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Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: Reviews, Most Recent at Top [Help]
Results 26 - 50 of 4,949
26. Review: The Girl on a Train


The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins. Riverhead Books, an imprint of Penguin RandomHouse. 2015. Library copy.

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins - USThe Plot: Rachel takes the same commuter train to work and home, day in, day out. She watches outside her window, watches the buildings and houses. There is one couple in particular she watches, who she names Jess and Jason. Wondering about them and their lives, making up a story about who and what they are.

Until one day, something happens. Something that forces her from observer to participant, off the train and into the lives of those she watches.

The Good: I confess, that I'm not sure what put The Girl on the Train on my must-read list. Once it went there (and it was a long hold list from the library!) I avoided any reviews or mentions of the book, because I didn't want spoilers. Since it was being talked about in the same breadth as Gone Girl (my review here), I knew that I didn't want spoilers. I wanted to discover the book, and any twists and turns, on my own. (For another day is my perhaps contradictory stance on both not minding spoilers and also getting really annoyed when something I don't want spoiled is spoiled.)

To begin with, The Girl on the Train is nothing like Gone Girl: well, both have "girl" in the title. Are both are best-sellers with twists best discovered on one's own. But the unreliable narrator is different: Amy of Gone Girl is a deliberate manipulator of her own story, depending on her audience, and always believes she is the smartest person in the room. Rachel, the primary narrator of The Girl on the Train, is unreliable for different reasons. She doesn't know herself well enough to lie or manipulate the reader, even if at times she tells the story in a way to make herself look better. She also has problems with memory, and so she's unreliable because at times she just doesn't know.

There are three narrators, and I'll leave it to book clubs and others to discuss why these are "girls" and not women. There is Rachel, in her mid-thirties, the girl on the train looking out at life. There is Anna, a young mother, blissfully happy with her husband, her baby, her life. There is Megan, a wife and the crossroads, unsure of whether to pursue a new career or motherhood.

I picture you as a reader like myself; so here's the deal. I'll do nothing spoilery in this post, but if you want to talk spoilers, or things beyond what I do in this review, we'll do that in the comments. So reader, it's your choice, much like it was my choice to avoid reviews and news articles about the book.

The Girl on a Train is a mystery: a woman is missing. What happened to her? And why? It is also a a character study in Rachel, a woman whose life has come undone. She's of an age when she should be in a house, with a family, perhaps a career. She wants these things; she doesn't have these things; she's having more than a tough time reconciling herself to her life now. One of her few distractions, beyond drinking and wallowing in memories, is watching life outside the train window.

Anna's life of happiness is built on someone's else unhappiness, and you know what? Honestly? She doesn't care. That's right. Judge her as you want, the how of her romance and happiness started. Her daughter, her husband, isn't it what anyone wants? And she'll do what she can to keep anything from creeping into that unhappiness.

Megan doesn't quite know what she wants: she's drifting, anchored by a husband and a home but not much else. Motherhood, the next logical step for a wife in her twenties, isn't for her. She keeps her secrets and her past close and unshared with anyone, not even her husband.

These are the three who tell the story: and because it's just these three, with both limited perspectives and particular ways in which they see things, and because they are telling their stories at different times, it's a bit hard to figure things out. But the dots do connect, eventually, between the women and what they know and what they don't.

In some ways, I found this more satisfying than Gone Girl; I liked it more. At it's heart, The Girl on a Train is a mystery and I love a good mystery. It also has one of the more interesting, unapologetic alcoholics in literature; in some ways, I was reminded of Ken Bruen's Jack Taylor. And, because of their complexities and their integrity (each is true to themselves), I liked spending time with Rachel, Anna, and Megan. And while Amy amused me and kept me on her toes, I wouldn't say spending time with her was something I liked.

And yes...A Favorite Book Read in 2015. Because Rachel.

Links: NPR review; publishers' Reader's Guide; New York Time review.




Amazon Affiliate. If you click from here to Amazon and buy something, I receive a percentage of the purchase price.

© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

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27. Unexpected Jolts of Children’s Literature in Rather Adult Places

LittleManReading through the most recent issue of The New Yorker, you may encounter the short story “Little Man” by Michael Cunningham.  It’s a rather cunning retelling of Rumplestiltskin that veers oddly close to the original tale.  Granted Cunningham has no idea how spinning wheels work (see: Paul. O. Zelinsky who actually put in the research with his version) but otherwise I loved what he did with it.

Reading the piece got me to thinking about my current job.  These days I’m not really purchasing all that many children’s books.  I still keep up, but as the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system I’m now deeply submerged in the world of adult literature and nonfiction.  One thing I’ve found with my new job purchasing such titles is that my eyes are now being opened up to a wide and wonderful world I’d never really experienced in full before: Adult books on kidlit topics.  Sure I’d seen a lot of the academic titles and books by folks like Leonard Marcus, Phil Nel, etc. but consider the following books.  Each one contains something interesting to our business.

Here are some of the titles I’ve encountered in the course of a single week:

HobbitWardrobe

The description from the publisher reads:

“The First World War laid waste to a continent and permanently altered the political and religious landscape of the West. For a generation of men and women, it brought the end of innocence and the end of faith. Yet for J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis, the Great War deepened their spiritual quest. Both men served as soldiers on the Western Front, survived the trenches, and used the experience of that conflict to ignite their Christian imagination. Had there been no Great War, there would have been no Hobbit, no Lord of the Rings, no Narnia, and perhaps no conversion to Christianity by C. S. Lewis.

