Book Review - Pathfinder by Orson Scott Card

Pathfinder (Serpent World, #1)Pathfinder by Orson Scott Card
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

As seems typical of Card (at least lately), this book is almost more fantasy than science fiction, at least in the beginning. As the story progresses, we see more and more of the sci-fi aspect and the fantasy elements take on a different perspective.

I have yet to "pick up" a Card "book" that I wasn't immediately engaged in, which didn't keep me cleaning my house long after my feet were sore (I only listen to audio versions, and I listen only while cleaning - keeps me motivated). Pathfinder was no different. Rigg's gift, his relationship with his father, and their relationship to the land drew me in quickly, and I was eager to see where it all led.

As the story progressed, new characters were added with rapidity, yet enough was told about each to allow you to connect with them. Never did I feel I learned too much about a character, nor that Card shouldn't have bothered with one at all for what little they added to the story.

By the time the book ends, you care about every one of the characters, and if you've been paying close attention, you have figured out where it's all going. Still it is a relief to actually get there, to hear what resolution there is, and then to read the Acknowledgement section and find out that yes, you did understand it correctly after all.

I'm looking forward to the next book, and hearing what the remaining characters do with their discoveries.

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Book Review - Theodora: Actress, Empress, Whore by Stella Duffy

Theodora: Actress, Empress, WhoreTheodora: Actress, Empress, Whore by Stella Duffy
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An engaging piece of historical fiction, Theodora: Actress, Empress, Whore took about 50 pages to get going. But once I crested that hill, I kept coming back for more.

Theodora's mother never wanted her to enter the entertainment world, but after her father was brutally murdered, there was little choice if the family was to survive. And like her mother Hypatia, Theodora is nothing if not a survivor. Her talent for dance is only average, but her penchant for comedy launches Theodora into a spotlight career that takes her from brother back rooms to faraway lands, on a religious pilgrimage, and home again to become the Empress of the entire Byzantine Empire.

Duffy's fictional tale, which undoubtedly takes many liberties with the deeper aspects of Theodora's life, touches on many aspects of the sixth century, from politics to religion (which were deeply intertwined), and the acceptable roles of women.

Though Theodora's exploits fascinated me (I loved the bit where she takes up spinning - I myself have started recently to spin!), I was particularly touched by Duffy's commentary on the nature of relationships, from family and friends to God and spouse. These are skillfully woven and absolutely believable - not least because they touch a chord of recognition in me at some of my own experiences.

At 300+ pages, Theodora is definitely worth every minute.

This is a compensated review for the BlogHer book club, but the opinions expressed are solely my own.

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Book Review - The Lost Gate by Orson Scott Card

The Lost Gate (MitherMages, #1)The Lost Gate by Orson Scott Card
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I guess I'm a sucker for the worlds of Orson Scott Card (or maybe just a sucker for the very excellent narrators that tell me his tales), and the combination real/fantasy world of The Lost Gate is no exception.

Danny North lives in a world where the adults bear names like Thor and Loki. Civilization is split into factions of "families," and each faction bears a name which ties it to its history, like "The Greeks" or "The Norths" (who bear Norse heritage). Almost everyone in Danny's world has personal magic, whether it is the ability to possess a bird and bid it do your will or to encourage the plants to grow just a little bigger. But Danny has none of these magical abilities. He is drekka.

Eventually Danny runs away from his family to join the druthers, the non-magical everyday folk who used to worship the families as gods. He plans to live among them, but he has a secret of his own, bigger than his past.

The Lost Gate is a wonderful blend of fantasy and mythology, and is reminiscent of Rick Riordan's Greek (Percy Jackson and the Olympians) and Egyptian (The Kane Chronicles) series, and Michael Scott's The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel.

The characters have depth and capture your sympathies. You really care what happens to this boy, and whether or not he ever makes it to the promised land of Westil.

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Book Review - Ender in Exile by Orson Scott Card

Ender in Exile (Ender's Saga, #6)Ender in Exile by Orson Scott Card
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I wish I'd payed more attention to the chronological order of the series. After finishing Ender's Shadow, I jumped right to this (because it follows Ender's Game and Ender's Shadow chronologically), but it turns out this book references many events in the rest of the Shadow series, so those books have been "spoiled" for me. I'll still listen to them eventually.

