Review of “Nineteen Eighty Four” or “1984” by George Orwell (1949)

Bottom line: Definitely worth a read, as it explores timeless topics such as power, inequality, and control.

Rating: Strongly Recommended

Blurb:

1984 has come and gone, but George Orwell’s prophetic, nightmarish vision in 1948 of the world we were becoming is timelier than ever. 1984 is still the great modern classic of “Negative Utopia” – a startlingly original and haunting novel that creates an imaginary world that is completely convincing, from the first sentence to the last four words. No one can deny this novel’s power, its hold on the imaginations of whole generations, or the power of its admonitions – a power that seems to grow, not lessen, with the passage of time.

Review:

There are few things in life that make my little heart happier than a well-stocked and well organized bookcase. We moved months ago, but it was only last week that I unpacked the final book box. My husband had put most of the books on the shelf, but he’s not as neurotic organized as I am, and had just put books up there in no order at all. I went through and implemented my usual system as I unpacked the last books: books sorted by genre, then alphabetical by author. Ah, bliss! Anyways, as I was sorting, I came across 1984 and realized I was due for a reread.

I have fewer books than you might imagine, since I cull ruthlessly at least once a year. 1984 is one that I’ve had since high school, and it continues to survive my annual purges. I honestly don’t know what it is I like about the book so much. It’s not an easy read, nor a fun one, and it’s almost uniformly depressing. However, it is extremely interesting and compelling. The word used in the blurb on the back of my edition is “haunting” and I think that pretty much sums it up – it gets under my skin, and different scenes will randomly pop into my brain for days after I reread it.

1984 is about power: who gets it, how, and what they do when they get it. I did the math and was startled to realize that it was written 65 years ago – it is just as relevant today as it was then. The political and socioeconomic themes are explored through Winston and his struggle against Big Brother and the Party. It can be a bit dry in a few places, but Winston humanizes the more abstract themes and is a very relatable character. It is a very worthwhile read and rich with layered meanings. If you somehow managed to avoid this book during your years in school, do yourself a favor and read it today. If you read it in school and hated it, give it another try. In short – go read this book! If you don’t want to buy it, there is a very high likelihood that your neighborhood library will have it.

Get it! Amazon, Barnes & Noble

What did you think? Did you like the book?

*If you use these links to make a purchase, Lector’s Books may receive a small commission. This will not affect your price or purchasing experience in any way.

Review of Timekeeper by Heather Albano (2012)

Bottom line: A very strong sequel to Timepiece, and a very fun read.

Rating: Strongly Recommended

Blurb:

An alternate history adventure featuring time travelers, freedom fighters, Frankenstein’s monster, the Battle of Waterloo, and Napoleon invading Britain by dirigible.

In Timepiece, young adventurer Elizabeth Barton and her suitor William Carrington used a mysterious pocket watch to travel from 1815 to 1885. Horrified by what they found—a steampunk dystopia patrolled by Gatling-gun-wielding robots—they joined fellow time traveler Mr. Maxwell in his quest to prevent that future from taking form…and accidentally set in motion a chain of events that allowed Napoleon to win the Battle of Waterloo.

Now they are trapped in a second 1885, one even worse than the first, where the tricolor flag flies from the Tower of London and Britain has long since accepted its fate as a conquered possession of the globe-spanning French Empire. In Timekeeper, Elizabeth, William, and Maxwell struggle to undo the damage they caused—and gradually come to realize the stakes may be even higher than they initially supposed, for they are not the only ones attempting to affect the timeline.

Review:

I really, really enjoyed this book. It was well worth waiting for. The plot ran smoother, the characters had more depth, and the writing was just as strong as the first book, Timepiece (review here). All of the minor quibbles I had with the first book were nonexistent here. I think you could read this book as a standalone, but I wouldn’t really recommend it – it definitely follows straight on from the first, and you’d miss a lot of the context. I think one of the great strengths of this book was how she took the same people and made them believably act differently due to their external circumstances, yet consistently with their characterization in the alternate timeline.

The story wraps up satisfactorily for two of the main characters, and there is enough closure for the third that you don’t feel left hanging, although his story is certainly not finished. I’ll certainly read that when/if she writes it, but I was very happy with the way things concluded.

