Thursday, May 31, 2012

Outlander - Diana Gabaldon

Diana Gabaldon
Copyright: 1992

The product description:
Claire Randall is leading a double life. She has a husband in one century, and a lover in another...

In 1945, Claire Randall, a former combat nurse, is back from the war and reunited with her husband on a second honeymoon--when she innocently touches a boulder in one of the ancient stone circles that dot the British Isles. Suddenly she is a Sassenach—an "outlander"—in a Scotland torn by war and raiding border clans in the year of our Lord...1743.

Hurled back in time by forces she cannot understand, Claire's destiny in soon inextricably intertwined with Clan MacKenzie and the forbidden Castle Leoch. She is catapulted without warning into the intrigues of lairds and spies that may threaten her life ...and shatter her heart. For here, James Fraser, a gallant young Scots warrior, shows her a passion so fierce and a love so absolute that Claire becomes a woman torn between fidelity and desire...and between two vastly different men in two irreconcilable lives.
Outlander is the first book by Diana Gabaldon in this series, which now comprises ten or eleven books, including the spin-off series about Lord John Grey. There's also the graphic novel, The Exile, which retells the first half of Outlander, but from Jamie's perspective rather than Claire's.

I've read Outlander a few times now, but it has been a few years since the last read, so it was a bit like coming to the book fresh again - I'd forgotten a lot of the details. I also noticed a few different things about the book too - including just how descriptive it is. Diana Gabaldon has managed to make this a very visual book in the way she wrote it. Something I quite enjoyed, as it made the unfamiliar details of the landscape, clothing and peoples faces very vivid. Rather than bogging down the storyline, I found that all the details just made it better.

Not only that, but the author has a knack for making you laugh. There were so many different points where I found myself laughing - especially at bits of dialogue and some of Claire's thoughts. One of my favourites from the first pages of the book:
Dinner the night before had been herring, fried. Lunch had been herring, pickled. And the pungent scent now wafting up the stairwell strongly intimated that breakfast was going to be herring, kippered.
The entirety of Outlander is from the perspective of Claire, and it's kind of neat to see historical events honestly through modern eyes (or relatively modern as the case is). Too often in historical fiction I've found that the characters feel as though they're modern characters in ancient dress. In this case, that's not an issue as that is exactly what Claire is. She's been transported from 1945 to 1743, so her modern attitudes and knowledge works.

Honestly, this book is a bit hard to categorize. At first glance and the blurb it seems as though Outlander is a historical romance, but on reading it, the book doesn't fit that pattern at all, but at the same time, it's not quite a straight on historical fiction piece either, as that would exclude the time-travel. I just call it fiction and don't try to categorize it too hard, rather I just enjoy the story and it's many focuses.

The first time I read Outlander, I didn't realize that it was the start of a series. I only discovered that fact after I finished the book, and then I was going away for several weeks. I remember finding it hard to settle for any of the books I had, wanting to find the sequels to this one, but having to wait until I got home again. I've got something of the same sort going on right now, as I no longer own the middle books in the series, just the first one (kept because it's a signed copy) and the last few.

If you haven't read Outlander yet, and you like good historical fiction, I'd definitely suggest giving it a try. All I can say is that I've loved reading it several times over now, and I'd love to one day go to Scotland and actually see the place for myself.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Friday Favourites - Your Favourite Cover Artist?

Friday Favourites - a chance to rave about a favourite reading/book related topic each week.

Sometimes you just want a chance to rave about some favourite aspect of reading that doesn't really come up during regular blogging posts - that's what this is about. I'm willing to bet that at least some of those will come up one week or another.

This week I'm asking who your favourite cover artist is. It's a question I'm curious about as despite the saying "don't judge a book by it's cover", everyone does so to a certain extent.

Please leave either your response in the comments or a link to your response.

My answer is:
I've got three favourite cover artists actually.
There's Jody A. Lee, who's done the art on a lot of the books I've read. It's gotten to the point where I can see a book and say "that's a Jody A. Lee cover" before I check the book to be sure. Typically her covers are usually on DAW books. I've noted her artwork on the following to date: Micky Zucker Reichert's Renshai books and  the Valdemar books by Mercedes Lackey (and also some of her other titles too), and a number of other authors and titles. She's actually about the only cover artist I can recognize like this - her work is rather distinctive and doesn't change from author to author or series.

