Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Book Review: Gryphons Aren't So Great, by James Sturm, Alexis Frederick-Frost, and Andrew Arnold

Writing/Art Quality: 4/5
Appeal/Enjoyment: 5/5

I love this series. Is it a series? Maybe not... But I love all the books that reside in the Adventures in Cartooning universe. Adventures in Cartooning is a great introduction to comic creation that makes it accessible to children. Even better are the books that follow, like Gryphons Aren't So Great, which are physical, published books using the skills taught in Adventures in Cartooning, and show by example how kids can take what they learned and make a real story out of it.

In this book, the knight and her horse Edward are playing when she spots a gryphon and hops on it to go for a ride, leaving Edward earth-bound and alone. The story is simple and sweet, and the art is equally simple and sweet, with doodle-like lines and bright colors. Like in the other books, the front and back endpapers of this book contain instructions for doodling some of the characters in the book, which is especially fun for kids who like to draw.

I would recommend this book to any small children who like drawing, telling stories, or reading about knights and fantastical creatures. :)

Recommended ages 5-10. New York: First Second, 2015. Print. 40 pages. ISBN: 978-1596436527.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Book Review: You're Never Weird on the Internet (almost), by Felicia Day

“The internet is amazing because it connects us with one another. But it’s also horrific connects us with one another.”

I was reading You're Never Weird on the Internet (Almost)  at the reference desk when a 70-something library patron asked me what I was reading. I proceeded to try to explain who Felicia Day is to a woman who's never heard of YouTube and whose idea of online gaming is Words With Friends. You have no idea how hard this is until you've tried it. :)

For those of you who don't know who Felicia Day is, she's an actress and producer whose career has landed solidly in the geek world. She's especially well-known for her webseries The Guildabout a group of gamers.

I waited a month to get my hands on my library's copy of this amazing book, and I kind of wish I'd pulled my librarian status and snagged a copy earlier. Like probably every other geek girl ever, I wish Felicia Day was my friend. Nearly every sentence I read, I was like, yes, this! In this book, Felicia is very candid about her experiences, describing her addiction to gaming, her procrastination, her perfectionism, and her depression with a kind of open generosity, and I felt a lot of the time like she was writing about me, but with a few quirky details added and changing my career choice from librarian to actress/producer. A little more glamorous. :) Her book describes her road to success, her tips for other people to do what they love, her love of and participation in geek culture, and her thoughts about the positive and negative aspects of the internet.

Felicia's writing feels like she's just talking to you over lunch. It's funny, vulnerable, and infused with awkward charm - in short, exactly what I expect Felicia herself is like. Her honest it's-hard-but-it's-worth-it approach to being successful at something she loves is utterly inspiring. If I wasn't already working at my dream job, I'd be going out to get it after reading her book.

I'd recommend You're Never Weird on the Internet (Almost) to anyone who likes Felicia Day's work. Honestly, I'd recommend this book to anyone who's ever felt like success is easy for everyone but them. Now please excuse me while I go re-watch The Guild and follow Felicia on Goodreads.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Short Story Saturday: How Old Holly Came to Be, by Patrick Rothfuss

Writing Quality: 5/5
Enjoyment/Appeal: 5/5

"How Old Holly Came to Be" is Patrick Rothfuss's contribution to the anthology Unfettered, which I talked about in this post. The story is told in an almost chant-like rhythm that uses repetition to describe the change, growth, and rising consciousness of a holly tree. The lady who lives in the tower beside the tree cares for it, and in return it cares for her. There is war and magic and love and pain, but they are described in the slow, distant, matter-of-fact way in which I imagine a tree would see the world. The story spans decades. Centuries. But for the tree, time doesn't seem to mean much.

I've never read anything quite like this story before. The idea of conscious trees isn't new, but the question of how they gain self-awareness and what the world looks like from their point of view is new, and Pat's answer to that question is raw and beautiful.

This story left me with a sort of sweet, melancholy sadness. I loved it, and I read it a second time through immediately after reading it once. I'd like to read it again right now, even though I just put it down, like a favorite new song a teenager listens to over and over and over again, memorizing every word and note.

I would recommend this story to fantasy readers who like to delve into something a little different once in a while. In particular, if you're a fan of Pat's and you haven't read this yet, get on it! It's one of the shortest offerings in Unfettered, and it's incredibly good.

Recommended ages 16+. Seattle: Oak Press, 2013. Print. 574 pages. ISBN: 978-0984713639. 

Monday, September 7, 2015

Book Review: The Grace of Kings, by Ken Liu

Writing Quality: 5/5
Appeal/Enjoyment: 5/5

I picked up The Grace of Kings because I've heard so much amazing stuff about it. At first, though, I was a little hesitant about this book. The language brings to mind the stiff, impersonal style of a legend or a myth, with crystalline moments of poetry, like, “He was like a seed still tethered to the withered flower, just waiting for the dead air of the late summer evening to break, for the storm to begin.” These are characters who are almost gods themselves, and it's difficult to care about characters like that. As the story progressed, though, the themes started to emerge, and Ken Liu's ideas brought me back to the book every time I set it down.

