Friday, August 29, 2014

Comics Friday: Rocket Girl by Brandon Montclare

From Goodreads:
A teenage cop from a high-tech future is sent back in time to 1986 New York City. Dayoung Johansson is investigating the Quintum Mechanics megacorporation for crimes against time. As she pieces together the clues, she discovers the "future" she calls home - an alternate reality version of 2014 - shouldn't exist at all!
So many choices made by the author that I really appreciated in this one!  I loved the female protagonist, I loved both the 1986 setting and the potential future 2014 setting.  You can tell from the beginning that it's supposed to be fun, and I think it lives up to that expectation.  There are some serious problems faced by the characters, but it has more of a lighthearted take on dystopia than many others.

Entertainment Value
Again, I feel like this is meant to just be a lot of fun - and it definitely follows through on that.  There were a few scenes where I got a bit lost in the jumping back and forth between 1986 (the future) and 2014 (the past).  I feel like I'm uncommonly confused by any kind of time travel, so it may not be the fault of the comic as much as my own difficulty following the trope.

And, as above, I have to go back once again to the fact that this is just fun to look at.  Lots of bright colors, fun 80's styles, and futuristic cityscapes make for a blast as far as the illustrations (do you call them illustrations in a comic?) are concerned.

I recommend giving this one a try, particularly for those new to comics.  It's a fun take on the superhero story without going into mutations or powers - just a teenage girl from the future with a jet pack who can kick butt.  I'll definitely be following the comics as new issues are released!

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

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Scanning the Backlist (2)

This my own personal backlist consisting of authors I've reviewed on the blog.  I took the time to go back through every author I've reviewed and checked out his or her backlist - and for some, even found new books I hadn't realized were released.  Each week I'll be featuring a Scanning the Backlist post with a few more authors whose backlist titles have made it onto my TBR.

Gail Godwin
Godwin's Flora was an NPR discovery I made during my brief period of unemployment last summer. I devoured the beautiful language and stunning setting.  I particularly enjoyed her young narrator, so, in exploring her backlist, I was drawn to Unfinished Desires, which also features a friendship between young girls.
It is the fall of 1951 at Mount St. Gabriel’s, an all-girls school tucked away in the mountains of North Carolina. Tildy Stratton, the undisputed queen bee of her class, befriends Chloe Starnes, a new student recently orphaned by the untimely and mysterious death of her mother. Their friendship fills a void for both girls but also sets in motion a chain of events that will profoundly affect the course of many lives, including the girls’ young teacher and the school’s matriarch, Mother Suzanne Ravenel. 

Fifty years on, the headmistress relives one pivotal night, trying to reconcile past and present, reaching back even further to her own senior year at the school, where the roots of a tragedy are buried.
Samantha Hayes
I know I've said this a million times, but evil nannies are my jam.  So I was thrilled to stumble across Until You're Mine on NetGalley last year.  I loved it and can't wait to read the next book in the series, Before You Die.  Luckily for me, Hayes also quite the backlist built up.  I'm not a huge fan of the covers, but each title description reads like the literary equivalent of an episode of SVU, which is like crack for me.
January 1992. A baby girl is left alone for a moment. Long enough for a mother to dash into a shop. Long enough for a child to be taken. 

Thirteen years later, solicitor Robert Knight's stepdaughter wins a place at a prestigious London school for the gifted. The only puzzle is his wife Erin’s reaction. Why is she so reluctant to let Ruby go? Doesn't she want what's best for her? As Erin grows more evasive, Robert can’t help but feel she has something to hide, and when he stumbles on mysterious letters, he discovers she has been lying to him. Somewhere in his wife’s past lies a secret; a shocking secret that threatens to destroy everything...
Elizabeth Haynes
I've read and thoroughly enjoyed two of Haynes' novels: Into the Darkest Corner and Dark Tide.  And although this aren't technically backlist titles, since they were published after Into the Darkest Corner, it's one that I somehow missed the release of and can't wait to read.
Two women share one fate.

A suspected murder at an English Farm. A reported suicide at a local quarry.

Can DCI Louisa Smith and her team gather the evidence and discover a link between them, a link which sealed their fate one cold night, Under a Silent Moon?