My second favourite isn't technically a cover artist to the best of my knowledge: Alan Lee. I love his Lord of the Rings artwork, which was used by HarperCollins for some editions of The Lord of the Rings. Until I checked though just now, I honestly thought their covers for the History of Middle-Earth series were Alan Lee paintings as well. Turns out that they're actually John Howe's artwork instead - my other favourite for Tolkien-themed artwork. There's just something about the atmosphere that Alan Lee manages to invoke in his paintings that's perfect for Middle-Earth in my mind.

The third cover artist on my list is actually juggling for top place: the cover artist for the trade-paperback editions of Hand of Isis and Black Ships (or so I'm guessing - my copy of Black Ships seems to have disappeared again). Actually, as I think I've said before, Hand of Isis is a book I picked up on the strength of the cover alone.

Not only that, but the cover for this edition of Hand of Isis holds place as my all-time favourite piece of cover art, as I noted in a previous Friday Favourites post. There's just something about the way Debra Lill has done these two covers that I absolutely love. I'd be curious to see any other cover art of hers too and see if this particular style is something that's typical of all her work or something specific to her Jo Graham covers.

So, who's your favourite cover artist, and why?

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Library Loot - May 22

This past week Library Loot has been hosted by Marg at The Adventures Of An Intrepid Reader. I'll admit that I haven't been a regular at my local libraries, but I went in to clean out the Ancient Greece section today. The resulting bag contained:

Oxford Archaeological Guides: Greece 
Christopher Mee & Anthony Spawforth

The product description:
Greece, with all its temples, cities, and sanctuaries created by Europe's most formative ancient civilization, is a must-see for the archaeological traveler. This valuable new addition to the acclaimed Oxford Archaeological Guides series provides coverage of all the main archaeological sites in Greece, ranging from prehistory to the sixth century AD. The individual sites are arranged by region, and include Philip's Tomb at Vergina, the Palace complex at Mycenae, the Temples of the Acropolis, the Hellenistic city of the Messene, and the Roman colony of Corinth. Also included in the book are 'partner factor' ratings that rank the most worthwhile sites for travelers to visit during their stay. An up-to-date introduction surveys Greece's landscape, history, and archaeology from the Neolithic period to the end of antiquity, and places the sites in their cultural context. Finally, there is a chronology for reference and a glossary of essential terms.
History of Greece From The Beginnings To The Byzantine Era
Hermann Bengtson. Translated by Edmund F. Bloedow

The product description:
This translation of the fifth edition of Hermann Bengston's masterly and compendious "Griechische Geschichte" is written in an accessible, stimulating style. It is outstandingly comprehensive and cover the period from the Early Bronze Age right through to the Byzantine era.
Ancient Greece From Prehistoric To Hellenistic Times
Thomas R. Martin

The product description:
Using primary sources the political, military, social, cultural and religious histories of Ancient Greece are covered. There are relevant time lines, maps, plans and photographs. Particular attention is also given to the society, literature and architecture in its golden age.
The title above was the book I'd gone to the library for. The rest of the bag were just bonuses.

The Oxford History Of The Classical World
John Bordman, Jasper Griffin and Oswyn Murray

The product description:
From the epic poems of Homer to the glittering art and architecture of Greece's Golden Age to the influential Roman systems of law and leadership, the classical world has established the foundations of our culture, as well as many of its enduring achievements. Astonishingly in-depth in its coverage of the entire 1000-year history of the classical world and richly illustrated, The Oxford History of the Classical World offers the general reader the definitive companion to the Graeco-Roman world, its history, and its achievements.
The first volume, Classical Greece and the Hellenistic World, covers the period from the eighth to first centuries B.C., a period unparalleled in history for its brilliance in literature, philosophy, and the visual arts. It also treats the Hellenization of the Middle East by the monarchies established in the area conquered by Alexander the Great.
The second volume, Classical Rome, covers early Rome and Italy, the expansion of the Roman republic, the foundation of the Roman Empire by Augustus, its consolidation in the first two centuries A.D., and the later Empire and its influence on Western civilization.
The editors--three eminent classicists, John Boardman, Jasper Griffin, and Oswyn Murray--intersperse chapters on political and social history with chapters on literature, philosophy, and the arts, and reinforce the historical framework with maps and chronological charts. The two volumes also contain bibliographies and a full index, as well as color plates, black and white illustrations, and maps integrated into the text.
The contributors--thirty of the world's leading scholars--present the latest in modern scholarship through masterpieces of wit, brevity, and style. While concentrating on the aspects essential to understanding each period, they also focus on those elements of the classical world that remain of lasting importance and interest to readers today. Together, these volumes provide both a provocative and entertaining window into our past.
The Oxford Illustrated Prehistory Of Europe
Barry Cunliffe

