"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

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Bonus: The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake
Aimee Bender

The Summary
"On the eve of her ninth birthday, unassuming Rose Edelstein bites into her mother's homemade lemon-chocolate cake and discovers she has a magical gift:  she can taste her mother's emotions in the slice.  To her horror, she finds that her cheerful mother tastes of despair.  Soon, she's privy to the secret knowledge that most families keep hidden:  her father's detachment, her mother's transgression, her brother's increasing retreat from the world.  But there are some family secrets that even her cursed taste buds can't discern."

The Good
I really liked the premise of Aimee Bender's novel.  Rose's story begins when, at the age of nine, she discovers that she can detect where ingredients came from and, more to the point, how the cook felt when preparing her food.  It begins with her mother:  her mother--her wonderful, cheerful mother, who smiles at everyone and loves her children endlessly--is hollow, despairing of her marriage and completely, totally empty.

Bender creates a fascinating confection in Rose's story.  I was immediately intrigued by The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, because I was curious to see where Rose's gift would lead--what would happen with her emotionally absent mother, her oblivious father, and her distant and detached brother--and I wanted to see if things would work out in the end.

It's an odd little story with an unusual style, a strange cadence that reflects in the reading, which I experienced as both an audiobook and a novel, but I think it unfolds pretty well.  It's basically cut into three separate parts:  Rose's childhood at the age of nine when she discovers her gift, her adolescence from twelve to fifteen as she learns how to handle her gift, and her adulthood at approximately twenty-one when her life simultaneously falls apart and begins to come together.

I was much more comfortable with the ending that I thought I might be.  Truthfully, I was surprised by how much I appreciated Bender's ability to wrap up the novel and how much I actually liked the way things turned out.  Granted, it's not exactly a happy ending, but I was left feeling satisfied.

The Bad
In listening to the audiobook, I realized that Rose was an unusual narrator.  She has such an unusual personality that she's sometimes difficult to understand on an emotional level.  She so ardently wishes to return to nine-years-old, before she was gifted with the ability to read the origins of any food, that it influences her entire development--it's like she stops growing as a character.

She feels emotionally stunted.  Not just stunted, but underdeveloped.  It's like she can't leave her past in the past, like she can't bring herself to adapt to her new life.  Perhaps it's asking a bit much of her, considering what she must endure, but it just bothers me that she's so stuck.

It makes The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake a difficult novel to enjoy.

The Ugly
Knowing exactly what people think and feel would be difficult for anyone to handle.  For a nine-year-old girl, it must be positively traumatizing.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Nice Girls Don't Have Fangs

Pocket Star
Nice Girls Don't Have Fangs
Molly Harper

The Summary
"Maybe it was the Shenanigans gift certificate that put her over the edge.  When children's librarian and self-professed nice girl Jane Jameson is fired by her beastly boss and handed twenty-five dollars in potato skins instead of a severance check, she goes on a bender that's sure to become Half Moon Hollow legend.  On her way home, she's mistaken for a deer, shot, and left for dead.  And thanks to the mysterious stranger she met while chugging neon-colored cocktails, she wakes up with a decidedly unladylike thirst for blood.

"Jane is now the latest recipient of a gift basket from the Newly Undead Welcoming Committee, and her life-after-lifestyle is taking some getting used to.  Her recently deceased favorite aunt is now her ghostly roommate.  She has to fake breathing and endure daytime hours to avoid coming out of the coffin to her family.  She's forced to forego her favorite down-home Southern cooking for bags of O-negative.  Her relationship with her sexy, mercurial sire keeps running hot and cold.  And if that wasn't enough, it looks like someone in Half Moon Hollow is trying to frame her for a series of vampire murders.  What's a nice undead girl to do?"

The Good
I enjoyed Molly Harper's novel pretty well.  I liked that it had a sassy female lead.  I mean, how can I not like her?  She's a librarian for crying out loud, and she's a genuinely nice (and, dare I say it, funny) character.  And I was perpetually intrigued by the authors take on vampires that come out into the open and try to live normal, fulfilling lives.

