Friday, July 31, 2015

FF Friday: In Which I Dream About ARCs (And Selling Them For Big Profits)

Feature & Follow is a weekly blog hop hosted by Parajunkee and Alison Can Read.

This week’s question: If you could get an ARC of any book, already published, or not yet, what would it be?

Answer: I own a lot of books, but I don’t consider myself a book collector. I don’t really care about rare books or collecting every edition of my favorites. So, if I could have any ARC, I’d choose a valuable one and then sell it to pay my tuition.

I bet ARCs of the Harry Potter books would sell for a lot. I think Amazon bought J.K. Rowling’s handwritten copy of The Tales of Beedle the Bard for $3.98 million. Did she handwrite any of the Harry Potter books? Can I have one of those? That would be awesome.

Bill Gates bought Leonardo da Vinci’s The Codex Leicester for $49.1 million (or $30.8 million. I don’t know which sources are accurate). I could totally pay my tuition with that. The Codex Leicester is a journal, though, so I don’t think there are ARCs of it.

I *think* the most expensive printed books ever sold are The Bay Psalm Book (sold for $14.2 million) and a first edition of John James Audubon’s The Birds of America (sold for $11.5 million). I’ll take an ARC of either of those.


The follow part: If you are a book blogger and you leave a link to your blog in the comments below, I will follow you on Bloglovin’. I’d love it if you also followed me. If you want to be friends on Goodreads, TwitterBookLikes, or G+, that would be awesome, too. Click the links to go to my pages on those sites. I’m looking forward to “meeting” you.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Review: Severance: Stories – Robert Olen Butler

Severance: Stories – Robert Olen Butler

The human head is believed to remain in a state of consciousness for one and one-half minutes after decapitation. In a heightened state of emotion, people speak at the rate of 160 words per minute. Inspired by the intersection of these two seemingly unrelated concepts, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Robert Olen Butler wrote sixty-two stories, each exactly 240 words in length, capturing the flow of thoughts and feelings that go through a person's mind after their head has been severed. The characters are both real and imagined: Medusa (beheaded by Perseus, 2000 BC), Anne Boleyn (beheaded at the behest of Henry VIII, 1536), a chicken (beheaded for Sunday dinner, Alabama, 1958), and the author (decapitated, on the job, 2008). Told with the intensity of a poet and the wit of a great storyteller, these final thoughts illuminate and crystallize more about the characters' own lives and the worlds they inhabit than many writers manage to convey in full-length biographies or novels. The stories, which have appeared in literary magazines across the country, are a delightful and intriguing creative feat from one of today's most inventive writers.

Review: This is probably the most creative concept for a book I’ve ever seen. Supposedly, a head remains conscious for 90 seconds after decapitation. The author takes historical figures, animals, and mythological creatures who were decapitated and writes 240-word prose-poems about what goes through their minds in the 90 seconds after they lose their heads.

First, I have to say that I love the design of this book. The pages are really thick, and the colors, fonts, and layout are unusual. Whoever designed it did an amazing job. It’s definitely an eye-catching piece of artwork.

The stories didn’t have as much decapitation as I expected. Many of the severed heads focus on points in their lives before the actual decapitation, so most of the stories are tasteful. None of them are particularly gory or graphic.

If you don’t like poetry, you probably won’t like this book. The stories are written stream-of-consciousness style with minimal punctuation and explanation. They feel more like poems than short stories. Luckily, I like poetry, so I found these prose-poems fascinating and weird. I was going to read a few of them before bed one night, and I ended up finishing most of the book.

Since the stories are so short, I can’t summarize them without spoilers, so I’ll give you the titles of my favorites.

“Dragon (beast, beheaded by Saint George, 301)”

“Ah Balam (Mayan ballplayer, beheaded by custom as captain of losing team, 803)”

“Pierre-Francois Lacenaire (criminal and memoirist, guillotined for murder, 1836)”

“Ta Chin (Chinese wife, beheaded by her husband, 1838)”

“Charles H. Stuart (Texas farmer, beheaded by his two teenage daughters, 1904)”

“Chicken (Americauna pullet, beheaded in Alabama for Sunday dinner, 1958)”

My only criticism of this collection is that the stories start to feel very repetitive. I would have liked more variation in the way that they are written. There are 62 of them in the book, and they all start to blur together by the end.

