Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Top 10 Favorite Graphic Novels

A couple of years ago I embarked on a  discovery of graphic novels.  They were never really my thing.  I didn't grow up reading comic books (outside of Archie), and I'm not a huge fan of manga.  At all really.  I read them because they are a part of my job, but there were very few I actually enjoyed.  But over the last couple of years that has all changed a bit.  I've found some authors that are true storytellers and illustrators that use the medium as true works of art.  

Saga, Vol. 1  Y: The Last Man, Vol. 1: Unmanned  Paper Girls, Vol. 1a
1) All things by Brian K. Vaughan
(My favorite)

Descender, Vol. 1: Tin Stars  Sweet Tooth, Volume 1: Out of the Deep Woods
2) Descender & Sweet Tooth by Jeff Lemire
(My second favorite)

Ms. Marvel, Vol. 1: No Normal  Ms. Marvel, Vol. 2: Generation Why  Ms. Marvel, Vol. 3: Crushed
3) Ms. Marvel by G. Willow Wilson
(Genuine teen angst meets hope)

Grayson, Volume 1: Agents of Spyral  Nightwing, Volume 1: Traps and Trapezes
4) Grayson by Tom King & Nightwing by Kyle Higgins
(My favorite DC superhero)

Cardboard  Ghostopolis
5) Cardboard & Ghostopolis by Doug TenNapel
(Whimsical and colorful)

Rat Queens, Vol. 1: Sass & Sorcery  Rat Queens, Vol. 2: The Far Reaching Tentacles of N'rygoth  Rat Queens, Vol. 3: Demons
6) Rat Queens by Kurtis Wiebe
(Filthy and fun)

Giant Days, Vol. 1 (Giant Days, #1)  Giant Days, Vol. 2 (Giant Days, #2)  
7) Giant Days by John Allison
(Kind of hilarious)

The Fade Out: Act One  The Fade Out: Act Two  The Fade Out: Act Three
8) Fade Out by Ed Brubaker
(Dark and disturbing)

The Shadow Hero  American Born Chinese
9) American Born Chinese & The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang
(Sincere and expressive)

The Sixth Gun, Vol. 1: Cold Dead Fingers  The Sixth Gun, Vol. 2: Crossroads  The Sixth Gun, Vol. 3: Bound
10) The Sixth Gun by Cullen Bunn
(Adventurous and bloody)

Monday, January 30, 2017

I Was Told There'd Be Cake

I Was Told There'd Be CakeAuthor: Sloane Crosley
Info: Riverhead Books, copyright 2008, 230 pages

Wry, hilarious, and profoundly genuine, this debut collection of literary essays from Sloane Crosley is a celebration of fallibility and haplessness in all their glory.

From despoiling an exhibit at the Natural History Museum to provoking the ire of her first boss to sticking the cops on her mysterious neighbor, Crosley can do no right despite the best of intentions --or perhaps because of them.  Together, these essays create a startlingly funny and revealing portrait of a complex and utterly recognizable character who aims for the stars but hits the ceiling, and the inimitable city that has helped shape who she is.  I Was Told There'd Be Cake introduces a strikingly original voice, chronicling the struggles and unexpected beauty of modern urban life.

~Goodreads Description

Picked this one up after reading an article about audiobooks for podcast listeners.  Since I'm a fan of both of those things (along with essayists and memoirs), I thought I'd give it a whirl.  But what I discovered is that this type of book only works for me when I'm familiar with the author before starting.  I watched Mind Kaling on The Office and The Mindy Project, I read Jennifer Lawson's blog, I followed Anna Kendrick on twitter - I had a semblance of who these people were, but before picking up I Was Told There'd Be Cake (great title, by the way), I had never heard of Sloane Crosley.

Crosley is funny, poignant, and secure enough to share some humiliating moments.  She is relatable, seemingly sincere, and offers a modern understanding of a young woman in the big city.  I enjoyed both her voice and her stories,  but I just didn't have as much fun listening.  I didn't connect because I didn't have a person to connect to, so I've decided to do some investigating, some responsible research, and then tackle another of her books to see how it goes.

