Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Harry Potter for Adults

Yes, that's right, folks. There is a Harry Potter-esque trilogy in existence for your reading pleasure. I came across this book a few years ago in a bookstore. I was captivated by the cover art of this book, which lead me to pick it up and check out the synopsis. There was a list of quoted praise from various authors and reviewers on the back. I could not ignore the fact that three of my favorite authors had read it. I have, for you, the ones that stood out to me:

"The Magicians is to Harry Potter as a shot of Irish whiskey is to a glass of weak tea. ...Grossman's sensibilities are thoroughly adult, his narrative dark and dangerous and full of twists. Hogwarts was never like this." -George R. R. Martin, author of A Game of Thrones

"Most people will like this book. But there's a certain type of reader who will enjoy it down to the bottoms of their feet." -Patrick Rothfuss, author of The Name of the Wind

"If you like the Harry Potter should also read Lev Grossman's The Magicians series, which is a very knowing and wonderful take on the wizard school genre."
-John Green, author of The Fault in Our Stars

I mean I couldn't not read this book after those quotes, especially G.R.R.M's. His comparison was just too great. The timing/ release of the first book in the trilogy was perfect. Why? Because of people like me. Deathly Hallows hit bookstores on 2007. While the last movie of this worldwide series was getting wrapped up, Grossman releases The Magicians in 2009. Like so many others I was searching for something to fill that Harry Potter void with. Again, perfect timing! I fell in love with the wizarding world for the second time, but this time it was juicy.

So, what is it about? Well...
Quentin Coldwater is a high school senior with a secret obsession, Fillory. Fillory is a magical world in a series of books Quentin he has read since his childhood. His world changes when he receives an invitation to an exclusive school. Brakebills is a secret and exclusive school in New York, where one can receive top notch education in the practice of modern sorcery. And so begins our story. I could say more in this synopsis but I don't want to for fear that I might say too much. One needs to explore this world on their own as many have done with Harry Potter. 

I enjoyed this trilogy for many reasons but I will highlight a few. Quentin is not your typical "chosen one." In fact, he is what I like to call an antihero. Grossman obviously chose the not so traveled path with this series and that is why I loved it! If you are interested, SyFy has recently made this trilogy into a television show, Monday nights @ 9/8C.   Maybe one day I will discover my childhood dreams, of a magical world existing, will come true!

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

What Jessica Read in 2015

Name: Jessica Bruce

Favorite new author or series you tried this year:
Author: Joe Hill
Locke and Key was recommended to me by quite a few friends and coworkers. I didn't know much about the series other than these 2 things:
1.) Everyone who read seemed to love it.
2.) Joe Hill is Stephen King's son. This was his first graphic novel series and it's a horror story/thriller.
I am a huge fan of anything with an eerie vibe to it. So I was pretty excited to jump right in. Joe Hill was quite impressive. Dare I say I might like him more than his dad? Ill say it... I sure did! His writing style coupled with the artwork made me think of Neil Gaiman. Hill, like Gaiman, has a way of making the story so believable it becomes tangible. And although the events in this story are gruesome at times, there is a fragile whimsical emotion that follows the reader. Part of that is a result of the artwork. I am of the opinion the art was needed for some of the difficult situations that arise throughout the story. It provided enough to have a visual without being too disturbing. If you like thrillers, you should make this your next reading selection.

Best book you read in 2015 that was released in 2015:
Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari
I had the joy of listening to the audio version of this book. Aziz narrated it and that made it all the more entertaining. I found the information in here very enlightening about todays dating scene. Ansari explores and compares various dating scenarios in different cities, states and even countries. He uses interviews, statistical studies, scientific professionals, and his own experiences to share how confusing and intimidating dating is in 2015.
MOVIE: Inside Out
This was, by far, my favorite movie this year. The characters/voice acting made this movie even more enjoyable. What I was most impacted by was the message. Pixar tackles a topic that is riddled with misconceptions; emotions/depression/sadness. By the end of the movie, one learns the importance of ALL emotions. Every emotion we experience, throughout life, is a patch sewn onto a quilt. That quilt of patches soon becomes the person you are. And that person is unique and beautiful; emotions and all!

