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.