February 17, 2017

Politics, drama, and horses...not necessarily in that order

I decided to tackle a rather formidable bit of fiction pretty much on a whim in the form of South Riding by Winifred Holtby. It took me much longer to read than I had anticipated but that's just a good lesson that sometimes you need to take your time with a book. :-) Apparently this book is a literary classic although I had only heard about it recently through a YouTube channel (Mercy's Bookish Musings if you're curious). What drew my interest (besides the gorgeous cover art) was the setting which is a small area of Yorkshire. (As some of you may know, I'm kinda obsessed with the English countryside and I had the very good luck to visit Yorkshire in 2015 and fell a lot in love with it. THE MOORS, YA'LL.) South Riding is a fictional area of Yorkshire where city councilmen (and a councilwoman) pretty much run the show. If you've ever lived in a small town, particularly a rural one, then you'll recognize the intricate balance between government "officials" and their fellow townspeople. This was set in 1933-35 right at the start of WWII when the country was still harboring hope that the war could be avoided. Our main character, Sarah Burton, is a headmistress who is a revolutionary (at least to the people in South Riding) and ready to shake things up. The lone female on the City Council, Mrs. Beddowes, sees in Sarah a chance to improve the reputation of the school but she also feels that she can muster some amount of control over her (spoiler alert: this is doomed to fail). There are quite a few side stories such as that of Lydia Holly who lives in poverty but aspires to be an academic success the likes of which South Riding has never before seen. Not to mention the rather despicable men who like Mrs. Beddowes are on the City Council. One of them really turned my stomach. *shudder* I went into this book thinking that it was likely to be a romantic tale but if anything the romance was between the characters and their town. It's quite plain that Holtby harbors a nostalgic love of the Yorkshire where she grew up and it's palpable on nearly every single page of this book. If for nothing else, I enjoyed South Riding because of this. Otherwise, it wasn't exactly a life changing read (read Dickens for that). I'd give it a solid 6/10.

Source: amazon.com

**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. :-) **

February 14, 2017

Science bros, Batman buns, and pirate love

I had heard a lot of good things about Kate Beaton's Hark! A Vagrant and since the premise of it (historical parody + comics) sounded intriguing I naturally thought it would be a winner for me. Well, I can't in all honesty say that it was a winner in my books. There were certainly some comics that I thought were really funny but I feel like those few didn't override my overall reaction of "wow this wasn't as good as I had hoped". I think this is largely due to my sense of humor. I know many people who would probably fall out of their chairs laughing at this (and many others who would totally give up within the first couple of pages). Essentially Kate has selected different little themes (based on historical figures, events, etc) and written short comics to accompany them. Sometimes she writes a little explanatory paragraph at the bottom but this isn't always the case. There is something very "Tumblresque" about her work which might be the biggest draw for you...or it might make you very wary.  I always feel strange giving a "negative" review especially when it's more a question of my taste and not really anything to do with the writing itself. However, this is my blog and I can only review books based on my own tastes (as well as basic stuff like grammar, setup, and so on). For me, this was a 3/10 and I'm not likely to search out any of Beaton's work in the future.

I'm including my three favorite comics from the book (these are essentially the only ones I really liked and I think you'll see what I mean about my sense of humor because they all have a similar vibe).

I think it's Poe's face in that last panel that does it for me.

Should I have put a warning on this?

The 'nemesis' series was a hoot. 
**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. :-) **

February 10, 2017

Wherein I discuss my totally rational fears + reminisce on blog beginnings

If you're a longtime reader of this blog then you might remember that my very first post back on July 7, 2011 included a preview of a book titled Thunderstruck by Erik Larson. That wasn't the first book of his that I had read (that honor goes to Devil in the White City) but it was a fantastic example of literary nonfiction and it started this whole thing rolling. (Erik Larson was the first author of nonfiction which I enjoyed and his writing gave me the guts to branch out into the murky waters (and sub-genres) of nonfiction and I am so grateful to him.) At this point, you might be wondering why I'm taking you down memory lane and what it has to do with today's review. Well, you might have guessed this already but I'm here to review another title by Erik Larson (this title makes 4 that I've reviewed and 5 that I've read by him). Today I'm going to tell you about Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania aka reason #5022 why I will never go on a cruise. I have an odd fascination with shipwrecks but also a deep, crushing fear of them. I cannot deal with images of sunken ships, statues, or really anything submerged under the water and nestled at the bottom of the ocean floor (you can also substitute ocean with sea, lake, or deep pool). Here is also where I confess that I am woefully ignorant about World War I. I always struggle to remember who was fighting in the war and what it was really about (I think this is still being puzzled over in some places). As far as the Lusitania, the only thing I knew was that it was a large passenger ship that had sunk (filling me with terror like the sinking of the Titanic and the film Poseidon with Kurt Russell). So I went into this book pretty much as a blank slate and by 30 pages in I was already spouting facts about it to my coworkers (who may never go on a cruise either). Like with all of Larson's works, he focuses on a major topic while interweaving storylines that occur parallel to the main event. For example, this book is about the Lusitania and its final voyage but in order to put that into context Larson had to discuss WWI and President Woodrow Wilson's state of mind in regards to the neutrality of the United States in that war (Wilson was one passionate dude, ya'll.). So not only did I learn about the machinations of the leading world powers of the early 20th century (Germany, Great Britain, and the U.S.A.) but I also got a glimpse into President Wilson's personal life, learned how submarines operate, and discovered that people really liked to smoke in 1915.