I love listening to Ender stories, but I'm the kind of person who gets into a series, a character, and then just loves to read more about them, quality be damned, so take this with whatever grain of salt you will.

There are a few inconsistencies where Ender in Exile overlaps with the concluding chapters of Ender's Game. OSC references them in the afterword, and his explanations are sensible, but it does distract somewhat from the story when you're going, "wait, is that what happened? I thought..." That said, I like this version of events well enough.

If you go straight from EG to EIE, you will almost certainly be disappointed at the pace of this book. However, if you read the rest of the EG series and then jump back to EIE, the pace won't be anything different. It's obvious to me that, while this book follow chronologically from EG, it was written after the rest of the series, because the style is more consistent with those later books.

In all, this is, as a fill-in, a book you can skip without missing anything, but a book worth picking up if you are just hungry for any more Ender stories you can get your hands on.

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Book Review - The Orchard, A Memoir by Theresa Weir

The Orchard: A MemoirThe Orchard: A Memoir by Theresa Weir

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I requested this book for review with a number of YA books, and so when it came to me, I began reading it expecting that genre. It's not.

The Orchard is (as the title suggests) a memoir, telling the story of a country girl with a rough past building an unlikely life. It reads like a novel, which is in its favor, though I wondered sometimes how fictionalized a variety of scenes may have been. I guess that's probably true of any memoir. You have to flesh out the skeleton of memory to make it more interesting.

I found The Orchard to be mildly interesting, but not particularly compelling. It starts slow, but does build steam and eventually come to the point where you want to know what is going to happen, whether the protagonists will break away from the prison of sorts that has been fashioned for them.

The thing about this book is that I feel like I should have enjoyed it more than I did. I really relate to the protagonist in many ways, and yet I felt detached from her (I don't think she ever mentions her own name in this book, not even in dialogue). Her decisions often made little sense to me, and I found myself often rolling my eyes or saying, "I told you so."

I don't feel as though I wasted the hours of my life I spent reading this book, but it wasn't anything particularly special, either.

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Book Review - The Kid by Sapphire

The KidThe Kid by Sapphire

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

It is rare for me not to finish a book. Even when reading books I don't like, I will usually push through just to find out what happens and say I've read it. But if I hadn't been obligated to finish this book, I'd have put Sapphire's The Kid down after 50 pages and never looked back.

Read the rest of my review and find out why at the BlogHer Book Club.

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Book Review - The Death of Joan of Arc by Michael Scott

The Death of Joan of Arc (The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel)The Death of Joan of Arc by Michael Scott

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This quick and dirty short story fills in one of the more intriguing gaps from The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel. It tells the story of how Scáthach, The Shadow, saves her dear friend Joan of Arc from death by pyre (though everyone thinks she was truly burned at the stake. It's short and sweet, a little morsel to tide you over until the final book in the series is released.

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Book Review - Ashes, by Ilsa J. Bick

AshesAshes by Ilsa J. Bick

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Alex is a seventeen-year-old girl with enough problems - dead parents, an inoperable brain tumor, and few happy memories - that the end of the world might well seem like welcome respite. But after the EMP leaves the world without electricity and electronic devices, leaves Alex stranded on a fictional Michigan mountain with winter just around the corner, she finds herself fighting to live (along with her survival mates and makeshift family) after all.

I really enjoyed this book, pushed through its 450+ pages in about a week, with a busy family event taking up my weekend. The nature of the dystopia - a warfare-based EMP pulse causing technological and nuclear meltdown, the death of an entire generation and a terrifying Change in another - seemed plausible enough to give me the creepy-crawlies. Alex and her fellow survivors all seemed very real to me, their personalities broad and complex, not overly simplified and stereotypical as so often happens in young adult fiction.

Ashes (both a title and a theme which is mentioned *almost* too many times in the first hundred or so pages), is already split into three sections, but it could almost be two separate books. There is a major shift about halfway through and the plot changes so drastically that I can't even really discuss it without giving away the first half. I will say that there seems to be some sort of deeper plan in that second half that evaded me. I'm hoping it's made clear in the second book of the trilogy.

