Monday, June 22, 2009

Vacation Reading

Care (or dare) to vote on what I should read over vacation? Here's the list to choose from (in no particular order):

6/23 - Updated to include cover photos.

- The Lost City of Z by David Grann

- The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffengger

- Bloody Jack by L. A. Meyer

- The Guns of the South by Harry Turtledove

- The Stepsister Scheme by Jim C. Hines

- The Master Mariner Running Proud by Nicholas Monsarrat

- Elantris by Brandon Sanderson

- The Stone and the Maiden by Dennis Jones

- The Peshwar Lancers by S. M. Stirling

- The Bastard King by Dan Chernenko

- Across the Face of the World by Russell Kirkpatrick

- A Clash of Kings by George R. R. Martin

- The Doolittle Raid by Duane Schultz
(no photo found)

- Jedi Twilight by Michael Reaves

- Allegiance by Timothy Zahn

- Revelation by Karen Traviss

- Acacia by David Anthony Durham

You decide. Please.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Plougman King by Kurt R. A. Giambastiani (review)

Title: Plougman King
Author: Kurt R. A. Giambastiani
Illustrator: N/A
Pages: 226
Genre: Fiction
Dewey Decimal: F Gia
ISBN: 1-4116-4254-6
Cost: $16.99

In the years after Ploughman's Son (reviewed here), we see that Alain has risen in powers political and magical. But inside he’s still carrying the tack to the stable with hands caked in dirt. A part of him will always be a ploughman’s son.

Wrdisten, the ever faithful second fiddle, was the true standout in the story. Be it my preference for secondary characters or Kurt’s writing, Wrdisten made the story. Switching from friend to advisor, fighting alongside Alain then in front of him, servant to equal. There was a lot of quality content and situations to work with. There were many great dialogues between him and others (and not just Alain and Bronwyn).

Which leads to the mysterious Bronwyn. While I’m sure Kurt has no plans at the moment to continue the Ploughman Chronicles, he did set up a few story lines that could easily be used in a third book. She had a bit of a curtain drawn around her history from the start, but we can now see there’s more behind there. Lots more.

How did the Fey get into the Summerland? What is the Veil and how was it carved on Alain’s chest? These questions and many others began piling up during my reading. But it all boiled down to the people, the characters. That’s where the story was. That’s where I’d find my review.

Just beyond the veil of questions, lay the answers.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Plougman's Son by Kurt R. A. Giambastiani (review)

Title: Plougman's Son
Author: Kurt R. A. Giambastiani
Illustrator: N/A
Pages: 248
Genre: Fiction
Dewey Decimal: F Gia
ISBN: 1-4116-3779-8
Cost: $16.99

I have been reading Giambastiani’s work for some time now. When I first stumbled across The Year The Cloud Fell a few years back, I was drawn into a bizarre world of Native Indians and dinosaurs with a heavy helping of American history. Giambastiani has once again created one of those bizarre worlds.

The Ploughman’s Son was about just that, a ploughman’s son. Set in 880 AD, Alain is working the fields with his father. Or so he thinks. Turns out his biological father is not only a Lord, but also raped his mother. But don’t worry, his mother is just as bad. Not only did she go crazy, she also abused him physically and emotionally. In the end, Alain gets revenge and kills his father.

I am not sure how much research went into the novel, but there are times when many things seem historically correct. Not being an expert in the field though, I wouldn’t know. But the settings (landscape and weather), actions of the characters (daily tasks and language), and religious beliefs (Paganism vs. Christianity) all seemed very plausible to me. Granted, the magic of the ley lines and of the old spirits wasn’t, the vast majority was. Thus setting a believable stage for the story.

Being just shy of 250 pages, the story is fairly fast. It slows in a few spots, but mostly to convey the importance of that particular scene. The trail Alain travels is a bit convoluted at times, making stops that don’t always fit in with the overall story. There are some battle scenes that are too short or not crisp enough with detail. And, my biggest gripe, there’s no map. But I’m big on maps. I need to see where everything happens.

So overall, Kurt did a good job on a good story. While the crows/ravens of the story creeped me out a bit, I think that was the intention. My impression (this is where my opinion takes over) is that Kurt got an idea for a story and either filled in the blanks or cut some out. I could easily see this as a short story or as a longer novel. I’m just not sure which would be better. For those interested, the second part of this duology, Ploughman King, will be reviewed next.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Must Write Reviews

I have a lot of reviews that I'm dying to write but I need to finish the books first. So I'll give you a bit of a tease on where I am with some key books.

Wicked by Gregory Maguire
I'm kind of on the fence with this one. I've read and heard good things about it but just can't get into the story. I mean, I'm following it, I'm just not getting where it's supposed to take me. In other words, what's the MacGuffin?

The Hornet's Sting by Mark Ryan
Still trying to get through this. It's a decent read and gives a decent account of the WWII spy, but it's not as gripping as other WWII stories have been. Maybe I should write one about my great-uncle.

The Way of Shadows by Brent Weeks
Groovy book, just long. Not that long is bad, I'm glad I have plenty of story to read, but man do I want to write a review for this. So much good stuff in here to talk about.