I think I would have appreciated the collection more if I had more knowledge of history and mythology, but overall, I really enjoyed these strange little prose-poems. 

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Top Ten Tuesday: Ultimate Fictional Book Nerds

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. This week’s topic is top ten fictional book nerds. This was a difficult topic because there are a lot of fictional characters who read books, but I wouldn’t call them “Book nerds.” I tried to pick characters who are really, really obsessed with books. I could only come up with 7, so let me know who I forgot.

Ultimate Fictional Book Nerds

7. Ignatius J. Reilly (A Confederacy of Dunces – John Kennedy Toole): Ignatius is the world’s most pompous writer. He’s the source of my favorite bookish quote: “I am at the moment writing a lengthy indictment against our century. When my brain begins to reel from my literary labors, I make an occasional cheese dip.”

6. Guy Montag (Fahrenheit 451 – Ray Bradbury): Guy’s job is to burn books, which are forbidden in his dystopian society. He starts hiding books in his house to save them, but then things get ugly.

5. Liesel Meminger (The Book Thief – Markus Zusak): Books are hard to find in Nazi Germany, so Liesel starts stealing them from the neighbors.

4. Hazel Grace Lancaster (The Fault In Our Stars – John Green): Before Hazel dies from cancer, she wants to meet her favorite author and find out what happened to her favorite fictional character.

3. Cath Avery (Fangirl – Rainbow Rowell): Cath’s whole life revolves around her fanfiction stories and a pair of fictional lovers.

2. Hermione Granger (Harry Potter series – J.K. Rowling): Harry and Ron would not have survived without Hermione’s bookish knowledge.

1. Annie Wilkes (Misery – Stephen King): She kidnaps her favorite author. You have to really love books to go that far.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Review: If You Find Me – Emily Murdoch

If You Find Me – Emily Murdoch

A broken-down camper hidden deep in a national forest is the only home fifteen-year-old Carey can remember. The trees keep guard over her threadbare existence, with the one bright spot being Carey’s younger sister, Jenessa, who depends on Carey for her very survival. All they have is each other, as their mentally ill mother comes and goes with greater frequency. Until that one fateful day their mother disappears for good, and two strangers arrive. Suddenly, the girls are taken from the woods and thrust into a bright and perplexing new world of high school, clothes, and boys. 
Now, Carey must face the truth of why her mother abducted her ten years ago, while haunted by a past that won’t let her go . . . a dark past that hides many a secret, including the reason Jenessa hasn’t spoken a word in over a year. Carey knows she must keep her sister close, and her secrets even closer, or risk watching her new life come crashing down.

Review: It took me a long time to write this review because I have mixed feelings about this book. I think I wanted to like it more than I actually did.

Carey and her younger sister have spent ten years living in the woods with their drug-addicted mother. After their mother disappears, they are sent to live with their father. Carey must then deal with a new family, high school, and all the lies that her mother told her over the past ten years.

I don’t think a book has ever hooked me so quickly. Within a few pages, I was totally invested in the story. The main characters and their lifestyle are so interesting that I flew through the beginning of the book. The writing is stunning (despite a few clunky metaphors), and the narrator, Carey, has a very strong and unique voice. I can feel her passion when she describes the woods that she loves.

Family is a big element of this story. Carey’s stepmother is my favorite character. She’s very patient, loving, and understanding. All children deserve a parent like her, and I’m glad that she has such a big part in the book. A lot of YA books lack a good adult role model, so I was happy to find one in this story.

My issue with the book is that it’s predictable and not very believable. Carey has a secret that is hinted at through the entire novel. As soon as she mentioned that she had a secret, I guessed what it was. When the big reveal happened at the end, my reaction was, “Meh, I knew that 200 pages ago.” It was a little disappointing.

I also had a hard time believing the story. Carey moves to the woods when she is five years old and spends ten years of her life there. She has a few books, a violin, and very little contact with the outside world. Her mother is rarely around. But, somehow I’m expected to believe that Carey is super-model beautiful, a violin prodigy, and two grade-levels ahead of other kids her age. How did she teach herself without help or good resources? How did a five-year-old survive alone in the woods without doing any permanent damage to her body?

