Monday, August 30, 2010

Review: Packing for Mars

As I suspected I might when I put Packing for Mars on my Wishlist, I just loved this book. Packing for Mars by Mary Roach is funny, interesting and informative.

Packing for Mars is about what space agencies (mostly NASA, but Europe, Russia, and Japan's agencies as well) do to put humans into space. Launching a rocket seems like the easy part in comparison to figuring out how to get a toilet to work in zero-G. Roach clearly did her homework; she talked to both scientists currently working and those who have worked on these issues for previous missions. Her research took her from simulated missions in the arctic to the infamous "vomit comet" (the parabolic flight that simulates zero-G).

As you can imagine, coming from the author of a book about dead bodies (Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers), there are some gnarly bits in this book. There were a few passages, particularly the ones dealing with the corpses space agencies use to test crash safety, that tested my resolve in reading. But Roach handles even these parts with humor and grace.

I highly recommend this book to anyone with an interest in science or space. Roach is a terrific science writer and I really enjoyed Packing for Mars.

Buy Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void on Amazon.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Review: Melting Stones

I'll confess that I read Melting Stones several weeks ago and then returned it to the library, so my review may be a little non-specific.
Residents on one of the islands south of Emelan have sent a call for help to Winding Circle temple: Their plants and trees and the animals that live around them are mysteriously dying. From Winding Circle come two familiar figures: prickly green mage Rosethorn, whose plant magic will help her decipher what's ailing the plant life, and Briar's former student, the stone mage Evvy. With them comes the eager, nervous Dedicate Initiate Myrrhflower and Luvo, a being best described as a walking, intelligent rock. All are pulled into the island's mystery when Evvy is caught up by the wild spirits loose in an immense bubble of molten rock. Can they evacuate the island in time--or will they try to shift a volcano?
A housekeeping note to begin with: when I wrote my Tamora Pierce wrap-up I thought that Melting Stones was a stand-alone book in Pierce's Circle universe. I think it may actually be a sequel to Street Magic (The Circle Opens, Book 2) or Will Of The Empress, neither of which I've read. So there were a fair number of references to people and events I knew nothing about. I didn't have any trouble following along, though.

While I found Melting Stones to be an enjoyable book, I did find it to be a little young - while it is classified as Young Adult, I think that Middle Grade readers may enjoy it more than a teenager used to the advanced themes present in much of today's YA. Part of that is that Evvy, the main character, felt very young to me, despite the awful circumstances she's lived through.

In general, I think that fans of Pierce's previous Circle books will enjoy Melting Stones, but that it probably isn't strong enough to pull new readers (particularly new older and adult readers) into the series.

Buy Melting Stones in paperback on Amazon now.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Review: Shadow Bound

I figuratively picked up Shadow Bound by Erin Kellison when it was offered as a free download for my Nook from Barnes & Noble.

Adam Thorne's brother traded in his humanity to gain power and immortality. He became a wraith, one of a growing number menacing the country, and in doing so killed everyone Adam loved. Adam is determined to get his revenge and to take out the wraiths. Talia O'Brien is on the run from the wraiths, against whom she has a mysterious power, the gift of her Fae father. When Adam finds Talia, he rescues her (or was that kidnaps her?) and enlists her in his fight against the wraiths. Sexy times bound, good and bad guys get killed, and it was altogether a fun book to read for summer. I thought the prologue was unnecessary but otherwise enjoyed reading this light book.

Buy Shadow Bound on Amazon.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Teaser Tuesday 8/17

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along!

Just do the following:

  • Grab your current read
  • Open to a random page
  • Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
  • Share the title & author, too, so that others can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teaser!
This week's Teaser is from Dissolution by C. J. Sansom. After reading a review on Laura's blog for this book (which she found via TT!), I knew I'd have to read it.
Pepper grinned.

'Well, 'tis true that the people in church respond to the priests' Latin mummings without understanding them.'

