Wednesday, May 30, 2012

CBR IV: Book 21: Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter - Seth Grahame-Smith

*Audiobook Review*

With this review I am caught up to the books I am currently reading.  I am determined not to get behind ever again!

I told my mother the title for this book and she literally laughed until she cried.  For a solid five minutes.  I have never seen her laugh that hard in my life. I couldn't describe the book to her because I was worried that I was going to kill her.

I liked this book, but I didn't love it.  I thought the premise was interesting.  It is a detailed biography of Abraham Lincoln, and from time to time, he goes to hunt vampires.  This is from the author of Pride & Prejudice & Zombies, a similarly silly concept.  Silly as the concept sounds, this was a pretty serious book.  When Abraham Lincoln was a boy, his father owed money to a vampire.  The vampire collected by killing Abe's mother.  Young Abraham then dedicated his life to the destruction of the bloodsucking menace.  He discovers that slavery is basically a cover for feeding vampires.  Yep, the confederacy is backed by vampires.  Explains a lot, doesn't it?

I would recommend this book to anyone who likes alternative history, civil war history, or vampire fiction.  However, with the movie coming out next month, I am curious to see if this will be one of the rare cases where i like the movie better than the novel.

3/5 Stars

CBR IV: Book 20: The Magician King - Lev Grossman

Back to Fillory, and boy is it dark.  Like a lot of other reviewers, I liked this better than the first book, The Magicians, and I really liked The Magicians.  I heard that Grossman is writing a third and final book, and I can't wait for more.

The Magician King continues the adventures of Quentin Coldwater, the douchiest douchebag to ever enter the multi-verse.  He's slightly less whiny in this installment, and half of the book is focused on Julia, so that already makes it better than the first book.  Quentin, Julia, and the two other characters whose names I can't remember are the Kings and Queens of Fillory.  Hey, just like Narnia!  Adventures ensue.  Seriously, I don't like recapping an entire book.  I always feel like I'm either giving too much away or not doing it proper justice.

If you like epic fantasy turned on it's side and made disturbingly dark, then this is the book for you.  I enjoyed it more than I thought I would.

4/5 Stars

CBR IV: Book 19: The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do In Life and Business - Charles Duhigg

I'm three books behind on my reviews, and I'm determined to catch up before the end of today.  These will be rushed, and frankly my dear, I don't give a damn.

Nearly everything we do in our day-to-day life is based on habits we have formed.  Our habits help us brush our teeth, make our coffee, and drive to work when our brain goes on autopilot.  If our brain didn't form habits, we would probably go insane from the million decisions we have to make in a day.  Charles Duhigg describes a three-step loop called "The Habit Loop".  In "The Habit Loop" there is first a cue, which triggers your brain to go to automatic mode and which habit to use.  Then there is the routine which is the activity, thought, or emotion.  Lastly, there is the reward which helps reinforce the habit if it is necessary.

Marketers have used this for decades.  The earliest example in the book was getting Americans to make brushing their teeth a daily habit.  Target now uses your purchase history to determine if you are pregnant so they can be the first to get that target demographic.

I'm a sucker for pop-psychology or quirky science books.  I have read much more non-fiction this year than I ever have before.  This book was pretty interesting, but the last twenty percent of it was footnotes.  While that does show the author's dedication to research, I felt like it was just excessive.  However, this was a quick, entertaining read, and it has helped me to create a couple of good habits and ditch a couple of bad ones.

4/5 Stars.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

CBR IV: Book 18: Replay - Ken Grimwood

*Audiobook Review*

This book is better than I can ever hope to describe. This book was published in 1988, and I had never heard of it before last month!  Thank you toepic for mentioning it in your review of 11/22/63, another book I can't wait to read.

Jeff Winston dies of a heart attack in 1988.  He then wakes up in his college dorm at Emory University in 1963, in his eighteen-year-old body with all of the memories of his previous life intact.  He bets some money on the Kentucky Derby and wins.  He then uses his knowledge of the future to invest in the stock market, and before long, he is one of the richest men in the world.  Then, in 1988, after marrying and having a daughter, he dies of a heart attack.  Again.  Same day and time.  I don't want to give anymore of the plot away, but there were definitely some unexpected twists and turns.

This should be required reading for the entire human race.  I became addicted to this book.  I literally could not stop listening to it.  I listened to it while I folded laundry.  I listened to it at Target while I was buying groceries (yeah, I was that asshole).  This book is a Sci-Fi semi-time-traveling romance which I will always remember reading.

I just looked Ken Grimwood up on Wikipedia and found out that he was born in rural Alabama, about 4 hours from me.  Unfortunately, he died in 2003.  Several people have also stated that Replay is the basis for the film, Groundhog Day.  As much as I love Groundhog Day, Replay is better.

