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Monday, August 21, 2017

Mini College Review: A Cruel Bird Came to the Nest and Looked In by Magnus Mills



Title: A Cruel Bird Came to the Nest and Looked In
Author: Magnus Mills
Format: Hardcover, 276 pages
Pub. Date: September 2011
Source: Borrowed from professor


Book Description:



Far away, in the ancient empire of Greater Fallowfields, things are falling apart. The imperial orchestra is presided over by a conductor who has never played a note, the clocks are changed constantly to ensure that the sun always sets at five o' clock, and the Astronomer Royal is only able to use the observatory telescope when he can find a sixpence to put in its slot. But while the kingdom drifts, awaiting the return of the young emperor, who has gone abroad and communicates only by penny post, a sinister and unfamiliar enemy is getting closer and closer...A Cruel Bird Came to the Nest and Looked In is Magnus Mills's most ambitious work to date. A surreal portrait of a world that, although strange and distant, contains rather too many similarities to our own for the alien not to become brilliantly familiar and disturbingly close to home. It is comic writing at its best - and it is Magnus Mills's most ambitious, enjoyable and rewarding novel to date.





Review:


★★★★

This was a book that I had to read for my Modern British Fiction in college. I'd like to note that I have not read any other of Mills' books.

My review of it is going to be short and sweet, because I'm lacking words to describe this book. It's very unique stylistically. The plot has dark undertones but the tone is so light and nonchalant, it's a very odd mix. If a satire mated with a fairy tale and based it on the British, it would be this.

The writing is a lot of political and social commentary about Great Britain, as an American I'm sure some things went over my head. But there was a weird (in a good way) cast of characters that all circle around a ruler that is never actually in the book. It's amusing and confusing but makes you think and all and all I liked it but I can't exactly tell you why....

This is not a very helpful review, but, I say give it a go if you're thinking about reading it. It's worth it, especially if you enjoy your fantasy with large helpings of commentary.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Review: The Selection by Kiera Cass



Title: The Selection
Series: The Selection #1
Author: Kiera Cass
Format: paperback ARC, signed
Pub. Date: April 24th 2012
Source: Won


Book Description:



For thirty-five girls, the Selection is the chance of a lifetime. The opportunity to escape the life laid out for them since birth. To be swept up in a world of glittering gowns and priceless jewels. To live in a palace and compete for the heart of gorgeous Prince Maxon.

But for America Singer, being Selected is a nightmare. It means turning her back on her secret love with Aspen, who is a caste below her. Leaving her home to enter a fierce competition for a crown she doesn't want. Living in a palace that is constantly threatened by violent rebel attacks.

Then America meets Prince Maxon. Gradually, she starts to question all the plans she's made for herself—and realizes that the life she's always dreamed of may not compare to a future she never imagined.






Review:


★★★★★

This is one of the best books I've read in the last year.

I was admittedly afraid to read this one, because SO MANY bloggers were talking about it; good, bad or otherwise. Hype makes me nervous. But I had a copy on my shelf and the time had come, and I'm so mad at myself that I waited so long to get into this story. It sucked me in hook, line, and sinker, and immersed me into the story line.

The characters were well written and well described. They were written unique from one another, and it was easy to keep track of who is who, despite the large cast of characters. By the end of the story, I was emotionally tied to America, Maxon, and Aspen. I cared so hard about what happened, and was emotional along with them on the roller coaster that is The Selection competition. The relationships between characters- be it romance, family, or friendship (or hatred, even) are well developed and evolve over the course of the story in a way that helps the plot.

Genre-wise, this book is kind of a hodgepodge of a lot of different things, but it works so well. It's definitely a heavy dose of dystopian science fiction a la Hunger Games, where there is One Good Place To Live And Thing To Be and a bunch of lessers who don't matter as much to the nation/society/kingdom. Not to mention the Girl Who Ain't Having It. There's a bit of fairy tale to it, as the girls wear beautiful gowns and compete for the love of the fair prince of the land. There's a guilty pleasure reality show component, because The Selection is like teenage The Bachelor: So You Wanna Be A Princess Edition. Which sounds awful but I love me some reality shows (I will deny this) and it works well.

