Monday, December 24, 2012

Book Review: The Joy of a Peanuts Christmas by Charles Schulz

My rating: 4.5/5

This little book is a great collection of Christmas-themed Peanuts comics from the 1950s-1990s. There isn't a lot of text other than a few pages with descriptions of different characters. Mostly it's just a comic per page and a quick, enjoyable read.

If you love Peanuts, it's a must-read.

(And is it just me, or were the '50s characters even cuter than the more recent ones?)

Book Review: Diagnosing Jefferson by Norm Ledgin

My rating: N/A

From Amazon: "Historians have long remarked on Thomas Jefferson's "peculiarities." But it took author Norm Ledgin, whose son has Asperger's Syndrome, to see what others did not. In this intriguing book, Ledgin carefully constructs a convincing case for the likelihood that Thomas Jefferson had Asperger's Syndrome. He matches Jefferson's behaviors with five diagnostic criteria for Asperger's: social impairment, preoccupation with "special interests," impairment in nonverbal communication, lack of emotional reciprocity, and inflexible adherence to nonfunctional routines. He also addresses other well-known signs of Asperger's, such as failure to recognize social cues, need for calming pressure, and indifference to peer pressure. A fascinating read!"

I expected this book to be an historical, factual treatise on the behavior of Thomas Jefferson and why the author believed Jefferson had Asperger's; but judging by the introduction and first chapter, it was not. (I only got that far, hence the N/A rating.)  The author instead repeatedly states that the only possibility is that Jefferson had Asperger's, and that everyone who thinks otherwise is wrong, without giving any explanation as to why they were wrong.  If you're right in your assertions, you don't have to repeatedly tell us that you're right; you have to show us.  Judging by others' reviews, this doesn't change later in the book, and I couldn't bring myself to finish it.  If anyone has read it though and would like to convince me to re-check it out from the library, please feel free. :)

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Book Review: Fablehaven by Brandon Mull

My rating: 3.75/5

From Amazon: "Kendra and her brother, Seth, have no idea that their grandfather is the current caretaker of Fablehaven. Inside the gated woods, ancient laws keep relative order among the greedy trolls, mischievous satyrs, plotting witches, spiteful imps, and jealous fairies. But when the rules get broken, powerful forces are unleashed, and Kendra and her brother face the greatest challenge of their lives. To save their family, Fablehaven, and maybe even the world, Kendra and Seth must find the courage to do what they fear most..."

This book reminded me of ones that I liked to read in elementary school (probably about 3rd-6th grades), so even just for that reason it gets a good review. I'm sure I would have loved it at that age, and even now I appreciated all the big vocabulary words the author used (cacophony, ethereal, cupola, etc.).  As an adult reading it though, the book doesn't quite span the young-adult/adult audience; I had a hard time keeping disbelief suspended.  The adult part of me was annoyed when Seth made (a multitude of) mistakes and when adults wouldn't explain important things, and I wanted the characters to be more believable.

As a kids book though, I think it all works very well. It kept a good pace, the kids (of course) save the day, it's an interesting world, and it has a basically happy ending with the promise of future adventures (this is book 1 of 5).  At 351 pages, it might be a little long for some, but I bet it's right up the alley of a voracious-reader kid. 

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Book Review: Road to Perdition 2 by Max Allan Collins

My rating: 4/5

Road to Perdition 2: On the Road is not a sequel, but instead three small books in one that describe additional events from the time Michael Sr. and Michael Jr. were on the road (and on the lam) in Road to Perdition.

I enjoyed this one more than I did the first, though both are very good. In the beginning of this book, the author explains (on top of the fact that he liked the movie's interpretation of Mr. Looney/Rooney better than his, which I agree with) that he had intended to include all of this in one book, but was basically rushed to finish and couldn't include everything. And in this book's style of fuller story-telling, occasional humor, and better drawing to distinguish one character from another, I think it shows that he (and the artists) had more time.

I'm excited to read the rest of this series. The first two were both quick, enjoyable reads, and I just love the fact that one of my favorite movies was based on such a good book series. It isn't often you find both done right.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Book Review: Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

My rating: 2.5/5

From Amazon: "Against all odds, Katniss Everdeen has survived the Hunger Games twice. But now that she's made it out of the bloody arena alive, she's still not safe. The Capitol is angry. The Capitol wants revenge. Who do they think should pay for the unrest? Katniss. And what's worse, President Snow has made it clear that no one else is safe either. Not Katniss's family, not her friends, not the people of District 12."

Short of maybe two sections of the book that really sucked me in, I had a hard time completing this final book of The Hunger Games series (hence the more-than-two-month gap between this review and the last).  The premise is still great, but I feel like the author was maybe rushed to write both this and Catching Fire. The plot meandered and didn't quite make sense (everyone really things it's okay for Katness to keep going into these dangerous situations, and then she's constantly in distress?), and characters didn't feel as fleshed-out as they did in the first two books, including Katniss.

