Sunday, November 23, 2014

Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore Audiobook Review

Title: Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore
Author: Robin Sloan
Narrated by: Ari Fliakos
Publisher: Macmillan Audio
Publication Date: February 26, 2013

Listening copy via local library

I know I'm not the first to call this a mash-up of Umberto Eco and Doug Coupland because that's exactly what Robin Sloan's Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore is.

It's a mystery about manuscripts and codes, it's a humorous social commentary on Silicon Valley, it's Old World technology meets New Media crowdsourcing. It's a delightful journey on all these levels.

It starts with Clay, a victim of Silicon Valley lay-offs, who finds a job working at a quirky bookstore in San Francisco. What's even more interesting than the odd books are the odd customers, people who come in all hours of day and borrow the books rather than purchase them.

Clay gets his friends to help him figure out the mystery of bookstore, which uncovers a secret world of codes and codex, and maybe even the secret to immortality.

Narrated ably by Ari Fliakos, Clay and the various other oddball characters are believable, charming, and fun.

I'd recommend to readers who enjoyed Ready Player One by Ernest Cline or The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde.

Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore Book Trailer:

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Days of Blood & Starlight Book Review

Title: Days of Blood & Starlight
Author: Laini Taylor
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: November 6, 2012
ISBN-13: 978-0316133975

528 pp.

Reading copy via public library

I didn't do a review for the first book in this series, Daughter of Smoke and Bone, which introduces the reader to Karou. Karou is an art student in Prague. She has blue hair and portfolios full of drawings of monsters. Not that out of the ordinary for an art student. Except Karou's hair really is blue and the monsters are her family.

Laini Taylor establishes some first-class worldbuilding with the first book on how Karou's family of monsters are chimera, creatures from another world, locked in a interminable battle with the seraphim, who are angel-like in appearance only.

Karou finds herself attracted to Akiva, a soldier in the seraphim army, as the portal between their worlds is discovered.

So go and read Daughter of Smoke and Bone. I'll wait.

Wow, that was fast. It's that good, right?

Days of Blood and Starlight picks up right where the first books ends. Karou is trying to save the chimera army and Akiva is forced to fight for the seraphim side. I don't want to get all spoilery, so I'm not going to discuss the plot.

In addition to the exquisite worldbuilding, it's the characters who make this series so addictive. Karou is smart, but vulnerable, and achingly human. Akiva is anguished by the war, but despite the odds, hopeful.

And the supporting characters are brilliant, too. Karou's friend Zusana brings much needed comic relief and a dose of reality. The chimera general, Thiago, is downright chilling. Other characters, even throwaway ones, are given personality and depth.

This middle volume does not disappoint, as middle volumes often do. It continues the storyline of the first while raising the stakes and leaving you gasping for the final volume, Dreams of Gods and Monsters.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Rotters Audiobook Review

Title: Rotters
Author: Daniel Kraus
Narrated by: Kirby Heyborne
Publisher: Listening Library
Publication Date: March 27, 2012
ISBN-13: 978-0449014950

Listening copy via Sync

I know it's past Halloween, but seriously, Rotters by Daniel Kraus is pretty much the perfect Halloween read (or in this case, listen).

Joey Crouch lives in Chicago with his mom. He's somewhere on the autistic spectrum, he's probably a little too dependent on his mom, and they live a somewhat isolated life. But he's got one good friend and he's got his trumpet and life is fairly normal for Joey.

Then his mom dies.

Joey is shipped off to a small town in Iowa to live with his dad, a man he's never met or given much thought to. Ken Harnett is known to the locals as "The Garbageman" and the squalid living conditions Joey now calls home seems to validate that name.

Except what his dad really does is so much worse than anything Joey could ever imagine. Harnett is a Digger, a graverobber, part of a secret brotherhood of Diggers, a world that Joey finds himself joining. Because in this world, he isn't bullied by the local jocks or sadistic teachers. In this world, there's beauty in the macabre. In this world, he is the heir apparent.

