Tag Archives: Amazon

Review: The Martian

The Martian
The Martian by Andy Weir
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Curse you Andy Weir. Seriously. Your fault: I hardly slept last night. I could not—could not!—put your book down. It was too good.

I loved Chris Hadfield’s ASTRONAUT’S GUIDE TO LIFE ON EARTH , and when a commander of the International Space Station praises a book for “fascinating technical accuracy”, it makes my internal ears perk up. My interest is piqued. Then, the author of WOOL (who sold like a billion copies of his independently published work before getting professionally bound) said, “The best book I’ve read in ages. Clear your schedule before you crack the seal.” I should have listened. Nope. And there went my night.

Here’s the mix: science and galley humor. With one of the best opening lines ever (censors prevent me from posting it; look it up on Amazon’s preview) and with the stranded astronaut/science guy trying to survive in his “Little Hab on the Prairie”—I’m slayed. Mark Waney, the protagonist, says, “I suppose I’ll think of something. Or die.” And so while he’s recording his journal entries, the earth is watching in fascination and desperate hope.

Incredible would not be the right word for this. If Tom Hank’s Castaway Island was located on Mars and MacGyver was sent as the strandee, then this is what you get. Take a bunch of science—engineering, botany, chemistry (explosive at times)—and tie it together with math, and holy cow! Trust me, even if you aren’t scientific by nature, this is written in an exciting manner that zips by. Did I mention hard to put down?

Despite the sagacious humor, science, and adventure, I like the encompassing lesson: “every human being has a basic instinct to help each other out.”

Thanks to Crown and Random House for sending me this book to review—it was awesome! And I don’t say that lightly. I received this book for free from Blogging for Books for this review.

Here are some other cool book-associated sites to check out:

• The Martian Press Release (http://crownpublishing.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/The-Martian-Press-Release.pdf)
• A Conversation with Andy Weir (http://crownpublishing.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/A-Conversation-with-Andy-Weir.pdf)
• More Info (http://www.randomhouse.com/book/234102/the-martian-by-andy-weir)
• Author Bio (http://www.randomhouse.com/author/184612/andy-weir)

You can see this book on Amazon, along with its other 3,000+ reviews to date: The Martian: A Novel



Review: Past the Shallows

Past the Shallows
Past the Shallows by Favel Parrett
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Cormac McCarthy, Per Petterson, and Maya Angelou: the three authors inspiring Favel Parrett. Reading PAST THE SHALLOWS indeed reminded me of McCarthy’s THE ROAD. No wonder. Favel says she has the last paragraph of that work hanging in her studio, reading it most days. What I’m saying is this—as the publisher describes it best: “told with an elegant simplicity” “PAST THE SHALLOWS is a hauntingly beautiful story of the bond of brotherhood and the fragility of youth.”

My summary: Harry and Miles live with their sea-faring father on the southeast coast of Tasmania. Their older brother Joe has moved on after not-so-amendable events take place in their household. Their mother killed in a car accident. Any other friends or relatives are scarce. Miles, the older one, must look out for Harry, especially as they are either left alone often or subject to the drunken and depressed temper of their father. All is not well, but the love between these brothers is proven strong and sincere.

As with THE ROAD, this book is not for the timid of heart. Yet, as with THE ROAD, this book is made to strengthen the heart. It is raw in its spare language, captivating in its emotion, and haunting in its thoughts. Hemingway advised, “All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.” PAST THE SHALLOWS is full of true sentences.

Without further complicating things, I give this book my highest of favor and praise. It is one that will be on my mind for a while.

Thank you to Washington Square Press and Simon & Schuster for providing me with an electronic review copy of this book. It was an honor to read it.

Check out this book and its other amazing reviews on Amazon: Past the Shallows: A Novel


Review: The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August
The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Update: Claire North is Catherine Webb, who is also known as Kate Griffin

This book is brilliant on many, many levels. We’re told the author Claire North is a pseudonym for a “prominent British author”. I believe it. The author’s impeccable, artistic-level of writing is top of the line. The research—oh my God, the research—this author nailed not only the historical context throughout the 20th century, but did so by identification with the cultural accuracy in England, Russia, China, and the United States. Furthermore, each locale and time period reflected the proper dialect, scientific discovery, and emotional awareness of its time. Wrap this up with a cleverly woven story wrapped in a unique setting of time repetition. Brilliant.

