Wednesday, April 26, 2017

C2E2 2017

Hi everyone! I've been a bit behind on reading and reviewing lately because I had to get ready to go back to Wisconsin for C2E2 in Chicago. There are two big comic cons in Chicago every year: C2E2, which is a ReedPop con, and Chicago Comic-Con, which is a Wizard World event. I've never done the latter--it's out in the western suburbs and I am quite partial to downtown events. Also, it's usually in August and I could never get off of work.

I already had my weekend pass and plans with my little brother to attend before I took a new job and moved, so I really wanted to come back and attend the con. Unfortunately, that meant I only got one day there instead of three, but we made it count.

And now for pictures, because why not?

Various Arrows.

Ooh! My brother and I went to see a panel with FitzSimmons from Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. They were both unbelievably adorable.

The K-2SO was fabulous

Of course.

There was another Maui there who had inked the tattoos onto his body with paint, but I didn't get his picture.


Patty cake with t-rex!


They've captured a Resistance pilot!

These were just too clever. 


My brother is way more into the Spidey areas of the Marvelverse than I am. I guess that's Gwenom and ... others. I've never liked Spider-Man.

Kylo Ren peruses the pink kitty artwork with a feminist agenda.

I'm hoping to be able to go to DragonCon too, but that depends on a lot of things. Hopefully C2E2 2018 is in my future as well!

P.S. If you happen to recognize yourself as one of the cosplayers in a photo, let me know so I can credit you for your awesomeness!!!

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Want by Cindy Pon

"How do you live breathing this every day?" she asked in a weak voice.

"We don't have to live for very long," I replied.

She dropped her handkerchief and stared at me with red-rimmed eyes. "That's not funny," she said.

I smiled. "I wasn't trying to be."

*Jedi hand wave*

You want to read Want.

Rats. It's not that simple, is it? The Force has a strong effect on the weak-minded, but you are not weak-minded. May I then attempt to convince you to read Cindy Pon's absolutely fantastic near-future sci-fi set in Taiwan?

(Except for all you guys who heard "Cindy Pon" and immediately bought the book.  You're all good. But please stay and read my review anyway?)

Monday, April 17, 2017

Under the Harrow

Although the popularity of books like Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train have flooded the market with twisty psychological thrillers featuring one of my favorite literary devices--the unreliable narrator--this popularity also floods the market with ho-hum or even oh-no novels attempting to create another flash in the pan.

That's my rather polite way of saying that Under the Harrow was not a good book, and certainly doesn't deserve the comparisons being slung around. Psychological thrillers aren't exactly spring chickens when it comes to their identity as a sub-genre, but they have received a fun, clever, and well-written makeover in the past few years. Unfortunately, James Patterson continues to word-vomit thrillers all over the New York Times Best-Seller List every two months, but this new(ish) crop of writers like Gillian Flynn, Paula Hawkins, Ruth Ware, and pretty much every Scandinavian writer out there present well-written books that have a distinctive style and memorable characters. Riding their coattails are books with good ideas but lackluster execution. Under the Harrow is one of the latter.

Friday, April 7, 2017

The Woman in Cabin 10

Right. I have been attempting to write a coherent yet snappy review of this book for a few days now. I have utterly failed. I am sorry.

So here are the salient points:

The Woman in Cabin 10 will appeal to those readers who enjoyed Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train, but it is not the same book. While those books depended on the slow revelation that the narrator was not all she or he seemed to be, The Woman in Cabin 10 makes it quite clear that Lo's perception of reality is skewed by various factors. Thus, the tension in the story comes, not from figuring out that Lo is an unreliable narrator, but from figuring out when she is lying (either to herself or to the reader) and when she is telling the truth. It's a delicate teasing of reality from fever dream.

Fans of locked-room murder mysteries will enjoy this quite a lot (I am one such fan, ergo, I enjoyed it). Instead of a sprawling British estate or fusty hotel room, we have a tasteless if expensively furnished yacht headed to Trondheim. Lo (Laura) Blacklock works for a smallish travel magazine and snagged the gig because her boss is pregnant and not up to traveling by boat. She and select members media have been invited aboard the maiden voyage of the Aurora, owned by young Lord Bullmer. It's hard to be mad at Richard Bullmer for being rich, famous, and handsome, though: his young, pretty wife is dying of cancer. She, too, is aboard the vessel, but wan and tired from her latest bout of chemotherapy.

Rounding out the requisite cast of idiosyncratic characters are a handsome photographer, a buffoonish Australian naturalist, and a catty (or is she?) older travel writer. And then there's the woman in the cabin next to Lo. When she realizes she forgot her mascara (seriously, if you wear makeup but forget your mascara, it is most definitely A Big Problem), Lo decides to ask a favor from her next door neighbor. The occupant of the cabin is young and pretty, but her rock band t-shirt and attitude don't really fit the vibe of the rest of the party. Lo doesn't see her at dinner, but is awakened in the middle of the night by a thud. Running to her balcony, she sees a woman pushed overboard from cabin 10, and blood smeared on the veranda. But when she returns with the ship's security officer (who I swear was based on Stellan Skarsgård -at least, that's how I cast him in my mind's eye), there's nothing. No blood, no trace of an occupant, and no one on the register for cabin 10.

What follows is an excellent study in gaslighting. As readers, we know that Lo is being manipulated, but we also know that she doesn't know. Or are we being manipulated along with her? My brain!

I only have one complaint as to an unresolved plot point, but it's spoilery, so scroll down with me.


even further

keep going


The person who was supposed to occupy cabin 10 stayed home because of a violent home invasion. At the beginning of the novel, Lo's flat is burgled and she is threatened by a masked figure who locks her into her room with no form of communication. We are supposed to draw a parallel between the missing expert and Lo, but since the murderer only needed cabin 10 to be empty, why would he also send an attacker to the person in cabin 9? We never find out who attacked Lo in her flat. Was it truly an isolated attack?

All things considered, this is an excellent thriller. I need to go back and read Ware's debut novel, and hopefully she'll have another novel out relatively soon. But not James Patterson soon.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

The Special Ones

I think that a reader cannot help falling in love with a book. I may have an irrational affection for a particular title that, in other situations or other times in my life, I would have merely liked or perhaps even actively disliked. I therefore present you with The Special Ones by Em Bailey. It may not be perfect, but it's certainly psychologically gripping and positively dripping with atmosphere.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Gem & Dixie

Lest we forget, the country where I currently reside would like to get rid of free school lunches. This is because old white men would rather use government funds for bombs and stuff instead of feeding poor kids--usually poor kids of color, but not exclusively. I say this not as a political or as a partisan statement, but as one human watching other so-called humans take steps to actively harm children who, through no fault of their own, don't have enough to eat.

I encounter this mentality on a very small scale when I am at work and a child has overdue books. More often than I'd like, the parent scolds the child for not bringing the books back on time, and sometimes even forbids them from using the library. I would often like to point out that little Elias or Aeryn cannot, in fact, drive a car, because they're six. Ergo, they cannot bring materials back and that's your job as the parent.

