Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Top Ten Tuesday: Fall To-Be-Read

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. This week’s topic is top ten books on your fall TBR. A few weeks ago, I asked everyone on my blog and social media what I should read and review this fall. Here’s what you chose for me.

A Gathering of Shadows by V.E. Schwab

It has been four months since a mysterious obsidian stone fell into Kell's possession. Four months since his path crossed with Delilah Bard. Four months since Prince Rhy was wounded, and since the nefarious Dane twins of White London fell, and four months since the stone was cast with Holland's dying body through the rift–back into Black London.  
Now, restless after having given up his smuggling habit, Kell is visited by dreams of ominous magical events, waking only to think of Lila, who disappeared from the docks as she always meant to do. As Red London finalizes preparations for the Element Games–an extravagant international competition of magic meant to entertain and keep healthy the ties between neighboring countries–a certain pirate ship draws closer, carrying old friends back into port.  
And while Red London is caught up in the pageantry and thrills of the Games, another London is coming back to life. After all, a shadow that was gone in the night will reappear in the morning. But the balance of magic is ever perilous, and for one city to flourish, another London must fall.

Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer

Miranda’s disbelief turns to fear in a split second when a meteor knocks the moon closer to the earth. How should her family prepare for the future when worldwide tsunamis wipe out the coasts, earthquakes rock the continents, and volcanic ash blocks out the sun? As summer turns to Arctic winter, Miranda, her two brothers, and their mother retreat to the unexpected safe haven of their sunroom, where they subsist on stockpiled food and limited water in the warmth of a wood-burning stove.  
Told in journal entries, this is the heart-pounding story of Miranda’s struggle to hold on to the most important resource of all—hope—in an increasingly desperate and unfamiliar world.

Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk

Every weekend, in basements and parking lots across the country, young men with good white-collar jobs and absent fathers take off their shoes and shirts and fight each other barehanded for as long as they have to. Then they go back to those jobs with blackened eyes and loosened teeth and the sense that they can handle anything. Fight Club is the invention of Tyler Durden, projectionist, waiter and dark, anarchic genius. And it's only the beginning of his plans for revenge on a world where cancer support groups have the corner on human warmth.

The Power of Myth by Joseph Campbell

Campbell's most impressive gift was his ability to take a contemporary situation, such as the murder and funeral of President John F. Kennedy, and help us understand its impact in the context of ancient mythology. Herein lies the power of The Power of Myth, showing how humans are apt to create and live out the themes of mythology.

IT by Stephen King

To the children, the town was their whole world. To the adults, knowing better, Derry, Maine was just their hometown: familiar, well-ordered for the most part. A good place to live.  
It was the children who saw—and felt—what made Derry so horribly different. In the storm drains, in the sewers, IT lurked, taking on the shape of every nightmare, each one's deepest dread. Sometimes IT reached up, seizing, tearing, killing . . .  
The adults, knowing better, knew nothing.  
Time passed and the children grew up, moved away. The horror of IT was deep-buried, wrapped in forgetfulness. Until they were called back, once more to confront IT as IT stirred and coiled in the sullen depths of their memories, reaching up again to make their past nightmares a terrible present reality.

Me Before You by JoJo Moyes

Lou Clark knows lots of things. She knows how many footsteps there are between the bus stop and home. She knows she likes working in The Buttered Bun tea shop and she knows she might not love her boyfriend Patrick.  
What Lou doesn't know is she's about to lose her job or that knowing what's coming is what keeps her sane.  
Will Traynor knows his motorcycle accident took away his desire to live. He knows everything feels very small and rather joyless now and he knows exactly how he's going to put a stop to that. 
What Will doesn't know is that Lou is about to burst into his world in a riot of color. And neither of them knows they're going to change the other for all time.

The Ghosts of Heaven by Marcus Sedgwick

Four linked stories boldly chronicle madness, obsession, and creation through the ages. Beginning with the cave-drawings of a young girl on the brink of creating the earliest form of writing, Sedgwick traverses history, plunging into the seventeenth century witch hunts and a 1920s insane asylum where a mad poet's obsession with spirals seems to be about to unhinge the world of the doctor trying to save him. Sedgwick moves beyond the boundaries of historical fiction and into the future in the book's final section, set upon a spaceship voyaging to settle another world for the first time.

