Friday, November 29, 2013

Best of 2013 Extravaganza Intro

I started off planning to do a few genre-based "Best of" lists, similar to the ones I posted last year.  So I sat down and started reviewing what I've read this year and what I enjoyed the most and breaking it into genres...and I wound up with nine best of list and one worst of list.  So I decided instead of trying to narrow things down, I'll just go all out and make it a thing.

Starting Monday, I'll run three best of lists every week.  Hopefully doing them earlier in the month will leave time for any shopping you may be motivated to do after seeing my raves.  And then I'll end things up with a worst of/most disappointing list.

Hope you enjoy the series!  I'm also planning a "best of the best of lists" post, so if you're posting any best of lists, link me to them so I can include it!

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Audiobook Review: Call Me Irresistible by Susan Elizabeth Phillips

Earlier this year, I reviewed The Great Escape, also by Phillips.  When I was between audiobooks last month, I was excited to see that this one was available from FLP.  It's even part of the same series as The Great Escape, which I enjoyed.

From Goodreads:
R.S.V.P. to the most riotous wedding of the year . . . 

Lucy Jorik is the daughter of a former president of the United States. 

Meg Koranda is the offspring of legends. 

One of them is about to marry Mr. Irresistible—Ted Beaudine—the favorite son of Wynette, Texas. The other is not happy about it and is determined to save her friend from a mess of heartache. 

But even though Meg knows that breaking up her best friend's wedding is the right thing to do, no one else seems to agree. Faster than Lucy can say "I don't," Meg becomes the most hated woman in town—a town she's stuck in with a dead car, an empty wallet, and a very angry bridegroom. Broke, stranded, and without her famous parents at her back, Meg is sure she can survive on her own wits. What's the worst that can happen? Lose her heart to the one and only Mr. Irresistible? Not likely. Not likely at all.
Having enjoyed the other book, I expected to be equally caught up in this one.  It's also a romance novel and follows the same traditional romance plot line.  Unlike The Great Escape, however, I thought this one was almost unbearable.  I finished, but barely.  Things I hated about the writing: the characterization (sloppy and one dimensional), the plot line (boring and cliche), and the dialogue (totally unbelievable).  Honestly, I probably would have given some of these flaws a pass, given that I expected it to be a bubblegum read, but in light of the problematic content, I was just plain unforgiving of the writing.  And speaking of the problematic content...

Entertainment Value
I can't count the number of cringe-worthy romance tropes in the book.  Here are a few of the worst:

  • For the first half of the book at least, the male main character, Ted, hates the female main character, Meg.  He shows this by purposefully humiliating her at any given opportunity, including leering at and commenting on her unclothed body, which he sees when a mattress falls on top of her and she is forced to squirm her way out from underneath.  
  • Ted, in an attempt to seal a business deal, basically whores out Meg to an unscrupulous and sexually aggressive man.  The "bad guy"'s behavior includes unwanted groping and touching, including pressing his erection against our female lead while dancing.  Meg, who is trapped in the small town with no money, no friends, and no real place to stay, feels obligated to continue pretending to like this man and Ted doesn't make any attempts to stop it, despite repeatedly seeing her in distress and fighting against this man's physical advances..
  • This culminates in a scene in which Meg is flat-out assaulted.  While skinny dipping alone in a remote area, the "bad guy" approaches her, strips, and swims out into the water where he grabs her.  She's terrified and not sure whether or not he will rape her.  They are interrupted, and she escapes, but, despite her explicit fear that the man would rape her, and the fact that he physically assaulted her, she doesn't call the police or even tell anyone.  There are no lasting consequences either for the man who assaulted her or for Meg herself, who quickly and easily brushes things off and continues with life without any lingering fear or anxiety.  
It was the assault that really clenched things for me.  Up to that point, I had found the main characters to be unlikable and unsympathetic, particularly Ted.  Meg was totally helpless and spent more time running into Ted in her underwear than anyone could count.  It seemed like he stumbled across her in some state of undress in almost every scene.  Her embarrassment is played as erotic, which was squicky to me.  The sexual assault(s) on her from our "bad guy" and the way they were played off as casual and having no lasting effect on Meg made me angry.  

Long story short - I was not entertained, I was annoyed and angry.

No complaints here.  The narrator does a fine job and there's nothing to report as either exceptionally good or exceptionally bad.

