Friday, January 27, 2012

Grave Sight by Charlaine Harris

iconiconI fell in love with the Sookie Stackhouse books about a year and a half ago, so when I saw another book by the same author available in ebook format from my library, I jumped right on it.

Grave Sight is a quick read about a young woman who travels around the country with her brother, solving murder mysteries.  She is able to do this because she senses dead people, ever since she was hit by lightning as a child.  Her brother, who is actually her step-brother (I wonder if there will ever be any interesting developments there later in the series), more or less acts as her manager.

Grave Sight picks up when they've been doing this for a little while, as you gather by all the stories that crop up about previous jobs they've done.  (There were enough references to previous jobs that I actually kept checking to make sure I'd started with the first book.)  It's the beginning of the series, and you can see that it's going to be an interesting one.  Grave Sight wasn't very long, though, and I wonder if all of the books are that way.

Definitely a fun, quick read by a favorite author.  It may not be about vampires, but I love Charlaine Harris's style just the same!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Fools Rush In by Kristan Higgins

iconiconFools Rush In was the last book of a run of Kristan Higgins books I checked out from the library.  I think they still have one or two more I have yet to read, but I needed a break first!

Millie, the heroine of this book, has had a crush on Joe since she was just a kid, but he has no idea she exists, so once she completes her doctor's degree, she returns home determined to make him notice her.  She loses weight, buys new clothes, and even gets a dog.

Of course, as you might imagine would happen, it turns out Joe isn't anything like how she'd built him up to be in her mind.  And it turns out that the man who really is everything she's ever dreamed of is closer than she realized.

Like many of Kristan Higgins's books, Fools Rush In challenges generally accepted ideas of romance, especially of romance novels.  The hero in this book is much older than Millie, and was previously married to (gulp) her perfect older sister.  As you can imagine, this makes for some awkward moments when they realize how they feel about one another — and when they finally get together!

But a trend that I'm starting to recognize in Higgins's books, and one I really like, is that the love she writes about isn't (usually) based on lust.  In The Next Best Thing and Just One of the Guys, two other books of hers that I read recently, the love interest was always someone the heroine didn't expect — because he was her best friend.  Higgins's books are romance novels that are about healthy relationships... and they're wonderfully entertaining.  Amazing!  It is possible!

Growing up with books is important!

Just one more off-topic post before I get back to the business of reviewing books.  A couple of weeks ago I saw a story on NPR about Walter Dean Myers, the new ambassador for Young People's Literature.  In the interview, Myers talks a lot about how books are important parts of your life, and stresses that, as part of his goals, he wants young children to be read to every day.

There is this idea that what children need, in order to do well in school and in life, is to be read to every day.  And while I think that's true, this widely held notion is actually a fallacy.  Being read to every day doesn't impact how kids do in reading and in school — how many books they have at home does.

This is not to say that if you put 500 books in the home of every poor kid in the city, they are suddenly going to start doing well in school.  But think about it: Adults who value reading tend to have lots of books in the home.  Their children see them modeling habits that emphasize the value of reading and books, and they in turn grow up to value reading and books.

In other words, reading to your children every day is good, but it's not enough.  If you view it as a chore, chances are your children will too.  But if you surround yourself with books and read a lot, for the pleasure of it, in front of your children, they will absorb that passion for reading, and their own lives will benefit from it.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Yet another article on rising e-reader ownership

What timing!  Not long after I saw the CNN article about tablet and e-reader ownership doubling over the holidays, I saw this one on NPR:

Niche No More: Survey Shows Tablets Are Everywhere

The NPR article quotes another survey that shows an even larger percentage of e-reader and tablet ownership: 29 percent, up 11 percent from December.  In comparison, the CNN survey found ownership to be about 19 percent, after an increase of 9 percent in the same time frame.

There's no doubt about it...  E-readers and tablets are here to stay!

E-reader and tablet ownership takes off

Sorry for the dearth of posts lately!  I've actually been reading quite a bit — I've just been too busy to write about what I've read — so I have lots of catching up to do.  But first, I want to share an article I read just the other day, about how popular tablets and e-readers have become.