The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins

Carolyn's not so different from the other people around her. She likes guacamole and cigarettes and steak. She knows how to use a phone. Clothes are a bit tricky, but everyone says nice things about her outfit with the Christmas sweater over the gold bicycle shorts. 
After all, she was a normal American herself once.  
That was a long time ago, of course. Before her parents died. Before she and the others were taken in by the man they called Father. 
In the years since then, Carolyn hasn't had a chance to get out much. Instead, she and her adopted siblings have been raised according to Father's ancient customs. They've studied the books in his Library and learned some of the secrets of his power. And sometimes, they've wondered if their cruel tutor might secretly be God. 
Now, Father is missing—perhaps even dead—and the Library that holds his secrets stands unguarded. And with it, control over all of creation. 
As Carolyn gathers the tools she needs for the battle to come, fierce competitors for this prize align against her, all of them with powers that far exceed her own. 
But Carolyn has accounted for this. 
And Carolyn has a plan. 
The only trouble is that in the war to make a new God, she's forgotten to protect the things that make her human.

Does My Head Look Big in This? by Randa Abdel-Fattah

Sixteen-year-old Amal makes the decision to start wearing the hijab full-time and everyone has a reaction. Her parents, her teachers, her friends, people on the street. But she stands by her decision to embrace her faith and all that it is, even if it does make her a little different from everyone else.  
Can she handle the taunts of "towel head," the prejudice of her classmates, and still attract the cutest boy in school?

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami

In a Tokyo suburb a young man named Toru Okada searches for his wife's missing cat. Soon he finds himself looking for his wife as well in a netherworld that lies beneath the placid surface of Tokyo. As these searches intersect, Okada encounters a bizarre group of allies and antagonists: a psychic prostitute; a malevolent yet mediagenic politician; a cheerfully morbid sixteen-year-old-girl; and an aging war veteran who has been permanently changed by the hideous things he witnessed during Japan's forgotten campaign in Manchuria.

Leaving Fishers by Margaret Peterson Haddix

Dorry Stevens, new to town, is unbearably lonely until she is befriended by Angela and her friends, members of a religious group called Fishers of Men. Dorry begins attending Fishers activities with them, and is baptized. She is expected to obey unquestioningly and to recruit. Dorry grows troubled as to whether the Fishers speak for God or themselves. When she eventually breaks with them, she is cut off cold, and fears that she will be damned. Through help, she begins to think for herself and tries to build new relationships with God and other people.

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

An audacious, darkly glittering novel set in the eerie days of civilization's collapse, Station Eleven tells the spellbinding story of a Hollywood star, his would-be savior, and a nomadic group of actors roaming the scattered outposts of the Great Lakes region, risking everything for art and humanity.

Have you read any of these? What’s on your fall reading list?

Monday, September 26, 2016

Review: Guys Read: Funny Business – Jon Scieszka

Guys Read: Funny Business – Jon Scieszka

Funny Business is based around the theme of—what else?—humor, and if you’re familiar with Jon and Guys Read, you already know what you’re in store for: ten hilarious stories from some of the funniest writers around. Before you’re through, you’ll meet a teenage mummy; a kid desperate to take a dip in the world’s largest pool of chocolate milk; a homicidal turkey; parents who hand over their son’s room to a biker; the only kid in his middle school who hasn’t turned into a vampire, wizard, or superhero; and more. And the contributor list includes bestselling authors, award winners, and fresh new talent alike: Mac Barnett, Eoin Colfer, Christopher Paul Curtis, Kate DiCamillo (writing with Jon Scieszka), Paul Feig, Jack Gantos, Jeff Kinney, David Lubar, Adam Rex, and David Yoo.

Review: When I was a kid, I was what everybody called a “reluctant reader.” Basically, if you put a book in my hands, I’d do everything in my childish power not to read it. Jon Scieszka’s picture books are some of the first books I remember reading on my own and actually liking. His strange sense of humor worked on rebellious child-me.

