"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

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Finding Serendipity

Finding Serendipity
Angelica Banks

The Summary
"When Tuesday McGillycuddy and her beloved dog, Baxterr, discover that Tuesday's mother--the famous author Serendipity Smith--has gone missing, they venture to the mysterious and unpredictable place that stories come from.  To save the lives of those she loves, Tuesday must summon all her wit, courage, and imagination.  But how will she ever find her way home?"

The Good
I picked up Finding Serendipity on whim when I spotted it in a local book fair at my library.  For some reason, I fell in love with the cover and I simply couldn't resist finding out what adventures that Tuesday was about to share with her loyal dog Baxterr.  I jumped right in and, honestly, I'm glad I did.

Finding Serendipity is an excellent book for young readers.  Full of terrifying villains, swashbuckling heroes, clever heroines, and plenty of adventure, Angelica Banks' novel is an intriguing thriller with a very unique story.  I especially loved the inventive way Banks' portrayed authors and their novels, creating a malleable world shaped by an author's thoughts, dreams, and words.

The beginning of the story is a thread that takes you on an adventure through time and space to encounter incredible creatures and magical places.  I loved the notion that words could literally transport an author and a reader.  It was a nice, magical element to the novel that connected the real world with the author's imagined world.

The Bad
Finding Serendipity is for younger readers, so it isn't a particularly complex novel.  It does encounter some mature themes, such as life and death, but, for the most part, it's pretty straight-forward and not particularly scary.

Don't get me wrong, Mothwood is a sinister and, quite frankly, terrifying villain; moreover, I found a few moments were a bit pulse-pounding as I hoped for the safety of Vivienne Smalls, Tuesday and her beloved dog.  But, overall, it's a novel best suited to younger readers and it reflects in the writing and content.

The Ugly

He really creeps me out.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Bonus: Hurricane Force

Jana DeLeon
Hurricane Force
Jana DeLeon

The Summary
"A force to be reckoned with...

"During missions as a CIA assassin, Fortune Redding saw and overcame most every obstacle, but Sinful, Louisiana, keeps producing new challenges for her.  When a hurricane blows through, it brings a shower of counterfeit money raining down on the tiny bayou town.

"When the money is linked back to Ahmad, the arms dealer who issued the kill order on Fortune, everyone is worried that her nemesis is far too close for comfort.  When Ahmad's men turn up in Sinful, the situation becomes life-and-death for Fortune, Ida Belle, and Gertie, and Deputy Carter LeBlanc learns Fortune's new identity.

"As Swamp Team 3 rushes to locate the counterfeiter, Fortune hopes to take down Ahmad and free herself from her fake life.  But will her relationship with Carter make it now that he knows the truth?"

The Good
Same.  Absolute best thing was the fact that Fortune got the chance to be an agent again and kick some serious tail, which I really appreciated in this book.  Not much otherwise might have happened, but, at least, Fortune was finally given the chance to be a secret agent again.

The Bad
Same.  Literally, it's the same things all over again.

I'm kind of done with the Miss Fortune Mystery series.  I could use a long break from it.

The Ugly
I spent six books waiting for some kind of resolution, only to discover that there's not one here.  It's a short book, which is a plus, but it doesn't have much in it.  I mean, it's literally the same misadventures coupled with Fortune getting her cover blown to hell.  Instead of throwing me a bone and letting Fortune catch her man or, you know, at least, get to be herself again, I get nothing.  Just an escaped arms dealer and a break up.

Yes, I'm going to ruin the end, but, honestly, like we didn't expect things turn out this way.  I mean, there's another book for crying out loud!  Obviously, things weren't resolved.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

The Ghost Bride

Wm. Morrow
The Ghost Bride
Yangsze Choo

The Summary
"Though ruled by British overlords, the Chinese of colonial Malaya still cling to ancient customs.  And in the sleepy port town of Malacca, ghosts and superstitions abound.

"Li Lan, the daughter of a genteel but bankrupt family, has few prospects.  But fate intervenes when she receives an unusual proposal from the wealthy and powerful Lim family.  They want her to become a ghost bride for the family's only son, who recently died under mysterious circumstances.  Rarely practiced, traditional ghost marriages are used to placate restless spirits.  Such a union would guarantee Li Lan a home for the rest of her days, but at a terrible price.