The love triangle didn't bother me in book 1, didn't bother me too much in book 2, and finally managed to bother me in book 3. Until near the very end, I really didn't care who Katniss ended up with and came very close to skimming sections devoted entirely to the Peeta/Gale conflict. And then... the explanation for whom she chooses (or rather why she didn't choose the other) was forced and really made no sense. Did Collins really have no plan whatsoever for how this would turn out? And if not, why did she spend so much time on it?

Also, the violence. Man, the violence. I obviously expect a war to be violent but the tone of the writing in this book (and the previous two) did not prepare me for the level of violence I ended up reading. Decapitations, burned-off flesh. It started to remind me of Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children in that way, which wasn't good.

The world is still very interesting, and Collins' writing style is enjoyable. I just wish she'd had more time to really plan out the plot and to edit. It could've been so much better.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

TV Show Review: The Dresden Files

My review: 4/5.

Though it was on the hokey side, "The Dresden Files" television series (based on the book series of the same name by Jim Butcher) was really entertaining and unfortunately short-lived. The abrupt summary from IMDB: "A Chicago-based wizard works as a private investigator." It may run as re-runs on the Sci-Fi channel (SyFy now, right?), but since we don't have cable, all I know is that at one point it was available on Netflix's instant queue.

Harry in this show is everything a viewer could ask for in a good-guy supernatural protagonist: he's sarcastic (but not too sarcastic), angsty (but not too angsty), smart and powerful but with plenty of screw-ups and weaknesses both past and present (see: angst), and an adult with a boyish sense of humor along with a healthy dose of maturity.  All of the other characters (Karin with the Chicago Police Department, Bob the ghost/mentor stuck in his long-dead skull, etc.) also exceeded my expectations after having read the first few books of the series; to the point that, if I may say so, the TV series outdid the books. Where the books try to make Dresden out to be Superman with the angst of a clique of teenagers (and is super sexist in most of what he notices about women, how he treats women, and in what he thinks about women, but all the women want him...?), Dresden in the TV series just IS powerful, and just HAS angst, without it being hammered into your consciousness every five minutes. And he isn't the pinnacle of fashion, but he isn't the sloppy bum the books describe him as either.  And he's shy in his occasional romantic moments and seems much more gentlemanly.

Anyway. tl;dr - I miss this show, and I wish the books were more like it.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Movie Review: The Woman in Black

My rating: 4/5

Based on the book of the same name by Susan Hill (which I have not read), this movie is good-scary. Creepy-scary. The kind of scary I like and can't often find. It's not gory, and it only has a couple of cheap-ish, jump-out-of-your-seat scares.  And it's a really good story to which I hope they make a sequel.  (UPDATE: They're making a sequel for 2014!)

My husband and I rented this expecting it to be bad, to be quite honest. We hadn't heard much about it and figured it was because Daniel Radcliffe hadn't been able to pull out of Harry Potter-mode. In the very beginning, he actually is very Harry-ish when interacting with his character's son, and I almost wrote the movie off right then. But after that, he made me forget that he was Potter and I was glued to the TV.  The atmosphere is great (anything with possessed Victorian wind-up dolls creeps me right out), the acting is great (after those first few bumps), and it made for a believably scary story that entertained my socks off (which is a feat, considering how much I love wearing socks.)  Radcliffe made me believe his mourning and desperation without going over the top, and I absolutely loved the ending. I am super excited and can't wait for The Woman in Black: Angels of Death.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Book Review: Road to Perdition by Max Allan Collins

My rating: 3.75/5

From Amazon: "Depression-era Chicago: a city riding a tide of liquor and blood, ruled by guns, graft, and gangsters. At the top of the heap is Al Capone... and Capone's most feared hitman is Michael O'Sullivan, known to friends and enemies alike as the "Angel of Death". But when Sullivan's eight-year-old son witnesses a gangland execution, father and son find themselves facing off against the most merciless gangster of all time."

This is the graphic novel on which the movie of the same name (which is awesome) is based.  I didn't even know until recently that the movie was based on a book, so, it being one of my favorites, I decided to read the original story.

This is one of the best graphic novels I've read, though I'm not big into them (so, small pool from which to compare).  But, and maybe if I hadn't seen the movie first I wouldn't feel this way, the book makes for a more realistic plot, while the movie makes for a better story.  The ending isn't as good (though I'm still looking forward to reading the sequels), and some key plot points are, in my opinion, done better in the movie. And even though there's no way I'd ever be able to draw as well as Richard Piers Rayner, I had a hard time following along sometimes because some characters were drawn too similarly, or some frames of the same character were not drawn similarly enough.

