Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Review: Marseguro

I first heard about Marseguro by Edward Willett via the “Big Idea” column on Scalzi’s blog. I thought the concept was really compelling and, after I had the good fortune of winning the sequel from the author, asked if I could review both here (he was kind enough to send both books).

After a disaster strikes Earth, a fanatical religious group that preaches against the genetic modification of humans, takes over the planet. Geneticist Victor Hansen flees with the Selkies, his newly-created race of water-breathing humans, and some normal humans to Marseguro, a distant planet. But the Earth government isn’t going to let them get away and, fifty years later, they sic Victor’s own grandson, Richard, on them. But when the Earth strike force arrives to attack, they discover that the Selkies will fight back, and Richard Hansen learns something about himself that changes his life.

I’ve tried my best to describe the plot, but there’s a lot going on here, so my summary really only touches on the high points. The first section of the book gears up slowly, as the author spends some time introducing us to the world he’s created, but the action picks up in the book’s second act as the attack/defense story gets ratcheted up to the next level. Actually, while I know not everyone appreciates this kind of slower start, for me, Willett really shines at world-building. He brought Marseguro (the planet) to life for me and I enjoyed getting to know Earth of the Body Purified (which reminded me of Heinlein’s religious dictatorship of “If This Goes On –“ and Revolt in 2100), however briefly the action takes place there.

I won’t say that this was the best sci-fi book I’ve read this year. For one thing, there were a few spots where something took me out of the story – either the writing got a little rough or a character did something that came out of left field and threw me off. But, in general, Willett is a strong writer with a great concept and good story. Anyone who wants to read a novel that talks about tough ethical questions and has characters whose lives are in shades of grey will enjoy Marseguro.

Buy Marseguro on Amazon.

On to sequel Terra Insegura next!

Monday, June 29, 2009

A Birthday and a Giveaway

Happy birthday, to me!
Happy birthday, to me!
Happy birthday, dear Lorin...
Happy birthday, to me!

I am this many fingers old today, but instead of giving me presents, I'd like to give one of you something instead. As a thank you to those of you who stuck it out over my impromptu blogging vacation of the past couple weeks, I am giving away a $25 gift certificate to Amazon (or, for anyone outside of the US, the online bookstore of your choice). Post a comment here and Wednesday I will pick a winner. I will not be contacting you via email, so check back here to find out if you won.

PS: On an unrelated note, I am having a lot of problems with Blogger recently, not publishing my scheduled posts. Anyone else running into this?

Friday, June 26, 2009

Friday Update

I just wrote my first review (it's scheduled for next week) in about two weeks. Woo-ee, I was rusty! Turns out, this whole writing reviews thing takes practice. I have done a fair amount of writing this week, but its been for work and has been generally of the boring kind.

How about I tell you about what books I've gotten since the last time I checked in? In very exciting news, the book fairy visited our house! My husband dropped a paper on the floor and had to go fishing under our couch to find it. When he came up for air (its scary under there!), he had an armful of wrapped Christmas presents that neither of us could remember putting there. I've called famiy members, and no one has claimed them, so we've just decided its the book fairy! And the book fairy knows us pretty well, based on what we got.


Embedded in America: The Onion Complete News Archives Volume 16


The California Directory of Fine Wineries


What Would MacGyver Do?: True Stories of Improvised Genius in Everyday Life

Thanks, book fairy! We love our new books!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

The Baffler

The Baffler is coming back! [Via BookSlut, which I can't believe, because why hasn't my sister mentioned this yet?] Commodify Your Dissent is required reading, y'all.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Easing Back In

Putting my little toe in the blogging waters to point out two recent book reviews by friends of mine -

Holy Hullabaloos at Andrea's blog

and -

Someday This Pain Will Be Useful To You at Laura's.

Go, read, enjoy.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

*crickets, crickets* It's a little quiet around here, isn't it? I'm taking a little time off but I'll be back soon.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Yay!

Just a quick update to say I passed my exam this morning - yay! Now I get to put my study guide aside and tackle the books that have been stacking up on my bedside table.

Monday A.M.

As you can tell, there's no review from me this morning. I've been too busy studying this past weekend to do much reading, much less review what I have read.

