"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, February 28, 2017

Never Judge a Lady by Her Cover

Never Judge a Lady by Her Cover
Sarah MacLean

The Summary
"By day, she is Lady Georgiana, sister to a duke, ruined before her first season in the worst kind of scandal.  But the truth is far more shocking--in London's darkest corners, she is Chase, the mysterious, unknown founder of the city's most legendary gaming hell.  For years, her double identity has gone undiscovered...until now.

"Brilliant, driven, handsome-as-sin Duncan West is intrigued by the beautiful, ruined woman who is somehow connected to a world of darkness.  He knows she is more than she seems, and he vows to uncover all of Georgiana's secrets, laying bare her past, threatening her present, and risking all she holds dear...including her heart."

The Good
I was curiously caught up in this story.  It was a bit like a soap opera--dramatic and heart-wrenching and saccharine sweet simultaneously--and, once I was hooked, I couldn't seem to stop.  I found myself committed to the story, because it was complex and rather exciting.

While I wouldn't call it the best audiobook which I've had the pleasure of hearing, it wasn't a bad story.  I mean, character development is decent and romantic entanglements were fairly believable.  Plus, I loved the fact that the main female protagonist took charge of her life and decided she would no longer remain under the thumb of Victorian social expectations.

Honestly, I found Georgiana's courage and her plan to quietly undermine society refreshing.  Her activities, while rather far fetched, make her a formidable and forbidding woman.  She's not a shrinking violet, she's not a damsel in distress; in fact, she can take care of herself and she's done so for nigh on ten years.  Personally, I appreciate that in a character.

The Bad
Justine Eyre did a nice job narrating Never Judge a Lady by Her Cover.  She fits Georgiana's character quite well; however, I hated listening to Temple's voice.  For some reason, her male voices made me cringe.  It wasn't quite to the nails-on-a-chalkboard level, but it did make me think of grinding my teeth.

I'll be honest, I just couldn't stand it and, occasionally, I had to take my earbuds out to take a break.

The Ugly
Mature content.

If it's not explicit sex scenes, then it's domestic abuse and a general array of vices.  Definitely not for younger readers.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

In Progress: Rejected Princesses (Completed)

Image result
Dey St.
Okay, so I finished reading Rejected Princesses by Jason Porath--and, in many ways, it makes me proud of my gender right about now.  I mean, sure, there are a few dark parts to history (Boudica, here's looking at you!) and they aren't always nice, considerate, or remotely moral; however, I enjoyed reading Rejected Princesses just for the simple fact that it decided to chronicle interesting, sometimes terrifying, sometimes brutal, but always fascinating women of history.  I learned so much more than I expected.

I've heard of Mata Hari, Joan of Arc, Harriet Tubman, Elizabeth Bathory, Boudica, Ching Shih, and a few others.  I read Bad Girls by Joan Stradling and gained a whole new appreciation for the most infamous women in history; however, Porath offers a more comprehensive look at these famous--and, of course, infamous--ladies and he does it with a touch of humor.  His passages are relatively short (three to four pages, max), but they're simultaneously informative and entertaining.

More importantly, I discovered aspects of history about which I never knew.  I love history and I love learning about history, whether it's in my own back yard or across the ocean, and I loved that I was able to deepen my knowledge of various time periods.  For instance, I was excited to learn more about female contributions to the American Revolution with Sybil Ludington.  Or learning about the Canary Islands, about which I knew nothing, with Andamana.  Or learning more about technological, mathematical, and scientific discoveries with Annie Jump Cannon, Hypatia, Ada Lovelace, and so many more.

It was exciting.

But, I have to say, I think I loved the Night Witches of World War II the best.

I mean, I am fascinated by World War II.  I've read several books about it, and I've studied it probably more than the average person.  I'm not an expert by any means, but I find myself constantly fascinated by conflicts and social/political shifts that occurred in WWII.  It's an era that has such wide-reaching effects we can still see the ripples today; heck, we can still talk to the people who endured it.  I may not enjoy violence, but I like hearing stories about it and I like piecing together my knowledge of it, I like holding those stories.

And yet I've somehow never heard of the Night Witches.