Yes, I realize this idea has been used before--Sookie Stackhouse, anyone?--but I actually enjoyed Nice Girls Don't Have Fangs a little better than Charlaine Harris' series.  Perhaps that's blasphemy, considering the outrageous popularity that True Blood found on HBO; however, there's something about Harper's style of writing and Jane Jameson's character that I found more appealing.

Jane is a little more fleshed out than the more popular Sookie Stackhouse, I thought, and she strikes me as a being a lot brighter if clumsier.  Sookie seemed almost too perfect, self-deprecating and unrealistic with her heavy southern accent; Jane is clumsy and, one might say, goofy, but she's equally intelligent and, while she has an intense love for southern food and makes note of her southern accent, it isn't...forced.  Her character seems more natural, her decisions more fluid.

And I liked her better for it.

Overall, Nice Girls Don't Have Fangs was an enjoyable book with a great protagonist.  It's a short, quick read, which I finished within a couple of days, and it's a short series that builds on the local vampire population without overwhelming me with information--or, more importantly, confusing me with all the vampire rules, like Sookie Stackhouse's strange and, sometimes, unexplained world.

The Bad
Admittedly, it's not a great story.  I mean, it had a decent plot, but I wasn't thrilled or sitting on the edge of my seat the entire time.  It was fun while it lasted, and I like that it played with the vampire myth a little more, utilizing both traditional and pop culture ideas; however, I wasn't smitten with the series.

I could keep reading it, and I could definitely enjoy it if I picked up another book.  It's sort of a paperback guilty pleasure:  lots of fun, good characters, but not a whole lot of substance.

The Ugly
Blood.  Unexpected violence.  Gore.  So on and so forth.

There are vampires involved.  What did you expect?

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Read Harder Challenge (Part One)

As part of the Read Harder Challenge for 2016, I've picked several books to fulfill some of the criteria.  So far, I've managed to:
  1. Read a middle grade novel
  2. Listen to an audiobook that has won an Audie Award
  3. Read a non-superhero comic that debuted in the last three years
Candlewick Press
For my middle grade novel, I completed Flora and Ulysses:  The Illuminated Adventures by Kate DiCamillo.  A fun little book with amusing illustrations, Flora and Ulysses was a nice surprise for me.  I picked it up for the simple fact that it had a squirrel on the cover.  I simply couldn't help myself--I mean, who wouldn't be enticed by a book that has a squirrel as a main character?  (Not a friend of mine, I can say with certainty.)

Anyway, the main point is that I really liked DiCamillo's novel.  It caters to a younger audience, yes, but it's accessible and enjoyable to read even as an adult.  It toys with more mature themes, like divorce; however, it does so in a way that's understood by children and appealing to parents.  It's a good book with a good story (an odd story, but a good story nevertheless).  DiCamillo is also the author of  Because of Winn Dixie, and she further cements her reputation as an exceptional author with Flora and Ulysses.

Random House
Now, to fulfill my audiobook requirement, I actually revisited World War Z by Max Brooks.  I originally listened to the audiobook simply because I loved World War Z and I was intrigued to see what a full cast would be like reading it (especially since I discovered it featured Nathan Fillion, Martin Scorsese, and, of course, Mark Hamill).  It was just a happy accident that I happened to stumble across an Audie Award winner from 2007.

I highly recommend listening to World War Z if you've read the book--or, actually, even if you haven't read the book.  Having a full cast, World War Z  is singularly entertaining as an audiobook.  It's still full of the same stories, the same diversity and detail that made it such a wonderful novel, but, now, you have the chance to actually listen to those stories and more fully imagine the characters behind them.

(I will note, however, that I think I picked up an abridged version of the novel.  I don't know if the abridged novel is the only one available, or if there's a copy of the audiobook out there that has every single chapter, but, regardless, I recommend trying to get your hands on the full copy for the greatest effect.  My only complaint was that it left out some of my favorite chapters.)

Dark Horse
And then there's my non-superhero comic:  Lady Killer by Jamie S. Rich and Joelle Jones.  I picked up Lady Killer at my local comic book store on a whim, because I liked the cover (oddly enough) and I liked the idea of reading about a housewife who worked part-time as a hired killer.  It was a fascinating dynamic that intrigued and compelled me to pick up a copy for myself.

