"All good books are alike in that they are truer than if they had really happened
and after you are finished reading one you will feel that all that happened to you
and afterwards it all belongs to you; the good and the bad, the ecstasy, the remorse,
and sorrow, the people and the places and how the weather was."
Ernest Hemingway

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Lady Killer

Dark Horse
Lady Killer
Jamie S. Rich
Joelle Jones

The Summary
"Josie Schuller is a picture-perfect homemaker, wife, and mother - but she's also a ruthless, effiecient killer!  She balances cheerful domestic bliss with coldly performed assassinations, but when Josie finds herself in the crosshairs, her American-dream life is in danger!

"This new, original black-comedy series combines the wholesome imagery of early mid-century domestic bliss with a tightening web of murder, paranoia, and cold-blooded survival."

The Good
Let me say one thing first:  Wow.  Just - wow.

I am not (usually) the type to enjoy graphic illustrations of violence; however, I really enjoyed Lady Killer.  Josie is a really great character.  Complex, considering her dueling identities as American housewife and cold-blooded assassin, but she's competent and intelligent - and, holy cow, she's tough as nails.  As her creators pointed out in an interview with Comics Alliance, Josie is "one of the most capable people you'd be likely to meet."

Girl power, you know?

I also like Josie because she's a character who is constantly evolving.  When she encounters a problem, she works to resolve it; when she's faced with life-and-death decisions, she makes them and adapts her strategies.  You get to see multiple sides of her personality and, more importantly, you get to see her worlds collide - and how she deals with it.

Additionally, I liked the intrigue involved.  Josie's story is neither straight-forward nor simple:  It's an intricately woven series of events, murders, and decisions that have lead up to a specific point in her life.  It's her fight for survival (which is simple enough to understand), but it's riddled with complex relationships and political affiliations that gives it an undercurrent of suspense, reflecting a power-struggle that's much bigger than Josie could ever imagine.

I should note that, while the story is amazing, so is the art.  I absolutely loved the colors and the style of Lady Killer; in fact, I loved everything about it.  The artist does a fantastic job of drawing details - accurate historical details, I might add - and, more importantly, bringing each individual character to life.  This beautiful imagery, combined with exceptional storytelling, makes Lady Killer one of the best comics I've read this year.

(Besides the ongoing story of Spider-Gwen, of course.)

The Bad
Honestly, I have no complaints.  Lady Killer was an exceptional comic with incredible characters, an amazing story, and wonderful artistic details.

The Ugly
Gore.  Lots and lots of gore - let me amend, lots and lots of graphic depictions of gore and violence.  It's really quite disturbing, and I'm saying this after I started reading the new Fight Club.


For more about Comic Alliance's interview from Joelle Jones and Jamie S. Rich, check out:  http://comicsalliance.com/joelle-jones-jamie-s-rich-lady-killer-interview/

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe

Simon & Schuster
Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe
Benjamin Alire Saenz

The Summary
"Dante can swim.  Ari can't.  Dante is articulate and self-assured.  Ari has a hard time with words and suffers from self-doubt.  Dante gets lost in poetry and art.  Dante gets lost in thoughts of his older brother who is in prison.  Dante is fair skinned.  Ari's features are much darker.  It seems that a boy like Dante, with his open and unique perspective on life, would be the last person to break down the walls that Ari has built around himself.

"But against all odds, when Ari and Dante meet, they develop a special bond that will teach them the most important truths of their lives, and help define the people they want to be.  But there are big hurdles in their way, and only by believing in each other - and the power of their friendship - can Ari and Dante emerge stronger on the other side."

The Good
I loved Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe.  Although I originally encountered it as an audiobook - and, as you might guess, I'm still a little leery of audiobooks - I absolutely loved listening to Saenz's young adult novel.  It combines two critical elements:  an exceptional writer, and a phenomenal narrator.

Benjamin Alire Saenz does an excellent job of fashioning his characters.  Aristotle, for instance, is an angst-ridden teenager in search of answers to his questions and relief from his anger, and I think that Saenz properly conveys his journey of self-discovery.  Perhaps I didn't always understand Aristotle - his emotional state, his thoughts, his experiences as a young Mexican-American growing up in California - but I grew to enjoy his insights into life and love and friendship.

He's a solid character, fleshed out and fully formed.  He's believable and, thanks to Lin-Manuel Miranda, he felt so real to me.  Aristotle is such a candid storyteller, laying bare his hopes and dreams, his desires, and his fears.  And the way he tells his story - the way Lin-Manuel Miranda was able to bring it to life - kept me hooked from beginning to end.

And I loved Dante.  I have a special place in my heart for shoe-phobic, know-it-all Dante.  Like Ari, I slowly began to see him as an integral part, a key piece of life.  He was so important to Ari and, likewise, he became important to me as a character; moreover, he was just so much fun.  Articulate, smart, talkative and witty, he was the polar opposite to Ari, giving the story a good balance.

I fell in love with Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe.  It was the perfect combination of writer and narrator that gave this story life and depth, and it kept me enchanted from its opening lines.

When I reached the final chapter, I was so sad to let go.

The Bad
I only wish I had a copy of Saenz's book to call my own.

The Ugly
Being a female of the species, I can certainly say I've had much different life experiences from Aristotle and Dante.  Even as an adult, knowing what boys think and feel and desire is a little strange - perhaps, even disorienting.  It's a candid account of life and loss, happiness and tragedy - and incredibly private things, if we're being honest - and I felt a bit like a voyeur as I was listening to their story.

