Friday, November 30, 2012

Book Review: Iron: Or, the World After by Shane-Michael Vidaurri

I always say I am a fan of graphic novels, but as I sat down to write my review for this one, I realized I have never reviewed a graphic novel on the blog before.  I think I'll skip my usual Writing/Entertainment Value review, but my review for the "writing" will also include the artwork and focus more on the story telling and originality, since most graphic novels don't have that much actual writing in them.  I'm also going to use the publisher's description from Goodreads to summarize:

IN A WORLD OF CONSTANT WINTER... When an intelligence spy from the Resistance-the rabbit, Hardin-steals secret information from a military base of the Regime, his actions set off a chain of events that reverberates through the ranks of both sides, touching everyone from the highest-ranking official to the smallest orphaned child. When the snow finally settles, who will be the true patriot and who the true traitor?

I feel like the story itself was trying a little hard.  It was super vague and it took me a good half of the book to figure out what was actually going on.  The vagueness felt intentional too - like the author was wanting it to be very deep and intellectual and thought-provoking, but instead it was just hard to understand the basic story.  I'm sure there is some philosophical statement in there somewhere that was being made about war and regimes and loyalty and the effects on children, but it was trying too hard to make those statements overtly ambiguous and wound up just being muddy.

The characters, however, were fantastic.  Once I finally figured out what exactly was going on plot-wise, I came to really appreciate the individuality of each character and his or her motivations.  For me, in terms of story, the highlight was not the plot or the overall message, but seeing the motivations of each character and getting insight into what made them who they are.  It's really cool that the author was able to do this in a graphic novel with so little text.

As far as the artwork goes, I have absolutely no complaints.  I read the book on Adobe Digital Editions so I could see color and so that the images would be larger.  I hate reading graphic novels on my ereader.  It makes it really hard to pick up detail.  Anyway, this is done in an ink-wash style, which I have read is very difficult, but the results are absolutely gorgeous.  I highly recommend reading this one on a large screen or in paper format because I think a lot of the gorgeous details would be missed on a small or black and white screen.

Thank you to NetGalley for allowing me to review this one!

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Book Review: Judging a Book By Its Lover by Lauren Leto

Oh books about books - how I love them!  Seriously, it may just be my favorite sub-genre of non-fiction  And this one is humorous as well, so how much more perfect could it be?  (Spoiler alert: Kind of a lot, actually).  It's a collection of essays and lists on book lovers and how their minds work by Lauren Leto, and I had very high expectations for it.

Meh.  The problem to me was that the writing wasn't all that funny.  And I feel like I should mention that I skipped a large section in the middle of the book about how to discuss books you haven't read.  The author summarizes and gives "humorous" speaking points for a series of books that may come up in discussion.  I read the essays on those books that I don't plan on reading or have already read, but I skipped those I might want to read in the future because, spoilers?  Anyway, it just seemed odd to me to have such a long portion of the book devoted to pretending to have read important works of literature in a book that is intended for bookworms.  I think we generally frown on that, don't we?  It was a joke though, but it just wasn't funny for me.  I found some of her other musings on bookworms and our habits to be relatable and intriguing, but there weren't any laugh out loud moments for me.

Entertainment Value
See above.  I usually devour books about books, but I found myself not really into finishing this one.  It actually took me a while to get through it because it just didn't ring true for me as a book lover.  It seemed more like it was intended for the hipster crowd who wants to be perceived as intellectual?  At times she seemed to have a reverence for good literature and great books and at other times she seemed to be trying to skewer the intelligentsia.  I never got a clear picture of what she really thinks about books and writing.  It all seemed to me to be a major attempt at irony and snark that didn't come off as genuine. 

Not a bad read, but, for me, it was too concerned with how to be impressive and appear well-read as opposed to just loving books.  It's one that I'll put on my shelf and may go back to at some point, but it's not going to ever be a favorite.  I would recommend My Reading Life by Pat Conroy (although not as humorous) or Bibliotherapy as alternatives.