"After an ominous visit to the opulent Lim mansion, Li Lan finds herself haunted not only by her ghostly would-be suitor, but also by her desire for the Lims' handsome new heir, Tian Bai.  Night after night, she is drawn into the shadowy parallel world of the Chinese afterlife, with its ghost cities, paper funeral offerings, vengeful spirits, and monstrous bureaucracy--including the mysterious Er Lang, a charming but unpredictable guardian spirit.  Li Lan must uncover the Lim family's darkest secrets--and the truth about her own family--before she is trapped in this ghostly world forever."

The Good
I originally picked up The Ghost Bride on a whim, because of a discussion thread I read on goodreads.com.  It was the perfect thing to fill out my qualifications for my Read Harder Challenge, and it certainly sounded interesting enough to me.  However, I was pleasantly surprised by Yangsze Choo's novel--and the more I read it, the more I loved it.

Detailed and intricate, The Ghost Bride was a fascinating and fantastical journey through Malaysian society of the late 19th century, a romp through the afterlife and funeral rites of the British colony.  I loved the history, the myths, the ceremonies and legends of Malaysia quietly woven into the story.  It was a beautiful narrative that crafted an eerie, but entirely unique afterlife, an intriguing story riddled with incredible imagery of a ghastly spirit world and strange, ghostly creatures.

It's a bit of a dark and creepy story, and you never know how it's going to end--will Li Lan escape her ghostly tormentor?  Will she be able to avoid the hungry ghosts, or will she fall into some malevolent spirit's clutches?  It's a story that kept me on the edge of my seat, but it also managed to give me chills.  When Li Lan encounters ghosts, you get a feeling for their ethereal qualities.  I found it lovely and brilliant, and I was constantly wanting to learn more of the strange and deadly underworld beneath the surface of Malay.

Speaking of Li Lan, I thought she made a lovely narrator.  She's a curiously free-spirited and progressive young woman, but she's also a reflection of her society's system of beliefs.  She's living in a time of transition, when Malay is a colony of Britain in the late 19th century, so there's a confluence of Malaysian tradition and British exploration and industry that gives the novel a unique flavor--that gives Li Lan a unique perspective.

She's also a wonderful storyteller.  She gives explanations about her culture, insights into her city and country without overwhelming the reader or, more importantly, losing the flavor of the novel.  It may offer many explanations, maybe even more than is strictly necessary, but it manages to give me a better image of the world which Li Lan inhabits.  It is a complex, fascinating story full of plot twists and family secrets and traditions that I don't usually encounter, so I appreciated Li Lan's ability to skillfully weave an intriguing tale and appropriately explain the things I didn't always understand.

I loved every minute of Ghost Bride.  The ending was a little unexpected, but, ultimately, I was pleased with the outcome--and, more importantly, Li Lan's decision.  It's a strange novel, but it's so wholly unique that I couldn't not find it completely fascinating.

The Bad
Ghost Bride can get a little confusing, yes, because it's not a set of myths or cultural expectations or beliefs with which I'm familiar; however, I didn't let it deter me.  I was rewarded with a scintillating story rich with Malaysian myth and culture.

The Ugly
Greedy, hungry ghosts.

Those were probably the most frightening things, except for Master Awyoung and Lim Tian Ching.  Both were terrifying, sickening individuals, but there was something about Master Awyoung that stirred an immediate revulsion in me.  I did not like him, and I did not enjoy Li Lan's brief encounters with him.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016


Edith Pattou

The Summary
"Rose is the youngest of seven children, meant to replace her dead sister.

"Maybe because of that, she's never really fit in.  She's always felt different, out of place, a restless wanderer in a family of homebodies.  So when an enormous white bear mysteriously shows up and asks her to come away with it--in exchange for health and prosperity for her ailing family--she readily agrees.

"Rose travels on the bears broad back to a distant and empty castle, where she is nightly joined by a mysterious stranger.  In discovering his identity, she loses her heart--and finds her purpose--and realizes her journey has only just begun.

"As familiar and moving as Beauty and the Beast, yet as fresh and original as only the best fantasy can be, East is a bold retelling of the classic tale, 'East of the Sun and West of the Moon,' a sweeping story of grand proportions."

The Good
East is a curious story that pulls directly from the Norwegian fairy tale, "East of the Sun and West of the Moon," but it seems to draw on everything from history, Beauty and the Beast, Greek mythology--and much more.  It's intriguing and fascinating and strangely beautiful.  Truthfully, it's quickly become one of my favorite books for young readers.

