Friday, December 30, 2011

Review: The Nerdist Way

I've been a huge fan of the Nerdist podcast since shortly after it began almost two years ago. I often bring up the show in conversation, and I've even created an embroidery based on one episode. I've followed Chris Hardwick's progress as he wrote this book through the podcast as well. There was no way I wasn't going to read this as soon as it came out.

This is not a comedian's memoir (although there are plenty of stories from Hardwick's life throughout). This is a self-help book that is hilarious and very easy to read and puts things in terms that nerds will understand. The book is built around the gaming concept of leveling your character (in this case, you) but determining strengths and weaknesses and then expanding upon them.

The concept is nothing I haven't heard before. What made me really enjoy this book, though, was Hardwick's voice. It felt like my nerdy older brother telling me all the ways he had screwed up so I wouldn't have to make the same mistakes. Am I following all the recommendations he made? No, but that's besides the point. At the very least, this book put me in the mindset to make helpful changes to my life (whether they're the changes Hardwick implied or not).

Also, anyone who is a fan of the Nerdist podcast will enjoy this book because of the little glimpses into the Nerdist life. The stories aren't the main reason for the book, but they're quite enjoyable along the way.

Buy The Nerdist Way on Amazon
Buy The Nerdist Way at a local store through Indie Bound

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Review: Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns)

I have a new best friend, and she doesn't even know it. To be fair, I think Mindy Kaling is going to have a lot of new best friends after writing Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns).

If you're reading Kaling's book because you love The Office, you'll get some interesting behind-the-scenes stuff (but more about the writers room and less about the acting portion of the show). If you're reading Kaling's book because someone had already taken Bossypants out of the library, you're still in for funny ride. If you're reading Kaling's book because you enjoy awkward tales of youth, you're in luck (I mean, just look at the author photo on the back cover and try not to simultaneously cringe and chuckle). But mostly, if you're reading Kaling's book because you enjoy good humorous memoirs, you've come to the right place.

The book is a good mix of Mindy's life, which I especially enjoyed because we're roughly the same age and we grew up in the same area, so I've been to ALL THE PLACES, and quirky essays about Mindy's thoughts on things like karaoke, chest hair on men, and the "Irish exit."

There is no way for me to adequately describe how funny this book is. I read it in drips and drabs during lunch breaks at work, which I take in an office shared by two women. I had to continuously stifle my laughter because I knew I was interrupting their work, but quite a few snorts, chuckles, and hoots of joy escaped. Somehow, they didn't kick me out.

4/5 stars

Buy Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? on Amazon
Buy Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? at a local store through Indie Bound

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Review: Revolution

I have to admit, when I first heard about this book last year when it came out, I thought it sounded kind of stupid. I don't think I heard more than a one-sentence description before deciding that I didn't need to read this one. It had something to do with "two girls, living two centuries apart..." and I was out.

What a difference a year makes, huh? I was scanning through titles on my library's digital audiobook catalog and stumbled upon Revolution again, but this time, I took the time to read the full description. I couldn't wait to stick it on my iPod. What struck me so differently this time? I have no idea, but I'm so glad that it worked out, because I absolutely loved this book.

The story follows Andi, a privileged girl who lives in Brooklyn, attending private school with the cast of Gossip Girl and only awkwardly getting along with any of them. She'd rather be playing her guitar, which she plays very, very well. In fact, music is her escape - from dealing with the sudden death of her brother, from her mother who has mentally slipped away from the world, from her father who has left them behind. So when her father drags her, kicking and screaming, to Paris (where he's going for work), it's no surprise that she'll do anything she can to get back home, even if that means working on her thesis (about a French musician) like her father wants. While she's pouting around the apartment they're staying in, she finds the journal of Alexandrine, a girl caught between the royals and the revolutionaries during the French Revolution - and that's when the story really starts to pull together.

Andi's voice is what really hooked me on the story. Since I was listening to the audiobook, it was like the story was being performed for me (one reader does Andi's part, including accents for the various characters, and another read's Alex's diary entries). But even now, flipping through the actual book to write this, Andi's voice jumps off the page. She feels like a real girl who has had to deal with things that no one should have to deal with (teen or not), and her being rich and privileged hasn't helped her one bit. She is in turns desperate, exhausted, exhilarated, suicidal, full of life, pouty, and a million other things (like most teens, in fact).

The story was mostly compelling. Like I said, Andi's voice kept things fresh and interesting for me. The segments that were Alex's diary entries lagged a little bit in comparison. (The might also have lagged because I find diary entries in general to be a bit of a cliche, but to be fair, they were used perfectly in this case.) Had I been reading the book instead of listening to it, though, I would have been able to skim through those bits and gone happily on my way.

I was very happy to find Donnelly's playlist on her website after finishing the book. Music plays so heavily into the story, and Andi name-checks all kinds of musicians and songs, so it was great to see them all listed (although the list seems awfully short, but I guess a lot of the songs were repeated over and over again in the book).

4/5 stars

Buy Revolution on Amazon
Buy Revolution at a local store through Indie Bound

Monday, November 28, 2011

Pam's Staff Picks

Well, Marie's already written about her staff picks, and she's been working at the bookstore a year less than I have. (But then, she's a better blogger than I am.) Can I introduce you to some of my favorite reads?

