Friday, December 31, 2010

I'm Dreaming of a Black Christmas by Lewis Black

I have awesome memories of Christmas from when I was a child. I don't think that I ever actually believed in Santa Claus, but it was fun to pretend. It was so easy to get into the spirit back then. Christmas carols were warm reminders of the season. My mom always used to drive us around different neighborhoods to look at Christmas lights. As I've gotten older, I haven't gotten into Christmas as much. I appreciate the meaning behind the holiday, but everything seems like a big to-do and kind of a hassle. This year, as I was driving home from my oh-so-glamorous bookstore job (Probably one of the reasons for my malaise- retail holiday times), I drove past some light displays that made me feel like a kid again.

In that spirit, I was going to watch all of the eighty million holiday special episodes out there, recap them and come up with some sort of holiday moral for all of them. I was going to read holiday books and it was going to be spectacular. Then I got lazy. I ended up watching the Chrismukkah episodes of The O.C. and...that's about it. I also read this book, Lewis Black's I'm Dreaming of a Black Christmas.

It doesn't make much sense that I would read this book while in the thralls of my Great Christmas Revival (That Never Happened). It was partially in my fervor to grab anything remotely Christmas-related (Actually, that was my excuse for the Gossip Girl book I reviewed before this one) and also because I love anyone from The Daily Show and especially humor books from anyone from The Daily Show. I thought I might get someone to commiserate with over the occasional suckiness of Christmas. There was some of that, but also a celebration of the holiday that just cannot be denied.

In the book, Lewis Black explains why he logically shouldn't be celebrating Christmas, the most obvious being that he is Jewish. He gives some of the good things about Christmas (Gathering with friends, indulgent and yummy food, making donations to charities as penance for being a not-so-good person sometimes) and some of the bad things (High prices before Christmas, difficulties of choosing gifts). Along the way, he tells stories of his childhood, his obsession with clothes shopping, and gives reasons why he is happy to be single, especially around the holidays. It didn't give me a great big holiday-induced fever, but I'm Dreaming of a Black Christmas was funny enough to make me laugh. It's nice to know that other people have just as complicated a relationship with Christmas as I do.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Gossip Girl: I Will Always Love You by Cecily von Ziegesar

I know I wasn't going to read any more Gossip Girl books, but I saw this book on my library's epub offerings and I just couldn't help myself. So much happens in this book and I really loved every dirty second. I'll break the plots down for you:

We start out with Blair with her Yale boyfriend, Serena single, Dan and Vanessa together. Blair ditches Yale boyfriend because his family won't let her come on vacation with them ("No ring, no bring") and immediately hooks up with Nate. Nate has been sailing the high seas with his mentor Chips. Now that Nate has returned, all of the Upper East Side ladies are lining up. After all, nothing says hot like an unmotivated stoner. Serena becomes jealous because of the great connection between her and Nate. She has been filming the sequel to her dumb Breakfast at Tiffany's remake, but walks off the set to declare her love for Nate. He can't decide between the two girls. It's a full-on cat fight with the girls, and then Nate decides he just can't take it and leaves to go to farm college (More on that later).

Dan and Vanessa are together despite living on opposite coasts. Dan has had enough of college out West and transfers East without telling Vanessa. They are all set to be playing hipster house together in the Brooklyn Humphrey apartment when Dan catches Vanessa in bed with her former TA.

Now, random relationship generator!

Blair gets back together with Yale boyfriend. Serena stays single. Their relationship is still rocky. Nate returns from farm college after Chips dies of cancer. Farm college had been doing him good, but he becomes distraught at Chip's death and hits the booze and wacky tobacky some more. Then he becomes convinced that he is meant to be with Blair and totally ruins her relationship with Yale boyfriend.

Dan writes a dumb poem for a school assignment that's just a random collection of lines from poems he wrote in high school about Serena. S reads the poem after it's inevitably published in the New Yorker. They end up getting together.

In the meantime, Blair gets together with the one and only Chuck Bass. Let me just straight out say that I totally love Chuck Bass. This isn't the old nancy boy Chuck Bass, either. Chuck has spent time at farm college and it changed him for the better. Unfortunately, his monkey succumbed to a snake bite the first day. Now, Chuck is conscientious, sweet, and loving. Blair and Chuck together totally blew my mind and made me make little squeeing noises of excitement.

Then, of course, Nate comes back into the picture. Farm college is only two years, so he has to transfer soon. While touring Brown, he encounters one Jenny Humphrey. She gets Dan to drive him back to the city, but on the way they encounter a snowstorm. So Dan, Nate, Jenny, and Serena (Along for the ride) stop at the Waldorf's summer house for shelter. Unfortunately, the house isn't empty because Blair and Chuck are spending the holidays with her gay dads.

The kids have some intense moments. All three girls are lusting after Nate. There's a scene where they're all going to go up in the attic and "visit" Nate. Blair and Serena actually catch each other on the way, but Little J makes her way up. In the morning, B and S confront each other and cause a little strife in their actual relationships. Blair explains to Chuck how crazy Nate makes her. Chuck understands, and I breathe a sigh of relief because I love them. Dan is pretty much a pissy brat as usual. Nate runs away to his boat (In the words of the great Summer Roberts, girls, you don't cry over bitches on boats) and takes Jenny with him.

So, Jenny and Nate are together and all nauseating and stuff. Blair breaks up with Chuck because the relationship is moving too quickly. I feel as though someone killed my pet unicorn and butchered it in front of me. Serena breaks up with Dan because he is a complete waste of space, or because he is going to Iowa for poetry school and doesn't want her to go, one of those. Vanessa breaks up with her RA because he thinks she was cheating on him and also she wants Dan again. Jenny kicks Nate to the curb because their relationship bores her. In the end, it's Nate, Serena, and Blair at Chuck's New Year's party. It looks like more of the same, but Blair and Serena end up ditching Nate (Yay, finally!) for a trip to Europe together.

I know it seems as though the characters in the Gossip Girl series are shallow, horrible people. Really, they are, but that's actually part of the fun. Gossip Girl is the web stalker who watches over everyone like some sort of Big Brother-guardian angel hybrid. The people are horrible, but they have their redeeming qualities. Serena the vapid blonde who coasts by on her looks actually reads philosophy books for fun. Blair seems kind of fun when she isn't completely insane. My only complaint is that we never got to see who was Gossip Girl. Well, like she said on the show, Gossip Girl is everyone, XOXO.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Soul Enchilada by David Macinnis Gill

If Soul Enchilada is to be believed, there are demons all over the place. All they do is make deals with us mortals, trading souls for cars and basketball championships. It's an interesting theology, to say the least.

Bug Smoot, our heroine, didn't make a deal. The deal was made by her grandfather, his soul for a vintage Chevy. Now, the demon Beezlebub (Beals) has come to collect but grandpa, despite being dead, is MIA. As cosigner (A legal technicality), Bug now stands to lose the car, and her own soul, if she can't produce her grandfather.

Thankfully, Bug gets help from Pesto, former classmate and car wash worker by day. At night, he works for the International Supernatural Immigration Service. With the help of ISIS, Pesto's witch mother, and a lawyer with a specialty in these sorts of contracts, Bug might actually have a chance of keeping her soul after all.

Honestly, this book is a little weird. What do you expect when the title is Soul Enchilada? Bug's sucky life made it easier to appreciate my sucky life. She just graduated high school and barely scraped by living in a decrepit apartment while delivering pizzas. Her grandfather's Chevy was the one bright spot and it's repossessed by a demon.

Bug Smoot was a likable character, full of chutzpah. She put up a tough front, but had a lot of vulnerability. I genuinely found myself caring about her, even feeling better after she finally got food to eat when she was going hungry. Bug and Pesto together was also incredibly adorable. Soul Enchilada is cute, funny, a little romantic, and a bit supernatural. What more can I say, it's a good book.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Vixen by Jillian Larkin

This is the story of three girls. One is engaged to be married at an incredibly young age and rebels to try to experience more of life before she is trapped forever. The second is trying to escape her wild past and create a new reputation among strangers. The third wants to get out from behind her friend's shadow. The twist is that these girls are not facing problems in today's environment of women's liberation, texting, and all those other things the kids are into these days. They live in the Roaring Twenties, full of its oppression, flappers, and Prohibition.

Gloria is engaged to Sebastian. As a sort of last hurrah, she starts sneaking out to a speakeasy and she bobs her hair to fit in with the other flappers. By day she is a regular high society schoolgirl, but she soon gets a gig as lead singer for the speakeasy's band. Then she finds herself falling for the black piano player, and it's going to be nearly impossible for Gloria to settle down to humdrum married life.

Clara is Gloria's cousin from Pennsylvania. She plays the part of a simple country girl, but that's just to hide the truth: Clara lived a fast-paced, flapper life in New York. She got into some sort of trouble and returned home to her parents. Now she plays the helpful cousin and niece, but she knows much more than she is letting on. Clara catches the eye of family friend Marcus, a notorious playboy who actually genuinely falls for her. Unfortunately, there are still secrets that Clara is keeping hidden that could ruin her new reputation and possibly her romance.