Unlike a generation of young writers who lost faith in the God of the Bible, Tolkien and Lewis produced epic stories infused with the themes of guilt and grace, sorrow and consolation. Giving an unabashedly Christian vision of hope in a world tortured by doubt and disillusionment, the two writers created works that changed the course of literature and shaped the faith of millions. This is the first book to explore their work in light of the spiritual crisis sparked by the conflict.”

And while we’re on the topic of Tolkien:

ArtLanguageInvention

The publisher writes of it:

“From superstar linguist David J. Peterson comes a creative guide to language construction for sci-fi and fantasy fans, writers, game creators, and language lovers. Peterson begins with a brief history of constructed languages, from Tolkien’s creations to Klingon to today’s thriving global conlang community. Then, using examples from his own languages alongside helpful comparisons to real ones, Peterson offers a captivating and lucid overview of language creation, providing a basic foundation of essential linguistic tools for inventing and evolving one’s own lexicon. Along the way, behind-the-scenes stories lift the curtain on how he built the languages for television series and movies such as SyFy’s Dominion and Thor: The Dark World, and an included phrase book will start fans speaking Peterson’s constructed languages. An inside look at a fascinating culture and a perfect entry point into an art form as old as civilization,The Art of Language Invention is a wild linguistic adventure that will have readers ready to rub shoulders with horse lords and dark elves.”

For a second I misread that last sentence to read “house elves”.  If only.

UncollectedDavidRakoff

This one I would never have suspected, had I not read the Kirkus review.  As they say, “Perhaps the best of these stand-alone selections is ‘The Love that Dare Not Squeak Its Name,’ originally from Salon, in which Rakoff’s interpretation of E.B. White’s Stuart Little as a seminal gay icon will make it difficult for readers to see the mouse-child in any other light.”  You can read the piece in question here if you’re curious.

101OutstandingGraphic

All you need to do is to look at the cover.  Nuff said.

DeathPrairie

I find this particular description a bit of the baffling side (what precisely does “violently anti-Wilder” mean?).  Still, it falls under the same umbrella. Fingers crossed that there’s a Bloody Benders reference in the book somewhere.  From the publisher:

“Two sisters take a road trip that will change their lives. Chloe Ellefson, a collections curator at Old World Wisconsin, is a big fan of Laura Ingalls Wilder, so she’s thrilled when her elderly neighbor Miss Lila brings her a quilt that may have been owned or even made by Wilder. Miss Lila wants Chloe to decide which of the many museums devoted to Wilder should get the quilt, but then she’s killed in a break-in before Chloe can gather much information from her. Although Chloe’s not very close to her sister, Kari, who’s married to a dairy farmer and has two children, they both have happy childhood memories of the Little House books and the times they pretended to be Laura and her sister Mary. So she asks Kari to go with her to visit all the museum candidates. At their first stop, they’re unable to prevent a young man from dying of anaphylaxis. Then Chloe finds herself interfering in a fight between a Wilder-obsessed wife and her controlling husband. The woman leaves her husband behind and joins the group on Alta Allerbee’s Laura Land Tours bus. Chloe’s dream trip keeps getting worse as she realizes Kari’s hiding a secret and at least two of the people tagging along on the tour are violently anti-Wilder. Her struggles to uncover several secrets reveal some surprising things about her heroine. This sixth adventure for Chloe (Tradition of Deceit, 2014, etc.) is a real treat for Little House fans, a fine mystery supplemented by fascinating information on the life and times of Laura Ingalls Wilder.”

DownRabbitHole

From the publisher:

Some of your favorite New York Times bestselling authors present five all-new stories told through the looking glass including a new Eve Dallas novella!
You’re late for a very important date…Enter a wonderland of mesmerizing tales. It’s a place that’s neither here nor there, where things are never quite as they seem. Inspired by Lewis Carroll’s whimsical masterpiece, ranging from the impossible to the mad to the curiouser, these stories will have you absolutely off your head.
Don’t be afraid to follow them DOWN THE RABBIT HOLE

On the flip side there are also authors that I’ve only ever encountered through their children’s books without any knowledge of their adult literature.  Hannah McKinnon, Mal Peet (which I pretty much knew, but still…), etc.  These are folks that are giving me a new appreciation for the variety they are capable of producing.  In the meantime, I’m enjoying these other books and their references.  Fascinating how childhood memories affect our literature on every level.

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28. Haruki Murakami and Rebecca Stead Debut on the Indie Bestseller List

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29. The Argonauts

cover artLocal independent publisher Graywolf Press is on a winning streak. Over the past several years they have been publishing some really fantastic stuff. They make me feel both proud and lucky to live in Minneapolis! One of their 2015 publications, The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson is another winner. Nonfiction to be sure but not one of those books that fits into a neat category.

The volume is slim, only 143 pages. The book is written in thought chunks. I have no idea what else to call them, these paragraphs of varying lengths separated by a band of white space much wider than a regular paragraph break. Each chunk is complete but the chunks flow together too to develop an idea or make an argument or tell a story. Then there are slightly wider bands of white space that indicate a change in direction or the beginning of a new story. It makes for a meditative mood and works like thinking or conversation where you circle around things, go off on a tangent and then come back then leap to something that seems completely unrelated but turns out to be associated in some way or another. I very much liked this style and it suits the subjects Nelson writes about as well her exploratory approach.

