Archive for the ‘Kim’ Category

Jasper Fforde’s The Fourth Bear

April 21st, 2011    Posted in Fiction, Kim, Uncategorized

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!

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The Other Wes Moore

April 18th, 2011    Posted in Kim, Memoir, Non-Fiction, Uncategorized

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


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A Word On Genre…

March 30th, 2011    Posted in Fiction, Kelly, Kim, Literary Fiction, Mystery, Other Genre

I’m not sure what got me thinking about the use of genre. Perhaps it was an interview I was reading on Patricia Highsmith. She’s one of my favorite authors and is widely known, primarily for her works Strangers on a Train and The Talented Mr. Ripley. She brought up a good point about how in the states her work is classified as mainly suspense, though in the UK, she is classified as a much more literary writer. The same has happened to Stephen King, who undoubtedly writes horror and suspense, but is largely skilled as a literary writer as well. (Many people don’t know he wrote The Shawshank Redemption, for example.)

Literary vs Genre
I do think it’s interesting to point out the difference between literary and genre fiction, mainly because I didn’t know the difference until only a few years ago. Genre fiction is usually classified as a plot driven novel. Literary fiction is classified as such because of the author’s use of literary techniques in the work, and because the story usually focuses on character development rather than plot development. To over simplify: genre fiction is a good beach read and literary fiction is that serious novel you’ve picked up for English class.

Purpose of Classification
The reasons we classify books are endless, but one interesting aspect about classification stood out to me in reading an article in Publisher’s Weekly. It talked about how there are a certain number of readers who specifically won’t pick up a book (or conversely, will pick up a book) based entirely on its genre. For example, there are ‘serious’ literary readers who would never pick up a suspense or mystery novel and similarly there are readers who would never venture into the science fiction and fantasy section of a bookstore or library, even if the book, read outside of that distinction, would be a great read. Think about some of the classics. Fahrenheit 451 for example, is clearly a science fiction (or dystopian) novel, yet overtime it has been reclassified with higher literary merits and has been taken off of sci-fi shelves and placed into literary fiction sections. This is just one example, but it does shed an interesting light on how novels and their audiences respond to this sort of thing. Interestingly, Shakespeare was a complete genre writer. He wrote for the masses and for the purpose of entertainment. Today, however, he is studied scrupulously in classrooms around the world as a literary genius.

Use of Genre
I’ve read countless articles about how first time authors misclassify their novels when submitting to agents and publishers. Calling the book YA for example, when the book doesn’t have a Young Adult protagonist. Or, calling the book out as something like a Fact-Based novel (no joke, I’ve seen this!) instead of the more widely known and much more appropriate, historical fiction. Now this isn’t necessarily the worst crime to commit, because there has been an emergence of new genre into the world of fiction. For example, a new genre in the mix is being called steampunk fiction, which I mistakenly called steamboat fiction, and which also highlights my limited experience with new and emerging genre trends. And thus, I leave you here with Kelly. She has an extremely wide breath of reading interests and I thought her thoughts on the matter would be not only interesting but helpful for the post.

Kelly’s Take:
Oh, genre novels, how I love thee. And how hard it is to define thee. Yet being able to define a novel helps you determine its market and how to publicize it, which is one of the key elements to book publicity.

I’ll break out the major genres and try to define both it and its sub-genres. These are all labels, and one novel might fit into several genres at once. For example, if you have paranormal-mystery-romance filled with supernatural beings, like The Southern Vampire series? How would you market it? Or shelve it in a bookstore?

Fantasy and Science Fiction: Fantasy and Sci-Fi are distinctly different, yet they can also crossover. Science fiction is based on what is possible, even if the technology doesn’t currently exist. Think Star Trek. Everything on the show is theoretically possible. Fantasy, meanwhile, involves elements that don’t actually exist, like magic, ghosts, etc.When most people think of a fantasy novel, they probably think of High Fantasy. Think George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire, or Star Wars. High Fantasy creates an entirely new or parallel world, and like most fantasy generally has a strong good versus evil component.

And then there’s urban fantasy. If you read a fantasy novel set in our world, but with fantastical elements, you’ve read urban fantasy.  Vampires, shapeshifters, and other supernatural creatures are mainstays of this genre, although they are not requirements.

Steampunk is a mix of speculative fiction, science fiction, and alternative history, and is generally set in a time period that uses steam power. Steampunk is frequently, but not exclusively, Victorian. It can also fall into the science fiction or fantasy camp depending upon the novel.

There are other sub-genres in both science fiction and fantasy. For example, Cyberpunk focuses on the dark impact of technology and human nature. Neuromancer by William Gibson is considered a seminal work of the genre. Note: some of my favorite science fiction and fantasy novels use their unique elements to make a point about our world. For example, Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five uses time travel and aliens as a way to craft his authorial message. Keeping to the normal boundaries of time and space would have greatly changed his message. Or think of Clockwork Orange, and how it uses science fiction to create a chilling, disturbing story.

