Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Book Review | Astrotwins by Mark Kelly

Image from Astrotwins: Project Blast Off by Mark Kelly

Astrotwins: Project Blast Off is a middle grade book by astronaut Mark Kelly.

Astrotwins: Project Blast Off by Mark Kelly
A team of middle schoolers prepares for blastoff in this adventure from the author of the New York Times bestselling Mousetronaut, based on the childhoods of real-life astronauts Mark Kelly and his twin brother Scott.

It’s a long, hot summer and Scott and Mark are in big trouble for taking apart (aka destroying) their dad’s calculator. As a punishment, they’re sent to their grandfather’s house, where there’s no TV and they have to do chores. And Grandpa is less tolerant of the twins’ constant bickering. “Why don’t you two work together on something constructive. What if you built a go-kart or something?” Grandpa suggests.

But it’s not a go-kart the twins are interested in. They want to build a rocket. With the help of Jenny, nicknamed Egg, and a crew of can-do kids, they set out to build a real rocket that will blast off and orbit the Earth. The question soon becomes: which twin will get to be the astronaut?

Written by a NASA astronaut with four space flights under his belt, this exciting story includes extensive back matter on the space program with fantastic facts and details.

Astrotwins is a cute book. Mark and Scott are adventurous twins who love to take things apart and put them back together. Their grandfather suggests they spend their summer working on a project. The twins and their friend Jenny ("Egg") decide to make a spaceship for Jenny's next science fair project.

There are many things I love about Astrotwins. It's science heavy, which is cool, and it is presented in a way that educates the reader. There's also a lot of information on astronauts and the space program. Astrotwins is set somewhere around 1974 (I think), and the women and girls are strong, capable characters. I also love that anything is possible if you set your mind to it.

That being said, I did find issue with the lack of incredulity and excitement over accomplishing the impossible. I have no problems suspending my disbelief of kids being able to build a spaceship and launch into orbit. I'm a big fan of the movie Explorers. I do, however, think building a functioning spacecraft would be a huge deal. I want my kids to believe they can do the impossible, but I also want them to understand and acknowledge their accomplishments. I want them to be excited when they reach their goals. Intrinsic rewards, for the win. There was an emotional disconnect for me, and it made it hard for me to celebrate the impossible the way I did while watching Explorers (or Space Camp! I loved that movie, too.)

Despite the emotional disconnect, I did enjoy reading Astrotwins. I'm adding it to my kids' bookcase because I think they will enjoy reading it, as well.

6/10: Good Read

Review copy provided by publisher


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Wednesday, March 18, 2015

On My Wishlist {8}

It was a busy week for my wishlist. These are the books that caught my eye this week:

The Silence by Tim Lebbon
The Silence by Tim Lebbon

A terror-filled story of one family and their friends, as they struggle to survive in a world overrun by ravenous creatures that hunt purely by sound...
That's an awfully short blurb, but it sure sounds good to me.

When We Were Animals by Joshua Gaylord
When We Were Animals by Joshua Gaylord

A small, quiet Midwestern town, which is unremarkable save for one fact: when the teenagers reach a certain age, they run wild.

When Lumen Fowler looks back on her childhood, she wouldn't have guessed she would become a kind suburban wife, a devoted mother. In fact, she never thought she would escape her small and peculiar hometown. When We Were Animals is Lumen's confessional: as a well-behaved and over-achieving teenager, she fell beneath the sway of her community's darkest, strangest secret. For one year, beginning at puberty, every resident "breaches" during the full moon. On these nights, adolescents run wild, destroying everything in their path.

Lumen resists. Promising her father she will never breach, she investigates the mystery of her community's traditions and the stories erased from the town record. But the more we learn about the town's past, the more we realize that Lumen's memories are harboring secrets of their own.

A gothic coming-of-age tale for modern times, When We Were Animals is a dark, provocative journey into the American heartland.

I'm a sucker for coming-of-age tales and this sound good and dark.

