Save the Date — Review

November 9, 2014

Save the Date is about all (or, you know, some) of the weddings that author Jen Doll has been to and the crazy hijinks that have ensued. I have recently entered the season of life in which it seems everyone I have ever met is getting engaged, planning a wedding, and getting married. Apparently, the lasts for years. Needless to say, I look to books and humor to get me through these trying times.

I wanted to love this book, I really did. I enjoy all those wedding shows on TLC, as well as the scintillating Sunday brunch gossip of what crazy thing happened where, so how could I not love a book of wedding stories? Well somehow I managed it.

To start, the majority of Doll’s narratives feel… familiar — like these stories happen at pretty much every wedding happening every weekend.

This book is also presented as a sort of exploration of contemporary relationships, with Doll telling the reader about her relationship with each wedding date and what she may or may not have learned. This was somewhat infuriating after a while because, as in a sitcom, you find yourself pulling for a couple, only to find the beau replaced by a new incarnation in the next chapter. Obviously it’s real life and in the past, but her writing style left me feeling hopeful for one boyfriend’s prospects, only to be disappointed soon after.

The book had it’s moments. It’s pretty skim-able, but I’m not sure I would suggest buying it. Your public (or academic) library is your friend, folks!

Sabriel — Review

November 7, 2014

I initially decided to pick up Garth Nix’s Sabriel because it was one of those books that I kept hearing about every once in a while when talking about books and then we were coming up on the release of Clariel (which is part of that series) and there was so much buzz. So I got my act together and added it to my never-ending holds list at the library.

And I really liked it.

It has multiple forms of magic and a girl hero coming into her own and a snarky sidekick. What more could you possibly want?

There are hints of romance which I could really take or leave, but I get the impression it’s sort of important for plot things later on. In any case, the driving force of the plot in Sabriel is not the romance.

So here’s the thing. I enjoyed this book and went to find out which was the next book in the (then) trilogy (now it’s a series—Clariel is the fourth book). That’s when I realized it isn’t really a continuation of the story, though it is connected. At that point I decided that I wasn’t going to continue with the series.

Now if you follow me on instagram (which you should because I post all kinds of awesome book pictures … and sometimes pictures of my cat) then you’re calling shenanigans because you know that I picked up Lirael and Abhorsen in my last library visit. Well, everyone kept gushing about Clariel and as we’ve already established, I’m weak in the face of the giant monster that is book buzz.

So there you have it: I loved Sabriel and I buckled in my resolve to not read the rest of the series, so those reviews will show up at some point. Though I picked up four other books at the same time and have countless other ARCs and books I’ve bought that I should also be reading.

If we could just stop time for a bit so I could get some reading done that would be super.

We Need Diverse Books

November 7, 2014

I was initially going to write a long-ish expository post in which I’d ask you to think about your own reading habits as a child and the reading habits of children you know, then to think about the children’s, middle grade, and YA books you knew of, slowing leading you to the conclusion that we need diverse books, but I’m just going to jump straight there.

Walk down the aisle of any library or bookstore and pick up some books at random. Of the say 10 or 20 that you might pick up, how many do you think would be by women, people of color, or people in the LGBTQ community? How many of those books have protagonists who are people of color, in the LGBTQ community, are disabled, etc.? Feel free to actually do this exercise, but I can tell you that generally speaking, the answer is far too few.

We Need Diverse Books is a movement — now a nonprofit organization — that addresses this. They work with authors who write diverse books, as well as publishers, in order to produce more high-quality diverse books and get them into the hands of readers in the community.

There is nothing that I don’t love about this. Nothing.

And that’s why I’ve already donated to their Indiegogo campaign. I try not to make you guys spend money. I’m a huge advocate of using your public libraries and all that. But if ever there was a good cause that deserves your extra cash, this was it. Also, donations are tax-deductible, so it’s a win-win. The campaign is running through November 24 (though I’m sure they’ll take donations in other forms after the date).

Apropos of the season, I just finished Grady Hendrix’s Horrorstör. I saw this book on display at BEA14 and was lucky enough to snag a review copy from the lovely people at Quirk once it the review date loomed.

Horror as a genre isn’t typically my thing because I’m am the biggest wimp that ever wimped. But there is no resisting this book. It screams “pick me up and never put me down.”

Welcome to Orsk, the European box-store to which American suburbanites flock en masse for affordable some-assembly-required furniture and home goods. Start off on the showroom floor, following the Bright And Shining Path, which will usher you through your shopping experience onto the market floor where you will mindlessly fork over all your money ever. The store environment is expertly designed to subtly disorient and keep shoppers moving and spending, but what if something more sinister is at work?

Every morning shop partners at the Cuyahoga Orsk open the store to find broken furniture, graffiti, and smelly, unidentified substances smeared on displays. Before a corporate review, some employees will take an overnight shift to get to the bottom of these midnight mysteries, but what they discover is more baffling — and horrifying — than they could ever imagine.

Who among us hasn’t had the momentary fear of being lost in an Ikea forever? Horrorstör takes that fear, along with about every other fear you’ve ever had, and twists it into one masterful work.

Bonus points go to this book for the packaging. At first glance it looks like an Ikea catalog, with a glossy cover and illustrations of various furniture pieces with vaguely European and/or Scandinavian-sounding names. As the story progresses, the furniture begins to look more and more like torture devices, which is just a spectacular touch.

Horrorstör is at turns hilarious and terrifying, but always riveting. I definitely recommend it. And what better time to read a creepy book than on Halloween?

Jenny Offill’s Dept. of Speculation is another book that I initially heard about on the Book Riot podcast (I might be saying that a lot — I finally managed to catch up on roughly a year’s worth of episodes and my TBR list is noticeably longer as a result).

I’m going to cut to the chase and tell you that I really liked this book. So much so that I’m planning to buy a physical copy of it at some point (I read a copy from the library). That being said, I get the impression that this book isn’t for everyone.

“The wife” used to exchange love letters — postmarked Dept. of Speculation — with her husband. The book is a glimpse into the joy, despair, and uncertainty of relationships and life.

It reads as a very internal and personal reflection, not quite stream-of-consciousness, but edging toward that border.

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?).

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