Dilbert has really grown on me. When I was younger, it was one of those comics I'd always skip in the paper. Since I've started working for real, thou...moreDilbert has really grown on me. When I was younger, it was one of those comics I'd always skip in the paper. Since I've started working for real, though, it just gets funnier and funnier. Adams is great at exposing the stupidity behind much of corporate administration, the idiotic way that incompetence seems to be rewarded so good workers have no motivation to do their best. My favorite moment: showing how every worker has to have a workplace nemesis. Yup. (less)
This is a really nice volume to showcase the work of some great cartoonists. Each has their own style, and since fairy tales are a pretty universal ye...moreThis is a really nice volume to showcase the work of some great cartoonists. Each has their own style, and since fairy tales are a pretty universal yet plain bit of source material, each cartoonist is able to express their style easily. It makes me want to choose my favorites and seek out more of their work to see what they do with a story of their own. Another nice point about this book is that they don't limit themselves to the Brothers Grimm, although there's plenty of that. Fairy tales are represented from a variety of cultures.(less)
I don't often read memoirs, although I'd like to read more. This one seemed interesting to me because I had an idea of what Bacharach must be like, af...moreI don't often read memoirs, although I'd like to read more. This one seemed interesting to me because I had an idea of what Bacharach must be like, after listening to his music for so long. I was totally wrong. Bacharach's voice comes through loud and clear, and I didn't always like what I heard. Memoirs are largely dependent on the person they're representing, and early on I didn't think I'd like this book. The reason was Bacharach's callous talk about women in general, as well as the women that were in his life. He came across as a womanizer and a cad. I hated whenever he called a woman a "dog" to indicate that he thought she was ugly, or how he casually talked about cheating on his wives and girlfriends.
At a point, though, the book transitioned to be less about his romantic escapades and more about his music, which is where I got sucked in. It details how he was the pianist, arranger, and conductor for Marlene Dietrich, and traveled the globe touring with her.
I loved reading about how he met and began working with Dionne Warwick, who became famous singing the songs written by Bacharach and his songwriting partner Hal David. She had the perfect voice for these songs, and really made them iconic. Too bad Bacharach, Warwick, and David all fell out of favor with each other and embarked in a circle of lawsuits. They made up later, but missed out on a lot of potential years of more hits.
Even better were the songs that I didn't realize Bacharach wrote. For example, Baby It's You, which was recorded by The Beatles. I also didn't connect him with That's What Friends Are For or Neil Diamond's Heartlight, both songs that were the foundation of the soundtrack of my earliest years (I was born in the early '80s).
It was great reading about the instrumentation Bacharach would use in the studio, like five (count 'em, FIVE) pianos playing on the recording of Tom Jones doing What's New Pussycat?, or the amount of takes he would make the musicians do to get the perfect take. He'd have them do it over and over again, but when Herb Alpert recorded This Guy's In Love, Alpert insisted that they didn't need anymore takes because the first take was perfect, and it turns out it was. He also talks a lot about how musicians were irritated by his use of complex meters and time signatures in his music, but he wrote the song that wanted to be written without forcing it into 4/4 time. This comes across when you listen, because with the exception of songs like Promises, Promises, the melody flows so gently that the transitions in time signatures is hard to detect by most ears, which is a real testament to Bacharach's songwriting.
I also had fun reading about the writing of Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head, because it was my favorite song in the whole world when I was a kid. Really.
While I wasn't in love with Bacharach (he loves himself enough already), I am still in love with his music. I enjoyed getting insight into this aspect of music history, and am glad Bacharach's still with us. He talks about future projects, and you have to admire a guy who is still working so hard in his mid-80s. This is worth the read if you love the songs.(less)
Get Fuzzy has become my favorite comic. The characters are wacky, the dialog is clever, and the drawings are fun. A slightly more messed up version of...moreGet Fuzzy has become my favorite comic. The characters are wacky, the dialog is clever, and the drawings are fun. A slightly more messed up version of Garfield, I've had a one-a-day calendar of Get Fuzzy every year since 2007 (except last year, when my boyfriend didn't get the memo that he was supposed to buy it for me for Christmas). This latest installment is everything I love about Get Fuzzy, and I'll probably buy it to add to my collection. The only downside is that a lot of it is the same as this year's one-a-day calendar. The upside is that it's still funny, no matter how many times I read it. I just love this. (less)
It took me a while to read Kraus's previous book, Rotters, but I was blown away by it when I finally did. I knew I had to read Scowler as soon as I co...moreIt took me a while to read Kraus's previous book, Rotters, but I was blown away by it when I finally did. I knew I had to read Scowler as soon as I could get my hands on it, and it did not disappoint. In both books, Kraus writes about the darkest places in an adolescent boy's soul. Even though Rotters is about a couple of graverobbers, I found Scowler to be even more intense and raw. There are no corpses here (okay, there are, but they're fresh), but the mounting tension of a terrifying father returning to seek revenge on his family after he breaks out of prison is only intensified by the madness brought on by the crashing of a radioactive meteoroid.
