Friday, June 29, 2012

Follow Friday - Birthday Cake surprise

Follow Friday is a feature created by Parajunkee and Alison Can Read.  It's a fun blog hop where you meet other book bloggers and find people to follow.
Question: Birthday Wishes -- Blow out the candles and imagine what character could pop out of your cake...who is it and what book are they from?
Oh goodness. I don't know if I'd ever want anyone to jump out of a cake in seriousness.  So I must choose Archer Cross from Hex Hall because he does nothing in seriousness.  It would be all sarcasm and snarky remarks, which is much more my style. I want someone who will just make me laugh and for laughs I go to Archer Cross and Hex Hall.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Alif the Unseen (review)

4/5 stars

Alif the Unseen is such a unique book.  It's a computer-science heavy fantasy novel set in the modern Middle East.  There is coding, firewalls, cloud servers and genies, all in the same book.  Doesn't that sound amazing?  This book is fantasy blended with real science, something that I've never seen before. It's a big risk that pays off.

Very rarely to I go quite as highlighter happy as this book made me.  It was smart, clever, funny and thought-provoking.
"How dense and literal it is. I thought it had a much more sophisticated brain."
 "Your mother's dense," Alif said wearily.
"My mother was an errant crest of sea foam. But that's neither here nor there."
This book just goes.  It doesn't stop to explain everything.  I appreciated the respect it showed it's reader.  Admittedly I don't know a lot about Middle Eastern folklore or legends.  Anything I need to know I can research.  The book doesn't info-dump, yet I had no problem following the story.

This book talks about how sometimes religious people pick and choose what to believe.  In this instance, it's talking about the Quaran and how people tend to ignore the references to jinn (genies) even though it's throughout the text. However I think it's something interesting that applies beyond just one faith group.
Superstation is thriving. Pedantry is thriving. Sectarianism is thriving. Belief is dying out. To most of your people the jinn are paranoid fantasies who run around causing epilepsy and mental illness. Find me someone to whom the hidden folk are simply real, as described in the Books. You'll be searching a long time. Wonder and awe have gone out of your religions. 
For me the highlight of the book was Dina.  Alif's neighbor, she's tremendously stubborn, intelligent and very pious.  She decided to veil her face, against the wishes of her family and everyone who knew her. Normally it would be easy to write off such a character as an oppressed woman.  But Dina is too awesome for that.  She's one of the bravest and most intelligent characters, always having foresight when everyone else just runs around panicking.  She's a complex character, a mixture of faith, practicality and intelligence.
"Maybe you should stay here until this has blown over," he said. It's going to be dangerous.""I know. That's why I wore sneakers." (Dina)
I want more books that dare to be different.  I'm not saying this book is perfect.  At times it's a little slow, the prologue is especially weak and it talks about urinating a lot.  But sometimes that doesn't matter!  What matters is that it tells a story that completely surprises you and that you can stop reading.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

How to Save a Life (review)

4/5 stars

When I first Started How to Save A Life I was very unsure.  When we first meet Mandy Kalinowski, a pregnant teenager mentally younger than her years, trained by her mom in "how to get a man" and frankly weird, I didn't know if I could tolerate her for a whole book.  She's socially awkward and has the worst conversation skills.  Reading her interactions in the first chapters is almost painful.

Mandy was an unplanned, unwanted baby.  She wants something better for her child.  That's why she runs away to Colorado to give her baby to recent-widow Robin MacSweeney.  There we meet our second protagonist, Jill, Robin's teenage daughter.  For entirely different reason Jill is also unlikable.  She's so angry and snippy.  It's easy to understand why.  The sudden death of her father is bound to have a huge impact on her personality, but that doesn't make her someone I want to spend much time with.

Mandy starts to experience a life and a family she's never had, bonding with Robin.  She starts dreading the day her baby will be born and she has to leave.  It's heartbreaking to read as Mandy realizes that not only does she want a better life for her baby; she wants a better life for herself.

Meanwhile, Jill goes through the motions of life, working at the bookstore and dating her on-again off-again boyfriend Dylan.  Things start to change for Jill after a chance encounter with Ravi, an old acquaintance from high school who helps Jill remember herself.

