Wednesday, January 28, 2015

The Accidental Highwayman

Author: Ben Tripp
Info: Tom Doherty Associates, copyright 2014, 304 pages

A review in 10 words (or thereabouts):  "Why do you wear a mask?  Were you burned by acid or something?"  "Oh no.  It's just they're terribly comfortable.  I think everyone will be wearing them in the future."  And that's the closest I got to The Princess Bride.

In eighteenth-century England, young Christopher "Kit" Bristol is the unwitting servant of notorious highwayman Whistling Jack.  One dark night, Kit finds his master bleeding from a mortal wound, dons the man's riding clock to seek help, and changes the course of his life forever.  Mistaken for Whistling Jack and on the run from redcoats, Kit is catapulted into a world of magic and wonders he thought the stuff of fairy ales.

Bound by magical law, Kit takes up his master's quest to rescue a rebellious fairy princess from an arranged marriage to King George III of England.  But his task not an easy one, for Kit must contend with the feisty Princess Morgana, gobbling attacks, and a magical map that portends his destiny: as a hanged man upon the gallows...

~Goodreads Description

When a book is compared to Stardust and  The Princess Bride, it's kind've just begging to be read.  So that's what I was expecting, or wanted badly for what it's worth, when I started the book several weeks ago.  Yes.  Several weeks ago.  For some unknown reason, it took me FOREVER to read this book.  We'll get back to that in a moment.

Here's the gist:

Kit is a servant who unwittingly finds himself on quite the adventure.  There is a princess (who is also a fairy), a witch (who is a bit of a crone), a horse (who is on par with Maximus from Tangled), and pixies, and gryphons, and a senile old man, and a crazy Captain who wants misguided revenge.  It's complicated.

But it's fun.  Which begs the question, why in the world did it take me the better part of a month to finish it?  Was it the disappointment that the books was not, in fact, on the level of The Princess Bride?  That the pure joy I feel every time I read the classic and the laughter that ensues from the timeless humor was missing?Or was it just that I am an easily distracted reader? (Which is totally true...)  I think it was a bit of both.

Kit is a really likable character.  He's thoughtful, brave, cunning, and daring.  Morgana is a little less flushed out, which is understandable since the entirety of the story is told by Kit himself.  Unfortunately the same can be said about the evil-doers who often seem too far away to do any harm.  I liked Kit, but I didn't have any strong feelings toward anyone else.  Except the horse.  The horse was awesome.

On the adventure side of things, the good is good and the in-between is a little boring.  Things luckily pick up the last third of the book and the world that Tripp created was pretty exciting.  But will most stick around that long?

So three gnomes.  Because what I liked I really liked.  Minus two stars because it didn't quite live up to expectations.  Should you read it?  Absolutely.  Will I recommend it to others?  Hold out your hand.  Will it be the best story you've ever read?  I'll leave that decision up to you.

Happy reading!

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Top 10 Books I'd Love to Read With My Book Club

Ten Books I'd Love to Read With My Book Club
(Feature hosted by The Broke and the Bookish)

I'm in two different book clubs, and my favorite part is that I don't usually have to select the books. In fact, book selections and discussion questions are shared with me for one of the meetings.  (Join us for the Indy Chapter of the book club!  We explore tasty eateries around town and enjoy lively conversations about what we're reading :)

It seems like such a dangerous task.  Having to sit awkwardly with individuals you like, hearing them talk about how much they dislike the book you have selected is torture.  I've been there.  Totally uncomfortable.  But I am often maybe it's not really a big deal.  Another conversation for another time.

Anyhoo, here are ten books that I hope my book clubs will tackle one day.  Maybe a little persuasion and begging is in my future.  (To be honest, they're really just ten books that I want to read and am willing to manipulate others to read as well.)

What's on your list?  Happy reading!

1) Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

2) The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

3) Belzhar by Meg Wolitzer

4) Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson

5) Glory O'Brien's History of the Future by A.S. King
6) The Beginning of Everything by Robyn Schneider

7) A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly

8) The Husband's Secret by Liane Moriarty

9) The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

10) First Frost by Sarah Addison Allen

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Grasshopper Jungle

Author: Andrew Smith
Info: Dutton Juvenile, copyright 2014, 388 pages

Sixteen-year-old Austin Szerba interweaves the story of his Polish legacy with the story of how he and his best friend, Robby, Brought about the end of humanity and the rise of an army of unstoppable, six-foot tall praying mantises in small-town Iowa.