Still a good, quick read, and I'd recommend it to fans of the movie.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Book Review: Mameshiba - We Could Be Heroes!

My rating: 4/5

From Amazon:
"Meet Mameshiba! The Japanese sensations are coming to the U.S. in their first-ever graphic novel series! Now that these irresistibly cute, irrepressibly curious characters have been unleashed, there’s no telling where they’ll turn up!
"Once upon a time….
"A monster growled from under the bed.
"An almond was super-duper-sized.
"A chili bean fell in love.
"Mameshiba are back for more laughs, more trivia, and more adventure!"

Either I adapted to liking the style of Mameshiba: On the Loose!, or this newest installment of the Mameshiba books was more entertaining. Either way, I enjoyed it. It's humorous and adventurous, and whereas On the Loose! seemed more appropriate for younger children, this one is great for kids and adults alike. 

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Video Game Review: Women's Murder Club - Death in Scarlet

My rating: 1.5/5

This game, which is based on a series of books that I have not read, is pretty awful.  The end!

No, I'll go on a rant here, but seriously, you can stop reading if you want. All you need to know is that it's bad. Even if you're way into hidden picture and puzzle games and think "Aw, it can't be that terrible, can it?"

Yes. Yes it can.

On the one hand, this game gets some props for having an all-female cast in the law enforcement department, which is rare. However, I remember at least one conversation between the characters about shoes or shopping or both, and so those props pretty much disintegrate. The ending, which I won't spoil here (just in case; though again I'm warning you, don't play it), is also weirdly almost-misogynistic and doesn't really resolve much.

The hidden picture parts aren't bad, but they get a little bit repetitive. The other puzzles are simple but fun the first time they come up... and then you have to do them over, and over, and over again, to the point that I'm surprised I didn't uninstall the game before beating it.  Especially the lab puzzles. Omg the lab puzzles....  And the two maze puzzles were weird and difficult to figure out what you were supposed to be doing, let alone figure out how to beat them.

Long story short: I was bored but finished it. I uninstalled it. I'll try to sell it at our next garage sale, passing it along to some unfortunate soul who will now be out both $0.25 and a couple long hours of his or her life.

Apparently there are also sequel games to this, to which I can only ask why.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Book Review: Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

My rating: 4/5

From Amazon: "Against all odds, Katniss Everdeen has won the annual Hunger Games with fellow district tribute Peeta Mellark. But it was a victory won by defiance of the Capitol and their harsh rules. Katniss and Peeta should be happy. After all, they have just won for themselves and their families a life of safety and plenty. But there are rumors of rebellion among the subjects, and Katniss and Peeta, to their horror, are the faces of that rebellion. The Capitol is angry. The Capitol wants revenge."

For the most part, this book was great and lived up to my expectations of a sequel to The Hunger Games, and I will still definitely be reading Mockingjay in the near future.

I've heard and read a lot of complaints about the love triangle between Katniss, Peeta, and Gale (though unless Peeta and Gale are considering a relationship with each other, I suppose it really isn't a triangle, but anyway), and usually that sort of thing doesn't interest me; but in the context of this book, and especially in the way Katniss at least considers the third option of remaining single because she never wants to have children who might be forced to participate in the Games, it wasn't a turn off for me.  A *lot* of focus is put on this relationship drama, especially in the first half of the book, but since Katniss is not a drama queen and Collins is such a good writer, I didn't really get sick of it. 

I can suspend my disbelief, in this book and the previous one, enough to believe that each District has been subdued enough by the Capitol to allow their children to be sent to the Hunger Games each year.  What I can't believe though is the way Katniss acts when...


... she returns to the games and starts pretty much offing, or trying to off, people when she's been so disgusted and traumatized by the Games and the deaths and punishment of others previously. Collins tries to explain this away by Katniss thinking Peeta's the only good one of the bunch, with her and the other tributes just built to kill basically, but it doesn't jive.  Also, there did not seem to be any good reason that she and Peeta were not trusted to know what was going on with the rebellion, especially in light of the facts that Katniss thought about and tried to kill people who might've been important, and she just happened to be in the right place at the right time and to intuit what to do to pull off their escape without knowing anything that was going on.  That is way too much coincidence to ignore.