I found it fascinating to see the parallels in these two books. Both feature a father and son, estranged from one another. The son wants to distance himself from the horrible thing the father is, but must eventually embrace it, leading him into madness, in order to ultimately overcome that part of himself. In Scowler, as a child Ry saved his mother from his abusive father. The level of abuse will turn your stomach, so if you can't handle horrific domestic abuse, I'd stay away from this one and read Gossip Girl or something instead.
When Ry saved his mother, he had three of his toys with him during a night in the woods with his father in an unending pursuit: Mr. Furrington, a stuffed bear, Jesus, a bendy Christ figurine, and Scowler, a disturbing piece of folk art that would strike fear in any heart. Even with his father in jail for years, Ry never quite recovered from that night. When they find out that his father has escaped and is gunning for them, Ry must once again rely on the "unnamed three" to help him harness his own emotions in order to fight his father.
One interesting aspect of this book was the descent into madness by the two main male characters, while the women really hold it together. Ry's mother is able to hold her own against the man who nearly destroyed her, and is also able to stand up to her son when he's completely losing his marbles. She stays cool and collected during the worst of ordeals, and is an incredibly strong character. Likewise, Ry's little sister has her own moments of heroic greatness, and despite being ill, manages to play an important role in the family's struggle for survival.
I barely even mentioned the meteoroid, but that plays a huge role too. This book has a lot of thematic depth and incredibly well-drawn characters. It's also quite terrifying. Over and over, I was reminded of The Shining while reading this, which is high praise. I think readers with the stomach for the darkest spaces of the human psyche will love Scowler. I can't wait to see what nightmare Kraus dreams up next.(less)
I had mixed feelings about The Flame in the Mist. It opens with a family conjuring up nasty things in tribute to a dark god as part of a weekly family...moreI had mixed feelings about The Flame in the Mist. It opens with a family conjuring up nasty things in tribute to a dark god as part of a weekly family ritual. However, daughter Jemma can't create anything dark, and doesn't fit in with the rest of her family. It turns out that she isn't really supposed to be there, and that they have evil intentions for her. Together with her rat friends, she battles to escape the castle and the enchanted mist that surrounds the area. Of course, there is a prophecy about her that everybody else seems to know about.
There were a lot of elements I loved about this book. There are creepy child ghosts around the castle and in the mist, and the secondary characters were really enjoyable, especially the rats. A few of the secondary characters were also surprisingly complex, being a mix of both good and bad. I like the mythology behind the story.
Things I didn't enjoy as much: at times, the story dragged for me and I had a hard time staying engaged. There's a long time of travel and wandering, and although things happen during Jemma's travels, those are some of my least favorite kinds of plots. It made the book seem overly long, since it clocks in at well over 400 pages. There are also many fantasy cliches sprinkled throughout, so it sometimes felt like I was reading a book I'd read before.
Still, it's refreshing whenever I can read a fairly good, solidly fantasy young adult novel without it being an urban fantasy or Twilight ripoff. With a strong ending, The Flame in the Mist won me over at the end.(less)
I sometimes fantasize about what it would have been like to have gone to a fancy boarding school instead of my boring public school. That’s probably w...moreI sometimes fantasize about what it would have been like to have gone to a fancy boarding school instead of my boring public school. That’s probably why there are so many books published lately that take place in boarding schools, aside from conveniently allowing teens to live without their parents for a more exciting plot. These books often make the boarding school experience seem romantic, a place where magic can happen (literally or figuratively). Escape Theory takes place in a boarding school, but presents the dark underbelly of what can happen on a campus filled with entitled, wealthy teens.
The main character, Devon, wants to be a psychiatrist, so she becomes part of a program as the first trained student counselor on campus, ready to do some peer-to-peer counseling. The timing couldn’t be better, since one of the most popular students, Hutch, has just committed suicide via an overdose of Oxycontin. This operates as a way for Devon to interview the students closest to Hutch, slowly revealing to readers that there’s something much more sinister at play here. Devon has her own history with Hutch that the school is unaware of, so she becomes personally involved and won’t let go of the idea that it was actually foul play.
