I just finished reading The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic by Emily Croy Barker.

With a title like that, how could I possibly resist?!

This book was certainly not what I expected (though in hindsight, I don’t really know what my expectations were). It was by turns fantastic, bizarre, and exhilarating.

I do think that “bizarre” might be the best word to describe The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic. The story takes a number of quite unexpected turns and after a while it’s just easier to sit back and enjoy the ride.

And what a ride it is. Nora, a PhD student, feels every aspect of her life stalling. When a rambling walk drops her into another world, a world with magic, she gets a glimpse of a glamorous life. But not everything with these new friends is as it appears and when the veil is lifted Nora will have to depend on a decidedly less glamorous friend and some new skills in order to survive.

The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic is enormously fun and well-written. You’ll breeze through reading it in no time.

Many readers will enjoy this book, but I believe that it will particularly appeal to certain, well, “thinking women,” who have a taste for the fantastic.

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Gods Behaving Badly by Marie Phillips has been on my to-be-read list for ages and I finally got around to reading it recently. I was wandering the shelves at my NYPL branch and there it was, waiting for me. Clearly it was a sign that it was time for me to read this one!

Allow me to set the scene:

It’s present day (or near enough) and the Greek gods are drained of power and living in a dilapidated house in London. Driving each other crazy and doing their best to conserve their remaining power, the gods try to fit into the twenty-first century world, but old habits die hard and what starts out as a small disagreement between Aphrodite and Apollo could lead to the end of the world. Now, the fate of everyone — gods and mortals alike — rests on the shoulders of two exceedingly ordinary (and mortal) humans).

The entire story is entertaining, but I really like the last quarter or so, when it becomes clear just how entwined everything really is and how gods and mortals need one another to thrive.

Gods Behaving Badly was a super quick and fun read for me. I read it in a day or two and probably made a number of people a bit uncomfortable as I giggled while reading it on the subway (which, I think, is usually a good indication that a book is good). If you’re like me and have a special spot in your literary heart for mythology, then you’ve got to read this one.

World War Z — Review

August 18, 2013

I recently read World War Z by Max Brooks and, interestingly, I really enjoyed it.

So here’s the thing: I haven’t really been that into the whole zombie thing. I’ve thought briefly about whether I’d survive the zombie apocalypse (not a chance) and there are some story lines and scenarios that I find interesting, but overall, I just haven’t been that interested.

And then I read World War Z. If I had to describe it in two worlds, I’d choose “compulsively readable.” I think what really drew me in was the fact that it’s really not about the zombies, but about the people. It’s an oral history of sorts, so we’re reading the stories of how people and societies reacted to this (admittedly fictional) turn of events.

The oral history format was a great way to convey these stories and Brooks manages to tell a lot of the backstory and the progression of the war through the various narratives.

There are allusions to some pretty horrific acts and it has its gory moments, but I think that World War Z would be a good zombie read for a lot of people who are maybe a bit more squeamish, but curious about this genre. Just plan your time accordingly because you won’t want to put it down.

“At four in the morning, you can be so lightheaded that even the stars seem to have a sound. Harry and Craig sway to the sound of these stars— the few that glimmer over their heads— but also to the sound of all the unseen stars, all the nebulae that are out of reach but still present. At four in the morning, you can imagine the whole universe is looking down on you.” ~page 119

This quote is from the middle of David Levithan’s new book Two Boys Kissing, which comes out later this month. It gives nothing away, and yet it gives everything away.

Interweaving tales of LGBTQ boys navigating life, love, expression, and so much more with the benevolent observations of the generation of gay men lost to AIDS, Two Boys Kissing is simultaneously heartbreaking and uplifting.

Levithan’s writing bridges the gap that too often inhibits communication and understanding between different LGBTQ generations. The “lost generation” sees their pain and fears replayed in the lives of these young kids, but they also see and rejoice in the triumphs and the gains that they’ve made. Two Boys Kissing gives an important glimpse into the past, but it is very much an image of the present, with clearly defined hopes for the future. It makes me think of the “It Gets Better” campaign, but on a more universal, less chronological level (if that makes sense) — the universe is looking down on you, and it is with you.

Technically, this might be YA, but I think everyone should read this book. I don’t care who you are or where you come from, this book has something to teach you about the human spirit.

(Note: I received a free [signed!] review copy of this book at Book Expo America 2013. The quote above is taken from an advanced copy and may differ from the text in the final version.)

The Sweetest Hallelujah by Elaine Hussey is another book that I discovered thanks to BEA. And I’m so thankful that I found it.

With its setting in Jim Crow-era Mississippi, it’s difficult not to draw parallels to The Help, and while there are certain similarities (and I do think that if you liked The Help you’ll like this), The Sweetest Hallelujah is a very different story with very different characters.

Betty Jewel is dying of cancer, and while her mother is stately and staunch, she is old and will not be able to raise Betty Jewel’s 10-year old daughter Billie. With no better options in sight, Betty Jewel places an ad in the newspaper seeking a loving mother for Billie.

On the other side of town there’s Cassie. She’s a privileged housewife with a rebellious streak and a part-time job at the newspaper and she can’t help but be drawn to Betty Jewel’s striking story.

As racial tension mounts and people from both communities question their relationship, Betty Jewel and Cassie form a fierce, if complicated, friendship.

The Sweetest Hallelujah is a remarkable and complex story. It will tear your heart apart and put it back together time and again. Be prepared for accidental displays of emotion while reading in public. You may laugh out loud and/or cry hysterically in front of people. If that sounds unpleasant, then read this one in the privacy of your own home. But read it.