Monday, November 22, 2010

In My Mailbox/Mailbox Monday

In My Mailbox is a book meme hosted by The Story Siren.  Mailbox Monday is a floating meme created by The Printed Page.  This month, Mailbox Monday is hosted by Knitting and Sundries.

This week, I received an ARC of The Anatomy of Ghosts by Andrew Taylor.  I love historical fiction and Andrew Taylor's writing has been compared to that of Edgar Allen Poe, one of my all-time favorite authors.  I can hardly wait to read his latest novel. 

Andrew Taylor is the winner of numerous awards, including the Crime Writers' Association's 2009 Cartier Diamond Dagger. This year, his novel The American Boy was named one of the best crime novels of the decade by The Times.  Check out his website.

Items described on The Muse Reviews may have been provided free of charge in exchange for an impartial review. Please refer to the Disclaimer for details.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Book Review: Strangers At The Feast by Jennifer Vanderbes

Hardcover: 352 pages
Publisher: Scribner
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1439166951
ISBN-13: 978-1439166956

Muse Reviews Rating: 3 laurels
Publisher's Description:

On Thanksgiving Day 2007, as the country teeters on the brink of a recession, three generations of the Olson family gather. Eleanor and Gavin worry about their daughter, a single academic, and her newly adopted Indian child, and about their son, who has been caught in the imploding real-estate bubble. While the Olsons navigate the tensions and secrets that mark their relationships, seventeen-year-old Kijo Jackson and his best friend Spider set out from the nearby housing projects on a mysterious job. A series of tragic events bring these two worlds ever closer, exposing the dangerously thin line between suburban privilege and urban poverty, and culminating in a crime that will change everyone’s life.

In Strangers At The Feast, Jennifer Vanderbes produces the tight, engaging narrative every writer dreams of creating.  From the opening line, Jennifer Vanderbes draws you in and invites you to sit down with her fictional family while they tell their story.  Vanderbes tackles weighty themes ranging from socioeconomics to eminent domain.

I struggled to craft a synopsis that would do justice to Strangers At The Feast.  Simply stating the plot doesn't cover the intricacies of Vanderbes' story.  Unfortunately, the complexity that made Strangers At The Feast appealing to me as a reader also detracted from my experience. 

Each chapter is told from the point of view of a different character.  Although this formula gives the reader a feeling of immediacy and intimacy with Vanderbes' characters, they lack the distinctive voices that make the technique successful.  Jennifer Vanderbes also spends more than half of her novel in flashback, in which she treats the reader to history lessons or waxes philosophical about the "emasculation of the American warrior."  While these scenes are well-written, they drag down the book's pacing. 

When I finally reached the climax, Vanderbes rushed through it, and left a number of plot points unresolved.  I was far more interested in the subplot involving Ginny Olson's adopted Indian daughter than in Douglas Olson's marital difficulties and was disappointed that I didn't get to see more of Priya.  Despite lagging a bit in the middle, Strangers At The Feast is a quick read.  Fans of literary fiction will enjoy Jennifer Vanderbes' skill with words and appreciate the depth of her research into a wide variety of topics. 

Items on this site may have been provided free of charge in exchange for an impartial review. Please refer to the Disclaimer for details.

Monday, November 8, 2010

In My Mailbox / Mailbox Monday

In My Mailbox is hosted by The Story Siren.  Mailbox Monday is a floating meme founded by The Printed Page.  This month, Mailbox Monday is hosted by Knitting and Sundries.   

Oh look, new goodies!

This week, I got books in both my email and snail mailboxes.

The hardcopy book is Moonlight Mile by Dennish Lehane.

The ebook is Cat the Vamp by Christina Martine.

My review pile is starting to take up more space than I ever anticipated.  I've got enough books to do a review a week through February of 2011.  Granted, it's nowhere near the 700+ books I've heard other bloggers have waiting for them, but it seems like a lot when I'm staring at the stack on my coffee table.

Guess I'd better get reading.

Items on this site may have been provided free of charge in exchange for an impartial review. Please refer to the Disclaimer for details.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Movie Review: How to Train Your Dragon by DreamWorks Animation

Actors: Jay Baruchel, Gerard Butler
Directors: Dean DeBlois and Chris Sanders
Format: AC-3, Animated, Color, Dolby, Dubbed, Subtitled, Widescreen
Rated: PG (Parental Guidance Suggested)
Studio: DreamWorks
DVD Release Date: October 15, 2010
Run Time: 98 minutes
Special Features: Animated short film, interviews and behind-the scenes footage, deleted scenes, games

Muse Reviews Rating: 4.5 laurels

This week's review is How To Train Your Dragon, by DreamWorks Animation.  You know, the creators of the Shrek series.  If you're a parent, chances are good you've already seen this movie with your kids.  However, if you're like me, you don't want to wrangle two rowdy kids in a theater crowded with other people's unruly offspring.  Thank goodness for DVD!

