"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

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.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Hawkeye vs. Deadpool

Hawkeye vs. Deadpool
Gerry Duggan
Matteo Lolli
Jacopo Camagni

The Summary
"Once upon a time, champions emerged to fight the evil plaguing humanity.  They fought for all that was good in the world.  They were kind, generous and self-sacrificing.  They were heroes.  These are not those heroes.

"It's Halloween in Brooklyn, and a SHIELD espionage mystery has Hawkeye and Deadpool racing the clock.  But things aren't what they seem!  Why are the bad guys dressed as good guys?  And what does the Black Cat have to do with it?  Marvel's most beloved (and simultaneously annoying) duo is on the case!  But with villains masquerading as heroes, who can Deadpool and Hawkeye trust?  And no, it's not one another.  As the baddest brawlers in Brooklyn tear up the town, will Deadpool and Hawkeye kill each other before they figure it out?"

The Good
I've never actually read a comic with Deadpool.  I've read Hawkeye - and I am a huge fan of Hawkeye now - but I've never had the pleasure of reading a Deadpool comic, until now.  And, I have to say, I'm impressed.

Serious and comical by turns, Hawkeye vs. Deadpool was a pleasure to read.  Duggan, Lolli, and Camangni do a wonderful job of combining story and art into a wonderfully funny graphic novel. Clint Barton and  Kate Bishop have a wonderful dynamic; Deadpool, more or less, interrupts that dynamic and trashes - but he adds a little something of his own to the mix, including breaching the fourth wall.

As my first encounter with Deadpool, I enjoyed Hawkeye vs. Deadpool immensely.  Deadpool adds just the right amount of spice to give this series a flavorful story.  I loved his contributions to the story.  Additionally, I loved the fact that the authors hearkened back to Hawkeye's original costume and stayed true to the character.

For instance, I found out that Hawkeye is deaf in this graphic novel.  Granted, previous authors alluded to this, but it wasn't highly advertised; however, Hawkeye vs. Deadpool manages to incorporate his disability and gives Clint an additional layer to his character.  He's a hero who just happens to be deaf, which comes with its disadvantages and advantages, and Hawkeye vs. Deadpool really shows the difficulties he endures, as well as the skills he's developed.

Hawkeye vs. Deadpool was an exciting comic with wonderful illustrations, enjoyable (if unusual) characters, and great story lines.

The Bad
No complaints here.

The Ugly
As the merc with a mouth, Deadpool is a wildcard in any adventure.  He can regenerate from nearly any wound and he's not afraid to go into a situation with guns blazing; likewise, his understanding of justice and "good versus evil" is a little hazy at best.  He's not a bad person; he just isn't always a good person.

But at least he's funny.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

In Progress: A Game of Thrones (Continued)

I'm not very far into A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin, but I've already witnessed incest, attempted murder, murder, extreme gratuitous violence, violent sexual and emotional abuse, along with a litany of other horrible things that have happened in the last two hundred pages.  I'm still hooked, but I had to take a break and read something with a little less gore.  (I checked into one of Susan Mallery's books, reading part of her Fool's Gold series, which includes Just One Kiss.)

Otherwise, I am still enjoying Martin's novel.  I'm slowly beginning to understand the connections between friends and families and foes, and I'm gradually making connections.  I recognize house names now:  Stark, Lannister, Baratheon, Targarygen, among others.  And I'm starting to like characters, like Tyrion Lannister, Arya Stark, Jon Snow, and hating a few others equally (Joffrey Baratheon and Cersei Lannister, just to name a couple).

But my biggest accomplishment has become learning to read the maps Martin put into his book.  Locations are finally taking shape.  I'm starting to recognize the big landmarks and territories, like the Wall and Winterfell, Riverrunn and the Eyrie, King's Landing and the Narrow Sea, and the lands across the sea that are patrolled by the fearsome Dothraki.

I like the details of A Game of Thrones.  There's an intricacy to it that's staggering, because Martin gives each family a history, gives each myth and legend room to grow and thrive.  It's a living, breathing creature that seems to take a shape all its own.  Never static, never stagnating, but always dynamic, always changing and growing with each detail added and story told.

I'm constantly wondering if I'm ever going to catch up to the series.  Thus far, I understand three things:  the Lannisters are terrible conniving people; the Starks are honorable to a fault; Robert Baratheon hates the Targarygens with a fiery passion that (I fear) may lead to his destruction.  I'm curious about all of it, but I'm equally nervous about the entire endeavor.

You see, the only bad thing about reading A Game of Thrones this late in the game is that I've had the opportunity to watch a few episodes of Game of Thrones on HBO.  Moreover, I've had ample opportunity for major plot points to be ruined by commercials, rumors, internet articles, and coworkers.

