Friday, November 28, 2014

Comics Friday: Soppy by Philippa Rice and V-Wars by Jonathan Maberry

The wildly popular web comic SOPPY--with more than half a million notes on Tumblr--is the illustrated love story of author Philippa Rice and her real-life boyfriend. True love isn't always about the big romantic gestures. Sometimes it's about sympathizing with someone whose tea has gone cold or reading together and sharing a quilt. When two people move in together, it soon becomes apparent that the little things mean an awful lot. The throwaway moments in life become meaningful when you spend them in the company of someone you love.

SOPPY is Philippa Rice's collection of comics and illustrations based on real-life moments with her boyfriend. From grocery shopping to silly arguments and snuggling in front of the television, SOPPY captures the universal experience of sharing a life together, and celebrates the beauty of finding romance all around us.
This book, you guys.  Oh man.  Honestly, I can't even tell you what prompted me to request it from NetGalley, because this is not a cover that would typically appeal to me.  It's very simplistic artwork and I wasn't sure if I'd be into it.  And then I read page one and fell in love.  This is the most adorable, whimsical, sweet romantic story of two people falling in love and moving in together.  Nothing happens, there isn't a plot.  It's just scenes from a relationship that are so perfectly spot-on I dare you not to relate.  Here are just a few pictures I took while reading and immediately texted to Luke because THIS IS US:

The warm fuzzies here are out of control.  I seriously can't rave enough.  I want prints of these to put on my wall and I will own a book in print on December 2, the minute it comes out.  Because it makes my heart so happy.

From Goodreads:
New York Times best-selling author Jonathan Maberry takes you on a non-stop thrill ride of action, horror and suspense! Welcome to the V-WARS! These all-new tales chronicling the early days of the Vampire Wars offer the first salvo in the battle between humans and hundreds of new species of vampires! No matter how it ends, the world is going to bleed.
I wish I had more to say about this one as a whole.  I was super excited to see it because I'm a fan of vampires, especially those caused by a virus/contagion and I'm an even bigger fan of Jonathan Maberry.  So I had super high expectations for this comic series.

Unfortunately, it just didn't hit the spots I was looking for.  I was not a fan of the art - it just wasn't my style and didn't seem particularly well-done to me.  I'm seriously hesitant to even say that given how little of an expert I am on comic book art, but this one just didn't appeal to me visually in the same way others have.

As far as the writing was concerned, I thought it was good, but not memorable over-all.  Even now, just a week or two after having finished the comic, I'm having a hard time remembering all of the plot points.  It was an enjoyable read, but I don't anticipate finishing the series, or at least not going out of my way to find copies of new issues.  I could take it or leave it.

Thanks to NetGalley for providing me with copies of both comics.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Book Review: My True Love Gave to Me

If you love holiday stories, holiday movies, made-for-TV-holiday specials, holiday episodes of your favorite sitcoms and, especially, if you love holiday anthologies, you’re going to fall in love with My True Love Gave To Me: Twelve Holiday Stories by twelve bestselling young adult writers, edited by international bestselling author Stephanie Perkins.
In a collection like this, an anthology with multiple authors, it's only natural that some really hit the mark and some fell a little short.  In terms of writing, I think the best I can say is that it totally lives up to the premise of providing heartwarmingly romantic YA short stories.  With the exception of Laini Taylor's story "The Girl Who Woke the Dreamer", which was a gorgeous fairy tale with a literary bent that I wouldn't find out of place in a more adult collection, I think this was light and fun and fluffy, but not much in the way of depth.  And, honestly, when you're writing YA short stories, particularly with the stipulation that they be both romantic and heartwarming, I think authors are somewhat limited stylistically.  With an average of 22 pages to introduce characters, make them sympathetic, and have them fall in love with some ounce of believability, there's just not much room for showing off your chops, right?  That said...

