Wednesday, November 8, 2017

and then you're dead - Cody Cassidy and Paul Doherty

If you're like any normal human being, chances are that you've worried about a window popping out of a plane mid-flight, what would happen if the cable snapped on an elevator you were riding in, whether or not you can really survive a trip over Niagara Falls, and a host of other macabre but slightly practical issues. The good news: this book takes a large amount of these suppositions and analyzes them for your reading pleasure. The bad news: most of them involve you dying. Hence the name of the book. But there's (more) good news. Despite the fact that you're reading scenarios in which you almost certainly die, it's done in a humorous but informative manner. Accidentally jump into a black hole? At least you'll know what to expect. (Hint: spaghettification.) Wanna break the world skydiving record by going from the International Space Station? Here's a list of pros and cons for you to consider. The back cover describes the novel as "gleefully gruesome", and frankly, I really can't think of a better description.

Just so you can get an idea of what kinds of scenarios we're talking here, here's my top 10:
What would happen if...
  1. You were attacked by a swarm of bees?
  2. You skydived from outer space?
  3. You jumped into a black hole?
  4. You were killed by this book?
  5. You just stayed in bed?
  6. You toured the Pringles factory and fell off the catwalk?
  7. You dug a hole to China and jumped in?
  8. You became an actual human cannonball?
  9. You ate as many cookies as Cookie Monster?
  10. You were swallowed by a whale?
Now, admittedly, some of these are more speculation than they are based on experience; after all, once you've been atomized inside a black hole, it's going to be a bit difficult to report on what happened, even after you make it past the event horizon in a few million years. Despite this minor obstacle, Cassidy and Doherty do their very best to science their way to a logical analysis for every scenario in the book (45 in case you were wondering). I picked this book up on a whim from the library, and I went online and bought it before I'd even finished the whole thing! In case you haven't gotten the idea yet: READ IT!

Pros:
  • You will likely spend at least 89% of the book laughing
  • There actually is some quality science-y information provided
  • Carefully put-together answers to all those weird questions you always wondered about
Cons:
  • WAY too short. Seriously, I'd read a dictionary sized book of this stuff.
  • A wee bit graphic if you're squeamish (but really, what did you expect going into space without a suit?)
  •  See item 1. For reals, I NEED more.

Friday, October 13, 2017

The Glass Arrow - Kristen Simmons

In a world where women are property and their numbers are carefully managed, Aya is a rebel. Her mother escaped from the city when she was pregnant with Aya, and, even after her death, Aya managed to avoid detection in the mountains for 16 years with her cousins. Then, in a moment of hesitation, she is captured by Trackers and taken to the city. In the city, women are herded into a facility where they are primped and molded into ideal candidates to fetch a high price at the monthly auction. Those who are unfit for sale, whether for impurity or otherwise, have X's slashed into their faces, leaving them permanently scarred for all to see. Thanks to the synthetic nature of virtually everything in the city, local girls lack something that free-ranging Aya has; fertility, a trait that can bring a coveted boy to the highest bidder. At least, it would if Aya had any intention of letting herself be sold on the auction block like an animal or houseware. Unfortunately for the Governess, the woman who orchestrates the sale of the girls to rich Magnates, Aya's greatest goal is to escape and return to the only family she's ever known in the mountains. Failure after failure, botched auction after botched auction, she is unable to escape her merciless captors. Her only reprieve comes when she's sentenced to solitary, where she makes friends with a scraggly wolf pup she names Brax who becomes her sole companion. The Governess' patience with Aya is running out, and so are her chances to escape. Enter the Driver, stage right.

When Aya first meets the Driver during one of her stints in solitary, she's sure he's going to kill her. A shouted warning from her pen startles him and an excellently aimed knife is his reflexive response. Luckily, years of hunting have honed her reflexes too, and she manages to avoid the knife. Next thing she knows, he's jumping over the poisoned river into her space. Like all of his kind, he can't speak, and she struggles to understand why he's being kind to her. Night after night, he returns to the solitary pen and sits there as Aya pours her heart out to him. It's not like he could ever tell anyone what she says anyway. She decides to name him Kiran because of the unusual color of his eyes. And then comes auction day, but this time, Aya can't get out of it. Surprisingly, Kiran appears and distracts the guard and she flees. Desperate for a disguise, she helps a young boy at the market steal a piece of candy in return for his cape. But the ruse fails and she is recaptured and forced onto the auction block. As she looks onto the crowd, she sees the boy with a creepy looking man. She thinks nothing of it until she learns that she has been purchased by the man, who is the brother of the mayor. The boy, Amir, is the mayor's son and she discovers that she is going to be his playmate until he grows older, when she will become something far worse.

