Wednesday, July 20, 2016


I don't have any childhood pictures of myself (during the Ugly Decade from age 6-16 I managed to
hide my face behind a menu or a tree in every family photo I couldn't avoid) but if I did they would look very much like Una LaMarche's. Which makes sense, because her memoir could be mine. I too had childhood fantasies of martial-arts beatdowns set to hip-hop medleys! I too have conversations with my husband that involve the trick question "What are you sorry for, being a dick or not supporting me emotionally?" (Incidentally, poor Jeff deserves the Longsuffering Helpmeet award for his husband role -- he can sit next to David Sedaris' boyfriend Hugh at the luncheon. When he looks at Una's Tootsie Roll Log Cabin and asks, "Is it a ... turd yurt?" I snorted my chai latte.)
Unabrow made me laugh loud enough to draw attention from others in the house, simultaneously sending my back to the best era of the past millennium (need you ask? It's the early 90s) and finding the humor in my current parenting and relationship concerns. So very hilarious!

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Judging books by ... titles

Time is precious and fleeting (every second wasted another moment closer to death) so when I choose books with which to spend said precious time, I attempt to apply some judicious discernment. You know, perusing the Book Review, listening to NPR segments, carefully selecting works by authors I've already vetted, taking recommendations only from the most trusted sources to ensure maximum intellectual growth... OR, I walk through the YA aisle of Target or the overflowing to-be-shelved cart in the Teen Room at the local library and grab five books in ten seconds.

Both methods collect winners and losers. I know we aren't supposed to judge books by their COVERS, but it's really hard not to judge them at least in part by their titles, right? The name can sometimes make or break either the reading experience or the ability to share them after.

Con Academy by Joe Schrieber has everything I want in a title -- memorable imagery, the assonance
of a familiar phrase, the clever wordplay that has some pertinence to the plot, it's all there. And the book itself can stand up to its name. The characters are just developed enough to believe their games and the plot moves. There's a whiff of romance but it takes a back seat overall to the long con, which I love. A great super-speedy summer read, when it could have been just a good title in search of a book.

The Unexpected Everything by Morgan Matson is sort of the opposite -- an amazing book in search of a worthy title. I really enjoyed Since You've Been Gone and knew there was another book out but literally could not remember the title to go find it. It seems like a placeholder that the team forgot to fill in before the release. And the book itself is SO GOOD. The few slim implausibilities that get the book rolling are quickly replaced with fully-fleshed out characters making actual human mistakes and a story that doesn't wrap up perfectly but is so satisfying in both the journey and the conclusion. I want a 10-years-later sequel to this! And more emoji-only storytelling!

The title isn't wrong, exactly -- it makes sense for the story within. It's just too generic for a very well-done novel. (Not that I have any better suggestions, so this isn't terribly constructive. And it's selling quite briskly, so I guess no one else is having any problems remembering the title. Plus those are some seriously cute dogs on the cover...)  Well, I think I may have just talked myself into liking it. Go ahead and judge your books by their covers.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

The Regional Office ... is not really an office!

I picked up The Regional Office is Under Attack! by Manuel Gonzales because how can you walk away from a book with that title? Then I read the blurb and discovered that female assassins were defending the world from evil, and I thought -- even better! I love me some female assassins! Any time a lady badass pulls out a sword or hands out a beatdown in a book, I am lining up for the sequel.

However, the title misled me a bit. I was hoping it might have echoes of And Then We Came to the End, with office politics and humor (through the lens of assassin workplace issues, of course), and there were definitely some feints in that direction, but it was much more a book about feeling left out of the in crowd, mixed with RIGHTEOUS VENGEANCE. Not at all disappointed in the book, just ... not what I expected. But, sign me up for the mechanical arm waiting list.

The power of three

There's something about two guys and a girl that just forms the perfect tripod for YA inspiration. This week I read three books that balance on that base, resulting in tears, hilarity and a little inspiration.

Fans of the Impossible Life by Kate Scelsa features Mira, Jeremy and Sebby (depressed, arty and closeted, and fabulous and troubled, in that order). Jeremy's story is told in the first person, Mira in the third, and Sebby's in the second person, to interesting effect. (I learned from a Q&A with the author that Sebby is partially inspired by Sebastian in Brideshead Revisited, which I first read in high school and which actually pops up in my day-to-day thoughts with surprising regularity.) Anyway, the three of them are somewhat predictably damaged by struggles with mental health, or with hateful bullying, or with more external challenges (Sebby has substance abuse issues and gets kicked out of his foster home, which, hello again there, Brideshead!). But the writing is strong, I cared about the characters and the fact that everything isn't totally tied up in a happy bow is a welcome ending. So that's a yay. 

