Thursday, May 25, 2017

The Hotel Under the Sand

I am in the middle of Kage Baker's fantastic Company series but was also curious about what else she had written. I found this one that sounded interesting and then stuck it on the old TBR shelf to get dusty. Well, at the end of the latest Readathon, I started getting burned out at the end of the night and the books on my stack didn't seem like the right reads for the moment so I browsed my TBR and the 180 small pages of this one seemed perfect. Then I opened it and the first thing I saw was this --
Wow! I read The Hotel Under the Sand with delight and joy. It's wonderful, wacky and spooky and serious and FUN. It also strikes me as utterly original (which is quite rare). In fact -- although this is something one should always say with some caution -- it wouldn't surprise me if it turned out to be a classic and went on down the ages along with Alice and Oz and the very few others that have become immortal.
-- Diana Wynne Jones, author of Howl's Moving Castle
What could possibly make me more excited about this book? NOTHING.

So, did it live up to DWJ's excessive praise? Short answer, yes. It was possibly one of the sweetest, funnest, most original chapter books I've ever read. There's one of the best ghosts I've ever read about, the coolest magical setting, and a super awesome treasure hunt. I mean, it starts with a girl washing up on an island and she immediately finds herself water and food and makes her own shelter! She's not helpless! It also made my heart so happy with its friendships and found family. I have no idea why this book hasn't found its audience yet but I'm going to work on changing that.

Sharing the secret of this island gem,

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

The Invisible Library, Continued

via B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog
Recently I gushed about The Invisible Library and, though I wanted to space these reads out more, I couldn't resist immediately picking up the next two books in the series, The Masked City and The Burning Page (the fourth, The Lost Plot, will be out next January). My verdict on it all? Every book in this series honestly gets better and better. There is more depth to each successive plot even though they are all connected and the characters become more complex. Strangely, my favorite thing has ending up being Irene's internal dialogue as she learns how to be a leader, questions her motivations on decisions, and thinks through her friendships and alliances. She isn't a perfect heroine but she's a strong, intelligent, capable one and that's better than perfect. This is definitely going to be one of my regular-reread series. I can't recommend it enough, even for people who don't necessarily like fantasy. Seriously. Read these books.

Recommending strongly,

Friday, May 12, 2017

New Releases: The Zoo and The Book That Changed America

Sometimes the reading of one good book leads directly to another. The first of these I bought for my own Easter basket, the second was a library book that had almost reached its due date.

The Zoo: The Wild and Wonderful Tale of the Founding of London Zoo: 1826-1851 by Isobel Charman is just what it says in the subtitle, the story of the founding of the Zoological Society of London and, in turn, the first days of the London Zoo. I'm not sure I've mentioned this much here but my bachelor's degree is in zoology and I did two projects with many hours of observation on captive animals (sea otters!) before getting my degree. Zoos and aquariums are near and dear to my heart (and absolutely necessary if they have a conservation mission) as is Victorian London so this book couldn't have been more up my alley. It was definitely a tough read at times because of the lack of knowledge of how to properly house and care for wild animals and also their incompatibility with London's filthy air and chilly climate. This was balanced, though, by the work of some good men who truly cared and wanted to learn about the creatures they were charged with looking after.

Each chapter is written to focus on a specific man and to highlight his contribution to the zoo, be he a visionary, an architect, or an Earl. What led me to crave my next read was the chapter on Darwin, whose voyage on The Beagle and return with samples and ideas coincided with some of the first years of the zoo.

(Note: this is narrative non-fiction but Charman was very careful in using original sources to create the narrative. She added 12 pages of Notes on the Use of Sources at the end so I trust that she didn't take many liberties. Still, I know some readers aren't fans of narrative non-fic, hence this warning.)

