December 28, 2017

Eventually your past will catch up with you

I had hoped to keep up the momentum and actually post a new review every single day leading up to New Year's but I got super busy with mom in town and...ah well. :-)

I thought I made notes about every single book that I've read this year and then it's time to review Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore by Matthew J. Sullivan and I've got nothing. This leaves me in an interesting predicament because I read this book quite a while ago (September to be precise) and so this is going to be a test of the narrative's sustainability in my memory. (Full disclosure: I had to look up the synopsis because all I remembered was 'mystery, death, and bookstore'.) Without being too spoiler-y, the book follows a young woman named Lydia who works at the Bright Ideas Bookstore. Lydia has a secret. Well, it's at least a secret from her closest friends and co-workers. At the very start of the novel, Lydia discovers the body of one of her favorite patrons hanging in the bookstore where she works. (This isn't giving anything away because it's on the book jacket, ok?) This sets her off on a journey to not only discover why he killed himself but how the two of them might be interconnected beyond the clerk/customer relationship. Full of suspense (and not a little gore), this was an enjoyable read. I felt a bit like Sherlock Holmes trying to suss out the real clues from the barrage of information that the author threw my away but it wasn't too overwhelming. This is definitely a novel full of drama so if that isn't your jam I don't recommend this one. (And if you're squeamish I think you'd better steer clear.) 8/10 with a few points lost because I predicted the ending somewhat.

Source: Amazon

What's Up Next: Roald Dahl's Book of Ghost Stories 

What I'm Currently Reading: I FINALLY FINISHED SCYTHE

**If you're interested in buying this book or any books really, you can click here or here. The first will re-direct you to AbeBooks and the second will re-direct you to The Book Depository. These are great websites for purchasing books (AbeBooks carries inexpensive used and out-of-print books and The Book Depository ships free everywhere in the world). Full disclosure: I will receive a commission on all sales made by following either of these links. I wouldn't recommend a site that I didn't use and you are under no obligation to purchase anything. :-) **

December 24, 2017

What thoughts do eggs have?

Everyone's a Aliebn When Ur a Aliebn Too by Jomny Sun was an odd little book.  The reader follows our main character who is an alien (or aliebn if you prefer) sent to earth to learn about humans but because he's never met one he assumes every living thing he sees is a human. Therefore, he becomes good friends with a tree, beaver, egg, etc. Reminiscent of Find the Good, this book is chock full of life lessons about what truly matters. Our little alien friend learns how to be content and happy, what loneliness is, how to be a good friend, the value of creativity, and most of all how to accept oneself. There's also an underlying message about doomsday and what the planet would be like without human habitation. Is this actually an apocalyptic tale cloaked behind a cute alien story?  I have to point out that the misspelling (as you see in the title) was highly annoying even after I managed to somewhat successfully ignore it and took away some enjoyment from the overall reading of the book. However, if you are able to look past that (and I was mostly successful) then it's a nice little read with great messages. This author isn't afraid to tackle tough subjects and I believe he does so with sensitivity and insight. This would make a great gift for that introspective friend (or a great addition to your own collection). I'd say it was a solid 7/10 because while it was a really nice book it didn't blow me out of the water. (The best graphic novel remains The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil by Stephen Collins.)

Source: Barnes & Noble

Source: Sweet


What's Up Next: Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore by Matthew J. Sullivan

What I'm Currently Reading: it's 1 day til Christmas...do you think I'm reading?

**If you're interested in buying this book or any books really, you can click here or here. The first will re-direct you to AbeBooks and the second will re-direct you to The Book Depository. These are great websites for purchasing books (AbeBooks carries inexpensive used and out-of-print books and The Book Depository ships free everywhere in the world). Full disclosure: I will receive a commission on all sales made by following either of these links. I wouldn't recommend a site that I didn't use and you are under no obligation to purchase anything. :-) **

December 23, 2017

Genetics gone wild...and woolly

YES. That is literally what I have written first in my notes for today's book review. Woolly: The True Story of the Quest to Revive One of History's Most Iconic Extinct Creatures by Ben Mezrich is the perfect mixture of technical science and literary narrative. This book tells the story of Dr. George Church and the Revivalists (a group under his tutelage) who are trying to do what has been thought impossible: Bring back the woolly mammoth from extinction. (I have to wonder if the author received a financial backing from this group because if he didn't then he certainly deserves one. He's a major fanboy.) Mezrich covers not only their attempts at this breakthrough in science but also their competition from Seoul which owns the market on DNA cloning. The company in Seoul believes it is possible to find a complete DNA strand while Church's group thinks that the DNA will be too degraded. They're working from pieces of DNA and splicing together traits unique to woolly mammoths with the hope that a viable fetus can be carried by an Asian elephant. A scientific group dedicated to the reversal of extinction of local flora and fauna in Siberia has begun work on Pleistocene Park which is most likely going to be a functioning reality but will take several years. This is where the woolly mammoths (who wouldn't be technically true mammoths) will reside. The controversy and hubris of scientists (especially geneticists who write DNA/RNA) is extensively discussed and is fascinating to me (and I'd imagine to most laymen). However, this isn't only about the woolly mammoth. It's also an in-depth biography of George Church and how he came to be one of the leading figures in genetics. Total 10/10.