The Argonauts themselves, you may remember them from mythology, were those who sailed with Jason on his ship the Argo to get the Golden Fleece. They had other adventures too, of course, but that is the one they are chiefly known for. So before even knowing what the book is about, we are given the signal that it is an adventure, and exploration of some kind. Within a few pages of the book we are provided further explanation:

I sent you the passage from Roland Barthes by Roland Barthes in which Barthes describes how the subject who utters the phrase ‘I love you’ is like ‘the Argonaut renewing his ship during its voyage without changing its name.’ Just as the Argo’s parts may be replaced over time but the boat is still called the Argo, whenever the lover utters the phrase ‘I love you,’ its meaning must be renewed by each use, as the ‘very task of love and of language is to give one and the same phrase inflections which will be forever new.’

The “you” Nelson is addressing is her spouse, artist Harry Dodge, who is gender fluid and does not fully identify as either male or female. Though over the course of the book Dodge begins taking testosterone and has a mastectomy. That information alone might give you an idea about how “Argonauts” applies in an even broader sense than Barthes’ original intention.

Nelson also writes about her pregnancy and motherhood and all of the cultural complications it entails as well as the physical and mental changes it brings. She writes about giving birth and how it felt like she was falling to pieces and sometimes like she was melting. She writes about her postpartum body and how she is supposed to immediately get to work according to all the magazines, and lose the baby weight, get back to her career, get back to a sex life and being sexy, pretty much as if nothing happened at all and there was no pregnancy and no baby. And she writes of her need and desire to define a boundary between her and baby:

I’ll let my baby know where the me and the not me begin and end, and withstand whatever rage ensues. I’ll give as much as I’ve got to give without losing sight of my own me. I’ll let him know that I’m a person with my own needs and desires , and over time he’ll come to respect me for elucidating such boundaries, for feeling real as he comes to know me as real.

The Argonauts is beautifully intimate without being confessional. Nelson balances out the personal with the scholarly, quoting Barthes and Derrida, Judith Butler, Jaques Lacan, Lucille Clifton, even Ralph Waldo Emerson gets a quote. She explores the broader social landscape and the effects it has on her and her family as well as the effects her “genderqueer” family has on society.

Nelson comes to no firm conclusions about anything. She accepts being in a state of constant change, living with ambiguity and having no real closure. Any time she gets near to being able to create some kind of closure, she refuses to do so. This seems to be a theme in a number of nonfiction books I have read in the past year or so and I must say I like it very much. Nelson acknowledges that ambiguity and refusing closure is uncomfortable for a good many people, but being willing to live with uncertainty creates a space for discovery and transformation. One could say it is the demesne of the Argonauts.


Filed under: Books, Nonfiction, Reviews Tagged: Graywolf Press

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30. Rat Queens, Volume Two

cover artA friend of mine and I always laugh because on Tuesdays she generally has a time slip and thinks it’s Wednesday and of course ends up disappointed when she realizes that, no, it’s Tuesday. On Wednesdays I generally do the same thing expect I think it’s Thursday. So she’s decided what we need to do is just have Monday #1, Monday #2, Monday #3, Monday #4, and Friday. This, she believes, will solve the whole problem since nearly every day will be Monday. However, since they are numbered, I know I will think it is Monday #4 when really it’s Monday #3 but I’ll feel worse than I do now because it will be Monday. One Monday a week is enough for me, thanks, and today happens to be this week’s Monday.

So let’s stand clear of deep thinking this evening and have a brief moment over Rat Queens, Volume Two: The Far Reaching Tentacles of N’rygoth by Kurtis Wiebe, art by Roc Upchurch and Stjepan Sejic. I read the first Rat Queens volume way back in January and as I began volume two I felt a bit wobbly on where the story was. I remembered the big outline but not so much the little details and the book assumed I remembered the details. So we got off to a slightly bumpy start.

No matter though because I was soon swept up in the new story which turned out to be all kinds of fun. The Rat Queens have to defeat a badass dude who has a grudge against their town of Palisade and unleashes some nasty memory and dream-sucking monsters to kill everyone. It’s a nice narrative trick that lets the back stories of a couple of the Rat Queens be told. So we get to find out why Violet the dwarf has shaved off her beard and left home. We discover what is beneath mage Hannah’s odd hairdo. We meet former priestess of N’rygoth Dee’s husband and she gets to work through her religious doubts. Sadly we don’t get much of Betty in this story, though there is a hilarious moment when she has some mushrooms that are a little more than culinary, if you know what I mean.

There is also a tiny moment where we get a glimmer of why these four call themselves the Rat Queens. Rats are harbingers of impending destruction. The Rat Queens are very good at destruction of various kinds.

It’s kind of a relief that the second volume continues the great fun of the first. I expect volume three will do the same. Hopefully the wait for it won’t be terribly long. If you need a little light fun to get you through a week of Mondays, the Rat Queens just might be what you are looking for.


Filed under: Books, Graphic Novels, Reviews

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31. Bad Reviews

Your book is going to receive some bad reviews, so you need to learn to deal with it.

http://scotteagan.blogspot.com/2015/06/critiques-and-reviews-are-not-all.html

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32. Phonogram: The Immaterial Girl #1 is a Deep Comic About Shallowness

By Cal Cleary “… what really matters is what you like, not what you are like.” – High Fidelity Welcome back to Phonogram, Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie‘s long-running ode to music, criticism, and… well, themselves, kind of? In Phonogram, we deal with Phonomancers, a group of magicians who draw their power from music. Not music […]

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33. Monday Review: OUT OF DARKNESS by Ashley Hope Pérez

Summary: Ashley Hope Pérez's latest novel comes out on September 1. I tell you this so you can brace yourself. Out Of Darkness is historical fiction of the most wrenching kind: based on a real-life tragedy, with plenty of collective guilt to go... Read the rest of this post

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34. Dead Ringers by Christopher Golden


Hey horror fans: Make sure you put Dead Ringers by Christopher Golden on your to-read list. The book is due out from St. Martin's Press this November. Here's the premise:

When Tess Devlin runs into her ex-husband Nick on a Boston sidewalk, she's furious at him for pretending he doesn't know her. She calls his cell to have it out with him, only to discover that he's in New Hampshire with his current girlfriend. But if Nick's in New Hampshire...who did she encounter on the street?

