Friday, December 31, 2010

Fill In The ______ 2010

Found this fun activity via Consumed by Books, who found it at The Book Rat.

Pretty much you just answer the questions using the name of a book you've read in 2010. You can go for serious answers that most closely match what your real answers would be, or you can go with the funniest ones you can come up with for your available titles.

I went ahead and linked my answers to my reviews (except for 1, which was from before I started reviewing) so you can check them out if you're curious.

Have fun!

Describe yourself:
Moon Called
What can I say? I'm a night-owl.

Describe where you currently live:
Northanger Abbey
Okay, not really. But I am in the north.

What's the weather like?
Heat Wave
Can below freezing be considered a heat wave?

If you could go anywhere, you would go to...
The Restaurant at the End of the Universe
Now that would be fun!

Your favorite form of transportation is...
Personal Demons
They're speedy, eco-friendly, and automatically reduce the number of other idiot drivers.

Your favorite time of day is...
It'd be a lot better if I had a job to be coming home from.

Your best friend is...
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
What better friend than a book that tells you not to panic?

You and your friends are...
Wizards at War
Don't worry—we made a truce for the holidays.

You feel...
Mostly Harmless
As opposed to Very Nuclear.

Life is...
Chocolates are nice, but hawt shapeshifters are nicer.

Your greatest fear is...
The Strangers Outside
Unless it's Ed McMahon and his crew—I want my giant check!

You would prefer to die by...
Wait, what?! O_O

Your soul's present condition is...
High Wizardry
I swear I'm high on life...

What is the best advice you have to give?
So You Want to Be a Wizard
I hear it's a very lucrative field!

Thought for the Day:
So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish
Now I can open up my own fish store and supplement my writing! As soon as I have my nose removed.

You can find the full list of books I read this year HERE!

Hope You All Have A Safe And Happy New Year!

Welcome to the Family

Visit Scenic

After much deliberation, I've gone ahead and signed up this blog as an Associate of Amazon, Borders, and Powell's Books.

Pretty much this means is any time someone clicks on an Amazon, Borders (coming soon), or Powell's link, and then makes a purchase, I will be credited with a small percentage (6-8.5%) of their purchase. It doesn't even have to be the item at that specific link - so long as the browser window/tab remains the same, I get credited for 'directing' you to the site.

I want to stress that this doesn't mean I expect you to immediately click these links and buy thousands of dollars worth of stuff. There's no obligation on your part whatsoever. However, if while browsing my site you see something you're interested in buying, or perhaps you're reminded of something you've been meaning to buy, if you wouldn't mind locating one of my links (either in-post or on the sidebar) and using it to get where you want to go...I'd really appreciate your support.

I promise not to overwhelm you with ads, and keep the links discreet. I'm currently going through all my past reviews to edit the format and links. Pretty much what you'll see in each review is this:

~Title of Book Linked to Goodreads~
Series Name
Book #
By Author Name
Amazon ~ Borders ~ Powell's

And that'll be the end of it. Nothing too pushy, I hope. And nothing completely off-target, like random posts about plungers or baby bottles with tons of links throughout. Unless you guys want that type of thing...

Funds received from these Associations will be used primarily for future contests (especially shipping), purchasing books for review, and keeping bills (internet) paid.

Oh, and while I'm thinking about it, I'd like to point you to the left-hand side of the screen where you may have noticed a new Facebook widget where you can "Like" this blog.

That's right, The Wolf's Den has it's own Facebook account! There you will find pictures of books in-progress, reading updates, and discussion boards where you're welcome to talk about what you're reading, what you thought about books reviewed here, and make suggestions for the site. Who knows, maybe I'll even start a book club there. So head on over and check it out!

As always, thank you for your continued support. I couldn't do this without you.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Am I A Bad Person?

The other day, as I was perusing my regular list of blogs, I came across one that made me take a step back.

On Rachelle Gardner's blog, she posted a plea made by guest blogger, Marcus Brotherton. A hardcover a month, that’s all we ask. Essentially, he's asking for writers, readers, anyone interested in books or the publishing industry at all, to help the industry and spend $20 a month on books.

At first glance, I was completely on board. Sure! Anything I can do to help! We writerly people have got to stick together!

But then, I realized that I regularly go months without buying books. The majority of my reading comes from the library, where I can get just about any book if I'm willing to wait a couple weeks/months (depending on popularity and supply).