But I get that parenting is hard, too. That's one of the reasons I've not become one yet--I'm terrified of screwing up and I am a selfish lady who needs to get her own stuff together in life before I start trying to help a miniature human do the same. However, no matter what's going on with a child or a teen's parents, that young person should never be made to pay by going hungry. Denying them sustenance is certainly not going to improve moral fortitude or whatever opponents of free school lunches think. I mean, in this country, kids don't even get a decent free lunch. Milk carton, rubbery food that's made out of other food bits, no fresh fruit or veggies--we're already shortchanging these kids. And then people sit back and gloat and say, "Look at The Poors. They are so unhealthy. Thankfully, I am rich and can afford to clothe my body in Lululemon while smothering organic avocado masks on my face and imbibing kombucha. But I'm not paying for a poor child to have a meal. They should get a job."

Oh, really?

Most of the time, humanity is a real bust.

Gem and Dixie are white and pretty. Dixie, especially, is popular in her grade. No one would guess that there's never any food in the house, and no money with which to buy it. Their mom is either spending it on booze or drugs or both. And Dad? Mom kicked him out a long time ago after his womanizing got to be too much. Now he's an almost-mythical figure to younger sister Dixie, who reveres him. Gem knows that he's no good, but she still craves his approbation.

One day, Dixie gets a letter from her dad. He's coming back to Seattle--but this has to be a secret from Mom. Of course, Mom wheedles it out of Dixie, setting off a fit of apoplexy. But Dad rolls into town smooth as you please, pulling his daughters out of school early and taking them grocery shopping. Gem knows that this is too good to be true. So when Mom gives Dad the boot (again) and throws all of the food down the garbage chute, Gem has to do something. But what? She doesn't have any money or any friends.

Oh--but what's this weird bag under the bed? Full of money? Dad must have stashed it there--and if it's Dad's, it's definitely not on the up-and-up. But Gem knows it's her ticket out, and after all, doesn't he owe her that much?

Dixie, however, insists on accompanying her sister on their flight to downtown Seattle, a place they'd never been. Dixie's savoir faire gets them into a posh hotel, where they gorge themselves on room service. But what next? The money will only last so long, and Dixie doesn't really want to leave everything. But Gem's entire life has been about protecting her little sister. Is she brave enough to let her go?

The nuances of Gem's character are astounding. She's had to be the mom and the dad and the older sister in her family for so long that she's burned out. No child should have to be an adult at eight years old, or six years old, but Gem did it to keep herself and her little sister alive. And it's exhausting. Why can't life get any easier? Why doesn't Mom see that they're hungry and dirty and haven't had new underwear in years and that that's not okay? Why does Gem always have to be the practical one? Is it so wrong for her to want to leave all of the responsibility she's assumed and just walk away?

Gem & Dixie is all about the characters and their struggles, so the actual plot recedes into the background. This is not a problem book about Runaway Teens, but about teens who are constantly running away from what they fear most. The intricate knot of hunger and poverty and shame and lies sits at the core of Gem's being, and Zarr treats her characters with humanity and respect.

My only complaint would be that the end of the novel wraps up too quickly, and I didn't quite understand why everything that happened, happened. However, this is an excellent novel on a very current, urgent, and necessary topic, and should be in all teen collections.

I received an ARC of this title from the publisher.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Diverse Reading Challenge: March Update

One of my duties at my new job is to regularly check the adult new fiction to make sure that we don't end up with 5 copies of the same books (floating collections are fun!). As a direct consequence of this, I've been checking out scads of adult fiction--particularly horror and thrillers. It's actually really helped me with my reading slump!  Unfortunately, this means that I have an obscene amount of YA ARCs on my iPad to be read. In March, I made it through two of them: It's Not Like It's A Secret by Misa Sugiura and Pashmina by Nidhi Chanani.

It's Not Like It's A Secret 

I feel ambivalent toward this book. Full review to come.

Pashmina by Nidhi Chanani

Gorgeous artwork is undercut by a so-so story. There was a lot of dissonant jumping around, both in time and place, and I never quite grasped what the magical pashmina was supposed to accomplish. Perhaps I'm just dense.

And here's my Diversity Bingo sheet!


Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Batgirl Vol. 1: Beyond Burnside

I was so excited for this! Hope Larson (she of Goldie Vance)! Rafael Albuquerque (he of American Vampire)! Batgirl!

While all three of those things may be quite good individually, together, they are underwhelming. And that's being polite. When I finished reading my ARC of the trade paperback (sorry, the only comic I read single issues of is The Unstoppable Wasp), I literally (and I am not misusing this word: I mean literally) made this face:

It was a grimace. A cringe. A horrified sense of loss at what could have been.

So what went wrong?

A lot of things. In Beyond Burnside, Babs Gordon leaves Burnside, the thinly-disguised Brooklyn hipster section of Gotham, to travel throughout Asia and get away from saving the world. As we all know, this never happens for superheroes. In her hostel in Japan, Babs meets her friend Kai. Evidently, when they were kids, Babs and Kai were tight, but after he went to reform school (gasp!) they lost touch. But things are better now, right?

Oh noes! A villain dressed like a Japanese schoolgirl-meets-clown attacks Kai during a parade and demands "the formula." Gee, could Kai have some shady dealings? Is his new job not as legit as he makes it out to be? Let me see...

But Babs is too starry-eyed over dating a "normie" (holy cats, who says that???) to realize what's going on right away. And even when she makes the gargantuan mental leap to realize that Kai is smuggling bio-enhanced bacteria in his gut (wait, what?), she still sees him as someone to be saved, not someone who has committed a crime. I mean, didn't she see Brokedown Palace? Doesn't she know what happens to people who smuggle stuff in Southeast Asia? I'm sure it's applicable to biologics!

Anyhoo, in order to save Kai--which the turd doesn't really deserve, but I guess Babs is a much better person than me--Batgirl has to track down the "Students"--martial arts villians--and their "Teacher."  To do so, she trains with an MMA school in Singapore, as one does when traveling in Singapore.

There, she has a cage fight with The Moth, a highly-skilled fighter who just happens to have the same tattoo as Clown Schoolgirl. The Moth is also deaf in some weird nod to "diversity": Babs reasons that since Moth can't hear, she has advanced reflexes. That's really ableist. Finally, she fights a construction worker called Hardhat (I am not making this up) in Seoul, where the villains explain that they're only doing this because they didn't pass their college entrance exams and therefore have crappy lives. Teacher has promised them a serum that will make their brains function at full power (but also maybe make their hair fall out and cause cancer, but who reads the fine print?) so that they can retake their exams, pass, and go to college. Well. That's certainly ... not a villainous motivation I've seen before. I'll give Larson that.

In the end, Batgirl has to "turn off" her eidetic memory in order to beat Teacher. First of all, that's not how that works. Second of all ... yeah, that's still not how that works. Throughout the comic, Batgirl's eidetic memory allows her to replay the past "from all different angles." The way I understand it, having an eidetic memory (which actually hasn't been scientifically proven, but carry on) means you have vivid and specific recall of memories, but it doesn't mean you remember things you didn't actually experience. For example, Batgirl shouldn't be able to see the fight from all angles because she only observed it from one. This is not The Matrix. Plus, I honestly didn't understand why she had to "forget" everything she knew in order to beat Teacher. Because she was thinking too hard? If she caused herself to forget everything, how did she know how to fight? How did she know she was Batgirl? If this had been presented more as a memory palace-type construction, I would have been more forgiving of it.

I don't think I need to go back over the plot in order to point out its weaknesses. Here are some extra problems with the comic, just for fun!

