Saturday, May 23, 2015

Comics Friday: Exquisite Corpse by Penelope Bagieu

From Goodreads:
Zoe isn't exactly the intellectual type, which is why she doesn't recognize world-famous author Thomas Rocher when she stumbles into his apartment...and into his life. It's also why she doesn't know that Rocher is supposed to be dead. Turns out, Rocher faked his death years ago to escape his critics, and has been making a killing releasing his new work as "lost manuscripts," in cahoots with his editor/ex-wife Agathe. Neither of them would have invited a crass party girl like Zoe into their literary conspiracy of two, but now that she's there anyway. . . . Zoe doesn't know Balzac from Batman, but she's going to have to wise up fast... because she's sitting on the literary scandal of the century!
I feel like I've seen this one get a fair amount of publicity in the comics/graphic novels circles, but it's something I grabbed on a whim.  I was interested in the idea of a literary figure faking his death as well as being in a romantic relationship with a non-intellectual.  I think the author did a great job of making Rocher pretentious and unappealing, to the point that he was hard to read.  I definitely pictured him as comics-style Jonathan Franzen, which didn't do much for his likability, but was exactly what I expected.  He was unlikable in a fun way, especially if you know literary enthusiasts who tend toward the pretentious side of things.

As much as I appreciated Rocher's character, I was less impressed with Zoe.  She's not very smart and pretty much just relies on her looks to get what she wants.  In the end, of course, the twist reveals that she ultimately outsmarted Rocher, but for the majority of the book she just grated on my nerves.  I liked Agathe more, but not muich more.  Overall, this was just ok.  It's not one that I'll likely purchase or recommend to other readers.

Click the link at the top of the post to see some differing reviews - there are several readers and outlets I trust that felt differently.  I saw one review that declared this the chick-lit of the comics world.  I agree, but that's not a draw for me the way it was for the writer of the review.  I agree that it's great to see women's stories represented in comic form, but it's just a genre that appeals to me at this point.

Thanks to NetGalley for providing me with a copy to review.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Book Review: Get in Trouble by Kelly Link

From Goodreads:
 In “The Summer People,” a young girl in rural North Carolina serves as uneasy caretaker to the mysterious, never-quite-glimpsed visitors who inhabit the cottage behind her house. In “I Can See Right Through You,” a middle-aged movie star makes a disturbing trip to the Florida swamp where his former on- and off-screen love interest is shooting a ghost-hunting reality show. In “The New Boyfriend,” a suburban slumber party takes an unusual turn, and a teenage friendship is tested, when the spoiled birthday girl opens her big present: a life-size animated doll.

Hurricanes, astronauts, evil twins, bootleggers, Ouija boards, iguanas, The Wizard of Oz, superheroes, the Pyramids...These are just some of the talismans of an imagination as capacious and as full of wonder as that of any writer today. But as fantastical as these stories can be, they are always grounded in sly humor and an innate generosity of feeling for the frailty--and the hidden strengths--of human beings. In Get in Trouble, this one-of-a-kind talent expands the boundaries of what short fiction can do.
 
Writing
One of my regrets is that when a book is this well written and this enjoyable to read, I have less to say about it than if I had issues.  My reviews for amazing books are always much shorter than my reviews for bad books.  That said, this is gonna be super short.  It's amazing.  Exactly the kind of short story I love to read.  Echoes of Karen Russell and George Saunders all over the place, but still in her own unique voice.  I can't get enough of this type of short story - based in reality and focused on every day emotions and situations but always with a bizarre, sometimes magical, twist.  It's just beautifully done and full of gorgeous language, but never too wordy or descriptive.

Entertainment Value
Again, I couldn't put it down.  I loved every story in here.  I started to try to list my favorites and realized that I just can't - I felt like every story in here was a winner.  Once again, not much to say beyond the fact that I found it enthralling and enchanting.

Overall
In 2008 I gave Link's collection Stranger Things Happen.  My preferences have evolved dramatically since then, beginning with my reading of Tenth of December two years ago, so I immediately placed a hold on this and Link's other collections.  I'm anxious to see how my response will differ now from eight years ago when I criticized it for being "weird".  Now that "weird" is one of my go-to indicators of a good book, I think I'll be re-rating it on Goodreads.