Protagonist Harry August is what the book calls a Kalachakra or an Ouroboran. The word Ouroboran references an ancient Greek symbol of a serpent eating its own tail, re-creating itself. See where this is going? The Kalachakra is taken from Tibetan Buddhism, referencing a time-wheel. In other words, when Harry August dies (usually around 1990) he comes back in his own baby-body in 1919. He has to re-live his life. The first few lives are exploratory with madness (suicide), expression (asylum), and finding (God and the universe). August is also a Mnemonic, meaning he can remember everything from previous lives. He uses this to become a doctor in one life, a professor in another, a philosopher, a physicist, etc. The author does an excellent job of making this increasing level of awareness and intelligence a believable concept.

August is not alone. From the book, people like August are born “one in every half million of the population”. These people find each other and assemble a group called the Cronus Club, a society of members vowing not to alter history. Through the club, members can send messages back in time through the various generations of members. Members not in compliance are dealt with in one of two ways: an electrical clearing of the mind, or a pre-birth termination. Such drastic actions are necessary in cases of cataclysm caused by careless members. When steamships start sailing in the 1600s and cultural revolutions happen all at once, it is a problem. A world-ending problem.

That’s where things really kick-off. Around the eleventh life, Harry finds out from a seven-year-old Kalachakra that the world is ending. Through prior-life connections and his perfect memory, it is up to Harry to use espionage, subterfuge, and anything it takes to save the future world and the lives of his fellow life-repeaters.

Chapters flip among the various lives of Harry August, building up the connections he’s made each life, ultimately building to the book’s exciting climax. The complexity involved is mind-numbingly amazing, and even as widely woven this story is, it is captivating and easy to follow throughout.

Once the author of this book is revealed, it will take-off. Consider me a member of the future, telling you to read it now.

Thanks to Redhook and Orbit for providing me with an electronic review copy of this book. It was a pleasure to read and review.

Check out this book and its other great reviews on Amazon: The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August


Review: The Best Punctuation Book, Period.

The Best Punctuation Book, Period: A Comprehensive Guide for Every Writer, Editor, Student, and Businessperson
The Best Punctuation Book, Period: A Comprehensive Guide for Every Writer, Editor, Student, and Businessperson by June Casagrande
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I should be nervous. I feel like you are going to judge every usage of my periods, commas, and semicolons. I mean, who in their right minds would write a review on a grammar or usage book? Well, I’m okay because June Casagrande has already taught me that GRAMMAR SNOBS ARE GREAT BIG MEANIES. You can learn about grammar AND have fun. Shocking, isn’t it?

I reviewed that other punctuation book—you know, the one about the pandas shooting each other—and it confirmed Casagrande’s hypothesis about those grammar meanies. Seriously. Here’s a good one from that panda book: “don’t use commas like a stupid person.” Charming, right? Or how about this one: “you deserve to be struck by lightning, hacked up on the spot and buried in an unmarked grave.” In my world that’s….that’s just not nice. Not to mention that book was written for those friends of ours that prefer the Oxford dictionary and who put their commas on the other side of the quotation mark. THE BEST PUNCTUATION BOOK, PERIOD. is a fun and informative book written by one of the coolest, most hip professionals around.

My anticipation for this book revolved around Casagrande’s past style and voice: a bit of a wise crack and a lot of fun. I mean, what other author uses sexual innuendo to teach readers about the predicate nominative? The key word being “fun”. In THE BEST PUNCTUATION BOOK, Casagrande moves toward a more traditional approach. This is a good thing–so much so, you’ll need to buy a couple of copies.

Are you ever curious about the differences between AP Style Guide and the Chicago Manual of Style? Are you one of those people that keep both at their desk? Well, you may then need three copies of Casagrande’s book (e.g., one for the office, one for home, and one for the car). She takes each piece of punctuation, describes their usage, offers examples, and directly compares the input from each major style guide. Where the professionals don’t have opinions, she offers the opinion from a panel of editors. That’s just the first half. The second half is an alphabetized quick-reference. For instance, if you wanted to know if “F-bomb” was hyphenated, you would find it in the back under “F”. I used this to lookup my above referenced “e.g.,” where books, news, science, and academia all agree that a comma is used after it.

Bob Ross gave us happy trees and birds; Casagrande gives us happy em dashes. (That was bad, wasn’t it?) In more serious terms, if you are looking for the most up-to-date desk reference comparing each of the major style guides and usage examples, this is it. Casagrande is the master and indeed has written the best punctuation book, period.

Thanks to Ten Speed Pressing and Crown Publishing for sending me a review copy of this book. I will be standing in line for Casagrande’s next book.

Now, go check this book out on Amazon: The Best Punctuation Book, Period: A Comprehensive Guide for Every Writer, Editor, Student, and Businessperson


Review: Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less

Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less
Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg Mckeown
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

ESSENTIALISM by Greg McKeown is a book that should be read annually. In it we are asked, “What if we stopped celebrating being busy as a measurement of importance?” Not that it is a new concept, but it is a book that assembles all the great philosophies and thinkers into a cohesive and inspiring format. McKeown starts from Socrates (“Beware of the barrenness of a busy life”) and works his way into modern thinkers such as Drucker, Gladwell, and Csikszentmihalyi.