All of the women in the book, with the exception of Babs, are very stereotypical "dragon lady," which is super racist. Don't do this. They are all amazing martial arts fighters with lacquered lips and Evil Plans. 

Babs' costume is ridiculous. You can practically see her whole face, and all of her hair spills out. Yet somehow Kai the genius doesn't figure out that the redheaded, white Batgirl and his redheaded, white girlfriend are the same person. Also, I'm not sure how she changes in the middle of a parade without anyone noticing.

There is a huge disconnect between the perky, twee new Batgirl as Larson writes her (which is really a continuation of the last Batgirl reboot, which I hated) and Albuquerque as an artist. His art for Batgirl is not awful, but it's not the right art. He does dark and twisted very well. If he had done artwork for Gail Simone's Batgirl, that would have been perfect. For this Batgirl? It's too ... clean. Too nice. And because you don't see all the rough edges that make Albuquerque a great horror artist, it just looks dull. And yes, he is the one who did the infamously-pulled Batgirl-and-Joker variant cover, so why DC picked him for this happy-happy Batgirl is just beyond me. Then again, pretty much any decision DC makes is beyond me. Except for Jason Momoa. I like that decision.

Skip this and just reread Simone's Batgirl instead. Or check out Albuquerque's work on American Vampire

I received an ARC of this title from Netgalley for review.

**Note** This review is a warning to not write reviews while exhausted. I mixed up Albuquerque and Gabriel Rodriquez, who actually illustrated Locke & Key. You should read that one too. 

Monday, March 27, 2017

I'm Thinking of Ending Things

This is a short, twisted, poisonous little story in the best of ways.

It's a quotidian enough situation: meeting the boyfriend's parents for the first time. It's awkward and kind of nerve-wracking. But the narrator of our story has another thing on her mind ... she's thinking of ending things. Does she love Jake? Sure. Does she want to be with him forever? Not really. But every time she screws up the courage to start the agonizing process of breaking up, she remembers all of the good things about their relationship, and retreats.

Now, she's stuck in a car with him as they traverse the snowy countryside on their way to Dinner with The Parents. Not an ideal place or time for a breakup. And then there's the matter of the phone calls to her cell phone from her own number. The calls with the same message over and over and over.

Once they arrive at the parents' farmhouse, the strangeness of the situation only intensifies. Jake's parents are more than a little odd. And why is Jake acting so strange after dinner? Why does he want to get slushies in a blizzard, or stop at a huge, rambling high school building in the middle of nowhere?

Interspersed with the whispers of neighbors and friends, gossiping after the fact, this is a taut razor-wire narrative. I guessed the ending fairly early on, but the twists and turns made me doubt myself and find new theories to explore. This is a book that is all about the journey, not the destination. An eerie exploration of the psyche, identity, and what makes us who we are. I'm Thinking of Ending Things is a chilled dagger traced along your spine, causing your heart to speed up and your guts to squirm uncomfortably. It's wonderful and terrifying at the same time. Try it--what's the worst that could happen?

Friday, March 24, 2017

Eliza and Her Monsters

Although I have learned to embrace my geek side, I am lacking in one rather essential facet of geekdom: participation in fanfic.

I had a brief flirtation with (of all things) Pride and Prejudice fanfic around 1999.  By then, the BBC miniseries had been out for a few years, but people were totally obsessed.  There was this subsite of called "Bits of Ivory" and I would read it sometimes (every day after school).  But I never thought of writing or creating anything--I really don't know if I have it in me to create something.  I enjoy commenting and chatting and picking things apart, but putting something together seems huge and imposing and it makes my brain curl up and die.  So I've never actually written anything myself.

Monday, March 20, 2017

A Very Short Review of Kill All Happies

1) The third sentence in the book is "Hey, dumbslut."
2) The second chapter is called "Warpath of Suck"
3) I can't imagine any high schoolers calling a teacher "Miss Ann Thrope"

If you aren't convinced, please see points 1 and 2 and reread until you get it. Girl-on-girl hate (even if it's in the guise of a teehee text from a big sister) is not acceptable. Don't talk about "the warpath," ever. It's not a thing. It invokes the popular image of Native people as bloodthirsty and war-loving. Do not do this. See also: "low man on the totem pole" and sitting "Indian style."

I received an ARC of this title from Netgalley. Grr.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

A Recap of the Phryne Fisher Mysteries I've Read So Far

Technically, I suppose the title of this post should be "listened to," but audiobooks are reading too!

That sounds grammatically dodgy, but it is also the truth.

The reason you should listen to these books has very little to do with the plot, characters, or setting (although at least one of all three is delightful in most of the books) and everything to do with Stephanie Daniel as the brilliant, clever, and talented narrator. I feel awkward listening to narrators who try to hard to make men Very Deep Voiced and women OH SO HIGH AND FLIGHTY TEE HEE LADY VOICES! But Daniel creates a distinctive voice and tone for each character and switches between them effortlessly. I could never read a paper copy of any of the Phryne Fisher books without hearing her in my head. She even makes a valiant (if slightly misguided) attempt at a deep Louisiana accent. Good on her!

For the most part, these are charming mysteries following the amateur detective career of the Hon. Phryne Fisher. Yes, that's Phryne, pronounced "fry-nee" and not "fern" as I had been saying it for years. Goodness. Evidently Phryne was a famous courtesan who offered to pay for the walls of Thebes back in Ye Olde Ancient Tymes. Classical antiquity was rather lacking in my education. Anyhoo, Phryne, who has a shining black cap of hair and emerald green eyes (protagonist signature), is dreadfully bored with her life in the English countryside. Catching foolish young men with a predilection for petty thievery just isn't cutting it, and she certainly isn't about to get married. Phryne is a trained-in-Paris flapper who can shoot a gun, speak French, and maintain her sangfroid in many different situations. She ships off to Melbourne, where she was born, and makes the acquaintance of Scottish lady Doctor MacMillan on the journey. Eventually, we meet Dot, a housemaid contemplating murder who eventually becomes Phryne's personal maid, and Bert and Cec (pronounced "Sess" for Cecil), two ex-soldiers-turned-cab drivers and communists. Bert and Cec are my favorite characters in the series so far.

The rotating paramour trope appears in each book. Phryne likes sex, uses birth control, and has no desire to marry or get particularly attached to anyone. This "man in every book" gets tiresome after a while, especially with all the talk about Phryne's nipples. There is a lot of nipple talk, which always makes me feel awkward when listening to a book. Sometimes I wish Greenwood would just do characters and mystery and skip the sexy bits.

My least favorite was Blood and Circuses, but that seems to be a consensus among readers of the series. So let's go through them in order of what I've completed!

Cocaine Blues

Phryne arrives in Melbourne with a commission to investigate the poor health of Lydia Andrews, daughter of a well-off British colonel who has all the symptoms of being poisoned. After taking up residence in a posh hotel, Phryne acquires a lady's maid and semi-reliable transportation. Not only does she become embroiled in a cocaine ring pursued by Russian dancer vigilantes (long story), but also tracks down an illegal abortionist whose butchery kills most of the women he "treats." A very solid entry into the series.