The plot works out a little too conveniently for my tastes. I think this book would have benefited from being longer so that the relationships could have been explored in more depth. For example: Carey’s little sister adjusts to family life pretty much immediately; the most popular boy in school falls in insta-love with Carey; and the issues between Carey and her stepsister are resolved with one conversation. I just didn’t believe everything could happen so easily.

If you’re looking for a beautifully written feel-good story, then this book is definitely for you, but you have to be willing to overlook a few believability issues.  

Sunday, July 26, 2015

The Sunday Post #12

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 feels like it has been forever since I’ve done a Sunday Post. School started kicking my ass, and the blog suffered for it, but I’m back! I actually posted everything I wanted to post last week. That hasn’t happened in a while.

On The Blog Last Week

On The Blog This Week

  • On Monday I review If You Find Me by Emily Murdoch.
  • On Tuesday I list the top ten ultimate fictional book nerds.
  • On Wednesday I review Severance: Stories by Robert Olen Butler.
  • On Friday I talk about my dream ARC.
  • On Saturday I show you Part 5 of The Book Haul to End All Book Hauls.

In My Blogging Life

This blog now has over 1000 comments on it. That’s kind of crazy. I never thought people would write 1000 things on my blog. So, thank you!

I also reached 200 Twitter followers last week. Despite having 200 followers, I’m still terrible at using Twitter.

In My Reading Life

Last week, I read Brass Ankle Blues by Rachel Harper and The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart. Right now, I’m reading Wild by Cheryl Strayed. Next up is The Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick.

I hope everyone had a great week, and I’ll see you around the blogosphere.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

The Book Haul To End All Book Hauls (Part 4)

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

I ordered so many books that they had to be shipped in 7 different boxes. Here are the contents of box #5.

The Martian – Andy Weir

Six days ago, astronaut Mark Watney became one of the first people to walk on Mars. Now, he's sure he'll be the first person to die there. After a dust storm nearly kills him and forces his crew to evacuate while thinking him dead, Mark finds himself stranded and completely alone with no way to even signal Earth that he’s alive—and even if he could get word out, his supplies would be gone long before a rescue could arrive. Chances are, though, he won't have time to starve to death. The damaged machinery, unforgiving environment or plain-old "human error" are much more likely to kill him first. But Mark isn't ready to give up yet. Drawing on his ingenuity, his engineering skills and a relentless, dogged refusal to quit, he steadfastly confronts one seemingly insurmountable obstacle after the next. Will his resourcefulness be enough to overcome the impossible odds against him?

The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly – Stephanie Oakes

The Kevinian cult has taken everything from seventeen-year-old Minnow: twelve years of her life, her family, her ability to trust. 
And when she rebelled, they took away her hands, too. 
Now their Prophet has been murdered and their camp set aflame, and it's clear that Minnow knows something—but she's not talking. As she languishes in juvenile detention, she struggles to un-learn everything she has been taught to believe, adjusting to a life behind bars and recounting the events that led up to her incarceration. But when an FBI detective approaches her about making a deal, Minnow sees she can have the freedom she always dreamed of—if she’s willing to part with the terrible secrets of her past. 
The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly is a hard-hitting and hopeful story about the dangers of blind faith—and the power of having faith in oneself.

Project X – Jim Shepard

In the wilderness of junior high, Edwin Hanratty is at the bottom of the food chain. His teachers find him a nuisance. His fellow students consider him prey. And although his parents are not oblivious to his troubles, they can't quite bring themselves to fathom the ruthless forces that demoralize him daily. 
Sharing in these schoolyard indignities is his only friend, Flake. Branded together as misfits, their fury simmers quietly in the hallways, classrooms, and at home, until an unthinkable idea offers them a spectacular and terrifying release. 
From Jim Shepard, one of the most enduring and influential novelists writing today, comes an unflinching look into the heart and soul of adolescence. Tender and horrifying, prescient and moving, Project X will not easily be forgotten.