Frank Lindbergh's dreams have fallen apart. He wanted to get out of the grim neighborhood where he'd grown up and out of the shadow of his alcoholic father. Now both his parents are dead and he's back in his childhood home, drinking too much himself. As he sets in motion his plans for the future, he's assaulted by an intruder in his living room...an intruder who could be his twin.

In an elegant hotel, Tess will find mystery and terror in her own reflection. Outside a famed mansion on Beacon Hill, people are infected with a diabolical malice...while on the streets, an eyeless man, dressed in rags, searches for a woman who wears Tess's face.

Dead Ringers will be available November 3rd, 2015. In the meantime, check out Christopher Golden's newest novel, Tin Men, as well as my favorite standalone novel by Golden, The Boys Are Back in Town.

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35. Review of My Cousin Momo

ohora_my cousin momoMy Cousin Momo
by Zachariah OHora; illus. by the author
Primary     Dial     32 pp.
6/15     978-0-8037-4011-2     $16.99

Two squirrel siblings excitedly await a visit from their cousin Momo. Unlike them, he’s a flying squirrel — and once he arrives, they learn that the differences don’t stop there. Everything about Momo is foreign to the squirrel pups, from his perspective on superheroes (his costume: “Muffin Man!”) to the way he plays hide-and-seek and spoils their game of Acorn-Pong by eating the equipment. When the children make it known that they think Momo is no fun, Momo lets loose the waterworks. Feeling guilty, the kids apologize and learn the benefits of trying things “Momostyle” (even if they still like their way better sometimes). Once all is right in the world of cousinhood, Momo soars home, and the three squirrels can’t wait to see one another again soon. With thick lines, bold colors, pitch-perfect sound effects (“PUNT!”), and generous white space, OHora’s illustrations are vibrantly kid-centric. For example, the children’s conversations appear in speech bubbles, while the parents’ dialogue is only in the printed text. The squirrels’ tree-house décor, along with Momo’s striped sneakers and his tritoned athletic bands, emit a retro vibe, and OHora’s talent for capturing emotional facial expressions through seemingly simple brushstrokes is evident, loud and clear. Young readers will enjoy the silly culture clash; librarians and parents will delight in the lightly played theme of approaching the unfamiliar with an open mind.

From the July/August 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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36. Dr. Seuss and Diane Muldrow Debut on the Indie Bestseller List

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37. Review of the Day: Hypnotize a Tiger by Calef Brown

HypnotizeTiger1Hypnotize a Tiger: Poems About Just About Everything
By Calef Brown
Christy Ottaviano Books, Henry Holt (an imprint of Macmillan)
$17.99
ISBN: 978-0-8050-9928-7
For ages 9-12

Why do I do this to myself? Let me tell you something about how I review. Board books? Pshaw. I can take one and write a nine-paragraph review parsing precisely why it is that Bizzy Bear’s preferred companions are dogs and bunnies. Nonfiction? Lay it on me. I’ll take infinite pleasure in discussing the difference between informational texts when I was a child (long story short, they sucked) and our current golden age. But there is one book genre that lays me flat. Stops me short. Makes it exceedingly difficult for me to get my head in order. Truly, children’s poetry books are the hardest to review. I don’t know exactly why this is. They are the most unloved of the books for kids. No American Library Association accredited awards are made specifically for them. They get checked out of libraries one month a year (April = National Poetry Month) and then lie forgotten. Yet so many of them are bite-sized wallops of greatness. Hypnotize a Tiger by Calef Brown is one of these chosen few. Not many poetry books for kids sport blurbs from Daniel Pinkwater (who found a soul mate in Brown’s art) to Jack Gantos to The Book of Life director Jorge R. Gutierrez. And few author/illustrators are allowed to go as positively wacky and wild as Brown does here. From tomato ultimatums and loofah tortes to velocipede odes and dodgebull (rather than dodgeball) you honestly never know where the book is going next. And you’re grateful for it.

So if it’s so great (and it is) why is reviewing a book of this sort the devil to do? There are any number of reasons. When reviewing a book with, say, a plot, it’s awfully easy for me to merely recap the plot, dish on the characters, bring up some single strange or scintillating point, then close it all down with a conclusion. Easy peasy. But poetry’s not really like that. There’s no plot to Hypnotize a Tiger. There’s not even a running gag that keeps cropping up throughout the pages. Each poem is its own little world. As a result, I’m stuck generalizing about the poems as a whole. And because we are dealing with 84-85 (depending on how you count) of them in total, I’m probably going to end up saying something about how some of the poems work and others don’t. This is kind of a cheat when you’re reviewing a collection of this sort because almost no children’s poetry book is absolutely perfect (Example A: The fact that Shel Silverstein wrote “Hug-a-War” . . . I rest my case). They will always consist of some verses that work and others that do not. In the end, the best I can hope for when reviewing poetry is to try to find something that makes it different from all the other poetry books published in a given year. Fortunately for me, Mr. Brown is consistently interesting. As Pinkwater said in his blurb, “He is a bulwark against mediocrity.”

