For the Love of Stories : the Rebooted Book Review Blog


I’m going to try this again. I started this blog when I was single. I’m now married with two kids and NO FREE TIME (which is why I stopped reviewing). My reading has dropped off a little as well - although I’ve read B is for Bedtime more times than I can count - but I’m trying to get back in the swing of things. I miss my books. 


So don’t necessarily expect daily postings here, but I’ll try for at least weekly. Fingers crossed!

The View from the Cheap Seats

The View from the Cheap Seats: Selected Nonfiction - Neil Gaiman

The View from the Cheap Seats: Selected Nonfiction


Neil Gaiman, 2016


An inquisitive observer, thoughtful commentator, and assiduous craftsman, Neil Gaiman has long been celebrated for the sharp intellect and startling imagination that informs his bestselling fiction. Now, The View from the Cheap Seats brings together for the first time ever more than sixty pieces of his outstanding nonfiction. Analytical yet playful, erudite yet accessible, this cornucopia explores a broad range of interests and topics, including (but not limited to): authors past and present; music; storytelling; comics; bookshops; travel; fairy tales; America; inspiration; libraries; ghosts; and the title piece, at turns touching and self-deprecating, which recounts the author’s experiences at the 2010 Academy Awards in Hollywood.


This is a collection of essays, book introductions, and speeches that Neil Gaiman has written over the years. There is nothing published here that is new for this book - it has all been published elsewhere before (or in the case of the speeches, presented somewhere else before). However, I personally had only read a few of the pieces previously (Gaiman's famous "Make Good Art" speech is included), so most of these were new to me. 


I've seen some reviews that complain that this is self-indulgent or cashing in, and maybe it is. But I also think that very few people will have read all of these writings previously. It's the same as short story collections - I may have read one or two of the stories elsewhere, but as long as it's mostly new, I'm happy to re-read the few pieces I know (or skip over them, if I didn't like them the first time). 


This book is composed of mostly speeches, reviews of other books and authors (from either articles or book introductions) and essays about musicians. (There are a few essays about other things, but these make up the majority of the book). Because of this, I feel that this book would work well if you wanted to just pick and choose a few things to read and skip over the ones that didn't interest you, if that is your chosen method. However, while I do own this book and plan to go back to it as I read some of his recommended books, I chose to listen to the audiobook, because Gaiman reads it himself, and I loved hearing it in his voice (especially his speeches). 


I also enjoyed his writings about other books and authors, and my to-read list has grown after finishing this book. Some books I already had on my list, but his writings made me want to bump them up the list (Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, as well as some H.G. Wells, Poe, and Lovecraft stories that I haven't gotten around to yet). There were also some books that I didn't have on my to-read list already that I added - some that I had heard of before (Dianna Wynne Jones, Harlan Ellison, Jeff Smith's Bone) and some that are completely new to me (Gene Wolfe, Dave Sim). 


Neil Gaiman is my favorite author and has been for quite some time (since I first read American Gods around 2002) and I enjoyed getting a glimpse into the things that he enjoys. This book is not for everyone, but I think if you're a fan of Gaiman, it's worth a look (and a listen, if you can get your hands on the audiobook). 

The Adventure Zone: Here There Be Gerblins

The Adventure Zone: Here There Be Gerblins - Clint McElroy, Griffin McElroy, Justin McElroy, Travis McElroy, Carey Pietsch

The Adventure Zone: Here There Be Gerblins


Clint McElroy, Griffin McElroy, Justin McElroy, Travis McElroy, Carey Pietsch, 2018


Join Taako the elf wizard, Merle the dwarf cleric, and Magnus the human warrior for an adventure they are poorly equipped to handle AT BEST, "guided" by their snarky DM, in a graphic novel that, like the smash-hit podcast it's based on, will tickle your funny bone, tug your heartstrings, and probably pants you if you give it half a chance. Welcome to the Adventure Zone!


Full disclosure, I have listened to the The Adventure Zone: Balance podcast. And I love it. Also, I am not a gamer. 


This is a comic book based on the McElroy's podcast The Adventure Zone: Balance, which is a Dungeons and Dragons podcast. Here There Be Gerblins is the first of eight chapters in the Balance arc (the second chapter, Murder on the Rockport Limited was released this year). This is a hard book to review for a number of reasons, but mostly because I think that your enjoyment of this book is largely dependent on if you've listened to the podcast or not. I think that the D&D storytelling method works better as a podcast than it does as a comic, so if you're going into this story as a comic only, I'm not sure how well it plays. I think that it would still be enjoyable, but probably a few aspects are lost.


However, as a fan of the podcast and therefore already knowing the story, I loved seeing it translated into a comic. I think that they did a great job bringing the story to the page and I thought that Carey Pietsch's artwork was quite good. 


So here's where I'm at for a recommendation:

Do you need to be a gamer to enjoy this story? Not at all (I've never played D&D in my life)

Do you need to have listened to the podcast to enjoy the comic? Probably not. 

Will you find the comic more enjoyable if you listen to the podcast first? I believe so.


But it's a hell of a fun podcast, so I recommend that, too. I'm glad that they were able to make a comic and I'll definitely be reading the rest as soon as they become available. (I'm reading the second volume now.)



How to Survive a Horror Movie

How to Survive a Horror Movie: All the Skills to Dodge the Kills - Seth Grahame-Smith, Wes Craven

How to Survive a Horror Movie


Seth Grahame-Smith, 2007


Do you think you might be living inside a horror movie? First, this book will explain how to tell if you are (and if you are, what type or horror movie you're in, because this is also important). Second, this book will give you the tips you need to survive. Everything from how to perform an exorcism to how to survive an alien invasion, it's all here. Read this book - your life may depend on it.