Kirby Heyborne does a sublime job narrating the stomach-churning passages, not just of the decomposing bodies, but of the many humiliations that Joey's bullies inflict upon him.

Joey's narration, given his autism, is often flat, and it was a bit off-putting at first. But then I understood more about Joey and I was okay with it. Harnett's gravelly narration sounds a lot like Batman, but I got used to that, too.

Other characters, especially the variety of Diggers, are distinctive and colorful.

Joey's story is a deeply twisted coming-of-age and not for everyone. But for those looking for a good shudder, I highly recommend it.

Rotters by Daniel Kraus Book Trailer:

Sunday, October 19, 2014

When to Abandon a Book

Now I'm not talking about abandoning a book that you're writing. There's a time for that, sometimes, and that's for another post. I'm talking about when to abandon a book that you're reading.

When you're in school, you're required to read books that you wouldn't normally choose on your own. And that's what school is for. To challenge you, to get you to think critically about things you wouldn't normally think about.

Even after college, I felt that if I started reading a book, I was making a commitment to finish it. No matter how boring, awful, or predictable it was. I sloughed through some real stinkers, just because I felt it was my obligation as a reader to finish it. And maybe, I had some small hope that it would get better.

But you know what? Life is too short for bad books.

That's not to say that sometimes you don't take a chance on a complex book. But when you're reading for pleasure, you should be reading things that you enjoy. Duh.

Yet it took me years -- YEARS! -- to feel comfortable abandoning a book that I had started. Some say you should dump a book after fifty pages if you're not feeling it. I still give books a hundred pages, sometimes two hundred, before I close it for good. But I'm feeling less and less guilty each time I do.

As a writer, as a reader, as a librarian, as a former bookseller, as a former English major ... I want to love a book enough to finish it.  But there are too many books in my TBR pile to waste time on a book that's not grabbing me.

This shift in my reading habits has really freed me. I try more books outside genres I'd normally read. I'm often pleasantly surprised. I have more depth of knowledge on books to recommend. I might not have finished a book, but I know enough about it to share with a patron who may be a better fit for it.

And that's what has been key for me. Realizing that not all books fit all readers. I am not obligated as a reader to finish it. Just as I am not obligated as a writer to write something that will appeal to everyone. Because I can't. Someone out there will hate it, but someone else will love it. (Even if it's just me.)

So I am giving you permission to stop reading books that you don't like. Give it fifty or so pages. Maybe come back to it in a couple of years. But it's okay to stop reading it. Even if it's the bestseller that everyone loves, a prize winner that was adapted into a movie, the latest book by your favorite author. If you're not feeling it, put it down and try the next book.

Happy reading!

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Dangerous Book Review

Title: Dangerous
Author: Shannon Hale
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Publication Date: March 4, 2014
ISBN-13: 978-1599901688

416 pp.

ARC provided by publisher

I hadn't read any Shannon Hale novels before (although I did enjoy the Austenland movie), but I knew she was a writer who used humor and girl power in her work.

And Dangerous did not disappoint. In fact, I freaking loved Dangerous. The heroine is Maisie Danger Brown (Danger really is her middle name) and she goes to space camp where she meets a cute boy and gets infected with alien technology. It only gets wilder from there (That's a pun; the cute boy's name is Wilder. I crack myself up.).

In fact, four other teens are also infected with alien technology and they're supposed to do save the earth ... from what exactly or how exactly they're not entirely clear on. But things go horribly, horribly wrong as the changes in the teens lead them to make some very bad decisions.

Dangerous is a sci-fi/superhero romp with plenty of action and twisty turns. There's some humor, some romance, some stretches of believability that you either go with or don't. I went with it and I'm glad I did.

There's also some diversity in the characters (yay!) and in addition to being half-Latina, Maisie has a physical disability that doesn't stop her from being totally kick-ass.

I'd recommend Dangerous to readers who enjoyed Wildfire by Karsten Knight or Cinder by Marissa Meyer.

Dangerous Book Trailer:


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