Furiously Happy

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I didn’t know who Jenny Lawson was when I looked into Furiously Happy. What attracted me to her book was the fact that it was supposed to be a humorous look at depression and anxiety. As someone who went undiagnosed until last year with both of these mental illnesses I thought I would be able to relate to the book. Plus, it has an ecstatic racoon on the cover with confetti. What’s not to love?

Nothing, apparently. I really enjoyed this book. I laughed out loud multiple times and could really relate to many of Lawson’s stories and feelings. It was less an autobiography or self-help book and more of a collection of experiences and inspirational thoughts. If you are someone who suffers from anxiety or depression you can probably relate to Lawson’s struggles, maybe laugh a little, and hopefully find some inspiration in her words. If you know someone who has trouble understanding a loved one with these mental illnesses then I think this book would also be an eye opener for them (and entertaining to boot).

Lawson’s writing is right up my alley. She is ridiculous and at times a little offensive, but all of it matched my sense of humor perfectly. I did find her organization a little confusing because I was looking for the chapters to be in some kind of order. As far as I can tell they aren’t, but it seems like there were almost purely funny chapters sandwiched around more serious ones so that the flow is balanced. If you’re considering this book but unsure if you’ll like the humor then I’d have a look at her blog and judge from there. If you find her at all funny and can relate to the subject matter then it is well worth the read! Here’s to a Furiously Happy New Year!

Wolf in White Van

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I’m not sure what I expected from Wolf in White Van by John Darnielle. The summary on the jacket says that Sean, who is horribly disfigured by an accident, makes a text based role-playing game for others to play. He is reclusive because of his disfigurement so the game is how he makes money. However, a couple of kids take the game a little too far and take the game into the real world. This causes problems for them and for Sean.

Saying anything else would ruin some of the mystery, but the game and the kids aren’t the driving force of the novel. I was hoping for something more about the game or some details about exactly what the kids did. These details are vague at best. Since the novel is told from Sean’s point of view and the writing style is sort of stream-of-consciousness we learn a lot about him. However, the driving force of the novel is something a bit deeper than any character. I think that it is a difficult novel to get into if you’re looking for a conventional narrative. From what I could tell it appears that the novel is questioning the influence the media has on violent acts. This question is woven beneath Sean’s story.

This novel is difficult for me to review. The writing is quite good, Sean is well developed, and the topic is interesting to explore. I wouldn’t say that I particularly loved the novel, but I appreciate what it is and it is thought provoking.

My True Love Gave to Me

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This is a collection of Christmas stories written by various authors. The stories are primarily romances and though romance isn’t usually my thing I wanted to read this for Christmas. Some of them melted my cold heart! Many of these authors are new to me so I also thought it would be a good way to sample their work so that I know if I want to invest in reading their novels. I’m usually against “star” or number ratings, but it might be the best way to keep this review short so here it goes!

Midnights by Rainbow Rowell: 3/5
-It was a nice story, but I haven’t ever been able to get into Rainbow Rowell’s novels. I know a lot of people seem to like this one, but it felt a bit generic to me. It was an interesting idea and entertaining though.

The Lady and The Fox by Kelly Link: 4/5
-A lot of other reviewers rate this story very low, but I really liked it! I liked the fantasy elements, the imagery, and the symbolism. My only complaint is that it felt rushed- especially at the end.

Angels In The Snow by Matt de la Peña: 5/5
-This one was pretty adorable. I liked Shy and the story felt realistic. Shy had a lot on his mind and had a good amount of depth to him for a short story character. It wasn’t purely a romance. There were light themes about race, economic status, and family. I enjoyed the open ending and also there was a cat!

Polaris Is Where You’ll Find Me by Jenny Han: 1/5
– One star might be a little harsh, but I didn’t like this story at all. The premise sounded interesting, but it wasn’t well executed. It didn’t make me “believe” in it. Natty felt very hollow, dull, and immature.

It’s a Yuletide Miracle, Charlie Brown by Stephanie Perkins: 5/5
– This one melted my heart. It was such a nice little story! It was funny with a cute romance. I liked the writing and characters and the guy was a big strong lumberjack man. Yum.