The product description:
When a melting Swiss glacier recently revealed the body of a hunter millennia old, the world sat up and took notice. Here, in his well-preserved arrows, tools, and leather garments (not to mention his own remains) was a rare glimpse of life in prehistoric Europe, and it captured the public imagination. Elsewhere more obvious remnants of the pre-classical past have long been objects of fascination: the megaliths of northwestern Europe, the palaces of Crete, the mysterious cave paintings of France. Now archeologist Barry Cunliffe and a team of distinguished experts shed light on this astonishing, long-silent world in a comprehensive and lavishly illustrated account.
Ranging from the earliest settlements through the emergence of Minoan civilization to the barbarian world at the end of the Roman Empire, The Oxford Illustrated Prehistory of Europe provides a fascinating look at how successive cultures adapted to the landscape of Europe. In synthesizing the diverse findings of archeology, the authors capture the sweeping movements of peoples, the spread of agriculture, the growth of metal working, and the rise and fall of cultures. They provide intriguing insight on the Minoan and the Mycenean past underlying classical Greek history, and on the disasters that destroyed Minoan civilization. They explore the increasingly sophisticated societies of northern Europe, revealing surprisingly far-reaching trade between different areas. The peoples of Bronze Age Denmark, for instance, sent amber to Germany in return for scarce metal, while new technologies spread widely across the continent. The book continues through the end of the Roman Empire, exploring the barbarian world beyond Rome's northern frontier.
For centuries, we knew little of the European civilizations that preceded classical Greece or arose outside of the Roman Empire, beyond ancient myths and the writings of Roman observers. Now the most recent discoveries of archeology have been synthesized into one exciting volume. Featuring hundreds of stunning photographs (many in full color), this book provides the most complete account available of the prehistory of European civilization.
 I'm laughing at myself with this last book, as it turns out that I already have it, and in a more recent edition too. Not the first time it's happened, nor will it be the last, I'm sure.

Either way, these books were not borrowed with the intent to read, but as reference material to look things up in. I'm a bit frustrated right now, because I thought I had more information in my collection than I actually do. On the other hand, some of the books I'm thinking of might be in storage, so I do still have them. I just can't remember for sure.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Saturday Snapshots - May 19

Saturday Snapshots is a fun non-book-related meme hosted by Alyce of At Home With Books each week. The idea is to post a photo that you, a friend, or family member has taken. The photos can't simply be taken randomly off the internet, and must also be family-friendly. Within those restrictions though, it's easy and lots of fun.

This week I'm digging back into my archives again. I think this one was taken with my current camera, but I'm honestly not sure anymore. Still, it's a subject I want to take more of in the future. Bees and flowers are a ton of fun to photograph, and somewhat challenging.

I quite like the way the depth of field worked out, although I'm sure this was taken on auto mode. Just luck.

Really though, I need to get back out and take more photographs, or at least get the current crop off of the camera card soon.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Friday Favourites: Your Favourite Cookbook

Friday Favourites - a chance to rave about a favourite reading/book related topic each week.

Sometimes you just want a chance to rave about some favourite aspect of reading that doesn't really come up during regular blogging posts - that's what this is about. I'm willing to bet that at least some of those will come up one week or another.

This week I'm asking what your favourite cookbook book is.

Please leave either your response in the comments or a link to your response.

My answer:
I`m finding this one to be an extremely challenging one to answer, simply because I love a lot of the cookbooks I have - spending time in the kitchen is a ton of fun. Last year I did manage to narrow the list of my favourites down to five.

I`m particularly partial to Mark Bittman, Jamie Oliver and Michael Smith's books, although I like a number of other authors as well. I wonder if it's the approach they take. None of them are particularly formal in how the recipes are done, nor the the food always super-fancy. It's as likely to be something simple and tasty - comfort food as it were.

When I was writing before, I wasn't as into watching the various cooking shows, so that wasn't shaping my perceptions as much. Now it is more, which is one of the reasons I love Jamie Oliver and Michael Smith as chefs. Well, that and also the fact that their recipes almost never fail me. Whether it's a soup, a casserole or even a drink, it is usually absolutely delicious.