In the mayor's household, Aya quickly finds out that Amir is spoiled, cruel, and difficult to please; the slightest sign of obstinance on her part results in pain. A moment of laxity presents an opportunity to escape not long after she arrives, and she takes it. On the way out, she runs into Kiran, who had apparently been mounting a rescue attempt himself. They sneak out together and return to the barn across from the solitary pen where Kiran houses all of his supplies, planning their escape back into the mountains. While there, Aya learns a surprising secret; Drivers can talk, but their silence helps ensure the safety of their women. Another problem arises when Aya sees one of her ex-fellow-inmates being punished by a Watcher in the solitary pen and takes action. Now, Kiran must suit the escape plan for the three of them instead of the original two. They make it out of the city in disguise, but they are joined by yet another companion: Brax, unwilling to be left behind by his master. They may have escaped the city, but they are still being followed by the Mayor's men. When Aya discovers her family is missing, shocking realizations begin to come to light that threaten her understanding of who she is. With her future in the balance, she must commit to a plan of action or risk losing everything she loves.

Man, talk about a heart-pounding, edge-of-your-seat read. I love the main characters ,  I love the plot, I love the way it's written... I just really love this book. The characters are really well developed so you can almost tell what they're going to do before they do it. The plot calls up anger, heartbreak, strength, determination, and a host of other traits I'm leaving out. Additionally, it addresses the divide between men and women in society; it may not be that men are buying and selling women for pleasure or their child-bearing abilities, but the problem is present nonetheless. For another thing, it steers clear of typical dystopian tropes (TDT). If this was a TDT book, Aya would (1) realize she's stuck in an unfair system, (2) meet a boy she falls in love with, (3) decide to escape with said boy, and (4) break the system on the way out, freeing everyone from the tyranny of the corrupt power group. Admittedly, the book does have some of these twists, but the timeline and motivations are vastly different.

If there's one thing that really bugged me about the book, it's how there were a couple of loose ends that never got tied up. Unfortunately, if I listed the primary one, it would kinda give away a huge plot point, so I'll remain silent. Aside from that, there were a few points in the book that seemed to drag on. I'll give you an example of a loop that really started to get me: attempt escape, get recaptured, get punished, attempt escape, get recaptured, get punished, repeat until your head spins. I get that Aya spends most of her time plotting escape and that's one of the reasons we love her, but do we need to hear about it every single time?


I really tried to avoid the temptation of the Simon Cowell meme, but it was stronger than me. I regret nothing. Anyhoo, despite these little issues, I thoroughly enjoyed this book and would highly recommend it.

Pros:
  •  Good character development and no huge story gaps (e.g. A meets B, they fall in love, and get married in one chapter)
  •  Say buh-bye to typical dystopian tropes
  •  SO. MANY. FEELS.
Cons:
  •  Wee plot inconsistencies, but nothing hugely distracting
  •  Occasionally slow; how many escape attempts can we read about before we get bored?
  •  SO. MANY. FEELS. 
And yes, I did just use feels as both a pro and a con. Don't judge. As with most books I read, there was a line that really stuck out to me, and, as with most books, there was already a graphic for it on Google images. My work here is done. 

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Convicted - Jameel McGee and Andrew Collins

Jameel McGee lives in Benton Harbor, a backwards, crime-ridden town in Michigan. Located across the water from a ritzy white tourist town, Benton Harbor is inhabited primarily by blacks and is policed by an almost entirely white force. Racial tension is high in the town, but Jameel's greatest wish is to open a car wash in a nearby area and put his exceptional work ethic to good use. Unfortunately, he also has a penchant for being in the wrong place at the wrong time, resulting in several arrests despite doing absolutely nothing wrong. When Jameel's ex-girlfriend contacts him to bring over the son he's never gotten to see, he rushes to the grocery store to stock up on supplies to make a good impression. Because of his record, he's unable to drive himself and hitches a ride with a cousin who happened to be going the same way. Unbeknownst to him, his cousin had set up a drug deal and was delivering the goods. When he comes out of the store, he's immediately approached by Officer Andrew Collins, who accuses him of setting up the deal. Despite blatant evidence to the contrary, Jameel is arrested and charged with drug possession with intent to distribute. Shocked that he's managed to get himself into yet another situation like this, Jameel fights back against the charges, but the false testimony of the corrupt cop and the biased judicial system result in a 10 year stay in federal prison, all for a crime he didn't commit. He won't get to see his son and he certainly won't be able to open a car wash now. Angry and hurt at the injustice, Jameel swore that if he ever saw Collins again, he'd kill him. While in prison, though, Jameel underwent a serious transformation; he found God, and with it, he lost a lot of the hate he harbored towards Officer Collins. After serving 3 years of his 10 year sentence and being told that all of his appeals had been rejected, Jameel is released from prison.