Mandy and Jill's storyline run on different courses, not quite parrallel, but both growing and changing.  Near the end the stories converge.  A book about teen pregnancy and struggling with a parents death, could have easily have been melodramatic.  Somehow, How to Save A Life, soars above it's basic plot and becomes something more.  It's wonderful, heartbreaking and hopeful all at the same time.  It captures a little poignant slice of life realistically. The simple truthful writing style is something few authors master.

I listened to this on audiobook and the narrators were superb, especially the actress who portray Mandy. Very recommended.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Follow Friday - Unreading books

Follow Friday is a feature created by Parajunkee and Alison Can Read.  It's a fun blog hop where you meet other book bloggers and find people to follow.
If you could "unread" a book, which one would it be? Is it because you want to start over and experience it again for the first time? Or because it was THAT bad?
It's kind of funny that you ask this question now.  I just listened to an atrocious audiobook that felt like a complete waste of my time.  So if I could unread it and use that time more wisely I would do it in a heartbeat.  (For the record I've had to drive a lot for work and haven't been able to go to the library for replacement books).

Witches on the Road Tonight was just horrid.  It was an adult book that just tried too hard to be literary and brilliant and came off as a wannabe.  It used unnecessary pretty language even in the child point of view (language that the kid wouldn't have known) and  too many metaphors.  It also wanted to be edgy with sex, but ended up coming across as creepy.  Here's an actual quote from the audiobook.
"Cora is drawing him a bath, almost flirtatiously the way women do with their grown sons."*
Seriously!?!?! Is this a thing? This book seems to have some very disturbing adult-child relationships that I will address when I write an actual review.  On top of everything else, the narrator's Appalachian accent was horribly exaggerated and borderline offensive.

Other books that I might "unread":
  • Eclipse by Stephanie Meyer.  I know a lot of people are Twilight fans but I'm not.  I read the books because they were conveniently at my house.  I'm glad I read the first book so that I can make an educate  argument for why I don't like the series.  However, when you've read three you often get the question "If you hate them so much why did you read them?" My answer: Because they were there, I was bored and I didn't think about what I was doing.  
  • Prophecy of the Stones by Flavia Bujor - I read this because the cover was a lovely shade of orange and it was getting  a lot of press at the time.  It was written by a thirteen year old girl.  For a 13-year-old it's probably pretty impressive. However in the grand scope of literature it's shallow and dumb. I really don't like hating the accomplishments of a 13 year old, so I wish I could erase this from my memory. 
  • Witch & Wizard by James Patterson - Honestly if it weren't for my YouTube haters I would unread this book.  But they've made me LOL so much that it's actually worth having read a horrible book. It's fun having a YouTube video with 26,000 views and barely literate people insulting my intelligence. (Read more about this incident)

*I was listening to the audiobook and immediately wrote down the quote (while driving I was that disturbed). However it could be missing a word or two because I was unable to doublecheck but the sentiment is intact.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Dust Girls (review)

4/5 stars

Faerie lore purists will probably hate Dust Girl for the same reason I love it.  This novel takes the ancient faerie stories, seelie and unseelie courts, and bastardizes it as only Americans can.  It's unique and compelling, weaving in American history and some of our own legends.

Callie LeRoux has spent her whole life living in the small town of Slow Run. Her mother operates an old empty hotel. Their town is a dying community, stuck in the middle of the Kansas dust bowl.  To make matters worse, her mother has gone slightly crazy waiting for the return of her father, a travelling black musician who promised to return someday.

When her mother disappears during a huge duster, brought on by Callie's piano playing, faeries descend on Slow Run.  She befriends a young hobo, the charming and outspoken Jack.  With Jack's help, Callie figures out she's not fully human.  She's not quite white, not quite black, not human and not completely fae.  She doesn't know what she is.

I love how they made the Seelie and Unseelie court fit into the American culture.  The Seelie, or the bright ones, are glowing white beauties operating Hollywood.  The Unseelies are black fae, using jazz music and wishes to preform their magic.  The mythology blends seamlessly with American history.