But here's how cool they were:
"The Night Witches mark one of the greatest underdog accomplishments in military history.  Handed a bunch of slow, flammable trainer planes that had been designed only to dust crops, an all-female group of untrained civilians became one of the most decorated divisions in the entire Soviet military.  Flying without armor, guns, sights, radio, cockpits, brakes, parachutes, or virtually any navigation machinery, they dropped bombs on the Germans every three minutes, like clockwork, every night for three years."
Moreover, they would often cut their engines and dive over German military camps on the Eastern front, before kicking on their engines and dropping bombs.  They literally fell out of the sky, dropped bombs, and then did it again and again and again.  "They flew over 1,100 nights of combat, and each pilot flew over 800 missions."

Holy cow.

These women are super women.  They were--and are--amazing.  They pushed the physical limits of the human body, while simultaneously making due with substandard military equipment and challenging the typical military and/or social culture of Soviet Russia.  They're incredible!

Guess, I know what I'll be reading about next.

Friday, February 24, 2017

My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She's Sorry

Washington Square Press
My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She's Sorry
Fredrik Backman

The Summary
"Elsa is seven years old and different.  Her grandmother is seventy-seven years old and crazy--as in standing-on-the-balcony-firing-paintball-guns-at-strangers crazy.  She is also Elsa's best, and only, friend.  At night Elsa takes refuge in her grandmother's stories, in the Land-of-Almost-Awake and the Kingdom of Miamas, where everybody is different and nobody needs to be normal.

"When Elsa's grandmother dies and leaves behind a series of letters apologizing to people she has wronged, Elsa's greatest adventure begins.  Her grandmother's instructions lead her to an apartment building full of misfits, monsters, attack dogs and old crones, but also to the truth about fairy tales and kingdoms and a grandmother like no other.

"My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She's Sorry is told with the same comic accuracy and beating heart as Fredrik Backman's bestselling debut novel, A Man Called Ove.  It is a story about life and death and one of the most important human rights:  the right to be different."

The Good
I loved this book.

Although it took me a little time to get into the story, especially when so many characters became involved, I absolutely loved it.  I enjoyed the authentic--sometimes explosive, sometimes heartbreaking, but always genuine--emotions in this book; I enjoyed the oddity of it; I enjoyed the threads of danger and adventure woven into the story; I enjoyed Backman's storytelling, reading about Wolfheart and the Wurse; I even enjoyed Britt Marie (and that's saying something).

Admittedly, I loved the whole thing.

In his novel, Backman will show you the worst side of people:  drugs, alcohol, social and behavioral problems, grief, bullying, and more--so much more that it will break your heart.  He'll show you things that are hard to see; however, he'll balance these things with humor and insight and heartwarming moments of compassion.

I would call his novel bittersweet, because it so closely mirrors life.  It shows you the difficult side of human nature, all the struggles that weigh us down on a daily basis; however, it shows you the sweeter things in life, like best friends and wonderful mothers and good stories and loyalty and, wonder of wonders, laughter.  Sometimes, life isn't always good, but this book makes you feel like things will get better in the end.

Overall, I loved reading My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She's Sorry.  I especially liked the characters:  they're so different.  Each with his or her own history that changes them, makes them a unique personality--and yet they're all tied together by the thread of Elsa's grandmother.  She brings them together in an oddball quest to deliver letters, to apologize for the wrongs in her life and rectify the things she can no longer fix.

But Elsa, I think, was my favorite.

She's a smart, headstrong little girl.  She's read the Harry Potter series numerous times, she's proficient in her grandmother's "secret language," and she's a frequent purveyor of Wikipedia, an avid researcher of the mundane and the obscure.  She's such a unique personality, I couldn't help liking her--and, of course, her crazy, paintball-gun-wielding grandmother.  They give the novel a unique flavor that truly makes it one-of-a-kind.

The Bad
No complaints.

The Ugly
Losing a loved one always hurts.  For poor Elsa, she's faced with a doubly great loss:  she loses her grandmother, her best friend, and all the magical stories of Miamas.  It's truly heart-breaking.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Julie & Julia: 365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen: How One Girl Risked Her Marriage, Her Job, and Her Sanity to Master the Art of Living

Hatchette Books
Julie & Julia:  365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen:  How One Girl Risked Her Marriage, Her Job, and Her Sanity to Master the Art of Living
Julie Powell

The Summary
"Powell needs something to break the monotony of her life.  So, she invents a deranged assignment:  she will take her mother's dog-eared copy of Julia Child's 1961 classic, Mastering the Art of Frech Cooking, and cook all 524 recipes in the span of just one year."