Source: Simon & Schuster

What's Up Next: Everyone's a Aliebn When Ur a Aliebn Too by Jomny Sun

What I'm Currently Reading: it's 2 days til Christmas so I'm all over the place

**If you're interested in buying this book or any books really, you can click here or here. The first will re-direct you to AbeBooks and the second will re-direct you to The Book Depository. These are great websites for purchasing books (AbeBooks carries inexpensive used and out-of-print books and The Book Depository ships free everywhere in the world). Full disclosure: I will receive a commission on all sales made by following either of these links. I wouldn't recommend a site that I didn't use and you are under no obligation to purchase anything. :-) **

December 22, 2017

Fed up and gonna do something about it

Just to show how long I've had some of these books on the back burner, today's book was actually read around Halloween of this year. Thornhill by Pam Smy immediately caught my attention because of its stark black and white illustration on the cover (and the black edges of the pages). This is one of those times that the cover was not misleading as to the artistic style found within the graphic novel. Reminiscent of Brian Selznick, the art was done with pen and pencil and was entirely black and white. That definitely helped to lend a creepy vibe to the text (although it didn't need much help). This is the story of Mary, an orphaned girl, who spends her time making dolls and writing diary entries about her miserable existence at Thornhill, an all-girls orphanage. The reader is introduced to Mary through her diary entries which are read by Ella, a lonely girl, who lives with her absentee father next to a desolate, run-down building with Thornhill written above its gate. At first, it's rather confusing as to which point-of-view we are seeing and which time period we are inhabiting but I think that's done on purpose by the author. Both girls are very similar especially in terms of their circumstances i.e. they're both very lonely. As mentioned before, the tone is quite eerie but at the same time I felt that it was very realistically written. Alienation, abandonment, bullying, and emotional and psychological abuse are explored in a very interesting way. If you like Gothic horror with a dash of realistic drama then this is the perfect book for you. I read it at Halloween for the ambiance but you wouldn't be wrong reading this on a dark, stormy night either. 9/10 (with a deduction because creepy dolls are creepy)

Source: Foyles

I mean look at this stunning artwork. [Source: Macmillan]


What's Up Next: Woolly: The True Story of the Quest to Revive One of History's Most Iconic Extinct Creatures by Ben Mezrich

What I'm Currently Reading: it's 3 days til Christmas so I'm all over the place

**If you're interested in buying this book or any books really, you can click here or here. The first will re-direct you to AbeBooks and the second will re-direct you to The Book Depository. These are great websites for purchasing books (AbeBooks carries inexpensive used and out-of-print books and The Book Depository ships free everywhere in the world). Full disclosure: I will receive a commission on all sales made by following either of these links. I wouldn't recommend a site that I didn't use and you are under no obligation to purchase anything. :-) **

December 21, 2017

Not exactly what I wanted

I went into Find the Good: Unexpected Life Lessons From a Small-Town Obituary Writer by Heather Lende with a lot of perhaps too many expectations. I anticipated (and hoped for) humor of the macabre variety. Find the Good is a book of anecdotal advice from someone who regular faces death head on...or at least experiences it alongside those left behind. From the book's blurb, I thought that this was going to be a look at death with a light touch because how else can one continually run up against death and retain their positive outlook on life? I guess in a way Lende does explore the way she has had to structure her life so that she can continue to be a shoulder to cry on or an ear to listen when the grief overflows. As an obituary writer in a small town, most of the notices that she has had to write were about people that she knew if not intimately then by sight. That takes a toll on a person and also fosters an environment for emotional and spiritual growth.  There are some good, positive points made but in my opinion not enough to warrant an entire book. It would have made a good article or think piece. There's very little I can say about this one other than it didn't really live up to my expectations or blow me away. It would probably work well on a short train ride or as a beach read. It's a 3/10 for me, guys.

Source: NY Daily News


What's Up Next: Thornhill by Pam Smy

What I'm Currently Reading: still reading Scythe and Mine Own Executioner

**If you're interested in buying this book or any books really, you can click here or here. The first will re-direct you to AbeBooks and the second will re-direct you to The Book Depository. These are great websites for purchasing books (AbeBooks carries inexpensive used and out-of-print books and The Book Depository ships free everywhere in the world). Full disclosure: I will receive a commission on all sales made by following either of these links. I wouldn't recommend a site that I didn't use and you are under no obligation to purchase anything. :-) **

December 20, 2017

Thinking ahead

Have you guys ever watched a TED Talk? Well, apparently some of those Ted Talks are turned into published works so that the ideas can be delved into a little deeper. (To see more you can visit their website here. (They haven't asked me to review today's book by the way.)) I hadn't watched David Rothkopf's talk but The Great Questions of Tomorrow was featured in my regular 'what's new at Simon & Schuster' email and it seemed to be calling my name. Rothkopf is exploring a very wide and diverse range of topics with a central theme of  'what does this mean for the future?' running through them all. I guess it should come as no surprise that this book thoroughly freaked me out while at the same time fascinating me. Have you thought about the future of drone warfare and whether or not it might constitute the necessity for intelligent machines to have rights as members of society? WELL, NOW YOU ARE. He jumped from frightening scenarios like that to ones that hadn't even occurred to me such as complete mobile banking which would see the demise of physical currency and brick and mortar banks. O_O I especially enjoyed his take on government and how we should be trying to elect leaders who not only understand technology but can look towards the future to prepare accordingly. His example of how this was not done was that just because there was one shoe bomber it shouldn't mean we have to remove our shoes at airports into perpetuity. All in all, it was a fascinating read that I zipped right through. It's great for the people in your life (or yourself!) that enjoy philosophical discussions about the future and how actions of today and yesterday have and should continue to have direct bearing on how we handle events in the future. 10/10

Rothkopf's original TED Talk "How fear drives American politics":



What's Up Next: Find the Good: Unexpected Life Lessons From a Small-Town Obituary Writer by Heather Lende

What I'm Currently Reading: Mine Own Execution by Nigel Balchin

**If you're interested in buying this book or any books really, you can click here or here. The first will re-direct you to AbeBooks and the second will re-direct you to The Book Depository. These are great websites for purchasing books (AbeBooks carries inexpensive used and out-of-print books and The Book Depository ships free everywhere in the world). Full disclosure: I will receive a commission on all sales made by following either of these links. I wouldn't recommend a site that I didn't use and you are under no obligation to purchase anything. :-) **

