Friday, October 31, 2014

Friday Reads & Links - 10/31/2014

I'm starting "Tender is the Night" by F. Scott Fitzgerald in print for tomorrow's DC book club meeting, working on "The Best American Nonrequired Reading of 2014" edited by Daniel Handler in ebook, and listening to "The Throne of Fire," the second book in Rick Riordan's Kane Chronicles in audio. What're your weekend reads?

Lighter on the book-ish links this week:

  • LeVar Burton reading "Go the F*** to Sleep" for charity, with a link to Samuel L. Jackson's performance of the same.
  • Mental Floss collects recipes from 16 famous authors, including Edgar Allen Poe's eggnog and Emily Dickinson's gingerbread.
  • At the Huffington Post, this list of seven fairy tales for grown-ups added a few titles to my TBR list.
  • Finally, for Halloween, the blog lists twelve books featuring witches.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

October Reviews at the Morningside Muckraker

Today's reviews are up in my Booked column in the Morningside Muckraker's October issue, out today. I look at titles you might have noticed in my Friday Reads & Links posts: "City of Lies" by Ramita Navai, "Station Eleven" by Emily St. John Mandel, "As You Wish" by Cary Elwes, "Everything I Never Told You" by Celeste Ng, and the Kate Daniels series by Ilona Andrews.

Check them out here.  While you're there, don't miss the other great pieces in this issue!

Friday, October 24, 2014

Friday Reads & Links - 10/24/2014

I'm enjoying "As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of the Princess Bridge" by Wesley himself, Cary Elwes on ebook (thanks to publisher Simon & Schuster for the e-ARC to review for the Muckraker!). I have just 25 minutes left on the audio of "Everything I Never Told You" by Celeste Ng, and am (still!) alternating between the last hundred pages each of "Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage" and "The Secret Wisdom of the Earth." The use of language is so wonderful in both that I don't want to rush to finish either.

Some reading-related weeks to kick off your weekend:
  • After tweeting earlier this week about how sad I would be if there wasn't a book store in all of the Bronx, I was pleased to see this morning that the Barnes & Noble there was able to renew its lease for two more years.
  • The Atlantic looks into data from Facebook on favorite books from around the world. 
  • I'm not a big horror reader, so the lists of scary books to read during October are mostly a miss for me. Book Riot took a cool approach, though, and suggested four books that take place in the afterlife that added a few titles to my TBR list.
  • The New Yorker published a piece on "A Canticle for Leibowitz" providing some context about the novel & author Walter M. Miller, Jr. that I appreciated.
  • Speaking of the lives of SciFi authors, the blog featured a lovely piece on SF legend Ursula K. Le Guin.
  • Potter fans rejoice: we're getting a new short story from J.K. Rowling on Halloween featuring Dolores Umbridge.
  • Finally, the Guardian rounds up the best children's books about ducks.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

"Annihilation" by Jeff VanderMeer

I had such high hopes for this book, due to rave reviews from the likes of and io9. I am pretty bummed that to be disappointed. To be fair, I expected this to be a post-apocalyptic science fiction book. After reading, it’s much closer to horror.

In my defense, the back cover summary made it sound like post-apocalyptic SciFi – 11 expeditions have ventured into Area X, the first of which found paradise. The rest met various gruesome ends. Expedition 12 is about to head out to explore the mysterious area lurking beyond the border. I’d love to be more specific, but the book doesn’t have named characters or provide any meaningful background, even as the story unfolds. I never got the context that could have saved the novel for me.

The novel is set up as a mystery, but never has the payoff of a solution. Instead, strange elements are introduced, abandoned, returned to, subverted, and abandoned again. There’s a tunnel that’s also a tower and possibly alive, a lighthouse that draws expedition members for no apparent reason, hypnosis that doesn’t seem to work like real-world hypnosis, and a main character who may be glowing or losing her mind or both. The mere 195 pages are filled of descriptions that manage to leave you without a clear picture of what is being described. Basically, there’s a lot going on without anything to tie it all together.

VanderMeer does an excellent job creating a creepy atmosphere – I couldn’t read it before bed once the main character really got to exploring the strange landscape. Yet, as the tiny novel progressed, my general confusion displaced any lingering fear I might have had.

Verdict: Dismissed. Though this is the first in a trilogy and later installments may provide the answers I was waiting for, I have no desire to proceed any further into this convoluted series. Some members of the DC book club were fans though, so if a horror novel that leaves most to your own interpretation sounds intriguing, check it out.

Annihilation” by Jeff VanderMeer, published by FSG Originals on February 4, 2014. 

Friday, October 17, 2014

Friday Reads & Links - 10/17/2014

I am powering through "The Secret Wisdom of the Earth" by Christopher Scotton in preparation for Hachette's Book Club Brunch this Saturday. They sent attendees an ARC of the novel, scheduled to be published next January, so that we can discuss with the author during one of the sessions. Also, very, very excited to see Edan Lepucki & Maureen Corrigan. On audio, I wrapped up "Magic Bleeds," the fourth Kate Daniels novel, and unfortunately the last one my library has on audio or ebook, despite there being seven books out right now! On ebook, I'm still working on "Reading Lolita in Tehran" for NYC Book Club.