Andrew Collins always knew that he wanted to be a police officer, and that's exactly what he did. When he graduated from the police academy, he submitted dozens of resumes but eventually ended up in Benton Harbor. With all of the drug activity in the town, Officer Collins saw an opportunity to gain his peers' respect, so he made it his goal to take down the big names on the street. Somewhere along the way, a case came up where he had to make a decision; lie to incriminate someone he knew was guilty or let them go free. Believing the ends justified the means, he chose to tell a little white lie. Once he had done it the first time, it became easier and easier to twist the truth to get bad people off the streets. Before he knew what was happening, he was embezzling money meant for confidential informants, keeping drugs from busts to plant on suspects, lying to obtain search warrants, and falsifying reports. With this newfound power, it was easy to label Jameel McGee as a major drug lord, even without evidence tying him to the actual drugs. But he had promised an arrest that day, and there was going to be one whether there was a guilty party or not. After this incident, things started going south for Officer Collins; his stash of drugs was found by a superior and the falsified reports were brought into question. As if that wasn't bad enough, his partner in crime threw him under the bus to save his own skin. Now, instead of taking bad guys off the street, Andrew is a bad guy, one facing serious charges and a lengthy prison term. Thanks to months of cooperation with the FBI, he spends only 18 months in prison, but his case has another side-effect; the charges against people arrested by Andrew are dropped, resulting in the early release of Jameel McGee.

When Andrew and Jameel next meet, a lot of things have happened. Andrew has gotten involved with a local church and now holds a regular day job, going home every day to his wife and daughter. After 3 years in prison, Jameel has had to start over, struggling with finding a job thanks to his record, but more involved in his son's life. The situation comes to a head when they encounter each other at a local church function. Jameel remembers the promise he made while he was still in prison and struggles to give the situation over to God. Andrew prepares himself for a beating when the unthinkable happens; Jameel and his son walk away. After this, life moves unexpectedly for both men. Soon, Jameel is homeless and unable to work and Andrew is the manager at a cafe run by the church. As they both struggle to define their new lives, they find themselves being drawn together in miraculous ways. Guided by the power of God and forgiveness, the two men are able to come to terms with their past and each other.

I received this book for free from Blogging for Books in return for an honest review. Even though this really isn't in my normal vein of reading, I found this to be a roller coaster ride from start to finish. The blurb on the back says it all: "It reads like a gripping crime novel... except this story really happened". The novel honestly addresses the racial and power divides in towns like Benton Harbor and demonstrates how faith can bridge even the greatest gaps. I love how the chapters alternate between Jameel's and Andrew's narratives because you get to see both sides of the story. It did seem to drag on a little sometimes, but being that it's a narrative, I guess that's not totally unexpected. Overall, this was a great, motivational read!

Pros:
  • Intense, thrilling read
  • Based on a true story
  • Demonstrates the life-changing power of faith
Cons:
  • Sometimes a little too much detail
  • Emotional roller coaster (not necessarily bad, but here we are)
  • I can't actually think of another con, so I'll just make it look like there's something here
Check out this awesome CBS interview with the two. It sums up the book perfectly!

Thursday, September 14, 2017

The Book Jumper - Mechthild Glaser

Before we even get to the actual story, let's talk visuals for a second. This book cover is GORGEOUS. Seriously, I fell in love with it the second I picked it up off the shelf at the library. If I there was a poster of this cover, I'd totally buy it. That being said, I didn't let my love (okay, okay - obsession) with the cover cloud my judgement for this review. After this sentence, it's strictly content. Aaaand go.

Amy Lennox lives with her hippie mother in Germany along with her closest companions: books, as many of them as she can get her hands on. An avid reader, Amy spends her days adventuring with her favorite characters. When a bad breakup hits at home, Amy and her mother decide to return to their ancestral home, Stormsay, in Scotland for a summer getaway. She'd always been told her mother's family was a little crazy and she soon realizes the truth behind it when they land on the tiny island with almost no inhabitants in the middle of a storm. But what was supposed to be a relaxing vacation takes an unexpected turn when Amy learns that she has inherited her family's gift of book jumping, the ability to jump into a story and interact with the characters while she is of a certain age. Not only that, but the power is stronger in her than other members of the family, allowing her to jump from wherever she desires instead of under the portal required by the others. Soon, she is meeting her favorite characters and seeing her favorite fictional places, but there's a catch to her newfound powers; whatever happens, the plot of the story must continue as normal.

