Past Rival

Apparently Borders, the rival mentioned in the headline, is doing very poorly in comparison.  Barnes & Noble attributes the difference to the fact that they developed a superior ebook reader.  I agree — from what I can tell, the Nook was drawing quite a bit of sales around Christmastime.

I am very glad to see this, for many reasons.  I was worried about Barnes & Noble not doing well last year.  I like going to the stores and sitting in the cafe while I read or work, and I especially love the ebooks.  I enjoy reading ebooks on my iPhone, but I have been tempted to also get the Nook, since I am reading so many ebooks now.

Hopefully they will continue to do well!

A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick

iconiconI've had my eye on Robert Goolrick's A Reliable Wife for months, ever since I first spotted it as an ebook on Barnes & Noble's website.  I think it was in the most popular category, or perhaps the recommended books, and I thought it seemed interesting.  So imagine my delight when I discovered my library offered it in ebook form!

One of the nicest things about the library's ebooks is that usually I have a much shorter wait than I would for a physical book.  Besides the fact that fewer people read ebooks, my library only lets you check ebooks out for 2 weeks at a time, after which they are immediately available to the next person on the list.  No time required to ship the book to another library so that the next person on the waiting list can pick it up — the next person has 5 days to checkout and download the book, and if they don't, it quickly goes to the next person.

Anyway, when I got this book and started reading it, I found it wasn't at all what I was expecting.  It was shorter, for one thing, and was written in a more literary style.  There are two main characters in the book, an older man who has put out an ad for a mail order bride — "a reliable wife" — and the young woman who has answered the ad.  But neither are what they seem: The young woman is planning on killing him and using his fortune to spend the rest of her life with the man she loves, while her husband plans to use her in order to try to reunite his family.

What neither of them plans on is falling in love.

It's done quietly, rather than with the drama that you would find in a romance novel or a blockbuster novel, but I found it compelling still in its own way — just quietly compelling.  I think anyone who likes literary fiction and different types of things will really like this novel.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

$5 ebook sale at B&N

I should have mentioned this much sooner, but there is currently a $5 ebook sale going on at B&N.  The sale began after Christmas, so some of the books are no longer on sale, but many still are.  They include very popular ebooks, such as books in Stieg Larsson's Millenium Trilogy, George R.R. Martin's Song of Ice and Fire series, Suzanne Collins's Hunger Games series, Lauren Kate's Fallen, and Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series.

Ebooks aren't always less than their physical counterparts, but often they are, especially new releases and books that have been out a while.  These sales are a great way to save money on ebooks.  Here are a few of the ebooks that are still on sale that I think are the most interesting. If you see any you want, I recommend getting them soon, as I'm sure the sale will not last much longer!

More by Lili St. Crow - ebook sale

iconiconA few days ago, Barnes & Noble listed a Lilith Saintcrow novel, Night Shift, for sale for only 99 cents.  It took only a quick Google search to discover that this is the same Lili St. Crow who wrote Strange Angels, Betrayals, and Jealousy.  I'd read that Strange Angels was her first YA novel, and that she was normally an adult fiction writer, and I'd been mildly curious about her other books, but this sale convinced me to try one out!

It's a little ways down on my reading list, so it may be a while before i get to it, but I wanted to post the link now.  The ebook is 99 cents, but only for the month of January!  Like with the free ebooks, I recommend getting it while it's on sale, even if you aren't going to read it quite yet!

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Jealousy by Lili St. Crow

iconiconJealousy is the third book in the YA series by Lili St. Crow that I recently got hook on.  I discovered this series thanks to my library's selection of ebooks, and had to wait (rather impatiently, I might add) for several weeks for Betrayals and Jealousy after finishing Strange Angels.

After Dru, Graves, and a couple of their friends are rescued from the boarding school at the end of Betrayals, they are immediately sent to a much larger (and safer) school.  Here Dru is supposed to actually learn something that will help her fight vampires with the rest of the "special" students there.  But Dru is more special than any of them, which earns her enemies, naturally.  And she is also starting to remember some things from her childhood, from before her mom died, that will expose one of her enemies as a traitor to the entire order she now belongs to.

The romance factor in these books has been pretty subtle up until now, but the third book starts delving a little deeper into that aspect of Dru's life.  The dynamics between her two love interests are becoming more complex, and she is going to have to make some difficult choices!  Plus there is the werwulf who saved her in Betrayals, and who may play a pivotal role in the next book, Deceptions, coming out in April.  I can't wait!

Friday, January 7, 2011

Betrayals by Lili St. Crow

iconiconAfter reading (and loving) Strange Angels, I was eager to read the next book in the series by Lili St. Crow, Betrayals.  After the big battle at the end of the previous novel, Dru finds herself and her friend, Graves, packed off to a small school for "special" kids.  But although they were supposed to be going somewhere where they would be protected, it becomes clear that someone has exactly the opposite in mind.  While juggling "Goth Boy" and another love interest who smells like apple pie, Dru also has to try to stay alive!

