Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Wasn't the Umbrella Academy where they train people to fight Zombies in Resident Evil?

The Umbrella Academy, Vol. 1: Apocalypse Suite The Umbrella Academy, Vol. 1: Apocalypse Suite by Gerard Way

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
There is a device in fiction (and sadly, sometimes in real life) that I can not abide. When adopted/ive family members, for whatever reason, are considered less than and not equal to biological family. Partially because my mom, my uncle, and a cousin I didn't know I had until just a few years ago were all adopted by their parents. Partially because for a number of reasons I would rather adopt than bear a child and I do not want to raise a child in a society that stigmatizes the fact that I chose them. Two things in this otherwise charming series of somewhat disjointed vignettes ruined my enjoyment because of my particular bias. So this is going to be one of those reviews where I get too personal with my reading. Sorry, Shannon Hale.

The first point is one of the 7 siblings adopted makes out with one of the other siblings. These children were raised as brothers and sisters from nearly birth.(This family is comprised from 7 of 43 babies that were spontaneously simultaneously expelled as full formed infants from women who had not shown any signs of pregnancy. Hargreeve's (father figure) could only find these 7 left from that incident and he adopts them all as soon as possible after they are born.)

I don't know about you, but I'm grossed out by sibling makeouts even if the siblings weren't "biologically related." Maybe this was an intentional gross-out factor? The other moment that set me off is not even in the main story arc, but a part of extra stories at the end. A villain asks the rough/broody Wolverinish character,Kraken,if it will bother him to see his whole family killed he says, "Not Really--we're adopted." My blood boiled my vision went hazy and red and I turned into The Awkwardable Hulk. You wouldn't like me when I'm angry. Mostly because now I'm going to tear your book--that you obviously worked hard on to prove that you aren't just another alcoholic rock star*--apart.

Of course, I don't know how intentional it is, but if you haven't noticed by now the story is a bit of a spoof (or rip-off, depending on just how much you really hate My Chemical Romance) on the X-men, with the enigmatic "father" Prof.X-type figure being a total Jerkface McGee to his family. Though actually other than the whole raising up the mutanty superpowered kids Hargreeve is more "Dr. Kellogg" from The Road to Wellville than Prof.X. He's such an over-acheiver who expects too much from children that the "unspecial" one actually writes a tell-all memoir. I like that each of the main characters is as dysfunctional as they are special, and each in their own way. And I like that instead of much world-saving the family is mostly showcased at some of their worst moments.

Okay, I have to admit, the adoption thing does bother me, a lot, and the storytelling is choppy at best. But it IS interesting, and there is a talking chimpanzee named Dr. Pogo, whose hideous past is only briefly hinted at (these hints are actually the choppy/disjointedness I'm talking about. I get what they were going for but it really didn't work for me.)

Actually, I must grudgingly admit there were a few little moments of humor in the book too. For instance, I crack up at the repeated use of "space" as a modifying descriptor for "alien." But maybe that is just me.

The art is great. You will not hear a complaint from me about that aspect, except that I actually kind of liked Gerard Way's initial ideas better than Gabriel Ba's final product. The Viole Blanche is well imagined and beautiful, if not the most original idea. But still, to me as a fan of Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns and so on and so forth, the whole flawed superhero thing is starting to be as tedious as the whole perfect superhero thing was during the golden age. But to those who only love their superheroes with issues, this book will be right up your ally.

*I know, low blow, but google "drunk Gerard Way" and you will get 138,000 results. I understand sudden fame is difficult to handle and according to internets he is not drinking anymore, good for him.

View all my reviews >>

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Wondrous Strange or Expected Usual

As promised in my last entry I'm thinking a lot about why I'm "rating" the book, as though my rating will really affect anyone's decision to buy it for their Library collection or anyone who is a fan of that kind of book's decision to read it or buy it for themselves. It will check out of your Library. It will provide you with a few hours of entertainment. The writing itself isn't effervescent but it isn't half bad either. But on a pure quality and originality level this book, for me, fell flat. I have decided I like the rating as a dimension of my own introspection about a book. But my criteria for 2 (or 2.25 as I like to modify with partial stars on this site) on's rating system is going to be different than someone elses, obviously. One day I'd like to go back and reconsider my ratings and if after having time away from the book do I still feel the same way about my "rating."

Wondrous Strange Wondrous Strange by Lesley Livingston

My rating: 2.25 of 5 stars
17-year-old Kelley is the red-headed understudy for role of Titania in an off-off-off-off Broadway production of Mid-summer Night's Dream who gets the literal lucky break. The leading lady "busts an ankle" and joy of joys she has the part. Hooray, great story about alternative career paths and following your dreams.

