Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category
The Family Fang, by Kevin Wilson, follows the Fang family through their quirky history. It begins with Annie and Buster (Children A and B) as adults struggling to find their place in the world. Annie, an actress who was once nominated for an Oscar, faces a celebrity scandal, and Buster, a novelist, is coping with a series of low-paying freelance jobs and the fact that his books have a rather narrow audience. Early in the novel Buster is disfigured by a potato gun incident and has no choice (or money) but to return home to heal. Annie attempts to solve her problems by running away, also returning home to help her brother, and hoping that in the interim, Hollywood will forget her recent transgressions.
With the family back together Annie and Buster attempt to understand their upbringing, when their parents used them as pawns in performance art pieces, which brought the family notoriety, but also did a solid job of messing up any chance Annie and Buster had at a normal childhood. Chapters in the book oscillate between Annie and Buster as adults and vignettes of their childhood, each portrait being a different performance piece they were forced to take place in. Now, with the children home, Annie and Buster’s parents, Caleb and Camille Fang, realize that their progeny have no desire to pursue the family “art” they were once so dedicated to. What ensues is (SPOILER ALERT!!!!) the mysterious disappearance of Caleb and Camille, where Annie and Buster are left wondering if they should accept their parents’ deaths, or if their absence is another ‘performance’ in the name of art.
The premise behind this novel is wonderfully creative and it’s an enjoyable read throughout. The format of the varying chapters begins to tire, perhaps because Caleb and Camille’s devotion toward art is difficult to understand and thus their varying performances become tiresome as well. At times the book lacks depth and its themes tend to run a little shallow, but overall it’s a great book to keep on your bedside table and is a perfect summertime read. For fans of Wes Anderson’s The Royal Tennenbaums, it’s a wonderful supplement to his eccentric style and loveable, yet flawed families.
Reviewed by: Kim
Author: Kevin Wilson
Read: March 2012
Looking for gift ideas this Christmas? How about giving a book? Here’s some gift recommendations based on books or series we read during 2011.
The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides
About: Effortless novel from one of our favorites.
Best for: Fans of The Virgin Suicides or Middlesex; people who enjoy character studies; Fans of Jane Austen, and also of Victorian writers.
Also consider: Game of Secrets by Dawn Tripp or The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender.
Short Story Collection
20 Under 40: Stories from the New Yorker
About: Sampling of the hottest short-story authors under 40 years old. Great way to find your favorite new literary author.
Great for: fans of short stories, literary fiction.
Also consider: St Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves by Karen Russell, Smoke and Mirrors by Neil Gaiman.
Adult Dystopian, Sci-Fi, or Fantasy
Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin
About: Game of Thrones is a layered high-fantasy novel with high stakes.
Great for: fans of high fantasy, people who like epic sagas.
Also consider: Greywalker by Cat Richardson
Ghost on Black Mountain by Ann Hite.
Why: Five different female narrators tell the story of Nellie’s unfortunate marriage to Hobbs Pritchard.
Great for: fans of Southern gothic novels, literary ghost stories.
Also consider: Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt
Soulless by Gail Carriger
About: Victorian steampunk with supernatural creatures. Mixes romance and humor with a mystery. Absolutely brillant fun read.
Best for: readers with a sense of humor.
Also consider: Dead Until Dark by Charlaine Harris, Outlander by Diana Gabaldon
Young Adult Dystopian, Sci-Fi, or Fantasy
Feed by M. T. Anderson
About: Ecological and technology issues, sci-fi, and dystopian blend in this YA novel perfect for boys and girls. Also has one of the best first lines ever: “We went to the moon to have fun, but the moon turned out to completely suck.”
Best for: fans of dystopian or sci-fi.
Also consider: Divergent by Veronica Roth, Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson, Daughter of Smoke and Bones by Laini Taylor, and Witchlanders by Lena Coakley.
Young Adult, Contemporary
Please Ignore Vera Dietz by A.S. King
About: Vera’s journey as grieving high school student with broken family has heart, and her journey rings true.
Best for: YA contemporary fiction.
