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.