Friday, July 31, 2009

Spending Suspension Update

Way back in May, I decided to suspend my spending for three months. As I approach the end of the three month hiatus, I realized I should give you an update on how well I've done.

I have spent nothing! Yeah!

Well, sort of. You see, my wife bought a book for me. And while she technically paid for it, we share bank accounts so it was just as much my money as it was hers. What did I buy? The next George R. R. Martin book of course, A Storm of Swords (I'm already reading A Clash of Kings).

And how much did we spend on it? Two dollars, maybe three. Very cheaply acquired at a used book store while on vacation. Mind you, I was tempted to buy other books during this eternally long three month period. Some I actually picked up and made it half-way to the register. But I think I did pretty good.

Because of my stellar behavior during this time, I figured I would reward myself with another spending hiatus. I'm not sure when it will start or how long it will be but I'd like to continue the thought process behind the original idea: spend less to read more of the queue.

So stay tuned for more details and I'll let you know when I buy another book.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons (review)

Title: Watchmen
Author: Alan Moore
Illustrator: Dave Gibbons
Pages: 408
Genre: Non-Fiction
Dewey Decimal: 741.5941 Moo
ISBN: 0-930289-23-4
Cost: $0

Who reviews the reviewers?

This was a review a long time in the making because I wanted to include a mini-review of the movie. Thankfully LibraryGary was kind enough to purchase the BluRay version.

Starting with the graphic novel, I was continually impressed. The artwork was clearly dated (circa the mid-1980s) but It was also refreshing to see no anime, manga, or more modern influences. At least none that the novice comic reader would notice. The plot was somewhat basic, but the thought that went into the history behind the Watchmen was beyond what I would expect. And the ending reveal of who the "bad" guy was actually surprised me. As did the idea behind the grey area of what is "bad" and what is "good." This is a topic I haven't really thought about since my college days when we talked about capital punishment and if it was good, bad, evil, etc.

So the artwork was old-school. The plot was great and surprising. There were morals discussed and implied that made you think. But that wasn't the best part for me. The best part was the level of detail. And I don't mean the art was so detailed you could read hidden messages under a magnifying glass. I mean the art was so detailed you could see things in the background if you paid attention. And it was a theme that started when I first saw the Gunga Diner and continued through the very end. I don't think I've ever seen a comic or cartoon that had that much thought put into the background. You could almost see each scene in 3D if you pressed your imagination hard enough.

Enter the Director's Cut on BluRay. First, I love my BluRay. This being my first movie in this format, it didn't disappoint (I do have LOST Seasons 1 and 2, but that's it for BluRay for now). I could have followed the movie nearly scene for scene with the graphic novel. But I didn't. I wanted to see how true they stayed to the plot. And again, I was impressed. With two minor exceptions, the movie was stride for stride with the comic until about two-thirds of the way through. That's when the biggest change starts to appear. The replacement of the alien with some nuclear-style explosion. Bummer. Not what I wanted to see, but it still kept pretty close to the comic. Close enough to be up there in the top five movies I've seen that are based on books.

So where does this leave me? Thoroughly impressed with the capability of graphic novels. I've read some bad ones and I've read some good ones. But this is the first great one I've read. I enjoyed it so much, I'm considering reading V for Vendetta (I loved the movie). So if you haven't read it, read it. If you haven't watched it, watch it.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Minor S. M. Stirling News

I know, I know, I should really leave the man alone. But I found a few minor tidbits of news on the web.

First, Mr. Stirling will be attending WorldCon in Montreal, Quebec. According to Aliette de Bodard, he will be participating in the discussion session Researching Your World on Saturday from 5 pm to 6:30 pm. Other attendees include little known authors such as Neil Gaiman, John Scalzi, and others. There is also a mildly interesting session called the Hugo Awards.

Second, Mr. Stirling will be signing copies of his newly released The Sword of the Lady at the University Bookstore in Seattle, Washington on August 28th. The night before, a small time author by the name of Terry Brooks will also be signing books.

Third, Mr. Stirling will be signing copies of The Sword of the Lady at Powell's Books in Beaverton, Oregon on August 27th. No word if Terry Brooks or Neil Gaiman will crash the signing.

That's all for now. If you're interested in some further reading, I did ask Steve a few questions which he was kind enough to answer. But I'll try not to bother him like I did before.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Blood of Ambrose by James Enge (review)

Title: Blood of Ambrose
Author: James Enge
Illustrator: N/A
Pages: N/A
Genre: Fiction
Dewey Decimal: N/A
Cost: $0

Another poor review. And again I hesitate to even call it a review since I didn't finish the book. At least I managed to make it about halfway through before giving up.