Historical Fiction: Historical fiction is, simply, fiction set in the past.  Attention to period details and speech is vital. (So, for example, an eighteenth century nobleman can’t use an acrylic towel to dry his face, since acrylic fiber was developed by Du Pont in 1941.) Sub-genres include historical mysteries, romances, etc.

Mystery: Mysteries show the protagonist solving some sort of riddle or problem, such as a death, disappearance, etc. You know what’s the hardest part of describing the genre? Figuring out how to define the word “mystery!” The genre is filled with sub genres that spawn the spectrum from light and funny to depressingly dark, and everywhere in-between. For example, The Cozy is a warm mystery filled with quirky characters. While murder might be at the heart of the story, the mystery isn’t graphic or violent, and the mystery isn’t full of detailed technical analysis of blood splatter, or similar. The protagonist will probably solve the mystery due to his or her understanding of human nature. Think of Alexander McCall Smith’s Number 1 Ladies Detective Agency, or Rhys Bowden’s Evan series (Evan Help Us, etc). These are the types of mysteries I buy for my mother.

Some Mystery sub genres include Noir/Hard-boiled: Think Raymond Chandler or Dashell Hammet. These novels are cynical and show us the dark place of the human soul. Police Procedural: These mysteries are shown from the perspective of the police. Politics, science, and the psychology of the officers might be components of the mystery. The Amateur Sleuth: The protagonist isn’t a police officer, PI, or other trained investigator, but ends up investigating the mystery. The Aurora Teagarden and Lily Bard novels by Charlaine Harris are examples of this genre.

Romance: Truth be told, this is the genre I’ve read the least. Like the others, there’s a variety of sub-genres. Romance is generally defined as having a love story at its core with an emotionally satisfying ending.

One of the hottest areas of romance today seems to be paranormal romance. Think Twilight. Normal, clumsy teenage girl falls in luuuvvv with vampire. They fall into a chaste love. But look beyond vampires, the fae, and other magical creatures; stories of psychics, time-travel, ghosts, etc, can be elements of paranormal romances.Other subgenres include—but are not limited to—historical romance, romantic comedy, time travel (think the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon), and Western. Note that romance doesn’t necessarily mean sexual (and note that erotica is its own genre). Some romance novels can be racier, while others aren’t graphic.

And so there you have it. Just a small examination of genre and how it’s being used/viewed today. Keep in mind there is much more to be said about genre and the classification of books, and what we’ve done here is only crack the surface. Feel free to leave us a comment about your favorite genre, or about an interesting element on genre that we didn’t mention in the post.

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The great e-reader debate of 2011

March 15th, 2011    Posted in E-Reader/Book Technology, Kelly, Kim

Kelly: Over time, the siren song of an e-reader has become louder and louder. To be able to carry multiple books around in one small device, especially while traveling, is appealing. I’ve thought about buying one for over a year, and recently took the plunge.

Originally, I debated four devices:

1. Nook
2. Kindle
3. Sony E-Reader
4. Ipad

When I learned that it’s possible to check e-books out from my library and read them on the Nook, Sony E-Reader, and any Apple or Android device, I deleted the Kindle from my list. Amazon has done a great job showing there is a marketplace for e-reader devices and e-books, but I didn’t want to limit myself to one source to acquire e-books. The Kindle strikes me as Beta while other e-readers, e.g. the ones that use ePub, strike me as VHS. Time will tell if I’m right or not.

So now I’m down to three potential devices. I love the Ipad—whenever I see one, I want one the way a chocolate display makes me crave candy—but I decided to delete it from my list due to few reasons: one, it costs more than a stand-alone e-reader, although that’s balanced by the increased functionality. Two, it has a backlit LCD screen instead of e-Ink display. Three, I want to see how the Ipad 2 does, and how it compares to the new android-based tablets due to hit the market. So I scratched an Ipad off of my list, although I can see my household acquiring a tablet device in the next year.

So that left the Sony E-reader and the Nook. My friend and go-to-person of all things books uses a Sony, and likes it. They make a variety of devices with different sized screens, and I looked at several in person at my local Best Buy.

But I ended up going with a Nook. It’s easy to use. It has a touch screen. More importantly: Barnes and Noble offers in-store help. I can take my Nook to a store, and read e-books onsite for an hour a day if desired. (That being said, the free samples available for each e-book has been enough to tell me whether or not I want to make the plunge and buy the full text.)

Plus, Barnes and Noble occasionally offers free treats, discounts, and other promotions when customers bring their Nooks into the store. I’m a sucker for free food and deals. Plus, I can buy e-books from sources other than Barnes and Noble. This means I can purchase e-books from my local independent shops in addition to Barnes and Noble.