Amy begins attending classes with the two others people on the island that share her powers, and it soon becomes apparent that something is wrong in the literary world. Sherlock Holmes goes missing, and the key ideas behind classic stories are being stolen without warning. Amy, who has been sneaking into books without her instructor's supervision, makes friends with an unlikely literary character who tries to help her uncover the culprit. As Amy learns more about the history of her family's gift and gains more experience with book jumping, she begins to piece together an idea of what's going on. Along the way, she enlists the help of Will, a fellow book jumper who was charged with protecting the Sherlock Holmes story when he went missing. The two become closer as the investigation progresses and it soon becomes apparent that they're up against a more serious and close evil than they could've guessed.

The first thing I thought when I picked up this book was "THIS IS THE GREATEST, MOST BEAUTIFUL COVER I'VE EVER SEEN!" The second thing I thought was "THIS IS THE GREATEST, MOST BESTEST IDEA I'VE EVER SEEN!" What reader doesn't dream of living through their favorite stories? The way the author pulls in classic texts makes you feel like you're the one doing the book jumping and her attention to describing details is stunning.

With that being said, there are some downsides. After Amy's initial jumps, there really isn't a lot of time spent inside the actual stories. It's a little disappointing when you think about that being the premise of the book, but it makes sense not to detract from this novel's plot by spending extensive amounts of time on well-established classics. As far as the actual plot, I felt there could have been a little more complexity; once you hit a certain point fairly early in the book, it becomes less of a mystery and more of a "catch-up-with-the-bad-guy" line. Despite that, the ending actually did manage to surprise me somewhat, so it's not a total loss.

Pros:
  • I'm so sorry, but does the cover count?
  • Awesome plot 
  • Fast-paced, can't-put-it-down read
Cons:
  • Not a lot of depth in the actual book jumping portions
  • There's not really any mystery once you reach a certain point in the book, and the point isn't as far in as you'd expect
  • Certain plot aspects are a little too fast-paced (*cough cough* romance *cough cough*)
Despite its downsides, I would still definitely suggest this book. It's a great idea, even if it's not executed perfectly. Aside from that, take a look at this quote from the novel. It perfectly encapsulates every reader's mindset when picking up a new book or walking into a library and I love it!


Easy Peach Cobbler

Is there anything tastier than a warm peach cobbler fresh out of the oven with a scoop of slow-churned vanilla ice cream on top? Obviously I don't think so since I just spent so much time describing it in so much detail.
Seriously though, the ice cream melts a little on top and combines with the warm cobbler... it's bliss.


Ingredients:
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1 cup flour
2 cups sugar, divided
1 tablespoon baking powder
Pinch of salt
1 cup milk
4 cups fresh peach slices
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Ground cinnamon or nutmeg (optional)

Directions:
  1.  Melt butter in  13 x 9-inch baking dish.
  2. Combine flour, 1 cup sugar, baking powder, and salt; add milk, stirring just until dry ingredients are moistened. Pour batter over butter (do not stir).
  3. Bring remaining 1 cup sugar, peach slices, and lemon juice to a boil over high heat, stirring constantly; pour over batter (do not stir). Sprinkle with cinnamon, if desired.
  4. Bake at 375 F for 40-45 minutes or until golden brown. Serve with vanilla ice cream on top.
Source: Southern Living: All-Time Favorites

Monday, September 4, 2017

Harrison Squared - Daryl Gregory

Harrison Harrison isn't your average teenager. First off, he's saddled with the name Harrison Harrison thanks to an old family tradition. As if that wasn't bad enough, his dad was killed in a mysterious boating accident that also left Harrison without one of his legs at a very young age. He was always told a piece of scrap off the ship was responsible, but he remembers it differently; long tentacles with suckers, and a mouth full of razor sharp teeth. Believing this is his imagination's way of filling in blank parts of his memory, he tries to live his life as normally as possible.

Harrison's mother is a marine researcher of the ABM category, or Absent-Minded Professor; she shuts out almost everything when she's working, even Harrison. When she decides to follow her research to middle-of-nowhere Massachusetts, Harrison manages to convince her to let him tag along. It seems like a good idea until they arrive in Dunnsmouth, a tiny town with no cable and plenty of creepy inhabitants. On the surface, the school is full of students who seem as if they've been brainwashed: uniforms exactly in place, no talking during or even between classes, and following expectations to the letter. The teachers are even creepier, leading the students in daily ritual chants and pointing them towards the wrong ideas. Harrison's attendance record in the first week is sketchy at best, but then his mother goes missing while placing one of the research buoys necessary for collecting data and he uncovers the hidden side of the students. Although they seem compliant on the surface, they're secretly rebelling against the "religion" being forced onto them at the school and by their relatives. As Harrison desperately searches to find his mother, he reveals the dark secret of Dunnsmouth, one that goes back centuries and pulled in all of the town's inhabitants. Shockingly enough, it might even have something to do with his father's death and the loss of his leg. Will he and the other children be able to defeat the evil that hangs over Dunnsmouth, or will they too become victims of an ancient cult?

