Tuesday, September 30, 2014

September Reviews at The Morningside Muckraker

Today's reviews are up in my Booked column in the Morningside Muckraker's September issue, out today. I look at "California" by Eden Lepucki, "The Future for Curious People" by Gregory Sherl, "The Furies" by Natalie Hayes, and "The Roommates" by Stephanie Wu.

Check them out here.  While you're there, the rest of the issue makes a great read as well!

Friday, September 26, 2014

Friday Reads & Links 9/26/2014

This week was busier than I expected! I'm still reading "Colorless Tsukur Tazaki and His Year of Pilgrimmage" by Haruki Murakami and Tana French's "The Secret Place," neither of which will be finished in time for the September issue of the Morningside Muckraker. I also started "Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock" by Matthew Quick on audio.

  • Happy Banned Books Week! CNN reports the list of 2013's top 10 most challenged books.
  • Penguin publishing shared a few discarded covers for Brian Deleeuw's "The Dismantling" and talks to the designer, Zoe Norvell about the design process.
  • The Huffington Post published an excellent piece on the importance of gay characters in literature, especially YA.
  • The Women's National Book Association put together a list of 20 great group reads for National Reading Group Month. Since some of my favorites for the year are on here, I added most of the list to my to-read list.
  • If you're looking to diversify your reading, as we all should, Book Riot has a list of novels by African authors, sorted by country.
  • Need motivation to buy more books? Check out this roundup of bookstore chalkboard signs at Buzzfeed.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

"Crazy Rich Asians" by Kevin Kwan

Initially, I wasn’t going to review this because I do not have a lot experience (read: any that I’m consciously aware of) with Asia’s super-rich. I can’t speak to whether this novel is an accurate portrayal of their lifestyles and inter-family squabbles. But I decided to review it because I can affirm that it is one fun read.

Rachel heads to Singapore with her boyfriend Nick for his best friend’s wedding. Never having met his family or even knowing much about them, she is shocked to learn he is a member of one of the wealthiest families in Asia. The other wealthy families are not pleased to see one of their most eligible bachelors cozied up with an “ABC” (American-Born Chinese). Cat-fighting, family feuds, a particularly nasty prank involving a dead fish, and general drama ensue in the weeks leading up to the biggest wedding of the year.

The characters are charming and the cast is big and well-rounded. Nick’s cousin Astrid suspects her husband of cheating, and that plot provides an interesting counterpoint to Rachel and Nick’s relationship. The villains can be a bit flat, but if you accept the purported cultural norms under which they operate their actions don’t seem as far-fetched. Unlike many books juggling several plot lines and points-of-view, I enjoyed each one and was never bummed when they switched. The flashbacks were employed deftly to provide background and context for the present-day drama.

The ending is the only part keeping me from recommending the book whole-heartedly. The book makes an abrupt shift from a light-hearted romp to something deeper around the last quarter. It gets wrapped up in the heavy themes of finding your personal identify vs. what your family expects of you, and determining when your family history matters and when you should cast it off. While somewhat unexpected, this shift and the ending generally transform the book from a light one-time beach read to something that I’d be interested in discussing with friends or a book club.

A quick note on the audio: the narrator uses a variety of accents for the characters. The variety did not help me keep any of them straight, but several of them were a bit grating at first. It wasn’t enough for me to abandon the audio, and after the first two or three parts I stopped noticing it, but if accents are a pet-peeve of yours, check this one out in print.

Verdict: Affirmed. If you enjoy reading tabloids and are fascinated with the lives of the super-rich, no matter from where they hail, check this one out. Fans of “Bergdorf Blondes” will enjoy this genre taken to a new continent.

Crazy Rich Asians” by Kevin Kwan, published by Doubleday on June 11, 2013. Paperback reprinted by Anchor on May 20, 2014. Audio narrated by Lynn Chen, published by Random House Audio on June 11, 2013. 

Friday, September 19, 2014

Friday Reads & Links: 9/19/2014

Today I'm wrapping up the YA novel "I'd Tell You I Love You, But Then I'd Have to Kill You" on audio; digging into "Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage" (my first Murakami!) in print; and enjoying "The Secret Place" by Tana French in e-book from the publisher to review for the September issue of the Morningside Muckraker.

A few links that caught my attention this week:
  • The National Book Award's long list was leaked Wednesday afternoon in advance of its scheduled Thursday morning release. "All the Light We Cannot See" and "Station Eleven" were already on my to-read list - is there anything that interests you?
  • I've seen literary stall graffiti before, but nothing like this Harry Potter-themed stall at Pitt [via Book Riot].
  • #LiteraryPuppies was a thing on Twitter earlier this week. Algonquin Books rounded up some IRL literary pups over on Buzzfeed.
  • A new Mockingjay trailer was released this week. Can't wait to see this in November:

Sunday, September 14, 2014

"My Drunk Kitchen" by Hannah Hart

Lest anyone think, this blog only covers YA & Kid Lit, let’s chat about one of my favorite Youtube shows, My Drunk Kitchen. Haven’t experienced Hannah Hart’s charming drunk cooking show? Check it out here. (Fair warning, there’s cursing.) I’ll watch another episode while I wait.

