Monday, November 30, 2009

Best Served Cold by Joe Abercrombie (review)

Title: Best Served Cold
Author: Joe Abercrombie
Illustrator: N/A
Kindle Locations: 12,024(about 640 pages)
Genre: Fiction
Dewey Decimal: F Abe
ISBN: 978-0-316-07908-2
Cost: $9.99 on Kindle
He gave vent to a breathless squeak, spun, slipped on his bare foot, began to limp back to the crack that had so mauled him on their first acquaintance. He wedged one leg through, whimpered at a stab of agony as he accidentally squashed his fruits against a plank.
Not many authors have the "fruits" to say "fruits" in their books. Abercrombie not only has the fruits to say the word, his are big enough to say it often. When I started reading Abercrombie's The First Law series, I was impressed. Greatly. He had a fantastic spin on fantasy and gave it a certain flavor or grit that left you feeling like you were a part of the action. Something I love as a reader.

So when word of his next stand-alone novel was due out, I was excited. After all, his first series was good enough for me to pass along to a close friend, something I rarely do. And Abercrombie does not disappoint in this installment.

We see a few of the same characters from The First Law series, but you get a feel that reading that series is not a prerequisite. You easily attach yourself to the characters, you easily follow the action, and frankly, you don't want this book to end.

And that would be one of the few pain points I had. The book is insanely long. It could have easily been split into a duology, but I think there is a trend for longer books, so I was not surprised by the length. Add to that a few, minor spots that move a little slowly and you want to put the book down. I think that was twice for me. Beyond that I wanted to devour this book everytime I picked it up.

In fact, this book is easily the second-best book I have read all year (you will need to read another post to see what was better).
It had taken him an hour and a half, by Friendly’s calculation, to make ready. Twelve passes of the razor against the sharpening strap. Thirty-one movements to trim away the stubble. One tiny nick left under his jaw. Thirteen tugs of the tweezers to purge the nose hairs. Forty-five buttons done up. Four pairs of hooks and eyes. Eighteen straps to tighten and buckles to fasten.
The best part for me was Friendly. And as a whole, he is the spirit of Abercrombie's skill and flavor. I mean, how often do you get a compulsive-counter in a fantasy book? And one that is a skilled killer? He was awesome. And at times I saw myself in him*, which upped the ante even more while reading. He saw numbers in everything and had a dry wit that kept me laughing and wanting more.

And, to top things off, Abercrombie did a great job of putting a little spin on me at the end. Just when I thought I had the story locked up, here comes an unexpected twist in the plot. I will leave it at that and recommend you go out and either buy, borrow, or check out this book. It will be worth your time.

* When I say I saw myself in Friendly, I mean the obsessive-compulsive counting part, not the killing part. No need to call the cops.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Thanksgiving Hiatus

Library Dad will be on a holiday until after the Thanksgiving festivities. Don't eat too much turkey and don't forget to read!

See you on the 30th!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Your 2009 Black Friday Shopping List

In an effort to beat the run on the common "best of," "year-end," and "top ten" lists that we see so often around Christmas and New Years, I have decided to make things a little easier for you.


By giving you my list early. This means it does not drown in the sea of copy-cats but also means you can add things to your Black Friday shopping list. I know, how nice of me!

So without further gabbing, here's my "best of" list for 2009!

Best Book - Overall
Born to Run by Christopher McDougall

Best Book - Fiction
Best Served Cold by Joe Abercrombie

Best Book - Non-Fiction
Never Have Your Dog Stuffed by Alan Alda

Best Book/Movie Combo
Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons
Watchmen (2009)

Best Movie - Overall
The Man Who Came To Dinner (1942)

Best Movie - Fiction
There Will Be Blood (2007)

Best Movie - Non-Fiction
Running the Sahara (2008)

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Born to Run by Christopher McDougall (review)

Title: Born to Run
Author: Christopher McDougall
Illustrator: N/A
Kindle Locations: 5,284 (about 300 pages)
Genre: Non-Fiction
eISBN: 978-0-307-27191-4
Cost: $9.99

This is the best book I have read all year. Not only does it motivate you, it also educates you while providing entertainment.
Next time you line up for a Turkey Trot, look at the runners on your right and left: statistically, only one of you will be back for the Jingle Bell Jog.
McDougall does a great job in stepping you through a story of how he stumbled onto an ancient tribe of natives in Mexico that run. And by run, I mean they run. Not a few miles, but tens and even hundreds of miles. And they run fast. Up and down hills. After a night of drinking. And, well, you get the picture.
“Here were these little guys wearing sandals who never actually trained for the race. And they blew away some of the best long-distance runners in the world.”
McDougall does a good job in splitting the story lines between his own running journey, the Tarahumara Indians, and the mysterious contact he found while searching for the Tarahumara. Along the way, the reader learns about the natives, Mexico, and why they have become an endangered civilization. Readers also get some running history and a heavy dose of insane runners (sometimes called ultra runners) and their habits.
That shock victory was the beginning of a scorching streak. Ann went on to become the female champion of the Western States 100— the Super Bowl of trail-running—-fourteen times, a record that spans three decades and makes Lance Armstrong, with his piddlin’ little seven Tour de France wins, look like a flash in the pan. And a pampered flash in the pan, at that: Lance never pedaled a stroke without a team of experts at his elbow to monitor his caloric intake and transmit microsecond split analyses into his earbud, while Ann only had her husband, Carl, waiting in the woods with a Timex and half a turkey sandwich.
Throughout the story, I was struck profoundly by many things. Some were biological, some physiological, and some philosophical. In the end, my idea of running has been transformed into something I have not quite figured out yet. But it is deeper than what it once was. This book did not make me a faster runner. But I do hope I can apply what I learned to become a better runner. Not necessarily faster, but better.