I don't recommend.  And despite my happy first experience with the author, I'm not sure I'll pick anything up from her again.  I was just so turned off by the use of sexual assault as a romantic/plot motivator and the way it was treated so casually by the characters.  And also the fact that I thought most of the characters, including the main characters, were pretty much horrible people.  Just no.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Children's Book Review: Sun Moon Star by Kurt Vonnegut

Vonnegut wrote a children's book about the first hours after Christ's birth - am I the only one who had no idea this existed?  It's kind of amazing.  Vonnegut had the illustrator, Ivan Chermayeff come up with the illustrations first, and then wrote the story around the pictures.  It's all done in a very simple style and tells the story of what Jesus saw during the hours after his birth.

The concept is great, and, obviously, it's by Vonnegut so the writing is amazing.  While the subject matter is definitely a departure from his adult works, the writing style is immediately recognizable as Vonnegut's.   I loved that the style is so consistent with who he is as an author, despite the fact that he's writing for a younger audience.

This is definitely one that I'm going to be on the lookout for to purchase to read to my favorite boy and girl this Christmas.  From what I can tell, it's still very difficult to find in print, but has been re-released as a Kindle book and is available for a very reasonable price.

I also managed to find this link to a YouTube video of Vonnegut reading the book himself that is definitely worth checking out.

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

Friday, November 22, 2013

Book Haul (15)

It's been a few months since I posted a book haul, so I've got quite a few books to catch up on.  

This book is gigantic, and I can't wait to dig into it.  I think it'll be perfect to keep on my nightstand and read a few each night. 

Yeah, yeah, it's sideways and I'm too lazy to go change it.  Just turn your head, ok?
Tinkers by Paul Harding - picked up from McKays for $1

Picked up both from McKays for a total of $1

Throw The Damn Ball - received (unsolicited) from Plume

Early Decision by Lacy Crawford - received from William Morrow
Four Summoner's Tales - received (unsolicited) from Gallery Books

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Gone Reading Review

This is my second year to have the pleasure of working with and posting about Gone Reading.  They're a book-themed company that works to promote literacy by donating 100% of their after-tax profits to reading-related charities.  Their latest project funded a library in Ethiopia - you can click here to read all about it.  And their store is full of amazing bookish gifts, clothing, and decor.  

They were kind enough this year to send me one of their products to review.  I got their Oscar Wilde Library candle (which smells amazing - cedarwood, thyme, and basic) and comes in the most gorgeous packaging.  

And here it is in it's proud new home on my bookcases.  Beautiful, isn't it?

If you're shopping for bookish Christmas gifts, Gone Reading is definitely the way to go.  I'm so impressed with the candle, but they've got lots of other goodies too.  Please check them out and support their mission.  It's not just a great way to shop, it's also a great way to give back and promote world-wide literacy.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Book Review: Seven Deadlies by Gigi Levangie

From Goodreads:
Perry Gonzalez is not like the other kids in her Beverly Hills high school—a full-blooded Latina on a scholarship, living in a tiny apartment with her mother, she doesn’t have much in common with the spoiled, privileged kids who are chauffeured to school every morning. 
But Perry is a budding young writer with her sights set on Bennington—and her seven deadly stories are her ticket to the Ivory Tower. To pay her way, Perry’s been babysitting (correction: teenage-sitting) and tutoring the neighborhood kids, and she has seen the dark side of adolescence: lust for the “Judas Brothers” that leads to electrocution at a private birthday party concert; wrath that inspires new and perverse family bonds; and greed, in a young Bernie Madoff acolyte who conceives of a copycat Ponzi scheme involving his own grandmother.
I wasn't terribly impressed with the quality of the writing.  It was mediocre at best and, to be honest, sloppy in others.  I wasn't bothered by the moralistic tone of the stories - it was kind of the point of the book.  Exaggeratedly describing the seven deadly sins and their logical consequences was the theme of the book and I was relatively pleased with those portions.  But the end, ruined the book for me.  The ending reveals a "secret" that makes the entire book pointless.  It's where everything fell apart.

Entertainment Value
This is like a modern take on the Miss Piggle-Wiggle books, which are some of my childhood favorites.  They're appropriate for a middle grade audience and I didn't have any major problems with them until the end.  The epilogue just ruined the entire thing for me.  I wasn't impressed and felt like I had wasted my time.