Thanks to Harper Perennial for sending me a copy to review!

Monday, November 26, 2012

Sony Readers Book Club

When I saw that Sony was introducing a new Readers Club and soliciting applications for 24 VIP inaugural members, I was pretty excited.  I figured it was a long shot, but the benefits were awesome and it was worth answering the questions about why I love to read.  So you can imagine I was pretty shocked to find out I was actually accepted as one of the members!

As one of the VIP members, I won a Sony Reader and cover, digital copies of the first four book club picks, and a trip to California in February to meet the other members and one of the book club authors.  My Reader came in the mail last week and I have used it almost non-stop since. 

Our first discussion book is Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor.  We'll be discussing it this Wednesday, November 28th, from 12:30 PM - 1:30 PM PST (3:30 - 4:30 for me here in EST).  You can find the discussion on the discussion Facebook tab.

I'm super excited to be participating in this and I'm planning a big review of the reader itself later on.  For now I'll just say that I'm in love.  Look how pretty:

Sorry for the poor quality.  My cell phone camera is scratched and I'm stuck with blurry photos till I figure out if there's a way to fix it.  Anyway, this is my new baby.  I LOVE the red color, the light that came with the cover, and the ease of use.  I'm currently reading Black Dahlia and White Rose by Joyce Carol Oates on it, as well as Daughter of Smoke and Bone.  Hope you'll show up for our discussion on Wednesday!

Disclaimer: I want to be up front about what Sony is and isn't sponsoring on the blog, just so my readers are aware.  My gifts from Sony include the Reader and case, the trip to California, and the books for review.  My only obligations are to participate in the book club discussions and to show up in California for the in person meeting.  Any promotion I do regarding the book club, any reviews of the books I read for the book club, and any reviews of Sony products are still my honest opinion and not something Sony has asked me to provide.  Out of appreciation for my inclusion in the club, I'll be linking the books I read for the club to the Sony store, although I don't usually promote any one e-tailer over another.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Audiobook Review: Little Brother by Cory Doctorow

I realized recently that it's been quite a while since I wrote a negative book review.  Which is good, on one hand, because it means I've been reading lots of really good books.  However, I think negative reviews are often more interesting to read, inspire more discussion, and require more thoughfulness and contemplation from me.  So all of that to say, I'm really excited to be writing this review about why I absolutely hated Little Brother. 

Little Brother is about Marcus, a seventeen year old hacker, who just happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time during a terrorist attack on San Francisco.  He and his friends are gathered up and interrogated by DHS.  Marcus is eventually released, but his friend Darryl has disappeared.  The only recourse Marcus has is to use his online name M1k3y and his hacking skills to take down the DHS.

Unimpressive.  There was nothing seriously terrible abour the writing, other than the author's tendency to use his characters to soapbox political opinions in unbelievably stilted internal dialogue.  I found the technical descriptions of Marcus's hacking and computer use throughout the book interesting, but I suspect many readers will not.  If you aren't interested in detailed descriptions of computer hacks, you're going to be disappointed because that makes up a large portion of the book.  I found this to be the most entertaining part, however, because the characters in the book were just so terrible. 

It's obvious from the beginning that Doctorow has a political statement to make, and I don't begrudge him that.  Many amazing novels were written to make political statements.  I also appreciate the idea of using a novel to get young adults interested in a topic that they need to be educated about as they will be making the policies regarding Homeland Security in coming years.  My problem was that Doctorow so blatantly used his characters as vehicles of conveying his political ideals that they lost all believability.  They are stock - plain and simple - and there is no other way to describe them.  We have a heroic young activist, who tells us exactly what we ought to believe regarding the intrusions into our privacy that are being made in the name of security, and an evil villain who happens to run DHS and is determined to exact revenge on teenagers who made her look foolish at any cost. 

