Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

Nobody Owens, known to his friends as Bod, is a normal boy. He would be completely normal if he didn't live in a sprawling graveyard, being raised and educated by ghosts, with a solitary guardian who belongs to neither the world of the living nor of the dead. There are dangers and adventures in the graveyard for a boy. But if Bod leaves the graveyard, then he will come under attack from the man Jack - who has already killed Bod's family...

Beloved master storyteller Neil Gaiman returns with a luminous new novel for the audience that embraced his New York Times bestselling modern classic Coraline. Magical, terrifying, and filled with breathtaking adventures, The Graveyard Book is sure to enthrall readers of all ages.

This was the unabridged audiobook on CD edition (7 discs/7.5 hours).

This was simply lovely! Not least of all because the author read the book himself, which makes any performance infinitely better. Also, the intro music sounded distinctly like the opening theme music from Jonathan Creek which made it just that much cooler!

I'm rather surprised that this was a children's book. I guess it's for older kids, who knows. In any case, it was very good and completely different than anything else I've ever read. Well, heck, every Gaiman is! :) It was dark and light at the same time. And very sad at the end.

I just loved Silas! And I loved how what Silas was sort of dribbled out until at the end you were perfectly sure that what you thought he was and what he really was were the same thing. Perfect!

I wasn't sure whether to give this one seven or eight stars (it'd be a seven and a half if that were an option), as it was good but not great, but not underwhelming either. Very difficult to decide. I'm going to go with eight stars since the author/reader's performance was spectacular.

Rating: ★★★★★★★★☆☆

Monday, December 29, 2008

Fruitless Fall by Rowan Jacobsen

Rachel Carson famously predicted a silent spring, when the ill effects of chemical pesticides would permanently silence many of the world's songbirds. She also warned of a fruitless fall, a time when "there was no pollination and there would be no fruit." Last year this nearly became a reality when commercial beekeepers found that one third of the world's bee population - thirty billion bees - had mysteriously died.

The deaths have continued. Fruitless Fall uses the mystery of colony collapse disorder (CCD) to tell the bigger story of how essential bees are to our daily lives. With their disappearance, we won't just be losing honey; industrial agriculture depends on bees to pollinate most fruits, nuts, and vegetables. Yet this system is falling apart. The number of these professional pollinators has be come so inadequate that they are now trucked across the country and flown around the world, pushing their colonies ever closer to collapse.

In a style that is vivid and engaging, Rowan Jacobsen reports from the almond fields of California's Central Valley to the Ocala National Forest, one of Florida's beekeeping capitals. He explores the causes of CCD, debunking the myths along the way; lays out a long history of missteps that may have led to the current crisis; and offers the first tentative steps toward a solution. Yet he never loses sight of the miracle of flowering plants and their pollinating partners, and urges readers not to take for granted the Edenic garden Homo sapiens has played in since birth. Our world could have been utterly different - and may be still.

The author has a great style, reminiscent of Michael Pollan, which made reading about what could have been as dry as an economics textbook incredibly pleasurable. Plus, the author's pretty hot! :)

The author explored the history of CCD and the potential causes and laid out everything like Poirot in the climax scene of an Agatha Christie. He made everything easy to understand, and explained exactly what could be done to correct the problem - if people care enough. He made me want to try my hand at beekeeping even more!

This one gets a firm eight stars. It was packed with information and had a great flow to it. I definitely can't wait to read more from this author!

Rating: ★★★★★★★★☆☆

Monday, December 22, 2008

How to Survive Without a Salary by Charles Long

Have you ever wished you could...
... quit your boring job?
... take a year off to travel the world?
... own your own home?
... move to the country?
... retire early?
... have more joy and contentment in your everyday life?

Stop wishing and start reading How to Survive Without a Salary. Since its first publication over twenty years ago, this book has helped many make their dreams come true through the "Conserver Lifestyle".

Author Charles Long shows that by changing from consumers to conservers, we can regain control over the way we live. Conservers don't worry about losing their jobs or not having enough for their retirement. They do work that they love instead of settling for whatever pays the rent. They have discovered that it is possible to survive, and even thrive, without a regular salary.

How to Survive Without a Salary shows you how you can create your own practical plan for leaving the world of wages by

*avoiding consumer traps *earning casual income *budgeting effectively
*finding alternatives to high retail prices *saving on taxes and insurance

If you want to leave the rat race behind, have been forced to leave it behind, or simply want to get away from it all for a while, How to Survive Without a Salary
offers a valuable combination of inspiration and practical advice that will show you how you can survive economically without compromising your values or your happiness.

This was a nice, solid book, filled to the brim with useful information. While not every tidbit applies to everyone, there were at least a few new thoughts that made reading the book worthwhile.

I'm going to give this one seven stars. It's well written (if not well proofread) and easy to read. The author has walked his talk and it shows.

Rating: ★★★★★★★☆☆☆

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Agatha Raisin and the Vicious Vet by M.C. Beaton

From the creator of the popular Hamish Macbeth mysteries comes a new series, starring Agatha Raisin. A public relations executive in London until her recent retirement to the Cotswolds, Agatha is ready for some romance and excitement in her life. However, she gets more than she bargained for when the charming yet sinister new veterinarian in town dies of an injection meant for the horse he was about to operate on. Agatha is sure it was murder and turns to her distinguished neighbor, the retired military man, James Lacey, for aid. Together, the odd couple begin to investigate Dr. Bladen's death and the curious lack of sorrow shown by his divorced wife. But will they succeed in unmasking a killer before suffering an "accident" of their own?

This was the unabridged audiobook on cassette edition (4 cassettes/6 hours).

I still don't particularly like Agatha. Actually, for that matter, I don't particularly like James either. The vicar's wife, however, is perfect! She seems to be in the vein of Miss Marple.

It's cute that Agatha now has two cats! Too perfect! And Bill is lovely, as always, although his parents are unfortunate hosts.

Donada Peters was wonderful, as always, as the reader. The story was good, a nice quick listen. My favorite quote was Bill saying "Take one man who feels he's too ugly to get a woman, and one virgin, and that's an explosive mixture!". Ah, only Bill! You just have to love him!

This one gets seven stars. Quite enjoyable and it makes me definitely want to read more.

Rating: ★★★★★★★☆☆☆

Friday, December 19, 2008

A Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne

The adventure begins when a strange Icelander parchment is uncovered in an old bookstore and reaches a fevered pitch that never lets up as Professor Lidenbrock, his nephew Axel and their guide Hans journey to the center of the earth. From the moment they reach the extinct volcano of the mountain of Sneffels and make their treacherous descent, their chances of reaching the surface alive again become very slim; along the way as they encounter boiling seas, serpent-like monsters, prehistoric apes and an eerie otherworld from which no man has ever escaped. This book embodies the combination of believable science and wonderment that made Jules Verne the father of modern science fiction.

This was the unabridged audiobook on CD edition (8 discs/approx. 9 hours).

This was boring beyond belief!!! The book was bad enough, but the reader's performance made it infinitely worse!

Harry was such a whiny brat! Really, he may as well have been 12 years old! And what was up with his cousin being his fiance?