As much as I love books, that $20 a month is a problem for me. Being unemployed is a matter of making sure you get what you need. I've gotten to the point now that I have to double and triple-check every book I pick up to see if I'm really interested in it, or if I can live with checking the library.

And even the books I do talk myself into buying are usually pre-owned or discounted with coupons. A majority come from Goodwill or Used Bookstores, such that I'm not even sure their sales would make a difference in the publishing industry.

So, I'm asking...does this make me a bad person? What do you think about utilizing the free (or cheaper) resources versus helping the industry?

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Strangers Outside Are Drowning Their Sorrows

As a precursor, I feel the need to say that I don't particularly like horror. I don't watch horror movies, and I usually don't read horror books. When the author contacted me to review her self-published short story and novella, I was a bit leery, but decided perhaps I'd benefit from expanding my interests. After all, I've read Dracula without any negative repercussions. So long as there aren't any needles involved, nor people jumping out at me (I HATE that) from my screen, I figured I would be alright.

Thus, I may not be the best judge of horror, but I shall do my best.

The Strangers Outside

Two sisters, Jennifer and Louise, return to their remote holiday cabin after a day at the seaside. But little do they know they’re being surrounded. Shortly after their arrival, the girls will come face to face with THE STRANGERS OUTSIDE. When the assailants make their intentions known, things take a shockingly terrible turn and an intense battle for survival will begin. [Goodreads]

For a horror story, I was surprisingly not put on edge. Okay, so I did jump at a noise behind me while reading it, but I call that being because it was late at night.

We begin with introducing Jennifer and Louise traveling to their 'remote cabin' for a relaxing holiday. The entire first scene is there for the sole purpose of setting up their characteristics. We are told Louise is the elder idealistic of the two, who worries her younger sister won't let herself find happiness. Jennifer is the mopey younger sister who refuses to believe in luck or good fortune.

Once they get to their cabin out in the middle of nowhere, they stop for a dance-break, but quickly realize they're not alone. I guess seeing guys dressed in black outside your house with no rational explanation for being there isn't a red flag for these girls. They retire to their cabin for a few minutes, deciding they'll freshen up and go see a movie. But surprise, surprise, the Men-In-Black haven't left, and now more of them are appearing.

With their paths of escape now blocked, the sisters have to look to each other to survive.

I had a lot of problems with this piece. Without ruining the plot, I found the writing simplistic and unrefined. There was little flow, the dialog was robotic, and the little description there was was blunt. Story-wise, the concept is solid, but the execution is sloppy with the time elapsed bordering on insane and the exposition coming in one huge clump at the end.

As a short story, it was a quick read at only 24 pages. Unfortunately, the pacing made it a chore to read, and the characters didn't make things any easier. I honestly didn't care what happened to them and, after some of their bickering, was even rooting for one or the other to die. I know I'm new to this horror thing, but I'm pretty sure that's not how it's supposed to work.

Unless you have some extra time and money on your hands or you're looking for a spooky source for inspiration, I think I'd pass on this one. As I said, I think the story's there, but The Strangers Outside could have stood a good round or three of editing to get the tone to match the subject. On the bright side, I do think the movie that is being made off this work has a chance to be terrifying, so look out for that.

Approximate Reading Time: 30 Minutes

Drowned Sorrow

Megan Blackwood has just lost her son in a terrible accident. Now she has come to Moonlight Creek with her teenage daughter Jenna, hoping a change of scenery might help to put her life back together.

But something odd is going on in Moonlight Creek.

When rain falls over the village, its inhabitants commit grisly murders, leaving the place deserted with the first rays of sunshine.

Beneath the lake's surface, an eerie presence watches... and waits... Waits to reveal a tragic past drowned in mystery and fear. One that doesn't bode well for visitors.

By the time Megan realizes that her daughter's life is in danger, it may be too late to escape.

I will admit I put the bar pretty low for this one, hoping I'd enjoy it, and it worked out alright for the most part. The story was much more compelling, the characters were fleshed out a little better, and there was actual suspense in the plot. I think having it as a novella instead of a short story helped a lot.

I liked that there were more characters this time around. It made it easier when I didn't connect with the main ones, I could wait a few pages until I found someone I did like. On the other hand, by having so many characters we weren't ever given a fully formed character. All of them had their flaws, but with almost all of them I had a hard time finding redeeming qualities to root for. Realistic? perhaps, but it was pretty depressing to realize that none of these characters had anything but luck (and some of them didn't even have that) on their side.

