Review: Norse Mythology

30831912Title: Norse Mythology

Author: Neil Gaiman

Genre: Short stories and myths

When I was younger, I couldn’t understand how the Norse could live with gods that would die. How could they stand a mythology that included an end of the world where the gods lost and the world ended and the bad guys won? Nobody else really had that, as far as I understood. Well, I’m glad I read this book, because I get it now.

It helps that I’m older and, I hope, a little wiser now. I understand that sometimes old things have to come to an end to make room for new things. Death has a purpose. Things start off new and fresh, full of promise and bright beginnings, then mature, then start to decay. Eventually they wither and fade. Death is just a natural conclusion. It’s necessary.

Not to be a downer. Most of this book is about the crazy things the gods do. Like the Romans or Greeks or Persians, these gods are pretty human – they are jealous, petty, vengeful, proud, in short, just like us. But they can be capable of great things too. And they’re pretty funny sometimes.

It’s just that ending that bothered me. And now that I’ve read Gaiman’s book, I get it. It’s not so much an ending as a new beginning. And that’s something I can really appreciate. 4.5 stars

Stand Alone Sunday: Mars One

Title: Mars One

Author: Jonathan Maberry

Themes: Space, love, terrorism, family, engineering, friends/teamworks

Setting: Near future Wisconsin then space

I really liked Mayberry’s zombie series, the Rot & Ruin series with teen Benny Imura. When I heard he had a new book out, a science fiction one  which was getting great reviews, I couldn’t wait to read it, and then the library had a copy just sitting there with the new books. It was meant for me.

Tristan is a typical high school guy. He has a best friend, he’s kind of a nerd, he’s crazy about his girlfriend Izzy. But maybe he’s not entirely typical. He’s a brainiac, has an entire assembly dedicated to him plus a reality TV show, he has terrorists trying to kill him, he has two bodyguards who go everywhere with him, and oh yeah, he’s going to Mars. His whole family is going. His dad is a botanist and Tristan and his mom are both mechanical engineers.

His family was accepted a couple of years ago, but time is running out and they’re finally ready to leave earth. Now he has to say goodbye to his girlfriend Izzy, then say goodbye again for the cameras, and make his way to mission control. It’s time to leave for Mars.

I really liked this book, so much that I finished it in a day. I keep saying I’m done with YA, but books like this are the reason I read it. It takes all the same issues that an adult book would have but condenses them down to the essentials so that what’s left is the central story, no political subplots, no sex (usually), no gloomy angles, just the story. And it’s a good story.

My family has actually discussed this–would you go to Mars, knowing that for now at least, it’s a one way trip? Knowing that you’d never see your family again, that life would be completely unpredictable and that you’d die on an alien planet? Knowing that you’d be doing something no one else in the history of life has ever done? We’re divided. I wouldn’t do it, but I have one kid who absolutely would. (That one is also the hugest Star Trek fan, which is no coincidence, I think.)

Reading this book would make you think about what choices you would make and why. It’s a fast read and a compelling one. I’m giving it an easy 4.3 stars and I recommend it for anyone who likes space or well-written YA.

Review: The Murder at Sissingham Hall

question-mark-1750942_960_720Titles: The Murder at Sissingham Hall and The Mystery at Underwood House, Angela Marchmont books 1 & 2

Author: Clara Benson

Setting: England, 1920s

Looking for a mystery along the lines of Hercule Poirot, Lord Peter Wimsey or Albert Campion? These might just be right up your alley. They have the fun of the Lady Daisy Dalrymple series by Carola Dunn.

Our sleuth is Angela Marchmont, a charming divorcee who has a bit of a past with British espionage, although this is disappointingly vague. The first book involves the murder of a wealthy gentleman during a house party, just when his wife’s former beau has returned to England from making his fortune in Africa. The second book is about a mysterious family curse that’s wiping out the members of the Haynes family once per year and the family reunion has struck again. Angela is on the scene, with a little obliging help from Scotland Yard, but I found it much too obvious who the culprit was in each case.

These are the kind of comforting reads that I gravitate towards when I need something soothing and light, something where it all works out in the end and my brain doesn’t have to work too hard. It’s the literary equivalent of chicken soup and crackers, or a nice bowl of ice cream. Maybe that’s not fair, but sometimes that’s just what I want. These are available through Kindle Unlimited too, so they’re worth trying.

Review: Band of Brothers

Encore review!

Title: Band of Brothers: E Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne

Author: Stephen E Ambrose

This non-fiction book is the basis for the TV miniseries of the same name. It focuses on an American paratrooper company, the first of its kind, and takes them right through World War II. It highlights some of the soldiers and officers and gives an account of them through every action. Their first battle was on D-Day and they stayed in the center of things in Europe right through V-E Day and beyond.

Some things the book did well. For the first time, I really understood why so much looting occurs after a battle. It also gave a really good picture of how this company became so close and why that is important for survival during a battle.

However, the names and places sort of all blurred together in my mind. Major Winters was one exception, but for the most part, I had a hard time telling the soldiers apart. I liked the ‘Where Are They Now’ section in the back, but what would have really helped would have been more pictures. Same with the places. I am not strong on geography, and some of these places were pretty small. I don’t know why they didn’t include a single map, but it was a major oversight.

The story got me interested enough to do a little research on my own. I found that this book is a little controversial – not everyone involved felt it was an unbiased account, and some felt that Ambrose’s scholarship was a little sloppy. However, it was a good story and now I’d like to read more from some other writers about their own experiences. Recommended, but it could have been a better book.