I'm actually a little disappointed that I came across this book before its publication, because that means I'll be waiting even longer for the next one to be released. The cliffhanger ending of Ashes definitely has me already eager for Shadows. Well, maybe I'll get access to that one early, too.

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Book Review - Throne of Fire by Rick Riordan

Throne of Fire (Kane Chronicles Series #2)Throne of Fire by Rick Riordan

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This series is just so much fun. Tons of great info about Egyptology, treatment of minor gods and goddesses along with the major ones, and strong male and female lead characters who work best in cooperation with each other. Having just read the first 39 clues book (also a brother-sister duo), I found this to be far more engaging and well-written. I'm definitely looking forward to the conclusion of this series!

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Book Review - What Happened to Goodbye

What Happened to GoodbyeWhat Happened to Goodbye by Sarah Dessen
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

"What Happened To Goodbye" showed up in my mailbox during my second week of recovery from giving birth to a surrogate baby, and was a welcome distraction from the loud call of my messy house. Sarah Dessen's world pulled me in, and encouraged me to sit down and take it easy during my postpartum period with seventeen-year-old Mclean Sweet and her friends.

Two years ago, Mclean left town with her father... Click here to read the rest of my review at BlogHer

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Book Review - Children of the Mind by Orson Scott Card

Children of the Mind (Ender's Saga, #4)Children of the Mind by Orson Scott Card
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

"[No single] explanation will ever contain the final answer for all time, for all hearers. There is always, ALWAYS more to learn."

And I find that true of reading a book again and again as well. Sometimes I like this one more, sometimes less. It's never going to be my favorite of the series (Speaker will hold that honor), but each time I read it, I get something different out of it. As you'll see below (in an older review), sometimes I get dogma and preaching that make me roll my eyes. This time, I got the love and intention that bind us together as human beings. I can live with that.


I've never liked the end of the Ender Saga as much as the beginning. Speaker for the Dead is a hard act to follow. The first couple of times listened to the series, I severely disliked Xenocide and CotM was a consolation, a resolution to the conflict of SftD, if nothing else. I resolved not to read the end of the series again once I'd done it once and found out the story.

But even now, on my third time through, I still couldn't just stop with Speaker. I had to finish out the series, and I'll say that I appreciated Xenocide more this third time around, and Children of the Mind was actually the story I rolled my eyes through. I guess you do get something different out of a book every time you read it (or listen, as it were). While Xenocide was formerly the book I sighed through, rolling my eyes at what I perceived to be OSC's personal dogma coming through his story, this time it was CotM.

I wish I'd written the review as I was listening instead of waiting a couple of weeks and a couple more books before sitting down, because I can't remember what exactly it was that rubbed me wrong about this book this time around. But I remember being surprised that I disliked it so much, as before it was my consolation after wading through Xenocide. Let's just say either way, I was happy to jump back to Ender's Shadow.

I've gotten something different out of this book every time I read it, anyway, and I will probably continue to work my way through the entire series once every year or two, as I've done since first picking it up.

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Book Review - Dead Reckoning by Charlaine Harris

Dead Reckoning (Sookie Stackhouse, #11)Dead Reckoning by Charlaine Harris

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book was definitely my least favorite of the series so far. I read Sookie because it's fluff - entertaining, enjoyable, quick, light. This book was not particularly light or enjoyable, though I did go through it quickly. I admit to being disappointed in the lack of sexual tension (and, well, sex) I enjoyed through the other books. This installment was, overall, just very bland.

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Book Review - The Usborne Encyclopedia of World History by Jane Bingham (2011 Edition)

The Usborne Encyclopedia of World HistoryThe Usborne Encyclopedia of World History by Jane Bingham

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

See my review on amazon for a complete table of contents.

I love the Usborne series of encyclopedias and other books, and was really excited to add this to our home's repertoire.

While there is not a lot of depth on some areas/topics (Ancient China and Japan, for instance), there is certainly a huge breadth of knowledge. I am excited that there are 100 pages dedicated to prehistory, including the birth of our planet and the beginnings of life. There is a really cool visual timeline of prehistory (kind of a mini Charlie's Playhouse Giant Evolution Timeline: Book & Play Mat, "Time Charts" for ancient, Medieval, and Modern history, and the "past 500 years" section includes mini topical sections on topics such as the cold war; cinema, radio, and tv; Christianity; and computers. The running timeline across the bottom of each page indicates both the era in history and the geographic area being discussed on those pages.