Meh.  The ending ruined the book for me.  Do not recommend.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Book Review: Watchmen by Alan Moore

This is another graphic novel that I read for the MOOC course I took (and didn't finish...womp womp) on comic books and graphic novels.  From Goodreads:
This Hugo Award-winning graphic novel chronicles the fall from grace of a group of super-heroes plagued by all-too-human failings. Along the way, the concept of the super-hero is dissected as the heroes are stalked by an unknown assassin.
So basically the plot here is an alternate history where everyday Americans took over the whole crime fighting thing from the police.  No super powers, just vigilante justice.  And for a while they were popular and appreciated and worked in an organized fashion with police, but now (mid-80's) they have lost their popularity and are, basically, out of business.  Someone starts to kill the old super heroes off one by one and the few remaining heroes are forced to try to find out who is doing it.

There's so much going on here, I'm scared to even try to start unpacking it all: from an examination of the whole concept of super heroes to the Vietnam War generation to commercialization to aging, it's got a whole lot going on.  It's one of those that takes a while to read because there are so many things happening.  There's the general storyline, but there's also a bazillion subplots and themes running through it as well.  I was impressed with how much Moore was able to pack in without losing the story line.

Entertainment Value
Compared to many of the other graphic novels I read for the course, this one has a lot of text.  And at some points that made it harder to read.  It took me a while to really get into it.  Once I got through the first fifty or so pages, though, I was hooked.  The story line had me interested, but it was really all of the artistic elements that kept my attention.  Each panel seemed to have something unique in it, something that really needed to be studied and that could relate back to a previous panel.  I was overwhelmed by the careful detail put into it.

If you're into graphic novels or general geekery, this is kind of a must-read.  I'll give the warning that it's dark and contains some nudity, lots of violence, and a sexual assault depiction.  Those things could be a major turn off for some of my readers, but if you're looking to get into reading comics and graphic novels, or if you're wanting to have a point of reference for modern geek culture, this is a great choice.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Book Review: Allegiant by Veronica Roth

**Heads up, Reader Friends, this review is going to contain spoilers for the first two books in the series, so now is the time to look away if you haven't read them**

From Goodreads
The faction-based society that Tris Prior once believed in is shattered—fractured by violence and power struggles and scarred by loss and betrayal. So when offered a chance to explore the world past the limits she’s known, Tris is ready. Perhaps beyond the fence, she and Tobias will find a simple new life together, free from complicated lies, tangled loyalties, and painful memories. 

But Tris’s new reality is even more alarming than the one she left behind. Old discoveries are quickly rendered meaningless. Explosive new truths change the hearts of those she loves. And once again, Tris must battle to comprehend the complexities of human nature—and of herself—while facing impossible choices about courage, allegiance, sacrifice, and love.
Click here for my review of Divergent
Click here for my review of Insurgent 

There was way too much going on in this book.  I really wish that instead of introducing new plot elements and political intrigue, Roth had stuck with fleshing out and finishing what she already had going.  By the end of the book I was totally overwhelmed by all of the revolutions and counter-revolutions and counter-counter-revolutions and just didn't care anymore.

I also wasn't a fan of the dual points of view.  For one thing, I felt like it spoiled the ending of the book.  It made things fairly blatant, at least as far as I was concerned.  For another thing, the two voices were almost indistinguishable.  I found myself having to review the section headers to see whose voice I was reading in, which is never a good thing.

As for the positives, as far as the writing was concerned, I was impressed that she had the courage to take her ending to a potentially dangerous place as far as her readers are concerned.  She didn't give in to the pressure to wrap things up neatly, and I appreciate that.  Unfortunately, there wasn't much else that impressed me.

Entertainment Value
I loved Divergent, liked Insurgent, and tolerated Allegiant.  It was by far the weakest of the three books.  I'm glad I read it, because I did like the way Roth ended things, but I was bored for the majority of the book.  There were many times I was tempted to give up and just read spoilers.  I'm glad I didn't do that.  I think the ending is strong enough to make the first three quarters of slogging through it worth the effort.

That said, this book just didn't capture me the way the other two did.  I didn't care about the characters, I was distracted by all of the plot threads, and I didn't find the voices of either narrator (Tris and Four) to be particularly well-done or likable.  I was, frankly, bored for a large part of the book.

My recommendation is that if you've started the series and made it this far, it's worth finishing.  It's not a huge time commitment and it does move along fairly quickly, even if it feels like it's dragging at parts.  However, it's not a series that I would recommend to someone who hasn't already started it.  I loved Divergent, but with the problems in Insurgent and Allegiant, I feel like it was just an ok series.  So if you're not typically a YA reader, this isn't something you're going to be missing out on if you skip it.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Book Review: We Are Water by Wally Lamb

Wally Lamb is an automatic must-read author for me.  I'm a huge fan of his long, sprawling family epics.  So obviously, I was thrilled to have a chance to review this one through TLC.  From Goodreads:

In middle age, Anna Oh-wife, mother, outsider artist-has shaken her family to its core. After twenty-seven years of marriage and three children, Anna has fallen in love with Vivica, the wealthy, cultured, confident Manhattan art dealer who orchestrated her professional success.