Talk about "couldn't-put-it-down" reads. When I started reading this one, I was really unimpressed, but it only took until about the third chapter before I was totally hooked. One minute you think you're reading a straight-up mystery and then POW! Sea monsters and evil cults and super creepy scrimshanders (which I learned the definition of in this book). I went from "I guess I'll finish it just so I can get it off my to read pile" to "I WILL MAKE A FOREVER HOME FOR YOU ON MY SHELF"!

Pros:
  • Super multi-dimensional plot keeps things very interesting
  • Mystery + horror + adventure = <3
  •  Really bizarre, fun characters
Cons:
  • Some of the plot points didn't add up (e.g. estranged aunt dropping everything to come live with Harrison when his mother disappears)
  • Ending goes really fast compared to the rest of the story
  • Fair bit of language

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

The Other Mr. Darcy - Monica Fairview

Who doesn't love Pride and Prejudice? If the answer to this question is you, you can probably skip this post entirely. This novel is entirely based on the classic; it's written in a similar fashion, it's set in the same time period, and it has all of the same characters. If you love Pride and Prejudice (like me), you may enjoy this read (also like me). If you don't, you won't.

Caroline Bingley was always certain she would manage to snag the elusive Mr. Darcy as a husband. She followed the rules of flirting she learned from Mrs. Drakehill's finishing school and the advice of her mother. Everything was going perfectly... until he married Elizabeth Bennet. Stunned by the loss of what seemed a sure future, Caroline is horrified to find herself weeping at his wedding. As if it wasn't bad enough that she was crying over a man, there's a witness to her emotional display; Mr. Darcy's American cousin, Robert. Believing she'll never see him again, Caroline convinces the handsome stranger to keep the little incident a secret and they go their separate ways.

Life at Netherfield continues normally until Robert Darcy reappears bearing grave news; Elizabeth has fallen ill and would like Jane to come visit her at Pemberley. Jane, unsure of how to maintain a household as large as Pemberley, enlists Caroline's help. As a result, Caroline reluctantly finds herself being escorted (with her sister Louisa) by the dashing foreigner. A county fair forces the company to stop at a friend's home until they are able to pass, but disaster strikes. A rumor is circulated that Caroline is engaged to one of her most promising prospects, a fatal move if the proud Sir Cecil were ever to discover the ploy. Not understanding the rules of London society and hoping to help Caroline save face, Robert announces their engagement instead. Now, Caroline faces an even bigger problem: how is she supposed to make a good match when everyone thinks she's engaged? The group continues on to Pemberley, where they are joined by the entire Bennet family. Unsurprisingly, another crisis arises; Lydia Wickham shows up claiming her impulsive husband has run off with a married woman. As the group tries to navigate this new hurdle, Caroline finds herself drawing closer and closer to Robert, despite his somewhat scandalous ideas on common societal issues. Robert, who runs a business in the states, initially has no desire to marry a woman like Caroline, but as he gets to know her better, he finds himself falling for her. But will either of them be able to overcome their pride and confess their feelings before it's too late?

As I've previously said, I LOVE Pride and Prejudice. I know, I know, it's such a chick flick (chick book?) but it's just so good! The cool thing about this novel is that it's essentially a continuation of Austen's book. Unlike some sequels that change little things around and make different assumptions, everything is the same. Fairview even manages to capture the different characters' personalities really well!

Pros:
  • There's no such thing as too much Pride and Prejudice (unless you count Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Ick.)
  •  Written in the same style with the same characters
  •  Makes a pretty good standalone if you've never read Pride and Prejudice (which you should definitely do eventually)
Cons:
  • Caroline comes across as a slightly different character than in the original
  •  Probability problem - how likely is it Mr. Darcy happens to have a cousin that Caroline happens to accidentally get engaged to? 
  • If you're a stickler for not changing anything from the original, you might not like some of the plot twists
If you've never ready Pride and Prejudice, I would highly encourage it. Elizabeth Bennet is one of my favorite literary characters! Besides, who can resist a good romance novel, especially one with rejection and bad life choices in it? Here's a trailer for the movie, which I also really love!