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Book Review: What We See When We Read by Peter Mendelsund

What do we see when we read? Did Tolstoy really describe Anna Karenina? Did Melville ever really tell us what, exactly, Ishmael looked like? 
The collection of fragmented images on a page - a graceful ear there, a stray curl, a hat positioned just so - and other clues and signifiers helps us to create an image of a character. But in fact our sense that we know a character intimately has little to do with our ability to concretely picture our beloved - or reviled - literary figures. 
In this remarkable work of nonfiction, Knopf's Associate Art Director Peter Mendelsund combines his profession, as an award-winning designer; his first career, as a classically trained pianist; and his first love, literature - he thinks of himself first, and foremost, as a reader - into what is sure to be one of the most provocative and unusual investigations into how we understand the act of reading.
It's hard to even start writing a review for this, mainly because I'm still struggling to pin down how I would classify the book as a whole.  It's about language, writing, psychology, perception, and literature.  It's got a little bit of everything.  As far as the skill in writing, I say superbly done.  It's both easy to read (large font, short paragraphs, lots of illustrations) and incredibly difficult (it addresses some of the most complex issues of perception, the brain, and literary device).  It's obvious that the author knows his business, backwards and forwards, and he translates that to the page in a way that the dedicated reader won't find overwhelming.

Entertainment Value
As I mentioned above, this is both an easy and hard read.  The illustrations are perfect and make the book compelling and fun to read (and see).  At the same time, there's a fair amount of both literary and psychological (perception-focused) speak, although nothing that should be too difficult for readers who don't mind stretching their minds a bit.  

A few bullet points from the book that I particularly enjoyed:
  • The more you try to focus on an exact image of a person in a book, the harder it is to find it.  The more you focus on the image of a person you know, the easier it is.
  • It's easier to "hear" a line of dialogue than it is to "see" a character
  • As we read, we make constant adjustments to what we "see" as more information is provided.  When we remember reading, we don't remember making these small adjustments, we remember it as if we were watching a movie all along
  • Reading as co-creation: the provision of an image by the author or a movie can be seen as stealing from the reader's imagination
I reviewed this in digital format, so I'm interested to get my hands on a finished copy and see if it's printed in grayscale, as the digital ARC, or if color is added for the finished product.  And I'll most definitely be getting my hands on a print copy.  As much as I enjoyed the experience in digital format, I think it's one that A) belongs in a prominent spot on my bookcase and B) could be even better in print format.  I highly recommend giving it a try.

Thank you to NetGalley and Knopf for providing me with a copy to review!

Monday, August 25, 2014

Audiobook Review: Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge

From Goodreads:
Since birth, Nyx has been betrothed to the evil ruler of her kingdom-all because of a foolish bargain struck by her father. And since birth, she has been in training to kill him.

With no choice but to fulfill her duty, Nyx resents her family for never trying to save her and hates herself for wanting to escape her fate. Still, on her seventeenth birthday, Nyx abandons everything she's ever known to marry the all-powerful, immortal Ignifex. Her plan? Seduce him, destroy his enchanted castle, and break the nine-hundred-year-old curse he put on her people.

But Ignifex is not at all what Nyx expected. The strangely charming lord beguiles her, and his castle-a shifting maze of magical rooms-enthralls her.

As Nyx searches for a way to free her homeland by uncovering Ignifex's secrets, she finds herself unwillingly drawn to him. Even if she could bring herself to love her sworn enemy, how can she refuse her duty to kill him? With time running out, Nyx must decide what is more important: the future of her kingdom, or the man she was never supposed to love.
If this sounds like a familiar story, that's because it is - it's a retelling of Beauty and the Beast, with both fantastical elements and an ancient Rome-influenced setting.

Well done.  I was concerned that any story based on Beauty and the Beast would be heavily influenced by Disney's version, and I didn't find that to be the case at all.  I feel like Hodge took the classic fairy tale and created her own unique version with new characters.  I really enjoyed the Roman influence on the story as well.  There's nothing particularly spectacular in terms of the language or choice of words, but the originality was a highlight for me.  I think Hodge succeeded in making something new and unique in the world of YA fantasy.

Entertainment Value
It took me a while to get into this one.  While I thought the characters were refreshing and original, I didn't really start to care about them until about halfway into the book.  I wasn't grabbed from the first page, but I am glad I stuck it out.  It definitely fits into the category of diversionary reading, but it was a fun diversion.