Any suggestions on other audiobooks for podcast listeners?  A review of The Princess Diarist to come soon which subsequently finishes off my planned essayist/memoir titles for the year.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

The Wrath & the Dawn

The Wrath & the Dawn (The Wrath & the Dawn, #1)
Author: Renee Ahdieh
Info: Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers, copyright 2015, 388 pages
The Rose & the Dagger (The Wrath & the Dawn, #2)
One Life to One Dawn.

In a land ruled by a murderous boy-king, each dawn brings heartache to a new family. Khalid, the eighteen-year-old Caliph of Khorasan, is a monster. Each night he takes a new bride only to have a silk cord wrapped around her throat come morning. When sixteen-year-old Shahrzad's dearest friend falls victim to Khalid, Shahrzad vows vengeance and volunteers to be his next bride. Shahrzad is determined not only to stay alive, but to end the caliph's reign of terror once and for all.

Night after night, Shahrzad beguiles Khalid, weaving stories that enchant, ensuring her survival, though she knows each dawn could be her last. But something she never expected begins to happen: Khalid is nothing like what she'd imagined him to be. This monster is a boy with a tormented heart. Incredibly, Shahrzad finds herself falling in love. How is this possible? It's an unforgivable betrayal. Still, Shahrzad has come to understand all is not as it seems in this palace of marble and stone. She resolves to uncover whatever secrets lurk and, despite her love, be ready to take Khalid's life as retribution for the many lives he's stolen. Can their love survive this world of stories and secrets?

~Goodreads Description

Shahrzad has one thing one her mind - vengeance for the death of her friend at the hand of the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad Caliph of Khorasan.  The rest of the description sums it up pretty well.  Khalid isn't what he appears to be, and Shahrzad spends most of the book fighting her feelings for him.

That's simplified and sounds a bit flippant - totally not intended.  There's actually quite a bit going on beneath the surface.  Curses, wars, old boyfriends, magic carpets.  The Wrath & the Dawn and its sequel, The Rose & the Dagger, really have it all.  That's probably why it was recommended a couple hundred times by Watson - one of your friendly, neighborhood librarians.  (See recommendations here :).  Seriously, I dare you to count the number of times you see the book cover!)

While I felt like the "night after night, Shahrzad beguiles Khalid, weaving stories that enchant, ensuring her survival" was a little light on actual stories, Ahdieh herself is a master storyteller.  There are a lot of plot elements happening at once, and yet she manages to weave them together seamlessly. She also manages to avoid the pitfall of "I love him.  I hate him.  I love him.  I hate him."  The relationship is gradual but heartfelt.  Of course, a lot of drama could have been avoided with actual conversation, but then there would be a lot less book.

It's rare to find a teen series with only two books in it.  Well done, Ahdieh, well done.  The audiobooks were fantastic, and the fast-pace and interesting characters made this a quick, enjoyable read.  There are a lot of unfamiliar names that take some time getting used to, but once you've been sucked in, there's no stopping.

I highly recommend The Wrath & the Dawn and The Rose & the Dagger to anyone who enjoys a fun retelling, adventure, and a little bit of romance.  And magic carpets.  I'm now pretty sure I need a magic carpet.  Life would be better with a magic carpet.


Wednesday, January 25, 2017

The Female of the Species

Author: Mindy McGinnis
Info: Katherine Tegen Books, copyright 2016, 352 pages

Alex Craft knows how to kill someone. And she doesn’t feel bad about it. When her older sister, Anna, was murdered three years ago and the killer walked free, Alex uncaged the language she knows best. The language of violence.

While her crime goes unpunished, Alex knows she can’t be trusted among other people, even in her small hometown. She relegates herself to the shadows, a girl who goes unseen in plain sight, unremarkable in the high school hallways.

But Jack Fisher sees her. He’s the guy all other guys want to be: the star athlete gunning for valedictorian with the prom queen on his arm. Guilt over the role he played the night Anna’s body was discovered hasn’t let him forget Alex over the years, and now her green eyes amid a constellation of freckles have his attention. He doesn’t want to only see Alex Craft; he wants to know her.

So does Peekay, the preacher’s kid, a girl whose identity is entangled with her dad’s job, though that does not stop her from knowing the taste of beer or missing the touch of her ex-boyfriend. When Peekay and Alex start working together at the animal shelter, a friendship forms and Alex’s protective nature extends to more than just the dogs and cats they care for.