I’ll Meet You There – Heather Demetrios

If seventeen-year-old Skylar Evans were a typical Creek View girl, her future would involve a double-wide trailer, a baby on her hip, and the graveyard shift at Taco Bell. But after graduation, the only thing standing between straightedge Skylar and art school are three minimum-wage months of summer. Skylar can taste the freedom—that is, until her mother loses her job and everything starts coming apart. Torn between her dreams and the people she loves, Skylar realizes everything she’s ever worked for is on the line. 
Nineteen-year-old Josh Mitchell had a different ticket out of Creek View: the Marines. But after his leg is blown off in Afghanistan, he returns home, a shell of the cocksure boy he used to be. What brings Skylar and Josh together is working at the Paradise—a quirky motel off California’s dusty Highway 99. Despite their differences, their shared isolation turns into an unexpected friendship and soon, something deeper.

5 to 1 – Holly Bodger

In the year 2054, after decades of gender selection, India now has a ratio of five boys for every girl, making women an incredibly valuable commodity. Tired of marrying off their daughters to the highest bidder and determined to finally make marriage fair, the women who form the country of Koyanagar have instituted a series of tests so that every boy has the chance to win a wife. 
Sudasa doesn’t want to be a wife, and Kiran, a boy forced to compete in the test to become her husband, has other plans as well. Sudasa’s family wants nothing more than for their daughter to do the right thing and pick a husband who will keep her comfortable—and caged. Kiran’s family wants him to escape by failing the tests. As the tests advance, Sudasa and Kiran thwart each other at every turn until they slowly realize that they just might want the same thing. 
This beautiful, unique novel is told from alternating points of view—Sudasa’s in verse and Kiran’s in prose—allowing readers to experience both characters’ pain and their brave struggle for hope.

Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock – Matthew Quick

Today is Leonard Peacock’s birthday. It is also the day he hides a gun in his backpack. Because today is the day he will kill his former best friend, and then himself, with his grandfather’s P-38 pistol. 
But first he must say good-bye to the four people who matter most to him: his Humphrey Bogart-obsessed next-door neighbor, Walt; his classmate, Baback, a violin virtuoso; Lauren, the Christian homeschooler he has a crush on; and Herr Silverman, who teaches the high school’s class on the Holocaust. Speaking to each in turn, Leonard slowly reveals his secrets as the hours tick by and the moment of truth approaches. 
In this riveting look at a day in the life of a disturbed teenage boy, acclaimed author Matthew Quick unflinchingly examines the impossible choices that must be made—and the light in us all that never goes out.

Friday, July 24, 2015

FF Friday: In Which I Talk About Movies That Don’t Suck

Feature & Follow is a weekly blog hop hosted by Parajunkee and Alison Can Read.

This week’s question: What is your favorite movie?

Answer: I am terrible at seeing movies. For example, I’ve been meaning to watch The Fault In Our Stars since it came out, and I still haven’t seen it. I really liked the book. I don’t know why I can’t force myself to sit down and watch the movie. The last movie I saw was Mockingjay Part 1. I know I saw it in the movie theater, which means that I haven’t watched any movies at all this year . . .

Since I’m bad at seeing movies, I don’t have a favorite. Most of the movies I do watch are book-to-movie adaptations. If I had to pick a favorite adaptation, I’d choose The Green Mile by Stephen King. I love the book, and I was so happy that the movie didn’t suck.

The Green Mile - Stephen King

At Cold Mountain Penitentiary, along the lonely stretch of cells known as the Green Mile, killers such as the psychopathic "Billy the Kid" Wharton and the possessed Eduard Delacroix await death strapped in "Old Sparky." Here guards as decent as Paul Edgecombe and as sadistic as Percy Wetmore watch over them. But good or evil, innocent or guilty, none have ever seen the brutal likes of the new prisoner, John Coffey, sentenced to death for raping and murdering two young girls. Is Coffey a devil in human form? Or is he a far, far different kind of being?


The follow part: If you are a book blogger and you leave a link to your blog in the comments below, I will follow you on Bloglovin’. I’d love it if you also followed me. If you want to be friends on Goodreads, TwitterBookLikes, or G+, that would be awesome, too. Click the links to go to my pages on those sites. I’m looking forward to “meeting” you.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Review: Me and Earl and the Dying Girl – Jesse Andrews

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl – Jesse Andrews

It is a universally acknowledged truth that high school sucks. But on the first day of his senior year, Greg Gaines thinks he’s figured it out. The answer to the basic existential question: How is it possible to exist in a place that sucks so bad? His strategy: remain at the periphery at all times. Keep an insanely low profile. Make mediocre films with the one person who is even sort of his friend, Earl. 
This plan works for exactly eight hours. Then Greg’s mom forces him to become friends with a girl who has cancer. This brings about the destruction of Greg’s entire life. 
Fiercely funny, honest, heartbreaking—this is an unforgettable novel from a bright talent, now also a film that critics are calling "a touchstone for its generation" and "an instant classic."