Perfect.  I really enjoyed listening to this one and think the narrator did a fantastic job.

It's a fun read and I recommend it, particularly on audio, as something you can listen to while you exercise or clean, but that isn't terribly taxing on the mind.  It's easy to follow and fun - brain candy.  The elements of ancient Rome add a lot to the story and could provide a fun jumping off point for some study of mythology.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Scanning the Backlist (1)

I've really enjoyed seeing more and more bloggers embracing the exploration of backlist titles - so much so that I was inspired to examine my own personal backlist consisting of authors I've reviewed on the blog.  I went back through every author I've reviewed and checked out his or her backlist - and for some, even found new books I hadn't realized were released.  I'm thinking I'll make this a regular feature, since it's going to take me a while to profile all the great books I've found - and as I keep reading, I'll find even more.

Sarah Addison Allen
I absolutely loved The Peach Keeper and The Girl Who Chased the Moon - looking up her backlist titles led me to a great discovery: Garden Spells, Allen's first book.  

For nearly a decade, 34-year-old Claire Waverley, at peace with her family inheritance, has lived in the house alone, embracing the spirit of the grandmother who raised her, ruing her mother's unfortunate destiny and seemingly unconcerned about the fate of her rebellious sister, Sydney, who freed herself long ago from their small town's constraints. Using her grandmother's mystical culinary traditions, Claire has built a successful catering business -- and a carefully controlled, utterly predictable life -- upon the family's peculiar gift for making life-altering delicacies: lilac jelly to engender humility, for instance, or rose geranium wine to call up fond memories. 
Garden Spells reveals what happens when Sydney returns to Bascom with her young daughter, turning Claire's routine existence upside down. With Sydney's homecoming, the magic that the quiet caterer has measured into recipes to shape the thoughts and moods of others begins to influence Claire's own emotions in terrifying and delightful ways. 
One last thing to note: since my reading of The Peach Keeper, Allen has released another novel, Lost Lake, which is on my TBR list.

Emma Donoghue
Donoghue's Room was one of the very first books I received from a publisher to review.  And it more than exceeded my hopes - it's still one of my favorite books.  I was excited to discover that, in addition to Astray, her short story collection that I already own, she has a book of fairy tale retellings titled Kissing the Witch.

Told with luminous voices that shimmer with sensuality and truth, these age-old characters shed their antiquated cloaks to travel a seductive new landscape, radiantly transformed. Cinderella forsakes the handsome prince and runs off with the fairy godmother; Beauty discovers the Beast behind the mask is not so very different from the face she sees in the mirror; Snow White is awakened from slumber by the bittersweet fruit of an unnamed desire.
Nora Gallagher
The Sacred Meal is one of the first five books I ever reviewed on this blog, and was the very first book I ever received from a publisher.  I was pleased to see that Gallagher has a memoir, Things Seen and Unseen, that explores a year in church liturgy and describes her journey to faith.

Whether writing about her brother's battle against cancer, talking to homeless men about the World Series, or questioning the afterlife ("One world at a time"), Gallagher draws us into a world of journeys and mysteries, yet grounded in a gritty reality. She braids together the symbols of the Christian calendar, the events of a year in one church, and her own spiritual journey, each strand combed out with harrowing intimacy. Thought provoking and profoundly perceptive, Things Seen and Unseen is a remarkable demonstration that "the road to the sacred is paved with the ordinary."

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Book Review: Regarding the Pain of Others by Susan Sontag

From Goodreads:
Features an analysis of our numbed response to images of horror. This title alters our thinking about the uses and meanings of images, and about the nature of war, the limits of sympathy, and the obligations of conscience.
I can't remember exactly where I heard about this book, but I knew I needed to read it.  My particular interest centered on a conversation I'd had with a friend several years ago that has really stuck with me.  We were discussing the ownership of printed materials that could be seen as offensive/socially subversive.  Her family owned a first edition copy of Mein Kampf in German.  My family owns a photograph of a lynching that took place in the small Southern town where my father grew up.

Neither artifact is something you want to display or look at or give a place of prominence in your home.  But they're both historical artifacts nonetheless.  Both of us felt torn on whether or not it's something we would want to inherit or what we would do with it if the choice were up to us.  (At this point, I'd lean towards donation to a Civil Rights museum, as it's really not something I think I could handle owning.)

