05.18.2015

Salt: A World History by Mark Kurlansky

Once in a while I browse our library’s collection of books when I am having a difficult time choosing my next great read. I chose this book during one of my visits because I thought it should be worth reading; someone obviously spent a great deal of time and money writing about something as minute as…salt. Soon I found out that there is actually a sub-genre of books called Commodity History; which include books about everyday kitchen items such as: corn, booze, sugar and salt!

I took my time reading this book not because it was difficult to read through but well, “life” keeps getting in the way. But I will say this, when I did find the time to read it I genuinely enjoyed the contents of the book. Salt was such a high demand commodity that Empires grew out of it and trading it connected remote parts of the world. Techniques used by different cultures to cultivate this prized mineral were discussed and delicious recipes were incorporated into the chapters to provide a sense of connection with the past populace.

Reading this book made me think that perhaps there are different ways to studying history. We can study people and events or simple commodities that has held the interests of humanity since its discovery.

04.8.2015

Timeless by Gail Carriger

It’s over already?! Good things MUST come to an end…I guess. As much as I am saddened by the realization that the adventures of Aleixia Tarabotti is really over, I’m equally glad that I’ll be able to sleep before dawn because the series was “that” good! Timeless may be the final book of the series but it’s also a series of new beginnings for some of the characters.

Aleixia travels to Egypt to visit oldest Vampire Queen in the world. What awaits her in Egypt is the chance to learn everything about her father, the late Alessandro Tarabotti—the mysterious and powerful preternatural. This is also the first time the infant-inconvenient appears to us as a happy and mischievous toddler, Prudence. As a metanatural, there are many people, mostly the undead, who are curious (and repulsed) by her mere existence. As if that was not enough to keep the Maccon on edge especially Aleixia when traveling to a new country. It is here in Egypt that Aleixia will or must “correct” the “wrong” her father committed in the past. The problem is, she doesn’t know what her father did—she never met the guy!

I don’t think any amount of tea, English or otherwise, will help her.

03.25.2015

Heartless by Gail Carriger

In all of the books, Heartless clearly illustrates Aleixia finally settling in to her social and political roles in Victorian London. Despite her ever increasing girth, Lady Maccon—mujah, female Alpha of Woolsey, and close friend of the fabulous Lord Akledama—continues to waddle around London investigating an assassination plot against the Queen. But first she has more urgent matters to address.

-There’s the feral husband of hers who is constantly exclaiming the adverse effects of Vampires in societal matters

-The numerous assassination attempts by vampires towards her and the “infant-inconvenience”.

-And Felicity has shown up again. I. Hate. Her.

What I have noticed is that not all has been addressed or unfolded in the series so far. Is there or will there be any notion of magic? It is only natural for one to wonder about the absence (or omission) of magic in stories that involve the supernatural. My theory is, the mechanical science and the scandalous behavior of the characters would be enough to entertain the reader. Whatever the reason may be, the series is undeniably charming with a hint of sass for a cynic such as yours truly.

03.24.2015

“Save Me from Myself”

“Save Me from Myself” by Brian “Head” Welch is one of the most moving books I have ever read.  Having reached superstar status with KORN, Welch was one of the most recognizable faces in the music industry, but was on a path of destruction.  In this autobiography, Welch tells of how at the height of his career he decided to leave behind a life of drugs and partying after coming to know Jesus Christ.  “Save Me from Myself” is not a typical testimony as Welch’s tone is hardcore and blatantly honest about his experiences.  Holding nothing back when discussing his drug use, lifestyle, and eventual conversion experience, Welch provides a candid and inspiring look into his life and spiritual journey.

03.24.2015

God Save the Queen by Kate Locke

I’m taking a reading circle class this semester in order to fill up semester hours and this book is one of the required readings. Normally, I dislike any book that I have my nose forced into, simply because it’s a book I didn’t pick at my own leisure, and initially that was the case with God Save the Queen.

First of all, the class is a Steampunk themed reading circle so this book wasn’t quite what I was expecting it to be. In fact, the only things in this book that make it steampunk-like are the fact that they have cellphones and it’s still technically set in the Victorian Era (even if the book is set in 2012). Yes, Queen Victoria is still alive – in a manner of speaking – as an undead, vampiric, bubonic plague-ridden aristocrat.
That brings me to another point. The world that the story is set in can be a little difficult to wrap your head around at times. It took me about half the book to finally get a grasp on how being infected with the bubonic plague makes one an aristocrat, it could randomly decide whether you were a vampire or werewolf, and if a vampire and werewolf decided to make a baby it somehow came out as a goblin(?). I’m not even going to try explaining where half-bloods get involved. Then I realized, upon finishing the last chapter, that there’s a full explanation of all of it in the back of the book. That would’ve been nice to know at the beginning. And also better storytelling – thereby removing the need for such an explanation – would’ve made it much more bearable as well.

