I was so looking forward to reading this book since I'd first seen the cover and blurb on Edelweiss all those months ago. The cover looks quirky and f...moreI was so looking forward to reading this book since I'd first seen the cover and blurb on Edelweiss all those months ago. The cover looks quirky and fun, and just like DiDonato says at the beginning of the blurb, I really wanted to know firsthand what it's like to live with dwarfism. Sadly, the book just didn't deliver on any of those counts. Instead, this is one woman's story about her own life up until her very early thirties. Still, it could have been compelling, except that I just did not care about Tiffanie DiDonato.
I actually came to actively dislike Tiffanie. If I hadn't been rushing to finish my yearly reading challenge, I probably would have abandoned this book. Tiffanie comes across as a childish, self-aggrandizing, spoiled brat who happens to have been born with a serious medical condition that made simple things, like brushing her own hair, impossible. Tiffanie was fortunate enough to have had the opportunity to stretch (get it!?) the limits of the newest medical innovations for limb lengthening that were available to her in her childhood and teen years. Tiffanie got blowback from some of the dwarf community for her drastic body modification, but can you blame her for wanting to be self-sufficient? I can't.
What I can blame Tiffanie for is how she never mentions in this book the monetary costs of her operations. These are procedures that can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. I see two probable ways these were paid for: a) her parents, b) her insurance. If it was by her parents, then she does not even come close to giving them the huge thanks they deserve for what would be a huge sacrifice. Her parents come across as well-meaning and indulgent, but in their concern for her I think she became very spoiled. At one point, she gets into what she calls a "fender bender" on her drive back to college. When her sorority sister suggests she get her car fixed soon, she laughs it off and has her parents just buy her a new BMW Z3. Yes, seriously. Her sweet sixteen involves a limo ride to a fancy restaurant, as well as other flippantly offered shows that money is clearly not much of a concern of hers. Scenario b, the insurance, would mean that the cost of her surgery, surgery that many doctors would not have been willing to do, was passed on to the other insurance subscribers, raising the rates for everyone. But I'm sure Tiffanie deserves it.
Another reason she was so detestable? When ONE teacher mentioned her dwarfism, her parents tried to get that teacher fired. When that didn't work, Tiffanie set out with the internet to try to bring the teacher down with a computer virus, and spread her phone number around for awful phone calls. She never seems sorry for any of this, but is gleeful. Time to get over it, "Tiffie."
I gagged at the end when I came to the description of her fairytale wedding, complete with real trees her parents decorated at her insistence of it looking like an enchanted forest.
Yes, this book was a quick read, and I'm really glad for that, because I wouldn't want to spend another moment with Tiffanie.(less)
I admit it. I picked up this book because I really liked the title. At first, it didn't wow me. I felt like Sloan was just trying too hard to be hip....moreI admit it. I picked up this book because I really liked the title. At first, it didn't wow me. I felt like Sloan was just trying too hard to be hip. While I never shook that feeling entirely, I did grow to enjoy Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore as I read it, probably because I'm a book geek. For example, the early printer Aldus Manutius plays a big role in the plot. I'm the book geek who actually knew who he was, and what his printer's device looks like, before I picked this up. Apparently, I'm the target demographic for this story.
At the heart of the plot is the question of the meaning of technology in our shared cultural legacy. Or, how do print books and their history have any meaning in an age where pages can be quickly scanned, OCR-ed (Optical Character Recognition), and the individual characters themselves spit back out as a visualized data? When all of our information is scanned, stored, manipulated, what are we left with? And why have print books at all? Sloan uses the plot to tease and prod these questions, and while you won't get any answers, I walked away feeling like digital technology and rare texts can happily coexist and compliment each other. That is, I walked away with the same opinion I walked in with.
There are some quirky, cool characters. Strike that -- all of the characters are quirky and cool. This book is hipster heaven. There's the guy who works at Industrial Light and Magic. The best friend gamer geek who owns a software company. The girlfriend who works at Google and wears the same shirt everyday. With each new character, there was a new person to either embrace or roll your eyes at. I decided to go with it and embrace rather than scoff.
Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore won't be for everyone, but this is recommended for those who like geekiness spread on thick, who have more books than friends, who enjoy biblio-mysteries, and who believe that books can hold the secret to immortality.
P.S. Apparently the cover glows in the dark. Sadly, I didn't discover this until I'd returned it to the library, otherwise I'd have had a rad bedtime experience.(less)
A few days ago, I had to put my cat to sleep. She meant a lot to me, and after it was done I couldn’t help but think about that instant where she was...moreA few days ago, I had to put my cat to sleep. She meant a lot to me, and after it was done I couldn’t help but think about that instant where she was a breathing, sentient lady, and the next, when she was just a shell of organic compounds, laying there with eyes that no longer could see. It’s so hard to wrap my head around the death of another, but in Mortality, Hitchens takes it a step further by mediating at length on his own impending end, due to stage four esophageal cancer. Not that I can really compare the death of my cat with the death of Christopher Hitchens, but reading this book right now seemed appropriate.
This is a very short book, but with a subject as dark and universal as our own mortality, I don’t think it is necessary to linger longer. If we focus only on our impending deaths, we forget to enjoy our current lives. However, I do think it is important to approach the subject from time to time because a) death comes for us all and better to know your enemy, and b) it makes living that much more valuable to know that someday it will be taken from us. Hitchens’ voice in this is clear as a bell, until the last chapter, which remained unfinished and fragmentary due to his death. And as much as he knew he was going to die, reading this makes me wonder if he ever truly could wrap his mind around it until the final moment.
As grim as it was, reading Mortality actually helped. Hitchens brings forth the irony and humor of the horrors he went through, and even though he no longer believed that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, the strength of his final writings show that he continued to live, even while dying.(less)
I'm pretty sure Eleanor & Park is the first 2013 title I've read, and if it's any indication of the future, next year's crop of books is going to...moreI'm pretty sure Eleanor & Park is the first 2013 title I've read, and if it's any indication of the future, next year's crop of books is going to be strong. This book really got under my skin, and I never wanted to put it down. Sick of insta-love in your YA novels? Try this one. It isn't love at first sight, but a true friendship and attraction that grows in drips and drabs over time. The two protagonists are made to sit next to one another on the school bus, at first reluctantly. Over time, though, they see that they have much more in common than they thought, but they also compliment each other in ways. Where Park is embarrassed by being seen as not cool, Eleanor couldn't care less. Park comes from a good home and provides a haven for Eleanor to get away from her abusive step-father.
I got the same feeling of the rush of young love while reading this that I did when I read Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist. They're by no means the same story, but the sweetness of the blossoming of teen romance rings true in both, and it's exhilarating. There's also the sad reality of Eleanor's home life, though, to temper the happiness of the novel. She has real darkness in her life, which adds high stakes to the book, making it more than a love story.
With well-developed characters and a romance that rings true, I think audiences are going to love this book. I know I did.(less)
I was mesmerized by The Devil in Silver. It isn't just that the story is good (it is), or that the characters are fascinating (they are). It's that La...moreI was mesmerized by The Devil in Silver. It isn't just that the story is good (it is), or that the characters are fascinating (they are). It's that LaValle writes with energy, humor, and love, and as a result, his prose pops. I had a great time reading this story, and (at the risk of sounding totally crazy) wanted to tell everybody about it. I'm now a fan of LaValle and want to read everything else he's written. The book was that good.
This is the story about a man named Pepper who is locked up in 72 hour observation at a psychiatric ward when the cops he assaults don't want to bother to do the paperwork to put him in proper lockup. The problem is that even though Pepper isn't insane, the drugs they distribute across the board take all of the fight and awareness out of him. Pretty soon, Pepper's a walking zombie, and after a while it starts to feel like he really belongs there, when of course he does not.
