Friday, October 31, 2014

November Preview. Space and France and Corgis, oh my!

There's lots of fun stuff going on in the blog this November.

It's my birthday month! Which might mean a post that's just pictures of corgis in party hats.

You will be transported to France for a travel book review!

I accidently signed up for 3 book tours this month! (I usually try to keep it at 2 a month.) But all of the books sounded good so I'm sure you guys won't mind.

Lastly, you will be seeing a LOT of sci fi.

Our friends over at Rinn Reads and Oh the Books! are hosting Sci-Fi November 2014 and as soon as I heard about it I was like "yeah, sign me up for that.I want in on all the things".

From me, you will be getting 2 author interviews, a book about time travel, fun facts about famous Sci-Fi writers, a series recommendation, and at the end of the month I'm going to do a roundup of some of my favorite posts from other Sci-Fi November participants.

Man, that sounds like a lot. It was a bit of a nightmare getting all of that scheduled and put together but I hope you agree with me and think it's worth it! There's going to be some changes in the scheduling though, you'll get an occasional weekend post which I usually don't do. Just to keep you on your toes :)

Happy November all!

Sci-Fi November - Hosted by Rinn Reads & Oh, the Books!

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Guest Posts with Traveling with T and Book Bloggers International!

I know, you guys are like, man do you just want to just be anywhere but here!? I just like be-bopping around and giving you all some variety! So here's my 2 stops today!

Looking for some fun, not scary books to read this Halloween? Go over to Traveling with T to see my guest post about books that are Treats, Not Tricks! This is my last post over at T's (for our Halloween series) so thanks for reading!

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Secondly, and somewhat relatedly, I'm posting over at Book Bloggers International about great suspense and thriller reads that I've read lately.

Book Bloggers International

I just realized that I talk about String Diaries in both of theses posts. I swear I'm not on Stephen Lloyd Jones' payroll.

Happy reading!

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Review of "The Wet and the Dry" by Lawrence Osborne

 It's more of a mini-review because the book is short, and more so if we are honest, because I didn't enjoy the book. I feel like what this book said it was going to do and what it actually did were two very different things. The blurb for the book says that the author would ponder these questions:  is drinking alcohol a sign of civilization and sanity, or the very reverse? Where do societies fall on the spectrum between indulgence and restraint? 

He did this, in some places kind of. There is an interesting sounding group of Muslims in the middle East called the Druze. They don't have a problem with drinking whereas a lot of other Muslims do.

There was one sentence I liked from when he was at a winery in Lebanon. It was "But one never knows who will come out of these beautiful hills. A wine critic or a man with a Kalashnikov".

He lost me completely with the story about him and his beautiful Italian girlfriend who were spending New Year's in Oman, and how they spent all day running around trying to find champagne, couldn't find any (or any bar up to their standards, so they had to celebrate with watermelon juice (his first sober New Year's in decades, but luckily for him his girlfriend wasn't so upset that they didn't fool around all night. 

I think what is basically came down to for me was this. He goes into places where drinking is taboo or frowned upon for some reason, and then proceeds to get drunk there. If he did this with humor and grace and understanding I might have been more open to this book. I mean, even the Oman story could have been saved by a little humor. However, through the whole book he displayed a self absorbed aloofness that did not make me anxious to see what would happen next.

If nothing else this book made me a little depressed. I'm sure Oman, Lebannon, Pakistan, and the other countries mentioned have something offer any visitor if you're not there strictly to drink. I give the book 2 out of 5 stars. (I tried to follow April's advice on how to write a negative review. Hopefully I did okay. I obviously harbor no negative feelings to this author, I just don't care for his book.)


*I received this book in exchange for an honest review from Blogging for Books*

Friday, October 24, 2014

Living Abroad - Rwanda

"A Thousand Hills to Heaven: Love, Hope and a Restaurant in Rwanda" by Josh Ruxin

Josh Ruxin is a multi-degreed, fairly wealthy, New Yorker who had put his public health experience all over the world, but more often recently in a consulting capacity. But he wanted to get his hands dirty and get out in the field again. He talks at a party with a wealthy tech guy who wants to know why he isn't in Rwanda. Rwanda seemed to be a great place to come in and help to revitalize after the devastating genocide in the 1990s. So he and his new fiancee (who also had a public health background) get themselves on a plane and go to Rwanda.

Josh works with (sort of? I think? Sometimes I didn't know who was exactly working for and with whom) an already established medical clinic in Kigali, Rwanda's capital. The clinic was already there but it was in a horribly poor area where people were starving but the clinic was run down and wasn't really where someone went for help.

It takes a lot of time, but along with a TON of help, the clinic becomes a shining beacon in the little community. They also feed the starving residents, and then help teach farmers different farming techniques so there's always food. Sometimes there's even enough of the crops leftover to sell for profit. Getting all of this going makes for very long days for Josh and so now wife, Alyssa looks for a way to help in the community.