It's a bit of an unpleasant feeling.

Friday, December 18, 2015

In Progress: A Game of Thrones (Continued)

Image result for a game of thrones
I'm afraid I haven't gotten much farther on A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin.  I read a couple additional chapters, but I haven't completed much in the grand scheme of things.  Three more chapters, while impressive in some other books, hasn't really made a dent in Martin's novel.

I'm a little disappointed at my slow pace, but I suppose that's to be expected.  I mean, who would have thought that the three circulating copies at my library would constantly have holds?  I really just need to buy my own copy of A Game of Thrones, because it seems I will never get it finished at this rate.

Then again, I suppose I shouldn't be surprised.  Martin's novel is excellent and, if the popularity of HBO's show of the same name is any indication, it's following is expanding.  It's a wonderful series - an imposing series of books, of course, but it's amazing nonetheless.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Rocket Raccoon: A Chasing Tale (Volume 1)

Marvel NOW!
Rocket Raccoon:  A Chasing Tale (Volume 1)
Skottie Young
Jake Parker

The Summary
"Rocket Raccoon is the last of his kind:  a hero to the weak, a champion of good, a swashbuckling pioneer of valor (and guns).  But his high-flying life of adventure may be a thing of the past when he's framed for murder - and the authorities aren't the only ones on his tail!  (Get it?)  There's another Rocket Raccoon loose on the world, but the world just ain't big enough!  The lookalike killer is one step ahead of Rocket at every turn; now, it's up to our hero and his best pal, Groot, to find the truth!  With Macho Gomez and the Ex-Terminators tracking him, can Rocket make it out alive and clear his name?  Superstar creator Skottie Young brings his A-game as writer and artist on the series we've been waiting decades for.  Because really, Rocket and Groot are the only Guardians of the Galaxy you actually care about, right?"

The Good
A Chasing Tale is an amusing graphic novel that delves into the lives and misadventures of Rocket Raccoon and Groot, specifically their fight for survival against Rocket's scorned and angry ex-girlfriends - and a particularly pernicious doppelganger.

Overall, I enjoyed the first volume of Rocket Raccoon.  Skottie Young and Jake Parker know how to weave a story, and it's a rollicking adventure that leaves you on the edge of your seat.  More importantly, Young and Parker succeed in staying true to Rocket's and Groot's characters.  Rocket Raccoon, while slightly obnoxious and trigger-happy, works in nice contrast to Groot, who is stoic and not quite so impetuous.

Young and Parker find a nice balance between the characters, and all the while they managed to craft an engaging story that leaves you wondering how Groot and Rocket will continue to get along in the depths of space.

The Bad
Rocket Raccoon is a nice diversion:  it's fun to see what happens outside of the Guardians of the Galaxy.

However, I can't help wondering what's going on with the rest of the team - and what happens with Star Lord, Drax, and Gamora while Rocket and Groot find their way out of trouble.  I'm interested in the entire team, so it would be nice to see them more involved.

The Ugly
Relationships can get ugly, especially when you have a record for breaking hearts like Rocket Raccoon.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Bonus: The Girl Who Chased the Moon

The Girl Who Chased the Moon
Sarah Addison Allen

The Summary
"Emily Benedict came to Mullaby, North Carolina, hoping to solve at least some of the riddles surrounding her mother's life.  Such as, why did Dulcie Shelby leave her hometown so suddenly?  And why did she vow never to return?  But the moment Emily enters the house where her mother grew up and meets the grandfather she never knew - a reclusive, real-life gentle giant - she realizes that mysteries aren't solved in Mullaby, they're a way of life:  Here are rooms where wallpaper changes to suit your mood.  Unexplained lights skip across the yard at midnight.  And a neighbor bakes hope in the form of cakes.

"Everyone in Mullaby adores Julia Winterson's cakes - which is a good thing, because Julia can't seem to stop baking them.  She offers them to satisfy the town's sweet tooth but also in the hope of rekindling the love she fears might be lost forever.  Flour, eggs, milk, and sure...baking is the only language the proud but vulnerable Julia has to communicate what is truly in her heart.  But is it enough to call back to her those she's hurt in the past?

"Can a hummingbird cake really bring back a lost love?  Is there really a ghost dancing in Emily's backyard?  The answers are never what you expect.  But in this town of lovable misfits, the unexpected fits right in."

The Good
I actually picked up The Girl Who Chased the Moon as an audiobook.  This has been the first audiobook I've listened to since Hank the Cowdog was considered my favorite - back when we still had a cassette tape player in our car.  Granted, I think I prefer reading a book to listening to one; however, I was pleasantly surprised to find that I do still like audiobooks.

Like both Garden Spells and The Sugar Queen, Allen's novel is filled with little unexpected joys, everyday magic that jumps out and surprises you.  Like the wallpaper in Emily's bedroom, or Sawyer's "sweet sense," or the secrets of Mullaby's most illustrious family.  And it's interesting to see this magical dynamic at work in Mullaby, to see how the town accepts and even celebrates its oddities.

I really liked Julia.  Maybe more than any other character, even Emily, I liked Julia with her troubled adolescence and her steely resolve to leave Mullaby behind once she gets her father's business and her rocky relationship with Sawyer settled.  She's essentially damaged by her past, by a number of bad years in her youth, but she's managed to heal and she's managed to reinvent herself and, more importantly, grow into the woman she wishes to be.