I loved the imagery of East, especially when Rose weaves her stories.  Don't get me wrong, I liked reading Neddy's and their father's narratives, because they both offered insight into Rose's personality as a child and gave some perspective to her unexpected journey.  However, I enjoyed Rose's narrative best because she had a way of looking at the world that impressed upon me the beauty of the far north, a way of chronicling sensations and thoughts that allowed me to better envision her adventure.

She loved to see the world, and she loved beautiful things in nature.  She knew how to capture and convey their appearance, their subtle ferocity and their ethereal beauty, which I absolutely loved.  She weaves a beautiful story, literally and figuratively.  Rose creates beautiful works of art in the cloth she makes, the tapestry she weaves, and she has a similar talent for stringing together words to create a narrative that's both evocative and fascinating.

I loved it.

I also loved its originality.  Yes, I realize it pulls directly from "East of the Sun and West of the Moon"; however, Pattou manages to give the story an added depth by crafting complex characters and expanding upon the goblin myth.  Moreover, I liked that she pulled from all sorts of European myths, drawing out aspects of Beauty and the Beast (an originally French fairy tale) and the story of Cupid and Psyche.  It was interesting to see all these different influences come together.

East was a wonderful book.  I was pleased by the pacing, the imagery, the complexity and depth of the story, the variety of characters.  It had all the best qualities in a book, and I loved it almost immediately.

The Bad
Pattou manages to convey a sense of elapsing time.  Many months pass as Rose sets out with the White Bear, and many more months pass as she journeys to a place "east of the sun, west of the moon" to free him from the clutches of the wicked Troll Queen.  It makes for a rather long book, but, at least, the pacing is spot on and the story merely feels like a natural progression of the narrative.

The Ugly
Superstition and curses.

It can only lead to tragedy.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Read Harder Challenge (Part Six)

I'm working on my Read Harder Challenge again, and this time I decided to:
  1. Read a book out loud to someone else
  2. Read a book that is by an author from Southeast Asia
  3. Read a book about politics, in your country or another (fiction or nonfiction)
First off, I read Let's Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson out loud to my boyfriend.  At first, I read a few pages to my dog, but she didn't seem particularly interested and, moreover, she apparently had better things to do.  My boyfriend, on the other hand, was a little more receptive and seemed to enjoy Lawson's crazy (figuratively speaking) memoir.

He and I both enjoyed reading Let's Pretend This Never Happened, because it was just so funny.  After reading Furiously Happy, which is fueled by Lawson's frenetic energy and her off-kilter sense of humor, Let's Pretend This Never Happened was familiar ground--and equally hilarious.  I loved hearing about Lawson's childhood, her struggle to become an author, and her struggle to acclimate to her various disorders.

It's really quite funny, and it's hard not to laugh at the seemingly random and entirely crazy things that have happened to the author.  But, be warned, some of her stories may be jarring or, more accurately, scarring.  I mean, the incident with Stanley the Magical, Talking Squirrel left me with a feeling of revulsion and horror that's hard to beat.  But the embarrassing (and traumatizing) experience involving Jenny and a particular cow does its best to rival it.

William Morrow
Next, I read Ghost Bride by Yangsze Choo, a Malaysian author.  Set during the British colonization of Malay, Ghost Bride is an intricate and beautiful novel full of Chinese folklore and regional myths and Malaysian history.  The story revolves around Li Lan, a young woman from a poor aristocratic family, who finds herself confronted with an unusual proposal:  a spirit marriage to a young noble who recently perished.  But Li Lan has no interest in becoming a bride for a ghost.  In this haunting debut novel, Li Lan must fight for her freedom--and possibly her very soul--if she ever hopes to escape the clutches of the dead and marry the man she truly loves.

Li Lan was a lovely, dynamic narrator.  I found it interesting to see how she changed as a person from her experiences in the underworld and through her relationship with the mysterious, enigmatic Er Lang.  Li Lan did a wonderful job of explaining much of the customs and beliefs in Malay without overwhelming you by offering too much information or leaving you lost, unable to discern what is happening in the narrative.  It strikes a perfect balance, which I greatly appreciated.

Ghost Bride is a bit of an unusual story, yes, but it's absolutely fascinating.  I was enchanted by Choo's descriptions of the spirit world and the rules which govern them, by the intriguing (and, sometimes, terrifying), full-bodied characters she created, by the history of the Pacific nation.  In short, it's a wonderful book--and I absolutely loved it.

Last, I read The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli.  I was not impressed, let me say so now.  I know part of that is because I purchased a translation that was--well, let's say less than spectacular.  While I was reading, I noticed little mistakes.  Some were simple typos, but a few were glaring grammar mistakes.  It's almost like the original Italian text was just fed through Google and published even with the transcription mistakes.

