Snow Angels by James Thompson

Snow AngelsSnow Angels by James Thompson

Loved the setting, liked the premise and main characters, and the story showed a lot of promise early on. It went off the rails at the end – lots of coincidences and I was all but rolling my eye sat how everything resolved. I’m undecided about reading more in the series – I’m a bit intrigued by Vaara and his wife and their situation, but don’t know if I care enough to give the author another shot. There are just so many other books to read instead…

What really keeps me from recommending them without hesitation, even to crime fiction fans, is the amount of graphic detail Thompson includes. If you’re familiar with Nordic Noir as a subgenre, this won’t surprise you, but I’d hate for you to go into it thinking it’s going to be a gentler mystery than it is. It’s not. Be aware of this if you’re a sensitive reader. I’m not a particularly sensitive reader and I still found myself wincing at times. If you like that subgenre I still think there are stronger options, but perhaps his plotting improves in later books.

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Publisher’s Description:
It is called kaamos–two weeks of unrelenting darkness and soul-numbing cold that falls upon Finnish Lapland, a hundred miles into the Arctic Circle, just before Christmas. Some get through it with the help of cheap Russian alcohol; some sink into depression.

This year, it may have driven someone mad enough to commit murder. The brutalized body of a beautiful Somali woman has been found in the snow, and Inspector Kari Vaara must find her killer. It will be a challenge in a place where ugly things lurk under frozen surfaces, and silence is a way of life.

Book Details

Title: Snow Angels
Author: James Thompson
Category: Fiction / Mystery
My Rating: 2.5 Stars

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Previously on The Deliberate Reader

One year ago: Relentless by Darcy Wiley

When We Wake by Karen Healey

When We WakeWhen We WakeWhen We Wake by Karen Healey by Karen Healey

Somewhat intriguing story but at times it felt more like a lecture than a novel. I’m not a huge dystopian fan, and this title is a little too dystopian-esque for me. Future society, the world is in peril, teen girl who just wants to live a normal life but has to save the world from some evil adults, etc. etc. The book is littered with cliches and cardboard characters, and despite the cliffhanger ending to tempt you into grabbing the sequel, While We RunWhile We Run by Karen Healey, I’m not inspired to read more.

After I draft a review, I often then go and read other reviews of a book, mostly for curiosity’s sake (do others agree with my take on the book?). I always feel a little bit of “yes! It wasn’t just me!” when something that’s bugged me about a book turns up frequently in other reviews. In this case, what I referred to as a “lecture” others rightly noted is a preachy take on politics and religion. It didn’t bother me as much as it did some others, but it was annoyingly heavy-handed, even when I was agreeing with her about parts of it.

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Publisher’s Description:
My name is Tegan Oglietti, and on the last day of my first lifetime, I was so, so happy.

Sixteen-year-old Tegan is just like every other girl living in 2027–she’s happiest when playing the guitar, she’s falling in love for the first time, and she’s joining her friends to protest the wrongs of the world: environmental collapse, social discrimination, and political injustice.

But on what should have been the best day of Tegan’s life, she dies–and wakes up a hundred years in the future, locked in a government facility with no idea what happened.

Tegan is the first government guinea pig to be cryonically frozen and successfully revived, which makes her an instant celebrity–even though all she wants to do is try to rebuild some semblance of a normal life. But the future isn’t all she hoped it would be, and when appalling secrets come to light, Tegan must make a choice: Does she keep her head down and survive, or fight for a better future?

Award-winning author Karen Healey has created a haunting, cautionary tale of an inspiring protagonist living in a not-so-distant future that could easily be our own.

Book Details

Title: When We WakeWhen We Wake by Karen Healey
Author: Karen Healey
Category: Young Adult Science Fiction
My Rating: 2.5 Stars

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Previously on The Deliberate Reader

One year ago: Book Review: I Need Some Help Here by Kathi Lipp
Two years ago: A Change of Plans, and Some News

From Stray Dog to World War I Hero

From Stray Dog to World War I HeroFrom Stray Dog to World War I Hero: The Paris Terrier Who Joined the First DivisionFrom Stray Dog to World War I Hero: The Paris Terrier Who Joined the First Division by Grant Hayter-Menzies by Grant Hayter-Menzies

I’m a dog lover, but don’t usually like dog stories. So often they seem to be written just to elicit tears, and that’s not the sort of book I want. Bring in some history with the story though, and you’ve got my interest. So the description of this one sounded like a great choice for me: a little-known story from World War I, about a dog who was a hero for the US.