However.  Because it was so well-written otherwise, I can't give it any lower than a 4.  I really did love this book, even if the ending bugged me, and I'm still excited to read Mockingjay.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Book Review: Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut

My rating: 4.5/5

From Amazon: "Kurt Vonnegut's absurdist classic Slaughterhouse-Five introduces us to Billy Pilgrim, a man who becomes unstuck in time after he is abducted by aliens from the planet Tralfamadore. In a plot-scrambling display of virtuosity, we follow Pilgrim simultaneously through all phases of his life, concentrating on his (and Vonnegut's) shattering experience as an American prisoner of war who witnesses the firebombing of Dresden. Don't let the ease of reading fool you--Vonnegut's isn't a conventional, or simple, novel. He writes, 'There are almost no characters in this story, and almost no dramatic confrontations, because most of the people in it are so sick, and so much the listless playthings of enormous forces. One of the main effects of war, after all, is that people are discouraged from being characters...' Slaughterhouse-Five (taken from the name of the building where the POWs were held) is not only Vonnegut's most powerful book, it is as important as any written since 1945. Like Catch- 22, it fashions the author's experiences in the Second World War into an eloquent and deeply funny plea against butchery in the service of authority."

I wanted to read this book simply because it was one of the classics I'd always heard about but somehow missed reading in school. (Catch-22 and To Kill a Mockingbird are on that list too.)  Once I started reading it, I had a hard time putting it down.  It's an easy read, and a difficult one all at once: well-written but confusing. The time-traveling that Billy Pilgrim does is however not at all confusing, and I can't express how impressive that is; his story is all over the place but always makes sense. And knowing that the author really experienced parts of this story makes it even more powerful. It gets confusing though when some characters seem both real and caricatured at the same time, or when Pilgrim's belief in alien abduction and time travel start melding with sci-fi books he's read, or events that have happened to him, and it's never clear if he's truly experiencing time travel or if it's all some kind of post-traumatic stress after his experiences in World War II. I have a feeling that, for the point Vonnegut was trying to make, it doesn't really matter.

I have to agree with those who say this isn't just an anti-war novel. It is anti-war, but it doesn't brow-beat, and it seems to me to be more about the absurdity and cruelty of people in general, not just during wartime.  To take the Tralfamadorians as an extension of humanity, they refuse to observe anything that upsets them; they only pay attention to times that are beautiful and happy. And in doing so, they refuse to stop the destruction of the universe, which is caused by one of their own. They know it will happen, and how; but they don't want to think about it. This idea can certainly be applied to war, and especially to World War II in more ways than one; but it can also be easily applied to anyone in everyday life.

I wish I'd read this book in high school, but I'm glad I read it now. There are some cases of swearing and sexuality, so I wouldn't recommend it to a younger audience. But otherwise, I recommend it.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Movie Review: Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter

My rating: 4.75/5

From "Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the United States, discovers vampires are planning to take over the United States. He makes it his mission to eliminate them."

Throw in horse-hurling vampires and President Lincoln kicking a decapitated head off a train like a soccer ball, and that pretty well sums it up. It isn't especially gory (I can't stomach movies that are), but enough so that everything is excitingly dangerous and death-defying.

Don't go into this movie expecting any kind of serious treatise on Lincoln, the American Civil War, or history.  Don't even expect a good treatment of vampires (though I do appreciate an anti-Twilight treatment), as the movie's explicit rules governing their behavior are broken (which is the main reason I didn't give this movie a straight 5/5; that and some pretty terrible acting in the very beginning). Do expect this movie to take itself so over-the-top serious, while surreptitiously realizing its own ridiculousness, that you burst into laughter on multiple occasions. Which, in my honest opinion, was done on purpose, and was done beautifully.

The best movies I can compare this to are the campy '80s vampire/horror flicks, like Fright Night and Lost Boys, that were goofy, scary, funny, and good, all at once. The martial arts-style fight scenes and the special effects here are much better though; jaw-droppingly so and physics be damned.

Rarely do I love a movie so much more than the book it's based on (see my review here). I have not been so entertained by a movie in a very long time.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Book Review: Out of My Mind by Sharon M. Draper

My rating: 2/5

From "Melody is not like most people. She cannot walk or talk, but she has a photographic memory; she can remember every detail of everything she has ever experienced. She is smarter than most of the adults who try to diagnose her and smarter than her classmates in her integrated classroom—the very same classmates who dismiss her as mentally challenged, because she cannot tell them otherwise. But Melody refuses to be defined by cerebral palsy. And she’s determined to let everyone know it…somehow."

I wanted to like this book so badly. It has such a good premise and would have been such a unique story, had it been told realistically.