Available:E-book currently $2.99 at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes, and in all e-formats at Smashwords.

More Info: Check out the author’s website here.

What did you think? Did you like the book?

Zombie Twofer

First, let me preface this by saying that I’m not really into zombies. Most zombie movies are reviewed enthusiastically for me by my husband, followed by a “and you should never watch it”. What can I say? I’m a wimp about violence.  However, I thoroughly enjoyed these two books, and they continue to make the cut when I do one of my frequent cullings of my paperback collection.  I’ve rated them both as a “recommended if” because even though I really liked them, I recognize that they are definitely not for everyone.

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (2009) by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-SmithAmazon, Barnes & Noble.

This book is exactly what the title says: Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice retooled to include zombies. The idea is funny enough (to me and maybe 6 other people out there), but it’s also well executed. There are some parts nearer the latter third where it feels a bit like he ran out of steam and is just trying to wrap it up, but his take on many classic scenes are just priceless. Occasionally he dips into what I’m going to call “junior high boy humor”, but for the most part it’s just a funny, irreverent read.

Bottom Line: Funny concept and good follow through, with a few exceptions.

Rating: Recommended if: 1) you would voluntarily read Pride and Prejudice for fun and 2) you think the idea of sticking zombies in there is hilarious.

Zombie Survival Guide (2003) by Max BrooksAmazon, Barnes & Noble.

This book also is exactly as described by the title: it’s a manual on how to plan for and survive the zombie apocalypse. Given that it’s laid out as an instructional manual, some folks might find it a bit dry. However, I thought it was completely fascinating. I tend to be a “what if” thinker, and like to plan ahead for worst-case scenarios. Zombies are definitely your worst-case scenario. It was a fun mental exercise in “ok, if this, or something like this, happened, what would I do? Where would I go?” There are also explanations of how the zombie virus spreads and how it affects the human body, and a section that contains reports of past outbreaks. If you’re not sure if you’re interested in the book or not, I’d recommend finding it in a book store and flipping through this section. It’s the most novel-like part – essentially a collection of zombie short stories. Brooks (son of Mel) also wrote World War Z, which I’ve heard is very good (especially the audiobook), but it was rated too gruesome for me by my zombie screening committee.

Bottom Line: A book for the plan-ahead-for-every-possible-contingency sci fi lover in your life.

Rating: Recommended if:  you’ve ever wondered how to best prepare yourself for a post-apocalyptic scenario.

*If you use these links to make a purchase, Lector’s Books may receive a small commission. This will not affect your price or purchasing experience in any way.

Review of Divergent by Veronica Roth (2011) (Divergent Book 1)

Bottom line: Reading Divergent is like watching a good action movie: it’s not really about the plot, it’s about the heroes and their journey.

Rating: Recommended

Blurb:

In Beatrice Prior’s dystopian Chicago, society is divided into five factions, each dedicated to the cultivation of a particular virtue—Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent). On an appointed day of every year, all sixteen-year-olds must select the faction to which they will devote the rest of their lives. For Beatrice, the decision is between staying with her family and being who she really is—she can’t have both. So she makes a choice that surprises everyone, including herself.

During the highly competitive initiation that follows, Beatrice renames herself Tris and struggles to determine who her friends really are—and where, exactly, a romance with a sometimes fascinating, sometimes infuriating boy fits into the life she’s chosen. But Tris also has a secret, one she’s kept hidden from everyone because she’s been warned it can mean death. And as she discovers a growing conflict that threatens to unravel her seemingly perfect society, she also learns that her secret might help her save those she loves . . . or it might destroy her.

Debut author Veronica Roth bursts onto the literary scene with the first book in the Divergent series—dystopian thrillers filled with electrifying decisions, heartbreaking betrayals, stunning consequences, and unexpected romance.

Review:

This book is a great read. Among its strengths are characters, action and general get-sucked-in-ness (it’s my blog, I can make up words if I want to). One of the things I liked the least about it was the implausibility of some of the plot points/storyline timing. There are a LOT of “just happened to be at the right place right time” to prevent a murder, or overhear a sinister plot, etc. kinds of things. However, I found that because I was sucked into the world and interested in the characters, I didn’t really notice the plot/timing issues until I read the book for the second time.