Truthfully, the subtitle says it all.

The Good
I read Julie and Julia by Julie Powell as part of my Read Harder Challenge for 2016 (which you can read more about here), and I was absolutely delighted with it.

Amusing, candid, and insightful, I really enjoyed listening to Julie Powell's memoir--or food memoir?  I'm not really sure where it falls in the grand scheme of things, but, regardless, I thought it was a wonderful book.  It's riotously funny, yet strangely poignant.  Oddly enough, it reminds me of Jenny Lawson and her memoir, Furiously Happy--yet just a tiny bit less chaotic.

Not by much, considering Julie Powell undertakes to make 524 different recipes, many of which take hours to prepare, in just one year in a crappy little apartment in Queens.  It's astonishing the things she (and her marriage) manages to survive, including:  biological clocks, frozen pipes, disastrous dinner parties, inane dead end secretarial jobs, break downs, Blanche days, and celebrity crushes.

It's really a pretty amusing book, especially if you decide to listen to it as read by the author (which I did--and which I highly recommend); however, it's not quite the food memoir I expected.  In fact, Julie and Julia is more memoir than food.  Julie is hellbent on recreating all of Julia Child's recipes in Mastering the Art of French Cooking, vol. 1 and, in her journey, she learns how to make a variety of dishes and confronts some of the most trying times of her life.

While it features a lot of cooking, Julie and Julia feels like it's more about the experiences of cooking and the results, specifically what happens to the author as she slogs through more than 500 French recipes, than the actual cooking, but I can't say I minded.

Julie and Julia is strangely heartwarming and incredibly amusing.  To me, it strikes just the right balance that makes it a memoir worth reading, especially if you have the chance to listen to the author tell her own story.  It makes Julie and Julia that much more memorable.

The Bad
I will note that while I was listening to the audiobook I discovered I borrowed the abridged version.  I don't know if the audiobook had the full text, but I do know I missed a few things that might otherwise have filled in details or fleshed out the characters involved.  It was my only disappointment in a book that was, otherwise, wonderful.

The Ugly
Okay, I'll be honest:  I liked Julie, but, sometimes, I just couldn't handle very much of her.

I mean, I liked her and I liked her style of writing.  I loved listening to the audiobook, because it has this authenticity to it, this genuine emotion that seeps through every chapter.  However, I could only take so much.  She was very dramatic and she stressed out so easily--and, confidentially, she stressed me out when she went on a rant about how cooking was going to ruin her and so on...and, sometimes, it was just a little too shrill, you know?

Saturday, February 18, 2017

In Progress: Rejected Princesses (Continued)

Image result
Dey St.
Okay, so I've made it about half way through Jason Porath's book; however, I have wantonly skimmed it and skipped to some of the more intriguing--not to say they aren't all intriguing, or curious, or fascinating, or strange--entries.  Like the warlord's widow who cultivated an entire school of ninjas in Japan, or the Vietnamese sisters who waged a war against Chinese invaders, or Phoolan Devi (that was a difficult one to read), or Elizabeth Bathory (this one blew my mind).

There are so many of these entries.  Some of them mind-blowing, some of them fascinating, some of them hilarious and/or tragic.  You get the whole spectrum with Rejected Princesses and, truthfully, I haven't been disappointed yet.  I mean, all of these women are powerful and independent, and they don't adhere to the traditional roles of females in society.

Instead, they go out and kick butt, fight against a system that tries to squash them, and, in  general, be awesome.

I love that Porath takes the time to carefully research these ladies; honestly, I love that he makes an effort at all to chronicle the forgotten women of history who worked as shipbuilders and soldiers and strongmen--ahem, strongwomen--and ninjas, and so, so much more.  It's great.  It's not always safe for kids, as his trigger warnings make apparent on the corner at the introduction of each entry; however, it's a nice addition to any burgeoning historian's collection.