HypnotizeTiger2I’m very interested in the question of how to get kids around to reading poetry. My own daughter is four at this time and we’ve found that Shel Silverstein’s poetry books make for good bedtime reading (though she’s still thrown off by the occasional grotesquerie). For many children, Silverstein is the gateway drug. But Calef Brown, though he swims in Shel’s surrealism soaked seas, is a different breed entirely from his predecessor. Where Shel went for the easy silly ideas, Brown layers his ridiculousness with a bit of sophistication. Anyone could write a poem about waking up to find a beehive attached to the underside of their chin. It takes a Calef Brown to go one step further and have the unfortunate soul consider the monetary implications. Or to consider the verbal capabilities of Hoboken-based gnomes. So Hypnotize a Tiger becomes a book meant for the kid with a bit of prior poetry knowledge under their belt. You wouldn’t hand this title to a reluctant reader. You’d give it to the kid who’d already devoured all the Silverstein and Prelutsky and came to you asking, “What else you got?” That kid might be ready.

It is useful to note that you need to read this book aloud as well. There should be a warning sticker on the cover that says as much. Not that Brown makes it easy for you. Take the poem “Hugh”, for example. Short and simple it reads, “Meet my Belgian friend / He lives near Bruges, on a farm. / His name is Hugh Jarm.” Then at the bottom one of the tiny interstitial poems reads, “I once had a dream I was visiting Bruges – / snacking on chocolates while riding a luge.” Now the correct pronunciation of “Bruges” isn’t really necessary in the first poem, though it helps. The little tiny poem, however, is interesting because while it works especially well when you pronounce it correctly, you could probably mangle the wordplay easy peasy and still end up with a successful poem. SLJ probably said it best when they mentioned in their review of the book that, “Though there is more than one line that does not roll easily off the tongue and awkward rhymes abound, it is easy to see this clumsiness as part of the spirit of the collection.”

HypnotizeTiger3The subtitle of the collection is “Poems About Just About Everything” and that’s a fairly accurate representation. It does not mean, however, that there isn’t an internal logic to what’s being included here. There’s a chapter of animal poems, of people, insects, vehicles, schools, food, and then more esoteric descriptions like “Facts Poetic”, “Word Crashes”, and “Miscellaneous Silliness.” No poem directly applies to another, but they still manage to work together in tandem fairly well.

I don’t think it’s a serious criticism of a book to say that it’s not for all audiences. Calef Brown is an acquired taste. A taste best suited to the cleverest of the youngsters, absolutely, but acquired just the same. Not everyone is drawn to his style, and more fool they. To my mind, there is room enough in this world for any Calef Brown collection you can name. This book doesn’t have the widely popular feel of, say, a We Go Together but nor is the author writing poems simply to hear himself speak. Hypnotize a Tiger is a book built to please fans of creative curated silliness. Don’t know if you’ll like it? There’s only one way to find out. Pick this puppy up and read it to a kid. The book may surprise you (and so might the kid!).

On shelves now.

Source: Final copy sent from publisher for review.

Like This? Then Try:

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  • I think this may honestly constitute the greatest class visit of all time.

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38. The Martian

cover artSo yesterday I started composing in my head what I wanted to say about Andy Weir’s The Martian and I was working up a good post too until I realized I had homework to attend to! Poof went all my mental work. Crud. The homework was writing and submitting my Library Journal review on Frida Kahlo’s Garden. I can only submit reviews between 175-200 words and they have very specific requirements. Every word counts. It isn’t so very hard to write it now that I’ve gotten good practice at it. However, it doesn’t leave time to write that blog post either. Having begun writing that blog post in my head and getting on with it pretty well, do you think I might remember any of it? Ha! Ha! Ha! Of course not! That’s why there’s this excuse of an introduction. And unfortunately I had no mental dreaming time at work today to begin again so I begin now and we’ll see where this goes.

The Martian. Loved it. Laugh out loud funny at times. Mark Watney’s smartass humor is what helps him survive alone on Mars and that’s saying something because I don’t think many of us would find any kind of humor in being left for dead on Mars by your crewmates in an emergency evacuation during a major dust storm. And he doesn’t even have a radio with which to contact NASA. Talk about being completely and utterly alone. So he begins recording a log of his days and the things he has to do to survive. He is a botanist and an engineer, two skill sets that turn out to be really helpful as he has to repair things that break and jury-rig other equipment to make them do things they were not designed to do. He also has to figure out how to grow food because there is not enough astronaut food for him to survive the four years he is going to be there.

The book is Watney’s log but it also jumps around a bit so we get the story told through the perspective of NASA as well as the crew who left him behind. Here is an example of some of the humor. NASA has just realized Watney is alive and given a news conference. Two of the people in charge of the program are talking and we get this:

‘I wonder what he’s thinking right now.’

LOG ENTRY: SOL 61
How come Aquaman can control whales? They’re mammals! Makes no sense.

The pacing is great. There are many tense moments especially getting towards the end when something really bad happens. I was reading that part on the plane Sunday afternoon and I had a momentary mental fit: dammit! He better not die! If he dies I’m going to be really pissed! Weir wouldn’t do that would he? Take him so far just to kill him? He’s not George R.R. Martin. Please don’t be like George R.R. Martin!