I've read one novel by Grahame-Smith before this point (Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter), which I found moderately enjoyable. This book has the same humor dialed up to eleven. This is a humorous ode to pop culture masquerading as a self-help book. And I loved it. It's a quick read (less than 200 pages including illustrations), and enjoyable even if you haven't seen all of the movies referenced. And despite coming out in 2007, the book is only slightly dated - most of the movies hinted at in this book are still classics, so the only problem is that we're missing the new wave of horror movies from the last 12 years. 


Quick and funny, definitely worth a read if you enjoy horror movies even a little bit.

I Was Anastasia

I Was Anastasia - Ariel Lawhon

I Was Anastasia


Ariel Lawhon, 2018



In 1918, after being overthrown and imprisoned by the Bolshevicks, the Tsar and his family were taken into a basement in Ekaterinburg and murdered. This included the Tsar, his wife, his son, his four daughters, and four members of their staff. No one survived... or did they? Rumors spread that the youngest daughter, Anastasia, survived the attack. In 1920, a woman is pulled from a canal in Berlin. Covered in scars, she at first refuses to identify herself, but eventually claims to be Anastasia herself. This is the story of both Anastasia as a child and of the woman known as Anna Anderson, and about the mystery that surrounded them.


I'm going to try and do this review without any major spoilers.


First of all, I want to talk about the structure of the book, which is really the only thing I had an issue with, although I'm not sure how I would have done it differently. The chapters alternate, with one telling the story of Anastasia from the point where the Bolshevicks begin their rebellion and overthrow of the imperial family, through to the point of the execution. The other chapters are told from the point of view of Anna Anderson, starting in 1970 when the courts are ruling about whether or not they believe her claim, and work backward from there to 1918. This is the point where I had some trouble. I want to say that I think it was probably the right way to tell this book, allowing for the two stories to meet in the middle, but I sometimes found it hard to follow. A chapter would introduce a character and I would know I had heard the name before, but couldn't always remember the details. I think my problem might have stemmed more from the fact that I didn't read this book straight through - the last 100 pages or so I read in a much shorter span of time and had no trouble keeping characters straight. So I definitely recommend just reading this one through and not taking your time with it. In general I'm not always a huge fan of weird timelines like this, but while I didn't necessarily love reading it this way, it definitely made the most sense for the book. I don't think it would have worked otherwise. 


Second, the plot. Now, anyone who knows any Anastasia Romanov history knows that the woman named Anna Anderson is a real person and really did claim to be Anastasia, but that it was later proved that she was not Anastasia - Anastasia unfortunately died with the rest of her family in 1918. This is not a spoiler. This is actual historical fact. What I didn't know going into this book - and what I won't reveal in this review - is how the author was going to use these facts. Was she presenting the book as an actual true account, or was she using these real people and writing a fictional account: "What if Anna Anderson really was Anastasia?" I didn't know. Which made the book interesting (and which is why I'm not revealing it here.) All I will say is that when the two stories reach their conclusion in 1918, I was pleasantly surprised by the outcome. 


Overall, I'm not quite sure how to rate this book. I found the plot to be enjoyable as a whole. I much preferred the Anastasia chapters to the Anna chapters, however. I thought that, at times, the Anna story dragged a bit - it covered a large number of years, but not a whole lot happened. They weren't bad, and they were well written, I just found that overall I found Anna's timeline more interesting and kept wanting to get back to it. I did find the book as a whole to be well-written and well-researched, though, and overall I liked it, even though there were a few chapters that dragged and despite my initial problems with following the reverse timeline. I would recommend this book to anyone who is interested in the Anastasia story or who enjoys historical fiction.

Tess of the Road

Tess of the Road - Rachel Hartman

Tess of the Road


Rachel Hartman, 2018


In the medieval kingdom of Goredd, women are expected to be ladies, men are their protectors, and dragons get to be whomever they want. Tess, stubbornly, is a troublemaker. You can't make a scene at your sister's wedding and break a relative's nose with one punch (no matter how pompous he is) and not suffer the consequences. As her family plans to send her to a nunnery, Tess yanks on her boots and sets out on a journey across the Southlands, alone and pretending to be a boy.

Where Tess is headed is a mystery, even to her. So when she runs into an old friend, it's a stroke of luck. This friend is a quigutl--a subspecies of dragon--who gives her both a purpose and protection on the road. But Tess is guarding a troubling secret. Her tumultuous past is a heavy burden to carry, and the memories she's tried to forget threaten to expose her to the world in more ways than one.


Disclaimer 1: This book is a spin-off of Hartman's Seraphina series... which I have not read. I think that reading Seraphina and Shadow Scale would probably be beneficial to do before reading this book, but mostly for world-building purposes. It is, however, not completely necessary - there is nothing in this book that failed to make sense and the world was easy enough to pick up after a few chapters.


Disclaimer 2: I received an Advanced Readers Copy of this book from NetGalley. I would like to thank the publisher for the opportunity to read this book. The expected publication date for Tess of the Road is February 27, 2018.


Disclaimer 3: I have seen some reviewers who were disappointed because they went into this book expecting to read about dragons. If you are looking for a book about dragons, this is not that book. Dragons are peripheral to the plot, but feature very little. I understand that the Seraphina books involve dragons much more heavily, however.


Okay, with those disclaimers out of the way, on to my review. 