Most surprising book you read this year:
Bird Box by Joe Malerman
Suspense and fear are around every corner in this book. The story is so simple and yet it terrified me. Why? Because it preyed on basic human fears. The fear of being alone. Fear of the unknown. Fear of the unseen. Fear of not protecting loved ones. Fear of losing control. Each of these creates the atmosphere surrounding Bird Box. From page 1, the suspense starts to build and turns into an avalanche. The build-up produces an ending that erupts in pure chaos and madness. Think you can make it through this one?

Best book you didnt think you would enjoy but did:
The Gunslinger by Stephen King
This was a reread for me. The first time I read this it frustrated the fire out of me. I wanted answers to all my questions and in order to get those answers I had to wait until I read the 3rd book. However, this time around it didnt bother me. I will be reading the rest of the Dark Tower series in 2016!!
MOVIE: Aloha
I have a new favorite movie and its this one.

Most interesting character you met this year:

Okay, so this is probably impossible, BUT what was your favorite book overall in 2015?
The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
What a beautiful literary masterpiece. There are not enough words to describe my love for this story but I am going to try. This the story of a a boy, Daniel, who falls in love with a book. Daniel soon discovers that the books by this author are disappearing from bookshops and libraries. They are shrouded in a mystery just like the author who has also disappeared without a trace. Daniel dives into a dangerous quest to save his beloved book and author.

The story is contains everything: poetic writing, symbolism, humor, plot twists, romance, action, betrayal, beautiful character building, and so much more. For me the story was about falling in love with a book. You know the one...That first book you read that introduced you to the beauty of reading. It's the book you keep closest to your heart. A book you want to share with everyone and proclaim from the tallest building how much you love this book. It parallels the emotions one has when falling in love. And Zafon eloquently paints a beautiful picture of this parallel through his writing. If you have ever fell in love with a book, you MUST read this book. Note: This is a trilogy that can be read in any order. Here are the other 2 titles for those interested. Also the narrator for this series is wonderful. Superb voice-acting that adds another layer to this story.

The Prisoner of Heaven #3

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

What KT, Faith, and Caleb Read in 2015

Name: KT Turner

Favorite new author or series you tried this year: 
Khaled Hosseini

Best book you read in 2015 that was released in 2015:  
The Biology Book by Michael C. Gerald

Best “back catalog” book you read in 2015:  

Most surprising book you read this year:  

Best book you didn’t think you would enjoy but did:  
Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli

Most interesting character you met this year:  
It's a tie between Stargirl (Stargirl), Dante (Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe), Lenox Gates (Dangerous Creatures), and Hassan (The Kite Runner).

Okay, so this is probably impossible, BUT… what was your favorite book overall in 2015? The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

Name: Faith

1. On fall break I made it through about a chapter of Garth Nix's new book To Hold the Bridge and,
seeing as he is probably my favorite author, it was a good chapter.
2. Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse was the topic for my two English papers this semester and that book was fantastic!
3. I was pleasantly surprised by the book Starters by Lissa Price.
4. I thoroughly enjoyed A Rumor of War by Philip Caputo. I was worried that the narrator would be as unreliable as the one in The Things They Carried but I was pleased with his straightforward approach.
5. I developed a strong attachment to the headstrong Civil Rights Activist Anne Moody after reading her autobiography Coming of Age in Mississippi.
6. Without a doubt the book Siddhartha!

Name: Caleb McLoud

Favorite new author or series you tried this year:
Honoré de Balzac

Best book you read in 2015 that was released in 2015: 
Girl In A Band - Kim Gordon

Best “back catalog” book you read in 2015:

Most surprising book you read this year:

Best movie you didn’t think you would enjoy but did:

Most interesting character you met this year:
The Divers - Tender Is The Night - Fitzgerald

Okay, so this is probably impossible, BUT… what was your favorite book overall in 2015?
The White Album - Joan Didion

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

What Brittney Read in 2015

 Name: Brittney Reed

Favorite new author or series you tried this year:

This year I added Donna Tartt to my list of favorite authors. I love great meandering novels with academic settings, so The Secret History hit plenty of my literary sweet spots and made me fall in love enough to also devour The Little Friend, which is quite a different sort of book entirely. I’m saving The Goldfinch, though, because I know that once I finish it, I’ll have to wait years and years for a new Tartt novel.

Best book you read in 2015 that was released in 2015:
Welcome to Night Vale by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor… And I was quite relieved that I liked it almost as much as I like the podcast.

Best “back catalog” book you read in 2015:
I’ll go with one of the oldest books I read in 2015 and say Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert. Emma is such a fun character to read, simultaneously almost too relatable and cringingly unsympathetic. She was probably a much-needed reality check to my melodramatic nature, though I’m not sure that it stuck.