I was going to try to review the book without mentioning the Hunger Games, but I don’t think I can. There are some definite similarities between this book and the Hunger Games, and with the incredible popularity of the latter, it is a natural comparison point. In fact, if a friend asked me for a one sentence review of Divergent, I’d probably say “it’s kind of like The Hunger Games, but with more kissing.” It also reminded me of Lois Lowry’s The Giver (a dystopian children’s book –fantastic!), but I never felt like I was reading a rip off of either of those stories. Overall, it’s just a fun ride and definitely a page turner. I wouldn’t recommend starting this book late at night or you might be up for a long time.

Available: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes.

Side note: This is the first of a trilogy. Book 2, Insurgent (Amazon, Barnes & Noble), is available. I read it the day after reading Divergent, and was much less impressed. I often find second books in series to be lacking, and that was the case here. There was a lot of tension between characters – distrust, secrets, lies, etc., which felt forced rather than just letting the story unfold. Plot-wise it actually felt tighter and more realistic (to me at least), but the unnecessary character drama just stressed me out.  However, I’m still excited about the release of Book 3 (currently set for “a year or so”) and hope it’s more in line with the first book.

More Info: Check out the author’s blog here.

What did you think? Did you like the book?

*If you use these links to make a purchase, Lector’s Books may receive a small commission. This will not affect your price or purchasing experience in any way.

 

My Favorite Ray Bradbury Books

I found out today that Ray Bradbury died yesterday (June 5, 2012) at age 91 – not bad! He wrote one of my favorite books (Fahrenheit 451), so I wanted to give a brief tribute here. What better way to remember him than by reading some of his works? Here are some of my favorites:

Fahrenheit 451 (1953) Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes

Rating: Strongly Recommended

Blurb:

Guy Montag is a fireman. In his world, where television rules and literature is on the brink of extinction, firemen start fires rather than put them out. His job is to destroy the most illegal of commodities, the printed book, along with the houses in which they are hidden.

Montag never questions the destruction and ruin his actions produce, returning each day to his bland life and wife, Mildred, who spends all day with her television “family.” But then he meets an eccentric young neighbor, Clarisse, who introduces him to a past where people didn’t live in fear, and to a present where one sees the world through the ideas in books instead of the mindless chatter of television.

Dandelion Wine (1957) Amazon, Barnes & Noble

Rating: Recommended

Blurb:

Ray Bradbury’s moving recollection of a vanished golden era remains one of his most enchanting novels. Dandelion Wine stands out in the Bradbury literary canon as the author’s most deeply personal work, a semi-autobiographical recollection of a magical small-town summer in 1928.

Twelve-year-old Douglas Spaulding knows Green Town, Illinois, is as vast and deep as the whole wide world that lies beyond the city limits. It is a pair of brand-new tennis shoes, the first harvest of dandelions for Grandfather’s renowned intoxicant, the distant clang of the trolley’s bell on a hazy afternoon. It is yesteryear and tomorrow blended into an unforgettable always. But as young Douglas is about to discover, summer can be more than the repetition of established rituals whose mystical power holds time at bay. It can be a best friend moving away, a human time machine who can transport you back to the Civil War, or a sideshow automaton able to glimpse the bittersweet future.

The next two are still very good, but much darker in tone.

The Illustrated Man (1951)  – Amazon, Barnes & Noble

Rating: Recommended

Blurb:

You could hear the voices murmuring, small and muted, from the crowds that inhabited his body.

A peerless American storyteller, Ray Bradbury brings wonders alive. The Illustrated Man is classic Bradbury— eighteen startling visions of humankind’s destiny, unfolding across a canvas of decorated skin. In this phantasmagoric sideshow, living cities take their vengeance, technology awakens the most primal natural instincts, Martian invasions are foiled by the good life and the glad hand, and dreams are carried aloft in junkyard rockets. Provocative and powerful, Ray Bradbury’s The Illustrated Man is a kaleidoscopic blending of magic, imagination, and truth—as exhilarating as interplanetary travel, as maddening as a walk in a million-year rain, and as comforting as simple, familiar rituals on the last night of the world.