Josie Schuller is far from being a superhero:  she's pragmatic, ruthless, and cold-blooded.  She's a survivor, which means anything goes when it comes to protecting herself and her own (including her darling twin girls).  Overall, I liked reading Lady Killer.  It's probably one of the best comic books I've read within the last year--and it might simply be one of the best I've ever read.  Period.


For more on the Read Harder Challenge of 2016, check out Book Riot.  And for more book reviews from Reader's Reach, scroll through the archives to find something you might like.

And, as always, happy reading.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Sh*t My Dad Says

Sh*t My Dad Says
Justin Halpern

The Summary
"After being dumped by his longtime girlfriend, twenty-eight-year-old Justin Halpern found himself living at home with his seventy-three-year-old dad.  Sam Halpern, who is 'like Socrates, but angrier, and with worse hair,' has never minced words, and when Justin moved back home, he began to record all the ridiculous things his dad said to him:
  • 'That woman is sexy...Out of your league?  Son, let women figure out why they won't screw you.  Don't do it for them.'
  • 'Do people your age know how to comb their hair?  It looks like two squirrels crawled on their heads and started fucking.'
  • 'The worst thing you can be is a liar...Okay, fine, yes, the worst thing you can be is a Nazi, but then number two is liar.  Nazi one, liar two.'
"More than a million people now follow Mr. Halpern's philosophical musings on Twitter, and in this book, his son weaves a brilliantly funny, touching coming-of-age memoir around the best of his quotes.  An all-American story that unfolds on the Little League field, in Denny's, during excruciating family road trips, and, most frequently, in the Halpern's kitchen over bowls of Grape-Nuts, Sh*t My Dad Says is a chaotic, hilarious, true portrait of a father-son relationship from a major new comic voice."

The Good
Halpern's book is uproariously funny.  Sam Halpern has no filter, and he says what he wants in a very colorful manner.  He's brutally honest, almost to the point that it makes you wince, but he has a candor that's unrivaled.  Halpern is tough love personified, but it is love, even if it is a bit unorthodox.

Although Sh*t My Dad Says mostly revolves around Halpern's father and the things he's said (hence the title), it also traces the author's life from his childhood.  He recounts Little League games, family dinners, birthday parties and family reunions, college life, relationships, and more.  All with Sam Halpern's colorful commentary, of course, but it has the tone of a memoir throughout.

It's a short book, much like the original "tweets" that first inspired Sh*t My Dad Says, but it's incredibly funny, thoughtful, and, yes, even sweet.  It chronicles one man's relationship with his father, and all the mayhem and touching moments that ensue.

Sh*t My Dad Says is a hilarious memoir with memorable stories and laugh-out-loud quotes from Sam Halpern.  It's definitely worth reading at least once, if only for the valuable insights Halpern's father provides.

The Bad
No major complaints.  If I have to mention any one thing, it might be that the book is a little short.  I would have liked to have read more about Halpern and his family, I think I would have enjoyed more quirky stories and nuggets of wisdom from his father; however, I was still pleased with the book and would find it easy to pick it up again.

The Ugly
If you don't like cursing, or if you're easily offended, I wouldn't recommend Sh*t My Dad Says.  Halpern's father isn't concerned with treading on anyone's toes, which means he'll day what he wants exactly when he wants to say it - and he's not afraid of a little colorful language.

Friday, January 15, 2016

In Progress: A Game of Thrones (Continued)

As much as I have enjoyed reading A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin, as much as I love his style of writing and the intricacy of his story, I have hit a wall in my reading.  While I was waiting for a copy of A Game of Thrones to return to my library, I made the fatal mistake of picking up another book - and, now, I seem to have my momentum.

I'm just short of being half-way through Martin's novel, but I'm stuck.

Part of me wants to finish the book, but I can't fathom why I would force myself through a book that another part of me isn't so sure I want to finish.  I like A Game of Thrones, but I find myself feeling a bit depressed when I try to continue.  And, as disappointed as I am (with myself) to not finish Martin's novel, I'm equally relieved to simply let it go.

