It appears that my subscriber list did NOT get transferred over to the new blog platform. If you would like to continue to follow my blog, you will have to resubscribe. You should be able to just go lectorsbooks.com and sign up again. I appreciate your patience and hope you follow me over to the new platform!
Instead of your regularly scheduled Family Fridays post, I’d like to share with you some changes that are coming. I’ve decided to change my blogging platform in order to allow more flexibility with the blog, as well as hopefully start including some affiliate links (more on this later). My hope is that during the transition period, you won’t really notice – maybe the blog will look a little different, and hopefully commenting will be easier, but your general user experience shouldn’t change too much. I’ve never done this before, so I can’t guarantee anything, and once I get the blog transitioned over, I’ll be able to share more details about it all.
As for the affiliate links, I’m hoping this will be a win-win situation. An affiliate link means that I will link directly to a product page on Amazon or Barnes and Noble, and if you choose to buy, then I will get a percentage of the sale (it doesn’t change your price or buying experience in any way). I’m hoping this will improve the reader’s experience by making it easier to buy books or movies that interest them, and I’m hoping it will improve this blogger’s experience by providing some funding for the site. Honestly, if I can cover the cost of running the blog, I’ll be ecstatic. If I can start to fund some of the books I buy for the blog, I’ll be over the moon. I’m planning on including links to Kindle e-books, Nook e-books, and then Amazon and Barnes and Noble paperbacks. If there is another format (iBooks, Kobo, etc) that you want to see included, drop me an email and I’ll throw that in as well.
So that’s what will (hopefully) be coming at some point over the weekend. I’d like to thank everyone for their support with the blog so far. It’s been a really fun journey!
Bottom line: A murder mystery TV series with great characters, acting, and storylines.
Rating: Strongly Recommended
Castle is my favorite TV show. Maybe of all time, but definitely my favorite currently running show. It’s a murder mystery that features Detective Kate Beckett and her crew, who have been told to bring a writer, Richard Castle, along with them in the course of their investigations, so that he can gather information to write a series of books.
I only tried it because it stars Nathan Fillion, who was the male lead in the tragically short lived TV series Firefly. Castle is fantastically good. It’s one of those rare shows where everything comes together: the writing, characters, casting, acting, plots, etc. are all just incredibly well done. They even managed to handle the sexual tension (it’s TV, therefore there must be sexual tension) well. I stopped watching Bones because at the end of every season, there would be this huge “will they/won’t they” cliffhanger, and then when they started the next season they just pretended the last episode hadn’t happened. After 5-6 seasons like that, I just got fed up. I’m not a huge TV watcher in general, but any time the writers start to obviously manipulate the audience, I lose interest instantly (this annoys my husband – we’ll be invested maybe a couple of seasons deep and all of a sudden, I’m done.). I want to be thinking about the story and the characters, not be wondering about how the writers are going to yank my chain next. Anyways, in Castle the relationship between the male and female lead feels natural, and progresses and regresses (for the vast majority) according to believable events within the context of the show. As the characters are the main draw for me, this is even more important than usual. And ALL the characters are great, even the supporting cast – they feel realistic and interact well and are basically the kinds of people that you wish you could go hang out with.
The only downside for me is that sometimes you get an incredibly intense, edge-of-your-seat, gruesome show, and sometimes you get a fun, lighthearted show, and you never know which you’re going to get. Although I think in general that’s a good thing (keeps it fresh), it is the reason I stopped watching about a year ago when I was pregnant and tired and stressed out and couldn’t handle anything even remotely intense. I haven’t managed to get caught up yet, but I will.
Side Note: As an interesting promotional tactic, the powers that be have created the Nikki Heat books that are supposedly written by the character Richard Castle (the Amazon author page even shows Nathan Fillion). They’re actually not bad mysteries. The writing style is a little more sensationalized and occasionally cheesy than I would typically go for, but it’s a fun extension of the Castle world. This is one of the incredibly rare times when I’ll tell you to watch the TV show first, but there it is. I’ve read the first two Nikki Heat books and enjoyed them. I don’t know yet if I’ll read the others – my “to be read” list has become quite enormously high again – but not because I don’t think I wouldn’t like them. Do be aware, especially if you typically read cozies, that these are fairly intense and PG-13-y.
Genre: Children’s Fantasy
Ages: 9 and up
Blurb for the first book:
The Lightning Thief
After getting expelled from yet another school for yet another clash with mythological monsters only he can see, twelve-year-old Percy Jackson is taken to Camp Half-Blood, where he finally learns the truth about his unique abilities: He is a demigod, half human, half immortal. Even more stunning: His father is the Greek god Poseidon, ruler of the sea, making Percy one of the most powerful demigods alive. There’s little time to process this news. All too soon, a cryptic prophecy from the Oracle sends Percy on his first quest, a mission to the Underworld to prevent a war among the gods of Olympus.