The Prince
Dante University 
Plus I was so bored ALL THE TIME.  (Sorry for the capitals, I just feel that statement needed extra emphasis.)  It took me literal weeks to finish reading The Prince, even though it was only 114 pages.  I just couldn't keep up with it.  I was bored by it after only a few pages, and I couldn't stand reading it after I realized I couldn't consider the text reliable.

It was terrible.

I finished the book only because I needed a book on politics as one of the requirements for my Read Harder Challenge.  But, honestly, I wouldn't subject anyone to my copy of The Prince.  I would read it again for a college course, if necessary; otherwise, I don't think I'd ever read it again if I didn't have to read it.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Dovey Coe

Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Dovey Coe
Frances O'Roark Dowell

The Summary
"'My name is Dovey Coe and I reckon it don't matter if you like me or not.  I'm here to lay the record straight, to let you know them folks saying I done a terrible thing are liars.  I aim to prove it, too.  I hated Parnell Caraway as much as the next person, but I didn't kill him.'

"Dovey Coe says what's on her mind, so it's no secret that she can't stand Parnell Caraway.  Parnell may be the son of the richest man in town, but he's mean and snobby, and Dovey can't stand the fact that he's courting her sister, Caroline, or the way he treats her brother, Amos, as if he were stupid just because he can't hear.

"So when Parnell turns up dead, and Dovey's in the room where his body is discovered, she soon finds herself on trial for murder.  Can the outspoken Dovey sit still and trust a city slicker lawyer who's still wet behind the ears to get her out of the biggest mess of her life?"

The Good
Dovey Coe was an unexpectedly interesting and engaging piece of children's literature.  Featuring a tough, no-nonsense narrator and a story littered with hints of rural Appalachia, Frances O'Roark Dowell's novel is a fascinating little story about a young girl faced with a very big problem:  everyone believes she murdered Parnell Caraway.

Naturally, she didn't.  (Not that I would have minded.  Parnell was a cruel man who had designs on Dovey's sister and, eventually, Dovey whom Parnell blamed when Caroline wouldn't return his affections, and I grew to distrust him as much as Dovey did.  For good reason, too.)

In some way, Dovey Coe reminded me of Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird.  I mean, for one, you have a rambunctious female narrator, a convoluted court case, and a lawyer with a heart of gold (looking at you Atticus).  It's interesting to see the parallels and, while it's certainly not as ground-breaking as Lee's novel, it strikes much the same tone, using a familiar Southern dialect to convey the language quirks of the region.  It makes me think of Scout Finch and Huck Finn, which I enjoyed.

Plus, I liked that Dowell didn't succumb to the usual tropes when portraying Appalachia as riddled with illiterate hillbillies.  (Deliverance, anyone?)  I know the history of the region, I'm intimately familiar with it, so I was relieved when the author reflected the history, culture, and dialect of the region without poking fun or ridiculing.  I thought she did a wonderful job of portraying the mountain communities of the early 20th century, and she does a wonderful job of depicting Dovey.

The Bad
The conclusion seemed to wrap up rather quickly.  That might seem like an odd complaint, but I think it's a valid one.  You see, Dovey Coe took quite a while to build up to the trial.  It gave plenty of background information on Parnell and Dovey and their families, it gave context to the community and the rivalry between the Coe and Caraway families; more to the point, it showed the circumstances that lead to the final, fatal conflict.

But the trial seemed to last no time at all.

In the aftermath Dovey's trial, readers learn the truth behind Parnell's death, which doesn't take more than a couple of chapters.  I was surprised and a little disappointed by the sudden--and startlingly quick--wrap up after I spent chapters and chapters (literally) learning about Dovey and Parnell and Caroline and everyone else.  The ending seemed almost anticlimactic by comparison.

The Ugly
Parnell really was a piece of work.  It's terrible to see his unbridled cruelty inflicted on others.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

The Irresistible Blueberry Bakeshop & Cafe

The Irresistible Blueberry Bakeshop & Cafe
Little, Brown and Company
The Irresistible Blueberry Bakeshop & Cafe
Mary Simses

The Summary
"Ellen Branford is going to fulfill her grandmother's dying wish--to find the hometown boy she once loved and give him her last letter.  Three months before Ellen's wedding to Hayden Croft, her Kennedy-esque fiance, she leave Manhattan for Beacon, Maine.  A high-powered attorney used to success and the fast pace of city living, Ellen is determined to carry out her grandmother dying request in one day.  But what should be an overnight trip is quickly complicated when Ellen falls into Beacon's chilly bay and finds herself saved by a man named Roy, a carpenter in town.