This was an Audible selection for me, mainly based on various other online reviews that were all positive. It wasn't until I gave up on the book that I started to see other reviews pop up that were not so positive. So I'm not sure if I was sucked into the hype over the book or not, but the story just didn't live up to what I was expecting. The blurbs sounded decent but the story wasn't there for me.

From what I was able to get out of the book (from what little I listened to), the story follows a young heir to the throne and the ancient wizards/witches that save him from the evil-doing usurpers. Pretty standard/typical fantasy story and I didn't have a problem with that. The problem was with holding my interest. Other than the funny scene with the flying horse, I was bored with the plot and the characters.

Bottom line for me was I didn't like it. That's not to say somebody else won't like it. Clearly others do since they posted positive reviews. So a thanks to Mr. Enge for writing a story and thanks to Audible for making it available. I will be moving on to a different story now.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Hardy Boys (graphic novel) by Scott Lobdell (review)

Title: The Hardy Boys: The Ocean of Osyria
Author: Scott Lobdell
Illustrator: Lea Hernandez
Pages: 88
Genre: Fiction
Dewey Decimal: YP GN F Lob HB.1
ISBN: 1-59961-061-2
Cost: $0

Title: The Hardy Boys: Identity Theft
Author: Scott Lobdell
Illustrator: Daniel Rendon
Pages: 88
Genre: Fiction
Dewey Decimal: YP GN F Lob HB.2
ISBN: 1-59961-062-0
Cost: $0

Title: The Hardy Boys: Mad House
Author: Scott Lobdell
Illustrator: Daniel Rendon
Pages: 88
Genre: Fiction
Dewey Decimal: YP GN F Lob HB.3
ISBN: 1-59961-063-9
Cost: $0

These are the characters that got me into reading. You see, a long time ago, in a city in the mid-west, my uncle's parents died. He was cleaning out their apartment and allowed me to take a nearly complete collection of the original Hardy Boy books (as in the brown covers from the 1930s and 1940s). Becoming addicted to the sleuthing skills of Frank and Joe and the musty smell of old books, I learned to love reading. I went on to collect nearly all of the Casefiles and Supermysteries (where the Hardy Boys teamed up with the likes of Nancy Drew and Tom Swift). My Dad (aka LibraryGary) even managed to get hooked and together we collected the full set of originals (most with dust jackets) and reprints (the shiny blue covers form the 1990s).

Fast forward a few years and Frank and Joe are now surfing the internet with their PDA and riding on jet skis. Long gone are the days of adventuring in their jalopy and using a magnifying glass to solve crimes. While the assembly-line feeling of the stories is still there, Frank and Joe look like they stepped from the pages of the latest manga to take part in the hottest reality show on TV. Long gone are the days of staying cool with a drink served by a soda jerk.

Overall, these are very quick reads that I'm sure appeal to the publisher's desired demographic: kids. And while I'm not going to knock a graphic novel ever again (I'm reading Watchmen, but more on that later), this series makes me want to cry a little bit. While I didn't expect the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew industry to ever survive Shaun Cassidy in the 1970s, I think Sonia Sotomayor might be able to agree with me that this is not quite as nice as the originals.

So in light of my slightly dour review of this series, here's a game for you. See if you can find the three books in the image below (you may need to click through to Picasa to see a larger image). Bonus points if you can find the original brown covers.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

S. M. Stirling Interview

For some time now, I've been a fan of S. M. Stirling. And a few months back, I made a semi-serious attempt to draw him out of hiding by summarizing and linking to reviews and interviews of note. It was successful in drawing him out far enough for a comment, but he never contacted me for an interview. It felt like I was chasing my own shadow in the dead of night.

Over time I was distracted and kept plugging away at my reading list. But with the pending publication of The Sword of the Lady in late August, I'm going to ask my questions here in the hopes that Mr. Stirling is "listening" and will take a few minutes to answer them.