I wasn't really sure what to expect with this book. It sounded interesting to me, so I requested a copy and started to read. Once I was a few pages in, however, I realized that I had missed the fact that this was a spin-off book. Oops. But I kept reading, and I'm glad I did. While there were details glossed over in the first few chapters that I wish I knew more about - Why was Tess seen as such a screw-up? There are half-dragons? And are all half-dragons Saints? What the heck is a quigutl? - I found that as I read most of those details didn't matter to the story (and the ones that did were explained as it went on). 


This is a hard book to qualify for me. It's a fantasy, but aside from the quigutl (which, by the way, is a sort of large chameleon-looking sentient animal with its own language that is really good at working with tools), we didn't encounter a whole lot of fantastical elements. (Well, there was one other, but it's a spoiler). It's honestly much more of a coming-of-age novel, where the main character starts out on a journey and encounters different people along the way and finds herself. Which is not a bad thing. But if you're expecting a high-action fantasy novel, you'll probably be disappointed. 


Really, I hope that this book is marketed well, but I fear that it won't be. My fear is that it will be marketed as an epic fantasy instead of a coming-of-age novel, and that does this novel a disservice. Because it's a really good young adult novel, and I think that a lot of different readers - not just fantasy readers - will like it. It had a great female protagonist with a lot of flaws who I think teenage girls could really like. I love that the author decided, after writing the Seraphina books, that she wanted to explore Tess a little more. I think she did a great job of fleshing out a character that you don't see a lot in this type of story.


Overall, I thought this was a well-written, interesting story. There's not a lot of action and a surprisingly little amount of fantasy elements for a fantasy novel, but it's a well-told story and I found Tess to be likable despite her flaws (and sometimes because of them). There is a little adult content in this book, so I can't recommend it to the younger crowd, but I definitely recommend it to young women who like a good story and who won't be put off by a slower pace and a slightly confusing fantasy world. 


[I also plan to read the Seraphina books at some point, so I'll be curious to see how this world is first introduced there.]


Hag-Seed - Margaret Atwood

Hag-Seed: The Tempest Retold


Margaret Atwood, 2016


Felix, the eccentric Artistic Director of the Makeshiweg Festival, is getting ready to present his interpretation of Shakespeare's The Tempest, but is removed from his position thanks to the underhanded methods of his assistant, Tony. After going off the grid for a while, Felix takes a job teaching a course at Fletcher County Correctional Institute, where he teachers Shakespeare to a small group of inmates. After a few years, an opportunity presents itself for Felix to get revenge on Tony and the others who did him wrong.


This is the first of the Hogarth Shakespeare retellings that I've read so far. I decided to re-read The Tempest before starting this book, and I'm glad I did - it had been a while since I had read it, and I had forgotten a lot of the story. I don't think that it's necessary to read The Tempest before reading Hag-Seed, but it does help. [For anyone not able to read the play first, there is a summary of The Tempest at the end of the book, so I would actually recommend skipping ahead to that before starting the novel.] 


I wasn't sure at first how I was going to like this book - I thought it an odd choice having the actual play The Tempest as part of the plot in a book that's supposed to be based on the play (a little too obvious), but it really worked well. Sort of like how Hamlet uses a play within a play to act out scenes that are happening in the "real world" of the story. It also helped that Felix was more or less aware that his current situation resembled the play - if he had been oblivious to that fact, it would have just been weird. Sure there were parts that played out a little too theatrically - his revenge was way too neat and tidy - and if this had been anything other than a retelling it would have bothered me. But Shakespeare's plays had the same neat and tidy endings, so it worked.


The biggest thing that surprised me was how Atwood was able to take a play made up with mostly unlikable characters and make a compelling story out of it. The only characters I liked at all were the prisoners. The antagonists - Tony and the others - were supposed to be unlikable, but Felix wasn't really very easy to like. His delusion about Miranda made him hard to identify with, and his quest for revenge made him - at least to me - pretty unlikable. However, I think that this was sort of the point. I think that Atwood went into this book knowing that the prisoners would be the most likable and relatable characters, and this is why the book is called "Hag-Seed", as a direct reference to Caliban. I think it was an interesting choice on her part, and it was probably the best way to pull it off.


You definitely need to be able to read books centered around unlikable characters in order to enjoy this one, but otherwise I think it's a pretty interesting book and an enjoyable read, even if you're not familiar with the play.

The Art of Racing in the Rain

The Art of Racing in the Rain - Garth Stein

The Art of Racing in the Rain


Garth Stein, 2006



Enzo the dog is nearing the end of his life. He's lived with Denny, a racecar driver, since he was a puppy and he's seen and done quite a lot. He also watches a lot of TV during the day, so he's learned things, like how he will come back as a human in his next life, and he's been preparing for it. This book is about Enzo taking stock of his life to this point and remember everything he's been through with Denny and his family.



I put off reading this book for a long time. I had heard really great things about it, that it was an amazing book, a bit heart-wrenching, but really well-written. I even bought it for my Nook. But I didn't read it... The concept was just too weird for me. Was I really interested in reading a book told from the point of view of the family dog? But I finally read it... And now I'm kicking myself that I didn't read it sooner.


This book was so well done. Enzo has an almost human point of view - he understands nearly everything that a human would (a few things go over his head), and even sometimes understands more than his humans do. He talks like a philosopher a lot of the time, but not a pretentious one. Just one who is sure that he will come back after he dies, and he wants to be sure that he learns as much as he can in the hope that he will remember. 


