Friday, September 5, 2014

COLD ANTLER FARM

COLD ANTLER FARM
&
ONE WOMAN FARM

 


Both of these Jenna Woginrich books are so well written they are hard to accurately describe. The writing and choice of words are a mixed bag. At points they are poetic and overly romanticize farm life, yet, at the same time hint at the drudgery and hardships that come along with this homesteading lifestyle. The bright side constantly prevails, which makes these books seem uplifting and inspiring. This is a woman living her dream life - of course she is going to make it sound like candy and roses. I like that. I like that you can almost feel the passion she has for her farm, her animals, her new lifestyle, no matter what obstacles get in the way.
She sounds happy, which is nice to read.
She sounds proud, which is nice to read.
She wants everyone to feel the same way she does - which is really nice to read.
Now, I'm not a big animal lover, but, Jenna is. She raves about her livestock, tells stories about their behaviours and how they have changed her life...something I am typically not that interested in. Yet, the way she writes about the animals is exactly how I write about my children. They are brag tales. They are short snippets of how life has changed when you add another being to your life, a being that is solely dependant on you. She talks over and over about how she puts her livestock above her, which is exactly how I feel about my children. What an epiphany for me. I'm still not interested in owning a goat, or a sheep, or even a chicken, but, I think my mind is a bit more open to those that do.
To sum these books up; uplifting, positive, relateable, readable, interesting...great!

RATING : READ

Jenna blogs at http://coldantlerfarm.blogspot.ca/

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

BAD UNICORN

BAD UNICORN


- Platte Clarke -

It was the cover that drew my attention - a pretty looking unicorn with a scowl on its face crushing bones in its mouth with a squirrel skewered to its horn. So, yes, I judged a book by its cover...and glad I did in this case.
As the title suggests, there is a unicorn that is 'bad'. Princess is her name and destruction is her game. She is very magical and uses that magic for her own evil purposes, which mostly involve eating lesser beings. She has an insatiable appetite for flesh, and is also bent on world domination (what a combo eh?). She is also rude.

Come on, who wouldn't want to read a story like that?

I did find Bad Unicorn in the young adult section of the library, which was actually a good thing for me. I kind of felt like reading a YA book at the time. The thing I like about YA books, especially the fantasy type like this, is the stories tend to be more straightforward. 'Adult' fantasy seem to be over reaching stories about the political situations in made up worlds. Which can make for a richer read, but, at a cost...hundreds of pages, and the need to concentrate. YA fantasy on the other hand usually stick to the one plot. Therefore, hundreds of pages less and not as much concentration (and note taking) required - Bad Unicorn took this approach. Platte did a great job of sticking to the story and not letting his world building get the better of the book. He did create a strange and exciting fantasy world full of magic and dimension, but, gave just enough description for the reader to feel they had a good idea what things looked like (not what neighbour was at war with what neighbour five hundred years ago).
The main story was the classic nerdy kid who inherits a magic thing (in this case a book) and finds himself thrown into a wild adventure well outside his comfort zone. His destiny is to use this book to save the world...will he? I'll let you read the end to find out. And of course, remember that the journey is half the fun, especially when there are quirky characters and a killer unicorn.

RATING : READ

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

TRUE GRIT

TRUE GRIT



This book has been touted as a classic, legendary, must read tale of the wild west. Testimonies claim readers make a point of taking this book out and reading at least once a year. Additional claims are that more than one first timers finish the book and instantly start back at page 1 to go through it a second time. Well, these claims seem a bit exaggerated to me. The book was good, I'd put it down on a list to read at some point in life, but, to go through it multiple times seems a bit much to me - It was good, but, it wasn't that good.
The story was a simple uncomplicated affair, Maddie Rose's father is murdered and she is hunting down the killer. What makes this book, apparently a 'rereader', is the two main characters: Maddie Ross and Rooster Cogburn.
Maddie is a teenage girl out to avenge her father's death. Although a teen, she has the attitude and sharp wit of a cynical retiree who's had a long hard life. She is as tough as old boot leather and will not take no for an answer. She holds her own through the long, tough, journey they take in order to catch her father's killer. At points she is inspiring, at points she is infuriating (especially when she constantly brings up the great lawyer she has), but, at no point do you feel pity for her. She is one strong character you are cheering for the entire time.
The other character, Rooster Cogburn, is a questionable Marshall who Maddie hires to track down the murdering Chancey. She hires him b/c he has a reputation at getting the job done, no matter what it takes - even if it means shooting someone. He is another tough as nails old soul, who has one eye, a peg leg, and a heart condition. Alright, not that bad, but, he does sound like someone you would not want to meet in a dark alley, someone you definitely want on your side in a fight. He is also sharp and witty, and tells it like it is. The conversations between him and Maddie are by far the most entertaining parts of the book.
Make time to fit this book into your reading schedule, and if you are a western lover like me it is a must. To have any credibility in a genre you need to read a few well known classics, and in the western genre this is one of them.