Flying Too High

Because detectives in series must have many different talents (this is a rule somewhere; I'm sure of it), Phryne is rather a good pilot. When her next case takes her to a flying school whose proprietor's ill temper may make him a threat to his father's life, she shows the men how it's really done. There, she also encounters her former schoolmate Bungee Ross, a very talented pilot who's flown over the Himalayas and so forth. Each novel always has two mysteries; so in addition to The Murdered Father,  Phryne must track down a kidnapped child.

Murder on the Ballarat Train

On the way to the Australian countryside (outback? Must it always be called the outback?) by train, Phryne awakens in a chloroform haze. Rushing through the compartments, she flings open the windows and rouses the occupants, only to notice that an elderly passenger is missing. Her body is later found, mangled, near a water tower. But there's also someone on the train who should not have been: a young teenage girl. She has no memory of who she is or how she got on the train, and she shows signs of having been molested. Phryne's investigations introduce her to a strapping young university student, a creepy mesmerist, and a possible killer fiancé. I quite liked this one because of the stories of Ruth and Jane, two girls that Phryne adopts. She has a heart, after all.

Death At Victoria Dock

If you are going to commit a murder, don't almost shoot Phryne Fisher while doing so. It puts her out of temper and will cause her to pursue you to the ends of the earth ... or at least Melbourne. Passing by Victoria Dock, Phryne's beautiful red Hispano-Suiza gets dinged with bullets, and upon alighting, she sees the body of a beautiful young man, covered in blood and with an anarchist tattoo on his breast. He dies in her arms. Phryne tracks the anarchists with the aid of brooding and melancholy Peter Smith, who becomes her lover. Dot also gets a boyfriend in this book: the innocent but earnest Hugh.

The Green Mill Murder

Out dancing with a rather insipid young man at a jazz club called the Green Mill, Phryne literally falls over a corpse--the body of a young man who had been competing in a dance marathon. Someone managed to stab him through the heart with a thin, sharp instrument in front of the dancers and the band without anyone noticing. Is the charming bandmaster Tintagel Stone involved? To exonerate an innocent man, Phryne must fly her Gypsy Moth over the Australian Alps to find a man suffering from shellshock. He is basically a super-hot bearded Viking and I totally approve of him being with Phryne. I really, really enjoyed the mountain journey part of this book.

Blood and Circuses

Ughhhhhh. This book. Premise: Phryne has friends (and a lover, natch) among the carneys who follow traveling circuses. Their particular circus is being sabotaged, and they want Phryne to find out what's going on. Meanwhile, Detective Inspector Robinson (another one of my favorite characters because of his very plain manner) investigates the murder of an intersex person performing as a "freak" in the circus. Phryne assumes the mantle of bareback trick rider to inflitrate the circus (which of course she pulls off, because of course) and has a lot of angst about being on her own without a maid or anyone. Thankfully, she finds solace in the arms of Jojo the Jewish clown. I am not making this up.

Ruddy Gore

Fans of Gilbert and Sullivan will probably enjoy this more than I did, but this is perfectly serviceable. During a performance of Ruddigore, not one but TWO actors collapse on stage from poison. With the help of a by-Jove-yes-guvnor stagehand and the elegant Lin Chung, Phryne must solve a decades-old murder, investigate a ghost, stop the actors' romantic entanglements from tearing the theatre apart, and solve the murder. This one has some rather gruesome deaths and handily disposes of one of Phryne's former lovers by marrying him off. He was rather boring, anyway. It's hinted that Lin Chung and Phryne will be together for a longer period of time, but I'll have to read the next one to believe that.

If you like light mysteries with loads of atmosphere and a cast of fun characters, check out this series. But do choose the audio versions--they are absolutely marvelous.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

What I Lost

I have been agonizing over this book review for months--literally. I don't know if I'm explaining myself in the clearest manner, but I just have to put it out there and let it be.

I am starting to think it is impossible to read a decent YA book about eating disorders.  The only two that are worth reading are Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson and Believarexic by J.J. Johnson.  However, as someone who had an ED and still wrestles with the messed up thoughts and emotions related to it, I find myself oddly drawn to these books.  I challenge them.  I read them critically and poke and prod the characters to see if they are authentic.  I don't expect happy stories all the time, with loving parents and teachers and friends, but I do expect teens to be shown that they matter, and that someone cares enough about them that they'll be removed from a dangerous situation.  Although the inner voice of Elizabeth, the protagonist of What I Lost, is on point, other aspects of the story overshadow what is good.

Reading books about ED and self-harm and mental illness is exhausting.  I spend a lot of time on them, noting problems and marking questions and wondering how certain ideas or phrases got past editors to make it into the hands of teens.  I wonder at books like Sad Perfect, which I honestly think poses a danger to teens who are self-harming or who have an eating disorder, and I am angry that people praise it.  What I Lost has a more authentic voice than Sad Perfect, but also contains far too many problems for me to recommend it. I'm not saying you cannot enjoy this book or learn something from it--you can. But I ask that you remain aware of how words and numbers harm, and the thoughtless use of words and numbers can harm young readers.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

DNF: Exo

Would I rather read a problematic yet intellectually stimulating book, or one that's as bland and unappetizing as plain gelatin? Each has its advantages and disadvantages: Gelatin Book won't make me apopleptic or threaten violence against the book by making to throw it against the wall. However, at least problematic books give me something to think about.

I've been trying to read Exo by Fonda Lee for several days now, and every time I open the book, it seems as though I'm reading in reverse. That's how slow this one is. I asked myself, "Would I rather read Ender's Game, which is sexist and whose author is ... shall we say, divisive?" Alas, my answer was yes, I would much rather read Ender's Game, because at least it was interesting and I have a soft spot for boot camp-style novels, no matter how trite they are. See also: Starship Troopers by Heinlein and Armor by Stakely. Unfortunately, Exo squanders the opportunity to run with an awesome alien invasion premise and biomechanical nano-armor and falls over its own clumsy attempts to have a plot. I'm also disappointed at the lack of human diversity made either explicit or implicit in the narrative.

If you've read any of my SF reviews, you know I love a good alien invasion story. They're right up there with natural disasters and doomsday scenarios (and their backwater cousins, the MUTANT ANIMALS OF DOOM! attack stories). Exo has a a relatively different setting from most of its YA compatriots in that it takes place years after the aliens have established Earth as a colony. Humanity--as a whole--no longer resists their alien overloads. Wartime cost both sides a great deal, and after long years of fighting, peace as vassals was more palatable than endless fighting to the point of extermination.

The invading aliens, called the zhree, supposedly came to Earth to protect it from Evil Nomadic Zhree Renegades. A benevolent dictatorship is anything but, and humanity fought back with a ferocity that surprised the zhree.

The war lasted longer than either side expected, and when humanity was exhausted of troops and matériel, they surrendered. Not everyone believed that was the right choice; some rebel groups continue guerilla warfare against the zhree and the humans who accept their rule.

Apart from subjugation, these humans strongly object to the modification of human children using zhree nanotechnology. Zhree have physical bodies that are weak, so they developed nanoparticulate armor that was also bionic--integrated into their bodies. They can armor-up with a thought. Human children are selected to go through this Hardening process as well, becoming super soldiers. But are they still human afterward?