Finally, Lorraine is petty, jealous, and a bit of a lush. She envies Gloria for being engaged, for getting attention from all the boys, for being a better flapper than her, and the list goes on and on. Honestly, it's difficult to like Lorraine. She has a couple moments, but for the most part she's just a huge rhymes-with-witch.

Vixen was a really fun read, full of fun and juicy society stuff and awesome vintage fashion. A part of me is jealous of the girls in this book, but then I remember that I get to vote and I feel better. It's part of (yet another) Teen series. The first book is really very good, so I'll be among those waiting for the next in the series.

P.S. I got Vixen for participating in the Barnes & Noble book club. It's being released December 14, which I just now realized is today.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Snapped by Pamela Klaffke

Snapped contained a main character that I hated and wished misery upon, several graphic and even bloody sex scenes, and more hipsters than you can shake a stick at. It also contained scenes of drool-worthy vintage clothing and one of the sweetest endings around. It kind of balances out in the end, but after coming to the end, I tend to err on the side of liking the book.

Sara B. created Snap magazine with her friend. She writes the page 6 "Dos and Don'ts" column. This involves taking pictures of actual Canadians on the streets, having them sign a release, and most likely eviscerating them on a public stage. It all seems like business as usual until Parrot Girl comes along. Parrot Girl has a shiny jacket, shorts, and a great big parrot. Parrot Girl makes Sara question her job and her life. Is she just too old to understand what is cool anymore?

Sara encounters a girl named Eva. Eva has a cool, retro style of dress and lots of ideas for Snap. It's incredibly obvious that she isn't to be trusted. She also encounters two old women named Lila and Eleanor. After Lila dies, Eleanor gives Sara lots of her clothes and journals, plus access to her vintage magazine collection. These items actually lead Sara towards what she wants to do in life.

Again, I never actually ended up liking Sara, though I enjoyed the moments she would imagine viciously murdering people. Actually, I didn't really enjoy that because it was disturbing and I just kept shouting, "WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU?!? SEEK HELP!!!" It wasn't a bad read, for the most part. I got through it fairly quickly, and aside from the qualms with the horrible character and awful, graphic scenes, it was a pretty good book.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Andromeda Klein by Frank Portman

Frank Portman's first book, King Dork, was awesome. I had very high expectations for Andromeda Klein. It took me a little while to get used to the writing, and I kind of never caught on with the tarot stuff, but I really ended up liking the book. The best part of the book was Andromeda herself. She's a weedgie (Basically Wicca) outcast with poor hearing. The poor hearing led to the lexicon, words and phrases misheard, things like "mushroom" for bathroom and "don't die" for goodbye. Her mother is incredibly overbearing and her father is very anti-government and sees conspiracy theories in everything. She also hears a voice in her head, a running commentary she thinks of as AAK, or altiverse Andromeda Klein. AAK turns out to be an HGA, or holy guardian angel, or as it prefers, Huggy. Which amused me a lot, both the voice and the name Huggy.

The major plot centers around Andromeda's best friend Daisy. They had done their weedgie ceremonies together, then Daisy died of leukemia. Since then, Andromeda has felt Daisy's presence around. Her tarot predictions start coming true. If that weren't enough, add in the boy trouble. St. Steve was an older guy she took up with for a while. He broke up with her via "Hi there" text message, but suddenly starts texting again. Then her friends make an effort to set her up with Byron, an emogeekian with a cthulu rock obsession. If all that wasn't enough, the International House of Bookcakes (LOVE that name), AKA the library she works at, is weeding out books, especially the old magic books she needs for her weedgie practices and research.

So, there's a lot going on in the book, as you can tell. It all fits together well, and I enjoyed the ending. I think it wouldn't hurt to reread the book at some point in the future, to see if retrospect reveals anything I missed this time around. There's a lot to be said for the magic of the book. Was it all coincidence, or was there something more mysterious going on?

Breathers: A Zombie's Lament by S.G. Browne

Cuddly zombies are just what the world needs, zombies that emote and think and feel. Also, they don't eat people. These zombies are persecuted by the living, "Breathers" as they call them. (Hello, thinly veiled reference to gay community, re: "Breeders.") The undead are not allowed to work, use the internet, and the rules continue on and on. Zombie-hating is the new racism, homophobia, sexism, pretty much any discrimination is happening to the undead.

Andy Warner died in a car accident that also killed his wife. She never came back. Now, Andy lives with his parents. His father is openly hostile and threatens to sell him off to a body farm or zombie zoo. His mother is terrified of him, but tries to put up a good front. He cannot talk because of the accident, his body is mangled, and there are scars all over his face. All Andy does is watch TV, drink wine, and attend his Undead Anonymous (UA) meetings.

Every member of the UA wants nothing more than to return to the lives they had before they died and came back. Society won't allow this to happen. Seriously, people are horrible. They call the zombies names, throw food, dismember them, steal arms. The zombies are legally unable to fight back, and nobody will prosecute anyone who attacks a zombie. Andy starts a petition to return equal rights and protection of the law to the undead, but nothing happens.

Andy and his friends from the UA, Jerry and Rita, meet another zombie named Ray. Ray gives them his special venison jerky. The jerky is the best-tasting thing any of them has ever had, it even makes other food taste better. There's a whole skirting around of the issue, but I knew from the first time they mentioned the jerky that Ray's venison jerky is people. The more jerky that Andy eats, the more restless he gets. He starts protesting and acting out. He starts a romance with Rita. His wounds also start to heal and he can talk again. Eating Breathers is making them better zombies, so they introduce the rest of the UA to the revolutionary cure-all. After that, things start to spiral out of control.

Breathers made me feel a lot of conflicting emotions, first and foremost the desire to become a vegetarian. I really don't need recipes for how to cook humans, thanks. Or descriptions of how you cooked your mother's ribs. There is a line, people.

At first, I was incredibly sympathetic to the zombies. People were so mean. There but for the grace of God go the rest of them, yet there was absolutely no sympathy for their plight. While I like to imagine that I wouldn't be throwing smoothies at zombies, I would hope that any zombie hugs wouldn't end with me becoming a pot of Breather stew. Breather-eating zombies were much harder to sympathize with, especially after the blood-bath that occurs near the end. I ended up feeling foolish for falling for this pro-zombie rhetoric. Zombie hugs are a good way to get yourself eaten.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Spooky Little Girl by Laurie Notaro

Lucy's life has gone from bad to worse to worst. She returns home from an indulgent vacation to Hawaii to find all her belongings on the lawn. She even has to fight a homeless woman for her wedding dress. Her (now former) fiance, Martin, refuses to speak to her in order to clarify the situation. At work, events conspire involving a neglected deposit and a positive drug test. Long story short, Lucy gets fired. Without a job, home, or fiance, Lucy decides to start fresh and move in with her sister Alice. On the first day of her new life, Lucy is on the way to the unemployment office when she steps in front of a bus...and Lucy dies.

She ends up in a class with other Sudden Deaths, learning the finer points of haunting. The point of the classes is to teach them to navigate as a ghost so that they can fulfill their mission and move on to the next level. Lucy is assigned to the house she used to share with Martin. He now lives with Nola, a horrible woman with whom Lucy used to work. Nola has taken over Lucy's life and is afraid that Lucy will return one day and take everything away. Everyone, Martin, Nola, and her best friends Marianne and Jilly all think she is going to return because they don't actually know she's dead.

Lucy decides that her mission must be to scare Nola away. Along the way, she has to deal with her feisty grandmother, mysterious lumps on her poor aging dog, and a seance and possible trip to the dreaded white light. The book hooked me from the beginning, as I wanted to know why Martin kicked Lucy out. As it went along, I was as sad as Lucy that nobody came to her funeral, and was waiting for what seemed like forever for any of her friends to find out that she was dead.

I was a little nervous about reading this book because things related to dying give me panic attacks (See my nearly unwatched box set of "Dead Like Me" for evidence). Spooky Little Girl actually made me a little less afraid of dying. That's a pretty good thing in my book.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Enthusiasm by Polly Shulman

Seriously, what is so difficult about talking, communicating, expressing your feelings? There would be so much less trouble if people would just take the time to say how they feel.

Take Enthusiasm for instance. Julie is tall and shy. She is best friends with Ashleigh, the Enthusiast. Ashleigh has sudden bouts of enthusiasm that lead her to take up new hobbies and interests such as candymaking and bug collecting. After reading Julie's copy of Pride and Prejudice, Ashleigh's new interest is acting and speaking like Jane Austen, culminating in finding true love by sneaking into a dance at Forefield Academy, the local all-boys prep school.

The plan does not go off without a hitch, but the girls are rescued by Grandison Parr and Ned. Parr ends up being the Mysterious Stranger, the boy that Julie has been seeing around town, the only boy Julie would consider for a relationship. Both girls dance with both boys, and by the end of the night both girls are smitten. Julie is into Parr and Ned and Ashleigh are perfect for each other. Unfortunately, Ashleigh decides that her Mr. Darcy is Parr. Julie is torn because Ashleigh is her best friend, she is generous and always puts Julie before herself...but she is head over heels for Parr! Julie decides she must give Parr up for good, just for Ashleigh's sake.