Entertainment Value
I loved it.  I totally and completely ate this up.  I read it after reading Lindsay Hunter's Ugly Girls, which wins the award for most depressing book ever.  In light of that, I absolutely devoured this one and loved every fluffy, fun, snuggly moment of holiday romance.  Some favorites, besides Taylor's include Rainbow Rowell's "Midnights", Stephanie Perkins "It's a Yuletide Miracle, Charlie Brown", and Gayle Foreman's "What the Hell Have You Done, Sophie Roth".  No huge surprises there: the authors whose full-length works I find delightful wrote equally delightful and fun short stories.

I also feel like I can't not mention Laini Taylor's story again here.  Not only was she the most successful in terms of really showing off her writing chops, her story was my favorite overall in terms of entertainment.  She's really created a magical world that I wanted to stay in.  I was sad that it had to be as short as it was for the collection - it's a story I'd enjoy reading as a novel and a world that I'd love to see more of in the future.

I almost want to go back and delete everything I wrote about the writing of this because I don't want anyone to be confused about the fact that I think this book is completely successful and worth reading.  It's necessarily limited in terms of how much the authors can show off, but that doesn't mean it' not charming and magical and everything fun about Christmas.  If you're into YA, if you like romance anthologies, or if you just need some holiday fluff, you need to read this one.  It was a blast.

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

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Mini-Reviews: Short Form (Congratulations, By the Way, The Reason I Jump, and Evil Eye)

From Goodreads:
Three months after George Saunders gave a graduation address at Syracuse University, a transcript of that speech was posted on the website of The New York Times, where its simple, uplifting message struck a deep chord. Within days, it had been shared more than one million times. Why? Because Saunders’s words tap into a desire in all of us to lead kinder, more fulfilling lives. Powerful, funny, and wise, Congratulations, by the way is an inspiring message from one of today’s most influential and original writers.
This is, honestly, another addition to the list of short motivational books that people publish and promote around graduation time in order to make some money.  You can find the full text online or even watch Saunders deliver the actual speech, but I am a total sucker for gift books, especially when I can get them from the library.  I'm also a sucker for Saunders, so of course this immediately went on my holds list as soon as it was available.

I loved the message and the idea of finding ways to be kind to everyone in every situation.  It's a good, very short read, and I'd recommend finding a copy to look through.  It's not going to take you more than half an hour tops and it's full of great thoughts and brilliant writing.  As far as spending $14 to own a copy - I'd stick to picking it up at the library, unless you're enough of a Saunders fan that you just have to own everything he prints (which is totally acceptable).  

You’ve never read a book like The Reason I Jump. Written by Naoki Higashida, a very smart, very self-aware, and very charming thirteen-year-old boy with autism, it is a one-of-a-kind memoir that demonstrates how an autistic mind thinks, feels, perceives, and responds in ways few of us can imagine. Parents and family members who never thought they could get inside the head of their autistic loved one at last have a way to break through to the curious, subtle, and complex life within.
Using an alphabet grid to painstakingly construct words, sentences, and thoughts that he is unable to speak out loud, Naoki answers even the most delicate questions that people want to know. Questions such as: “Why do people with autism talk so loudly and weirdly?” “Why do you line up your toy cars and blocks?” “Why don’t you make eye contact when you’re talking?” and “What’s the reason you jump?” (Naoki’s answer: “When I’m jumping, it’s as if my feelings are going upward to the sky.”) With disarming honesty and a generous heart, Naoki shares his unique point of view on not only autism but life itself. His insights—into the mystery of words, the wonders of laughter, and the elusiveness of memory—are so startling, so strange, and so powerful that you will never look at the world the same way again.
This one may be pushing it as far as being considered short form, but I need to fit it in somewhere and I think this is the closest I've got.  It IS a very short, very easy to read book.  I think I read it in just one sitting over the course of an hour or two, if that long.  It's set up as a series of very short (half a page to three page) essays answering questions that Naoki and his family are commonly asked about autism.

For a book that was written using an alphabet grid, this is amazingly well done.  The translation is also flawless.  I understand that some reviewers see this as a sign that the book isn't really written by Naoki, but I refuse to accept that autism means someone can't have a well-developed interior mind and life.  It's beautiful and enlightening and you need to read it.