The "adventures" in the book were boring and massively overwritten. The characters were really more caricatures than people. They were certainly not even remotely likable.

While the book is certainly a product of its time the reader's performance made it virtually intolerable. Every minute was excruciating!

This one gets five stars. I would never have even finished it if I had not been busy with holiday baking while listening!

Rating: ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Death of a Prankster by M.C. Beaton

When it comes to murder, Constable Hamish Macbeth can't see the joke.

Admittedly, there's a touch of black humor in the case. Rich, old practical joker Andrew Trent summons his kin to remote Arrat House in the dead of winter for a deathbed farewell. They arrive to find him in perfect health and eager to torment them with a whole new bag of unfunny jokes.

But this time the body that falls out of the closet is Andrew Trent's. And nobody's laughing.

Especially not Hamish Macbeth, who is hard put to glean any information from Trent's unappealing nearest and dearest. And when the lanky constable's former flame, Priscilla Halburton-Smythe, inserts her beautiful self into the case, Hamish must muster all his native guile to carry him through. Fortunately, he has a few clever tricks up his own sleeve, which enable this most endearing of crime fighters to get the best, and last, laugh.

Andrew Trent was certainly not a nice person. His "jokes" were really quite cruel and the sick bastard deserved exactly what he got! Really, he must have either been unbalanced or a sociopath, because he was a sick, sick person. Frankly, I'm leaning towards sociopath.

In any case, having Priscilla cook for you must be rather odd. Like having Martha Stewart cook for you. She's never mussed or has flour streaks of her. It's very disconcerting and rather unnatural.. Although, she is becoming more natural in Hamish's life. More comfortable. There seems to be less of a gulf between them.

I certainly didn't see the identity of the culprit coming! The whole situation felt very Agatha Christie to me. In a good way, of course. And yea for Hamish getting his central heating. How lovely the way he accomplished that! Pure Hamish.

This was a nice, quick read. A solid story with lots of twists and turns and typical Blair/Hamish relations. I'm going to give it seven stars.

Rating: ★★★★★★★☆☆☆

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Around the World in 80 Days by Jules Verne

Enigmatic Englishman Phileas Fogg wagers his fortune, shocking his stodgy colleagues at the exclusive Reform Club, by undertaking an extraordinary and daring enterprise: to circumnavigate the globe in eighty days. With his French valet Passepartout in tow, Verne's hero traverses the far reaches of the earth - all the while tracked by intrepid Detective fix, a bounty hunter who is certain he is on the trail of a notorious bank robber. Verne's adventure comes vividly alive in this brilliant recording, reflecting on time, space, and one man's struggle to reach beyond the bounds of both science and society.

This was the unabridged audiobook on CD edition (7 discs/8 hours).

This was actually quite good! Having just seen Journey to the Center of the Earth on DVD I decided to try reading a Jules Verne. I actually did read the children's version of Around the World in 80 Days as a child, but this was the full version.

I was quite impressed with the entire thing. The reader, Jim Dale, was amazing! He also, incidentally, read the Harry Potter books and does the narration on Pushing Daisies. He made what could have been a rather boring book fascinating and kept a great pace throughout.

The story itself is obviously a product of its time, although not quite as dated feeling as I would have expected, despite references to "coolies" and such.

The conclusion was rather obvious. But, I guess this is because we're rather more educated in scientific matters these days. It was, however, a nice twist.

And Fix. Well, I have nothing good to say about him. I suppose every book needs an antagonist, but perhaps not such an annoying one? I hope Fix got fired upon his return to London.

I'm going to give this one seven stars. It was a good read, but I would never choose to read it again. I suppose if someone is into reading the classics it is a good choice, but otherwise it's a bit on the boring side.

Rating: ★★★★★★★☆☆☆

Monday, December 15, 2008

December Book Giveaway!

I am a big fan of Kathy Freston's books and decided to give away a copy of her book Quantum Wellness: A Practical and Spiritual Guide to Health and Happiness just in time for the new year.

Contest runs from December 15, 2008 to 11:59 PM EST January 14, 2009. Winner will be announced January 15, 2009. Open to US residents only.

To enter - earn one entry for each of the following activities (up to three entries per person):
  1. Leave a comment on this post. Please include your e-mail address so I can contact you.
  2. Follow or subscribe to this blog, and leave me a comment on this post telling me you're a subscriber.
  3. Blog about this contest and include a link to this post. Leave a comment with a link to your blog entry.
Good luck!

Friday, December 12, 2008

A Place of My Own by Michael Pollan

When writer Michael Pollan decided to plant a garden, the result was an award-winning treatise on the borders between nature and contemporary life, the acclaimed bestseller Second Nature. Now Pollan turns his sharp insight to the craft of a building, as he recounts the process of designing and constructing a small one-room structure on his rural Connecticut property - a place in which he hoped to read, write, and daydream, built with his own two unhandy hands.

Invoking the titans of architecture, literature, and philosophy, from Vitruvius to Thoreau, from the Chinese masters of feng shui to the revolutionary Frank Lloyd Wright, Pollan brilliantly chronicles a realm of blueprints, joints, and trusses as he peers into the ephemeral nature of "houseness" itself. From the spark of an idea to the search for a perfect site to the raising of a ridgepole, Pollan revels in the infinitely detailed, complex process of creating a finished structure. At once superbly written, informative, and enormously entertaining, A Place of My Own is for anyone who has ever wondered how the walls around us take shape - and how we might shape them ourselves.

I'd forgotten how reading a Pollan was more of a spring Sunday afternoon stroll type of read, rather than a brisk walk in the crisp autumn air. But, it was quite an enjoyable stroll, if rather dense on architectural and literary references. I have to admit that, at times, I felt like it would take me just as long to read the book as it took him to build the building!

Throughout reading the book I felt that it is one of those books that really needs to be read out loud - preferably by the author - to get the full richness of it. It's just so much more substantial read aloud.

The book also really made me begin to dislike architects. They're more artists than actual creators of "homes". They don't really seem to have a clue about how people really live in their homes. Like the residents are ruining their creations by living in them, which is so bizarre and arrogant! Sort of like those people who create delicate chairs that were obviously never meant to actually be sat on!

One thing that bothered me about the little house's foundation was that it is simply posts in the corners set on stones. That means that there is an air space under there! I can only imagine what sorts of creepy crawlies gather under there! Ick!

Also, the author tended to refer to the little house as his "hut", while the architect called it the "Writer's Place". It's lovely to have a name like that.

Here are my favorite passages from the book:

"I remember as a teenager reading that Marshall McLuhan had likened opening the Sunday paper to settling into a warm bath. The metaphor delivered a tiny jolt of recognition, because I too found reading - reading almost anything - to be a vaguely sensual, slightly indulgent pleasure, and one that had very little to do with the acquisition of information. Rather than a means to an end, the deep piles of words on the page comprised for me a kind of soothing environment, a plush cushion into which sometimes I could barely wait to sink me head. More often than not, I could remember almost nothing the moment I lifted myself out of the newspaper or magazine or paperback in which I'd been immersed. Not that I usually bothered to try. Mostly I just let the print wash over me, as if it were indeed warm water, destined to swirl down the drain of my forgetfulness."