My disclaimer here though is that I didn't finish the book.  I got as far as the extremely forced argument between Melody's mother and the terrible teacher who would only teach Melody's class the alphabet, and I gave up. I hate to give up on books, and I don't often do it, but I could not take this book seriously. The argument between the mother and teacher sounded like dialogue from a children's board book. Some of the descriptions are great, and I loved how the book opened. But Melody very rarely sounded like a child, (more like an adult speaking for a child); all other characters seemed like stock characters rather than people; dialogue was very stilted and forced; and there were plot holes everywhere. What especially had me scratching my head was Melody's constant talk of how she can't communicate... and then we find out that she has a very complex word board (thanks to a neighbor/babysitter, not her advocate mother who yells at everyone, telling them she knows how incredibly smart Melody is?) but for some reason doesn't really use it.  I just don't get it.  And seriously, Melody got through 6 months of this awful teacher, and her mother and father, who love Melody and pay so much attention to her, never asked her how school was going? Or they did and Melody wouldn't use her board to tell them? What?

I could possibly see this book still being good for kids, as an introduction to understanding people with disabilities. But even then, I think you could find something much better.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Book Review: Let's Pretend This Never Happened (A Mostly True Memoir) by Jenny Lawson

My rating: 4/5

From Amazon: "Jenny Lawson realized that the most mortifying moments of our lives—the ones we’d like to pretend never happened—are in fact the ones that define us. In Let’s Pretend This Never Happened, Lawson takes readers on a hilarious journey recalling her bizarre upbringing in rural Texas, her devastatingly awkward high school years, and her relationship with her long-suffering husband, Victor. Chapters include: “Stanley the Magical, Talking Squirrel”; “A Series of Angry Post-It Notes to My Husband”; “My Vagina Is Fine. Thanks for Asking”; “And Then I Snuck a Dead Cuban Alligator on an Airplane.” Pictures with captions (no one would believe these things without proof) accompany the text."

Jenny Lawson is also known as The Bloggess  and, as the moniker implies, writes a blog (, which is not safe for work, not safe for children, and not safe for anyone even remotely prudish. But she is hilarious. On that note though, I definitely wouldn't recommend this book for anyone who isn't already a fan of her blog. Not in a "you just aren't part of the cool kids club" way, just a "you need to already be a fan who's accustomed to her somewhat-disjunctive, possibly-offensive style of writing to enjoy the book" way.

I love Jenny's blog, and I really liked this book, but I thought I would instantly love it, and I didn't entirely. I loved parts of it, but I didn't care for the constant italicizing (which works perfectly in the blog, but not in a book), and at least one of the chapters seemed to be word-for-word from a blog entry. Which was a little off-putting, since the vast majority of those reading the book are going to be her blog fans. But anyway, if you enjoy her blog, then you will definitely enjoy this book. She has a way of making even the most awful situations funny, and she is open and honest about some very tough subjects, which is always great to read, even if you haven't been through the situations yourself.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Book Review: The Hungry Mouth by Isaac Marion

My rating: 3.75/5

From "A man and a woman on their first date discover they have amazing powers.

"A Tyrannosaurus Rex enjoys modern life as the guardian and spiritual mentor of Seattle.

"An angry stoplight manages traffic for the lawless humans it despises.

"An immortal and indestructible man discovers the horror and beauty of living forever.

"A serpent exchanges emails with government agencies, confessing to a lifelong murder spree.

"A feral cat sends psychic postcards to the family dog he left behind.

"A child abandoned into foster care grows into a very, very hungry man.

"A boy competes with his older brother for the affections of a girl before discovering a mysterious hole in the bottom of a lake.

"An old man reminisces on his career as a disease engineer for a shadowy world organization.

"A teenage girl and her kid brother make their way through a post-apocalyptic Seattle while being pursued by a large, lonely zombie.

"The black hole at the center of our galaxy delivers a fierce and final soliloquy.

"From the author of WARM BODIES, a collection of strange stories about strange people, strange creatures, and strange objects experiencing joys and hungers that are not strange at all."

The Goodreads summary says exactly what you're getting when you read this book of short stories: an eclectic mix of Isaac Marion. When I read them, I felt I could probably put them in order, from what was written first to what was written more recently, judging by the quality of writing. That isn't to say that any of them are bad, but he still has become a better writer since he wrote some of these shorts. The stories all have very different topics, but the majority had a very similar feel... which could be both a good thing in that the author is identifiable by his writing style, or a bad thing because you're expecting a much different story each time.  I loved Warm Bodies, so of course I enjoyed "Grass through the Concrete," but I think my favorites were still "Emails from a Serpent to Various Government Agencies" and "You Were Once a Wolf."  Great stuff, and I'm glad I got a copy of this book.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Book Review: Mameshiba on the Loose!

My rating: 3.5/5

From Amazon: "Meet Mameshiba, the cute little bean dogs with bite! Starring in their first ever adventures, they rescue friends, explore outer space, and offer interesting bits of trivia when you least expect it. Hold on tight--Mameshiba are on the loose!"