Positive by David Wellington
Positive by David Wellington

In the bestselling vein of Guillermo Del Toro and Justin Cronin, the acclaimed author Chimera and The Hydra Protocol delivers his spectacular breakout novel—an entertaining page-turning zombie epic that is sure to become a classic

Anyone can be positive . . .

The tattoed plus sign on Finnegan’s hand marks him as a Positive. At any time, the zombie virus could explode in his body, turning him from a rational human into a ravenous monster. His only chance of a normal life is to survive the last two years of the potential incubation period. If he reaches his twenty-first birthday without an incident, he’ll be cleared.

Until then, Finn must go to a special facility for positives, segregated from society to keep the healthy population safe. But when the military caravan transporting him is attacked, Finn becomes separated. To make it to safety, he must embark on a perilous cross-country journey across an America transformed—a dark and dangerous land populated with heroes, villains, madmen, and hordes of zombies. And though the zombies are everywhere, Finn discovers that the real danger may be his fellow humans.

Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome meets World War Z and I Am Legend in this thrilling tale that has it all: a compelling story, great characters, and explosive action, making Positive the ultimate zombie novel of our time.

I thought I was sick of zombies, but as it turns out, I'm not. Bring on the post-apocalyse!

No One Gets Out Alive by Adam Nevill
No One Gets Out Alive by Adam Nevill

Cash-strapped, working for agencies and living in shared accommodation, Stephanie Booth feels she can fall no further. So when she takes a new room at the right price, she believes her luck has finally turned. But 82 Edgware Road is not what it appears to be. It's not only the eerie atmosphere of the vast, neglected house, or the disturbing attitude of her new landlord, Knacker McGuire, that makes her uneasy - it's the whispers behind the fireplace, the scratching beneath floors, the footsteps in the dark, and the young women weeping in neighbouring rooms.
This sounds scary so count me in!

Shades of Grey: The Road to High Saffron by Jasper Fforde
Shades of Grey: The Road to High Saffron by Jasper Fforde

Part social satire, part romance, part revolutionary thriller, Shades of Grey tells of a battle against overwhelming odds. In a society where the ability to see the higher end of the color spectrum denotes a better social standing, Eddie Russet belongs to the low-level House of Red and can see his own color—but no other. The sky, the grass, and everything in between are all just shades of grey, and must be colorized by artificial means.

Eddie's world wasn't always like this. There's evidence of a never-discussed disaster and now, many years later, technology is poor, news sporadic, the notion of change abhorrent, and nighttime is terrifying: no one can see in the dark. Everyone abides by a bizarre regime of rules and regulations, a system of merits and demerits, where punishment can result in permanent expulsion.

Eddie, who works for the Color Control Agency, might well have lived out his rose-tinted life without a hitch. But that changes when he becomes smitten with Jane, a Grey Nightseer from the dark, unlit side of the village. She shows Eddie that all is not well with the world he thinks is just and good. Together, they engage in dangerous revolutionary talk.

Stunningly imaginative, very funny, tightly plotted, and with sly satirical digs at our own society, this novel is for those who loved Thursday Next but want to be transported somewhere equally wild, only darker; a world where the black and white of moral standpoints have been reduced to shades of grey.

I am not a fan of the Thursday Next books. Sorry, I know they are well loved. But I'm into this book's blurb. If I come across this one at the library, I'm going to give it a chance.

The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics by Daniel James Brown
The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics by Daniel James Brown

Daniel James Brown’s robust book tells the story of the University of Washington’s 1936 eight-oar crew and their epic quest for an Olympic gold medal, a team that transformed the sport and grabbed the attention of millions of Americans. The sons of loggers, shipyard workers, and farmers, the boys defeated elite rivals first from eastern and British universities and finally the German crew rowing for Adolf Hitler in the Olympic games in Berlin, 1936.

The emotional heart of the story lies with one rower, Joe Rantz, a teenager without family or prospects, who rows not for glory, but to regain his shattered self-regard and to find a place he can call home. The crew is assembled by an enigmatic coach and mentored by a visionary, eccentric British boat builder, but it is their trust in each other that makes them a victorious team. They remind the country of what can be done when everyone quite literally pulls together—a perfect melding of commitment, determination, and optimism.