One day, I might try again.

For now, I'm going to just admire Martin's work from afar and rest easy in the knowledge that I might some day return.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016


Del Rey
Naomi Novik

The Summary
"Agnieszka loves her valley home, her quiet village, the forests and the bright shining river.  But the corrupted Wood stands on the border, full of malevolent power, and its shadow lies over her life.

"Her people rely on the cold, driven wizard known only as the Dragon to keep its power at bay.  But he demands a terrible price for his help:  one young woman handed over to serve him for ten years, a fate almost as terrible as falling to the Wood.

"The next choosing is fast approaching, and Agnieszka is afraid.  She knows - everyone knows - that the Dragon will take Kasia:  beautiful, graceful, brave Kasia, all the things Agnieszka isn't, and her dearest friend in the world.  And there is no way to save her.

"But Agnieszka fears the wrong things.  For when the Dragon comes, it is not Kasia he will choose."

The Good
Uprooted is a truly intriguing piece of fantasy.  It has all the elements of traditional fantasy - a menagerie of magical creatures, a malevolent forest, a grumpy wizard - but it feels different from the usual books I pick up.  Sure, I can see where Tolkien, among others, might play a part in Novik's novel, and I can pinpoint familiar myths that have influenced many fantasy writers; however, Naomi Novik pulls from unexpected resources, dipping into multiple mythological pools.  Most notably, she incorporates pieces from Slavic folklore, even engaging Baba Yaga in her work.

For this reason, Novik's novel has a different flavor to it than most fantasy I've read.  It's a complex amalgamation of political and social intrigue, magic, myth and folklore, and, most importantly for young Agnieszka, coming-of-age, but Novik manages to keep it fresh and interesting.  I'm unfamiliar with much of the background, with the intricate history and folklore of Agnieszka's native Polnya, so I found it particularly invigorating.

I also liked Agnieszka.  She's clumsy and inexperienced, but she's very intelligent and she's incredibly candid about her experiences.  As she shares her fears, her hopes and dreams and desires, you have the opportunity to see her character in many different ways and through many different experiences that will change her, mold her and make her into a new person.  She's a fantastic narrator.

I was especially taken with her descriptions of magic.  Agnieszka, who spent her entire childhood and much of her adolescence in the great outdoors, climbing trees and running through the woods in bare feet, has an earthy quality to her character that reflects in her descriptions of the world and, most importantly, magic.  She engages tactile sensations, like digging your fingers into fresh dirt, and offers descriptions that often evokes images of soil, summer, and green, growing things - new life.

I loved the way Agnieszka saw the world.

Additionally, I was pleased with Novik's character development.  Although the Dragon - Sarkan - remained fairly unchanged (he was very stalwart in his refusal to bend), I liked how Agnieszka developed.  She goes from a shy, fearful young woman to a powerful, self-reliant young witch.  I enjoyed seeing her mature, develop and grow as a person and as a magical practitioner.

The Bad
Uprooted felt almost too long.  I mean, don't get me wrong, I don't mind a lengthy story, but Novik's novel just seemed to keep going.  So many secrets unfolded, so many bad things kept happening, so many narrow escapes occurred that it bordered on ridiculous.

I can't tell you how many times Agnieszka escaped an immediate and painful death, even down to the last 50 pages.  As another reviewer pointed out in his article, "It's just that one can't help but be reminded that Novik's Temeraire series will conclude next year as a nine-novel cycle and wonder why a writer so skilled at pacing a long, complicated chronicle over multiple books has crammed this story into one."

This rings true through much of the book.  The last few chapters feel especially rushed, having too much adventure and too many discoveries jammed into a little portion.  Uprooted really does need to be cut into separate novels, preferably a trilogy.

The Ugly
Blood and gore.

Honestly, I didn't expect this novel to be as horrifyingly gory as it was.  Perhaps, because Agnieszka was unused to such violence, we (as readers) see the tragic events as she does - with new eyes and a burgeoning sense of a horror.

Like Agnieszka, we are scarred by terrible things we witness.