To make matters worse, Austin's hormones are totally oblivious; they don't care that the world is in utter chaos: Austin is in love with his girlfriend, Shann, but remains confused about his sexual orientation.  He's stewing in a self-professed constant state of maximum horniness, directed at both Robby and Shann.  Ultimately, it's up to Austin to save the world and propagate the species in this sic-fright journey of survival, sex, and the complex realities of the human condition.

~Goodreads Description

Have you ever liked something, and not liked it, all at the same time?  Have you ever been completely befuddled by a book, but can't really figure out why?  Have you ever wondered what in the world an author is trying to accomplish and what state of mind they were in when they sat down to pen their novel?

Grasshopper Jungle left me with all of those questions and more.  It's weird.  It's quirky.  It's rather naughty.  And it's completely demented.  And I liked it, and didn't, all at the same time.

Austin Szerba is a boy that thinks a lot.  He probably thinks way too much to be honest.  He is a worrier.  He is a dreamer.  And he is a historian, recording the daily happenings of his life and his family legacy in the books he keeps in his room.  Austin is also a teenage boy, preoccupied with sex and confused by the conflicting feelings he feels toward his best friend Robby.

One night, after being beaten up in Grasshopper Jungle, a back alley perfect for skateboarding and the collection of junk, Robby and Austin sneak into the local consignment shop and stumble upon a number of glowing oddities, including a local plague that spawns the creation of human bug hybrids. And that's where the book gets really weird.

Author John Corey Whaley's blurb at the back of the book connects Smith's writing to Vonnegut.  I'm not a huge fan of Vonnegut, but I, too, saw some similarities.  Repeating phrases, obsession with sex, and similar storytelling  techniques.  It's there without having to search for it.

Whether you enjoy the book or not, there's no denying that Andrew Smith is a unique voice.  He taps into the mind of a teenage boy rather well, and he refreshingly doesn't shy away from the tough questions.

This is a story of the end of the world.  It's a story of friendship, and love, and the legacy of family.  And it's a story of giant mantises who have two things on their minds...

"And that was our day.  You know what I mean."

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Evil Librarian

Author: Michelle Knudsen
Info: Candlewick Press, copyright 2014, 343 pages

#EvilLibrarian He’s young. He’s hot. He’s also evil. He’s . . . the librarian.

When Cynthia Rothschild’s best friend, Annie, falls head over heels for the new high-school librarian, Cyn can totally see why. He’s really young and super cute and thinks Annie would make an excellent library monitor. But after meeting Mr. Gabriel, Cyn realizes something isn’t quite right. Maybe it’s the creepy look in the librarian’s eyes, or the weird feeling Cyn gets whenever she’s around him. Before long Cyn realizes that Mr. Gabriel is, in fact . . . a demon. Now, in addition to saving the school musical from technical disaster and trying not to make a fool of herself with her own hopeless crush, Cyn has to save her best friend from the clutches of the evil librarian, who also seems to be slowly sucking the life force out of the entire student body! From best-selling author Michelle Knudsen, here is the perfect novel for teens who like their horror served up with a bit of romance, plenty of humor, and some pretty hot guys (of both the good and evil variety).

~Goodreads Description

What do you think it says about me that I like demons?  And possessions?  And the general havoc of the forces of evil?  Probably a lot, but we'll save that discussion for another day.  Right now, let's talk about Michelle Knudsen's Evil Librarian, because it was awesome.

Cyn Rothschild wants two things in life...her high school crush, Ryan, and to build the perfect barber's chair for the school's production of Sweeney Todd.  But when her best friend falls in love with the new, seriously attractive, librarian, the forces of evil have a different plan.

I'd just like to start out by first stating emphatically that librarians are not, in fact, evil.  As a librarian by day, I fully admit that we are not always cheerful, but we are never evil.  But librarians make awesome evil people in literature.  Why?  Because the introverted, unassuming stereotype gets old and believe me when I tell you that librarians like to have a little fun sometimes.

Mr. Gabriel is sweetly evil.  He smiles and you obey.  He beckons and you come running.  He demands your allegiance and you bend a knee.  You need a book for class and he searches the catalog for the perfect read :)  But Mr. Gabriel isn't the only baddy invading the school; he has opened the gates of hell, which introduces a fun cast of characters that are just so Buffy like that you can't help but have fun.

Then there's Cyn.  Let me count the ways that I love Cyn.  1) She adores musical theater.  2) She gets all tongue tied around her crush, but 3) doesn't let that get in the way of bucking up and finding a way to battle hell's spawn.  4) She's unfalteringly loyal.  And 5) She argues non-stop with herself in her head (which I can sympathize with :).