Except, while I *wanted* to love the story, and while I can appreciate what Rags did from an intellectual standpoint, the book itself left me unaffected. It would have benefited from the emotions those other dog stories bring to their books.

Other reviews all seem to mention the beautiful writing, but clearly I’m still a cranky reader, because I found it to be serviceable writing, but nothing deserving special mention.

Overall, I found myself wishing that a picture book author would discover Rags’ story and turn it into a beautiful children’s book. The known facts of the story are thin enough that it simply doesn’t support a full book like this, but it could work really well as a children’s book, or in a compilation like the National Geographic Kids Animal StoriesNational Geographic Kids Animal Stories: Heartwarming True Tales from the Animal Kingdom book I love so much.

If you’re a dog lover and history buff, you may still enjoy this, but I wouldn’t make much effort to track it down if your library doesn’t already have a copy. It’s fine, but not worth searching out or buying for yourself.

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Publisher’s Description:
On the streets of Paris one day in July 1918, an American doughboy, Sgt. Jimmy Donovan, befriended a stray dog that he named Rags. No longer an unwanted street mutt, Rags became the mascot to the entire First Division of the American Expeditionary Force and a friend to the American troops who had crossed the Atlantic to fight. Rags was more than a scruffy face and a wagging tail, however. The little terrier mix was with the division at the crucial battle of Soissons, at the Saint-Mihiel offensive, and finally in the blood-and-mud bath of the Meuse-Argonne, during which he and his guardian were wounded. Despite being surrounded by distraction and danger, Rags learned to carry messages through gunfire, locate broken communications wire for the Signal Corps to repair, and alert soldiers to incoming shells, saving the lives of hundreds of American soldiers. Through it all, he brought inspiration to men with little to hope for, especially in the bitter last days of the war.

From Stray Dog to World War I Hero covers Rags’s entire life story, from the bomb-filled years of war through his secret journey to the United States that began his second life, one just as filled with drama and heartache. In years of peace, Rags served as a reminder to human survivors of what held men together when pushed past their limits by the horrors of battle.

Book Details

Title: From Stray Dog to World War I Hero: The Paris Terrier Who Joined the First DivisionFrom Stray Dog to World War I Hero: The Paris Terrier Who Joined the First Division by Grant Hayter-Menzies
Author: Grant Hayter-Menzies
Category: Nonfiction / History
My Rating: 2.5 Stars

Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for a review. I was not required to write a positive review and all opinions are my own. This post contains affiliate links. Thank you for supporting The Deliberate Reader!

Previously on The Deliberate Reader

One year ago: Reading After Having Children

Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card

Ender's GameEnder’s GameEnder's Game (The Ender Quintet) by Orson Scott Card by Orson Scott Card

I’ve been telling myself for years that I should read this one in my attempts to branch out a bit and try new genres. Science Fiction isn’t my favorite (although I did find a series last year that I enjoyed) and this seemed like a good one to try, as it’s a classic and multiple award-winner.

And it was ok. I finished it quickly as I wanted to find out how it all wrapped up, but it’s the first in a quintet, and I have no real desire to read any more in the series.

Many of my complaints with it are probably directly connected to the genre, so it’s a bit unfair of me to be annoyed at the book for what it is. I’m just not the best reader for a book so focused on this sort of thing. The battlerooms and details of tactics bored me, as did the descriptions of Ender as commander. Whoops, that might be a spoiler but I can’t imagine anyone reading it didn’t know that he was going to become the commander he was being trained to be. I mean, where would the book have been if he didn’t?

It’s also surprisingly brutal at times, in a way that had me cringing. I know why it is, but that doesn’t mean I want to read it. The fact that my son is fairly close in age to Ender’s when the book began doesn’t help much either – I kept imagining my “baby” in those situations and it was heart-wrenching.

No, I wasn’t much of a fan, but if you do like science fiction don’t let me put you off trying this one if you already haven’t. If like me, you also dislike most science fiction, I don’t think this one will convert you.

Publisher’s Description:
In order to develop a secure defense against a hostile alien race’s next attack, government agencies breed child geniuses and train them as soldiers. A brilliant young boy, Andrew “Ender” Wiggin lives with his kind but distant parents, his sadistic brother Peter, and the person he loves more than anyone else, his sister Valentine. Peter and Valentine were candidates for the soldier-training program but didn’t make the cut–young Ender is the Wiggin drafted to the orbiting Battle School for rigorous military training.

