Review of The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien

Bottom line: It’s a deeply beloved classic for a reason. Read it!

Rating: Strongly Recommended

Review:

There are many types of nerds/geeks (also, I prefer the term nerd to geek, but that’s a topic for another post) out there in society – Dr. Who nerds, Star Trek nerds, Star Wars nerds, and so on. While there are many different ways that I am nerdy, I am a Lord of the Rings nerd through and through. Yes, it’s a billion pages long. Yes, there aren’t any female main characters. Yes, there are some plot points that rely too heavily on eucatastrophe (a word he coined). But it is SO good! Tolkien created a masterpiece of storytelling and world-building, an epic tale of how one small (literally) person can save the world (um – spoiler alert?). He certainly gets points for thoroughness, creating a complex history and mythology of his world, and at least one complete language. The Lord of the Rings was conceived as a sequel to The Hobbit, though that is a children’s book and this is certainly not – at least in terms of length, prose, and themes.

My favorite characters are Eowyn and Faramir, the former being one of the few women in the saga – and a pretty awesome one at that. Faramir is an overlooked son of a noble, and is strong in actions and character. In my opinion, both of these characters are pretty underrated, so when you read it, keep an eye out for them.

I recognize that this may not be everyone’s cup of tea – it is certainly an epic high fantasy quest, which means that the good guys have to get from point A to point B to complete a task while using magic, sword fighting, their wits, and help from strange creatures along the way to defeat the unspeakably evil bad guys and save the world – but it is worth reading, at least once (I reread it maybe every three years or so. In fact, writing this post has made me realize I’m due for another reread.) Though the setting is fantasy, the themes are incredibly relatable – friendship, betrayal, loss, good vs. evil, family, love, pity, and many more. If you aren’t really “that type of person” and only read one epic fantasy in your life, read this one. You won’t regret it! Also, I urge you to read it as a paperback, the experience is just so much better.

Books in order:

The Fellowship of the Rings (1954)Amazon, Barnes & Noble

The Two Towers (1954)Amazon, Barnes & Noble

The Return of the King (1955)Amazon, Barnes & Noble

Side notes:

Though there are some hard things in it, there isn’t graphic violence, no sex, and the language is clean. You could share this with your kids as soon as they’re old enough to not be overwhelmed by the sheer length of it (there are some deaths of fairly major characters).

There were movie adaptations of the trilogy released in 2001, 2002, and 2003. On the whole I thought they were very well done. They (well, Peter Jackson) did manage to ruin Faramir almost completely, but other than that the quality was consistently high throughout the 10 hours or so of movies.

Available: Amazon, Barnes & Noble

What did you think? Did you like the series?

(P.S., if you have already read the LOTR and want to show your pride, you can always check out ThinkGeek. They have LOTR LEGOS, people! Also furry hobbit slippers. )

(P.P.S., After you’ve read the books and watched the movies, then you have my permission to watch How it Should Have Ended. Also, the Honest Trailers is pretty funny, but it’s very graphic (there is a montage of one of the characters dying in really gruesome ways in other movies), so it doesn’t get the Lector’s Books thumbs up.)

*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.

Interview with Evie Woolmore, author of Equilibrium

Equilibrium

A few nights ago, I was in the mood for trying something different, and the baby was actually asleep, so I downloaded the sample for Evie Woolmore’s Equilibrium. It certainly was something different for me. I had never even heard of the genre, magical realism, before, but I thought I might as well try the free sample. Well, that was my evening (and night) shot. Immediately after finishing the sample, I bought the book and read straight on through til morning (does 1:00 a.m. count as morning?). I am a person who needs strict boundaries in my life: this is science fiction, this is mystery, this is travel, and so on. Of course life doesn’t fit into tidy little boxes and neither does this novel. There is some mystery, some fantasy, some history, and the categories all blur smoothly together. Essentially this is about different people trying to untangle the mistakes and questions of the past so they have some hope for the future. What sucked me into the book was the rich characters – I felt like I was there with them, a part of their struggles and joys. Read the blurb, try the sample. I dare you to put it down after that!