Also consider: Flash Burnout by L.K. Madigan
Cinderella Ate My Daughter by Peggy Orenstein
About: excellent analysis and insight into the “girly-girl” culture invading US society. Go check out the pink toy aisle at your local Target if you don’t believe me.
Good for: parents of daughters, people who deal with children, anyone concerned with the way girls are taught to value themselves.
Also Consider: The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell
On Writing by Stephen King
About: Great advice and insight into King’s journey.
Best for: writers.
Also consider: Save the Cat! by Blake Snyder
When I was a teenager, I loved The Secret Circle trilogy by L.J. Smith. When I saw the show was being turned into a TV show, I was intrigued. Would I still love these book? Would my teenage self have approved of the adaptation?
Let me start by talking summarizing the plot of the books:
<b>Warning: massive spoilers ahead! Do NOT read if you plan to read the books!</b>
The story opens with sixteen-year old Cassie vacationing on Cape Cod. It’s a long way from her home in California. She saves a boy and his dog from four college age students with a gun, and she thinks she sees a silver cord connecting her to the boy she saves. He gives her good luck charm crystal, kisses her hand, and leaves. She never asks his name.
Cassie expects to go home to California, but instead her mother tells her they’re moving in with her grandmother in New Salem, Massachusetts. It’s a small town on an island, and Cassie is dismayed by the move for several reasons: she’s shy, and starting a new high school is daunting. Her grandmother’s house on Crow haven road is old and rundown, and on the first night she hears her mother and grandmother talking about a “sacrifice”.
On her first day of school, Cassie runs afoul of the queen mean girl in school, Faye, resulting in mean-spirited pranks like her locker being filled with raw meat. The principal doesn’t help her, and tells her the kids from Crowhaven road need to solve their problems amongst themselves.
The bullying comes to a head when Faye lures Cassie into the abandoned science building and holds a piece of burning paper to her face. Diana comes to her rescue, saving Cassie from Faye and becoming her friend in the process. Diana and Cassie feel drawn together, and decide to become adopted sisters.
Meanwhile, Cassie has learned the teenagers of Crowhaven road have a club, and she’s not invited to join. There’s going to be an initiation ceremony for Kori and Cassie swallows her jealousy and helps Diana prepare for Kori’s birthday. But then Cassie finds Kori on the bottom of some stairs at school, and she’s dead.
That night, Cassie is ‘kidnapped’ from her bedroom, and taken the beach. She’s initiated into the “club” in place of Kori since they need a twelfth member to finish their coven. Cassie finally finds out the truth: she’s from a long-line of witches. Her ancestors moved from Salem to form New Salem after the witch trials. Their parents aren’t that interested in witchcraft, but the teens have found several families “Book of Shadows” and are practicing magic.
As Cassie finds out the truth, the twelfth member of the club shows up after a long absence (he’s missed the first few weeks of school). It’s Diana’s boyfriend, Adam . . . and also the boy Cassie saved on the beach. Cassie pretends she’s never met him, and Adam plays along. Adam has big news: he’s found a powerful crystal skull that had belonged the original coven.
Within the coven, there’s a power struggled between Diana and Faye. Diana is currently the leader, but it’s only temporary until a permanent leadership vote will be called in November. Faye wants the coven to investigate the crystal skull right away, but Diana wants to take a slower, more measured approach. Diana ends up bowing to Faye’s pressure, and schedules a time for the coven to scry the skull.
When the cover scrys the skull, it releases a dark energy. Cassie has one of the strongest connections to the skull, able to see a door inside it and a grinning face. The next day, they find out their high school principal was crushed by a giant rock on the beach.
Adam escorts Cassie home after the coven scrys the skull, and makes him tell her why she’s been avoiding him. She tells him the truth: she loves him, but she knows it’s wrong because he belongs to Diana. Adam realizes he loves Cassie and they kiss for a while. They end up vowing they won’t show their attraction to each other and won’t betray Diana’s trust. They say good-bye.
The next day, Cassie gets a phone call from Faye and she goes to visit. Faye knows about what happened between Cassie and Adam, and blackmails Cassie. Cassie does what Faye demands, and finds the crystal skull. She decides she can’t give the skull to Faye, but the other girl has followed Cassie and takes the skull from her. They investigate the skull, releasing more dark energy.