Ender’s skills make him a leader in school and respected in the Battle Room, where children play at mock battles in zero gravity. Yet growing up in an artificial community of young soldiers, Ender suffers greatly from isolation, rivalry from his peers, pressure from the adult teachers, and an unsettling fear of the alien invaders. His psychological battles include loneliness, fear that he is becoming like the cruel brother he remembers, and fanning the flames of devotion to his beloved sister.

Is Ender the general Earth needs? But Ender is not the only result of the genetic experiments. The war with the Buggers has been raging for a hundred years, and the quest for the perfect general has been underway for almost as long. Ender’s two older siblings are every bit as unusual as he is, but in very different ways. Between the three of them lie the abilities to remake a world. If the world survives, that is.

Winner of the Hugo and Nebula Awards.

Book Details

Title: Ender’s GameEnder's Game (The Ender Quintet) by Orson Scott Card
Author: Orson Scott Card
Category: Science Fiction
My Rating: 2.5 Stars

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The 13 Clocks by James Thurber

The 13 ClocksThe 13 ClocksThe 13 Clocks by James Thurber by James Thurber

One of the most helpful ways for me to find great books to read is to find someone with similar reading tastes and see what they’ve liked and disliked. It works a lot of the time, but it’s not foolproof. There are times when someone doesn’t like a book I’ve enjoyed, and then there are times when someone likes a book and I find I don’t care for it. At all.

Guess which category The 13 Clocks falls into? Yup, that last one. Despite Catherine’s recommendation, it fell flat for me, and I didn’t even try reading it to my kids. Perhaps when they get a bit older I’ll try it, but it’s hard for me to be enthusiastic about reading to them when I dislike a book.

And yet, I don’t disagree with her comments on it. It does have inventive characters. There is terrific alliteration and use of language. There are definitely bizarre plot twists. It just didn’t work for me, and I quickly sent it back to the library.

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Publisher’s Description:
Once upon a time, in a gloomy castle on a lonely hill, where there were thirteen clocks that wouldn’t go, there lived a cold, aggressive Duke, and his niece, the Princess Saralinda. She was warm in every wind and weather, but he was always cold. His hands were as cold as his smile, and almost as cold as his heart. He wore gloves when he was asleep, and he wore gloves when he was awake, which made it difficult for him to pick up pins or coins or the kernels of nuts, or to tear the wings from nightingales.

So begins James Thurber’s sublimely revamped fairy tale, The 13 Clocks, in which a wicked Duke who imagines he has killed time, and the Duke’s beautiful niece, for whom time seems to have run out, both meet their match, courtesy of an enterprising and very handsome prince in disguise. Readers young and old will take pleasure in this tale of love forestalled but ultimately fulfilled, admiring its upstanding hero (”He yearned to find in a far land the princess of his dreams, singing as he went, and possibly slaying a dragon here and there”) and unapologetic villain (”We all have flaws,” the Duke said. “Mine is being wicked”), while wondering at the enigmatic Golux, the mysterious stranger whose unpredictable interventions speed the story to its necessarily happy end.

Book Details

Title: The 13 ClocksThe 13 Clocks by James Thurber
Author: James Thurber
Category: Juvenile Fiction / Fantasy
My Rating: 2.5 Stars

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A College of Magics

A College of MagicsA College of MagicsA College of Magics by Caroline Stevermer by Caroline Stevermer

If you pick this book up and fall for the cover blurb – touting the book as “a large step up from Harry Potter,” it may lead you to believe the book will be different than it is. There really isn’t much to compare the two books, other than the broadest of outlines, and thinking you’ll get a book with the general feel of Harry Potter is a recipe for disappointment. All I can imagine is that the publishers were trying to grab any part of that audience possible, in any way possible.

So, why did they even attempt that ridiculous ploy? Well, it’s a fantasy book. There is magic, and a boarding school, and an orphaned main character. Beyond that however, I have no clue (other than that tempting built-in audience they couldn’t resist).

These complaints may make it seem like I hated the book, and I didn’t. It’s just so wildly mis-targeted as a Harry Potter readalike. In the Potter books, the school itself almost becomes another character, it’s such an important location. You become a part of the schooling the characters are undergoing. In Stevermer’s book, the school is only a small part of the story (almost 3 years are covered in maybe half of the book), and then the main character leaves, never to return. Classes are not mentioned, and other than a general “they had a lot of work to do” it’s all ignored in favor of other details.