Except not, at all. This is yet another story about an ordinary girl who finds out she's a fairy princess, specifically Irish and with all the fun trappings and problems. After reading Melissa Marr's Wicked Lovely, or any of the numerous American Urban Fantasy takes on the exact same theme I'm actually pretty done and pretty bored. Which isn't to say that the book isn't readable, and it makes a pretty good read-alike to all the Cassandra Clare/Holly Black/Melissa Marr/and even yes, Laurell K. Hamilton for your older audience. And there are some unique elements that sets the story apart: I like that this book pays homage to The Bard. I like the changeling storyline and the human guards of the fairy realm, The Janus Guards, some of whom are ass-kicking ladies. I like the Central Park central location and a certain kelpie who moves into a bathtub.

Unfortunately all of that which I liked, and which fans of the Irish-specific mythology as Urban Fantasy genre will also like doesn't lead to a great book. The discovery of Lucky the kelpie and the fact that she's a fairy princess takes up too much time and the actual battle and conflict is rushed into the last few pages of the book. I did not believe the romance between Sonny Flannery, Janus Guard, and Kelley Winslow, mediocre actress/fairy princess. And by not believe I mean I'm completely unsure when he went from being creepy stalker dude to love interest but it happened somehow without ever actually convincing me that her character would actually not see him as a creepy stalker anymore. Also, despite all the time spent on her discovery of fairy princess powers it is just so ho-hum. Her reaction didn't jump off the page or do anything new, she just came around after a short time. Which might be better than pages and pages of ranting and railing and disbelief, which also would have been terrible, but still...boring. This book is neither wondrous nor, in this YA book market, all that strange.

View all my reviews >>

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Good questions, Shannon Hale.

On her blog, author Shannon Hale asked book readers and reviewers to self-evaluate. I thought I'd take her up on that here and now. My answers are bolded; the questions were taken directly from her website.

1. Do you find that the anticipation of reviewing the book has changed your reading experience?

Actually, yes, because now I keep better records of what I am reading and am actually more open to trying a variety of books. I definitely think that reviewing has changed my reading experience for the positive.

2. Are you rating the book even as you read? Or do you wait until the end to sum it all up?

If a book is particularly good or particularly bad then I might rate as I read, but usually I don't even know how I feel about a book, really know, until I sit down to think through and write my review or discuss it with one of my book groups.

3. Does knowing you'll be reviewing it (or rating it) publicly affect which books you pick up in the first place?

Only in the way that I'm now trying new and different things, and sometimes finding that I can't finish them, but at least I'm trying. Also, because I'm getting Advance Copies of books I have a tendency to try and read those where I may not have.

4. Does the process of writing the review itself change how you felt about the book?

Yes! Almost always. If I didn't like a book I try hard to think about things other people would about it and question why I didn't. Reviewing forces me to think much more about everything to do with the story/book I just read. And in a cheesy way allows me to more fully digest what I've been reading. I'm much less likely to make snap judgments now.

5. What is your motivation to assign a rating to a book and declare it to the world?

Actually I didn't start doing the rating until I started writing my reviews on Goodreads. I have issues with their system because I want to be able to do 1/2 stars. Also, I should mention that I often surprise myself with the ratings I give. Why am I so hard on books, even the ones I like? I also hadn't really thought about the ratings past the "well it is better than a three so I guess I'll give it a four" thing. I guess I should really evaluate the necessity for me to post those stars on this blog.

6. If you review a book but don't rate, why not? What do you feel is your role as reviewer?

Well, the first part of this I already answered in #5. I have rated, but mostly because it is an available option and I will consider carefully that system in the future. I view my role as reviewer on this blag as part readers' adviser (who else might like this book?) part critic (but why did I like/dislike it? what are the problems? is the writing good even if the author couldn't plot their way out of a paper bag?) and part storyteller (what does this book say to me and have to do with my life, how does my reading fit in with my experiences? if I can't relate to this book can someone else?)

Well, this ends my answering of Shannon Hale's questions. I have a book of hers, Book of a Thousand Days, to begin listening to on my way to and from work so look for my "rating" of that in the coming weeks.

Speaking of blogging, the newsletter I used to edit is now a blog. It is always so meta when I blog about blogging.

Also, does anyone have a favorite list of Twilight Read-alikes? Because, even though I did make one and I do have several standard recommendations I pull out for both adult and YA fiction, I have met the occasional patron who's already read everything I suggest. Wily patrons and their voracious reading!

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Harry Potter and the Future is Now.

From Museum and Ice Cream Cake

LED dress from the Future.

