Friday, July 3, 2015

Comics Friday: Mike's Place by Jack Baxter and Hand Drawn Jokes for Smart Attractive People by Matthew Diffee

From Goodreads:
There's a rule at Mike's Place: never, ever talk politics or religion. At this blues bar on the Tel Aviv beachfront, an international cast of characters mingles with the locals, and everyone is welcome to grab a beer and forget the conflict outside. At least, that's the story Jack and Joshua want to tell in their documentary. 
But less than a month after they begin filming, Mike's Place is the target of a deadly suicide bombing. Jack, Joshua, and the Mike's Place family survive the only way they know how-by keeping the camera rolling. 
Written by filmmakers Jack Baxter and Joshua Faudem and illustrated by award-winning cartoonist Koren Shadmi, Mike's Place chronicles the true story of an infamous terrorist attack in painstaking detail. Rarely has the slow build to tragedy, and the rebirth that follows, been captured with such a compassionate and unflinching eye.
This one is a must-read if you enjoy graphic non-fiction.  It would also make a great transition book for those who are fans of graphic novels but don't normally gravitate towards books about history or current events.  What I enjoyed most is that this is a story about the people who populate Mike's Place and their relationships before and after a terrorist attack.  It doesn't get into the politics of conflict in the Middle East.  At its heart it's a personal account of private lives that are affected by politics, but doesn't make a judgment or statement about those politics.  I'm now on the lookout for the documentary that the story is based on, Blues by the Beach.

 From Goodreads:
This collection contains Diffee’s funniest drawings and writings from the past decade as well as all-new cartoons and sketches organized into categories that will appeal to smart attractive people in all walks of life, based on profession and circumstance: smart attractive Medical Professionals, sharp and good-looking Old People; beautiful geniuses in Prison; brainy handsome Lumberjacks; and more. Are you an alluring well-read utensil user? Well, there’s a chapter just for you!

If you’re a fan of Demetri Martin and Jack Handey, or if you happen to be George Clooney or Natalie Portman, Hand Drawn Jokes for Smart Attractive People will leave you laughing your smart attractive ass off.
And on a totally different note, I also enjoyed this collection of cartoons from a prominent New Yorker cartoonist.  I liked Diffee's sense of humor and enjoyed it, but I wasn't just blown away.  I think it's pretty normal for me to only really "get" about three quarters of the jokes you find in the New Yorker, and the same could be said for this book.  Some parts just didn't resonate and I felt like I needed the joke explained.  But the jokes that I got were quite entertaining.  It wasn't a laugh out loud book for me, but it was worth the short time it took to read and made for great diversionary reading.

Thanks to NetGalley for providing me with copies of these books to review.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Mini-Reviews: First Jobs by Merritt Watts and The Job by Steve Osborne

From Goodreads:
Steve Osborne has seen a thing or two in his twenty years in the NYPD—some harmless things, some definitely not. In "Stakeout," Steve and his partner mistake a Manhattan dentist for an armed robbery suspect and reduce the man down to a puddle of snot and tears when questioning him. In "Mug Shot," the mother of a suspected criminal makes a strange request and provides a sobering reminder of the humanity at stake in his profession. And in "Home," the image of his family provides the adrenaline he needs to fight for his life when assaulted by two armed and violent crackheads. From his days as a rookie cop to the time spent patrolling in the Anti-Crime Unit—and his visceral, harrowing recollections of working during 9/11—Steve Osborne's stories capture both the absurdity of police work and the bravery of those who do it. His stories will speak to those nostalgic for the New York City of the 1980s and '90s, a bygone era of when the city was a crazier, more dangerous (and possibly more interesting) place.
Nothing spectacular here, but solidly done.  I really appreciated reading the book from Osborne's voice and not from the voice of a ghost writer.  It meant that the book really captured his voice - I could basically hear the New York accent through the page.  It wasn't overly polished, but it sounded like the voice of a NYPD cop.

Entertainment Value
Osborne got started with storytelling on The Moth and you can see that storytelling is really where he shines.  I loved each anecdote and think I would have enjoyed them even more in audio format.  If you're a fan of podcasts like The Moth or This American Life or Story Corps, this is exactly the same kind of stuff you'll find there.  Anecdotes of personal life, told well, and reflecting Osborne's personality.

I think something about the format translates better when you can hear the storyteller speaking than just in reading, but this is definitely worthwhile in print format too.  I'll be looking up the author's stories and trying to find them in the Moth's archives so I can hear them as well.