"The rescue transforms Ellen into something of a local celebrity, which may or may not help her unravel the past her grandmother labored to keep hidden.  As Ellen learns about her grandmother and herself, it becomes clear that a twenty-four-hour visit to Beacon may not be enough.  And when Roy reveals himself to be the one person in town who can bring closure to her quest, Ellen must make the most difficult decision of her life--one that will call into question the future waiting for her at home.

"A delicious debut novel about love, purpose, and the seductive promise of a simpler life, The Irresistible Blueberry Bakeshop & Cafe will take readers on a rich journey through the main streets and back roads of Maine."

The Good
I'll be honest, I fell in love with the cover of The Irresistible Blueberry Bakeshop & Cafe.  Although the title caught my eye (I love anything to do with baking, especially if it involves blueberries.  My stomach sometimes dictates my choices, I know), I primarily picked it up for the cover.  It promises something sticky-sweet, possibly darling, and most likely romantic--and, of course, I couldn't resist.

At first, I wasn't quite taken with the story.  I felt a little distant from the narrative, like I couldn't quite sink into the story.  But, once I did, I was infatuated by Ellen's exploration of her grandmother's hometown and her personal journey to discover herself.  It's a sweet, heart-warming story about finding your own place and knowing your own heart.

Although I'm not a fan of romantic conflict (i.e. "love triangles"), I found I was intrigued by the characters and the unexpected paths Ellen takes.  I was curious to see where her choices--and her heart--would lead her.  Would she marry her knight-in-shining-armor, or would she fall in love with the Maine coast and her unexpected savior?  She faced many of the same romantic troubles her grandmother did, and I was intrigued to see how their lives followed a familiar path.

Overall, I enjoyed it.  It's a nicely written romantic story that's sure to pluck on your heartstrings, if it doesn't appeal to your stomach.  I craved blueberry muffins after I finished reading it.

The Bad
Love triangles.

I didn't like the uncertainty, the trite "am-I-still-in-love-with-him" debates that continued to run through the course of Ellen's narrative.  As a narrator, I liked Ellen for the internal turmoil that sometimes left her reeling and struggling to understand her feelings; however, I really didn't like the fact that she had to choose between two men.  She had to choose between a way of life she vehemently defended, and a new way of life with a new object of affection.

I've never liked love triangles, and I don't think The Irresistible Blueberry Bakeshop & Cafe made me anymore charitable toward them.

The Ugly
Losing one's grandmother is a terribly difficult thing; in fact, it's heart-breaking.  For Ellen, it's an emotional dagger to the chest that's made all the more painful by her grandmother's hidden past and her own sudden change of heart.

Honestly, I would not want to be in her shoes.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Bonus: Soldiers of Fortune

Jana DeLeon
Soldiers of Fortune
Jana DeLeon

The Summary
"When Celia Arceneaux was elected mayor of Sinful, Louisiana, Fortune Redding expected trouble.  The woman has an unmatched talent for making the worst of any situation, especially if it means getting revenge on her sworn enemies Ida Belle and Gertie.

"At the Fourth of July celebration, an explosion rocks Sinful and it's not from fireworks.  Most people assume it was a moonshine still, but when evidence points to a meth lab deep in the bayous of Sinful, Fortune realizes how dire the situation is for the tiny town.  With Carter on medical leave and no one left at the sheriff's department who can handle the investigation, Fortune, Ida Belle, and Gertie decide to take matters into their own hands.

"This is (another) mission for Swam Team 3."

The Good
Like other novels in the series, Soldier of Fortune is a fun, action-packed irreverent romp through the swampy bayous of rural Louisiana.  However, this book felt a little different from others in the series for one very important reason:  it's shorter and, if possible, more serious.

Oh, sure, it's full of the usual mishaps--like Gertie setting a car on fire, Ida Belle speeding through the swamp (as is her wont to do), Fotune finding herself caught in more compromising situations than is probably necessary (or healthy)--but it felt a little different.  I'm fairy certain they got into the same amount of trouble, as per usual, but I felt like the novel took a much more serious tone with the involvement of a meth lab.

Even the criminal organization Fortune and her crew inadvertently befriend finds the whole business of drugs in the swamp a distasteful business.