"I am petrified by chain saws, a phobia I don't regard as irrational or neurotic in the least. It is in fact scientific, being grounded in the laws of probability and the empirical fact of my innate clumsiness and haste in dealing with the physical world. The way I see it, there is only a fixed number of times - unknowable, but certainly not large - that I can expect to use a chain saw before I become the victim of a blood-spurting and possibly life-threatening accident."

This one is a definite seven stars. Another book this month that I liked, but didn't love. It was like a Lake Champlain chocolate, significantly better than Hershey's, but not a Godiva truffle.

Rating: ★★★★★★★☆☆☆

Hot, Flat, and Crowded by Thomas L. Friedman

Thomas L. Friedman's phenomenal number-one bestseller The World Is Flat has helped millions of readers to see the world in a new way. In his brilliant, essential new book, Friedman takes a fresh and provocative look at two of the biggest challenges we face today: America's surprising loss of focus and national purpose since 9/11; and the global environmental crisis, which is affecting everything from food to fuel to forests. In this groundbreaking account of where we stand now, he shows us how the solutions to these two big problems are linked - how we can restore the world and revive America at the same time.

In vivid, entertaining chapters, Friedman makes it clear that the green revolution we need is like no revolution the world has seen. It will be be the biggest innovation project in American history; it will be hard, not easy; and it will change everything from what you put into your car to what you see on your electric bill. But the payoff for America will be more than just cleaner air. It will inspire Americans to something we haven't seen in a long time - nation-building in America - by summoning the intelligence, creativity, boldness, and concern for the common good that are our nation's greatest natural resources.

Hot, Flat, and Crowded is classic Thomas L. Friedman: fearless, incisive, forward- looking, and rich in surprisingly common sense about the challenge - and the promise - of the future.

This was the unabridged audiobook on CD edition (17 discs/20.75 hours).

This was the longest 21 hours of my life! It seemed like four times that to listen to this boring, boring book. I thought it would never end! I think I eventually went into a sort of trance whenever I listened to it after the first hour or so.

This was obviously a book for upper middle class business owners. It had no information whatsoever for the average citizen on changes he or she could make to help. It was all about business and government and massive changes in India and China.

The WASPy author is so out of touch with the average middle to lower class citizen's life and lifestyle in the US. And, he seems to want to change the US's habits in order to help the poor of other countries. He doesn't seem particularly concerned with the poor people here. Unless, of course, they're the poor black people most affected by Katrina. If you're poor and white you just don't matter to the author. Typical.

He kept blathering about raising the price of gasoline to the "true price" with a Patriot Tax to keep down consumption, but all that would really do would be to punish the poor people the most. The rich don't care how high gasoline prices go, they'll pay any price. Also, he suggested that the $1 per gallon Patriot Tax on gasoline should have been put in place on September 12th. Hello! Yeah, one day after 9/11 with the nation in turmoil you're going to slap a tax on gasoline? What an idiot!

I really don't know how to even rate this one. It was boring beyond belief and the author was so clueless about how normal people live. He seriously suggested that everyone should purchase energy efficient appliances. Hello! Everyone would if they could afford them! And why waste money replacing a perfectly good appliance? Totally clueless. In any case, I'm going to give this one five stars. I guess it would be a good book for someone, but that someone is certainly not me! I personally find the author to be a political prick and will never read crap from him again.

Rating: ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Death of a Snob by M.C. Beaton

Hamish Macbeth is miserable. It's Christmas, and he is alone with a terrible head cold. So when the beautiful Jane Weatherby asks him to spend the holiday at her Scottish island retreat, Hamish is glad to accept. But something is very wrong at this colorful resort - something that will soon claim the life of one of the guests. Now it's up to Hamish to find out who did it.

Jane seemed very Angelina Jolie to me - beautiful, but not a friend to other women. She seems to have a lovely, but exceedingly uncomfortable wardrobe! I simply cannot imagine hiking in some of her getups!

Ah, poor Hamish. I'm sad things didn't work out with Harriet (who was cute for most of the book), but I think I knew it wouldn't. And how very, very silly of Harriet to not explain her situation. It's was too bad that Priscilla had to find the letter though. It seemed as if she were actually growing closer to Hamish.

It was, however, very cute that Priscilla spent Christmas with Hamish's family. I can only imagine how she must have stuck out like a sore thumb amongst them all!

I had no idea about the identity of the culprit. It was actually quite surprising really. I had no idea it was going that way, and it was quite creative.

I also didn't remember that this was a Christmas book. It was a nice surprise once I realized that it was.

Also, Jordy and his truck antics were just too funny!

All in all, it was quite enjoyable. Not quite as happy as one would like a Christmas book to be, but typical Hamish Macbeth series. :) This one gets seven stars.

Rating: ★★★★★★★☆☆☆

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Death of a Hussy by M.C. Beaton

Wealthy Maggie Baird is neither nice nor kind nor generous.

About the best that can be said for her is that inside her middle-aged body, there still beats the heart of a beautiful tart.

So when her car catches on fire, with Maggie in it, there are five likely perpetrators right on the premises, houseguests in her luxurious Highlands cottage: Maggie's timid niece and four former lovers, one whom Maggie had intended to pick for a husband.

All five are equally impecunious, and all had ample opportunity to monkey with Maggie's car. So finding out who did it requires all Police Constable Hamish Macbeth's extraordinary common sense and insight into human nature. And - lazy lout though he may be, a thorn in the side of his superiors, and an exasperation to his neighbors - when it comes to solving a murder, Hamish lets no grass grow under his feet. Not even when the killer appears to be the wrong person entirely.

This was the unabridged audiobook on cassette edition (4 cassettes/5 hours).

I really must stop reading the Hamish MacBeth books at the same time I'm watching the DVD series, as it is rather confusing to keep everything straight on what's going on in each and the timelines and such.

I actually rather liked Donati, but his charm faded slightly by the end of the book. Allison was super annoying, but I guess she's meant to be. Seriously though, with all the crying and plaintive whining she needs a good smack! I think she got exactly what she deserved at the end. I have a feeling that the author really meant us to understand that her fate was not as rosy as she thought. Especially after she revealed herself to be such a money loving superior snob.

In any case, this was a nice, fast listen. Donada Peters did a lovely job as usual. I didn't love the book, but it was very solidly good so I'm giving it seven stars.

Rating: ★★★★★★★☆☆☆

Agatha Raisin and the Quiche of Death by M.C. Beaton

The pretty Cotswold village of Carsely, where 20-year residents are called "incomers", is the retirement choice of fiftysomething PR career woman Agatha Raisin, fulfilling a lifelong thatched-cottage dream. Gruff, tough, but not stupid, Agatha begins to soften her image - to the extent of entering a spinach quiche in Carsely's annal "best quiche" competition, buying one in Londo to pass off as her own. It doesn't win - but is taken home by Mr. Cummings Browne, the judge and a noted philanderer. He eats it and dies, to be found next morning by his snobbish wife, Vera. The police pinpoint cowbane as the poison and call it an accident. But, Agatha is sure there's murder afoot and nearly loses her own life before she proves it.