I'm not saying Julia isn't flawed, and I'm not saying she isn't damaged; rather, I admire her for overcoming a number of challenges in her life - and she still manages to have hope.  That's why she continues to bake, why she continues to leave the window open when she's making her cakes:  she has hope for a better future and reconnecting with someone she thought she'd lost forever.

Additionally, Rebecca Lowman, who narrated the novel, did a splendid job of distinguishing between characters and reviving the cadence of a small North Carolina town.  She helped breathe life into the characters, playing upon the drawl and twang sometimes found in Appalachia, and she did a wonderful job of pacing the story, allowing it to unfold naturally.

The Bad
Despite my rekindled love of audiobooks, I've discovered that listening to a book just isn't enough for me.  Audiobooks just don't hold my attention as well as a physical books - and, admittedly, I'm more easily distracted.  I can't seem to immerse myself in the story as well as when I'm holding a book in my hands.

The Ugly
Adolescence is an ugly, ugly time.

For some, it's a passing phase; for others, it leaves lingering scars that can be forgiven if not forgotten.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

The City of Ember

The City of Ember
Jeanne DuPrau

The Summary
"Lights shine in the city of Ember - but at the city limits the light ends, and darkness takes over.  Out there in the Unknown Regions, the darkness goes on forever in all directions.  Ember - so its people believe - is the only light in the dark world.

"And now the lights are going out.

"Is there a way to save the people of Ember?  No one knows.  But Lina Mayfleet has found a puzzling document, and Doon Harrow has made discoveries down in the Pipeworks.  With these clues, they start their search."

The Good
The City of Ember was an interesting story.  Although I think I would have enjoyed it better if I'd been younger (since the novel is geared toward a younger audience), I liked the characters and quality of DuPrau's novel.

Lina Mayfleet is an endearing girl with a lot of spunk and a lot of courage; Doon Harrow is smart boy with enough skill and brains to take him places, even if he sometimes allows his pride get in the way.  As characters, they're enjoyable.  Maybe a bit naive, but they are children who have lived underground for the majority of their lives, so, you know, I suppose it's to be expected.

At any rate, I liked DuPrau's novel.  She's an excellent writer for children's literature and she's created an interesting world in her series.  I was fascinated by the imagery she used, the evocative language as she delves into characters' thoughts and slowly reveals the lives they lead.

I especially liked how DuPrau described Ember, illustrating how the city was slowly crumbling, revealing the thin threads of political corruption and greed that infested the leadership of the city.  The City of Ember has complex undertones, but DuPrau incorporates mature themes without being overbearing or making the story morbid.

I would highly recommend it for younger readers and, moreover, anyone who might enjoy post-apocalyptic stories.

The Bad
Although I liked DuPrau's novel, I found I probably didn't enjoy it as much as I would if I were a child picking up The City of Ember for the first time.  It's an interesting story, but it loses my interest at different intervals because it feels like a children's book - and I can only give it so much attention.

The Ugly
Ember is crumbling.  Supplies are running short.  Lights flicker and go out, fuel spent.  Lina and Doon are in a race against time to rescue their friends and families, searching for the Creator's clues, struggling to find an escape from a city that's slowly falling down around them.

It's scary to witness the slow decay of the city, watching as people fight for survival in a place that wasn't meant to last more than a hundred years and, ultimately, frustrating when you realize that people of Ember have a way to escape.  In fact, they've had the means to escape all along - but thanks to greed and desperation and misuse of political power, the way out may be lost to them forever.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Bonus: The Sugar Queen

Cover of The Sugar Queen
Random House
The Sugar Queen
Sarah Addison Allen

The Summary
"Twenty-seven-year-old Josey Cirrini is sure of three things:  winter in her North Carolina hometown is her favorite season, she's a sorry excuse for a Southern belle, and sweets are best eaten in the privacy of her hidden closet.  For while Josey has settled into an uneventful life in her mother's house, her one consolation is the stockpile of sugary treats and paperback romances she escapes to each night...until she finds it harboring none other than local waitress Della Lee Baker, a tough-talking, tenderhearted woman who is one part nemesis - and two parts fairy godmother...

"Fleeing a life of bad luck and big mistakes, Della Lee has decided Josey's clandestine closet is the safest place to crash.  In return she's going to change Josey's life - because, clearly, it is not the closet of a happy woman.  With Della Lee's tough love, Josey is soon forgoing pecan rolls and caramels, tapping into her startlingly keen feminine instincts, and finding her narrow existence quickly expanding.

"Before long, Josey bonds with Chloe Finley, a young woman who makes the best sandwiches in town, is hounded by books that inexplicably appear whenever she needs them, and - most amazing of all - has a close connection to Josey's longtime crush.

"As little by little Josey dares to step outside herself, she discovers a world where the color red has astonishing power, passion can make eggs fry in their cartons, and romance can blossom at any time - even for her.  It seems that Della Lee's work is done, and it's time for her to move on.  But the truth about where she's going, why she showed up in the first place - and what Chloe has to do with it all - is about to add one more unexpected chapter to Josey's fast-changing life."

The Good
Like Garden Spells, Allen's previous novel, The Sugar Queen has little threads of magic laced throughout the novel:  Josey has the uncanny ability to detect secrets; Chloe is plagued by books that magically appear when she needs them; Rawley is bound to keep promises, no matter the cost; Julian has a black mist that compels any woman within his reach to pay attention to him; and Marlena is surprisingly skilled at chasing away ghosts.