Joyce Carol Oates is one of the most prominent writers of her generation, and she is fearless when exploring the most disturbing corners of human nature. In Evil Eye, Oates offers four chilling tales of love gone horribly wrong, showing the lengths people will go to find love, keep it, and sometimes end it.
It's hard to come up with much to say about this one that isn't covered by "four novellas of love gone wrong."  There's a reason Joyce Carol Oates is known for her short fiction - most of the time it's amazing.  This is a great example of a collection that I found riveting and disturbing in all the best ways.  If you're a fan of the darker side of things, Gillian Flynn style, this is a good collection to pick up.  

Monday, November 24, 2014

Book Review: The Mockingbird Next Door by Marja Mills

From Goodreads:
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee is one of the best loved novels of the twentieth century. But for the last fifty years, the novel’s celebrated author, Harper Lee, has said almost nothing on the record. Journalists have trekked to her hometown of Monroeville, Alabama, where Harper Lee, known to her friends as Nelle, has lived with her sister, Alice, for decades, trying and failing to get an interview with the author. But in 2001, the Lee sisters opened their door to Chicago Tribune journalist Marja Mills. It was the beginning of a long conversation—and a great friendship.
In 2004, with the Lees’ blessing, Mills moved into the house next door to the sisters. She spent the next eighteen months there, sharing coffee at McDonalds and trips to the Laundromat with Nelle, feeding the ducks and going out for catfish supper with the sisters, and exploring all over lower Alabama with the Lees’ inner circle of friends.
Nelle shared her love of history, literature, and the Southern way of life with Mills, as well as her keen sense of how journalism should be practiced. As the sisters decided to let Mills tell their story, Nelle helped make sure she was getting the story—and the South—right. Alice, the keeper of the Lee family history, shared the stories of their family.
The Mockingbird Next Door is the story of Mills’s friendship with the Lee sisters. It is a testament to the great intelligence, sharp wit, and tremendous storytelling power of these two women, especially that of Nelle.
I'd be remiss to review this without sharing with my reader friends that there is some controversy around this book.  Upon its acquisition by Penguin in 2011 and again at its release in 2014, Harper Lee's lawyers issued a statement on her behalf saying that she had not agreed to participate in the writing of this book and that Mills, the author, took advantage of Lee's elderly sister, Alice, in order to get the information she uses to write the book.  USA Today has a pretty balanced article on the whole issue that you can read here.

My own brief thoughts: I really, really want to believe that Lee was not taken advantage of.  The fact that I wanted this book to exist so badly may have influenced my decision that I don't have an issue with the author's publishing it.  But here are a few legitimate reasons believe support that:

  • If the book isn't just complete fiction, and there's no reason to believe that it is - no one has claimed any of it is untrue, then it's evident that Lee was not avoiding Mills as she later claimed.  
  • Close friends of both Lee sisters who don't have anything to gain financially from the sale of the book verify that Lee had given her permission for Mills to write the memoir and that Mills respected all stories Lee wished to be off the record.
  • Lee has had numerous problems in the past few years with lawyers and managers and family members making statements on her behalf.  Evidence I've seen points to Lee being in a position where she's relying on others to speak for her - others who DO have a financial stake in keeping information about Lee within the estate.
To be fair, I do have to say that I think it's sad that Mills' relationship with Lee has deteriorated this badly and that the book about a sweet friendship is tainted by the controversy.  I wonder a bit if Mills and Penguin might have waited to publish the book after Lee's death, in order to be sure to respect Lee's wishes.  But it's a hard issue.  Because historically and literarily, Lee is hugely important.  If the world hadn't largely ignored the wishes of many authors who make up the literary canon, we'd be without some of the most important works and historical context for that canon.  Basically, what I'm saying is that while I, with my limited amount of knowledge, can imagine that the publisher or author may have handled things differently, I'm glad this book exists.  On to the review!