A few of these books are recent reads, which I have already reviewed. Most of them, though, are older books that I've loved forever. Now they're conveniently grouped in one spot that's not my own personal bookshelf. It's like my own twisted corner of the Book Fair.

Have you read any of these books? Thoughts?

-Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant edited by Jenni Ferrari-Adler - Collected stories about cooking and eating by yourself. Some are lighthearted, while others are more serious, but this is a very well-rounded set of stories.

-Bellwether by Connie Willis - A scientist is studying how fads travel through groups of people in this hilarious, madcap story about chaos theory.

-Black Ships by Jo Graham - A retelling of Virgil's Aeneid through the eyes of seer Gull.

-Bluebeard by Kurt Vonnegut - I love just about anything written by Vonnegut, and this is his take on the art world.

-The Complete Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams - I'm a geek. If you're a geek and you haven't read this, we can't be friends.

-Daughter of Smoke and Bone - Full review here.

-The Firebrand by Marion Zimmer Bradley - This is were my obsession with the Trojan War began. A retelling of the Iliad through the eyes of Kassandra, princess of Troy and priestess of Apollo.

-The Gunslinger by Stephen King - Certainly not my favorite of the Dark Tower books, but you can't start in the middle. It's a shame that this is the slowest (and to many, most boring) book in the series. I could read the Dark Tower books from here until forever and not be bored.

-H.P. Lovecraft Goes to the Movies by, well, H.P. Lovecraft - I haven't read this whole collection, but I wanted to include my favorite Lovecraft story, Pickman's Model (which is included here).

-House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski - Holy crap, how do you describe this book? It's the story of a troubled man that includes the academic paper written by his neighbor about a very bizarre documentary film about a house that's larger on the inside than the outside. Danielewski typeset the book himself to get it exactly as he wanted, and I'd be hard pressed to think of any other book that has stuck with me in the same way as this one.

-The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins - If you read any YA this year, let it be this. Think American Gladiators meets The Lottery.

-How Did You Get This Number by Sloane Crosley - I wanted to include Crosley's first book of essays, I Was Told There'd Be Cake, but I haven't been able to get it in. This collection is not quite as funny, but it's still worth more than a few laughs.

-The Magicians by Lev Grossman - Harry Potter goes to college. If that doesn't sell it, I don't know what will.

-Motel of the Mysteries by David MacAulay - It looks like a kid's picture book (in fact, that's where it's shelved), but MacAulay's tongue-in-cheek look at archaeology is spot on (and pretty damn funny, too).

-The Night Bookmobile by Audrey Niffenegger - Full review here.

-The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern - Full review here.

-The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender - A young girl asks her mother for a lemon cake for her birthday, and when it tastes strange, she realizes she can taste people's emotions in the food they cook.

-Rant by Chuck Palahniuk - An oral history of Buster "Rant" Casey, told talking head-style by all the people who knew him. Each person has a different idea of "who" Rant was, and this contains some of my favorite quotes about what one person can mean to another.

-Ready Player One by Ernest Cline - Full review here.

-The Secret History by Donna Tartt - A very exclusive group of students at a small college in Vermont kill one of their own because he knows something he shouldn't. I read this book every couple of years because I love it so much.

-Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi - Full review here.

-20th Century Ghosts by Joe Hill - I like Hill's short stories more than his novels, and this collection is one hit after another.

-World War Z by Max Brooks - I'm a geek. If you're a geek and you haven't read this, we can't be friends.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Review: Daughter of Smoke and Bone

I picked up Daughter of Smoke & Bone for the November Forever Young Adult book club meeting, not having heard much about it. It had only been out for about a month at that time. With its typically-cheesy YA cover and a description that speaks of "winged strangers" and devils, I wasn't too excited to start reading.

It only took about a paragraph for me to get hooked. Between Laini Taylor's beautifully elegant prose and a kick-ass, smart lead character in Karou, I couldn't put the book down. In fact, I read the first 100 or so pages during lunch breaks and such before settling down and reading the rest of the 400-something page book in one go (and even then, I didn't want it to end). I still don't want it to be over, and I can hardly wait until the sequel comes out, because it ends on such a cliffhanger that it upset me.

The story is, much like the cover described, about angels and demons, but not in a cliched way. In fact, the terms angels and demons are used almost more like a placeholder, a way for us to understand the basic ideas behind these creatures without starting from scratch. But even the angels can be seen as bad, and the demons can be perceived as good, so everything is not as black and white as "angels and demons."

I can't say too much without giving plot away, and every time I've tried, I've made the book sound horrible, so I'll just say that it was one of my top picks of the year thus far. If cliffhangers upset you as much as they do me, you may want to hold off. Otherwise, give Daughter of Smoke & Bone a read. I've already picked up a few copies to give to friends this Christmas.

5/5 stars

Buy Daughter of Smoke & Bone on Amazon
Buy Daughter of Smoke & Bone at a local store through Indie Bound

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Review: When You Reach Me

Working in a bookstore, with the help desk right in the middle of the kids books, I get asked in-depth questions about things I've never (or may never) read. Especially when it comes to middle grade books (the level before YA, which I am much more familiar with). And especially especially when it comes to the Massachusetts Children's Book Award picks, which we have in one convenient display. I've decided to start reading more of them, just so I can not sound like a fool when I'm trying to tell parents or kids about them.