December 19, 2017

This is bona fide angst

I have to assume that a large majority of you studied the epic poem, Beowulf, when you were in high school. If you recall, this is often cited as the oldest example of an epic poem in Old English and it tells the story of the hero, Beowulf, who comes to aid a king who is plagued by a monster known as Grendel. It goes on to discuss Beowulf's homecoming and his continuing adventures (with a dragon no less). All I remember of the poem was a fight in a cave. (Clearly I was unimpressed with this work's historical lineage.) So it might come as a surprise that when I saw Grendel by John Gardner I was intrigued by discovering that it was a kind of retelling of the poem in narrative format...from Grendel's point of view. Straight out of the gate, this was an absolutely bizarre piece of literature. I came away from it thinking that it was too cerebral for me (Farewell hubris!) because there were many times I felt like I had absolutely no clue what was going on. I think part of this lies with the narrative style which mixed Old English language (like the original) with contemporary phraseology (curses galore, ya'll). I was nearly tempted to reread Beowulf for reference. (Spoiler alert: I didn't.) This is a philosophical novel that ponders the nature of existence and what it actually means to be 'good' or 'evil' because for something to be truly 'good' there needs to be a corresponding 'evil' to balance it...right? Grendel is a classic example of an antihero but boy does he jaw on and on and on about his place in the universe. I found him bitter and whiny but I don't know if that's due to characterization or if it's the author's 'voice' projected onto the character. I guess I'll have to decide if I want to read more of Gardner's works to find out the answer. It's hard for me to sum up my feelings on this one other than to say it wasn't an especially enjoyable time and I don't know who I'd recommend this one too because it's very niche. It's a 2/10 for me.

I mean how could I pass up a weird cover like this? [Source: Amazon]

What's Up Next: The Great Questions of Tomorrow by David Rothkopf

What I'm Currently Reading: Mine Own Executioner by Nigel Balchin (and also Scythe which apparently I'm never going to finish)

**If you're interested in buying this book or any books really, you can click here or here. The first will re-direct you to AbeBooks and the second will re-direct you to The Book Depository. These are great websites for purchasing books (AbeBooks carries inexpensive used and out-of-print books and The Book Depository ships free everywhere in the world). Full disclosure: I will receive a commission on all sales made by following either of these links. I wouldn't recommend a site that I didn't use and you are under no obligation to purchase anything. :-) **

December 18, 2017

Revisiting an old favorite + the movie is coming out next year

For many years, when people would ask me about my favorite book I would promptly say that it was A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle. Recently, I started to wonder if my love for the novel had stood the test of time so I picked up the 4 book series entitled the Time Quartet (I have the box set that I got years ago) from my shelf and dove in headfirst. Reading the first book in the series, A Wrinkle in Time, completely transported me back to middle school when I first discovered the delightful writing of L'Engle. The book was just as fantastic as I remembered but with the passing of time I see more clearly the overt references to Christianity which were lost on me as a child. (She's a bit like C.S. Lewis in the way that she writes for children about Christianity but instead of fantasy devices she uses science fiction and fantasy.) This literary device would increase as the series continued and in a lot of ways it took away some of the enjoyment of the books for me. One of the bonuses of L'Engle's writing is that it is never 'dumbed down' for her child audience. She uses technical terminology and speaks of scientific endeavors as if the reader should already be aware of them. When I first read that book, this was a foreign concept to me as I didn't think I was any good at the sciences when I was in school. (Now look at how many scientific books I've read and reviewed!)

The main character in the first book is Meg, eldest sister of the Murry clan, and we see everything from her point of view. A large portion of why I loved this book was that Meg wasn't a typical girl of her age and I strongly identified with her (and I had a crush on Calvin).  A Wrinkle in Time focuses on Meg's relationship with herself, her family, and her peers (especially Calvin). She sees herself as 'other' except when she's with Charles Wallace or her mother (or Calvin...yes, I'm enjoying myself). It doesn't help that their father has been missing for so long that the postman in town has started asking impertinent questions. (The whole town is gossiping or so it seems.) While Meg plays a large role in A Wind in the Door, the main part of the plot is written with Charles Wallace (youngest Murry son) as the main character. Both books are full of adventure and self-discovery. Both Murry children come into their own and use their unique strengths to help them accomplish their goals. The stakes are always set extremely high and the pace is alternately rushed no-holds-barred action and so lackadaisical as to seem stagnant. (Note: If you don't enjoy books with a lot of descriptions and copious amounts of symbolism then I'm afraid this isn't the series for you.) By A Swiftly Tilting Planet, I felt almost overwhelmed by the underlying religious messages and the conclusion, Many Waters, which focuses on the twins, Sandy and Dennis, was so far-fetched as to be ridiculous. (Books 3 and 4 are so convoluted that I don't feel like I can talk about them in detail other than to say they are out there.) Part of me wishes that I had stopped reading at A Wrinkle in Time (as I had done for so many years) so as to not shatter the illusion of what this series meant to me but part of the reason I started this blog was to explore new books and to give as honest a review as possible. The hope is that even if I don't enjoy a book it might interest someone else. With that being said, A Wrinkle in Time remains in my top 50 all-time faves but the others...not so much. 9/10 for book 1 and a 3/10 for the series overall.

A/N: I just did a little Google search and discovered that although I have the box set which is called the Time Quartet there was actually a fifth book written called An Acceptable Time and which called for a new set to be created, the Time Quintet. I feel like I've been hoodwinked! Does this mean I need to find a copy of this book to complete the experience?! (Spoiler alert: I am probably not going to do this.)

This is the set that I own.[Source: Goodreads]

Here's the complete set. [Source: Barnes & Noble]


What's Up Next: Grendel by John Gardner

What I'm Currently Reading: Scythe by Neal Shusterman (been reading it for weeks because I've reached the end-of-year reading slowdown)

**If you're interested in buying this book or any books really, you can click here or here. The first will re-direct you to AbeBooks and the second will re-direct you to The Book Depository. These are great websites for purchasing books (AbeBooks carries inexpensive used and out-of-print books and The Book Depository ships free everywhere in the world). Full disclosure: I will receive a commission on all sales made by following either of these links. I wouldn't recommend a site that I didn't use and you are under no obligation to purchase anything. :-) **

December 15, 2017

Where's a Sherpa when you need one?