Anna and Viveca plan to wed in the Oh family's hometown of Three Rivers in Connecticut, where gay marriage has recently been legalized. But the impending wedding provokes some very mixed reactions and opens a Pandora's Box of toxic secrets-dark and painful truths that have festered below the surface of the Ohs' lives.

We Are Water is an intricate and layered portrait of marriage, family, and the inexorable need for understanding and connection, told in the alternating voices of the Ohs-nonconformist Annie; her ex-husband, Orion, a psychologist; Ariane, the do-gooder daughter, and her twin, Andrew, the rebellious only son; and free-spirited Marissa, the youngest Oh. Set in New England and New York during the first years of the Obama presidency, it is also a portrait of modern America, exploring issues of class, changing social mores, the legacy of racial violence, and the nature of creativity and art.
As you can see, this one is just as long and sprawling as his others.  We get the story from multiple points of view, which I always enjoy.  Lamb does a great job of creating unique voices for each of the characters who narrate.  I really appreciate when an author is able to do multiple points of view in a way that gives a distinct voice to each narrator.  In this book you can tell who is narrating clearly, even without having the chapters titled.

As always, I thoroughly respect Lamb's ability to weave the plot pieces together.  He doesn't lose track of plot threads and there are consistent moments throughout the story when you realize exactly what he's been doing all along.  I love those moments.

Entertainment Value
The pacing in this one was spot on for me.  It's not a thriller, it doesn't race, but it's also not plodding.  It's exactly what you'd expect from a family drama.  And, as in real life, it's the small moments in the family's interactions with each other that are most important, rather than shocking or dramatic happenings (although those also abound).  It's a long book and not action packed, but it kept me interested and wanting to read more.

I definitely recommend reading this if you're a fan of family dramas or of Lamb's other books.  It definitely succeeded for me, although it may not be the ideal book for someone looking for lots of action.

Thank you to TLC for providing me with a copy to review.  Click here for links to the rest of the blogs on the tour.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

What's Making Me Happy This Week

This is gonna be a quick one, but I needed to get it out there, particularly the "Shrinking Woman" video.  It's something I can't seem to get off my mind.  So here's what's making me happy this week:

This article from The F Word on the review of Booker winner Eleanor Catton in the Times that focuses more on her appearance than on her work.

This clip from a poetry slam on the shrinking of women:

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Book Review: The Tiny Book of Tiny Stories, Volume 3

If you've read my blog for any length of time, you know that I'm a giant fan of this series, which is pretty much the cutest ever.  It's a collaborative effort from HitRECORD and Joseph Gordon-Levitt.  Each tiny book contains micro-stories, composed of anything from one or two sentences to just a few words and an image.  The images and stories come from HitRECORD's online collaborative efforts - basically the entire book is user-generated.  And I'd be remiss if I didn't include Joseph Gordon-Levitt's video about the project:


The entire series is amazing, and I loved having the opportunity to read this third volume.  If you're planning your Christmas shopping already, keep these in mind.  They make amazing stocking stuffers!

Click here to see my review of the first volume (with its own awesome JGL video)
Click here to see my review of the second volume (also with a JGL video)

Thanks to Harper Collins for providing me with a copy to review.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Book Review: Parasite by Mira Grant

From my good friend Goodreads: 
A decade in the future, humanity thrives in the absence of sickness and disease. 
We owe our good health to a humble parasite - a genetically engineered tapeworm developed by the pioneering SymboGen Corporation. When implanted, the tapeworm protects us from illness, boosts our immune system - even secretes designer drugs. It's been successful beyond the scientists' wildest dreams. Now, years on, almost every human being has a SymboGen tapeworm living within them. 
But these parasites are getting restless. They want their own lives...and will do anything to get them.
Oh Orbit.  You had me at "Mira Grant" and "tapeworm."  My previous experience with Grant's writing has been through her Newsflesh trilogy, which I love and still need to finish.  The idea of an apocalypse centering around parasites just made me even more excited for her latest book.

Mira Grant certainly deserves her place on all of the SF/F awards lists you'll find her books on.  She's a great writer.  Her ideas are original and her research is flawless.  I love how science-y (that's a technical term) she makes her books.  You can tell with this one that she really knew what she was writing about.