Convolutedness and genre-mislabeling aside, let’s get to why I think this book is halfway decent. I hate the main character. No, you read that right. The first half off the book had me pulling my hair out because of how idiotic our protagonist, Xandra, is. She’s the racist, brainwashed nationalist you’d expect to see opposing civil rights and even when the evidence is being waved directly in her face that she’s working for the wrong people, she refuses to see it. And do you remember that kid back in middle school who used to think he was the coolest thing ever because he would swear behind adults’ backs? That’s Xandra. Rather than relying on the action scenes (of which there are many) to convey Xandra’s toughness and (assumed) heroicness, they have her constantly putting the word “fuck” in between the syllables of her words. It gets annoying fairly quickly. So how does Xandra’s horrible character build – which had me writing in my assignments, “why are we reading a book with this moron of a protagonist” – provide a positive point for this book? When the gloves finally come off and a number of traumatic events occur in her life, you really start to see her grow and change as a person, to a degree that I haven’t seen in a book for a while. After the book reached that tipping point, I finished it within the day. I just didn’t want to put it down, and now I’m sad I have to wait another week for Amazon to ship the second book to me.

I give God Save the Queen a 3.5 out of 5. The character growth was amazing and made up for all the confusion presented in the beginning. Unfortunately, had I not been required to read this for class and followed the 50 page rule instead, I would never have finished it. The book takes a ridiculous amount of time to actually grab your attention (three-quarters of the way through) and it seems to serve the sole purpose of setting everything in motion for the second book, though in doing so it does get you a bit more invested in the characters.

03.24.2015

Blameless by Gail Carriger

Our fearless Heroine, Alex Tarrabotti, is at it again! She has been dodging vampire attacks and annoying questions from her airheaded family. Only this time she travels to Italy, the source of all the grief that has befallen our Lady Maccon at the end of the second book, Changeless. I won’t reveal what happened that had Aleixia leaving London and Lord Maccon completely drunk. But I will say this—it wouldn’t be an Aleixia Tarrabotti series without our favorite preternatural taking matters into her own hands throughout her tumultuous travel through continental Europe.

I love the fact that this book provides an opportunity for Aleixia to forge a friendship with Madame Lefeaux—the immaculate masculine dressed genius-of-an-inventor. Ivy Hisselpenny (now Mrs. Tunstall) although very eccentric, is a sweet girl but it’s refreshing to see Aleixia in close companionship with another woman of science and pragmatic inclinations. I’m sure Ivy Hisselpenny is just as outrageous but Madame Lefaux’s masculine wear really ruffled some high society feathers. (As if that was difficult to do.)

If that wasn’t completely outrageous—how can we forget the Lord of Outrageous behavior: Lord Akledama! The fabulous vampire isn’t mentioned much in this book but his absence is very much felt by everyone (including this reader). Lord Akledama has always been a permanent and welcomed fixture in Aleixia’s life; unfortunately he wasn’t available to her because of some “drama” going on within the vampire community. Oh the DRAMA! Well to be fair, you have an eternity to look forward to, why not cause a few mischief here and there to pass the time?

03.24.2015

Ranger’s Apprentice: The Burning Bridge By John Flanagan

It should not have taken me THIS long to finish this book. I have a full time job and I’m reading other three books because I like to think because I can. But I quickly realized that when it comes to books my attention span shortens similar to a fruit fly’s life span. Me neglecting this book for a long time is no fault of the author; it was all me. The story was easy to follow and the “action” portion of the story was well-written for someone, yours truly, who constantly fails to understand and appreciate military warfare. The only “action” sequence I will follow with ease in any book is one of romance—the meet-cute, the banter filled courtship, the dramatic climax, and the impending nuptials. That’s what I can follow (or tolerate); in any case I assure you it does not happen in this book—and I’m assuming the series.