Narrowing things down to one cookbook though, I'm going to have to say it's The Best of Chef At Home by Michael Smith, just based on his approach to cooking. It's inspiring to say the least. Every recipe has some explanation as to why you do something in a particular way, as well as some form of variation to change the flavour. Essentially, it seems to me as though I'm getting double the recipes for my money.

I really love the way he encourages experimentation in the kitchen and with cooking. I'll admit that I'm watching a lot of the Chef At Home T.V. show these days and every single episode I've seen has me wanting to get into the kitchen and try something. But, I get that feeling from the book(s) too. And, I've started experimenting too - using the book for inspiration. Even for something as simple as a salad dressing, or a way to jazz up some carrots.

The most recent successful recipe from this book was an incredible mushroom soup, though I just found a salad dressing I have to try - one of the variations on the salad dressings: a raspberry salad dressing.

But for me it just comes down to the approach that Michael Smith takes: relaxed and fun, family oriented cooking. There's no stress, no need to get it "right" as long as it tastes good, and for me, that works to get me into the kitchen and trying new things.

The things I like about the blue Chef At Home book are true of all his cookbooks too, and the one to the left here, may soon overtake the first one as my favourite. At the moment, it's simple familiarity that keeps it there, and I'm trying new recipes from this one too all the time. So far, my favourite has been the baked acorn squash recipe. It takes a bit of time, but is delicious and goes well with a lot of different meats too.

What's your favourite cookbook?

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Kobo Vox - Longer Term Impressions

It's now been several months since I posted both my First Impressions review of the Kobo Vox and my Further Impressions. Since then, I've added a couple of tutorials: Installing the Overdrive Media Console and Installing the Amazon Kindle app.

While I've been a fan of the Kobo e-reader from day one, since I got the Kobo Vox, I haven't even charged up the old Wi-Fi model once. As far as I'm concerned, low battery-life and all, the Vox trumps the older models completely. I can't say anything about the Touch model though.

 I've done a fair bit of reading on it too. Both of Michael R. Hicks books - through the amazon Kindle app, which works like a charm - and several others too.

Daylight or night, it works wonderfully with all kinds of lighting - definitely better than my smartphone screen.

Reading back, I noticed that I commented on the Live Wallpapers having a tendency to slow my Vox down back in my Further Impressions post. Maybe it was just that one wallpaper, because I've since been running a spectacular one, with no problems in the last couple of months. Finding and installing the wallpapers though has been a challenge, because most of them are linked from the Android Marketplace, which it seems, the Vox still has no access to. On the other hand, I haven't tried in recent months, but at the same time I haven't heard otherwise either.

The libraries have been a bit of a disappointment though. Nothing to do with the Overdrive Media Console app or how it works however. That side of things has worked - no problems. It's just that the libraries don't seem to have the kind of books I'm interested in reading - mostly science fiction or fantasy novels.

Loading on non-Kobo E-books is still an absolute breeze. Drop the e-pub file onto your micor-SD card and insert it into the Vox. Open the Library, and your e-reader does the rest of the job for you. Believe me, about half my library is on there from that method.

The feature I'm starting to take more advantage of now though is the Pulse, that social aspect of reading which has been integrated into the Kobo Vox interface. Surprisingly, at least with the super-popular books like Game of Thrones, it's lots of fun, because you can keep track of who else is reading the book at the same time, and how many times the book has been read. Not to mention reading other people's comments about the book. It's possible to read all the comments at once (choosing one option will let you avoid spoilers too) or to see comments and "likes/dislikes" for particular pages. It's kind of neat to know that somebody has commented for the same page you're reading. I'm thinking of it a bit like a world-wide book club for the book you're reading. Unfortunately, it only works with the books you buy from Kobo.

At the same time, I'm integrating Facebook into my reading a bit more. I only just managed to get the Facebook app (the screen just past the home screen) to let me log in properly, and I've been finding that the Facebook integration with Kobo is a bit finicky, and not always letting me do things like posting quotes. On the other hand, that could be my unfamiliarity with both Facebook and that segment of Kobo usage talking.

On a different topic, recently Dark Horse Comics has announced a partnership with Kobo to bring their graphic novels to the Kobo Vox. Even though I haven't tried reading a full graphic novel on the Kobo Vox, I have seen what they look like. It's spectacular! The pages are vibrant and clear, with readable text and crisp images.

Overall, I've had nothing but good experiences with my Kobo Vox over the past several months. Certainly the "new gadget" appeal has never worn off in my eyes.