That's really the annoying part. I understand that these girls are in high school and don't know everything about the world, but Julie could have told Ashleigh that she had a thing for Parr. Would there be some hair-pulling and nail-scratching? Maybe, but at least the truth would be out.

Moving on, Forefield Academy is staging a musical and needs some girls from the public school. Ashleigh decides this is the perfect way to get closer to their respective fellas. Julie reluctantly goes along with the Enthusiast's schemes, but it just gets harder and harder for her to be around Parr while still staying loyal to her friend. Sidenote, I didn't get Julie's "incredible love" for Parr when she really just saw him around a couple times, danced and talked with him a little, and that's about all. It's actually a little overly-intense and vaguely stalkery. Just like high school was!

Enthusiasm was cute and fluffy, but not exactly mind-blowing literature. There's traces of Jane Austen in the relationships portion. I always feel as though I know who will end up with whom in an Austen novel, but the fun is getting to that point. Secondly, I didn't expect to like Ashleigh much, but she seemed fun and sweet, really incredibly conscientious towards Julie. I relate more to Julie, the one who is quietly passionate. It's difficult to have loud, enthusiastic people around because it's so much harder for others to understand that you like something as well. You almost have to give up the thing you love or risk being seen as an imitator or copycat of the enthusiastic person. Not that I would know anything about that personally or anything.

Anyways, everything is resolved in the end. And just like in Jane Austen, happy endings abound.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Smoke and Mirrors by Neil Gaiman

Neil Gaiman is awesome.


The End.

I wish I could just say that, but I really wouldn't dream of giving up that easily. Smoke and Mirrors is a collection of short stories and poems. My favorite part of the book, like with his Fragile Things, is the introduction. Gaiman actually gives a little background information behind his writing process and inspiration. Here, he includes an entire story in the intro. It's a story he planned to give to a friend as a wedding present, a story about a couple who receives a story for their wedding. Gaiman never actually gifted the story because of how depressing it turned out. Though if it had been me, I would be happy getting any present from Neil Gaiman.

Out of the stories, my favorites were "The Price, "We Can Get Them For You Wholesale," and "Snow, Glass, Apples." "The Price" is about a family who takes in any number of stray cats. One particular black cat shows up with mysterious injuries, the results of some mysterious nightly battle. "We Can Get Them For You Wholesale" tells the story of a man who decides to hire a hit man by looking under Pest Control in the phone book. It's also about the human inability to resist a good bargain. I was looking forward to reading "Snow, Glass, Apples" the most. It's Snow White from the Queen's perspective with Snow White as a blood-drinking little hussy. Snow White is terrifying, and there's all sorts of fun stuff like hearts getting cut out, incest, and a creepy pedo-prince (Just like the original fairy tale!).

Apparently, I am something of a Neil Gaiman fan girl. Though I've probably mentioned this already, I've even been to see Gaiman speak at a library event. I ran out and bought my tickets as soon as I heard of the event, though there probably wasn't ever any danger that it would sell out. I even have one of the autographed book plates they were giving out, accidentally obtained while trying to make my way through the crowd. Given all that, keep in mind that I'm not particularly subjective. Yet Smoke and Mirrors does offer a good mix of solid fiction, so even if you don't trust me, give it a chance. There may be something you like in there.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly

Andi Alpers is effed up. She is failing her senior year at St. Anselm's. It appears as though she purposely exerts herself pushing people away. Andi constantly thinks of killing herself, even expresses the desire to die. Normally now would be the time for some, "Cheer up, emo bear, high school ends sooner than you'd think," but Andi is actually suffering from some real pain. Two years ago, her brother Truman was hit by a car. He was killed right in front of her. That will mess anyone up.

Now, Andi takes Qwellify. If she doesn't take enough, she can't get out of bed. Too much and she starts to hallucinate. At home, Andi's mom spends her days painting Truman over and over. Her dad has been absent for a long time. Once he gets the letter from St. Anselm's, he takes action. Mom goes away to a mental hospital and Andi accompanies her father to Paris for winter vacation, which is the best punishment ever, meaning I am jealous and want to go to France. While there, she is required to write an outline for her senior thesis, tracing the roots of modern music back to 18th century composer Amade Mahlerbeau. Who is fictional, which I know because I thought I might actually be able to hear his music, but alas I cannot.

While in Paris, Andi finds an old diary written by a girl named Alexandrine Paradis. Alex lived in 18th century France, back when merde got real. Andi reads about how Alex got close to the royal family by serving as a companion for Louis-Charles, the dauphin. After the King is overthrown, Louis-Charles is locked away in a tower and treated poorly. Though she had planned to use the child as a stepping stone for her aspirations as an actress, Alex comes to genuinely care for him. She lights firecrackers to show the child that she is still there, she has not abandoned him. The narrative goes back and forth from Andi to Alex's diary entries. In present day, Andi's father is actually trying to verify if a human heart belonged to the same Louis-Charles from Alex's diary. Andi can't stop herself from hoping that the heart isn't the dauphin's. She wants a happy ending for the young prince, the happy ending her brother didn't get.

Another person giving Andi hope is a charming cab driver named Virgil. They bond over music, often singing each other to sleep. Virgil is actually someone who won't be put off, despite Andi's best efforts. He realizes that something horrible happened to her, but she is just too afraid to tell him about Truman and all the messy parts of her life. The hope scares her, getting close to Virgil scares her.

Oh, also, Andi ends up going back in time. To the French Revolution, where she meets Mahlerbeau and acts the part of Alex.

It's been a while since I've thought about the French Revolution. What can I say, I'm more preoccupied with the Battle of Hastings these days. Seriously, Alex's diary entries provide a great first-hand encounter to all the mess from a character that was actually right in the action. The people overthrow the King, but things aren't automatically fixed. Robespierre comes into power and keeps chopping heads. Bad gets replaced by worse gets replaced by worse still.

But the blade still rises and falls. Still heads roll into baskets. Still an innocent suffers, locked away in a tower. Do you know why, sparrow? No? Then I shall tell you.
Because after all the shattered hopes, after all the blood and death, we woke as if from a nightmare only to find that the ugly still are not beautiful and the dull still do not sparkle. That this one sings better than that one. And he got the position I wanted. And her cow gives more milk. And they have a bigger house. And he married the girl I loved. And no writ, no bill, no law, nor declaration will ever change it.

In the end, it all seems so senseless, both the deaths by the guillotine and Truman's death. There are parallels between Andi and Alex, Truman and Louis-Charles. Sometimes I feel ashamed about reading so many Teen books. Revolution is actually one of those books that could be read by adults as well. It's good to have some options that aren't all about vampires and werewolves, just a leetle time travel.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Kraken by China Mieville

"The streets of London are stone synapses hardwired for worship. Walk the right or wrong way down Tooting Bec you're invoking something or other. You may not be interested in the gods of London, but they're interested in you..."

Billy Harrow was just giving yet another tour at London's Natural History Museum. The main show at the Museum was the giant squid, Architeuthis. Impossibly, the grand finale arrives and the giant squid has vanished. That's when things start to get weird. It turns out that the squid is God, at least God for the Krakenists. Now, because the kraken was stolen, the world is ending. Of the multitudes of religions and gods in London, they all agree that the end is nigh.

Billy has encounters with a strange police force consisting of a young surly officer with powers and a supernatural psychologist. He is supposed to be under their protection and recruited to join their group because of his squid expertise. Then he receives the package, out of which unfolds a father and son. Goss and Subby are the scariest effing characters in the world. Goss speaks these nonsense phrases and kills people, Subby is an undead child. Goss promptly eats Billy's best friend and takes him to see the Tattoo. The Tattoo is a talking tattoo on some poor guy's back. It controls a gang of people, people with really low self esteem who want to be boiled down into characteristics and get fun fist-heads. It's weird.

Long story short, Billy gets rescued from the Tattoo by Dane, former security guard at the museum, actually a Krakenist. Dane takes Billy to his church, then accompanies him on a mission to recover the squid, even though he will be excommunicated from the church. Along the way, they learn of the rivalry between the Tattoo and Grisamentum, who is dead...or is he? Well, then, there's a haunted Trekkie who owns an actual Tribble (Which sounded really cute, even though it was described as a pile of hair and flesh), a pro-Labor deity that hops into any available statue or action figure, and someone gets folded TO DEATH. Because people can be origami.

It's still not over, but I'm not saying anything else. It feels like I'm giving away too much as it is. There's a mystery behind who stole the squid and why, and there are seriously several reveals made before the actual explanation is even broached.

I have been meaning to read China Mieville for a while. Honestly, there were times when things went over my head, but I got the general gist of everything. (I'm especially proud of the time when I couldn't place a name, then I suddenly remembered- oh yeah, the dead guy in the bottle!) There were elements that reminded me of Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, a lot of intricate storytelling and multiple plots separating and weaving together. Kraken had incredibly memorable scenes, scenes that totally blew my mind. Now to try Perdido Street Station.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Confessions of a Teen Sleuth by Chelsea Cain

So as it turns out, Nancy Drew, girl detective, was actually a living person*. She told several of her adventures to her college roommate Caroline Keene. Caroline wrote the stories out and used them to write a series of books. Nancy's major objection was how often Caroline got things wrong. At her death, Nancy sent a manuscript to author Chelsea Cain in order to clear up the facts. That manuscript makes up Confessions of a Teen Sleuth.