I liked the developing relationship between Josey and Adam.  Although Josey struggles with her self-confidence, her loyalty to her mother and her adoration for Adam - and although Adam hesitates to jump into a relationship with his whole heart - I enjoy the way their relationship develops.  It's slow to start, but it seems to expand and grow, weaving into their lives with an undeniable quickness.  Like Jake and Chloe, their chemistry seems undeniable.

I also enjoy the way Allen portrays her characters.  She gives them careful descriptions and pinpoints the little unexpected (read:  magical) things that populate their every day lives, linking them inextricably to a thin veil of magic that permeates the entire town.

And she's meticulous in showing character perspective, allowing her readers a peek into the lives of her characters - such as the way Josey equates the best things in life (and people) with sugary sweets, or Chloe recounts her moods and experiences in the books that follow her - by showing the world through their eyes.  In Sugar Queen, I found this simply added another layer to her characters.

Overall, it was an enjoyable novel.

The Bad
For me, The Sugar Queen just wasn't as good as Garden Spells.  I don't know why, but I simply found Garden Spells to be a much better novel in its style and its plot - and, more importantly, in its magic.  While I liked the magical elements of The Sugar Queen (meaning, I wouldn't mind having books follow me around on a regular basis), it felt a little more obvious.

Garden Spells, except for the apple tree (which was rather obvious), felt more subtle.  The Waverly sisters have peculiar gifts, but they aren't advertised; rather, their magic is woven into the fabric of their family, like fine threads, and it feels almost like a secret.  The Sugar Queen doesn't have that:  magic feels more like a nuisance than a gift.

The Ugly
Julian.  He frightens me more than the ghosts.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Garden of Lies

G.P. Putnam's Sons
Garden of Lies
Amanda Quick

The Summary
"The Kern Secretarial Agency provides reliable professional services to its wealthy clientele, and Anne Clifton was one of the finest women in Ursula Kern's employ.  But Miss Clifton has met an untimely end - and Ursula is convinced it was not due to natural causes.

"Archaeologist and adventurer Slater Roxton thinks Mrs. Kern is off her head to meddle in such dangerous business.  Nevertheless, he seems sensible enough to Ursula, though she does find herself unnerved by his self-possession and unreadable green-gold eyes...

"If this mysterious widowed beauty insists on stirring the pot, Slater intends to remain close by as they venture into the dark side of polite society.  Together they must reveal the identity of a killer - and to achieve their goal they may need to reveal their deepest secrets to each other as well..."

The Good
Garden of Lies is short and sweet - well, mostly sweet.  I finished it in a couple of days, which really translated into a matter of hours, and found I enjoyed the dark and sultry world of Victorian society that Amanda Quick manages to concoct.  It's deliberately scandalous and riddled with intrigue and adventure, and it's interesting to see how the plot unfolds.

The Bad
The character development is ultimately unimpressive.

Truthfully, I liked Ursula - there was something about her character, her care to wear heavy hat pins and her calm demeanor in the face of danger - and Slater.  They cut dashing figures in Garden of Lies, and I liked them for their daring and courage; however, I found their relationship a touch too spontaneous and their personal development seriously lacking.  They are, more or less, fully formed individuals and they do not seem to change much.

Likewise, I wasn't completely taken with the plot.  I was intrigued, and I was curious to see where their investigation would lead, but I wasn't particularly thrilled with the surprises Quick tried to spring or the twists her characters took in their search for answers.  It was, dare I say it, a rather predictable romantic adventure.

The Ugly
Murder.  Lots and lots of murder.

Oh, and drugs.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Paper Towns

Paper Towns
John Green

The Summary
"Quentin Jacobsen has spent a lifetime loving the magnificently adventurous Margo Roth Spiegelman from afar.  So when she cracks open a window and climbs into his life - dressed like a ninja and plotting an ingenious campaign of revenge - he follows.  After their all-nighter ends, and a new day breaks, Q arrives at school to discover that Margo, always an enigma, has now become a mystery.  But Q soon learns that there are clues - and they're for him.  Urged down a disconnected path, the closer he gets, the less Q sees the girl he thought he knew..."

The Good
I liked Quentin.

Quentin is a good person:  he tries his best at school, he has a good group of friends, he has a great relationship with his parents, and he has plans for his future.  And I liked him precisely because he is a good person.  He's not infallible and he certainly isn't perfect, but he's a good person and he's trying his hardest to be a good friend.

Quentin also has a unique voice.  Like all the narrators in John Green's books - Miles from Looking for Alaska, Hazel from The Fault in Our Stars, or Colin in An Abundance of Katherines - Quentin is a gifted storyteller and narrator.  Quentin is smart and thoughtful, making connections and finding clues from Margo that no one else managed to find or decipher, and he's an enjoyable narrator.  He's intelligent and introspective; he's precise and clear.

Quentin is the type of narrator who manages to ensnare me in his story, precisely because he knows how to tell his story.  He knows how to keep me involved in the journey - and I was quickly enthralled.

The Bad
There's a bit of foul language and mature themes, but it's high school.  You're bound to confront it eventually.

The Ugly
Margo Roth Spiegelman was a considerable disappointment in Paper Towns.  Although my impression of Margo was colored by Quentin's adoration, I had a sinking suspicion she was not the wild, adventurous and amazing girl he - and, well, everyone else - considered her to be.

And I was right.