And that's about it for now. Still plugging away on these and a few others. And of course, the stack of books is starting to call my name. Especially the next GRRM book, but I want to make it through The Way of Shadows first.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

GIVEAWAY - Deader Still by Anton Strout

I have a copy of Deader Still (review here) by Anton Strout (interview here) to giveaway (candy and semi-authentic Simon Canderous gloves not included). This is the copy I purchased for my own reading pleasure (meaning it's been read once).

Just send me an email with your name and address to with the subject line of Deader Still by July 10th (yes, I know, it's a long time, but keep reading), and I'll randomly choose a winner.


There is one stipulation though. You must be a soldier stationed overseas. Meaning you need to have an APO or FPO mailing address for me to send it to you. Feel free to enter someone you know over there but make sure you include their address, not your stateside one.

(Using my best Billie Mays voice)..But wait, there's more!

I will ship some other goodies with the book. No promises on what those goodies will be (each overseas location has it's own restrictions) or how many goodies there will be (I am paying for this myself after all). But I'll do my best to make it interesting and entertaining. After all, any mail from home is welcome, right?

And if any authors or readers out there would like to contribute to the goodie box, please feel free to contact me via the email above.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Around the World in 80 Days by Jules Verne (review)

Title: Around the World in 80 Days
Author: Jules Verne
Genre: Fiction
Cost: $0

This was another of those free audiobooks from Librivox (check them out if you haven't already). Some things that are free are also cheap, as in quality. Not so much with this particular reading as the individual did a pretty good job. The problem was more with the content.

You see, it just didn't live up to those Disney movies I expected. From 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (with Kirk Douglas of course) to In Search of the Castaways (with Hayley Mills), these are the movies I grew up watching. Not in the theater, I'm not that old, but on VHS because I'm that old.

Which means I was left somewhat wanting during the entire story. I guess Disney did a good job of making it more exciting, although I doubt they kept to the original storyline. Overall, a decent listen, just not the action-packed story I was expecting. But still entertaining enough for me to finish it.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Deader Still by Anton Strout (review)

Title: Deader Still
Author: Anton Strout
Illustrator: N/A
Pages: 303
Genre: Fiction
Dewey Decimal: F Str
ISBN: 978-0-441-01691-4
Cost: $7.99

The short review:

"Deader Still by @antonstrout is good without a doubt. How long can I rhyme in Twitter without becoming a wimpy quitter?"

The long review:

Anton Strout does it again. This time with vampires. Well, not really, but that's what you're led to believe. And for me, that was the biggest disappointment. No, not the lack of neck sucking vampires, but the reappearance of Simon's old nemesis. Make that nemesi (the plural form) since there were three of them that come back to haunt Simon.

The first half of the novel moves rather quickly and at 300 pages, it makes for an even faster read. Strout's work is light and airy and full of wit. I hate to say this, but it would make a great beach read. The only thing keeping it from being the perfect beach read is that the nerd and geeks likely to read it would get a sunburn. Or accidentally kick sand in someone's face from laughing so hard.

In the end, Strout does a good enough job to keep you reading and entertained. There is a hint of the dreaded sophomore slump, but the next book looks as promising as the first. Perhaps the next book will be even darker by moving the action to the dreaded land of New Jersey.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Ghosts of War by Ryan Smithson (review)

Title: Ghosts of War
Author: Ryan Smithson
Illustrator: N/A
Pages: 322
Genre: Young People / Biography
Dewey Decimal: YP 956.705 Smi
ISBN: 978-0-06-166468-7
Cost: $0

If you read only one book this year, make it this one.

Smithson's book appealed and appalled me on so many levels. I know the Iraq War and the politics of how and when we go to war and everything involved in between is a hot topic for many. So many are for the war or against the war, but many can agree on supporting our troops. But knowing this didn't prepare me for Smithson's tale of his year in Iraq.

I've had many relatives go through combat and the military. From World War II, Vietnam, and Iraq to combat, dead bodies, and POWs. The common theme is often hardship of some sort but very little verbalization on their time overseas. Smithson made it personal for me, made it tangible. He told his story and didn't try to hide things from the reader. While reading about scraping brain matter from a Humvee may make you queasy, it's something that didn't even make me blanch as I realized he did the scraping, not me.

At many times I was reminded of the insanity you see in M*A*S*H and the hardships you see on the nightly news. But again, Smithson makes it personal. He uses simple words to tell his story and leaves you feeling proud to be an American. He leaves you grateful for everything you have and grateful for those who have helped us keep it. He leaves you wondering what book could possibly compare to this masterpiece. He leaves you ashamed that there even needs to be war in the first place. He leaves you with a better understanding of what people go through when they deploy to the big sandbox.

To emphasize, if you read only one book this year, make it this one. This is an ideal book for high school students* as it speaks to them (Smithson was only 19 when he deployed). And speaking as an old-fart, this book is also ideal for anyone even remotely interested in what soldiers go through in Iraq.

* There are some graphic scenes, but no worse than what you'd see in an R rated action movie. There's also some language, but I'm sure most high schoolers these days know them all.