Today's Grateful List/31 December 2015

  • Going to get answers no matter what

Saturday, January 28, 2012

2Cellos...How Have I Not Known About These Guys?

When I saw a preview for this week's Glee, I was blown away by the music for "Smooth Criminal." Daughter K casually says she's known about this group for a while and I might like I checked them out on iTunes and ended up buying the entire album. Welcome to the Jungle and Where the Streets Have No Name by 2 mad cellists? Yes, please. Give me more! ~taminator40

Thursday, January 26, 2012


I was so pleasantly surprised when I read Unearthly by Cynthia Hand; in a sea of young adult paranormals, that one rose to the top with its superior writing, engaging characters, believable narration, and quick paced plot. So I was eagerly looking forward to its sequel, Hallowed, though of course I was a little nervous because we all know about the follow ups that just don't measure up.

Relax. This one's as good as the first, if not better.

Hallowed follows our heroine, Clara, through her senior year of high school. Clara's got the perfect boyfriend (Tucker! What a dream!), a couple of good friends who are also angel-bloods (Christian and Angela), and a close knit family, but there's still plenty of turmoil with the threat of Samjeeza, the evil Black Wing, still there and Clara's doubts over her failed purpose continuing to gnaw at her. Though her mother is beginning to share more of her secrets about being an angel, Clara is still frustrated; she knows there's more to all this and she's anxious. Add in the usual angst about going to college, and leaving your boyfriend, and you have a story that is both engaging and realistic, even if we are talking angels here. It's one flaw is the pacing at times seems a bit slow, at least in perhaps the first third.

The true beauty of this book, however, comes after Clara and her brother learn a disturbing revelation about their eager, vivacious mother, and it's there that the story picks up steam and tears at the heart strings. Clara has to be strong while her world collapses; she faces the awful truth with just the perfect amount of dread, denial, and depression. It's here that the big revelations come and they are huge; it's here that Clara must grow up unwillingly, face the Black Wing, and make decisions that will come with huge costs.

Ms. Hand does an outstanding job of pulling the reader into Clara's thoughts through her first person narrative, so much so that I could feel what she was experiencing with every word. The emotions are strong but Clara is stronger. This is a series that is well thought out and truly well written, and I'm hooked. Highly recommended.


Thursday, January 19, 2012

The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer

Hmmmm...still trying to dissect precisely what I feel about Michelle Hodkin's young adult novel, The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer. Unbecoming is a very interesting word choice for a paranormal title, and could be interpreted several different ways, and I'm still not sure exactly what the author is trying to convey with its use, though my best guess is that it is akin to Unraveling or Undoing. If nothing else, how Mara acts throughout is indeed Unbecoming in all senses of the word.

Mara Dyer is not an easy character to like. Though she's been through a major tragedy with her best friend and two others (including her boyfriend, though his loss seems to be not that great really) being killed in the collapse of an old asylum the four were "investigating", she's still not a very nice person. Almost every word out of her mouth is defensive, and the fact that her entire family actually moved to a new state for her to start over doesn't really bring out the best in her at all. With her entry into a new, elite school, Mara has difficulty making friends and she does little to change that status. Of course she is dealing with Big Things: since the accident, which she doesn't remember, Mara has been experiencing increasingly bizarre and frightening hallucinations, seeing her dead friends alive, watching her classroom collapse, seeing artwork turn into branches encroaching on her from all sides. When she finally agrees to therapy, she's hopeful that she can put all the weird behind her. But naturally that's not so, especially when death continues to follow her.

There's a romance in The Unbecoming, with mysterious, handsome British guy Noah almost instantly taken with Mara upon her arrival in his school; Noah's got a player reputation and Mara does her best to put him off, but Noah won't take no for an answer. As the story progresses, so does their relationship, and it soon becomes apparent that Noah's got some major secrets, too. Though I liked Noah, I'm still not sure I buy into the romance as it just seems so unlikely, even given what happened to Noah "before"...but he and his endless supply of money do move the story along conveniently, and he does add to the mystery.