Monday, November 16, 2009

The Lost City of Z Giveaway WINNER

And the winner of The Lost City of Z by David Grann is.....

Turtles In North Dakota

Congratulations! Your book is on the way, hope you enjoy it!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Jan Brett Appearance

As I've recently discussed, my wife is a bit nutters over Jan Brett. And rightfully so since Brett is an amazing storyteller and illustrator. So when my wife finally made it to the head of the line to get her book signed, I am quite sure she was pleased to hear that word had spread that a crazy fan with a hedgehog tattoo would be appearing.

Yes, my wife has a tattoo of a hedgehog on her leg. Yes, that's how much she loves hedgehogs. Yes, I still love her.

What where the events that led up to this wondrous occasion? Keep reading for the high and low points of the book signing.

First, we had an appointment with a financial planner. No, not because it cost us that much to get a book signed.

From there, we moved on to one of my favorite restaurants, Old Town Grill & Cafe. Dan cooked up a nice dinner so we had plenty of fuel for our adventure.

We stopped in the local toy store (next to Jabberwocky) and did some browsing. Nothing too interesting, but I'm always amazed that they sell Smurf toys. It's like being a kid again!

Then, the real adventure began. The Jan Brett Tour Bus arrived outside, so we promptly snapped some photos.

And of course, they began hauling in decorations and signage and speakers for the event. And of course, the crowd began to grow. In fact, by 4:30 pm, there were at least fifty people in line. And it grew quite large. And hot. And antsy.

Fortunately, that's when Brett arrived to entertain the crowd. She handed out five free books to local libraries (it's unknown if they were school, local, or both) then began to chat and draw.

Here's her husband Joe, an accomplished musician, who often travels with her (and was kind enough to respond to an email years ago and send us a signed poster).

It was amazing to watch her sketch out a bear. Watching her first few lines I couldn't imagine how it would become anything other than gibberish. Turns out it was a cute little bear, hedgehog, and mouse. Amazing.

Jabberwocky also handed out some swag, like this button:

After the demonstration and chat, they dismissed everyone with a ticket number over 150 (which included us). They eventually began calling people in moving through higher numbers. Here's the line as we were about ten people from the front.

And the final moment of bliss.

Now, after this long adventure, there were some areas of improvement that I'd love to see Jabberwocky work on. Namely, they need a bouncer. There were a few upset customers there complaining about being turned away from getting all of their books signed. You see, these people brought their own books to be signed. And that's great. But you're taking time away from those people that bought books from the store.

That's where the bouncer would come in. They need somebody that's a bit mean looking, preferably an ugly man (like me) to stand there and look cross at everyone approaching the author. The bouncer would help direct the flow of fans as well as clarify that only those books bought at the store would be signed first and additional books (i.e. personal books) would be signed at the end. The bouncer would also get some fans upstairs to circulate the air because, wow, it was hot and stuffy.

That was my biggest gripe. Griping fans. I know authors want to make everyone happy, but the fans need to realize that authors are people too. And bookstores need to realize that with big talent like this there needs to be a bit more planning and a lot more stern gazing.

So there you have it. Library Dad and his lovely, though slightly crazy, wife made it to the signing and in the end, everything worked out great.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Patriot Witch by C. C. Finlay (review)

Title: The Patriot Witch
Author: C. C. Finlay
Illustrator: N/A
Pages: 327
Genre: Fiction
Dewey Decimal: F Fin
ISBN: 978-0-345-50390-9
Cost: $0 ($6.39 on Kindle)

The Patriot Witch takes the flavor of Johnny Tremain, adds some Biblical prayer, and binds it all together with eggs to work its magic on the reader.

So I managed to score a free copy of this novel through some source awhile back. You can too if you head over to the author's page. Why do I mention that this book is free? Because it is well worth your time to download it and read it.

The story follows a young man, Proctor Brown, during the early days of the American Revolution. He fights the "lobsterbacks" with his militia buddies and discovers he happens to have a talent for magic. And while I'm no stranger to historical fiction, I do not recall many novels that cover the Revolution and include magic.

Based on Finlay's level of expertise in history, I will assume his facts are in order down to many of the minute details. And that is part of what makes this book fun to read. You see, I love history. I know shockingly less than I should, but it is always fun to learn how our ancestors lived. So seeing Proctor and his fellow colonists go through life made me feel comfortable. Adding magic to the mix made things interesting.