Review: This isn’t your typical dying-kid novel, which is great because I usually hate those things.

Seventeen-year-old Greg is a social outcast at his school—and he likes it that way. His only friend is Earl, and the only thing they do together is make terrible movies. Greg’s life is just the way he wants it, until his mother forces him to spend time with Rachel. Rachel has just been diagnosed with leukemia. Greg has no idea how to help her feel better. He decides to make her a movie, but it turns into the worst movie ever made, and suddenly the whole school is looking at Greg. This book is part novel, part screenplay, and part bullet point list.

Like the back cover says, this is “The funniest book you’ll ever read about death.” I was laughing pretty much the entire time I was reading. I don’t think I’ve ever laughed so hard at a book.

The best part of this novel is its realism. Cancer is not romanticized, and there is no sappy love story. Greg and Rachel are very realistic characters. They are both flawed and far from perfect. Sometimes, Greg does not want to deal with Rachel’s illness because it’s difficult and depressing. He just wants to hang out with Earl and be a regular teenager. This is a very normal way for a teen to feel, and the author does not vilify Greg for it. I love that.

I also love the dialogue. It’s vulgar, disgusting, and full of swear words. It sounds exactly like how I talked to my friends when I was a teenager.

Even though I thoroughly enjoyed this book, I did have a few issues with it. First, Greg got on my nerves pretty often. I wanted him to shut up and stop criticizing himself and the book. It seems like every few pages he says, “This book sucks. I don’t know why I’m writing it. I suck.” It’s funny the first few times, but then it just gets obnoxious.

I also have a slight problem with Earl. He’s a great character, but he doesn’t feel as complex as the other characters. The way he acts and speaks makes him seem like a stereotype of an inner-city black teenager. I wish we got to know him better so that he seemed more human.

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is a quick, hilarious read. It has a few problems, but I would still highly recommend it.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Top Ten Tuesday: Diverse (And Somewhat Under-Hyped) Books

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. This week’s topic is top ten books that celebrate diversity. I tried to pick books that have different types of diversity. I also attempted to mix in a few under-hyped books.

Brass Ankle Blues – Rachel Harper

As a young woman of mixed race, Nellie Kincaid is about to encounter the strange, unsettling summer of her fifteenth year. Reeling from the recent separation of her parents, Nellie finds herself traveling to the family's lake house with only her father and her estranged cousin, leaving behind the life and the mother she is trying to forget. 
As the summer progresses, Nellie will have to define herself, navigating the twists and turns of first love. At the same time, her family is becoming more and more divided by the day. Does her newfound identity require her to distance herself from those she loves, or will it draw her closer?

Diversity: The main character is a mixed-race girl who is trying to figure out her racial identity.

What Happened to Lani Garver – Carol Plum-Ucci

The close-knit residents of Hackett Island have never seen anyone quite like Lani Garver. Everything about this new kid is a mystery: Where does Lani come from? How old is Lani? And most disturbing of all, is Lani a boy or a girl? 
Claire McKenzie isn't up to tormenting Lani with the rest of the high school elite. Instead, she befriends the intriguing outcast. But within days of Lani's arrival, tragedy strikes and Claire must deal with shattered friendships and personal demons—and the possibility that angels may exist on earth.

Diversity: This was one of my favorite books when I was a young teenager. Lani’s gender, age, and sexuality are a mystery. Lani may not even be human. Claire is a popular high school cheerleader who is secretly struggling with an eating disorder.

Esperanza Rising – Pam Muñoz Ryan

When Esperanza and Mama are forced to flee from the bountiful region of Aguascalientes, Mexico, to a Mexican farm labor camp in California, they must adjust to a life without fancy dresses and servants. Now they have to confront the challenges of hard work, acceptance by their own people, and economic difficulties brought on by the Great Depression. When Mama falls ill and a strike for better working conditions threatens to uproot their new life, Esperanza must relinquish her hold on the past and learn to embrace a future ripe with the riches of family and community.