Two DNFs

I’ve got a couple of recent DNF (did not finish) that I thought I’d mention. Sometimes people are surprised by how fast I read, but they don’t realize that I count ALL books I read, including the ones I try, but just don’t like for whatever reason. Here are a few I didn’t finish lately.

Percy Jackson’s Greek Heroes by Rick Riordan

This one was just what it sounds like, a collection of stories about Greek heroes written as though told by Percy Jackson. I love Percy, but when he’s telling someone else’s story, I find him a little more annoying than when he’s telling his own. My main problem here though is that I really already know most of these stories, so I wasn’t interested in reading them again. There was one in there I hadn’t heard, but I know about Daedalus and Theseus and so on. Just wasn’t interested.

Belle Dame Sans Merci by Astrea Taylor

Belle is a cool heroine, but for some reason reading a story set in Hell was stressing me out! I skimmed this one, so I mostly read it and then skipped to the end. I’m betting this one has a sequel. If you like stories about demons and stuff like that you’ll probably like it more than I did.

 

Review: Whistling Past the Graveyard

16058610Title: Whistling Past the Graveyard

Author: Susan Crandall

Setting: Mississippi & Tennessee 1963

Themes: family, race, justice, religion, secrets

Starla Claudelle is not looking forward to a summer spend with her strict grandmother, but with her mother up in Nashville trying to be star and her dad working on an oil rig, she’s got no choice. Starla can’t take it anymore and decides to run away and she meets Eula and everything changes.

We read this for book club, and once again, I was the only person who didn’t love the book. Starla is 9 years old, but the author makes her sound like she’s at least 14 years old. Only occasionally does she sound like the child she is. She’s too independent and too smart for her age, but at the same time, she gets into situations that could just be so dangerous – and then they are dangerous!

Then there’s Eula, who takes risks that I just can’t believe a woman in her position would take. I can’t say more without giving away everything in the book, but I just didn’t find it believable. I liked Eula and I liked Starla, but it wasn’t enough for me to really accept the events in the book and that they would happen this way.

The book is really interesting in contrast to Revolution by Deborah Wiles, which I reviewed here. The Wiles book was so much better, maybe because it was told from more than one POV and because the characters were older. This one just touched the surface of the civil rights issues and only seemed less plausible because of it. 3/5 stars, but I will admit that for younger kids I’d rate it higher.

Currently reading

Things are hectic at my house right now and I’m escaping into a good book. Here’s what I’m reading or just finished. Reviews will come later, but let me know if there’s any that catch your eye.

Currently reading

Belle Dame Sans Merci by Astrea Taylor – urban horror

Three Singles to Adventure by Gerald Durrell – very funny memoir

A Man Called Ove by Frederik Backman – literary fiction

Murder at Sissingham Hall by Clara Benson – 1920s mystery

 

Just finished

Whistling Past the Graveyard by Susan Crandall – historical YA

The Crow Trap by Anne Cleeves – British police mystery

Her Final Breath by Robert Dugoni – American police mystery

Magician: Master by Raymond Feist – fantasy

 

Maybe it’s my mood, but I haven’t loved anything lately. I need something really great to take my mind off my troubles. I did spend all day on The Crow Trap, but found it ultimately just satisfactory, nothing more. The Clara Benson book looks like it might be a winner, so I’ll give that my time next. Or maybe I’ll just curl up with Netflix. Hope you’re having more reading fun than I am. If so, tell me what you’re reading!

Review: 101 More Things to do with a Cake Mix

My daughter is in the hospital right now and my mind just isn’t on the blog, but I wanted to post today. So here’s an encore post inspired by some easy peanut butter cookies 🍪 I made for my girl.

Title: 101 More Things to do with a Cake 🎂 Mix

Author: Stephanie Ashcraft

Mixed feelings on this one. On one hand, some of the recipes are so simplistic that they hardly seem to count as a recipe. (How many variations of cookies made with cake mix – cake mix, eggs, oil, flavored chips of some kind – do we really need?)

But then the things that I have tried – True Love Coffee Cake, Orange Cookies, Heavenly White Brownies – have all been yummy. So maybe worth the money 💰 if you like to bake easy stuff.

Review: Murder at Sedgwick Court

Title: Murder at Sedgwick Court, Rose Simpson book 3

Author: Margaret Addison

Genre: historical cozy mystery

Setting: Sedgwick Court, England, 1930

Rose Simpson and her beau, Cedric the Earl of Belvedere, are hoping for some quiet time enjoying each other’s company. (Suitably chaperoned, of course.) But Lady Lavinia, the earl’s sister, comes home from France bringing her own house party with her. A love triangle soon develops and before long, a young woman is murdered. Scotland Yard arrives to investigate, but of course, it’s Rose who solves the case.

These are fun, very light mysteries that are good to read when you want something fluffy. There’s not a lot of substance and certainly no realism, but that’s kind of the point. I enjoyed this one and I’ll probably forget about it within the week.

Spoiler Alert: You’re Gonna Die

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Title: Spoiler Alert: You’re Gonna Die

Authors: Kourttany Finn & Jacquie Purcell

Genre: non-fiction fluff

Not to ruin your day or anything, but you’re going to die. Probably not today, but eventually, at some point, chances are really high that you’ll die. This book goes over a few of the ways that could happen, and then what happens to your body after you’re dead.

Ever wondered what a coroner does, exactly what happens in a post-mortem, how embalming works? This book covers all of that and more. It’s in a breezy conversational style, but it’s not disrespectful exactly. Just trying to take the mystique out of death. It doesn’t try to answer any of the philosophical questions about death or dying, just the practical stuff. It was a surprisingly fun read too.

Not very deep, but it was a quick informative read. Free with Kindle Unlimited.