  1. Do you read e-books?
  2. Do you prefer the Sony Reader or Amazon Kindle?
  3. Do you have a library card?
  4. What's your favorite section of the library? Anything come in second after History?
  5. Do any TV shows, movies, music, or other artistic mediums influence your work?
  6. Did Diana's Gabaldon's Outlander series inspire the MacKenzie clan in your Emberverse books?
  7. Do you talk shop over lunch with other New Mexico authors like George R. R. Martin or Stephen R. Donaldson?
  8. Name one guilty pleasure.
  9. As a member of the "Double Initial" gang along with fellow authors R. A. Salvatore, Kurt R. A. Giambastiani, and George R. R. Martin, what do you prefer to be called? Steve? Stephen? S. M.?
  10. Will we eventually see the link between the Nantucket series and the Emberverse series? In other words, we know how the Change has impacted Rudi and his crew and Marion and her crew. But will we ever see them get back together? Will we see the time lines merge? Will it be like Back to the Future where actions in the past will be represented in the future? Will we see Rudi and his descendants unearth the wreckage of the Eagle along with other Bronze Age artifacts?
  11. Is the Moon Woman religion a Bronze Age version of Wicca?
And while I wish for answers to all of these as much as I wish for a galley of The Sword of the Lady, I'll be happy with any answers at all. And if Mr. Stirling would like to contact me via email, I'm available at this address:

Monday, July 20, 2009

The Lace Reader Giveaway WINNER

And the winner is...

@johnellenbe of Groton, MA.

Thanks to everyone who has entered. Stay tuned for more giveaways!

Friday, July 17, 2009

Biography vs Autobiography

While I was reading Alan Alda's Never Have Your Dog Stuffed (review here), my wife and I started discussing how the book was labeled. It was called a Biography, both on the shelf and inside the the book. But we both agreed with what we learned in school. A biographical book written by the person covered was called an Autobiography.

So I now ask you, is the Autobiography from twenty years ago now considered a Biography? Is it like the transformation of "actor and actress" becoming "actor?" Was there some great legislation among the librarians that decided this?

I have never been a huge fan of non-fiction in general or even biographic books. But I happened to pick up and read two more that could have fallen into the Biography vs. Autobiography debate. First was Ghosts of War by Ryan Smithson (review here) and the second was The Hornet's Sting by Mark Ryan (review here). Both appeared to be marked correctly (Smithson's was marked as an Autobiography as he wrote it and Ryan's book was marked as Biography as it was about another person).

So was Alda's book just marked wrong? Did Alda have someone else write the book? Or are Autobiography and Biography interchangeable? I'm really hoping it's the latter.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Goodie Box Giveaway Winner

It all started with giving away a copy of Deader Still by Anton Strout (review here). After reading Ghosts of War by Ryan Smithson (review here), I was inspired to do something for our troops overseas. Specifically those in a combat zone.

So I figured a giveaway fit perfectly. But I ran into a snag, well two really. The first was timing. I wanted to get it out the door and in the mail by the Fourth of July. But alas, I was on vacation that week. So I pushed it to this week for a ship date. The second issue was participation. I know of exactly two people serving overseas. One is a friend in Japan (my wife and his wife were co-workers at one point). The other is the fiance of an online friend serving in Afghanistan. So I called out to the friend for help and was pointed to a great website,

And since I had no other entries, I decided to randomly pick a soldier from the site and send the care package to them. By now, the package has grown from one book to several as well as a small stack of magazines (you can see the full list below). And the random winner?

PFC G. M. Frigon of Colorado

He was just one of 626 soldiers requesting books and just one of thousands asking for help. I'll keep everyone posted if I receive any return mail from the winning soldier. And if anyone else would like to save some books for Christmas, I plan on doing this again later in the year.

Goodie Box Contents:
- 5 various magazines
- The Way of Shadows by Brent Weeks
- Royal Assassin by Robin Hobb
- Deader Still by Anton Strout
- The Year the Cloud Fell by Kurt R. A. Giambastiani
- The Tower of Shadows by Drew Bowling

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Wicked by Gregory Maguire (review)

Title: Wicked
Author: Gregory Maguire
Illustrator: N/A
Discs: 17
Genre: Fiction
Dewey Decimal: CD F Mag
ISBN: 978-0060876326
Cost: $0

I really dislike writing bad reviews. I feel like I have failed the author by not "getting" their story. I know they put so much into each novel that sometimes it feels like the reader owes it to the author to enjoy what they have written.

But in the end writers are entertainers and artists. Some I can appreciate more than others. And unfortunately, Mr. Maguire falls into the group of authors that I just did not enjoy. I gave it my best and even made it to disc 13 (out of 17). But to be honest, I stopped paying attention to the story and used it as background noise around disc 7.