When I realized that one of Sontag's essays in this book actually addresses the exact kind of photograph I have - a photograph of a lynching that was taken and sold as a postcard to the white citizens - I knew it was a book I'd have to read.

This short collection of essays certainly packs a punch.  I was familiar with Sontag as a prominent feminist author, but I hadn't read any of her social criticism.  I'm so glad I picked up a copy of this, because it's beautifully done and examines exactly the ideas surrounding the issues of viewing the pain of others, particularly in photographic form.

Some of the essays take on the historical ways we've viewed pain in paintings and, in more recent years, in photographic form.  She discusses the first wars in which photography of carnage was made available to the public.

She also looks at the issues from a psychological and ethical standpoint, detailing how the elements of sensationalism and the need to document atrocities often are so interconnected that they can't be separated.  It's incredibly well done, but also largely readable.  It's short and to the point, so you won't feel as if you're taking on some endless academic tome, although I do have to point out that this is very academic in nature.

Entertainment Value
It's as difficult to read this as it is to read any historical account of atrocities and not something you really want to speak about in terms of being entertained.  At the same time, that very conundrum is exactly what is being tackled in the book.  We want to say we are not entertained by images (or stories) of the suffering of others, yet we don't stop ourselves from looking (or reading).  If there weren't some element of interest, we wouldn't bother.

Because I was particularly interested in the topic, I gobbled this up.  But I think that it's going to have a limited audience due to the academic nature of the writing.  It's not necessarily an easy read or something that you would pick up on a whim.  If the subject interests you and you don't mind putting some effort into the mental work of reading a more academically-minded text, however, this is very well done.

It's definitely for those who want something intensely academic and requires the brain to work.  But it's also something that I think will stay with you and keep you thinking, just like my conversation with my friend has stayed in my mind for years.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Book Review: The Girl in the Road by Monica Byrne

From Goodreads:
Meena, a young woman living in a futuristic Mumbai, wakes up with five snake bites on her chest. She doesn't know how or why, but she must flee India and return to Ethiopia, the place of her birth. Having long heard about The Trail -- an energy-harvesting bridge that spans the Arabian Sea -- she embarks on foot on this forbidden bridge, with its own subculture and rules. What awaits her in Ethiopia is unclear; she's hoping the journey will illuminate it for her.

Mariama, a girl from a different time, is on a quest of her own. After witnessing her mother's rape, she joins up with a caravan of strangers heading across Saharan Africa. She meets Yemaya, a beautiful and enigmatic woman who becomes her protector and confidante. Yemaya tells Mariama of Ethiopia, where revolution is brewing and life will be better. Mariama hopes against hope that it offers much more than Yemaya ever promised.

As one heads east and the other west, Meena and Mariama's fates will entwine in ways that are profoundly moving and shocking to the core. Vividly imagined and artfully told, written with stunning clarity and deep emotion, The Girl in the Road is a true tour de force.
Absolutely nothing but raves.  This is absolutely stunning.  And, in a very refreshing way, a challenge to read.  I don't mean in terms of content, although there is some sex and some violence.  I mean it was a workout for my mind - something that I really thoroughly enjoy.  It was hard enough to wrap my brain around that, even though I took it with me to Chicago, I didn't have the mental energy to read it after helping my sister-in-law with the kids all day. (BTW: have I mentioned lately how much I respect moms? Especially stay-at-home moms?  I bow to each of you).

But back to the book. It's set in the future and definitely has some speculative elements and a very surreal feel to it.  I think the best way to read it is to just accept that you won't understand everything that is happening as it happens.  I spent probably the first half of the book re-reading and trying to figure out exactly what was going on and if I'd missed something.  I finally gave in and just read it without fully grasping every detail, and I'm glad I did because things really come together in the last fifty pages.  My questions were all answered and the experience of it all coming together was a rush.

I've seen comparisons to Erin Morgenstern, and, while that's not necessarily the first place I'd go for a comparison, I think in terms of quality writing this definitely deserves significant recognition.  I'm reaching for my own comparative author and struggling, just because this story is so uniquely written.  It's very literary, and tackles all kinds of political, religious, racial, sexual, and cultural ideas in a very subtle way.

