Review: Step-By-Step Garden Basics

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Date read: June 08 to 20, 2013
Read count: 1

Easy read with simple step-by-step instructions and examples, like the title says. However, I have no idea how practical these instructions are as I don’t have a garden to test them out on.

One setback, though. Some larger photos are sort of blurry, probably due to low quality prints.

Original review can be found here.

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Review: The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆
Date read: June 15 to 17, 2013
Read count: 1

There’s a boy who lives in a graveyard, and he’s called Nobody Owens, affectionately “Bod” for short. The story starts at night with the massacre of his family, quite a gruesome beginning for a children’s book but fitting for a child who goes on to live among the dead. He alone miraculously escapes death and wonders into the graveyard down the street, where he is adopted by a kindly pair of spirits and raised by the whole dearly departed community.

Despite his tragic beginning, Bod turns out to be a well-adjusted child. He encounters and befriends all sorts of otherworldly creatures, and they all teach him important lessons which he uses later in life. Throughout his childhood, he has a fairly pleasant existence. The dead often warn him against leaving the safety of the graveyard, but you know children… they tend to become curious as they grow.

While all this is going on, the murder/assassin still searches for the boy. He’s still on a mission to end what he started all those years ago.

Like most children’s books I’ve come across in recent years, particularly A Monster Calls, this is a book for adults written in the style of children’s literature. This is probably not a book for children. Probably. Well… I’m sure children would like it and find the graveyard aspects fascinating. I just don’t think they’d appreciate it as much as an older reader, who has read across genres and understands classic scary-story tropes, would.

 

When it comes to Neil Gaiman books, I haven’t had the best track record and all of my reading experiences have been the same. They’d start out interesting, then become great once the stories gets going, but somehow wind up being mediocre near the end and then fizzle out at the end.

Gaiman is a great writer and an even greater storyteller. I’ve attended a couple of his readings and loved the passages he picked to read, but somehow I’m always let down by his stories. Or, more accurately, his endings. It’s unsettling because I want to like them–they’re great stories. Moreover, I think he has found that unique balance between literary fiction and magical realism that appeal to so many readers, that so many authors are still searching for. But the endings… just don’t work for me.

So I went into The Graveyard Book with some hesitation. Since it’s a children’s book, I expected it to be shorter and simpler than his other works. It’s certainly shorter, but no less simpler than the others or any text that deals with the great divide between life and death. I see this story as written with a child’s perspective in mind while accompanied by a grown-up narration, and the result is you get an terribly precocious child whose mind processes disturbing information at an unusually serene (read: not dysfunctional) rate. He’s still a child though, still prone to childish impulses and flight of fantasy, yet he’s far too “grown up” for his age.

That’s not to say I didn’t like the story, which I did. It’s a well written story with a tight plot and great ending.

Review: Rise of Empire (The Riyria Revelations, #3-4) by Michael J. Sullivan

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Rating: ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
Date read: June 03 to 13, 2013
Read count: 1

These two books could easily be called “Searching for Red Herrings”

After a series of major changes in the last book(s), Royce and Hadrian are still pretty much themselves, though grimmer and more exhausted versions of themselves. Both are still working for the Melengar royal family, still sent on dubious quests to save the kingdom while subverting the Nyphron Empire, which sound like a lot but it’s all in a days work. The work, however, is beginning to take its toll on both of them. With the world’s fate hanging in the balance, there is less banter in this installment and more peril. These adventures are less fun as they become a matter of life and death.

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Review: An Inconvenient Truth: The Planetary Emergency of Global Warming and What We Can Do About It

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Date read: June 05 to 10, 2013
Read count: 2

The photos and statistics are presented in an easy to grasp format without overwhelming the reader. This book is a useful tool to help introduce issues of environmental consciousness to readers unfamiliar with these topics, but it may seem simple and repetitive for those who are already aware and are looking for more information.

This book was a gift from a good friend who worked for the publisher.

Original review can be found here.

Review: The Practical Illustrated Home Herbal Doctor

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Date read: June 01 to 07, 2013
Read count: 2

Colorful photos, easy to follow instructions, and practical recipes.

Since I liked Houdret’s The Complete Illustrated Home Herbal Doctor so much, I had to get this book. Both books are written and formatted in a similar way. You don’t have to have an advance degree in botany to understand the instructions. The photos are lovely and vibrant; sometimes I open this book up just to enjoy them.

Original review can be found here.

Review: Theft of Swords (The Riyria Revelations, #1-2) by Michael J. Sullivan

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆
Date read: May 27 to June 3, 2013
Read count: 1

Hadrian and Royce are a team of mercenary thieves who live from one job to another with little to no remorse for what they do or for whom they do it. Then, one afternoon, they are hired for what seems like a relatively easy–suspiciously easy–job that lands them in the dungeon in The Crown Conspiracy, as these jobs tend to do. That is only the tip of the iceberg though. Framed with regicide, Hadrian and Royce go on the lam and are forced to solve the King’s murder to clear their “good” names. They make friends and form alliances along the way.

In Avempartha, Hadrian and Royce are hired by a country girl to help her village get rid of a menacing creature that kill indiscriminately. Characters from the previous story make appearances and put their lives at risk. To say any more would spoil the fun of the mystery and ending.

While all of this is happening in the foreground, there is a sinister church vs. state power struggle plot recurring in the background. The death of the king is the first in a series of orchestrated events to shake the Apeladorn world. Hadrian, Royce, and friends are caught in the middle and tread carefully as the world shifts around them. If not kept under control, there’s a chance this plot line might run rampant and take over the rest of the series. Political intrigue can enrich a series, but it can also weight it down.

The world of Apeladorn starts out small and gradually expand to a significant size by the end of the second story. You’re introduced to this world through relatable characters, and you experience and learn about it as the characters moves the story along. There are info-dumps, but you only notice them if you focus on finding them. Otherwise you’d gloss over most of them because they’re subtle and are worked well into the narrative.

What I like most about this book is the shifting tones in the stories. There are moments when things are dark and there’s no escape, yet characters are still able to banter to lighten the mood. It’s not something you often see in fantasy. I also like how Sullivan could write humor into any moment, regardless of gravity of the situation or whether or not lives are at stake. The humor keeps the action light and moving along at a swift pace, and I suspect, it also keeps the story from plunging into melodrama, as it often happens to fantasy series that take themselves too seriously.

From now on, whenever I hear someone say he/she is bored with fantasy because there’s nothing new or interesting to read, I will drop a copy of this book in his/her lap.

Original review can be found here.

Review: Dawngleam and Other Stories by David Gaither

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Rating: ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
Date read: May 27 to 29, 2013
Read count: 1

This is an interesting collection of sci-fi, urban fiction, and fantasy stories. Half the fun is figuring out what labels to put on each story. “Dawngleam,” which follows the classic fantasy narrative, is about a kingdom and a special sword. “Winter Crossing” is about a young woman’s spiritual rite of passage. “Emyprean Skies” is a sci-fi (and/or steampunk?) space journey. With the exception of these three stories, the rest felt short, even for short stories, and have abrupt endings. Perhaps the point is to leave the reader with more questions than answers?

I’ve read quite a few creative writing stories during my time as a tutor, and these stories, though written and edited well, remind me of my former students’ efforts, specifically the subject matter and descriptions in “Blood Horizon,” “Lived and Lost,” and “Whisper in a Dream.”

* I received this ebook from the author for review.

Original review can be found here.