I mean, how could you not enjoy learning about these ladies who have made and redefined history and continue to influence our world today?

So far, I have a list of favorites:
  • Khutulun
  • Tatterhood
  • Sybil Ludington
  • Grace O'Malley
  • "Stagecoach" Mary Fields
  • Iara
  • Trung Trac and Trung Nhi
  • Mary Bowser
  • Julie "La Maupin" d'Aubigny
  • Nanny of the Maroons
  • Tomoe Gozen
  • Mariya Oktyabrskaya
  • Ada Lovelace
  • Laskarina Bouboulina
  • Ching Shih

I'm just going to say it again:  This book is great.

Thursday, February 16, 2017


Penguin Books
Roald Dahl

The Summary
"Captured by a giant!

"The BFG is no ordinary bone-crunching giant.  He is far too nice and jumbly.  It's lucky for Sophie that he is.  Had she been carried off in the middle of the night by the Bloodbottler, or any of the other giants--rather than the BFG--she would have soon become breakfast.  When Sophie hears that the giants are flush-bunking off to England to swallomp a few nice chiddlers, she decides she must stop them once and for all.  And the BFG is going to help her!"

The Good
I had fun with The BFG.

It's an odd little story, principally on par with Dahl's other works, James and the Giant Peach and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, but it's really quite a wonderful story.  It's funny, it has endearing characters, and, honestly, it has these adorable moments--mostly when the BFG fudges his words and leaves Sophie positively bumfuzzled--that wrench your heart and leave you smiling or laughing by turns.

Personally, I fell in love with the big friendly giant and I was always tickled by his antics, fascinated by his dream catching excursions, and, of course, warmed by his fondness for little orphaned Sophie.  Their relationship is so pure and sweet, and I couldn't help wishing I'd met a BFG of my own.

It's a great children's book.  I can certainly see what it's a classic.

The Bad
If I have one regret it's that I didn't take the time to find an audiobook copy of The BFG.  This would have been a magnificent book to have read to me.

The Ugly
I'll be honest, I was a little disturbed to learn that the giants ate people.  I never imagined The BFG would have such a dark and terrible beginning, but, then again, I should know by now that Roald Dahl was never afraid to approach the darker, more unsavory aspects of a story.

I mean, think about it:  Charlie in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is very poor, so poor he cannot always afford food; James in James and the Giant Peach lost his parents to a rogue rhinoceros and lives with his cruel, vindictive aunts; and Sophie in The BFG is an orphan who is faced with horrible flesh-eating, bone-crunching, and chiddler-eating giants.

Seriously, it seems like all the children involved in Dahl's books face extraordinary hardship and it's absolutely heart-breaking.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

James and the Giant Peach

Title details for James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl - Wait list
Puffin Books
James and the Giant Peach
Roald Dahl

The Summary
"A little magic can take you a long way...

"When James accidentally drops some magic crystals by the old peach tree, strange things start happening.  The peach at the very tip of the tree starts growing, and growing, and growing...until it's as big as a house!  When James crawls inside, he meets a houseful of oversized friends--Grasshopper, Centipede, Earthworm, and more.  With a snip of the stem, the peach starts rolling away and the adventure begins!"

The Good
As a child, I somehow never read any books by Roald Dahl.  I love the movies--Matilda, James and the Giant Peach, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory--but, for some reason, I never read any of the original books until recently when I first picked up Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

Like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, James and the Giant Peach is about a boy faced with incredible hardship who sets off on the adventure of a lifetime.  However, instead of meeting a Mad Hatter-esque chocolatier, James encounters a handful of gigantic insects and travels in a gigantic, magical peach.

Sounds like fun, no?

Honestly, I enjoyed reading James and the Giant Peach.  It's a quick, rather sweet happily-ever-after, and I had fun watching James as he escaped his despicable aunts, made new (and rather extraordinary) friends, and takes an incredible adventure across the sea.  More to the point, I liked that James was given the chance to thrive.

James is a clever, imaginative and sensitive little boy, and yet he's been under his aunts' thumbs for many months, subject to their tormenting and taunting and abject cruelty.  When he gets the opportunity to escape, I felt like jumping for joy.  I liked James, and I was so glad he was able break free of the aunts who didn't care for him and find a family, of his choosing, that would treat him well--and, more importantly, love him unconditionally.