This was the unabridged audiobook on CD edition (6 discs/6 hours).

I don't particularly like Agatha Raisin. She's certainly no Miss Marple as she's a rather inept investigator, but she's adequate. Bill Wong is a nice, friendly addition that I hope will continue through future books. Roy, however, I'm not loving. He's too ... something. Perhaps too true to life!

In any case, I'm going to give this one seven stars. It seems to be a nice, solid beginning to the series and I look forward to reading the others.

Rating: ★★★★★★★☆☆☆

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Snobbery with Violence by Marion Chesney

When a marriage proposal appears imminent for the beautiful - if rebellious - Lady Rose Summer, her father wants to know if her suitor's intentions are honorable. He calls on Captain Harry Cathcart, the impoverished younger son of a baron, to do some intelligence work on the would-be fiance, Sir Geoffrey Blandon. But when Harry is caught between his client's desire for discretion and his suspicion that murder may have been committed, he enlists the help of Superintendent Kerridge of the Scotland Yard and Lady Rose herself.

This was the unabridged audiobook on CD edition (6 discs/6.5 hours).

Rose was actually more likable than I thought she'd be. Of course, I expect great things from any character named Rose after Doctor Who! I also quite enjoyed Colonel Cathcart. He seems quite yummy! Daisy and Barrett are perfect additions! I can't wait to find out what they'll be up to in their next adventure.

Davina Porter was a lovely reader as always. The book was rather slow in the beginning but once it found itself it was quite good. But, seriously, what is up with the Syph/virgins thing? How ignorant are people? Especially as the same thing is happening now with people infected with HIV. People just never change!

I'm going to give this one seven stars because, while I liked it, I just wasn't feeling it. I think the second book in the series will be better as the author finds her stride with the characters. And yea for Nice! And yea again for such a prolific writer!

Rating: ★★★★★★★☆☆☆

Odd Hours by Dean Koontz

The legend began in the obscure little town of Pico Mundo. A fry cook named Odd was rumored to have the extraordinary ability to communicate with the dead. Through tragedy and triumph, exhilaration and heartbreak, word of Odd Thomas's gifts filtered far beyond Pico Mundo, attracting unforgettable new friends - and enemies of implacable evil. With great gifts comes the responsibility to meet great challenges. But no mere human being was ever meant to face the darkness that now stalks the world - not even one as oddly special as Odd Thomas.

After grappling with the very essence of reality itself, after finding the veil separating him from his soul mate, Storm Llewellyn, tantalizingly thin yet impenetrable, Odd longed only to return to a life of quiet anonymity with is two otherworldly sidekicks - his dog Boo and a new companion, one of the few who might rival his old pal Elvis. But a true hero, however humble, must persevere. Haunted by dreams of an all-encompassing red tide, Odd is pulled inexorably to the sea, to a small California coastal town where nothing is as it seems. Now the forces arrayed against him have both official sanction and an infinitely more sinister authority ... and in this dark night of the soul, dawn will come only after the most shattering revelations of all.

This was the unabridged audiobook on CD edition (7 discs/9 hours).

I have to say that this was not my favorite Odd Thomas book. Don't get me wrong, it was still a great book, but it just wasn't my favorite of the series. I guess the first one is always the best.

In any case, I truly enjoyed the book, which was the usual upbeat suspense of Odd Thomas. :) I do miss the characters from Pico Mundo, but the new characters are quite good also, just not comfortable friends like the others. It was nice to have Frank and Boo around, but I miss Elvis too.

The reader was excellent for the book, and made what could have been a long 9 hours flash by in no time. Also, this edition has the tracks at 45 and 90 second intervals, which is so nice for listening to on my iPod, as I don't have to pause midway through a track and come back to it to discover that I've lost my place.

And I love, love, love that Odd was wearing a Mystery Train sweatshirt and Wyvern hat (or t-shirt?)!!! For those who don't know, they are references to Koontz's Christopher Snow series. That just made the whole book right there, that one Mystery Train sweatshirt!

While this was a solid book and entertaining, it just didn't give me the usual Koontz tingle. It was good, but not great. So, I'm going to give it seven stars.

Rating: ★★★★★★★☆☆☆

Monday, December 1, 2008

The Backyard Beekeeper by Kim Fottum

The Backyard Beekeeper makes the time-honored and complex tradition of beekeeping an enjoyable and accessible backyard pastime that will appeal to gardeners, crafters, and cooks everywhere.


  • What you need to get started: the new boxes available are smaller, lighter, easier to handle, and better than ever, and the few pounds of honey they produce makes a plentiful harvest for a family with some left to share
  • The best place to locate your new bee colonies for their safety and yours, and how to landscape to screen them from neighbors
  • Organic and least toxic ways to care for your bees, from providing fresh water and protection from the elements to keeping them healthy and productive
  • Delicious treats, candles, and beauty treatments you can make with honey and beeswax
If you want beekeeping done right, it won't be fast. However, beekeeping takes about the same investment in time and care as gardening, dovetails nicely with the planting and harvesting seasons, and provides bonuses for gardeners that include better pollination and larger produce yields.

First, I was rather surprised that the author was male. I was kind of looking forward to a book about bees written by a woman for women. Not that women as beekeepers are any different than males, but coming off of reading Robbing the Bees I liked the view of a woman writing about bees. I guess it just depends on the author.

In any case, this was a great primer for anyone new to bees and beekeeping. It covered everything from what you need to set up a new hive, to installing a package of bees, how and when to feed and medicate bees, how to recognize signs of disease, how to harvest honey, etc. It's like a mini encyclopedia but much more readable.

Since I got this copy from the library I'm going to order a copy of my own from Amazon to keep on my shelf. It was that good of a reference book!

I'm going to give this one eight stars because of the sheer wealth of information presented in an easy to read format.

Rating: ★★★★★★★★☆☆

Monday, November 24, 2008

The Chocolate Snowman Murders by JoAnna Carl

Lee McKinney Woodyard knows that being in the luxury chocolate business isn't all sweetness and light, nor is the holiday season. But she tries to draw the line at cold-blooded murder...

With the Warner Pier Winter Arts Festival just days away, everyone in the West Michigan town is looking forward to the big art show - and, of course, the unveiling of TenHuis Chocolate's special holiday chocolates.

As treasurer of WinterFest, Lee is up to her elbows in the arguments, egos, and last-minute mix-ups that happen behind the scenes. But she's coping, even when the guest juror of the arts festival shows up drunk. Lee leaves him to sleep it off, but she is stunned the next day when her husband, Joe, discovers that someone has put the visiting dignitary into a permanent state of repose.

As the last people spotted near the crime scene, Lee and Joe are in a sticky situation. But after another murder and a run-in with a deadly snowman, they're more determined than ever to find the real killer before someone else comes to a bitter end...

First, let me say that this was my first Chocoholic mystery, and most certainly my last. I picked this up because of the great title. Frankly, the title is the only thing great about the book. The book was mediocre at best. In fact, if I hadn't already been curled up under a blanket with a cup of cocoa and without another book within reach, I wouldn't have even gotten past the first chapter. But, since I was all settled I got about halfway through and figured I may as well force myself to finish it. It wasn't worth the time.