There was actually another event so very close to the end that precipitated another similar outburst. These outbursts had to be mental you see because I was already in trouble for attempting to bring some very dangerous hummus onto the plane. I didn’t want to give them any reason to escort me somewhere when the plane landed.

I don’t think it is spoiler to say the book has a “happy” ending. If it is, I’m sorry to have just given it away.

Weir originally published the book chapter by chapter on his blog. He is one of those uber-geeks who spends his free time learning about relativistic physics and orbital mechanics. But in this case it is good because he began daydreaming about what-if Mars scenarios and it turned into a book with very accurate science. The book was so popular his readers asked him to make it available as an ebook. So Weir formatted it and published it on Amazon for .99 cents because Amazon wouldn’t let him give it away for free. It became such a success that he was approached by a publisher and the rest, as they say, is history. But between the Amazon publication and the print publication Weir received numerous letters from scientists kindly correcting his errors and Weir made corrections to the book accordingly before print publication. While we have not gone to Mars yet, NASA has a Mars program plan called Mars Direct and Weir used this as the basis for his book.

The book touched all kinds of buttons in my geeky heart; space travel, real science that not once relies on some made up magical science to save the day, funny, suspenseful, surprising and unabashedly entertaining. Also, if it were me stuck on Mars, I’d be so dead. Therefore, when the day arrives when humans do actually go to Mars, you will not find me standing in line for a chance to go. I’ll keep my feet firmly planted here on Earth, thank you very much.


Filed under: Books, Reviews Tagged: Andy Weir, Mars

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39. Review: The Year We Fell Down

The Year We Fell Down: A Hockey Romance (The Ivy Years Book 1) by Sarina Bowen. Rennie Road Books. 2014. Personal copy.

The Plot: Corey Callahan is excited to be starting her freshman year at college. Just like her brother, she is going to Harkness College.

Corey's also supposed to be playing ice hockey. But because of an accident her senior year, she's in a wheelchair. So Corey's not playing the sport that defined her. She's also not in a dorm with the others in her incoming class; instead, she's in the school's handicap accessible dorm.

Determination, and refusal to be babied by her parents, drove Corey to start her freshman year. Some things may be more of a challenge for her than others: Harkness is an old campus, and even when buildings are accessible it's not easy or simple.

But other things are great. She has a terrific roommate, and then there is the very cute guy across the hallway: Adam Hartley, a ice hockey player who took a fall over the summer and broke his leg in two places, which is why he's in the handicap accessible dorm. They become friends as together they figure their way around campus, and classes, when their are too many stairs and not enough elevators and ramps.

Corey finds herself falling for Hartley. But he is popular, and a jock, with a hot girlfriend. And he plays the sport she can never play again. Is he only thinking of her as the girl across the hall, a friend to play videogames with? Or could he fall for her?

The Good: I loved this book so, so much. When I, along with Sophie Brookover and Kelly Jensen, was preparing for the New Adult Genre webinar for the Massachusetts Library System, I asked for recommendations for books and Gail from Ticket To Anywhere recommended Sarina Bowen. A huge thanks for the suggestion.

The Year We Fell Down works for so many reasons: it's a college story where being at college, the setting, really matters. I don't say that lightly; some books with a college setting use the college as a simple backdrop, a device (much like dead parents) to give the older teen independence. In The Year We Fell Down, Harkness College matters. What Corey does at Harkness matters. She attends classes, goes to parties, makes friends. It's familiar to anyone who has been at college, but also provides a true portrait of what college is like. The Year We Fell Down is also about how college provides a place for older teens to become independent, to make choices, to succeed, to fail.

It's also a love story, with Corey and Hartley becoming friends and that becoming something more. (Heck, that's hardly a spoiler! It's a New Adult book. It's a romance. It's not about whether the couple gets together, but how and why.) It's real and believable. And as someone who doesn't like stories about cheaters, I'll add that "Hartley has a girlfriend" is handled very well. This is not a book about cheating; but it is a book about people in college sorting out their feelings and figuring out when and how to act out on those feelings.

It's also about a young woman recreating her life. Corey had been a jock: it's who she was, it's what took up her time, it was her identity. Her accident didn't just change her, physically; it also means that she has to recreate herself. Who is she, now? What does she like? It's not a quick process. And part of it is Corey adjusting to her new body. There is never a moment of info-dumping or "as you know" happening; information provided to the reader about Corey is organic and part of the story, while addressing everything from how using the bathroom, catheters, parties up stairs, and sex. (Again, not a spoiler -- it's a New Adult romance so of course there are sexytimes.)

The Year We Fell Down is first of a series, one of those series that isn't about a sequential story but rather interconnected stories, with overlapping characters. I'm looking forward to reading the other books.

And so yes: it's a Favorite Book Read in 2015.











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© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

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40. Review of Firefly Hollow

mcghee_firefly hollowFirefly Hollow
by Alison McGhee; illus. by Christopher Denise
Intermediate   Atheneum   292 pp.
8/15   978-1-4424-2336-7   $16.99   g
e-book ed. 978-1-4424-9812-9   $10.99

A kindred spirit “understands the deepest dream of your heart,” Vole says to Firefly and Cricket. This trio of friends has big dreams: Vole dreams of sailing down the river to rejoin family and friends lost in a flood years before; Firefly dreams of flying to the moon; and baseball-loving Cricket yearns to be the best catcher since Yogi Berra. Vole has no community, and Firefly and Cricket feel like outsiders in theirs. The affectionate third-person narration follows each friend’s preparations for his or her quest, and when the time comes, Firefly does indeed shoot for the stars, Cricket makes the big catch, and Vole realizes he has not lost everything after all. McGhee has so ably created a believable world where dreams can come true that the entwined fates of a firefly, a cricket, and a vole (and their “miniature giant” friend Peter, a human boy) will move readers with its rightness. Where once they had sung “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” with abandon, Firefly now says, upon returning from her aerial adventure, “It’s not true, you know…That part in the song that says you don’t care if you never get back…I cared.” Fifteen full-color plates (only three seen) will embellish the finished edition.