I highly recommend it--and Roald Dahl in general--to young readers.

The Bad
When I first watched the James and the Giant Peach, I absolutely loved it.  I recall the characters with great fondness and I remember thinking what a wild, zany and wonderful adventure it was.  However, while I thought many of those same things about the book, I found I didn't enjoy the book as much as I enjoyed the movie.

Personally, I think part of it was Centipede and Miss Spider.  Centipede was terribly annoying and, yes, while he's thoughtlessly selfish in both the movie in the book, he was more of a nuisance than I remembered in the movie.  Plus, Miss Spider just wasn't as sassy and dramatic and lovely as she was in the movie.  She was, sadly, a bit forgettable, which I found disappointing.

The Ugly
Aunt Spiker and Aunt Sponge.


Saturday, February 11, 2017

In Progress: Rejected Princesses

Dey St.
So, I have just had my mind blown by Jason Porath's Rejected Princesses.  Thus far, I've only read a few entries, like Tatterhood and Agnodice, Andamana, Sybil Ludington, and Grace O'Malley; however, I have fallen completely and irrevocably in love with this book and Porath's humorous--yet surprisingly well-researched--entries.  It's funny, it's informative, and it's full of kick ass women who have been overlooked (and/or forgotten) by history.

It's amazing.

I mean, I never knew about Tatterhood.  I love fairy tales and yet, somehow, Tatterhood and her weird, winding story managed to escape me!  Granted, I might have enjoyed her story a little more with Porath's candid commentary on the story; regardless, I think I gained a new appreciation for Norwegian fairy tales and myths.  I'm curious to learn more.

Likewise, I'd love to learn more about Khutulun and Sybil Ludington.  Kutulun was a Mongolian princess (great-great granddaughter to Genghis Khan, by the way) who was an incredible fighter and a skilled ruler.  She issued a challenge to any potential suitors:  if any could best her in wrestling, they would have her hand in marriage; if they could not, she would get their horses.  (Spoiler alert:  she was never defeated.)  She's a fascinating historical figure and, while she isn't quite as brutal as her infamous ancestor, she made a huge impact on Mongolian culture even to this day.  How on earth haven't I heard about her?

And then there's Sybil Ludington.  She could be an American icon, and yet I've never heard her name.  Born in southeastern New York, she was the daughter of Colonel Henry Ludington--and a revolutionary solider in her own right.  Like Paul Revere, she set out on a midnight ride to warn about the impending British invasion; however, she took it a step further and rode out 40 miles in a little over three hours through the dark, rainy forest riddled with bandits and other dangers.  "By contrast," Porath writes, "a certain other someone...only went 12 miles across well-worn streets and was caught by British loyalists at the end of it.  Ahem."

She's awesome.

And, so far, this book is awesome.

I think I'll have to buy a copy for myself.


For more of Jason Porath's Rejected Princesses, you can actually check out rejectedprincesses.com for more entries and plenty more fun.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

The Witch's Boy

Algonquin Young Readers
The Witch's Boy
Kelly Barnhill

The Summary
"When Ned and his identical twin brother tumble from their raft into a raging, bewitched river, only Ned survives.  Villagers are convinced the wrong boy lived.  Sure enough, Ned grows up weak and slow, and stays as much as possible within the safe boundaries of his family's cottage and yard.  But when a Bandit King comes to steal the magic that Ned's mother, a witch, is meant to protect, it's Ned who safeguards the magic and summons the strength to protect his family and community.

"In the meantime, in another kingdom across the forest that borders Ned's village lives Aine, the resourceful and pragmatic daughter of the Bandit King.  She is haunted by her mother's last words to her:  'The wrong boy will save your life and you will save his.'  But when Aine and Ned's paths cross, can they trust each other long enough to make their way through the treacherous woods and stop the war about to boil over?

"With a deft hand, acclaimed author Kelly Barnhill takes classic fairy tale elements--speaking stones, a friendly wolf, and a spoiled young king--and weaves them into a richly detailed narrative that explores good and evil, love and hate, magic, and the power of friendship."