Diversity: Esperanza is Mexican, and she lives in a labor camp with people from all over the world.

Stone Mattress: Nine Tales – Margaret Atwood

Margaret Atwood turns to short fiction for the first time since her 2006 collection, Moral Disorder, with nine tales of acute psychological insight and turbulent relationships bringing to mind her award-winning 1996 novel, Alias Grace. A recently widowed fantasy writer is guided through a stormy winter evening by the voice of her late husband in "Alphinland," the first of three loosely linked stories about the romantic geometries of a group of writers and artists. In "The Freeze-Dried Bridegroom," a man who bids on an auctioned storage space has a surprise. In "Lusus Naturae," a woman born with a genetic abnormality is mistaken for a vampire. In "Torching the Dusties," an elderly lady with Charles Bonnet syndrome comes to terms with the little people she keeps seeing, while a newly formed populist group gathers to burn down her retirement residence. And in "Stone Mattress," a long-ago crime is avenged in the Arctic via a 1.9 billion-year-old stromatolite. In these nine tales, Margaret Atwood is at the top of her darkly humorous and seriously playful game.

Diversity: Many of the protagonists are elderly people. That isn’t a prospective that I’ve seen often in fiction.

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas – John Boyne

Berlin, 1942: When Bruno returns home from school one day, he discovers that his belongings are being packed in crates. His father has received a promotion and the family must move to a new house far, far away, where there is no one to play with and nothing to do. A tall fence stretches as far as the eye can see and cuts him off from the strange people in the distance. 
But Bruno longs to be an explorer and decides that there must be more to this desolate new place than meets the eye. While exploring his new environment, he meets another boy whose life and circumstances are very different from his own, and their meeting results in a friendship that has devastating consequences.

Diversity: The main characters come from different countries (Germany/Poland) and religious backgrounds (Christian/Jewish).

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe - Benjamin Alire Sáenz

Aristotle is an angry teen with a brother in prison. Dante is a know-it-all who has an unusual way of looking at the world. When the two meet at the swimming pool, they seem to have nothing in common. But as the loners start spending time together, they discover that they share a special friendship—the kind that changes lives and lasts a lifetime. And it is through this friendship that Ari and Dante will learn the most important truths about themselves and the kind of people they want to be.

Diversity: I had to put this one on the list, even though it’s probably on everybody’s list. LGBTQ Mexican-American characters.

Interpreter of Maladies – Jhumpa Lahiri

Jhumpa Lahiri's stories tell the lives of Indians in exile, of people navigating between the strict traditions they've inherited and the baffling New World they must encounter every day.

Diversity: An amazing short story collection about Indian and Indian-American characters.

Battle Royale – Koushun Takami

Koushun Takami's notorious high-octane thriller is based on an irresistible premise: a class of junior high school students is taken to a deserted island where, as part of a ruthless authoritarian program, they are provided arms and forced to kill one another until only one survivor is left standing. Criticized as violent exploitation when first published in Japan—where it then proceeded to become a runaway bestseller—Battle Royale is a Lord of the Flies for the 21st century, a potent allegory of what it means to be young and (barely) alive in a dog-eat-dog world.

Diversity: I love translations. This book was originally written in Japanese, but it’s now very popular in English-speaking countries. All of the characters are Japanese.

Fat Kid Rules the World – K.L. Going

Troy Billings at six-foot-one, 296 pounds, is standing at the edge of a subway platform, seriously contemplating suicide, when he meets Curt MacCrae—an emaciated, semi-homeless punk guitar genius who also happens to be a dropout legend at Troy's school on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. "I saved your life," Curt tells Troy. "You owe me lunch." But lunch with Curt brings more than Troy bargained for. Suddenly, Troy finds himself recruited as Curt's drummer for his new band. However, there are a few problems. Troy can't play the drums. Troy's father thinks Curt is a drug addict. And Troy's brother thinks Curt is a loser. But with Curt, anything is possible. "You'll see," says Curt. "We're going to be HUGE." Fortunately, mercurial Curt has an energy, enthusiasm, and wisdom that is as irresistible as it is contagious. Before long, Troy is swept up by his desire to be everything Curt believes him to be . . . .