Besides which, I noticed that Carter was not nearly as involved as usual.  Since he was benched this time around--and the remaining officers at the police department are a poor excuse for law enforcement--he wasn't as prone to stepping right into the middle of Fortune's impromptu investigations.  Moreover, I think he might have been more inclined to be on her side if (well, when) he was involved.

The Bad
Soldiers of Fortune felt a lot shorter than any of the other novels.  As I was reading, I stumbled across the conclusion rather suddenly.  It was a bit of a strange sensation to realize I'd reached the end when I felt a few questions remained unanswered and some loose ends were left unresolved.

I suppose one good thing did come out of its unexpected conclusion:  I didn't have to worry about anymore crazy misadventures.

The Ugly
Meth.  And murder.

Oh, and Celia Arceneaux.  (You'll know what I'm talking about when you read it.)

Thursday, August 11, 2016

The Fox and the Star

Penguin Books
The Fox and the Star
Coralie Bickford-Smith

The Summary
"The Fox and the Star is the story of a friendship between a lonely Fox and the Star who guides him through the frightfully dark forest.  Illuminated by Star's rays, Fox forages for food, runs with the rabbits, and dances in the rain--until Star suddenly goes out and life changes, leaving Fox huddling for warmth in the unfamiliar dark.  To find his missing Star, Fox must embark on a wondrous journey beyond the world he knows--a journey lit by courage, newfound friends, and just maybe, a star-filled new sky.

"Inspired by the Arts and Crafts movement and the art of William Blake, The Fox and the Star is a heartwarming, hopeful tale which comes alive through Bickford-Smith's beloved illustrations, guiding readers both young and grown to 'look up beyond your ears.'"

The Good
The Fox and the Star is a short, sweet and incredibly beautiful children's book.  I stumbled across it by accident, spying the cover on a recommendation list or, maybe, somewhere on one of the many bookish websites I inhabit.  Anyway, I read it simply because I fell in love with the cover.  I mean, I loved the dark background highlighted with twisting, spiraling vines--and I couldn't pass up a book about a fox.

Admittedly, I thought it might be a young readers novel--like something in the realm of Louis Sachar, or Cressida Cowell--but I discovered it's actually a children's book, an illustrated story that lasts, at most, 30 pages.  However, I can't say I wasn't pleased with The Fox and the Star.  It's a wonderful little story that I'm sure will appeal to young children and, maybe, their parents.

I loved the illustrations.  I loved Fox and his bright orange fur; I loved the dark, quiet forest with its vines and its rabbit dens; I loved the sky of stars.  And I absolutely loved reading the phrase, "Look up beyond your ears."  It had a quality to it, a strange and scintillating illustration that appealed to me more than I expected.

Altogether, The Fox and the Star is wonderfully drawn fable that feels different from the usual ones I've stumbled across in children's literature.  More importantly, it combines a creative story with fantastic illustration to create a magical book.

The Bad
As I pointed out, The Fox and the Star is a children's book.  It's maybe 30 pages--35 pages, at the most--and it's not very complex.  There's not much depth there, if that's what you happen to be looking for.

Like I said, it's for kids.  It's a much simpler story with a much simpler format.

The Ugly
It's a children's book.  There's absolutely nothing to report that might even be misconstrued as crude or explicit or "bad."

No scandalous behavior, no explicit material or foul language, no terrifying images or mature themes.  There's nothing there that might make a reader feel uncomfortable.

Except the beetles.  For some reason, those things gave me the creeps.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

The World's Strongest Librarian

Gotham Books
The World's Strongest Librarian
Josh Hanagarne

The Summary
"A funny, book-obsessed kid, Josh Hanagarne was born to Mormon parents in rural Utah.  He plotted escape to Piers Anthony's land of Xanth, freaked himself out with Stephen King's Pet Sematary, and fell feverishly in love with Fern from E.B. White's Charlotte's Web.

"Large for his age, Josh was playing the role of Tree in his elementary school play when he suddenly started twitching uncontrollably.  Turns out the tree had Tourette Syndrome.

"By the time Josh turned twenty, his tics had become too drastic to ignore.  Desperate for liberation, Josh tried all possible treatment:  well-intentioned chiropractic massage from a future convict; antipsychotic drugs that left him in a fog; even Botox injected directly into his vocal cords to paralyze them, which left him voiceless for two years.  The results were dismal.

"As his tics worsened, the list of casualties grew:  Josh's relationship with his girlfriend, his Mormon mission, his college career, countless jobs, his sense of self, and--slowly but relentlessly--his faith.