I shrugged. Such sentiments about the Latin Mass were not yet orthodox, and I was not going to be drawn into religious debate.
I am really enjoying it so far, but the cradle Catholic in me is having a very hard time with this one.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Review: The Ear, the Eye and the Arm

Nancy Farmer's The Ear, the Eye and the Arm is a bizarre and interesting novel. Zimbabwe, 2194: when General Matsika's three children wander venture out on their first solo trip outside of their restrictive home, they end up missing - kidnapped, just as the General had feared. So their parents' hire a trio of unusual detectives, the Ear, the Eye, and the Arm, each named for the mutation that gives them special abilities, to find them. The detectives are just one step behind the children, always catching up to them just as they are taken or escape to the next place.

It is a hard book to define - it's mostly science fiction, with traditional folk tales and some fantastical elements mixed in. I can see a lot of different younger readers enjoying this, as it really covers several genres. I found the plot to be a little repetitive, because of this constant cat-and-mouse chase, but I enjoyed getting to see the many different aspects of Farmer's Zimbabwe. Although I didn't feel compelled to pick the book up, when I was reading it, I found it quite engaging.

This book was a Newbery Honor awardee in 1995.

Buy The Ear, the Eye and the Arm on Amazon.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Friday Update: My Big News

Instead of updating my library this week, I thought I'd update you all on something going on in my life. I don't often share personal information on this blog, but I thought it was time I shared a little. My husband and I are pleased to announce that we're having a baby! I am due December 3rd. We are, as you can imagine, just thrilled about this and are eagerly looking forward to meeting our little girl.

In the meantime, don't be surprised to see a few baby-related book reviews here.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Review: Something Rotten

Something Rotten by Jasper Fforde on is the fourth book in the Thursday Next series. If you haven't already read The Eyre Affair, Lost in a Good Book and The Well of Lost Plots, don't even attempt to start with this one.

In Something Rotten, Thursday Next returns to the real world (well, as reall as it gets in these books) with her son and Hamlet in tow. She learns that bad guy Yorrick Kaine has joined forces with the omnipresent Goliath Corporation to oust the aging English President. As Prime Minister, Kaine wields has used his mysterious influence to pass bizarre laws and stir up hatred of Denmark. Thursday gets her job back at SpecOps to try to defeat Kaine, get her husband Landen back, and try to prevent the end of the world.

It's all very complicated, as I think all the Thursday Next books seem to be, but this one did feel a little more rushed than the first two. But I liked this one more than The Well of Lost Plots (#3).

Buy Something Rotten (a Thursday Next Novel) by Jasper Fforde on Amazon.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Teaser Tuesday: 8/10

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along!

Just do the following:

  • Grab your current read
  • Open to a random page
  • Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
  • Share the title & author, too, so that others can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teaser!
It isn't exactly my current read, but a book that we recently bought and I think is interesting: The Back of the Napkin (Expanded Edition): Solving Problems and Selling Ideas with Pictures by Dan Roam.
The essence of this book can be distilled down to one central idea.

Visual thinking is an extraordinarily powerful way to solve problems, and though it may appear to be something new, the fact is that we already know how to do it.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Why Dystopian Lit?

Interested in why I, and many others, find dystopian fiction so interesting? Then check out this post from Presenting Lenore: Dystopian Reader Views - What fascinates you about the genre?, part of her Dystopian August series.

Links & Wishlist: The Architect's Portfolio

Via NPR's Monkey See blog, Galleycat's Worst Negative Book Review Clich├ęs: I was fine until I hit #5, "I just didn't *care* about the characters." I'm pretty sure I say that in every other negative review. Oops!

It's been a long while since I had to do a portfolio, so The Architect's Portfolio: Planning, Design, Production by Andreas Luescher looks like a good resource.

My husband and I went to see Inception this past weekend. I'm not sure I understood it, but I thought it was great. And one of the main characters is an architect! I definitely recommend it.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

My 2nd Blogoversary!

arch thinking is two years old today! My very first post was on 8/8/08 - such a nice round number. While I always planned to do a lot of book reviews, I thought then that it would be more of a general interest blog. These days, I don't discuss much other than books and I like it that way. Sometimes I feel like I should write about art and architecture more, but generally I feel like there are a lot of better writers out there who have that covered. Plus, as an architect, I have a pretty good outlet for those interests, whereas this is my space to write and talk about reading and writing.