Meanwhile, Adam ends up escorting Cassie to a school dance because Diana’s sick. They realize this is a terrible idea after their attraction to each other is too much and they kiss on the dance floor.
Cassie turns into the belle of the ball, but the night turns dark: she finds the school quarterback, who had been flirting with her earlier, strung up on a pipe in the school boiler room. He’s dead.
After a brief freakout, Cassie gets several coven members—Adam, Debrorah, and Nick—to trace the dark energy with her since she knows Jeffrey didn’t commit suicide. They track dark energy to the local graveyard, and see a dark shadowy shape. It rushes them and disappears. Cassie feels guilty because she knows the dark energy she and Faye secretly released are responsible for Jeffrey’s death.
Faye has continued blackmailing Cassie, and she forces Cassie to vote for Fay in the coven leadership vote. Once Faye is leader, she has Cassie get the skull from its hiding spot, and she casts a circle of the four elements (wind, water, fire, earth) and calls upon the skull. They fully release the dark energy, and the skull disappears. Several other things happen: a mound in the graveyard explodes; a dark sludgy type figure threatens Cassie’s mother and grandmother, leaving her mother in a catatonic state and triggering her grandmother to have a heart attack. As her grandmother dies, she tells Cassie that she alone has the power to defeat Black John, the shadowy figure, since their family was always the most powerful and had the clearest sight. Black John had managed to return to life in 1976, and formed a new coven of the current parents of Crowhaven road. They realized he was evil, and part of the coven fought against him. They managed to kill Black John, but everyone that fought him died in the process. She tries to tell Cassie something more, but she’s very weak and Cassie can’t make out what she says. She dies.
Cassie decides to stand up to Faye and stop being blackmailed. Faye tells Diana and the rest of the coven about Cassie and Adam, and about some of the things Cassie did while being blackmailed. She partly tells the truth, but strongly distorts the story.
Adam comes to Cassie’s rescue and tells the truth. He’s furious that Faye blackmailed Cassie, and makes everyone see the truth. Cassie mentions the silver cord. Diana forgives Cassie, and she’s about to say something about Cassie and Adam when Cassie interrupts. She begs Diana to give her a chance to show she can trust her. Diana agrees, and they two are back to being close friends.
Meanwhile, Black John has come back to life, and he’s their new school principal. Faye has gone to his side. He breaks the power of the club over the high school by creating hall monitors. School isn’t nearly as much for the students of Crowhaven road, and when Cassie gets in trouble, she realizes where the crystal skull has gone: it’s in Black John’s head. She also finds out that Black John is her father from when he came back to life in 1976.
They discover that Black John plans to act against them during a lunar eclipse. Even though the coven is united, they put on a disorganized front to Faye. Meanwhile, Cassie has found the coven’s “master tools”. The original coven hid the master tools from Black John since they’re very powerful.
The coven elect Cassie leader as they get ready to fight Black John. Cassie is ready to nominate Diana, but the fellow members of her coven talk about how Cassie is the strongest, and it’s true. Overtime, Cassie has become more confident and shows a lot of leadership skills.
Cassie leads them in their fight against Black John, and she figures out how to defeat him forever. Faye comes back to their side in the end.
After their victory, Diana tells Cassie that she knows Adam and Cassie are soul mates; the silver cord is legendary. She would have told them earlier except Cassie wanted to show Diana she could be trusted, and Diana thought it would be good for Cassie.
The book ends with the coven deciding what they should do in the future, and Cassie and Adam holding hands.
When I re-read this last week, I saw plot holes and such that I missed as a teen. But this is still fun escapist literature, especially if you ignore the lack of character depth in most of the characters. (For example, Diana is too perfect.)
Next up: summary of the TV show so far.
We really can’t take credit for this post since we snaked it from Full Stop, a new and very cool book site that everyone should bookmark and adore. But with that said, we’re posting it anyway, primarily because their take on demystifying book review terms was, well, hilarious. And since we sort of have a book review site… well, here we are.