But ultimately, the decisive selling point for me was this: I can checkout e-books from my local library and read them on the Nook.

While traveling last week, I purchased my first novel to read on my Nook—Feed by M. T. Anderson—and I plan to review the reading experience as well as the novel itself. I’m also looking forward to reading my first library e-book and plan to critique the experience on this blog as well.

Maybe if we’re lucky Kim will post a review of using an Ipad as an e-reader!

You Win Again, Apple

Kim: The decision to go with an iPad in my household almost had more to do with Angry Birds, The New York Times Crossword, and some motorcycle app my boyfriend likes to play than it did with finding the perfect e-reader. The iPad has proven to be a great addition to the electronics in our repertoire, even if a bit redundant. It must be said that if you own a Mac (like I do), an iPod (like I do), and an iPhone (like I do) springing for the iPad might not be the best choice. My boyfriend, however, had none of the above and was smitten with the product. Truth be told, it has been a great addition and for all the wonderful things it allows us to do, and anyone who is interested I wouldn’t turn away. For an e-reader though, it probably lacks in some areas where the Nook or Kindle excel. I haven’t used it much for e-reading but the screen does have a terrible glare in bright light, and from what I know, it doesn’t provide some of the e-borrowing and trading capabilities other e-readers now employ.

To make a long story short, if you’re a Mac, iPod, and iPhone user you don’t need the iPad and I would go for a different e-reader. BUT if you’re looking to indulge in an Apple product, it does offer some wonderful touchscreen-type fun— e-reading included.

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Dual Review: St Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves

March 6th, 2011    Posted in 52 Books in one year challenge, Dual Reviews, Fiction, Kelly, Kim, Literary Fiction, Short Stories

Kim: Karen Russell is somewhat of a literary celebrity in the fact that she was one of the youngest writers to be chosen for the New Yorker’s Best 20 under 40. Her most recent novel, Swamplandia! is an extension of the first story we see in her book of short stories, St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves, about a family that makes their living wrestling alligators in a Florida Everglade theme park. If the premise of that story is any indication, Russell is clearly an authority on the strange and weird.

One of the things I liked best about Russell was the sheer inventiveness with which she writes. The setting of her stories are often other-wordly, or towing the line, and she does an excellent job of harnessing interest while keeping within her literary merits. My three favorite stories were: Z.Z.’s Sleep-Away Camp for Disordered Dreamers, The Star-Gazer’s Log of Summer-Time Crime, and St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves. Within these, is some of my favorite writing: they’re stories I like to read, the sort that ooze with talent, and the kind I wish I could write myself. There were others, equally as well written, that I struggled through, or simply lost interest in, and there were a handful I skipped almost entirely. I think any reader who appreciates stories that are constructed outside of the standard literary box would love this book. It certainly has me curious and eager to pick up the already popular, Swamplandia!

Kelly: Like Kim, I also enjoyed this short story collection. I loved the quirky characters, sometimes otherworldly or magical situations, and literary quality. Amongst my favorite stories are “St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves” and “Haunting Olivia.”

I’m definitely curious about Swamplandia!

Title: St. Lucy’s Home For Girls Raised By Wolves
Author: Karen Russell
Read: February 2011
Source: Powell’s Bookstore / Annie Bloom’s Books

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Lock yourself up in Room by Emma Donoghue

February 18th, 2011    Posted in Fiction, Kim, Uncategorized

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.

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The Story of Edgar Sawtelle

February 7th, 2011    Posted in Award-Winning, Fiction, Kim, Popular Fiction

The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, is David Wroblewski’s debut novel and one that took him a long time to write. In his interviews on the book, Wroblewski sites working on it all through his MFA, just to end up rewriting large portions of the book later. This book hit stands in 2008 to critical acclaim, giving Wroblewski all the validation in the world for the time he spent on constructing this marvel of a novel.

The story has been labeled a modern-day Hamlet of sorts, following Edgar, a mute, through is childhood and adolescence on his family’s farm, where they raise dogs. The dogs, a few specifically, are as much of a main character as any of the humans in the book and animal lovers—dog lovers especially—will feel a strong connection to large portions of the book.

The book is structured like a five-act play, with impeccable prose and heart wrenching storytelling throughout. Wroblewski offers readers so many poignant passages and incredible observations it’s impossible not to fall in love. One of Wroblewski’s best story-telling techniques is in using chapters told from the perspective of the dogs. This could easily become campy or tacky, but in this case, it couldn’t be farther from the truth. I think it was his writing in these chapters specifically, aside from the intricate plot and layers of perspective in the story, that really won me over. Any and all people should be happy to have such an experience with a book. Five bones from me! And until you hear otherwise, I probably won’t stop talking about it anytime soon.

