reviews on blogcritics: november

So, I didn’t end up catching up as much as I thought I would. Hopefully, I can do that in the next few weeks.

Rodrigo y Gabriela – Live in Japan

This live album includes many of the band’s popular tunes, and serves as a “best of” recording much better than any compilation of their past studio work could attempt to do, mainly because as precise and flawless as the studio recordings can be, they do not convey the energy contained in a live performance, which is a significant part of their appeal. [more]

slide:ology: The Art and Science of Creating Great Presentations by Nancy Duarte

…Duarte outlines the elements that make up an effective presentation design, and provides many real-world examples of these elements in action. She does not give too many details on specific tools and functions within particular slide presentation programs; instead, she provides the reader with the design theory needed to create an effective presentation. [more]

P!nk – Funhouse

Beginning with the post-relationship celebrity breakdown of “So What,” P!nk tells stories of substance abuse, co-dependency, and emotional/physical abuse. Alternatively cursing her lover and also pleading with them to not leave, she explores the complexity that led to the broken ending that began the album. [more]

Star Trek: The Original Series – Season 3 Remastered

The visual enhancements, for the most part, are not noticeable unless one is obsessively familiar with every detail of the original format, and in most cases, they stand out only against scenes that did not clean up quite as well.

#20

I have been collecting Rita Mae Brown’s Mrs. Murphy series in hardcover, but after reading the latest, Santa Clawed, I’m beginning to wonder why I bother to buy the new ones as they come out. The mystery is a hodgepodge of recycled ideas from previous books, and about the only thing that’s different is the bits about what’s going on in the lives of the main characters in Crozet. As much as I like reading about Harry, Mrs. Murphy, and all the rest, I’d rather go back and re-read the good stories than see Brown pump out more half-assed books like this one.

#19

I was doing so well on my 50 Book Challenge goal this year, and then the busyness of this past fall hit and I haven’t taken the time to read books. This one is in fact a book that I listened to rather than read, but I think that counts.
#19

Playing for Keeps by Mur Lafferty takes place in the near future. Set in an east coast city, the story revolves around the protagonist, Keepsie, and her relationship with the city’s protectors: genetically enhanced human superheroes. Unwillingly thrown in the middle of a conflict between the superheroes and the supervillains, Keepsie and her friends are forced to choose sides or make their own way with their collection of “useless” super powers. As it turns out, their powers are not as useless as they’ve been led to believe, and even the ability to control elevators comes in handy at one point. In the end, this is a story about using your gifts and abilities to the best you can, even when everyone around you believes they (and you) are worthless.

The book was originally released as a (free) serialized audio book, then as a (free) PDF download, and then finally in print (not free) through Lulu.com, before it was picked up and published by Swarm Press in August. Thanks to the efforts of many fans and supporters, the book hit #1 on the Science Fiction best seller list at Amazon the day it was released, even though it had been available in other formats for free. Aside from being a fun read, I think the story of it’s success is a nifty one and for me, added to my motivation to finally read the damn thing.

As a fan of Lafferty’s other works, I highly recommend that you also check out her other serialized fiction. Namely, the Heaven series.

reviews on blogcritics: July-September

Hey, there. I know it’s been a long time since we’ve seen each other, but I want to you know that I’ve been thinking about you while we’ve been apart. I’ve had a busy schedule this past month, and it has kept me away from you, at least in this forum, and I want you to know that I have missed you very much. I hope you can forgive me for being away so long.

Anyway, I wanted to share some of the things that I have written for Blogcritics in recent months:

The World Is Your Litter Box: A How-to Manual for Cats by Quasi, with Minor Help from Steve Fisher

This book is by no means a serious psychological study of cat behavior or cat-human relationships, but it does provide some insight into the latter. The main thing I took away from this book is that no matter what cats do to irritate humans, most of us easily melt into a puddle of mush when our pets show affection. Think of how much calmer rush hour could be if we all had a purring cat in our laps? [more]

Amy Ray – Didn’t It Feel Kinder

Even though Ray worked with some of the same musicians on Didn’t It Feel Kinder as she did for Stag and Prom, this album has a completely different feel to it. The message is the same, but the medium has shifted. Fans expecting a punk rock album may be disappointed, but I think that Didn’t It Feel Kinder will find its audience among listeners who enjoy the message as much as the medium. [more]