Yes, I kind of know what's going to happen.  It's a little disheartening when you're sure of the major plot points, but I am glad to have some story to fill in the gaps and explain a little better who's who in Westeros.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

I Work at a Public Library

Adams Media
I Work at a Public Library
Gina Sheridan

The Summary
"From a patron's missing wetsuit to the scent of crab cakes wafting through the stacks, I Work at a Public Library showcases the oddities that have come across Gina Sheridan's circulation desk.  Throughout these pages, she catalogs her encounters with local eccentrics as well as the questions that plague her, such as 'What is the standard length of eyebrow hairs?'  Whether she's helping someone scan his face onto an online dating site or explaining why the library doesn't have any dragon autobiographies, Sheridan's bizarre tales prove that she's truly seen it all.

"Stacked high with hundreds of strange-but-true, and sometimes heartwarming, stories, I Work at a Public Library celebrates librarians and the unforgettable patrons who roam the stacks every day."

The Good
Sheridan's book is informative and insightful:  it shows the good and the bad that librarians face every single day.  Now, since I'm working at a library of my own, I can relate to each and every story I encounter in I Work at a Public Library.  It's my work week in a nutshell, I've realized; however, it's also an opportunity to commiserate over and laugh about all the wild and crazy things that happen at the library every day.

Accessible and humorous, I Work at a Public Library was full of little details and anecdotes that make it an absolute gem.  I loved that Sheridan classified and alphabetized each story she recounted, as one would in a library.  Each story feels like it's listed in and pulled from a card catalog, and I was so thrilled when I realized what Sheridan had done with her book.  I got a kick out of it.

And then there's Cuckoo Carol.

She was my absolute favorite "character."  Her chapter was the best for the simple reason that I have a Cuckoo Carol in my life.  (Actually, I have two or three who, like Carol, test the limits of human patience and make my job a little more interesting each week.)  She was cheeky, she was sarcastic and brutally honest, but she was virtually harmless, if a little infuriating, and she was absolutely hilarious.  This book would not have been the same without Cuckoo Carol.

The Bad
Honestly, it was too short.  I would have loved to have heard more about Cuckoo Carol and the other patrons that Sheridan (and other librarians) has worked with throughout the years.

The Ugly
It's very, very true.  No, seriously, these stories are one hundred percent true.  They happen every day at libraries around the world.

And, sometimes, it's even worse in person.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Hyperbole and a Half

Touchstone Books
Hyperbole and a Half
Allie Brosh

The Summary
Taken from the award-winning blog of the same name, Hyperbole and a Half chronicles the musings (and misadventures) of Allie Brosh.  Simultaneously enlightening and hilarious, Brosh's graphic memoir is chock full of amusing anecdotes, enjoable asides, humorous stories (see:  "The Goose Story"), and psychological introspection that's sure to hit you right in the heart and, more importantly, cause uproarious laughter.

The Good
I absolutely adored Hyperbole and a Half.  I think I laughed the entire time I was reading.  With it's crude illustrations, blunt sense of humor, foul-mouthed narrator, and heart-breaking honesty, Brosh's novel is an absolute gem.  Granted, I liked some stories more than others (again, see "The Goose Story"), but I enjoyed the entire book and devoured it in a single night.

Brosh was honest and funny and, truthfully, entirely relatable as she recounted her experiences and shared her most intimate memories.  Her flaws - which I can say I share a number of them - are what make her real, make her so intensely accessible as an illustrator and a narrator.  She's an absolute joy to read, and she knows how to tell a story, which makes Hyperbole and a Half well worth reading.

The Bad
Truthfully, after I read about Allie's encounter with a rogue goose, nothing else could quite compare.

The Ugly
Allie Brosh is brutally honesty about her experiences.  She shows her readers that life isn't all about sunshine and rainbows.  Sometimes, its just rain clouds - and corn (which doesn't make sense now, but it will.  Trust me.)


For more on Hyperbole and a Half, check out Allie Brosh's blog:  http://hyperboleandahalf.blogspot.com/

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Bonus: Just One Kiss

Just One Kiss (Fool's Gold Series #11)
Just One Kiss
Susan Mallery

The Summary
"He won't hesitate to put his life on the line...but will he ever risk his heart?

"Falling for Justice Garrett was a high point in Patience McGraw's otherwise awkward adolescence.  Even after he disappeared, Patience never forgot the boy who captured her heart.  Now, he's back in Fool's Gold, California, and her passion for him is as strong.

"When bodyguard Justice Garrett was a young man, witness protection brought him to this idyllic town and he never forgot its warmth, or the sweet beauty of his childhood friend.  He's returned to open a defense academy, and the Patience he once knew is all grown up.  He can't resist her smile, or her curves.  But Justice's past doesn't make him husband, or father, material.

"Patience and Justice think they'll succumb to just one kiss...then one more...Okay, just one night together.  But they might learn that falling in love is beyond anyone's control."

The Good
I've read other books in the Fool's Gold series starting with the second book and bouncing around to different books at different times, not really realizing it all fell into place in one tiny town in California.  Like Almost Perfect and Chasing Perfect and Finding Perfect (and approximately 20 other novels), Just One Kiss is a sweet little romance with nicely depicted characters - who are perfectly imperfect, like most in the Fool's Gold series - and adequate amounts of suspense.

I liked falling back into Fool's Gold.  It's a quirky little town with a cast of characters that runs a mile long, but I imagine it's not a bad place to live.  I liked Justice and Patience, because they seemed like genuinely nice people, and I liked their story.  It wasn't the best romance I've ever read, but it was an enjoyable trip into their world.