I found myself wondering if the inspiration for this version of faerie came from an old American legend. I'm not sure if everyone has heard the story about the birth of blues where a musician meets the devil at the crossroads and sells his soul to become the best guitar player.  There is this almost mythical history of blues and jazz that ties in nicely to this novel.

Near the end the story drags a little bit, but overall this is a great book.  The innovation alone makes it worth reading.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Solace of the Road (review)

4/5 stars

Solace of the Road is not a plot heavy book.  It's a character driven story where the reader uncovers the history of 14-year-old Holly Hogan.  It starts when Holly receives a foster placement after living most of her life in a care home.   She doesn't really want a new home or new parents, and she constantly complains about her foster parents Fiona and Ray.  All she wants is to go back home to Ireland and the mother she left behind.

During an argument between Fiona and Ray, something snaps in Holly.  Armed only with a blonde wig and her lizard purse, she becomes someone else--Solace of the Road.  Solace is her bad girl alter-ego, older, wiser and unafraid of the things that would scare Holly.   She runs away, on train, then bus and eventually hithchiking her way towards the coast of England.  As she runs we encounter more and more memories of her past.  Slowly the reader and Holly start to realize that the happy memories she has of home and her mother maybe weren't so happy after all.

I liked the fact that Holly/Solace is such an unreliable narrator.  She only tells the reader certain things, normally what she wants to be true, until later in the story she reveals piece by piece the small lies that she's told along the way.  Holly is a lost little girl who only wants her mother's love.  She lies to the reader, but never more than she's lying to herself.

The story is poignant and sad.  It's a portrait of a lost girl who doesn't know what home is.  At the same time, the book has very funny moments as Holly goes on her adventure across England.  The dichotomy of laughter and tears is what makes it realistically human and very worth reading.

The audiobook narration for this was excellent.  The accent is slightly Irish, just enough so that you hear it occasionally but light enough to make it easy to understand.  The voice is soft, young and knows how to crack a joke.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Follow Friday - Father's Day

Follow Friday is a feature created by Parajunkee and Alison Can Read.  It's a fun blog hop where you meet other book bloggers and find people to follow.
Happy Father's Day! Who's your favorite dad character in a book and why? 
Normally I struggle with Follow Friday questions. Maybe it's because I try too hard and spend a lot of time thinking about my answer.  This was the easiest yet.  Ken Dietz, from Please Ignore Vera Dietz (my review here), is easily my favorite dad in a book.
"My mother did the best she could by herself.  Didn't stop me from becoming an alcoholic. Didn't stop me from dropping out of high school and knocking up the seventeen-year-old girl next door.  Didn't stop me from wondering what life would be like with a father either.  I think losing a parent robs confidence from a kid. With Vera, I'm trying to find ways to teach her how to grown her own self esteem. I'm not sure if it's working, but it's all I have. Because my father left when I was three, I have no idea what a father is supposed to do, so I'm winging it." -Ken Dietz
Ken Dietz tries so damn hard.  Yes his views about responsibility are a little strange.  He's also an alcoholic.  He's imperfect, but that's what makes him a realistic and interesting characters.  Vera's mother ran off with another man and Ken is trying to raise his daughter to be strong and independent.  He has no idea what he's doing, but he's there and he wants to do what's right.  He's honest, poignant and never preachy.  Even if their relationship is messy he loves his daughter.

He also makes awesome flowcharts like this one. (You should buy the book for more flowcharts like this!)

(Click picture to view full sized chart)

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Garden Update 6/13/12

I don't do this very often because this is a book blog.  But since I do read a lot of gardening books, sometimes my garden is the true review of what I've read or more likely what I've retained.  This year's garden is the most successful year thus far!  I also read a lot more gardening books during the winter (even taking notes!).  I think I had a breakthrough in understanding fertilization this year. Here are the results.

The first cucumbers from my garden have arrived.

Dwarf pepper plant. The pepper is starting to ripen.

This is what collard greens do when you skip a day of watering. They'll be fine tomorrow.

Beautiful green lettuce.