Diversity: The main characters are a depressed, obese teenager and a homeless drug addict. Those are unique perspectives.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian – Sherman Alexie

Bestselling author Sherman Alexie tells the story of Junior, a budding cartoonist growing up on the Spokane Indian Reservation. Determined to take his future into his own hands, Junior leaves his troubled school on the rez to attend an all-white farm town high school where the only other Indian is the school mascot. 
Heartbreaking, funny, and beautifully written, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, which is based on the author's own experiences, coupled with poignant drawings by Ellen Forney that reflect the character's art, chronicles the contemporary adolescence of one Native American boy as he attempts to break away from the life he was destined to live.

Diversity: A Native American teen with hydrocephalus decides to attend an all-white high school.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Review: Stone Mattress: Nine Tales – Margaret Atwood

Stone Mattress: Nine Tales – Margaret Atwood

Margaret Atwood turns to short fiction for the first time since her 2006 collection, Moral Disorder, with nine tales of acute psychological insight and turbulent relationships bringing to mind her award-winning 1996 novel, Alias Grace. A recently widowed fantasy writer is guided through a stormy winter evening by the voice of her late husband in "Alphinland," the first of three loosely linked stories about the romantic geometries of a group of writers and artists. In "The Freeze-Dried Bridegroom," a man who bids on an auctioned storage space has a surprise. In "Lusus Naturae," a woman born with a genetic abnormality is mistaken for a vampire. In "Torching the Dusties," an elderly lady with Charles Bonnet syndrome comes to terms with the little people she keeps seeing, while a newly formed populist group gathers to burn down her retirement residence. And in "Stone Mattress," a long-ago crime is avenged in the Arctic via a 1.9 billion-year-old stromatolite. In these nine tales, Margaret Atwood is at the top of her darkly humorous and seriously playful game.

Review: In these nine fantastical tales, murder is plotted, a woman searches for her husband in a fictional world, a girl is mistaken for a monster, and an angry mob torches a retirement community.

I’ve read almost all of Margaret Atwood’s short story collections, and Stone Mattress is one of my favorites. These stories feel more “genre” than Atwood’s other works, but it’s a refreshing change. I love the elements of sci-fi, fantasy, and horror. The author definitely puts her unique (and hilarious) spin on the genres. It makes these stories feel both familiar and innovative.  

Usually with short story collections, there are a few stories that I just don’t like. I can honestly say that I enjoyed everything in this book. It’s darkly funny and doesn’t take itself too seriously. As always, Atwood’s writing is poetic. The descriptions are vivid, and the characters have big personalities. I especially like that many of the protagonists are older retired people. I haven’t read many stories that focus on that stage of life.

All of the stories in this collection are great, but here are a few of my favorites:

In “Revenant,” a sex-obsessed elderly poet scares away the graduate student who comes to interview him about his ex-girlfriend’s novels. I think this is the funniest story in the collection.

In “Lusus Naturae,” a girl with a rare illness fakes her own death . . . then is later mistaken for an undead monster by the people in her town. This story reads like a fairytale. It’s a familiar tale, but Atwood’s writing is so strong and intelligent that it feels new.

In “Stone Mattress,” a woman goes on an Arctic cruise hoping to find love, but she ends up plotting the murder of a man who raped her fifty years ago. This is the story that I remember most from the collection. It’s funny, sad, and rich in symbolism. I was still thinking about it days after I read it.

Stone Mattress: Nine Tales is a great addition to my big collection of Margaret Atwood books. I’m looking forward to whatever she writes next.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

The Book Haul To End All Book Hauls (Part 3)

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

I ordered so many books that they had to be shipped in 7 different boxes. Here are the contents of boxes #3 and #4.

The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender – Leslye Walton

Magical realism, lyrical prose, and the pain and passion of human love haunt this hypnotic generational saga. 
Foolish love appears to be the Roux family birthright, an ominous forecast for its most recent progeny, Ava Lavender. Ava—in all other ways a normal girl—is born with the wings of a bird. 
In a quest to understand her peculiar disposition and a growing desire to fit in with her peers, sixteen-year-old Ava ventures into the wider world, ill-prepared for what she might discover and naïve to the twisted motives of others. Others like the pious Nathaniel Sorrows, who mistakes Ava for an angel and whose obsession with her grows until the night of the Summer Solstice celebration. 
That night, the skies open up, rain and feathers fill the air, and Ava’s quest and her family’s saga build to a devastating crescendo. 
First-time author Leslye Walton has constructed a layered and unforgettable mythology of what it means to be born with hearts that are tragically, exquisitely human.