Circumstances bring Alex, Jack, and Peekay together as their senior year unfolds. While partying one night, Alex’s darker nature breaks out, setting the teens on a collision course that will change their lives forever.

~Goodreads Description

I had the pleasure of meeting Mindy at our local high school last fall and was surprised at how much I enjoyed Not a Drop to Drink.  When Margot over at Epic Reads listed Mindy's newest title, The Female of the Species, as her favorite of 2016, I thought I'd give it a whirl.

Here's the problem...I read this immediately following Jeff Zentner's, The Serpent King.  And I was really impressed with Jeff Zentner's, The Serpent King.  While the plot is different, they are both dark, tough realistic fiction titles.

Alex doesn't really have an anger management problem, just a "you wrong me I will end you in a very violent way" kind of problem.  The thing is, she knows this about herself, recognizes and embraces the impulses, and does her best to stay away from people to keep them safe.  She flies under the radar and does her best to remain unseen until people start to see her - popular Jack Fisher who has way more sex than I really believe any high school boy has, and Peekay, the preacher's kid who is both rebellious and not.

I just couldn't connect with McGinnis's characters like I did Zentner's.  Alex was crazy.  She was a sociopath.  Like, seriously troubled of the dangerous kind and yet she was never really held accountable for her actions.  Thankfully she wasn't one dimensional or the story would have gone down hill quickly.  You could see her change and grow throughout the book, but she was still crazypants.

As for Jack Fisher and his girl on the side - I am fully aware that my high school experience was of the sheltered kind, but I just couldn't put myself in this boy's shoes.  His family life seemed genuine and realistic, but as soon as he left the house it was like he was living in this imaginary world - almost a stereotype of the popular boy.

So that's where I left it.  This fell short of realistic.  It wasn't poorly written, McGinnis is talented, but it felt like something was sacrificed for the sake of a shocking plot.  But then again, I was coming off a book high.  I could have just been seeing it through The Serpent King colored glasses.

Monday, January 23, 2017

The Serpent King

Author: Jeff Zentner
Info: Crown Books for Young Readers, copyright 2016, 384 pages

Dill has had to wrestle with vipers his whole life at home, as the only son of a Pentecostal minister who urges him to handle poisonous rattlesnakes, and at school, where he faces down bullies who target him for his father's extreme faith and very public fall from grace.

The only antidote to all this venom is his friendship with fellow outcasts Travis and Lydia. But as they are starting their senior year, Dill feels the coils of his future tightening around him. Dill's only escapes are his music and his secret feelings for Lydia neither of which he is brave enough to share. Graduation feels more like an ending to Dill than a beginning. But even before then, he must cope with another ending one that will rock his life to the core.

~Goodreads Description

The Goodreads description sums things up pretty well - Dill was raised by a man who's faith was trumped by his desires landing him in jail.  His mother, ever loyal, is waiting for the day when her husband is released and believes that her son is better equipped to stock groceries then create a future for himself away from their little town.  Dill's salvation lies in his best friends - Lydia, an internet fashion sensation who has big dreams, and Travis, a fantasy fiction loving gentle giant who is content in the world he is living in.

The word "serpent" in the title gave me pause, and I most definitely wouldn't have picked it up on my own.  You see, I've got this not so small, paralyzing fear of those creatures that shall not me named.  There was a mention or two, but I was able to keep my cool.

This one surprised me.  It was dark, and ugly, and gritty, but at the same time there was a beauty to it. Zentner weaved together three very different characters, characters that didn't belong together, yet found a home in one another.  And despite all the ugly, there was a hope in the end.

It wasn't a perfect book.  There were a few elements of convenience that swayed the story on a particular path, but that was forgiven with genuine development of the people that populated its pages.  Kudos to including a parent that was supportive, sincere, and compassionate.  Sadly there aren't too many of them in teen fiction.  And another gold star for including every reader's dream - a connection with an author who, despite fame and fortune, truly understands the power of the written word and the importance of imagination.