Drawing on the boys’ own diaries and journals, their photos and memories of a once-in-a-lifetime shared dream, The Boys in the Boat is an irresistible story about beating the odds and finding hope in the most desperate of times—the improbable, intimate story of nine working-class boys from the American west who, in the depths of the Great Depression, showed the world what true grit really meant. It will appeal to readers of Erik Larson, Timothy Egan, James Bradley, and David Halberstam's The Amateurs.

This is exactly my type of nonfiction read.

Have you read or are you planning to read any of these? What books have recently made it onto your wishlist?


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Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Book Review | The Girl with All the Gifts by M.R. Carey

The Girl with All the Gifts is a horror novel from M.R. Carey.

Every morning, Melanie waits in her cell to be collected for class. When they come for her, Sergeant Parks keeps his gun pointing at her while two of his people strap her into the wheelchair. She thinks they don't like her. She jokes that she won't bite, but they don't laugh.

I went into this book knowing only that it was being categorized as horror and that it had great reviews. My ignorance to the plot greatly enhanced my enjoyment of The Girl with All the Gifts. It makes writing a review all the more difficult, though. I enjoyed it so, so much, but I can't bring myself to go into detail as to why for fear of spoiling that enjoyment for others. There really is no statute of limitations on spoilers as far as I'm concerned.

What I will tell you is I loved the hell out of this book. The writing, the characters, the tension, the questions, the science, the horror, that thrill you get when you are loving what you are reading. I  have no doubts The Girl with All the Gifts will be high on my list of favorites for the year.

I realize this review is pretty useless as far as recommendations go, but I'm comfortable with asking you to take a chance.

9/10: Highly Recommended


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Monday, March 16, 2015

March 16 | Currently Reading

Spring is in the air! After such a gorgeous weekend, I'm not looking forward to a day in the office. Adult responsibilities - who needs them?

Last week was a fantastic reading week. I'd recommend all three of these books.

All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy
It's Only Death by Lee Thompson

Astrotwins -- Project Blastoff by Mark Kelly, Martha Freeman

I have no idea what I'm going to read next. I'm still reeling from The Girl with All the Gifts. I'm definitely going to be in a nothing-sounds-good book funk.

What about you? What are you reading this week? Be sure to let me know in the comments or leave me a link!

This post is being shared as part of Book Journey's It's Monday! What Are You Reading?


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Thursday, March 12, 2015

Book Review | Revival by Stephen King

Revival is the latest horror novel from Stephen King.

A dark and electrifying novel about addiction, fanaticism, and what might exist on the other side of life.

In a small New England town, over half a century ago, a shadow falls over a small boy playing with his toy soldiers. Jamie Morton looks up to see a striking man, the new minister. Charles Jacobs, along with his beautiful wife, will transform the local church. The men and boys are all a bit in love with Mrs. Jacobs; the women and girls feel the same about Reverend Jacobs -- including Jamie's mother and beloved sister, Claire. With Jamie, the Reverend shares a deeper bond based on a secret obsession. When tragedy strikes the Jacobs family, this charismatic preacher curses God, mocks all religious belief, and is banished from the shocked town.

Jamie has demons of his own. Wed to his guitar from the age of thirteen, he plays in bands across the country, living the nomadic lifestyle of bar-band rock and roll while fleeing from his family's horrific loss. In his mid-thirties -- addicted to heroin, stranded, desperate -- Jamie meets Charles Jacobs again, with profound consequences for both men. Their bond becomes a pact beyond even the Devil's devising, and Jamie discovers that revival has many meanings.

This rich and disturbing novel spans five decades on its way to the most terrifying conclusion Stephen King has ever written. It's a masterpiece from King, in the great American tradition of Frank Norris, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Edgar Allan Poe.

Revival was book molasses for me. It took me forever to get through it. It was a good read, but mostly because it was written by Stephen King. There is something about his writing that just feels so darn right. It's a place I love to be.

Unfortunately, my expectations stemmed entirely from this blurb:

This rich and disturbing novel spans five decades on its way to the most terrifying conclusion Stephen King has ever written.