While I'm happy this book approaches prehistory from a scientific standpoint, I'm not thrilled about its handling of religion. It not only uses the outdated dating system of BC/AD (rather than BCE/CE), but it presents Christian mythology as fact while keeping other religions firmly at arm's length when discussing them. The Old Testament of the Bible is referenced as a place to read about the history of the Hebrews, and Jesus is definitively presented as a historical figure. The book suggests reading the Bible's New Testament to learn more about him and his works, which lends that book a certain historical credence it may not deserve. Other religions are not treated with the same hand, but their beliefs are clearly defined as just that - beliefs. It seems that throughout this "history" book, Christianity and its conquests are glorified, while everyone else is a footnote (in the index, Christianity gets 34 entries, Islam gets 3 (though Muslims get 18), Buddhism gets 6, Hindus get 7, and pagans get 4 (all bad)).

This bias is extremely disappointing in such a well-respected series. Luckily, my kids are still young enough to be read to, and I can orally edit and explain as necessary until they're old enough to read it on their own and understand the distinctions.

As for Internet-links, it looks like there aren't actually any links IN the book; rather, each section refers you to the Usborne quick-links web site, where you can search by page number for relevant links. This seems like kind of a pain at first, but if you think about it, it allows Usborne to constantly monitor the links and be sure they are up-to-date and accurate, rather than having in print links which may be expired and/or no longer relevant. They also claim to add new relevant links as they become available.

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Year in Books

I read 48 books this year, not including children's books. This is pretty impressive to me, considering I spent 2 semesters studying pre-calculus, among other subjects.

  • 15 of those books were read on my nook, which spent only 2-3 months in commission (my jumpy toddler broke it... twice).  
  • Only 2 of last year's books were what I would call "classics," though even those are modern classics (Slaughterhouse Five and Contact). I think this year's list will be much smaller, since I'm trying to tackle some real classics like Homer's Odyssey and Iliad, possibly Virgil's Aenid, and some other heavy stuff. We'll see, I may tire of it and switch back to my good old standby, YA.
  • 28 books I read last year were YA. 
  • 11 were re-reads, and I'll probably do that again this year with a few books. There are just some books you have to read every couple of years, you know?  
  • Only 6 of 48 books were NOT part of a larger series, though some of the series (serieses? How the hell do you pluralize that word?) have only one book thus far.
  • Nook stuff I already own & would like to read this year:
    • The Odyssey (currently reading)
    • The Iliad
    • Dracula
    • The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
    • Thus Spoke Zarathustra
    • Relativity: The Special and General Theory
    • How Children Learn
    • Raising Freethinkers
    • Anna Karenina

I plan to purchase and read Zenschooling, and I just found out that the second in Rick Riordan's Kane Chronicles series is coming out in May. I'll be buying and reading that in one day, I'm sure.

Last year, I sorted through the NYT's "must read books of the last year" and added a bunch.... which I never read. I think I'll be lucky to make it through the list I already have while studying Calculus and recovering from birth, but do you have any suggestions for me? Take a look at my to-read shelf (this includes all the books I want to read with the kids, so it's long) and tell me if anything jumps out that should go to the top of the list!


I've been reading Homer's Odyssey, and am fascinated on many levels. One is the style. A couple of years ago, I started a self-study Old Testament course (which I never finished, because I fail at not having deadlines), and one of the first discussions was the context in which it was written. The Odyssey had a similar introduction, explaining the oral nature of Homer's time, how the oral story would have been passed down through generations, changing each time to fit the bard's audience, and ultimately would have come to be put into print. As I read, I hear so many stylistic similarities to the Bible, in terms of repeated phrases, two alternate versions of the same story-within-a-story told a few paragraphs apart, and so forth. It's obvious that these tales were composed (at least in written form) in a similar timeframe, and it is just really interesting to me how differently they are now perceived, one being viewed as pure mythology and the other as absolute truth.