I also watched the film adaptation starring Mia Wasikowska--because after Crimson Peak I’ve come to love her--but was horribly disappointed in it. Its sympathies are limited to Emma so exclusively that none of the other characters feel real, when in Flaubert’s novel they are rich and complex and deeply human. And the ending… Don’t get me started.

Most surprising book you read this year:
Through the Woods by Emily Carroll is a YA graphic novel of dark, sumptuously illustrated stories that maintain all the grisliness I love in classic fairy tales, while being something wholly new. It utterly delighted me.

Best book you didn’t think you would enjoy but did:
I suspected that I would find Story of the Eye by Georges Bataille interesting, but given its reputation and what I knew of the plot, I did not entertain the expectation of enjoyment. But there are moments of great surreal beauty in this slender little book. I finished it feeling oddly exhilarated and eager to explore more deeply Bataille’s theories on the connections between eroticism and death. (It’s not available through LPLS, but you can request it through Interlibrary Loan like I did.)

Most interesting character you met this year:
A tie between Julian, Richard, Camilla, Charles, and Bunny, the Classics students from Donna Tartt’s The Secret History. Rich (mostly) and dissolute and prone to doing things like hosting bacchanals in the woods. Taciturn and brilliant Julian was my favorite, but it’s impossible to isolate one character from this novel and have them be even half as interesting on their own. It’s their complicated and pathological dynamic that forms the basis for their appeal.

Okay, so this is probably impossible, BUT… what was your favorite book overall in 2015?
Story of O by Pauline Réage. I listened to it on audio, on a solitary road trip over my birthday weekend. There is so much to say about this novel and what it made me feel that I cannot articulate fully on this platform. Suffice it to say that it was exactly what I needed to read at exactly the right time, and it illuminated in me great swirling confusions of half-formed thoughts and feelings. Not only is it my favorite book that I read in 2015, but it is now one of my favorite books in general.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

What Garrett Read in 2015

Name: Garrett C. Crowell

Favorite new author or series you tried this year: 
Lumberjanes, Vols. 1 & 2. For fans of Gravity Falls (or Twin Peaks/X-Files-type stuff) with a healthy dose of irreverence and Girl Scout parody. Or sort of what you wish Girl Scouts were. Anyway, the whole main cast is female, and these books are something that I and my 9-year-old daughter enjoy at pretty much the same level.

Best FIC book you read in 2015 that was released in 2015:
Only because I have such mixed feelings about Ernest Cline’s Armada, I will have to go with Christopher Golden’s Tin Men, about remote soldiering and pacification and the philosophical conversations about not only geo-political policing and intervention that must grow out of the subject matter, but also the ones about humanity and what constitutes same that will necessarily follow. You ride this book like a screenplay, but with more solid characterization and muddier waters than movies usually have time for. I stupidly ignored the ARC of this that I got, and plucked it from the shelves when it came into the library.

Best NF book you read in 2015 that was released in 2015: 
Heist: The Oddball Crew behind the $17 Million Loomis Fargo Theft. Oh, my – marvel with me at the unintentional hilarity. I feel like Stefan talking about what this book has: forced Mexican sojourns, fake breasts, velvet Elvises, backstabbing, weed, thieves robbing each other, lying, sexual manipulation, and at the center, a theft and investigation. A quick read because you can’t stop absorbing the awkward nonsense. It’s great.

Best “back catalog” book you read in 2015:  
Pound for Pound, by F.X. Toole. A recommendation to me from the always excellent recommender David O’Flaherty. Anyone who tells you this is a book about boxing has not given you the whole story, and you have to read the whole book to get it. Compellingly written, real-feeling characters and layers of depth that will flay your emotions. Good stuff. Also about boxing. The Choirboys by Joseph Wambaugh would be a close second in this category.

Most surprising book you read this year: 
 Horrorstör by Grady Hendrix. I picked this up and thought it might be kind of cute, but the fusion of solid haunted-house storytelling and the graphic design built on the foundation of thought and soul-crushing retail experience that went into getting this book made are evident in every page, and you end up with a rapid and fun scary read that veers into humor and horror in exactly the right measures. Do not Kindle or e-read this one – hold it in your hands so you can see the attention to detail.