PS As mentioned in other posts, I love reading the end notes of nonfiction books because there are always fantastic little tidbits there that just didn't fit in the overall narrative of the book. Dead Wake was no exception. It led me to The Lusitania Resource which is a website dedicated to uncovering all of the facts of the sinking of the ship including primary documents, articles concerning the controversy of its significance to WWI, and much more. I highly recommend you check it out if nothing else than to whet your appetite for Larson's book. (Yes, I know that it's insane for me to be obsessed with this site after referencing my very real fears of traveling on a cruise ship but I like to have all of my facts ready for those trying to change my mind. It's perfectly normal.)

**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. :-) **

February 7, 2017

A school for blood drinkers

I saw a trailer for a movie called Vampire Academy ages and ages ago and even though it looked super corny I knew I would have to watch it. It was exactly what I wanted it to be...and then I discovered it was based off of a book series by Richelle Mead. Firstly, the makers of that film were very faithful to the first book in the series (a rarity, I think you'll agree). Secondly, if you're a fan of books which take place in boarding schools then you're likely to find this series right up your alley. Thirdly, Mead has created a new kind of vampire lore which I always find enjoyable especially as a long-time fan of vampire stories/media. Essentially, she's developed a whole subculture where 'vampire' is not even the preferred label. Fourthly, if you enjoyed Twilight because of the romantic aspect then you need look no further because judging from the first book in the series Vampire Academy is the racy cousin of Twilight that your mom warns you about. If you want a more academic vampire story along the lines of Anne Rice or Bram Stoker this probably isn't going to fill the void for you. However, if you're looking for a book that ticks off the "magical beings who act like bratty teens at a super secret boarding school" box then you need look no further because Vampire Academy definitely fits the bill. I haven't yet decided if I'll continue the series but if I do I'll be sure to let you know if it manages to stay at the bar that was raised by this first book. 8/10

**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. :-) **

January 31, 2017

How to train as the #2 hero

I haven't read a large amount of middle grade fiction but I must say that I've really enjoyed John David Anderson's writing thus far. Sidekicked was a lot of fun and right after finishing it I added two more of Anderson's books to my TRL. The story revolves around Andrew "Drew" Macon Bean (admittedly a fantastic name) who is not your typical sidekick. His powers aren't the usual 'faster than light speed' or 'stronger than steel'. Nope. (I'm not going to reveal his powers because they are truly unusual and it'll be more fun for you to read it and found out for yourselves.) However, he is a typical nerdy kid just trying to make it through middle school unscathed. There's the usual pre-teen drama about who likes who and fitting in but on top of that is uncertainty about the safety of themselves, their families, and the town. Like Miss Bixby's Last Day, Anderson doesn't shy away from tough subjects. The drawbacks to having superpowers such as having to lie to one's parents, worrying about the mental health of one's mentor (the Super assigned to each Sidekick), and navigating adolescence are dealt with in a very loving, realistic way. Drew is a likable character and I think boys as well as girls will identify with him and become invested in his story. If you have kids in your life who are obsessed with superheroes but are not overly enthusiastic about reading maybe you could suggest that you read this one together. I have a feeling it will be a hit. :-) 9/10

**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. :-) **

January 27, 2017

The story of Winnie

Isn't it sad when a book comes out and people just seem to be completely unaware of 1. its existence and 2. its level of amazingness? Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World's Most Famous Bear by Lindsay Mattick is one of those hidden gems. I've mentioned before that if a book doesn't circulate it's offered to another branch in the hope that it might do better in a different location. That's how this book landed in my hands (it was also on my TRL).  As the title suggests, this is the story of the bear named Winnie that spawned the Winnie-the-Pooh series by A.A. Milne. It's the heartwarming tale of a man who befriended a baby bear and their journeys together during the tumultuous times of WWI. It's also the story about how this same bear met a little boy who would eventually spur entire generations to hug their teddy bears just a little bit tighter. Additionally, the back of the book contains a really lovely surprise that I don't want to spoil for ya'll. :-) I think this would make a wonderful bedtime read-aloud. You could also encourage your child to read this book aloud to their teddy bear. (Then take lots of photos of it.) Believe it or not, this exercise will help to strengthen your child's confidence in reading aloud to others (or to themselves). As for me, I can't wait for the opportunity to read this one in a storytime. XD 9/10

I'm including an example of the illustration style below:
Source: Sophie Blackall (the illustrator)
**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. :-) **

January 24, 2017

Moles in the city

I never knew that moles were adorable until I read Moletown by Torben Kuhlmann. (You may remember him from such posts as this one or this one.) I also had no idea that they would work as a perfect stand-in for humans. Kuhlmann once again knocks it right out of the park with this story of urbanization and industrialization. It's a sobering look at the way humanity has taken a seed of an idea which seemed perfectly innocent (or inevitable) and turned it into something suffocating and terrible. Yes, the advent of the modern age has done much to improve the lives of humans but it has also destroyed landscapes and wiped out entire species. Once again, this is a great way to open up a discussion with kids about a topic which they most likely only cover in relation to the atrocities inflicted upon Native Americans (if they even go into detail about that). It's so much more than that and I think it's important that kids start to think beyond their own small worlds. Of course, you have to decide if you think this is age appropriate but I think it would be good for second graders at the very least. 10/10 for awesome illustrations and a really awesome storyline that is sure to get little people (and the adults in their lives) thinking.

Source: SLJ Blog Network

Source: SLJ Blog Network


**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. :-) **