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead was my first pick from this year's list (and I listened to the audiobook on my commute to and from work). The description, about a girl, Miranda, living in New York City in 1978 who finds a mysterious note - "I am coming to save your friend's life, and my own. I ask two favors. First, you must write me a letter." - was intriguing, and I thought it would be a simple mystery about who wrote the note. But this book is so, so much more.

At first, the story just seems like a tale of a girl living in New York, dealing with the homeless man who lives on the corner, bullies, a distant best friend, and her mother's desire to be on a game show. Miranda is smart and fairly savvy, and even if this story didn't get into the mysterious note, it would be an interesting picture of a child's life in New York in the 70s. But when she finds this note, the real mystery kicks in, and the breadcrumbs left throughout the book lead to a very satisfying conclusion.

Miranda's favorite book is A Wrinkle in Time (one of my favorites when I was her age), and Rebecca Stead ties that book into her narrative extremely well with discussions on time travel and metaphysics that you would think would fly over the heads of kids, but instead, reach right out to them. This is actually a great companion to A Wrinkle in Time, and since listening to this audiobook, I've been selling this to kids who enjoying A Wrinkle in Time and vice versa.

4/5 stars

Buy When You Reach Me on Amazon
Buy When You Reach Me from a local store through Indie Bound

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Review: Sad Monsters

Monsters are (or were) people too. They have the same problems as the rest of us, from trouble finding a job to the inability to maintain a healthy relationship to being unhappy with their bodies. They just want a little love - is that too much to ask?!

Frank Lesser's Sad Monsters takes a look at all these sad sacks and gives them a chance to speak. We're privy to Godzilla's diary (by far the funniest piece in the book), which is as existential as any goth teenager's journal. We sit in on the trial of Carl Denham, who lured King Kong to Manhattan, and who must now face the Son of Kong.We get to see the inner workings of Hell, where the demons act quite like a bunch of bankers. And we get to go along on a date with Medusa and see the entire staff of the Olive Garden get frozen in stone.

I laughed a lot while reading Sad Monsters, but I'll admit it, the joke gets a little old after a while. Put the book down and come back later - it'll be funny again.

My one problem with the book is going to mark me as a huge geek, but I'm ok with that. In "Groom of Frankenstein," where Dr. Frankenstein is discussing his upcoming nuptials to his monster, he keeps referring to the monster as Frankenstein. Except, that's not the monster's name, it's his own. The monster is just Frankenstein's monster. There, I've said it. I feel better now.

3/5 stars

Buy Sad Monsters on Amazon
Buy Sad Monsters from a local bookstore through Indie Bound

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Review: Goodnight iPad

How many Goodnight Moon parodies are out there? Do we really need another one? If it's Goodnight iPad, then I'd say yes. It's a clever book for those of us who spend far too much time plugged in.

Goodnight iPad is filled with an extended family of what I think are rabbits, each with their electronic habit of choice - anything from Facebook to YouTube to ebooks to HD and 3D movies. Grandma Bunny gets fed up with all the noise and disconnect, and she decides to take matters into her own hands by making everyone unplug, even if it's just for one night. There is a particularly sweet shout-out to Goodnight Moon at the very end.

While Goodnight iPad is not exactly a children's book, kids are increasingly becoming so plugged in that they would understand the entire story. Of course, it's meant to be a parody for an older set, but it teaches a good moral to kids as well as adults. I'm sure it will be a popular gag gift this Christmas - if I still worked in an office, it would be an ideal Secret Santa gift.

5/5 stars

Buy Goodnight iPad on Amazon.
Buy Goodnight iPad at a local independent bookstore through Indie Bound.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Review: Steampunk!

I'm a big fan of steampunk. I'm not sure when I came across it, or how, but I love the visual aesthetic of it. However I found it, I'm sure I found images well before I found stories. And from the visuals, it's a bit hard to understand the full breadth of the genre.

Steampunk stories cover a wide array of topics and themes. Some are more historical, and some take place in a future that seems strange. Some are born out of Victorian London, and others call the wild west home (while still others take place on space ships or foreign worlds). There is so much that can be considered steampunk that an anthology of steampunk stories can sometimes feel disjointed. *Cough* Steampunk *Cough*

Steampunk!, edited by Kelly Link and Gavin Grant, unfortunately suffers from this, but at least it gets off to one hell of a start. The first half or so of the book is filled with very strong stories that each take a stab at their own version of steampunk. Cory Doctorow's "Clockwork Fagin," about a bunch of kids in an orphanage, was by far my favorite of the group. I also really loved Cassandra Clare's "Some Fortunate Future Day," Delia Sherman's "The Ghost of Cwmlech Manor," and Libba Bray's "The Last Ride of the Glory Girls" (which I'm pretty sure was influenced by my beloved Firefly).

Some of the stories seemed not-so-steampunk, but I still enjoyed them. Kelly Link's "The Summer People" was my favorite of this bunch, owing very little to the steampunk genre apart from some mechanical toys that "the summer people" create.

This anthology has been published as a YA book (because it's from children's publisher Candlewick), but it's pretty perfect for anyone who likes steampunk. The only thing that would mark it YA is that many of the main characters are teens, but that shouldn't hamper an adult from reading along.