While the magic as portrayed in the novel is based on religion and prayer, I found it fun to see how magic could have been a part of our fight for independence. And while there are some speed bumps in the plot and a few predictable scenes, it was still an enjoyable read. The Kindle price is a bit higher than I would like to pay, but since I can get it for free, I'm willing to invest money in the rest of the series just to see how Proctor plays a part in the rest of the war.

Monday, November 9, 2009

The Mitten by Jan Brett (review)

Title: The Mitten
Author: Jan Brett
Illustrator: Jan Brett
Pages: 32
Genre: Fiction
ISBN: 0-399-21920-X
Cost: $16.95

Jan Brett is an awesome artist. It's as simple as that.

Not only does she craft a story that is interesting for children, she makes the story interesting for adults. This particular story is about a girl who loses her mitten in the snow. It quickly becomes the hiding place for the animals in the woods. After the animals leave the mitten behind, the girl discovers a slightly stretched out mitten left behind.

Brett also entertains the reader with stunning artwork. While it appears only slightly realistic on the surface, when you delve into the details of each page, you find yourself lost in the images. In fact in many of Brett's books, you can read the story, then go back and read the artwork. Each tells a story that compliments the other.

And if you are lucky enough to be in the area of Fredericksburg, VA, you can have a chance to meet Jan Brett herself at Jabberwocky from 5 to 7 pm on Tuesday November 10th (tomorrow).

Friday, November 6, 2009

Jan Brett, Hedgehogs, and My Wife

For those that do not know, I am married to a wonderful woman. And just like me, she has a few quirks. Fortunately for both of us, her quirks and my quarks get along nicely.

One of my wife's quirks is her obsession with hedgehogs. It began years ago when we were still in college. My wife was studying to be a teacher and became entranced by the work of Jan Brett. And I will freely admit, I love her artwork just as much. So over time, my wife collected Jan Brett books. A hobby I had no issues with, especially considering I was collecting Star Wars books at the time.

The obsession with Jan Brett grew to a point where we actually purchased two hedgehogs. You see, Brett includes a hedgehog in her stories. As in every story. Sometimes the hedgehog is very prominent in the story, sometimes it is hidden in the artwork. Either way, my wife got sucked into hedgehog husbandry. We had George and Ginger. Ginger, the female, was the more portly of the two and the healthiest. George was more frail, but could squeeze into tighter spaces. Both were African pygmies, and both eventually passed after several years of fun.

But most of that fun was for my wife. You see, I am not much of a pet person. And after stepping on a quill while wearing just socks, you wonder what your wife has gotten you into. But I was still attached to them in my own remote way.

After they left us, my wife began collecting hedgehogs of a different sort. Stuffed. Ceramic. Stone. Art. You name it, my wife has it. So what follows is a partial photographic tour of our house. I say partial because I am quite sure I missed at least three or four hedgehogs. And why am I doing all of this? Because Jan Brett herself is coming to our area (Jabberywocky in Fredericksburg, VA) on November 10th to sign books. Can you guess who will be there?

Signed artwork.

Can you count them all?

More of the menagerie.

They're everywhere!

Watering pot.

Guarding the dog's bed.

Hiding under the TV.

More and more.

There's even a baby dressed as one.

On the fridge.

With the utensils.

On the window ledge.

Jan Brett collection.

Next to the TV.

Rubber stamping the jewelry.

Keeping guard outside.

Hiding in the weeds.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

GIVEAWAY - The Lost City of Z by David Grann

I have a copy of The Lost City of Z by David Grann (review here) to giveaway. The book is a hardcover and is lightly used (I read it once).

How do you enter? Well, I'm going to make things a little more interesting for this giveaway. I want you to tell me what you think is the greatest, undiscovered treasure of all time. The lost city of Atlantis, alien life forms, you name it and you're entered.

This is open to anyone and everyone, so no matter where you live, you are welcome to enter.

The giveaway ends on November 11th at midnight.

Monday, November 2, 2009

The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown (review)

Title: The Lost Symbol
Author: Dan Brown
Illustrator: N/A
Pages: 509
Genre: Fiction
Dewey Decimal: F Bro
ISBN: 978-0-385-50422-5
Cost: $29.95 ($9.99 on Kindle)

Dan Brown does it again. And again. He has become the best selling author to write the same story over again.

The latest novel from Brown is very much like The Da Vinci Code. The only difference is it takes place in Washington D. C. instead of Paris and the secret group is the Masons instead of Opus Dei. The rest is pretty much a cookie-cutter copy of the plot with the same kind of twists and turns and action you would expect from Brown.

So while I suffered through many predictable scenes and the expected outcome of the final chapters, there were a few redeeming qualities. First, the Masons are depicted as a fairly nice group of people. The Opus Dei group was not given such a nice fuzzy feeling, but the Masons come off as a group with secrets that try to do good.

And there were even a few scenes that I did not predict at all or scenes that I did not predict correctly. This meant I still had a few surprises when reading the story, but not enough for me to want to read another book by Dan Brown. I outgrew my cookie-cutter plots when I stopped reading the Hardy Boys.

The Lost Symbol does well on the Kindle. The graphics and symbols appear nicely and there's no need to miss out on any of the "hidden" clues. Everything is there in black and white, just like in the print version.