RATING: READ

Bookclub idea: This is one of those books you could tie in with the movie. Read the book, watch the movie, compare and contrast.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

GOLDFINGER

GOLDFINGER
Bond #7


- Ian Fleming -

Now this is classic Bond material.
The story starts with the overconfident, macho, superior attitude of Bond bragging about his latest covert mission where he succeeded in killing some evil doer, against all the odds. Then, on the journey home he runs into Mr. Dupont (a character from the first book, Casino Royale). This leads to a card game where the classic bond villian is introduced - Goldfinger. The little guy with an oversided football shaped head who is obsessed with gold.
They end up meeting again in England and one thing leads to another and they duel, a head to head showdown...on the golf course! Twenty or so pages of intense action all based around drivers and putters and how to hit a ball out of the sand bunker. Very undercover agent! Of course, it just shows that Bond can do anything.
After this gentlemanly combat, we meet Goldfinger's body guard. A half mute Korean man who has hands and feet of steel. He can bash through two by fours and elegant stair bannisters with the flick of his wrist. A very deadly guy. How could Bond ever defeat this guy in a hand to hand battle to the death? You know it's coming at some point.
From there the backstory fleshes out and it turns out Goldfinger has ties to SMERSH, that evil communist organization that is bent on taking over the free world. The adventure Bond goes on to capture this guy takes him across the world. I won't give away the ending, I will only say it ends in the typical Bond fashion. Him, a lady, and a bottle of champagne.

I have to say, after reading a couple of Bond books now I'm still baffled at how often he is captured by the enemy. Instead of the world's greatest secret agent, Bond should be labelled the world's best escape artist. By the end of this book Bond has been captured by the evil villain twice and managed to escape in a couple of dramatic and epic ways. Similar in scale to the world domination plans of the villain. As in, unbelievable and ridiculous. Let's just summarize some of the evil plots and escapes. We have a plan to kill tens of thousands of people and break into Fort Knox to steal thousands of tons of gold. On the other hand, an escape from a plane at thirty thousand feet by smashing a window out (thereby sucking bad guys out into space) and crash landing in the ocean and living to tell about it with only a few bruises.
In other words - awesome!

Rating : READ

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

FLATLAND

FLATLAND



I first heard about this book from Sheldon, as in Sheldon from the Big Bang Theory. He mentions it in the episode where Raj wants to hit the town, but, only Sheldon is available. Sheldon does not want to go out and instead suggests that for a change of scene Raj use his imagination and travel to Flatland. He should pretend he is a circle, 'all the gals are hot for circles', and look for an attractive line segment. Now, doesn't that sound like a funny world?
Have you ever pondered what it would be like to live in a 2 dimensional world?
Come on, I'm sure you have.
No?
Well, here is your chance. Abbott invents a world of 2D, inhabited by a variety of shapes from circles to irregular triangles. You are given a glimpse into the thinking and behaviors that could come from living life on only one plane. The differences from our 3D world are brought to life by problems I would have never thought about, such as accidental piercing by sharp angled triangles and trying to see without depth and height to help. The world Abbott comes up with is a rigid, class based society where many angled shapes (Circles being the pinnacle of perfection) are the upper class, whilst triangles make up the lowest class (irregular triangles are the lowest of the low). The only exception is women. They are in fact no shape at all. They are merely line segments (lower than even irregular triangles).
It is a fascinating world to begin with, but, the addition of the satirical math humour makes it infinitely more entertaining than similar 'world building' stories. Who would have though a book revolving around Math could be both funny and easy to read? Especially considering it was written in the 1880s!
Not only is it humourous, but, also very educational. As the story progresses the main character, a respectable square, dreams of Lineland (a 1 dimensional land made of only one line of points). Then his world is invaded by a 3D shape (a well meaning Sphere). These contrasting worlds give the reader a unique view of dimensions, how they are mathematically calculated and how they would look (to our 3D eyes). The idea of 4D, 5D, and so on are hinted at as well. For the novice mathematician and all non-math types, this is a great first step into the world of dimensions.