I know why Quentin had to find Margo:  it was a personal journey, a quest for self-discovery.  I also know why Quentin had to destroy his image of Margo by finally meeting the real Margo.  Margo on paper is different from Margo in real life, and Quentin had to have that misconception destroyed - like us, like the readers.

But finding Margo was a bit anticlimactic.  I mean, perhaps I had unrealistic expectations, like Quentin, or perhaps I've been corrupted by traditional literature, which allows for unrealistic expectations.  Regardless, I was disappointed.

I understand why John Green did what he did at the end of his novel.  I see why he had to destroy Quentin's - and, by proxy, our - expectations for Margo.  She became a mirror, reflecting the thoughts and ideas and feelings of all those who knew her (including us), and Green had to shatter that mirror in order for us to see the real Margo.

I get it.  I really do.

However, I could have finished Paper Towns without ever finding out what really happened to Margo.  It would have spared me the frustration.

Friday, November 20, 2015

In Progress: A Game of Thrones (Continued)

I've managed to make it a third of the way into Martin's novel.  Admittedly, I've been distracted (as I usually am) with other books and losing time with book renewals - which, by the way, I've discovered that A Game of Thrones is still wildly popular and incredibly difficult to find at libraries, being either checked out or added to the missing items list.

I've already reached a tipping point, in which things can go horribly awry.  Eddard has made a not-so-startling discovery, Jon Snow has (more or less) settled into his role at Castle Black as a man of the Night's Watch, and Catelyn is headed home from the capital.  So many bad things have the opportunity to happen right now.  I mean, Benjen Stark hasn't returned, Eddard still hasn't quite figured out what happened to the last King's Hand, and Bran still feels like he's very much in danger for what he witnessed.

And I'm only finished with a third of A Game of Thrones.

Yikes, right?

I'm still intrigued.  Granted, A Game of Thrones is a daunting challenge; however, I'm in love with the flow of the words and the way the story simply feels.  Martin still keeps me captivated with his language and his imagery, drawing me into the drama, investing me into the characters.  I'm quite smitten with Jon Snow:  he's strong and competent, he's protective of his kin (including his new brothers in black) and he's loyal, he's charming in his own way, he's a skilled swordsman, but he's also honorable when the time calls.

He's my favorite character.

Besides, Arya of course.  I mean, who couldn't love Arya?  Sharp-witted, spunky, and tough, she's bound to be a major player in upcoming chapters.  She's just so different from her sister Sansa, who is an impeccable lady.  She borders on immaturity, her understanding of people (and their depravity) is only just beginning, and she lacks any tact when it comes to interacting with royals.  But I think that's what I like about her.

Moreover, she humiliates Joffrey.  I may not like the consequences - and I weep for Sansa, for the unfairness she must endure - and I'm quite certain I loathe Cersei for what she and most of her family have wrought; however, as events unfolded as they did, I'm not sorry that Arya struck Joffrey, nor that her dire wolf wounded him.  It gives me a little bit of vicious glee to see him sniveling.

I really, really hate Joffrey.  I've seen what happens to him in the HBO show, which, yes, ruins my enjoyment of the series, and I simply can't wait for him to meet his fate in the books.  Perhaps, it's mean of me to be so vindictive, but I hate Joffrey.  I feel no sympathy for him.

Oh, and how can I ever forget Daenerys Targaryen or Tyrion Lannister?

Tyrion is probably the only Lannister I like, being both witty and intelligent and, more than most people, sympathetic.  He's clearly underestimated by his peers, but I have my suspicions it doesn't matter because, as a reader, I know there's more to him than meets the eye.

And then there's Daenerys:  she's amazing.  She's spent her entire life under her brother's thumb, enduring his whims and his temper; now, she's growing up and she's learning to take on the world on her own - or, at the very least, her brother.  I'm excited to see what kind of character she will make in the future, to see the imprint she will leave on Westeros.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015


Random House
Carl Hiaasen

The Summary
"Wahoo Cray lives in a zoo.  His father is an animal wrangler, so he's grown up with all manner of gators, snakes, parrots, rats, monkeys, and snappers in his backyard.  The critters, he can handle.  His father is the unpredictable one.

"When his dad takes a job with a reality TV show called Expedition Survival!, Wahoo figures he'll have to do a bit of wrangling himself - to keep his dad from killing Derek Badger, the show's inept and egotistical star, before the shoot is over.  But the job keeps getting more complicated.  Derek Badger foolishly believes his own PR and insists on using wild animals for his stunts.  And Wahoo's acquired a shadow named Tuna - a girl who's sporting a shiner courtesy of her father and needs a place to hide out.

"They've only been on location in the Everglades for a day before Derek gets bitten by a bat and goes missing in a storm.  Search parties head out and promptly get lost themselves.  And then Tuna's dad shows up with a gun...

"It's anyone's guess who will actually  survive Expedition Survival...."

The Good
Hiaasen's novel alternates between uproariously funny and viciously somber with a hint of razor-sharp wit thrown into the mix.  Between his father's adoration for animals and Derek Badger's utter disregard for common sense, Chomp is utterly - and unpredictably - comical.  Like Mickey Cray getting a concussion from a frozen iguana, or Derek Badger being bitten by a bat and believing he will turn into a vampire.

Chomp manages to brush against serious themes without weighing down the story.  Tuna, for example, is caught in a terrible family situation; while it becomes a factor in the book (and Hiaasen shines a light on abuse), the author doesn't attempt to preach or condemn.  He manages to give his novel a serious tone while still making his story adventurous and lighthearted.