Entertainment Value
As I mentioned above, this is a difficult read.  It's something I couldn't event attempt to tackle on less than my best brain days.  Things get off to a somewhat slow start, largely because the reader doesn't have all the information needed to fully understand what's happening.  The sooner you can let go of that need, the sooner you'll start to really enjoy the book.  I also recommend enjoying the beauty of the words and really trying to connect with the characters.  I don't feel like I accomplished this until late in the book because I was too busy trying to figure out plot lines that you just can't figure out without completing the book.  It's definitely something I'm going to have to reread with a fuller understanding.

You'll be doing yourself favor in terms of stretching your brain by reading this one.  It's also just a well of beautiful language, and I think that, like The Night Circus, this is something aspiring writers should read, just to get taste of beautiful words.  I think it's also ideal for fans of speculative fiction, particularly those who enjoy their futuristic novels with a large emphasis on the more literary side of things.

I received a copy of this book for review courtesy of Blogging for Books.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Book Review: A Rogue by Any Other Name

From Goodreads:
A decade ago, the Marquess of Bourne was cast from society with nothing but his title. Now a partner in London’s most exclusive gaming hell, the cold, ruthless Bourne will do whatever it takes to regain his inheritance—including marrying perfect, proper Lady Penelope Marbury.

A broken engagement and years of disappointing courtships have left Penelope with little interest in a quiet, comfortable marriage, and a longing for something more. How lucky that her new husband has access to such unexplored pleasures.

Bourne may be a prince of London’s underworld, but he vows to keep Penelope untouched by its wickedness—a challenge indeed as the lady discovers her own desires, and her willingness to wager anything for them... even her heart.
This is pretty far outside of my reading comfort zone.  I almost never read romance novels.  As in, other than those written by friends, the last time I picked up a romance novel was high school.  It's just not my thing.  But I'm doing a genre challenge this year that requires a romance novel and I've heard great things about Sarah MacLean, so I decided I'd go for broke and try this Regency novel.

While I'm not sure that I'm a convert to the romance genre, I was pleasantly surprised by the writing.  It's not literary by any means - it's definitely genre writing.  But it's surprisingly clever and funny, and I really enjoyed the characters, especially the women.  MacLean has written some engaging female characters who are smart and independent and think for themselves.

Entertainment Value
So I had a blast reading it.  I used to love romance novels, but it's been forever since I read one.  This reminded me of why I like them so much - there's a lot to be said for steamy scenes and a nice happily ever after ending.  The fact that there were strong female characters only made it that much more enjoyable

Even though I'm not a romance convert, I am impressed by MacLean and it wouldn't surprise me if I pick up another of her books in the future when I need something light and fluffy.  I think if you're into romance, or you're looking for something easy and fun, this is a great choice.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Book Review: Summer House With Swimming Pool by Herman Koch

From Goodreads:
When a medical mistake goes horribly wrong and Ralph Meier, a famous actor, winds up dead, Dr. Marc Schlosser is forced to conceal the error from his patients and family. After all, reputation is everything in this business. But the weight of carrying such a secret lies heavily on his mind, and he can't keep hiding from the truth…or the Board of Medical Examiners.

The problem is that the real truth is a bit worse than a simple slipup. Marc played a role in Ralph's death, and he's not exactly upset that the man is gone. Still haunted by a crime committed during their stay at Ralph's extravagant Mediterranean summerhouse - one they shared with Ralph and his enticing wife, Judith, film director Stanley Forbes and his far younger girlfriend, Emmanuelle, and Judith's mother - Marc has had it on his mind that the perpetrator of the crime could be either Ralph or Stanley. Stanley's guilt seems obvious, bearing in mind his uncomfortable fixation on the prospect of Marc's daughter's fashion career, but Marc's reasons for wanting Ralph dead become increasingly compelling as events unravel. There is damning evidence against Marc, but he isn't alone in his loathing of the star-studded director.
I think it's safe to say that Koch has been added to my list of automatic reads.  He also rivals Gillian Flynn for creation of loathesome characters.  We're not even talking characters you love to hate.  These are just people you hate.  That said, they're amazing.  I'm such a fan of his writing and the places he takes you.  Our main character, Marc is just a truly terrible person.  And as much as you hate the crime that is committed against his family, you just can't sympathize with Marc.  I don't want to give too much away, but if you want some super complex feelings and emotions brought up, this is the book to provide that.  I love the ambiguity of the characters and how your feelings about them change and are challenged throughout the book.