Read by: Kim

Title: The Story of Edgar Sawtelle
Author: David Wroblewski
Read: February 2011
Source: Powlles Books

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Dual Review: Stephen King’s On Writing

January 25th, 2011    Posted in 52 Books in one year challenge, Dual Reviews, Kelly, Kim, Memoir, Non-Fiction, Uncategorized, Writing

Kim: The first thing I noticed in reading Stephen King’s On Writing is the underlying and impenetrable truth behind every word in the book: a good writer can make anything fun to read and Stephen King proves exactly that. To put it simply, anyone—whether they’re a teacher, engineer, artist, or simply just a Stephen King fan—will enjoy this book. If you’re a writer, you’ll love it.

The book is separated into several parts, the first a resume of sorts, tracing moments in King’s life from childhood to best-selling author. From the get go you’re eager to seek out clues, perhaps a life changing event hidden within an anectdote that turned Stephen King into the writer he is today. You’ll find none, with the exception of his marriage, which King credits again and again as the foundation of  his personal and professional success. You quickly learn, and King continues this sentiment throughout, that there is no special formula for success, but that it simply takes all the practice in the world.  What you do learn about writing specifically in this first part,  is that practice is paramount and no amount of thinking about writing, or wondering about writing will make you a good writer. You simply need to be writing.

Next we get down to the nuts and bolts; what it takes to be a good writer (good grammar, strong narratives, characters with depth) as well as some interesting ideas about language and how stories are put together. As a writer, it’s great to peek into the world as Stephen King sees it, but at some point you come away with another complete and impenetrable truth about the book: writing is unique for each of us, there is no secret to making yours successful (other than practice and as King puts it, a little God-given talent), and that you need to carve out your own experience with the craft. A lot of what you read in the book (omit needless words, avoid adverbs, cut your first draft down by 10%) all serves as valuable advice, but the greatest advice of all is in the example of Stephen King himself. That life can be a bitch, and if you love to write, well, keep on writing.

This book resonated with me a great deal and part of the fun is in watching King put it all together. The most unnerving part of the book is his staunch belief that you can either write or you can’t. At some point in the book you’re either shying away from the pages wondering if you can or can’t be a writer, or, you’re stepping up the challenge to prove that you can. I can’t help but feel that Stephen King would support the latter and ultimately, this is what I loved most about the book.

Kelly: Like Kim, I thoroughly enjoyed On Writing. One of the first things I appreciated about the book was the cover. I have the tenth anniversary edition, and it shows Stephen King sitting at his desk with his feet up. A dog–maybe a corgi–stands beneath him looking towards the camera. The photo humanizes King, and makes him seem accessible. The content of his book does the same thing. King’s personal journey is interesting, and I appreciated that he wrote it in a series of small stories instead of writing a grandiose, sweeping, “this was my childhood and it made me what I am today,” flowery section. Instead it was funny and effective. He clearly knew he wanted to a writer from an early age, and he tackled the world of submissions bravely.

Kim did a great job summing up King’s take on writing, and so I’ll just add this. King wrote part of On Writing while recovering from being hit by a van. Nearly dying didn’t stop him from writing, and in fact seemed to be a major component in his recovery (not to downplay the help of his clearly devoted wife). I’ve heard many people say “oh, if I only had time to write.” If someone who can only write for an hour due to pain can carve out time, anyone who truly wants to can.

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The Graveyard Book

January 13th, 2011    Posted in Fiction, Kim, Middle Grade, Uncategorized

Neil Gaiman is and will continue to be one of my favorite writers. So after setting down my last book (The Magus by John Fowles) I was more than ready for something like The Graveyard Book. Light, airy, and a Newbery Medal winner. Simply put, this book seemed like a slam dunk.

The book begins when a small child, our protagonist Bod, whether by luck or by fate, wanders into a graveyard. In doing so, he avoids suffering the same fate as his family: killed by a man named Jack. In the graveyard he is taken in by a community of ghosts, primarily the Owens and given the name Nobody Owens. You know him throughout the story as Bod. Over eight chapters Gaiman outlines Bod’s life in the graveyard, formatting each chapter like a  short story, each one providing a glimpse of Bod at a different age.

My favorite chapter was Chapter 4, when Bod leaves the graveyard for the first time. Although he is trying to do a good deed for a new friend, he unknowingly puts himself in great danger and almost back into the hands of Jack. As the story unfolds so does Gaiman’s wonderful world, where we learn exactly why Bod is so important and what he must do to survive.

This book is classic Gaiman and I love him for it. Expertly written, endlessly creative and heartfelt, I would recommend The Graveyard Book to adults and children alike. If you’re unfamiliar with Gaiman, I would suggest perhaps one of my favorite short story collections of all time, Smoke in Mirrors.

Reviewed by: Kim

Novel: The Graveyard Book
Author: Neil Gaiman
Read: January 2011
Source: Local book store (Powell’s)

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