The main character, Lee, is annoying beyond belief! She's such a princess, constantly whining about how she's so pretty and how, in her first marriage (of two), she was a trophy wife. Seriously? I mean, come on! She is also a complete brat about being from Texas and how people judge her from being from there, blah, blah. Well, if she shut up about it for five minutes then it wouldn't be a problem! And, I really, really hated the part where she was in a restaurant with her husband and she got angry that another diner thought she was a call girl. Seriously, how vain do you have to be to even think that?!

Also, there was a nasty comment from the police chief character about how someone who got killed in a motel must have been involved with criminals. He gives prostitutes and drug dealers equal billing on that one. I found that especially offensive having just read Brothel.

The only good thing about the book was that it was a rather quick read, but it had a formal, but not overly stiff, flow.

The killer was easy to identify right from the beginning, but the why was harder to guess.

All in all, it was a weak book with a bitchy main character that grates on your nerves, and I can't believe that this was the 8th in a series! I have no desire to read the other seven! I simply cannot give this anything higher than five stars.

Rating: ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆

Sunday, November 23, 2008

A Highland Christmas by M.C. Beaton

In the dark, wintry highlands of Lochdubh, Scotland, where the local Calvinist element resists the secular trimmings of Christmas, the spirit of old St. Nick is about as welcome as a flat tire on a deserted road. Nor is crime taking a holiday, as Constable Hamish Macbeth soon finds himself protecting an unhappy girl, unlocking the secrets of a frightened old woman, and retrieving some stolen holiday goods. Now the lanky lawman must use all his Highland charm and detective skills to make things right. And he had better do it quickly, for the church bells will soon toll and all of Lochdubh will be forced to face another dreary winter without the comforting embrace of Yuletide cheer.

This was the unabridged audiobook on cassette edition (2 cassettes/2 hours).

What a perfect little Christmas story! It was short, sweet, and filled with the usual Hamish Macbeth capers and lovely characters. It just left you with a warm glow at the end.

Although, I do prefer Davina Porter's reading of the Hamish Macbeth books, the reader, Graeme Malcolm, did an okay job. It's just not the same though.

I'm glad the missing cat situation was resolved, but I am still a bit disturbed by how poor Smoky was treated during his confinement. Poor little guy! It's good that he seemed no worse for the wear.

So, all in all, another great Hamish Macbeth book. Especially good since it was both a Christmas theme and short. This one gets a firm eight stars.

Rating: ★★★★★★★★☆☆

Saturday, November 22, 2008

The Book of Lies by Brad Meltzer

In chapter four of the Bible, Cain kills Abel. It is the world's most famous murder. But the Bible is silent about one key detail: the weapon Cain used to kill his brother. That weapon is still lost to history.

In 1932, Mitchell Siegel was killed by two gunshots to the chest. While mourning, his son dreamed of a bulletproof man and created the world's greatest hero: Superman. And like Cain's murder weapon, the gun used in this unsolved murder has never been found.

Today in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, Cal Harper comes face-to-face with his own family tragedy: His long-missing father has been shot with a gun that traces back to Mitchell Siegel's 1932 murder. But soon after their surprising reunion, Cal and his father are attacked by a ruthless killer tattooed with the ancient markings of Cain.

So begins the chase for the world's first murder weapon. It is a race that will pull Cal back into his own past even as it propels him forward through the true story of Cain and Abel, and eighty-year-old unsolvable puzzle, and the deadly organization known for the past century as the Leadership.

What does Cain, history's greatest villain, have to do with Superman, the world's greatest hero? And what do two murders, committed thousands of years apart, have in common? This is the mystery at the heart of Brad Meltzer's riveting and utterly intriguing new thriller.

This was the unabridged audiobook on CD edition (10 discs/11.5 hours).

The author is a complete genius, as is the reader, Scott Brick. I don't think the book would have been as good without his reading.

The characters were annoying at times (case in point, Naomi, who was a complete bitch to start but grew on me very slightly as the book went on), and just downright crazy at others (Ellis & company), but very realistic. Ellis and his associates really concerned me as they could be real people. I guess they just prove that religious zealots, or zealots of any kind, are the most dangerous of all humans. It's incredibly scary to think that there are people like them in the real world.

And wow! I had no idea about the identity of the Prophet until the author told us, but wow! That was a great twist!

I had no idea what the heck the Superman connection was for 99% of the book, but once everything was resolved that was indeed a great choice. And the Luther editorial/Lex Luthor connection was fabulous!

I'm not sure if the choice to use "fudge me" instead of the real thing came from the author, or the audio publisher, but it was incredibly annoying. Sort of like watching an edited version of the Sopranos or Sex and the City - it's just off somehow.

So, the author was brilliant, the reader was fabulous (as always), and the entire book, while long, was worth the time. I didn't particularly enjoy the book, but it was good and for that reason, I'm going to give it 7 stars.

Rating: ★★★★★★★☆☆☆

Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Boyfriend List by E. Lockhart

Ruby Oliver is fifteen and has a shrink. She knows it's unusual, but give her a break - she's had a rough ten days. In the past ten days she:

  • lost her boyfriend (#13 on the list)
  • lost her best friend (Kim)
  • lost all her other friends (Nora, Cricket)
  • did something suspicious with a boy (#10)
  • did something advanced with a boy (#15)
  • had an argument with a boy (#14)
  • drank her first beer (someone handed it to her)
  • got caught by her mom (ag!)
  • had a panic attack (scary)
  • lost a lacrosse game (she's the goalie)
  • failed a math test (she'll make it up)
  • hurt Meghan's feelings (even though they aren't really friends)
  • became a social outcast (no one to sit with at lunch)
  • had graffiti written about her in the girl's bathroom (who knows what was in the boys'!?!)
But don't worry - Ruby lives to tell the tale. And make more lists.

This was the unabridged audiobook on CD edition (5 discs/5.75 hours).

This was really cute and funny. I really enjoyed the reader's performance. She was perfect for the book - young sounding, but not screechy-baby-voice.

In an nutshell, Kim is a bitch, Jackson is a jerk, and Ruby is confused. The list was interesting and made the book flow along nicely.

All in all it was a good book. It wasn't great, but also certainly not horrible. It was a light, fluffy, easy listen. I'm going to give it seven stars.

Rating: ★★★★★★★☆☆☆

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Brothel by Alexa Albert

It began with an amazing revelation: Not a single legal prostitute in Nevada has contracted HIV since testing began in 1986. Why? Harvard medical student Alexa Albert traveled to Nevada in search of answers. Gain unprecedented access to the infamous and notoriously secretive Mustang Ranch, Albert reveals a fascinatingly insular world where the women share their experiences with unexpected candor. There's Dinah, Mustang's oldest prostitute, who turned her first trick years ago at age fifty-one. And Savannah, a woman who views her work as a "healing" social service for needy men.

Nevada's legal brothels are an incredibly rich environment for examining some of this nation's thorniest social issues. From problems of class and race to the meaning of family, honor, and justice - all are found within this complex and singular microcosm. And in a country where prejudice is a dirty word - but not as dirty as hooker - these social issues are compounded and deepened by the stifling stigma that has always plagued the profession. But in the end, all of Mustang's working girls are just trying to earn their way to happiness.