One day, Hart got drunk & recorded herself making grilled cheese. My Drunk Kitchen was born, and now viewers are treated to Hart drinking & cooking every Thursday. Her videos are full of puns, inventive cooking, and even a bit of life wisdom. And her newly-published cookbook “My Drunk Kitchen: A Guide to Eating, Drinking, and Going with Your Gut,” is the same in a lovely, well-photographed, written form.

It’s hard to classify this book. There are recipes, but they’re not super exact – more like suggestions, really. There’s life advice, but it’s not a lifestyle or self-help book. Basically, it’s a book for fans of the show, or people who think they might be, but don’t have a good enough internet connection to watch Youtube videos regularly. It’s full of life gems like “Don’t do things to prove others wrong. Do things to prove yourself right,” and cooking truths like “A French fry is a perfect starchy slice of love and joy, dancing delicately from the plate before you to its permanent home in your mouth cave and then finally to the resting place of your tum-tum.” Plus: puns!

Some highlights: the Hartwich, Things in a Blanket, and Pizzadilla. I’ll leave it to you to decide what it says about me that these are things I would really like to cook.

Verdict: Affirmed for fans of the show, or people who would like to be. It’s a fun book to check out, and you might be inspired to get creative in your own kitchen! If you’re turned off by the show, this book isn’t for you.

"My Drunk Kitchen: A Guide to Eating, Drinking, & Going with Your Gut" by Hannah Hart, published by It Books on August 12, 2014.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Friday Reads & Links: 9/12/2014

My Friday Reads: I'm excited to finish my publisher-provided NetGalley copy of Gregory Sherl's  "The Future for Curious People" this afternoon, in time to review it for the September issue of the Morningside Muckraker. I also finished the audiobook of "California" by Ann Lepucki this morning - details on how to get a free copy below!


A few literary links to kick off your weekend:

  • In honor of 9/11, the New Yorker made their "Talk of the Town" section from their Sept. 24, 2001 issue, the first published after the attacks, available online. It includes pieces from the likes of John Updike and Jonathan Franzen, and is an excellent way to remember and reflect.
  • A friend shared this article from the Atlantic on Facebook, and it's a fascinating read on both the popularization of reading in America and the evolution of the industry - "Publishers Gave Away 122,951,031 Books During World War II"
  • I shared my 10 books that have impacted me on Monday, and Facebook has crunched the numbers to find out what books stuck with its users the most. Two of my ten made the top 100. How about yours?
  • Alan Moore, author of two of my personal favorites, "V for Vendetta" and "Watchmen," has finished his second novel. It clocks in at over one million words, nearly twice the size of "War and Peace." iO9 takes a look at what's inside.
  • "88% of Americans under 30 read a book in the past year, compared with 79% of those age 30 and older." Pew did a survey on reading habits and found Millenials are outpacing their elders. Go us!
  • Just in time for the start of classes, a round up of some bookish school supplies over at The Huffington Post.
  • Finally, if you join the Ford Audiobook Club on Goodreads and add "California" to your shelf, you will get a free copy of the audiobook!

Monday, September 8, 2014

10 Books That Impacted Me

I love that this meme is circulating on facebook. While I shared my list there, here's a bit of the reasoning behind each.

1. "The Phantom Tollbooth" by Norton Juster - My first favorite book, and one I make time to re-read at least annually.
2. "Stargirl" by Jerry Spinelli - My favorite book from middle school, a testament to standing out and staying true to yourself.
3. "The Alchemist" by Paulo Coelho - My favorite book from high school, and a constant reminder to keep your goals in mind, no matter what you pursue.
4. "The Brief, Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao" by Junot Diaz - My favorite book from college, fascinating from both a plot/story perspective and a technical perspective (the use of Spanglish is amazing).
5. "The Night Circus" by Erin Morgenstern, narrated by Jim Dale - The book that introduced me to audiobooks, and I continue to recommend the audio over the print for this book. Dale's narration is masterful.
6. "Tenth of December" by George Saunders - Similar to #5, the book that re-introduced me to short stories as a literary art form well worth my time.
7. Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling - I've read these books too many times to count, so they couldn't NOT make the list.
8. "The Handmaid's Tale" by Margaret Atwood - The first book about which I wrote a serious research paper, and the book that formally introduced me to Atwood and dystopian fiction generally.
9. "Invisible Man" by Ralph Ellison - The first novel that made be think critically about race.
10. "The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry" by Gabrielle Zevin - The book that reminded me reading is an important part of our lives because of how it shapes our relationships, not just because of its impact on us as individually. Plus, it made me happy during law school finals, which isn't easy to do!