I have however, noticed a change in how I read, using the Vox as compared to reading a paper book or even on the older Wi-Fi model. Before, I would read in longer segments of time, even hours at a time. Now, when I'm reading on the Vox, I find myself switching over to playing a game after only a few minutes of reading. Just the temptation of having the games available?

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Saturday Snapshots - May 12

Saturday Snapshots is the most fun non-book-related meme that I've found to date. This photography themed piece of fun (I look forward to it, sometimes planning out the photo I'm going to use days in advance) is hosted each week by Alyce of At Home With Books.

The idea is to post a photo that you or a family member/friend has taken. Only two caveats: 1. that it is taken by you or someone you know, and 2. that it be suitable for all-ages viewing.

This week I've been digging into the archives again, despite the great weather. I just didn't get a lot of photos, and the ones I did take are all still on the memory card.

Anyway, this photo is from one of my camping trips last year. We went down to the dock just around sunset one evening, and this was the result. At the time, I was quite happy with it. Now though, I'm noticing a few flaws. Although, I still really like the lighting of the shot. Maybe I'll be able to get a better version this year.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Friday Favourites: Your Favourite Non-Fiction Book?

Friday Favourites - a chance to rave about a favourite reading/book related topic each week.

Sometimes you just want a chance to rave about some favourite aspect of reading that doesn't really come up during regular blogging posts - that's what this is about. I'm willing to bet that at least some of those will come up one week or another.

This week I'm asking what your favourite non-fiction book is.

Please leave either your response in the comments or a link to your response.

My answer is:
Little Princes: One Man's Promise To Bring Home the Lost Children of Nepal by Conor Grennan.

I first read and reviewed the book back in February of 2011, and I haven't been able to stop raving about it ever since.

The product description:
In search of adventure, 29-year-old Conor Grennan traded his day job for a year-long trip around the globe, a journey that began with a three-month stint volunteering at the Little Princes Children’s Home, an orphanage in war-torn Nepal.

Conor was initially reluctant to volunteer, unsure whether he had the proper skill, or enough passion, to get involved in a developing country in the middle of a civil war. But he was soon overcome by the herd of rambunctious, resilient children who would challenge and reward him in a way that he had never imagined. When Conor learned the unthinkable truth about their situation, he was stunned: The children were not orphans at all. Child traffickers were promising families in remote villages to protect their children from the civil war—for a huge fee—by taking them to safety. They would then abandon the children far from home, in the chaos of Nepal’s capital, Kathmandu.
For Conor, what began as a footloose adventure becomes a commitment to reunite the children he had grown to love with their families, but this would be no small task. He would risk his life on a journey through the legendary mountains of Nepal, facing the dangers of a bloody civil war and a debilitating injury. Waiting for Conor back in Kathmandu, and hopeful he would make it out before being trapped in by snow, was the woman who would eventually become his wife and share his life’s work.
Little Princes is a true story of families and children, and what one person is capable of when faced with seemingly insurmountable odds. At turns tragic, joyful, and hilarious, Little Princes is a testament to the power of faith and the ability of love to carry us beyond our wildest expectations.
Even though I read this book over a year ago, I really want to read it again at some point. I remember wanting to know what happened to each of the kids, and overall, that I couldn't put the book down. As much as this is the story of Conor, it's also the story of each of the kids he met at the Little Princes Children's Home, and they really are sweet kids.

I'd like to think that I got an idea of what it's like in Nepal, or at least what it was like a few years ago from reading this book. All I can say is that it's well-written, vivid and descriptive. I can't stop raving about the book either. It's one of my favourites to recommend at work too.

What's your all-time favourite non-fiction book (or at least, favourite non-fiction book to date)?

Thursday, May 10, 2012

The Selection - Kiera Cass

The Selection
Kiera Cass
Copyright: April 2012

The product description:
For thirty-five girls, the Selection is the chance of a lifetime. The opportunity to escape the life laid out for them since birth. To be swept up in a world of glittering gowns and priceless jewels. To live in a palace and compete for the heart of gorgeous Prince Maxon.

But for America Singer, being Selected is a nightmare. It means turning her back on her secret love with Aspen, who is a caste below her. Leaving her home to enter a fierce competition for a crown she doesn't want. Living in a palace that is constantly threatened by violent rebel attacks.

Then America meets Prince Maxon. Gradually, she starts to question all the plans she's made for herself—and realizes that the life she's always dreamed of may not compare to a future she never imagined.
Honestly, The Selection is a book I picked up on a whim. That said, once I'd picked it up, I couldn't put the book down again. Ended up finishing the read the same night. So, the first thing that comes to mind about the story is that it is a quick read - but captivating at the same time.