There’s a sequel, A Scholar of MagicsA Scholar of Magics (A College of Magics) by Caroline Stevermer, and I would like to read it, to see where Stevermer goes with the story. I generally like alternative history/fantasy mish-mashes, so the setting and time frame worked for me. I’m hoping the plotting improves, as it was a major weakness, but it’s a quick enough read that I don’t mind spending some time on the second book.

Not recommended, unless you’re a die-hard fantasy fan, especially ones that are set in imaginary European countries in a vaguely Regency time period. Maybe book 2 will blow me away enough that I’ll revise this to slightly recommend it if only so you can read and appreciate the sequel, but we’ll have to see about that.

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Publisher’s Description:
Teenager Faris Nallaneen is the heir to the small northern dukedom of Galazon. Too young still to claim her title, her despotic Uncle Brinker has ruled in her place. Now he demands she be sent to Greenlaw College. For her benefit he insists. To keep me out of the way, more like it!

But Greenlaw is not just any school-as Faris and her new best friend Jane discover. At Greenlaw students major in . . . magic.

But it’s not all fun and games. When Faris makes an enemy of classmate Menary of Aravill, life could get downright . . . deadly.

Book Details

Title: A College of MagicsA College of Magics by Caroline Stevermer
Author: Caroline Stevermer
Category: Fiction / Fantasy
My Rating: 2.5 Stars

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Beyond Bath Time by Erin Davis

Beyond Bath TimeBeyond Bath Time: Embracing Motherhood as a Sacred RoleBeyond Bath Time: Embracing Motherhood as a Sacred Role by Erin Davis by Erin Davis

Sometimes I hesitate to say “don’t read this book, read that one instead,” since simply because a book is similar to another one doesn’t mean it doesn’t have value. Ideas are presented in a different way, with a perspective shift that might be subtle, but is still there. And yet, that’s really what I want to do here.

While I am not as enthusiastic about this book as other texts on motherhood (such as Loving the Little Years), that doesn’t mean I think it’s a bad book. It’s not, and I’m sure there are plenty of moms who would prefer Davis’ book to Jankovic’s. I’m just not that mom, and I loved Jankovic’s book so much I hate to have someone use precious reading time on this one before the other.

Beyond Bath TimeBeyond Bath Time: Embracing Motherhood as a Sacred Role by Erin Davis has more emphasis on the need for mothers to connect with other mothers, and encourages readers to consider leading a group for moms in their home or church as a form of ministry. That’s not generally an issue for me, or something I am even remotely thinking is for me at this stage. That combination is part of why the book wasn’t the right one for me, but could easily be a great fit for another mom.

In addition, while some books that are marketed towards mothers are actually almost entirely applicable to all women, whether they are moms or not, this is not one of those – I don’t think I’d have gotten much out of it at all if I’d read it prior to having children.

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Publisher’s Description:
Motherhood is under attack. Nearly one in five American women ends her childbearing years without having borne a child, compared with one in ten in 1970. In 2007, among Christians, 47% felt that the roles of marriage and motherhood should not be emphasized for women. And unfortunately, the church isn’t talking about why motherhood matters, nor is it equipping young mothers to see their family as a mission field. Erin Davis was a young Christian wife who had made the decision to not have children. She had multiple degrees, a great husband, a promising career — she had it all — at least according to cultural standards. But most days she felt anything but fulfilled. In Beyond Bath Time Erin shares her journey to the place of true fulfillment in responding to the call of motherhood. Women will be challenged, convicted, and wonderfully encouraged by Erin’s honest and provocative look at motherhood and its divine call.

Book Details

Title: Beyond Bath Time: Embracing Motherhood as a Sacred RoleBeyond Bath Time: Embracing Motherhood as a Sacred Role by Erin Davis
Author: Erin Davis
Category: Nonfiction / Parenting / Christian Living
My Rating: 2.5 Stars

I received a copy of the book for review. I was not required to write a positive review, and all opinions are my own. This post contains affiliate links. Thank you for supporting The Deliberate Reader!

Waiting at Joe’s by Deeny Kaplan Lorber

Waiting at Joe'sWaiting at Joe’sWaiting at Joe's by Deeny Kaplan Lorber by Deeny Kaplan Lorber

I’m a former server, and wanted to love this book about the wait staff at this famous restaurant. Unfortunately, the content was thin. She included the stories of many different staff members, but only a few pages on each one, so you never really get to know any of the staff beyond a shallow impression.