I've read many critiques of the writing in this book, and while I understand where the reviewers are coming from, I think it's important to understand that this book is not purporting to be a biography of Lee.  And if you're looking for in depth analysis of her life and works, you will certainly be disappointed.  It's not high literature and it's nothing near a portrait of Lee's life.  It does focus a lot on Mills herself and many of the stories she shares are mundane.  For me, this wasn't a problem.  I knew from the beginning it wasn't a tell-all and I was fascinated to know what Alice and Harper Lee's day to day lives were like.  I loved the stories about feeding ducks and stopping for coffee at McDonalds.  Don't expect a thrilling or super-revealing story.  Expect exactly what the book claims to be - stories about Alice, Harper, and their friendship with Mills, and I think you'll be satisfied.

Entertainment Value
Again, I just loved this book.  I thought it was charming and sweet and I particularly appreciated how careful Mills is to avoid sharing anything Harper Lee requested be off the record, even if that means we don't get any exciting or scandalous inside scoop.  I think Mills does a great job of respectfully portraying how Alice and Harper have spent the later years of the lives.  She also does an amazing job of showing us Monroeville, AL, their home and the basis for TKAM's Maycomb County, and the ways it has changed since Lee was a child.  My love of all things Southern and small town really drew me to this aspect of the book.  

I thought it was absolutely charming.  I hate that it has caused hard feelings, but I think it's a valuable book that's worth reading if you're a fan of Harper Lee.  It's also just a great story about small towns, older people, and the changes they've seen as the world has progressed.  The author portrays Lee in a very positive light and refrains from sharing anything unsavory or critical regarding her or her family. 

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

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Mini-Reviews: Book Club Choices (Blankets, Fangirl, The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender, and Porotofino)

Every year I swear that THIS is the year I will keep up with reviews.  I read, on average, 3 books each week, so it should all come out well in terms of staying on top of my reviews.  I post three books reviews a week and one or two discussion posts and everything is great.  In theory.

But I always hit this point at the end of the year where I realize I'm so far behind and I have so many books left to review that there aren't enough days left to review them all.  And because I want to start the new year with a clean slate, I'll be cramming several book reviews into each review post for most of the rest of the year in order to really get as many completed as I can.  I took out blah books that I had nothing to say anything about, but was still left with a bunch that I feel like my readers NEED to know about.

So here we have the first collection of mini-reviews - books that I read for my FYA book club, my regular book club, or in my mission group that you need to know about.

Blankets by Craig Thompson, read for book club
Wrapped in the landscape of a blustery Wisconsin winter, Blankets explores the sibling rivalry of two brothers growing up in the isolated country, and the budding romance of two coming-of-age lovers. A tale of security and discovery, of playfulness and tragedy, of a fall from grace and the origins of faith.
This one earned a spot among my very favorite graphic novels, alongside Maus and Persepolis.  It's the story of a young man who grows up in a conservative family who meets a girl at church camp and falls in love for the first time.  The book focuses as much on his spiritual journey away from and possibly back to faith as it does on his first experiences with romance.  It's stunningly beautiful, in terms of art and writing, and on my wishlist for Christmas this year.

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell, read for FYA Book Club
Cath is a Simon Snow fan.

Okay, the whole world is a Simon Snow fan...

But for Cath, being a fan is her life—and she’s really good at it. She and her twin sister, Wren, ensconced themselves in the Simon Snow series when they were just kids; it’s what got them through their mother leaving.

Reading. Rereading. Hanging out in Simon Snow forums, writing Simon Snow fan fiction, dressing up like the characters for every movie premiere.

Cath’s sister has mostly grown away from fandom, but Cath can’t let go. She doesn’t want to.

