Mini Reviews: Appetite for Life, Snow White and the Huntsman

appetite for lifeAppetite for Life: The Biography of Julia Child
by Noel Riley Fitch

Julia Child became a household name when she entered the lives of millions of Americans through our hearts and kitchens. Yet few know the richly varied private life that lies behind this icon, whose statuesque height and warmly enthused warble have become synonymous with the art of cooking.

In this biography we meet the earthy and outrageous Julia, who, at age eighty-five, remains a complex role model. More… (summary from goodreads)

Mini Review:
If you’ve read my blog at all, you’ve probably seen me mention My Life in France by Julia Child at least once. It’s a book I adore. The writing is fun, Julia’s personality shines through on every page, and it’s a fascinating tale of how Mastering the Art of French Cooking came to be.

Ever since reading My Life in France, I’ve devoured as many books on Julia Child as I can find. None have come close to that book for me. Appetite for Life is not a biography I would recommend unless you are interested in every minute detail of Julia’s early life. I do like that level of detail, but not for hundreds of pages.

I feel that an inordinate portion of the book is focused on her early life. Julia lived to the age of 91, yet the book largely glosses over her later life. It goes from listing every dinner party guest and their history to “that year Julia …”

The writing was dull. As I said, there was none of the magic of My Life in France. The writer had an amazing subject to work with, yet I didn’t get any of Julia’s personality in this biography.

Rating: 2 owls

snow white and the huntsman

Snow White and the Huntsman
by Lily Blake

A breathtaking new vision of a legendary tale. Snow White is the only person in the land fairer than the evil queen who is out to destroy her. But what the wicked ruler never imagined is that the young woman threatening her reign has been training in the art of war with a huntsman who was dispatched to kill her. (summary from goodreads)

Mini Review:
Tie-in books are hit and miss, usually miss.

Snow White and the Huntsman was a definite miss. I really wanted to like it, because I was so excited about the movie. The trailers looked amazing!

I read the book to tide me over until the movie comes out on DVD, as I won’t be seeing it in the theatre. But reading the tie-in made me not want to see the movie at all. The story, which seemed so cool and different in the trailers, was boiled down to a lackluster tale that went from A to B to C.

The writing is what bothered me the most. The characters are flat and never really developed. They’re inconsistent, too. For example, Snow White was locked up in a tower for ten years. Yet a few days after escaping, she’s trekking through the woods all day and learning to fight. The author goes from harping on her weak body to totally forgetting it.

A day after finishing the book, and I’ve already forgotten most of it. Not quite the experience I was hoping for. I’ll still check the movie out, but now I’m not so sad about my decision to wait for it on DVD.

Rating: 1 owl

Book 169: Star Wars: Boba Fett 4: Hunted

HuntedStar Wars: Boba Fett #4: Hunted, by Elizabeth Hand

“Hunted” is the fourth book in a six book series on the life of young Boba Fett. In “Hunted,” Boba Fett flies to Tatooine to find the crime lord Jabba the Hutt.

Jango Fett, Boba’s father, had left instructions for his son to go to Jabba to learn knowledge. But Boba runs into problem after problem on Tatooine, first losing his father’s Mandalorian helmet to a street gang, to having no credits to buy water – a necessity on the desert planet.

Will a trip to Jabba’s palace teach young Boba the knowledge necessary for a bounty hunter?

As with the other books in this series, I’m not entirely thrilled with the writing. I do understand that they are written for younger readers and I’m over the intended age, but I wish Star Wars had kept up the quality a little better. The passage of time in this series isn’t clear – the first three books seemed to take up only days, but this book is apparently set months after the event of book three, “Maze of Deception.” At least the story in “Hunted” was better than the previous book.


Book 168: Star Wars: Boba Fett 3: Maze of Deception

Maze of DeceptionStar Wars: Boba Fett #3: Maze of Deception, by Elizabeth Hand

“Maze of Deception” is the third book in a six book series on the life of young Boba Fett. In this installment, Boba and Aurra Sing journey to Aargau, the banking planet of the galaxy. Similar to Coruscant, Aargau is a layered planet; the lowest levels are the most dangerous, full of the scum of the galaxy.

Aurra Sing, a very dangerous bounty hunter, takes Boba to Aargau to get half of Jango Fett’s fortune. Boba, naturally, isn’t keen on splitting his inheritance with her, and makes a dangerous escape to keep the entire fortune for himself.

But can a young, inexperienced boy really avoid all the pitfalls a planet like Aargau holds?

I found “Maze of Deception” to be an okay book in the Boba Fett series. A week after reading it I’ve already forgotten most of it, so it’s not that memorable. Younger readers will enjoy Boba’s exploits on Aaragu, and his gradual evolution into the great Boba Fett of Star Wars Legend.