So if you like stories of teenage girls battling the forces of evil while trying to keep her cool around the boy she adores and avoid certain destruction by a cast of hilarious and interesting demons, then Evil Librarian by Michelle Knudsen might just be the book for you.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Top Ten Binge Worthy TV Shows

Top Ten Binge Worthy TV Shows
(Feature hosted by The Broke and the Bookish)

It's a FREEBIE week!  So I'm stepping away from books for just a day to tackle another love...TV.  I've actually cut back on my television watching, but I do still indulge in binge watching from time to time (or Thursdays :).  Here are my top ten binge worthy TV shows.

Do you binge?

1) The Blacklist
I jumped on this bandwagon a little late, but it took a total of ten minutes to get me hooked (and then I lost about 8 hours of my life obsessed.)  My name is Emily, and I'm in love with Raymond Reddington.  Seriously.  He adorns my computer desktop at work, and I'm seriously considering investing in a fedora.  He's evil, and charming, and so very interesting to watch.

2) The Musketeers
I don't have cable, so I've waited patiently for this gem to make it to DVD.  And then it did.  And I've watched the entirety of season 1 twice over the last week.  It's romantic, and intriguing, and so darn likable.  And now I'm dedicated to finally reading the book.

3) Orphan Black
What?  No really...what just happened?  I say a lot to myself while watching this weird, confusing, addicting show.  The writing is outstanding, and the lead, Tatiana Maslany, does an AMAZING job creating different personalities for each of her characters.  Brilliant.  Simply brilliant.

4) Psych
Shawn Spencer is my spirit animal, and I'm a sucker for hilarious pop culture references weaved into a show.

5) Chuck
There was one, glorious summer, that I devoured Chuck.  And enough time has passed (a year :) for me to tackle this fantastic show again.  Another great source of pop culture references, but then you also get a cast of characters that are completely endearing and lovable.

6) Call the Midwife
I seriously weep during every episode.  I mean, full on sobs.  But characters, and setting, and storylines are genuinely heartfelt and hopeful.  (I like this so much more than Downton Abbey.)

7) Doctor Who
Each doctor brings something new.  And ten rules them all :)

8) Veronica Mars
Who doesn't love a fast-talking, quick-witted spitfire who isn't afraid of getting a little messy from time to time?  And Enrico Colantoni is one of my favorites.

9) Gilmore Girls
It's Gilmore Girls.  I shouldn't really have to say anything else.  Except that my list goes Logan, Jess, Dean.  You can argue with me all you want, but I won't change my mind :)

10) Community
"Troy and Abed in the morning!"  This cast of quirky characters are ridiculous and totally disturbed.  And I love them.

Monday, January 19, 2015

"Nobody living can ever stop me"

"When evil men plot, good men must plan.  When evil men burn and bomb, good men must build and bind.  When evil men shout ugly words of hatred, good men must commit themselves to the glories of love."

~Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  Stride Toward Freedom

For just a moment, celebrate the visionary, the believer, the dreamer, the good man, Martin Luther King, Jr. and pass on a little love and kindness today.

"Nobody living can ever stop me,
As I go walking that freedom highway;
Nobody living can ever make me turn back
This land was made for you and me."

~Woody Guthrie This Land Is Your Land

And just incase you're in the mood for a historical fiction title set during the civil rights movement,  check out:

The Watsons Go to Birmingham - 1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis

The Help by Kathryn Stockett

March: Book One by John Robert Lewis

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

Thursday, January 15, 2015

The Sixth Gun

Author: Cullen Bunn
Info: Oni Press, copyright 2011, 170 pages (vol. 1)

During the darkest days of the Civil War, wicked cutthroats came into possession of six pistols of otherworldly power.  In time the Sixth Gun, the most dangerous of the weapons, vanished.  When the gun surfaces in the hands of an innocent girl, dark forces reawaken.  Vile men thought long dead set their sights on retrieving the gun and killing the girl.  Only Drake Sinclair, a gunfighter with a shadowy past, stand in their way.

~Goodreads Description

I'm not sure how I stumbled upon this particular title.  Probably a Goodreads recommendation, but I've been enjoying the first three volumes and have the next three waiting for me at home.  There's a nice mix of history, the feeling of the wild west, and an interesting tale of the supernatural.