Unfortunately, a lot of the same problems from The Strangers Outside returned here. The book read much like a movie script, with descriptions seeming more like concise notes for the director or actors. Here's one example from later in the story: Sensing impending doom, Megan hurried toward the village. Now, as a reader we expect to have her feelings described, backed up, and explained over the course of a couple sentences or paragraphs. Instead, we have her fear bluntly thrown out there, like a note to an actress that "you should look afraid here".

I also had a bit of trouble with the storylines. The pacing of the story was better, but at the same time was still off. There was definitely an ebb and flow to the suspense, but instead of propelling us toward the end, the separate characters' plots created stops in the action. The fact that they had little to do with one another didn't help at all, plus their ends came at different times, making the last quarter of the book extremely choppy in transitioning.

It also seemed like the three plots (as well as a couple side-plots) had completely different settings. There was no consistency from one storyline to the next. In one case, the townspeople acted solely like zombies, while a few pages later another character had a normal conversation with one. It was like there were three different stories that had the same overall problem (lake/water = evil), so why not have them all take place in the same town at the same time? But really, other than some overlapping characters, there won't be anything similar about any of them. It made it especially hard to read at the end.

Speaking of the ending, at one point I was literally hissing, "Deus ex machina!" at my screen, I was that mad.

Ultimately, I still don't think this story is quite up to publishing standards. Good concept, better character-building, some improvement in pacing and mood-building, but still lacking full descriptions, realistic dialog, and overall polishing. Perhaps keep an eye out for later editions, but as is it still has a few drafts to go before I'd be willing to give it another shot. I've heard this is also being adapted into a movie, and, once again, I'd recommend looking out for it.

Approximate Reading Time: 3 Hours

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Whisper Stories in My Ear Challenge

I know, I know, I just posted a reading challenge not an hour ago... But in truth, I'd already had that one on my Reading Challenge page for almost two weeks (perhaps I should announce these things sooner?).

Anyway, as soon as I saw this reading challenge, I knew I had to jump in!

As some of you probably know from reading my reviews, I listen to audiobooks on a regular basis. Not by themselves, mind you. I listen to audiobooks while I read along.

But Vicki, how can you read so slowly? Don't you find it boring?

Well, I might, if I didn't speed up the audiobooks to match my reading speed. Windows Media Player allows for speeding up or slowing down playback (a very handy feature if you ask me) so that I can increase the speed anywhere from 1.01x to 2x the normal speed. I usually find a good pace between 1.7x and 1.95x, depending on the narrator.

But Vicki, how can you understand what they're saying? Don't they sound like chipmunks?

Actually, I usually don't have it fast enough for that. Once you get above 2x speed, the audio usually becomes too clipped and unintelligible for me. So, while the pitch of the reader does increase a bit, I find it still pretty easy to make out.

Also, having the book in front of me helps a lot. If I miss something in the audio, it's right there on the page, so I don't miss anything.

But Vicki, why use the audiobook at all if you're just going to read the book anyway?

You're just full of questions, aren't you? Well, I read along with audiobooks for a few different reasons, actually.

First, I find it helps a lot with internalizing the stories. It's been proven in teaching/learning that we understand lessons a lot better when multiple senses are involved.

Some people are very good with learning through auditory means, such as listening to a lecture; some learn best with visual representations, such as diagrams or videos; and some work best through hands-on (or kinesthetic) techniques, such as performing a lab or skit.

By combining auditory and visual senses, I find it much easier to internalize what I'm reading, and to remember what I've read.

I also find it helps me focus that much more on what I'm doing. Have you ever found yourself reading and realized it's been an hour and you have no idea what you just read? Perhaps you were thinking about what you need to get from the store, or someone just came home and you're wondering what they're doing in the kitchen. Having my eyes and ears both focused on a book helps me stay on point, and thus, finish that book much faster.

Finally, in the case of Fantasy or SciFi books, listening to someone else read them allows me to hear some of those stranger words instead of spending 5 minutes trying to sound it out myself. Names like ed'Rastekeresket t'k Gh'shestaesteh or Aurilelde have thrown me for a loop in the past, but with a narrator taking the guesswork out of it, I'm past the road-bump after a couple seconds and on I go.

But Vicki, aren't there any drawbacks to this?

Alright, but this is your last one. Yes, I will admit, there are a couple problems with my preferred reading method.