This is the second book I've read of the adorable, funny, little Mameshiba, the first being Meet Mameshiba! The diminutive bean dogs are this time on a few adventures, and while both they and the stories are very cute, they just aren't as funny in comic form as they are in the original Japanese commercials.  Part of the problem may be that I've never been that in to comics, but I think the stories here could have been more bizarre and random, like the commercials, and I would've been much more entertained. It's still cute and worth the read, but my hopes were too high.

I'd say this book is probably more appropriate for a younger audience, maybe middle school or junior high (though it wouldn't be inappropriate for an even younger audience), which may also be why it didn't have me, as an adult, quite in stitches.

At some point I'll read the third English book, Mameshiba Love Winter, but I've set the bar of expectation a bit lower now. Ah well.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Book Review: The Replacement by Brenna Yovanoff

My rating: 3.5/5

From Amazon: "Mackie Doyle is not one of us. Though he lives in the small town of Gentry, he comes from a world of tunnels and black murky water, a world of living dead girls ruled by a little tattooed princess. He is a Replacement--left in the crib of a human baby sixteen years ago. Now, because of fatal allergies to iron, blood, and consecrated ground, Mackie is fighting to survive in the human world.

"Mackie would give anything to live among us, to practice on his bass or spend time with his crush, Tate. But when Tate's baby sister goes missing, Mackie is drawn irrevocably into the underworld of Gentry, known as Mayhem. He must face the dark creatures of the Slag Heaps and find his rightful place, in our world, or theirs.

"Edward Scissorhands meets The Catcher in the Rye in this wildly imaginative and frighteningly beautiful horror novel about an unusual boy and his search for a place to belong."

Comparing this book to Edward Scissorhands makes it sound like the story might be somewhat humorous, and it's not; and comparing it to Catcher in the Rye is giving it way too much credit.  I enjoyed the general story of this book a lot, with the delicate balance between the underworld-ish-ness and the normal world and a protagonist figuring out which one he belongs to.  And it started out great with such an unassuming main character, already in a position where he's dying and only just now realizing it, as any child with a long-term illness would be: not noticing how bad it is until it gets even a little bit better. And it does get better, and Mackie joins a band, and the descriptions of the feeling he gets on stage, and of the atmosphere in Mayhem, are great. But the characters, even Mackie, never quite felt real; nothing ever felt urgent, even when it certainly should have (and though I'm not opposed to swearing when it fits, the book tries often to make the reader feel urgency by overusing the f-word); and the author seems to sometimes forget about her own characters, which may just be because there were too many. Several times I found myself wondering "where's so-and-so?" because Mackie suddenly wasn't thinking about or noticing them. For example, at one point his family is in danger, and he finds his sister and father but makes no mention of his mother. Mackie very well knows she's at work (as we find out later), but the reader doesn't know this, and it feels weird. He also doesn't ask obvious questions, or explain things to people when he should, which doesn't feel like character quirks so much as plot devices. Mackie's unassuming nature turns into martyrdom a few times too, which didn't seem to fit him, and the ending didn't entirely make sense. (No one's worried about the Cutter anymore...?)

Typos were a small problem too. I could put up with them, and they weren't overwhelming; but there were enough that I definitely noticed, which is disappointing. Sexual moments and swearing also make this a not-appropriate-for-under-high-school book.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Book review: Meet Mameshiba!

My rating: 4.5/5

"Mameshiba" is Japanese for "bean dog," which is what these adorable little characters are.  Each mameshiba is a different type of bean, and each has its own personality.  Their whole reason for being is to show up in people's food and relay obscure trivia. And they are hilarious.

The mameshiba appeared in a series of short commercials in Japan, which is where I first discovered them.  You can see all of them (with English subtitles) commercials here:

This little book is a great introduction to all of the mameshiba, and it is entertaining. I wish it were a little longer, and maybe even a little funnier, which is why I didn't rate this a straight five.  But I still very much recommend this book, and to pretty much anyone; it would be appropriate for even a young audience.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Book Review: Rot & Ruin by Jonathan Maberry

My rating: 3/5

From Amazon: "In the zombie-infested, post-apocalyptic America where Benny Imura lives, every teenager must find a job by the time they turn fifteen or get their rations cut in half. Benny doesn't want to apprentice as a zombie hunter with his boring older brother Tom, but he has no choice. He expects a tedious job whacking zoms for cash, but what he gets is a vocation that will teach him what it means to be human."

This book suffers from a good idea with not-so-good execution.  The only way I was able to finish it was to imagine famous actors playing the parts and hear the dialogue in their voices, even if those actors didn't make any sense for the parts I gave them. For example, Jensen Ackles is not Japanese, but Dean Winchester works very well as Tom; and Christopher Walken is not a big muscly dude, but he is hilarious as Charlie Pink-Eye, and I highly recommend reading his lines in Walken's voice.

