avanta7: (Dukedom)
The Hunger Games (The Hunger Games, #1)The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Once upon a time in the not-too-near future, the United States lies in ruins, and in its place is Panem, with a glittering Capitol City at its center and 12 outlying districts supplying the City's needs. Life in the districts is hard, and nowhere is it harder than in District 12, where 16-year-old Katniss Everdeen lives with her widowed mother and little sister Prim.

All Katniss wants to do is provide for her family, and so she hunts illegally in the forest outside the district fence. She works tirelessly and lives in fear each day of being caught and punished. But, more than being caught poaching, she fears being chosen for the Hunger Games, a mandatory annual competition in which 24 teenagers, one boy and one girl from each district, are selected to fight to the death on national television.

Outwit, Outplay, Outlast, my Aunt Fanny: Survivor ain't got nothin' on the Hunger Games.

When 12-year-old Prim's name is pulled from the box, however, Katniss volunteers to go as tribute in her place. She and the other tribute, baker's son Peeta, travel to Capitol City to take their place in the arena, and face what is likely certain death for both of them. Their mentor, Haymitch, the only winner District 12 has ever produced, has other ideas. And an unlikely strategy that just might give them an edge.

But the rules state that there can be only one winner. Victory. Or death. Those are the only options. Because she's our heroine, we know going in that Katniss must come out the victor, but how she gets to the winner's circle is a harrowing, fretful journey indeed. And one entirely worth taking along with her.

I started The Hunger Games on a Friday evening and finished it the next day by mid-afternoon. I can hardly wait to start the next book.

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avanta7: (Book Whore)
IagoIago by David Snodin

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Remember what happened at the end of Othello? Yeah, me neither. At least, not in great detail. But that's all right, because the events of Shakespeare's tragedy are only tangentially important, in the sense that they provide the backdrop and impetus for the events in this novel.

In the aftermath of the murder of Desdemona and her husband Othello (yes, I know that's not what happened in the play....just go with it), Iago, their accused murderer, is the subject of a vast and wide-ranging manhunt throughout Cyprus and Italy. Annibale Malipiero, the Chief Inquisitor of Venice, is especially interested in questioning Iago about the dual murder, and goes about it in a circuitous fashion.

Gentile Stornello, the teenage son of a rival Venetian household and a cousin to Desdemona, is accused of murder. He is arrested and brought to the fearsome Venetian prison, where he is tortured and questioned by Malipiero, among others, and thrown into a cell with a mysterious prisoner who refuses to speak to him for days, perhaps weeks. Time is fluid in prison, and poor Gentile is never really sure how long he's been incarcerated. Eventually, however, the mysterious prisoner gives up his silence, and is revealed as Iago himself. Malipiero enlists young Stornello as his proxy, offering the young man his freedom and a dismissal of charges if he can discover the truth of the murder from Iago. And, after an engineered escape from prison and their subsequent flight across the length and breadth of Italy, Gentile endeavors to do precisely that.

David Snodin constructs his story brick by brick, carefully building upon this event and that occurrence, layer by intriguing layer, leading the reader down a certain path with startling surprises around every corner. It's slow going at first, but the pace picked up about midway through, and the writing itself is lovely. I loved the rich period detail. I didn't love the ample gore and violence, but accepted it as a necessary evil, er, plot device. Overall, this was a satisfying read, and I'd heartily recommend it to anyone with an interest in Shakespeare or historical novels.

Thank you to LibraryThing's Early Reviewer program for the opportunity to read this book.

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avanta7: (BlackRibbon)
Whitney Houston was part of the soundtrack of my 20s. I remember the first time I heard that gorgeous incredible voice. She knocked me flat out with those soaring, swooping, happy, bubbly-sweet pop confections that livened up the radio and filled the dance floor and my heart with sheer joy. And that incredible version of Dolly Parton's "I Will Always Love You" -- someone I used to work with called that song "a one-note wonder", but dear God, that voice. That overwhelming, awe-inspiring voice.

And she was so beautiful. Graceful. Elegant. Tall! She had everything, and I admired her so much.

And then, naturally, she fell. Whether her marriage led her into chemical dependency, or simply exacerbated a problem that was already there, we may never know. Addiction is a difficult struggle, and she struggled. Mightily.