I was very interested to see what kind of anthology Scieszka would curate. The Guys Read series is aimed at “reluctant reader” middlegrade boys, and the theme of this particular book is “humor.” Like all anthologies, this one is a mixed bag. A few of the stories are great, a few are terrible, and most are somewhere in between.

“Your brain is doing some great work when it's laughing.” – Guys Read: Funny Business

For me, these are the standout stories:

“Best of Friends” by Mac Barnett is about an annoying kid who tells his classmates that he won a sweepstakes. Suddenly, everyone wants to be his best friend. The characters in this story are all morally gray, so I automatically liked it.

“Artemis Begins” by Eoin Colfer is autobiographical (I think?). Eoin’s younger brother breaks their mother’s acting award, and his older brother goes to great lengths to keep the younger brother out of trouble. It was interesting to learn that many of Eoin’s story ideas come from growing up with rambunctious siblings.

My favorite story is “A Fistful of Feathers” by David Yoo. It’s about a boy whose parents attempt to replace him with a pet turkey. The plot is completely ridiculous, but somehow it’s also compelling. The characters are unique enough that I wanted to keep reading to find out what happens to them.

I wasn’t sure if I liked or hated “What? You Think You Got It Rough?” by Christopher Paul Curtis when I finished it. It’s about an abusive grandfather who tells his grandson a disgusting story about hotdog nipples. The ending is too sappy for me, but the story is well-written and gross, so it somehow stuck in my mind.

It’s hard for me to critique this anthology because I’m about as far from the target audience as you can get. For me, none of these stories are funny. They’re creative, entertaining, and totally disgusting, but I don’t remember laughing while reading. I can see how this book would appeal to young boys, though, so if you have a young reluctant reader, you might want to try this anthology.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

The Sunday Post #66

The Sunday Post is hosted by The Caffeinated Book Reviewer. It’s a chance to recap the past week, talk about next week, and share news. It’s Monday, What Are You Reading? is hosted by Book Date. I get to tell you what I’ve read recently.

On The Blog Last Week

On The Blog This Week

  • On Monday I review Guys Read: Funny Business by Jon Scieszka.
  • On Tuesday I show you which books you guys picked for me to read this fall.
  • On Wednesday I review Through the Woods by Emily Carroll.
  • On Thursday I tell you what I’ve been doing in September.

In My Reading Life

Last week, I finished Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman. Then I read The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate and The Gigantic Beard that was Evil by Stephen Collins. Right now, I’m reading The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty.

In The Rest Of My Life

Five things that made me happy last week:

  1. Taking pictures.
  2. I’m caught up on book reviews.
  3. I’ve almost finished my final big assignment of graduate school.
  4. All the fall TV shows are starting.
  5. Hiking with my over-enthusiastic idiot dogs.

I hope you had a great week! See you around the blogosphere!

Saturday, September 24, 2016

The “One Of Every Flavor” Book Haul

Stacking the Shelves is hosted by Tynga’s Reviews. I get to show off all the books I’ve gotten recently.

This haul has a little bit of everything. Poetry, kids’ books, graphic novels, modern classics, novels. I guess there’s a genre for everybody in this batch.

Fight Club – Chuck Palahniuk

Every weekend, in basements and parking lots across the country, young men with good white-collar jobs and absent fathers take off their shoes and shirts and fight each other barehanded for as long as they have to. Then they go back to those jobs with blackened eyes and loosened teeth and the sense that they can handle anything. Fight Club is the invention of Tyler Durden, projectionist, waiter and dark, anarchic genius. And it's only the beginning of his plans for revenge on a world where cancer support groups have the corner on human warmth.

The Vegetarian – Han Kang

Before the nightmare, Yeong-hye and her husband lived an ordinary life. But when splintering, blood-soaked images start haunting her thoughts, Yeong-hye decides to purge her mind and renounce eating meat. In a country where societal mores are strictly obeyed, Yeong-hye's decision to embrace a more “plant-like” existence is a shocking act of subversion. And as her passive rebellion manifests in ever more extreme and frightening forms, scandal, abuse, and estrangement begin to send Yeong-hye spiraling deep into the spaces of her fantasy. In a complete metamorphosis of both mind and body, her now dangerous endeavor will take Yeong-hye—impossibly, ecstatically, tragically—far from her once-known self altogether.