Your Temporary Santa by David Levithan: 3/5
– I liked the idea of this one, but it didn’t really go anywhere. There were hints at plot and character depth, but the loose strings of it just dangled and didn’t tie in anywhere. I did like the fact that it was an LGBT romance though.

Krampuslauf by Holly Black: 1/5
– Again, I liked the idea, but it didn’t work for me. Maybe I’m just not a big Holly Black fan. Everything that I’ve read from her is about angst filled teens getting into trouble and that isn’t my thing. The romance was also just odd.

What The Hell Have You Done, Sophie Roth? by Gayle Forman: 2/5
– This was simply OK. I liked that it touched on race and otherness, but that was really all there was for a the plot. I didn’t like the female main character. I got tired of reading about how everyone misunderstood her.

Beer Buckets and Baby Jesus by Myra McEntire: 1/5
– Another flop for me unfortunately. It was too cliche. Bad boy meets good girl and tries to change his ways. It seemed like everything went wrong, but somehow a teenage bad boy was able to save the day when the adults are clueless/useless? Uh huh.

Welcome To Christmas, CA by Kiersten White: 5/5
– I couldn’t help but love this one. It was kind of cheesy, but really sweet. It was magical in a few different ways and the almost fantasy-like quality of it was great.

Star of Bethlehem by Ally Carter: 4/5
– Another really good story! My only problem with it was that it seemed too hurried. I know it is a short story with (probably?) limited space, but I wanted more build up of the characters and to the climax.

The Girl Who Woke The Dreamer by Laini Taylor: 4/5
– The writing in this story was lovely. The imagery and atmosphere swept me away! I loved the fantasy and magic in the story. However, I wasn’t a fan of the pacing and though I loved the descriptions it felt like they overshadowed the character development a bit too much. Very close to 5 stars though!

Night Film

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Reading Night Film by Marisha Pessl is another attempt at me trying to scratch the literary itch left by The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson. I think I may have finally satisfied the itch! That isn’t to say that Night Film is perfect or perfectly comparable to Larsson’s work, but it is certainly good.

Scott McGrath is an investigative reporter who once got a little too investigative into the life of a legendary film maker, Stanislas Cordova. McGrath reports on something outlandish without solid proof and his reporting career is forever smudged by Cordova. When Cordova’s daughter is found dead and the death is being called a suicide, McGrath is suspicious and picks up his investigation again. For better or for worse he is committed to finding the ending to Cordova’s story.

I’ve read a lot of mixed reviews on Night Film and, as I said, it isn’t perfect, but there appears to be a lot of outcry about how it ends. I really can’t say anything more about the plot without giving something away. I will say that it wasn’t what I was expecting and if you like endings that tie up everything nicely then maybe you won’t enjoy this book. Personally, I thought it ended very well… even if I did reread the last page a few times and did a desperate search of the end papers for something more to end on…

There were a few things that kept this book from being a five star review for me, but they are admittedly small. The book, though good and a fairly fast read for being just about six hundred pages, dragged a little. Especially around the middle I got a little bored with it. The pace slowed down and the clues leading from one place to the next appeared a little too conveniently. Some parts weren’t as believable as others, but it must be difficult to write a mystery/thriller and suck every reader into believing the trail of evidence.  The characters were also just a touch flat for me. I didn’t care about anyone that much and I felt like Nora was a poor man’s Lisbeth Salander. It is unfair of me to even compare the two, but I couldn’t shake the comparison as I read the book. That is probably more of a fault with me than the novel though. If the book sounds interesting, pick it up! It was a fun ride and really played with my mind. I will definitely be keeping an eye on Pessl in the future.

Nimona & Lumberjanes Vol. 1

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Nimona (By Noelle Stevenson) and Lumberjanes Vol. 1 (By Noelle Stevenson, Grace Ellis, Brooke A. Allen (Illustrator), & Maarta Laiho) are two graphic novels so and fairly short so I thought I’d combine them into one review this week!

Nimona had me sold after the first two pages. Nimona is a shapeshifter who shows up on the villain, Lord Blackheart’s, front door. She wants to be his sidekick and help him defeat his nemesis, Sir Goldenloin. Nimona such a strong female character and she has faults! Blackheart was probably my favorite though. He was the “bad guy,” but he was adorably kind-hearted. I really loved this web comic turned graphic novel. The story begins and ends with this book so there’s (at least at the moment that I know of) no plans for a volume two. I loved this. It was cute, fun, funny, and a little sad. I would highly recommend this to anyone. I particularly liked the blend of science and technology with fantasy. For me this was definitely worth the hype.