From the July/August 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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41. Sordid Taglines: Doing Children’s Lit Classics a Wrong

Moving house, home, and family does something to a woman’s brain. If that woman is me, it makes her ponder great intricacies of life, to say nothing of ballsy marketing plans. And today it all began with this book:

LittlePrincess5

I suspect that we Americans are generally more familiar with The Secret Garden as our preferred Frances Hodgson Burnett classic than this little number. Still, it shows up on the occasional Summer Reading List and occasionally gets adapted into films, for good or for ill. As long as you can bust through the child reader’s expectation that the book is going to be about an actual princess, you’re generally in the clear.

Still and all, it got me to thinking. Originally published in 1905 the book is technically in the public domain. And so I wondered what an enterprising soul might do with it if they wanted to hock it to the masses. How could you sell it to 21st century child readers in the most blatant, shameless manner possible? The answer? Kooky taglines, my friend.

With that in mind, here is a crazy conglomeration of famous children’s books with brassy, ridiculous taglines, possibly more likely to cause perturbation amongst the adult masses than interest with child readers. It’s the B-movieazation of classic children’s literature. And I love it.  Here they are, along with some of the odder images I’ve found over the years of these books.

A Little Princess: One orphan has the power to conjure up magic in an attic. But is any of her spellcasting true?

LittlePrincess14

The Little Prince: In the desert, no one can draw you a sheep.

littleprincestatue

Holes: Treasure, blood, revenge and more.

Holes8

Half Magic: Be careful what you wish AND WISH for.

HalfMagic2

When You Reach Me: Sometimes the life you save is your own.

WhenYouReachMe3

One Crazy Summer: Fight the power.

OneCrazySummer

A Wrinkle in Time: Science, God, Magic and one crazy pulsating brain.

WrinkleInTime5

The Secret Garden: You only THINK you’re alone.

SecretGarden3

Harriet the Spy: You only THINK you’re alone.

HarrietSpy4

Charlotte’s Web: You only THINK . . . oh, fine fine. The idea’s played itself out.

WilberCharlotteStatue

Any you’d care to come up with as well?

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42. Monday Review: ALL THE RAGE by Courtney Summers

Summary: I finished reading this one today…and I just started reading it last night, right before bed. When I picked it up again this morning to enjoy with my coffee, it turned out to be basically un-put-down-able. It's easy to see how this... Read the rest of this post

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43. ADVANCE REVIEW: The Wonderful Fever Dream of Hellboy in Hell #7

England is gone, replaced by a new World Tree, promising to end this world and replace it with something new. Hellboy speaks with a spirit that may be his friend Alice, but who also appears to be something more. She delivers a prophecy of doom and beauty to Hellboy, who awakens, and finds himself in Hell once more. And then things start to get weird.

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44. Sex Criminals, Volume Two

cover artThe first volume of Sex Criminals by Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky was kind of quirky, fun and original. Jon and Suzie can both stop time when they orgasm. They each think they are the only one. They meet and what fun when they can stop time together. Suzie’s library is being foreclosed on by the bank where Jon works. They decide to “raise” the money by stopping time and robbing the bank. Except it turns out there are sex police, or at least three people who say that’s what they are. The robbery foiled and the police barely evaded, Jon and Suzie find themselves angry and confused.

In Sex Criminals Volume Two, Two Worlds One Cop, Jon and Suzie discover they can be tracked. They become paranoid and pretty much cease having sex. And then their relationship begins to fall apart. Jon sees the head of the sex police at the bank and finds out her real name and address and decides to break into her house. It does not go well. He also discovers one of the other members of the police is a very wealthy man who invests a lot of money through the bank. And suddenly the grace period the bank had given the library is revoked and the bank immediately forecloses and knocks down the library. But they discover another person who can also stop time and has met the “police.” They form a plan. What that plan is we really don’t know because that’s pretty much where this volume ends.

It also ended with me feeling pretty meh about this whole series and doubting that I will even bother with volume three whenever it should be published. After the novelty of the first volume you have to double down and really make an effort to have a good and interesting story because, well, the novelty has worn off. Unfortunately, I didn’t find the story all that interesting. I still don’t know who the sex police are or what they are doing since they aren’t really police at all. The story introduces a couple of new characters and tries to do some character development particularly with Jon, but it just didn’t work for me. When the best thing about the book is the “extras” at the end, I have to say the series is no longer that interesting for me.

And how about those extras? The “Sex Tips” were laugh out loud funny and I kept interrupting Bookman to read them to him. Here is one of my favorites:

Shower sex is great because you can fantasize that you’re having sex out in the rain, but the rain is hot because these are the End Times.

Heh.

There’s really nothing else to be said about this one.


Filed under: Books, Graphic Novels, Reviews Tagged: Chip Zdarsky, Matt Fraction

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45. Harper Lee and Ta-Nehisi Coates Debut on the Indie Bestseller List

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46. Review: The Trouble With Harry

The Trouble With Harryby Katie MacAlister. Sourcebooks Casablanca. 2014. Library copy.