I think this one is going to appeal to those who like the works of Russell and Saunders, to fans of magical realism, to fans of the weird and twisted, and to those who love a well-written short story.  Avoid if you're looking for real-life situations, but give it a try if you're interested in real-life feelings but can take a bit of the weird along with it.

Thanks to NetGalley for providing me with a copy to review.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

The Choose Your Own Adventure Book Club (Adventure 2)

Month two of my book club's Choose Your Own Adventure theme has come and gone and we are loving the change. (Click here to read the original post about what we're doing differently if you missed it the first time).  We've only met using this system twice now, but I honestly feel like it's going to be a lasting change.  At each meeting we're all logged into Goodreads on whatever device is handy, adding books to our TBR.  I think that's exactly what we were all looking for when we started and it's a great way to expand your horizons, especially since some of us have such varying tastes. 

April's theme was "Not A Novel", meaning you could read non-fiction, short stories, graphic novels, comics, poetry, memoir, etc.  I'm going to save my list for last this time, because I am on a huge non-fiction kick, which means my list is a bit on the lengthy side.  

Rachel read Beyond Heaving Bosoms by Sarah Wendell and Cindy Tan.  The authors run the site Smart Bitches, Trashy Books and collaborated on this non-fiction analysis of the romance genre with their trademark combination of deep literary analysis and laugh out loud humor.  Hearing Rachel described it left us all lined up on the book club hold list we've started amongst ourselves. 

Halina read My Life With the Walter Boys by Ali Novak.  While it's technically a novel now, Halina first encountered it as a series of posts on the author's Wattpad page.  (Also, it's the Choose Your Own Adventure Club, so even if it were just straight up not with the theme, we don't care.  It's Choose Your OWN Adventure and going against the rules can be its own adventure).  Anyway, it's a YA romance about a girl whose parents die, sending her across the country to live with a family that has twelve sons and a totally different lifestyle.  It earned five stars from Halina, and three from another book clubber, Stephanie, who has also read it.

Stephanie read Everything That Rises Must Converge by Flannery O'Connor.  This one has been on my TBR for quite a while and although I've read a few of he stories in it, I really need to sit down and finish it up.  Stephanie loved it and it led to a great discussion of Southern Literature and how we each relate to O'Connor's stories.  AND it led to some good Southern short story recommendations (Jamie Quattro and Eudora Welty).  


Since Courtney couldn't make it, that just leaves me.  My list is fairly long and spans a fairly broad range - comics, humor, short stories, and memoir are all included.

  • Lumberjanes, Volume One by Noelle Stephenson, Grace Ellis, and Brooke Allison: a comic book series about a group of female campers who band together to fight the supernatural.  Very girl-power and friendship-themed and lots of fun to read.
  • Rex Libris, Volume 2 by James Turner: Rex Libris is another comic book series, this one based on the immortal librarian Rex Libris who saves the world from supernatural creatures on a daily basis while on the clock at Middleton Public Library.
  • I Work At a Public Library by Gina Sheridan: A collection of funny and inspiring anecdotes from public librarians across the country about their funniest and craziest experiences in working with the general public.
  • Change of Heart by Jeanne Bishop: Primarily a memoir of the author's experience of the murder of her sister, brother-in-law, and their unborn child and how she confronts and forgives the killer.  It's also about Christianity and the Christian response to both the death penalty and the sentence of life without parole, particularly for minors.  I found it to be both fascinating and challenging.
  • Get In Trouble by Kelly Link: A short story collection that is set in a skewed version of reality, where fantasy is entwined with the every day.  I'll be reviewing this later this week and can't wait to rave about it.
  • Rejoicing in Lament by J. Todd Billings: Another title that I'd put in the memoir category, although it really fits into the broader categories of Christian non-fiction and literary musings on grief and loss.  The author is diagnosed with incurable cancer at a young age and delves into studies of the Psalms of lament in order to better understand his grief.
Also, briefly, here's a short list of other titles we discussed and added to our various TBRs outside of our book club choices.  I'll try to keep a better list next time, as I'm sure we discussed more:
Next month our theme is going to be "Frienemies and BFFs".  I'd love to hear from you about any books you've read lately that fit into the "Not a Novel" theme and any recommendations you have for me to check out for next month!