Brothel is a landmark work that probes beyond the veil of desire and fantasy in which the sex trade shrouds itself - and uncovers the naked humanity at its core.

What surprised me most, I think, was to discover that most of the women were working to support husbands or boyfriends! These husbands sound like real gems. Others support parents, and both the parents and husbands don't allow the women to return home until they've met their "quota" of a given dollar amount!

I think one of the women, Brittany, said it best: "But, as far as I'm concerned, if you're sending money to a man who wouldn't be with you if you weren't sending him money, then he's not your boyfriend, he's your pimp."

I was also very surprised to learn that the clients weren't required to shower before business took place. Granted, there was a general disinfection of the involved area using an antibacterial wash, and/or baby wipes, but ick!!!!! This is certainly not the world of a high paid escort!

It seemed, sadly, like the majority of the women were almost addicted to bad relationships, and men who use them. But, I guess if you really think about it, that's really the same with most women in the general population.

Also, it also seems like most of the opponents to legalized prostitution are foaming at the mouth religious zealots and not well educated, well informed objectors. At least that's what I got from the interviews in the book.

It was also sad to read that the Ranch had closed - I'd had no idea. I felt a sense of loss reading about the closure. Through the book I felt like I'd gotten to know the women and I was really concerned about what would happen to them post-Ranch. I'm glad the author followed up with most of them and gave us an update.

In case anyone is wondering about my views on legalized prostitution - I'm firmly pro-legalization. I think it should actually be legal in all 50 states.

All in all the book was very readable. The author had a great voice and really strove to understand the women and their world and not prejudge them. I'll give it 8 stars.

Rating: ★★★★★★★★☆☆

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Never Kiss a Goat on the Lips by Vic Sussman

A witty and informative look at suburban homesteading, Never Kiss a Goat on the Lips will delight you whether you live in the country, the suburbs, or the city. Vic Sussman tells the story of how he and his ever-increasing family finally made the decision to leave the city and, well, almost move to the country. They took one small leap and ended up in a suburb just 20 miles from Washington, D.C.

Once there, they began the task of learning homesteading skills - gardening, caring for animals, chopping wood, and canning and freezing. They worked on revitalizing their old house, switched from oil to wood heat, and started to understand how to live off the land.

But it wasn't easy. Just keeping their sense of humor was difficult but Vic Sussman and his family managed to keep laughing through it all. The joys of doing-it-yourself become apparent in this appealing look at the life of a suburban homesteader.

Although there are many anecdotes about how the author's wife, Betsy, left her rich bitch WASPy life to live "The Good Life" with the author in the "country" (i.e. barely suburbia), the impression I got was that the couple is really just another upper middle class couple who decided that they simply couldn't live without being in "the country" and so moved to suburbia (a very rich suburban area outside Washington, DC as the author constantly reminds us) and pretended that that was "country living". There were several amusing points at which I thought "Well, duh, you idiots!" when they did something that common sense would tell you is wrong.

In any case, the reason for the title's advice? The author's wife experienced a severe mystery facial rash after just such an incident. Another, "well, duh!" moment.

The author does rescue snakes (yes, snakes) and even cared for ("godfathered" as he said), a nest of 16 that he found in a manure pile. I can't help but like him a wee bit less for that. As my aunt says, "The only good snake is a dead snake.". I tend to agree.

Also, the author is more than a bit eccentric about heating his home. He uses a wood stove, but this doesn't heat the entire house, and some areas are in the 50s! It's so cold at times that they wear sweaters and even hats! Inside! I think that's going a bit far. Especially since he has children! If the author had chosen a wood furnace it would be a completely different story. He's just essentially camping in his own house!

There's also an entire chapter devoted to how the author's wife gave birth at home and all his propaganda in favor of it. I'm just too disgusted by his attitude, and his wife's militant feminist views on the subject, that I'm completely speechless. I'm simply too disturbed by the entire thing. I ground my teeth during the entire, seemingly endless, hellish chapter.

All in all, the author is rather arrogant at best, and downright rude in places when discussing people who don't wholeheartedly agree with his philosophy of living. I certainly would never want to meet him. I do think some of the friction comes from the fact that the book was published in 1981. The world has certainly changed quite a bit in the past 25+ years, so that may be a contributing factor. Although, I think the author would be an arrogant ass no matter when the book was written.

I'm going to give this one six stars. On the pros side, there were some interesting anecdotes, on the cons side, the author is an arrogant ass and his wife is just indescribable, and they bug me.

Rating: ★★★★★★☆☆☆☆

Friday, November 14, 2008

Robbing the Bees by Holley Bishop

"Honey has been waiting almost ten million years for a good biography," writes Holley Bishop. Bees have been making this food on Earth for hundreds of millenia, but we humans started recording our fascination with it only in the past few thousand years - painting bees and hives on cave and temple walls and papyrus scrolls, revering them in poetry and art, even worshipping these amazing little insects as gods. From the temples of the Nile to the hives behind the author's own house, people have had a long, rapturous love affair with the beehive and the seductive, addictive honey it produces. Combining passionate research, rich detail, and fascinating anecdote, Holley Bishop's Robbing the Bees is an in-depth, sumptuous look at the oldest, most delectable food in the world.

Part biography, part history, Robbing the Bees is also a celebration, a love letter to bees and their magical produce. Honey has played significant and varied roles in civilization: it is so sweet that bacteria can't survive in it, so it was our first food preservative and all-purpose wound salve. Honey wine, or mead, was the intoxicant of choice long before beer or wine existed. Hindus believe honey leads to a long life; Mohammed looked to honey as a remedy for all illness. Virgil; Aristotle, Pythagoras; Gregor Mendel; Sylvia Plath's father, Otto; and Sir Edmund Hillary are among the famous beekeepers and connoisseurs who have figured in honey's past and shaped its present.

To help navigate the worlds and cultures of honey, Holley Bishop - beekeeper, writer, and honey aficionado - apprentices herself to a modern guide and expert, professional beekeeper Donald Smiley, who harvests tupelo honey from hundreds of hives in the remote town of Wewahitchka, Florida. Bishop chronicles Smiley's day-to-day business as he robs his bees in the steamy Florida panhandle and provides an engaging exploration of the lively science, culture, and lore that surround each step of the beekeeping process and each stage of bees' lives.

Interspersed throughout the narrative are the author's lyrical reflections on her own beekeeping experiences, the business and gastronomical world of honey, the myriad varieties of honey (as distinct as the provenance of wine), as well as illustrations, historical quotes, and recipes - ancient, contemporary, and some of the author's own creations.

The author was really friendly sounding, and I took to her writing style right away. What could have been a horrendously boring book was light, fun, and informative.

One of the first lines from the book that really grabbed me and made me know that I'd love this book was the author talking about how she first decided on bees versus other animals (such as chickens) for her home in Connecticut:

"Immediately I was captivated by the idea of low-maintenance farm stock that did the farming for you and didn't need to be walked, milked, or brushed."