Drake Sinclair is a force to be reckoned with.  Not quite good but not quite bad.  But he knows how to take care of himself which makes him so much fun.  At first I was afraid that Becky, the innocent girl, would be a terrible stereotype of the damsel in distress, but she quickly proves herself to be a stubborn, frightful, resilient fighter who can hold her own against the forces of evil that are chasing her down.  Olliander Bedford Hume, the original owner of Becky's new gun, is coming for her with his paranormal posse who have been warped by the power of the weapons.

The Sixth Gun is another great option if you want a break from superhero graphic novels.  Each volume is a quick read and there's enough intrigue and action to keep you invested.


Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Deadman Wonderland Volumes 1-5

Author: Jinsei Kataoka
Info: Tokyopop, copyright 2010, 215 pages

Ten years have passed since the Great Tokyo Earthquake, and the people's memories of the disaster have faded.  Santa Igarashi, a middle school evacuee, has finally begun to live a normal life...that is, until the day 'Red Man' appears at his school and Ganta's fate is changed forever.

~Goodreads Description

After re-reading the Goodreads description, I realize that it doesn't tell you anything about this particular manga.  Here's what you need to know.  Deadman Wonderland is a prison, well, part prison, part totally messed up theme park.  Inmates are pitted against each other in cruel battles that are televised to the rich who enjoy the sport.  So throw a little Gladiator in for good measure.

Santa, a middle school student, has been convicted of murdering his entire class and is now a prisoner at the infamous prison where he discovers that a special ability was transferred to him during the ghastly attack at his school.  A crystal imbedded in his chest gives him the power of a Branch of Sin which enables him to shoot blood out of his palms like bullets.  Next thing he knows, he's in the middle of the "Carnival Corpse" the game that pits Branch of Sin powers against one another.

There's a whole lot more that's happening behind the scenes...a mysterious girl from Santa's past has found him in the prison, a revolution is brewing to help the inmates escape, a rather wackadoodle Warden who is bent on profit.

It's kind of exciting, kind confusing, and kind of addicting.  I couldn't stop reading once I had started, and it was a great distraction at the end of the year when I just wanted to read for amusement.  Santa is a vulnerable kid stuck in an adult's world, but he starts to embrace his new powers and is bent on revenge for the massacre at his school.

Shonen fans who aren't afraid of a little fighting should consider checking this one out.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Top 10 2014 Releases I Meant To Read But Didn't Get To

Top Ten 2014 Releases I Meant to Read But Didn't Get To
(Feature hosted by The Broke and the Bookish)

A few of the titles on my ever growing to-be-read list.  Maybe this year :)  Any suggestions on which I should move to the top?  

Happy reading!

1) Cress by Marissa Meyer

2) The Kiss of Deception by Mary E. Pearson

3) What I Thought I Wanted by Huntley Fitzpatrick

4) The Geography of You and Me by Jennifer E. Smith

5) Red Rising by Pierce Brown

6) The Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen

7) A Mad, Wicked Folly by Sharon Biggs Waller

8) Hollow City by Ransom Riggs

9) Salt & Storm by Kendall Kulper

10) Atlantia by Ally Condie

Friday, January 9, 2015

The Sacred Blacksmith Volumes 1-5

Author: Isao Miura
Info: TokyoPop, copyright 2011, 192 pages

44 years ago, a great war known as the Valbanill War raged in the land.  One of the war's most dangerous weapons was the Demon Contract, where a human could sacrifice his or her body to become powerful demon.  Realizing the damages the contracts have caused the land, the surviving nations made peace and banned the use of the Demon Contracts.

~ Goodreads Description

Here's my problem with manga (outside of the fact that sometimes I can't tell female and male characters apart), it can feel like an eternity for storylines to get going.  The characters dance around the plot and finally, after a volume or two, or three, they finally get to the meat of what is actually going on.

This happened a bit in The Sacred Blacksmith.  It wasn't until volume four that things really get moving and become quite interesting.  Cecily is a knight of Housman, protecting the city like her father and grandfather before her.  When a demon attacks, Cecily is assisted by the mysterious blacksmith Luke who wields a powered swords that gives him protection against the evil creatures that were once humans.

There's a lot of back and forth between Cecily and Luke, a budding romance of sorts, and every time Cecily fights she loses her shirt...which I don't understand, at all.  But the demons are really creepy, the action is excellent, and the story is building toward, what I can only assume, will be the ultimate battle.  There is unrest in the kingdom.  Everyone is vying for Demon Swords, powerful weapons that would allow ruling powers to dominate the countryside.  And of course there is an evil brewing.  Demon Contracts are being used to ravish the land.

So, yeah, things are starting to get interesting.

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