Cold City – Cathy McSporran

Two weeks after his death, Susan McPherson sees her father on the street in Glasgow. Not long after, she takes an overdose and is committed to a psychiatric institution. There, she is given a cocktail of drugs and soon finds herself moving between the reality of hospital and an alternate city, permanently covered in snow and ice. In her new world, her gay brother, Jamie, is now married to Claire. The country is dominated by militant pagan groups and Christian fundamentalism is on the rise, led by the charismatic preacher, McLean. Susan is befriended by Raj, a mysterious man who creates paintings of wolves and Norse legends. As Susan is drawn into the struggles and relationships of this new parallel world, her grip on the "first world" loosens further. Can she resolve the crises in the ice-bound city in order to return to reality?

Through The Woods – Emily Carroll

Five mysterious, spine-tingling stories follow journeys into (and out of?) the eerie abyss. 
These chilling tales spring from the macabre imagination of acclaimed and award-winning comic creator Emily Carroll. 
Come take a walk in the woods and see what awaits you there . . .

The One And Only Ivan – Katherine Applegate

Ivan is an easygoing gorilla. Living at the Exit 8 Big Top Mall and Video Arcade, he has grown accustomed to humans watching him through the glass walls of his domain. He rarely misses his life in the jungle. In fact, he hardly ever thinks about it at all. 
Instead, Ivan thinks about TV shows he’s seen and about his friends Stella, an elderly elephant, and Bob, a stray dog. But mostly Ivan thinks about art and how to capture the taste of a mango or the sound of leaves with color and a well-placed line. 
Then he meets Ruby, a baby elephant taken from her family, and she makes Ivan see their home—and his own art—through new eyes. When Ruby arrives, change comes with her, and it’s up to Ivan to make it a change for the better.

Native Guard: Poems – Natasha Trethewey

Growing up in the Deep South, Natasha Trethewey was never told that in her hometown of Gulfport, Mississippi, black soldiers had played a pivotal role in the Civil War. Off the coast, on Ship Island, stood a fort that had once been a Union prison housing Confederate captives. Protecting the fort was the second regiment of the Louisiana Native Guards—one of the Union's first official black units. Trethewey's new book of poems pays homage to the soldiers who served and whose voices have echoed through her own life.

Have you read any of these? What did you think?

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Nonfiction Tag

This tag was created by Wendy @ Falconer’s Library. I’m embarrassed to say that I don’t read much nonfiction (is it too early for 2017 reading resolutions?), but I thought I’d give this tag a try.

You guys are about to get a small glimpse at my bizarre interests. I’m terrible at math (maybe I should buy a math book), but I’d guess that 85% of the nonfiction on my shelves is about religious extremism, 10% is writing reference books, 4% somehow involves dogs, and 1% is other random stuff. Basically, I read a lot about cults, dogs, and grammar.

Nonfiction Tag

1. A book well outside your base of knowledge?

I have 2 philosophy books on my shelf, but I’ve never been interested in philosophy. One is Being and Time by Martin Heidegger. The other is The Portable Nietzsche. I read both of them and remember pretty much nothing about them.

2. A book that you refer to often?

I refer to my literature and editing books all the time. The ones that come off my shelf most often are The Chicago Manual of Style, The MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers, and A Handbook to Literature. Don’t those all sound amazing? I’m sure you’re adding them to your TBR lists right now . . .

My shelf.

3. A book you were assigned to read and found fascinating?

In Cold Blood by Truman Capote. It was assigned reading for 9th grade English, and I loved it. I need to track down a copy and reread it. Brutal murders are pretty fascinating. (Unless you’re the one being murdered, I guess.)

4. A book that would start a great book club discussion?

I haven’t been in a book club since I was 12, and our book discussions weren’t exactly deep. Maybe Under the Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer would make a good book club pick? It’s about the history of the Mormon religion and modern-day Mormon Fundamentalism. Actually, that might not be a good book club pick. Is anyone interested in Mormons besides me? My book club might be a bit odd.