A future mayor shining shoes, an atheist shilling Bible, a housewife heading to work during World War II, a now-famous designer getting fired - we all got our start somewhere. A first job may not have the romance of the first kiss or the excitement of a first car, but more than anything else, it offers a taste of true independence and a preview of what the world has in store for us. In The First Job, reporter Merritt Watts collects real stories of these early forays into the workforce from a range of eras and industries, and a diversity of backgrounds. For some, a first job is a warm welcome to the working world. For others, it's a rude awaking, but as these stories show, it's an influential, entertaining experience that should not be underestimated. This book transforms what we might think of as a single, unassuming line at the bottom of a resume into a collection of absorbing tales and hard-earned wisdom to which we can all, for better or worse, relate. Perfect graduation gift; Picador True Tales is a new series of books in which reporters select short, candid, as-told-to, first-person narratives, and curate them in fascinating anthologies. The stories you'll discover within these books will be by turns hilarious, wise, and heartbreaking.
Much like The Job, this book consists of persona essays from various people about the first jobs they ever worked - from the horrible to the inspiring.  Some have a better quality of writing than the others, but the true standout here is in the personal anecdotes, not in the writing itself.

Entertainment Value
Again, I'd highly recommend this to those who enjoy hearing personal stories along the lines of Story Corps or This American Life.  These are short and easy to read and have a pretty broad appeal.  And like a podcast, you can read just one at a time here and there or you can binge on them.

Worth checking out, especially if you had a terrible first job and can identify with some of the madness these people dealt with.  It's not something that I think people will be itching to get their hands on, but I think it's a pleasant diversionary read.

Thanks to NetGalley for providing me with copies of these titles to review!

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

What I Read in June - Half a Year's Reading Progress

I'm not going to lie, Reader Friends - I hate summer.  I love living in Georgia, but June through August is just flat out misery.  It is so hot my body basically just gives up.  I've managed to avoid going outside for the most part, although we did fit in one evening hike to Sunset Rock on Lookout Mountain at the beginning of the month that wasn't too terrible.  And the view was totally worth it:

Other than that, I've been spending all my time indoors, doing everything I can to keep from wilting in the heat.  That doesn't mean I haven't stayed busy, though.  I put in twenty hours of volunteer work processing books at the Chattanooga Public Library, which earned me a library card (those who don't live in the city either pay or volunteer to get a card).  I also had a great yoga month and finally, after seven years as a platinum blonde, returned to my natural hair color.

Staying inside apparently also really boosted my appetite for reading, because I read almost as much this month as I did in March. 

Save the Date by Jen Doll
I Was A Child Bruce by Eric Kaplan
Yoga for Your Mind and Body by Rebecca Rissman
Bodies by Si Spencer
100 Skills for the End of the World As We Know It by Ana Maria Spagna
Batman: The Killing Joke by Alan Moore
Irrationally Yours by Dan Ariely
When Books Went to War by Molly Guptill Manning
The Blondes by Emily Schultz
Assassin's Apprentice by Robin Hobb
First Jobs by Merritt Watts
Batman: Earth One by Geoff Johns
Love May Fail by Matthew Quick
The Best American Comics 2013 by Jeff Smith
All The Rage by Courtney Summers
Nimona by Noelle Stevenson
The Job by Steve Osborne
Ravensbruck by Sarah Helm
Jackaby by William Ritter
The Evil Hours by David J. Morris
Tomboy by Liz Prince
The Wrong Man by Kate White

Total books read: 22
Total pages read: 5753

I'm thrilled to say that I'm nearing my year-long goal of 150 books and will be boosting my goal to 200 for the year.  I'm also significantly behind on reviews.  I'm going to have a marathon writing day on Friday, but be looking for some mini-review posts as I catch up and try to get my slate clean for the second half of 2015.

What did you read in June?

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Book Review: The Wrong Man by Kate White

From Goodreads:
She wanted to be more daring, but one small risk is about to cost her everything­—maybe even her life.

Bold and adventurous in her work as owner of one of Manhattan's boutique interior design firms, Kit Finn couldn't be tamer in her personal life. While on vacation in the Florida Keys, Kit resolves to do something risky for once. When she literally bumps into a charming stranger at her hotel, she decides to make good on her promise and act on her attraction.

But back in New York, when Kit arrives at his luxury apartment ready to pick up where they left off in the Keys, she doesn't recognize the man standing on the other side of the door.