As far as we can tell we’ve never used any of the following terms, which puts us leaps and bounds ahead of Jonathan Franzen, who was pretty much called out for what seems to be his inability to review a book without using the words “consistent” or “upsetting”. (As a quick aside, that link takes you to a wonderful page on Flavorwire.)
So here they are! Some of our favorites from Full Stop’s list of cliche book review terms and what reviewers really mean when typing them:
ambitious: I did not finish this book.
dazzling: the writer has an MFA from a top 100 program.
deft: the writer has an MFA from a top 20 program.
disappointing: the author slept with my spouse before we were married.
epic in scope: the author needs a better editor.
flawed: this book is similar to the book I was planning to write.
fully realized: there is a paragraph devoted to a piece of furniture, probably made of mahogany.
gripping: I read this book on the toilet.
in the tradition of ___: I finally read War & Peace, and I want everyone to know.
masculine: the author isn’t misogynistic–the characters are!
our greatest living prose stylist: the review is of a so-so book by an old author, or it is appearing in the New York Times.
puts a magnifying glass to contemporary society: the book mentions Twitter or terrorism.
unputdownable: I ride the subway.
In Leviathan and Behemoth, Scott Westerfeld set up his own alternative, steampunk take on World War I. Germany and its allies are the “clankers”, countries who rely on mechanical devices. Great Britain is “Darwinist”, and they’ve developed ships with biological material. For example, the Leviathan is the premier warship in the British service, and it’s a whale hybrid. If this sounds confusing, don’t worry: it makes sense when you read the novels.
In Goliath, Austrian prince Alek has rejoined the Leviathan as a pseudo-captive after assisting an uprising in Turkey. Deryn is also back with the crew after helping Alek in Turkey, and she’s continuing to live her double life as Dylan. (She’s pretending to be a boy so she can fly.) There’s one problem: Alek knows that Deryn has a secret, although he doesn’t know what. And it doesn’t help that the perspicacious loris keeps calling Deryn Mr. Sharp.
Alek feels he has a destiny to fulfill, and he’s sure that stopping the war is part of it. Add in a crazy and potentially rogue scientist, unscrupulous journalists, and the Mexican revolution, and our heroes have plenty on their plates to deal with.
The novel has plenty of humor and action, and it comes to a satisfying if perhaps—in some aspects—unexpected conclusion. The writing is sharp, and as strong as the previous novels in the series. This is a great novel for teens and would also make a great introduction to steampunk for the uninitiated.
Read by: Kelly
Author: Scott Westerfeld
Read: July 2011
Source: Electronic Galley
Ran across this bit on famous authors in their homes and thought I’d share a few. I mean, how absolutely too good are the Steinbeck and Capote pics?!?! Die.
Truman Capote in his Brooklyn Heights apartment.
Agatha Christie. Totally fabulous.
Steinbeck in, where else, Salinas, California
Hemingway’s Key West home.
There are about five million likable things about Jasper Fforde and the same is true for the second novel in his Nursery Crime series, The Fourth Bear. In this episode, Jack Spratt investigates the disappearance of Goldilocks and an escaped Gingerbread Man, all while tackling other little obstacles from the world of nursery rhymes. One could describe Fforde’s writing as one big giant joke, and the same is true for this novel, as it will keep you laughing from page to page. But, like any true genius, Fforde takes his craft to the extreme and executes it intelligently and flawlessly. Undeniably, one of the most endearing factors in Fforde’s writing is that it’s funny and smart.
If there are qualms to be found in this book, they are few, since the point of reading the book is simply to be entertained. At times I felt a scene lingering a little too long, or a taking place altogether for the sheer purpose of churning out jokes, which at points bordered on tedious. Then of course, one has to remember, I did come here for fun.
All in all, a truly great read. Especially and very highly recommended after a bout of heavy literary reading. You’ll be ready to kiss Fforde and weep, “Thank you, thank you, thank you! That was the most fun I ever had.” No, really, you will.
Reviewed By: Kim
Author: Jasper Fforde
Date Read: April 2011
Source: Barnes & Noble at a Fforde book signing. Yes, he is incredibly charming and lovable in person!
