Lungs Full of Noise is a mesmerizing short story collection by Tessa Mellas. I first heard about it while listening to the Book Riot podcast. I’ve been trying to explore more short story collections recently and this one sounded so fascinating that I decided to give it a shot.

Many of the stories in this collection have a weird, creepy, almost sinister sense to them. They remind me of Karen Russell’s work, but a bit darker.

The Goodreads blurb gives a good idea of what to expect

This prize-winning debut of twelve stories explores a femininity that is magical, raw, and grotesque. Aghast at the failings of their bodies, this cast of misfit women and girls sets out to remedy the misdirection of their lives in bold and reckless ways.

Mellas explores the struggles and relationships in women’s lives with an edge that makes the stories all the more exciting to read.

I really enjoyed Lungs Full of Noise and I would definitely recommend it to anyone who wants to read some fantastic short stories with a little edge. These stories might not be everyone’s thing, but if you really enjoy Karen Russell and slightly twisted fiction this might be in your wheelhouse.

John Niven’s Straight White Male is another one of the books that I picked up at BEA 2014.

The titular straight white male is Kennedy Marr, an Irish novelist of the high-functioning alcoholic, womanizing, roguish asshole variety. He has a number of Hollywood script projects that are delinquent and he’s in the midst of a terrible bout of writer’s block, not to mention all the back taxes that he owes to the IRS. Then Marr is unexpectedly awarded the W. F. Bingham Prize for Outstanding Contribution to Modern Literature — a prize that could fix all his problems, but comes with a catch: the honoree must teach English for a year at the awarding university. And guess where his ex-wife works.

Straight White Male is kind of just about Kennedy boozing and womanizing and, maybe occasionally trying to be a slightly better person while dealing with growing older, but definitely not wanting to grow up.

Not a whole lot happens in terms of character development, or even plot really, but it’s an entertaining enough read if you enjoy this sort of character. Marr is someone who I would be inclined to punch if I ever actually met him in person, and while he is often insufferable in text, it is somewhat interesting getting into the head of such a character.

You might think that a book detailing a cholera outbreak and the beginning of a shift in understanding how the disease spreads wouldn’t make great middle-grade/YA literature. And yet…

In The Great Trouble Deborah Hopkinson introduces us to Eel — an orphan and mudlark who searches the banks of the Thames for things to sell. Eel has somebody after him, so he keeps a low profile, but he manages to get by and he has some people that he can count on along Broad Street. Then cholera, or the “blue death” hits and people are falling ill all around him.

Eel goes to the famous, if eccentric, Dr. John Snow for help and while Dr. Snow cannot help the people who are already sick, he has an unusual theory about cholera that could potentially save countless lives. It is up to Eel to help Dr. Snow gather enough evidence to prove his theory and save the neighborhood.

The Great Trouble will appeal to a variety of audiences. Eel is a relatable character and the action is fast-paced, with bits of mystery thrown in for good measure.

The Grisha Trilogy

September 15, 2014

OK, so one of my friends in real life and on the interwebs wrote about Leigh Bardugo’s Grisha trilogy for Book Riot not too long ago and after reading her recommendation I flitted off to an online bookstore that shall remain nameless and bought Shadow & Bone immediately. I didn’t actually start reading it until a week or so later, but once I did I blew through the entire series (the other two books are Ruin & Rising and Siege & Storm in that order) in a matter of days. I may not have slept much…

The Grisha trilogy takes place in Ravka, a Russian-ish nation where the First Army of fighters and the Second Army of magic-wielding Grisha work together to keep the country safe. Alina grew up in the home of a benevolent duke after she was orphaned as a young girl. Now grown and studying to be a mapmaker with the First Army, she enters the Fold with her regiment. In the midst of an attach halfway across, Alina unleashes a power she never knew she possessed — one that could be the key to destroying the Fold and saving her country. But not everything is as it seems and Alina must master not only her power, but her own desires in order to succeed.

I was all over this series guys. There’s a badass heroine coming into her own, magic, reality meeting mythology, a bit of romance, and so much more.

Bardugo has received a bit of criticism (at least on Goodreads) for the Russian elements being kind of flawed. I don’t know enough to comment on that, but really, this series doesn’t take place in Russia, so while this criticism may have legs, it’s important to remember that Bardugo may have just used aspects of Russian culture or folklore as a jumping off point. I’m willing to give her the benefit of the doubt, anyway.