Monday, May 18, 2015

Book Review: The Sixes by Kate White

Hey Reader Friends, just a quick note to say I'm aware that the blog dropped off for a week and while it wasn't intentional, it was nice to have a little break!  It's so much harder for  me to make myself internet when I'm not working.  Without being forced to sit at a computer, my brain goes nuts living actual life.  I now have a super clean garage and got to take a trip with my family to visit my brother.  I'm back now though, and I've got quite a backlog of books to review, so settle in!

From Goodreads:
Right after Phoebe Hall's long-term boyfriend breaks off their relationship, she's falsely accused of plagiarizing her latest bestselling celebrity biography. Looking for a quiet place to put her life back together, she jumps at the offer to teach in a small private college in Pennsylvania run by her former boarding school roommate. But something evil lurks behind the quiet campus caf├ęs and leafy maple trees. When the body of a female student washes up on the banks of a nearby river, disturbing accusations begin to surface about abuses wrought by a secret campus society known as The Sixes. Haunted by memories of her own school days, Phoebe launches a private investigation, and soon finds herself in the middle of a real-life nightmare, not knowing whom she can trust and if she will even survive. Because with the truth comes a terrifying revelation: your darkest secrets can still be uncovered . . . and starting over may be a crime punishable by death.   
Writing
As much as I enjoyed my read of this book (go ahead and skip below to see my raves), I did have some issues with the writing here.  I think the author frequently used too many words when fewer would have served just as well.  Many times it seemed like she was just taking up space or wasn't sure how to transition to the next scene.  I also felt like there were a few too many mysteries going on.  The mystery surrounding the Sixes and the murders were plenty - we didn't need the additional issues of Phoebe's past and her conflict with her best friend's husband.  Otherwise, I'd describe the writing as standard romantic suspense, with nothing major to write home about, but inoffensive to the reader.

Entertainment Value
In terms of keeping the reader engaged and entertained, this one doesn't disappoint.  While I was jarred by the writing a few times, I never stopped being fascinated by the Sixes, Phoebe's investigation, and the mystery behind the murders.  I read it in two sittings because I just couldn't bring myself to put it down.  The chapters are fairly short and tend to end with a cliffhanger.  I know some people criticize that technique, but it reminded me so much of my Nancy Drew days and made for an easy and fast read.

Overall
Although I was thrown out of the story a few times by the writing and would have made a few changes there, I was really pleased with how much fun this story was to read and how well it kept my attention.  It reads very quickly and has lots of fun twists and turns.  It's not the best book I've read this year, but I think it's fun and fairly light if you're looking for something diversionary.

Thanks to TLC for including me on the tour.  You can click here to see the rest of the tour stops.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Drop Caps Challenge: Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

Jane Eyre should have been my February read for this challenge, but I have to admit that I dragged it out until late April.  I'm quickly making up for it by zipping through "C" in just a few days and I'm already making serious headway on "D".

A novel of intense power and intrigue, Jane Eyre dazzles and shocks readers with its passionate depiction of a woman's search for equality and freedom. Orphaned Jane Eyre grows up in the home of her heartless aunt, where she endures loneliness and cruelty, and at a charity school with a harsh regime. This troubled childhood strengthens Jane's natural independence and spirit-which proves necessary when she takes a position as governess at Thornfield Hall. But when she finds love with her sardonic employer, Rochester, the discovery of his terrible secret forces her to make a choice. Should she stay with him and live with the consequences, or follow her convictions, even if it means leaving the man she loves? 
Writing
I'm a huge fan of all of the Brontes, but Jane Eyre is probably my absolute favorite.  Rereading it was such a delight.  In contrast to my critique of Austen, I'd consider this to be much more successful in terms of storytelling.  The story is told beautifully and contains all of the elements of a excellence: thoughtfully created characters, suspense, a storyline that moves quickly enough to keep the reader engaged but also isn't rushed, and just plain beautiful words.

Entertainment Value
I think a lot has been said in recent feminist criticism about the relationship between Rochester and Jane.  Those critiques are valid and include things like the fact that Rochester is vastly older than Jane, lies to Jane, tries to commit bigamy with Jane, and is in general and brooder who tends to play games.  But the thing is that, while I can acknowledge these issues, I don't care in the least.  I find the story to be wildly romantic, I am a huge fan of Rochester and Jane, and I can recognize the issues without letting them ruin my enjoyment of the book.