I've scheduled this post to go up right as I am sitting down to take the test, so if this just popped up in your reader, or you just visited my blog and saw this post come up, please say a little prayer (or make a wish, or whatever your belief system is) that I pass. I'll let you know how I did later and will be back with a real post soon!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Congratulations!

The winner of the Devil in the White City giveaway is entry number 6 -

Congratulations, Joy!

Thanks to everyone who entered!

Friday, June 12, 2009

Friday-ish Update

I got some great new books this week - too bad I'm supposed to be studying for my test Monday!

For my next book club:
Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

Just for fun:
The Apostate's Tale (A Dame Frevisse Mystery) by Margaret Frazer

From the library book sale:
The 19th Wife: A Novel by David Ebershoff. I'm really excited about this one. I feel like I am the last book blogger to pick it up!

The Sunday Philosophy Club by Alexander McCall Smith

And for review:
Passeggiata: Strolling Through Italy by G.G. Husak

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Review: Nefertiti: the Book of the Dead.

Its Wednesday night, this post is supposed to be published tomorrow morning, I've got to study and yet, I'm still writing my review of Nefertiti by Nick Drake. Why? This review has been languishing in my draft folder since last Saturday, when I first sat down to try to put my thoughts about this book into words, and, so far, all I've come up with has been, "okay." I'm a regular poet, aren't I?

I'll try kicking this off with a description then:
She is Nefertiti—beautiful and revered. With her husband, Akhenaten, she rules over Egypt, the most affluent, formidable, sophisticated empire in the ancient world. But an epic power struggle is afoot, brought on by the royal couple's inauguration of an enlightened new religion and the construction of a magnificent new capital. The priests are stunned by the abrupt forfeiture of their traditional wealth and influence; the people resent the loss of their gods—and the army is enraged by the growing turbulence around them. Then, just days before the festival that will celebrate the new capital, Nefertiti vanishes.

Rahotep, the youngest chief detective in the Thebes division, has earned a reputation for his unorthodox yet effective methods. Entrusted by great Akhenaten himself with a most secret investigation, Rahotep has but ten days to find the missing Queen. If he succeeds, he will bask in the warmth of Akhenaten's favor. But if Rahotep fails, he and his entire family will die.
Doesn't that description make this book sound fascinating? Sadly, it wasn't. This wasn't a bad book - the story moved along and I connected well with the main character - it just failed to deliver on the promise of what it could have been.

Nefertiti is billed as a mystery. To me, "mystery" implies that there will be some revelation or big moment of unveiling. Instead, the story was very flat. The narrator is the main character, Rahotep, and the book is his diary, filled with his thoughts on the activities surrounding the capital and Queen. But what the author probably intended as introspection came off as filler. And, because he was the narrator, I never once thought that Rahotep and his family were in danger of dying, as the description above suggests. There just wasn't enough at stake to keep the energy level up to what it needed to be to propel the book forward.

The history behind this story really is fascinating, so Egyptophiles may want to check this one out. But for the rest of us, while this book was an okay read, this isn't a strong recommendation.

Check out Nefertiti: The Book of the Dead on Amazon.

If any of you have another recommendation for a good Egyptian historical novel or mystery, I'd love to hear about it.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Interesting Links

Popping over again to share these interesting links...

Great photos of the new High Line Project by Color Me Katie

More cool bookshelves at Incredible Things. I've seen some of the bookshelves previously (like the couch/bookshelf), but there are also some nifty new ones. [via Fear and Loathing]

I want one of these crazy cool candles.

Sorry for the lack of photos, but I am trying to be quick about this. I'll be back tomorrow with some real content, promise!

Mies (pronounced Meese)

Here's an interesting article from mental_floss on Mies van der Rohe's Seagram Building. Not enough pictures, but otherwise a good read. Less is more, God is in the details, etc, etc. Now back to work for me.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Studying

I'm studying for the LEED exam* this week, as I am scheduled to take it on Friday. I may reschedule, but in the meantime, I'm trying to keep my nose to the grindstone and study, study, study. While I'll have a couple of reviews this week (including yesterday's review of Agent to the Stars) I won't be posting much else.

If you haven't already, check out my review and giveaway of The Devil in the the White City.

* LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. From the LEED wikipedia article:
Individuals recognized for their knowledge of the LEED rating system are permitted to use the LEED Accredited Professional (AP) acronym after their name, indicating they have passed the accreditation exam given by the Green Building Certification Institute (a third-party organization that handles accreditation for the USGBC).