I wasn't disappointed in this sequel, though as someone pointed out in their review on BN.com, it doesn't really provide many answers.  Of course, that is partly because the series isn't over yet — there is a third book out, called Jealousy, and a fourth one (Defiance) coming out in April.  Ooh, I can't wait!

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Three Seconds by Roslund & Hellstrom

iconiconA few months ago, Barnes & Noble announced Three Seconds was going to be their next First Look book.  The First Look Book Club allows you to read books before they come out, discuss them on the B&N forum, and review them on the site.  It's kind of fun, and not a bad deal for a free book.

I'd also done the First Look with Vixen, the YA novel about several girls in the 1920s.  This time, unfortunately, it didn't go quite as smoothly.  I received my book in the mail rather late, and then ended up sick for about two weeks in December.  By the time I was better, we were slammed with preparing for the holidays.  I still managed to get some reading in, though, and was able to participate in the discussions at the very end.

I don't usually read this kind of novel, as you'll know if you follow my blog, but it was compared to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.  I've seen the movie (as well as the next movie, The Girl Who Played with Fire), and I've been on hold at the library for the books for what feels like forever, but I haven't read them yet.  Still, my interest in them made me think that maybe I'd like this one.

Well, I did like it, but not as much as I like most of what I read.  I think it was probably because it was a little out of the ordinary for me, and not so much because of the novel itself.  It was well-written and everything, and grew more suspenseful the further you got, but I didn't like the brevity of scenes, and I thought the main characters could have been more developed.  My husband — who reads crime novels from time to time — tells me that those are characteristics of the genre, however, so I think it's mainly that I'm not used to this kind of novel.

If you like crime novels, I would highly recommend Three Seconds.  It's very well thought out, and the suspense is very well done.  However, if (like me) it's not your usual kind of fare, I think it might be a little hard to get into.  I don't know if I ever would have read it if it wasn't a First Look selection!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Alex and Me by Irene Pepperberg

iconiconOne of the tricky things about library ebooks is that when my time is up, the file simply doesn't open anymore — I don't have the option of paying a fine for a couple of days in order to finish reading the book.  So when I saw this was about to expire, I made a concerted effort to finish it in the day or so that I had left.

Luckily, it was a pretty quick read, so I was able to finish it in about a day.  It's a wonderful memoir that shows how far we've come in the study of animals, as well as memorializing the relationship between Alex and his handler, Dr. Pepperberg.

I like reading books about how smart animals are.  Animal lovers, of course, already know how much of our language they understand, so while reading something like this is a delight, it's not a surprise.

When I was reading, however, I couldn't help but notice an interesting similarity between Dr. Pepperberg's research and the information in another book I read a while back, Inside of a Dog by Alexandra Horowitz.  Horowitz described a study that was trying to determine whether dogs would use tools, as many other animals do in the wild.  But in every case, rather than using a tool in order to perform the desired task, the dogs would go to the person in the room and try to get them to do it for them.  Horowitz accounted for this by noting that dogs are hardwired to interact with and depend on their humans, rather than figuring things out independently.

But Dr. Pepperberg described something remarkably similar.  In the lab, they tried to copy a study using the parrots that had been done using crows in the wild.  The parrots that hadn't been with them for very long did the same thing the crows had done: They made use of the tool at hand.  The parrots who had been working with people for very long, however — such as Alex — demanded that the people perform the task for them, rather than trying to figure out how to do it themselves.  In other words, they did the same exact thing the dogs did in the other studies.

I think this is particularly interesting for the implications on animal intelligence and problem-solving, as well as the impact that domestication has on them.  Obviously, animals that have lived with people for a long time recognize that humans are their best way of getting anything they might want: food, water, attention, whatever.  That's not to say that they couldn't figure out how to perform the tasks in these studies.  On the contrary, it shows that they are smart enough to realize they have a better tool at hand: us.

Alex's achievements, as described in Dr. Pepperberg's memoir, are truly wonderful.  He learned not only a vocabulary, but what the words mean, and demonstrated his understanding by sorting, answering challenging questions, and so on.  His antics are more than just funny anecdotes, too — they demonstrate his personality as well as his intelligence, such as when he got bored and started giving every answer except the right one... until she made him go back in his cage, when he started yelling "I'm sorry!" and the correct answer over and over.

I'm not a bird person (primarily because I've never had one, not because I dislike them by any means), but I loved this book.  In fact, of all the animal memoirs I have read (not many, because I hate always knowing that I'll cry at the end), this was by far my favorite.  I think any animal lover will be interested and delighted to read about Alex's amazing achievements!

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

130 free ebooks from Kaplan

I just read on the Barnes & Noble forum that Kaplan is listing 130 ebooks for free until January 10th.  Most of the titles are academic or career-related, but I found quite a few good ones in there.  You can either download them free from B&N, or go to Kaplan's free ebooks website.