That is the chink in the armor that a rebel group called Sapiencees wish to exploit. A propagandist has been writing grandiose and overstuffed prose condemning the evil Exos and the humans that are in erze to the zhree. (Yes, that's how the novel is written, and it's highly confusing--but more on that later). Donovan Reyes is a soldier-in-erze and an exo. He's also the only son of the Prime Liason, who's basically a big cheese collaborator with the zhree. So when a raid goes very wrong and a tiny, malnourished girl manages to get the drop on super-soldier Donovan (what???), the sadistic rebel Kevin and his sidekick Brett take him as a hostage to the Sapience stronghold deep within the Black Hills. There, Donovan learns that the propaganda writer is actually his runaway mother, and he predictably falls in love with Anya, the girl who captured him.

I got 130 pages into the book and nothing was happening. I could not struggle through 200+ more pages of strugglebus romance and didactic musings about What It Means To Be Human. I'm getting sleepy and bored just writing this review.

Donovan has zero personality. He's a giant spoonful of vanilla pudding--unsatisfying and bland and kind of jiggly. Since I originally became aware of the author via the We Need Diverse Books organization, I expected Exo to highlight diversity. It's hinted that Donovan and his dad are vaguely Latinx (Reyes?) but I'm not sure what anyone looks like other than Anya, with her super special manic pixie dream girl red hair. For a relatively rare genetic variant, redheads sure are in abundant supply when it comes to future rebellions. I don't even know what else to talk about in the book because somehow nothing really happened in 130 pages except for Donovan's mom pulling a Darth Vader on him. Also, whenever I think of Kevin the villain, I think of the minion Kevin.

Often, the barest of plots can skate by if you have either a charming and witty narrative voice or solidly intriguing wordlbuilding (having both is even better). Alas, Exo's world of alien domination is as lackluster as its leading man. Lee throws around alien jargon left and right in what I assume is supposed to be an immersive experience, but what is actually a muddled mess of fake words. Several chapters in, we finally find out what it means to be "in erze." Just because of the preposition, my brain kept substituting the word "heat" for "erze" and I was very confused abut mating humans and zhree.

Ha ha! No. "Erze" is a familial order, like a clan. Humans under zhree control belong to an erze and receive the corresponding vocation. So if you belong to the warrior erze, then you are a warrior. Nouns follow a higgledy-piggeldy capticalization scheme ("erze," for example, is not capitalized, but "Soldier" or "Nurse" is. After trudging through so many chapters of Donovan whining about how he IS human, thank you very much, but also part of the great zhree civilization, I asked myself, "Why should I care?"

I found no reason to care about any of this, so I simply walked away. Do not be fooled: a book should not gain accolades because aliens or because dystopia or for any other reason that book pundits like to squee over a new title. Exo is spectacular in only one way, and that's in its dullness.

For the love of all that is good, skip this. Even if you are jonesing for a teen sci-fi book, you can pretty much pick anything else and it will be better than Exo.

I received an ARC of this title from the publisher.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Midnight at the Electric

A photograph. A one-way trip to Mars. A Galápagos tortoise. A carnival quack promising a magical cure-all using electricity. One of the most amazing things about life is how we are all connected by the strangest and yet most mundane of objects. This is generally most apparent when there is an outbreak of illness--gee, look at how many people touched that doorknob and then their faces and then holy Moses! It's influenza galore! However, this magical object story has been done before, and I wondered how much I would care for it this time around in Midnight at the Electric. After rearranging my face after the final, heart-rending cryfest, I was filled with wonder at how such a relatively short story left such a big impression.

I had never read anything by Anderson before Midnight at the Electric (I am going to remedy that posthaste; I promise!), so I wasn't sure what to expect. The story opens as Adri prepares to leave the flooded remains of Miami for the flat fields of Kansas. It's been a long time since the world found out the hard way that yes, global warming is real. The seas rose, sweeping away coastal cities with their pretty boardwalks and glamorous beaches and high rise hotels. Humanity began to once again turn their hopes to the stars. Now, a colony has been established on Mars, and Adri has passed the rigorous selection process and is a future Colonist. The training facility is in Kansas, and the company sponsoring the trip located Adri's only living relative, Lily, in nearby Wichita.

To say that Adri is reclusive, introverted, and curmudgeonly would be a slight understatement. Her cousin Lily chats up a storm, delivers bon mots with a wink and a smile, and has dementia. Sunny, bright Lily sometimes forgets how old she is or what she is doing or other equally existentially critical things. However, Lily maintains her dignity. I never pitied her--I simply loved her, and Adri grows to feel the same way. Plus, there's the enormous tortoise in the backyard. Her name is simply Galapagos. And she's related to a mystery enfolded in a letter from a mysterious Lenore to an equally mysterious Beth.

Catherine Godspeed and her little sister Beezie are suffocating. The dust blanketing Kansas does not confine itself to the ground, but it crawls into corners and flows into lungs. Beezie can't stop coughing, and she's dying. Cathy knows they have to get out, but that would mean leaving Ellis, her friend with whom she is also in love. There's also the mystery of the postcard from Lenore and the fact that they've got a very large tortoise tethered in the backyard.

After Teddy died in the Great War, Lenore's family has tiptoed around their cavernous estate. Everyone and everything is broken, with no chance of being put to rights again. To escape the press of grief, Lenore writes letters to her childhood friend Beth, with whom she hopes to reunite in America. But Beth doesn't write back. Undaunted, Lenore continues to write, and chronicles her fateful meeting with James, a soldier disfigured from the war.

All of these women possess a stubborn, tenacious belief in some truth--a truth that turns out to be far more pliable than they had ever thought. Adri believes that she's best on her own, with no one to love or to love her. Cathy believes that taking an electric cure will heal Beezie's dust pneumonia and they won't have to leave home. Lenore believes that once she arrives in America, she and Beth will continue on just as they had been ten years before. The realization of being wrong will shake them to the core and form them into someone better. The mutability of life is as transformative as it is terrifying.

I dearly wished that this book would not end. Anderson leaves just enough ends unraveled for the reader to have something to ponder. None of the girls have a fairy tale ending. Linked through time and space by a picture, some letters, and Galapagos herself, Lenore, Cathy, and Adri embark on journeys to find love, life, and ultimately, themselves.

Absolutely stunning. Everyone should read this.

I received an ARC of this title from the publisher.

Monday, March 6, 2017

The Wood

These woods are deadly, dark and deep
And they have many paths they keep...

Forgive me, Robert Frost. I could not help but run through Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening and mixing up the words while reading Chelsea Bobulski's upcoming YA novel The Wood. Much like Frost's iconic dark woods, the grove of this novel has a mysterious allure that may be deadly. At least, my teacher enforced a more macabre reading of "Woods."

Of late, I have been skeptical of YA time-travel novels--and any novels dealing with temporal jaunts in general. Although it received accolades and a movie deal, I did not like Dark Matter by Blake Crouch (which I suppose is technically a multiverse novel, but tomato, tomahtoe). I got about two chapters into Gwen Cole's Cold Summer before I started falling asleep because I didn't care at all. Into the Dim was a particular grade of Not Good. Granted, I've not yet read Passenger by Alex Bracken or The Girl From Everywhere by Heidi Heilig. I am saving them for an epically cranky reading period.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Dreamland Burning

I have thoughts about Dreamland Burning.

My anticipation for this book was high, and so my disappointment is more acute.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

February: Diverse Reading Challenge and #diversitybingo2017

I didn't read as many diverse books as I would have liked to in February, but I did move halfway across the country and there's not a lot of time to read in there.  I didn't read very much, period.  I have a bunch of titles lined up for March, though, so it should be better!