Breaking the cycle of addiction is hard enough on us ordinary folk. How much more difficult is it for someone whose every move is photographed, whose every foible is printed in the gossip rags, whose every misstep is broadcast in a hundred countries? She stepped out of the spotlight for years while she tried to put her life back together. And it looked like she had. An album, a tour, a scheduled appearance at the Grammys...

What happened in those last hours? I don't know. All I know is this. I'm sad. So incredibly sad. Good night, Whitney. Sleep well. I'll miss you.
avanta7: (Pinup Book Girl)
The Carpet MakersThe Carpet Makers by Andreas Eschbach

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

On an unnamed desert planet in a desolate part of the galaxy, the people go about their lives in service to the Emperor. No one has ever seen the Emperor in person, but his visage is everywhere, and to question him or his instructions is heresy. An elite caste of carpetmakers provide the chief export, rugs woven and tied of human hair, made for the Imperial Palace and shipped offworld every year or so by Imperial Ships who come to collect them. Over the centuries, eons, millennia, society has evolved so that virtually every person on the planet supports this industry in some fashion. And those who choose to disregard their proscribed destinies and follow their own paths are ostracized, even killed...

But over the last several years, a constant rumor floats just beneath the surface...the Emperor is dead, has been for decades. And, if that is the case, some people ask, just who are we making these carpets for?

Told as a series of loosely connected vignettes, Andreas Eschbach unfolds his story in bits and pieces, a intimation here, a hint there, a clear direction over yonder, until the terrible truth of the Emperor and his hair carpets is finally revealed.

Not so much a traditional science fiction story as a meditation on the power of myth and the persistence of custom, Eschbach explores human strengths such as persistence and dedication, faith and curiosity, as well as human frailties such as greed, lust, and hunger for power, and gently suggests we take a good long look at ourselves and our ways, and ask ourselves, "Are we doing this because this is the right thing to do, or because this is how we've always done it?"

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avanta7: (Dukedom)
The following books were consumed in 2011. The reviews were all posted in LJ as they were read, but consolidated here for your convenience.

  1. In the Company of Angels by Thomas E. Kennedy
  2. The Anatomy of Ghosts by Andrew Taylor (tied with The Map of Time as my favorite read of 2011)
  3. Fated by S.G. Browne
  4. Salvation City by Sigrid Nunez
  5. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
  6. Headcrash by Bruce Bethke
  7. The Map of Time by Felix J. Palma (tied with The Anatomy of Ghosts as my favorite read of 2011)
  8. Mistress of the Art of Death by Ariana Franklin
  9. Heads You Lose by Lisa Lutz and David Hayward
  10. The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein
  11. The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery
  12. Half A Life by Darin Strauss
  13. The Marriage of Sticks by Jonathan Carroll
  14. The Likeness by Tana French
  15. The Hair of Harold Roux by Thomas Williams
  16. Ill Met By Moonlight by Sarah A. Hoyt
  17. Buzz Aldrin, What Happened to You in All the Confusion? by Johan Harstad
  18. Faithful Place by Tana French
  19. The Red Garden by Alice Hoffman
  20. The Colorado Kid by Stephen King
  21. Sepulchre by Kate Mosse
  22. Discovering the Body by Mary Howard

22 total, far better than last year's dismal showing. I wished I had liked many of them better, but maybe it's reflective of stepping a little outside my comfort zone and reading things I wouldn't normally have chosen. Growth? Perhaps.
avanta7: (BookWorms)
Geek Wisdom: The Sacred Teachings of Nerd CultureGeek Wisdom: The Sacred Teachings of Nerd Culture by Stephen H. Segal

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The best thing about this little slice of nerddom is its inclusion of sooooo many geeky quotes and references. And so is the worst thing. Editor Stephen H. Segal packed a grand total of 185 separate and related quotes ranging from the usual nerd suspects like Star Trek and Conan the Barbarian to unexpected and diverse sources such as A League of Their Own, Clue, and Goldfinger, and paired them with brief essays outlining the core geek concept contained within each. It's quick entertaining bathroom reading -- meaning each essay is short enough to be read during one, ah, sitting. And therein lies the problem.