RATING : READ

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

MOLVANIA

MOLVANIA
A Land Untouched By Modern Dentistry



What a great guide to this relatively unknown, rundown, and backward country. For the traveller who actually considers going to Molvania, this book is a must to keep in the backpack. There is a bit of everything ranging from the history of this cement loving country to tips on how to interact with locals.
I personally love how the book starts. Paraphrasing here - Robust culture, magnificent panoramic views, unique flavourful foods, welcoming hosts, are all sadly, absent from Molvania. But, if you look hard enough the most adventurous traveller can have a one of kind travel experience.
This tone resonates throughout the book. That of a harsh, but, realistic look at this country, yet, upbeat at the same time. The few, and far between, bright (or at least not pitch black) spots of Molvania are really brought to the forefront with this type of writing. It makes one almost want to plan a visit. 
The format of this book makes it really easy to either skim through and find specific information such as hotel recommendations in the East Mountains, or just read straight through and pick up a good base knowledge of the entire country and its people. 
I personally enjoyed the highlighting of specific words dotted throughout the pages. It gave me direction and was an easy way to emphasize some of the more important facts or themes the authors were trying to get across. For eg, I have pulled a few pages from The People and The Arts sections of the book and listed the highlighted words below :


  • blowing your nose
  • barren plains
  • chainsaws
  • head butting
  • public hanging
  • cheap euro porn
  • noticeable stutter
  • Beta Video


See how just highlighting a few words can give the reader a much better understanding of the topic at hand. Don't you feel that much more enlighten on The People and The Arts of Molvania by just reading that list? I know I did while reading through this guide.

I will also applaud the hotel and restaurant recommendation section of the guide. The writers sure did their homework on this front and not only gave reviews of the somewhat Western friendly establishments, but, also the 'budget' places for those on a budget or for those looking for a more authentic experience. Personally, I'm happier knowing what restaurants serve horse meat. At least I know which ones to avoid right?

Scattered throughout the guide are tips, which I thought were not only useful, but gave even more insight into the strange and abnormal workings of the Molvanian mind. The tips ranged from common saying and greetings that one would need to know (in order to avoid physical assaults for eg), to what drinks to avoid if travelling the barren plains of the East (turns out many alcoholic drinks contain such things as gasoline and antifreeze).

After reading this guide I was struck with two thoughts. First, how awful a trip to Molvania sounded, what with the lack a hygiene, the constant threat of assault, and the smell. Then it struck me, this book could change all of that. Maybe, just maybe, a book like this will inspire some poor soul to take up the challenge and travel to Molvania. If they survive, there experience will no doubt cause more people (or at least the previous traveller's lawyers) to pay a visit to Molvania. And, maybe if enough people do this, the culture and laws of this country will change and allow it to become more tourist friendly. Then even a novice traveller like myself may consider spending a weekend in Lutenblaag. We can only hope.

RATING : READ

Monday, February 24, 2014

STAR WARS: SCOUNDRELS

STAR WARS : SCOUNDRELS



This book has confirmed it : Han Solo is the white hat wearing cowboy of the future!?
Actually, maybe more like a grey hat.

I've been reading a lot of western books lately and as I listened to this book, I quickly came to the conclusion that Han's character was like a replicated cowboy of the past. In old westerns the protagonist never goes looking for trouble, but, trouble always seems to find him. He lives on a code of ethics higher than the criminals around him, as in he never shoots first and does not shoot to kill - unless needed. He has a crusty exterior, but, a generous heart. And, is the fastest draw this side of Tatooine! A smaller similarity is that he has a non-english speaking sidekick that shows up just at the right moment to save his hide.
Wow, I sound like a literary genius...comparing old westerns to Star Wars books...um...back to Scoundrels.