She also mentioned the sheer amount of labor involved to produce honey:

"When nectar is abundant, the inhabitants of a colony will collectively fly 55,000 miles and gather from more than two million flowers to make a pound of honey, with each bee contributing in total just a twelfth of a teaspoon to the communal coffer in her lifetime."

Wow! I knew the bees had it hard, but that is just crazy!

She also mentioned these statistics:
  • One hive can make up to 150 lbs of honey in a summer (the author's bees in Connecticut need 60 lbs for winter use, so she can harvest about 90 lbs a year!)
  • A full 7 inch deep super (where the excess honey for harvest is stored in the hive) contains 17 lbs of honey
Beekeeping does sound like a fun hobby. Actually the word "apiary" just sounds lovely! But it can be rather pricey:
  • Full hive setup with frames, hive bodies, supers, etc. = $150
  • 3 lb starter package of bees, complete with a queen = $50
  • Miscellaneous tools (smoker, protective wear, etc.) = $50
The book was a joy to read and I read through the entire thing in a matter of a couple days. This one definitely gets a firm 8 stars! That's high praise, since only Michael Pollan and Dean Koontz ever rank that high for me!

Rating: ★★★★★★★★☆☆

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Starcross by Philip Reeve

Art and Myrtle Mumby have traveled through space to save the British Empire from an attack by giant spiders. So they kind of deserve a holiday. And that's exactly what they believe they're getting when they travel to Starcross, a luxurious resort in the asteroid belt.

Little do they know they have been lured to Starcross by a sinister being who plans to take control of their minds. Luckily for Art and Myrtle, they have an extremely powerful, ancient superhuman on their side - their mum. She sniffs out the evil scheming and sends an ominous warning to her children. The solar system is on the brink of invasion - from highly intelligent hats from the future!

Winner of the Gold Nestle Smarties Book Prize, Philip Reeve received five starred reviews for Larklight, the extraordinary adventure that preceded Starcross. His off-the-wall, Victorian-era humor fills the smashing sequel with nonstop laughs, and narrator Chris Steinbruner provides a rollicking performance.

This was the unabridged audiobook on CD edition (7 discs/7.5 hours).

I, personally did not find the book to have any "Victorian-era humor" or to be filled with "nonstop laughs". And the reader was far, far, far from providing a "rollicking performance"! I'm not sure the person who wrote the copy on the book listened to the same book I did! Of course, they were being paid to write the copy, so that may explain it.

As with Larklight, I found the reader outrageously annoying. And, I found Myrtle to be just as bitchy and overly religious as before.

Mrs. Mumby was a nice addition. She seems like someone you would actually want to know in real life. Jack somehow reminds me of the character Nat from The Witch of Blackbird Pond.

The story itself was okay. It would have been significantly better without the religious spouting from Myrtle. Ugh! And if I ever hear "Mr. Titfur" again it will be too soon! I can't tell if the author is just an ass, or if the reader makes the book seem worse than it is. The one light spot in the entire book was a passing mention of ginger shortbread. It sounds yummy and I simply must find a recipe for it!

I'll give it six stars. It would be seven with a different reader. I'm certainly not hoping for another installment in the series!

Rating: ★★★★★★☆☆☆☆

Kitchen Gardens of France by Louisa Jones

Magnificent kitchen gardens are a long-standing tradition in France. Every region has its own characteristic examples that - depending on the climate, terrain and design - boast a profusion of vegetables, fruit, flowers and herbs. Family knowledge is carefully handed down for the benefit of each new generation.

In this wonderful celebration of the French kitchen garden, old-fashioned techniques and obscure produce are rediscovered. A illuminating text and brilliant color photographs uncover vegetable patches growing alongside chateaux or abbeys, romantic gardens tended by parish priests, gourmet gardens planted by master chefs and lovely ornamental idylls. Four main sections, covering stately homes, grassroots gardening, dreams and utopias, and vegetable produce, conjure up the rich history and extraordinary variety of the French countryside from Paris to the Alps.

The extravagance of the kitchen garden at Mongenan, highly praised by Jean-Jacques Rousseau, the mosaic-like patterns of the allotments at Ivry, and labyrinthine cultivated gardens at Amiens are just a few examples of these most original, most secret, most spectacular and most poetic of kitchen gardens.

This book had amazing pictures (including a bizarre picture of a fountain of a woman with water spouting from her nipples!) but I found the text rather pompous and hard to read since I couldn't pronounce all the French names in my head!

There were some wonderful pictures of beautiful greenhouses on estates. They were just huge, and I was so envious! While other gardens were styled to make them so similar to nature they just looked messy and overgrown! A lot of the smaller gardens, owned by more middle class people were awfully crowded with stuff everywhere - statues and overlarge trellises, etc. I much prefer the rigid, geometric style gardens like Versailles.

The author also told a story of how one gardener had to abandon his garden patch because it was invaded by wild boar! Imagine wild boar invading the garden! I thought bunnies and chipmunks were bad enough! Wow! I have no idea what I'd do if I went out the garden one day to discover a hulking wild board sitting there eating all my stuff - probably turn and run!

There were a couple choice quotes:

Chinese proverb: "Life begins the day you start a garden."

And quoting Maral Paynal: "I want to live in communion with Nature. I want to eat the vegetables of my garden, the oil of my olive trees, to suck fresh eggs of my chickens, to get drunk on the wine of my vines, and so far as possible to eat the bread I make with my wheat."

I think that's the way most gardeners feel, we want to live as closely aligned with our gardens and produce as possible.

I'm going to give this one seven stars. As a plus were the beautiful pictures, as a minus was the difficult to read text.

Rating: ★★★★★★★☆☆☆

Death of a Perfect Wife by M.C. Beaton

Village newcomers Paul and Trixie Thomas don't seem to fit in with Lochdubh's locals - after all, they're British and unemployed. But Trixie doesn't let that stop her. When she isn't pushing her Anti-Smoking League, vegetarian cooking, and birdwatching society, she is wheedling belongings from her new neighbors. In fact, her influence affects the whole community until the day someone silences her forever.

With some villagers quietly celebrating Trixie's death and many with their own reason to do away with her, Lochdubh's independent-spirited, one-man police force, Hamish Macbeth, is up to his elbows in troubles.

This was the unabridged audiobook on cassette edition (4 cassettes/approx 5 hours).

I quite enjoyed this installment in the Hamish Macbeth series. It was the usual charming setting with an interesting storyline.

Having just seen the first series of the BBC's Hamish Macbeth on DVD, I couldn't help but make comparisons between the two. I do like the DVD version of the series in its own right, but I prefer the books. The DVD Priscilla is a total bitch that I just want to smack, but Robert Carlyle as Hamish is quite yummy and they do seem to have him shirtless remarkably often. :)

But, back to the book. I really disliked Trixie and thought she got exactly what she deserved. And poor Hamish! I'm somewhat glad that he got over Priscilla, but it's also a bit sad. I'm definitely glad that Priscilla finally woke up to Hamish's feelings for her. The imagery of the two newspapers with Hamish and John Burlington side by side in her flat in London was perfect!

