Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Days of Blood and Starlight - Not a Review

I spent the entire morning curled up in bed, reading Days of Blood and Starlight, the follow-up to one of my favorite books of last year, Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor. Did I love this new one as much as the first? Not quite, but I very much doubt that I could have. The first book is so beautiful and unexpected, not to mention heartbreaking. I'm sure I would have loved this new one even more if I had reread the first - it's been over a year between the two for me, and I felt Days started a bit too quickly for me. But the fact that I didn't get ANYTHING else accomplished before work today should tell you how good it is.

And really, you don't need a review of this book. If you've read Daughter of Smoke and Bone, you know there's no way you can stop there. If you haven't read Daughter of Smoke and Bone, what are you waiting for? I envy you for not having to wait for the sequel (although you'll have to wait with me for book 3).

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Review: Sandcastle Girls

Until this past summer, I had never read any of Chris Bohjalian's books. They were popular, and, from what I heard, quite good, but they seemed a little... too bookclub-y for me. But when I coworker showed me a copy of his latest book, The Sandcastle Girls, and said it had something to do with the Armenian Genocide, I had to at least give it a shot.

The Sandcastle Girls is the sweeping story of Elizabeth Endicott, a Boston-area society girl who travels to Aleppo in 1915 to bring aid to Armenian refuges, and of Laura Petrosian, a current-day novelist struggling to understand her own heritage. Bohjalian has said that this is the most important book he'll ever write, and without even having read anything else by him, I'm inclined to agree.

While there are a number of books out there that tell the story of the Armenian Genocide (The Road From Home by David Kherdian specifically comes to mind because it is a Newbery Award Honor book), there are almost none that tell the historical facts without becoming overly preachy or dull. As an Armenian who has studied the genocide, I know that too many of these facts too quickly can turn readers away, especially if they went into the reading not knowing the history. Bohjalian, however, metes out the historical facts at just the right tempo to keep readers interested but not flat-out horrified. Perhaps because the 1915 parts of the story are told not by an Armenian but by a Westerner, the reader learns the facts as she does, in bits and pieces. Even the present-day parts of the story are told by someone searching to understand her heritage, so we the readers are invited along to learn with her.

Historical facts aside, the emotions and relationships in this book are wonderful. It is a fish-out-of-water romance set in the most desperate of situations. My mother and I argued over the ending - I loved it, she HATED it - but we both loved the book as a whole. If everyone in my family hadn't already read this one, I'd be giving it for gifts at Christmas, no question.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Favorite Holiday Books

Some years, I really get in the holiday mood. Other years, I need a little help to get there. Luckily, I have some favorite books, new and old, to get me there.

How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss - Does this really need an explanation?

Merry Christmas Mom and Dad by Mercer Mayer - One of my all-time favorite Christmas stories from childhood. Little Critter just can't do anything right as he helps set up Christmas.

Holidays on Ice by David Sedaris - If you've read any Sedaris, you'd recognize his off-beat look at the holiday season a mile away. If you haven't, start with Me Talk Pretty One Day (his best, in my opinion), then come back to this one. If the Santa Land Diaries doesn't have you rolling on the floor, you're dead inside. Also, Six to Eight Black Men makes me cry with laughter every time.

Scaredy Squirrel Prepares for Christmas by Melanie Watt - My friend/bookstore coworker introduced me to Scaredy, and I've been a fan ever since. In his newest adventure, which is also his longest (by far!), Scaredy prepares you for Christmas. But don't think of this as just a kids book - it would be the perfect gift for any good-humored adult.

What are your favorite holiday books?

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Review: A Long Long Sleep

I've always been a big fan of retellings of myths and fairy tales. These stories have survived for generations because they're just plain good, but a little modernization doesn't hurt either. Cinder, a favorite of mine from this year, is a retelling of Cinderella.

A Long Long Sleep by Anna Sheehan is the latest retelling I've enjoyed (it was published in 2011), although it really just uses the story of Sleeping Beauty as a jumping off place instead of a story outline. Rosalinda has spent over 60 years in a cryogenic-like stass tube, accidentally shoved into a corner of her apartment building's basement. When she's awakened (also by accident), she must come to terms with the fact that everyone she loved is gone, as well as a world that is so vastly different than her own.