This is a hard one that leaves a lump in your throat.  I'll never say it was one of my favorite books.  Like Eleanor and Park, this one hit a little too close to home with its characters, reminding me of some of the teens that filter into the library every day after school.  But it's definitely one I'll recommend to everyone.  Everyone has a little ugly in their life.  Some more than other.  And it can't heart to remind each other that there is hope out there in the distance.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Scrappy Little Nobody

Scrappy Little NobodyAuthor: Anna Kendrick
Info: Touchstone, copyright 2016, 271 pages

Enter Anna’s world and follow her rise from “scrappy little nobody” to somebody who dazzles on the stage, the screen, and now the page—with an electric, singular voice, at once familiar and surprising, sharp and sweet, funny and serious (well, not that serious).

~Goodreads Description

Set up like most celebrity "memoirs" as a collection of essays on any number of topics, most filtering back to a discussion of fame and beginnings, Kendrick appears to be the same intelligent, spunky woman we've come to know on the silver screen.  As I listened to the audiobook (that she narrates) I could definitely see the girl behind the character and how elements of her personality seeped through in different film rolls.

Like Lauren Graham's Talking as Fast as I Can, I didn't know a whole lot about the Anna Kendrick before tackling the book.  I can't tell you how many Facebook posts I've come across talking about her wit and "relatability" on Twitter, but outside of the few times I was bored enough to click on the links to see what she was saying, my familiarity with her was pretty slim.

Where I came away from Talking as Fast as I Can really liking Lauren Graham, I didn't have quite the same reaction to Anna.  She seems like a very lovely person, super talented, and full of wit, but I'm not sure I'd always get her sense of humor :)  In fact, there were several times I thought to myself that I would probably do that awkward chuckle around her that you do when you don't really get the joke but you don't want anyone to know that you didn't.  (If you have no idea what I'm talking about, we should hang out for awhile so that you can see it in action).

It's amazing how young she was when her talent was discovered, and the sacrifices her family made to allow her to follow her dreams.  There's definitely an appreciation for someone willing to stick with acting through the rough years when jobs aren't plentiful.  She also gives an interesting snapshot of the reality of celebrity and finally being noticed.  Those where the moments I think I enjoyed most in the book.

Overall, a fun book to read made better in the author's own voice.  In fact, it's kind of hard to imagine not listening to a memoir when the celebrity reads it themselves.  I think there would be something missing in print.  Not a bad way to kick off the memoirs on my 2017 reading list!


Thursday, January 19, 2017

Dark Matter

Author: Blake Crouch
Info: Crown, copyright 2016, 342 pages

“Are you happy with your life?”

Those are the last words Jason Dessen hears before the masked abductor knocks him unconscious.

Before he awakens to find himself strapped to a gurney, surrounded by strangers in hazmat suits.

Before a man Jason’s never met smiles down at him and says, “Welcome back, my friend.”

In this world he’s woken up to, Jason’s life is not the one he knows. His wife is not his wife. His son was never born. And Jason is not an ordinary college physics professor, but a celebrated genius who has achieved something remarkable. Something impossible.

Is it this world or the other that’s the dream? And even if the home he remembers is real, how can Jason possibly make it back to the family he loves? The answers lie in a journey more wondrous and horrifying than anything he could’ve imagined—one that will force him to confront the darkest parts of himself even as he battles a terrifying, seemingly unbeatable foe.

~Goodreads Description

 I'm going to butcher my quick rundown, but here goes nothing... Jason is happily married with a wonderful son.  One night after heading to his local Chicago bar for a drink, he gets kidnapped by a masked man and taken to an old warehouse.  When he wakes up, he's in Chicago, but not his Chicago.  It's a Chicago where he never met his wife but instead went on to discover some trippy science thing that lets you travel through time and parallel worlds.  Now Jason is in a fight for his life as he attempts to get back to his family and the world he knows.

Hey!  That wasn't too bad!  I really liked this one.  It came recommended (sort of) by a co-worker (well...her husband), and since it was scifi I thought I'd give it a whirl.  The audiobook reader was fantastic and the action started within the first few pages.  This is really more thriller than scifi in case that makes a difference :)  There were moments when I feared that I would get overwhelmed with science.  I had the same feeling reading The Martian, but as in The Martian, I came to realize that I didn't really need to understand specifics as long as I could grasp big concepts - the big concept being that Jason had found a way through a trippy science box thing to travel through time and parallel worlds.  He developed a TARDIS, or DeLorean, in box form.