What's the story about? Based on what I'm able to get out of it, it is a reinterpretation of the Wizard of Oz as told from a behind the scenes/prequel setting. But what really lost me was the whole thing about the evil witch (that's the green one) being a hermaphrodite. Which means I was pretty lost early on in the book.

And while I hesitate to even call this a review since I didn't finish the book, I did my best to enjoy the book and I'm sure there's someone out there that wll enjoy it. In the meantime, I have another depressingly poor review to write.

Monday, July 13, 2009

The Way of Shadows by Brent Weeks (review)

Title: The Way of Shadows
Author: Brent Weeks
Illustrator: N/A
Pages: 645
Genre: Fiction
Dewey Decimal: F Wee
ISBN: 978-0-316-03367-1
Cost: $7.99

As I was reading, I was continually preparing myself for countless graphic scenes involving children being abused physically and sexually. In my mind, I was envisioning a written version of something profoundly evil and stomach churning. But those early reviews led me a but beyond what was actually in the book. Yes, crimes are committed against children and adults. But it was not as graphic as I expected. Nothing as bad as Elie Wiesel's Night but there was enough horror implied for the reader to understand what was happening.

Thankfully this "dreaded" section of the book was also early in the book. Because once past it, I began to actually focus on the story itself and was pleasantly surprised. I had heard good things about Weeks and those views were right on the mark. He has written a great book that gives the reader a great mix of action, adventure, love, treachery, twists, and turns.

The plot is the basic premise of a young boy with nothing being taken in by an old man that's the master of his trade. Think Obi-Wan and Luke. But the twist in this story is that Obi-Wan is as evil as Darth Vader and Luke is, well, he turns just as evil. While it's not the best comparison, you get the idea.

But Weeks takes the story beyond that. The world used for the setting is not described in much detail, but there's enough to get the basic geography. The characters are clearly defined but like any gem, have so many facets that you don't know if you're seeing them in their true setting. The action scenes are horrifically wonderful. And when assassins are defined as something lesser than wet-boys, you get the idea that death and the act of killing is a bit of an art form. An art form Weeks does well with.

In the end, I'd recommend this book without a doubt. While I was hoping for more geography lessons in the book, the world is not a major character. The city is to a degree, but it acts better as a backdrop for the action. The version I read also had an interview, which I would recommend reading as well. I think it gives you a different twist on the overall scope of the story. I never would have thought there was "hope" or "peace" in the book, but there is.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

The Hornet's Sting by Mark Ryan (review)

Title: The Hornet's Sting
Author: Mark Ryan
Illustrator: N/A
Pages: 386
Genre: Biography
Dewey Decimal: B Sneum Rya 2009
ISBN: 978-1-60239-710-1
Cost: $0

The sting from this hornet of a book is slightly painful despite its redeeming qualities. The story follows Thomas Sneum, an average man from Denmark, who becomes a great spy and does great things for the anti-Nazi movement. There was plenty of excitement in his time undercover, under the covers, and even after he was exposed. Which means I'm grateful that Sneum gets his moment in the spotlight. He had some shining moments of bravery and intelligence and there's no doubt he helped keep England and the Allies ahead of the Germans.

I just wish the spotlight was a little better. And that is my biggest problem with this book. There are times where the action is missing and the story is boring enough you just want to skip ahead. Those missions where the harrowing experiences are detailed keep the reader on the edge of their seat but when the plot slows, it makes the reader want to sleep.

Despite the constant slow-downs in action, I actually learned a lot from the story. I never knew England had two different intelligence groups that worked against each other (in fact, those in England earned a lot of dirty looks while I was reading). I never knew Germany invaded Denmark "peacefully." And, although barely mentioned, I was not aware of much involvement of Norway or Sweden during the war.

In the end, it's a decent read. Certainly nothing that compares to James Bond like the cover implies. but I'd say it is more along the lines of Steven Segal. And if nothing else, you can learn how two men flew across the ocean and refueled the plane by themselves or how two men walked across the frozen water between Denmark and Sweden.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

GIVEAWAY - The Lace Reader by Brunonia Barry - SIGNED

I have a copy of The Lace Reader (review here) by Brunonia Barry. This copy has a bookplate signed by the author included (lace angel and place mats are not included). Want to know how to enter? Just send me a tweet (either DM or @ is fine). If you win, I'll contact you for your address. The contest will run through midnight on July 16th and is limited to US residents only (sorry international readers).