When I chose this book (through LibraryThing's Early Reviewers program), I expected something a little meaty: thoughtful analyses of "Sometimes I doubt your commitment to Sparkle Motion" or "Do. Or do not. There is no try." Instead, it seems Segal was anxious to include every geek touchstone he could imagine into one book, and so sacrificed quality of analysis for quantity of nerdiness.

Each unattributed essay barely grazes the surface of its accompanying quote, scarcely getting its metaphysical toe wet in the deep waters of "There is no spoon" or "The truth is out there." Granted, this superficial surface-grazing helps raise questions and may point the reader in a direction he may otherwise not have ventured, "to boldly go where no one has gone before," so to speak (a quote, by the way, that is not included in this slim volume), but this reader would have preferred fewer quotes, more substance, and a sequel.

The postscripts to each essay are a lot of fun and occasionally pose their own separate questions; for example, one proposes the following thought exercise: Who would win a scavenger hunt: Indiana Jones or River Song?

Who indeed?

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avanta7: (Angels on High)
So it took tech support four days? So what? It's up, that's what counts, right? Merry Christmas!

avanta7: (Snowy House)
Posted out of order, natch. :)

avanta7: (Embrace Democracy)
...I was inspired to find and take the following quiz again.

My Political Views
I am a left social libertarian
Left: 4, Libertarian: 4.01

Political Spectrum Quiz

My Foreign Policy Views
Score: -2.81

Political Spectrum Quiz

My Culture War Stance
Score: -5.36

Political Spectrum Quiz

Not a whole lot of change from the the last time I took it.
avanta7: (Disapproval)
Decidedly unhappy with LJ right now, but I've sent a message to tech support. Maybe you'll be serenaded sometime before the New Year.


Dec. 24th, 2011 07:44 pm
avanta7: (Santa Sanity)
...still no song. I guess it will post sometime in the middle of the night. Twice. Merry Christmas everyone!
avanta7: (Santa)
Okay, I recorded the song over an hour ago. Why hasn't it posted? *sigh* Guess I'll try again.
avanta7: (MusicScore)
...will not take place this year. But you'll still get a song on Christmas Eve. Tune in!
avanta7: (Reading in Bed)
Discovering the BodyDiscovering the Body by Mary Howard

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Two years ago, Linda Garbo walked into her friend Luci's kitchen and found her dead on the floor. Linda's testimony was instrumental in convicting Peter Garvey, a local mechanic and Luci's secret lover, of the crime. But lately, Linda has been having flashes of memory, leading to doubts and second thoughts about her statements during the investigation and at trial. Was it really Peter Garvey she saw outside the house that day? Or was it someone else?

Linda sets out to explore her memory, if only to set her mind at ease that she did not help convict an innocent man. But in her quest for truth, she uncovers a few secrets that others would rather have kept quiet. Such is the result of questions raised in a small town.

The story is quietly told, low-key, almost meandering, and seemed to take forever to come to the point. I can't argue that it's badly written -- it has lovely prose and engaging characters -- but its less than 300 pages felt interminable: one of the reasons it took me over a month to finish it. I kept putting it down and walking away.

Potential spoiler, don't click if you intend to read )I'm sure this unmet expectation has a lot to do with my lack of enjoyment of the story.

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avanta7: (BookWorms)
Sepulchre (Languedoc Trilogy, #2)Sepulchre by Kate Mosse

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I picked up the Sepulchre audiobook from the bargain bin at the local megachain bookstore because I wanted something to listen to on a cross-country road trip and I didn't want to spend a lot of money.

Let's just say I'm glad I didn't. Spend a lot of money, that is.

As with Mosse's previous novel, Labyrinth, I wanted to like this story. Historical setting juxtaposed against modern setting, with a supernatural-ish link between them: just my cup of tea. As with Labyrinth again, the premise was better than the execution.

17-year-old Léonie Vernier and her older brother Anatole leave their mother behind and flee 1891 Paris for the country at the invitation of their Aunt Isolde, widow of their mother's estranged brother. Anatole has some rather nasty people after him, and Léonie just wants to get out of the city for a while. Upon arriving at the country estate, the Domain de la Cade in Rennes-les-Bain, they settle in for a long visit. But all is not as it seems at the Domain, and the siblings, along with their aunt, may not have left all the danger behind them in Paris.