The world building is also really good. I felt like I knew everything that was happening, and I wasn't left with any info-dumping to fill me in on this society, nor was I left with a million questions. It was a nice balance of the author's world design and things left to my own imagination. The dresses, the food, the mansion, they're all so gloriously described that I want to be there to see it all (I mean but also not, because, dystopia).

I will 100% continue the rest of this story. I can't wait to continue America's journey as it unfolds. I recommend it to fans of YA romance and dystopian fiction, as long as having a few common tropes won't bug you.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Mini College Review: The Whipping Man by Samuel French



Title: The Whipping Man
Author: Samuel French
Format: Paperback, 84 pages
Pub. Date: November 3rd 2009
Source: SIU Bookstore


Book Description:



Drama / Characters: 3 male It is April, 1865. The Civil War is over and throughout the south, slaves are being freed, soldiers are returning home and in Jewish homes, the annual celebration of Passover is being celebrated. Into the chaos of war-torn Richmond comes Caleb DeLeon, a young Confederate officer who has been severely wounded. He finds his family's home in ruins and abandoned, save for two former slaves, Simon and John, who wait in the empty house for the family's return. As the three men wait for signs of life to return to the city, they wrestle with their shared past, the bitter irony of Jewish slave-owning and the reality of the new world in which they find themselves. The sun sets on the last night of Passover and Simon - having adopted the religion of his masters - prepares a humble Seder to observe the ancient celebration of the freeing of the Hebrew slaves from Egypt, noting with particular satisfaction the parallels to their current situation. But the pain of their enslavement will not be soothed by this tradition, and deep-buried secrets from the past refuse to be hidden forever as the play comes to its shocking climax. The Whipping Man is a play about redemption and forgiveness, about the lasting scars of slavery, and the responsibility that comes with freedom. "A mesmerizing drama." - Peter Filichia, Newark Star-Ledger "A cause for celebration. Mathew Lopez has come as close as any author could to producing a microcosm of the genesis of a wide range of today's Black American males." - Bob Rendell, Talkin' Broadway "I can see why director Lou Bellamy chose this play for Penumbra, whose most famous alumnus is playwright August Wilson. In its complex welter of issues, in its interior explorations...The Whipping Man is Wilsonian." - Rohan Preston, Minneapolis Star-Ledger "Succeeds with an uncanny maturity in using sharply drawn characters and rich metaphor to wrestle Wilson-like with epic American issues of race, religion, and responsibility. Someone must succeed Wilson; it might as well be Lopez" - Tim Gihring, Minnesota Monthly





Review:


★★★★★

I had to read "The Whipping Man" in my American literature course in college. It is the best piece of fiction that I got to read the whole semester.

This play is absolutely fantastic. I can honestly say that I've never read a story like this one.

The characters are a mix of Jewish home owners and slaves during the Civil War era. I can honestly say in all my years of education (and reading for fun) I've never read a story that weaves these two points of view together. But the incredible way that French has written this story, it seems like a common sense pairing. It works so well.

The characters are well developed. They're distinct, and they feel real. I had feelings toward them all. Not all of those feelings were positive, but I was emotionally invested in the way these characters developed and grew, the way their backgrounds are teased to the surface, the way each of them struggle and have faith in their own way.

It's rugged. It's gritty. It's real. It feels almost like you could be watching this unfold from through the window. There's a particularly gnarly leg amputation that is very well detailed, that sets the tone of dirt and blood and alcohol and grit that gives this play a distinct tone. That said, it's not all drama and heartbreak. It's rather comedic, which I did not anticipate even a little. I was pleasantly surprised, and it keeps you reading and connects you to particular characters.

It's a short play, but there's so much packed into these 90 pages.

I sincerely hope I get the chance to see this on stage. It's fantastic, and I can't recommend it enough.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Review: Little Fish by Ramsey Beyer



Title: Little Fish: A Memoir from a Different Kind of Year
Author: Ramsey Beyer
Format: Paperback, 236 pages
Pub. Date: September 3rd 2013
Source: Zest Books


Book Description:



Told through real-life journals, collages, lists, and drawings, this coming-of-age story illustrates the transformation of an 18-year-old girl from a small-town teenager into an independent city-dwelling college student. Written in an autobiographical style with beautiful artwork, Little Fish shows the challenges of being a young person facing the world on her own for the very first time and the unease—as well as excitement—that comes along with that challenge.