Entertainment Value
For me, there was little to be had in way of entertainment, mostly because I disliked Marcus/M1k3y so very much.  His main motivation seems to vary between getting revenge on DHS for the indignities he suffered while in their custody and saving his friend Darryl.  To accomplish these two things, he goes about the city, a city just ravaged by a savage terrorist attack, causing problems for security forces.  I appreciated Doctorow's depiction of a potential police state resulting from a terrorist attack, but I don't think teenagers screwing with security is the answer. 

Maybe this is my old lady grouch coming out, but I was seriously annoyed that Marcus was so entertained by basically making life more difficult for everyone in the city.  As a teenager, I think the "rebellion" would have appealed to me, but as an adult, I found it obnoxious.  I couldn't help but see things from an adult point of view - I'd be seriously upset if I found out that after a dangerous attack on our city some teenager had increased risk AND added time to my commute, work day, computer access, etc with his hacking.  So basically, I found Marcus's "rebellions" to be stupid, immature, and unhelpful to the city as a whole.  I also found his motivation for the rebellion to be ill-defined and childish.

I also found the depiction of adults in the book to be totally unbelievable.  The idea that a DHS head would become so obsessed with getting revenge on a teenager that she would put an entire city's safety into jeapordy was ludicrous.  I don't purport to defend everything DHS does.  There are tactics that our country has used or has the potential for using that I find deplorable.  BUT, I don't think they are motivated by revenge on a teenager who wouldn't give a cell phone password.  I mean, first of all, I don't think they need a teenager's cell phone password.  But secondly, I just find it unbelievable that someone who has worked her way up to being head of DHS would be as stupid and immature as our antagonist is portrayed to be.

Finally, there was so much telling in this book.  So very much telling.  We are constantly lectured with what is very clearly the author's views on security, internet monitoring, DHS, the 60's, Vietnam, civil protest, etc.  Rather than having the characters show why these things matter or developing the characters to a point where the reader would understand their motivations, the characters are simply used as puppets who constantly tell us what is good and bad, but who lack any depth. 

Oh man.  Not only was the book awful, but the narration made me want to scream.  Rather than reading Marcus's screen name as "Mikey", the narrator referred to him as "M-1-K-3-Y", which was grating.  That's really my only complaint with the narration, but since it happened constantly throughout the book it was pretty obnoxious.

Obviously, this is not a book I recommend.  I probably would have given up had I not really wanted to review it.  I think it does serve as a great example of some serious mistakes that authors can make in telling rather than showing, using stock characters who have no dimension, and focusing too much on the "message" of the story.  I do applaud the author's attempt to raise awareness on a subject that is highly important to American youth and hope that it will inspire students who read it to look into current legislation and form some ideas about what is working and what isn't.  But I also hope that American youth will not read this and take to heart the "Don't trust anyone over 25" slogan.  I don't think I need to explain why that's the dumbest thing I've ever heard.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Book Haul (8)

It's been quite some time since I've done this - long enough that I can't remember what exactly I've shown and what I haven't.  So instead of being a diligent blogger and going back through my old posts and figuring it out, I'm just going to post the books I could easily find last night when I decided to take pictures and call it even.  Cause that's the kind of blog this is, Reader Friends.

These two I bought for...are you sitting down?  FULL PRICE from Barnes and Noble.  That's how dedicated I am to A) Downton Abbey and B) my therapist.

The World of Downton Abbey by Jessica Fellowes: $16.90.  I kid you not - I really paid that much for a book!  Aside: My mom told me this weekend that my Mema is a DA fanatic, which just solidifies my secret (or not so secret) dream of faking old age and moving into Mema's retirement village to live with her and my Aunt Barbara.  I think we all know what Mema will be getting for Christmas this year.

The Untethered Soul by Michael A. Singer: $10.10.  This is one that my therapist asked me to read - she said she knows I'll be put off by the new agey-ness (blurb by Deepak Chopra?  ugh) but that if I can get past it I will appreciate some of what it has to say.  I'm trying.