Best book you didn’t think you would enjoy but did:  
Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline;   I read this because I was on a committee that needed us to read it, and I was completely unexcited about it – I ended up enjoying it very much. While it has some flaws in its secondary characters and fanciful storytelling, it manages to be a tight epic in 270-odd pages with two likeable central characters.

Worst book: So many contenders…I read a couple of things this year that were either demanded by committees or commitments, and I ended up not enjoying many of those, but the runaway worst book would have to be Holly Madison’s Down the Rabbit Hole: Curious Adventures and Cautionary Tales of a Former Playboy Bunny. You know right off the bat that it’s going to be unpleasant, gross, and possibly offensive, but the underlying story, motivations and people involved are so much more corrupt than I had anticipated – I thought I would get a quick indictment of Hef and move on, but I wanted a shower after I finished this book. Bleagh.
Most interesting character you met this year: 
Jointly shared by Jackie Fierro and Diane Crayton, the protagonists of the Welcome to Night Vale novel released in October. Obviously, this will not be useful for anyone who is not really into Night Vale, but I don’t care. Listen and read. Keep up.

Okay, so this is probably impossible, BUT… what was your favorite book overall in 2015? 
I don’t (expletive) know, but the purest enjoyment I experienced was in reading Starlight, a fairly straightforward graphic novel by Mark Millar and Goran Parlov. There is nothing complicated about the story, but this is the kind of adventure story that I find immensely satisfying, and I don’t participate in my own diminishing returns, preferring that they occur naturally, if at all. Like Lumberjanes, this is something that can be read and then passed off to someone younger, and I did that, which was also rewarding.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Review: Madame X by Jasinda Wilder

My name is Madame X.
I’m the best at what I do.
And you’d do well to follow my rules...

Recently I picked up Madame X, the first in a new trilogy of erotic romance novels by Jasinda Wilder. This was my first experience reading Wilder, but the cover, with its crimson X, and the publisher's copy, pulled at me irresistibly. In a market saturated with CEO alpha males with pedestrian red rooms of pain, any book with a femme domme catches my attention. 

As it turns out, Madame X is a far cry from the BDSM erotica that I was expecting, but the more I read the less disappointed I was to not get what I thought I wanted from this book.

The novel comes to us through the voice of X. Beautiful and in control, she trains the sons of New York's super-wealthy elite how to comport themselves with gentlemanly grace and power. But when her clients leave her elegantly appointed apartment, things change. At night, Caleb Indigo visits her, and she is no longer in control.

X has lived this dual life for the past six years, and it's the only life she can remember. After she suffered a brutal attack, Caleb saved her from death and gave her a life, a purpose, and a name. In return, X belongs to him. She never leaves her apartment, and she never says no to him. Because she cannot.

But when Caleb uncharacteristically relinquishes some of his ironclad control, X has an encounter with a stranger that makes her reconsider her existence and awakens a longing in her for something different, for something more. For choice.

One of the most interesting things about Madame X is the way Wilder subverts--to the point of outright ignoring--the conventions of the erotic romance genre. With this novel, she's writing something much darker and less formulaic. There's nothing fuzzy or heartwarming about X and Caleb's relationship, but it is fraught and unhealthy and pretty fascinating, enough so to make me ignore the potential pitfalls of the amnesia plot. It also provides an interesting and emotional counterpoint to the relationship that X finds herself involved in later in the book.

X herself is one of the more memorable erotic romance heroines I've read recently. I was intrigued by her unique situation and by the limits of her experience. Her spheres of knowledge are so unbalanced: She can teach someone how to command a boardroom, but she doesn't know how to use a cell phone. At some points she reminded me of an android because all that she knows comes either from her training at Caleb's hands or from books that she has read. I'm excited to see how she will develop over the two subsequent novels that are in the works. (If you're curious, the sequel currently is scheduled for a March 2016 release.)

My one complaint about Madame X is the uneven pacing. The speed picks up considerably about halfway through the book, and ratchets up even farther after a twist that is revealed about three quarters of the way through. The first half reads at a much more leisurely pace, as Wilder painstakingly builds the reader's understanding of X and her life. I get Wilder's decision to do this, but at the same time, I was hungry for something more exciting to happen and kept wondering which of the characters introduced was going to be the catalyst for the plot. I wish someone had told me to relax and hang in there... So this is me telling you to relax and hang in there!

