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Showing posts from April, 2009

Cannonball Read #26 (5K Book 5 -- Sci-Fi/Fantasy): Arena (Magic: The Gathering) by William R. Forstchen

This book was not good.

I probably should have realized that a book based on a CARD GAME would probably be below par, but I was stuck for a Sci-fi/Fantasy book for the 5K and The Boyfriend happened to own this one.

The basic premise is that a mysterious one-eyed stranger arrives in town on the eve of the annual magic festival (actual magic...no cards here) and pits the pre-established magic-wielding groups against one another for his own secret purposes. There is much magicking and some sneaking and a little implied sex and a certain amount of violence. The "mob" is always "howling" and magicians' hands are always "waving" and everyone has names like Zarel and Kirlen of Bolk and Naru and "The Walker." People set magical bears on one another and one guy's go-to magical defense is--I kid you not--magic trees. Sometimes they're magic trees that eat people but sometimes they're literally just a bunch of trees in which he hides. Everyon…

Cannonball Read #25 (5K Book 4 -- Non-Fiction): Under a Flaming Sky: The Great Hinckley Firestorm of 1894 by Daniel James Brown

When I was a kid, our house burned down. I was nine, and it was two days before Christmas. I don't remember much about it--it was the middle of the night, and I was rousted by my bed from my mother and hurried down the stairs and out the front door into the chilly drizzle in my nightgown. What I DO remember was looking back through the front door and seeing my father come running down the hall from the back of the house while the fire blew in the back windows and followed him down the hallway. It's a memory I haven't thought of much in the ensuing eighteen years, but reading Under a Flaming Sky brought it back...and made me realize how very lucky we were to have all escaped the fire that destroyed our home unharmed.

On Labor Day in 1894, a wildfire swept out of the woods in Minnesota, destroying everything in its path. One of the things that lay in its path was the small lumber town of Hinckley. Daniel James Brown (whose grandfather was actually a survivor of Hinckley) lays…

Cannonball Read #24 (5K Book 3 -- Biography): American Scoundrel: The Life of Notorious Civil War General Dan Sickles by Thomas Keneally

This book is a fascinating look at a person who could either be considered a national hero or an irredeemable asshole.

This is the story of Dan Sickles, a native New Yorker who was brought up through the Tammany system. Although not well-remembered today, Sickles was a dynamic, popular, and very gossip-worthy figure of his time. His connections to Tammany Hall were definitely not entirely honest, but he often used them to accomplish good things, like the establishment of Central Park, and many years later would head the effort to preserve the battlefield at Gettysburg.. He served in the US government, and became friends with many powerful people, including the Lincolns. Sickles was also (as mentioned in the title) a general during the Civil War, fighting on behalf of the Union, despite his pre-war Southern sympathies. His actions at Gettysburg--moving his troops ahead of the planned position and onto higher ground--could have resulted in Union disaster but instead led to victory. Howev…

Cannonball Read #23 (5K Book 2 -- Romance): The Captive by Victoria Holt

Before I start, I must be clear that I actually LIKE many romance novels. I have read all kinds, and I have been a fan of Victoria Holt's for some time. Sadly, The Captive is not the best of Victoria Holt's work. As I said, I usually enjoy her books--the heroines are generally more along the lines of "Jane Eyre" than "Weeping Victim" in that they often are bold, intelligent women who have to find their ways in the world alone, and can't necessarily rely on their looks or charms. Some of the heroines in her books have unconventional occupations (art restorer, for example) despite the Victorian era settings, and most don't go into their situations looking for love. However, they always find love, and generally find a fairly interesting mystery as well. This book showed a lot of promise at first, but then let me down.

Rosetta Cranleigh comes from a family of academics--parents so wound up in their research they barely realize she exists. She grows up re…

Cannonball Read #22 (5K Book--Fiction): Third Girl by Agatha Christie

You know how I was saying before that I didn't understand why I had this strong impression that Agatha Christie's books were for old British ladies? I figured it out while reading this one.

This is one of Christie's Hercule Poirot mysteries. Hercule Poirot is a Belgian detective who seems to think he is better than everyone and spends an awful lot of time twirling his "moustaches" in contemplation while complaining about how rude and gauche everyone is. Frankly, I spent most of the book kind of wanting to punch him in the "moustaches."

The plot requires Poirot to untangle the mystery of a young woman (A hippy! [It's the sixties, you know.] How dirty and appalling and strange!) who confesses that she thinks she murdered someone. Unfortunately, she has no idea who or why, and doesn't even bother to leave her name. Poirot has to start by figuring out who this girl is, where she has come from, and who she might have murdered. He unravels this case wit…

Cannonball Read Update: April 5K

So this month I'm taking part in a mini-competition as part of the Cannonball Read process. They're calling it April 5K: The Crabby Smorgasbook and it's pretty simple. Combatants have to read one book from five specific genres in the space of two weeks (and blog about them, of course.) Here's my list:

1. Fiction: Third Girl by Agatha Christie
2. Non-Fiction: Under a Flaming Sky: The Great Hinckley Firestorm of 1894
3. Fantasy/Sci-Fi: Arena (Magic: The Gathering) by William R. Forstchen
4. Biography: American Soundrel: The Life of the Notorious Civil War General Dan Sickles
5. Romance: The Captive by Victoria Holt

I started Third Girl today, and hopefully will be able to finish and blog on that tomorrow. The competition ends on 4/29. I think I should be able to get through them all, though the biography is a bit hefty. I'm not entirely sure about Arena, but since I am not really into fantasy/sci-fi, I had to borrow from The Boyfriend and that was the only one he had that …

Cannonball Read #21: The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett

I think The Thin Man may be one of those iconic books in its genre that has been parodied and referenced so many times that by the time one actually reads it, it all feels terribly familiar.

The main character is Nick Charles, former detective and man-about-town. On a visit to New York with his young wife, Nora, he becomes entangled in the problems of the very emotional and very strange Wynant family. This leads to Nick chasing around New York, following leads, dealing with hysterical women, getting shot at, and having approximately 347 drinks (he seems to do nothing, in fact, except drink and have people in and out of his hotel suite.)

The plot is relatively complex, and I didn't guess until near the end how it was going to turn out. However, I found the characters unrelateable--perhaps it's the era, but all of them seemed rather vapid and/or hysteria-prone. Nick seemed like kind of a jerk, and his wife nothing but a sweet sidekick. Plus, I personally found the writing style so…

Cannonball Read #20: The Great Mortality: An Intimate History of the Black Death, the Most Devastating Plague of All Time by John Kelly

I know a certain amount about history. I mean, I read. I watch the History Channel and Discovery and NatGeo with The Boyfriend. I have access to the interweb. However, I will admit that (like most people) there are certain parts of history I know more about than others--basically, I know a lot about the things they felt the need to teach in school, less about the eras deemed "unimportant." I know about the Greeks, the Romans, the Norman Conquest (which never fails to bring up the mental picture of some little stereotypical-looking nerd huffing up the beach through a chilly, foggy British morning, saying "I'm Norman, and I'm here to conquer you."), the American Revolution, the Civil War, and WWII. There are some very clear and inexcusable gaps in my historical education, to be honest. Thus, when I obtain a book about one subject, only to discover a hidden lode of historical information, I am delighted. This has been the case with many of the disaster books I…