Want by Cindy Pon.  I have to figure out how to review this one--it is so, so, so, SO GOOD!  And look at that cover!  A Taiwanese boy on the cover of a SFF YA novel!  This is a tightly written thriller that everyone needs to read.  I'm serious.  Check back for a review (but not too soon--my backlog of stuff to write is ENORMOUS).

Eliza and Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia.  This is repping the neurodiverse front and it, too, is amazing.  I seriously want to read it again.  I even loved the I-have-a-secret-I-can't-tell-the-person-I-love romance--which I NEVER DO!  Who am I??? Am I having an existential crisis?

Dreamland Burning by Jennifer Latham.  Er, I didn't like this one at all.  I thought it was really problematic and I'm working on a detailed review right now.  Stay tuned.

The Inquisitor's Tale by Adam Gidwitz. Holy dogs! Mixed-race monks! A practicing Jewish character! This book has everything and I loved it unconditionally.  And we have rep on the cover, which is aces.

And here's my updated #diversitybingo2017 sheet:

For more bloggers doing the Diverse Reading Challenge, check out Octavia, Angie, and Shelley's blog at Read.Sleep.Repeat!

Monday, February 27, 2017

The Inquisitor's Tale

The Librarian's Tale:

The Inquisitor's Tale is the Canterbury Tales-inspired middle grade novel that you never knew you always needed. I promise you that you will not be disappointed if you read this. If you are, I will do some sort of medieval penance.

Okay, so maybe not medieval penance. That stuff was off the hook scary. Hairshirts and scourges and an annual bath.

Anyway, I knew from meeting Adam Gidwitz at BEA 2016 that I could expect a farting dragon, which is most excellent, but I didn't realize how deeply and thoughtfully this book would discuss things like religious persecution, the nature of faith, and what makes a person truly a saint.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Prisoner of Ice and Snow

Prisoner of Ice and Snow is a perfectly fine middle grade novel that never quite rises above the level of "perfectly fine."  It reminded me a bit of Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy in that it had some very good ideas and settings, but the delivery was rushed and too many elements introduced.

Valor has to attempt to kill a member of the royal family in order to save her sister.  Ever since Sasha was arrested for the theft of a very important music box that had a part in a treaty with a neighboring country, Valor has been trying to figure out how to save her.

Okay, I know you just stopped on the "very important music box" part.  I know.  Me too.  It's really ... really ... unconvincing.  Why would a ruler agree to a treaty only if they got a music box--even if it is a Fabergé-esque music box with an egg on top?  Even if the other party wanted a token of good faith, a music box seems an odd choice.  Personally, I would go with a sword or something.  Something fancy yet useful.  Anyway, enough about the music box.  It's basically a MacGuffin.

Sasha was imprisoned in the ultra-scary, ultra-inescapable, ultra-gulagy Tyur'ma prison, where all the criminal children of the kingdom of Demidova are sent.  It's a big prison, and it's chockful of kiddos.  Which leads me to wonder what, exactly, are all these other kids in for?  Sassing their parents?  Eating an extra piece of bacon for breakfast?  Because Sasha, Evil and Dangerous Music Box Thief, has been placed with the Black Hands, which is the scariest and most violent area of the prison.  Oh noes! You really have to question the government of a country that has a special prison just for kids.

So in order to free her sister, Valor first has to get into prison.  And what better way to assure her incarceration than to attempt to assassinate Anatol, the Crown Prince of Demidova, during a festival?  Valor is an ace shot with a bow, so she's skilled enough to get close but never actually hurt the prince.  Per her plan, she's sentenced by Queen Ana, who recently banished Valor's family for their other daughter's alleged theft, and sent to the prison for children that is so well-fortified that an army couldn't break in.

Once in prison, Valor doesn't initially get along with the other kid prisoners, like her roommate, who is introduced as having an issue with being dirty and makes everyone wash their hands. Except that only comes up twice in the novel and is then forgotten. This is not character development.

Valor heads out with the chain gangs to pick gems out of rock and do the laundry and other slavish work.  Somehow, she's also able to steal things like a pickaxe and a piece of metal to use as a lockpick because Valor is Super Special.  The rest of the novel involves Valor and Sasha attempting to escape the prison via Secret Tunnels that no one knows about except for Valor's dad.  Along the way, they accumulate extra escapees despite being warned to trust no one, and one of their friends is definitely a traitor.

Isn't it a given when one character says "Trust no one!" and the main character does the exact opposite that someone is going to be a traitor?

Anyway, the actual escape is a rushed mess and leaves the book with at least 50 pages to go because it happens too early.  We then have a second crisis wherein Valor confronts the real music box thief (I mean, if you didn't figure out that Sasha was innocent, then... I can't help you) and histrionics are had but then reason prevails and Valor and Sasha are rewarded.  Happy ending!

In a middle grade book, I don't expect an intricate plot, but I do expect something that makes sense. The lack of characterization, particularly for the secondary characters, adds a lot of confusion.  At the end, when everyone was escaping, I kept asking myself, "Who are these people?  How are they all friends now?" The kids all have generic Russianesque names like Viktor or Katia or Nicolai (spelling from the book, not me) and have generic dialogue and fall into predefined roles, like the prickly person with a heart of gold, and the charming thief, and the cranky bossy girl.

Yes, there are good ideas in this story. I like that Valor is described as being tall and strong instead of the usual "I'm too skinny and delicate" aesthetic. I like the idea of Tyur'ma and its various punishments. The settings were rendered realistically, and the scene where Valor kills an entire wolf pack from the battlements of the prison is pretty cool.

Everyone who's read this so far seems to have loved it, and that's fine.  I did not, which is also fine. I would consider this a secondary purchase.

P.S. Who names their daughter Valor in a vaguely Tsarist Russia-inspired fantasy land?

Monday, February 13, 2017

I'm Moving!

Although I've been reading like a fiend, trying to finish as many ARCs and library books as humanly possible before they must be boxed up or returned, respectively, I've not found a lot of time for reviewing. I have five SIX drafts to work on and my brain just isn't there.  

Also, I'm still recovering from an ALL THE FEELS attack thanks to Elle Katharine White's brilliant Heartstone.  This means that I tend to speak in absolutes and in gifs.

I'll still be on Twitter @Pamelibrariland, or you can follow this blog for updates with Bloglovin' or email subscription using the boxes over there --------------->

Catch you on the other side of the country!

Friday, February 10, 2017

Mini-Review: The 5th Wave

Critics often say that it is better to do one thing and do it well than to do many things and do them with mediocrity.  But what about the people who do many things and do them all well?  People like Rick Yancey.

This is my third book/series by Yancey, and I'm really impressed by how he changes voice, vocabulary, and structure to suit the story he is telling.  This is not to say that I dislike formulaic books--they are rather like delicious, empty calories for my brain on days when I just need to unwind.  Yet as I began reading The 5th Wave, I had a bit of trouble reconciling this alien invasion survival story and its direct prose with the ornate and gruesome Monstrumologist books.  However, as the book progresses and the characters begin to open up to each other and to the reader, Yancey's deft touch with language and imagery comes to the fore and stuns you.  I never thought that a book about the end of humanity could be so beautiful.