Judging A Book By Its Lover by Lauren Leto
This one came for review from Harper Perennail.  Obviously, I'm in the middle of it right now and definitely enjoying it.  Review to come this week.

The Thieves of Legend by Richard Doetsch - this one came unsolicited from Atria.  It's the fourth book in a series and I love the cover, but I'm not sure about whether or not I'll read the book.  Anyone else read it?

The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton
This one came from Atria ages ago and I am feeling terribly guilty for not having read it yet.  I know I'll love it, and it's next on my list, I swear!

The Crimson Crown by Cinda Williams Chima.  My amazing friend Joyce sent me this as an early Christmas gift and...

It's signed!!!!!  It's proudly displayed on our bookcases next to Patrick Rothfuss.  Thank you, Joyce!

At this point, Sly realized he was being left out of a potential photo op and decided it was time to get himself involved.  I went to the used bookstore over the weekend and picked these up with exchange credit.

Freedom by Garrison Keillor: $0.50
Made In The USA by Billie Letts: $1.00

The Household Tips of the Great Writers by Mark Crick: $1.50

And finally (stop judging me!) the last two books I needed to complete my Shopaholic series,
Shopaholic and Sister: $1.00
Shopaholid and Baby: $1.00
both by Sophie Kinsella

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Book Review: Moranthology by Caitlin Moran

Yesterday I reviewed Moran's summer release, How To Be A Woman, and today I'm reviewing Moranthology, which is a collection of columns and articles written by Moran on everything from popular culture (Twitter, Doctor Who, Downton Abbey, Sherlock) to celebrities (Michael Jackson, Lady Gaga, Paul McCartney) to serious cultural issues (welfare, library closures, feminism).

Lots of these articles are hilarious, but since it's not straight-up humor, I'm going to separate my reviews for writing and entertainment value, although both are raves.  I mentioned in my review yesterday that many of the critiques of Moran's other book revolve around her sense of humor and whether or not it is tasteful.  Sense of humor aside, this book shows that Moran can write.  Her article on library closures in particular highlights her talent for thoughtful commentary.  And it doesn't hurt that her funny articles are laugh out loud hilarious. 

Entertainment Value
You saw above that she discusses Doctor Who, Downton Abbey, and Sherlock, right?  Is there even a need for me to write anything else in this section?  My three favorite shows and she is obsessed with all of them.  I think she and I could totally be BFFs and discuss our mutual love for Sherlock, pop culture ridiculousness, the Dowager Countess, and women being treated with respect. 

Love, love, love.  While yesterday's recommendation came with the caveat that Moran's humor can be less than clean and her language isn't always the most lady-like, these articles have all been published in widely-read magazines and newspapers and, therefore, tend to be more appealing to those who may not have appreciated How To Be A Woman as much due to the content.  There's still some bad language, but overall the book has a much friendly tone than How To Be A Woman.  I plan on forcing Bestie to AT LEAST read the reviews of Sherlock that are included.

Thanks to Harper Perennial for sending me a copy to review!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Book Review: How To Be A Woman by Caitlin Moran

I wasn't familiar with Caitlin Moran before getting a review pitch for it from Harper Collins.  I am a huge fan of humorous essays/memoirs and seeing this compared to Peggy Orenstein, Tina Fey, and Jenny Lawson ensured that I'd be reading it.  It's basically a combination of memoir and thoughts on feminism and what it means to be a woman.  Moran's take on feminism is fairly unique.  Her basic guide for deciding whether or not a woman is being discriminated against is whether or not a response would differ based on gender.  She's everything but strident and harsh in her approach to feminism and she's obviously open-minded.  She doesn't advocate for single-mindedness, but she asks for people from all sides of charged arguments to be polite and let others be polite in return.