While it won't be to everyone's taste, Madame X is ideal for regular erotic romance readers who are looking for something a bit more literary, a bit darker, and a bit more experimental than the current genre standard. It is currently on order for LPLS, and you can place a hold on it online or by asking library staff for help.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

The Scary Book Lady Does Halloween

Maybe it's the head-to-toe black clothes or the skull earrings, but one of the more common reader's advisory questions I get is the request for scary books. For some of us, Halloween is more of a mindset than a holiday, so I'm always happy to guide patrons looking for eerie reads. But as the days draw inexorably closer to the best night of the year, more and more people begin to clamor for something chilling. With that in mind, I have assembled a list of some personal favorites that are perfect for this time of year.

Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill
Retired rock star Judas Coyne collects oddities, so when he finds a listing online for a ghost for sale, of course he buys it. And of course things go horribly wrong. Heart-Shaped Box makes this list because it contains one of my favorite physical descriptions of a ghost, and because with all of my late-night online shopping, I can almost see myself impulse buying something cursed and suffering terrible consequences.

The Shining by Stephen King
Yeah, King is the easy answer for "I need a scary book," but I adore him so I don't care. There's just so much to love in The Shining: a big, creepy, haunted hotel; the maddening effects of isolation; the plight of a child with a power he can barely control. Despite the controversy about King's intentions in writing Jack Torrance and Stanley Kubrick's interpretation of the character, I have so much affection for both the book and the film it inspired. If you haven't read or watched The Shining, make this the year that you do.

Gerald's Game by Stephen King
This isn't King's most popular novel, but it is the one that has scared me the most. It's a vivid example of horror that arises from everyday situations gone wrong, as the protagonist finds herself handcuffed to a bed and unable to escape, alone in a cabin, with no one coming to her rescue. It's scary enough when she's lying there, listening to the screen door bang open and shut in the wind. But then there's a twist, and the one short sentence that moment hinges on made me groan in dread, close the book, and develop an abiding fear of the corners of dark rooms.

We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson
You see Shirley Jackson a lot in two places: middle school reading lists (thanks to "The Lottery") and lists of scary books (thanks to The Haunting of Hill House). But I prefer We Have Always Lived in the Castle, with its unreliable narration, accusations of poisoning, and evocative title. Why are Merricat and Constance so isolated from society? And what would happen if someone broke through that isolation? Read this short novel and find out.

Bones & All by Camille DeAngelis
Maren, the protagonist of Bones & All, is a murderer. She can't help it: whenever anyone shows her
affection, she is overwhelmed by the instinct to eat them. Abandoned by her mother at sixteen and burdened with her secret hunger, Maren embarks on a roadtrip in search of family. But she doesn't find quite what she expects. The coming-of-age/horror combination irresistibly reminded me of Jennifer's Body, which won't be to everyone's taste (pun intended), but if that's your thing, you will not want to miss this book.

The Croning by Laird Barron
This novel subverted my expectations in really fun ways. Operating on both supernatural and psychological playing fields, it follows its aging protagonist as the gaps in his memory get bigger and obscure ever more harrowing truths about nearly everyone he knows, most notably his wife. Barron frequently garners comparisons to H. P. Lovecraft, and while these are apt, The Croning toys with themes characteristic of Lovecraft without ripping them off. 

"The Dunwich Horror" by H. P. Lovecraft
Speaking of Lovecraft... R.E.A.D.S. has wonderful audio versions of many of his stories available for download in the Dark Worlds of H. P. Lovecraft series. Audio books can be hit or miss, depending on the narrator, but Wayne June does an excellent job. He brings much gravitas to the readings, and it's just really fun to hear all the eldritch language come to life. My favorite is "The Dunwich Horror," which features amazing build-up of tension as the narrator relates one creepy thing after another, only to tell you that no, that's not the titular horror, you haven't even gotten there yet. My only complaint about the Dark Worlds versions is that they occasionally censor Lovecraft's, ahem, less than socially conscious language, notably in "The Rats in the Walls." If you want the real thing, along with photos and background information and other goodies, check out The New Annotated H. P. Lovecraft (complete with tentacled cover art!).

The Hellbound Heart by Clive Barker
I reread this novella over the summer in preparation for The Scarlet Gospels. In the years since I had first read it, I had forgotten just how good it feels to read Barker. The craft of his writing and his linguistic choices stroke your brain, right before sinking a sharpened hook into your cerebrum. This story of pleasure-seeking and obsession is smart, fun, only takes an evening to savor, and features some of the most unforgettable characters in horror: the Cenobites.