The Grace of Kings is about war, empire, and revolution. It's also about the idea that war cannot be governed by the same moral code as life, because it cannot be won that way. In the same manner, life cannot be governed by the loose morals necessary for success in war, because peace cannot be maintained in such an environment. Ken Liu also writes about love, marriage, and fidelity, and his ideas are surprisingly feminist and progressive in nature. Maybe I'm only surprised because I don't know anything about Ken Liu other than the fact that he's Chinese American, he wrote this amazing book, and he translated The Three-Body Problem, which won the Hugo Award for best novel this year. Liu writes about equality in relationships, he writes a very liberal interpretation of marital fidelity, and he uses a misogynistic society to show how elevating women to positions of equality can improve an entire nation.

I'll be nominating this book for a Hugo next year. Frankly, I wish I could quote every single page of this book, but I'll stick with these:
“The heart is a complicated thing, and we're capable of many loves, though we're told that we must value one to the exclusion of others...You can be loyal to your husband at the same time that you take a lover for your own sake, though the poets tell us this is wrong. But why should we believe that the poets understand us better than we do ourselves?"
“I've always thought it nonsense to believe something true simply because it was written in a book long ago.” 

I'd recommend The Grace of Kings to readers who are interested in Imperial China (the inspiration for the setting of this book), fantasy where magic doesn't fix everything (or even take a major role), and readers who are in the mood for excellent writing and a slow, epic pace.

Recommended ages 16+. New York: Saga Press, 2015. Print. 640 pages. ISBN: 978-1481424271.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Short Story Saturday: That Seriously Obnoxious Time I Was Stuck at Witch Rimelda’s One Hundredth Birthday Party, by Tina Connolly

Writing Quality: 3/5
Appeal/Enjoyment: 4/5

Set in the world of Seriously Wicked: A Novel, this short story is seriously funny. Camellia is the non-witchy daughter of a wicked witch, and she's stuck at the one hundredth birthday party of another wicked witch. Everyone's wicked, down to the pool full of witchy children. After a party game in which all the witch children each have to defeat an animated inflatable octopus as it grows increasingly larger, the children are shunted off to the pool house, where they discover that their wicked parents are planning on sending their beloved librarian a seriously hexed loaf of banana bread.

You don't need to have read the book to enjoy That Seriously Obnoxious Time; it stands on its own very well. The story is told in first person, and Camellia's moody, rebellious teenage voice is absolutely believable. A simple, light story, this fluffy fiction entertains but also slips in some sneaky commentary about competitive parenting and petty revenge. I also don't mind that the action hinges on a librarian, although she never makes an appearance in the story.

Much like Seriously Wicked, I would recommend That Seriously Obnoxious Time to teens who feel like they don't belong, and who like fantasy that takes place in the modern world. Especially to readers who like stories that make them laugh. I'd also add that both (and especially the short story) can also be enjoyed by adults.

Recommended ages 11+. Tor Teen, 2015. Web. 26 Aug, 2015.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Book Review: Chloe and the Lion, by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Adam Rex

Writing Quality: 4/5
Appeal/Enjoyment: 3/5

This book about mistakes and giving up and perseverance and bravery and cunning and collaboration is kind of adorable. Mac Barnett wrote himself and illustrator Adam Rex into the story; Chloe just wants to ride the Merry-go-Round, but Mac fires Adam over an artistic disagreement, then realizes that if he can't work with Adam, Chloe's story will never get completed. The writing and dialogue are casual and realistic. Chloe is a cheeky, clever, brave little girl sharing her story with her creators, who are believably absurd, self-involved adults.

The multimedia art was a little strange for me, because I kept trying to figure out what was drawn and what was three-dimensional, and in what order they had drawn and photographed things. It wasn't exactly conducive to following the story.

Overall, it was a unique story, and the multimedia aspect would be a good way to introduce kids to new types of art.

I recommend Chloe and the Lion for discussions about perseverance and working together, and also for readers looking for a unique experience and those interested in introducing their children to new artistic mediums.

Recommended ages 4 - 8. New York: Disney Hyperion Books, 2012. Print. 48 pages. ISBN: 978-1423113348.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Short Story Saturday: Seeking Boarder..., by Rahul Kanakia

This short story by Rahul Kanakia is another from Clarkesworld Magazine, and you can read it for free here. The full title of this short story is "Seeking boarder for rm w/ attached bathroom, must be willing to live with ghosts ($500 / Berkeley)," and that title tells you pretty much everything I can say about the plot without telling you the whole thing. The story is told in the form of several listings for a boarder, and the poster may or may not be a reliable narrator. That's for the reader to decide. :)

I love stories with unreliable narrators, where I spend half of my time reading it trying to figure out if I'm the narrator is telling the truth, lying, or just delusional. I always think about "The Yellow Wallpaper" by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, a short story I read in college that is, in my opinion, one of the best examples of an unreliable narrator.

"Seeking Boarder..." is extremely well-written. The voice of the narrator was consistent and believable, and the story had a strange, uneasy mood that stayed with me for a while after reading. The story is more a study of the narrator's character than it is a plot-driven tale.

I would recommend this short story to people who enjoy unreliable narrators, stories told in non-standard formats, character-driven stories, and modern supernatural tales. It's extremely short, only 3762 words long, so I would also recommend it to someone who wants to spend no more than ten minutes reading something thought-provoking.

Rating: 4 stars