Also a super-yay is The Haters, by Jesse Andrews. I haven't read or seen Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, but need to now that I've laughed myself to tears with Ash, Wes and Corey as they seek out the most authentic venues to take their "band" on "tour. Funniest band names since King Dork. And oh, the Kool and the Gang segment was just so spot-on, I had to re-read it over and over again. I did have to angle my book just so to keep unsuspecting eyes from reading over my shoulder (didn't want anyone to get ideas about harming anyone's dicks, as was on abundant offer) but so very worth it. Hating is an art and it may be done to perfection here.
Finally, Draw the Line by Laurent Linn was much less outrageous than The Haters, but a little more uplifting and feel-good than Fans of the Impossible Life. Adrian, Trent and Audrey form this little triumvirate, but this book is really Adrian's story from start to finish. Adrian's secrets (he's gay, he's an artist, he draws an online superhero comic about Graphite, a sexy but lonely superhero seeking same) spill into the real world when he stands up for an classmate during a hate-fueled beating, but he begins to tap into the superhero powers he's had all along. In writing his friends and enemies into the comic, he starts to translate who people are into who they might actually be want to be. And of course, finds some Hunky Love along the way.  The real treat in this are the comics along the way -- as in Brian Selznick's beautiful books, the story isn't complete without the art to go with it. I want Adrian to draw me as a superhero too!

In summary, I award The Haters the prize for snarkiest/most hilarious YA trio, Fans of the Impossible Life for Got Your Back Forever YA crew and Draw The Line for best alter egos in a fantasy feature. All utterly worth a read now. 

Thursday, June 30, 2016

I don't understand technology

Two recent books (which I largely enjoyed) required some basic grasp of technology (at least "technology" as a sci-fi or thriller trope) and I feel bad admitting that I just don't really understand a lot of it. 

Particularly cryptography. I picked up The Girl in the Spider's Web because it seemed like something one is obliged to do during the summer (yes, I know Stieg Larsssssson is dead and frankly, I hoped that that would mean slightly less over-the-top sexual violence in this continuation). It was ... exactly as expected. This offering had to do with the NSA, prime number factoring, the development and feared theft of artificial intelligence, but really it was just about that damn Millennium magazine getting a scoop and returning prestige, glory and cash to hard-hitting journalism, along with superhuman hacking and toughing-out of bullet wounds. Walk it off, Salander! 

AI was a much more essential part of Central Station, by Lavie Tidhar, but again, sadly I just don't really grasp it. Like, this Singularity thing? Either it immediately ends the world, via SkyNet or the Matrix, or it allows our amazing consciousnesses to be uploaded and survive forever ... I guess? There was a lot of love in Central Station, of which I approve. Love between men, love between women and ancient robot-soldiers, love (or at least endless memories) between generations of families, and then a kind of love between humans and Others, the freed AIs that "escaped" on to the Internet and then could join back with humans by invitation and a golden thumb ... I think a lot of this was lost on me. 
But the robot love, I can dig.

Community and betrayal

Summer break provides both the opportunity and the crushing responsibility to read many more books than I get to during the school year, which can lead to some interesting juxtapositions. In the past few weeks, I've read (among others) Orange is the New Black, by Piper Kerman; Missoula: Rape and the Justice System, by Jon Krakauer; and All-American Boys, by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely. 

In OITNB (if you aren't a netflixer, as I am not), pretty white Piper gets busted on drug charges and spends a year in prison; in AAB, a high school is divided over a brtual police beating of an innocent black teenager, and in Missoula -- well, Missoula is harrowing non-fiction about campus rape and its consequences.The only obvious link between these three is the presence of law enforcement, but in reading all three in rapid success, it made me think about how essential community trust is for all people. 

In the first book, Piper makes her way through prison by making herself a part of the community, both through her contributions but also through just reading the room right (it seems SO GREAT for people dropped into uncomfortable, potentially dangerous situations to be socially adept extroverts -- sure hope I never have to go to prison!). When she's removed from her trusted community of fellow felons, she's much less stable and more adrift, even though she has an ENORMOUS support network outside the prison walls too. When her scene is contrasted with some of the other women's situations, it's utterly clear why people re-offend -- a scary stable community is better than none at all. All-American Boys struggles with the same issue, where community shifts based on geography, race, family, etc. and conflicting loyalties make it so that doing what's "right" in one community is the most wrong thing you can do in another. The police violence and its aftermath break down some communities and create others.


And then, ugh, Missoula. This book was so hard to read in its graphic descriptions of a number of different campus acquaintance rapes, maybe the most damaging human betrayal possible, and then its tragic repercussions for (almost) everyone involved. No one escapes unscathed, with the victim at the center of the pool of suffering. I can't decide if every teenager I know should read this before going to college, or if the many many failures of the college community to address it is too dispiriting. Certainly everyone who is appalled at the Stanford rape verdict needs to read this right now ... and maybe the takeaway for teens is as simple as: don't drink yourself to unconsciousness, ever. Ever.

Back to book-blogging

So, in the half-decade since I used to keep this blog (or its predecessors, more accurately) updated, I've discovered that writing about books solidifies them in my mind, BUT that I'm not terribly good at or interested in traditional book reviews. Since my superpower is strongly held (and unsolicited) opinions, this should be great!