Something Wicked This Way Comes (1962)Amazon, Barnes & Noble

Rating: Recommended

Blurb:

The carnival rolls in sometime after midnight, ushering in Halloween a week early. The shrill siren song of a calliope beckons to all with a seductive promise of dreams and youth regained. In this season of dying, Cooger & Dark’s Pandemonium Shadow Show has come to Green Town, Illinois, to destroy every life touched by its strange and sinister mystery. And two boys will discover the secret of its smoke, mazes, and mirrors; two friends who will soon know all to well the heavy cost of wishes… and the stuff of nightmare.

What are your favorite Ray Bradbury reads?

*If you use these links to make a purchase, Lector’s Books may receive a small commission. This will not affect your price or purchasing experience in any way.

Review of The Hunger Games Series by Suzanne Collins

Bottom line: Fast paced action, compelling characters, unexpected twists and turns in the plot and an all around great read for all three books.

Rating: Strongly Recommended

Review:

The Hunger Games books are intense. I read all three books in one night, racing from one to the next to see how it was all going to end. They feel more like one book in three volumes, so if you’re interested in reading them, I’d recommend setting aside a couple of days to just have at it.

They’re very, very good. The first book was my favorite, followed by the second and then the third (which seems apt). I wasn’t crazy about the ending – not the outcome, but the way it happened. It just felt very abrupt, and then the epilogue felt a bit disconnected. Other than that, there were very few things to dislike about the series. The whole story is told from the first person narrative of Katniss, and you follow her journey as she volunteers to fight in the Hunger Games to save her sister, and then all that happens after. I don’t know if I could call it one of my favorite elements, but I felt one of the most compelling elements was how damaged the participants in the Hunger Games become. Often, it seems like the heroes and heroines of novels go from normal person to deadly killing machine to back again with no mental trauma whatsoever. Whereas you can really see the effect these events have on Katniss.

The Hunger Games books are technically young adult, but make no mistake – there is a lot of violence and death throughout the books, and the themes being dealt with are mature as well. What is worth fighting, dying, or worse, condemning those you love to death for? When do the ends justify the means? How much peripheral damage is acceptable to achieve your goal? Who can be trusted with power? Who can be trusted, period?

Katniss was someone I wasn’t sure I would want to be friends with (I’d call her more admirable than likeable – she’s fairly cold and calculating), but the way the books are written really draw you into her head and her struggles to deal with the new reality she’s been pulled into with the Hunger games. It’s a well thought out post-apocalyptic world, and seems very believable.  The plot, combined with the setting and characters make it a completely absorbing read.

See my review of the movie here.

Books in order:

Book 1: The Hunger Games (2008) – Get it! Amazon, Barnes & Noble

In the ruins of a place once known as North America lies the nation of Panem, a shining Capitol surrounded by twelve outlying districts. Long ago the districts waged war on the Capitol and were defeated. As part of the surrender terms, each district agreed to send one boy and one girl to appear in an annual televised event called, “The Hunger Games,” a fight to the death on live TV. Sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen, who lives alone with her mother and younger sister, regards it as a death sentence when she is forced to represent her district in the Games. The terrain, rules, and level of audience participation may change but one thing is constant: kill or be killed.

Book 2: Catching Fire (2009) – Get it! Amazon, Barnes & Noble

Book 3: Mockingjay (2010) – Get it! Amazon, Barnes & Noble

Sidenote: My husband listened to all three Hunger Games books on Audible and enjoyed them.

What did you think? Did you like the series?

*If you use these links to make a purchase, Lector’s Books may receive a small commission. This will not affect your price or purchasing experience in any way.

Review of The Hidden Institute by Brand Gamblin (2011) Free Audiobook

Bottom line: Great story, great characters, great narration, and it’s available as a free audiobook!

Rating: Strongly Recommended

Blurb:

Rising above your station can be deadly.

Cliffy is a child born on the streets of a Neo-Victorian world. Witnesses to a murder, he blackmails a nobleman, receiving a unique bribe. In exchange for his silence, the nobleman introduces him to the Malcolm Rutherford Holden Institute of Regentrification. There, Cliffy learns to walk, talk, and act like a nobleman, so that he may infiltrate high society. But that type of fraud is punishable by death, and when Cliffy uncovers a plot to assassinate a head of state, he’s hunted by more than just the aristocracy.