I loved Wahoo's matter-of-fact view of the world:  when Alice (the alligator) accidentally took his thumb, he attributes it to his own carelessness; when he loses his new cell phone in one of the ponds on his dad's property, he knew he shouldn't have been trying to feed the raccoons at the same time; and when he finds his dad wrapped up by a boa constrictor, he helps untangle his dad and takes the snake back to her exhibit.

Wahoo and his dad are an interesting team.  I definitely liked seeing how Mickey Cray would handle Derek Badger and his antics - and how Wahoo would manage to handle his dad.

The Bad
I don't really have any complaints about Chomp.  It has a unique sense of humor, which had the occasion of not completely appealing to me, but I think that's just a personal preference; otherwise, I enjoyed Chomp and I had fun reading it.

However, I would not really recommend reading it on a tablet phone.  It kind of loses its punch on a small screen.

The Ugly
Derek does think he's a vampire for a little while.  And Tuna's father wreaks utter havoc on the set of Expedition Survival - and it's actually frightening to think that some of these characters are in real danger and they might not survive.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

A Natural History of Dragons: A Memoir by Lady Trent

Tor Books
A Natural History of Dragons:  A Memoir by Lady Trent
Marie Brennan

The Summary
"All the world, from Scirland to the farthest reaches of Eriga, knows Isabella, Lady Trent, to be the world's preeminent dragon naturalist.  She is the remarkable woman who brought the study of dragons out of the misty shadows of myth and misunderstanding into the clear light of modern science.  But before she became the illustrious figure we know today, there was a bookish young woman whose passion for learning, natural history, and, yes, dragons defied the stifling conventions of her day.

"Here at last, in her own words, is the true story of a pioneering spirit who risked her reputation, her prospects, and her fragile flesh and bone to satisfy her scientific curiosity; of how she sought true love and happiness despite her lamentable eccentricities; and of her thrilling expedition to the perilous mountains of Vystrana, where she made the first of many historic discoveries that would change the world forever."

The Good
Dragons hold a special place in my heart.  Like Isabella, I've always loved them - from reading Eragon by Christopher Paolini to The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien to a more recent encounter with Rachel Hartman's Seraphina - and I have a suspicion that I always will.  So, as you might expect, I absolutely adored A Natural History of Dragons.

Finely crafted and thoroughly "researched," Marie Brennan's novels is a thrilling and enjoyable beginning to a new series.  I especially loved the attention to detail in A Natural History of Dragons.  Brennan is careful to make her characters - and dragons - believable, giving them qualities and characteristics that make them almost tangible.

Take Isabella, for instance.

As a scientist, Isabella makes observations and carefully documents the facts as she knows them.  She has a thoroughness and creativity that makes it easy to become immersed in her world, whether she's living in Scirland or adventuring in Vystrana.  She has such a unique voice, alternating between a young lady first making historic discoveries and an old woman reminiscing about her past, that it actually feels like a memoir.

Although Isabella is a scientist, her narrative isn't bulky or unwieldy.  She doesn't make her readers wade through a bunch of scientific gibberish or unfortunate anecdotes, she doesn't over inform her readers; rather, she explains without inundating her readers with facts, letting you join in without getting bogged down - and her intelligence and sharp wit shines through her work.  It's really, truly enjoyable to read her account of Vystrana.

And, if we're being honest, I absolutely loved the illustrations included in Isabella's account.  It gave her "memoir" a genuine feeling, like a field book or a diary, and it gave a face to the characters - as well as the dragons - and made them that much more tangible.

The Bad
I don't know that I have any complaints.  I thoroughly enjoyed A Natural History of Dragons.

The Ugly
Dragons are predators.  As such, they are dangerous and, moreover, they are deadly - and they will certainly prove it when they are in danger.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Bonus: The DUFF (Designated Ugly Fat Friend)

The DUFF (Designated Ugly Fat Friend)
Kody Keplinger

The Summary
"Seventeen-year-old Bianca Piper is cynical and loyal, and she doesn't think she's the prettiest of her friends by a long shot.  She's also way too smart to fall for the charms of man-slut and slimy school hottie Wesley Rush.  In fact, Bianca hates him.  And when he nicknames her 'Duffy,' she throws her Coke in his face.

"But things aren't so great at home right now.  Desperate for a distraction, Bianca ends up kissing Wesley.  And likes it.  Eager for escape, she throws herself into a closeted enemies-with-benefits relationship with Wesley.

"Until it all goes horribly awry.  It turns out that Wesley isn't such a bad listener, and his life is pretty screwed up, too.  Suddenly Bianca realizes with absolute horror that she's falling for the guy she thought she hated more than anyone."

The Good
I enjoyed The Duff.  Enjoyed it enough that I finished it within a couple of days, in fact.  The Duff is not quite a coming-of-age story; rather, it's more of a high school survival story, a novel about self-realization and emotional development that confronts adolescent issues (like relationships, love and sex, and growing up) in a way that feels real, accessible.

I liked that Bianca was unafraid to share her story, and I liked that she was so self-sufficient and strong-willed.  She was a conflicted character - I mean, what teenager isn't suffering from some kind of social or emotional conflict? - but, for the most part, I liked her.  I enjoyed reading her story and I enjoyed how things turned out for Bianca.

She really deserves to be happy.