Was this a cruel joke or part of something truly sinister? Kit soon realizes that she's been thrown into a treacherous plot, which is both deeper and deadlier than she could have ever imagined. Now the only way to protect herself, her business, and the people she loves is to find out the true identity of the man who has turned her life upside down.

Adrenaline-charged and filled with harrowing twists at every turn, The Wrong Man will keep readers riveted until the final page.
I hate to say it, but I was pretty disappointed with the quality of the writing here.  I had hoped that, with her latest release, White would have tightened up on some of the issues that I found in her earlier book.  There is still way way way too much writing for the story.  I felt like we were dragged through every second of Kit's day, when only 60% of what we read was relevant to the story.  It could have easily lost fifty pages of Kit walking places, making coffee, or riding in airplanes.  It definitely didn't help that the plot and characters were over-the-top unbelievable and the dialogue was cringe-worthy.  I was really unimpressed in terms of writing.

Entertainment Value
It was more entertaining than it was well-written, but I have to say that even here I expected more.  I read the author's book The Sixes and, while I also found it to be over-written, I enjoyed the read.  In this one, however, I figured out the "twists" well ahead of time and didn't find myself caring all that much about the characters and what would happen to them.  I did like that the author also used cliff-hanger chapter endings in this book, but I felt like some were very anti-climactic.

I had hoped for more.  I enjoyed my read of The Sixes despite some issues with the writing, but I found the writing in this one to be so distracting that I couldn't get past it and lose myself in the story.  I also found the characters less compelling and never really attached to them, making it hard to care whether or not they made it out of their mess alive.  I have one other book by the author, and I do still plan to read it and see if it's more like The Sixes or more like The Wrong Man before giving up on the author.  This is a potential read for those who are fans of very light and easy to follow romantic suspense, but probably won't capture the attention of those like me who are still looking for the next Gone Girl read-alike.  I'd probably recommend passing on this one for the time and picking up The Sixes instead.

Thanks to TLC for providing me with a copy to review!  Click here to see the other stops on the tour.

Monday, June 29, 2015

The Choose Your Own Adventure Book Club (Adventure 3)

This month's Choose Your Own Adventure Book Club (click here if you're new to the idea) theme was Frienemies and BFFs.  Halina showed up with homemade apple sharlotka and of course we had lots of coffee and tea and book talk.  I'm going to jump right in with the list of what we read.

Rachel read Nimona by Noelle Stevenson
It's pretty quickly making its way through the book club lending circle (I had my turn last week) and it's becoming a favorite of everyone.  I love reading a graphic novel with a believable female protagonist and the friendship/rivalry between Ballister Blackheart and Amborsius Goldenloin is so adorable I can barely stand it.  It's a must read and I'll have a review posted at some point in the future.

Stephanie read The Precious One by Marisa de los Santos
The friendship in this one is between sisters, which is one of my very favorite relationships to explore in books.  I've got a copy of this one and I'm a fan of de los Santos' other books, so I'll be boosting this one up the TBR list for sure.

Halina read Reunited by Hilary Weisman Graham

Ex-best-friends go on a road trip to see a reunion show played by their favorite boy band.  What's not to love here?  I've added it to my list - it sounds like a perfect summer read.

And I read The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma
You can click here to see my full review of the book, but the long and short of it is that it's an intriguing and shocking story about two ballet dancers, a vicious murder, and a mysterious mass murder at a prison for young girls.  You should definitely read it.

A few others I've read recently that I think would make good choices:
All the Rage by Courtney Summers (or really any of her books, including Some Girls Are and Cracked Up to Be)
My Antonia by Willa Cather
Lumberjanes by Noelle Stevenson

And a few things we spent a good bit of time discussing that are totally and completely unrelated but worth mentioning:

Gilmore Girls (if you haven't watched it, do, and if you don't like it, never tell Stephanie).  Somehow this one seems to come up at pretty much every meeting, so you can go ahead and assume it was discussed at some point during every meeting we've ever had.

Doctor Horrible's Sing Along Blog

Next month's adventure is Books Set in a Boarding School.  As always, I'd love to see any of your own recommendations for books about BFFs and Frienemies OR for books set in a boarding school!