Overall, I liked The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer, though it was less about Mara than the other characters and the mystery surrounding her. The book takes a while to set up the story and drags Mara's condition out irritatingly until about midway. In fact, I had to think carefully before giving this one a 4 star rating, but the mystery is interesting and Mara's descent into possible madness was worth the ride. I'm in for the series.


Monday, January 16, 2012

Lionheart by Sharon Kay Penman

So...I reviewed this wonderful novel a while ago for the Historical Novel Society, but couldn't post it until the review went to print. And now is the time to share my thoughts! It does take a bit to get into the novel, and a knowledge of history would help, but this one is a wonderful take on a fascinating, often misinterpreted Ruler. Keep reading:

The title of Sharon Kay Penman’s highly anticipated new novel, Lionheart, says it all: This is the story of Richard Plantagenet: king, soldier, count, mother’s favorite, crusader. Yet it hardly comes close to actually describing the depth and breadth of this chronicle and the lyrical way Penman brings this legend vividly to life.

Lionheart encompasses the time immediately after Richard and his fellow king, Philippe of France, embark on a crusade to free Jerusalem from Saladin’s rule until Richard’s ultimate decision to return to rescue his kingdom from the machinations of younger brother John. Richard is portrayed as headstrong and arrogant, yet justifiably so since his military prowess was ferocious. Penman writes Richard with all his faults yet also his strengths, but the story is at its best when Richard’s sister Joanna takes the stage. Joanna is truly her mother’s daughter and her scenes ripple with conviction and personality. She, along with other secondary characters, both real and fictional, serves to give us the most intimate look at the Lion who is equal parts myth and truth.

Lionheart is not an easy book to read, as it is filled with an author’s nightmare of similarly named people and a good deal of information building necessary to illuminate the story. The beautifully described settings and the character interactions are simply outstanding, however, and this reader was enthralled by Penman’s gift of placing you directly inside the story to experience all of the grittiness of war. Richard was a complex man who often polarized those who knew him into two camps: you either loved him or you hated him, but there was no middle ground. With Lionheart, I predict that there will be many more who will feel the enigmatic pull of Richard’s personality; Penman has written a tour de force that has me ready for the sequel right this minute. Highly recommended.


Friday, January 13, 2012

Ashes: Blood, Guts, and Zombies...Oh My!

Creepiness. Wandering. Healing. Hurt. Deception. The Changed. And much, much more, all in Ilsa J. Bick's spine tingling new young adult novel, Ashes. While it is, at times, formulaic and even a tad predictable, it is on the whole a book that captures your interest from the first Electric Magnetic Pulse and won't let go, even after you close the last cliffhanger page. 

Alex has had a lot of tragedy in her life recently, including the deaths of both her parents and the long battle against the monster, otherwise known as the brain tumor slowly taking her life. So she's had it; with a phone call to her guardian aunt, Alex is off into the wilderness to reclaim her life and make decisions for herself. She expects to be alone on her quest, so she's taken aback to run into a grandfather and his granddaughter, though they seem all right. It is while Alex is talking with the grandfather that the world changes; there is a loud noise, everyone falls to the ground, blood pours forth, and very few are alive when the moment passes. The grandfather is dead and Alex finds herself unable to abandon his surly eight year old granddaughter, Ellie, but she believes they can make it to the ranger station and all will be fine. But the truth is, nothing will ever be fine again. And that is just the very tip of the iceberg that is Ashes--there's so much more going on, with so many twists and turns that it would be impossible to summarize it all in this review. The book could actually be divided quite nicely into three segments: Pre-EMP, the Tom/Ellie segment, and the Rule segment, but that would be leaving out how the stories overlap and the progress Alex makes. 

Ashes is a zombie-pocalypse, and it's not easy to read. There is gore and plenty of it, in squeamish, stomach churning detail. There are hard life decisions that you wish you could take back immediately, and there is even a touch of romance (but that is very, very secondary to all the terror and strangeness). Things are Not Right, and it's not just because those at puberty and just beyond have turned into flesh eating monsters, while Alex finds herself among the Spared. The town of Rule adds a whole other level of weird to a story that is filled with people leaving, dying, and betraying, and the odd way dogs seem attracted to Alex has got to mean Something. That killer cliffhanger of an ending had me immediately looking online to see when the next installment comes out.