Entertainment Value
Enthralling.  I won't say I was hooked from the first page - things get off to something of a slow start.  But once the story kicked off, I wasn't able to put it down.  It's more thoughtful than action-filled, but that doesn't make it any less intriguing.  It's definitely not a who-dunnit, although that is revealed by the end.  The point isn't really who committed the crime, the point is in the characters and the choices they make that lead to the crime and the culpability of all of the characters, not just the one who does the deed.

This isn't an easy book to read by any means.  It's very uncomfortable, both in terms of the actions taken by the characters and in terms of certain situations and events.  While there's no graphic violence or sex, the characters do things that will make you squirm.  And I think that's really the whole point of the book.  To challenge your ideas about culpability and blame and to make the reader face discomfort.  It's something I both enjoyed and was disturbed by, in a good way.  I'm anxious for someone else to read it so I can discuss it with another person.  If you're put off by books without likable characters and without tidy endings, this isn't for you.  But those who enjoyed The Dinner or dark authors like Gillian Flynn will definitely enjoy it.  If you read it, let me know because I am anxious to discuss.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Comics Friday: Alex + Ada by Jonathan Luna and Sarah Vaughn

From Image Comics:
From Jonathan Luna (Girls, The Sword, Spider-Woman, Ultra) and Sarah Vaughn (Sparkshooter) comes Alex + Ada, a sci-fi drama set in the near future. The last thing in the world Alex wanted was an X5, the latest in realistic androids. But when Ada is dropped into his life, will Alex keep her? This will beJonathan Luna’s return to comics after three years off since the end of The Sword!
 I really hate to even post this, because it makes for two negative Comics Friday posts in a row and I really want to write about a comic I've loved.  Thankfully, I should finish the Y: The Last Man series and have that ready to review next week.  Unfortunately for this week, Alex + Ada was a real dud for me.  The writing was stilted and the dialogue was completely unbelievable.  In addition to being unnatural, the way it was written made it hard to follow speech between characters.  And there was way too much of it, overwhelming the images.

Entertainment Value
In addition to having unnatural dialogue, the story itself needed work.  It has a great premise, but it moves so slowly, with so little action, that I found myself bored.  I felt like huge chunks of awkward dialogue could have been removed and replaced with action.

I'm going to give the artist the benefit of the doubt and say that the pictures looked the way they did because of my computer screen.  But I think that's being generous.  I was unimpressed with the artwork.  It's not bad, but it's also not good.  Like the characters, it reached for realism, but fell just short enough to be awkward to look at.

Meh.  I won't be continuing the series and it's not something I'd recommend.

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

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Book Review: The Roommates by Stephanie Wu

From Goodreads:
In Stephanie Wu's The Roommates, people of all ages reveal their disastrous, hilarious, and sometimes moving stories of making their best friend for life or lifelong nemesis. Learn what it’s like to share a room in places as unusual as a thirty-person beach house, a billionaire’s yacht, a reality show mansion, and a retirement hotel, and those as familiar as sleepaway camps, boarding schools, and college dorms. Put down your roommate’s dirty dishes and passive-aggressive Post-it’s for this eye-opening glimpse into how people live together in the modern age.
I don't have much to say about the writing in this one, because I feel like this is almost exclusively about the stories.  I've mentioned recently how much I'm enjoying storytelling podcasts, and I think this book really mirrors that format.  These aren't stories from professional writers, they're just stories told by regular people.  It was like listening to an episode of Risk or This American Life devoted to roommate stories.  So, while I was pleased with the content, I wasn't just blown away by the writing - but that almost seems beside the point.

Entertainment Value
Such a fun read! While it's not particularly stunning in terms of writing, the fun of reading other people's stories makes it worthwhile.  I've had quite a few roommate disasters of my own, so I always love hearing other people's crazy stories.  And there are some seriously scary roommates in here.

If you like storytelling or if you've ever had a crazy roommate, you'll want to read this one.  It's lots of fun and provided me with quite a few laughs.