When we first met the intrepid, orphaned quartet that made up a large part of the Mysterious Benedict Society we were left feeling that surely this couldn't be the last adventure that they'd be on together...and we were absolutely right. The whole gang is back in the second book in the series by Trenton Lee Stewart titled The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey. (Note: A new illustrator, Diana Sudyka, has penned the drawings for this book and forthcoming books in the series.) The beginning of the book starts off with the kids separated and trying to live as close to normal as possible. The reader is once again following the main character, Reynie, as he heads to meet up with everyone on the anniversary of their last adventure together. However, when they are all reunited at Mr. Benedict's house they are met with a very unpleasant surprise. (No spoilers here!!) What follows is a treacherous journey (hence the name of the book) that takes them on boats, trains, and up the side of a mountain in another country. While the central theme of friendship and working together is still present, this book is much darker in tone and a sense of foreboding lingers over every page. (In some ways, it reminds me of the progression of the Harry Potter series.) The illustrations again accompany a portion of the text and even though it's a different illustrator the sense of whimsy is ever-present. Overall, very enjoyable and fun to see how the author expands on each of the characters personalities and abilities. (Constance plays a much larger role in this book.) I have to confess that I've had the third book in the series gathering dust on my desk at work (and a copy of it here at home) but I haven't felt an overwhelming urge to pick it up just yet. I have a feeling this will be one of the first books I get to in the new year. XD If you read the first book in the series then I'm confident you'll enjoy the sequel. 8/10

Source: Hachette Book Group
A sample of the new illustrator's style [Source: Kinder Books]


What's Up Next: The Time Quartet series by Madeleine L'Engle

What I'm Currently Reading: Scythe by Neal Shusterman

**If you're interested in buying this book or any books really, you can click here or here. The first will re-direct you to AbeBooks and the second will re-direct you to The Book Depository. These are great websites for purchasing books (AbeBooks carries inexpensive used and out-of-print books and The Book Depository ships free everywhere in the world). Full disclosure: I will receive a commission on all sales made by following either of these links. I wouldn't recommend a site that I didn't use and you are under no obligation to purchase anything. :-) **

December 13, 2017

Dan Buri on how to be a successful indie author

Today's post isn't written by me. Dan Buri (who you might recall from my review of his book Pieces Like Pottery) has another book out and today's post is written by him. If you're interested in being an author yourself or just curious about what makes a good writer then this post is for you. Enjoy!

Writing a book is hard. If you’ve written a book before, you know this. If you’re dreaming to write a book, you have a mountain to climb and you should understand that before you begin. But that doesn’t mean you can’t write your first novel! Or your second novel! Or third! If your book is good, it should be hard to write. That’s not something from which shy away. Most things in life that are worth doing are hard.

I’ve found with anything in life that’s difficult, the best way to approach it is to break it into pieces. Figure out how to write your book in steps. You can’t tackle everything at once, so break it up into actionable pieces that you can accomplish. Soon, as you complete one step after another, you will be holding your own book in your hands.

If you’ve read my first book, Pieces Like Pottery, you’ll recall one of the lead characters found a list of forty life tips from his former high school teacher, Mr. Smith. I’ve received a lot of positive feedback from readers on these forty life tips. They seem to resonate deeply with people. In my blog (Nothinganygood.com) and in my new book on writing—an inspirational guide for indie authors on their writing journey—I’ve applied each of the forty life tips to writing and how they can help you write, market, and sell your book.

Here is a sneak peek into a few truncated versions of those tips from 40 Tips on Creative Writing:

1) Life’s too short to not seize the opportunities with which we are presented. Always take the chance to do what you love when it comes along. Write that book! Start now! Do you have thirty minutes today? Sit down and start writing.

2) Be quick to show compassion and empathy. When you find yourself suffering from the clichéd writer’s block, take this advice to heart. Put yourself into your character’s shoes. Show compassion and empathy. What is your lead character feeling? Get yourself into the state mind of your character. As much as you can, put yourself in a place where you can understand and feel everything that your character is going through. It’s the skill of the great writer.

3) Don’t dress like a bum all day long. Some people do perfectly well rolling out of bed and doing great things in their underwear all day. I’m not one of those people. If I want to be productive, I prepare for it. Production doesn’t just magically happen. There has to be a plan. Wake up early. Shower. Wear respectable clothes. Eat breakfast. Get your mind right for writing. Then, when you’re good and ready, sit down and write.

4) Don’t be afraid to see dinosaurs even when everyone else around you doesn’t. Anyone who has ever tried to write anything of worth, and for that matter any creative type who has ever tried to make something out of nothing, knows how exciting and scary that can be at the same time. Take that excitement and fear and use it. Don’t worry about how others say you’re supposed to write. Write the way that you want to write. Sure, soak in all the advice and feedback from writing experts and amateurs alike. Take it all to heart. Let it wash over you. Then filter it through that beautiful brain of yours and write the way you feel called to write.

5) Have a routine, but avoid being routine. Having a routine is good. We just finished agreeing not to dress like a bum all day long. This is part of planning to be productive. Having a routine and a schedule can ensure that you are actually writing and not just dreaming about it. But don’t let that routine control you. Follow it as far as it will lead on the road of utility, but the moment you hit a dead end and it’s no longer useful, break away from it. Avoid being routine.

I know writing a book (or another book) can be difficult, but there is a huge author community out there ready to support you. Let me help you get your book finished and increase your sales. This is just a small taste of the valuable tips and inspiration that has helped other writers meet their goals and follow their dreams. Let 40 Tips on Creative Writing be your inspirational guide to a successful book!




40 Tips on Creative Writing is currently available in ebook and print. Dan Buri (@DanBuri777 on Twitter) is a trusted resource for writers to gain insight into the difficult world of indie publishing. His first collection of short fiction — Pieces Like Pottery — which has been recognized on multiple Best Seller Lists, is an exploration of heartbreak and redemption. His nonfiction works have been distributed online and in print, in publications including Pundit Press, Tree, Summit Avenue Review, American Discovery, and TC Huddle. Dan is a founding member of the Independent Writers Guild, a worldwide organization of writers and publishing professionals dedicated to promoting the interest of indie writers by encouraging public interest in, and fostering an appreciation of, quality indie literature. He is an active attorney in the Pacific Northwest, and lives in Oregon with his wife and two young children.