The book traveled deeper than that though. Crouch explores concepts of destiny, fate, and regret.  If he had it to do over again, would Jason choose the life with his family over the life where he discovered a scientific breakthrough, a breakthrough that could change the course of history?  How does one define fulfillment and happiness?

It reminded me a lot of the movie Sliding Doors with Gwyneth Paltrow about life being decided in a single moment and shows what happens if she gets on a subway train versus missing the very same train.  One moment changed the course of her life.  I'm not sure I subscribe to a theory like that but it is a fascinating concept that Crouch explores with several extremely tense scenes, It's a Wonderful Life emotional moments, and a whole lot of heart.

A highly recommended read.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Set Your DVR!

We interrupt the previously scheduled program to give you the chance to set your DVR for something pretty cool if I do say so myself.

My brother is going to be on Jeopardy tomorrow!

We held our breaths when he drove up to Chicago for  the interview/try-outs, but as the months (like, lots of months) ticked by and he didn't hear anything we thought the chance had passed. Then he got the call, out of the blue, and he immediately started carrying around a pen, clicking it nonstop to give his thumb, the trigger finger, a workout.
He's one of the smartest guys I know which made it absolutely no fun to play games with him when we were growing up.  He also liked to create rules that gave him the advantage (he's kind of a butt like that...but so are the woes of the younger sister :) ).  There's one thing for sure though - I couldn't be prouder of him.  It takes a bit of guts to get yourself on national television.  And tomorrow night I get to say, "Hey, that's my brother up there."

So just in case you're home and have the television on, look of the guy from Whitestown, Indiana and cheer him on.  I will be.


Friday, January 13, 2017

The Lady's Command

The Lady's Command (The Adventurers Quartet, #1)Author: Stephanie Laurens
Info: Mira, copyright 2015, 384 pages

The instant Captain Declan Frobisher laid eyes on Lady Edwina Delbraith, he knew she was the lady he wanted as his wife. The scion of a seafaring dynasty accustomed to success, he discovered that wooing Edwina was surprisingly straightforward—not least because she made it plain that she wanted him as much as he wanted her.

Declan’s vision of marriage was of a gently-reared wife to grace his arm, to manage his household, and to bear his children. He assumed that household, children, and wife would remain safely in England while he continued his life as an explorer sailing the high seas.

But bare weeks into their honeymoon, Declan is required to sail to West Africa. Edwina decides she must accompany him.

A secret mission with unknown villains flings unexpected dangers into their path as Declan and Edwina discover that meeting the challenge of making an unconventional marriage work requires something they both possess—bold and adventurous hearts.

~Goodreads Description

Selecting this title to read was an experiment.  I have fallen in complete book crush with Steve West, audiobook narrator (An Ember in the Ashes, A Torch Against the Night, Everland, Gemina, The Crown's Game).  I'm not even going to get into my feelings when he's paired with Fiona Hardingham.  Audiobook perfection.  But I started to wonder if I was just loving these books because he was reading them or they were legit good books only made better by his involvement.  So, I decided to pick up a book I would never pick up otherwise.  A romance novel. (I have absolutely nothing against romance novel enthusiasts.  To each their own.  They are just not for me.)

The Lady's Command...we've got Declan, a captain, who marries Edwina, a lady.  (Edwina :) The name just cracks me up.) It was an actual marriage of affection and not arrangement, and in the first few weeks of blessed wedded bliss, they realize just how much they enjoy each other's company (wink wink if you get my drift).  Declan gets notice that he has to go do some dangerous captain-y business and prepares to leave his new wife who is having none of it.  She married a captain and she wants adventure.  So she sneaks on board his ship and the two sail off to West Africa and intrigue.

And here are my thoughts.  I don't have a lot of thoughts.  This wasn't a poorly written book, but it also wasn't very interesting.  It reminded me a bit of Gail Carriger's "Parasol Protectorate" series set in the Regency era with strong-willed women who won't be left behind.  But were Carriger's story was filled with humor (and paranormal creatures), Lauren's just felt a bit bland.  There was little character development, and to be honest, slow plot development which left reading it just a bit sluggish.  And the cover...I just can't with the cover.