3/5 stars

Buy Steampunk! on Amazon
Buy Steampunk! at a local store through Indie Bound

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Review: Galileo's Daughter

Galileo's Daugher by Dava Sobel is, truth be told, not a book I would have picked up on my own. I recently joined a book club (well, a more traditional book club), and Galileo's Daughter was this month's pick. I took the book along on a long car ride with me, hoping I would be able to fly through it, but I found that I kept getting stalled. The night before the book club meeting, I forced myself through the second half of the book, often skimming sections.

And when I showed up to book club, I found out that I was one of the few who had made it through the whole thing. I guess we'll be staying away from historical non-fiction for a while...

Galileo's Daughter is a very different book than it sounds like it should be. The book is based around the letters sent to Galileo by one of his daughters, Maria Celeste, a nun at a Florentine convent. It is pointed out that Maria Celeste chose her name based on her father's work, and that Galileo often noted that she was one of the few people intelligent enough to help with his work. Sobel also bases the book around the very touching fact that a female body, presumably Maria Celeste, is interred anonymously alongside Galileo. What an interesting premise!

It is in the telling, however, that things fall short. The story follows the life of Galileo, and Maria Celeste is hardly mentioned for the first 100 pages or so. There are large sections of the book where she doesn't appear, and often when her letters are quoted, they seem to contradict the idea of the strong and smart woman that Sobel is trying to present.

I think I would have enjoyed this book more if it wasn't named Galileo's Daughter. I realize that her letters are the hook and are what makes this book stand apart from other biographies of the scientist, but I found Maria Celeste to be such a minor character for a book that is named for her!

Sobel does an excellent job describing the times that Galileo lived in, and it is clear that she did a huge amount of research. We had a lively discussion around the machinations of the Vatican and the plague (some members even said they wanted more on the plague!). I can't say that's where we expected our discussion going, but it worked.

Have you read Galileo's Daughter? How did you feel about Maria Celeste's role in the book?

2/5 stars

Buy Galileo's Daughter on Amazon
Buy Galileo's Daughter at a local store through Indie Bound

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Review: Every You, Every Me

My coworker handed me a copy of Every You, Every Me by David Levithan last week, and just flipping through it pulled me in. I put aside the book I was reading and jumped right in. The book is unusual and captivating from the very first page.

Something has happened to Evan's best friend Ariel - we the readers aren't let in on what exactly has happened to her or where she might be now - and every day seems to be a struggle for Evan to put her behind him. Now that she's gone, he's left with a lot of acquaintances. The only real friend he has is Ariel's boyfriend, Jack, and the two are left clinging to their memories of the one girl they both loved. Out of the blue, Evan starts receiving photos of himself and Ariel and these other kids he has never seen. Is Ariel leaving them for him? Jack tells him it's impossible (Ariel is dead gone and not coming back), but the mystery of the photos drives the story forward.

The book contains full color prints of these photographs, but the most compelling part of the novel is the typesetting. The book reads like a long letter that Evan is writing to Ariel, with words or whole sentences struck out (but still legible) like he can't wrap his mind around the correct words to write. (You can get an idea of what I'm talking about in the preview here.) It reminded me of one of my favorite novels, House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski (or really anything by Danielewski), which plays with formatting as much as it plays with story. When this technique is done right (as it is here and in House of Leaves), the story is much stronger for it, and it provides the reader with a mechanism to compel the story forward. I'm not saying I want to see every author try this, because it takes a deft hand to do it right, but when I find someone who does it justice, I'm happy no matter where the story goes.

That being said, I did have some issues with this book. **HERE BE SPOILERS** For the entire length of the book, we're left wondering if Ariel is dead or alive. Did she commit suicide or just attempt it? Is she in a coma or in a locked hospital ward or did she just run away? Evan and Jack had a part in whatever happened - the book kind of becomes an I Know What You Did Last Summer thing - but it's hard to reconcile what their part might have been if we don't know what happened. And you know what? That was all fine to me. The mystery drove the story forward. And then. The big deus ex machina comes in the form of a girl who informs them that she was really Ariel's best friend all along, and that she blames them for her now being institutionalized. Really? Secret best friends? Especially a secret best friend who is angry that her friend is still alive because the girl's public best friends saved her? Sorry, not buying it. And I'm not quite so sure why Evan feels so guilty about saving Ariel's life or why he thinks her parents hate him so much. I mean, I know how teens can get all in-their-heads about stuff, but I had a hard time reconciling Evan's feelings with the conclusion. **THERE BE SPOILERS**

Comments about the ending aside, I really loved this book. From the title (taken from a Placebo song) to the  formatting to the photos to the mystery to the general teen angst, I was completely there and in it. This book is definitely worth a look, if for nothing else than to experience the journey of it.

Buy this on Amazon
Buy this at a local indie through Indie Bound

3/5 stars (the ending knocked it down a bit for me)

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Review: The Night Circus

It's rare that a book's atmosphere overshadows its plot, but in Erin Morgenstern's debut novel, The Night Circus, I found myself caring less about what was happening and more about where it was happening. Specifically, the night circus of the title, Le Cirque des Rêves.

Le Cirque des Rêves rolls into town unannounced, sets up without fanfare, and opens its gates at dusk. It is exquisitely detailed, every inch of it black or white, and is filled with tents that boggle the mind or tear at our sense of possibility. Explore all you want - there's always more to see.

The plot itself is interesting, too, although it is overshadowed by what feels like the main character, the circus. The story begins with two master magicians and a bet. Each magician chooses a student - Celia and Marco, in this instance, although the bet has been played out by these two magicians before - and teaches them all they need to know in order to win the game they're playing. The game, though, is never explained to the students, and they are left filling in the details for themselves as they go.