Overall
If you're hesitant to read the classics, but you're a fan of romance or even YA romance, this is the best place to start.  It's readable and highly entertaining and has all of the elements of a great romance.  There are love triangles and quadrangles galore, misunderstandings and moments of desperation, and of course, a beautiful ending.  I highly recommend it.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Book Review: Savage Park by Amy Fusselman


From Goodreads:
On a visit to Tokyo with her family, Fusselman stumbles on Hanegi playpark, where children are sawing wood, hammering nails, stringing hammocks to trees, building open fires. When she returns to New York, her conceptions of space, risk, and fear are completely changed. Fusselman invites us along on her tightrope-walking expeditions with Philippe Petit and late night adventures with the Tokyo park-workers, showing that when we deprive ourselves, and our children, of the experience of taking risks in space, we make them less safe, not more so.

Savage Park is a fresh, poetic reconsideration of behaviors in our culture that — in the guise of protecting us — make us numb and encourage us to sleepwalk through our lives. We babyproof our homes; plug our ears to our devices while walking through the city. What would happen if we exposed ourselves, if — like the children at Hanegi park — we put ourselves in situations that require true vigilance? Readers of Rebecca Solnit and Cheryl Strayed will delight in the revelations in Savage Park.
Writing
Very well written.  I think Fusselman is an excellent essayist and she has a lot of great things to say about the nature of play, space and risk in relation to both children and adults.  I like that she included both aspects and that the book wasn't just a meditation on over-parenting.   The essays are all short and easy to follow although some are fairly philosophical in nature and do require the reader's full attention.

Entertainment Value
As I mentioned above, some essays are more philosophical and therefore more difficult to read than others, but that doesn't mean they're less interesting.  I do think, however, that this is going to have a somewhat limited appeal to the general reader.  Unless you find the topic of play and risk and what it means to take up space of particular interest, you probably won't be as entertained by this as a reader who either has a topical interest or, like me, who just really enjoys a well-crafted essay.

Overall
It's a great read and makes for either an afternoon of thoughtful reading or as something you can read an essay at a time.  It's not something that will grab you and not let you go, but it is interesting and something that left me pondering what it really means to be safe and how to challenge my own fears.

Thanks to NetGalley for providing me with a copy to review.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Humor Mini-Reviews: I Can Barely Take Care of Myself by Jen Kirkman, Gummi Bears Should Not Be Organic by Stephanie Wilder-Taylor, and I Don't Have a Happy Place by Kim Korson

"You'll Change Your Mind." 

That's what everyone says to Jen Kirkman - and countless women like her- when she confesses she doesn't plan to have children. But you know what? It's hard enough to be an adult. You have to dress yourself and pay bills and remember to buy birthday gifts. You have to drive and get annual physicals and tip for good service. Some adults take on the added burden of caring for a tiny human being with no language skills or bladder control. Parenthood can be very rewarding, but let's face it, so are margaritas at the adults-only pool...
I Can Barely Take Care of Myself is a beacon of hilarious hope for anyone whose major life decisions have been questioned by friends, family, and strangers in a comedy club bathroom. And it should satisfy everyone who wonders if Jen will ever know true love without looking into the eyes of her child. 
So while I'm not completely on the same page as Jen Kirkman (I'd love to have kids in the future), I am TOTALLY with her on the unbelievable amount of inappropriate questions I've been asked about my reproductive plans.  Being married but child-free in the South is not really a thing people my age typically do.  Or at least not the ones in my social circles.  My friends are, almost without exception, either single or married with kids.

I figured I'd appreciate the humor in this one, as it's an issue I am, honestly, constantly complaining about.  And while I was entertained, I felt like there wasn't much here that I haven't already heard or said myself.  Each chapter addresses one of the things that people say to Kirkman when she tells them she doesn't have kids, but it's really closer to memoir than it is to humor.  It's mainly the story of Kirkman's marriage and divorce as she attempts to break into comedy.  It's not that it isn't a fun read, but there wasn't anything new to add to the typical plea of "please stop asking questions about my uterus and sex life".  I smiled some, but didn't find the laugh out loud moments I was looking for.  