Davina Porter, the reader, was quite good, as usual. She doesn't go overboard with the character interpretations and has a nice, smooth voice.

This one gets a solid eight stars. I can't wait to find out what happens next!

Rating: ★★★★★★★★☆☆

Monday, November 10, 2008

Apples by Frank Browning

Frank Browning's lifelong fascination with apples began on his parents' orchard in the Appalachian hills of Kentucky. In Apples he charmingly demonstrates why this mysterious fruit continues to tempt and delight us.

Throughout Western memory, the apple has been the fruit of trouble, immortality, and temptation: Paris and the Trojan War; Nordic Loki and the apples of eternal life; and, of course, that infamous couple in the Garden. Browning leads us on a beguiling tour through the primal myths of the world's most popular fruit and then explains that the first apples appeared in Kazakhstan on the slopes of the Heavenly Mountains. He visits the apple germ-plasm repository in Geneva, New York, and describes the powerful effects of genetic engineering on the apples of the future. In Wenatchee, Washington, world capital of apple growing, he meets Mr. Granny Smith and learns about the apple's niche in the global marketplace, before setting off to sample Calvados from the pot stills of Normandy and cider from Somerset.

For the more practically inclined, Browning includes a selective listing of apple varieties, basic instructions for planting a back-yard orchard, and a selection of beloved apple recipes from around the world.

This was actually a really interesting book, and for the most part very easy to read. It had a very good "voice".

There was an obscenely long chapter that just went on and on and on about apples in Russia. Which actually would have been okay, but 80% of it was a political history of the scientific research in the former USSR. Definitely a snoozer!

I did find some informative tidbits though:

"The modern apples we find at fruit stands and supermarkets represent but a tiny slice of all the possible apples that have existed in the world. They are the descendants of thousands of years of selection for color, size, shape, and growth habits."

"Most modern Christians have grown up supposing that it was the apple that Eve snatched for Adam at the serpent's bidding, forever banishing them from Paradise. Although apples may have grown in Palestine at the time the biblical texts were written, no one thought to hang them on the tree of knowledge of good and evil until the fourth or fifth century A.D. ... The Eastern Church favored figs as the forbidden fruit, while others in the Roman Church argued for the grape."

Also, there was a bit about average apple consumption per person per year throughout the world which was really revealing.

Americans - 19 lbs
French - 33 lbs
Germans - 40 lbs
Italians - 57 lbs

The author also mentioned that he is a member of the Dwarf Fruit Tree Association. Who knew there was even such a thing! Very cool!

All in all I'd have to give this one a seven. It was informative, but rather boring in parts.

Rating: ★★★★★★★☆☆☆

Friday, November 7, 2008

Crooked House by Agatha Christie

Sophia Leonides and Charles Hayward fall in love in Egypt during World War II, and vow to meet up again in England. After the war ends, Charles fears their reunion may be interrupted when he sees an obituary for Sophia's grandfather, Aristide, in the newspaper.

The death turns out to be anything but ordinary - the rich old man's demise is mired in mysterious circumstances. Charles is put in the odd position of being both a confidante to Sophia and helping the police (and his father, a Scotland Yard commissioner) with the case.

The obvious conclusion is that Aristide's new young wife and her suspected lover killed him for his massive estate - but are things ever that simple? Suspicion falls on all members of the Leonides family, as one will disappears, another is found, and secrets are uncovered.

This was the unabridged audiobook on CD edition (5 discs/5.7 hours).

I was thrilled to discover an Agatha Christie audiobook that I had not listened to before! And to have it read by Hugh Fraser made it just that much better!

Although I was a bit disappointed that it was not a Poirot or Tommy & Tuppence, it was an entertaining book. Hugh Fraser did a wonderful job of narrating (as usual).

The story was not one of the author's best, but I've never read a Christie that I didn't at least like, so I'll give this one a seven. The characters were rather blah, but the twist ending was certainly not what I'd expected! It wasn't a "Wow! Cool!" twist, but more of a "Huh. Interesting." twist. :)

Rating: ★★★★★★★☆☆☆

Larklight: A Rousing Tale of Dauntless Pluck in the Farthest Reaches of Space by Philip Reeve

In 1851 Art Mumby, his irritating sister Myrtle, and their distracted scientist father live aboard the majestic space house Larklight with numerous robotic servants. When the word comes that a mysterious gentleman plans to visit, the house is thrown into a frenzy of preparation.

This bizarre visitor brings an army of attack spiders to their home and plans a disaster that will destroy not only the entire British Empire, but also the known universe! Art and Myrtle narrowly escape in their lifeboat, tumbling through space on a direct course for the moon. Will help from a few exotic space creatures and an extraterrestrial pirate be enough for Art and Myrtle to prevent a galactic calamity?

Author Philip Reeve was shortlisted for the Whitbread Prize Children's Book Award. His imaginative Victorian space adventure will captivate young listeners who will be thrilled by the rollicking performance from narrator Greg Steinbruner.

This was the unabridged audiobook on cassette edition (8 cassettes/8.75 hours).

The story itself was entertaining, if rather predictable in spots. I really disliked the sister though. And I'm not sure if the religiosity was a reflection of the Victorian times, or the author's own predilection, but it was very distracting. And if the word "huzzah" or however it's spelled, was used one more time I thought I would scream!

I did really enjoy the hover hogs and definitely want a crew of my own!

Perhaps I watch too much television, but I recognized definite bits of the Wizard of Oz and Doctor Who characters/situations/influences which left me slightly uncomfortable.

The reader was rather inappropriate for the book. His pauses were in the complete wrong places and he seemed rather stiff. And was he even British? So bizarre.

All in all, I'd give it a six. It was good to have read and I'm looking forward to reading the next book, Starcross.

Rating: ★★★★★★☆☆☆☆

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch

"We cannot change the cards we are dealt, just how we play the hand." -Randy Pausch

A lot of professors give talks titled "The Last Lecture." Professors are asked to consider their demise and to ruminate on what matters most to them. And while they speak, audiences can't help but mull the same question: What wisdom would we impart to the world if we knew it was our last chance? If we had to vanish tomorrow, what would we want as our legacy?

When Randy Pausch, a computer science professor at Carnegie Mellon, was asked to give such a lecture, he didn't have to imagine it as his last, since he had recently been diagnosed with terminal cancer. But the lecture he gave—"Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams"—wasn't about dying. It was about the importance of overcoming obstacles, of enabling the dreams of others, of seizing every moment (because "time is all you have…and you may find one day that you have less than you think"). It was a summation of everything Randy had come to believe. It was about living.

In this book, Randy Pausch has combined the humor, inspiration and intelligence that made his lecture such a phenomenon and given it an indelible form. It is a book that will be shared for generations to come.

This was the unabridged audiobook on CD edition (4 discs).

I had been looking forward to reading this for some time, after hearing rave reviews about it. I have to say I was a bit disappointed. I did enjoy the book, but I didn't think it was fabulous. The stories were entertaining and the narrator did a beautiful job. There were points where I laughed, points where I teared up, and points where I was bored. I'm definitely glad it wasn't any longer than it was.

I'd give it an eight. Good, but not great.

Rating: ★★★★★★★★☆☆