Scoundrels is one of those feel good crime novels. Yes, I said 'feel good'. One of those stories where you get a bunch of sarcastic criminal buddies in a room all planning on breaking into an impregnable vault to steal millions of dollars (or space credits in this case). However, this simple break and enter soon turns into a much bigger and complicated ordeal. With a few plot twists the gang finds itself not only dealing with a locked vault, but with a powerful intergalactic criminal organization...and the Imperial forces as well (damn that Vader, can't leave anything alone!) Against all the odds they manage to get away free and clear with the money, leaving a wake of angry vengeful evil aliens (and Lando) lost in a cloud of dust. But, with a deceptive plot twist their fate and the value of their treasure is not all that certain.

Overall, I found the book riveting. It was full of unexpected plot twists and exciting edge of your seat (or fingertips in this case) action. All of the 'scoundrels' (Han and the gang) were all lovable, both in their sarcastic wit and their individual expertise in one certain criminal aspect. They were the kind of people I'd want to hang out with, especially if I were marooned on a far off planet. They all seemed to be having a great time working their game and solving the complex problems of getting in to this giant vault. Even with the constant feeling that they were going to be nabbed at any moment by a smart security guard, or just by bad luck. But, everything seemed to be going their way. The force was with them. 
I also liked how the story progressed. It started out simple. Then there was a small twist. Then another layer was added. Then another plot twist. Then a mystery character. Then a hint at something larger. It got very complex right at the end. Then it all exploded and the pieces fell into place. Wonderful writing by Zahn.

I listened to the audiobook version, which I was surprised at. It was more than just a reading. There was Star Wars music added in, and sounds of ships blasting off in the background, the chatter of alien crowds. The action scenes were brought up a notch when you could not only picture the blasting, but, hear it at well. Very well done.

My only critique of this book, which is something that is almost expected, is the almost unbelievable ways the gang can escape trouble. It starts with the crime bosses and their complete lack of common sense. Many times throughout the book one of the gang is captured and interrogated by the 'boss'. You'd think most high level crime bosses would not shy away from using violence and/or murder, but, in this case they did. On numerous occasions when Han or Lando were caught they either let their hostage go free with a only a warning or they let their hostage go free with a non binding naive feeling deal of some sort (ie meet me next week with the star credits...or else!). Realistically they should beat them to a pulp and keep them locked away, or simply shoot a blaster hole in their head. But, I guess that would stop the story right then and there. So, we have to make some concessions. Further to this, the ease of breaking in and escaping was pretty high on the scale of unbelievable. Even with Zahn's attempt at explaining the highly detailed plan and how everything (conveniently) came together. But, then again this is a Star Wars book. Remember the movies? Episode 4 - A New Hope, when Han and Luke managed to trot around the death star for hours on end without anyone noticing them? At the time it seemed believable, right?
If you are one of the ten people who have never seen Star Wars you might as well skip this book. There is a lot of backstory and history left out, under the assumption that it is common knowledge. Things about Princess Leia and Alderaan, Luke and the Force, Darth Vader and the Death Star, etc. The ending will also be a mystery to you, not an earth shattering shocker like it was for me!

RATING : READ

Monday, January 27, 2014

WORST. PERSON. EVER.

WORST. PERSON. EVER.