McKeown makes the concession that essentialism is “not about eschewing e-mail or disconnecting from the Web or living like a hermit.” It’s about finding—get ready for it—what is essential. He includes a drawing to help illustrate this: on one side is a circle with several small arrows coming out of it; on the other side is a circle with one long arrow. Picture it. We have so much resource, so much time, so much energy. The less we are committed to, the more successful we become in our task. McKeown points out that the word “priority” didn’t have a pluralization until the 20th century.

I’m reminded a lot of last year’s book GETTING TO IT! by Jones Loflin and Todd Musig. In it, the authors talked about using a filter for your time. One of those filters being the ability to say “no”. Here, McKeown describes how to fulfil your “no” repertoire and filter through the opportunities that we are given as our success increases. McKeown emphasizes the continuous analysis of: explore, eliminate, and execute.

Like those before him, no good personal success book would is complete without a metaphor. Here, the metaphor is cleaning your closet. There are always trade-offs in cultivating the essential. In your closet, instead of asking yourself if you should get rid of something, ask “If I didn’t already own this, how much would I spend to buy it?” In your closet of life and time, when an opportunity presents itself, McKeown encourages you to question each new opportunity.

This book is not a one-trick pony. It is a singular, life-changing concept that presents a “massive shift in thinking”. Page-edge to page-edge is filled with quotes and references used in context as a toolbox offering to help shift our thought from busywork=success to the new paradigm of concerted effort=success. For the references, journal entries, and scientific studies that don’t fit within the pages, there are a plethora of footnotes for further reading.

I’ll list some of the other books the author quotes below, but one of the more enlightening ones that stands out is a reference to the study about the 10,000 hour rule, most famously known in Malcom Gladwell’s OUTLIERS. It says if you put in time, you’ll be an expert. Another finding from that same study shows that over eight hours of sleep was also a contributing factor. This illustrates the paradox that expertise isn’t just about putting in the hours, but rest and focus are nearly equal contributors.

The bottom line is that I love this book and books like this. It contains interesting, forward-thinking thought presented in a new light. It contains lots of references to already established material from well-researched authors. It’s not just a collection of quotes, but an assembly of ideas, drawings, charts, and other helpful learning materials. In other words, practice what you read in this book and your life is guaranteed to improve. Read it again next year and you’ll learn something new.

Thank you to the Crown Publishing Group and Crown Business for supplying me with a review copy of this book. Here are some of the other books the author references for further reading:

DRIVE by Daniel Pink
THE POWER OF HABIT by Charles Duhigg
THINKING, FAST AND SLOW by Daniel Kahneman
GOOD TO GREAT by Jim Collins
FLOW by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

Be sure to check this book out on Amazon, along with its other reviews: Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less


Review: Chance by Kem Nunn (author of Tijuana Straits)

Chance by Kem Nunn
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

More than being a book about dissociative personality disorder, this book itself suffers from dissociative personality disorder. CHANCE’s disingenuous description labels it as “an intense tale of psychological suspense”, but what’s presented is humorous noir. The book’s biggest sin, though, is trying to combine intelligent narrative with fatigued cliché, both in character and in dialogue.

Believability, or rather a lack thereof, will kill any book. Kem Nunn’s deft and detailed description of San Francisco’s bay area certainly creates a strong backdrop, but the cardboard-ish characters ruin the scenery. Characters include: an omniscient ex-husband detective antagonist that may-or-may not be involved; a downward-spiraling, sex-deprived physiatrist protagonist; an enigmatic lurch buddy that can’t drive, but can quote GRAPES OF WRATH, expound on computer hacking, and is an apparent expert in the martial arts; and finally, the two-charactered patient scared of being found out, but has no problem rendezvousing in public or at her doctor’s apartment for an occupational midnight romp.

As for the dialogue, at times characters are referencing the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSMV) and the philosophies of Nietzsche, but at other times are dropping tired lines as “sup, dog” or “go big or go home.” It reads like Nunn tried to increase the cerebral draw to his novels, but couldn’t help but slip into his surfer dude history. This would have been a fantastic novel if he stayed consistent throughout.

Ultimately there wasn’t enough drive, nor was there enough conflict. The audience doesn’t care for the eponymous Dr. Chance, which is bad news for when he needs empathy for the bad decisions he makes. The villain isn’t villainous enough, and the mistress/patient isn’t alluring enough. As for the guy named D that sits in the back of the furniture shop, he’s a convenient enigma that is handy to have deus ex machinas sitting in his back pocket—in some cases, literally.