Seize the day you have in front of you. You are strong.
You are kind. You are wonderful. Don’t forget it.
― Dan Buri

December 8, 2017

Make sure to read the footnotes

Science of the Magical: From the Holy Grail to Love Potions to Superpowers by Matt Kaplan is a compendium of magical anecdotes. (It would have to be with a mouthful of a title like that.) Kaplan organizes everything under different subsections which allows him to cover a lot of ground but as someone who has delved into a lot of this genre much of it was already known to me (or self-explanatory). My favorite thing about this book were the often hilarious footnotes which I think saved the book from becoming too overblown. For instance, while a lot of the book was informative and genuinely interesting it was marred by the author's writing 'voice' which came across as forced. It seemed like he was trying too hard to be 'cool' and 'relevant' and instead it was just grating. By the time the reader reaches the conclusion, you expect there to be some sort of overarching theme or lesson learned but Kaplan seems to almost have tacked it on at the very end in an almost halfhearted fashion. It doesn't so much as conclude as leave the reader feeling somewhat disappointed that it wasn't well-rounded. I don't want this to come out as overwhelmingly negative because if you're someone who hasn't read much on these topics then this would be a great jumping off point but for the more seasoned reader it's less of a revelation and more of a rehashing. If you want a book which is full of facts and historical anecdotes then you could do worse by picking up this book. 6/10

Source: Simon & Schuster

What's Up Next: The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey by Trenton Lee Stewart with illustrations by Diana Sudyka (!)

What I'm Currently Reading: Slightly Foxed: Issues 54-57 and rereading (very slowly) The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

**If you're interested in buying this book or any books really, you can click here or here. The first will re-direct you to AbeBooks and the second will re-direct you to The Book Depository. These are great websites for purchasing books (AbeBooks carries inexpensive used and out-of-print books and The Book Depository ships free everywhere in the world). Full disclosure: I will receive a commission on all sales made by following either of these links. I wouldn't recommend a site that I didn't use and you are under no obligation to purchase anything. :-) **

December 1, 2017

Little boys at war

Today's book is a classic that I have wanted to read for quite some time but never got around to...until now. Stephen Crane's The Red Badge of Courage covers the American Civil War from the point of view of a Union soldier. It's the gritty portrayal of life at the front and just what it's like to lay down your life for a cause that you don't fully understand. In fact, our protagonist has almost no clue what it is that he's fighting for or against. He joined up because it was the done thing which seems to be the case for the rest of his regiment as well. There are those that brag about their bravado but when the time comes for the bullets to fly they are the first to turn and run. At first, our soldier is condescending towards these 'cowards' as he sees them but he very quickly sees the futility of their regiment's actions as they seem to be merely feinting and arbitrarily gaining and losing ground. It is a gritty, raw description of battle and defeat which is undercut with confusion and fear. These are children playacting warfare but the injuries and death are very real. Crane's insistence on not holding back lends a realistic, deadening of the senses feel to what it's like on the battlefield when you are surrounded by death and horror at every turn. He was making a commentary on the futility of war and how those who are a part of the 'war machine' are generally lost as to the meaning of why and who they are fighting. I am immensely glad that I finally picked this book up and gave it a read. I encourage ya'll to do the same. It's a slim volume and will take no time at all (though I don't promise you'll want a break every now and again from the bloodshed). 9/10

This is the cover of my copy. [Source: Goodreads]

Here are a few more covers which I thought were worth sharing because they tell slightly different stories (and illustrate the point that covers do matter):

This one screams patriotism. Source: Goodreads
Yes, that is a bald eagle. [Source: Waldina]
Just so you get the message. [Source: Goodreads]
And my fave because RAINBOW. [Source: Amazon]

What's Up Next: Science of the Magical: From the Holy Grail to Love Potions to Superpowers by Matt Kaplan

What I'm Currently Reading: Slightly Foxed: Issues 50-53

**If you're interested in buying this book or any books really, you can click here or here. The first will re-direct you to AbeBooks and the second will re-direct you to The Book Depository. These are great websites for purchasing books (AbeBooks carries inexpensive used and out-of-print books and The Book Depository ships free everywhere in the world). Full disclosure: I will receive a commission on all sales made by following either of these links. I wouldn't recommend a site that I didn't use and you are under no obligation to purchase anything. :-) **

November 24, 2017

Unresolved conflict

I read Ghost Waltz: A Family Memoir by Ingeborg Day on recommendation from a patron. She assured me that I would love it and that it was right up my alley as it was a nonfiction book that covered events from WWII. What hooked me into reading it was that it was covering the events of WWII from the perspective of someone who was on the 'other side' aka the Nazi perspective (as opposed to the 3rd person nonfiction narrative or survivor memoir). Ingeborg wanted to uncover the secrets of her father's past and hopefully work out exactly what his role was as a member of the Nazi Party and SS. She revisited old memories of times spent living in shared accommodation with other families, rationing, and the charged silence around the dinner table. She continually reiterated that she had no memories of her parents ever saying anything about Jewish people or showing any violence whatsoever toward anyone...and yet the undertones of the book were very anti-Semitic. I honestly found this a very uncomfortable book to read especially considering that she seemed to vacillate on her own beliefs and feelings towards those who were slaughtered en masse while her father served as a member of the Nazi party. (Her conflicting beliefs made this a very disjointed read.) For those interested in knowing just what his role was and his innermost beliefs, you will be sorely disappointed. There is no clear cut conclusion to be found among the pages of Ghost Waltz. The author herself couldn't seem to work out her own feelings much less those of a man who she had no contact with as an adult (there was an event after she left home which led to a rift). This wasn't my favorite read of the year for multiple reasons but mostly for those stated above: anti-Semitic sentiment and unsatisfactory conclusion. It's a 2/10 for me. :-/

Source: HarperCollins Publishers


What's Up Next: The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane

What I'm Currently Reading: Slightly Foxed: Issues 50-52

**If you're interested in buying this book or any books really, you can click here or here. The first will re-direct you to AbeBooks and the second will re-direct you to The Book Depository. These are great websites for purchasing books (AbeBooks carries inexpensive used and out-of-print books and The Book Depository ships free everywhere in the world). Full disclosure: I will receive a commission on all sales made by following either of these links. I wouldn't recommend a site that I didn't use and you are under no obligation to purchase anything. :-) **