I first heard about this book through an interview Coupland did on CBC radio, click here to listen. He described Raymond Gunt, the protagonist of this fine novel, as the most foul mouthed person you could ever image. And, it turns out he may be right. The book's storyline, about a cameraman who travels to a remote Pacific Island to help in the taping of a Survivor style show is not the highlight. Instead the entire point of this book was to come up with a character who is the worst person ever. Coupland did a wonderful job too. Gunt was out of this world terrible, but, believable at the same time. He kind of reminded me of that distant relative you may have, the one that shows up at the extended family picnic smoking non stop (around the kids), drinking beer after beer (not his), and commenting on the lazy foreign welfare bums that live in the apartment above him (or some similar inappropriate topic). But, the comment in the interview that really piqued my interest was when Coupland admitted that he sincerely hoped his parents would never read this book. Now, that says something doesn't it? What was in this book that was so terrible that the author was reluctant to throw a copy over to his parents for a once over?
Well, I can type out a quote from the first few paragraphs to give you an idea of what might be lurking in the book..."the universe delivered unto me a searing hot kebab of vasectomy leftovers drizzled in donkey jizz". Now, would that be the line Coupland didn't want his parents to read? Maybe. Or it could be the rest of the 300 odd pages littered with this crafty rubbishy language. I have to give credit to the variety and originality of the foul mouthed descriptions Coupland comes up with for the usual body parts and their functions. Not my area of expertise, but, to see someone really master it is very entertaining. And, if you are worried about being turned off by the language, well once you hit the F word and C word and D word for the twentieth time it loses a bit of its shock value and you find yourself desensitized (scary, how quickly that can happen) and enjoying the latest crude word mash-up.
Similar to the language Gunt spews out, his actions are just as socially unacceptable. He is a self centred, sex crazed, lazy, rude, obnoxious wad, who hates children (probably kittens too) and picks on the homeless. He is one of those people who provides no good in the world and only takes, takes, ruins, destroys, eats the last chocolate, belches, and takes some more. There is not much to like in this guy. Which in a strange way makes him likeable. Reading reviews on this book I noticed over and over that people felt pity for this character, and in turn 'liked' him. I did not like his personality, but, I did like his character. I found it very entertaining to watch this train wreck of a personality crash its way through the novel. It was fun watching his almost formulaic life - Gunt enters a new scenarios, he finds someway to offend, eats macadamia nuts and has a black out. You just know, that with each scene, Gunt is going to come up with some terrible way to offend the world, be it with his foul mouth or by discussing bestiality. His only redeeming quality was his harsh, well deserved, criticism of American food. 
A bit embarrassing on my part that I find this entertaining, but, I prefer to look at it this way - as a literary work. Coupland does an amazing job of satirizing the pop cultural exploits of shows like Springer and Survivor (at the same time!). So, if anyone asks, I don't actually laugh at the trailer trash level comedy, I laugh at the satire.
I was lucky to have heard the interview with Coupland and have some idea of what I was getting into when I started this book. Judging by the reviews I have looked over, there were a lot of readers out there not expecting something so filthy. A lot of witty reviews called the book 'Worst. Book. Ever.' or something similar. I will agree with some of the negative reviewers that when I finished the book I was not a better person, unless you count the increased vocabulary in the cuss words dept. However, I did not feel it was a waste of time. It was not exactly time well spent. It was more like, time spent and I don't regret it. There Coupland, put that quote on the dust cover of your book. This was definitely something I have never read before, and would probably not go out of my way to find again, but, it was an adventure for sure. It is always nice to get out of your comfort zone sometimes and see how the other half lives (and swears). Worst. Person. Ever. is one of those unforgettable books you'll have a hard time describing...and forgetting.

RATING : READ

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

NOT QUITE THE CLASSICS

NOT QUITE THE CLASSICS



This book is built on an the Classic improve game, the first and last line. In this quasi-version of the game Mochrie takes the first few lines from well known Classic books then writes a short story in between, and finally ends with the last few lines of that Classic book.
If you are at all familiar with who Colin Mochrie is you won't be surprised to hear that the stories are funny, quirky, and sometimes just plain weird. Mochrie is that joking Canadian who stars on Who's Line is it Anyways? (and is also a part of the This Hour Has 22 Minutes - The Classic Canadian political satire show anyone?), so he has the chops to make people laugh...but, you ask, does his humour translate well onto the written page?
For the most part, yes. And, to my surprise his overall writing skills are extraordinary. I was happily surprised at the high quality of the writing. It was so good it almost fools one into believing the absurd topics and storylines are the 'real' Classic writings of Doyle, Orwell, Fitzgerald, or even Seuss. I was especially impressed with Colin's ability to mimic the tone and feel of these Classics. His choice of words and phrases were bang on with the originals. Again, it was so easy to fall into the feeling that you were reading a strange story written 100 years ago by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle ...albeit, a strange story about stand up comedy, but, none-the-less believable.