5. A book you could (or do) reread annually?

This might be cheating because I only read this book for the first time a few weeks ago, but I’m going to say Furiously Happy: A Funny Book about Horrible Things by Jenny Lawson. It’s hilarious and made me feel better about the horrible things in my life. Also, raccoons.

6. An essay or poetry collection?

Turn Me Loose: The Unghosting of Medgar Evers by Frank X Walker is a book of poetry about the assassination of Medgar Evers. If you’re new to poetry, this is a great place to start. The poems are easy to understand and educational.

7. Graphic novel (or other unusual format)?

I don’t read enough sequential art books, but one of my favorites is Blankets by Craig Thompson. It’s a graphic memoir about religion, abuse, and angsty teenage love.

8. A book someone recommended to you?

The Power of Myth by Joseph Campbell. This book has been recommended to me by so many people. But, I haven’t read it. It’s been sitting on my TBR shelf for months. Supposedly, it’ll help deepen my understanding of literature. Unfortunately, reading YA books is much more appealing than deepening my understanding of anything. I swear I’ll read The Power of Myth someday.

9. A book about books, writing, or writers?

My favorite book about writing is Stephen King’s On Writing. If you want to write anything, you need to read this first. It should be required reading for all wannabe writers. King teaches you the basics of writing in a way that doesn’t make you want to jump off the nearest skyscraper. I’ve read a lot of writing reference books, and almost all of them are so boring you’ll want to gouge out your eyes so you'll have an excuse to stop reading.

10. A book that made you laugh out loud or cry actual tears?

Can I use Furiously Happy again? That book made me laugh out loud. A book has never made me cry, but I got really sad while reading My Life in Orange by Tim Guest. The author grew up in various communes around the world. Reading about child neglect is like being kicked in the crotch and then set on fire. It’s not the most pleasant thing in the world.

What’s your favorite nonfiction book?

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Itty Bitty Movie Reviews: Paper Towns, The Maze Runner, The Scorch Trials

I’ve been writing a lot of book reviews lately, and honestly, I’m bored. So, I thought I’d mix it up and write some itty bitty reviews of book-to-movie adaptations I’ve seen recently.

Itty Bitty Movie Reviews

Paper Towns

I read this book when it first came out, way back in 2008. It wasn’t one of my favorite John Green books, so I haven’t reread it in a long time, but from what I remember, the movie follows the book pretty closely. If you haven’t seen/read Paper Towns, it’s about a girl named Margo who disappears and leaves clues to where she went. Margo’s friends set out on a high-speed road trip to find her.

Mostly, the movie reminded me of how much I hate Margo. She’s so selfish! The movie is also kind of hilarious. I actually laughed out loud when the characters buy new shirts at a gas station, and one of the boys has to spend the rest of the trip wearing a pink World’s Best Grandma shirt. The movie completely nails the theme of the book: people are always more complex than they appear on the surface.

The Maze Runner

Confession time: I didn’t like this book. I read it when it came out, and I don’t remember it very well. I think I got frustrated with the lack of explanation of the maze, and I thought the characters were bland. The story is about a group of boys who wake up in a monster-filled maze with no memory of how they got there.

So, I ended up liking this movie way more than the book. I love the Lord of the Flies vibe. The pace moves quickly. There’s a ton of action. Everything in the movie looks way scarier than it did in my imagination. The maze and the monsters are more intense than I expected. This movie was a total surprise for me. I think I went in with really low expectations, and it totally exceeded them. Unlike with the book series, I wanted to move on to the second movie.

The Scorch Trials

This was uncharted territory for me. Almost all of the movies I watch are book-to-movie adaptations, and I always read the book first. It felt really strange to see a movie where I didn’t know exactly what was going to happen.

I can’t summarize this one without spoiling The Maze Runner, and I can’t tell you if it’s a faithful adaptation because I haven’t read the book, but I enjoyed it. Just like the first movie, the pace is quick, and the action is nonstop. The setting reminds me of Death Valley, California, which is one of my favorite places. Also, THERE ARE FREAKING ZOMBIES! No one told me there would be zombies. I’m glad I went into this movie blind because I didn’t know which characters to trust. Not knowing the plot made the movie a lot of fun for me.