Lumberjanes is about five girls who are attending summer camp together. They get into trouble often and get out of it by helping each other. Strange things are happening though. They are encountering three eyed animals, talking statues, and sea monsters. What’s going on? Well, to be honest volume one really doesn’t answer that question! There are a lot of weird happenings which spark a lot of questions, but there are very few answers. I think that it would be better if there was some bigger hints to overall plot in the first volume. The adventures they go on are fun, but it seems a little lacking on plot right now. I liked it though and it is 110% perfect for young middle school girls! It had a quirky vibe, some smart humor, and was just a lot of fun. The characters haven’t quite come into their own yet, but I see some development. I’d like to pick up the next volume before I really make a decision, but it is very charming for a first installment. It is a very “girl power,” pro-female book. Definitely pick it up for your preteen, tween, or teens!

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda

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Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli is about a sixteen year old boy named Simon who is gay. Simon has made a connection with another student at his high school, but he doesn’t actually know who that student is in real life. He only knows him by his screen name, Blue. They share their lives and deepest thoughts with each other through an anonymous relationship. This includes the fact that they are both gay and they seem to be falling for each other. Simon’s e-mails slip into the wrong hands and he is suddenly being blackmailed by another student. Simon must help his blackmailer or have the whole school find out he is gay.

I guess you could call the book a romance, but I really believe it is much more than that. It is a coming of age story with a lot of importance. I know some people have probably already tuned out once I mentioned that Simon is gay. I know some people are sick of the “homosexual agenda.” I don’t care. This book isn’t perfect, but it has merit. I knew a boy who came out, was disowned by his family and eventually killed himself. He was a good person who didn’t deserve the treatment he got for just trying to be himself. Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda deals with some heavy topics, but it is a genuinely funny book. The plot had enough twists, turns, and strong morals to keep me interested even though I generally loathe anything resembling a romance. Issues of sexuality and growth aside, just for keeping me interested in the story and characters I would recommend it.

Now for what I didn’t like. I can completely understand a feel good coming out and coming of age story, but everything came out a little too perfect for me. Simon definitely got some negative feedback from coming out (I don’t consider this much of a spoiler), but it didn’t seem to effect him that much. I didn’t feel like it was much of an accurate representation of other students’ reactions either. Maybe I’m a little cynical, but it felt pretty easy for him in the end. I’m sure there are plenty of coming out stories that end up mostly fine like this, but from my experience I expected more of a challenge for him. I realize it is hard for me, a white, straight female, to judge the authenticity of such a thing, but I’ve known some very cruel people reacting to the issue of homosexuality.

Honestly, that’s my biggest issue with the book. Other than that I liked it a lot. The supporting characters weren’t very deep and neither was Blue in my opinion, but it was a good light read with some important themes. I feel like it could be helpful to someone struggling with coming out or understanding (at least a little of) what a friend who is coming out is going through. I will say that I didn’t like the high school vibe and lingo, but it wasn’t as bad as a lot of books in a high school setting and really that’s mainly just because I hated high school drama as a kid.

The Marvels

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The Marvels by Brian Selznick is a great little book. Well, size-wise it is actually quite large. It is over 600 pages and quite heavy, but don’t be alarmed it is only about 200 pages of text. The rest is filled with beautiful black and white drawings. To explain, the first half has drawings that tell the story of the Marvel family from 1766 to 1900. Then the second half of the book begins in 1990 and is told through text. It is a creative little idea and everything gets explained and connected by the end.

This is a children’s book, but adults can easily enjoy it too. It doesn’t have an extreme amount of depth to the story or characters, but it was a fun little mystery to figure out the connection between the drawings and the text. Most of the text takes place during Christmas so it might be a nice book to look and at read during Christmas with your child. I guess I have to warn you that there are some homosexual references in the book in case that offends you for some reason. It’s such a good family, feel-good kind of story. I would recommend it to kids and adults alike. It is a gorgeous book to sit proudly on your bookshelf too!