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

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

What I Read in July

My niece and nephew came to visit for the month of July, along with my brother and his wife.  You can probably guess that I spent every spare second I had with these two precious babies.  

Every second not spent with the kids was spent doing this.  Ticket to Ride.  The obsession is real.

I was worried that my reading would suffer this month due to having family in town and wanting to be with them, but it actually turned out to be quite a nice month in books as well.  Here's what I read:

I Remember Beirut by Zeina Abirached

Animal Madness by Laurel Braitman

The Roommates: True Tales of Friendship, Rivalry, Romance, and Disturbingly Close Quarters

The Curiosity by Stephen P. Kiernan

The Girl With All the Gifts by M.R. Carey

Y: The Last Man, Volumes 3-6

Burial Rites by Hannah Kent

The Farm by Tom Rob Smith

Summer House With Swimming Pool by Herman Koch

Finding Me by Michelle Knight

Bellweather Rhapsody by Kate Racculia

Alex + Ada by Sarah Vaughn

xo Orpheus edited by Kate Bernheimer

Total books read: 16
Total pages read: 4963

I'm definitely going to make my goal of 130 books this year, given that I'm already at 102.  I'm thinking that I'll probably make it to more like 175, especially if I keep up the same pace this fall as I've had this summer.  What about you, Reader Friends?  Read anything good in July?

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Book Review: Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay

From Goodreads:
In these funny and insightful essays, Roxane Gay takes us through the journey of her evolution as a woman (Sweet Valley High) of color (The Help) while also taking readers on a ride through culture of the last few years (Girls, Django in Chains) and commenting on the state of feminism today (abortion, Chris Brown). The portrait that emerges is not only one of an incredibly insightful woman continually growing to understand herself and our society, but also one of our culture.

Bad Feminist is a sharp, funny, and spot-on look at the ways in which the culture we consume becomes who we are, and an inspiring call-to-arms of all the ways we still need to do better.(
First of all, how is this the first I've heard of Roxane Gay?  I mean, technically, I guess I first heard of her when I read about Untamed State, her latest novel, in Library Journal a few months ago.  But this is the first time I've heard of her non-fiction and it is absolutely amazing.  If you are into lady things, especially lady things in entertainment, popular culture, and politics, I don't think this is something you can afford to miss.

Gay's take on feminism, particularly feminism in the world of literature and entertainment is spot-on.  It's compulsively readable, but so smart and thought-provoking at the same time.  I loved how she takes on actual popular culture in an accessible way, making feminism readable for everyone, not just scholars.  Even on topics where I disagreed with her point of view, I respected the way she worded her ideas and the talent behind the writing.  I could read her all day long.

Entertainment Value
If you can't tell by now, this book blew me away.  I absolutely devoured it and felt like mourning when it was over.  There were certainly areas where I didn't fully agree with Gay, but I couldn't help but respect her writing and point of view even when we differed.  And I loved the way some of my views were challenged by her cultural analysis.  She helped me think critically about topics that I hadn't given much consideration before.  My one concern would be that I'm not sure how well all of the essays will age.  Twenty years from now will a cultural take-down of Django Unchained still be relevant?  That said, I think she overcomes that limitation by clearly critiquing the ideas that lay behind these cultural artifacts, rather than just critiquing the movies, books, or shows themselves.

Buy it.  Normally I'm all about the library, but this is one you're going to want to have on your shelves, trust me.  I mean, go ahead and check it out if you can't afford it because it must be read, but I promise you're going to want to own it.  Amazing.  You'll see this again on my best of 2014 list, I guarantee it.

Thanks to Edelweiss and Harper Perennial for providing me with a copy to review.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Book Review: That Night by Chevy Stevens

From Goodreads:
As a teenager, Toni Murphy had a life full of typical adolescent
complications: a boyfriend she adored, a younger sister she couldn't relate to, a strained relationship with her parents, and classmates who seemed hell-bent on making her life miserable. Things weren't easy, but Toni could never have predicted how horrific they would become until her younger sister was brutally murdered one summer night. 

Toni and her boyfriend, Ryan, were convicted of the murder and sent to prison.