Every chapter contains a different mystery, and with every chapter, Nancy gets older and older. It becomes incredibly sad to read about a 50-year-old woman still calling herself a girl detective. There's some serious drama in this "real" story. Nancy finds out that her mother is not actually dead, but living her own adventurous life. Then comes the juicy romantic details. Nancy was in love with Hardy Boys' Frank. They even had a love child together. Frank and Nancy weren't meant to be (She said that it was as if they lived in seperate worlds). She married "special friend" Ned Nickerson and named her son Ned Jr. Yet, no matter how she tried to settle down to a domestic life, Nancy felt herself being pulled to solve the mysteries around her. She becomes estranged from Ned and Ned Jr. in a similar way that her own mother became estranged from her.

Confessions of a Teen Sleuth contains lots of cameos from other teen detective stories, including the Hardy Boys, Cherry Ames (Star of a series of nursing books), the Bobbsey twins, Trixie Belden, even the Wakefields have a tiny mention. Encyclopedia Brown appears as a tubby middle-aged detective who still lives with his mother. This book is ridiculous, but that is really to be expected. It states that it is a parody right on the cover. There are some moments that made me snicker a bit, but a lot of the humor is the equivalent of reading a movie movie (As if the viewers of movie movies can read). Obviously, Chelsea Cain read lots of Nancy Drew in order to get the details right, right down to Nancy's titian hair. I wouldn't say that this book is raping your childhood, assuming that childhood contained lots of Nancy Drew. It's really more of a minor assault charge with some consensual snogging of childhood memories, snarking with love.

*In the novel Confessions of a Teen Sleuth. Nancy Drew was not actually far as I know.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Discord's Apple by Carrie Vaughn

The world is at war again. Food is being rationed, there are checkpoints and patrols in every city. What the world needs now is magic.

Magical objects were hidden away in the storeroom centuries ago because they were no longer needed. Now, with the global war, the objects are being claimed again. Evie Walker just returned to Hopes Fort for Christmas and to take care of her dying father. She doesn't know anything about her destiny as keeper of the storeroom. Once she enters the room, sees the objects, and gives the glass slippers to the old woman at the door, she realizes that there are some things in which we are not given a choice. The choices are made for us.

Evie runs into trouble when a polished woman shows up for an object. The woman is Hera, wife of Zeus. She is seeking the golden apple of discord. This apple was fought over by Hera, Aphrodite, and Athena. Aphrodite won the apple and caused the Trojan War by presenting Helen to Paris. Hera still believes that the apple belongs to her. Evie instinctively knows which objects belong to which people, and the apple is not for Hera. The world is in shambles as it is, Hera and the apple can make everything oh so much worse.

Alex was a prominent feature in Homer's "Odyssey." His name was Sinon and he was the man who convinced the Trojans to take in the giant wooden horse that led to their downfall. Shortly after the war, Alex was taken by Apollo. He learns important lessons about gods during his stay. First, gods don't understand that raping people isn't cool. Second, gods are actually just people with extraordinary abilities. Regular people saw the abilities and decided to worship them, so the gods became distant from humanity. They used humans as playing pieces in their games. So Zeus ended the age of the gods and stored away the magic.

Apollo put a chain around Alex's neck that gave him eternal life. Alex is seeking anything that will take the chain off and end his life. Evie and Alex, plus King Arthur and Merlin, Evie's father and his adorable giant wolfhound Mabe, have to defend the apple and the Storeroom from Hera and her accomplices.

Discord's Apple seamlessly mixes mythology and history. The narrative skips around from the present events to Alex's experiences in his Sinon days to flashbacks of former Walkers creating and guarding the storeroom. It all comes together into a really great story.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Matched by Ally Condie

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Matched opens at Cassia's Matching Ceremony. The Matching Ceremonies take place on the girl's 17th birthday. They get to dress up in a fancy dress instead of regulation clothes and eat fancy food and cake instead of regulation food. Cassia's match ends up defying the odds. Most girls are matched with boys from other cities far away, complete strangers to imagine and dream about. Cassia is matched with Xander, her best friend. She already knows everything about him, but when she watches the data card with his information, she is surprised to see another face on the card. She knows the second face as well.

Ky moved to their city after his parents were killed. Officials tell Cassia that he obviously couldn't be her match. His inclusion must have been a sick joke, because Ky is an aberration. Aberrations are kept separate from regular citizens, not allowed as many job opportunities and definitely not allowed to match. Cassia was friendly with Ky before, but after seeing his face on her data card, she actually takes the time to see him.

They spend time together while hiking as a leisure activity. He teaches her how to write, she teaches him a poem that her grandfather left her before he died. It may not seem like much, but the Officials have long ago whittled all music, books, poems, pretty much everything, into a concentrated selection of everything worth knowing. There's the 100 Songs, 100 Paintings, 100 Poems. Everything else was destroyed. Before Cassia's grandfather died on his 80th birthday, which is the same age everyone dies, he showed her a hidden compartment in her grandmother's compact. The compartment held a paper with two poems, poems that are not included in the 100 poems. One poem was Dylan Thomas' "Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night." Cassia starts to relate to that poem. She begins to understand that it might be better for everyone to make their own choices. By the end of the book, there aren't any significant changes, but it's a decent setup for some action in the sequel.

I wanted to read this book because there were so many great comments on the cover, and they compared it to The Hunger Games. Cassia seemed a bit stupid at the beginning, but it was really just a result of following the rules and thinking everything was for the Greater Good. I'm still hoping she gets more of a Katniss Everdeen attitude by the next book. Overall, Matched was a strong book. There were times, especially near the end, when I was incredibly absorbed in the plot. It was a great start, and while I usually loathe when books are part of a series, I must say that I am looking forward to reading more of this book.

Matched comes out November 30. Thanks to Penguin for sending an Advanced Reader Copy to my B&N location.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

"Knock, knock!" "Who's there?" "SPOILERS."
"...Spoilers who?"

(That completely obnoxious "joke" is meant to tell you that there are going to be spoilers from the first two Hunger Games books.)

Previously on The Hunger Games, there was the Capitol. The Capitol is the controlling city of Panem, which was formerly North America. People in the Capitol are incredible consumers. They are shallow and easily manipulated. The Capitol rules over the 12 districts. Most district people are poor and on the brink of starvation. Their children have been forced to kill each other at the Hunger Games for the amusement of the Capitol. Finally, the districts realize that they cannot allow this anymore. They have to put an end to the Capitol's power. They have to fight back. This time, they have to win.

Katniss Everdeen won the Hunger Games. People fell in love with her and her fake/maybe not romance with Peeta Mellark. During the Quarter Quell in Catching Fire, Katniss was taken from the arena by a hovercraft from District 13. District 13 was said to have been completely obliterated by the Capitol. However, all that was simply propaganda. The district simply went underground, building an entire civilization. Unfortunately, District 13 was not able to rescue Peeta. He was taken by the Capitol.

Because she is so recognizable, Katniss is asked to be the face of the resistance. Katniss will be the mockingjay (A hybrid of jabberjays and mockingbirds, symbol of resistance). She films messages for the Districts and the Capitol. At the same time, the Capitol is filming Peeta. He is urging both sides to stop fighting, fearing the great loss of life. Katniss knows that the Capitol is abusing Peeta. President Snow is keeping him alive because Peeta is the one way to get to her. Eventually, District 13 sends a rescue team for Peeta. What they bring back is just tragic. I was sobbing during all these scenes, sobbing just thinking about it. I'm even about to tear up now.

The love triangle gets thrown for a loop, definitely. However, there are also some changes to Gale that make it even more difficult to predict. There's also even more decisions to make in the rebellion. How far is too far to go? Does the ends justify the means? Is it really victory if it turns you into the very thing that you hate?

Mockingjay is just explosive. The entire series is fantastic, but this is just the perfect ending. It's heartbreaking, but ultimately heartening. It's also more satisfying than a million Breaking Dawns, maybe 1 1/2 Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (But I still love you, J.K. Rowling!). You NEED to be reading these books right NOW.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Marvel 1602 by Neil Gaiman, Andy Kubert, and Richard Isanove

The year is 1602. Elizabeth I is Queen of England, but she is fading fast. King James of Scotland is chomping at the bits to take over when she is finally gone. English colonists have settled at Roanoke in the Americas. Spain is preoccupied with their Inquisition, weeding out those in league with the Devil who would imperil the church and its people. It is a time of great miracles, wonder, and changes. The most unsettling of these changes are the lightning storms. Although nobody is sure exactly what is the cause or the outcome, they are fairly certain it means the end of the world.