Writing/Entertainment Value (I combine the two for humor)
I love Moran's style.  It's intensely casual, very sarcastic, and very British, which, of course, appeals to me.  However, you should know that Moran's style is not necessarily...ladylike.  She can be immature and vulgar (in a very funny way), but you should be aware going into it that it's not always nice.  It's also very direct.  She writes about every.single.part of being a woman: the first chapter involves pubic hair, periods, and masturbation. 

I've seen several reviews, including one from Bestie, that were really put off by the tone and subject matter.  I, on the other hand, wasn't bothered by the not-for-mixed-company themes and the very frank discussion of bodies and sex.  I think in certain settings (a book I read in private for example) that discussing those things, and even laughing about them, can be quite appropriate.  For those of us who think it's funny.  What I'm saying is, if you don't like that kind of thing, that's cool, this isn't for you and I respect that.  But for me, this didn't cross the line into crude humor.  In my opinion, it was done in an intelligent and thoughtful way that made me think more deeply about the world's expectations for women - after I got done laughing.

I loved it.  I loved how she talks to women who have children, how she talks to women who DON'T have children, how she addresses the media and the world's standards of beauty.  And she does it in a way that I think appeals to a wider audience than women who identify themselves as feminists.  Other than the too-crude critique, the other criticism I've seen is that it's not feminist enough.  Moran isn't taking an intellectual stand in the book, but that didn't bother me.  She's taking a social stand and a rational stand.  She not only appeals to the part of human nature that wants to be kind and fair, she also appeals to those who might stop listening to a lecture, but will learn from an open, lighthearted discussion.  I highly recommend giving it a try.

Thank you to Harper Collins for sending me a copy to review.  Look back here tomorrow for my review of Moran's recently published collection of columns and articles.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Book Review: How The French Invented Love by Marilyn Yalom

A good subtitle for this one might be "A Literary History of French Love".  I think that's important for the reader to know going in.  This book starts with the earliest of French literature in the Middle Ages and continues through the next 900 years, chronicling how French literature impacted French beliefs and attitudes towards romantic love.

I really appreciated the author's style.  She quotes generously from literary sources and, of course, the analysis of the literature and its impact on culture and society in France and throughout the world appealed to my inner English major.  However, the work remains accessible, I think, to any reader who is interested enough in literature and cultural development to read a work solely devoted to the subject.

Entertainment Value
This is definitely going to appeal to a specific kind of reader.  The writing isn't difficult to read and the author doesn't show off her critical talents by overloading the book with big words and literary phrases that the average reader won't understand.  However, it is a book about the history of literature.  It's not a page-turner or a medical mystery or a celebrity biography.  It focuses on a topic that will appeal to a fairly specific demographic.  If you love books and this history of literature and you also appreciate cultural analysis, this is perfect.  Which means I enjoyed it thoroughly.

Thank you to TLC for giving me a chance to review this one.  Click here for list of other tour stops.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

What I Read in October

October was an amazing reading month for me.  Listening to audiobooks on my commute and while I do housework has really made a difference in the amount I'm reading, as has putting Adobe Digital Editions on my computer and keeping an ebook queued up on my phone.  Also, the earlier it gets dark, the earlier I get into bed, although I still go to sleep at the same time - which means I spend an extra 30 minutes to an hour reading at night.  Here's what I read in October:

Virgins by Caryl Rivers
Dare Me by Megan Abbot
The One I Left Behind by Jennifer McMahon
Beauty Queens by Libba Bray
The Maze Runner by James Dashner
The Uninvited by Liz Jensen
Where'd You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple
Off Balance by Dominique Moceanu
I Suck at Girls by Justin Halpern
Things Your Dog Doesn't Want You To Know by Hy Conrad
Kilts and Kraken by Cindy Spencer Pape
Stolen Innocence by Elissa Wall
Most Talkative by Andy Cohen
Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn
Falling Together by Marisa de los Santos
And When She Was Good by Laura Lippman
What The Dead Know by Laura Lippman
The Demon King by Cinda Williams Chima

I can't remember if I posted this picture last month or not, but it's worth posting again because my tiny baby Chief is just the cutest ever.  No really, I could just stick him in my pocket and carry him around with me all day!  I love my pets.