I will try very hard to restrain my enthusiasm during this post, or we could all be here for a while. At least I would be, the rest of you would probably give up and head to greener pastures after the first 1,000 words. The Percy Jackson series is one of my all time favorite series. Though written for middle school aged children, the books appeal to children, teenagers, young adults, and not so young adults. They are, quite simply, amazing. The characters are more lifelike than just about any other author’s I can think of (Lindsay Buroker being another excellent example). Percy’s narration is clever, hilarious, snarky, and maintains a very realistic voice for an early teens boy. The world building is interesting, unique, and thorough without being overwhelming or tedious. The plots are well executed and you see characters develop (and not just physically) throughout the series.
Another thing I liked about it: Percy and most of the rest of the demigod children are ADHD and Dyslexic. Riordan takes these challenges and turns them into advantages in Percy’s new reality. I love that – a reminder that not all of us are wired the same way, and that can be a good thing. Also, in a later series, one of the demigods is lactose intolerant. Represent!
Something you see quite often with book series written for this age group is that the themes and characters become more mature and darker as the series progresses. Here there is a little bit of that, but not nearly as much as, say, Harry Potter. A child who can handle the first book emotionally will be able to handle the last book as well, which is not necessarily the case with the Harry Potter series. The bottom line is that I cannot think of anything negative to say about these books. Some books you just read with a big smile on your face, and for me, the Percy Jackson and the Olympians books are way at the top of that list.
Random side notes:
The five books in this series in order are: The Lightning Thief, The Sea of Monsters, The Titan’s Curse, The Battle of the Labyrinth, and The Last Olympian. There is a continuing series, The Heroes of Olympus, which features some of the Camp Halfblood gang as well as some new characters. It is also excellent, but even though the age ranges given for it at various online sources is the same as the original series, it feels older to me (the characters are in high school now and, for example, focuses more on girlfriend/boyfriend relationships) – not a bad thing, but something to be aware of if you started Percy Jackson with children on the younger end of the spectrum.
I debated on whether to make this a regular post or a Family Fridays post. Although I feel like any age of fantasy (or even book) lover would be able to enjoy this series, I decided to post it under FFs because this is something the whole family could enjoy together.
Riordan sold the creative rights to the movies, had nothing to do with them, and claims he hasn’t even watched them. As of now only the first movie is out, with plans to release the second later this year. The first movie was terrible. I cannot even begin to describe how much I hated it. They took much of what made the book so great and either ignored it or did the opposite. In the interests of fairness, I have met people who really liked the movie.
Riordan also has an adult mystery series, which is quite good, but not something I’d care to read with a nine year old. So make sure you know which brand of Riordan you’re getting.
Whew – kept it under a thousand words…but not by much.
Bottom line: JET is a free, full length novel introducing the JET series. If you’re a fan of thrillers, give it a try!
Rating: Strongly Recommended
Code name: Jet
Twenty-eight-year-old Jet was once the Mossad’s most lethal operative before faking her own death and burying that identity forever. But the past doesn’t give up on its secrets easily.
When her new life on a tranquil island is shattered by a brutal attack, Jet must return to a clandestine existence of savagery and deception to save herself and those she loves. A gritty, unflinching roller-coaster of high-stakes twists and shocking turns, JET features a new breed of protagonist that breaks the mold.
Fans of Lisbeth Salander, SALT, and the Bourne trilogy will find themselves carried along at Lamborghini speed to a conclusion as surprising as the story’s heroine is unconventional.
I recommend reading this book when you can devote a few hours to it and finish it all in one gulp – otherwise, you’ll still end up finishing it all in one gulp, but there will be babies crying, dogs barking, chores neglected, and food uneaten as you frantically race through the pages. The style reminded me the most of the Bourne trilogy (as suggested in the blurb). We have an extremely competent assassin: a female character far more strongly developed than one would normally expect to see in this genre. We have international shenanigans, scary bad guys, cool weapons, and clandestine government agencies. The writing was very tight, and as I said earlier, I was very impressed with the lifelikeness of the main character. Blake managed to create a ruthless assassin who still feels realistically human and also manages to be a sympathetic character. Descriptions were evocative without being tedious, and there are enough logistics and details (e.g. what kinds of weapons they used, how they get from point A to point B) to give the reader a good flavour of setting but not so much that your eyes start to glaze over. The only thing I know about guns is that they fire bullets, and the only thing I know about cars is that they come in different colours. (Yes, I’m a girl. Yes, I know that’s a stereotype, but seriously, I look at a car and I can generally tell if it’s an SUV, truck, or car, but that’s it. I’m a mess trying to find my car in parking lots. Do you know how many gray cars there are?!? Anyways…)The only aspect I wasn’t crazy about was how the story jumped around in time and place, but I recognize that these were all important for the plot and/or backstory. My brain is very linear and I just have a hard time coming into and out of the main story line.
So basically, we have an intriguing premise, lots of action, an interesting main character, and last but not least, very good writing. Oh, and it’s free. What’s not to like? I’ll definitely be reading more in the series as time (and budget) allows, and will be checking out some of Blake’s other works.
Side note: This is a violent story, and while the writing certainly conveys that, it never felt overly graphic to me (and I am a total wimp).