I don't remember where I heard about Randall Fuller's The Book That Changed America: How Darwin's Theory of Evolution Ignited a Nation but I know that I immediately put a hold on it at my local library and then it sat here for weeks unread, renewed twice. Luckily, the mood struck to read it before it was due back (finished yesterday, due today) because it was incredibly relevant and educational. I expected to fall more in love with Darwin and his scholarship but I actually ended up with a newfound love and respect for Henry David Thoreau, nemesis of my high school days due to a badly-timed read of Walden. The book focuses on the literary and scientific men and women of Concord, Massachusetts and surrounding environs, their religion, Transcendentalism, and their abolitionist views in the days after Darwin's Origin of the Species arrived in the United States. Reading about Emerson, Thoreau, Alcott (father and daughter), and others as they absorbed the theory of Natural Selection and applied it to their fight for the end of slavery was fascinating. There was also a plethora of content about natural history, literature, and lifelong friendships, enough to make this a must-read book. I plan to buy my own copy of this book so that I can fill it with sticky notes. This passage felt especially relevant today--
That night [Thoreau] wrote nothing about the world beyond Concord's woods--a world that seemed increasingly on the edge of combustion, too. A few months earlier he had been utterly consumed by the John Brown affair, unable to sleep, angry, and aflame with indignation. During the winter he had willed himself to quit thinking about the nation's baleful state of affairs, its compromises and hypocrisies, its unacceptable complicity with slavery. With little faith in the political process, which he believed favored the wealthy and self-interested, Thoreau read about the upcoming Republican and Democratic conventions with derision.
Darwin's book had helped him take his mind off these things. The Origin had redirected his thinking. It shifted his focus from a corrupt society that seemed incapable of reform to a natural world defined entirely by change and exuberant dynamism. In his journals and conversations, Thoreau still sometimes erupted in anger at Brown's unjust execution. But Darwin's theory soothed him during this period.
While reading this, I felt relieved that my feelings of late were not irrational but heartbroken that our country has yet to become the "more perfect union" that the founders envisioned. It also reminded me that regular distractions from politics are essential for good health and that a simple one can be found in any good book.

Evolving daily,

Friday, May 5, 2017

Wrong-Way Reading

I'm not in the mood tonight to gather coherent thoughts about any of the lovely books I have recently read so, instead, I thought I would tell you about something weird that happens when I read and see what you all think.

I am a mental-picture type of reader. I build up a visual construct of the world in my head as I go along, especially if it's a quest/travel-type story. And, most/almost all of the time, it will end up being the mirror image of what the author intended. I will spend many chapters with the world oriented in one direction in my head and then the author will give a directional clue, such as seeing a sunset over the water, and I will realize that I'm facing the wrong way in my head. I have no idea why this happens and it's super weird. But, what's even stranger, is that every once in a while I get it right. I will hit a directional clue and it will actually be the way I have constructed the world in my head. This could obviously be total chance but then it seems that it would happen near fifty percent one way and fifty the other. It's not. If I had to guess I would say I get it right about ten to twenty percent of the time at most. So what, you say? Well, I have a theory. I have yet to try and prove it (mostly because I forget which authors it happens with) but here it is. I think the times I get it right is when the author is left-handed like me. Is that the strangest theory ever? Does an author's handedness come through in their world layout?

Tell me, do you have any reading quirks? If you have a theory to accompany it, let me know! And, please, feel free to weigh in on my quirk.

Looking at it differently,

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Spill Zone and Decelerate Blue, or YA Dystopian Graphic Novels Are Harsh

If you follow me on Twitter or Instagram, you saw that I read a nice stack of graphic novels and comics during this last Saturday's 24-Hour Readathon. Two of them were dystopians and they've both stuck with me for days.

Scott Westerfeld and Alex Puvilland have created Spill Zone, which actually comes out today from First Second. It's about Addison and her little sister Lexa, two of the survivors of a horrible something that happened in Poughkeepsie, New York. They now live alone/together in a cordoned-off area just outside the abandoned not-exactly-a-ghost-town. Lexa doesn't speak and Addison financially supports them by sneaking back into town and taking pictures of the derelict buildings and frightful creatures -- but never the people who have been left behind, the ones who hang almost-lifeless in the air with creepily glowing eyes.

In a time where we now have to face the possible prospect of nuclear war, a town that has been destroyed by some sort of bizarre radioactive substance is not the easiest subject to read about. But Addison's story is compelling, Lexa's is perplexing, and this book definitely will leave readers yearning to know what happens next. I did have to tell Z (almost 13) that he couldn't read this book. He asked if it was because of blood but, no, it was because of the super high amount of foul language. It seemed entirely appropriate for the plot and the characters but it's not something I would put in front of a tween or younger teen. This one definitely skews older YA or adult even.

A few weeks ago I got a surprise package from First Second with YA graphic novels in it. One of them was Decelerate Blue by Adam Rapp and Mike Cavallaro, a beautiful book with blue edges and black and white art. It's about a future where nothing matters but speed and brevity. All food is preprocessed, all books and films are condensed. Even language is as brief as possible. Lives are run by a corporation and, as you can guess, not everyone is thrilled about this. Angela is only in high school but she already knows that this life isn't for her. She wants something different and she finds it by accident when she stumbles into the lair of the resistance.