November 17, 2017

Fathers and sons in America: A Matt Phelan Masterpost

I had said in last week's post that today I'd be writing a Matt Phelan 'masterpost'. Typically this means that I cover 3+ books by a single author (or multiple authors writing together in a series). However, today I'm just going to talk about 2 books because honestly that's all I could get my hands on and so that's all I managed to read. :-) I picked up Bluffton: My Summers with Buster Keaton and The Storm in the Barn with fairly high expectations based on the work I had seen by Phelan in the Comics Squad compilation I read and reviewed not too long ago. On the one hand, I was not at all disappointed. The illustration style is most definitely up my street. He is excellent at drawing evocative expressions on people's faces. I think where I was let down was on the overall reading experience. Let me take each of the books separately so that I can (hopefully) explain what I mean.

I read Bluffton first because it featured a circus and I am all about that circus lifestyle. Firstly, when I grabbed this book I somehow missed the subtitle and therefore was shocked to discover that one of the main characters in this book is that famous star of vaudeville, Buster Keaton. Secondly, I went into this book expecting a rollicking good time and instead got a somewhat borderline depressing narrative of what the childhood of Buster would have entailed since he was a performer from infancy. It's about the expectations that a parent has for their child and how those might be vastly different from the aspirations that the child holds for themselves. It's also about the nature of friendship and jealousy (especially when one of the friends is an itinerant performer). It's a coming of age tale that paints a rather grim picture of child stardom and how the experiences of our youth shape us into the adults that we will one day become.

Then there was The Storm in the Barn which I can only categorize as a Debbie Downer type of book. I'm not sure that this falls under any one genre. It's most certainly historical fiction as it depicts a little boy, his family, and his community as they struggle during the time of the Dust Bowl in Kansas circa 1937. However, it also contains fantasy elements of which I can't really go into without spoiling the plot... It's certainly rooted in reality because Phelan does not shy away from the harsh conditions that these characters face (don't even get me started on the rabbits). He covers bullying from both peers and parents. The protagonist is forced to watch a beloved sister struggle with a possibly fatal illness. The entire plot is fraught with tension and a dark cloud seems to hover over every page. What I'm trying to say is that if you're looking for a light read to send your tots to sleep at night then you should probably keep looking. BUT if you wanted to teach your kids about an era of history that's not usually dwelt upon in the classroom then this might indeed be the right selection for you.

I'd rate both books about the same. In terms of imagery and writing, they're both 10/10. The issue is that I held expectations about these books (as readers do from time to time) and I finished both of these feeling somewhat let down. I understand that not all books are going to be rosy, sweet, and fun. I know that not every book has a happy ending. And yet when these two books delivered hardship, sadness, and loss I was ill prepared and disgruntled. I can't honestly flaw these books and say that from a reviewer's standpoint they were faulty...but I still find it difficult to give them full marks just the same. Does this make sense? I guess my point is that a book can tick off all the boxes and still fall short based on the assumptions of the reader and/or their relative mood when they picked up the book. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Now let's take a look at some of the illustrations:

Source: Amazon

Source: YouTube

Source: Amazon

Source: books4school

What's Up Next: Ghost Waltz: A Family Memoir by Ingeborg Day

What I'm Currently Reading: Kid Authors: True Tales of Childhood from Famous Writers by David Stabler

**If you're interested in buying this book or any books really, you can click here or here. The first will re-direct you to AbeBooks and the second will re-direct you to The Book Depository. These are great websites for purchasing books (AbeBooks carries inexpensive used and out-of-print books and The Book Depository ships free everywhere in the world). Full disclosure: I will receive a commission on all sales made by following either of these links. I wouldn't recommend a site that I didn't use and you are under no obligation to purchase anything. :-) **

November 11, 2017

Impatient to read the next one

In an effort to expand my repertoire of graphic novels and maybe be more helpful when recommending books to my library patrons I took a trip to the shelves. I came upon a set of 3 books in a series written by Judd Winick and their covers were so eye-catching that I decided to grab all of them to binge. I'm grateful that I did because I breezed right through them and it's left me impatient for book 4 which comes out at the beginning of next year. The series centers around a character called HiLo (arguments could be made that it's written Hilo or HILO) who crash lands onto earth (and into our hearts) with The Boy Who Crashed to Earth. The title pretty much says it, right? HiLo looks like your typical kid except that he's super strong and extremely weird. He doesn't get why clothes are mandatory or that not everyone has superpowers like he does. Luckily, he makes friends with D.J. who is more than happy to show him the ropes and to absolutely have his back...even if that means fighting robots from another dimension. By the second book, Saving the Whole Wide World, their duo has expanded to include Gina who used to be D.J.'s best friend before she moved away. She's struggling with her own identity so it's challenging to try and sort out just what kind of a creature HiLo actually is...and if he's a hero or a villain. The stakes are higher and the danger is 100% real but it doesn't seem like there's anything that HiLo can't defeat...which brings us to the third book titled The Great Big Boom. There are magical warrior cats in this book. I don't think I need to say anything else because MAGICAL WARRIOR CATS. HiLo and his friends are going up against the ultimate baddie and it's only going to get worse which is why I'm practically vibrating with excitement over Waking the Monsters which is set for release on 1/16/18.

These books are full of heart and what it means to be a loyal friend no matter what (even if there are killer robots). The illustrations are 99% of the reason why I love these books. The colors, characters, and layouts are perfectly married to the hilarious, heartwarming prose. This is a solid 10/10 for me and I have been recommending it so much that now we only have book 2 sitting lonely on our shelves (they're going like hotcakes is what I'm saying). So catch up so that like me you can sit in anticipation for the 4th book to hit the shelves!