RIPE TOMATO! (Well in a few days)
New compost bin! Yep this is a b-day gift for a gardener.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Lies Beneath (review)

3.5/5 stars

For the past couple of years I've been on the quest for a good mermaid book.  Long ago I quit looking for fantastic or great and have just been waiting for the first serviceable mermaid book.  Lies Beneath, while it has plenty of flaws, is better than every other mermaid book I've read.  It's a paranormal romance, a little heavy on the romance for my taste but it's not really pretending to be anything else. (If I read a romance then complain it's a romance that's my fault).

The book is dark.  The mermaids are not fluffy Disney mermaids.  They are monsters, lurking beneath Lake Superior looking for their next victim.  They feed off positive human emotions, dragging unlucky swimmers or boaters to their deaths.  We've seen evil Mermaids before but these are more well done. These Mermaids are not one note or oversimplified.  They kill because they crave happiness, something they can never have on their own.  The main character, Calder feels guilty about the killings but still feels the need to kill.  While his sisters may seem simpler at first glance, there are hints that they have more complex feelings as well.

There is the usual stalking and watching that we've grown to expect in paranormal novels.  At least in Lies Beneath it's MEANT to be creepy and isn't really romanticized.  Calder is very self-aware.  He knows he's a predatory monster and doesn't pretend to be an old-time gentleman protecting Lily's virtue.  In fact, he's staking out her house because he's planning her father's murder.

For the most part I like Lily.  She's a little overdescribed (another paranormal trend) and a little bit too perfect leaning a tad towards the Mary Sue.  But she's smarter than your average paranormal lead.  With very few clues she figures out the mermaid secret all on her own, though she thinks they're more along the Disney variety.  She's willing to make big sacraficises, but not for the normal reasons.  She takes risks to protect her family.  That's a refreshing change from all the female leads who give up everything for a boy they've just met.  In the end, I find her under-reaction to certain things a little suspect but she's still acceptable.

This book moved a little slow for me.  As always I wanted more action and less romance.  But the world and mythology were well built, the overarching plot was something that actually mattered and Calder was an interesting narrator.  As far as mermaid books go, this is definitely a step in the right direction.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Dead Reckoning (review)

3/5 stars
Dead Reckoning was a fun little read. As soon as we met Jett, a girl dressed up as a gunslinging cowboy searching for her lost brother, I knew this was going to be entertaining.  I'm a sucker for a girl dressing as a boy to make her way in the world.

This book wasn't great.  But it is a steampunk zombie Western that's fairly good and I'm okay with that.  Jett Gallatin, gunslinger, confederate sympathizer, and a girl (who misses pretty dresses!) is my type of heroine.  She's not ridiculously intelligent or good looking.  Instead, she's determined and brave.  She's looking for her twin brother who went missing after the Civil War.  She would do anything to find and protect him.  That's why she's dressed as a man.  It's not because she hats being a girl, though she's not such a fan of corsets anymore, but that she loves her brother.  Jett is the heart of this book.

This book has some pretty big flaws.  The worst is it's tendency to tell rather than show which frustrated me.  Give your readers some credit.  They can make connections without the characters explaining them.   Also this book is told in 3rd person, jumping between Jett, Gibbons and White Fox's point of views.  Honestly this felt like a mistake.  Probably 80% of the book follows Jett's POV.  Her's is the most fleshed out and compelling.  Jumping to Gibbon's and White Fox's felt a little lazy.  With a little more effort the book could've stayed with Jett.  The problem with telling, rather than showing, was also more prevalent in the other point of views.

At the end, the book left some threads hanging and Gibbon's blatantly said she thought the characters would see each other again (really telling and not showing, again. Her character is the worst for it).  I might like the idea of this book more than the execution. Nonetheless I want to read the sequel mainly because I want to find out what happened to Jett's brother, a mystery the story leaves dangling.  If you see this book and you're in the mood for a steampunk zombie western, I'd give it a try.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Follow Friday - Feature a friend

Follow Friday is a feature created by Parajunkee and Alison Can Read.  It's a fun blog hop where you meet other book bloggers and find people to follow.
Different on today's post--you have an ACTIVITY instead of the usual question. The activity is to FEATURE your own blogger on your blog.  Tell us about your buddy, or even your favorite blog and feature them. You can tell them you are doing it, or you can just surprise them. EIther or--it is YOUR turn to feature someone. 
Just when I think a Follow Friday question can't get any more difficult we get an activity!  What's so hard about featuring a blogger?  Well, honestly, I've met so many great friends through reading, blogging and goodreads that it feels near impossible to choose just one.