Sheehan's writing is beautiful, and she captures Rose's struggles in a very real way. There is pain and joy, wonder and horror, dark and light throughout the book. The beginning is perhaps a little slow, but that's because Rose, who is narrating, is just waking up from years of sleep - she needs a little time to get her emotions running again. I found myself flying through the second half of the book, with Rose's struggles affecting me almost physically. Yes, there were definitely some tears.

Since A Long Long Sleep is Sheehan's first novel, I'm eagerly awaiting whatever else she comes out with, fairy tale retelling or no. I can only hope it's as good as her first.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Book Vs. Movie: The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Let's face it: most of the time, the movie sucks in comparison to the book. There are exceptions (Shawshank Redemption being the most often cited), but for book nerds like me, that's generally the rule. Imagine my surprise when I found a movie that was at just about the same level (not better or worse) than its book.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower came out when I was in high school, and it was immediately on my radar as something I wanted to read. Somehow, however, I never actually got around to reading it. This year, with the movie coming out, plus the fact that it's now such a staple of Young Adult literature, I finally made the plunge into reading it.

And I didn't love it. But I think that had more to do with me than the book itself. I'm more than a decade away from where I was when it was first released, and I'm decades more jaded than even that. I could appreciate the book for what it would mean to a teen, but I couldn't quite connect with it like I would have once. As a coming-of-age book, though, it's solid.

I saw the movie for Perks this past week with a friend, and I was surprised to find that I enjoyed it for completely different reasons than the book. Maybe because I was seeing it rather than reading it, I felt more attached to the emotions of the teens, and I thought the actors chosen were superb in their parts. I was also surprised to find that, while I enjoyed the movie as a whole more, I enjoyed the ending of the book far more. Maybe it was because I knew that little twist was coming, or maybe because Chbosky (who not only wrote the novel but also wrote and directed the film) meted out more hints to the twist throughout the film, or maybe because the reveal in the book lent itself to the style of the book (letters to an anonymous "you").

On the whole, I think I liked the movie a little better, but I found the book and the movie to be quite comparable. Can we have more authors adapt and direct their own books, please? I'll be curious to see what else Chbosky directs in the future.

Do you have any book/movie combos that you love equally?

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Review: Meanwhile

I had heard about this amazing graphic novel Meanwhile by Jason Shiga a while ago, but had never bothered to track down a copy. And then, magically, during my first week at my new library job, I found it on the shelf! Clearly I was inheriting a cool collection from a really great librarian :)

I immediately picked it up and started in on the game. You see, Meanwhile is not like any other graphic novel, where you read from panel to panel, moving along the pages in some kind of order and getting a story out of it. No, this is a choose-your-own-adventure spiraling book of craziness.

It all starts with a simple question: chocolate or vanilla? Each choice you make (some as silly as chocolate or vanilla, some earth-shatteringly important) moves the story to another place. You move back and forth through the pages by following paths and flipping to different tabbed pages. You can see from the picture above that vanilla takes you to the light-teal page, while chocolate takes you to the dark-teal page.

The decisions you make quickly become more complicated, however. The page above shows a scene in which you need to enter the correct code on a machine to make it work. Each choice along the way can change the story, so you have to pay attention to what you're doing and where the path you choose actually goes.

There are 3856 story possibilities (so the cover states, at least). I barely got through a fraction of them. In fact, I found that there were whole pages that I was missing, so I did some tricky reverse-engineering to actually see how to get to them.

Is the story amazing? No; I mean, it's cute and fun, but the story is not what I'm going to remember this book for. The storytelling, however, is epic; it's truly not about the destination but how you get there. I want Shiga to produce another one of this ASAP :)

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Rage Reading

Do you ever rage read? I do. More frequently than I'd like.

Rage reading is when you HATE the book you're in the middle of, but continue to read for the purpose of continuing to hate on it. I rage read my way through The Passage by Justin Cronin, and just today, finished rage reading the sequel, The Twelve. I can go on for hours about how much I hate these books. And yet, I found myself slogging through The Twelve every day for the last three weeks!

Why do I do this to myself? It used to be that I had a hard time not finishing a book, even if I didn't like it. I'm waaaaay better about that now, especially considering the volume of books I'm in contact with through work. But there are still those rare occasions when I dislike the book so much, I have to know how it ends so I can hate it even more.

I'm not the only one who does this, right? What books have you rage read?