All images sourced from Penguin Random House

What's Up Next: Matt Phelan Masterpost

What I'm Currently Reading: Soonish: Ten Emerging Technologies That'll Improve and/or Ruin Everything by Kelly & Zach Weinersmith & I'm rereading Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie because I just saw the film :-D

**If you're interested in buying this book or any books really, you can click here or here. The first will re-direct you to AbeBooks and the second will re-direct you to The Book Depository. These are great websites for purchasing books (AbeBooks carries inexpensive used and out-of-print books and The Book Depository ships free everywhere in the world). Full disclosure: I will receive a commission on all sales made by following either of these links. I wouldn't recommend a site that I didn't use and you are under no obligation to purchase anything. :-) **

November 3, 2017

What makes us "real"?


The Imaginary by A.F. Harrold recalls to mind the memory of childhood and the power (danger?) of imagination. The story revolves around Amanda and her best friend named Rudger. They're typical friends that have lots of imaginary play, get into mischief, and share all of their secrets with one another. The only difference is that no one else can see Rudger because he's Amanda's imaginary friend. This book walks a tightrope between fantasy and reality which at times is quite blurred. This is not a fantasy full of giggles and silliness but one fraught with darkness and fear. There is a threat not only to Amanda and Rudger's friendship but to their very lives...and it's getting closer. This is a book about the true meaning of friendship and to what lengths you will go to preserve it. Also, cats. (I genuinely made a note after reading this book that was simply CATS so clearly that's an important aspect of this book.) I must also point out that the narrative was elevated even further by the fantastic illustrations of Emily Gravett. (I liked her work so much that I sought out her picture books.) I've been recommending this to reluctant readers because I think it's a great way to dip your toe into fantasy and the scary element definitely sells it as well. 9/10

Source: Bloomsbury Publishing

Source: books4yourkids.com


What's Up Next: HiLo series books 1-3 by Judd Winick

What I'm Currently Reading: The World of Lore: Monstrous Creatues by Aaron Mahnke & Haunted Nights: A Horror Writers Association anthology

**If you're interested in buying this book or any books really, you can click here or here. The first will re-direct you to AbeBooks and the second will re-direct you to The Book Depository. These are great websites for purchasing books (AbeBooks carries inexpensive used and out-of-print books and The Book Depository ships free everywhere in the world). Full disclosure: I will receive a commission on all sales made by following either of these links. I wouldn't recommend a site that I didn't use and you are under no obligation to purchase anything. :-) **

November 1, 2017

NaNoWriMo starts today!

I was once again contacted by my pals over at Inkitt to let you guys know about a new program that they're launching. The following gives you a taste of what it's all about as well as links to further info on signing up. :-)

Have you ever thought about writing a novel? There are millions of people in the world who have ideas floating around in their heads that they want to write down but never find the time.

Inkitt, the world’s first reader-powered book publisher, will be launching their first ‘Writers Write Program’  on November 1st to help you turn your idea into an original novel. The 30-day program is completely free and filled with special benefits such as:


  • Free, 30 min private sessions with professional writing coaches (including the editor of The Martian)
  • Events and tips with bestselling authors like Andy Weir, Lauren Kate, and Gayle Forman
  • A variety of community features such as the choice to get a writing buddy who you can exchange manuscript feedback with

“Our intention is to enlarge the writing community by encouraging more people to become writers,” said CEO of Inkitt, Ali Albazaz. “The program is completely free so for us this isn’t about making money; it’s about encouraging talented and committed writers to keep going and finish what they started.”


If you are serious about taking on the challenge or want to finish (or start!) a manuscript then make sure to get your spot in the program now. There is less than a week left before it starts.

LEARN MORE



More info about NaNoWriMo can be found here.

October 27, 2017

A palate cleanser

Today's book is radically different from the last couple that I've reviewed. As I've mentioned before, I sometimes just pull random books off of the shelf if the cover tickles my fancy. That's precisely how I ended up reading Comics Squad #3: Detention by Jennifer L. Holm & Matthew Holm, Jarrett J. Krosoczka, Matt Phelan, Victoria Jamieson, Ben Hatke, Rafael Rosario & Jorge Aguirre, and George O'Connor. (Please excuse me while I take a nap after copying down all of those authors.) As you might have guessed, this is a collection of comics by different authors all centering on the theme of detention. I'm obviously not the right audience for this because 1. I'm too old to get detention and 2. Even when I was old enough for it I never got detention. So while I didn't feel as overwhelmingly into this collection as a typical middle grader I still enjoyed it overall. That being said, there were some that stood out more than others and when I looked back through them I realized they were all by the same artist: Matt Phelan. I immediately added his works to my TRL (look out for that post in the near future). If you're interested in trying out a wide variety of illustrative styles and author's voices then this is a really great way to do that. It's definitely a mixed bag so you'll come away with hopefully at least one author/illustrator that you'll want to check out further. It was a light, fast read that served as somewhat of a palate cleanser after some of the denser books that I read previously. It's a 6/10 for me but I wouldn't say no to more books in this series (which do indeed exist if you didn't guess by #3 in the title).

Source: Twitter

What's Up Next: The Imaginary by A.F. Harrold with illustrations by Emily Gravett

What I'm Currently Reading: The Little Virtues by Natalia Ginzburg

**If you're interested in buying this book or any books really, you can click here or here. The first will re-direct you to AbeBooks and the second will re-direct you to The Book Depository. These are great websites for purchasing books (AbeBooks carries inexpensive used and out-of-print books and The Book Depository ships free everywhere in the world). Full disclosure: I will receive a commission on all sales made by following either of these links. I wouldn't recommend a site that I didn't use and you are under no obligation to purchase anything. :-) **