Ashes started just a bit slowly for me, but once it took off, I found myself totally immersed in the dystopian world in which Alex finds herself. I was often reminded of the television show The Walking Dead; there are similarities in the stories and both offer frightening looks at the horror of running for your very life. Of course this genre of books does stretch believability at times, and the story does take an odd turn with Rule. But I'm on board because this one has enough imagination and interesting characters that I'm vested in the outcome. Be forewarned that you'll need a strong stomach for Ashes, but the excitement is worth the adventure.


Wednesday, January 11, 2012

At 64 pages, this rather slim book could be easy to dismiss among the large amount of stories that give faces to the horror of the Holocaust. And that would be a shame indeed, because this one's a gem, with my only complaint being that I wished it had been longer. 

I certainly did not know much of anything about Terezin (called Theresienstadt by the Germans), a small fortress town in the now Czech Republic which was turned into a Jewish ghetto by the SS during WWII, before picking up this volume. Amazingly, amid the starvation, deprivation, and inhumanity, artists of all kinds were able to find outlets within the ghetto and left behind stunning works of art that chronicled the time spent at the mercy of the Nazis. Illustrated throughout with examples of this art, Terezin brings to life those finding a small measure of beauty within the walls of the town. It would be enough if that was all that was found within the pages of this book. But the actual photographs and statements of prisoners make the story so much more than just a factual timeline; it lends faces to those whose lives were lost at the whims of the SS for no reason other than race. Seventy plus years on, it's still horrifying, and we need to remember. This book does an excellent job of reminding us what was lost--and what still managed to live in the face of such evil. Though this is technically a children's book, it has a voice that speaks to all. Recommended.


Saturday, January 07, 2012

The Pledge

The Pledge is fairly typical as far as young adult dystopian novels go--teenager Charlie Hart lives in a North American world that was changed a few hundred years ago (though we're never told precisely how or why), and is now ruled by a Queen with some magical powers. In Charlie's world, it's the female line in the royal house which must inherit the throne, and the current Queen, Sabara, is fast approaching the end of her life without a girl to take over when she dies. But all that is far away from Charlie's day to day life as the daughter of a Vendor; her main concern is helping her parents in their restaurant and making sure she follows the intricate rules of language that separates the classes. On the surface, Charlie seems to be fairly typical, with her friends Aron and Brooklynn attending school, but actually Charlie has two major secrets she must make sure never come out: Charlie, despite no training, understands every language she hears, and her mute younger sister Angelina also has a very unique gift. Should either secret come to light, it would mean the gallows.

The writing is fast paced and Charlie's story moves along quickly when she allows Brooklynn to talk her into visiting an illicit club after hours one night. On top of a harrowing incident at her parents' restaurant, Charlie is further dismayed when she meets not one but two young men who seem to know more about her than she knows about herself. In a world where everyone knows his or her place, Charlie finds herself drawn further and further into a mystery that threatens to topple not only her own life but the lives of her family and friends. 

I really enjoyed The Pledge right up until the final few pages which seemed a bit forced as far as resolving the storyline. Charlie is very believable as a young woman unsure of herself yet determined to protect her sister at all costs, but her relationship with the mysterious Max found me stretching my limits of credibility. It was hard to understand how Charlie felt so strongly for a boy who mysteriously shows up and doesn't tell her who or what he is, appearing and disappearing randomly, but seemingly with very strong feelings for a girl he's never met. I did, however, like the equally secretive Xander, and the epilogue leaves room for a sequel. The deep bond between the sisters was the glue for the entire story as far as I'm concerned, and I'd love to see what happens in the future with all these characters. Overall, this is a good entry in the dystopian young adult genre, and I'll definitely look forward to reading more about this unique look at the future.


Monday, January 02, 2012

Destination Truth: Memoirs of a Monster Hunter

 When this book went on my wish list, it was because I'm a huge fan of the SyFy show, Destination Truth, and Josh Gates in particular. I assumed (partly correctly) that it would be about the "monsters" the team goes after on their travels around the world, but it ended up being so much more than that. It is indeed a memoir of Gates's searches, but it is also a resoundingly good travelogue with practical tips rounded out by Gates's sharp wit. Even those who don't enjoy the show will find themselves hooked very quickly as Gates opens with the time the top of an airplane came off in flight; seriously, how much better of an opening chapter can you get?