Saga

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So. This is amazing. You’ve probably heard of Saga (written by Brian K. Vaughan and illustrated by Fiona Staples) and you’ve probably heard people rave about it. I’d heard it all too and I was reluctant to give it a go because of the hype. But I’m glad I did because for me it was really, really worth it.

I’d read Vaughan’s Pride of Baghdad a few years ago and really liked it so I was confident of the writing. Staples’ artwork looked beautiful from what I’d seen online and the first three volumes were 20$ all together on sale so I couldn’t argue with the price. So, here I am on the hype train. Chugga, chugga, choo, choo!

Anyway, the writing and characters are just spot on. They are witty, fun, and fresh. There’s a enough sassy women, legless floating ghostly teens, lie detecting cats, assassins, and cute goat boys to go around. If you’re not OK with some weirdness and nudity then you probably will be turned off by this series though. There’s some weird things… like TV headed robot people having sex and huge naked giants with large genitalia, but trust me it is all in good fun! It’s just so SO good. I’ve dropped extremely heavy hints about wanting the next volumes for Christmas. Now excuse me while tie my hands behind my back and try not buy them before the 25th.

Update: I failed. I bought volume four and five during a black Friday deal. And yes, the series is still awesome in case you were wondering.

Never Let Me Go

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Have you ever picked up a book knowing that it is going to be a tough read? You know you are going to feel a lot of things while you read it and they might be uncomfortable feelings. I had a sense that Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro would be like this even though I went in blindly when I read it. I was right. I didn’t cry, but at the end I just kind of sat there and stared at the closed book. I took a day or so to think on it before I tried to write this post. My thoughts might make a little more sense now. Maybe.

I’ve read The Remains of the Day and The Buried Giant by Ishiguro and they both feel foggy to me. Not everything is explained. I feel like there is a fog around the plot and characters. The fog begins to clear as you read, but your “vision” is still slightly fringed on the edges by the end. I like that about Ishiguro, but some people do not. I like having open ends and questions. It keeps me thinking about the text even days, weeks, or months later.

As I said I went in not knowing anything about the plot except for what was on the back of the book. The description of the plot was vague though and in case anyone reading this hasn’t read the book I won’t spoil anything. Not knowing anything about the book is really the best way to go into it. One of the most interesting things while reading the book was guessing exactly what is going on with the students. You get hints here and there, but things aren’t spelled out until the very end. Even then I had some questions about certain things, but I felt like it was summed up pretty well. I felt like the world was built up just enough, but I would have been happy to see more of it too.

In my opinion one of Ishiguro’s strengths is building characters. A character in the novel would do something very small and I would be reminded of people I knew or even myself. The characters felt real, familiar, and very human. Some people might find the characters in Never Let Me Go passive or flat, but I don’t feel that way. Sometimes a character might not say something they feel or cover their feelings with anger or they may misdirect the conversation. This may make them feel like they are unable to be strong or proactive in their lives, but I don’t see it that way. People do that sort of thing all the time in real life. The characters in this novel are dealing with some very serious things and their culture is against them. They can’t make sweeping changes. This isn’t a fairy tale where happy ending always come when things look darkest. It is a story about society, reality, and life. It makes you question things about your world.

This is a heavy book that will spark discussion. I loved it even though I was left emotionally disturbed. It is definitely worth a read if you can stand a rather slow pace and the “fog” I mentioned above.

Smoke and Mirrors

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As you might know by now I love Neil Gaiman. He’s probably my favorite author currently. This book has been sitting on my shelf since last Christmas. I’m not sure why. I wanted to read it, but I never quite felt in the mood for it. I wanted to clear out some of the older unread books on my shelf so I reached for this one. I find it difficult to review short story collections since they are often a mixed bag of “love it” and “leave it.” At least all these were by the same author so it makes it a little easier.

So, did I like it? Yes, of course. It’s Neil Gaiman. But, I didn’t love it. Some of the stories were amazing and others were just good. “Just good” is still praise in my book though. I was kind of surprised how many of the stories involved horror and sexual themes. I didn’t mind this, but I wasn’t expecting it so maybe other people will want to shy away from it? I loved the creepiness and the sex was well handled and not over done. I really liked how (at least in my edition) Gaiman wrote a little bit about each story in the introduction. My favorite story in the collection? Chivalry.