I cannot say much about this book that has not already been said.  The 5th Wave is narrated by three distinct voices, which are, blessedly, actually distinct.  Cassie been on her own for a while--just her, Bear, and her AK-47.  Cassie tells us, via her journal, about the invasion.  Earth is now in the midst of the Fourth Wave, where aliens either control or have infiltrated other humans, invisibly.  No one can be trusted.  Nowhere is safe.  Cassie dubs these creatures Silencers.  

But Cassie can't stay hidden in the woods forever, even though she would like to.  She promised her little brother that she would come find him, and that promise cannot be broken.  She will bring Bear back to him and save what remains of her family.  So she ventures out, risking her life in the wintry, desolate wastes of Ohio.

There are Silencers in the woods, and one of them tracks Cassie.  But he can't bring himself to kill her.  Why can't he do it?  Why does he care so much about this human girl?  Instead of a headshot, he shoots Cassie in the leg and leaves before knowing if she dies or not.

Meanwhile, kids are being trained to fight back against the aliens.  This is no Independence Day-style hooah rally for the destiny of humanity.  No--this is pitiful and weak.  It's the last of the last-ditch effort to stop Them.

Yancey weaves his narrators together, in and out of the truth, in and out of life and death in a feat of literary legerdemain.  This is a meditation on love, humanity, and the true nature of survival.

Also, this book has reinforced my conviction that I would probably be one of the first to die in some sort of alien/zombie invasion, as I am an awful runner, have never fired a gun, and faint when I see gruesome wounds.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

What I'm Reading Wednesday

Because I'll be moving in about two weeks (yikes!), I am simultaneously packing and trying to cram tons of books and ARCs in before I have to pack everything for good.  Plus, we just got my December/January order of YA books in (arghghghghgh backups are not cool), so I snagged a bunch of newish YA fic to read.

But as for what I'm currently reading, here we go:

Girl In Pieces by Kathryn Glasgow.  My library's copy was checked out and not brought back, which, for teen books, is a sign that they hit home and are desperately needed (see also: Ellen Hopkins, Jason Reynolds, and Julie Anne Peters).  So far, the story is raw but true, and a welcome antidote to more saccharine treatments of self-harm that I've seen.

The Green Mill Murder by Kerry Greenwood.  I am utterly addicted to the audiobooks of the Phryne Fisher mysteries, so much so that I don't like driving without having one in the car!

Monstress, Vol. 1 by Marjorie Liu, Sana Takeda, and Russ Wooton.  This is so visually stunning that I don't know where to look.  Intricate and fascinating,

Eliza and Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia.

Midnight at the Electric by Jodi Lynn Anderson.  I'm getting a very awesome time-hopping vibe from this one, and the first few chapters are the ultimate hook.  I feel obsessed already.

Blogger isn't playing well with graphics at ALL tonight so sorry for no pictures.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Artemis: Wild Goddess of the Hunt

Another stellar entry in George O'Connor's Olympians series.  This one isn't getting a ton of love on Goodreads, and I loved it, so I think that means I made the right decision.  GR reviews are beocming less and less useful.  I mean, if we start at the relatively low level of usefulness and trustworthiness that we had at the beginning, pre-Amazon takeover.

All bookish drama aside, I loved this book.  O'Connor has written an unapologetically feminist graphic novel treatment of Artemis when most other authors and stories about her tend to downplay how she fights for her right to choose and instead emphasize her cruelty.  Exception being made, of course, for Riordan's genius Artemis' Wild Hunt empowering girls to do their own thing.

Really, any book about gods is going to contain cruelty; however, I think that Artemis often gets typecast as a frigid lady-dog who loves punishing people precisely because of her choice regarding men and marriage.  The inference is that Artemis punishes mortals like Niobe and Actaeon because of some repressed sexual issues since she has decided not to marry.  I'd like to just point out that Hera, goddess of marriage, is one of the most vindictive people ever.  Plus, Actaeon was a creeper.  A level-one stalker-creeper and he deserved it.  Okay, maybe not the being-torn-to-death-by-his-own-dogs bit, but definitely the transformation bit.

O'Connor has really outdone himself with this one, presenting Artemis as a confident young woman who balances being a helper and a leader, a huntress and a protector.  She knows what she wants and she goes for it, and if that makes readers uncomfortable, then that's on them and their sexist ways.

Another amazing addition to an extraordinary series.  This should be in all libraries.

I received a review copy from First Second.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

The Upside of Unrequited

I don't generally go for sweet books.  For books that make you go "aww!" and think that life could actually be okay.  It may be in my DNA to be a pessimist, because I find optimism extraordinarily difficult to practice.  My mind constantly runs "what if" scenarios that involve the worst possible outcome.  I am, in short, a mess.

However, Becky Albertalli may have cured me of my immunity to sweet romance and my inability to finish a book with a smile on my face.  I cannot rightly describe The Upside of Unrequited as being fluffy, because it deals with real and serious topics like anxiety, depression, and jealousy.  But at the end, I wanted to stand up and cheer, because my heart was full of happiness.  This novel is funny and incisive and inclusive and just super romantic.

I've been thinking about this, and The Upside of Unrequited reminded me very much of a Jane Austen novel.  It's a comedy of errors that hits you right in the feels.  The romantic relationship in this one is more Elinor and Edward than Elizabeth and Darcy, but we can't all have brooding rich men as boyfriends.  We have misunderstandings, awful relatives, a heroine caught between the Dashing Guy and the Quiet Guy, and lots of family shenanigans.  It's wonderful.  I could do a whole breakdown of character matchups, but that would make this review ridiculously long, and I already think that the intensity of my admiration has clouded my ability to review properly.

Note/warning: Because I kept thinking about Albertalli's previous book, the smashing Simon Vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, I was hungry for Oreos.  As someone with Celiac, I have never had a legit, Oreo-brand Golden Oreo, ergo I am, by default, in Albertalli's camp in the Great Oreo Twitter Feud.  However, the craving for Oreos was so strong while I was reading this book that I drove 45 minutes to obtain two boxes of Trader Joe's gluten free Joe-Joes.  These are the closest to Oreos in my book.  Confession: I did get the peppermint kind.  They were limited edition!  They are also delicious!  Becky Albertalli not only has the ability to write amazing novels, but also to make me crave Oreos.  Brava.

"I don't entirely understand how anyone gets a boyfriend. Or a girlfriend. It just seems like the most impossible odds. You have to have a crush on the exact right person and the exact right moment. And they have to like you back. A perfect alignment of feelings and circumstances. It's almost unfathomable that it happens as often as it does."

Molly Peskin-Suso has had loads of crushes.  But not one date.  Not one boyfriend.  Her twin sister, Cassie, confidently goes after all of the girls she crushes on.  Cassie is confident and strong-willed, while Molly is "generically pretty," shy, and "nowhere close to willowy."  She assumes that people wouldn't want to go out with her because of her weight, so her crushes, although passionate, remain unrequited.  So when Cassie meets Mina at an under-18 club, and it's clear that they are going to be a couple, Cassie tries to arrange for Mina's friend Will to become Molly's boyfriend, and not just crush number 27.

And Will's cute, sure.  His hipster bangs are beyond hot, and he's sweet.  But how could he ever like Molly?  And what about her very interesting but also very confusing feelings for Reid, her coworker who's totally into D&D and awkwardly white sneakers?