I recommend erring on the side of caution, and downloading every ebook you think you might be interested in, whether you want to read it now or not.  Since they are only free for a short time, you might as well get them while it doesn't cost you anything — you can always delete or archive the book later on if you change your mind!

Monday, January 3, 2011

The Battle for Christmas by Stephen Nissenbaum

iconiconSince I wasn't too impressed with Gregory Macguire's Matchless, I figured I should read and review another Christmas book!  I also found this one via the library, and was quite pleased at how scholarly and well-researched it was.

The Battle for Christmas is about the evolution of Christmas into the holiday we know now: commercialized gift-giving, domestic holiday.  The author shows that it wasn't always like this — in fact, Christmas used to be a holiday of drunkenness and rioting.  The holiday was banned by the New England Puritans, because of its pagan roots but also because of the rioting.  It wasn't until the mid- to late-18th century that Christmas could be legally celebrated in Massachusetts.

It wasn't until the early 19th century that a group of people in New York started actively trying to recreate Christmas.  Many people today believe that "Santa Claus" came from an old Dutch tradition celebrating St. Nicholas.  While that's true, it was apparently only celebrated for a short time, and by a small group of people, in the mid-18th century — and it wasn't brought to America by them.  A group of New Yorkers (Washington Irving and Clement Clarke Moore among them) intentionally fabricated the American tradition.

The tradition of the Christmas tree was born in a similar fashion.  Rather than being brought over by German immigrants, as it seems to have been, it appears that the tradition was intentionally created via the fiction of a couple of early 19th-century writers, just as St. Nick was.  What the author of The Battle for Christmas continually stresses is that these people were intentionally turning Christmas into something new — instead of a holiday that was marked by excess and bad behavior, they were deliberately refocusing it as a domestic holiday, with a focus on giving gifts to loved ones, especially children.

I was especially amused when the author talked about how the complaint about "When did Christmas get so commercialized?" is not a new one.  He talked about how early in the 19th century, "gift books" — books made with the sole intention of being purchased and given as gifts — made an appearance.  He also cites (and reproduces) many ads dating from around 1800 to 1820 that show how commercialized Christmas had already become.  In fact, Harriet Beecher Stowe apparently observed how commercialized it had become in an 1850 story.  We may like to talk about how "it wasn't this way when I was a child," but in fact neither the commercialism nor the complaining are anything new!

Although the book was a bit dry at times and I did a lot of skimming, it was also quite a revelation to me.  I highly recommend at least flipping through it if you want to know the truth of how Christmas evolved into the holiday we know today.

The first image link in this post is to the paperback edition, which — with Barnes & Noble's online discount — is actually a little cheaper than the ebook.  However, it appears that the paperback and the ebook are not linked on the product page, so for those of you who would prefer the ebook, here it isicon!

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Matchless by Gregory Maguire

iconiconI always try to read at least one Christmas book during the holiday season.  Last year I reread A Christmas Carol for the first time since I was a kid, and the year before I reviewed a few fun children's Christmas books that I saw at Barnes & Noble.

In December 2010, I spotted this book — Gregory Maguire's Matchless — on one of the tables in Barnes & Noble.  I don't usually go for modern Christmas books, since I think they usually aren't very good, and the publishers and booksellers are just counting on the author's name to sell books (especially in the romance genre, where you see this practice the most).  But I love the story "The Little Match Girl," so I thought I'd try it out.

On one hand, the ebook — which I got through the library — was very nice.  It included the illustrations, which seems to have been half the reason for the book in the first place, so you weren't giving up part of the experience by reading the ebook.

However, I wasn't all that impressed by the story itself.  It was pretty short, and although it expanded on Hans Christian Andersen's original story, I didn't think it improved on it at all.  It seemed to prove rather than to disprove my theory that modern Christmas books are designed to take advantage of an author's name and the time of year to sell more books.  I also think it is probably meant to be given to someone rather than purchased for yourself to read (considering you could read the entire thing while sitting in the cafe at Barnes & Noble).

I hate to be so critical, but I feel very Scrooge-like about the silly practice of big authors releasing Christmas books (or collections of short stories) that sell simply because their names are on them.  Bah humbug.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Happy New Years!

I haven't focused much energy on writing New Years resolutions the last year or two — I've learned I always forget about them anyway, so why bother?  If I did do resolutions, though, I would resolve to continue reading a lot in 2011.  I've been reading  a lot this year, and I'd like to keep that up, as it makes me happy!

Instead, I think I'll encourage my readers to read more in 2011.  I remember once hearing that the average person reads an astonishingly low number of books every year — I can't remember what the number was, but I remember being shocked at how low it was.  So there — my New Years wish is that I can influence at least one person to read one more book than they normally would.  If I can do at least that, then this blog has fulfilled its purpose!

Wishing you happy reading in 2011!