Entertainment Value
I was intrigued by it, but not engrossed.  I'll definitely finish the series, and it's probably a book I'll want to own, but I'm not rushing out to buy it right this second.  It got off to a bit of a slow start for me, but once it took off I was captivated.  I even stayed up late at night to finish it, which is always the mark of a good book for me.

If you like apocalypses, parasitology, or just general science fiction/fantasy, this is a good book to read.  I recommend it.  On the other hand, if you're turned off by scientific descriptions and you're just wanting straight action, this may not be the one for you.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Book Review: The Marbury Lens by Andrew Smith

I think for the duration of this month, since I'm doing NaNoWriMo, I'm going to cut myself some slack and just use the publisher's description on my book reviews.  Lazy, I know, but it's either that or put the blog on hiatus and I don't want to do that.  I give you the Goodreads description:
Sixteen-year-old Jack gets drunk and is in the wrong place at the wrong time. He is kidnapped. He escapes, narrowly. The only person he tells is his best friend, Conner. When they arrive in London as planned for summer break, a stranger hands Jack a pair of glasses. Through the lenses, he sees another world called Marbury.

There is war in Marbury. It is a desolate and murderous place where Jack is responsible for the survival of two younger boys. Conner is there, too. But he’s trying to kill them.

Meanwhile, Jack is falling in love with an English girl, and afraid he’s losing his mind.

Conner tells Jack it’s going to be okay.

But it’s not.

Andrew Smith has written his most beautiful and personal novel yet, as he explores the nightmarish outer limits of what trauma can do to our bodies and our minds
I'll just come right out and say that I do not agree with the publisher's claim that this is a "beautiful and personal novel."  I was so underwhelmed with the quality of the writing.  I had it in my mind that this is a modern classic and expected it to be on the more literary end of the scale.  Instead just seemed pointless.  I had expected that Jack's attack in the beginning of the book would have something to do with his journeys to Marbury, but the two remain largely unrelated throughout the entirety of the book.  Which leads me to wonder why the attack is included.  I felt like I was reading two very different, in no way connected books.  One was about Marbury and one was about a boy who survives a traumatic assault.

It also suffers from some of the usual YA cliches, such as total and complete lack of adult supervision for any and all teens in the book.  Not a SINGLE teen has an involved or caring parent or teacher?  They're all just allowed to gad about Europe unsupervised?  Where do they get money?   The boys constantly rag each other about being "gay", which gets old after oh the first time.  I think the author was trying to use it in an interesting way to tackle the issue of Jack being assaulted by a man, but it just came out gross.

Entertainment Value
I came away feeling like there was no point to the story.  Bad things happen to Jack, he goes to Europe, he finds Marbury, things happen in Marbury with no point or resolution, book ends.  I felt like the majority of the book was meant to be shocking.  Graphic sexual assault and then loads and loads of violence perpetrated on and by teens and children.  Unfortunately, the book doesn't make a comment on the violence, it just describes it.  I could have gotten past the graphic nature of the book if I felt like it served a purpose, but it didn't.  It was just there to be shocking.

I don't recommend it.  I was bored and put off by the pointless graphic violence.  It obviously has an audience, but it wasn't for me.

Monday, November 4, 2013

What I Read In October

I find myself really tempted to start every single monthly recap post by saying "Isn't it crazy how ____ flew by?"  Or "I can't believe it's already _____!"  But it's true.  My mind can't wrap itself around it being November already.  I am so excited for the holiday season and yes, I totally plan on being one of those people who starts celebrating the day Halloween ends.

The good news about October is that it was my best reading month of the year to date.  During the month, I read:

Harry Potter and the Chamber of SecretsJK Rowling
The Longest Date: Life As A WifeCindy Chupak
Juvenile In JusticeRichard Ross
The Marbury LensAndrew Smith
WatchmenAlan Moore
All The Truth That's In MeJulie Berry
Rude Bitches Make Me TiredCelia Rivenbark
Maus IArt Spiegelman
Maus IIArt Spiegelman
Seven Deadlies: A Cautionary TaleGigi Levangie Grazer
Fun Home: A Family TragicomicAlison Bechdel
ParasiteMira Grant
Sister Mother Husband DogDelia Ephron
Call Me IrresistableSusan Elizabeth Phillips
We Are WaterWally Lamb
AllegiantVeronica Roth

Books Read In October: 16
Pages Read In October: 4911
Pages Read This Year: 37,274
Money saved by reading what I already own, reviewing, and using the library: $1683.84

What did you read in October?