I spent the entire book longing for the end which is never a good sign no matter how you look at it.

But like I said, it was a good read overall. There were some great moments, and I did enjoy the ending once I finally got there. Revival was a better read than Mr. Mercedes, too, so there's that if you were wondering.

If you are behind on your Stephen King catalog, this probably isn't one you need to pick up right away, but I think any Stephen King fan will read this for the obvious reason.

6/10: Good Read

What are your thoughts on Revival? Have you read it? Are you a Stephen King or a horror fan? I think I would have been better off not having read the blurb on this one.


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Wednesday, March 11, 2015

On My Wishlist {7}

My wishlist may start exploding while I catch up around here. As for now, only a few books have really caught my eye recently.

Within These Walls by Ania Ahlborn

From indie horror author and bestselling sensation Ania Ahlborn, this brand-new supernatural thriller questions: how far would you go for success, and what would you be capable of if the promise of forever was real?

With his marriage on the rocks and his life in shambles, washed up crime writer Lucas Graham is desperate for a comeback. So when he’s promised exclusive access to notorious cult leader and death row inmate Jeffrey Halcomb, the opportunity is too good to pass up. Lucas leaves New York for the scene of the crime—a split-level farmhouse on the gray-sanded beach of Washington State—a house whose foundation is steeped in the blood of Halcomb’s diviners; runaways who, thirty years prior, were drawn to his message of family, unity, and unconditional love. Lucas wants to tell the real story of Halcomb’s faithful departed, but when Halcomb goes back on his promise of granting Lucas exclusive information on the case, he’s left to put the story together on his own. Except he is not alone. For Jeffrey Halcomb promised his devout eternal life…and within these walls, they’re far from dead.

After reading and loving Seed [my review], I really need to catch up on Ania Ahlborn's works. I can't believe I haven't read another of her books. It's shameful really.

Katie by Michael McDowell

When Philo Drax receives a letter from her wealthy grandfather saying he fears for his life at the hands of the vicious Slape family, she rushes to the rescue. But too late! Katie Slape, a monstrous girl with psychic powers and a penchant for smashing skulls with her hammer, has already finished him off and gotten hold of his cash.

Determined to track down the murderers, Philo hunts Katie and her family through the streets of 1860s New York, where the Slapes’ coffers are filling up with money as their cellar fills up with corpses. But going after the Slapes might be the worst decision of Philo’s life, for no one escapes the bashing of Katie’s hammer!

A bloody, action-packed romp, Katie (1982) is a throwback to the exciting and violent “penny dreadfuls” of the Victorian era and features the same brilliant writing as Michael McDowell’s classic horror novels The Elementals and Blackwater.

My God, the reviews for this thing. If I love myself at all, I will read this book.

With Fury In Hand by Lee Thompson

Over the next seventeen hours, on the unforgiving streets of Flint, Michigan, five people with troubled pasts and uncertain futures will collide in a devastating chain of intertwining events.

Through the eyes of a homeless orphan, a banking executive with disturbing fantasies, an adulterous wife, a young prostitute with a stash of money, and a man trying to leave his criminal days behind, you will witness their pain and feel their loss.

Redemption requires forgiveness, but fury serves no master.
This one probably needs no explanation. (Hint: Lee Thompson.)

Have you read or are you planning to read any of these? Tell me: what books have recently made it onto your wishlist?


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Sunday, March 1, 2015

March 2 | Currently Reading

I managed to finish zero books last week. My family got hit with a stomach virus, and I was pretty darn useless most of the week. I did, however, manage to watch copious amounts of the Gilmore Girls.

I know some of you may be thinking Harry Potter.... again? Yes. But this is the first time I'm reading it to my kids so it's a whole new awesome experience.

If I manage to get caught up this week, I may finally start reading The Girl with All the Gifts. We'll see!

What are you reading this week? Have you read anything really fantastic lately? Let me know in the comments or leave me a link!

This post is being shared as part of Book Journey's It's Monday! What Are You Reading?


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