Now thirty-four, Toni is out on parole and back in her hometown, struggling to adjust to a new life on the outside. Prison changed her, hardened her, and she’s doing everything in her power to avoid violating her parole and going back. This means having absolutely no contact with Ryan, avoiding fellow parolees looking to pick fights, and steering clear of trouble in all its forms. But nothing is making that easy—not Ryan, who is convinced he can figure out the truth; not her mother, who doubts Toni's innocence; and certainly not the group of women who made Toni's life hell in high school and may have darker secrets than anyone realizes. No matter how hard she tries, ignoring her old life to start a new one is impossible. Before Toni can truly move on, she must risk everything to find out what really happened that night. 
But the truth might be the most terrifying thing of all.
This is my first time to read something by Stevens, despite the fact that I've got a few of her back list titles on my list.  And while I thoroughly enjoyed the book, I have to say that overall I was less than impressed with the quality of the writing.  I thought the characters were fairly static and underdeveloped.  I cared about finding out the mystery surrounding the events, but not because I cared about the characters one way or the other.  They were stock: the good girl with a dark secret, the angry older sister, the evil queen bee, the bad boy.  And while I hesitate to make too many nitpicks about specific sentences given that I read a galley, I have to say that there were several instances of sentences that were so clunky that I found myself completely taken out of the story and focused on how oddly worded things are.  Hopefully, that's something that was cleared up in the finished copy, although it seemed less like a grammatical issue and more like a style issue.

Entertainment Value
Despite my critiques regarding the quality of the writing, I still thoroughly enjoyed the experience of reading this book.  It flew by and in spite of my issues with the characters, I really wanted to know where the plot was headed.  I made it through all 385 pages in two sittings, which says something about how into the story I was and how much I wanted to discover the truth about the titular night.  As far as whether or not that reveal is worth the lead up, it'll depend on the reader. I'm easily able to suspend my brain function and not try to figure out the ending in advance, but this ending was pretty easy to see coming.  I didn't care, and it was worth the read for me, but I think some might be disappointed.

I'm torn on this one.  I think there are a lot of readers (including myself) who will have a good time reading it and will be as interested in where the plot is headed as I was.   But I also think that readers who are looking for something darker and less predictable (along the lines of Megan Abbott or Gillian Flynn) might be disappointed.  There's the issue of predictability and the somewhat mundane nature of the writing that don't let me give the book my highest recommendation.  However, I do think it has an audience (obviously, as I liked it) and readers who enjoy Laura Lippman or Mary Higgins Clark would most likely be pleased.

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

Friday, August 1, 2014

Comics Friday: Naja by Jean-David Morvan

From Goodreads:
Naja is the perfect killer - because she feels nothing. Literally. Her body registers no pain, nor does her heart, coldly executing jobs given to her by her mysterious boss, known only as "Zero." When another killer in Zero's organization targets Naja for elimination, she has no choice but to fall off the grid and seek answers, as bloody as they might be.
Oh dear.  This was, sadly, not the best comic I've ever read.  It was all over the place, and not in a good way.  I did care about the characters, and I liked Naja a lot, but I absolutely could not get past some of the very weird plot twists and turns.  The idea was original, but the writing itself left a lot to be desired.

It was hard to follow and, honestly, a bit porn-y in parts (yes, that's a technical term).  I'm not automatically turned off by sex and nudity in comics, but in this one it had that salacious, only-there-for-titillation feeling.  I feel like in a comic about a tough, merciless female assassin, the "sexy" parts didn't add to the story and were there just to be there.  It didn't fit with my view of Naja - she's presented as this hardcore, heartless killer, but she's given no sexual agency.  The nude/sex scenes don't show her as taking any action, only being acted upon, most commonly against her will/while restrained.  It just didn't fit her character and felt very male-gaze directed.

Entertainment Value
Despite my complaints about the writing, I do have to say that I stayed late at work in order to finish this one.  It's not all bad - as I mentioned above, I liked the plot (for the most part) and I liked Naja's characters (with the exception of her sex scenes).  I was into the story and wanted to find out how things would turn out.  But I was HUGELY disappointed with the ending.  Things took such a bizarre and unrelatable/unlikable turn at the end that I felt really let down.

I mean, it's not the worst I've ever read, but, ultimately, it's also not one I'm going to recommend to others.  There were interesting, edge of my seat parts, but they were overshadowed by the salacious-feeling sex and the crazy ending.