Add to that a plot about a boy, Bailey, who first encounters the circus as a child, then comes across it again as a man deciding whether to take on the family business or strike out on his own. At first, the story jumps back and forth between these two plot lines, but of course, they begin to converge.

Like I said, though, the atmosphere of the book mattered so much more to me than the actual plot. Sure, I was interested in the story behind the circus and how the game between Celia and Marco was to be played out, but when I finally got to the ending, I didn't care much anymore. I was just upset to see my journey with the circus end.

Truth be told, I was not entirely happy with the climax of the book as I was reading it. It felt a bit rushed and out of place. When I read it, I thought it might have ruined an otherwise beautiful book. It's been a little while since I finished the book, though, and I'm coming to terms with the ending. In hindsight, it seems right and just - and the only way to keep the circus alive, which is just how I want it.

Besides my out-right love for the atmosphere of the book, I also have to commend Morgenstern on her use of tenses and perspectives. The main narrative is told in the present tense - something that many writers try and fail terribly at. Instead, its use makes the story feel urgent, a big feat for a story that spans over 30 years. Interspersed throughout the narrative are short chapters written in the second person (still present tense), offering glimpses of the circus as a visitor would see it (Example: "You cannot bear to watch. You cannot look away."). I loved how each of these, usually only a page long, pulled me deeper into the world of the circus. Perhaps this is why I felt the atmosphere was the strongest character.

There's been a lot of hype around this book, most of it just, but the comparisons as "the next Harry Potter" or to Twilight are all wrong. In fact, I got in an argument with a coworker over whether to shelve this in our bookstore's Young Adult section or not (the correct answer is no, but I let the coworker keep a couple in her display anyway). Also, apparently the Wall Street Journal thinks three stories written over 20-something years makes a trend? Just forget anything you've read about The Night Circus (other than that it is GOOD) and form your own opinions on it.

Buy The Night Circus on Amazon
Buy The Night Circus from an indie bookshop near you through Indie Bound

5/5 stars

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Welcome to The Reading Mouse

Welcome to The Reading Mouse!

I started blogging about books in 2008 at Consider the Daffodil, but between work and school and life in general, the blog fell by the wayside. I restarted the blog again this year after I started working at a Boston-area independent bookstore. I quickly became aware that I was the only bookseller who read Young Adult books, and I've become the go-to bookseller for YA recommendations. I'm also a librarian by training, and I really love finding the right book for the right kid.

So when I restarted Consider the Daffodil, I didn't feel at home. The title, taken from an old Deep Thought (Consider the daffodil. And while you're doing that, I'll be over here, going through your stuff.), was amusing to me when I started the blog, but it didn't say anything to me or about me anymore. After much brainstorming, The Reading Mouse was born for two reasons.

First, my father's pet name for me is the Armenian word for mouse. He still calls me by it sometimes, even though I am far from a little mouse anymore. And my parents have always encouraged me to read.

Second, I bought this cute lamp a few years ago with a tiny mouse reading a book. At the time, I just thought it was cute, but it quickly became a key piece of decoration in the little reading nook in my bedroom. I couldn't imagine not having him in my home now.

Anyway, this is my new home for writing about books. I've added the reviews I've already written this year just to keep them in one place. I also write about food at Cave Cibum and crafts at Making Islands. Please feel free to play along - I'd love to hear what you think about the books I review here.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Review: The Magician King

I could not have been more excited to hear that Lev Grossman was following up his amazing book The Magicians only two years later with The Magician King. I remember devouring The Magicians, which at the time I likened to an adult version of Harry Potter, at breakneck speeds. So getting my hands on a copy (well, virtually, and that's a whole 'nother story) of The Magician King was a priority.

First, I should say that I regret not re-reading The Magicians. Grossman jumps right into the story with no real refresher to speak of. I felt myself struggling to remember exactly what had happened to characters in the first book when the events were alluded to here.

Overall, I loved the Magician King and the way it continued this imaginative story arc. Is much of this book (hell, the series) cribbed from classic children's literature? Absolutely. This book reeks of the Chronicles of Narnia, mostly The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, just like the first book was obviously influenced by Harry Potter. And while I found this a bit grating at times (I get it! Two kings and two queens, just like Narnia! Wise talking animals! A ship sailing into uncharted waters!), for the most part, this book works precisely because we all know the stories they're alluding to. However, I ended up enjoying the parts that felt familiar but weren't the most. (Here I mean the fable of the quest for the seven keys of Fillory, which the main plot revolves around.)

The story follows two paths: Quentin, king of Fillory, ventures out on a quest (ostensibly to collect taxes from a far-off province) and learns what it means to be a hero, and a flashback to Julia, a magic school reject, becoming a hedge witch and then so, so much more. At first, I found the two narratives jarring - why should I care about Julia's past when Quentin is obviously the one we care about? But as Quentin's quest progresses, the parallels with Julia's quest to become skilled in magic become obvious. The idea of humility versus hubris in a hero comes up repeatedly, but not in a way that is obtrusive or annoying.

Obviously, it's a bit silly to review a sequel here without having reviewed the original book. Like I said, it's been a while since I read it, but I can't recommend it enough (even having forgotten most of everything). Trust me, read The Magicians - you won't want to wait to dive right into The Magician King.