For more of the article I quoted, check out Mac Roger's article on Slate.com:  http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/books/2015/06/naomi_novik_s_fantasy_novel_uprooted_reviewed.html

Friday, January 8, 2016

Read Harder Challenge 2016

ReadHarderChallenge2016_checklist (1)Last year, I attempted to complete the Read Harder Challenge.  I finished a portion of the list, and I even posted some reviews on another blog I maintained (which I have since let fall into disrepair - unfortunately); however, I let it fall by the wayside after a couple of months.  This year, however, I hope to change that and complete the Read Harder Challenge of 2016.

Here is a snippet of what you can expect:
  • Read a horror book
  • Read a nonfiction book about science
  • Read a biography (not a memoir or autobiography)
  • Read a book originally published in the decade you were born
  • Listen to an audiobook that has won an Audie Award
  • Read a book by an author that is set in the Middle East
  • Read a nonfiction book about feminism or dealing with feminist themes
There's more, of course, but this is just a taste.  Book Riot has added a lot of different challenges this year, and they've changed from the previous year with the goal of getting reader's to branch out into different realms - and, more importantly, get out of their comfort zone.  (Speaking of which, I might have to work a little harder for "Read a book out loud to someone else."  That's definitely outside of my comfort zone.)

Anyway, I've only just started on my list, but I'm hoping to finish it and maybe work on some of my own reading challenges once I'm done.  My goal for the New Year is to read more and read broadly, and maybe find some new favorites along the way.


For more information about the Read Harder Challenge, check out Book Riot.  You can find suggestions and recommendations from other readers who are trying to find books just like you!

And for a copy of your own reading challenge, click here.


As always, happy reading.

- The Scrivener

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Carrying Albert Home: The Somewhat True Story of a Man, His Wife, and Her Alligator

William Morrow
Carrying Albert Home:  The Somewhat True Story of a Man, His Wife, and Her Alligator
Homer Hickam

The Summary
"Elsie Lavender and Homer Hickam Sr.- the future parents of Homer Hickam Jr. - were high school classmates in the West Virginia coalfields, graduating just as the Great Depression began.  When Homer asked for her hand, Elsie instead headed to Orlando, where she sparked with a dancing actor named Buddy Ebsen (yes, that Buddy Ebsen).  But when Buddy headed for New York, Elsie's dreams of a life with him were crushed and eventually she found herself back in the coalfields, married to Homer.

"Unfulfilled as a miner's wife, Elsie was reminded of her carefree days in Florida every day because of Buddy's unusual wedding gift:  an alligator named Albert who lived in the only bathroom in their little house.  Eventually, Homer gave Elsie an ultimatum:  'Me or the alligator!'  After giving it some thought, Elsie concluded there was only one thing to do - carry Albert home.

"Carrying Albert Home tells the sweet, funny, and sometimes heartbreaking tale of a young couple and their special pet on a crazy 1,000-mile journey.  Told with the warmth and down-home charm that made Rocket Boys a beloved bestseller, Homer Hickam's rollicking novel is truly a testament to that strange and marvelous emotion we call love."

The Good
I enjoyed Carrying Albert Home.  It's a sweet, quirky story:  two people making an oddball journey through the south to return an incredibly expressive alligator to his natural habitat - I mean, it can't get any stranger than that.  Well, it can (and does, on occasion) as Elsie and Homer Senior stumble across bank robbers, bootleggers, rioters, smugglers, serial killers, and all manner of sundry creatures on their journey south.

And speaking of alligators, I loved Albert.  He is, I think, the best alligator I've ever read about in literature - then again, he may be the only alligator I've read about.  Nevertheless, I liked him (and the rooster) and their wild journey from West Virginia to Florida.  Their story, while highly unusual, is simultaneously hilarious and fun; more importantly, it's never boring.

Hickam has a storyteller's prose, weaving a tangled story of suspense and adventure and, ultimately, love.  Moreover, he manages to create wonderful characters that are sure to entertain.  Such as the strange, villainous duo of robbers Homer first encounters, or the bootlegger with whom Elsie spars.  It's a strange gathering of people and animals that left me laughing and shaking my head for the absurdity.