I found myself becoming pleasantly pulled into the mystery at the center of the story. Froley deals with the illicit prescription drug culture on the school campus, and it made me happy that it wasn’t common to take Adderall to study when I was in school. This was a really enjoyable crime novel, but I’m confused by the set up at the end for a possible sequel or series, as well as the “A Keaton School Novel” logo on the cover. I think it works well enough as a one-off and self-contained mystery, so I hope the publisher and author can recognize when it might be best to leave well-enough alone.(less)
Forensic science has been cool for years now. From CSI to Dexter, being able to solve crimes based on the small details and evidence at the scene is a...moreForensic science has been cool for years now. From CSI to Dexter, being able to solve crimes based on the small details and evidence at the scene is a subject of fascination for many people. Bones Never Lie caters to younger fans of forensic science, as well as those who are interested in some of history’s mysteries. There are plenty of illustrations, and the extra bibliographic information will be helpful for any kids that are really into the mysteries and want to delve further.
I actually learned some things from this book. I’d never heard of the mystery behind the King of Thailand, Ananda Mahidol. Three were executed for his death, but it is possible that they were merely scapegoats. Also interesting was the DNA testing of a mummified heart said to have belonged to Louis XVII of France. King Tut, the Man in the Iron Mask, and Anastasia are all also under consideration.
While these case studies are good for showcasing investigative methodology, often the cases are too old for any sort of real conclusion to be reached. I found this to be disappointing, but I’m not sure if young readers will also be disappointed or will merely be excited at the mystery of it all. I think this book serves as a nice introduction for the curious, but they’ll be left wanting more.(less)
Sometimes you read a book, and then want to read another like it. I felt this way with Harry Potter and with The Hunger Games. Which is why there’s a...moreSometimes you read a book, and then want to read another like it. I felt this way with Harry Potter and with The Hunger Games. Which is why there’s a big market for readalikes. You know, books that have nearly the same plot, with nearly the same characters. The funny thing about readalikes, though, is that they rarely inspire the love that the original book did. It’s because often they’re copying things like plot when what made the book pop was the way the author made you care about characters, or the incredible writing style that sucked you in and kept you reading. Taken is another teen novel that takes place in a dystopian world. There have been a lot of these since the runaway success of The Hunger Games, followed by Divergent. Taken just didn’t have the charm or page-turning quality of either of those books, and fell flat for me.
The book begins by showing us a small, rural village in which all men are mysteriously spirited away on their 18th birthdays. The village is surrounded by a wall that nobody can scale, otherwise they get thrown back over again as a charred mess. To keep the population up, the boys are assigned to girls for a short period of weeks at a time in order to try to couple up and get them pregnant. Gray is dreading his brother’s heist (as they call the disappearance) when we meet him at the opening of the book. Gray is impulsive and brash, and refuses to accept their way of life at face value. Instead, he does something to try to get answers, and that’s where the main plot of the book begins.
Sadly, I never bought into the stakes of the world. They reminded me too much of the scenarios that Susanne Collins set up. The main capital city has a similar name: Taem to Hunger Games’ Panem. Gray’s niece is named Kale, which just reminded me too much of Rue and Prim. And the villain of the story is the unfortunately named Harvey. I just can’t take a Harvey seriously as somebody dangerous. I always think of the cutie from Sabrina the Teenage Witch instead.
Overall, the story was just lackluster for me. Would I have enjoyed it more had I not read The Hunger Games and Divergent first? Possibly, but I doubt it. There was just a certain excitement lacking, and I found myself growing bored. I’m positive this book will have an audience, those who really want very similar dystopian fictional worlds, but I’m burnt out on the genre unless it’s something special beyond the trappings of the world in which it takes place. That said, what a gorgeous cover! I know they’ll sell copies based on the cover alone.(less)
Last week, I had criticism for readalikes that try really hard to copy the success of a book by mimicking the plot rather than capturing the spirit of...moreLast week, I had criticism for readalikes that try really hard to copy the success of a book by mimicking the plot rather than capturing the spirit of what made the book awesome. Well, Yancey’s latest book, The 5th Wave, does the opposite of that. It’s a different plot, but reminds me strongly of the feeling I got when reading other great books, notably The Hunger Games. Is it just like The Hunger Games? No. It does, however, have a powerful lead female character who is fighting to beat insurmountable odds and save her younger sibling. It has military training scenes where we see characters broken down only to be built back up again. It features enemies that look just like allies, until the lines are so blurred that we don’t know who to trust. If that sounds good to you, this is your book.
I was previously impressed by the detail and emotion of Yancey’s horror series, The Monstrumologist. If that book wasn’t for you, though, I would still give The 5th Wave a shot. While The Monstromologist relies heavily on Victorian-style speech patterns and narration, The 5th Wave is thoroughly modern. The only thing that threw me off a bit was the way that Yancey moves from narrator to narrator. Different sections of the book are told from the point of view of various characters, without warning. As you read, though, you learn whose point of view you’re reading from, and things start to make more sense. Stephen King does the same thing in many of his books, notably The Stand, which is another book that The 5th Wave reminded me of.