She volunteers at an orphanage that helps to try to send promising kids to college, which would make a huge difference, not only in their own families, but also in the community. One of the main problems is that there aren't any jobs for the kids and teenagers to work and put money back for tuition. Through a huge and roundabout way, Alyssa opens a restaurant called Heaven. It was a great place for the kids from the orphanage to learn a skill, put money back for tuition and help support their families.

These next 2 stories didn't really fit into the review anywhere but I thought they were worth telling:

Pierantonio, a next door neighbor, told Josh what he witnessed during the massacres. He could see soldiers breaking into their neighbors and good friends home, where they were murdered, and the wife and daughters raped and murdered. He held the title Italian Consul to Kigali, which though it was mostly a symbolic honor, now meant that he had to try to get all 200 Italian ex-pats in Rwanda out. He stuffed his pockets with money that he had withdrawn before the uprising began, knowing that if something happened money would grease a lot of wheels. He (and his son) crept into houses and churches and rescued many many people, often just seconds away from being shot and macheted to death. He and his family were on the last flight out of the country. As soon as he got his family safely into Kenya, he returned to Rwanda to save more people.

I finished reading this book on September 11th. Josh was in Paris at the time and was one the very first flight out of Paris back to America on the 14th. He said the pilot gathered all of the passengers around him and talked about how they would "have to take action as a group if anyone was acting suspicious".  What a horrifying flight to be on, it must have been agonizing.

What I learned about Rwanda
-There's a weirdly large amount of ex-pats from Arkansas living in Rwanda
-The average life expectancy in Rwanda is just under 60
-They are one of the least corrupt governments in Africa

So that's a really long review. But the only thing that I didn't like was that sometimes the stories seemed kind of disjointed or seemed like they could have been organized a little differently to make things a little more clear. 3.5 out of 5 stars!


Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Book Review: "Jackaby" by William Ritter

Who is this smiling mustachioed man? It's my Dad! He's the reason I have blonde hair, a fondness for maps and odd facts, and more. The box he is holding contains the donations to the local women's and children's shelter that was donated by Andi, the winner of my blogiversary giveaway! I put a little card in the box explaining the giveaway, it might just confuse them, but hey what can you do? The box has lots of school supplies, hair supplies, and some cozy winter scarf for the upcoming winter. Dad dropped it off at the shelter (thanks Dad!) so I'm sure everything is already put to good use :)

Onto our regularly scheduled book programming!

The best way I can think of describing this book is: if you dropped Sherlock Holmes into Supernatural (like early Supernatural when it was monster of the week, before all the angels and demons and stuff), add a smart female assistant and put it in New England in 1892. That's basically it.

Abigail Rook finds herself in New England (via Eastern Europe) after leaving her suffocating life as basically her mom's dress up doll in England. She is smart, and wants adventure. She sees a help wanted ad for an assistant position for a detective agency and that is where she really meets Mr Jackaby. He's a bit of an eccentric, I think is safe to say. He has a reputation around town of being a touch crazy considering he talks about all kinds of paranormal things like trolls, ghosts and exotic Ukrainian helper elf things. Abigail is like "this might be a really bad idea working for him buuuuut I basically have no other options and I don't want to be homeless and broke in a foreign country so let's do it".

Then it's all interesting characters and foul murders and a handsome policeman and sleuthing and detectiving. (Word? Not a word? Word.)

My favorite line from the book was from Abigail : "I shook my head. It wasn't that I did not believe in ghosts; it was that I believed in them the same way noncommittal way that I believed in giant squids or lucky coins or Belgium.They were things that probably existed I never had any occasion to really care one way or the other". Screw you Belgium! (Not really, Belgium is very nice)

I liked Douglas and Mrs Morrigan the best.

The ending is very obviously set up for more stories, which I understand, but when it's in a super obvious way it annoys me.

This book isn't really reinventing the wheel in any real way, but that doesn't mean that it isn't fun or entertaining; because it is! A fast, entertaining, light read with some funny characters and interesting folkloric elements. High 3 out of 5 stars.


Monday, October 20, 2014

Book Review: "Zen in the Art of Writing: Releasing the Creative Genius Within You" by Ray Bradbury and Guest Post at Traveling with T

Click here to read my guest post over at Traveling with T!

Did you guys participate in the Dewey's 24 hour readathon?  It was my first one, I only participated in a cheerleader capacity (Team Butler!) and I had so much fun! I don't think I could stay up and read for 24 hours but I will try one of these years. For now, I will just wave my pompoms! It was a really fun 24 hours to be on twitter!

Last year I was messing around on Goodreads, as I am apt to do (you can friend me if you like!) and made a fantastic discovery: a Ray Bradbury book I'd never heard of! This is not to say I've read all of his books, but I thought I had at least heard of all of them before. (Oh Wesley, how prideful of you). Anyway this was the book and I was so pleased to find it and now I'm so pleased to share it with you!