There is an object harbored by the Knights Templar, an object of incredible power. This object could be powerful enough to save the world. Head of intelligence Sir Nicholas Fury hires a man, the blind minstrel Matthew Murdoch, to fetch the object for the good side. Count Otto von Doom is trying to steal the object for less noble purposes. Doom also sends three creepy henchmen to kill Queen Elizabeth, Fury, and the young Virginia Dare. Virginia is the first child born in Roanoke. She returned to England with her bodyguard, Nativeman Rojhaz, in order to get English aid for the colony. The strange storms started in the colonies a short time after the colonists arrived...maybe when Virginia was born? Now they have followed across the sea to England.

In other parts of the country, Carlos Javier and his College for the Sons of Gentle Folk serve as a safe harbor for those who are labeled as "witchbreed." The Inquisition, namely Grand Inquisitor Enrique, have been killing as many as they can find...or have they? Once Elizabeth dies, the less-tolerant King James comes after Javier and his students, accusing them of killing the Queen. Fury and Javier have a mutual understanding, and Fury must decide whether to break Javier's trust or commit treason against his new King.

Why are all these Marvel superheroes alive over 300 years before their time? What (Or WHO) sparked the end of the world? Where can a witchbreed go to gain freedom from oppression? Why bother changing Peter Parker's name when you give him the obvious (And horrifying) moniker of Peter Parkquagh?

This was my first real attempt at a graphic novel, if you don't count the graphic novel version of The Baby-Sitters Club. Let's call that training wheels and this the big-girl bike. The mixture of classic superheroes and historical figures was creative and just plain awesome. In a nice touch, the illustrations look like woodcarvings, and I have just enough knowledge to recognize the superheroes (With a little help from the lists in the introduction and at the end of the book). My graphic novel experience was incredibly positive. I will definitely read them again in the near future.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

*Here be Hunger Games spoilers. Proceed with caution.*

At the 74th Hunger Games, the contestants were told that two tributes could win if they were from the same District. This was because the audience fell for the pairing of Katniss and Peeta. They played that angle up for the cameras to get food, water, and medicine. Once only Katniss and Peeta were left, it was announced that the old rules were back, only one could win. That's when Katniss took out the poisonous berries, both started to eat them, and suddenly they were both winners!

Katniss' moment of inspiration could be interpreted as a love-sick girl doing anything to save her boyfriend...or as an act of rebellion. The Capitol is worried that the Districts will be inspired to stage an uprising. President Snow even visits Katniss to threaten her family and force her to keep pretending to be madly in love. She tries her hardest, kisses and hugs Peeta, even gets engaged, but President Snow still doesn't believe it. Worse, as Katniss and Peeta take their victory tour, they accidentally cause innocent citizens to be killed. The more Katniss sees of the other Districts, the more she she knows how much better everything is back in District 12, a place where things kind of suck in the first place.

Unfortunately, when Katniss returns home, everything changes for the worse. There are new Peacekeepers, representatives of the Capitol who keep everyone in line. The old Peacekeepers turned their backs on the rule-breaking that was going on. Now, every indiscretion results in a whipping or time in the stocks. Katniss' other love interest and fake cousin Gale gets whipped for being caught with a dead turkey. Because Katniss and Gale won the Games, District 12 gets a monthly delivery of food. Even this is ruined, all the food sent is rotten. When the Capitol treats people this way, how can they expect anyone NOT to revolt?

On to the Capitol's biggest and best form of punishment, the Hunger Games. It's the 75th anniversary of the games, and every 25 years is known as the Quarter Quell. The Quarter Quell throws an exciting new twist into the teenagers killing each other for sport. This year, the tributes will all be selected from the victors of previous Hunger Games. That means Katniss is definitely returning to the Games with either Peeta or Haymitch (Their mentor, winner of the 50th Hunger Games). Haymitch gets picked, but Peeta volunteers in his place. Katniss feels that she owes Peeta and makes it her mission to keep him alive, even making Haymitch promise to make sure Peeta gets out alive.

Once the games start, it's business as usual, kill or be killed. Peeta and Katniss make new allies, allies chosen by Haymitch. Katniss doesn't fully understand the game that Haymitch is playing, but it ends up being far bigger than her or the Hunger Games.

Now for the big question of the Hunger Games books: Gale vs. Peeta. I personally love Peeta. He is big and clumsy. He bakes and decorates cakes. When Katniss was starving, he gave her bread. To be fair, Gale isn't featured as much as Peeta. He nobly takes care of his family and would have taken care of Prim and her mother if Katniss had died. However, Peeta is always showing total devotion to Katniss. Gale just seems to be pissy that she never wants to go out with him. Finally, he actually looks a lot like Katniss to the point that they could be related and I think that might end up being one of the twists in the next book.

Catching Fire was a great segue into Mockingjay, which I expect to be completely explosive from beginning to end. I liked the method that Suzanne Collins used to get Katniss back into the Hunger Games. When I was reading the first book, I pictured Katniss having her name called at the Reaping to participate in her 23rd Hunger Games, looking in the camera and saying, "I'm too old for this..." (Note to Suzanne Collins: If you end up expanding the trilogy or writing a 20 years in the future sequel, you can totally use that scene.) Now, I'm just excited to read Mockingjay and learn the outcomes of all my favorite characters, whether Katniss ends up choosing Gale or Peeta, finding out exactly WHAT is going on in District 13, and probably most of all hoping that there is a happy ending. I know, happy endings suck, but these are fictional people that I care about, so I want a happy ending all the same.

Monday, August 23, 2010

The Dream of Perpetual Motion by Dexter Palmer

So, there's a guy named Harold Winslow on this zeppelin, the Chrysalis. He's stuck there with his insane girlfriend and her father. Stuck on a zeppelin with his insane girlfriend and her dead father, who he killed and put in a freezer. Now, he is writing a memoir to tell whoever comes across the pages about the events of his life, everything leading up to what sounds like the weirdest joke ever.

When he was 10 years old, Harold visited Nickel Empire, an amusement park where everything costs a single nickel. He wanted to ride the Tornado, a giant roller coaster. Instead, he paid a nickel to climb to the top of a giant tower and was propositioned by two men. Thankfully, this proposition was just to put his future in the hands of Prospero Taligent. Taligent is the richest, most powerful man in the world, creator of the mechanical man. He is looking for children to attend the 10th birthday party of his adopted daugther Miranda. Harold will have to give away the remainder of his nickels and his hopes of riding the Tornado, but in return he will no longer have the burden of deciding his own fate.

At the party, Taligent tells all fifty children in attendance that he will grant them the one thing that they desire most in the world. They will receive this at any point in their lives. Harold gets asked back to the Taligent Tower to play with Miranda. They act out scenarios in her playroom, then one day they kiss. Taligent throws Harold out of the Tower. He has some serious issues about his daughter growing up, to an incredibly scary degree. After deciding that Miranda is impure, Taligent looks at his now adult daughter sleeping and says, "I'm going to do terrible things to you." (Shiver) Surprise, surprise, he is the one who drives Miranda insane.

Harold grows up and becomes a greeting card writer. He also becomes hard and mechanical, like the robots Taligent creates. This is indeed one of the themes of the book. There is an "age of miracles" when you are young. You can believe in things, you are the Virgin. Growing up means understanding more of the world, but understanding takes away the miracles. You become the Dynamo, the mechanical man. It's seen over and over. Flesh is weak, tin is strong. If your daughter begs for a flesh and blood unicorn for her birthday, you have the surgeons drill a hole in a horse's head right in front of her. She's got to learn sometime! Flesh will die but metal is eternal.

There is a point in the book where Harold attends a cocktail party and meets an author named Dexter Palmer. That kind of blew my mind, the idea of an author giving himself a cameo in his own book. The story jumps around a lot, showing Harold at different ages, interludes aboard the Chrysalis, journal entries from Prospero Taligent and someone called Caliban Taligent. It's all incredibly weird, but weird isn't really a bad thing.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Confessions of a Prairie Bitch: How I Survived Nellie Oleson and Learned to Love Being Hated by Alison Arngrim

I loved this book. I was well over half-way through with my next read when I saw this book at the store. I was just going to read the first chapter and wait to read the rest until I finished the book I was already reading, but I stayed up until 3 a.m. reading Confessions of a Prairie Bitch. Alison Arngrim tells the story of her childhood, experiences during the filming of Little House on the Prairie and all that happened after the show.

The television stories were really my favorite part. Who doesn't love Little House on the Prairie? It's possible to watch several hours of the show every day in syndication. Reading Arngrim's stories about the set made me feel like I was privileged with top secret information. I learned that Michael Landon would wear tight pants with no underwear and drank lots of Wild Turkey. He also kept everyone on the set on a pretty short leash. His high standards didn't stop when it came to the child actors, who earned a paycheck just like all the other actors and were expected to behave as professionally as the other actors. Arngrim brags, "Cast of Little House: no arrests, no convictions." Compared to other televison shows, this was a fairly admirable statement.