Some bookish links to kick off your weekend:
  • Booker news is everywhere! First, the winner was announced - congratulations to Richard Flanagan for "The Narrow Road to the Deep North." If you're interested in reading the shortlist, the Guardian has a nice round-up of the authors' inspirations for their novels.
  • The Guardian also announced the winner of the Not the Booker Prize, which went to Simon Sylvester's "The Visitor."
  • The shortlist for the National Book Award was also announced this week. Lots of good picks there.
  • Brooklyn Magazine published a thoughtful list of best books by state (though I'm skeptical of a list that doesn't put "The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao" for New Jersey).
  • Book Riot introduced me to Literary Starbucks.
  • The Huffington Post produced a list of writers with dachshunds.
  • Finally, though this is an older piece, the Telegraph wrote a lovely profile of the late author Eva Abbotson. I read and re-read "The Secret of Platform 13" over and over as a child.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

"Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock" by Matthew Quick

First, trigger warnings for suicide & abuse. This is a novel that deals heavily in those issues, and does so remarkably well. If you've heard of Matthew Quick, it's likely as the author of "The Silver Linings Playbook," so you know he does a good job creating realistic, relatable characters coping with mental illness and therapy-inducing traumatic life events.

Basic set-up: Leonard has decided he's going to kill himself and Asher Beal on his 18th birthday, but first he wants to give a gift to each of his four friends - a Bogart enthusiast, a Persian violin-prodigy, a home-schooled evangelical, and his teacher Herr Silverman.

This novel initially had me struggling to overcome my own assumptions and predispositions. It took me several chapters to begin to empathize with Leonard because, frankly, he's just so angry at everyone around him. Noah Galvin's narration captures a snide, angry adolescent so well that the character really grated on me as I got into the first-person narration.

As Leonard continues to relate his story, he includes flashbacks to how he met each of his four friends. He begins to make sense, both as a justifiably angry character, as you learn what has pushed him to the brink, and in his judgments of those around him. When he belittles his peers as sheep, mindlessly finding him strange and hating him for it, I realized I was doing the same thing as those peers. Sure, following strangers around cities (one of his pastimes) isn't ideal behavior, but his reasons are heartfelt and benign. He doesn't have strong role models, nor enough positive peer influences, to direct his curiosity into more productive channels. It's hardly entirely his fault he's ended up so bitter and destructive at 18.

Galvin's audio narration captures Leonard perfectly. He's predominantly cutting and derisive, but occasionally a spark of of fear or concern breaks through. Galvin's tone shifts for these few sentences, and you believe his performance as a teenager who, while harboring deep-seated anger, is also scared and lonely. The audio narration enabled me to see beyond Leonard's anger and stick with his story to find out what motivated his utter loathing for most other people, which in turn re-shaped my opinion and understanding of him as a character.

Verdict: Affirmed. If you can stick with the novel through the opening burst of anger, it's well worth your read, and Leonard is well worth your empathy. Thanks SYNC for another great pick!

"Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock" by Matthew Quick, published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers on August 13, 2013. Audio narrated by Noah Galvin, published by Hachette Audio on August 13, 2013.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Friday Reads & Links - 10/10/2014

I'm still working on the Murakami in print, but took a break for "City of Lies: Love, Sex, Death, and the Search for Truth in Tehran" by Ramita Navai since its library due date was rapidly approaching (and may have passed...I'll finish it this weekend, I promise!). Listening to "Magic Bleeds," the fourth in the Kate Daniels series by Ilona Andrews. I have been absolutely tearing through this series in audio, and definitely recommend to fans of urban fantasy/paranormal romance. Finally, working on "Reading Lolita in Tehran" in ebook for my NYC book club.

Some literary links to kick off your weekend:

  • Congratulations to French author Patrick Modiano for winning the Nobel Prize for Literature. Don't feel too bad if you haven't heard of him, many of his books have been out of print in English for a number of years.
  • You can relive your youth with the Book It! Alumni program - Pizza Hut is giving out free personal pan pizzas to adults who participated in the program when they were students.
  • The New York Times ran a piece criticizing its own coverage of the Amazon/Hachette dispute for taking sides.
  • J.K. Rowling set the Twitter-verse abuzz earlier this week with an anagram puzzle related to the "Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them" film. The link has the answer, so here's the puzzle if you want to take a stab on your own: "Cry, foe! Run amok! Fa awry! My wand won't tolerate this nonsense."
  • Finally, Book Riot had two great round-ups of recommendations this week: novels set in the Jazz Age and thrilling non-fiction. Anything catch your eye?