Firstly, I have to be by my computer. Because I listen to the books at a higher speed, I can't simply transfer them to my mp3-player and off I go. Likewise, it's hard to read ahead while I'm out and find my place in the audio (unless I stop at a chapter or something). Thus, I have to make time to sit at my computer and listen...which is easier said than done, sometimes. Still, finishing a book in 3-10 hours isn't too bad.

But Vicki—

Nope, that's it from you =P And now here's a short list of what I have planned:

1.   The Hunger Games ~ Suzanne Collins
2.   Catching Fire ~ Suzanne Collins
3.   Mockingjay ~ Suzanne Collins
4.   Wicked
5.   Son of a Witch
6.   A Lion Among Men
7.   The Lost Years of Merlin
8.   Eragon
9.   Eldest
10. Brisingr
11. Artemis Fowl
12. Artemis Fowl: The Arctic Incident
13. Artemis Fowl: The Eternity Code
14. Artemis Fowl: The Opal Deception
15. Artemis Fowl: The Lost Colony
16. Artemis Fowl: The Time Paradox
17. Artemis Fowl: The Atlantis Complex
18. Ender's Game
19. Ender's Shadow
20. Shadow of the Hegemon
21. Shadow Puppets
22. Shadow of the Giant
23. The Amulet of Samarkand
24. The Golem's Eye
25. Ptolemy's Gate
26. Earth (The Audiobook)

That's way over 200 hours, and I'm positive I'll read others over the year too. So that's the plan...wish me luck!

Keep track of my progress on my Reading Challenges page.

Reading Bucket List Challenge

So, come the new year, I'll be nearing my first full year of blogging! Yay! It's been fun so far, and I've gotten a lot of great advice and experience over the past year. Trying things out, finding out what works and what doesn't, has been a lot of fun. And come January 1st, I'll have a whole new year ahead of me...

Naturally that means that I will actually have a full year to complete some reading challenges! During this first year, my reading and reviews have been somewhat sparse, but I hope this new year will have less kinks ... be less kinky ... be somewhat smoother.

And so, without further adieu, here's the challenge I signed up for!

The Mad Scientist is certainly not one to stifle creativity, so her explanation and guidelines are extremely broad. The gist of it is to read a list of books that you've been meaning to get to, but haven't found time (or motivation) yet.

For those who need a little more in the way of guidelines, she does provide a Suggestion Page which has various themed lists such as Read 30 Genres, or Find 14 Settings.

As for myself, I'm using it as an opportunity to read some of the unread series I have sitting on my shelves:

Books I Own Are Bold
Unread Books Are Marked With *

Series I Own But Have Never Started:
~Alexander Cold Trilogy by Isabel Allende
1. City of the Beasts *
2. Kingdom of the Golden Dragon *
3. Forest of the Pygmies *
~The Bartimaeus Trilogy by Jonathan Stroud
1. The Amulet of Samarkand *
2. The Golem's Eye *
3. Ptolemy's Gate *
~The Wicked Years Series by Gregory Maguire
1. Wicked *
2. Son of a Witch *
3. A Lion Among Men *
~The Raine Benares Series by Lisa Shearin
1. Magic Lost, Trouble Found *
2. Armed & Magical *
3. The Trouble With Demons *
4. Bewitched & Betrayed *
~The Secret Texts Trilogy by Holly Lisle
0. Vincalis the Agitator *
1. Diplomacy of Wolves *
2. Vengeance of Dragons *
3. Courage of Falcons *
~The Lost Years Of Merlin Series by T.A. Barron
1. The Lost Years of Merlin *
2. The Seven Songs of Merlin *
3. The Fires of Merlin *
4. The Mirror of Merlin *
5. The Wings of Merlin *