It wasn't bad; it wasn't great.  It falls somewhere in between, becoming a quick escape into a mostly perfect world - and, honestly, it's nice to see good things happen for a change.  (Unlike in A Game of Thrones.)

The Bad
Like most romance novels, Just One Kiss follows a familiar plot:  boy and girl meet, boy and girl fall in love, boy and/or girl believe they can't remain in love, boy or girl leaves but then realizes their mistake and quickly returns.  Granted, circumstances and names and plot points will change - Justice Garrett, for instance, was in witness protection; his dad was the reason he couldn't stay; and Patience is a single mom - but, at it's core, Mallery's novel has a similar plot.

However, I enjoyed Just One Kiss regardless.  It's familiarity was comforting, it's story was interesting enough to hold my attention, and it was easy to finish in a matter of hours.  Maybe it fell into the same rut as many romance novels, but I still enjoyed it.

The Ugly
Families aren't perfect:  sometimes, parents make mistakes - and, sometimes, Dad is a criminal who plots his revenge against the child who testified against him in court.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Unfinished III

I love books.  I love books to the point of being obsessive, in fact, and I have a funny habit of wanting to complete each and every book I open.  Sometimes, that's not practical, I know; sometimes, I don't have time or I don't have the inclination to read (shocking) or I simply lose interest - and, sometimes, a book is just plain bad.

Here are a few of those books that I just couldn't seem to finish.


Barron's Educational Series
I picked up Twisted Fairy Tales by Maura McHugh on a whim one day.  I mistakenly thought it would give me a glimpse at my favorite fairy tales as they were originally told - they're twisted enough as it is, and they need no tweaking in order to perturb or frighten readers - but I discovered that McHugh hadn't simply gathered up my favorite fairy tales, she'd rewritten and revised them to reflect altogether different stories.

While I was intrigued by the retelling of "Snow White," in which delicate little Snow White became a fierce and merciless warrior, I just couldn't seem to stay with the story for very long.  I simply had no interest in seeing my favorite tales remade.

I mean, I grew up on Disney movies, so I've seen every fathomable reincarnation of fairy tales possible; however, I've also perused the original stories, seeing them as they were intended to be read.  And I expected to have a glimpse of some of the most sinister, most frightening, most gruesome fairy tales imaginable, as the Hans Christen Anderson and the Brothers Grimm intended.

I was a bit disappointed, and I quickly lost interest.


Emma:  A Modern Retelling by Alexander McCall Smith is, of course, a remake of the classic Emma by Jane Austen.  Although it borrows heavily from the original work, Emma:  A Modern Retelling is an entirely unique piece of work that gives a delightfully modern twist to Austen's most beloved characters.

McCall Smith has an interesting way of reincarnating Jane Austen's characters, her prose, her wit, her intelligence, without compromising his own sense of style and his own sense of humor.  And I think he does a fine job of bringing Emma into the twenty-first century.

However, I didn't find Emma endearing in the slightest.  As a character, she had a narrow field of vision and she had a selfishness that just didn't agree with me.  Granted, I enjoyed McCall Smith's writing and I liked the overall tone of the novel - and I'm quite sure that Smith stays close to Austen's original characters - but I just couldn't seem to enjoy Emma.

I disliked her on a personal level, especially when she continued to exert her influence on Harriet.  I just didn't like her and, with her being the main character of the novel, I struggled to stay with it, until, finally, I just gave up and put it aside.

Harry N. Abrams Publishers
I was enchanted by the cover of The Night Gardener by Jonathan Auxier.  I absolutely loved the way it looked, the blues and greens and blacks that combined to form a chilling and intriguing cover.  It invited me in, enchanted me unexpectedly, and I could not wait to read the book.

And then I read the book.

I liked The Night Gardener.  I was intrigued by the premise, I admired the characters and character descriptions, and I even enjoyed the level of detail which Auxier provided.  He fashioned a tale that was both spooky and suspenseful without growing macabre or gruesome.  It seemed to have such promise - and I really had high hopes - but I just couldn't dig into the story.

I don't know what happened.  I put it down, and then I finally put it aside without bothering to get farther than the fourth or fifth chapter.


Ghosts of Manhattan by George Mann appealed to my interest in science-fiction and history, creating a fascinating world that opens in the midst of the Prohibition - when Britain still claims an empire, Queen Victoria has only recently been buried, and biplanes and coal-powered cars are a favored form of transportation - and fashions an intriguing antihero in The Ghost.

Unfortunately, The Ghost simply felt like a cruder reincarnation of Batman, living a double life (which reminisced of Fitzgerald's Gatsby) and fighting his own personal demons as he fights crime, and I wasn't impressed by the writing.  It read like a noir film feels:  dramatic, drab, and gray - and I just didn't care for it.

Not to mention I wasn't too fond of the unmitigated gore.  It just didn't suit me.

Maybe, I'll try it again in the future and, maybe then, I'll appreciate it; however, for the time being, I'll stick with other books.