I think the third movie has been delayed indefinitely, but I’ll watch it if it does come out.   

Have you seen any of these movies? What did you think?

Monday, September 19, 2016

Review: I Am Nujood, Age 10 And Divorced – Nujood Ali & Delphine Minoui

I Am Nujood, Age 10 And Divorced – Nujood Ali & Delphine Minoui

Nujood Ali's childhood came to an abrupt end in 2008 when her father arranged for her to be married to a man three times her age. With harrowing directness, Nujood tells of abuse at her husband's hands and of her daring escape. With the help of local advocates and the press, Nujood obtained her freedom—an extraordinary achievement in Yemen, where almost half of all girls are married under the legal age. Nujood's courageous defiance of both Yemeni customs and her own family has inspired other young girls in the Middle East to challenge their marriages. Hers is an unforgettable story of tragedy, triumph, and courage.

Review: This review is of the English translation of a French book.

This book was a complete impulse buy. One day, I was browsing the nonfiction at a used bookstore and came across a book cover with a photo of a little girl. The title said the girl was 10 and divorced. I had to know what the heck was going on. This is the clickbait of book covers.

Nujood Ali is born into a poor family in Yemen. Her parents can’t afford to feed all of their children, so when Nujood is 10, she’s “married” (married=sold) to a man in his 30s. Nujood is beaten and raped by her husband until she finds a way to escape and get to a courthouse. The judges and lawyers at the courthouse have never encountered a 10-year-old who wants a divorce, and they do everything they can to help her. Nujood makes international news as “the youngest divorcee in the world.”

This book is meant to raise awareness about underage marriage, especially in the Middle East. In countries all over the world, young girls are given to older men because of cultural traditions or poverty. Forcing a child to become a wife is psychologically damaging to the child, and many child brides commit suicide. Underage marriage has to be stopped because children need to be children. It’s not healthy to force them into adult roles. Nujood’s story is unusual because she was able to escape from her husband and get help, but she’s not the only child bride in the world. Underage marriage is surprisingly common.

I Am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced shows the best and worst of humanity. The men in Nujood’s life (including her father and brothers) treat her like property. Women don’t have many rights in Yemen, and children have even fewer rights. Nujood’s family is so poor that the children have to beg for money and food on the street. It’s not an easy existence.

“In Khardji, the village where I was born, women are not taught how to make choices.” - I Am Nujood, Age 10 And Divorced

When Nujood escapes from her husband and gets to the courthouse, things change. The people who work there are amazing. They take Nujood into their homes to keep her safe from her husband and father. Then they get her a divorce and make her story as public as possible so other child brides know that help is out there.

“My mind was made up: I’d do whatever I had to. I was ready to climb mountains to keep from finding myself lying on that mat again, night after night, all alone against that monster.” - I Am Nujood, Age 10 And Divorced

This book achieves its goal of raising awareness, but I have some issues with the writing. The story is aimed at Western middlegrade/young YA readers, and it feels kind of shallow. I don’t need graphic details about Nujood’s abusive marriage, but I would have liked more info about the legal system in Yemen. The author(s) were probably worried about boring their target audience, but I think the story is compelling enough that it could have included more details without losing its readers.

Also, I was slightly confused about whose story I was reading. The book is written in first-person from Nujood’s point-of-view. But, Nujood is a pre-literate 10-year-old. She only knows how to write her name. Obviously, she didn’t write this book. She worked with a French journalist cowriter, and sometimes the narrative seems like an adult trying to sound like a 10-year-old. Since I read a translation of the original book, it feels like there are a lot of layers of authors/translators between me and Nujood. I kept wondering if the adults were putting their words in Nujood’s mouth. This book would have been more comfortable to read if it was a piece of journalism instead of a first-person narrative. The target audience might not have liked that, though. Kids don’t usually read newspapers.

Obviously, I have some mixed feelings about this one. It’s a quick read that raises awareness about underage marriage, but I’m not a fan of the way it’s written.