Melissa Gilbert, Nellie's nemesis Laura Ingalls, was actually Arngrim's real-life bff. They had slumber parties and got accidentally drunk off of convenience store rum cakes. Melissa Sue Anderson, the goody-two-shoes Mary, on the other hand, was very stand-offish. Anderson seemed very abrupt, even kind of rude. I am seriously thinking about reading Melissa Anderson's book, The Way I See It: A Look Back at My Life on Little House. It would be interesting to see things from her perspective and see if there was any explanation for her behavior. (Though, If I actually do read that, why quit without reading Melissa Gilbert's Prairie Tales? Little House Autobiography Trifecta!)

I was thoroughly enjoying Confessions of a Prairie Bitch and then I reached the parts about her molestation at the hands of her brother. It was a bit of a shock in the context of everything that I had read up to that point. Even though I know this sentiment isn't worth much, I really wish that this wouldn't have happened to her. I have nothing but respect and admiration that she survived all that and later advocated for other abused children through the National Association to Protect Children, helping to repeal laws protecting abusers in cases of incest. If that isn't awesome enough, Arngrim became an advocate for APLA (AIDS Project Los Angeles) after her close friend Steve Tracy (Husband Percival on Little House) was diagnosed with the disease. She continues to work with both organizations and more.

I loved Alison Arngrim's attitude from the very beginning of the book. A lot of celebrities take great pains to distance themselves from roles that originally made them famous. Arngrim now embraces the character as part of herself. Nellie Oleson wasn't shy and didn't take anything from anybody. Though a fictional depiction of a real-life 1800s bully, Nellie helped her portrayer to be bolder and braver, she gave her money and friends, and a means to help other people. In all honesty, Alison Arngrim is now one of my heroes and it will be difficult to dislike Nellie Oleson as much when I know the story of the person underneath the curly wig.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Presenting: nook!!!

Attention, interwebs! I have a new foster nook. As an employee of the prestigious B&N (2298, Maumee, Shops at Fallen Timbers), we get to take home a loaner nook for a few days to explore the many attributes of nook.
I had planned to ask for a nook tomorrow after my shift, but my manager offered a nook after we closed tonight, and I jumped at the chance. I had hoped to be finished with my current physical book (The Dream of Perpetual Motion by Dexter Palmer) before borrowing nook. Instead, I decided to finish it on the nook. I love my adopted nook. I can't wait to pick which book to read next, to download music, and to upload a picture.

Monday, August 9, 2010

The Eternal Ones by Kirsten Miller

As a child, Haven Moore used to talk about a boy named Ethan. She once packed up all her dolls in the middle of the night to run away to New York. Haven's father knew something was different about his daughter, so he contacted the Ouroboros Society. They are an organization that deals with individuals who have memories and talents left over from previous lives. Deja vu, love at first sight, even special skills, all of this can be explained by reincarnation. Because of this contact, the plot of the book actually starts.

At the beginning of the book, 17-year-old Haven Moore has a pretty sucky life, even for a teenager from a small Southern town. She is under the guardianship of her super-religious grandmother, Imogene. Her father died several years earlier in a devastating car accident. Her mother, Mae, relinquished custody after a brief stay at a mental institution following her husband's death.

Haven plans to leave their small town of Snope City for New York to go to the Fashion Institute. Then her visions come back, visions of herself in a different life with a boy named Ethan. Because of the visions, Imogene decides to keep Haven at home. Haven also has to take up counseling with Dr. Tidmore, the town's reverend. After a particularly bad vision and violent reaction, Dr. Tidmore stops his sessions. Then things get even worse. During a sermon, Tidmore invites Haven and her gay best friend Beau and calls them both the Devil. Practically the entire town turns on Haven.

One day, Haven sees a picture of Iain Morrow. Iain inherited a lot of money from his parents and is being hounded by paparazzi for his alleged involvement in the disappearance and suspected murder of rock star Jeremy Johns. Haven immediately realizes that Iain Morrow is the current incarnation of Ethan Evans. After the town turns against her, Haven finally takes the initiative and runs away to New York. She plans to contact the Ouroboros Society once she gets there and use them to help her meet Ethan/Iain. Once there, however, she encounters Iain, he recognizes her, and before you know it, they are off to Rome. Still, can Haven trust Iain? He may have killed Jeremy Johns, and as Ethan, may have once killed Haven.

In their past life, Haven was named Constance Whitman. In Rome, she fell in love with a boy named Ethan. He was poor and unsuitable, but she was determined to marry him anyways. They both belonged to the Ouroboros Society, which was led by Dr. August Strickland at the time. Strickland died and surprisingly left a good deal of money to Ethan. Because of that, Ethan was suspected of killing Strickland. Constance also worried that he was cheating on her with another Society member named Rebecca. The pair later died together in a fire at Constance's house, one that Haven thinks might have been set by Ethan.

Honestly, the back and forth Haven does gets tiresome. (Can I trust him? I can't trust him! Oh, that explains it, now I trust him again! Wait, can I trust him?!? Lather, rinse, repeat.) In the end, The Eternal Ones was incredibly addictive. There was a lot of romance, but also suspense from the intrigue of a secret society and its creepy gray men lackeys. It was predictable, but teen literature is hardly Shakespeare. It's pretty good for what it is.

P.S. Thank you to Razorbill and Penguin Group for sending the advanced reader copy of The Eternal Ones to my Barnes & Noble store. Also thank you to my coworkers for being to slow in getting this and the other books I managed to grab for my Cannonball Read blog.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green & David Levithan

When I look in the Toledo phone book under Grayson, there are three listings: D&C, K, and T&P. When I searched for Will Grayson on Facebook, there are 120 results. There are 168 for William Grayson.

What is the purpose of my search, one may ask? Mostly, I am trying to come up with a way to write about this book by seeing if the major plot is at all plausible, that plot being the meeting of two young men who happen to share the name Will Grayson. From my two seconds of research, I must conclude that the plot is somewhat feasible.

As for the fictional Will Graysons, one is a semi-loner who lives by two rules:
1. Don't care too much
2. Shut up
He is best friends with the flamboyant Tiny Cooper, a giant football player who is writing a biographical musical spectacular. This Will Grayson meets a girl named Jane. He likes Jane a lot, but also is turned off by Jane. He doesn't know what he wants.

The second will grayson does not use capitalization at all (That kind of bugged me.). will grayson is a bit acerbic. I didn't like him much at first. He hangs out with a girl named Maura who like likes him, but he doesn't like like her and doesn't have the guts to tell her. In fact, he has an internet relationship with a guy named Issac. The story really starts when will grayson and Issac arrange to meet in Chicago, at what turns out to be a porn store. This is the same porn store where Will Grayson is shopping after a mishap with a fake I.D. led to him missing a Maybe Dead Cats show. Will Grayson meets will grayson. Truths are revealed, universes collide.

will grayson was difficult to like at first. We find out that he is gay, we find out that he takes mood regulating drugs. Neither of those is a reason to dislike him. However, he has this constant attitude problem. He would get really mad at his mother for no reason, he would become convinced that Maura was spying on him or hacking into his email. Worst of all, he would get so mad when anyone tried to commiserate with him. "I'm depressed, too, sometimes" would make him incredibly angry because obviously will grayson is the most depressed one of all. What I mean to say is not that actual depression isn't a serious medical condition, but that obviously people try to say things to make you feel better or just to say something. will grayson didn't seem to understand that.

Then again, Will Grayson was weak. He figured out that he wanted Jane only after he lost her, which was kind of infuriating. I've been fascinated by Schrodinger's Cat ever since I read this article. There was a lot about that theory in this book. Maybe Dead Cats was one of the bands, Will Grayson and Jane had a whole discussion about being scared to open the box and see whether the cat is dead, the cat being their relationship. There was lots of discussion surrounding Will and his fear of opening the box to see if the cat was dead, but if you wait long enough, the cat will be dead anyways. It was cute, honest.

In the end, I loved both Will Graysons (will graysons). Will Grayson was generally likable all along, albeit annoyingly self-centered. will grayson was obviously dealing with a lot, and there were all kinds of breakthroughs and revelations that made him more sympathetic and likable. I've read lots of John Green, but I've never read any David Levithan. They partnered together really well, with Green writing the Will Grayson chapters and Levithan writing will grayson. The entire thing is well written. There are lessons to be learned, but it's not preachy. Gay characters are portrayed, but not stereotyped or exploited. Same-sex relationships have just as much awww-power as straight relationships. I really want this to be made into a movie, if only so I could see Tiny's musical in real life.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Summer We Read Gatsby by Danielle Ganek

"How well can we really know another person? People can be in your lives for years- they can fill your lives. But all you really know of them are the stories they tell you. And then they die. They always leave a mystery behind."

Half-sisters Pecksland (Peck) and Stella Blue (Cassie) are spending their summer in Southampton while sorting out their Aunt Lydia's estate. They end up finding a mystery. In her will, their aunt requested that they find a "thing of utmost value." Right after reading that passage of Lydia's will, Cassie thinks of a painting inscribed "To L.M. from J.P." The painting, which they suspect may be an early Jackson Pollock, goes missing soon afterwards. Further details aren't really necessary because the treasure hunt is never really the main focus of the plot, just an entertaining backdrop and deus ex machina.