These aren’t time travelling books, though that might make a good reading list in and of itself, but I’ve called this travel through time and place because the books featured were written as far back as 1869. (Please keep in mind the date these books were written as they will reflect the cultural norms of the day when it comes to dealing with other races, religions, cultures, and so on.) Some of the funniest books that I’ve ever read are travel memoirs. I think that is partly because being out of one’s element resonates with me (I spent most of my “growing up” years abroad) and partly because nothing brings out the extremes of life like travel – you see the best, the worst, the most absurd, the most profound , and therefore, the funniest (at least after the fact). I hope you enjoy some of these armchair journeys this summer in addition to (or instead of) your actual trips.
- The Innocents Abroad (1869) by Mark Twain. (Free on Kindle!) This is the only book on the list I haven’t read, but it is on my “Read Soon” list. I’ve had several recommendations for this book and look forward to diving into it.
- Three Men in a Boat (1889) by Jerome K. Jerome. I believe you can get a free version of this on Kindle, but please do yourself a favor and get the audiobook version narrated by Hugh Laurie. It is excellent. For the most part, you would never guess that this book was written well over a hundred years ago. It is absolutely hilarious, even more so for those of you who, like me are cursed blessed with an extremely energetic terrier (is there any other kind?).
- Come, Tell Me How You Live (1946) by Agatha Christie. This reveals a completely different side to Hercule Poirot’s creator. Funny, wry, and self-deprecating (the book starts out with Christie attempting to buy plus-sized summer clothes in 1930’s London in the winter), it shows glimpses of the life she and her husband led while on an archeology dig in Syria. I have lived in a similar part of the world myself, and it was interesting to see her take from sixty-ish years before my impressions were being formed. Cross-cultural communication attempts are always…interesting. Some things that we take for granted as being inherently important are dismissed with a shrug in other cultures, and vice versa.
- Tales of a Female Nomad, Living at Large in the World (2001) by Rita Golden Gelman. I wouldn’t classify this books necessarily as “humorous” although there are funny parts in it, but it will make you want to sell off all you possessions and hit the road. At least that was my response. There’s something both freeing and envy-inspiring about realizing that some people have actually left everything behind and just gone.
- Anything by Bill Bryson. Bryson is another contemporary writer and one of the funniest across any genre, in my very humble opinion. He’s an American who lived for several years in England. Consequently, I think some of his writing on both the US and the UK is among his best work. Some of my favorites include: Notes from a Small Island (the UK), A Walk In The Woods (his travels on the Appalachian long distance hiking trail, although the first half by far outshines the second), and In a Sunburned Country (Australia). In a Sunburned Country I don’t think is as consistently funny as some of his other works, but it does contain two of the funniest passages I have ever read. The first addresses sleeping in public, and I have never been able to read it aloud without snorting myself into incomprehensible speech and having to hand the book off to someone else, and the second deals with his crazed flight through a suburban park from a pack of dogs that may or may not be anywhere near him.
- Bonus: The Rough Guide to First Time Around the World by Doug Lanksy. I’m not sure when this was first published, but I believe they occasionally release updated versions. If you’re the type who has as much fun in the planning as the actual execution of the trip (please tell me that’s not just me), this is a book to satiate, or possibly inflame, your wanderlust. It contains practical information on how to do it as well as region guides and some anecdotes from the author. This was one of my favorite forms of escapism while I toiled away in grad school.
There are lots of great travel books out there. What did I miss?
Book: Babar’s Museum of Art by Laurent De Brunhoff
Genre: Children’s General
Ages: 4 – adult
Everyone who loves art, Babar, or children will love Babar’s Museum of Art. The old train station in Celesteville stands empty—should it be torn down? “No!” declare Celeste and Babar, who decide to turn it into an art museum. Their children (like many young museum-goers) have a lot of questions about art: “Does it have to be pretty? Does it have to be old? Does it have to make sense?” Celeste’s patient answers explain the basic ideas of art appreciation. Babar and Celeste’s generous donations to the new museum include witty and striking elephant-inspired version of Michelangelo’s Creation of Man, George Seurat’s A Sunday on La Grande Jatte, and Sandro Botticelli’s Birth of Venus, along with many other celebrated paintings. Children and adults will want to visit Babar’s Museum of Art again and again!
Here are some things I love passionately: the Orsay Museum in Paris, elephants, and children’s literature. This book combines those three things into a children’s book about great art featuring elephants housed in an Orsay-like structure. I actually came across this book first in a college course. It was essentially art appreciation, but the professors took it very seriously. We were to explore themes like “what is Art?” (with a capital A). I dropped that course. I don’t understand research papers based on subjective things like art appreciation. Fiction, I get. Research papers based on the physical or social sciences, I get. Fine arts papers, not so much. As far as I can tell it involves researching which noted scholars have opinions similar to yours, and then quoting them in MLA format. This might be part of why it became necessary for me to drop this course.
Anyways, the best thing that came out of that course was this book. It is amazing. It can be used up and down the age spectrum, taken very literally with the younger children (it’s a story about elephants going to the museum), then explored in more depth with older children (or adults). What are the differences between this painting and the original? What do you think of the answers to the young elephants’ questions about art?
The elephant representations of famous works of art are subtle and very funny. This book would be a great read before visiting a museum, during a homeschool (or any school, for that matter) class on art, or just for fun.