Monday, June 8, 2009

Review: Agent to the Stars


Agent to the Stars was John Scalzi's first novel. As he explains in the book's introduction, he wrote it in 1997 as a "practice novel," never expecting it to be published. *
The spacefaring Yherajk have come to Earth to meet us and to begin humanity's first interstellar friendship. There's just one problem: they're hideously ugly and they smell like rotting fish.

So getting humanity's trust is a challenge. The Yherajk need someone to help them close the deal.

Enter Thomas Stein, who knows something about closing deals. He's one of Hollywood's hottest young agents. But although Stein may have just concluded the biggest deal of his career, it's quite another thing to negotiate for entire alien race. To earn his percentage this time, he's going to need all the smarts, skills, and wits he can muster.
I thought this was just going to be a funny sci-fi book - which it was, mostly - but then it got all serious and I liked that, too. The first part of the book, the section that introduces Stein to the aliens and us to the problem, is campy and fun, with enough weight to the characters to engage the reader. The latter half of the book is still campy, but deals with some pretty heavy concepts in a somewhat lighthearted manner. I'm not really sure what I think about some of the decisions the characters made, actually, but I still enjoyed the book.

So, is Agent to the Stars worth reading? Yes, but especially for fans of Scalzi's work and anyone who loves a good sci-fi B-movie.

Buy Agent to the Stars on Amazon.

* If you Google around, you can find Agent to the Stars as a free online book, but its not quite the same thing as the published version. Scazi (as he explains in the book's intro) updated the story a bit for this addition.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Friday Update

Welcome to another Friday update, everyone!

Don't forget to sign up for my giveaway of The Devil in the White City. I reviewed Devil and Magic's Child this week.

New Books

This week I received Terra Insegura, the sequel to Marseguro, by Edward Willett. After reading about this book in a Big Idea column on John Scalzi's blog*, I signed up for a giveaway on Willett's website - and I won!



Thanks, Edward!

Also arriving was The Book of Unholy Mischief by Elle Newmark (which came for review). I know this is one of those weird things only I think about, but I just love the paper the book's dust jacket was printed on. It has an almost fabric feel to it - such a nice touch!



Have a wonderful weekend, everybody!

*Yes, Scalzi, again.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Does Architecture Marketing Work?


My coworker and I had a really interesting conversation recently about architecture marketing* - specifically about awards and publishing. It was spurred by a recent trip he took to see the offices of Michelle Kaufmann Designs - a well-known green prefab firm that recently folded.

The office had an honor wall - a wall filled with nothing but magazine covers dedicated to them and their work and awards given to the firm. And yet... here they were, victims of the downturn, closing the office. My coworker couldn't help but ask, do all the awards and publications matter? I argued that Kaufmann's work was really specific - prefab - and didn't necessarily mean that this lesson translates to all architecture firms. On the other hand, repeat work from existing clients, referrals, and personal or professional contacts provide 73% of new projects for US architecture firms.** So, is my coworker right and we should stop pursuing magazine articles and awards?


*Marketing is a big part of what I do and actually one of favorite things about my job.
**No, I didn't make that up. Its from the 2006 AIA Firm Survey, via the AIA Handbook.

Speakeasies

I've mentioned Bourbon & Branch in San Francisco before, but this article from the NY Times is just chock full of speakeasy-type bars.

Bar? What Bar?
Speakeasy-style bars and restaurants opening in cities across the country represent a strange exercise in nostalgia: an infatuation with the good old days of Prohibition.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Waiting Wednesday: Await Your Reply

Dan Chaon wrote the lovely, heart-breaking book You Remind Me of Me. His next book will be Await Your Reply.

Longing to get on with his life, Miles Cheshire nevertheless can’t stop searching for his troubled twin brother, Hayden, who has been missing for ten years. Hayden has covered his tracks skillfully, moving stealthily from place to place, managing along the way to hold down various jobs and seem, to the people he meets, entirely normal. But some version of the truth is always concealed.

A few days after graduating from high school, Lucy Lattimore sneaks away from the small town of Pompey, Ohio, with her charismatic former history teacher. They arrive in Nebraska, in the middle of nowhere, at a long-deserted motel next to a dried-up reservoir, to figure out the next move on their path to a new life. But soon Lucy begins to feel quietly uneasy.