The human characters in this book were a little less developed than Enzo was, but they were still very interesting to read about. Denny, of course, is the one that Enzo is closest to, so we get more insight on him, but I really enjoyed reading about Denny's wife and child as well, and I found Enzo's impressions of the secondary characters mostly pretty entertaining. 


The one warning I can give is this: the ending is a bit heart-breaking. We know from the first few pages that Enzo is dying; the book is actually him looking back on his life. So the ending isn't surprising, but it is a little bit of a tear-jerker. A few events that happy throughout the book tear at the heart a bit, too, so just be careful about reading this book in public. 


This is not a long book - just over 300 pages - but it packs a punch. This is one that I would heartily recommend to almost anyone. Just be prepared to have your heartstrings tugged a little bit. I'm glad I finally made myself read this one. Totally worth it.

Where did you go?!

Hi all. 


I want to apologize for anyone who follows (or followed) by blog. I know I disappeared for a few months there. I've still been reading, but I haven't been updating my reads on the computer. Truth is,  I did most of my blog updating while at work during slow periods, and at the end of August I got laid off from my job. Sucks, but what can you do?


I promise to be more diligent in updating here from now on, though. I'm still unemployed - still searching for a job - but I'm going to try and be better about getting on here every few days and checking in and - of course - writing my reviews. First step - get caught up on the reviews of the books I've read since August (I hope I don't confuse readers if I backdate reviews to the date I finished the book) and then I promise I'll keep up with the writing.


I hope some of you, at least, will continue to follow my blog. I really love this website, and can't wait to see what everyone else has been up to in the past few months.


Authority: A Novel - Jeff VanderMeer

Authority (Southern Reach #2)


Jeff VanderMeer, 2014


Area X - a mysteriously pristine landscape with an invisible border that disappears anyone who touches it - has been the target of a series of expeditions over the past thirty years. Unfortunately, after twelve expeditions, the government agency known as Southern Reach is no closer to understanding this place than they were when it first appeared. Now John Rodrigues - aka "Control" - is appointed head of Southern Reach, and he is determined to not only figure out the secret of Area X, but also the secrets of the former head - a psychologist who inserted herself into the twelfth expedition and never returned. But Control soon realizes that not only are there more secrets being kept than he was initially aware of, but the answers might be better left uncovered.



This was a very different book than Annihilation was. The setting of the first book was Area X itself, and I found that book - while confusing and a little creepy - to have a much more interesting plot. The book cover of Authority compares the first book to an expedition novel (like Jurassic Park) and the second to a spy novel (like James Bond). I mostly agree with this assessment... except that where James Bond usually has a lot of action and intrigue mixed in with a little bit of boring exposition, Authority contains a lot of exposition and a little bit of action and intrigue. At just under 350 pages, it felt a lot longer than that, and really could have benefited from losing 50-75 pages. 


That being said, there were things I really liked about this book. I liked Control - I thought that he was a good character to be following throughout the book... just as clueless as the reader was, since he was new to the job, and just as confused as the secrets began to come out. I enjoyed his interactions with the biologist, and I wish there had been more of those scenes and less of the scenes of him cleaning out the psychologist's office. The few action bits that there were were good and the creepy scenes were incredibly well done - especially the scene in the room above the closet (*shiver*). I just wish it had been more of that. More like Annihilation.


I am looking forward to reading the final book in the trilogy - Acceptance. The way book two ended definitely suggests a very interesting conclusion to come. My hope is that it's a little more like the first book was, although, the way things are going, it will probably be something completely different than either one. Either way, though, there are still a lot of questions that haven't been answered, and I'm definitely curious to find out the answers. 


The Death Cure

The Death Cure - James Dashner

The Death Cure (The Maze Runner #3)


James Dashner, 2011


Note: This book will really make no sense without reading the first two books in the series. I don't recommend starting this one until reading The Maze Runner and The Scorch Trials. The Summary will include small spoilers for these two previous books.


The world is falling apart. Whole sections of the planet are uninhabitable after the sun flares raised the temperature and changed the weather. And a man-made virus, now known as The Flare, was released and quickly infected the planet. The Flare affects the brain, turning those it infects violent and insane. The small number of people not yet infected fled to the livable cities - those far away from the Equator and at high elevation, like Denver, Colorado, and do everything they can to keep the infected out. An even smaller percentage of the population is immune to the virus... and a government group known as WICKED has plans to use those who are immune to find a cure.


Where we pick up in The Death Cure, Thomas and a number of other teenage immunes have survived the first two rounds of trials. They beat the Maze and escaped, and made it through the desert-like land of The Scorch. Now the survivors are told they there is one final test. But first, WICKED is going to give them their memories back. But Thomas doesn't want his memories back, and he certainly doesn't want to go through another test, no matter how close WICKED might be to a cure. His one hope is to escape. But how can he get away and, even if he does, where would he go to be safe?



I really enjoyed the first two books in the trilogy. They weren't perfect, but I thought that they were good stories with a lot of action and drama that would really appeal to teens. They were pretty well-written, had interesting characters, and were - for the most part - very enjoyable books. This one, however, I did not think as highly about. I know that I'm not the only one - a lot of the reviews on other sites are negative as well. It's unfortunate, due to the relative strength of the first two books. 


While the first two books had a clear plot and direction - figure out what's going on and get through the Maze, survive the Scorch and make it to the compound - this book felt really disjointed to me. After Thomas decided to run, he had no set direction. He wanted to save his friends and stop WICKED, but had no real idea how to do that, and it showed in the writing. It almost felt like Dashner wasn't really sure himself how to wrap things up. I know a lot of people had issues with the ending... I didn't hate the ending, simply because I felt it was probably the most realistic way to end. I feel he could have ended it better, but I wasn't completely unhappy with it. My issue was with the way he got to that ending. 