5/5 Stars

Sunday, May 20, 2012

CBR IV: Book 17: American Gods - Neil Gaiman

American Gods is the story of Shadow, a convict who is about to be released from prison.  He finds out that his wife and best friend were killed in a car accident.  Then, at her funeral, he finds out that they were killed in a car accident because his wife was giving his best friend a blow job.  Whoops.  Shadow then meets the mysterious Mr. Wednesday.  Oh, and gods are real and they walk among us and feed off of our worship.  Roadtripping Americana-laced high-jinks ensue.  Seriously, it's hard to summarize a book that has such a wide scope.  This book is epic.  There are Norse gods, Egyptian gods, Eastern European gods, walking dead girls, and dozens of locations.

I have picked this book up twice before, and for various reasons, I never could get into the damn thing.  It's weird.  I love Neil Gaiman novels, and this is known as his best one.  But I finished it.  Finally.  I liked it, but I didn't love it.  It certainly held my attention better this time.  Maybe it was because I was using my Kindle which makes reading feel all futuristic and fancy.  Maybe because this time I read the tenth anniversary edition.  Maybe I was finally in the right frame of mind to appreciate it. I'm not sure, but third time's a charm.

I would recommend this book to anyone who is a fan of Neil Gaiman, mythology, Americana, or epic novels.

4/5 Stars.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

CBR IV: Book 16: Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking - Susan Cain

*Audiobook Review*

My best friend of 12 years (and recent roommate) is definitely one-of-a-kind.  If left to his own devices, he would never leave the house, and he would never talk to anyone.  He's not misanthropic, he just prefers to keep to himself.  He likes to sit in the dark and just think.  He loathes change and technology and sometimes he can frustrate the Hell out of me.  When I saw this book at the store, I knew that I needed to read it as soon as possible.  Finally, a manual to help me understand him!  However, as I started listening to this book, I realized that I also have quite a bit of introverted tendencies.  I prefer reading to listening, and I cannot handle sensory over-stimulation.  If you want to watch me go all "HULK SMASH!", play the radio and turn on the TV at the same time.

Quiet examines how society and business culture has come to worship the gregarious extrovert.  Only outgoing people who can give entertaining presentations could possibly have anything worth saying.  Most young schoolchildren now have their desks in groups or "pods".  Most offices are designed with open floor plans to easier facilitate group work.  Everyone seems to think that group work is better.  Except maybe it isn't.  Are we squashing creativity instead of fostering it?  Yeah, probably.

Quiet is not just a book for introverts.  There are chapters that discuss what happens when extroverts live with introverts or when extroverts have introverted children.  This book also discusses how when introverts have to fake outspokenness it can be utterly exhausting.  It gives some tips on coping, such as finding an quiet place to decompress.

I keep recommending this book to friends and co-workers.  I thought it was fascinating, and I actually learned a lot about myself.

4/5 Stars

Sunday, May 6, 2012

CBR IV: Book 15: Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (and Other Concerns) - Mindy Kaling

This book has been frequently reviewed for the CBR, and I can see why.  It is a quick read, perfect for a doctor's office wait or a plane ride.  It was delightful and hilarious.  Mindy Kaling is probably best known for hysterically brilliant performance as Kelly Kapoor on NBC's "The Office".  This book is about everything, from her childhood of growing up Indian and chubby to her time on the hit play, "Matt and Ben", to her time writing for "The Office".  It is also about makeup, clothes, and boys.

Honestly, I read this one a month ago, and I had to return the book to the library before I wrote this review, so I don't remember a lot of the specifics.  One of my favorite chapters was on how long it takes men to put on shoes.  It's so true!  If you are looking for something to read while you are waiting in line, and you don't mind if strangers think you are crazy because you are busting a gut laughing, then this book is for you.

4/5 Stars

Thursday, May 3, 2012

CBR IV: Book 14: The Magicians - Lev Grossman

I just realized that I have already completed the Quarter-Cannonball that I committed to.  I've tried and failed for the last 3 years, but I have finally made it!  Now I'm going for a Half-Cannonball!

I'm going to be yet another reviewer who calls this book "Harry Potter for grown-ups".  But it totally is.  And isn't.  It's more "Chronicles of Narnia for grown-ups".  It's dark.  Sometimes disturbingly so.  There's also a fair amount of swearing and sex, so definitely not Harry Potter.

Quentin Coldwater is an overachieving douchebag.  He is the definition of douchebag.  His picture should be next to "douchebag" in the dictionary.  The summer before his senior year, he chases a piece of paper through a small Brooklyn garden and appears in a large grove.  He is asked to take an entrance exam.  He's not told what school it is for, and he never signed up to take the exam.  After an all day, grueling exam he is finally told that magic is real and that he has been accepted to Brakebills.  Brakebills is a school for magicians, hidden in upstate New York.  Magic may be real, but it certainly isn't easy.  Magic requires hours of complex calculations, which is why the entrance exams are so difficult.  The first half of the novel focuses on Quentin's magical education, and the friends he makes at Brakebills.  Then he graduates, and just like all other twenty-something college graduates, he doesn't know what to do with himself.  Fantastical adventures ensue.

I don't want to give any more away than that.  I really did enjoy this book, even if Quentin is a frustrating character.  I finished this about a month ago, and I read a few other books, but I just started the sequel, "The Magician King" yesterday.

4/5 Stars.