Review:


★★★

I wasn't sure what to expect going into Little Fish. It's a coming of age type memoir told in a graphic novel format. It's not something that I regret reading, but it's also not something that I'd read again either.

I appreciate the unique structure of this graphic novel. Ramsey uses a collection of old lists and blog posts in her comics to show some growth of where she's come from in life. I liked the lists aspect, because I'm a big list maker myself.

Overall though, this story was just kind of vanilla. It doesn't stand out to me as particularly interesting or eventful. I was expecting some intense drama maybe, or some huge change of life decisions but, it's a pretty tame recollection. Honestly, it seemed like I was reliving my own blog posts or my personal college experience. For some people, that's probably a good thing. It brings up fond memories, or is seen as relatable. For me, my college story is just me eating Arby's and hoping for snow days for four years. Not ultimately exciting, and I certainly don't think anyone else would care about my life at that point.

That's not to say that this book is bad, because it isn't. It tells a cohesive story, and the artwork is cute. But it's a pretty vaguely written story- there's not a lot of details or specifics about her classes, or her life, that made me connect with her.

Maybe teenagers or those ready to go to college would appreciate this book more than I did. It's not a bad book, but it's not something I'll keep to reread later.

I received a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Mini Review: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Parts 1 & 2 by John Tiffany & Jack Thorne



Title: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Parts 1 & 2
Series: Harry Potter #8
Authors: John Tiffany & Jack Thorne & JK Rowling
Format: Hardcover, Special Rehearsal Edition Script, 309 pages
Pub. Date: July 31st 2016
Source: Gift from my dad


Book Description:



The Eighth Story. Nineteen Years Later.

Based on an original new story by J.K. Rowling, Jack Thorne and John Tiffany, a new play by Jack Thorne, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is the eighth story in the Harry Potter series and the first official Harry Potter story to be presented on stage. The play will receive its world premiere in London’s West End on July 30, 2016.

It was always difficult being Harry Potter and it isn’t much easier now that he is an overworked employee of the Ministry of Magic, a husband and father of three school-age children.

While Harry grapples with a past that refuses to stay where it belongs, his youngest son Albus must struggle with the weight of a family legacy he never wanted. As past and present fuse ominously, both father and son learn the uncomfortable truth: sometimes, darkness comes from unexpected places.






Review:


★★★★

This review is going to be short and sweet and spoiler free. People seem to either think this is the best thing ever or something to be set on fire, and quite frankly, I'm just not that passionate about it either way.

I enjoyed reading this addition to the series. I went in with low expectations because there's so many reviews- both fan and media- that ripped it apart. It put me off from reading it until after the hype died down, but eventually I gave into it.

Maybe it's because I went into it expecting a big change in tone or writing style, but it didn't bother me. I felt particularly victorious when a plot twist I called when the original series came out ends up happening in this story. I liked some of the new characters, and some of the original characters who are now all grown up.

I got a little tired up doing the time warp after awhile, and admittedly that did take me out of the story a bit.

Regardless, I'm glad I read it and I intend to see it on stage when it comes to the US.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Review: American MaleWhore in Tokyo by Rowen Boozewell



Title: American MaleWhore in Tokyo
Author: Rowen Boozewell
Format: Paperback, Fun Fact Edition, 372 pages
Pub. Date: February 14th 2014
Source: Author


Book Description:



American MaleWhore in Tokyo tells the tale of a loveable (alright, likeable (alright, tolerable)) douchebag who moves to Tokyo to become a host and live out the modern day male American dream. It’s an explicit and groin-grabbingly entertaining story that sheds light on a little known world where fun-loving, good-hearted people can often inflict heart-wrenching, irreparable damage. A ribald study in relationships, relations, and laughter.

This is the Fun Fact edition, and as such it contains a mind-blowing and/or crassy fun fact by the main character, John Box, at the end of each chapter. The addition of fun facts is the only difference between the versions.