But since I have too...I will (and she has no idea I'm doing this) but I'm going to have to pick my dear friend Catie over at the Readventurer.  We've been goodreads friends for quite awhile, even before she joined Readventurer (where some of my other friends blog).  I can always trust a Catie recommendation. It's pretty fail proof.  We have similar reading pet-peeves and she's even gifted me a couple of books (and she includes awesome little sketches).  Sometime we're going to run into each other in real life and there's going to be books and general merriment, I'm sure.

I like the whole group over at Readventurer and especially like that they review a wide variety of books. It's not jus the trendy YA releases, but everything from the classics onward. There's more to reading than the new releases and sometimes you need to find gems that you've missed.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Paranormalcy (review)

3/5 stars
Oh Paranormalcy, I have such mixed feelings about you.  Your beginning is everything I love. A smart-mouthed heroine carrying a bedazzled taser taking on the parnormals of the world.  Evie is delightfully teenage--a bit boy crazy, TV-loving, addicted to all things sparkly but she's also a little bit kickass.  Evie works for IPCA (International Paranormal Containment Agency), using her special ability to see through all magical glamours to bring paranormals to justice and keep mankind safe.

For me this book fell apart in the second half.  It's all rolling and fun until Evie meets a boy.  The boy is a strange sort of paranormal, a water-based shapeshifter who can take the appearance of anyone.  Only Evie can see through his disguise and stops him from infiltrating IPCA.  He's trying to get the answer to what's killing paranormals.  Outside of IPCA hundreds of paranormals are dying.  Nobody can save them because nobody knows who's killing them or how they're doing it.

Once Evie starts falling for Lend, who is a sweet sorta boy just as nondescript as his watery image personality wise, she stops caring about anything else.  She wants to step back and let the grown-ups handle the problem.  Nevermind the prophecy that appears to refer to her and ends with "death death death."  Nevermind that her closest friends and paranormals around the world are dying.

You know what Evie starts caring about? Lockers, handholding and prom.  I'm all for frothy books with both adventure and kissy-time but you've got to find the balance.  This book goes way too far into the "I want to be a normal teen" direction.  Here's the thing: for the most part we don't want to read about normal teens.  Books and stories deal with the extraordinary, whether it's real life problems or fantasy.  Frankly when people are dying and Evie might be the only one to save them, the main character shouldn't be more concerned about her prom dress than the deaths.

I'm frustrated by this book because some of it is fun but by the end I felt so disappointed.  I wanted something like Hex Hall, but I feel like I got a watered down version.  Nothing's wrong with glitter, pink dresses and boys.  But it's also not nearly as important as paranormal genocide and the death of a friend.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

The Schwa was here (review)

4/5 stars
The Schwa Was Here is the type of book I sometime miss. It's the type that gets lost in the shuffle of paranormal, dystopians, urban fantasy, etc etc.  It's not quite a contemporary.  It's a book that's hard to describe--contemporary with a little bit it whimsy, wonder or magic?

The Schwa, aka Calvin Schwa, is functionally invisible or observationally challenged.  They say if you stare at him long enough you'll see the wall behind him.  He's not the type of kid who's face you forget.  He's the type of kid you don't remember at all.

Antsy Bonano, a middle child with his own brand of invisibility, befriends The Schwa.  At first it's just an experiment to see how "The Schwa Effect" works.  They have him do experiments--like having him stand in a bathroom wearing an orange sombrero and singing at the tops of his lungs to see how many people notice him (surprisingly few).  Eventually this morphs into people daring the Schwa to do ridiculous and daring things--for profit of course.

The book is funny and quirky with a lot of heart.  It follows Antsy and the Schwa on their misadventures and they discover what it means to be seen and uncover the mystery of "The Schwa Effect."