My whole life is a lie, thinks Ryan Schuyler, who has recently learned some shocking news. In response, he walks off the Northwestern University campus, hops on a bus, and breaks loose from his existence, which suddenly seems abstract and tenuous. Presumed dead, Ryan decides to remake himself–through unconventional and precarious means.
It will be released on August 25, 2009.

Waiting on Wednesday is hosted by Breaking the Spine.

Review: Magic's Child


Magic's Child is the third book in Justine Larbalestier's Magic or Madness Trilogy (see my reviews of Magic or Madness and Magic Lessons). I liked the first two books, but I wasn't blown away by them. While I delighted in the world Larbalestier created, the characters left me a little cold in the first two books of the series. So I was really pleased by how much I enjoyed Magic's Child. This is a really good book, so good that it actually made me like the first two more, as I look back on them.
A week ago, 15-year-old Reason Cansino didn't even know magic existed. Now she's been given more power than she could ever have imagined. Suddenly, Reason can do anything, go anywhere, and of live for centuries… The only cost? Her humanity.

As Reason begins to lose herself in the intoxicating essence of magic itself, her friends Tom and Jay-Tee must choose between magic and death, or madness.
I think some of my pleasure in Magic's Child comes from how complicated the story becomes and how unexpected the ending was for me. Without giving too much away, I really appreciated Larbalestier's willingness to turn her characters' lives so upside down.

While these books are presented as a trilogy, I really feel like they should be looked at as a book in three parts. As individual books, they don't really have a beginning, a middle, and an end. But taken together, they do. If I can be so bold as to give my opinion on this kind of thing, I think would make so much more sense to publish these three in one volume than as individual books!

I recommend the Magic or Madness Trilogy to all YA fantasy fans.

Buy Magic's Child (Magic Or Madness Trilogy) on Amazon.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Devil in the White City Giveaway!


I really enjoyed Devil in the White City (link goes to my review). That's why I'm so excited to be giving away a copy autographed by author Erik Larson to one lucky reader!

The contest is open to anyone with a mailing address in the US or Canada. To enter, leave a comment on this post with your contact information. You can earn an additional entry by becoming a Follower. Please let me know you have done so in a separate comment. The contest will close Friday, June 12 at 5 pm, Pacific Time. I'll announce the winner the next week.

Please note that the book is gently used, not new. Feel free to send me an email with any questions.

Good luck!

Monday, June 1, 2009

Review: Devil in the White City


As it says on the back of the book, Erik Larson's The Devil in the White City "intertwines the true tale of two men - the brilliant architect behind the legendary 1893 World's Fair, striving to secure America's place in the world; and the cunning serial killer who used the fair to lure his victims to their death."

It's an unusual book, a cross between a historical account of the 1893 world's fair and a true crime page-turner about a serial killer, written in novel form. Most of the book deals with architect Daniel Burnham's struggle to build the white city and, since I am an architect, it's no surprise that Burnham's story is what grabbed me about the book. For me, the sections dealing with H. H. Holmes's murder spree were a captivating interlude. But, of course, as Holmes is the Devil in the book's title, most people view the focus of the book to be crime.

Several years ago, I suggested to my book club that we read The Devil in the White City. I had already read the book and enjoyed it a great deal. As I recall, it was a somewhat polarizing choice for the club. Most everyone found it to be a fascinating story, but some people were really disturbed by Holmes's brutality. My sister (and she should feel free to chime in here and to correct me if I'm wrong) commented that she thought the book was quite sexist. All the book's action comes from men, while the women are all victims, even those who aren't actually murdered (like the Fair's sole female architect, who is paid a tenth of what the other male architects are paid). It's hard to blame the author for this, however, as it is the true story.
However strange or macabre some of the following incidents may seem, this is not a work of fiction. Anything between quotation marks comes from a letter, memoir, or other written document.
I think that The Devil in the White City would appeal to a wide range of people. Architects and designers would enjoy the behind the scenes look at building such a monumental space. True crime lovers would like the detailed account of this gruesome serial killer. And anyone who enjoys early Americana would enjoy reading the story of the world's fair. But I will warn you that this book does get into some unpleasant territory and may not appeal to everyone.

Buy The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America on Amazon.

Visit the book website.