Now that they’re going to college, Wren has told Cath she doesn’t want to be roommates. Cath is on her own, completely outside of her comfort zone. She’s got a surly roommate with a charming, always-around boyfriend, a fiction-writing professor who thinks fan fiction is the end of the civilized world, a handsome classmate who only wants to talk about words... And she can’t stop worrying about her dad, who’s loving and fragile and has never really been alone.
It's Rainbow Rowell and it's a romance set in college, so there's not really much of a question about whether or not I'll love it, right?  This is EXACTLY the kind of New Adult I'd like to see more of.  It has the college setting, but it's filled with normal kids.  No one with an over-abundance of angst or tattoos or reckless living.  It's MY college experience.  The characters struggle with homework and where to sit in the cafeteria and how to connect with roommates they don't share much in common with.  And of course there's the college romance, which I could totally identify with, having met Luke in college.

It was fun and quirky and just a delight to read.  As far as the fanfic element is concerned, I was worried that I would find it off-putting.  I don't read or write fanfic and it's not something I'm really interested in at all.  I didn't find it to be problematic or something that took me out of the book or kept me from identifying with the characters.  Even if you're not into the world of fandoms, I think you can still appreciate the story and characters - and if fandoms are your thing, well you'll really love it!

The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton, read for FYA Book Club
Foolish love appears to be the Roux family birthright, an ominous forecast for its most recent progeny, Ava Lavender. Ava—in all other ways a normal girl—is born with the wings of a bird.

In a quest to understand her peculiar disposition and a growing desire to fit in with her peers, sixteen-year old Ava ventures into the wider world, ill-prepared for what she might discover and naïve to the twisted motives of others. Others like the pious Nathaniel Sorrows, who mistakes Ava for an angel and whose obsession with her grows until the night of the Summer Solstice celebration.

That night, the skies open up, rain and feathers fill the air, and Ava’s quest and her family’s saga build to a devastating crescendo.
I almost didn't read this one.  It was down to just a day or two before our meeting, I was sick, and I had just picked it up from the library.  I didn't know if I'd finish it and I wasn't even sure I would like it or what it was about.  I hadn't ever heard of it.  HOW have I never heard of this?  Why is the entire book blogging community not singing it's praises?

It's absolutely stunning.  I'm partial to magical realism in the first place, but this is one of the best I've read in quite a while.  It has all the whimsy of Sarah Addison Allen combined with the darker elements of The Golem and the Jinni and the amazing writing seen in The Night Circus.  There were even moments where I could see echoes of Big Fish.  Basically any magical realism that I have fallen for, I saw reflected here.  It is beautiful and if you are a fan of good writing, great characters, or magical realism you simply must read it.

Portofino by Frank Schaeffer, read with my mission community
Some kids told lies to be special. Calvin told lies to be normal. The son of a missionary family, he looks forward all year to summer vacation in Portofino--especially since he'll once again have the chance to see his beloved Jennifer. But even in this seductive seaside town in Italy, the Beckers can't really relax. Calvin's father could slip into a Bad Mood and start hurling potted plants at any time. His mother has an embarrassing habit of trying to convert "pagans" on the beach. And his sister keeps a ski sweater and miniature Bible in her luggage just in case the Russians invade and send them to Siberia. Dad says everything is part of God's plan. But this summer, Calvin has some plans of his own. 
This is not one I would have ever picked up on my own.  To be honest, I still find the cover to be a total turnoff.  It looks boring and my heart sank a little when I picked it up from the library.  I'm so glad I gave it a try though, because it felt like I was reading the story of my life.  Frank Schaeffer is the son of theologian Francis Schaeffer, and this novel is considered to be largely autobiographical.  Calvin's story is told in such a delightful way, despite the serious challenges he and his family face in terms of his parents' dysfunction.  It's got a lot of church-based humor that I think will appeal to anyone who grew up evangelical, but it's also not conveyed in an insulting manner.  I felt like we were laughing together at some of the crazy things that go on in conservative Christian culture, not like it was being mocked.  It's super funny and a quick read, I highly recommend it, particularly to those who grew up with similar families.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Audiobook Review: A Good Marriage and Big Driver by Stephen King

Bob Anderson, Darcy’s husband of more than twenty years, is away on one of his business trips, when his unsuspecting wife looks for batteries in the garage. Her toe knocks up against a box under a worktable and she discovers she doesn’t know her husband at all, but rather has been living with a stranger. This horrifying discovery, rendered with bristling intensity, could be the end of what Darcy though was a good marriage…