Book 167: Star Wars: Boba Fett 2: Crossfire

CrossfireStar Wars: Boba Fett #2: Crossfire, by Terry Bisson

“Crossfire” is the second book in a six book series on the life of young Boba Fett. Boba is now the guest, or prisoner, depending on how you look at it, of Count Dooku. When the starting war comes to Raxus Prime, Boba manages to escape the junkyard planet by pretending to be an orphan.

While en route to a Bespin orphanage, Boba makes the first friend of his life. But when he’s torn between his new friend and his father’s teachings – which will he choose?

“Crossfire” was a bit blah to me, and even though it’s a short book, it felt like it dragged on for too long. I think it could have been tightened up a little.


Book 161: Mapping the World of Harry Potter

Mapping the World of Harry PotterMapping the World of Harry Potter: An Unauthorized Exploration of the Bestselling Fantasy Series of All Time, edited by Mercedes Lackey

Complete through book six, “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince,” this collection of essays takes a look at why and how the Harry Potter series appeals or angers people. There are essays on religion, education, politics, feminism, and more.

“Mapping the World of Harry Potter” mostly added to my enjoyment of J. K. Rowling’s series; some of the essays gave me a lot to think about for the next time I reread the series.

Here is a list of the essays:
-Harry Potter and the Young Man’s Mistake, by Daniel P. Moloney
-The Dursleys as Social Commentary, by Roberta Gellis
-To Sir, With Love, by Joyce Millman
-Harry Potter and the End of Religion, by Marguerite Krause
-It’s All About God, by Elisabeth DeVos
-Hermione Granger and the Charge of Sexism, by Sarah Zettel
-Neville Longbottom: The Hero with a Thousand Faces, by Martha Wells
-Why Dumbledore Had to Die, by Lawrence Watt-Evans
-From Azkaban to Abu Ghraib, by Adam-Troy Castro
-Ich Bin Ein Hufflepuff, by Susan R. Matthews
-Harry Potter as Schooldays Novel, by James Gunn
-Harry Potter and the Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Counselor, by Mercedes Lackey
-The Proper Wizard’s Guide to Good Manners, by Roxanne Longstreet Conrad
-Why Killing Harry Is the Worst Outcome for Voldemort, by Richard Garfinkle

While “Mapping Harry Potter” was written before the publication of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows,” the essays are still worthwhile reading. All are authored by writers of science fiction and fantasy novels, and I plan to check out the work of several of the contributors.

I think my favorite was “To Sir, With Love,” an essay on fanfiction and Professor Snape. I appreciated Joyce Millman’s wit and humor, and I think I’ll look up a few of the stories mentioned. I also enjoyed “Harry Potter as Schooldays Novel,” which gave history on the tradition of British schooldays novels. I had heard Harry Potter referred to as that, but had no clue what it meant. Now I do, and it’s a subgenre I plan to learn more about. I found “Why Killing Harry is the Worst Outcome for Voldemort” particularly clever, and something only the mind of a science fiction writer could create.

“The Proper Wizard’s Guide to Good Manners” was my least favorite; I don’t really see it as an essay but more fiction, and was a bit baffled while reading it.

I would recommend this for adult readers looking to expand their knowledge or thoughts on Harry, as some of the subject matter and language levels are above young fans.


Book 96: Magic the Gathering: Agents of Artifice

Agents of ArtificeMagic the Gathering: Planeswalker: Agents of Artifice, by Ari Marmell

I’m a little up in the air about “Agents of Artifice.” I had never read a Magic the Gathering book before, but have played it and have read other Wizards’ product lines, such as Forgotten Realms. So I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I think the surprise was a good one.

The author is capable, and his characters are definitely interesting. Jace is a planeswalker, a magic user who can travel between worlds with the power of his mind. After being recruited by an all-powerful and evil organization, his abilities increase while his heart dies from the acts he is forced to commit. Jace finds a friend in Kallist, a fellow Consortium recruit, but his skills are with a blade. The two eventually meet Liliana, a powerful necromancer with an agenda of her own, one that will keep you guessing.

The first quarter or so of the book is confusing, until you realize that it’s a type of flashback. There were a few other points where action jumped around a bit, but I just had to reread a section or two to figure out what was going on. This book is best if you can sit down with it for a while and take some time to get into it.

I wasn’t overly impressed, but I also wasn’t disappointed with the plot of “Agents of Artifice.” The story is interesting enough, with a lot of soul searching for each of the main characters, and each make some surprising decisions. The villains are just as intriguing, and Marmell makes his bad guys extremely bad – they think nothing of repeatedly torturing their victims, or of mind-raping someone. It’s a bit chilling, really.

You don’t have to be familiar with Magic the Gathering to read this book; I hadn’t played in 10 years or more and understood the magic system easily, thanks to the author’s descriptions.

I would say this book is average, but it’s a good average. It’s a decent romp in a magic universe with some good characters.