So what did I learn - Steve West can't save everything for me, which actually makes me feel better because now I know just how spectacular An Ember in the Ashes and Gemina really are.  Two of my FAVORITES from 2016 and maybe ever.  It was a worthwhile experiment that also let me mark "A genre you don't normally read" off my 2017 reading challenge list (read along here).


Wednesday, January 11, 2017

I Hunt Killers trilogy

Author: Barry Lyga
Info: Little, Brown and Company, copyright 2012-2014

What if the world's worst serial killer...was your dad?

Jasper "Jazz" Dent is a likable teenager. A charmer, one might say.

But he's also the son of the world's most infamous serial killer, and for Dear Old Dad, Take Your Son to Work Day was year-round. Jazz has witnessed crime scenes the way cops wish they could—from the criminal's point of view.

And now bodies are piling up in Lobo's Nod.

In an effort to clear his name, Jazz joins the police in a hunt for a new serial killer. But Jazz has a secret—could he be more like his father than anyone knows?

~Goodreads Description

One of my reading goals this year is to finish at least 5 series I started way back when - and it is ridiculous how many I have to choose from.  But at the top of the list was Barry Lyga's Jasper Dent trilogy.   It had been forever ago since I read the first book, I Hunt Killers, but I remember loving it (see original review here).

Simple premise.  Jasper Dent is the son of one of history's most notorious serial killers, Billy Dent.  Billy was captured by the small town sheriff and is rotting away in jail, but when a number of mysterious murders start to devastate the town, Jasper starts to worry that his father is working with someone on the outside, but even worse, he worries that all his father's lessons on profiling and murder are leading him down the same path.

I'm kind of addicted to crime shows.  I love Dateline, podcasts that highlight criminal activities, and Law & Order.  I don't like horror and gore, so I'm not quite sure why that type of entertainment resonates with me, but it does, in a completely not morbid way.  If you share the same proclivities, you'll probably love this story.  Lyga takes you into the head of a serial killer which is totally messed and intense, and yet, there is something very redeeming and thoughtful about Jazz.  The pacing is spot on with several moments of serious tension and enough breadcrumbs to keep you guessing on what is going to happen.  All three books in the series are solid, moving the story forward and never falling off with plot or character development.

Without giving too much away, I only had two problems with the series.  Jazz's girlfriend Connie and a final conversation her father has with Jazz.  Connie was that person in a horror movie that you're yelling at because they keep doing stupid things.  In all honesty, I spent most of the series hoping she was going to die.  As for the final conversation - it seemed out of place and unnecessary.  Thankfully it wasn't a big chunk of the story, but for series that was so strong through three books, I kind of wish it hadn't been in there.

Outside of that, an amazing series that keeps you on your toes.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Ten Books I Had Planned to Read in 2016...(but there's always 2017)

Top Ten Books I Had Planned to Read in 2016...
(But there's always 2017)

Much to my own personal pleasure, I've become a laid back reader.  Sure, I make lists, and I enjoy marking things off said lists, but I don't feel held hostage by them.  Not any more.  Dear readers, I think I'm growing up.  These lists are more like guidelines, reminders of stories that I think sound interesting so that maybe, just maybe I'll pick them up one day.  These here ten books made it to one of my lists last year, but for any number of reasons they didn't actually get read.  But there's always 2017...

The Unexpected Everything
1) The Unexpected Everything by Morgan Matson

A Court of Mist and Fury (A Court of Thorns and Roses, #2)
2) A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas

Revenge and the Wild
3) Revenge and the Wild by Michelle Modesto

Ruined (Ruined, #1)
4) Ruined by Amy Tintera

The Diabolic (The Diabolic, #1)
5) The Diabolic by S.J. Kincaid

The Female of the Species
6) The Female of the Species by Mindy McGinnis

Saga, Volume 6
7) Saga, Vol. 6 by Brian K. Vaughan

Leave Me
8) Leave Me by Gayle Forman

Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch
9) Good Omens by Neil Gaiman

Crime and Punishment
10) Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

What's on your list?  Happy reading!
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