Pepper makes friends in the ward, but he also learns of the ward's deep, dark secret. There is a patient who roams the halls at night, murdering other patients. Oddly enough, this nightly terror has the body of an old man and the head of a bison. Pepper decides that it's the devil. The patients are tired of living in fear, and seem to have been waiting for a person with Pepper's strength to help them stop the devil, once and for all.
The devil isn't the scary part of this story, though. It's the incredible incompetence and neglect on the part of the healthcare providers, most of whom are outwardly hostile toward the patients. It's the realization that this is a kind of Hotel California, in that once you fall into the system, it's pretty much impossible to get out. Even so, there are moments of joy and hope in these pages, resulting in a wonderfully complex novel.(less)
Your House is on Fire, Your Children All Gone is a strange little book. There is something very off about the town of Hemmersmoor, Germany. The commun...moreYour House is on Fire, Your Children All Gone is a strange little book. There is something very off about the town of Hemmersmoor, Germany. The community is small, insular. Neighboring towns avoid mixing with the Hemmersmoor folk, whispering that they are inbred and strange. Each chapter of this book tells a grim story from Hemmersmoor, told from the points-of-view of four children as they come of age.
There’s something really unsettling about the very dry way Kiesbye narrates each story. You are lured into thinking that the events are mundane, until something shocking happens. However, horrific events are told with the same quiet, flat tone as the rest of the tale, which I think can be a difficult skill to pull off in horror, but can also be very effective. We are shown a woman who is killed by a crowd of people, there is suggestion of cannibalism and inbreeding, and also infanticide. If you’re sensitive to that stuff, this won’t be the book for you. However, this is a great book for those who want a Teutonic read that gets under your skin and leaves you asking why. Very appropriate for this Halloween season.(less)
I grew up loving fairy tales, especially those by the Brothers Grimm. I had them narrated on records, and I’d sit or lay on the carpet and just listen...moreI grew up loving fairy tales, especially those by the Brothers Grimm. I had them narrated on records, and I’d sit or lay on the carpet and just listen and let my imagination take me away. I took the stories at face value, and never questioned how odd they are, or why things happen in them the way they do. It was just how it was.
Now, as an adult, it’s wonderful to be able to get reacquainted with the stories, and to read some I’d never heard of before. In this new translation and version, Philip Pullman has selected 50 of the stories and presents them once again. He doesn’t embellish much, but tries to find the best version of each tale from the many editions the Grimm brothers published. At the end of each story, Pullman gives bibliographical references for similar stories that appear in sources like Mother Goose, Italo Calvino, and the Arabian Nights, among others. When available, Pullman also tells us where the brothers first heard the tale, and from whom. It’s a fantastic starting point for those looking for references to related sources.
As straightforward as the stories are, Pullman still gives us his own thoughts about them at the end, and choices he would make if he were to change them. For example, in his version of Rapunzel he has Rapunzel complain of her clothes being too tight, revealing to the witch that she is pregnant, rather than the alternative of Rapunzel stupidly asking the witch why she is heavier to pull up than the prince. Pullman argues that his way keeps Rapunzel completely innocent and worthy of her eventual redemption. Pullman also wrote a fantastic introduction to the volume, giving intelligent analysis of why and how fairy tales work.
This is a beautiful book of well-loved stories, and Pullman’s own writing makes it worthwhile to anyone who is interested in folklore, storytelling, and the sources of our common narrative standards.(less)
I may be a weirdo, but I love reading about murder and true crime. Maybe because part of me says, “This could never happen to me,” but then a small vo...moreI may be a weirdo, but I love reading about murder and true crime. Maybe because part of me says, “This could never happen to me,” but then a small voice says, “Oh, but it could!” And the tiny bit of fear makes me want to know more, because the scariest thing is not knowing and not being prepared for the worst that life (and death) can throw your way. It might seem sometimes like vicious murders and serial killers are a product of our modern society, but Schechter shows that this worst of criminal acts has been at work since the earliest days of the American republic, and that as long as there have been murders there has been an audience clamoring to know more.