Royal intrigue, daring escapes, sub-dermal machines, and bear polo. A grand adventure in a not-so-distant world.

Review:

I’ve had The Hidden Institute on my iPod for a while, but never got around to listening to it. I generally prefer to read things myself instead of listening to other people read them. Also, with Podiobooks, the quality of narration and production can be variable. However, this weekend, thanks to a spring allergy migraine (no reading paperbacks or looking at electronic screens) I finally gave it a shot.

I enjoyed almost everything about it – the story and setting are interesting, his characters are fun to get to know, there’s action but it’s not overly stressful, and the narration is very well done. My one sticking point is that I found the transitional music at the beginning, middle, and end of each episode loud and annoying – but that’s probably just me. I always find transitional music in audiobooks to be loud and annoying. It’s set in a futuristic/steampunk US, but the story is more character driven than anything else, and the sci fi/steampunk elements are very much a part of the setting rather than a main plot driver.

Gamblin has a couple of other books out (on Podiobooks as well as e-book and paperback format) and I’m going to have to try them as well. If they’re even half as good as this one, I know they’ll be worth the read – or listen.

Available: as a free audiobook through Podiobooks and iTunes, e-book for sale at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Smashwords.

More Info: Check out the author’s website here.

What did you think? Did you like the book?

*If you use these links to make a purchase, Lector’s Books may receive a small commission. This will not affect your price or purchasing experience in any way.

Review of Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency by Douglas Adams (1987) (Dirk Gently Book 1)

Bottom line: Not up to Douglas Adams’s usual standard. Worth a try if you’re a big fan of his other work.

Rating: Recommended IF – you are a Douglas Adams fan

Blurb:

There is a long tradition of Great Detectives, and Dirk Gently does not belong to it. But his search for a missing cat uncovers a ghost, a time traveler, AND the devastating secret of humankind! Detective Gently’s bill for saving the human race from extinction: NO CHARGE.

Review:

I didn’t enjoy this book as much as I had hoped to. From the blurb and the title, I had expected a mystery/sci fi/fantasy mashup, and written by Douglas Adams, to boot! I (obviously) love both the mystery and sci fi/fantasy genres, and I’m a big fan of Adams’s Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series (read the books (great), listened to the radio drama (fantastic), and seen the movie (meh)) so I thought that if ever there was a book for me, it would be this one.

Unfortunately, I was disappointed. There was kind of a mystery, but not really, and while it has the hallmarks of a Douglas Adams – quirky characters, non sequiturs of plot and dialogue, hapless creatures from other planets, etc. – it just didn’t work for me. The story seemed very disjointed and it felt like the first half to two thirds of the book was intro material. I kept waiting for him to get to the point and bring it all together. There were some hysterically funny, snort out loud on the commuter train kind of moments (yes, I’m that girl), but there weren’t very many of them.

All in all, I’m glad I gave it a try, but I won’t be reading it again. There’s another book in the series out, The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul, but I don’t see myself reaching for it anytime soon.

Available: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes.

What did you think? Did you like the book?

*If you use these links to make a purchase, Lector’s Books may receive a small commission. This will not affect your price or purchasing experience in any way.

Review of The Girl in the Steel Corset by Kady Cross (2011) (The Steampunk Chronicles – Book 1)

Bottom line: An intriguing first full-length installment of the series. I had a few complaints about the writing, but the story was very entertaining. I’d recommend reading The Strange Case of Finley Jayne first (although you don’t need it for The Girl in the Steel Corset to make sense) because it’s free and if you like that, you should definitely give this one a shot.

Rating: Recommended

Blurb:

In 1897 England, sixteen-year-old Finley Jayne has no one…except the “thing” inside her.

When a young lord tries to take advantage of Finley, she fights back. And wins. But no normal Victorian girl has a darker side that makes her capable of knocking out a full-grown man with one punch….

Only Griffin King sees the magical darkness inside her that says she’s special, says she’s one of them. The orphaned duke takes her in from the gaslit streets against the wishes of his band of misfits: Emily, who has her own special abilities and an unrequited love for Sam, who is part robot; and Jasper, an American cowboy with a shadowy secret.