Overall, I loved The 5th Wave. It’s an apocalyptic alien-fest, and the alien’s plan of attack seems like something that could work. It plays on some our modern-day doomsday fears: the failure of all electric technology, massive flooding and tidal waves, a pandemic spread by birds. Yeah, that’s just the beginning. Still, this isn’t an entirely grim book. Instead, it shows us the strength that we are capable of when pushed to the limits, and the ability of humanity to bounce back.(less)
When I first saw this book at ALA Midwinter, I knew it was going to be a must-read for me. I’m fascinated by insider stories about corporate greed, an...moreWhen I first saw this book at ALA Midwinter, I knew it was going to be a must-read for me. I’m fascinated by insider stories about corporate greed, and I’ve been trying to lose weight after noticing extra pudginess in the last year. I’m also a sucker for well-written non-fiction. Salt, Sugar, Fat sounded like a book written just for me at this stage in my life.
I found Moss’s writing to be engrossing and readable, just what you want in non-fiction. Although we know he has a particular point of view, he’s able to see things from the food manufacturer’s points of view from time to time, like when they show him how awful the food would taste if they took out most of the salt. At the same time, Moss hammers home the point that most of the executives in these companies don’t eat the food they produce, just like many executives in the cigarette companies don’t smoke (Philip Morris also owns Kraft).
It’s eye opening to see how much marketing and lab work goes into making foods as pleasurable and addictive as possible. Moss shows at one point that a mother he sees buying her kids breakfast bars would be better off buying them Oreos, which are actually better nutritionally. Parents are deceived into buying certain foods for their families, thinking they are doing the right thing, without knowing how bad those foods actually are.
If you have any concern about what you’re eating, I recommend this book. You might not change how you eat after reading it, but you’ll at least have the information to make your own decisions. My mind was blown multiple times, like when I learned about the massive amounts of milk fat the American government is shelling out money to store, all because the dairy industry doesn’t want to decrease output in response to a shrinking demand. If you find that interesting, this book is for you.(less)
I’ve now read two mysteries by Kate Ellison in which mental illness plays a major role. The first, The Butterfly Clues, features a protagonist who has...moreI’ve now read two mysteries by Kate Ellison in which mental illness plays a major role. The first, The Butterfly Clues, features a protagonist who has severe obsessive-compulsive disorder, as well as kleptomania. In Notes from Ghost Town, the protagonist’s mother is the one with mental illness: she is schizophrenic. When Olivia loses the ability to see color, turning the world around her into various gradations of gray, she fears that she has inherited her mother’s mental illness. Not only that, but the best friend she loved who was murdered by her mother has come back as a ghost.
While I liked Notes from Ghost Town well enough, it never got under my skin. I thought about it, and found that it was the same problem I had with The Butterfly Clues. There just isn’t enough emotional connection. Even in scenes that should be extremely emotionally motivated, it reads as a bit sterile to me. The story was fine, the mystery even had me wondering for most of the book. I just didn’t feel the highs and lows that I expect when I read teen fiction.(less)
In this sweetly brief collection of short stories, Yoko Ogawa gives readers glimpses of the mundane, mixed with unsettling imagery and hints of darkne...moreIn this sweetly brief collection of short stories, Yoko Ogawa gives readers glimpses of the mundane, mixed with unsettling imagery and hints of darkness under a calm exterior. Ogawa’s writing is starkly beautiful. Although this is a translation, the economy and choice of words adds to the chilly and reserved tone of the stories, giving readers a well-rounded reading experience where language, plot, and theme all compliment and enhance one another.
I wouldn’t classify this book as mainstream horror by any means. There is murder and, like the title says, revenge, but none of the stories strictly dwell on the violence. Instead, the narratives slowly reveal the underlying dark nature, swelling to a peak at the end of each tale. Themes and symbols are introduced only to reappear in later stories, building as you read further in the book. I found this interweaving of narrative to both enhance the disquieting nature of the book and to give the book a nice cohesion. The symbols reminded me of musical strains you might hear at different moments in movements of a symphony. In fact, the act of reading Revenge felt a great bit like listening to a good piece of music. I’m sure if I were to reread it I would pick up new notes and melodies I had missed on my earlier reading.
I found Revenge to be a very satisfying book to read, and although I haven’t read it in the original Japanese, I think the translator Stephen Snyder deserves recognition for a translation in which the language mirrors the themes and emotions of the narrative. I recommend this book to lovers of literary horror, short stories, and to people who want to try something different but don’t want to have to make a huge time commitment.(less)