Ownership of tablets, e-readers almost doubles in one month

The number of people who have these devices went up from 10 percent in December, to 19 percent in January.  The deceptive "1" at the beginning of both numbers might be a little bit deceptive, but think about it: That means that out of every 10 friends you have, one of them has had an e-reader for a while, and one other just got one for Christmas — and two out of every ten of your friends are now reading on an e-reader (or at least playing games and browsing the Internet).

I look at these trends, and I think that despite the traditionalists' protests, ebooks are not going to go away.  They are a valid way to read books, an improvement over a format that has been around for centuries, just as the book itself was an improvement over scrolls.  (I wonder what the traditionalists' arguments were then?  "With scrolls you don't have to worry about losing a page!" or "It's made of animal skin so in 2,000 years it'll still be around!")  Don't get me wrong, I love physical books too, and will likely always have bookcases full of them in my house.  But thanks to e-readers, I can devote precious shelf space to the books I want to collect — old books, pretty books, and first editions — and get my reading books in digital format.  Plus, I can check out library books without leaving the house or worrying about overdue fines!  What's not to like?

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Science of Battlestar Galactica by Patrick Di Justo

iconiconI've been reading a lot lately, but I haven't dedicated very much time to blogging about what I've been reading.  Part of the reason is this book, The Science of Battlestar Galactica — I've been struggling with what to say about it.

I checked the book out from my library on a whim when I saw it among the new arrivals in our ebook catalog.  I am a big fan of Battlestar Galactica, and was interested in learning about the science behind the fiction.

Initially I was very disappointed with the book, as the first few chapters especially were largely conjecture.  However, I do have to say that as the book got into discussions about physics, space, and related subjects, it got much better.  It started talking about the size of the universe, what a planet would likely have to be like in order to support life (and what sort of star it would have to orbit), and I found that kind of thing quite interesting — enough so to redeem the book somewhat in my eyes.

I'd recommend it to other geeky BSG fans, but with the advice: Don't be afraid to skim and skip around.  I didn't find the entire book interesting, so I think I enjoyed it much more once I started skimming, and just slowed down to read more carefully when I came across something that interested me.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Free calendar and organizer app!

iconiconIt's not a book, but I wanted to take a moment to review a fantastic app I just downloaded to my Nook Tablet earlier today.  I found out about it when it was posted to Barnes & Noble's Facebook page this morning.

A little background: I'd been wanting a way to sync calendars between my iPhone and Nook.  The iPhone calendar can be challenging to use, mainly because I don't always feel like typing on that little keyboard.  My Nook isn't always on me, though, so I don't want my primarily calendar to be on that device, and it seemed tedious to input all of my stuff on not just one but two touchscreen keyboards.

Cozi Family Organizer turned out to be just what I needed, even though I don't have a big family to organize calendars for.  (I did add our pets as family members to help keep their vet and other appointments straight.)  The biggest advantage is that it syncs between devices, so when I'm at home (with an Internet connection) I can use the Nook, and when I'm out I can use my iPhone.

Besides the calendar, the app has to-do lists and grocery lists, so I've added my husband as well so that we can share grocery lists.  So much better than keeping a pad of paper on the fridge!  We frequently forget to get items because they weren't on the list, so hopefully this will solve the issue by allowing us to add to our grocery list — and share what we've added — no matter where we happen to be at the time.

The iPhone app and the website are ad-supported, but so far I see no ads on the Nook (and the ads on the iPhone and website are fairly innocuous).  You can pay to get rid of the ads and get a few more features, but it's more than I need, so I'll put up with the ads for now.  Such an amazing free app!

Get a free Nook!

iconicon

I logged on to the Barnes & Noble site today to see a fantastic deal broadcast across the top of the page: If you subscribe to the New York Times ($19.99 a month), you can get the Nook Simple Touch Reader for free, or the Nook Color for half off ($99 instead of $199).

I'm not a big fan of paying for newspaper subscriptions when you can get it all online, but of course the NYT is limiting access to the website for non-subscribers now.  In any case, if you were planning on subscribing anyway, you might as well do it through B&N and get a free or steeply discounted Nook!

Saturday, January 7, 2012

The Last Cowboy by Lindsay McKenna

iconiconBeing a horse person and the proud owner of two rescue horses, I tend to gravitate toward books about horses.  Some of them, like War Horse, I enjoy thoroughly.  Others make it perfectly obvious how little the author knows about horses.