I agree with big points that others have made about how he left a lot unexplained and how Teresa was terribly underused. While I didn't really like Teresa, and therefore didn't mind that she was absent through a good chunk of the book, I do agree with the point. When Teresa is introduced in The Maze Runner, it's pretty much a given that she's important, based on the way that she was introduced. But it almost feels like Dashner couldn't quite figure out what her final purpose should be, so he instead chose to give her almost no purpose at all. Had Thomas got his memories back, her purpose might have been made clear - since they had a past that we hadn't really explored yet - but Thomas chose not to get his memories back. Which brings me to my biggest issue...


hated Thomas in this book. Absolutely hated him. I'll concede that Dashner might have chosen to keep Thomas memory-less so that he didn't have to think up all the details about his past (a theory that some have shared in other reviews), but the result (in my opinion) wasn't to make Thomas seem brave and defiant - choosing to remain in the dark because he didn't trust WICKED and didn't want them to do one more thing to him. Yes, it made him look defiant, but it did not make him look brave. It made him look selfish and cowardly. He wouldn't even consider helping WICKED - or even just finding out what the last test was - even if that one last test would have resulted in a cure. That hindsight tells us he made the right decision doesn't help him in my opinion. He left for selfish reasons and chose to ignore the plight of the many for his own happiness. And as for refusing to get his memories back... this wasn't done because he didn't trust WICKED. This was done because he was afraid to find out what he would remember. We know this for a fact. Thomas helped to set up WICKED in the first place, and now felt bad about it. And he knew that getting his memories back would make him remember more of the terrible things he had been responsible for, and he didn't want to remember. This is not me interpreting his choices, this is something that he states outright. So why are we supposed to think him brave and defiant after he refuses the memories? Are we supposed to forget what he did and why he doesn't want to remember? Maybe we were supposed to forget, but I didn't. And it made Thomas so unsympathetic to me that I had trouble with him for the rest of the book after that. Having memories would have made everything that he went through easier on him and on others, but he chose to continue the way he was because he was scared. 


In the end, there was still a lot of action and drama in this one, but it just seemed too disjointed and left too much unexplained to really be considered a good conclusion to the series. I'll probably read the prequels - The Kill Order and The Fever Code (being published sometime next year) - to see if I can get a few answers, and just for curiosity sake. But I'm not as excited for them as I was before reading this one. 



Tricks - Ellen Hopkins



Ellen Hopkins, 2009



Five teenagers, all from different areas of the country, discover just how far they can fall when desperation leads them to trade or sell their bodies for sex. 


The Goodreads discription is a little misleading,saying "What they don't expect, though, is all that can happen when those powerful little words "I love you" are said for all the wrong reasons." This book isn't about the downfall of saying "I love you" when you're not ready. In fact, each and every one of the characters falls in love and says "I love you" at some point. But in only one case - Whitney - did falling in love lead directly to her fate. This book is not about saying "I love you" for the wrong reasons. This book is about desperation and what a person will do when the reach the point where they run out of options. 


I really love Ellen Hopkins. I first discovered her writing with Crank, and before that I had mostly steered away from novels in verse. I had read a few, and even liked one or two, but mostly found the gimmick hard to get used to. But I think it really works for her stories. I think that pages and pages of prose would get overwhelming with her characters, and that the smaller pieces that she can get away with writing verse make her stories easier to read. Because, let's be honest, her stories can be tough to read sometimes. This one is no different. Five teenagers, all around fifteen or sixteen years old, selling their bodies for sex, is not a happy topic. And for many of the characters, how they got to that point isn't any easier to read. 


I'll admit that, at first, I found this novel a little harder to follow than some of her other books. Out of the four that I had read prior to this one, the most point of view characters in a story was three (in Fallout). This one has five. I know this doesn't sound like a lot, but I'll admit that when the book would switch to a new chapter (and a new character), I sometimes had to go back to a previous chapter to remind myself which situation that character was in. Once the story really picked up, it was easier to tell them apart, because their tales branched off so differently, but at the beginning, when they were all still in high school and falling in love, I had trouble keeping Whitney, Ginger, and Eden apart. (Seth and Cody were a little bit easier, since Seth was gay and Cody was straight). So this did pull me out of the flow of the story a bit, having to remind myself who was who when each new chapter began.


I liked some characters more than others. Ginger, Eden, and Seth were much more sympathetic than Whitney and Cody, who really just made bad decisions. I'm not saying that the deserved what they got, but they did get there mostly through their own crappy choices. Seth, Eden and Ginger were more sympathetic, but still made bad decisions. Seth was kicked out of his home after his father found out he was gay, leaving him very few options. Since he became a kept man rather than a prostitute, his life was definitely the easiest of the five, but he also has the bleakest future at the end, which made me sad for him. I have a feeling that in the follow-up, Traffick, being published in November, his story might be one of the worst. 


Ginger and Eden, however, were completely sympathetic characters. Ginger, who ran away from home with her girlfriend after getting raped - and finding out that her prostitute mother sold her off - turns to stripping in order to survive. It's her girlfriend, Alex, who takes it a little further. I respected Ginger's resolve, even if her choices weren't always the best, she had her rules and stood her ground. And Eden... poor, poor Eden. I can't say for sure that I would have gone as far as she did, but I think put in her situation, I at least would have seriously considered it. I found her, by far, the most sympathetic character in the book. 