I’ve been reading this book for a while, as it was a friend’s book club choice. It follows two boys, both named Wes Moore, as they battle humble beginnings and eventually follows them into adulthood. One of the Wes Moores becomes a Rhodes Scholar, the other goes to prison for murder.
The premise is undeniably interesting and is told from the voice of the Rhodes Scholar, Wes Moore. As the cover states, the book is tragic in that one of the boys could have just as easily been the other. However, this becomes largely debatable in the fact that their stories aren’t all that similar. The biggest difference being that one family sends their son away to military school, while the other, in spite of good intentions, loses theirs to a crumbling environment of drugs and a lack of education.
I recently saw the documentary Waiting For Superman, which tackles many of the same issues. The primary question being, “How well can a child succeed without education? Especially if that child lives in poverty or around crime.” I couldn’t help but feel that if I were taking a sociology class in college, both the film and the book would be on the syllabus. They both provide a well-rounded look at the problems in our school’s education systems in addition to just how much your immediate environment affects you. If you’re interested in the issue, I would recommend both.
I thought this post would compliment Kelly’s review of the Accidental Billionaires, primarily because of the narrative non-fiction voice which Wes Moore adopts throughout. I have some of the same issues as Kelly does in reading narrative non-fiction and though Wes Moore’s expository writing and research was excellent, the writing did fall short when it came to dialogue and pushing the narrative into scene. All in all, if you’re an avid non-fiction reader, you’ll find this enjoyable.
Author: Wes Moore
Date Read: April 2011
Source: Powell’s Books
Netflix recommended the BAFTA-winning TV show A Touch of Frost to me, and so I watched the first episode. Since I enjoy British police procedurals I checked the first novel of the Frost series out of the library.
Frost at Christmas rehashes the same mystery as the pilot of the TV show, although the TV show made several changes. The core mysteries are still the same. Eight-year-old Tracey disappears after leaving Sunday school. While searching for Tracey, police finds the remains of a skeleton tied to a bank robbery from 1961.
The multiple storylines—the missing child and the cold bank robbery—are mixed up with other, less-drawn cases that Frost inadvertently solves, like the stolen electronic equipment. Frost calls himself inefficient and bumbling, and sometimes lets other detectives take credit for his work. Yet he’s the one who ultimately sheds light on multiple crimes, and he’s warm-hearted and humorous. His character can be coarse and makes crude remarks at inopportune times, but he also works long hours and clearly cares about solving cases. He’s likable and sympathetic. I can see why this novel was picked up as a TV series . . . that ran for eighteen years.
Frost has a brand new Detective Constable under his wing, the newly promoted Clive Barnard who happens to be the nephew of a police bigwig, and the juxtaposition of the two makes an entertaining contrast. Barnard isn’t as likable as Frost, but as he also wants justice he makes a nice counterpart. None of the characters—Tracey’s prostitute mother, the drunk homeless man who is sure the police stole a quid from him—feel like caricatures.
Frost in Winter is a little grittier than a cozy, but it’s not graphic or overly violent by any means. It should appeal to a wide range of mystery and crime fans.
Title: Frost At Christmas
Author: R. D. Wingfield
Source: Public Library
Read: March 2011
On second thought, the title of this blog post might be a little insensitive, considering nearly half of Emma Donoghue’s Room takes place in a one-room cell where our narrator and his mother have been imprisoned. Insensitive or not, Room is the kind of book that grabs at you and doesn’t let go.
The two most notable and compelling aspects of the book, in my opinion, are the premise and the voice in which it’s written. The book is about a young girl who was kidnapped from a college campus and imprisoned in a make shift cell in the backyard of Old Nick, the story’s villain. Sexually abused, she gives birth to a son, who at the time of the story is five years old. Jack, the little boy, is the narrator and Donoghue does an incredible job of exposing their world through his lens. As Jack becomes more capable of understanding the Room, do does the reader learn more about how his mother got there, as well as what it will take to escape.
This book is compelling and suspenseful from page one, in addition to being loving and heartfelt. Literary and genre readers alike will fall in love with this story as it is equally impressive in the quality of its writing as it is in entertainment value.