The beginning of this book seriously had me stressed! The frantic conversations, each sentence of which ends with the word "Go", made me feel rushed and irritated. Angela's frustrations came through clearly, as did her immediate relief once she found the resistance. The ending was heartbreaking but the ultimate message of appreciating each moment balanced that out somewhat. As some of us participate in small rebellions and resistances of our own these days, this book seems particularly relevant.

Speaking up today to keep these from being our tomorrows,

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

The Invisible Library ... Enough Said

I finally read The Invisible Library. I fell in love ... hard. With elements reminiscent of some of my favorite stories (Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, Jackaby, and Seraphina, just to name a few), I couldn't help but fall in love with Librarian Irene and the alternative London filled with dirigibles, mythical creatures, and intrigue. I almost couldn't contain my joy when I figured out Kai's secret and I loved Vale's progressive nature as well. I'm not really going into the plot because I didn't know much about it before I went in and was constantly nervous (in a good way) and surprised (in the best way). I do need to reread the last chapter though because it was a bit hard to follow at 4:00 in the morning when I finished my binge read. I think I know what Coppelia was getting at but I need to recheck and make sure.

Once I'm done with that, I have the second book, The Masked City, here already and the third book is on hold. There's a fourth book coming out in December and I will definitely be ready to read it! This is a series I know I will go back to for rereads whenever I need a dose of kickass librarians and mind-controlled alligators.

In love (times ten),

Monday, April 17, 2017

Boys in the 80s

I forget where I saw a review or comment that made me think I needed to put The Impossible Fortress by Jason Rekulak on my library hold list sooner rather than later but I saw it and I did it. It's the story of three boys that want to pull off the perfect heist of a Playboy issue. One of them is super into early computer gaming and so is the daughter of the store owner where they want to steal the magazine. This leads to an unexpected friendship and a lot of big decisions.

First, the good stuff. This story really felt true to the 80s. It made me remember early computers, crappy love songs, and old mall stores. Now the bad stuff. This story really felt true to the 80s. It reminded me of the horrible words that us 80s kids used to throw around, the casual sexism and racism, the shitty way single mothers were treated. I liked this story but I strongly disliked one of the boys and hated another one of them. The end is also a bit farfetched, although I did feel that the boy I disliked redeemed himself somewhat. All of the blurbs on the cover that use the words "sweet", "funny", "hilarious"? I'm not sure I read the same book that they did. I thought this was a dark but honest story. We may get nostalgic for the past but the day-to-day reality might not be as rosy as we remember.

My 80s itch wasn't fully scratched after that first novel so I picked up Jason Diamond's Searching for John Hughes. This book reminded me why I used to be (and need to be again) very, very picky about which memoirs I was willing to read. I did not like this guy much at all. I felt bad for him when he was a kid because both of his parents were HORRID but, ugh, how many times can someone claim to have recognized his privilege and then still go ahead acting the same way as he did before? How self-centered do you have to be to keep treating people like crap who are trying to help you and be friendly? He ultimately only gets his shit together because he is handed the job that becomes his career. This was not the love letter to the 80s that I was expecting. This guy wasn't even born until like 1980/81. Again, blurbs that use words like "hilarious" and "charm" don't make any sense to me after reading this book. It is dark and depressing and not a fun read.

So, now that I've read two books that weren't satisfying 80s reads, recommend me something about the 80s that I *will* like. (I am one of the ones that totally loved both of Ernie Cline's books, Ready Player One and Armada.) Please.

Looking back with distaste,

Friday, April 14, 2017

Women In Science

Women in Science: 50 Fearless Pioneers Who Changed the World by Rachel Ignotofsky is one of the books that is showing up everywhere right now. I see it recommended for kids and adults alike and the brief summaries and bright colors make that possible. It both highlights women's contributions to science AND the obstacles that they faced as they did so, giving readers knowledge and food for thought.

I did have two complaints about this book -- one is that there were too many spelling and "autocorrect"-type mistakes in the text and artwork. As a scientist, this lack of precision was off-putting. The second thing is that two or three of the scientists' bios mentioned worked on the atomic bomb and their work was described in ways that basically praised the end product. I have a problem with this kind of talk no matter what the gender of the scientist is. To have it right next to the bio of someone like Rachel Carson, whose hard work and dedication led to things like the formation of the EPA, is not cool. All science is not equal.

Still, this is a great book for showing the variety of professions that make up the sciences and the struggles that women have had over time in being allowed to work in them and to also have their work recognized. Hopefully more in-depth biographies of many of these women will be written by young people who read this book and other youngsters will be inspired to pursue studies in the sciences.

Never pipetting by mouth,