Reading this book made me feel as though Gates were sitting in a chair across from me because his voice shines through with every sentence. He's often self-deprecating, but in a funny, every man sort of way that makes him easily identifiable. Love the stories of trekking through the wilderness and into remote areas in search of legendary creatures such as the yeti and the giant anaconda of the Amazon, but it's the stories of travels gone awry, horrible sleeping conditions, and the native peoples of the world that kept me glued to the pages. Josh is extremely good at connecting his stories to the humanity of us all, and his humor is the key. Does he actually come in contact with any of the monsters his team is looking for? Well, no, but that's beside the point. There is enough odd stuff going on that it's entirely conceivable that there's something to all the wild tales he investigates, yet he never loses sight of the fact that those searches are indeed secondary to the awesome experiences he's gained through his travels.

Memoirs of a Monster Hunter is action packed and fun; so much so that I'm handing it over to my decidedly skeptical husband because Josh's travel descriptions alone are worth the read. Gates may have one of the best jobs in the world on camera, but his writing is also engaging (and not dissimilar to J. Maarten Troost's The Sex Lives of Cannibals: Adrift in the Equatorial Pacific). I'll be recommending this one to everyone I know because it's so much more than just a paranormal search book. Highly recommended.


Sunday, January 01, 2012

Top Ten Reads of 2011

Though my number of completed books for 2011 is pathetically low, I have to say that the majority of what I read could have ended up on my "Best Of" list for the year, which is something in itself an accomplishment. I read some outstanding books (as well as some chunksters--hello Dance With Dragons!) but overall most of them rated a good 9/10. And though I focus on the amount read, I really did enjoy most of what I read.

In looking over the list, however, it was fairly easy to see which rose to the top for my own favorites, so below, in no particular order, is a listing of the Taminator's 2011 Best Books:

  • Lady of the English by Elizabeth Chadwick (superior historical fiction always...I cannot recommend her highly enough!)
  • To Defy a King by Elizabeth Chadwick (see above)
  • The Watch That Ends the Night by Alan Fox (truly superior verse novel about 24 passengers aboard the ill-fated Titanic...I slowed down my reading purposely in order to savor this one!)
  • Last Breath by Rachel Caine (I'm an unabashed Young Adult reader and this series {The Morganville Vampires} is one of the rare ones that only gets better and better.  As an aside, Rachel Vincent's Soul Screamers series hit an absolute high with me as well with its latest entry, If I Die, which only barely barely barely missed this list).
  • Wherever You Go by Heather Davis (so pleasantly surprised at this novel--a dead boyfriend refuses to move on as he follows his girlfriend as she tries to make a life without him)
  • Lionheart by Sharon Kay Penman (Penman is the master of historical fiction and this one is a doozy! After you get used to the author's nightmare of names and the set up, it truly becomes one of the best HF books out there today).
  • Unearthly by Cynthia Hand (Again, a very surprising YA novel that gives us angels trying to figure out their purposes in life...quite well written and engaging!)
  • The Wild Rose by Jennifer Donnelly (A fitting ending to a wonderful trilogy)
  • The Soldier's Wife by Margaret Leroy (Another great novel set on the British island of Guernsey--very different in tone but so intriguing)
  • Matched by Ally Condie (A terrific beginning to a series, though I'm less than enthralled with its sequel, Crossed; fingers crossed that the next in the series recaptures much of the subterfuge and mystery of the first)
All of these books were either ones I personally bought or were ARCs supplied by HNS or Amazon Vine.  Not all of the reviews for these have been posted on this blog as I was waiting for them to be published in the HNS quarterly review mag, but I can safely post them now and will do so in a day or so. 

So there you have my Top Ten for 2011. I'm already looking forward to what's ahead in 2012 and am promising to read more of my own books this year (and want you guys to keep me to my word).  I vow to make reading more of a priority than playing on my iPad this year. And who knows? Maybe this is the year I finally get busy on those ideas that have percolated in my own head for years. So watch out, I come!