"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

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.