The Bad
Bianca is a decent narrator.  She's smart and sassy, and she has a sharp tongue that's certain to lash anyone to shreds, but she's also a teenager - and her narrative skills leave something to be desired.  I liked Bianca and I enjoyed her story, but I didn't absolutely love it.

I found her tone often bordered on bitter, and I nearly choked on adolescent angst.  It was a great book and I understood why Bianca often vocalized her negativity in the form of foul language, insults, and sharp retorts, but it sometimes turned me away.

The Ugly

And alcoholism.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Anya's Ghost

Square Fish
Anya's Ghost
Vera Brosgol

The Summary
"Of all the things Anya expected to find at the bottom of an old well, a new friend wasn't one of them.  Especially not a new friend who's been dead for a century.

"Falling down a well is bad enough, but Anya's normal life might actually be worse.  She's embarrassed by her family, self-conscious about her body, and she's pretty much given up on fitting in at school.  A new friend - even a dead one - is just what she needs.

"But Anya's new B.F.F. isn't kidding about the 'forever' part..."

The Good
I liked reading Anya's Ghost.  Brosgol does an excellent job of highlighting the difficulties most teenagers face - peer pressure, family expectations, body image and identity issues - and she makes Anya's story accessible, makes it easy to become embroiled in her life, her misadventures with Emily (aka her ghost).

I also liked the Brosgol's illustrations.  I liked the flow of the panels and her art style, which conveyed a host of thoughts and feelings, keeping pages uncluttered and simple and smooth.  And the story is intriguing, unfolding a story that's suspenseful and creepy without overwhelming you with scary characters or gore.

Granted, it touches upon mature themes and ideas, but it's a something of a "gentle" ghost story that didn't leave me with that familiar, creepy-crawly feeling.  Moreover, while it might bring up certain mature topics - like sex, drugs, death, et cetera - it's no more than any adolescent would be introduced to in their regular lives.

Overall, Anya's Ghost is a good graphic novel with great art and a solid story.

The Bad
Anya is a young girl in search of a place to belong at school, among peers, with friends and family, but she's floundering - and she sometimes lashes out in response.  It makes me wince, sometimes, when she's cruel to her mother and brother, her friends, and others, and it's rather difficult to relive those angst-riddled years.

She's a good person, underneath it all.  You just don't get to see it at first.

The Ugly
Murder, but not what you originally expect.  There's a bit of madness and obsession involved, throw in a little tragedy - and you have a rather grim adventure.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Bonus: Final Descent

Simon & Schuster
The Final Descent
Rick Yancey

The Summary
"Will Henry and Dr. Warthrop have encountered many horrors together - but can Will endure a monstrumological terror without his mentor?

"Will Henry has been through more than seems possible for a boy of fourteen.  He's been on the brink of death on more than one occasion, he has gazed into hell - and hell has stared back at him, and known his face.  But through it all, Dr. Warthrop has been at his side.

"When Dr. Warthop fears that Will's loyalties may be shifting, he turns on Will with a fury, determined to reclaim his young apprentice's devotion.  And so Will must face one of the most horrific creatures of his monstrumology career - and he must face it alone.

"Over the course of one day, Will's life - and Pellinor Warthrop's destiny - will lie in the balance.  In the terrifying depths of the Monstrumarium, they will face a monster more terrible than they could have imagined - and their fates will be decided."

The Good
Finally, the series is finished.  I read The Monstrumologist a few years ago (you can check out my previous review of The Monstrumologist here), and I was enchanted.  Frightened, but utterly enthralled by the monsters that Rick Yancey created and/or revived from the brink of extinction.

And Will Henry - poor, young Will Henry who had the grievous misfortune to be placed into Pellinore Walthrop's care - is one of the most endearing characters I've had the pleasure to meet.  He's articulate and intelligent, even as a young child; he's stalwart and dependable; he's a good, solid character who's tangled up in a web of intrigue and mystery and danger, and I loved reading his journals.

You have the opportunity to see how he grows, in which ways he (sometimes suddenly) matures.  And in Final Descent, you have the opportunity to see him as an adult - to see how his tutelage under Walthrop his changed (or, rather, deformed) him.  It's interesting and simultaneously terrifying to Will Henry all grown up, because we know that Will is no longer the same person we knew.

It's heartbreaking, and it rings with a note of grave finality.  But it really couldn't have ended any other way, because, once Pellinore Walthrop made his ground-breaking discovery, his fate - and Will Henry's - was sealed.  Final Descent is a heart-rending conclusion to a terrifying series that won me over.

And I'm glad to finally find closure.

The Bad
Will Henry is all grown up and, more or less, he's lost his mind.

No, I shouldn't say that.  I don't think he's lost his mind; I think he's scarred, possibly changed - damaged - beyond any real redemption.  And his journals reflect that.

Sometimes, his story becomes disjointed and wild, reflecting his state of mind.  It's difficult to read when he's like that, because what he says and what he means don't always coincide.  He's sometimes difficult to understand, and I'm often under the wrong impression about what's happening and what's going on - and it doesn't help that Will Henry bounces his narrative between different points in the past.

It's frustrating and, admittedly, a little terrifying.

The Ugly
I though the other books in the Monstrumologist series were scary - the anthropophagi and the wendigo were terrifying creatures, and Socotra is a horrible, horrible place I would never imagine visiting - but The Final Descent is worse.

Much, much worse.