Just like last year, I'd like to hold a special giveaway to celebrate the occasion. The rules:
  • Choose any book (up to $30 in value) that I have reviewed or discussed in the past year (that's August 8, 2009 to August 8, 2010).
  • Tell me in the comments on this post why you chose it.
  • I will pick one reader who will win the book of their choosing!**
  • Contest is open for one month, until September 8th.
  • Please read the fine print.
Let me know if you have any questions.

Thanks to all of you for reading my blog and being such a great community!

*Fine print: I will send the winner an Amazon (or other online seller) gift certificate for the value of the book plus $3.99 for standard US shipping. This contest is open to anyone, but you will have to pay for any shipping above that amount.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Wishlist: Packing for Mars

I watched The Daily Show from Monday last night and loved Jon Stewart's interview with Mary Roach, regarding her newest book, Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void.
Space is a world devoid of the things we need to live and thrive: air, gravity, hot showers, fresh produce, privacy, beer. How much can a person give up? How much weirdness can they take? What happens to you when you can't walk for a year? What happens if you vomit in your helmet during a space walk? Is it possible for the human body to survive a bailout at 4,000 miles per hour? To answer these questions, space agencies set up all manner of quizzical and startlingly bizarre space simulations -- making it possible to preview space without ever leaving Earth. From the space shuttle training toilet to a crash test of NASA's new space capsule (cadaver filling in for astronaut), Packing for Mars takes us on a surreally entertaining trip into the science of life in space and space on Earth.
While I wasn't blown away by the previous book by her I've read (Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife), the conversation with JS about this one was so hysterical, I am going to have to read it.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Review: The Good Thief

I finally finished reading The Good Thief by Hannah Tinti recently, having put it down several times to read something else, but not having quite given up on it. I've read many positive reviews of this book. I mean, hey, The New York Times loved it. So I wanted to keep going. But I just didn't click with this book. I thought it was, to be honest, odd, with a confusing ending.

The Good Thief is about twelve year-old Ren who is missing his left hand and was abandoned as an infant at Saint Anthony’s Orphanage for boys. One day Benjamin Nab appears, claiming to be Ren’s long-lost brother, and his convincing tale of how Ren lost his hand and his parents persuades the monks at the orphanage to give him Ren. But Benjamin is just a thief, looking for an apprentice. Or maybe he's not, and there's more to this story.

If you like Dickens, I think you'll enjoy this book more than I did. For me, there were just too many coincidences, too many quirks. The elements are all there, I just didn't really like the way it was put together.

Buy The Good Thief: A Novel on Amazon.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Review: Charmed Life

Charmed Life is the first book in Diana Wynne Jones's Chrestomanci series and the first book I have ever read by her.

Orphans Cat and his sister Gwendolen, a young witch, are summoned to live with at Chrestomanci Castle, home of the powerful enchanter who regulates the use of magic in the parallel worlds and his family. When the Chrestomanci doesn't acknowledge ambitious Gwendolen's talent, she decides to wreck havoc on the castle to make him pay attention. Poor Cat is haplessly dragged alone for the ride.

I know DWJ has legions of fans, but I wasn't really impressed by this book. There were basically no sympathetic characters - Gwendolen is clearly just a shrew, Cat is a patsy, we hardly know Chrestomanci and his wife, their daughter is obnoxious, and their son barely registered as a person. The only person I liked in the book was Janet, and she's not in most of the book. Does Wynn Jones have something against kids? For a kids book, I found the children characters to be really poorly developed. I resented that the female characters were either harpies or doormats, but the male characters didn't fare much better.

As I said, I know this author has a lot of fans. I loved the movie Howl's Moving Castle, so maybe I will seek out the book, but otherwise, I doubt I will pick up another one of Wynn Jones's books again.

Buy Charmed Life on Amazon.