Alū – Lobotomy Sessions

Each of the ten tracks are what some have described as “cinematic soundscapes.” Think of them as an art house film told in three to five minutes. Horror, science fiction, political commentary, drama… whatever your movie type of choice, there is likely to be a track on this album that draws on elements of it. It’s a veritable film festival of sound. [more]

Uh Huh Her – Common Reaction

…don’t go looking for much depth in the lyrics. Although the insert devotes a full six panels to the poetry, it’s by far the weakest aspect of the album. Some of the more uninspired lines are held up quite well with the musical arrangements, so unless you’re paying close attention, you’ll be too distracted by the beats and melody to notice. In any case, it’s slightly better than the drivel on Top 40 radio. [more]

Cordero – De Dónde Eres

Past albums have featured a mix of English- and Spanish-language songs, but regardless of the language of the lyrics, the message was frequently delivered in packages spiced with horns and beats that made it impossible to sit still. De Dónde Eres heightens the Latin rhythms, instrumentation, and mood. Alternating between contemplative, strident, and festive arrangements, the album and the band are unified by Ani’s passionate lyrics and delivery. [more]

Awake, My Soul: The Story of the Sacred Harp (Standard Edition)

Most likely, the audience that will pick up this DVD will already be familiar with shape note singing. However, I think that anyone interested in Early American music should also take the time to view it. The filmmakers, both Sacred Harp singers themselves, have created a piece of work that, much like shape note music itself, is simultaneously utilitarian and glorious. [more]

The Age of Rockets – Hannah

Hannah is designed to be a palindrome of an album. The first five songs reflect the last five songs, with the middle sixth track creating the pivot point. Listening to an album that is half-music, half-mathematical art piece can sometimes be disappointing, but despite (or because of) this structure, Hannah stands on its own as a cohesive and fun collection of delicately blended electronic/organic tunes. Honestly, I hardly noticed the relationship between the songs in the dozen or so times I have listened to this album over the past couple of months. [more]

It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown

Until watching it again in this remastered deluxe edition, it had never occurred to me that the film has a structure that allows for that kind of repeat showings. Several of the characters refer to Linus’ past obsession with the Great Pumpkin, and the implication that the same thing happens every Halloween makes it easy to suspend disbelief and watch it anew every year as though you weren’t already familiar with the plot and events. Maybe, just maybe, this year things will be different and the Great Pumpkin will rise out of the patch! [more]

#17

It has been nearly a month since I last finished a book for pleasure, although I am slowly reading my way through a couple others, and I read and reviewed a book for The Journal of Electronic Resources Librarianship (which may or may not be published — I won’t know until the issue is printed ’cause that’s how my editor rolls). Last night, I was feeling bored of my usual procrastination tools, so I decided to do a bit of fluff reading. It had to be short, though, because it was already past midnight, and I needed to get a little sleep eventually.

My selection came from among the stack of old Star Trek books on my to-be-read shelves. These are always good for a light read and stories that (usually) wrap up on the last page. This one was nearly what I wanted. The Starship Trap by Mel Gilden was your typical Trek story, but his characterizations weren’t particularly compelling. Mainly told from Kirk’s perspective, there were several rabbit holes that seemed to go nowhere, in addition to some of Kirk’s behavior being slightly out of character.

The hard science fiction aspect of the Aleph plot device was, at least, interesting. Much more so than the villain’s fixation on 19th and 20th century European and American classic literature or one of the minor character’s obsession with the American Old West. C’mon, Gilden — your ethno-centric roots are showing! For all the aliens and cultures on Star Trek, there is a disproportionate number of stories with references to American or European modern (to the reader) history.

#15

Two nights ago I really wanted to read a book before bed, but it was late, and I knew that I would end up reading until all hours of the morning and regret it the next day. So, I scoured the mass market Mt. TBR and found a thin book, which also happened to be a collection of short stories. Yay!

Last night I finished reading Isaac Asimov’s Nine Tomorrows, and as can be expected, it was an engaging read, with each short story providing a different insight into how (in some cases, minor and insignificant) actions and events of now might evolve into the future. Some of the characters in the stories were charged with solving mysteries, but mostly it was left to the reader to figure out what was going on and how humanity got to that point.