If you haven't heard of How To Train Your Dragon - you know, because you've been living in a desert cave without an Internet connection and only migrated to civilization within the last month - here's a quick peek at the DVD trailer: 

Based on the book of the same title by Cressida Cowell, How To Train Your Dragon is the story of Hiccup (Jay Baruchel), the misfit son of a Viking chieftain.  Hiccup is desperate to kill one of the dragons that continually raid his island home and improve his social status enough to land a date with Astrid (America Ferrera), the prettiest and toughest girl in the village.  Impressing his father, the legendary Stoick the Vast (Gerard Butler), wouldn't hurt either.  Unfortunately, Hiccup is stuck in the forge where he is apprenticed to Gobber (Craig Ferguson), blacksmith and trainer of the next generation of dragon slayers, who has the onerous task of keeping Hiccup out of trouble.

During a raid, Hiccup sneaks out of the forge and uses one of his many inventions to attack a Night Fury.  These mysterious creatures are the most elusive and feared of all dragons.  To make matters worse, Hiccup's contraptions never work and usually backfire.  No one is more surprised than Hiccup when his latest invention succeeds.  Hiccup tracks the injured dragon to a secluded valley but can't bring himself to kill it.  Instead, he befriends the dragon, which he dubs "Toothless" because of its retractable teeth.  As the weeks pass, Hiccup discovers that dragons are more complex than anyone in his village realizes. 

Like the real stars of this movie - the dragons - How To Train Your Dragon is more complex than it first appears.  Beyond the obvious theme of a boy coming of age, How To Train Your Dragon explores the relationship between a father and son, demonstrates why it's always a good idea to get to know someone before judging him, touches on the abilities of the differently-abled (Gobber is missing a hand and a foot but hardly seems to notice), and even the value of animal research as Hiccup spends hours observing the Night Fury.  How To Train Your Dragon is a step up from the usual DreamWorks scripts, which rely heavily on cliches and pop-culture references.  I credit the improvement to the writing and directing team of Chris Sanders and Dean DeBlois, who also created Disney's Lilo and Stitch.

I'm not an expert in animation techniques, but I thought How To Train Your Dragon was gorgeous.  In my opinion, it's second only to Avatar.  The flight sequences might be better.  I know my kids loved them, because my preschooler spent days "flying" around the house after watching this movie.  We rented the single-disc DVD rather than the 3D BlueRay and the effects were still superb.

The only criticism I have for How To Train Your Dragon is in the casting.  Why do the adult Vikings speak with Scottish brogues?!?!  I admit my ancient history is a bit rusty, but I'm fairly sure the Vikings were from Scandinavia, not Scotland.  Don't get me wrong, Gerard Butler is an excellent actor and I can't think of a better choice to play Stoick.  Likewise, Craig Ferguson's portrayal of Gobber is the perfect combination of humor and eccentric mentor.  I just wish DreamWorks had hired a dialogue coach to give them Nordic accents.  This small detail is the only thing keeping me from giving How To Train Your Dragon five laurels.  Maybe I'm nitpicky, but the incongruity grated on my nerves.

Overall, How To Train Your Dragon is great fun for the whole family.  It's full of quotable lines and everyone will have his or her favorites.  My personal choice comes from Hiccup during a flight sequence:

"Thank you for nothing, you useless reptile."

Jay Baruchel delivers this line with a perfect, dry wit that had me laughing as loud on the third viewing as I did on the first.  How To Train Your Dragon is definitely going on my holiday wish list. 

Items on this site may have been provided free of charge in exchange for an impartial review. Please refer to the Disclaimer for details.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Book Blogger Hop: Followers

Book Blogger Hop

Part the First

This seems to be the week of thought-provoking memes.  This week, Crazy For Books asks:

"What are your feelings on losing followers? Have you ever stopped following a blog?"

I'm new enough to the Blogosphere that I don't have a ready answer to this.  If I base my answer on the number of followers I have on Twitter, the number of members on the forums I moderate, or my Facebook friends, then I'd have to say losing followers doesn't bother me much.  I've left a forum or stopped following someone because I didn't have time to keep up with the posts.  I've stopped because I didn't care for changes in content or tone and because my interest in a topic waned. 