Thanks to my local inter-library loan system for providing me with a copy of this book!

Stefanie Wilder-Taylor is officially fed up with the endless mommy fads, trends, studies, findings, and facts about how to raise children. Tiger Mom or Cool Mom? Organic or vegan? TV is the devil or TV is a godsend?

The mother of three young girls, Stefanie has finally decided to hell with Google she's going to find out how to be a mom all on her own. In this latest mommy book from the popular blogger, author, and TV personality, Stefanie will share her secrets for achieving a balance in motherhood between being protective and caring, and downright batshit crazy. She'll debunk some of the looniest parenting myths and reinforce others; she'll describe how, through as simple a process as good old trial-and-error, she's learned to pick and choose what works for her and her family, and tune out the rest.

Filled with sage advice, laugh-out-loud stories, and Stefanie's signature wit, Gummi Bears Should Not Be Organic is sure to appeal to any and every renegade mom who's forged her own path to childrearing.
So this is basically the opposite of Jen Kirkman's book - it's humor all about being a mom.  Somehow I missed that aspect when I requested it from NetGalley and thought it was more about modern sensibilities.  Had I read anything at all about the book, I would have seen that no, it's all about modern sensibilities surrounding motherhood.  Refer to above, but just as a refresher: not a mom.

What's ironic about this is that I thought this book was hilarious.  While I could identify with Kirkman's situation more, I found Wilder-Tyler to be much funnier.  The fact that I could read and enjoy this one without having kids is a sign, in my opinion, that the author was successful over and above her intentions.  Even us non-moms can find something to laugh at in her stories.

I had a copy of this both to read and to listen to, and, I will say that it's a very quick listen (only a bit over four hours) and the narration is fantastic.  I recommend either option highly.

Thanks to NetGalley for providing me with a copy to read and to FLP's Hoopla collection for providing me with a copy to listen to.

From Goodreads:
When a trip to the therapist ends with the question “Can’t Kim be happy?” Kim Korson responds the way any normal person would—she makes fun of it. Because really, does everyone have to be happy?

Aside from her father wearing makeup and her mother not feeling well (a lot), Kim Korson’s 1970s suburban upbringing was typical. Sometimes she wished her brother were an arsonist just so she’d have a valid excuse to be unhappy. And when life moves along pretty decently--she breaks into show business, gets engaged in the secluded jungles of Mexico, and moves her family from Brooklyn to dreamy rural Vermont—the real despondency sets in. It’s a skill to find something wrong in just about every situation, but Kim has an exquisite talent for negativity. It is only after half a lifetime of finding kernels of unhappiness where others find joy that she begins to wonder if she is even capable of experiencing happiness.

In I Don’t Have a Happy Place, Kim Korson untangles what it means to be a true malcontent. Rife with evocative and nostalgic observations, unapologetic realism, and razor-sharp wit, I Don’t Have a Happy Place is told in humorous, autobiographical stories. This fresh-yet-dark voice is sure to make you laugh, nod your head in recognition, and ultimately understand what it truly means to be unhappy. Always.
I'm a bit of a pessimist myself (although I prefer to believe I have realistic expectations for life), so I assumed Korson and I would have a lot in common.  Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately?) it turns out that I'm not nearly as much of a pessimist as Korson.  I know she was exaggerating for the sake of humor and I'm sure she's a perfectly nice person in reality, but in this book she did not come across as sympathetic in any way.  She's whiny and entitled and constantly complaining about basically everything.

I get it.  That's the point of the book, she's a pessimist and doesn't like things.  I think I was more expecting something along the lines of An Idiot Abroad, where she's negative but in a funny and sympathetic way.  In this book, Korson is just frustrating.  She's so universally miserable about so many things that the humor gets lost under the negativity.  I think maybe the problem is that I know some Kim Korsons in real life, and the truth is that they are exhausting people.  It's not fun to be around people who are just never happy with anything and can always find fault with everything and it made for a less than funny book for the most part.  It certainly has its moments of levity and humor, but it was drowned out for me by being whiny rather than darkly comedic.

Thanks to NetGalley for a review copy of this one as well as to FLP's Hoopla for an audio version.