4/5 stars

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Review: Geek Wisdom

When I first heard about Geek Wisdom, edited by Stephen Segal, I was more than a little skeptic. As a self-proclaimed Nerd and Geek (by my definitions, nerd = passionate about academic subjects and geek = passionate about pop cultural subjects), I've seen how geekery has become widely accepted over the past few years. Often, that means it is co-opted by brands and companies that have no idea what being geeky actually means. So I figured this quirky little sampler of quotes wouldn't necessarily mean all that much to real geeks.

Man, was I wrong. There is so much truth in this book. Each page features a quote or two from famous geek texts (ranging from Shakespeare to internet memes, with plenty of television, movies, and novels in among the mix) along with a brief discussion of why this is important to the hordes of geeks out there or what it has to say about how we geeks see our world.

That's not to say that every single brief essay in this book works. With some quotes, the author's barely touch upon the quote itself and deal with another matter entirely. The best of the essays, though, (and I'll say the majority of the essays are among the best) really touch the heart of the quote in question, distilling the ideas that geeks feel in their hearts, even if the mind can't explain it so succinctly.

For example, the first quote in the book is "With great power comes great responsibility," written by the great Stan Lee. This has become one of the tenants of geekdom (closely followed, I would think, by Wil Wheaton's "Don't be a dick"). And really, it's something we all understand without too much thought. But the authors of the book point out how this affected not just Spiderman, but also George Washington, King David, Albert Einstein, and Franklin Roosevelt (and that Paris Hilton has somehow not come to understand it at all).

Even if you don't care about the discussion, this is a great collection of geeky quotes. I kept saying to myself that a particular quote was my favorite quote, but then I'd turn the page and find one I liked even more. I just have so much love for this book! It really is the perfect gift for any geeks in your life (in fact, I'm thinking I should just buy a box to have on hand as ready-made gifts).

5/5 stars

Monday, August 1, 2011

YA Book Club: Going Bovine

Welcome to the inaugural Consider the Daffodil YA Book Club, featuring the funny and thought-provoking Going Bovine by Libba Bray. I know that some of the people who are reading this are a bit behind, but I wanted to post this anyway for those of you I don't know in real life who may have already finished the book.


Going Bovine is definitely not everyone's cup of tea. It's a weird fantasy adventure, a mash-up of Percy Jackson and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, that talks about physics, obscure diseases, Don Quixote, drag queens, jazz music, religious cults, reality TV, and Norse mythology. It's got a male protagonist who is such an apathetic loser, he can be hard to relate to. And most importantly, it looks death right in the face. This book shouldn't work.

And yet it does (at least for some people, and I count myself among them). Going Bovine allows teens (and everyone else, of course) to get right up into the heart of impending doom (be it our main character Cameron's life or the End of the Universe as we know it) from the safety of a bunch of words on pages.

To be frank, while I was reading the book, I loved little bits but felt overall that it dragged. There were just a few too many set pieces (CESSNAB, PUTOpia, the YA beach house among them). They all felt a little bit like the Las Vegas hotel of the Lotus Eaters in the first Percy Jackson book - yes, I see what you're doing there, but let's move things alone now, please, there's story I want to get to. That having been said, the key elements of the story - much of the discussion below - has really stuck with me, and I think Bray does a good job at confronting mortality within the context of humor and adventure. (She also manages to give an interview in a cow suit quite well.)

I'm not going to summarize the book, although you should feel free to summarize any bits you see fit. I'll post the questions first, then chime in later with my own comments. I really want to hear what you have to say! Feel free to add any of your own questions as well. Spoilers from here on out.

1)For such a funny book, Going Bovine hits on some really big questions (Questions, even). Do you think this balance worked?

2) Why is Cameron's childhood trip to Disney World and his subsequent near-drowning the happiest day of his life?

3)What's up with the snow globes and the United Snow Globe Wholesalers?

4)Did Cameron actually go on this wild adventure? Or was he in his hospital bed the whole time?

5)The "one true thing" Cam learned on his travels, as he tells Dr. X, is that "to live is to love, to love is to live." What do you make of that? How did he come to realize the truth in this Great Tremelo song that he had previously listened to only ironically?

6)The obligatory casting question: Who would you cast in Going Bovine: The Movie? (Cameron and Dulcie probably being the easiest to cast).

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Review: Texas Gothic

I have to admit, I didn't have high hopes for Texas Gothic by Rosemary Clement-Moore. The description on the back included witches, cowboys, and ghosts. I started flipping through it, though, and immediately recognized it for what it was. It was like home, something comforting from my childhood.

YA wasn't a big thing when I was a teen, and probably most of the YA I read was cheesy teen horror stories by Diane Hoh, Richie Tankersley Cusick, and Christopher Pike (Pike being the high end of the bunch). If you're my age, you know exactly the books I'm talking about, especially the embossed covers with more than their share of neon colors. (Cusick's Vampire was a particular favorite of mine.) These books were easy to read and almost felt like an episode of Scooby Doo (more bad guys being unmasked at the end, less talking dogs and stoners... well, sometimes there were stoners). There was always danger, but never too much to worry about, and the main girl (it was always a girl) used a little Nancy Drew sleuthing to figure out what was going on.