Bearing this in mind, I can't begrudge someone for un-following me.  Unless it's an offline friend, I don't take it to heart.  Even if the lost follower is someone I know, I still try not to take it personally.  Sometimes, people just need to curtail their online activity because they lack time or because they need to focus on more important things like school, work, or family. 

Sometimes, the forum - whether it's a message board or a blog - just isn't a good fit for the other person.  If that's the case, I'd rather the person stopped following me and devoted the time to someone else.  There are plenty of options and, to paraphrase Laurell K. Hamilton (one of my favorite authors), life is too short to read anything you don't love.

Part the Second

In a new twist, Jennifer offers Blog Hoppers a challenge:

"BLOG HOP CHALLENGE:  With this in mind, I have a challenge for you.  This challenge will take some dedication on your part this week.  I want you to find ONE blog in the Hop list that you genuinely WANT to follow (try to find a new blog, if you can!) and make at least 5 comments on their blog this week on 5 different posts.  Get to know this blogger and what they post about.  Next week, as part of your Hop post, I want you to post about your experience with this challenge.  Just tell us what you thought of the challenge, who you found to follow and link to the posts that you commented on." 

Oy vey.  Like many who participate in the Blog Hop, I'm a mother, so my time is seriously limited.  I also work from home as a freelance writer.  I confess I'm behind on the books I should be reviewing because deadlines wait for no one and The Muse Reviews is a hobby at this point.  I'd like it to be more than a hobby one day, but I'm not there yet.  However, I'm determined to participate in this challenge.  I'm going to take a slightly different approach, though. 

Rather than click through 200+ blogs on the link list, hoping to find someone I want to follow, I'm going to focus my attention on the people who leave comments on this post.  Those blogs will take precedence over the others.  I hope to uncover some gems.
Items on this site may have been provided free of charge in exchange for an impartial review. Please refer to the Disclaimer for details.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Booking Through Thursday: Good or Bad Writing

This week's Booking Through Thursday question is:

I’ve seen many bloggers say that what draws them to certain books or authors is good writing, and what causes them to stop reading a certain book or author is bad writing. What constitutes good writing and bad writing to you?

For me, this question is difficult to answer because so many things factor into "good" and "bad" writing and some of them are easy to recognize but hard to describe.  I don't think I can name them all, but I'll offer up a few highlights. 

Good writing - believable characters and situations; even if the characters are vampires or elves or the situation involves life on alien planets, the author still has to make me believe what is happening could happen or should happen given the character's personality.

Bad writing - the writer hasn't done enough research, whether it's in psychology or genetics, to make the world feel real; if I, as a layperson, can find the flaw in a character with a fear of fire so severe that striking a match sends her into a panic suddenly overcoming her phobia to rescue a stray cat from a burning barn, there's a problem. 

Good writing - tight sentence structure, active verbs, detailed description

Bad writing - passive verbs, vague descriptions, run-on sentences spliced together with commas or semi-colons

Good writing - close narrative distance; putting me in the middle of the action or inside the character's head, creating sympathy for the characters

Bad writing - narration is too distant or passive, head-hopping, flat or boring characters

Items on this site may have been provided free of charge in exchange for an impartial review. Please refer to the Disclaimer for details.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

What I'm Reading: Discord's Apple by Carrie Vaughn

I just started Discord's Apple by Carrie Vaughn. Ms. Vaughn is the New York Times bestselling author of the Kitty Norville books. She's also a contributer to the Wildcard Series, edited by George R. R. Martin.

Once upon a time, an ex compared me to the golden apple. Not sure how he made the connection, but I've had a fascination with that myth ever since. I'm intrigued by the concept for Discord's Apple and can't wait to see what Carrie Vaughn has in store.

Items on this site may have been provided free of charge in exchange for an impartial review. Please refer to the Disclaimer for details.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Happy Birthday, Lupa!

Natality felicitations to Lupa, my friend and author of A Field Guide to Otherkin, DIY Totemism, Skin Spirits, and Fang and Fur, Blood and Bone: A Primal Guide to Animal Magic.  Lupa is an environmental activist who practices therioshamanism, reviews books at The Green Wolf, and an artist who creates ritual tools such as antler runes, fur pouches, and sacred jewelry.  Check out her Etsy page.

Items on this site may have been provided free of charge in exchange for an impartial review. Please refer to the Disclaimer for details.