October 20, 2017

A new perspective

Most would agree that Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species created a stir among the scientific and religious communities when it was first published (some could argue it's still wreaking havoc to this day). However, in America the hubbub was less about where God fit into the picture and more how Darwin's theory solidified the stance against slavery. The Book That Changed America: How Darwin's Theory of Evolution Ignited a Nation by Randall Fuller explores how this one book helped abolitionists build arguments based on scientific fact while at the same time forcing long-held rigid beliefs to be questioned. (I'm looking at you Bronson Alcott.) Until reading this book, I had never thought about its reception in America in terms of its historical context/proximity to the Civil War. These two events seemed to be separate while in reality they were very much interwoven. Leading authors of the day including Henry David Thoreau were well-known and vocal about ending slavery so they not only endorsed Darwin's theories but went on publicity tours to promote it (and give their own opinions). On the Origin of Species showed that all humans had a common ancestor and thus there was no reason why they should not be treated as equals. (The relevance of this book during this time of sociopolitical upheaval in America right now was not lost on me. It just goes to show that we haven't evolved that much since this book hit the shelves.) I was continually surprised by what I learned by reading this book considering that I studied Darwin while I was working on my Bachelor's degree in Anthropology. Instead of solely focusing on the religious impact (which was still significant) it would have been informative to have learned this as well. I suppose that's why Randall Fuller wrote the book! hahaha If you're like me and eager to learn more (especially in light of the insanity that is 2017) then this book is the one for you. 9/10

Source: Amazon

What's Up Next: Comics Squad #3: Detention by Jennifer L. Holm (and others)

What I'm Currently Reading: The Unreal and the Real: Selected Stories Volume One: Where on Earth by Ursula K. Le Guin

**If you're interested in buying this book or any books really, you can click here or here. The first will re-direct you to AbeBooks and the second will re-direct you to The Book Depository. These are great websites for purchasing books (AbeBooks carries inexpensive used and out-of-print books and The Book Depository ships free everywhere in the world). Full disclosure: I will receive a commission on all sales made by following either of these links. I wouldn't recommend a site that I didn't use and you are under no obligation to purchase anything. :-) **

October 17, 2017

Andrew Joyce muses on the joy (and frustration) of creating his short story collection

Today's post wasn't written by me but was instead written by guest poster, Andrew Joyce. Enjoy! :-)


Hello, my name is Andrew Joyce. I have a new book out entitled Bedtime Stories for Grown-Ups. It came about because my editor hounded me for two years to put all my short stories into one collection. Actually, it was supposed to be a two-volume set because there was so much material. I fended her off for as long as possible. I didn’t want to do the work of editing all the stories. There were a lot them. But she finally wore me down. Instead of two volumes, I put all the stories into a single book because I wanted to get the whole thing over with. I had other books to write.

Bedtime Stories is made up of fiction and nonfiction stories and some of ’em are about my criminal youth. I must tell you, I never thought any of these stories would see the light of day. I wrote them for myself and then forgot about them. By the way, there are all sort of genres within its pages, from westerns to detective stories to love stories and just about anything else that you can imagine.
Anyway, here’s one of the shorter fiction stories from the book.

Good-Bye Miami

For the first time in my life, I’m in love. And I think she feels the same about me. That’s the good news. The bad news is that we may have to break up … sort of. Shit happens. Allow me to explain.
Her name is Jill; we met early on a Sunday morning. I was jogging along the beach at the water’s edge one minute, and the next I was splayed out in the sand. I had tripped over a woman’s recumbent body.

After the requisite apologies, we started talking. One thing led to another and we ended up having lunch together. That was eight months ago and we’ve barely been out of each other’s sight since.
Today is another Sunday much like the one when Jill and I met, but things are a little different now.
I’m an FBI agent assigned to the Miami Field Office. I was awakened at five o’clock this morning by an urgent phone call to report in immediately. There was a terrorist threat. Hell, this was the granddaddy of all threats. At 4:00 a.m., a local television station received a call stating that there was a nuclear bomb planted within the city, and at exactly 4:00 p.m., it would be detonated unless certain demands were met. The caller said there was a package sitting in the parking lot of the North Miami office of the FBI that would authenticate the threat.

It turned out to be a small nuclear bomb, which is also known as a suitcase bomb. An attached note informed us it was exactly like the one planted in downtown Miami. It also stated that if there was any effort to evacuate the populace, the bomb would definitely go off the instant word hit the media.
Every law enforcement officer—city, state, and federal—was called in. We were given gadgets that register radiation, and all personnel were assigned grids. Each person would drive his or her grid. If the meter went off, a team would be dispatched with equipment to pinpoint the emanations. Then the eggheads would dismantle the bomb.

That was the plan.

We were ordered to tell no one of the threat, but there were many surreptitious phone calls made that morning, telling family members to drive to West Palm Beach for the day. I made my own call, telling Jill that I had planned a romantic day for the two of us and asked if she would meet me in Boca Raton. I gave her the name of the hotel where I had made a reservation before calling her, and said I’d be there in the early afternoon. She readily agreed, and now I know that she is safe.

So here it is nearing four o’clock and we’ll soon see if it was a hoax or not. The clock on the dashboard reads 3:59 … 4:00 … 4:01 ... 4:02. Nothing! I’ll be damned, the whole thing was a ...





Bedtime Stories for Grown-Ups is a jumble of genres—seven hundred pages of fiction and nonfiction … some stories included against the author’s better judgment. If he had known that one day they’d be published, he might not have been as honest when describing his past. Here is a tome of true stories about the author’s criminal and misspent youth, historical accounts of the United States when She was young, and tales of imagination encompassing every conceivable variety—all presented as though the author is sitting next to you at a bar and you’re buying the drinks as long as he keeps coming up with captivating stories to hold your interest.

Comprised of 218,000 words, you’ll have plenty to read for the foreseeable future. This is a book to have on your night table, to sample a story each night before extinguishing the lights and drifting off to a restful sleep.


Mr. Joyce sincerely hopes that you will enjoy his stories because, as he has stated, “It took a lot of living to come up with the material for some of them.”



Andrew Joyce left high school at seventeen to hitchhike throughout the US, Canada, and Mexico. He wouldn't return from his journey until years later when he decided to become a writer. Joyce has written five books. His first novel, Redemption: The Further Adventures of Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer, was awarded the Editors' Choice Award for Best Western of 2013. A subsequent novel, Yellow Hair, received the Book of the Year award from Just Reviews and Best Historical Fiction of 2016 from Colleen's Book Reviews.

Joyce now lives aboard a boat in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, with his dog, Danny, where he is busy working on his next book, tentatively entitled, Mahoney: An American Story.