It would have been easy to give a rehash of the major historical murder cases that influenced our country, like the Lizzie Borden murders, or Harry Thaw’s shooting of Stanford White. However, Schechter has done his research and presents a book full of the murder cases that were huge in their days, but are now largely forgotten. Most were lauded in their time as being the crime of the century, although they’ve now dropped out of our collective conscience. Schechter also demonstrates how the crimes that best grabbed their audiences seemed to echo the fears of the age, much as terrorist attacks do for us now, or Manson did for the hippie culture fearing public in the late 60s.
What I loved about this book was the level of research that was done, and how well each chapter is presented. Schechter ties the crimes to other better known crimes, and situates each story in time. He also shares many of the murder ballads that were written to describe the crime for the general public, gives images of contemporary broadsides of the murderers, and speaks a bit about “murderabilia,” where people would collect items attached to the crime, often destroying crime scene evidence in an effort to take home a piece of the action.
Psycho USA is surprisingly readable and fascinating, working on both true crime and historical levels. Fans of the true crime genre will definitely want to pick this one up.(less)
I was astounded by the level of truth and emotion that are in every page of Big Ray. Told in small recollections following the death of his father, a...moreI was astounded by the level of truth and emotion that are in every page of Big Ray. Told in small recollections following the death of his father, a man gives the story of their relationship and the kind of man his father was. There’s as much heavy meaning in what’s not said as in what is, but it all feels very naturalistic, as if you’re speaking to a friend who is feigning to casually tell you about his father’s death, but is truly working through the complex emotions of anger, relief, grief, and even love.
Make no mistake, Big Ray was a terrible man who did terrible things. He was physically, mentally, and emotionally abusive to his family. He was mean. He was uneducated, and ate to the degree that he grew to be over 500 lbs. The narrator questions what it was that killed his father: diabetes, sleep apnea, clogged arteries, heart attack, high cholesterol, high blood pressure…the list goes on. But health problems like these are to be expected when you are that obese. Big Ray was larger than life, literally and figuratively. Now that he’s gone, his son is stuck with the mixed emotions of missing his father, feeling guilty that he didn’t immediately know he had died, anger at all his dad had done over the years, and ultimately the relief of having him out of his life.
The first lines of the book reminded me of Camus’s famous first lines to The Stranger, but there are deep, powerful emotions at work in this book, and as much as our narrator would like to present himself as possessing stoicism, he is no Meursault. Big Ray will be very difficult for some to read, and there is some very explicit content, so sensitive readers should be warned. I think this book will especially affect anybody who has ever wished for their parents to be dead, but not really, who ever both feared and loved somebody in their life, and anybody who knows that families are not ideal entities but complex and often painful.(less)
I was so happy that Paper Valentine wasn't just another pretty face (cover). Yes, the cover art is gorgeous, but I also found the story and characters...moreI was so happy that Paper Valentine wasn't just another pretty face (cover). Yes, the cover art is gorgeous, but I also found the story and characters contained within to be equally as enticing. There are multiple themes and storylines happening at once, offering readers a complex, but never over-complicated, story centered around the depressed and lonely Hannah.
Hannah isn't like other girls. Her best friend, Lillian, has recently died of complications of anorexia. That doesn't mean that she's gone, though. Lillian hovers around Hannah, both comforting and tormenting her. At times, Hannah just wants Lillian to leave. At others, she can't imagine life without her constant presence. Hannah's also struggling with her attraction to bad boy Finny Boone, a large, tough looking classmate missing a finger, who turns out to be surprisingly tender.
At the heart of this story, though, are murders. Yes, this is a murder mystery. Young girls are turning up dead in their town. Since the shop where Hannah works processes the crime-lab photograph, Hannah sees that the murders have a pattern of knickknacks and paper valentines left with the bodies. And I totally didn't guess who the killer was.