The main story lies with Peck and Cassie. As children, they never spent much time together. Their father fell in love with Cassie's mother when he was still married and subsequently left Peck and her mother. The sisters are as different as night and day, as identical twins always are in popular culture. Peck is curvy, loud, and prone to exclamation. She wears a lot of vintage clothes (The descriptions of which made me jealous). Cassie has lived in Switzerland for most of her adult life, and is quieter, stick thin, and doesn't care about clothes. Everything is seen through Cassie's eyes, which is probably for the best. Peck would probably have been an overwhelming, inaccurate narrator.

Throughout the summer, Peck and Cassie connect as sisters for the first time. They learn to appreciate each other as almost the only family either has left. Both sisters find love with old acquaintances. Peck falls in love with ex-boyfriend Miles Noble, then falls out of love, then back in again. Cassie has a difficult time with old family friend Finn Killian. Peck is wooed by a Gatsby-themed party and monogrammed pool, Cassie by baseball games and family s'mores.

The Summer We Read Gatsby actually repeats a lot of the themes from one of my other Cannonball Reads, Paper Towns. The half-sisters didn't really know each other well, they didn't know their aunt well enough. On the second, nothing more could be done because Aunt Lydia was dead, to be abrupt. Yet, her death led to greater bonding between the sisters. Her death led to romance: Peck and Miles, Cassie and Finn. Lydia's death led to a whole new dysfunctional family. It's really incredibly beautiful to see the disconnection of death forge bonds of connection amongst the living. Nobody knows everything about any one person, no matter how close you get. There will always be secrets taken to the grave. Ultimately, we have to focus more on the living, forge our connections, and disclose our secrets while we still have the chance.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Elliot Allagash by Simon Rich

"Money, money, money
Must be funny
In the rich man's world
Money, money, money
Always sunny
In the rich man's world"

Today I am doing the unbelievable (Well, unbelievably cheesy). I am opening this review with a quote from the lyrics of Abba. Yes, THAT Abba. Because the song "Money, Money" appropriately sums up the book I just read, Elliot Allagash. It is a story about money being the most powerful bargaining chip, more powerful than talent or effort because money actually can buy talent and effort, or at the very least the appearance of talent and effort.

Seymour Herson met Elliot Allagash for the first time when Elliot pushed him down the stairs. It was a way for Elliot to test his limits, see how far he could go before he was kicked out of the last school that would accept him. Seymour is at the very bottom of the social hierarchy at Glendale Prep and therefore used to being pushed around. He is chubby, unathletic, and spends his lunchtime guzzling as many chocolate milks as possible. Then Elliot makes him a proposition: He will make Seymour into the most popular, most powerful kid in school. All Seymour has to do is whatever Elliot says.

You see, the Allagash family is incredibly wealthy. They actually own a patent for the process of making wood pulp into paper, so everything and anything that requires paper is adding to their fortune. They aren't exactly nice rich people, though. Elliot's father commissions artists to create beautiful paintings, then refuses to let anyone else see them. He plans to have them burned after his death. Once, he paid a Pulitzer Prize-winning author to write a book for him, read it and then burned it.

Elliot is a strange rich kid who likes to experiment with people, which is why he takes Seymour under his wing. There are certain social dynamics that he understands on a primitive and scholarly level, but he lacks social graces and understanding of human emotion. He pays to get Seymour basketball lessons to turn him into the best player in school, going so far as to create an actual league so that Seymour has kids with whom to practice. After a victory in athletics, Elliot decides to make Seymour into class president, a ladies' magnet, and his companion at Harvard. Basically, Elliot uses his money to turn Seymour into whomever he wants to make him at the time.

Unfortunately, Elliot doesn't play fair. All of his plans are carried out through sabotage and deception, carried out by chauffeur and manservant James. He even carries around a book of enemies, marks down people who offend them and checks the name off when the deed is done. Elliot is a very unsettling child, kind of Richie Rich gone bad or Chuck Bass on a tamer day. Sometimes I wasn't sure if I wanted to smack him or give him a hug, because he was so delightfully sociopathic.

At first, the changes Elliot makes in Seymour are positive. Seymour loses weight and gains confidence. Eventually, Seymour starts to become too similar to Elliot, too calculating. He skips parties because he is becoming too cool to attend them. He starts to keep his own notebook full of plots, stolen quiz answers, and fake information that keeps him powerful and gets him into Harvard. Seymour also starts to get too cocky and forgets where all his power came from. What will happen when Seymour finally makes his way into Elliot's enemies book?

In the end, I was incredibly relieved that Seymour didn't really suffer from any permanent damage as a result of living in the Allagash world, damage of the floating face-down in a pool like Jay Gatsby variety (Um...spoiler?). The ending is actually very simple and easy to accept. It could so easily have been a heavy-handed MONEY CORRUPTS lesson, with a dash of BE YOURSELF thrown in for good measure, but I'm glad that the author didn't take that route. Elliot Allagash was really just a quick read about the high school boy version of Pygmalion, if Professor Higgins made a maitre'd into an accidental Nazi sympathizer. Doesn't that sound like damn good times?

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Her Royal Spyness by Rhys Bowen

The mystery genre can be confounding to me. There are so many strange niche mysteries. Seriously, there are cat mysteries and scrapbooking mysteries, chocolate lovers mysteries and mysteries for people who play sudoku. Some mysteries even come with recipes or home decorating tips. I have wanted to read a good mystery for years, yet was put off by the silly titles and assumed lameness.

Not too long ago, I had the chance to own some mysteries (A little bookstore miracle known as a strip). Her Royal Spyness sounded like it could be amusing. It turned out to be a quick read, and I actually surprised myself by enjoying the book.

The book is set in Great Britain in 1930, when the country is suffering from the Great Depression. Lady Victoria Georgiana Charlotte Eugenie (Georgie) is 21, thirty-fourth in line for the throne, single with no prospects, and completely bored with life. When her half-brother Binky cuts off her allowance and the Queen starts making arrangements to blackmail Georgie into marrying a Romanian prince, she decides that it's time to start making some decisions for herself.

The first decision is to leave Castle Rannoch for the family's vacation home in London. Georgie even travels without any servants, since no one could be spared because of the harsh economy. She learns to cook and dress herself and even light a fire. Eventually, Georgie decides she needs a job to secure money and ensure that the Queen, HRH, can't force her to marry said prince or serve as companion to a boring old great-aunt. After a disastrous day as a shop girl, Georgie starts her own house-cleaning business. It's a great risk, as the royal family should not be working at all, but especially not as a cleaning woman. She cleans a couple houses and makes a little money. Everything seems to be working out until Georgie finds the body in the bathtub.

Now, Georgie must find the killer and clear her family's name. If that wasn't enough to deal with, HRH has commissioned her to spy on her son and his scandalous already-married American girlfriend. To complete the trifecta of woe, Georgie keeps encountering penniless but tempting Irish Darcy O'Mara. Adding a fourth problem, someone is trying to kill her. She just has to figure out who and why.

As I already stated, I enjoyed this book much more than I had expected. I was worried that Georgie would be another annoying and overprivileged female protagonist. She turned out to be kind of endearing, a lot of the weaknesses in her character stemming mostly from societal norms of the 1930s and from the pressures put upon even distant members of the royal family. I also liked the way the book mentioned the class system, how Georgie was treated differently as a maid or shop girl and how being in need of money made her view her grandfather and the other struggling members of the lower class differently. This book surprised me so much that I am seriously thinking about checking out the rest of the series because I would like to find out what happens to Georgie (and her badly nicknamed British relatives) next.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Imagine for a moment that reality television shows featured the contestants fighting each other literally for their lives. Imagine that all of the contestants are teenagers between the ages of 12 and 18. Imagine that every citizen is forced by law to watch as human beings kill each other for the entertainment of the rich.

This is the world of The Hunger Games. For some background, everything takes place in the country of Panem, once called North America. There were thirteen districts that rose up to fight against the Capitol. Twelve of the districts were defeated, the thirteenth district was totaled. As punishment, the twelve districts must hold a lottery (reaping) every year. One boy and one girl will be chosen and forced to compete in the Hunger Games. All of the children will then kill each other off until only one is left, the winner.

Katniss Everdeen lives in District 12. She has been supporting her mother and sister by breaking the law, hunting in the woods outside the District, and selling and trading the things she finds. Ever since her father died, their mother became withdrawn, almost catatonic. Katniss and her sister Primrose (Prim) almost died of starvation until she learned to take care of herself.

All the children have their names entered at least one time, adding an extra name for every birthday (One for 12, two for 13, etc.). If the child receives tessera, a ration of grain and oil, the child adds an extra name for however many rations and those rations are cumulative. It's a very unfair situation for the poor children of the Districts, but the Capitol isn't known for fairness. Katniss will have her name entered 20 times this year, Prim only once. At the reaping, the unthinkable happens. Prim's name is chosen as a tribute. Katniss quickly volunteers in her place. The other tribute is Peeta Mellark, the baker's son. Peeta once gave bread to Katniss when she was close to starvation. He is also in love with her, though she doesn't notice this.