The story seemed somewhat familiar to me too, the idea of the prince choosing a bride from a certain limited pool of girls. In that sense the story is similar to Gail Carson Levine's novel Princess Academy. I don't know if the similarities are more than superficial though, as I haven't read any of Gail Carson Levine's books. But, if you liked that, and you like books that are set in a very regimented future, this might be a perfect book for you.

I do have to say, I found the main character's name to be slightly annoying, "America" just isn't a person's name to me. On the other hand, once I'd read farther in, her mother's reasoning for naming her that does fit, and suits her character very well.

This is a teen-oriented book, so the main thrust is along the "do I love him? does he love me? who should I choose?" lines, but despite that, there are other themes being mixed in as well to form a very captivating book. I certainly found the characters, America and Maxon mostly, to be fascinating and definitely not annoying - something I should admit to having felt with some other teen books.

Still, there was one big downside I found to the book. It resolved nothing. Definitely we have to wait for the second book in the series - according to amazon,com, it's supposed to be a trilogy. I'm curious to see what's going to happen there.

A lot of reviews that I've read are comparing The Selection to The Hunger Games. For myself, I don't really see the comparison, and I've never watched any of the reality TV shows that are the other component of the comparisons. So, I guess I'm coming at this book from more or less a clean slate perspective.

Still, irregardless of my complaints as to the ending or lack of, I did quite enjoy the read, and if you're looking for a light, quick read, I have to suggest giving Keira Cass' The Selection a try.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Music on the subway?

I know, it's not within the subject of this blog, but I absolutely loved this video. The music is gorgeous, and everybody's expressions just made my day. Wish I'd been on that train, and I wish that kind of thing would happen on transit around here.

Here's hoping it brightens your day too.

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? is hosted each week over at Book Journey. Thanks Sheila for trying to keep us all on track with our reading. Hopefully it's as much fun for you as participating in this meme is for me (and I'm guessing for everyone else too).

Last week I read:
In Her Name: The Last War by Michael R. Hicks. Fiction, science fiction, e-book. The prequel/sequel to the In Her Name omnibus that I read and reviewed a couple of months ago. I loved this book just as much as the previous one.

True Strength: My Journey From Hercules To Mere Mortal - And How Nearly Dying Saved My Life by Kevin Sorbo. Nonfiction, biography. Very much an awe-inspiring read which kept me riveted. Yes, the title says that he became a mere mortal because of what's happened to him, but in my mind, to keep going through everything that life has thrown at him makes Kevin Sorbo even more "Hercules".

I'm currently reading:
A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin. Fiction, fantasy, e-book. This is my second attempt at this book, and while I'm enjoying it, there are things that are bugging me about it too. Still the characters are very fleshed out and the descriptions are great. It's more some of the character attitudes that I don't care for. And, no I haven't seen the TV series.

Facing Up: A Remarkable Journey To The Summit Of Mount Everest by Bear Grylls. Non Fiction, Biography. I'm back to reading this one a bit more actively now and I'm enjoying it a lot.

I'm planning to read:
I don't know. Every time I come up with something here, I usually end up reading something completely different. I'd still like to take another look at the Star Wars graphic novels though.

True Strength: My Journey From Hercules To Mere Mortal - And How Nearly Dying Saved My Life - Kevin Sorbo

True Strength: My Journey From Hercules To Mere Mortal - And How Nearly Dying Saved My Life
Kevin Sorbo
Da Capo Press
Copyright: October 2011

The product description:
On television, Kevin Sorbo portrayed an invincible demigod; in his real life, a sudden health crisis left him partially blind and incapacitated at just thirty-eight years old. Yet since appearances are everything in Hollywood, he hid the full details about his condition from the press and continued to film Hercules, which was the number one TV series in the world. In this inspiring memoir, Sorbo shares the story of the crisis that ultimately redefined his measure of success.

True Strength is the story of transformation, persistence, and hope in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles. Sorbo reflects on his childhood in Minnesota and his early acting days in Hollywood, to his charmed life as television’s beloved Hercules, and where he is today. He recounts the onset of his symptoms, his frightening hospitalization, and his arduous path to recovery. With this honest account of personal tragedy and triumph, Sorbo aims to blaze a trail for those who have ever suffered acute illness or a serious setback in life and are now struggling to find their way back. 
I just finished reading this book last night and my first reaction was "Wow!". What Kevin Sorbo has been through and how he's dealt with it has absolutely amazed me. I'll admit it, I picked up the book in part because I enjoyed watching the Hercules T.V, show (still do from the DVD's in fact) but also because I've met him at one of the fan conventions.