I don't think I'll ever look at Will Henry the same way again.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

The Shining

Doubleday Books
The Shining
Stephen King

The Summary
"Jack Torrance's new job at the Overlook Hotel is the perfect chance for a fresh start.  As the off-season caretaker at the atmospheric old hotel, he'll have plenty of time to spend reconnecting with his family and working on his writing.  But as the harsh winter weather sets in, the idyllic location feels ever more remote...and more sinister.  And the only one to notice the strange and terrible forces gathering around the Overlook is Danny Torrance, a uniquely gifted five-year-old."

The Good
Stephen King is an excellent writer.  His characters are fleshed out and full-bodied (and, more importantly, interesting), his writing is clear and precise (if a little heavy on wasp imagery), and his story is well formed and intricate.  And he makes, as one might expect, The Shining a triumph of the horror genre.

Like any number of his books, The Shining is a gravely unsettling novel.  It preys upon one's innate fears of isolation, darkness, doubt and despair - and the unnatural things which creep into the hallways, entirely unseen.  It shows one man's digression into madness, and one young boy's desperate fight to survive against a place that's intent on swallowing him whole.

If you're looking for a good scare or if you're looking for a novel that will give you chills and make your skin crawl, then The Shining is certainly a good place to start.

The Bad
I read The Shining as an ebook on my tablet.  While I still enjoyed it, I think something was lost in translation when I read it electronically.  It just didn't seem as scary and it felt a little more disjointed, like parts were split up when they shouldn't have been, like it had been formatted wrong.

Let's just say, I probably would have enjoyed it more if I'd actually read the physical book.  (Or, at least, found a larger screen than my tablet phone.)

The Ugly
Do I even want to get into how disturbing and morbidly terrifying this book was?

I found The Shining to be one of the scariest, one of the most unusual books I've ever read.  I was frightened by King's novel, but I was also disturbed and disgusted by the gruesome things lurking in the halls of the Overlook Hotel.  Danny has a frightening gift, which would have made The Shining eerie no matter the circumstances; however, King takes it a step further and introduces a cast of malevolent spirits, throws in some wasps and a grisly history for a sinister (and sentient) hotel - and a particularly fiendish ghoul in Room 217.

You see, I've realized that King has a way of really making you feel emotions, making you feel what his characters feel in certain situations, and he has a way of unsettling you with his writing.  I often felt squeamish and nervous, a lingering sense of disquiet, as I read The Shining - and it never really went away.  Not even after I finished the novel.

Which, I suppose, is the real point of horror:  it stays with you.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Bonus: Garden Spells

Bantam Discovery
Garden Spells
Sarah Addison Allen

The Summary
"In a garden surrounded by a tall fence, tucked away behind a small, quiet house in an even smaller town, is an apple tree that is rumored to bear a very special sort of fruit.  In this luminous debut novel, Sarah Addison Allen tells the story of that enchanted tree, and the extraordinary people who tend it...

"The Waverlys have always been a curious family, endowed with peculiar gifts that make them outsiders even in their hometown of Bascom, North Carolina.  Even their garden has a reputation, famous for its feisty apple tree that bears prophetic fruit, and its edible flowers, imbued with special powers.  Generations of Waverlys have tended this garden.  Their history was in the soil.  But so were their futures.

"A successful caterer, Claire Waverly prepares dishes made with her mystical plants - from the nasturtiums that aid in keeping secrets and the pansies that make children thoughtful, to the snapdragons intended to discourage the attentions of her amorous neighbor.  Meanwhile, her elderly cousin, Evanelle, is known for distributing unexpected gifts whose uses become uncannily clear.  They are the last of the Waverlys - except for Claire's rebellious sister, Sydney, who fled Bascom the moment she could, abandoning Claire, as their own mother had years before.

"When Sydney suddenly returns home with a young daughter of her own, Claire's quiet life is turned upside down - along with the protective boundary she has so carefully constructed around her heart.  Together again in the house they grew up in, Sydney takes stock of all she left behind, as Claire struggles to heal the wounds of the past.  And soon the sisters realize they must deal with their common legacy if they are ever to feel at home in Bascom - or with each other."

The Good
I loved Garden Spells:  I loved the subtle magic of the Waverly family, the apple tree, the small town of Bascom, the edible flowers with their mystical properties - and, simply put, I loved every part of it.  Garden Spells was a perfect blend of magic and family history and love, creating a novel that delves into the past of one tiny Southern town and remarks upon the every day magic of the Waverly family.

Allen does a superb job of creating unique and endearing characters.  I was immediately smitten with all the citizens of Bascomb, and I absolutely loved Claire and Sydney as they reconnected with one another and their Waverly roots.  And Evanelle, their cousin who always seems to supply the right gift at the right time, now holds a place near and dear to my heart for her kindness and her eccentricity.

Furthermore, while Allen has a different tone and style to her writing than the usual novels I read, Garden Spells had a way of enchanting me.  It made me slow down and savor each chapter; it made me take things slowly, read carefully to fully appreciate all the details that Allen had to offer in her novel.  It was like the southern drawls that populate Allen's novels:  sweet, cadenced, slow, but warm and familiar, like hearing an old friend.

I had the opportunity to fall in love with the Waverlys and the town of Bascomb, and I wouldn't mind making a return visit.

The Bad
I don't think I really have any complaints about Garden Spells.  I mean, I will admit that it took me quite a while to sink into the story - it had a different tone, a different style to the novels I'm used to reading - but, once I finally entered Claire and Sydney and Bay's world, I didn't want to put the book down.

My only regret is that I don't own this book for myself.

The Ugly
Domestic abuse.