That structure also makes it feel super repetitive – they got hired because they were lucky with timing – Joe’s was looking for someone right when they applied. Joe’s is the best, and they’re so fortunate to work there. Joe’s staff will do anything for their customers. And don’t be afraid of the prices, you too can afford to eat there if you order carefully.

I was hoping to get more stories – the description of the book hints that you’ll get to hear some juicy tales, but you really don’t. Perhaps they were so concerned with respecting their customer’s privacy by not sharing anything, but I wasn’t looking for names – just something to bring the book to life! There are a few scattered throughout the text, but mostly it’s dull recitations of how great Joe’s is and how lucky they are to work there.

The book would have been a lot stronger if she’d focused on a few of the profiled individuals in depth, telling their stories more fully to represent the rest of the staff. Instead it was a surface-level look at too many individuals whose accounts all blend together. [Read more…]

Book Review: Goals

GoalsGoals!: How to Get Everything You Want — Faster Than You Ever Thought PossibleBook Review: Goals: How to Get Everything You Want -- Faster Than You Ever Thought Possible by Brian Tracy by Brian Tracy

As part of my 31 Days of Great Nonfiction Reads series from last October, I featured my favorite Brian Tracy book: Eat That Frog!: 21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time. I generally find Tracy to be extremely motivating and inspiring. I expected to find his book Goals to be more of the same, if with a tighter focus on, well, goals and achieving them.

And it was. Except it was really focused on goals in a business sense, and often those business goals and examples were sales-related. Of course you can read it and translate it to goals that are more appropriate for whatever you’re doing with your life, but it was still somewhat annoying to find so much of it written from the mindset of “goals = $$$.” I’m exaggerating, but not by much.

I also had a HUGE problem with how Tracy quotes facts and supposed studies but never provides any sort of citation for where he’s getting his information. Some of it I’m pretty sure has been debunked, but my interest in digging for the relevant studies isn’t high enough to spend any of my computer time working on it. I’d so much prefer a book that’s going to reference supposed research to actually reference that research.

That said, the principles behind what Tracy teaches I believe in. I believe goals are powerful. I think it’s hard to be super successful in any endeavor without setting them. However, I think the book would have been a lot more useful if he hadn’t focused so heavily on goals related to income, sales figures, or business success. Sure those are easy to measure, but there really is a lot more to life than that.

So, not really recommended, unless you’ve run out of other reading material and want something to inspire you to reach for your goals. But unless you’re in sales, be prepared to do a lot of translating of his examples. Overall, Eat That Frog is a much better read.

Publisher’s Description:
Based on more than 20 years of experience and 40 years of research, this book presents a completely updated and practical, proven strategy for creating and meeting goals that has been used by more than 1 million people already in its first edition.

Author Brian Tracy again explores the seven key elements of goal setting and the 12 steps necessary to set and accomplish goals of any size. Using his trademark simple language and real-life examples, Tracy shows how to do the crucial work of determining one’s strengths, values, and true goals. He explains further how to build the self-esteem and confidence necessary for achievement; how to overpower every problem or obstacle; how to overcome difficulties; how to respond to challenges; and how to continue moving forward no matter what happens. The book’s revised and updated “Mental Fitness” program of character development shows readers how to become the kind of person on the inside who can achieve any goal on the outside.

Book Details

Title: Goals!: How to Get Everything You Want — Faster Than You Ever Thought PossibleBook Review: Goals: How to Get Everything You Want -- Faster Than You Ever Thought Possible by Brian Tracy
Author: Brian Tracy
Category: Nonfiction / Motivational
Length: 288 pages
My Rating: 2.5 Stars

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Book Review: How to Eat a Small Country

Book Review: How to Eat a Small CountryHow to Eat a Small Country: A Family’s Pursuit of Happiness, One Meal at a TimeBook Review: How to Eat a Small Country by Amy Finley

Food memoir set in France? Travel memoir? Combining the two into one book made me think that of course I would adore it. Alas, it suffered from a mistaken identity. Or at least misleading advertising.

The food-focused and travelogue parts I did really enjoy. It was the other part of the book that I didn’t like. Turns out the book was only part travel/food memoir, but it also had a lot about Finley’s troubled marriage. A LOT about it. I don’t particularly enjoy reading about dysfunctional relationships, but I especially don’t appreciate reading about them without the benefit of distance. A memoir that looks back years later on a crumbling marriage years can offer perspective and wisdom that isn’t possible when the events are so recent.

[Read more…]