If you want to get lost in a world for a few days, I definitely recommend this trilogy. I really enjoyed the characters and the story. Bardugo also wrote a few companion folk tales that I’ve bought, but not yet read. I am, as you might imagine, super excited to dive into those as well.

Reading Vampire Academy

September 12, 2014

Richelle Mead’s Vampire Academy series follows the adventures of Rose Hathaway — a dhampir, or half human/half moroi bodyguard race— and her best friend Lissa, a moroi — or mortal vampire. Rose is training to become a guardian, which means she’ll spend her life defending Lissa and other moroi against strigoi— ruthless, immortal vampires more in line with the vampires of human nightmares.

I’m not going to go too much into the plot here because there are six books. Let’s just say that there’s adventure, romance, intrigue, and plenty of fighting.

I thought Mead’s treatment of the vampire tropes was really interesting. She made vampires her own in these books, but didn’t depart too far from tradition as to be snicker-worthy. They also help to draw distinction between the good, magic-wielding moroi and the evil, undead strigoi. I appreciated the nod to the older vampire legends.

I personally found some of the plot points through the series a little bit eye-roll inducing, but I think the books are written for a slightly younger audience, so maybe I’m just a cynic.

Overall though, these books made for some quick, enjoyable reading. I’d recommend them for older teens or young/new adults (that’s a genre now, right?).

I’ve spent the past few months making my way through Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson and the Olympians series. I usually finished the books in a day or two, but they’re in high demand and so I often had to wait a little bit for each one to become available at the library. The last book in the series was published in 2009, so the fact that there are still holds on all copies in the series speaks to its popularity with readers.

I genuinely enjoyed reading each of these books. They’re fast-paced and the characters are fun. I especially enjoyed the riddles from the Oracle and the representations of the Gods and mythical creatures. I think I’d call these Mythology Lite, but really, Riordan manages to pack a good deal into each book.

By now you know that folk tales and mythology set my heart aflutter, so I hope that these books have sparked a deeper interest in myths in some (or all!) of Riordan’s readers/

I would classify this series as sort of middle grade/ young YA (with the disclaimer that judging age ranges is not at all my forte), which is not typically my thing. Even so, I (as previously stated) really enjoyed it. I could get all nit-picky, but 1) it’s been a while since I’ve read some of them and 2) any criticisms I had were fairly minor. I would recommend the series, especially for kids, but also kind of just across the board if youi’re looking for a fun, quick read with a mythology tie-in. Have at it!

Attachments — Review

September 10, 2014

Rainbow Rowell is best known for her YA novels, but Attachments — written for an older audience — shows her ability to write for and connect win any reader.

Meet Lincoln. He’s wandering a bit through life — living with his mom and not totally sure what path to take. He has a new job as an “internet security officer” at a newspaper and while he thought this would mean putting some of his coding skills to use, it actually has him working nights so he doesn’t interact much with the people whose email he reads.

Beth and Jennifer work on opposite sides of the newsroom, but exchange copious emails about all the inner workings of their personal lives. In this informal, definitely-not-work-related correspondence, their wit and personalities shine. They know in the back of their minds that there is “someone” who monitors the company email, but it’s hard to take an invisible (possibly voyeuristic?) entity seriously.

Beth and Jennifer’s emails — with all their personal information and PG-13ish content — get flagged by the program Lincoln uses to monitor computer activity. Technically he should do something about this, but their emails are so entertaining and the women seem so endearing. But what will happen once Lincoln realizes that he’s developing feelings for one of the correspondents?

Attachments is quirky and cute and it tells a slightly different story. There are parts that are fairly predictable, but that doesn’t take away from any of the enjoyment.

I would definitely recommend this. It’s clearly for an older audience, but is in Rowell’s captivating style. To be frank, I think this book would appeal to a number of YA readers as well. It’s an irreverent look at early-mid adult life, navigating the world and social situations, and determining what we want in life. Rowell treats these topics with honesty and humor and the results are fantastic.

When I saw a blurb about Marja Mills’s The Mockingbird Next Door on Book Riot I was so excited. I think Harper Lee is amazing and this book promised a glimpse into the famously reclusive author’s life and an answer to the question everyone asks: why didn’t she write another book?

Now, having read the book, as well as Lee’s statements against it, I’m feeling a bit conflicted.