The Good
I'm not really sure what to say about The Witch's Boy.  It's not quite like anything I've ever read.  Grim and rather macabre, it's a story that doesn't pull punches and makes you squirm for the terrible things you witness.  I think it was a little more mature than I was expecting from a book I found in the juvenile section.

The magic involved in these stories was especially complex.  I mean, my understanding of it was that it's a powerful, dangerous beast, not just some energy that can be manipulated or changed.  It's as contradictory as human nature--and perhaps it is the culmination of several sentient being?  I'm still not sure I understand it, but I found it intriguing.

While I was reading, I also grew to enjoy the characters.  Aine was flat out amazing:  tough, smart, take-charge and take-no-nonsense, she was an amazing heroine, even if she was a difficult character to like (at first, anyway).  Likewise, I loved the Ned's mother, the Witch.  I honestly can't remember her name, she's just the Witch to me--and I wouldn't have it any other way.  She was probably one of the more interesting characters for her curious connection to the magic and, moreover, her almost supernatural connection to the rest of the world.

And, of course, my heart went out to little Ned.  I loved that kid for some reason.  He's not the hero you'd expect; in fact, he's not heroic at all.  He's a timid kid who gets thrown into a dangerous situation and he's stuck trying to figure a way out--to save his mother, to save his village and to keep the magic at bay.  His journey is, in it's own way, heartwarming.

The Bad
I had an odd feeling the whole time I was reading The Witch's Boy.  I can't put my finger on it, but I just had this weird jumbling of feelings in my chest while I was reading Barnhill's novel.  I mean, I wanted to finish reading Ned's story and see where his journey led--I was committed, so I was going to find out--but I had strange ominous sort of feeling while reading it.

Like I  said, it's hard to describe.  It was a tumultuous amalgamation of many things, which made this reading experience unusual, even if it wasn't always pleasant.

The Ugly
Magic isn't always a good thing.  In this case, working magic means you always have to pay a price--and, sometimes, that price is steep.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Making Waves

Title details for Making Waves by Tawna Fenske - Available
Sourcebooks Casablanca
Making Waves
Tawna Fenske

The Summary
"She always wanted to belong...just not to a dysfunctional pirate crew.

"Juli has trouble fitting in, though she'd prefer to keep the reasons to herself.  But when she mistakenly stows away on a ship of misfit corporate castoffs, her own secrets become the least of her concerns.

"He knows plotting a diamond heist may be considered unusual behavior...

"But Alex isn't feeling very normal when his unscrupulous boss kicks him to the curb.  Meeting Juli doesn't do much to restore normalcy to Alex's life either, but it sure is exhilirating!

"As Alex and Juli bare their secrets--and a whole lot more--they find that while normal is nice, weird can be wonderful."

The Good
I picked Making Waves up on a whim.  I'd liked some of Tawna Fenske's other work (e.g. Frisky Business, and Now That It's You), so I thought I might give this novel a try.  And I'm so glad I did, because Making Waves is weird and almost surreal--and it's absolutely hilarious.  I finished it within a day, because I couldn't stop myself.

I loved the humor and, honestly, the sheer oddity of it, plus I just loved the characters.  A few are just plain awkward, laughably obtuse when it comes to love, and poor Juli is smack dab in the center of this nautical comedy of errors.  They're just so silly, so lovable, and I couldn't help rooting for them as they made their way through the Caribbean on a wild and wacky adventure on the open seas.

Honestly, I probably laughed more than I should have, mostly over a bit of dialogue in the early chapters of the book:
"She already thinks we're cartographers," Alex said.  "Let's just stick with that." 
Phyllis frowned.  "Cartographers?  An hour ago, Cody was trying to figure out what NESW spelled on the compass." 
"Cookie," he insisted. 
"And just last week, Jake was reading the map upside down." 
"I was drunk, okay, Phyllis?" Jake retorted.  "Pirates enjoy their rum from time to time."
It is probably the best argument ever.

Overall, Making Waves was a wonderful, comedic romance.  Like top 5 of my favorite romantic comedies.  I mean, it has a super smart heroine, a hilariously dysfunctional pirate crew, a number of botched romantic opportunities, a curiously elegant and eloquent Caribbean privateer, and a wild goose chase involving a shipment of sex toys.

Yeah.  It's great.

The Bad
No real complaints.

