Monthly Archives: April 2013

Review: The Oracle Code

Recap: An archaeological dig in Afghanistan is where we find Professor Thomas Lourds and his friend Boris. Boris has recently discovered a set of scrolls, said to be the scrolls of Alexander the Great. But they’re written in ancient writing — writing that Boris cannot read or understand. That’s where Professor Lourds steps in.

Boris believes the scrolls will lead them to the tomb of Alexander the Great. But before Lourds can get a good look at the scrolls, their archeological group is attacked. Soon an all-out battle takes place, leaving Boris dead and Lourds to work alongside a young Russian newspaper reporter, Anna. It becomes clear to them that someone — particularly a Russian ex-military man — is after the scrolls and wants to see the two of them dead. To add to the hysteria, President Nevsky, of Russia, has invaded Ukraine, with plans to bring back the USSR.

Professor Lourds’ task of revealing the meaning of the scrolls has become a matter of life and death. Not to mention, it’s the only way he can honor Boris after he has died. But can he uncover the meaning? And do the scrolls, in fact, lead to the grave of Alexander the Great?

Analysis: The format, pacing and writing style in Charles Brokaw’s The Oracle Code is very similar to Dan Brown and his Robert Langdon series (The Da Vinci Code, Angels and Demons). Even the character, Thomas Lourds, bears striking similarities to Robert Langdon — though the knowledge of symbols is replaced with a knowledge of ancient languages and mythology. While enjoyable, I couldn’t help but compare the novel to Dan Brown’s work.

What I found is that Brokaw took the action that existed in Brown’s Angels and Demons, but left out much of the analytical research and explanations of The Da Vinci Code. That was a good move on Brokaw’s part; it certainly kept the story moving. That being said, I found myself hoping for more explanation of Lourds’ work. Brokaw presented several scenes in which other characters comment on Lourds’ sleep-deprived state. He explains that he was up for hours working on the scrolls, and he shares what he learned from them. While it was great to finally learn what was in the scrolls, I wanted to know what Lourds was doing in those late-night hours to interpret them. How did he figure out the language and the scripture?

The last moments in the book also felt rushed, making it a bit difficult to keep up. The epilogue, however, does a good job of wrapping up the few subplots that the last chapter seemed to bypass, certainly leaving it open to yet another Code book with Thomas Lourds as the leading man and a historical mystery as the leading lady.

MVP: Anna, the reporter. A complex character with a shocking story line, Anna personalizes the story that’s otherwise about a set a scrolls. Her courage is commendable and her loyalty to getting the scoop admirable.

Get The Oracle Code on your Kindle for $2.99.

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‘Fifty Shades’ Author to Release Writing Journal

So you loved Fifty Shades of Grey and its author E L James. If so, you’re in luck. Vintage Books has announced E L James’ latest project, and it’s due to be released next week.

According to Entertainment Weekly, bestselling author E L James is releasing a leather-bound journal called Fifty Shades of Grey: Inner Goddess (A Journal). The journal will offer tips and advice on what E L James does — no, not sex — writing. It also includes blank lined sheets so readers can make notes and keep track of their thoughts while reading.

The journal will be available May 1st.

Though E L James is not particularly known for her great writing, I imagine women will eat this up as yet another way to connect with the author, the Fifty Shades books, and their “inner goddess.”

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Amazon Buys Social Media Book Site Goodreads

If people read books and then post reviews online — and don’t have their own blog, like this one! — there’s generally two places they’ll post them: Amazon and Goodreads. But now, the two are becoming one.

According to Salon, Amazon has bought the social media book site Goodreads. For more than a year, the site has used Amazon Product Advertising API for book data. Ever since then, Amazon has had somewhat of a grip on Goodreads, forbidding Goodreads to use that data in its mobile app. But now Amazon has tightened the reigns.

The terms of the deal were not made public. But people in the book industry are comparing this to Hitler and the Nazi invasion of Poland, which doesn’t bode well for Goodreads, authors, or its users.

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Review: This Mobius Strip of Ifs

Recap: In our younger years, we are lost, with the hope that as we grow older, we’ll better understand ourselves, others, and the world as a whole. That’s what Mathias B. Freese attempts to do in his collection of personal essays This Mobius Strip of Ifs. But over and over again, he explains that “knowledge is death” and the idea of full enlightenment or “de-conditioning” as he calls it is impossible to achieve.

Though it’s not one coherent tale, Mobius does share a story about its author and the difficult cards he’s been dealt in his life. The essays were written over decades, and share anecdotes about his family, childhood, years as a teacher, and his time spent working as a psychotherapist. The first section of the book is more philosophical, whereas the second section deals with specific people — famous people — and the things they have contributed to society, and the third section is far more personal.

Throughout this collection, Freese explains what his training, studies, upbringing, interests, and “random happenstances” have taught him. He preaches what he has learned in an upfront and often shocking way.