The Arulean kingdom is preparing for war against Morgarath and his legions of Wargals—really ugly and terrifying beasts. Will and Horace, as you remember they weren’t exactly chums, pair up for a mission that will benefit Arulean’s preparations for war. Their mission starts out or it was supposed to be “routine” and “low-risk” but it quickly escalated to where both apprentices end up deep within enemy lines. These young apprentices must tap into their respective crafts training to outsmart the enemy and find the courage to face Morgarath.

My only qualm with the second book is the lack of inclusion of the other children of Sir Duncan’s fiefdom. I guess I can understand because the focal theme of this book is the impeding war and there wouldn’t be room for the kitchen apprentice or the scribe apprentice. But still I would like to see how all of the original five orphans have grown as individuals and as a member of their respective guilds.

03.11.2015

Changeless by Gail Carriger

The adventures of Alexia Tarrabotti, now Lady Maccon, continues in this second book and it picks up where Soulless ended—after the wedding. It has been three months since Aleixia and her beastly beau tied the knot with the endorsement of the Queen—for political reasons—and her insufferable mother. I have to credit Aleixia for not lashing out against the company she keeps. There’s Ivy Hisselpenny, her living-breathing-fashion-challenged best friend who is the very definition of an “air-head”; and there’s also her step sister, Felicity, whose general disposition deserves a parasol to her head…several times. Finally, there’s her husband, Lord Maccon—the overly emotional and brutish animal who still insists on shutting Aleixia up with forceful and sensual kisses.

Despite these individuals, Aleixia—our practical, curvy preternatural—continues to manages the affairs of the Woolsey estate and the supernatural wing of British politics. New characters are introduced in this book and old characters comeback to assist our heroine who is doing a lot of running. Which is another reason why much credit is due to our Lady Maccon—I cannot imagine running in over-sized skirts, a restrictive bodice, and a new and improved (also very heavy) parasol for an extended period of time.

What I enjoyed the most about this book is it has done a superb job at reintroducing Aleixia Tarrabotti as a woman of means and she’s a working girl now—who happens to work a 9pm to 5am job. She’s no longer the intelligent spinster who spends her days tolerating her dimwitted family or skulking through her father’s library. Instead of exchanging verbal jabs with the Earl, she’s busy trying to calm him down or keep him at arm’s length from her line of work. She is quite busy these days. I think someone should offer her a cup of tea. Don’t you agree?

03.9.2015

Unbound by: Jim Hines

Unbound was an awesome novel. It leave the option of a fourth novel, which Hines better follow through. I love all the twist and turns Hines has carefully paced to keep a reader interested and the story page turning.

02.18.2015

The Legend Mackinnon by Donna Kauffman

I found this book in a bin full of other paperback books and I was immediately drawn to its cover design. People find it surprising that I like plaid; probably because I wear mostly solid colored hoodies and jeans. Yes, it’s another fiction book but without vampires and werewolves or any overdone brooding supernatural. I wouldn’t classify this book as an epic adventure or an epic romance. It does involve six souls tangled in pre-destined love but none of it includes hearts, stars, and flowers—thank goodness.

Aside from the title, Legend Mackinnon is also a curse placed on the rivaling clans the Clarens and Mackinnons. The curse goes something like; any matrimonial union between direct descendants of the two clans would end in heartbreak. Oh and each of the three Mackinnon brothers were cursed with their own kind of purgatory here on earth.  On the Claren’s side three women were innocent bystanders or product of the disastrous union of Claren and Mackinnon descendants. They were orphaned very early in life and each had their own internal demon to conquer. And yes, each of them—the Mackinnon brothers and Claren women—had the run-of-the-mill romance. Girl meets boy; boy blames girl for everything that had befallen him and his clan; girl retaliates and that sparked a lustful romantic liaison. Next, throw in a bit of heart wrenching angst and a triumphant victory in the end and there you have it—Love conquers all. (Cue in eye-rolling.)

I’ve read enough romance novels to know how everything unfolds. This book would be perfect while waiting to board your flight or when the plane is grounded on the tarmac for an eternity. (That’s another good example of purgatory on earth.)Or when you’re snowed in for a week because Mother Nature thought mixing snow, ice, and rain would be an awesome combination. Three brothers and three women is certainly a crowd for one book and it’s evident in how the author had to rush through the plot and left the reader (ahem, me) with many unanswered questions. Despite the story’s setbacks the one thing I look for in romance novels is the banter. Whether the guy is being a jerk or the girl is playing hard-to-get or vice-verse, reading about their journey to everlasting love makes them real and not just characters from a dusty paperback. It’s hardly about the destination but the journey—cue in longing sigh.

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