The biggest problem was the main character.  Benny is annoying. He's lazy and childish in the beginning, and he has spurts of maturing throughout the book, but sometimes he backslides (and it's not always clear why), and you roll your eyes.  How he could grow up in a tiny town and not know what his brother, whom he lives with, does for a living is far-fetched, as is the characterization of the town itself being so awkwardly fearful.  Tom explains these things to Benny; Benny says these things are dumb; and the reader agrees. 

But again, I like the idea. I like having to wrap my mind around zombies still being people, at least in the memories of those who loved them. I like the Wild West feel of the all-but-vanquished world.  It just gets a little too dramatic and a little too unrealistic.

For a zombie book though, there isn't a terrible amount of gore, and there is only a little swearing (I think one of the big bad guys even says "friggin'" at one point), so it seems to be aimed at a younger, junior-high-ish audience.  But it doesn't quite fit that crossover young-adult-to-adult audience, so I probably wouldn't recommend it for anyone older than high school.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Book Review: The Colour of Magic (A Discworld Novel) by Terry Pratchett

My rating: 3.75/5

From "On a world supported on the back of a giant turtle (sex unknown), a gleeful, explosive, wickedly eccentric expedition sets out.

"There's an avaricious but inept wizard, a naive tourist whose luggage moves on hundreds of dear little legs, dragons who only exist if you believe in them, and of course THE EDGE of the planet..."

As the series title states, this fancifully absurd world exists as a flat disc, which rests on top of four elephants who are in turn on top of a turtle, while the gods play dice to decide the occupants' fates. Scientists and philosophers strive to figure out the hows and whys of the world (for example, the all-important question of the sex of the giant turtle), and Rincewind the wizard and Twoflower the world's-very-first tourist are repeatedly caught in the middle.  They survive bar fights, dragon flights, magic spells, fires, and shipwrecks, and the action really never stops.  And the sapient luggage is their friend, is full of gold, and eats bad guys, so, there's that.

I really enjoyed this book.  The writing was very clever and made me giggle several times; but it was a little too far on the absurd side for me to love it.  I will say that the style grew on me though as the book progressed.  I have not read the rest of the series, but if I find out that it does not turn into the silliness that Hitchhiker's Guide (which this writing style very much reminds me of) turned into as its series progressed, I probably will. Another small complaint is the ever-present misogyny that the male, British, 20th-century authors whom I've read all seem to have, presented as a severe lack of female characters other than mainly as sex objects.  I believe that, among all of the multitude of characters the heroes encounter, there were three women in this book. One is a dangerous, unpredictable goddess ("Luck") who's rarely present but admittedly powerful; one a naked dryad; and the last a dragon-warrior princess who wears very little and whose sole goal is to find a husband.  However, it really only grated on me when these characters were present, and since they weren't present for very much of the book, I could ignore it and enjoy the rest of the story.

All in all, a good book and a talented author.

I also recommend the movie of the same name with Sean Astin and Tim Curry, which I believe combines this book and the next in the series (since the story goes a little bit beyond what I read in Color of Magic).  The movie captures the feel of the book very well.  It's a little long (something like 3 hours 20 minutes), but it's worth it. 


Monday, April 16, 2012

Book Review: The Burned Tower by Sergey and Marina Dyachenko

My rating: 4/5

From Amazon: "A truck driver on a lonely stretch of road, a hitchhiker, and an ancient curse— a brilliant and moving tale, steeped in folklore, by the masters of modern Fantasy."

I'm loving the folk tales lately, and I haven't even been seeking them out.  This short story is currently a free download for Kindle through Amazon; which is why I thought, even though I'd never heard of the authors or the story before, why not download it. 

Because it's a translation from Russian (and well done, but still pretty obviously a translation), I do feel that I maybe missed some of what the story was trying to say.  Despite this though, I enjoyed it. The Piper was unearthly and creepy (and exactly how I imagine someone of his supernatural persuasion would act), and poor Guy's story weaves from being about an average schmo driving a delivery van to a series of questions about heaven and hell, life and the afterlife, reality and monsters, and even time. 

I will definitely be keeping these authors in mind for future reading.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Book Review: The Woodcutter by Kate Danley

My rating: 4/5

From Amazon: “Cinderella is dead and one of Odin's hellhounds has gone rogue. The Woodcutter, protector of peace between Man and Fae, is charged with finding the beast and returning him to the Wild Hunt. 

“Unfortunately, the forces of evil have other plans. 