The book is a product of its time. The copyright is 1959, and the stories themselves were originally published in magazines in that decade. Understandably, the Cold War and nuclear research play roles in several of the stories. Asimov also explores his (apparent) favorite social science theme of societies where the actions of individuals or the whole can be predicted through mathematical theory.

If you are looking for some bite-sized Asimov, I recommend picking up a copy of this book, if you can find one.

prince caspian

I saw the new Prince Caspian film last week, and thanks to a timely warning from my sister, I did not read the book beforehand. I recommend that anyone who hasn’t seen it yet do the same. The film adaptation is great fun and stays true to the message of the book, but it isn’t the same as the book. Personally, I think the changes they made with for the film make it a more interesting film than if they had simply taken the accounts of the book and put that on the screen.

Afterwards, I re-read the book for the first time in ages. It has been my second favorite of the Narnia books, tied with A Horse and His Boy and beat out by Voyage of the Dawn Treader. Reading it now, as an adult, I am not as entertained by the book as I once was.

shhh, kitty! (#12 & #13)

In which I reference reviews of a memoir by a librarian and a book of cat excuses.

I finally finished reading Scott Douglas’ Quiet, Please: Dispatches from a Public Librarian this week, and right after that, Everyday Cat Excuses: Why I Can’t Do What You Want by Molly Brandenburg arrived in the mail. I’ve found that Saturday morning is the best time for me to write, so yesterday I worked on writing the reviews of both, which have now been published on Blogcritics.

Quiet, Please:

I am a university librarian at a small private school, but I still felt the sting of his between the lines reprimand. Librarians sometimes need a wake-up call to remind ourselves of what it is that we are supposed to be doing — providing information and resources to all of our users. So often we place roadblocks to prevent that from happening, and many examples of that are in Douglas’ book. As he shows, these roadblocks mainly stem from a rigid adherence to rules versus considerate compassion and an understanding of the user’s needs.

Everyday Cat Excuses:

The cartoons are simple line drawings of stylized cats in minimalist locations. The captions are in block print, and occasionally there are thought balloons for the cats. It is a cartoonist representation of deadpan humor, and it works well, considering the subject.

#11

Although I am working my way through a book to be reviewed for Blogcritics, I forgot to bring it home with me this weekend, so I decided to pick up one of the books high up on Mt. TBR.

Anne & Todd McCaffrey’s Dragon Harper is a book a received for Christmas. I have been a fan of the Dragonriders of Pern series ever since a friend introduced me to them when I was in high school, and this is the first time I have not read one of the books cover-to-cover on the night I brought home a copy. Mainly, this is because I had so many lined up that I needed to read for review that I felt guilty about spending time on reading for pleasure alone. I will make sure that doesn’t happen again.

There are a few references to characters and events from both Dragon’s Kin and Dragon’s Fire, and since I don’t recall much of the latter, I’m beginning to suspect I may have missed reading that one, too. Regardless, once those connections are made and all the key characters are introduced, this book easily stands on its own with its own tale to tell. If you aren’t already familiar with Pern, you might get a bit lost in the cultures, titles, and terms. This isn’t a good book to start with, but it certainly is a fine addition to the series.

One thing that is noticeably different about this book compared to others in this series is that the authors have narrowed the range of individuals involved in the story, and have done a better job of making the names more distinct. The last few Pern books have had so many key characters doing all sorts of things that I felt like I needed cheater notes just to keep track of who’s who. I did not feel that way with this book, and I hope that future books will also have this balance and clarity.

scion’s blood

The second book in the Chronicles of Firma trilogy leaves this reader eager for the final chapter.

My review of Scion’s Blood by Pat Nelson Childs was published on Blogcritics late last night. I’ve had it sitting on my review pile for a while, but between the move and other things demanding my attention, I didn’t get to it until this weekend. The rain canceled my softball game on Sunday, so after I got home from RavenCon, I put everything else on hold and started reading. It was a great way to wind down from the activity of the con.

…after the first eight chapters or so of re-introducing the characters and setting the stage for what is to come, the story moves along at a steady clip, hardly pausing for a breath until the end. And that breath catches in the throat as the final cliffhanger hints at what is to come in the third book. Firma is safe, for now, but Rokey and his companions still have much more to do.