What follows is training and preparation for the Hunger Games, and some fun parts where Katniss and Peeta are dressed up for presentations and interviews. Haymitch Abernathy, the only living District 12 winner, serves as their mentor. He is basically a lovable drunk. Haymitch wants Katniss and Peeta to play up their togetherness for the audience, show themselves as star-crossed lovers. Between stylist Cinna's unforgettable outfits and the faux (or maybe not?) romance, Katniss and Peeta stand out among the other contestants and become audience favorites. However, there's still the question of what happens when they get into the Hunger Games arena, where only one of them can be the winner.

The Hunger Games was often an incredibly harsh book. Katniss was no-nonsense in her quest to stay alive and I admire her for that, even though I felt bad sometimes when she killed animals or people. Most of the harshness can be attributed to the world Katniss exists in, the oppressive government and poor conditions. In that world, she can either kill the deer or starve, kill the other contestant or be killed. Sometimes I imagine myself into books, usually Harry Potter or Jane Austen. When I tried to picture myself surviving the Hunger Games, I decided that I would quickly die. Then I remembered that I am too old to ever have to enter the reaping or the Hunger Games and I was okay again.

Monday, July 5, 2010

How Did You Get This Number? by Sloane Crosley

If you haven't read Sloane Crosley before, then you should. Her first book, I Was Told There'd Be Cake is very funny. She told stories about being a bridesmaid for a woman she hadn't seen since junior high, asking boyfriends for ponies and ending up with a stablefull of breakup memorabilia, and the downside of volunteering at a butterfly exhibit. I loved experiencing these things through her writing, and when I found out that she wrote a new book of essays, I was very excited.

How Did You Get This Number is another book of eclectic stories. Some of the essays are about living in New York, dealing with taxis, and the desire to move away from an anorexic kleptomaniac roommate and into a possibly haunted former whorehouse. Other essays describe travels to Lisbon and Paris. In Lisbon, Crosley meets a group of clown college students and gets invited to an underground circus performance. Paris doesn't bode so well, as she accidentally gets trapped in an apartment courtyard while trying to show her grasp of Parisian directions. Several Parisians tell her to leave, and she takes this to mean that she is banished from the city.

Among my favorite essays was "An Abbreviated Collection of Tongues," which highlights the various pets the Crosleys have owned throughout the years. "If You Sprinkle" was fun to read because of the slumber parties, Girl Talk board games, and Mean Girls drama. It's the stuff I'm grateful that I never experiences in junior high.

More than those, I really liked "Off the Back of a Truck." It combines a story about dealing with a man who sold her stolen furniture and a story about starting a relationship with a guy only to find out that he may not be all the way broken up with his ex-girlfriend.

I enjoyed the book, but there was an incident in one essay where Crosley traveled to Alaska to serve as a bridesmaid. It involved a baby bear and a drunk driver. I cried. Don't read that part if you are overly sensitive and love baby bears like me. Crosley mentioned storing up emotional trauma from moments such as these to release later on, and I think just reading about that story has added the baby bear to my list of emotional trauma.

As much as I love essays, it is very difficult for me to write a review of this writing style. Just like in her first book, Sloane Crosley kept me captivated no matter what the subject matter. That's all you can ask from an author.

Going Bovine by Libba Bray

Cameron Smith was an average 16-year-old boy, maybe a little below-average. He spent his days smoking pot and playing video games, the textbook definition of slacker. Then he sees the fire giants and the giant armor-clad man. Then he loses control of his limbs. Then he gets diagnosed with Creutzfeldt-Jakobs disease, more commonly known as the human form of mad cow disease.

Creutzfeldt-Jakob is an untreatable disease. There are prions in the brain that go bad and reproduce to create more bad prions. These bad prions take over and eventually destroy the brain. So not only is Cameron dying young, he will lose all his mental functions along the way. Adding to the tragedy, because of his slacker ways, Cameron has never really spent any time living.

One night, he is visited by a pink-haired punk rock angel named Dulcie. She sends him on a mission to save the world. A scientist named Dr. X has mastered the ability to travel through time and space. When he returned to regular time, he brought dark energy with him. This energy threatens to expand and destroy the world, and it is causing Cameron's disease, which is why the doctors can't help him. If he finds Dr. X and closes the wormhole, he will not only save the world but also cure himself.

It seems like an easy mission, but Dr. X could be anywhere. All Dulcie will tell Cameron is that he has to look out for signs and random coincidences. Also, he has to bring a partner. Gonzo is a hypochondriac gamer dwarf. Together, they travel around, mostly following actual road signs ("Follow the feather" on a bus ad) or advice from people along the way.

Among the duo's adventures are meeting dead jazz legend Junior Webster and visiting creepy cult-like CESSNAB (Church of Eternal Satisfaction and Snack N' Bowl). They pick up Balder, a lawn gnome who is actually an indestructible Norse god. Near the end, they even visit the YA!TV beach house for the real spring break experience and actually become minor celebrities.

They are being followed by the Wizard of Reckoning, the large armored man from the beginning, and his fire giants. The fire giants leave behind destruction every time they catch up. Because of the destruction, Cameron and Gonzo are being pursued by United Snowglobe Wholesalers as terrorists. Snowglobe retailers have deep roots in all markets and cities, and they are a lot tougher than you would expect.

One of the things I love in a book is symmetry. I like to read something and realize that it was mentioned at a different point or that it has some significance that I just realized. Going Bovine had lots of symmetry, the stoned friends mentioning Schrodinger's cat to the scientists at Putopia actually naming their test cat Schrodinger. Also, Cameron starts the story with a family trip to Disney World when he was 5, he gets a Disney eticket bracelet to stave off his mad cow symptoms, and everything ends with a showdown at Disney World. The road trip adventure is lots of fun, though the moments when Cameron wakes up in the hospital are a little bit of a bummer.

On a slightly unrelated note, I was trying to picture Cameron in my head and came up with the image of a young John Cusack. I decided that he would be great in the movie version of this book if he wasn't so old. Then I made up plans to clone John Cusacks to star in all teen movies.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Gossip Girl: Only in Your Dreams by Cecily von Ziegesar

I'm afraid that my time with the Gossip Girl series has come to an end with the 9th installment of the books. We follow our favorite over-privileged kids to summer break. Jenny Humphrey is in Europe on an art tour with her mom. She will be heading off to boarding school in the Fall. We do not hear any of her exploits in the book, except a GG post that she was spotted dancing on a table, which is neither here nor there.

Blair goes to England in hopes of spending some quality time with Lord Marcus. He is far too preoccupied with his cousin Camilla. Blair gets so fed up that she leaves England and returns home. Unfortunately, after all the money she racks up, including 10,000 pounds for a wedding dress and a pricey ticket to New York, Blair's mother makes her get a job.

Blair gets hired by designer Bailey Winter to do costumes for Breakfast at Fred's, the movie she and Serena auditioned for in the last book. She switches her fantasies from Audrey Hepburn movie star to behind-the-scenes fashionista. Later on, she moves yet again, this time into the Breakfast at Tiffany's apartment with Serena. Blair starts a new romance with downstairs neighbor and lawyer Jason, though she shows signs of missing Nate. We never get to find out what the deal was with Lord Marcus, whether Camilla was his kissing cousin or if he really had a fiancee or secret wife.

Serena is playing the Audrey role in Breakfast at Fred's. She sucks at acting and becomes frustrated that she wasn't instantly perfect at something. After they become roomies, Blair schools Serena in the fine art of Audrey Hepburn. Other than that, Serena lusts after co-star Thaddeus Smith, who is obviously gay.

Nate is doing manual labor on his coach's beach house, which was the only way the school would let him graduate after stealing coach's performance enhancing drugs. He meets a townie named Tawny. They talk, he brings her to the movie's wrap party so that everyone can mention how tacky she looks. Then she goes off to do things with Chuck Bass, things we never want to know. Nate also misses Blair some more.

Vanessa gets kicked out by her rock star sister and moves in with boyfriend Dan. She is doing filmography for Breakfast at Fred's but gets fired on her first day. The director disagreed with her style, namely focusing on ice melting in a glass instead of people talking. Then she gets a job as a nanny for the brothers of Blair's stalker and likely future sister-in-law.

Dan's storyline is my favorite out of all of them because Dan is the worst. He is working at a stupid indie bookstore where the sellers are purposely rude, because they're just that cool. He meets a blonde girl, Bree, who is looking to read Siddhartha, then one thing leads to another and they are doing naked yoga. Naked yoga is not a euphemism, by the way. Dan is hiding his fitness exploits with Bree from Vanessa, while also pretending he does something other than smoke and write awful poetry around Bree. Dan eventually breaks it off with both girls, but his creepy hippy father invites Vanessa to move in, so that situation isn't changing anytime soon.

And, just so I don't have to think up a closing paragraph, here's an example of Dan Humphrey's poetry, which was good enough to be published in the New Yorker:

Pure love. Pure lust. Trust trust.
Buddha was no Jesus.
Neither am I.
I'm just a guy.

Okay, it's not the entire poem. It still sucks, though. Dan Humphrey is, again, the worst .