The Last Cowboy was, unfortunately, among the latter group.  Although the overall story, about a doctor who hires a handsome cowboy to train her and her mare for endurance racing, was a good one, there were a lot of clues in the book that the author was writing the horse stuff from research rather than experience.

First of all, the author clearly was rather misinformed about mustangs.  She seemed to think they were some kind of glorified horse breed, not to mention that a bunch of things were unique to them.  Mustangs are, actually, sort of like a feral pack of dogs (or multiple packs), mutts with lots of different breeds represented in them.  Although they are often touted as the descendants of Spanish Barb horses that the Conquistadors brought over from Spain, they are in fact mixed with lost and unwanted horses of virtually every breed.  Some herds show more Arabian influence, while others show the influence of other breeds.

Another thing that clearly demonstrated her lack of knowledge about horses: She repeatedly described the heroine's "steel-grey" mare, who sported a dorsal stripe and zebra stripes on her legs, as a grey.  If she were a horse person, she'd know that this coloring is actually called gruella.  A grey is a horse that is born dark and slowly turns white as they age.  Horse people call white horses "grey," not white.

She also seemed to think dorsal stripes and zebra stripes are unique to mustangs.  Not sure where she got that idea.

And it drove me nuts that she kept referring to the hero's 15-hand mustang stallion as "huge."  That may be on the large side for a mustang, but not for a horse in general.  That's really about the small side of average.  Most people's horses are 15.2hh and larger.  Furthermore, you don't struggle to mount a 15hh horse, especially if you are 5'6" (as the heroine was).  If the author thinks that's a struggle, I'd like to see her try to mount Tiny, the 17hh Thoroughbred at my barn!

I realize that most readers won't know this much about horses, and therefore won't have the same complaints I was.  But I have to admit that I was a little disappointed in the story, too.  The author's rather terse narrative style made me feel rather removed from the story, especially from the intimate interactions between the hero and heroine.  In a good romance novel, the reader ought to feel the sparks fly.  Instead, the author would periodically lapse into descriptions of either the hero or the heroine's angst and attraction for one another.  This didn't help much to add to the romantic tension, because it was pretty much the same description every time, just reworded a little.  And it is decidedly unromantic to read five times throughout the story that the hero (or the heroine) wishes s/he could "make hot, passionate love" to him/her.  It felt corny and forced to me.

It's rare for me to say so, but I have to admit, this is NOT one of the titles I would recommend... to anyone, really.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Lincoln by Russell Freedman

iconiconI've been reading so much fiction lately.  A few years ago, my norm was about half fiction, half nonfiction — or perhaps it was about two-thirds fiction, and one-third nonfiction.  (This was a big change from my childhood, adolescence, and early twenties, when I read fiction almost exclusively, except for assigned reading in school and college.)  Although I do love fiction, occasionally I get a hankering for something a little more serious, so I was quite interested when I saw Russell Freedman's biography of Lincoln was one of the new additions to my library's ebook collection.

Although the subtitle calls it a "photobiography," in fact it is more than just pictures.  There are some great portraits of Lincoln throughout his life, as well as historical photos and engravings from newspapers and periodicals, but the book also provides a concise written biography of Lincoln.  The ebook is about 90 pages, but since the physical versions are often (but not always) about 20 percent longer than the ebooks, it's hard to judge length by the ebook.

In any case, it was a fairly quick read — I read it in about a day, despite the fact that nonfiction typically takes me longer than fiction.  The narrative style flows easily, and the photographs and illustrations are fascinating, though some of them were a bit small on my e-reader screen.

Interestingly, just a few days after I finished Lincoln, my husband and I watched The Conspirator, a movie about the woman who was hanged as a conspirator in Lincoln's assassination, primarily because they couldn't find her son (who really was the one involved — she just had the misfortune of keeping the boardinghouse where the men met).  In the beginning of the movie, when it showed Lincoln's assassination and the immediate fallout, I found it fascinating to see the things I'd read about in the biography brought to life.

In any case, the biography is interesting and highly entertaining — I would recommend it to anyone interested in Lincoln and/or that period in history!

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Taylor Five by Ann Halam

iconiconAfter reading two Kristan Higgins novels in a row — and don't get me wrong, I love Kristan Higgins, I just needed a break — I decided to change gears and read something a little more serious.  My choice was Taylor Five, which is a children's book on a fairly serious topic: cloning.