The plot of The Upside of Unrequited is quite simple, and it works because of the spectacular characterization.  Molly's inner voice is spot-on, and sometimes I found myself wondering if maybe Molly and I were the same person in some sort of weird trans-textual brain twinning.  And even though Molly is kind of awkward and afraid of risks, she's also really bold in standing up for herself and her body and her right to be treated like any other human being.  She's extremely aware of all the crap that society spouts about fatness, and she's determined to be happy.  Even if it means screwing up, totally and completely.

I think this is the first teen book I've read that has two moms in an interracial relationship who each have a baby by the same donor.  Well, in Molly and Cassie's case, babies.  This means that Molly and Cassie are white and Xavier is mixed, and no one believes that they're actually related to their black cousins.  They're also Jewish!  It's a blended family in every sense of the word.

Molly really is the best thing about this book.  Whether it's ruminations on the total weirdness of bikini waxing or having feels or feeling jealous that your twin sister didn't even tell you she was in a relationship and you had to find out on Facebook ... she's pretty much my everything.

Although 2017 has been a really, really, really awful year so far, it's a great year for books.  I'm adding The Upside of Unrequited to my Best Books list, along with Allegedly, The Hate U Give, and What Girls Are Made Of.

I received an ARC of this title from Edelweiss.


Tuesday, January 31, 2017

2017 Diverse Reading Challenge: January Update

I think I did rather well for my first month of Read.Sleep.Repeat's 2017 Diverse Reading Challenge!
I've already reviewed some of these books, while others have reviews in the works, and still others I simply savored.


Anyway, here we go!

The Education of Margot Sanchez by Lilliam Rivera: Latinx, #ownvoices

The Real Boy by Anne Ursu: neurodiverse main character

Life Without Nico by Andrea Maturana: Latinx, #ownvoices

Juana and Lucas by Juana Medina: Latinx, #ownvoices

Flying Lessons and Other Stories ed. by Ellen Oh: All the things?  (review to come)

Written in the Stars by Aisha Saeed: West Asian, #ownvoices

And I'm adding my Diversity Bingo 2017 card here as well: I've got a long way to go, but I have a bunch of ideas for books!

I'm moving next month (ahhhhh!), but I'm going to try and read as much as possible.


The Tommyknockers

I've read many reviews that state, rather unequivocally, that this is a bad book.  I disagree.  It's certainly not the best thing I've read by King, and yeah, it doesn't make sense, and yeah, it really needed an editor, but King always manages to present incredibly creepy situations and vignettes.  The Tommyknockers has a fascinating premise, but gets bogged down in disconnected details that cause the novel to swell to almost 700 pages.

From what I've read, King was on a lot of coke while writing this, and I think that explains the lack of editing, the frenzied jumps in narration, and the general lack of caring if anything makes sense or not.  I certainly don't condone drug abuse or say that quality control can be ignored if you are, as my father would put it, "gooped up on gop."  And yet.   There is something in the manic pace of The Tommyknockers that gives insight into the mind of a drug addict, and even explores what it is like to create while under the influence.

Ostensibly, this is a story about aliens.  When I think of Stephen King, I don't think aliens.  I think eldritch horrors or the mundane become monstrous.  His strength is in portraying the horror that lurks underneath the veneer of normalcy, and I think that's part of why The Tommyknockers isn't a great book.  Aliens are too out there.  But the story is saved from going completely off the rails by its grounding in good ol' rural Maine (ayuh) and some set pieces that are truly, flesh-crawlingly creepy.

Warning:  Here be spoilers aplenty!

Bobbi Anderson is happy with her life, even though she's not successful in the popular use of the term.  After inheriting her granddad's farm in Haven, Maine, she's spent more than a decade in the rural community, writing westerns.  Her companion is a beagle named Peter, and if her old lover and former professor Jim Gardener comes up for a visit, well, so much the better.  But life is pretty good.  Until she falls over something on the forest floor.

It's not a rock or a root or anything natural.  It's smooth and strangely alluring.  Bobbi is compelled to dig it up.  Soon, her entire life revolves around the excavation of this object, which quickly reveals itself to be a massive flying saucer.  The more time she spends in the presence of the object, the stranger Bobbi becomes.  She buys bucketloads of batteries and constructs cold-fusion engines for her water heater and levitating pickup trucks.  Peter retreats from the brink of death, his cataract shrinking and his youthful energy returning.  Soon, the influence of the alien vessel reaches beyond Bobbi's farm.  All of the inhabitants of Haven become affected.

And now, a brief lesson on how to tell if you have been corrupted by strange alien energy/mind waves:

  • Have your teeth started falling out?
  • How about your hair?  Is it falling out in clumps?
  • Do you sleep?
  • Do you have a compulsion to go dig up a giant flying saucer?
  • Are you forgetting things?
  • Have you found your house littered with gadgets that you don't remember making?
  • Are you bleeding from one or more bodily orifices?
  • Are you forgetting things?
  • Have you developed telepathy?

Meanwhile, Jim Gardener joins a poetry tour of New England in order to make some much-needed cash.  It's a thankless job that requires him to work with someone he truly hates, but eh, you can't fall much lower.  Who's going to hire a guy that shot his wife in the face (it's okay, his ex-wife is still alive).  Who's going to hire an alcoholic who goes on benders so epic that entire weeks are lost to him?  Who's going to hire a guy who got arrested by the Feds for bringing a concealed weapon to an anti-nuclear power protest?

After a sort of mental breakdown after a college poetry reading, Gardener contemplates suicide, but suddenly senses that Bobbi, his old flame, is in very serious trouble.  So, instead of jumping into the ocean, he heads up to Haven, where he finds Bobbi emaciated, exhausted, and strangely cagey about Peter's death.  Quickly, he realizes that the eerie green light flashing in Bobbi's shed, the half-buried ship, and the townspeople's strange and homicidal behavior is all connected, so he keeps himself in a state of perpetual inebriation.  This, along with a large metal plate in his skull, renders him mostly immune to the effects of the alien ship.  He does not "become" like all of the other Havenites.

As the "becoming" progresses, more people start dying under suspicious circumstances.  The last 70% of the book is a chronicle of a mishmash of characters doing random things, all while Bobbi and her buddies keep "becoming."  The day is saved at the very last minute by the arrival of every Federal agency ever, and by Jim Gardener, whose corpse ends up on the spaceship as it zooms back into space.

A lot of the story just doesn't make sense, because it really should have been cut.  Like how the air in Haven is toxic to outsiders and causes transformations, but there's also some sort of weird radiation from the ship that causes the same transformations.  Is it one or the other?  Both?  Gardener goes on long tirades about The Evil of Nuclear Power and lets Bobbi and her friends continue building their amazing machines because it might save the world from Evil Nuclear Power.  Why does the presence of metal in human bodies prevent the spaceship from affecting them?

However, some characters and situations are exquisitely weird and creepy.  Bobbi's hated Sissy, an indomitable force of nastiness, marches into town with a head full of metal teeth.  The town constable consoles herself in her childless, widowed state with a house full of dolls, and then the dolls start talking to her.  And the revelation of what is inside the shed is expected, but no less terrifying.  Poor Peter.

All in all, this was a fun book to read while traveling, but it's not a crucial read.  Skip this in favor of Revival or The Stand or 'Salem's Lot.