From Goodreads:
Tess Thorne, a famous mystery writer, faces a long drive home following a book signing engagement. Advised to take a shortcut at the suggestion of the event’s planner, Tess sets out for home, well after dark. On a lonely stretch of New England road, her tire blows out, and when a man in a pick up stops, it is not to help her, but to repeatedly assault her and leave her for dead. Tess survives, and she plots a revenge that will bring her face-to-face with another stranger: the one inside herself, capable of gruesome violence.
Each of these stories comes from the short story collection Full Dark, No Stars.  I liked the idea of something relatively short that I could listen to over the course of just a day or two on my commute, and the fact that these were both being made into movies also appealed to me.

I don't think I'd classify either as great works of literature, or even as my favorites from King.  They were pretty standard suspense/thriller fare - I wasn't surprised to see that Big Driver would be a direct-to-TV Lifetime "event."  It fits into Lifetime programming perfectly, in terms of being a fairly cliched story with over-the-top drama.  Obviously, I loved them both, but not because the writing was particularly impressive.  Without the length of some of his other works, the detailed backstories that really appeal to me as characteristic of King's best writing just weren't there.  Decent, but nothing to write home about.

Entertainment Value
This is where everything came together for me.  I loved the female protagonists in both books and their "every woman" personas.   They're just two regular ladies who are placed in terrible situations and have to make some incredibly difficult decisions.  They aren't super spies or trained assassins or possessed of some secret ninja background - they're just like you or me.  I also love a good revenge story, and both of these have some element of taking the law into your own hands when doing things the "legal" way just won't cut it.  Both stories are fairly over the top in terms of believability, but I wouldn't change that for anything.  I thoroughly enjoyed both of them.

Well done.  The narrator for Big Driver had an accent I couldn't quite place, and it threw me for the first twenty minutes or so, but once I got used to it I forgot all about it.  I have no complaints.  Then length of these was also perfect (around 3 hours) for a road trip or long commute.

Highly recommend both, especially if you enjoy a good suspense/thriller or vigilante justice.  Very satisfying and fun to listen to.

Thanks to Simon and Schuster for providing me with copies to review!

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Book Review: Bibliocraft by Jessica Pigza

From Goodreads:
There is untold wealth in library collections, and, like every good librarian, Jessica Pigza loves to share. In BiblioCraft, Pigza hones her literary hunting-and-gathering skills to help creatives of all types, from DIY hobbyists to fine artists, develop projects based on library resources. 
In Part I, she explains how to take advantage of the riches libraries have to offer—both in person and online. In Part II, she presents 20+ projects inspired by library resources from a stellar designer cast. 
Whatever the quest—historic watermarks transformed into pillows, Japanese family crests turned into coasters, or historic millinery instructions worked into floral fascinators—anyone can utilize library resources to bring their creative visions to life.
Please take a moment and just imagine my excitement when this book showed up in the library to be processed.  I had been itching to get my hands on a copy since I'd first heard about it.  If you've followed me for any length of time, you know that there's nothing I love more than a good craft - especially one that involves books.  This is a total delight to page through, read in detail, and keep on the shelf.  I'm currently on the lookout for a copy to keep at home, because access at work just isn't enough.

The first part makes for great reading if you're into reference materials or library services or just research in general.  It's got all kind of great ideas and information about sources for finding vintage patterns, graphic design, and public domain images to support any craft fixation, from embroidery to knitting to drawing to collage-making.

The second part contains sample crafts and directions for making them from well-known designers, bloggers, and artists.  It's incredibly beautiful to look at, and I think replicating each of the crafts would be delightful and easily accomplished for the average crafter.

The photography throughout the book is gorgeous and the book itself is a delight to hold and look at.  I can't say enough great things about the wealth of information available in the book and about the many rabbit holes I found myself falling into as I explored the websites and materials available through my own library.