Taylor is a 14-year-old girl who is a clone of another woman, a scientist.  She lives with her surrogate parents and their 12-year-old son, whom she considers her brother, on a primate reserve, where her parents and a handful of other scientists are studying the primates.

Then violence erupts nearby, and rebels come to the reserve and kill all of the scientists.  Taylor and Donny have to traverse the jungle with Uncle, an intelligent orangutan who seems to understand more than he ought to about what is going on.  This is when Taylor's gifts start to show: She is smarter and physically stronger than her surrogate brother Donny, causing the reader to start wondering what else she is, besides a clone.

It's a short book, and not as controversial a topic as, say, Eva (love that book!), but it's still pretty daring.  Indirectly, the story is addressing the question of what makes us who we are — nature (in this case, our genetic makeup) or nurture (the experiences and memories we have that are unique to us)?  A fast but memorable read, and one I would recommend to adults as well as children!

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Just One of the Guys by Kristan Higgins

iconiconOut of all the Kristan Higgins books I've read thus far, I think this one might have been my favorite — primarily because I felt I could most relate to this character's tomboyish nature.  It wasn't quite as funny as the other two I've read, Too Good to be True and The Next Best Thing, both of which were hysterically funny at times, though it was still good for quite a few laugh-out-loud moments — I don't normally laugh aloud when I'm reading, so I find it amazing when a book is able to get me to!

The heroine of Just One of the Guys, Chastity O'Neill, is a journalist (something else I can relate to) in a family of firefighters and first responders.  For years she's been in love with a family friend, a guy who's been treated like just another of her brothers since she was a kid, but she thinks he only sees her as one of the guys.  She decides to start dating, and (after racking him in a self-defense class) quickly lands a serious relationship with a doctor.  But she can't shake how much she loves Trevor.

In another Kristan Higgins book I recently started, she mentions in a letter to her readers that she really enjoys writing about family.  This explains something that I'd only started to notice — that family plays a big role in every one of her books.

I also really like how every one of her books is different.  Sometimes the heroine ends up with the boy next door, sometimes it's someone completely different (and the boy she's been in love with since childhood turns out not to be the one for her after all).  The only constant is that it's always someone the heroine thinks is the least likely candidate for her.  In Just One of the Guys, for example, she'd loved Trevor since she was a kid, but she didn't think he felt anything other than friendship for her.

These books are different from the usual romance — they are told in first person, from the point of view of witty, and typically flawed, heroines.  They poke fun at the things we women do for the sake of love and life in general, and of course there is always the element of family in Higgins's books.  These are the kind of romance novels I would recommend to people who don't usually read romance, because they are the kind you can feel good about reading, instead of feeling like you've lost a few brain cells in the process!

Monday, January 2, 2012

The Next Best Thing by Kristan Higgins

iconiconThis was one of the books I read last week, during my week off between Christmas and New Year's.  It was also the first time in a long while that I stayed up extra-late to finish a book.  Not having any obligations (or at least a clock to punch) the next day, I finished the book at 4am on the nose.

You may remember that I read another Kristan Higgins book, Too Good to Be True, back in April.  I love Higgins's funny narrative style — I often laughed out loud while reading Too Good to Be True, and found the same true of this book.
 
The Next Best Thing is about a family whose women are always widowed young and never remarry.  Lucy, the heroine, was widowed more than four years ago after only 8 months of marriage (and no children).  The birth of her niece makes her decide to break with family tradition and  find a new husband, so that she can have kids someday too.

The awkward thing is that she's been sleeping with her deceased husband's little brother for the past couple of years.  Despite her feelings for him, Lucy decides that she is better of marrying someone she won't love too much, to avoid the heartache of losing another husband should the family's curse hit her a second time.

One thing I thought of while reading The Next Best Thing is how Kristan Higgins manages to take deeply flawed characters and make them funny, rather than annoying.  As annoyed as I got with the insecurity of Kelsey, the heroine (and I use that word loosely) of Tiger's Curse, you'd think I just didn't like flawed characters.  But I loved Lucy and her crazy family, despite Lucy's downright neurotic fear of losing another man she loves.