"It turned out to be weight lifting that provided the most lasting relief, as Josh learned to "throttle" his tics into submission in the weight room.  Under guidance from an eccentric, autistic strongman--and former Air Force tech sergeant and prison guard in Iraq--Josh quickly went from lifting dumbbells and barbells to performing increasingly elaborate feats (like rolling up frying pans and bending spikes).  What started as a hobby became an entire way of life--and an effective way of managing his disorder.

"At an imposing 6'7" and literally incapable of sitting still, Josh is certainly not your average librarian.  He is an aspiring strongman, bookish nerd, twitchy guy with Tourette Syndrome, devoted family man, and tearer of phone books.  A tall, thin paradox in thick glasses.  Funny and offbeat, The World's Strongest Librarian traces this unlikely hero as he attempts to overcome his disability, navigate his wavering faith, find love, and create a life worth living."

The Good
The World's Strongest Librarian is a sweet, amusing book that confronts the normal issues of life and Tourette's.  I found Josh Hanagarne's memoir both engaging and entertaining, a overall enjoyable story by an excellent writer.  He captures his own unique voice, conveying his humor and heartbreak through the pages as he struggles with religion, life, Tourette Syndrome, love, infertility, fatherhood and more.

It's insightful and humorous and completely candid, and it's sure to pluck at your heart strings.  He illuminates all the usual challenges with Tourette's, expressing his grief and his embarrassment and his feelings of futility, and he offers insight into all the difficulties in working for a library, but he keeps an upbeat attitude and tells his story with, I imagine, a grin.

It's also very well-written; more importantly, it's accessible.  His honesty lends a special quality to his work and allows him to write a particularly exceptional memoir that's full of life and vitality.  And I appreciated his love of books that were sprinkled throughout his work.  As an avid reader, I could relate to him through his love of books even if I couldn't always relate to his syndrome or his exercise routines.

Overall, I enjoyed reading Hanagarne's book.  It's memorable, fun, interesting, and vastly entertaining.  I especially loved his insight into the everyday workings of the Salt Lake City Library.  It reminded me of reading I Work at a Public Library by Gina Sheridan, and I enjoyed his stories of working as a librarian that left me reminiscing of my own experiences at the library.

Plus, I loved the acknowledgements page.  I know that might sound odd and, honestly, I usually don't pay much attention to acknowledgements, but I found myself cracking up as Hanagarne paid the usual thanks to friends and family and editors and others who have influenced his work--and left such an indelible mark on him.

I enjoyed it probably more than I should have.

The Bad
Sometimes, I thought The World's Strongest Librarian struggled with pacing.  It seemed to drag at different intervals and, moreover, it felt a little scattered.  I would occasionally mistake the present for the past, switching his current experiences as a librarian with his past experiences as a child or adolescent because certain sections were clearly defined.

I wouldn't consider it a deal breaker, merely a quirk to notice if you're reading Hanagarne's memoir.

The Ugly
Life is not always easy, or pretty.  In fact, it can be utterly heart-breaking and tragic.  After reading about his fight with Tourette's, his struggles with infertility and adoption, his personal agonies over religion, I found it's sometimes difficult to stomach it all.

Friday, August 5, 2016

The Mental Floss History of the World: An Irreverent Romp Through Civilization's Best Bits

The Mental Floss History of the World:  An Irreverent Romp Through Civilization's Best Bits
Erik Sass
Steve Wiegand
Will Pearson
Mangesh Hattikudur

The Summary
"Pop quiz!  Who said what about history?

"History is...
(a) more or less bunk.
(b) a nightmare from which I am trying to awaken.
(c) as thoroughly infected with lies as a street whore with syphilis.
"Match your answers:
(1) Stephen Daedalus of James Joyce's Ulysses
(2) Henry Ford
(3) Arthur Schopenhauer
"It turns out that answer need not be bunk, nightmarish, or diseased.  In the hands of mental_floss, history's most interesting bits have been handpicked and roasted to perfection.  Packed with little-known stories and outrageous--but accurate--facts, you'll laugh yourself smarter on this joyride through 60,000 years of human civilization.  Remember:  just because it's true, doesn't mean its boring!

"Answers:  (a) 2, (b) 1, (c) 3."

The Good
The Mental Floss History of the World is a fun and "irreverent romp through civilization's best bits," as the subtitle attests.  It's intriguing and engaging and delightfully informative; moreover, it's often hilarious.  I loved that the book offered a glimpse into little-known and forgotten history, while simultaneously entertaining readers.