I liked the way the novel flowed.  It was an effortless glide from one awkward moment to the next crazy adventure; however, I found the coincidences to be a little too convenient.  But I was will to suspend disbelief given I was reading about a modern-day pirate crew in search of a shipment of diamonds that might or might not exist.

The Ugly
Out of everything, I thought the shipment of sex toys was perhaps the weirdest part.  I mean, sure, you've got the dressing up as prostitutes and the dapper, Oxford educated privateer and the Cordon Bleu caliber cook who may/may not be gay, but it was the sex toys that I found weird.  It just kind of put it over the edge for me.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Read Harder Challenge 2017: Part 1

So first up on my Read Harder Challenge, I tackled:
  • Read a debut novel.
  • Read an all-ages comic.
  • Read a superhero comic with a female lead.
Kiss of Steel (London Steampunk, #1)
I started with a debut novel, Kiss of Steel by Bec McMaster.  Although I originally intended to read A Man Called Ove, a debut novel by Fredrik Backman, I stumbled across Kiss of Steel purely by accident and discovered it was just what I needed to complete this challenge.  The first book in the London Steampunk series, Kiss of Steel tells the story of an alternative Victorian age in which verwulfen (werewolves), vampires, automatons, humans, and more live side-by-side in a steam-fueled world.

Honoria Todd fled to the rookeries in a desperate attempt to escape the Echelon, the blue-blood (i.e. vampire) aristocracy of London who rule over the city with an iron fist.  But when Blade, de facto master of the rookeries, discovers her living at the fringes of his little kingdom, he becomes embroiled in a series of unexpected mysteries involving Honoria.  Soon, a vampire--a blue-blood who has crossed the Fade, who has completely succumbed to blood lust--is terrorizing the rookeries and it's up to Honoria and Blade to stop it--and the Echelon--before it's too late.

I actually enjoyed reading Kiss of Steel.  It wasn't quite what I expected, but I wouldn't say that's a bad thing.  Granted, it was a bit explicit, hyper-violent, and incredibly grisly; however, McMaster's debut novel was a mixture of action, romance, science-fiction and paranormal fantasy that I found thrilling.  Overall, I enjoyed Kiss of Steel, but I do think it could have been better.  I would have loved to have delved deeper into the alternative history and discovered more about the people--and creatures--that inhabited this world.

Next, I read Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur:  BFF (Volume 1) by Brandon Montclare and Amy Reeder, which was a fun and amusing comic featuring Lunella and, of course, the indomitable Devil Dinosaur.  First in the series, Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur:  BFF is a great comic for kids of all ages--and it's simultaneously amusing for adults.

It starts out with Lunella, who is 9-years-old and quite unlike other girls her age.  She's an unexpectedly talented inventor and she's also an Inhuman--and the Terrigen Mist that's creeping through the city, the amorphous haze that will activate her Inhuman DNA, terrifies her.  Desperate to keep her Inhuman DNA dormant, Lunella sets out to discover alien technology that will help her stop the Terrigen Mist and keep herself human.  That is, if Devil Dinosaur, who was transported to the future with the same alien technology, doesn't destroy everything first.

Overall, I loved reading Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur.  I admit, I was a little hesitant to read it at first.  I'd seen single issues in the local comic book store and, for some reason, I couldn't imagine myself reading them--and then I discovered the collected volume at the library.  I immediately fell in love.  Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur is a lot of fun to read.  Although it takes place in the Marvel Universe, readers don't really need a who lot of background about the Kree and the Inhumans and the Terrigen Mist to enjoy the story.  It has a dynamic, intelligent character, and it's a crazy, fun adventure that will lead you across time and the city of New York.

Last, I checked out Wonder Woman:  Blood (Volume 1) by Brian Azzarello, Cliff Chiang, and Tony Akins.  I have long been a fan of comic books.  I love Batman and Superman and even Aquaman, and I've found a recent favorite in Squirrel Girl, Daredevil, and Hawkeye; however, I've not read much of Wonder Woman.  She's an interesting character to be sure, but I've just never found myself compelled to read about her until now.