For more information, check out the author’s webpage here (from here you can buy the book as well as try the first chapter), or you could click through and keep reading for my own INTERVIEW WITH AUTHOR EVIE WOOLMORE!!! Not that I’m really excited about it or anything…

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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 Emperor’s Edge Series by Lindsay Buroker

Bottom line: This is one of my favorite ongoing series. These are great stories, extremely well written, with awesome characters. The first book is free, so give it a try and see what you think!

Rating: Strongly Recommended

Review:

I was going to do a review on each of the books that are out, but then I realized the reviews would be virtually identical for all books, so I’m going to do it in one fell swoop for the books of the series that are currently out, and I’ll update as the other books come out. There are six planned total in the main storyline.

These books are excellent. It was one of those where I read the first one because it was free, not really expecting all that much from it. When I was done, I immediately downloaded the next two books in the series (the only ones that were out at the time), read all through the night, got an hour of sleep, and had to go to work the next day. I then discovered that there were short stories with the same characters, but not in the main storyline/time frame and bought and read those immediately as well.

 

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Review of The Hunger Games Movie

Bottom line: One of the best book to movie adaptations I’ve seen. A great movie of a great book (see my review of the book here).

Rating: Strongly Recommended

Review:

I am normally one of those people – the ones who come out of a movie adaptation of a book moaning and whining about all the things they completely screwed up and how much better the book was and what is wrong with humanity anyways?

I had seen the trailer and was incredibly unimpressed. I didn’t like the casting choices for any of the main characters and was thinking the movie was going to be a complete disaster. Well, I finally broke down and went and saw it yesterday. I don’t know if it was because my expectations were so low, but I absolutely loved it. It might be one of the best book to movie adaptations I have ever seen (might have something to do with the fact that the author, Suzanne Collins, was a co-writer of the screen play – hard to do that with, say, Tolkein).

There were obviously things that they changed, but I felt like almost all of the changes were just to make it work better as a movie, while still staying true the spirit of the books, if not the letter. One of the main concerns I had going into it was how you deal with the fact that the books are written from Katniss’ point of view, and a lot of it is about what is going on in her head. I think this was handled amazingly well. Instead of using narration (which rarely works), they added in pieces that were not in the books, but still fit within the story. For example, the Head Gamemaker becomes a bigger character, and you see him interacting with President Snow, and the behind the scenes of how the games are done. There are cuts to the tv show host talking with his co-anchor to explain things to the audience (both in the Capitol, and the one in the movie theater with you) that you get from Katniss in the books. My favorite was the fortune-cookie type notes from Haymitch that came with the gifts from sponsors.

I was not expecting very much from the actors chosen to play Katniss, Peeta, Gale, or Haymitch from what I saw in the trailer, but by the end of the movie everyone had won me over except Gale. They did a good job portraying District 12 as poor, dirty, and downtrodden, but Gale always looked like he’d walked out of a photo shoot for some teen magazine.

I was also impressed by how they handled the violence. Make no mistake, this is a story that centers around children slaughtering other children, often brutally, but they were able to portray the horror of the violence without being excessively graphic or gory.

The one thing that I really disliked was the shaky cameras. At the beginning of the movie and during parts of the actual Hunger Games they filmed in the jerky, fast moving style. I don’t find that it adds realism to the movie, I just find it annoying. Instead of thinking about the story, I’m thinking about how I wish they would stop yanking the cameras around.

All in all, however, I thoroughly enjoyed this movie and can’t wait for the next one to come out!

Get it! Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Target

What did you think? Did you like the movie? Had you read the book before seeing it?

*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 Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin (1996) (A Song of Fire and Ice Book 1)

Bottom line: This book has graphic sex and violence, and I didn’t enjoy the story or characters enough to balance out the disturbing elements.