Jump to modern-day France, and meet 26-year-old American graduate student Meredith Martin, who is researching a biography on Debussy as well as her own family history. She has also come to the Domain de la Cade, now an exclusive hotel, in search of both a family connection and a Debussy connection. She is eerily familiar with the Domain although she's never before visited. And soon she also discovers danger lurking for her in the recesses and grounds of the estate.

The story pops back and forth between these eras in a fairly logical pattern and is entertaining enough. I had some difficulty with character differentiation: the reader, whose name escapes me at the moment, had a convincing French accent although she made little distinction between the female voices. She did not give Meredith an American accent, which did not help. I found Léonie annoying, whiny, and overly childish for her age. I didn't care much for any of the female characters, which is unfortunate since the story was essentially theirs. In fact, I didn't care much for any of the characters. If I'd had been reading a hard copy rather than listening while driving across Oklahoma, Texas, and the desert Southwest, I'd have put it down and found something else. As such, I was a captive audience. But I breathed a sigh of relief -- "Thank heavens that's over!" -- when I finished the last disc just as I pulled in front of the hotel where I would be staying in California. It's hard to say whether the relief came more from the drive being done or the book.

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avanta7: (Books By The Yard)
The Colorado KidThe Colorado Kid by Stephen King

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

As a general rule, I don't "read" audiobooks. I prefer the weight and heft of a real book in my real hands. But, when I decided to take a cross-country road trip, I set aside that general rule and purchased two books on CD from the bargain bin at my local megachain bookstore.

Like many reviewers before me, I picked up The Colorado Kid because I love the television series Haven, which cites this story as its base.

Before we go any further, let's make one thing perfectly clear. The only thing the book and the TV show have in common are the two crusty old newspapermen who know more than they let on, yet less than they want.

Stephanie McCann, a University of Ohio journalism student, is serving an internship at a tiny newspaper in Moose-Lookit, an island off the coast of Maine. Her mentors, Vince Teague and Dave Bowie, have lived on the island their entire lives and know everything and everyone. They school their young charge in the ways of a small town, and specifically in the ways of a small town newspaper. Along the way, they tell her about the biggest mystery they ever encountered: the death of a Colorado businessman on their local beach.

How he died isn't the mystery. The mystery lies in the fact that he was in Moose-Lookit at all. As Vince and Dave relate the tale of their investigation into the "why" of it all, we are treated to a marvelous character study: of Vince and Dave themselves, of Stephanie and her questioning nature, of the insularity of a small coastal village, and even of the Colorado Kid himself: although he says not a word, he speaks volumes through his death.

Jeffrey DeMunn reads the novella with excellent down East accents and engaging, easily differentiated character voices. And with only four CDs, it's a good choice for a day's drive.

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avanta7: (Book Whore)
Faithful PlaceFaithful Place by Tana French

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Tana French takes on Frank Mackey in her third outing with the Dublin Murder Squad. Mackey, as you may recall, is with the Undercover division of the Dublin police department, and takes his responsibilities as the coordinator of undercover operations and operatives very seriously. In Faithful Place, however, his work gets shunted aside as he is sucked back into his old neighborhood to deal with family drama and his own history.

At 19, Frank was prepared to run away to London with Rosie Daly, the love of his life, and together take the music world by storm. But she never appeared for their rendezvous and, although Frank himself left the neighborhood soon after, he never left Dublin. He never heard from Rosie again. Frank spent many years wondering where she was, imagining her life, while he married and had a child and divorced and built his career with the Dublin police, and eventually stopped wondering. Then one day, his sister calls to say the wreckers had found Rosie's suitcase in an abandoned house on their street, and would he please come back home to help them decide what to do.

Frank, desperate to know what happened to Rosie, allows himself to be pulled back into the sick family dynamic he fled more than 20 years previously. And, try as he might against it, he easily falls into the old pattern of family interaction as if he'd never left. Ah, Irish guilt. Nothing like it. As he investigates the discovery of the suitcase and comes to a conclusion about what really happened to Rosie, Frank struggles also to deal with the legacy of his family and his neighborhood: the reputation, the history, the neighbors, the bad blood...so much bad blood.

With Faithful Place, Tana French again creates a taut mood and tight story, and three-dimensional characters who live and breathe and bleed and grieve. Wonderful stuff. I can't wait for the next book.