I'll definitely be reading Traffic as soon as it comes out - I'm very curious to see what becomes of these five teens. And I'll continue in my goal to read all of Ellen Hopkins books before the end of the year. I find her books fascinating, if a little draining. The only reason why I would still recommend starting with Crank, and not this one, is due only to the slightly higher level of difficulty in having to follow so many characters in this one. But if you enjoy Ellen Hopkins, and/or don't mind reading about tough situations, I do highly recommend any of her books, and Tricks is one of her best that I've read so far. 


Another Day

Another Day - David Levithan

Another Day


David Levithan, 2015


This story is the book Every Day re-told from the point of view of Rhiannon. As Levithan states in the forward, you can read it as a stand-alone, but I think that a reader will get more out of it after reading Every Day first. But that's just personal opinion.


I'm having a hard time deciding what to feel about this book. Because for most of the book, I absolutely loved it. This was the book that I wanted Every Day to be. It was Every Day, but with a protagonist that I didn't want to punch in the face. There are a lot of duplicate sections - the parts of the book where they were together had word-for-word dialogue from the first book, but thoughts and impressions from Rhiannon instead of A. The rest of the book was Rhiannon dealing with finding out who A was and what to do about their relationship. And as much as I adored Rhiannon in the first book, that was just multiplied here. I think she's a wonderful character and, more importantly, a very real character. She handled the situation in a way that I believe a real, normal high schooler would have. It bothered A that Rhiannon couldn't get past the bodies to see who he was on the inside, but what sixteen- or seventeen-year-old could? She tries, but the fact is that people are attracted to a person's outside as well as who they are on the inside. And I thought that her coming to terms with this - and trying to get past it and failing - made her very real to me. 


My only problem... I hated the ending! I'm not going to give away anything. I still think it's a book worth reading, so I don't want to spoil it for anyone who wants to pick it up, but I found the ending so extremely disappointing. And not even the final chapter... I was with it right up until the final page. And then the way that Levithan chose to end that final page just pissed me off. I feel like he's setting it up for a sequel, but I don't want a sequel. I wanted it to end there. Because, as I mentioned in my review of Every Day, I feel like a sequel to the story of A and Rhiannon can be nothing but depressing. 


But what do I know? I'm just the reader.


I'd be curious to know what other readers think about this book. Both from the point of view of someone who has read Every Day and from the point of view of someone who hasn't. I do think this book is worth reading. I mostly completely loved it. I just can't get past the way it ended. I wish I could, but I can't. And the thing is, if he writes a sequel, I'm sure I would read it, simply out of curiosity. But I wouldn't have high hopes of a happy ending.


Thank you to the author and the publisher for an advanced copy from NetGalley.


I am China

I Am China: A Novel - Xiaolu Guo

I am China

Xiaolu Guo, 2014


Iona, a Chinese/English translator, is given a package of photocopied letters and diary entries from a local publisher in the hope that she can translate the pieces and that they might lead to something worth publishing. She finds out later, from the publisher, that he was given this package from Mu - a woman living in China - who said that the letters and diary were from a Chinese musician named Kublai Jian, who had been expelled from China for his anti-government stance and was seeking asylum in England. Mu had lost contact with Jian and was hoping for the help of the English publisher in locating him. Through the translations, Iona gets swept up in the stories of these two individuals and the events that transpire to keep them apart. 


I found this book to be very difficult to rate and review. I wanted to like it much more than I did, but there was just too much about this book that bothered me or - worse - left me feeling nothing at all.


I think if this book had been only about Mu and Jian, I would have liked it a lot more than I did. I wouldn't have loved it, but I would have probably given it 3.5 to 4 stars. I really liked the character of Mu. I enjoyed watching her go from naive country girl to reluctant revolutionary over the course of the book. And I thought that her love for Jian felt real. Jian was a harder character to identify with, mostly because I'm really not the type of person to fight the system, which is really his defining characteristic. But it almost felt to me as though he was revolutionary simply for the sake of being a revolutionary, and that he really didn't care as much as he pretended to. [This is partially because his manifesto - when it is finally translated - didn't read as all that impressive. It's possible that it went over my head. It's possible that someone more familiar with the oppression of Chinese government might have found it profound. I didn't.]


But if this book had just been about Jian and Mu, I think I would have liked it. The problem is, a big portion of the book is given to the White European translator. And I really didn't like her. I wish that she had just stayed as an impartial third party - translating the letters and keeping her own personal life out of the story. Instead, the author chose to bring Iona front and center to the story, almost to the point where the book felt more like Iona's story than Mu's and Jian's. Here is the big problem: Iona is supposed to be around her early thirties (it might have mentioned her exact age at some point, but I can't remember, but at the end of the book her mother turns sixty, so that gives us a general idea.) But her world-view seems more like someone in her late teens. She has no friends, basically ignores her family, and the only two things that make her feel alive are her translations and one-night stands. (She more or less says this at the beginning of the book). She doesn't believe in relationships, instead preferring to sleep with strangers and then never speak to them again after, because she enjoys the power in it. Even her idea of who should would fall in love with if it was ever going to happen sounds like something an eighteen-year-old would think - "she thinks of falling for someone younger... more like an earnest but sexy young scholar." It isn't until she starts reading Jian and Mu's love story that she starts to even consider that a life of meaningless sex might not be all there is. And I get it. We're supposed to see her transformation from someone who doesn't believe in love to someone who realizes that there might be something missing from her life. But I just didn't care. Iona just seemed like a horrible, lonely, egotistical person to me, and I didn't care that she started to get better. I didn't care about her at all, and this is where the story lost me. 