So it's not a story per se, but a collection of essays. Ray wrote almost his whole life, and it was a long life, he died in his 90s. He wrote this book about how he wrote, what helped him, his writing habits and the like. The book title cracks me up because it sounds like something that they would sell on QVC at 4 am and some struggling writer would buy it and hope that it would help him write a blockbuster. But I digress. Some of Ray's most famous quotes come out of these essays and the stories are great.

I really love some of the titles of the essays, like "Drunk, and in charge of a bicycle" (been there,amirite? haha) or the name of the preface "How to climb the tree of life, throw rocks at yourself, how to get down again without breaking your bones or your spirit: a preface with a title not much longer than the book". He isn't joking this is a fast read at only about 158 pages. (Honestly if you have an English/Creative Writing/something wordsy or artsy major in your life, get this book for them for their birthday or a holiday or what have you. Inspirational, thoughtful and books always make the best gifts).

From what I gather from this book I'd say there are a few ways to "release you're creative genius"

- Experience things. Don't sit around "contemplating your navel". Go do things, have experiences, talk to people, do things that scare you. It's a good way to get material and have a good and interesting life.

-Write everyday. Write down things that seem strange to you, things that scare you, things that puzzle you. Write write write write. Even if you think something is bad, or you don't really understand what to do with it, don't throw it away. Put it in a folder and tuck it away. A lot of Ray's stories he got from looking back on things from when he first began to write and improving on them.

-Read. Good readers make good writers. Take notice of the things that you love to read, words you love, settings that you are intrigued by. Take note of the things that drive you crazy and remember that when you're writing too.

Quick story: Ray wrote Fahrenheit 451 in the basement of  a library at UCLA. They had rows and rows of typewriters you could rent, you just put a dime into the machine and it bought you half an hour of writing time. So there Ray sat in a slightly creeping musty basement, on the clock, typing away at the book that would become his masterpiece. Also two of the main characters in F451 are named Faber and Montag. He realized years later that Faber is a pencil manufacturer and Montag was a paper manufacturer. How fitting for a book about books, the tools of the trade. (Also, subconsciousness are tricky things!)

I loved this book. I squealed in delight once or twice reading it.I loved hearing the back stories of some of my favorite of his works and how his brain ticked. I give it a 4 out of 5!

Zen in the Art of Writing

Friday, October 17, 2014

Book Review: "October Sky" by Homer Hickam

My husband asked me to read this for him because he wanted to use it for class that he is teaching, but he knows that I'm a faster/better reader than him :) , and he's was on a time crunch. I barely charged him anything for this wonderful service I provided because I figured I could use it here on the ol' blog.

This is the story of Homer Hickman. He grew up in the small town of Coalwood, West Virginia. As you might have guessed from the name, the whole town revolved around the local coal mine (and the high school football team.) His dad is one of the higher ups at the mine, and is there all the time. His mom paints beach scenes in their kitchen to distract herself from the layer of coal dust that settles on everything. (Even on the bedsheets, when Homer wakes up in the morning and pushes back his comforter a thin layer of dust rises from it. Bleh). Her main concern is keeping Homer and his older brother Jim out of the mining business. Jim will get to college on a football scholarship, but Homer starts high school pretty rudderless and mom begins to worry.

During this time, Sputnik and the space race have begun. Homer takes a keen interest in it and does research to find out as much as he can about space. He becomes borderline obsessed with Wernher von Braun, a German scientist who works at NASA. If they'd been around at the time Homer would have totally had a "W.W.W.V.B.D?" bracelet. He's so inspired by this brave new world of long distance rockets (and sees it as maybe an oppurtonity to get out of Coalwood and avoid working in the mines) that he starts the BCMA (Big Creek Missile Agency) with a few friends. They all teach themselves about rockets, and chemistry and black powder and explosions. They manage to blow a few things up on accident, but always avoid major injuries to themselves, somehow.

What I liked about Homer is that he took on this ambitious task aaaaaaand he's not good at math. I feel like all rocket scientists (or rocket scientists in training) are doing math equations that I can't even comprehend at a very young age. However it turns out that Homer just can't handle algebra, and he manages to teach himself trigonometry. Which is amazingly impressive.

The story isn't just about boys and rockets. It's about a small town that will die soon because the coal is running about. It's about living in your brother's shadow. It's about a marriage in strife. It's about the incredibly dangerous work that happens in mines. Not everything and everyone has a happy ending.

Considering this wasn't a book that I picked on my own to read (and that I don't know much about rockets), I enjoyed it more than I thought it would. If you're kind of on the fence about reading this, they also made it into a movie with Jake Gyllenhaal, and it followed the book pretty closely. It's one of my dad's favorites! I give this tale of coal dust and star dust a 3 out of 5.