DC Comics
In Wonder Woman: Blood, first in the New 52 series, Wonder Woman finds herself caught in the middle of a battle for supremacy between the Greek gods of myth.  Diana has long abstained from the more complicated dealings between these capricious gods, but Zeus has gone missing--and Hera is on the war path to destroy the child he left behind.  Now, the remaining gods, including Apollo, Hades, and Poseidon, are in a war for the king of gods' throne, while Hera cuts a bloody swath across Paradise Island to rectify the injustices done to her.

Let me say, I like Greek mythology.  I've always been intrigued by it and I've gone out of my way to discover more about it than what I learned in school, but I wasn't really impressed with their appearance in Wonder Woman.  Honestly, I wasn't really all that impressed with the story in general.  I was a little disappointed, especially since I went into this comic with such high expectations.  I'm a fan of powerful, self-sufficient women, and I love the idea of Wonder Woman, who is a warrior first and foremost; however, I'm not so sure I like her in practice.

It's difficult to describe, but let me put it this way:  I like Batman, because he is human and he is deeply flawed.  I like Superman, because he is an alien who grew up in Kansas and he is good to the best of his ability.  Likewise, I like Aquaman, because he is half-human/half-Atlantean and he struggles daily with his dueling identities.  And all these characters have one thing in common:  they were raised, in my opinion, in a recognizable place and way.  Diana, on the other hand, was raised on Paradise Island with a different set of beliefs and a completely different set of rules, which makes it difficult to relate to her on a personal level.  More to the point, it made Wonder Woman:  Blood (Volume 1) less than enjoyable to read.

Friday, February 3, 2017

The Cats of Tanglewood Forest

Image result for the cats of tanglewood forest
Little, Brown and Company
The Cats of Tanglewood Forest
Charles de Lint
Charles Vess

The Summary
"Lillian Kindred spends her days exploring the Tanglewood Forest, a magical, rolling wilderness that she imagines to be full of fairies.  The trouble is, Lillian has never seen a wisp of magic in her hills--until the day the cats of the forest save her life by transforming her into a kitten.  Now Lillian must set out on a perilous adventure that will lead her through untamed lands of fabled creatures--from Old Mother Possum to the fearsome Bear People--to find a way to make things right.

"In this whimsical, original folktale written and illustrated by two celebrated masters of modern fantasy, a young girl's journey becomes an enchanting coming-of-age story about magic, friendship, and the courage to shape one's own destiny."

The Good
After reading A Circle of Cats, I checked out The Cats of Tanglewood Forest with the encouragement of a co-worker.  I thought I would be stepping into the same old story--The Cats of Tanglewood Forest is, of course, an expansion of A Circle of Cats from it's small, short children's book to a middle-grade novel--but it's a complete reimagining of the world that Vess and de Lint created in their original book.

It was certainly worth reading, especially as I enjoyed A Circle of Cats.  I especially liked the addition of Old Mother Possum.  She was a wonderfully colorful character, and I enjoyed meeting her.  Moreover, I loved the expanded involvement of one T.H. Reynolds, who acted as guide and guardian for the young Lillian during her journey.

I don't know why, but I felt compelled to read T.H.'s dialogue aloud with an exaggerated Southern accent.  Think Colonel Sanders kind of southern or, better yet, Scarlett O'Hara kind of southern.  it was a strange thing to do, I admit, but it just felt so right.  Plus, I got a real kick out of it and I laughed my way through much of the book.

And, of course, I loved the artwork.  Charles Vess outdoes himself with The Cats of Tanglewood Forest.  He adds greater depth to the world and manages to breathe life into the characters, into the magical places to which Lillian must travel.  It's spectacularly colorful, wonderfully detailed, and utterly beautiful.  I was greatly impressed by his work, and I can't wait to find more from him.

Overall, The Cats of Tanglewood Forest was a great little adventure, and it's an excellent book for younger readers.

The Bad
Despite getting a little more insight into Lillian's odyssey through the verdant forests of Appalachia, I still didn't quite understand how her condition--that is, her being turned into a cat--became her fault?  I mean, some of it I can see and I understand why she needed to learn lessons about this dangerous, magical world; however, I'm still a irritated by some aspects of her journey.  Namely, her responsibility in it.

It bothered me, just a little.

The Ugly

Still snakes, but throw in the added danger of the Bear People.