The Plot: Regency England. Lord Harry Rosse thought he'd faced danger as a spy. But that he could handle... what he can't handle is life, now, raising five children alone. What he needs, what he wants, is a wife: someone to love his children, with all their antics and high spirits. Such high spirits he sometimes hides from them...

A wife for company and companionship. Not one of those pretty young things only interested in his title and status, eager for children of her own.

So he places an ad for a wife, leaving out a few details. Like the children. And the title. Or his past as a spy.

Plum sees the advertisement for a wife and thinks its the answer. All she wants is a decent man; the chance to have a child of her own; someone who will be kind to her the niece she's raised; and someone she can respect. She doesn't deliberately leave out details -- like her disastrous elopement twenty years ago, to a man who already had a wife. (She didn't know!! He lied!) Or that book she wrote under an assumed name, the book that helped support her when her family and friends and society shunned her for her involvement with a married man.

The Good: The Trouble with Harry was a lot of fun: it's like a sexytimes Nanny McPhee. The children are terrible, and cause so much problems. I kept giggling as I read it.

This is one of the titles recommended back when I asked about books featuring those 40 and over: Plum is 40, Harry is 45. Each are hiding secrets, and those secrets come create problems for them. But what I liked is that despite those secrets they are keeping from each other, they are honest with each other in what matters: their emotions and their feelings. Both are also frank about their attraction and physical needs and desire for each other. Perhaps more than frank -- let's just say that the book Plum wrote isn't some Jane Austen or Bronte inspired work of art.

Because both are older, Harry and Plum are for the most part secure in who they are. They don't have unrealistic expectations of each other; Harry particularly doesn't want some young wife full of romantic dreams. But that earned dose of reality is what makes their relationship and growing love so romantic and meaningful.

So, thank you very much for the recommendation, and I look forward to reading the others in this series!




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© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

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47. Review of Playful Pigs from A to Z

lobel_playful pigsstar2 Playful Pigs from A to Z
by Anita Lobel; illus. by the author
Preschool, Primary     Knopf     40 pp.
7/15     978-0-553-50832-1     $16.99
Library ed. 978-0-553-50833-8     $19.99
e-book ed. 978-0-553-50834-5     $10.99

Twenty-six pigs wake up in their pen and decide to explore the countryside, running down the road and finding a field of “magical surprises”: brightly colored, freestanding letters of the alphabet. Lobel’s soft early-morning watercolors give way to bolder pages on which each pig is now clothed and standing upright. The entire alphabet, set in a distinctive condensed typeface, runs along the top and bottom borders while each pig interacts happily with a single tall, thin letterform (all are upper-case but i). Lobel uses a name-verb-letter structure (“Amanda Pig admired an A. Billy Pig balanced on a B”), with rolling hills below and plenty of white space behind the pig and letter. Repeat readers will spot an extra object beginning with the letter in question tucked into a lower corner. Gender roles are satisfyingly relaxed: Greta, a female soldier, guards the G, while on the  opposite page Hugo tenderly hugs an H. By the time Yolanda yawns and Zeke zzzs, evening has arrived and the pigs return to their pen in a mirror image of the opening spreads, once again unclothed and running on all fours. Dinner is followed by bedtime, with all twenty-six snuggled together cozily. This playful treatment creates a humorous, easygoing book that should relieve any anxiety about learning the alphabet.

From the July/August 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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48. Creativ Magazine

I don’t often talk about magazines here for no other reason than they are not top on my list of reading material I feel compelled to discuss. Oh I read them, but I’m pretty sure you don’t want to know how awesome I thought the article on building a solar oven in Mother Earth News was. Still, when I got an email offering me a review copy of a new magazine called Creative, I thought sure, why not?

Creativ aims to share the stories of people who are, well, creative. But lest you think it is all about artists and writers, we are talking creative in a very broad sense. So broad that it includes the stories of people like fourteen-year-old Alyssa Carson who decided at the age of three she wanted to be an astronaut and has proven it to be not just a passing fancy. Now a Mars One Ambassador, she is determined to be one of the first humans on Mars. All of her studies are aimed at this goal. Then there are the Australians, Cedar and Stuart Anderson, who created a new and revolutionary beehive. The Flow hive allows beekeepers to harvest honey without disturbing the hive which means no bees die and the hive is left intact so the bees don’t have to waste energy rebuilding it. And then there is book sculptor Emma Taylor who creates gorgeous art from old books.

The magazine itself is beautiful to look at. Thick, glossy paper and page after page of full-color gorgeous photographs. It is a feast for the senses. My only complaint is the stories are too short, I want more! It is inspiring to see and hear about people from all around the world and the creative things they are doing with their lives. It made me want to be more creative.

Creativ has lots of online content and is trying to build a community where people can share their stories. The magazine is available at bookstores like Barnes and Noble and Chapters, through subscription, and online. Take a look if you are searching for a little inspiration. If you don’t find any I’ll be surprised.


Filed under: Books, Reviews Tagged: Creativ

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49. Review: Sabrina #4 Turns on the Dark

The new version of Sabrina, the Teenage Witch, launched under the Archie Horror imprint around last Halloween, isn’t exclusively about how adolescence is horrific, but the latest issue can’t help but circle some of that territory.

1 Comments on Review: Sabrina #4 Turns on the Dark, last added: 7/31/2015
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50. Melissa de La Cruz and Soman Chainani Debut on the Indie Bestseller List

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