The Game of Love and Death – Martha Brockenbrough

Antony and Cleopatra. Helen of Troy and Paris. Romeo and Juliet. And now . . . Henry and Flora. 
For centuries Love and Death have chosen their players. They have set the rules, rolled the dice, and kept close, ready to influence, angling for supremacy. And Death has always won. Always. 
Could there ever be one time, one place, one pair whose love would truly tip the balance? 
Meet Flora Saudade, an African-American girl who dreams of becoming the next Amelia Earhart by day and sings in the smoky jazz clubs of Seattle by night. Meet Henry Bishop, born a few blocks and a million worlds away, a white boy with his future assured—a wealthy adoptive family in the midst of the Great Depression, a college scholarship, and all the opportunities in the world seemingly available to him. 
The players have been chosen. The dice have been rolled. But when human beings make moves of their own, what happens next is anyone’s guess. 
Achingly romantic and brilliantly imagined, The Game of Love and Death is a love story you will never forget.

I’ll Give You the Sun – Jandy Nelson

Jude and her twin brother Noah are incredibly close. At thirteen, isolated Noah draws constantly and is falling in love with the charismatic boy next door, while daredevil Jude cliff-dives and wears red-red lipstick and does the talking for both of them. But three years later, Jude and Noah are barely speaking. Something has happened to wreck the twins in different and dramatic ways . . . until Jude meets a cocky, broken, beautiful boy, as well as someone else—an even more unpredictable new force in her life. The early years are Noah's story to tell. The later years are Jude's. What the twins don't realize is that they each have only half the story, and if they could just find their way back to one another, they’d have a chance to remake their world. 
This radiant novel from the acclaimed, award-winning author of The Sky Is Everywhere will leave you breathless and teary and laughing—often all at once.

The Wrath and the Dawn – Renee Ahdieh

Every dawn brings horror to a different family in a land ruled by a killer. Khalid, the eighteen-year-old Caliph of Khorasan, takes a new bride each night only to have her executed at sunrise. So it is a suspicious surprise when sixteen-year-old Shahrzad volunteers to marry Khalid. But she does so with a clever plan to stay alive and exact revenge on the Caliph for the murder of her best friend and countless other girls. Shazi's wit and will, indeed, get her through to the dawn that no others have seen, but with a catch . . . she’s falling in love with the very boy who killed her dearest friend. 
She discovers that the murderous boy-king is not all that he seems and neither are the deaths of so many girls. Shazi is determined to uncover the reason for the murders and to break the cycle once and for all.

I Am the Messenger – Markus Zusak

Ed Kennedy is an underage cabdriver without much of a future. He's pathetic at playing cards, hopelessly in love with his best friend Audrey, and utterly devoted to his coffee-drinking dog, the Doorman. His life is one of peaceful routine and incompetence until he inadvertently stops a bank robbery. 
That's when the first ace arrives in the mail. 
That's when Ed becomes the messenger. 
Chosen to care, he makes his way through town helping and hurting (when necessary) until only one question remains: Who's behind Ed's mission?

All the Bright Places – Jennifer Niven

Theodore Finch is fascinated by death, and he constantly thinks of ways he might kill himself. But each time, something good, no matter how small, stops him. 
Violet Markey lives for the future, counting the days until graduation, when she can escape her Indiana town and her aching grief in the wake of her sister’s recent death. 
When Finch and Violet meet on the ledge of the bell tower at school, it’s unclear who saves whom. And when they pair up on a project to discover the “natural wonders” of their state, both Finch and Violet make more important discoveries: It’s only with Violet that Finch can be himself—a weird, funny, live-out-loud guy who’s not such a freak after all. And it’s only with Finch that Violet can forget to count away the days and start living them. But as Violet’s world grows, Finch’s begins to shrink. 
This is an intense, gripping novel perfect for fans of Jay Asher, Rainbow Rowell, John Green, Gayle Forman, and Jenny Downham from a talented new voice in YA, Jennifer Niven.