Proper branding and narrative consistency would have done this book wonders. Instead, we’re left with an okay plot that bounces around with some interest. This lands somewhere between 2 and 3 stars.

Thank you to Scribner for sending me a review copy of this book.

Be sure to check out this book and its other reviews on Amazon: Chance: A Novel


Review: The Cowboy and the Vampire: A Very Unusual Romance

The Cowboy and the Vampire: A Very Unusual Romance
The Cowboy and the Vampire: A Very Unusual Romance by Clark Hays
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is one of the weirdest stories I have ever read. It’s right up there with Neil Gaiman’s man-swallowing woman parts and talking tents. Instead, here we have rocket-launching, womb-sucking, Bible-bending, non-pointy-toothed vampires. And love. And cowboys. Depending on what you are looking for, that might be a good thing.

If I had to liken this book to a movie, it would either be to Tucker & Dale vs. Evil, or maybe more appropriately, Quentin Tarantino’s From Dusk to Dawn. That’s cool, right? Don’t go into this expecting high literature or an in-depth emotional love story. If you give it too much thought, you’re going to have a rough ride.

Here’s what I mean. I just finished reading THE GOLDFINCH and Egger’s Pultizer-Prize winning novel before reading this. The double negatives, the “or” after a “neither”, and the switching perspectives (switching back-and-forth from first person to third person narrative) were causing my brain to fizzle. The deus ex machinas were the proverbial nail in the coffin (you like that pun?). Once I set aside my brain’s function and just went along for the ride, it was pretty fun.

Backstory time. Okay, this is another breed of vampires without sharp, neck-piercing teeth. According to the story, these vampires were created by God. While the Bible mentions God creating light and day, it really was “a metaphor for separating humanity from vampires.” The history gets a little tricky around the time of Jesus, when Malthus choose Mary Magdalene as a mate, turning her into a vampire, and Jesus rose Lazarus from the dead, turning him into a vampire. What we know today is mixing “Messianic bloodline and the Reptilian bloodline is strictly prohibited.” Go ahead; I’ll wait here why you re-read that. Let it sink in.

So…besides miraculous events of death rising, how do these non-pointy-toothed vampires turn folks into fellow vampires? Well, buckle-up. The main vampire of the story, Julius, turns his daughter into a vampire by cutting a hole into her womb, then slicing himself, sucking his own blood, and then…we’ll let his daughter describe the rest: “[he put his] lips between my legs, pushing his blood inside my womb, mixing it with my own.” I’ll let you do the anatomical math and figure out where her dad was putting his lips.

What about the cowboy? Oh, yeah. So, Lizzie, the daughter of Sir Modern Day Dracula, is a high society magazine writer and coincidentally is doing an article on a cowboy and an article on vampires. The word coincidentally comes to mind often in this story (shut-up, mind, shut-up; just enjoy it). So, between interviewing cosplay vampires, she flies out to meet said cowboy and falls in love and lust. And, as Tucker the cowboy said, “She’d grabbed my heart by the horns, wrestled it down and slapped her brand on it.”

The vampires arrive in the West, hurt the cowboy’s dog and horse, and take his girl. His first logical choice is to fly to New York and save her. Of course. But first he must stop off at his convenient (there’s that word again) friend’s house, who is afraid of watching TV because of the government spies, but can capably makeshift a shotgun that shoots mini-wooden spikes and grenades held together by duct tape. Yee-haw.

The arsenal seamlessly ships to New York, available for Tucker to walk around openly with, along with his leash-less dog. He stumbles upon the vanishing vampire fortress in Central Park, is invited to stay for dinner and a sleep-over, and he gladly accepts. Wouldn’t you say “yes” to an offer to stay overnight with some vampires? This is all because Tucker would “rather die than live without Lizzie.” The vampires release him after his slumber party so he can scour the city of “twelve zillion people” in search of his girl. After he intuitively finds her via the telephone book, he leads her to an un-hitched robbing of a blood bank so she can eat. Yum, yum.

I think you get the gist of it all. Lots of crazy, lots of unexpected, and potentially lots of fun. There’s adventure, there’s sexual romance, there’s blood, there’s even a bit of incest. What more could you want? The bottom line is, I was debating on reading this and when I saw the authors’ Twitter handle “cowboyvamp”, I decided this was my book to read. I think I’ve given you enough to consider, so now the choice is now yours.

Thanks to the publisher for throwing a review copy my want to sink my teeth into. And with that, I’ll stop the bad puns.

Now go check this book out on Amazon, along with its other reviews: The Cowboy and the Vampire: A Very Unusual Romance (The Cowboy and the Vampire Collection) (Volume 1)