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Dual Review: "Anne of Green Gables" and "I'd Tell You I Love You, But Then I'd Have to Kill You"

SYNC, a fantastic summer program which I’ve previously discussed, paired L.M. Montgomery’s classic “Anne of Green Gables” with Ally Carter’s contemporary “I’d Tell You I Love You, But Then I’d Have to Kill You” as one of their free audiobook sets this past summer. The SYNC pairs gain an added depth when read/listened to in concert, so I’ve reviewed them together. Unfortunately, this is the first pair from this summer that has been disappointing.

To be honest, I knew approximately nothing about “Anne of Green Gables” before I started it. The novel is set in Canada, where orphan Anne is adopted by the Cuthberts, a brother and sister who had actually wanted a boy to help with the farm. The book is a collection of her adventures and misadventures, taking a somewhat rambling approach to her various escapades that are connected by her growing love and admiration for her friends and found family.

Meanwhile, “I’d Tell You I Love You, But Then I’d Have to Kill You” takes place at a secret boarding school for teenage girls who are being trained as spies. There are many references to fictional covert operations connected to historical events by the girls’ family members and the school’s alums, plus pop culture references (including at least two Buffy the Vampire Slayer references, so bonus points there). Cammie is the daughter of the school’s headmistress and retells the story of meeting her off-campus, townie boyfriend as if she were debriefing her superiors.

The biggest trait these two audiobooks share are precocious main characters narrated in increasingly grating voices. In “I’d Tell You,” the audiobook narrator, Renée Raudman, whines much of the first-person text, and speaks in a lower-pitched, slower-paced voice for the love interest that makes the listener assume that he is a complete idiot, even when he says sensible things. But the worst disservice done by Raudman’s performance is that the high-pitched gaiety interspersed with a playful severity when things turn serious makes light of the character’s thoughts and feelings, as if they are mere trifles spoken by a frivolous girl. This is the opposite of what the character, a spy in training known for her ability to remain unnoticed, is supposed to be.

In “Anne,” the audiobook narrator, Colleen Winton, voices Anne so that she always seems on the verge of hysterics – from breathless wonder to hopeless depression, it’s all a bit overacted. Anne’s defining character traits include verbosity and propensity for hyperbole. Every time she speaks she rambles on about anything that comes to mind. This might be effective on a page as a block of text, but it’s a lot to take in aurally even before adding tone and inflection. When Winton trills through these thoughts, it sounds condescending and belittles the character’s legitimate thoughts and beliefs, especially in contrast with the extreme earnestness with which the non-dialogue portions are recited.

I may have liked these books had I read them in print without the narrators offering their infuriating takes on the characters. Each book looks at the importance of friendship to a young girl, and how first romance should inspire a young woman to be their best, rather than shrink in comparison to the object of her affection. Anne is a female version of Tom Sawyer, always up to mischief but with her heart in the right place. Her relationships with the Cuthberts who take her in is charming and well-developed, with each relationship illuminating the distinct personalities of each of her caretakers. Cammie is a young Buffy before the weight of saving the world has brought her down, focused on her friends and her mission, if a bit boy-crazy. Both make fine role models for young girls, especially if paired with discussions of their downsides. But the audio of each novel took away from the reading experience.

Verdict: Dismissed in audio, Jury’s Out on print. The juvenile plots don’t hold up well for older readers, though either would make a fine read for a middle school student. If you choose to explore them, stay far away from the audio.

Anne of Green Gables” by L.M. Montgomery, in the public domain. Audiobook narration by Colleen Winton, published by Post Hypnotic Press on May 30, 2013.
I’d Tell You I Love You But Then I’d Haveto Kill You” by Ally Carter, published by Disney-Hyperion on May 1, 2006. Audiobook narration by Renée Raudman, published by Brilliance Audio on April 25, 2006.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Friday Reads & Links - 10/3/2014

I'm still reading "Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage" in print - this past week was so busy I haven't had time to sit down and spend the time with it that it deserves. I had to give up on the new Tana French - I should have started with the first in her series, and will pick back up properly, starting with "In the Woods" in the future. I started "Magic Bites," the first in Ilona Andrews's Kate Daniel urban fantasy series for something light & fun, and so far it it is fitting the bill nicely. Finally, I'm tearing through "Station Eleven" by Emily St. John Mandel in audio, though the print copy came in at the library for me at the same time. I'll likely have finished it in one form or another by the time you read this!

Some links to round out your week:

  • The Bookseller reports that nearly 3/4 of young people (aged 16-24) prefer print over other forms of books. I know I do.
  • Author Celeste Ng writes a lovely piece about her first bookstore - Waldenbooks in the mall. Plus, you can get her book "Everything I Never Told You" free in audio if you join the Ford Audio Book Club on Goodreads & add the novel to your to-read shelf!
  • Did you know there's a prize awarded for book collecting? [via Book Riot]
  • The National Book Foundation announced their 5 Under 35 authors, each chosen by a previous National Book Award Finalist.
  • Finally, this might be pushing literary, but it has to do with writing so it stays. Researchers in Sweden have been hiding Bob Dylan lyrics in their research for years.