Book 78: Star Wars: Episode II: Attack of the Clones

Attack of the ClonesStar Wars: Episode II: Attack of the Clones, by R. A. Salvatore

While this is a novelization of the film, it is also more, as Salvatore fleshes out and adds to the “Attack of the Clones” story. He introduces readers to Padmé’s family, Shmi Skywalker’s new family, including Owen and Beru whom fans will remember as Luke’s aunt and uncle, and just gives some great background information on lots of other aspects that fans will appreciate.

Personally, I enjoy reading this book rather than watching the movie when I need a refresher on the events of “Attack of the Clones.” I think Salvatore was a good choice for the author; his writing fits perfectly in the universe, and he captures the essence of each character neatly. I could hear Anakin’s grumpy teen voice in my head, I winced at Threepio’s annoying whining, etc. Salvatore is also good at writing battle scenes, but I do think that some of them were rushed – I didn’t get the grand feel of battle when Yoda brought in the clones on Genosis, but Obi-Wan and Jango Fett’s battle on Kamino was perfect.

The additional insight into the primary and secondary characters is the best value of this book. In the movie, Anakin and Padmé’s relationship was always a little to quick for me, but thanks to Salvatore their relationship gets some much needed development before the marriage.


Book 50: Avatar: An Activist Survival Guide

Avatar: An Activist Survival GuideAvatar: An Activist Survival Guide, by Maria Wilhelm and Dirk Mathison

Written as a survival guide for Pandora, this book provides in-depth information on the flora, fauna, and Na’vi people on the moon, as well as details on the human weaponry and military vehicles imported from Earth. The plant and animal descriptions include classifications, Latin names, ecology, pictures, and their use on Pandora, as well as possible uses on Earth. The information on the Na’vi people tells about their customs, culture, and how they live. There’s also some pseudo-scientific explanations for the formation of Pandora and its inhabitants.

“Avatar: An Activist Survival Guide” is full of beautiful glossy photos and is a good companion for the movie. While I haven’t seen Avatar yet, I’m more eager to after reading this book, as there are things I’ll probably look for in the movie now. This seems like the perfect book for anyone who is really into Pandora and the Na’vi, or maybe someone curious about something specific, such as Na’vi mating habits.

One of my few complaints for this book is the design of the pages. While the pages are designed to look like crumpled paper, going with the survival guide/smuggled information theme, it does make it difficult to read the text. If the gray of the pages were a little lighter I think the text would be easier to read. Otherwise, it feels as if a lot of time and thought went into the appearance of the book, and the visuals are very nice.


Book 44: Criminal Minds: Killer Profile

Killer ProfileCriminal Mind: Killer Profile, by Max Allan Collins

Chicago is plagued by a series of seemingly unrelated murders. A couple shot to death in a car. Two women strangled in a park. A male body found in a barrel. Because the crimes are spread out over the city, the different police departments haven’t seen any connection, and who would see a connection between such crimes, anyway?

The BAU, or the Behavioral Analysis Unit, does. When one of the members of the unit sees crime scene photos, he knows that the cops are dealing with a copycat killer – someone copying the crimes of famous serial killers. But can the famous FBI agents of the TV series “Criminal Minds” track a killer who’s hiding behind the profiles of others?

“Killer Profile” is a tie-in novel and reads like an episode of the TV show it’s based on. Collins creates an interesting plot by using the crimes of famous serial killers such as John Wayne Gacy and Ted Bundy for his suspect, who copies each crime, but also improves on them. This allows for plenty of trivia, and a chance to follow the profiling process as the BAU team attempts to figure out what would drive a person to copycat.

“Killer Profile” is a good book for “Criminal Minds” fans, but it can also be read by someone without knowledge of the show. It’s a self-contained book, and Collins describes the characters well enough that you don’t have to have seen the show to know what’s going on.


Book 43: Criminal Minds: Jump Cut

Jump CutCriminal Minds: Jump Cut, by Max Allan Collins

In a town in Kansas homeless people are being found murdered, cleaned up, and dressed in clean clothes. It’s a case for the Behavioral Analysis Unit, a FBI profiling team out of Quantico, a team mainly featured in the TV drama “Criminal Minds.”

“Jump Cut” is very true to the show it is based on, with Collins capturing the essence of each of the profilers, and creating a plot that would fit right into the series. The format of the book even matches the show’s format, including voice-over quotes, scenes from the perspective of the UnSub, and trivia from real-life related cases. I felt like I was almost reading an episode, and could imagine each character’s voice talking to me as the book progressed. I only have a few complaints: Collins sometimes puts too much into details, such as describing what every person is wearing, and the book starts off slowly.

I’d say this is a good book for anyone who’s a fan of “Criminal Minds” and may want something to tide them over between episodes. I personally liked reading the profiling process being described, rather than shown as in episodes.