Speaking of Gabrielle Zevin and our favorite books, earlier this year she wrote a piece at The Huffington Post on "Why We Lie About Our Favorite Books." It's a great exploration of what our favorites say about us, and the potential of aspirational reading. It's also an excellent counter to this hater's take, "Stop Lying About Your Favorite Books on Facebook." For the record, I think there's a big difference between books that have impacted you, and your favorite books, even if there is some overlap between the two.

So what are some of your favorites & what books have impacted you? Do any of my picks make your list?

Sunday, September 7, 2014

"All Our Yesterdays" by Cristin Terrill

If you want a more serious YA time travel pick than "The Here and Now," "All Our Yesterdays" has deeper themes and a bit more action . It gets bonus points for having the bulk of that action take place in DC, even if their description of Columbia Heights is a bit outdated. I'm going to spoil more than I normally would below, because the story on its face simply isn't interesting without some of the intricacies. If you like time travel, and don't mind a tortured (in several senses of the word) YA heroine, check this out unspoiled. If you need more convincing, read on. 

The tale opens on Em in a prison, discovering a note from a previous version of herself. She is being held captive with her friend Finn, and together they escape their cells in order to go back in time and save the world. The novel then cuts to the other narrator Marina, who you pretty quickly realize is the younger Em. Her best friend and love interest, James, is a a genius scientist. James's other best friend is a smart ass named Finn who Marina can't stand. Em and (older) Finn travel back in time to kill James and, in doing so, prevent him from inventing time travel and ruining the world. 

Some of the science elements are unconvincing. Most notably, time is sentient & acts to prevent paradoxes in an unconvincing manner. The sentience is more of a plot convenience than a valid idea worth exploring. But since time paradoxes make my head hurt anyway, I didn't worry about them being explained away by a strange phenomenon and just enjoyed the adventure story.

I got this audiobook for free through the amazing SYNC 2014 summer program, and probably would never have known it existed otherwise. Over the summer, they give away a pair of audiobooks each week - one classic & one contemporary that share a thematic link. "All Our Yesterdays" was a perfectly serviceable time travel tale given away this year with "Julius Caesar." Pairing this with "Julius Caesar" gives it a depth I might not have recognized without the explicit connection. At its heart, the story is about the power of true friendships and how power corrupts.

Verdict: Affirmed, with some caveats. I'll check out the sequel when it's released. If you're a fan of YA SciFi, you'll enjoy this one. It probably won't hold up to a cross-genre read though, so I won't recommend to people who don't usually read within the genre.

"All Our Yesterdays" by Cristin Terrill, published by Disney Hyperion on Sept. 3, 2013. Audiobook narration by Meredith Mitchell, published by Tantor Audio on March 18, 2014.

"The Here and Now" by Ann Brashares

I’m a sucker for a good time travel novel. I don’t get wrapped up in the potential plot holes or let myself become confused by paradoxes. I just want to read about people messing around in the time stream and watch what happens. When I read Ann Brashares, author of "The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants" series, had written a standalone time travel YA book, I was excited to get my hands on the audiobook.

Prenna has traveled back in time to 2014 with her mother and a colony of others escaping the plague-ridden future.  The colony follows strict rules so as not to raise suspicion among “time natives” nor modify the timeline in drastic and unalterable ways. Chief among these rules is no relationships with the time natives, only other colonists. This is a YA novel, so obviously Prenna falls for a time native, Ethan.

Prenna starts to think something’s up with the rules and the severely strict regime under which she and the other colonists live. When a homeless man gives her a strange warning about things he couldn’t possibly know, Prenna and Ethan embark on a journey to fix history and prevent Prenna’s future from occurring.

The love story is just a one part of the novel, and isn’t overwrought or distracting from the fast-paced thriller it becomes. The twists are genuinely surprising, and Brashares makes good use of the time travel concept. Like any time travel story, if you think too hard about the plot, you can spend hours thinking in circles. But if you just accept the premise and don’t worry about the details of the timeline, you’re in for a fun read.

Verdict: Affirmed for YA & non-hard Sci-Fi fans. If you’re looking for your next read post-"The Time Traveler’s Wife," this is a solid pick. Non-YA fans might get a bit bogged down in the romance side of it, so if that’s not your cup of tea, look for something hard sci-fi. Narration was solid if you’re interested in the audio.

TheHere and Now” by Ann Brashares, published by DelacortePress on April 8, 2014. Audio narration by Emily Rankin, published by ListeningLibrary on April 8, 2014.