And that's exactly what I found in Texas Gothic. In fact, Nancy Drew is referenced a number of times, so Clement-Moore is obviously a fan of the genre herself. And for this particular sub-genre, the book is well-written, fast-paced, and highly enjoyable. I've seen enough of Texas to understand the environment perfectly, and the Hot Cowboy Neighbor (that might as well be his name) was the right mix of annoying and attractive. I loved the addition of real magic - the main character's family are all real witches, as much as she tries to stay out of that life - gave the story a little more body than others like it.

Is this fine literature? No. But that wasn't exactly what I was looking for on a quiet beach weekend. The high entertainment value of Texas Gothic makes it fun for any horror- or mystery-loving teen (or nostalgic adult). Bonus points for this being a self-contained story as well.

4/5 stars

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Review: The Map of Time

The time travel continues in a much more literary form with The Map of Time. After Ruby Red, Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children (which is not exactly time travel but does involve traveling through time... what?), and Hourglass, I wasn't sure if I wanted any more of this genre. (And yes, I have read other things with no time travel in between that I haven't written about yet.) But this sounded so different, I couldn't wait to jump in.

"Set in Victorian London with characters real and imagined, The Map of Time is a page-turner that boasts a triple play of intertwined plots in which a skeptical H.G. Wells is called upon to investigate purported incidents of time travel and to save lives and literary classics, including Dracula and The Time Machine, from being wiped from existence." I have to be honest, I didn't read this bit from the back of the book before I started reading the book. I had been given an even briefer description - Victorian London is in a time-travel fervor after H.G. Wells writes The Time Machine - and was already sold. I'm a big fan of the steampunk sub-genre, and this hinted to having a bit of that aesthetic.

In reality, this book is not one narrative but three, although they do all intertwine and feature H.G. Wells as a main character. And the way author Felix J. Palma handles the idea of time travel in a society with far fewer technologies than our own is masterful. Whether it's the man who wants to save the woman he loved from being killed or the boy who loves a girl and wants to stop her from doing something destructive, these characters approach time travel from very real and, often, very personal perspectives. I especially liked how Palma touched upon the idea of paradoxes repeatedly, because the ideas of changing the past or meeting yourself in the past are something that have to guide the storytelling when dealing with shifting timelines.

As much as I loved this book, which is a bestseller in Palma's native Spain, I had some trouble getting into it. Specifically, the paragraphs are loooong and overly-verbose, although I have a feeling that this was done on purpose to give the book a more Victorian feel. The very beginning, especially, when there is a whole page devoted to which kind of gun a character is going to use to kill himself, can get a bit tedious. Push on,though, like I did, and you'll be well-rewarded.

As a side note, H.G. Wells is a main character throughout this book, and it is mentioned frequently that all of London is so excited by time travel specifically because of his book The Time Machine. While it's quite possible to read this book without having read The Time Machine, I'll take a moment to plug the classic. It's really very short and easy to read, plus you'll sound smart when you say you've read it.

I never read many classics when I was younger (except what was forced upon me in school), so this one had escaped me until a few years ago. Then I discovered DailyLit, which feeds you classics in tiny bite-size pieces that are easy to digest. I had The Time Machine sent to my RSS reader (but you could get them emailed to you too), and in about a month, I had read the whole thing without trying. Best part: it's free. Really, do it. Even if you don't want to read The Time Machine (but you should), give DailyLit a try.

Also, The Map of Time has one of the coolest covers I've seen in a long time.

Check out the first chapter - in text or audio - on the book's website.

5/5 stars

Disclaimer: The advance copy of this book was provided to me for free from the publisher.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Review: Hourglass

More time travel. See? I'm betting on this being the Next Big Thing. Hourglass by Myra McEntire sounded more paranormal and less time travel on it's back cover, but I assure you, travel through time they do.

Emerson sees people from the past. Like, she's trying to walk through the front door of her apartment, and there's a real straight-off-the-plantation southern belle standing in her way. This started two years earlier, just before her parents were killed in a freak accident, and it's only gotten worse since. Thomas, Em's brother, keeps finding "specialists" to help her, but none of them actually have helped. But when Michael shows up and introduces Em to the Hourglass, she starts to fully understand what's happening to her.

**Here Be Spoilers** Emerson learns from Michael that her ability to see people from other times is actually a small part of her ability, which actually allows her to travel back in time. Michael himself can travel forward in time, and together, they make a perfect pair - like, a-love-greater-than-the-stars perfect. And Dr. Xavier's School - sorry, The Hourglass - is where all the mutants - ugh, sorry again, I mean people with the ability to manipulate time in some manner - learn to hone their skills. **There Be Spoilers**

Is this a ground-breaking novel? No. In fact, there are so many teen girl clichés in here that I got mad at myself at one point for enjoying this so much. But then I just stopped caring because, you know what? This is a fun book, and I was once a teenage girl, so I'm going to revel in the feeling of being 16 again. In fact, I'm pretty sure even if you were never a teen girl, you'll understand.

It's been a while since I was really smitten with a YA novel, but this one hit me full force and made me stay up all night to find out what happened. My only hope is that there are more books about Emerson and the Hourglass coming soon.

5/5 stars

Disclaimer: This book was provided by the publisher through my bookstore job.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Review: What Alice Forgot

Sometimes you pick up a book and read the back and think that it's going to be a great read, but once you get into it, you realize it's nothing like what you expected. What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty was exactly like that for me.