Rating: Not Recommended

Blurb:

Long ago, in a time forgotten, a preternatural event threw the seasons out of balance. In a land where summers can last decades and winters a lifetime, trouble is brewing. The cold is returning, and in the frozen wastes to the north of Winterfell, sinister and supernatural forces are massing beyond the kingdom’s protective Wall. At the center of the conflict lie the Starks of Winterfell, a family as harsh and unyielding as the land they were born to. Sweeping from a land of brutal cold to a distant summertime kingdom of epicurean plenty, here is a tale of lords and ladies, soldiers and sorcerers, assassins and bastards, who come together in a time of grim omens.

Here an enigmatic band of warriors bear swords of no human metal; a tribe of fierce wildlings carry men off into madness; a cruel young dragon prince barters his sister to win back his throne; and a determined woman undertakes the most treacherous of journeys. Amid plots and counterplots, tragedy and betrayal, victory and terror, the fate of the Starks, their allies, and their enemies hangs perilously in the balance, as each endeavors to win that deadliest of conflicts: the game of thrones.

Review:

This is one of those books that I was late coming to, and wanted to see what all the fuss was about. I borrowed the first three books from a friend, assuming that I would at least like it well enough to want to finish as much of the story as I could. Unfortunately, I was only a hundred pages or so into the first one (they’re all huge – about 700 pages) when I realized that that was not going to be the case. I wasn’t even sure I wanted to finish the first book, but ploughed on through it – mostly to see if it would redeem itself at the end (it didn’t).

My main hang up was the sex and violence. I will admit that I am fairly squeamish about graphic content, so if your stomach is stronger than mine, it may not be as much of an issue for you. Explicit sex, multiple rapes, incest, murder in all kinds of interesting ways, and so on. The book has a quasi-medieval setting, so this kind of content is not unbelievable, but it did feel excessive.

Even apart from that, I found little that I liked. The story shifts viewpoints and subplots quite a bit, and it can be difficult to maintain all the various threads, timelines, and how everything fits together. More, I found it hard to care enough about any of these individual elements to want to follow the stories through to the end. Of all the characters whose viewpoint you share, only a few of them are sympathetic at all.

His setting had the potential to be interesting, but I didn’t feel like I could visualize it all that well. I feel like most fantasy authors err on the side of over-explaining their universes, but Martin erred the other way. He spends a lot of time referencing the old and new gods, for example, but even after 700 pages, I didn’t really feel like I understood what that system was. Or why there are zombies.

Another irritation for me was the spelling. I know that it is fairly common for the genre to take common words and spell them in different ways, but this happens a lot in this book and it was like the written equivalent of nails down a chalkboard for me. Worst offender: “Ser” instead of “Sir.”

I know a lot of people who are really into this story, whether through the books, the tv series, or both. I can understand the appeal on some level – there is plenty of action, and the storylines are very intricate and fast paced – but it just didn’t come together for me. Or, to be more precise, it came together in all the worst ways for me.

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 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.

Harry Potter Series Now Available in E-book Formats…

…but they’re not going to make it easy for you.

If you want to get the e-books ($7.99 for the first three, $9.99 for the last four) you can find them on most sites that sell e-books (including Amazon and B&N), but to complete the purchase, you get routed to the “Pottermore” shop where you have to set up an account to finally get your book.

On the plus side when you buy any of all of these books, you can download it to just about any device out there – Kindle, Nook, iPhone/iPad, home computers, etc. On the downside, you have to go through the rigamarole mentioned above. Granted, none of this should take very long, but I hate having to set up accounts to buy things. As long as I’m giving you my money in exchange for your product, why should I have to register myself in addition to all the personal details you get when I put in my credit card info? Also, as a Kindle user myself, I love the “one click buy” button. I find what I want, click a button, and it magically shows up on my Kindle a few seconds later. You can’t get any easier than that.

Another downside is the price. I don’t buy many books (paper books or e-books), but I finally broke down and bought the Harry Potter series a few months ago from Barnes & Noble. I paid on average less than $6 per book – and they would have cost a lot more to produce than an e-book.

I’m glad that these books are now available (legally) for e-readers.I respect Rowling for getting the most money she can for her work. But I won’t be buying them anytime soon.

Anyone bought the e-books? Are they worth it?

*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.