Most of the book is focused on what happened during and after the health crisis that nearly killed Kevin, but there's plenty of information scattered throughout about his early life and what it was like filming on the set of Hercules before it happened as well as after. Not to mention meeting and working with Sam, his wife-to-be.

There were plenty of moments that made me smile, and others that left me wondering "how is he going to get over this". True Strength is a very honest book, going as much into the hard times as the good times - and yes, there are good times there too. It's not just hard for him either. There are chapters written by Sam, his wife, as well as some of the actors who worked with Kevin on the set of Hercules, all of which added to the picture of what he was going through.

Normally I'm not a big fan of celebrity biographies - to me they just seem to be more glorification and excusing bad behaviour. That is definitely not the case with Kevin Sorbo's book at all. True Strength is well written, engaging and educational on a lot of levels, and there were times when it brought a tear to my eye.

I can see a few different groups of people who would be interested in this book: people who are fans of Hercules or Andromeda and Kevin in general would probably love it. I know I did. Doctors might find it interesting too, along with anyone who's interested in acting. However, the big market for True Strength should be anyone who's going through a serious illness or their family members.

Kevin Sorbo is a very real person, not a mythical demi-god, but in going through what he has, and the way he got through it, in a sense he has become even more "Hercules" than he was before. I have an even greater respect for him now, knowing more about his life than I did before too.

Congratulations on getting through all of this, Kevin, and may your life remain as it is at the end of the book: a good one with your family.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Saturday Snapshots - May 5th

Saturday Snapshots is  a fun little meme hosted by Alyce of At Home With Books where your post a photo taken by you or a friend or family member. The only caveat is that you not just take photos from anywhere on the internet and that it be appropriate for all ages to view.

This week's photo is one from my archives again. Despite my best intentions, I didn't get out to take any pictures this week, so I'm digging into my collection. Yet another sunset, but they're a fun thing to take, every one is different, and so often spectacular.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Latest Crochet Project

Crochet For Bears To WearLast week I started working on one of the projects from Amy O'Neil Houck's book Crochet For Bears To Wear. After a couple of false starts and a lot of help from some of the local knitting group, it's going pretty nicely now. The project in question is the Long Winter's Nap Nightshirt and Cap.

This pattern is considered to be intermediate, which might have been some of my problem with it - it's assumed that the crocheter can do things like crochet in the round etc. Actually though, it's surprisingly simple now it's gotten started. I'm down to the colour-band change - another first for me, working with two colours, and most of that's been done in the last two days.
There are a couple of places where I think the pattern could have been clearer - doing the armholes for example. It says to slip-stitch to the next marked stitch. Did that mean to slip-stitch along the edge until you got to that stitch, or did it mean to join the two corners together? After a false start where I thought it was the former, I figured out that it was the latter instead, just by how the photo looked. Aside from that kind of quibble, I'm quite enjoying this project, and am already planning to do several more from the book.

In terms of the current project, I've still got the "skirt" as she calls it, and the sleeves for the nightshirt itself, but there's also a cap as part of the set. That I have yet to start.

I love the idea of learning to make clothing in miniature like this. My next planned project though is a pair of socks that I hope will fit me - I'm being lazy and not doing the gauge swatch again. For the nightshirt it seems to have worked. I figured that if the neckband fit the listed measurements, the gauge would be more or less right, and that's how it's turned out.

Yes, doing the crochet is taking away from my reading time a bit - as is the spinning I'm doing on the wheel as well, but I'm still doing plenty of reading as well. Just started with A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin, so I'm glad to have something to give me a break now and again.

Friday Favourites - Your Favourite Book From April?

Friday Favourites - a chance to rave about a favourite reading/book related topic each week.

Sometimes you just want a chance to rave about some favourite aspect of reading that doesn't really come up during regular blogging posts - that's what this is about. I'm willing to bet that at least some of those will come up one week or another.

This week I'm asking what your favourite book from the month of April is.

Please leave either your response in the comments or a link to your response.

My answer is:
Although I didn't review it, my favourite book for the month was No Talking by Andrew Clements, a book for kids. The suggested reading level is for kids between the ages of nine and twelve years old, but I think it would be amusing for anyone who likes kids books.