One other problem I had with this book was, quite simply, the writing style. This book was written in English by a native Chinese woman. But it felt like a book written in Chinese translated into English. It's not that the writing wasn't nice - there was some really beautiful imagery and a few really nice passages. But this was supposed to be a love story, and it felt completely lacking in passion. I feel like this is just the way things are written by native-Chinese speakers sometimes - more factual, less emotional. [Forgive me if I'm wrong - I'm not trying to generalize, I'm just trying to figure out why this story lacked the punch it should have had.] I wanted to fall in love with these characters, and instead I felt like I was just reading about people and having a hard time caring about them.


I felt that this book had a lot of potential, and it - for one reason or another - just missed the mark. It's not a bad book - I've read a lot of stellar five-star reviews on Goodreads - and it might just be that I missed the point. I do feel like native Chinese readers will get more out of this book than I did, simply because they will be able to understand better the political upheaval in the story. But as much as I wanted to like this book, it just didn't work for me. 

Boston Comic Con, part 2

I promised to post a few pictures. Sorry it's taken me so long, but here are a few pictures from our weekend at Comic Con. 


This weekend, I also hope to actually take out some of the art we bought, so I can see what size frames I need to buy. When I do that, I'll take some pictures and post a few of them as well. The thing I love so much about the artists that come to the convention, is that they're not all comic book artists. Obviously, I love the comic book-ers, and I posted earlier the Harley Quinn art that I bought, but some of my favorite artists there are the non-comic book ones. I got some beautiful art that I can't wait to frame and hang on my walls, and very little of it is actually comic book art. But that's another post for another day.


Today, just a few pictures from the convention.


1. Me with Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez. They were both so awesome in letting my husband get this picture. Really cool guys - signed all six of my Locke & Key books, then let me get a picture with them. 



2. Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti (of the Harley Quinn comics). Also pretty cool people. Signed all my stuff. I'm sure it gets tiring sitting there signing stuff for people all day, but they were really fun and happy. 




We didn't get a whole lot of pictures of costumes from the convention, but I am going to post two - my and my husband's favorite costumes. Half of the fun of this weekend is just walking around seeing everybody dressed up. We didn't go in costume this year (obviously), but we're considering it for next year. Nothing as elaborate as these next pictures, though.


3. This was my husband's favorite costume of the weekend (and I definitely agree that it was the most impressive). There were a few Iron Man or War Machine costumes will full moving parts and working lights and they were all pretty awesome, but this guy's costume was 100% hand-tooled leather, from head to toe. And he did every bit of it himself. I don't know his name, so I can't give credit, but dude, you're costume was insane.


4. My favorite costume, simply because it was so much fun and pretty original. Again, I can't give name credit, because I don't know them, but they did a great job and seemed to be having a lot of fun with it. The guy who dressed as the Joker stayed in character the whole time, speaking with a gangster-type deep voice and seemed to be having a blast. I loved seeing this group make their way around the room. 



That's all I've got for now. It was a great convention, though, even though I don't have a ton of pictures to post from it - I'm not a huge photo-taker.  I'll post some of the art I got over the weekend, hopefully. Can't wait to go back next year. :)

Frog Music

Frog Music - Emma Donoghue

Frog Music


Emma Donoghue, 2014


During the summer of 1876, San Francisco is experiencing a record-breaking heatwave, as well as an epidemic of smallpox. French burlesque dancer and high-class prostitute, Blanche Beunon is minding her own business when she is run into by a young woman - dressed like a man, in slacks and short hair - on a bicycle. Her chance encounter with Jenny Bonnet sets off a chain of events that ends in Jenny getting shot to death, the bullets just missing Blanche. Blanche thinks she knows who's responsible, but proving it is another matter.


Based on the true unsolved murder of Jenny Bonnet and on real people and events of the time.



I really liked the story that Donoghue chose to tell here. She states in her "Afterword" that this is a complete work of fiction - she's not trying to solve a murder, just tell a story. But I thought that her story of who killed Jenny was both well-told and plausible, based on the story Donoghue chose to tell. I also feel that whether or not this is the way that it actually happened is irrelevant. Donoghue took statements from public record - Jenny's murder, her tendency to wear men's clothing, the fact that Blanche was with Jenny when she died, and Blanche's statement blaming her former lover for the murder are all on public record from the inquest into Jennie's death. The rest, as Donoghue herself notes, is a work of fiction, based on those facts on on other facts about the characters that she was able to dig up (such as Blanche's dancing and her relationship with Arthur.)


This was an era that I hadn't heard much about previously, so it was one that I enjoyed reading about. Between the end of the Gold Rush and the 1906 San Francisco earthquake that leveled the city, San Francisco was booming and had a high immigrant population. Most of this story takes place in Chinatown, specifically, so we get a good impression about American's racial attitudes toward both the Chinese and the French (the nationality of the main characters). I also had heard about both the smallpox epidemic and how the heatwave played into how easily it spread, but it was interesting to read from the point of view of characters in a novel, rather than from a history text. In addition, Donoghue didn't shy away from the seedier aspects of the city at the time - not only did she tell the story from the point of view of a burlesque dancer, giving the reader a view of that world, but we were also given a glimpse of two cringe-worthy practices at the time: Institutions for "Troubled Youths" and establishments that were known as "baby farms". 