“Leaving the comforts of his quiet home, he finds a pixie dust trade raging out of control and a power hungry Queen who will stop at nothing to take over the world.   The lives of Snow White, Rapunzel, and Little Red Riding Hood are at stake in this dark fairytale.  It is a race against time as the Woodcutter travels east of the sun and west of the moon, up beanstalks and down to the bowels of the earth to unravel a mystery that can only be described as Grimm.Show MoreShow Less

I’m not into stories about fairies, but this was actually a really good read and one of the most unique books I’ve read.  The story is written as if it were a fable passed down through the centuries, and the style is pulled off very well.  Nothing is overdramatic and some things just “are,” without need of explanation, the way a fairy tale is told to a child. And in spite of not being written in an overly dramatic fashion, the reader becomes very attached to the Woodcutter, and the author includes some beautiful imagery.  I was honestly in tears near the end, and that does not happen to me often with books.   I also enjoyed how almost every fairy tale I remember was woven into this story. Though this seems to be a trend lately (a la Once Upon a Time), The Woodcutter stands apart, and I would recommend it to almost anyone.

The only reason I didn’t rate it higher than a 4 is that the last half seemed to drag a bit for me.  Personal opinion, but I think the book could have been a little shorter and still been just as good.

I purchased the Kindle version and plan to buy a paperback just to have for my collection.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Book Review: Life as We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer

My rating: 3/5

From Amazon:
"Miranda’s disbelief turns to fear in a split second when a meteor knocks the moon closer to the earth. How should her family prepare for the future when worldwide tsunamis wipe out the coasts, earthquakes rock the continents, and volcanic ash blocks out the sun? As summer turns to Arctic winter, Miranda, her two brothers, and their mother retreat to the unexpected safe haven of their sunroom, where they subsist on stockpiled food and limited water in the warmth of a wood-burning stove.
"Told in journal entries, this is the heart-pounding story of Miranda’s struggle to hold on to the most important resource of all--hope--in an increasingly desperate and unfamiliar world."

I finished this book in only a few nights, which is becoming an increasingly rare thing for me, so I have to give the book credit for being engaging and interesting enough to hold my attention and make me want to finish it.

The only problem is that by the end I was disappointed, and for several reasons.  I understand now that this book is part of a 3-book series, but that only the last book continues this book's story.  However, I still felt let down that this book does not tell us what happens to many important characters.  They just up and leave, and that's it.  Part of what kept me reading was wondering what happened to these people, and then, poof; it's over.

Characterization was a bit of a problem also.  I could cut it a little slack since it's told from the perspective of a 16-year-old's journal, but I still wish I'd gotten a better "feel" for all of the major players, Miranda included.  They just never quite felt entirely real.

And then there's the stuff that the author just didn't bother to research that got irritating.  Apparently most of the science (about the moon, the weather, etc.) doesn't add up; but to be honest, I wouldn't have known if I hadn't read others' reviews.  But the well kept working without electricity?  They tossed their hair clippings into the fire to "watch them sizzle" but don't mention the horrible stench that would've caused?  The wood stove that they're sleeping in front of backfired and they woke up from the smoke, not the *boom*?  The mayor has a snowmobile, that he could have used to go find and talk to people, but simply wonders out loud why no one's coming for supplies?  These are all pretty big errors, and I'm surprised they made it past an editor, let alone the author herself.

Also, as much as I could be called a "crazy liberal," the jabs at George W. Bush and Fox News were a little much. The crazy Christians didn't bother me as much, but I would've liked to see some realistically reasonable Christians as well.  It's pretty far-fetched to think the only Christians Miranda comes into contact with are in a cult.

And that's why, as much as I honestly enjoyed the read, I can't rate it any higher than a 3.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Book Review: The Strange Case of Finley Jayne by Kady Cross

My rating: 3/5

From Amazon: "Finley Jayne knows she's not 'normal'. Normal girls don't lose time, or have something inside them that makes them capable of remarkably violent things. Her behavior has already cost her one job, so when she's offered the lofty position of companion to Phoebe, a debutante recently engaged to Lord Vincent, she accepts, despite having no experience. Lord Vincent is a man of science with his automatons and inventions, but Finley is suspicious of his motives where Phoebe is concerned. She will do anything to protect her new friend, but what she discovers is even more monstrous than anything she could have imagined…"

This is actually a short-story prequel to the series' first book, The Girl in the Steel Corset, which I have not read.  This prequel is also currently free on Kindle.

Overall, this wouldn't be bad for a reader probably in the junior high age range.  It gets a little tiring though when Finley Jayne never seems to grow into more than a Mary Sue.  Keep in mind, this judgment is based solely on the short story; maybe Finley is better developed in the novels.  And the story as a whole isn't terrible, especially since the author clearly knows very well the world she's created.  But I never cared for Finley's constant haranguing herself for doing good things that she had somehow determined were part of her "bad side," and so I have no real interest in reading the series.