Bookpile: April 2010

Get Seen: Online Video Secrets to Building Your Business – I was so excited about getting my hands on this. But it was another case of me needing the next step and this being stuff I mostly already figured out on my own. That said, it’s a fabulous reference book and a great way for anyone who doesn’t get online video to start. He’s very straightforward and clear in his explanations, lots of the technical stuff you need (like what format and size and resolution to save things) and help with choosing equipment and so forth. If you already dabble, you’re likely to find some gems in the midst of everything, but likely you already know what’s in this one.

House of Wolves – Can you say Dan Brown wannabe? Or perhaps it’s a bit more National Treasure? Or were we going for a bit of Indiana Jones? But in any case, just a pale shadow. This is the second book in this series, so, OK, you could make the argument that I was missing something by not reading that first one and it would have made the second one so much better. (Or maybe just made me more forgiving.) I went ahead and read the second because the story in this one didn’t necessarily build on the first; it’s trying to be a long series of semi-independent books, not a trilogy. And, well, let’s just say the plausibility level of this guy was lacking to the point of distraction. It just never felt believable enough for me to buy the story line, not to mention that I just never quite completely connected with the characters. Boo. I want to care about people who are being led to their death in a mysterious plot to take over the world. Or maybe just Antarctica. Hard to tell. NOTE: Received this book from my friend at Thomas Nelson with no expectation of review in return.

The Chameleon Wore Chartreuse and The Mystery of Mr. Nice: A Chet Gecko Mystery – Saw these and was intrigued enough to grab a couple just to check them out. Always good to have something in the back pocket to refer to people that you’re pretty sure they’ve never heard of before. We’re back in elementary school, only this fourth grade class is populated by birds and lizards and rats and all other manner of creatures. Including our hero, hard-boiled private eye Chet Gecko. Which is where things got weird for me. Chet’s a detective in the tradition of Mickey Spillane, which isn’t exactly children’s fare, so why would you use that as your structure for these stories? He even has the hat and coat and throws around phrases like dame. Just … odd. And the parts that were really funny were the kinds of jokes that go over a kid’s head anyway. Add to that the fact that the first book was a nice, benign case of finding a missing brother who was just hanging out with a bad crowd for the day, but the second book had the principal kidnapped and a real threat of danger to Chet and his partner Natalie. Bit of a jump there. So you might find some of them OK for your child and others a bit too grown up in story line. Your call. Despite all that I did enjoy them. My biggest complaint? They were 96 pages. Just four short of what would qualify for a book report back in my day. Seriously? Throw in a couple more pictures so kids can read these for school!

Here There Be Dragons – I’ve always loved the part of the map that says here there be dragons. It’s the unexplored part of the world, the part where anything could happen. And tries to in this book. It’s also on a map, which I love in books and am always excited to check out at the beginning and refer back to frequently. It’s the story of Jack, John and Charles, who get pulled into a strange world after the death of a professor in 1917 London. A world across the sea, but beyond the imagination. The world where dragons and trolls and ogres and elves live. The world where Captain Nemo is a real person, Arthur held the throne and Atlantis really existed. And dang it, but I wanted to like this world. But I just never got into. (Was I in a bad mood this month?) The story was told from a total outside viewer point of view, which never let you inside the heads of the main characters, a choice that really hurt it overall. It’s hard to connect with characters who don’t share anything with you. Not to mention, I kept thinking Owen was seriously borrowing from classic fantasy in ways that were only semi-subtle, only to find out at the end there was a reason they were only so subtle. And when that was revealed, it left me feeling a little cheated. (Note that it’s been picked up for a movie and that’s pretty much what it feels like, an unfleshed out brief for a movie script. Felt that way about Lost World too; why bother with character development or plot if you can have cool things like dinosaurs and dragons to distract?)

After the Hangover – Sigh. I got this book as part of the Book Sneeze program for bloggers over at Thomas Nelson. For which I am obligated to do a review. For which I had to actually read the book. Or attempt to in this case. Between the constant reminders of Tyrrell’s true conservative cred via name dropping and the haranguing liberals for things he then turns around and praises conservatives for … I just couldn’t take it anymore. The writing was not cohesive, the editing left the book as a whole disjointed and I really had no clue where we were going with it. I just knew by not too many pages in that Tyrrell is the guy at the cocktail part I would be desperately trying to avoid. And not just because he felt the need to put an irrelevant adjective before Palin’s name every time he mentioned her. (Patronizing and annoying and I’m not a Palin fan.) Given the recent nature of some events mentioned, I think they rushed to get this to press, and it showed. And I hope I’m saying this as someone who just doesn’t like sub-par writing and weak arguments and not as someone holding her nose over liberals and conservatives these days. If you want to read it anyway, drop me an email and it’s yours. First to ask.

The Invisible Boy – At last, a book I really liked this month! This one was imaginative and mildly frightening and vastly entertaining. Gardner has a series of magical children books (I got another one to try as well) and I think that part’s a little deceptive, at least in this case as there’s not exactly magic involved. Sam’s parents have gotten themselves lost in space, leaving Sam in the care of his neighbors, the wife of which has nefarious plans related to Sam. In the midst of this, a young alien crashes into the back yard, turns Sam invisible in a panic and can’t turn him back. Which complicates the neighbor wife’s plans conveniently. But, the parents of the young alien come to find him, fix Sam and save the day by un-losing Sam’s parents in the bargain. And so all is right with the world, er universe. Lots of interesting things to discuss with your child in this one, from trusting strangers to what you’d do if you were invisible to getting lost in space to making friends with an alien. Recommended.

Gone For Soldiers – Can I start with the fact that I could never figure out what the title had to do with the book? Thank you. Glad to have that off my chest. Stumbled on this one at the library because it (and the other books by Shaara) are fat and demand attention. Shaara has written a ton of books, all set during various wars. To that end, there are generally a couple of books for each war and I wasn’t sure if I would like them. So I grabbed this one. First, it’s set during the Mexican War (1846-1948) and just the single book. Perfect to try out a new author – a war I wasn’t that familiar with and a low commitment level. And I really enjoyed it. Well, who wouldn’t? There were new maps constantly showing where all the troops were lined up and I already mentioned I love maps in my books. He started with a backgrounder, very factual, not prose, that led us up to the time where he starts the book, roughly halfway through the war. Gives us the basics on why we were even fighting, major players both on the front and back in Washington and why things were starting to unfold as they were. Then, we join the battle, following General Scott as he takes troops down to Vera Cruz, then across the Mexican countryside and straight into Mexico City. We follow several characters on this trek, most notably Robert E. Lee. Fascinating insights into the man and circumstances that shaped him in the general he became. The end of the book goes back through the list of characters who had a part in this campaign (General Grant, Stonewall Jackson, just to name a few) and briefly recaps what happened to him after the war, including for many of them the roles they played in the Civil War just a few years later. Definitely worth a look.

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