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avanta7: (Default)
The Red GardenThe Red Garden by Alice Hoffman

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

In a series of chronological vignettes, Alice Hoffman gives us the story of Blackwell, a fictional Massachusetts small town, from the time of its founding in the mid-18th century to the present day. Each story stands alone, but builds on the previous stories, with characters descended from or otherwise connected to people we met earlier. Some stories are straightforward, some are mystical, and some are just a little frightening. All are beautifully written, with Ms. Hoffman's trademark lyricism and eye for pertinent detail.

Thank you to Goodreads' First Reads program for the opportunity to read this book.

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avanta7: (Book Whore)
Buzz Aldrin, What Happened to You in All the Confusion?Buzz Aldrin, What Happened to You in All the Confusion? by Johan Harstad

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

"The person you love is 72.8 percent water and there's been no rain for weeks."

With that opening sentence to set the tone, Johan Harstad moves us gently into the world of Mattias, age 29, a gardener, a resident of Stavanger, Norway, a man who wants nothing out of life than to be unnoticed and unnoticeable.

I was the kid in your class in elementary school, in high school, in college, whose name you can't remember when you take out the class photo ten years later...the one you didn't miss when I left your class and started at another school, or when I didn't come to your party...the one you thought didn't have a life....I was practically invisible, wasn't I? And I was perhaps the happiest person you could have known.

Mattias lives with his girlfriend Helle and works at a nursery. He idolizes Buzz Aldrin, the second man on the moon, because he was second. One fine day, he loses both job and girlfriend and decides to accompany his friends' band to a gig in the Faroe Islands as their sound tech. But something happens....and the next thing both we and Mattias know, he's in a residential psychiatric facility in Torshavn.

Mattias spends the next year navigating his new surroundings and coming to terms with his illness. During that time, he integrates himself into a community, making a human connection, with his psychiatrist Havstein, with the other residents, for perhaps the first time.

Havstein runs the facility with a loose rein and dreams of moving to the Caribbean. Ennen listens to The Cardigans and rides buses obsessively and believes she isn't real.

Ennen gets it into her head that she is, in fact, that person, that person from nowhere, the person who looks at you that way, on a bus, on a train, or catching a plane, the woman you never see again, she's convinced that anyone who mentions such an experience has in fact seen her, which is why she doesn't exist.

Palli, a welder and sailor, barely speaks. Anna is the mother hen, the domestic goddess, the quiet center who keeps the household running. Together with Mattias, a family of sorts forms...or, more accurately, Mattias is adopted into the family already formed, each member with a weakness, a fragile hold on reality, each strengthened and perfected by the solidarity of the group.

Mattias's thoughts tell the story, streaming in clear, spare prose and paragraphs punctuated almost solely by commas. This run-on running train-of-thought style provoked the occasional "Oh, come on, give me a period already!" response, but for the most part was unobtrusive and served the story well. The bleak far northern European locale -- unfamiliar enough to this untraveled American that I had to find it on a map -- is so fundamental to the psyche and behavior of Mattias and the others that it can be considered a character of the novel itself. And the story is bleak, gray, cold, like its locale, locked in a perpetual winter, but in the end, spring comes round again, and there's warmth and sweetness and just the merest hint of sunshine for Mattias.

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avanta7: (Peachtree)
Sunday spouse and I spent a good portion of the day clearing storm debris, courtesy of the remnants of Tropical Storm Lee, from the back yard. Neither we nor our immediate neighbors lost any trees -- although a couple of other houses on our block weren't so lucky -- but the oak tree next door that overhangs our yard with a goodly portion of its canopy shed a couple of metric tons* of dead branches and leaves during the high winds and heavy rain of Labor Day weekend.

So we raked and we raked and raked some more. Then, somehow, spouse managed to break the large rake. This is the second rake we've purchased since moving to this house. He broke the pushbroom some time ago -- we haven't managed to remember to replace it yet. I may remedy that in the next few days. Anyway, a couple of 1x1 scraps and several yards of duct tape later, Frankenrake came into being and functioned relatively well for the remainder of the day. And around 3:00 PM, we had a cleared yard and clean patio.

Maybe next time I'll remember to take pictures.

*exaggeration alert

August 2013

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