Series I've Started:
~The Inheritance Series by Christopher Paolini
1. Eragon
2. Eldest *
3. Brisingr *
~The Lord of the Rings Series by J.R.R. Tolkien
1. The Hobbit 
2. The Fellowship of the Ring
3. The Two Towers *
4. The Return of the King *
~The Belgariad Series by David Eddings
1. Pawn of Prophecy
2. Queen of Sorcery *
3. Magician's Gambit *
4. Castle of Wizardry *
5. Enchanters' End Game *
~The Shadow Series by Orson Scott Card
1. Ender's Game
2. Ender's Shadow *
3. Shadow of the Hegemon *
4. Shadow Puppets *
5. Shadow of the Giant *
~Magic Kingdom of Landover Series by Terry Brooks
1. Magic Kingdom For Sale Sold!
2. The Black Unicorn *
3. Wizard at Large *
4. The Tangle Box *
5. Witches' Brew *
6. Princess of Landover
~Artemis Fowl Series by Eoin Colfer
1. Artemis Fowl
2. Artemis Fowl: The Arctic Incident
3. Artemis Fowl: The Eternity Code
4. Artemis Fowl: The Opal Deception
5. Artemis Fowl: The Lost Colony *
6. Artemis Fowl: The Time Paradox *
7. Artemis Fowl: The Atlantis Complex *
~Dragonriders of Pern Series by Anne McCaffrey (and Todd McCaffrey)
1. Dragonflight
2. Dragonquest
3. Dragonsong
4. Dragonsinger
5. Dragondrums
6. The White Dragon
7. Moreta: Dragonlady of Pern *
8. Nerilka's Story *
9. Dragonsdawn *
10. The Renegades of Pern *
11. All the Weyrs of Pern *
12. The Chronicles of Pern: First Fall *
13. The Dolphins of Pern *
14. Dragonseye *
15. The Masterharper of Pern *
16. The Skies of Pern *
17. A Gift of Dragons *
18. Dragon's Kin *
19. Dragon's Fire *
20. Dragon Harper *
21. Dragonsblood *
22. Dragonheart *
23. Dragongirl *
~Xanth Series by Piers Anthony
1. A Spell for Chameleon
2. The Source of Magic
3. Castle Roogna
4. Centaur Aisle
5. Ogre, Ogre
6. Night Mare
7. Dragon on a Pedestal *
8. Crewel Lye *
9. Golem in the Gears *
10. Vale of the Vole *
11. Heaven Cent *
12. Man from Mundania *
13. Isle of View *
14. Question Quest *
15. The Color of Her Panties *
16. Demons Don't Dream *
17. Harpy Thyme *
18. Geis of the Gargoyle *
19. Roc and a Hard Place *
20. Yon Ill Wind *
21. Faun & Games *
22. Zombie Lover *
23. Xone of Contention *
24. The Dastard *
25. Swell Foop *
26. Up In A Heaval *
27. Cube Route *
28. Currant Events *
29. Pet Peeve *
30. Stork Naked *
31. Air Apparent *
32. Two to the Fifth *
33. Jumper Cable *
34. Knot Gneiss *

Giving us a total of 109 books! Yeah, I don't know if I'll be reading all of these next year... But my goal is to know if I like the books on my shelves, and if I don't, to clear room for other titles I know I like.

So, FYI, I might not be getting to some of the new releases next year...but I hope to be cranking out a lot of reviews! Wish me luck!

Keep track of my progress on my Reading Challenges page.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

When You're On A Hunt, You Do Whatever It Takes

Being the second book in a series, this review may contain slight spoilers for the first book, Terrier. I'd suggest you read the book, or at the very least my previous review before reading this.

Provost's Dog Trilogy
Book 2
By Tamora Pierce
Amazon ~ Powell's ~ Jan's Paperbacks

No one said growing up would be easy.

Beka's back, now graduated from Puppy-hood and patrolling the streets as a full-fledged Dog. Unfortunately, the Lower City hasn't gotten any easier to handle, especially with rumors of a grain shortage making prices and tempers rise. And if riots weren't enough to keep the Dogs busy, Beka's also on the hunt for a coin counterfeiter who seems set on collapsing the economy entirely.

Good thing Beka's not short of friends she can count on. Between her partners Goodwin and Tunstall, her magical cat companion Pounce, and her friends in the Court of the Rogue, she expects there's nothing that can keep her from catching the mastermind behind the counterfeits. But when the trail leads away to Port Caynn, Beka finds herself losing her familiar company in exchange for new faces. Sure, Achoo the scent-hound should come in handy, but what about this overly charming Dale Rowan and his lot?

It won't be enough for Beka to be her usual "terrier" self. She'll have to learn from Achoo to sniff out the criminals—to be a bloodhound.

Once again, I've got to hand it to whoever writes the jacket description for these books, whether it be Tammy herself, or one of the people at Random House. It's descriptive yet concise, intriguing yet mysterious, and perhaps most importantly, it doesn't spoil anything. Well, perhaps one thing...but it's not that big. I just couldn't help but quote it again, if only for the last lines.