There’s an NPR piece that looks at things from a slightly different perspective and doesn’t make Mills seem quite so predatory/opportunistic, but I still have lingering doubts and that makes me somewhat uneasy and unsure of how I should feel about this.

I will say that this does read much more as a memoir than a biography (whether that was the initial intention, I can’t say). Mills reflects on the time she spent with Lee and her inner circle and shares some of their stories and anecdotes, but this isn’t the all-encompassing story of Lee’s life. I enjoyed the glimpse into the everyday lives of Nelle Harper, Alice, and their group of friends.

All the same, the book doesn’t quite deliver on all of its promises. We get a partial answer to the big question, but nothing really solid. And while Mills paints a picture of what a day spent with Harper Lee is like, readers don’t get a full idea of her life or much of the Lee family history. There is also a bit of repetition in some of the descriptive language and the anecdotes that Mills shares.

If Mills was a close to that group as her book suggests, then she lived the dream. I always want to know what it would be like to spend time with a great author — to simply share stories and talk about life and literature. Lee comes across as a woman with incomparable intellect and wit, with a unique take on life. If Lee never gave her blessing to the book, then I respect that, but I’ll still cherish the peek at her personality and the spectacular relationships she has with those around her.

***

There will be a lot of reviews in the coming days. I appear to follow a very loose pattern in which I post reviews regularly for a while and then accidentally stop for a period of time (I don’t stop reading, of course. That would be absurd). I’ll work on being better at that, but no promises. If anything, we’ll say that my sporadic posting encourages appreciation of each individual post.

Geek Love — Review

July 26, 2014

Geek
1: a carnival performer often billed as a wild man whose act usually includes biting the head off a live chicken or snake
2: a person often of an intellectual bent who is disliked
3: an enthusiast or expert especially in a technological field or activity
— Merriam-Webster Dictionary

Katherine Dunn’s Geek Love had been on my list for a while when I read a piece about it on Book Riot. It really intrigued me, so Geek Love moved to the top of my list. The thing is, throughout reading the piece and the book’s subsequent rocketing to the top of my TBR list, and even as I started reading, I was still thinking of the more prolific definition of the word “geek.”

To steal from John Green, it was “slowly, and then all at once” that I realized that the “geeks” in this book were of a different variety (and it only occurred to me to look it up to see if there was an alternate definition while writing this — or initial as the case may be — go figure).

So once that was cleared up and I could really focus on the book I found it… unsettling. There is so much that happens in this book that is deeply disturbing. Part of what makes so much of this book troubling is the characters’ agency in events.

Typically, when there is a bad or disturbing element in a book it is due to something outside of the control of the character. In Geek Love the dysfunction in the family and lives of the characters causes them to consciously make decisions that they know will cause chaos.

This was a difficult book to stomach, but it’s an interesting book and if you’re okay with kind of horrible things in books than you should give it a go. It has definitely made me think about characters and families and family dynamics and the concept of normalcy. And that’s what books are supposed to do: they’re supposed to make you feel something, even if that something is somewhat uncomfortable, and, most of all, they’re supposed to make you think.

The Returned — Review

July 24, 2014

Jason Mott’s The Returned was a huge (and I mean huge) buzz book at BEA13. I was intrigued enough to pick it up, but there were books that were higher up on my list (books that I still haven’t read. I have issues, let’s not venture down that particular rabbit hole). In any case, after a conversation about a television show (which I haven’t seen and now can’t remember the name of — sorry), I remembered this book and decided it was time to give it a shot.

The basic idea of this book is quite compelling — what would happen if those who died returned (not in a creepy zombie way, just in a picking up where they left off kind of way)? Would these returned individuals be the same as they were before? Are they human? Could they tell us about death? The afterlife?

Mott forces his characters and his readers to ask these questions and as things progress the water only gets murkier. And there are additional mysteries and peculiarities that go unexplained.

The Returned is clearly one of those books that is more about the journey than the destination because while the setting at the beginning and end of the book might be markedly different in certain ways, the world as a whole isn’t really. There is very little resolution and most questions remain unanswered.

But maybe that’s the point. Maybe the point is to just ask the question and think about it and move on with your life. If you’re like me and you like getting answers (it enables me to be an insufferable know-it-all. Thankfully, some do suffer it), this book is going to frustrate you.

It’s still good though, and I do recommend it.

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