WARNING: This book is intended for mature audiences. Well, maybe not “mature” audiences, it’s more for immature audiences. People who laugh at the word poop, but who have somehow managed to learn to read, and are admitted into R-rated movies. But I guess it’s also for mature audiences looking for a break from books that deal mainly in descriptions of the smell of colors, the sound of light, and the feel of words, and other such poppycock.

For Fake Praise and other info, please visit: https://www.createspace.com/4644781






Review:


★★★★

This book is well outside my normal wheelhouse of books. I do love Japan, and I like to laugh, so I decided to give this one a go. That said, I am so glad that I got a chance to read this, because it's fucking funny.

It follows the saga of Piston Honda, a douchebag who works at a Japanese host club. It's full of clubs and sex and debauchery and Japan and it's one beautiful disaster of hilarity.

I don't understand why "Piston Honda" aka John Box is so likable, but he is. Picture that one rock star that you're a little bit in love with. Even though he bangs everything, and has a coke problem, and is always in the tabloids. The one who you'd still chill with and who cracks that smile and you overlook all the manwhoring tomfoolery (how old AM I that I use that word?). That's similar to how I feel about this guy. He's a douchebag, but in the lovable kind of way. The guy who tells you the best stories at the bar that you wonder how he's still alive.

It's also pretty educational about Japan, from a perspective that you don't normally hear about, which was pretty cool. Life over there isn't all Hello Kitty and hentai like the internet suggests, yanno? Still want to visit, but with all sorts of new information in mind.

This book is definitely a "guy" book. Not that women can't enjoy it, blah blah blah. But if you don't find dick jokes, poop, or sex entertaining or funny.... This is gonna be your personal hell, buddy. If that's right up your alley, or if you like Japan, or if you love a good asshole rogue as a main character, or if you are just looking to laugh, this is a great book to fill the void.

The author was awesome enough to send me a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review with no shenanigans.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Review: The Beauty and the Beast by Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve



Title: The Beauty and the Beast
Author: Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve
Illustrator: Mina Lima
Translator: James Robinson Planché
Format: Hardcover, Illustrated with interactive elements, 208 pages
Pub. Date: January 31st 2017
Source: Mother in Law, Valentine's Day Gift


Book Description:



MinaLima, the award-winning design studio behind the graphics for the Harry Potter film franchise and the creators of the illustrated Jungle Book and Peter Pan, reimagine the beloved French fairy tale The Beauty and the Beast in this deluxe unabridged edition illustrated with stunning full-color artwork and nine 3-D interactive features—published to coincide with the release of the blockbuster Disney live-action musical film starring Emma Watson, Ian McKellen, Josh Gad, Ewan McGregor, and Emma Thompson.
Generations of readers have been bewitched by the epic love story of a beautiful young girl imprisoned in the magical castle of a monstrous beast. Now, the classic fairy tale is brought to life in this spectacular illustrated edition as originally envisioned by Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve in 1740.






Review:


★★★

Honestly, I wasn't familiar with the original story of Beauty and the Beast. Like most other people, I'm familiar with the animated Disney version, and now the 2017 live-action rendition of it also by Disney. I was really excited to read this when I got it as a Valentine's Day gift from my mother-in-law. I appreciate her thinking of me, because she knows it's my favorite of the princess films.

The physical book itself is stunning. The cover is very striking and classically designed. It comes in sealed clear plastic, so that the hidden elements in it stay in tact. The illustrations are beautiful, and go along with the text perfectly. I love that there are interactive components to this. Almost like a pop-up book, but for an older demographic. You can open the wardrobe, look at maps, and other neat little additions to the story. It's a beautiful look that I intend to keep on my shelves.

The actual story, however, is less of a victory to me. I understand that it was written centuries ago, and that it's been translated into English. But with that being said it was just kind of... Well, boring. It's long. It's tediously written. It's dry. I imagine this is how most high schoolers feel when they get assigned Shakespeare for summer reading. You know, the trope on sitcoms where "when will I ever use Shakespeare?!" comes up? Similar feel.

The story itself isn't bad, though it's very different from the version that most people know. Beauty has sisters, for example. And there's no Gaston character. But she's also just kind of there. Not particularly interesting, and it was a struggle to work up enough "care" to get through the story.

I think it's worth reading once, for comparative reasons. But I don't anticipate reading it again, unless maybe in French to brush up on my language skills.