Yesterday we went to the Museum of Science and Industry to see Harry Potter: The Exhibition. Because we are not the smartest, we didn't purchase tickets ahead of time, and thusly ended up spending some quality time wandering about MSI looking at oddities like the LED dress above (that would be in the part where the Future is Now), Lego(tm) Skyscrapers, and poop to power. No really:
From Museum and Ice Cream Cake

Harry Potter: The Exhibition was totally worth the wait. The attention to detail in all the sets and costumes and props, from the slug on Slughorn's wand to the knit blanket on Ron's bed, was astounding. And though I feel the books and the movies are so different as to almost not be related is good to see that the world J.K. Rowling created was effectively brought to life in both. If you get the chance to see the exhibition, I recommend that you do. PS: Buckbeak is SO COOL.

Anyway, if you like the world building in HP then do I have a book for you! Maybe.
Full disclosure: I got the ARC from our Children's department head who got it from the publisher, who sent it to her possibly by mistake.

Shifter (The Healing Wars, #1) Shifter by Janice Hardy

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
In Nya's world pain is a product to be bought and sold. Many people, including Nya, can take pain from others and heal them in the process. Unlike most people though, Nya can't transfer the pain into the Pynvium stone that is later shaped into pain-dealing weapons. Nya is instead, a Shifter, she can act as a conduit, shifting pain from one person to another, sometimes holding the pain to herself for a time. She's unusual and dangerous and valuable to those who lack scruples enough to use her when the Pynvium supply runs low.

The premise alone really sucked me into this intricate novel. The world building is very well thought out and interesting. Nya is spunky and determined, realistic about the bad things that will probably happen, but willing to go through them anyway to save those she cares about. She's such a likable character that some of the slower moments of the book are made quite a bit more tolerable by extension. And the ending (part of a planned series it seems, being that it is the Healing Wars #1) is very snap, bang, whizzle! The beginning draws the reader in with instant action and excitement. But then in the middle there's a lot of tension and adventure, but also a lot of: "and then I went here and did this thing and then I went here and did this other thing and over here I was doing this stuff and really it is all totally relevant I swear and have I mentioned that I hate this race of people who invaded our land and treat us like crap? Let me reflect with you for a moment on how evil imperialism is and how happy I was before it darkened my doorstep...Nevermind that I am very young to remember life before the invasion so very well! Or at least, those three memories I keep telling you about over and over."
So what I'm saying here is that it is good that the ending suddenly speeds it all up again. And, good characters and an excellent new world can definitely redeem indulgent editing.

View all my reviews >>

Monday, August 3, 2009

And the winner is...

Amanda! Who evidently never drove in the southern part of Indiana,where I'm from. Once you get to Bloomington you get hills, and past that the landscape is filled with mini-mountains (or really big hills) sometimes called "knobs." There's even skiing! So contrary to popular belief, Indiana is not all flat and boring. Just, most of it is.

I have to say though, while you guys did say some v.nice things, there are even more truly amazing things about Indiana that weren't mentioned. Some of these facts beat the pants off of that Dr. Jones you guys kept mentioning. For instance #29: Peru, Indiana was once known as the circus capital of the United States. Lots of actually cool famous people are from Indiana or did stuff in Indiana. Kurt Vonnegut and Charles M. Schulz were from Indiana. So was Orville Redenbacher (who my parents once met in a hotel elevator.)A metric ton of astronauts started in the Hoosier state. Let's not forget about my favorite sex researcher, and yours, Alfred Kinsey. What I'm saying here is; let's be honest about Dr. Jones, that last Crystal Skull movie wasn't even all that great!

Now that you've all been schooled in Hoosier pride, and the winner has been announced, this concludes my first contest. Thank you everyone who participated, or even thought about participating but couldn't think of anything to say about Indiana.
Many more contests to come, and soon! Check back next week, because if things go well, I might have a signed book to give away!

My biggest question remains: why all the butt-smacking?

Pop Pop by Gordon Korman

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
The football pre-season starts next Saturday. Do you want to know why I know this? It isn't because I personally LOVE the gridiron or even know why it is called "gridiron." No, it is because from August to February I live with a football junkie. I get to hear all about the draft, the fantasy league winners and losers, and our TV is taken over by pointless commentary after pointless commentary. Madden0whatever is played non-stop. As a not-particularly sporty person there are only two ways to deal with this situation. One is to protest, to complain, to throw up one's hands and move out. The other is to try and figure out what all the fuss is about. Oh, I still roll my eyes whenever I get treated to a 10 minute diatribe on why Adrian Peterson is the best running back EVAR, but I also watch games and ask questions about why something was called this way or that. Or, what that flag means, or why they got an extra point, etc. I feel like I'm getting to understand a little bit more about the game and its appeal. A little.

Unlike me, football is Marcus Jordan's life. He and his mom have just moved to a new town to escape his fascist dad and so his mom can take pictures of rocks. He starts practicing in a park and forms an eccentric and erratic friendship with a middle-aged guy named Charlie, who is extremely spry and who teaches Marcus more about football in just a few weeks than all of his years on a team. But, Marcus ends up covering for his new friend when he discovers Charlie's erratic behavior isn't just from a quirky personality.