What I love about this book is that Yovanoff isn't afraid of letting things get creepy. There's an awesome Ouija board scene, and Hannah begins to descend down into her own dark psyche in order to help solve the murders.
Paper Valentine's a must-read for fans of young adult darkness and mystery. The insight into Lillian's anorexia and the dynamics of the mean-girl clique, as well as how people treat Finny Boone, will get your interest, but the murders will spurn you to keep reading to the dark end.(less)
Break My Heart 1,000 Times is an odd kind of book. It’s a murder mystery, except that we know who the murderer is from the beginning. It takes place i...moreBreak My Heart 1,000 Times is an odd kind of book. It’s a murder mystery, except that we know who the murderer is from the beginning. It takes place in a time like our own, except that some mysterious “Event” happened that both killed people and made it so that everybody can see ghosts. The title is Break My Heart 1,000 Times, but that was only a phrase a secondary character says, and doesn’t quite characterize the story well enough for me. It’s a race-against-the-clock plot, but there isn’t actually much racing. All that said, the story moves along well and kept me intrigued and wanting to read on.
My main issue with this book, though, was that even though I kept reading on, the story never fully satisfied my curiosity about the world it takes place in. The whole business of the “Event” is very vague, and I would have loved for Waters to have followed that thread a bit more. The ghosts are also intriguing, since they don’t all follow the same pattern of residual haunting v. sentient haunting. Some ghosts can move on their own free will, while others are just recordings that play over and over like clockwork. Theories about the ghosts are put forth by characters, but I longed for more. I think the creative world-building took too much of a backseat to the romance and the serial killer themes of the book.
,i>Break My Heart 1,000 Times is a lot of fun to read, but will leave you wanting in the end. I love Waters’ creativity in his setting, though, and I think it’s worth reading if just for that.(less)
The Dog Stars is a literary look at a post-apocalyptic world, along the lines of The Road. However, The Dog Stars has a much brighter outlook and is a...moreThe Dog Stars is a literary look at a post-apocalyptic world, along the lines of The Road. However, The Dog Stars has a much brighter outlook and is a much more hopeful look at man’s ability to survive, not only physically, but emotionally and spiritually as well, in a world that has fallen apart.
I initially had a hard time getting into the story. I think there were two reasons: Heller’s writing is rather poetic, lacking much of the punctuation and structure I prefer in prose. I had to adjust to the rhythm and pacing of his language. The other reason is connected to the first: I began by reading a digital galley and the formatting was confusing. Normally I don’t have an issue with this, but Heller’s writing depends on things like line breaks and page layout to make sense. When those aspects are absent from the form, it is really hard to tell who is speaking or what is going on. I switched to a paper ARC (thank goodness I had it in both formats), and found it much easier to read after that. I have not seen a finished digital copy of this book, but readers might want to see if they can sample it on their ereaders before purchasing, in case the formatting wasn’t entirely fixed.
The plot of The Dog Stars was fine, but didn’t impress me much. I might just be too burned out on these kinds of stories. There’s something in the current zeitgeist that has resulted in a flood of post-apocalyptic tales, and it can take a bit to distinguish one from another for me. When the real end comes, I expect I’ll be thoroughly bored by it.
I was quite bored with the first part of this book as well. It takes its time setting up the characters and the world, and combined with the stream-of-consciousness narration, it was plodding at times. More happens later in the book, which managed to keep me engaged so I didn’t abandon my reading. The main character, Hig, has a really touching love for his dog, and keeps himself sane by flying his plane. Much of what he doesn’t isn’t so much for survival as it is to keep life worth living for him. A lot of the plot is very internal early on, and didn’t seem to pick up until there were more actual events and some danger to spice up the story.
I expect that there will be many fans of this book, but I’m left feeling a bit lukewarm. There are some lovely passages, and it’s nice to think that the death of most of humanity can leave a man feeling so spiritually connected, even in the face of cannibalism and destruction. However, the difficulty I had relating to the writing early on really colored my overall opinion of the novel.(less)