The story sounded intriguing: a woman hits her head while at the gym and wakes up thinking she's 29, happily married, and pregnant with her first child, while in reality, she's a 39-year-old mother of three who's in the middle of a messy divorce. Her life is drastically different than she imagined it would be, and she has to work to gain her memories of the past ten years back.

The actual book was both exactly what it sounded like and completely different than I imagined. That story really is what happened, but while I imagined some great mystery as to why or how Alice's life had tumbled, I was left with fairly standard chick lit drivel about an overworked husband and a missing best friend. I guess I had rose-tinted glasses on when I looked at this book, but I wasn't expecting chick lit.

And while I've read some chick lit that I've absolutely adored (Meg Cabot's epistolary stuff is great, like The Boy Next Door), this left me wanting. Because Alice has a head injury, there is a lot (a LOT) of time spent with her saying "Why don't I know this fact about my life?" and characters rehashing past events. If the book were a hundred pages shorter, it would still have gotten the point across without me wanting to throw it at the wall. Overall, What Alice Forgot is fine as a fun beach read, but don't expect to be captivated.

2/5 stars

Disclaimer: The advance copy of this book was provided to me for free from the publisher.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Review: Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children

When the advanced copy of Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children came into the bookstore, we passed it around and laughed over how it smelled. There was a serious amount of ink in the book (there are a large number of full-page photos), and that much ink smells strange. But then I read the back cover and I forgot about how it smelled. (Note: I haven't picked up an actual copy to see how it smells.)

When Jacob's grandfather (with whom he was very close) dies suddenly and tragically, Jacob understandably has a hard time dealing with it. He becomes obsessed over the stories his grandfather used to tell him about his youth at a strange orphanage in Wales and the odd photographs he had as proof. So obsessed, in fact, that his therapist and parents think he should visit the tiny island in Wales and see for himself that there is nothing strange going on. Well, that backfires. Wouldn't be much of a story if it didn't.

Like I mentioned, the book is peppered with photographs of odd children, many doing impossible things like floating or creating fire in their hands. Author Ransom Riggs is also a photographer and collector of old photos. He began collecting the images in the book and quickly saw a story forming; he collected more to fill in specific gaps in the story as he wrote. The outcome is that the reader gets a much firmer grasp on these odd people than if there were no images to go along with the text. I'm not saying I want to see this tactic taken with too many more books (I'm sure it would get old), but I love the interplay between the text and images in this case.

The story is fast-paced and quirky. I wanted to know more and more about this odd little Welsh island, both past and present. Jacob's relationship with his father, an ornithologist who accompanies him on his trip, is very realistic, especially their exasperation with each other. As the story went on, the mythology became more and more complex, and there is clearly more than one book's worth of story to be told. Definitely an enjoyable read that is great for both the YA and the adult sets.

4/5 stars

Disclaimer: This book was provided by the publisher through my bookstore job.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Review: Ruby Red

I'm guessing time travel is the new vampire or zombie, because there is a whole spat of new time-defying stories sitting on my bedside table. Case in point: Ruby Red by Kerstin Gier.

Originally published in German, Gier's story (the first in a trilogy)follows teen Gwen, who lives in the attic of her grandmother's posh London home. Her cousin Charlotte, just one day younger, has been trained all her life for time travel, having been born on the prophesied day. While the whole family waits eagerly for Charlotte to make her "initiation journey," Gwen finds herself slipping out of time - clearly the prophesy got something wrong. The Guardians, the secret society build around this time traveling gene, look down upon Gwen even as they take her under their care, and she follows fellow traveler Gideon as he tried to orient her to the business of time travel (and search for the missing chronograph along the way).

The story is compelling and enjoyable, but I'm not scratching at the walls as I wait for the next one to come out. Some of the characters are much more vivid than others, and unfortunately the narrator Gwen is not one of them. That didn't keep me from wanting to know more about the story, though. The whole deal with the prophesy (there are twelve travelers, each with an assigned precious stone and musical note) makes things more complicated than they need to be, but hopefully more of that will be explained in the following books. I do, however, really like the concept of a gene for time travel that gets passed along through the family lines.

I've read a few translated books lately, and one thing I can say about Ruby Red is that it didn't sound translated. Translator Anthea Bell did a wonderful job keeping the language flowing, very important for a book aimed at teens.

3/5 stars

Monday, May 23, 2011

Review: Page by Paige

I love graphic novels, but it's extremely rare for one to grab me in the same ways that novels often do. I don't know why - maybe because there is less left to the imagination, or maybe because there is often little to no narration or verbal mood setting - but I'm hard pressed to think of a graphic novel that has really stuck with me or hit me in the gut.

But only a few pages into Page by Paige by Laura Lee Gulledge, I was in love... and I haven't stopped thinking about it since.

On the outside, it's a fairly simply YA tale of a girl who moves to the big city and has a hard time finding herself. Of course, along the way, she makes friends and, more or less, discovers her place in the world. Doesn't sound all that exciting. But Gulledge's art allows the reader into Paige's head, filled with all the fears and insecurities of being a teen. The story starts with Paige buying a sketchbook, and the book is at its strongest when dealing less with the plot and more with Paige's emotional sketches.

As someone who makes a fair deal of art, I loved the aesthetics of the book and truly appreciated the call to teens to be creative. I wish I had had such an encouraging book when I was a teen.

Note: You can see more of Gulledge's beautiful art on her blog.

5/5 stars