Plus, it struck a sarcastic tone that appealed to my sense of humor.  I loved the funny side notes that picked out the most intriguing (or embarrassing) and unexpected moments in history, and I loved the sense of irony the writers doled out.  They weren't afraid to poke fun at even the most sinister figures in human history.

It's a quick read.  I finished it in a matter of days, because much of the book is short, concise snippets of history that allow the reader a taste of the more complex political and social milieu of the region.  Although it covers a very large portion of history (60,000 years of human civilization, to be precise), it doesn't feel overwhelming or dense or dull.

Additionally, I liked that the authors threw in a little appendix about Canada.  It's a neat little synopsis on their history that contrasts nicely with the rest of the insanity going on in the rest of the world.  Canada seems pretty peaceful.  A little neglected by the rest of world history, but pretty peaceful, nonetheless.

The Bad
Although I love history, I thought some of the anecdotes were terribly long.  Granted, I always learned something new and undeniably funny/ironic, but I sometimes felt like I was being led away from the original text.  They sometimes took me a little farther away than I would have liked.

The Ugly
Graphic explanations of some of the most violent--or most awkward--events in history.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Safe Haven

Grand Central Publishing
Safe Haven
Nicholas Sparks

The Summary
"When a mysterious young woman named Katie appears in the small North Carolina town of Southport, her sudden arrival raises questions about her past.  Beautiful yet self-effacing, Katie seems determined to avoid forming personal ties until a series of events draws her into two reluctant relationships:  one with her plainspoken neighbor, Jo; and another with Alex, a widowed store owner with two young children.  Despite her reservations, Katie slowly begins to relax her guard, putting down roots in the community and becoming increasingly attached to Alex and his family.

"But even as Katie begins to fall in love, she struggles with the dark secret that still haunts and terrifies her...a past that set her on a fearful journey across the country, to the oasis of Southport.  With Jo's support, Katie eventually realizes that she must choose between a life of transient safety and one of riskier rewards...and in the darkest hour, love is the only true safe haven."

The Good
Oddly enough, I fell in love with Safe Haven.  I've always been reluctant to read Nicholas Sparks.  I was never interested in reading The Notebook and I wasn't thrilled with The Choice, but I loved watching A Walk to Remember and I even liked watching Safe Haven when it came on TV.  Regardless, I was still a little hesitant to begin Safe Haven, because I really didn't know if I would enjoy it--if I would even get past the first chapter.

Well, I did.  And I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed it.

I've read Nicholas Sparks in the past, but I could never fully enjoy his writing.  Something about The Choice just wasn't appealing to me.  I'm not sure if it was his writing style, or the story, or the format--or if it just wasn't right for me at the time--but I wasn't impressed.  I pretty much brushed Nicholas Sparks aside and discounted him as a writer.

However, I found myself enjoying Safe Haven more than I expected.  It's a sweet little romance with endearing characters set in a small, Southern town on the coast, and it's threaded with very subtle hints of magic.  I might have liked it because it reminded me of Sarah Addison Allen and Linda Francis Lee, but I think I might have liked it best because it's set in North Carolina.  I've been to tiny towns like Southport, I've been to beaches like Katie describes, so the story appealed to me on a deeply personal level.

Most importantly, I think I liked the narrator:  Rebecca Lowman.  Lowman, who also narrated Girl Who Chased the Moon, does a fantastic job of bringing Sparks' works to life.  She's careful to distinguish characters with individual accents, using the soft drawl and twang of a Southern coastal town, while affecting different inflections in others.  I often felt myself drawn into the narrative as Lowman recounted Katie's story and her desperate flight from her past.

Safe Haven was a great audiobook, overall.  It struck a perfect balance of romance, suspense, and drama without leaning in one direction or the other, and it had a little bit of magic thrown into the mix that made it stand out.  It's sure to warm your heart, like it did mine.

The Bad
A few elements of Katie's romance with Alex rubbed me the wrong way, struck me as a little cliche, but it wasn't anything that left a lingering pall over the story.  It's not really even noticeable, just something that would appear every so often and then I would sink back into the story, ignoring it.  Otherwise, I don't really have any other complaints.

The Ugly
Domestic abuse is an ugly, ugly thing.

I didn't like Kevin for obvious reasons; however, I also feel like he wasn't crafted very well.  He has a strange religious/superiority complex that makes him strange, slightly absurd, but I suppose that stems from being purposefully made crazy.  He's not a great character, and he's a horrible human being.

And I really didn't like him.