As I was reading, I learned to like Elsie.  Headstrong, defiant, inventive and, yes, courageous in her own way, Elsie was a fascinating female character; however, I have to say, I adore Homer (senior, of course).  Although Homer is a simple man - a coal miner by trade whose only aspirations are a steady job and a happy family - he is a smart man who is loyal to a fault and loves Elsie with all his heart, even if he can't always express it.

A lesser man wouldn't have bothered with a trip to Florida; a lesser man would never have faced bank robbers, rioters (with dynamite), bootleggers, poetry-writing serial killers, smugglers, or hurricanes; a lesser man wouldn't have fought so hard for a woman who wasn't sure of her feelings.  It's a sweet, strange love story that made me wonder from chapter-to-chapter, but I enjoyed it overall.

The Bad
Carrying Albert Home is a strange, strange book.  I don't know if the author intentionally made certain parts of his novel vague, or if he was attempting to give depth and symbolism to Albert's journey (like the rooster, who must play a much larger part than we know, but we never find out), or if he was doing something else entirely.

Either way, I often found myself thinking Elsie and Homer's journey to Florida was much bigger than either of them knew.

The Ugly
Homer and Elsie confront bank robbers, violent rioters in the midst of a strike, dangerous bootleggers, smugglers, serial killers, movie directors, and a number of other dangerous things that each had the potential to kill them.  Perhaps the ones who made my stomach turn most were Carlos and lovely Souffle.

Yes, that is really her name.  And, yes, they are about as strange as you can imagine.

But don't let their names deceive you.  You see, they're a couple of spiders who ensnare and eventually kill lost and wayward men.  Carlos is a poet; Souffle is his mistress - and they're both a special kind of crazy that's hard to describe.  Their method is simple, as Carlos elaborates to Homer:  "Though their souls were artless, Souffle gave them a moment of poetic joy and then I made their deaths perfect."

Souffle seduces them; Carlos kills them.  End of story.

It feels like a story from the Odyssey with Souffle akin to Circe - and, well, Carlos is simply a maniac with a pitch fork and penchant to create horrible poetry.  It's incredibly strange and, admittedly, a little horrifying.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Bonus: Me Talk Pretty One Day

Little, Brown and Company
Me Talk Pretty One Day
David Sedaris

The Summary
In Me Talk Pretty One Day, David Sedaris recounts his childhood in North Carolina and his eventual migration to Paris via New York.  Full of funny and hilarious essays, Sedaris' book encompasses his entire life experience as a gay man in a rather dysfunctional family.

The Good
Me Talk Pretty One Day is very funny.  Sedaris has a sharp tongue and a scathing wit that makes his essays - or, more accurately, his stories about adolescence in the South and his adulthood in Paris - incredibly enjoyable.  Sedaris is not above poking fun at himself or others; he weaves his life experiences and opinions together, fashioning funny and (sometimes) absurd stories that are sure to make you laugh.

Truthfully, I think his stories about his father, Lou, are perhaps some of his best.  One of my favorites was "I'll Eat What He's Wearing," which was Sedaris's last essay.  It chronicles his dad's bad habit of keeping food long past any reasonable expiration date, including a particularly startling mishap with a hat.

The Bad
While I did enjoy  Me Talk Pretty One Day, I wasn't enthralled.  Sedaris is very humorous and his stories are pretty funny, but I just couldn't seem to stay involved in the book.  I would read a story here or there, but it took me weeks to finish the entire book.

Perhaps, that's the way it's meant to be read, taking one story at a time; however, I couldn't help feeling like I was just not enjoying it as much by reading it piecemeal.  It felt like I was forgetting bits of it as I only picked it up sporadically.  It was put on the back burner a lot more than I'd like to admit.

So, overall, Me Talk Pretty One Day is a decent book.  Not great, but not bad either.

The Ugly
Although Sedaris tells his story with a fair amount of humor, his stories about his drug addiction are rather brutal.  He's honest with himself about his addictions, plus he's honest with his audience, which means he's probably going to tell you everything in explicit detail.