The collection started with the well loved Sherlock Holmes. A great one to start the book with. It had a lively, extremely well written and entertaining storyline. It read just like one of the Classic Sherlocks, but, funny at the same time. The story centred around Holmes trying to solve a mystery. The mystery of humour. He observed people, mades assumptions, then experimented with different types of humour. Most of which sounded good in theory, but, then ended up failing. He eventually came up with the idea of 'Stand Up' and attempted a show. The whole process was both an interesting look at humour, from the comedian's side, while being witty and funny at the same time. I think the interactions between Watson and Holmes were what really brought out the laughs. They were Classic; the eccentric Holmes berating the dim witted Watson for questioning his outlandish conclusions. This was the kind of story that made me want to read more.

Then came the make over of Moby Dick - Moby Toupee. This one almost sank the boat for me. It did not put the wind in my sails as much as some of the other stories did. It was a funny idea: a toupee changes an actors life. Toupees are funny things. But, the story just did not catch my interest.
Luckily, a short while later the splicing of A Tale of Two Cities brought me back aboard. This was another highlight for me. The first line, 'It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.' It ended up being an account of Wile E Coyote's obsession with Road Runner. It took an interesting view, through Wile E's life, attempting to be a human but giving into his animal desires to hunt and eat Road Runners. He has some early highs (the best of times), then becomes obsessed with catching RR and his life quickly goes downhill (the worst of times)...where a big rock rolls down on top of it, then it is hit with an anvil marked 50 tons. We eventually end with Mr. Coyote in jail. It was again, extremely well written, and had a great mix of Classic anvil dropping humour and that sharp satire comparing his Road Runner obsession with, say, a drug addiction. He loses his job, family, even his mind in the struggle to catch the ever slippery Road Runner. The end is a bit disturbing in a dark humour sort of way. So, if you have a weak heart (or stomach for that matter) for the Road Runner, I suggest you do not read the last few pages.
Another story that made my highlight reel was the Frankenstein spoof. It involved a chicken who learned to read. It was not the story that brought the most smiles and giggles, but, it captured my imagination for awhile. The story of the chicken and the farmer mirrored one another, they started out lonely, then found mates, then things went terribly wrong. The hen dies and the chicken tries to resurrect her. This story also ends badly...I guess that makes sense, all the Classics seem to end in death.

I went into this book thinking it was going to be a work of low grade nonsensical writing, with a few easy Moby Dick jokes (which I will assure you there were none of). But, it was not. It was the exact opposite. It was an extremely well written collection of short stories that were funny on so many levels, from the spot on impersonation of the Classic writer's style to the farcical/bizarre tales Mochrie brought to life. The only thing missing was a talking pickle.

RATING : READ

To hear an interview with Colin talking about this book, he was on CBC's The Next Chapter - CLICK HERE

I used the word classic 11 times in that review - new record!

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

LIVE AND LET DIE

LIVE AND LET DIE
James Bond #2



This is more along the lines of what I thought the Bond books would be like. There was an insane football-headed villain, some poisonous fish and shark attacks, an unbelievable plot centered around a long lost pirate treasure of gold coins. All we were missing was a car equipped with a hidden gold detecting radar system.
However, my expectations of Bond were disappointed again. He was no superhero. He barely survived this adventure and he almost ruined the whole operation. He was also constantly getting caught by the bad guy, who did the whole Dr. Evil villain thing and revealed the outlandish way he was going to kill Bond. This time he was going to drag him behind a boat across some coral reefs and let the sharks eat him piece by piece.
I guess I was expecting  the death count to be 32 for Bond, 2 for Evil guy...but, Bond never even got a shot off before he was caught. Also, he fell for this episode's 'Bond Girl' again and let his feelings ruin his judgement. Bond is a very troubled character.
But, as it turns out, that is a good thing. His flaws, mixed with some fast action, and an extravagant plot make reading Bond books enjoyable. You never know what is going to happen.

RATING : READ