Certainly the humour in the book is not just geared towards kids, and the premise of the story is an interesting one.

The product description:
It’s boys vs. girls when the noisiest, most talkative, and most competitive fifth graders in history challenge one another to see who can go longer without talking. Teachers and school administrators are in an uproar, until an innovative teacher sees how the kids’ experiment can provide a terrific and unique lesson in communication. In No Talking, Andrew Clements portrays a battle of wills between some spunky kids and a creative teacher with the perfect pitch for elementary school life that made Frindle an instant classic.
Enjoy a nice, lighhearted, quick read, or suggest it to your kids. I think this is one that both boys and girls will like.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

In Her Name: The Last War - Michael R. Hicks

In Her Name: The Last War
Michael R. Hicks
Imperial Guard Publishing
Copyright: 2011

The product description:
THE LAST WAR is a trilogy collection of the complete text of the novels IN HER NAME: FIRST CONTACT, LEGEND OF THE SWORD, and DEAD SOUL.


Led by Commander Owen McClaren, the TNS Aurora is embarked on an extended survey mission, searching for new worlds that could support human life. Drawn to an uncharted star system by the discovery of potentially habitable planets, the crew of the Aurora discovers something entirely unexpected: the planets are already inhabited, but not by humans. Approached by gigantic alien starships, Aurora's crew makes ready for humanity’s very first contact with another sentient race.


Six months have passed since the destruction of the human colony on Keran by the alien Kreelan Empire. Earth and other human worlds band together to form the Confederation of Humanity to provide a mutual defense against the alien invaders.

Unfortunately, not all human worlds want to join the Confederation. Some, like Saint Petersburg, would rather see it destroyed. With a powerful navy built in secret and armed with nuclear weapons, Saint Petersburg is preparing their own offensive against the Confederation when the Kreelans attack.


Three years after the brutal first contact encounter with the alien Kreelan Empire, the human Confederation is desperate for a victory. With over a dozen worlds under siege by legions of Kreelan warriors, President McKenna orders the Confederation military to deliver a victory to give humanity hope.

Roland Mills, Valentina Sikorsky, Ichiro Sato and his wife Steph, along with the irrepressible General James Sparks are once again at the sharp end of the spear in a mission to take back the colony of Alger’s World from the alien invaders before it’s too late.
In Her Name: The Last War is the second omnibus edition by Michael R. Hicks. The first one, reviewed here, is simply called In Her Name. This one can't really be called a sequel though, as it's set a century or so before the first trilogy, which detailed the end of the war between the Confederation and the Kreelan Empire. The Last War on the other hand, covers the first contact between humanity and the Kreelans, as well as the first years of the war.

After reading the first In Her Name trilogy, I found myself sympathetic to both sides in this conflict, something I rather liked with this series, rather than it all being one-sided. Some of the best classic science fiction - Starship Troopers by Robert A. Heinlein comes to mind as an example - portrays a war for humanity's existence from just the one point of view. In this one, you've got numerous human points of view - my favourites were Steph and Ichiro - as well as a range of different Kreelan perspectives, some of whom are quite familiar from the other trilogy. As a result, I found myself with an even better understanding of how their culture worked.

For example, a true picture of their technological level, and how things such as ships and the like are made, as well as more about the Kreelan pattern of life, something I found to be quite intriguing.  It's interesting to see a culture with a high technological understanding deliberately choosing to live in ways we consider to be low-tech - riding and pack beasts and the like, but at the same time using starships and shuttlecraft etc.

Michael R. Hicks writes some very good, fast-paced military science fiction. As with the previous trilogy, this was a book that I couldn't put down - to the point that I was getting frustrated whenever I had to charge my e-reader up again. And I didn't want the book to end either. All of the characters, even those who showed up for just a short time felt real, and regardless of which side they were on, I found myself rooting for them.

In terms of reading order, I don't think it really matters which of the two trilogies you read first, as they both seem to stand independent of one another and are separated by a fair span of time. Which is rather nice, as it's refreshing to be able to read one and not find myself going "no I can't read this until I've read that".

To my mind at least, this book is suitable for a wide range of readers, from teens onwards. Yes, there's violence, but that obviously doesn't seem to matter - look at The Hunger Games. The violence is about the same, and there isn't much else that people can object to. So, if you like science fiction, especially military science fiction, I'd have to say give In Her Name: The Last War a try. I definitely consider this book to be worth five stars, and I'm sure I'll be re-reading it in the reasonably near future too.


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