Griffin’s investigating a criminal called The Machinist, the mastermind behind several recent crimes by automatons. Finley thinks she can help—and finally be a part of something, finally fit in.

But The Machinist wants to tear Griff’s little company of strays apart, and it isn’t long before trust is tested on all sides. At least Finley knows whose side she’s on—even if it seems no one believes her.

Review:

The Girl in the Steel Corset continues the saga of Finley Jayne (introduced in the novella The Strange Case of Finley Jayne, review here), a girl with supernatural abilities. I found myself caught up in the plot and enjoying the characters. However, I was a little disappointed in the writing itself. I had been impressed with the author’s writing in her previous book, and was surprised to find that here I occasionally found it distracting. Normally when I read, I’m completely immersed in the book, but I kept being interrupted by thoughts like “wait, didn’t she describe the other guy in that exact same way?” “didn’t that other character say something the same thing to this same girl?” and “does EVERYONE in this book have a crooked smile?”. There are also some inconsistencies with the characters. It seems like this book could have benefited from one more pass by an editor – tighten up the writing and maybe decrease the amount of time spent on some of the subplots.

This isn’t to say that I didn’t enjoy the read – I did, and I’ve read it a couple more times since the first time. I think it is a testament to Cross’s skill as a storyteller that the writing quirks were not as apparent on the first read through. At least for me, I was so caught up in the story the first time around that I didn’t notice as many of them, and then in the subsequent reads, as I became more familiar with the story, I noticed the writing more, and parts of it started to annoy me. There was a lot of ground covered – in addition to introducing all the members of the team to each other and the readers, and getting many of their back stories, there is the mystery to solve of what the bad guy is up to and how to stop him. I’m still excited to read the next book in the series (The Girl in the Clockwork Collar, due out June 2012), but I’m hoping the writing will be a little more polished and that the book will feel more seamless.

Available: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes

More Info: Check out the author’s website here.

What did you think? Did you like the book?

*If you use these links to make a purchase, Lector’s Books may receive a small commission. This will not affect your price or purchasing experience in any way.

Review of The Strange Case of Finley Jayne by Kady Cross (Steampunk Chronicles – Prequel) (2011)

Bottom line: This novella is a wonderful introduction not only to the Steampunk Chronicles series, but to the steampunk genre itself. If you’ve been wanting to try out steampunk, wondered what it was, or just want a fun, well written book to read, give this one a shot. Also, it’s free!

Update 7/1/2013: Not currently a free book.

Rating: Strongly Recommended

Blurb:

Finley Jayne knows she’s not ‘normal’. Normal girls don’t lose time, or have something inside them that makes them capable of remarkably violent things. Her behavior has already cost her one job, so when she’s offered the lofty position of companion to Phoebe, a debutante recently engaged to Lord Vincent, she accepts, despite having no experience. Lord Vincent is a man of science with his automatons and inventions, but Finley is suspicious of his motives where Phoebe is concerned. She will do anything to protect her new friend, but what she discovers is even more monstrous than anything she could have imagined…

Review:

I downloaded this novella because it was free, and when I finished, I immediately went and bought the next book (first book? this one is a prequel – can I call it book zero?) in the series (book one review forthcoming). I would have bought the next one, too, but it won’t be out until June 2012.

I was impressed for a lot of reasons. For one thing, I often find that short stories/novellas feel incomplete – you are barely introduced to some characters, a plot is thrown together, and then it’s over. That was certainly not the case with this book. There is a good balance of time spent developing the characters and the world, and while the plot moves quickly, it doesn’t feel rushed. The heroine is a well written, strong female character, who’s struggling to come to terms with her unique capabilities and whether they are a blessing or a curse.

This is definitely in the steampunk genre – the setting is a late 1800s London with steam powered devices, automaton servants and interesting gadgets. All these things are mentioned and discussed a bit, but not harped on – thank goodness. I tend to get a bit glassy eyed over too many intricate details.

Available: Amazon, Barnes and Noble, iTunes.

More Info: Check out the author’s website here.

What did you think? Did you like the book?

*If you use these links to make a purchase, Lector’s Books may receive a small commission. This will not affect your price or purchasing experience in any way.