Analysis: Often times, Freese shares a negative or cynical point of view. One could argue this is just because of the terrible things he’s had to deal with — the loss of his mother at a young age, his daughter’s suicide, his wife’s sudden death. But I don’t believe that’s the case here. It becomes clear that his point of view has been molded not only by what’s happened to him but also by what he’s studied and read over the years.

Freese is blunt and fiercely logical about the world and the way it works, often distressingly so. As an eternal optimist who believes in things like “everything happens for a reason” and “God only gives you that which you can handle,” I often found myself disagreeing with the points made in Freese’s essays. That being said, his points were almost always made with the utmost logic and realism. Whether I agree or not, I could not ignore his valid, well-explained thoughts.

This book is not a memoir. Or rather, I don’t think it’s meant to be one. After all, this is a book full of essays about what his life has taught him about life in general. But ultimately, it feels like a memoir. Upon finishing the book, I felt like I got to know Mathias B. Freese. I understand his world, his inner thoughts, and his life. I may not agree with many of his beliefs, but I’d sure love to grab a coffee with him.

Get This Möbius Strip of Ifs in paperback for $10.95.

Or get it on your Kindle for $9.99.

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Judy Greer Essay Collection On the Way

In movies, she’s almost always played the “best friend” (27 Dresses, The Wedding Planner). But finally, comedic actress Judy Greer is a leading lady — in nonfiction writing.

According to Entertainment Weekly, Judy Greer, who currently voices Cheryl on FX’s Archer, recently got a deal to publish her first book. It will be a collection of essays about a number of topics, ranging from her childhood in the Midwest to her career in film and TV.

Called I Don’t Know What You Know Me From, the book is tentatively set to come out sometime next year and left Greer with an advance of almost $1 million.

It’s nice to see her finally in the limelight; though I do wonder how many people will actually read a book about a woman that doesn’t have the largest following.

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Barnes & Noble vs. Simon & Schuster

Authors published by Simon & Schuster are crying foul.

According to The New York Times, the big box retailer Barnes and Noble has cut orders from Simon & Schuster. Simon & Schuster authors claim the company is also limiting their display space and  in-store book tour appearances.

Why Barnes and Noble is allegedly doing this is still unclear, as Leslie Kaufman explains.

While neither side will specify exactly what new terms Barnes & Noble is seeking, a senior executive familiar with the negotiations said that the bookseller wanted to pay less for books and receive more money for giving titles prominent display in its stores. Such display spots are coveted because they are thought to be critical in helping customers discover new books.

Whatever the reason, authors under the Simon & Schuster umbrella claim their sales are hurting, particularly lesser-known authors. And until an agreement is reached, it doesn’t look like this will stop any time soon.

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Review: Girls in White Dresses

Review: Ah, the post-grad years. Adult life. The 20’s. It’s supposed to be the time of our lives. Yet for most of us, these are the years where we find ourselves the most lost. College was the bridge to responsibility and independence. Now we’ve crossed that bridge and realized we still don’t know which direction to go from here.

That’s the premise of Girls in White Dresses, about a group of college girlfriends branching out on their own journey to career success and love. Isabella, Lauren, and Mary are the central characters. Isabella is not quite sure where she’s heading professionally, but moves to New York City with Mary anyway and dates a number of not-so-great guys. Mary is  goal-oriented and finds early success in her law career, but makes some disastrously bad dating choices. Then there’s Lauren — the girl with the attitude who’s fun and spunky but the most lost of them all.

Each chapter focuses on a different girl, not just Isabella, Mary, and Lauren, but also their other friends and acquaintances from college. Included are anecdotes about their experiences with dating, showers, babies, weddings, sex, engagements, and in-laws. Each girl realizes life doesn’t end up exactly how you plan. But as they inch closer and closer to their 30s, they start to wonder, will we even get close?

Analysis: The overarching plot of Girls in White Dresses is sad. It’s a bunch of girls and their not-so-great lives — particularly love lives. Each chapter I found myself wishing for the one anecdote with a happy ending and a sense of hope. Only a few offered that. That being said, this book is funny.

Many of the anecdotes made me laugh for their humor, humility, and relatability. Author Jennifer Close is able to make the reader laugh through the pain of these young women, and therein lies the positivity that the reader is looking for. Just like in real life, sometimes you have to find the little things that make you smile when you’re going through a tough time.

I read this book along with a number of girlfriends, as part of a book club. We are all in our 20s and could relate to different sections of the book. Some of my friends hated it. Some loved it. That made me believe that your feelings about a book like this will be almost entirely based on your own experiences and what you’re currently going through in life. A 25-year-old who’s single and unemployed or waiting tables might detest this book. But a 25-year-old with a good job and a great boyfriend might love it. Either way it’s worth a read, if for no other reason else than to put the 20-something world in perspective.

MVP: Isabella. She struggles like all the girls, but she is the one the reader gets to know the best. Her story feels most like one of growth. At the end of the book, she takes some big risks, but alas, the reader gets the sense that maybe, just maybe, Isabella is going to be okay.

Get Girls in White Dresses in paperback for $10.98.

Or get it on your Kindle for $9.99.

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