Obviously, this was not an easy book to read at times. In addition to the sometimes troubling subject matter, there were very few likable characters in the story. The main character, Blanche, was actually pretty loathsome a lot of the time. Even Jenny, who was probably - by far - the most likable character and she had a few moments that really made me kind of hate her. [Jenny was a hard character to read, though, intentionally - the character of Jenny that we read in flashbacks keeps a lot of secrets, and when those secrets come out after her death, they do a lot to change the reader's impression of her, for better or worse.] I've read quite a few books lately with unlikable characters - [Why is that? I need to stop this trend.] - and I have to say this was one of the better ones, because while the characters were unlikable, at least they were interesting. 


This book wasn't perfect. Some parts were hard to get through - sometimes because of tough content, but sometimes because they were just slow - and the characters were mostly horrible people. But it was a well-written book and told an interesting story during an interesting time period that I don't get a chance to read much about - especially not from this particular ethnic point of view; most West Coast immigrant stories I've read take a Chinese main character. An interesting story, but you have to be willing to read about the seedy underbelly of the time, which isn't for everyone. 



Boston Comic Con 2015!

I spent most of Friday, Saturday, and Sunday at Comic Con in Boston, MA. This was my second year going, opting for a three-day pass each time. Definitely worth it. We didn't spend the entire day from open to close there any of the three days, but it was nice to be able to come and go as we pleased and not to have to worry about missing someone or something we wanted to see because we only had one day passes. 


Friday is the best day for just looking around at all the art and shops that are set up. Not a whole lot of guest panels on Friday - at least not until late in the day - and it's a lot less crowded than it is on Saturday, so we felt we could browse at a more leisurely pace. We found some awesome artwork to take home - not sure where we're going to hang it all yet, but at least some of it will get framed and go in my library. :) 


[I don't have pictures of all of the purchases I made, but I'll post a few of them tomorrow or later in the week.]


There wasn't really any media guest who I was dying to see this year, since Gillian Anderson had to back out due to scheduling conflicts (boo!), but we did go to Q&A panels for Thomas Jane (Punisher, Deep Blue Sea) and Cassandra Peterson (aka Elvira - the one and only), which were pretty interesting. We also went to the Q&A for the comic company IDW, creators of comics such as Transformers, G.I. Joe, and - most importantly - Locke & Key. (More on this in a moment.) Really enjoyed that panel. There were a few others I would have liked to have gone to - Marvel had a panel, Billie Piper of Doctor Who fame was there doing a panel, but those filled up quickly and I wasn't able to get passes to those.


The big thing for me this convention was the writers/artists. I got to meet Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti - creators of the Harley Quinn comics - and got them to sign some stuff for me:


1) Three pieces of wall art that I bought there and the book I brought, all signed by both of them.



2) The outside of the book, and a closer view of their signatures on the Coney Island picture.


I also got to meet the writer and artist responsible for my second favorite comic series ever, after Neil Gaiman's SandmanLocke & Key's Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez. Yes, that Joe Hill - writer of Horns, Heart-Shaped Box, and NOS4A2. Stephen King's son. (And yes, he looks like he is Stephen King's son, hehe.) I was a bit overwhelmed and tongue-tied when I met him, but he was actually a super-nice guy. (Both he and Rodriguez are awesomely nice people and signed each of the six volumes of Locke & Key I brought with me.) While Joe Hill was signing my books, he asked me if I was reading anything good right now, and I - of course - completely blanked out on what I was currently reading. Haha. My husband, who was standing next to me, quietly told me to take a deep breath, and I remembered that I was reading The Library at Mount Char, which is what I told Joe Hill, and he said that he had heard of it and it was on his radar to read, but he didn't know much about it, so he asked me how I was liking it and we chatted about that for a minute. (It's really good so far, btw, in case anyone is looking for a good weird fantasy book). Then my husband asked if he could get a picture of me with Joe Hill and he said "Sure! Come around the table!" so that I could get in between him and Gabriel Rodriguez for the picture. [The picture is on my husband's camera, but I will post it later.] Anyway, I'm star-struck. I love it when people I admire turn out to be really awesome people. I was almost worried to meet him, because I was afraid he wouldn't be nice, but it was seriously the best moment of the weekend for me. 


1) All 6 volumes of Locke & Key were signed by both Gabriel Rodriguez and Joe Hill



2) A close-up of the inside cover and signatures in Volume 6: Alpha & Omega, complete with a sketch by Joe Hill of the Alpha Key - also two key replicas that I bought from an artist that makes them and was there at the convention - I'm blanking on his name, but I have his card at home, so I will post it as soon as I get a chance! (Don't tell my husband, but I think collecting the keys might be my new - slightly expensive - hobby). The two here are the Shadow Key (my favorite of all the keys!) and the Echo Key.

Edit: Keys are made by Skelton Crew Studio.

They're awesome. 


3) The comic that my husband bought and got signed by Joe Hill - although who are we kidding, it's actually for me. :) [It's a comic based on Joe Hill's short story of the same name from 20th Century Ghosts.]



So that was my weekend! I'll post a few more pictures later. I didn't actually get many pictures of people there in costume, although it was so much fun seeing all the people who dressed up. [We didn't go in costume this year, although we might next year.] This is definitely going to be an annual event for us. The ultimate goal is - of course - San Diego, but from what I hear it's really hard to get in to the events, Q&A's and whatnot even if you do get a ticket to the Con, so I kind of like the more intimate nature of the Boston Con. It was a ton of fun, and I can't wait to go back next year. :)