Friday, June 19, 2015

Comics Friday: Bodies by Si Spencer

From Goodreads:
VERTIGO brings you a graphic novel with four detectives, four time periods, and four dead bodies - all set in London. Edmond Hillinghead is an 1890s overachiever who's trying to solve a murder no one cares about while hiding his own secret. Karl Whiteman is our dashing 1940s adventurer with a shocking past. Shahara Hasan is 2014's kickass female Detective Sergeant, who walks the line between religion and power. And Maplewood, an amnesiac from post-apocalyptic 2050, brings a haunting perspective to it all. 
So the cover here is amazing, am I wrong?  It's the first thing that grabbed my attention.  I love the juxtaposition of the proper vintage lady with the blood splatter.  Even the font used for the text is cool and reflects the various time periods during which the series is set.  The artwork on the inside is no less beautiful.  I have nothing but great things to say about the quality of the illustrations and how much fun this is to look at.  I'll be seeking out other work by Tula Lotay and Phil Winslade.

That said, I was less than impressed with the story itself.  The first few issues had me very much intrigued.  I wanted to know more about the secret society that seems to have its hand in decades worth of mystery and I really liked the characters, especially Shahara Hasan (the modern day detective).  I was super disappointed with the ending, however.  I just didn't think it made a lot of sense and it felt very anti-climactic.  It has a huge build up and what felt like a very small and hurried ending.  The travel through time periods was hard to get used to at first, but once I got into it, it was less of a problem.

I think there are certain readers this will appeal to, but I'm not one of them.  I didn't like the way the end seemed thrown together and didn't make total sense.  I wasn't sure at the end who the "bad guy" was and if there even was a bad guy.  Maybe that makes it more sophisticated, but for me it made it confusing and disappointing.  Not the best I've read by any stretch.

Thanks to NetGalley for providing me with a copy to review

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Book Review: After a While You Just Get Used to It by Gwendolyn Knapp

From Goodreads:
Growing up in a dying breed of eccentric Florida crackers, Knapp thought she had it rough—what with her pack rat mother, Margie; her aunt Susie, who has fewer teeth than prison stays; and Margie’s bipolar boyfriend, John. But not long after Knapp moves to New Orleans, Margie packs up her House of Hoarders and follows along. As if Knapp weren’t struggling enough to keep herself afloat, working odd jobs and trying to find love while suffering from irritable bowel syndrome, the thirty-year-old realizes that she’s never going to escape her family’s unendingly dysfunctional drama.
Knapp honed her writing chops and distinctive Southern Gothic–humor style writing short pieces and participating in the renowned reading series Literary Death Match. Now, like bestselling authors Jenny Lawson, Laurie Notaro, and Julie Klausner before her, Knapp bares her sad and twisted life for readers everywhere to enjoy.
There's a certain brand of memoir that I feel like I've read too much of lately.  It's a woman approximately my age who can't seem to grow up and get settled - she spends the entire book drinking, sleeping with everyone, and has little to no self-esteem (like Lena Dunham or Alida Nugent).  And it's supposed to be super funny.  I am so happy to say that this is NOT one of those memoirs.  Knapp struggles and dates the wrong guy and messes up, but she's also working hard on her life and on being an adult.  She takes responsibility for herself and tries to do better, which makes it so much more enjoyable to read about the hilarious situations she winds up in.  The reader doesn't have to feel guilty for laughing, because you trust that Knapp is actually going to make it in the end.

Not only does Knapp's humor not make me sad, it actually makes me laugh.  I can really appreciate a dysfunctional Southern family and that's what Knapp has in spades.  She keeps it genuine, including some of the difficulties, but her sense of humor shines through all of it.  I definitely think the comparison to Jenny Lawson and Laurie Notaro is apt.

Entertainment Value
I guess my comments on the writing could also be taken as comments on the entertainment value.  It's funny, it made me laugh out loud, and I thought Knapp was charming and believable.  I've avoided a lot of memoirs by authors of my generation because I do tend to find them living in a perpetual adolescence, but I loved the Knapp doesn't seem to be taking that path (much like Lawson, in my opinion).  Yes, she has hard times and she does make light of them, but she's not static and stuck in her misery.  I came out of the book feeling happy for her and appreciating her take on poor Southern life, rather than feeling bad for her and hoping she doesn't drink herself to death within the next five years.

I loved it, found her hilarious and uplifting, and can't wait to see what she writes next.  This is a perfect follow up for fans of Jenny Lawson and makes great reading for those who want to read something by a woman who is taking on her hardships with a brilliant sense of humor.  If you want to read something funny by someone smart, this is where to go.

Thanks to Roshe and Penguin Random House for providing me with a copy to review!