Along the way Marcus barely squeaks onto the football team. He wants to be QB, but his new high school's team is undefeated and record breaking and so Marcus has to battle their unwillingness to mess with status quo and the QB, Troy, who drove them to victory. Troy hates Marcus immediately, and it doesn't help that Troy's on and off again girlfriend is interested in Marcus, and Marcus is VERY interested in Alyssa too.

So immediately we've got a complicated plot, told in a straightforward manner, by a kid who just wants to Do The Right Thing. Marcus and all the characters are well developed. The story draws you in from the first page. The plot never slows down and the conflicts are very real. My only complaint with the book is that the "mystery" of Charlie goes on a little too long. I find it hard to believe Marcus wouldn't have started asking pertinent questions earlier in the story and figuring out answers earlier on too. At any rate, this book has romance, fights, pranks, friendship, brain-injury awareness, kidnapping, and lots and lots of Football. It is the ultimate blitz of a book! Even for a wannabe fan like me.

View all my reviews >>

Saturday, August 1, 2009

2 posts in 1 day: Review of "Raven"

Raven Raven by Allison van Diepen

My rating: 3 (and 1/2) of 5 stars
Even though this book is a completely engrossing and resplendent read it didn't get more stars because I have no idea what an airtrack, suicide, 6-steps or any of the rest of these terms mean in relationship to breakdancing. Since these and other breakdancing terms are liberally sprinkled throughout the book without any explanation of what they mean or how the moves look I had a hard go of staying in the story at times. While this technique sped up the action of the breakdancing scenes, it made it impossible for me to envision what they were doing.

OTHERWISE. I totally loved this book. It was a fast paced read with a engrossing main character, Nicole (Raven), who doesn't sound like anyone else in YA ficion that I can think of...and her New York doesn't sound like any other New York that I've read. She has this group of friends that is not bound by anything except maybe age range and love of breakdancing. I like that in a novel (And if you do as well then you should maybe also take part in this book challenge.

Of course, this book is about more than breakdancing. It is about love and friendship and family and living forever vs living as a human. The immortals (Jiang Shi) in the book are conflicted by their immortality and how they attained and keep it. Though none of them, even the leader/mastermind who is hiding things, comes off as evil; their enemies don't come off as evil either. Overzealous yes, evil no. I think that might be my favorite thing about the book, the characters, even those without a lot of "screen time" feel totally realistic and multi-dimensional without a lot of random crap thrown in to make them that way. It is a good story, mostly well told.

View all my reviews >>

Contested: Hoosier Pride.

Are y'all ready for this?
Viola in Reel Life Viola in Reel Life by Adriana Trigiani

This is what it looks like when a book disparages my homeland and makes me too angry to finish. Each slur against Indiana made me angrier and angrier until finally there was a comment about a teacher not possibly being able to buy leopard print Sketchers in Indiana because they were too cool. (SKETCHERS? REALLY A-TRIG? Not only have I owned similar shoes (and numerous pairs of Sketchers) but I bought them all at reasonable prices and tax rates because I got them in Indiana!)

I gave this book more than enough chances, we are almost to Thanksgiving in the school year and still the Viola has little to nothing good to say about Indiana and so I'm done. I give up, and you get to reap the benefits of my ex-pat Hoosier pride.

You get to participate in my first ever book give-away contest to win this ARC! I think that my state-bias might be clouding my vision to the rest of the story. Especially since I rather liked Big Stone Gap. So, I'm ready to give this ARC on to someone else to read and review. To win this contest write a comment on this post filled with Hoosier love. By which I mean, it must state at least one reason why Indiana is great (or at least, not nearly so bad as A-Trig is making it out to be.) It can be something you experienced, heard about, learned in school, whateva. I will RANDOMLY choose a winner from the comments. Only one comment per person please.

I know my home state has flaws and parts of it smell funny. I know there are a lot of rednecks (so many that some in St. Louis have replaced the word for redneck with "Hoosier.")But, I also know that some awesome people have come from there, spent time there, or were born there (and no, I'm not even including just generally famous people like John Mellencamp or Dan Quayle in that list, but I am looking at you Will Shortz.)

Many of my friends and all of my immediate family live there, and I feel like many of the qualities I have that I actually like about myself come from being raised there and no where else in the world. So let's hear it for the Crossroads of America, and me passing this not even released yet book onto someone who can appreciate it more than I'm capable. The contest ends Monday, August 3rd at 7pm (EST)Indiana Time (well, most of Indiana time!) Don't forget to leave your email address or some other way for me to contact you if you've won!I'll also be posting the winner Monday night.
Commence to commenting!