As far as Luke and I are concerned, October was good.  Luke competed in a Tae-kwon Do tournament here in Chattanooga and, of course, won first place in board breaking.  I participated in the American Heart Association charity walk with my coworkers.  I'm also working on an epic sewing project that will hopefully be completed in time for Georgie's Christmas, as well as trying to make some baby items to share with friends who are expecting or have little ones. 

Monday, November 5, 2012

Book Review: Happily Ever Madder and Diary of a Mad Fat Girl by Stephanie McAfee

Cute covers, right?  And I think they pretty well advertise what you're going to get in the books - a light-hearted look at the life of a non-traditional Southern belle.  Ace, our main character, doesn't play by the typical Southern belle rules, but I think all Southern women can recognize themselves in her.  She's got spunk coming out her ears and that spunk seems to get her into some very precarious situations - especially when her friends get involved.  Both books follow Ace through some seriously hilarious situations and showcase her true Southern assets - a smart mouth and a fierce loyalty to the people she loves.

We're not necessarily talking a believable world, or even truly believable characters, but I don't think that's what the author is going for.  If the reader can relax and suspend a little disbelief about the number of hairy situations one person can find herself in, you're in for an immensely pleasurable ride.  The books may not be the most believable, but they ARE straight up hilarious.

Entertainment Value
Again, if you can relax and enjoy the books for what they is - ridiculously funny - you're going to be entertained.  It may be less appealing to those who don't typically enjoy Southern fiction and it will also appeal less to those who are put off by language and sex.  Otherwise, I say definitely pick it up.  Entertainment is the book's main appeal, as opposed to the writing. 

McAfee is hilarious and has totally captured a side of the South that frequently goes unwritten - at least as far as heroines are concerned.  Rather than giving us a cultured Southern belle with a peaches and cream personality, we get a personality who is often relegated to side-kick or even villain: the loud-mouth, outspoken, fierce firecracker.  And I liked that - a lot.

Thanks to Jessica and the Penguin Group for giving me the opportunity to read and review both of these.  

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Book Review: Understanding World Religions in 15 Minutes A Day by Garry R. Morgan

This is a basic guide to the major world religions - their history, development, and current beliefs and practices from Christian publisher Bethany House and author Garry R. Morgan.  All of the major belief systems and many of those that are not as widely known are covered.  Each chapter is 3-4 pages long and can be read quickly.  Obviously, each religion is only covered briefly and basically, so this isn't an in-depth exploration of religion, but more of a basic overview, appropriate for the lay reader. 

Morgan does an excellent job of covering each religion in a way that gives the reader a good understanding of the religion's basic tenets.  He also succeeds in writing in such a way that those who are not religious experts will understand.  I appreciated the way he kept his chapters brief, yet covered all the basics.  I think his writing style will appeal to a wide audience.  Those who are experts in world religions may find the information too basic, but I think the average reader will find them helpful and informative.  The book would also make a great discussion tool for a small group or even a youth group.  I think the writing has appeal for adults as well as teenagers.

Entertainment Value
I'm very interested in world religions and knowing what others believe and why, so this one fascinated me.  The format made it easy to digest in small amounts - I could read a chapter or two every night without any problem.  I think whether or not you'll be entertained by this book really depends on two things: your prior knowledge of world religions and your interest in world religions.  If you're not interested in learning about other religions or any religions, you're not going to find this interesting.  If you already know a great deal about world religions, you're probably also going to be bored, as most of the information contained is fairly basic.  But if you're just looking for a refresher on the big ones or if you're looking for the first time into some of the more obscure ones, this one is perfect.

A big thanks to Bethany House for sending me this to review.