Wednesday, January 1, 2014

The Books of 2013

Unfortunately, I read a lot faster than I review and between work and school, I don't get to talk about all the books I read this year. So, here's all 55-some books I read this past year with links for those I reviewed, and for those I didn't, a rating and maybe a sentence or two.


Swamplandia! by Karen Russell - 4/5

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs - 2/5 YA

Stay Awake by Dan Chaon - 3.5/5

Maverick Jetpants in the City of Quality by Bill Peters - 3/5

The Cranes Dance by Meg Howrey - 3.5/5


The Lace Reader by Brunonia Barry - 3/5

The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling - 4.5/5*

Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan - 2/5

If You Were Here by Jen Lancaster - 1.5/5

Into the Beautiful North by Luis Alberto Urrea - 3/5
While the writing wasn't the greatest, it was cute, upbeat, and overall enjoyable. I also had some nice insight into the story as I was able to see the author give a talk on it. 


Kind of Kin by Rilla Askew - 3.5/5 

The Middlesteins by Jami Attenberg - 4/5*

A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki - 5/5* 

City of Dark Magic by Magnus Flyte - 2.5/5

The Best of Youth by Michael Dahlie - 3/5

Laika by Nick Abadzis - 4/5 YA/GN


Summer of the Mariposas by Guadalupe Garcia McCall - 3/5 YA

Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card - 4.5/5 YA*

The Year of the Beasts by Cecil Castellucci & Nate Powell - 3.5/5 YA/GN*

Tenth of December by George Saunders -4/5*

The Road by Cormac McCarthy - 4.5/5
The sparse prose truly conveys the bleak, desolate setting. 


How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia by  Mohsin Hamid - 3/5
A rare example of the second-person book done right. Interesting in how vague and yet still specific it manages to be. 

Pastoralia by George Saunders - 4/5*
There really isn't anything I can say about George Saunders any more that won't sound like gushing. 

The Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick - 4/5*
I have to say it, it was better than the movie. 

The War at Ellsmere by Faith Erin Hicks - 3/5 YA/GN (not included in final tally)
Zombies Calling by Faith Erin Hicks - 3/5 YA/GN (not included in final tally)

The Obsidian Blade by Pete Hautman - 2/5 YA


CivilWarLand in Bad Decline by George Saunders - 4/5*
Probably my favorite of Saunders' collections--at least containing my favorite short story, the eponymous CivilWarLand in Bad Decline.

After Dark by Haruki Murakami - 3.5/5*
Interesting read, though the ending left a bit to be desired. 

Dreams & Shadows by C. Robert Cargill - 2.5/5 

The Teleportation Accident by Ned Beauman - 3.5/5
Delightfully a dark sort of way, if not slow-moving at first. The main character was surprisingly endearing.


Blankets by Craig Thompson - 3.5 YA/GN

Twilight of the Superheroes by Debora Eisenberg - 3.5/5

Vampires in the Lemon Grove by Karen Russell - 3.5/5


Mythago Wood by Robert Holdstock - 3.5/5
A really unique concept. 

The Cuckoo's Calling by Robert Galbraith - 3/5
Well-written, though mystery has never really been my thing. Not sure I completely bought the culprit.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman - 2.5/5

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley - 3/5

The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton - 5/5 YA*
Now why couldn't we have read this in high school instead of Catcher in the Rye? 

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness - 4/5 YA*
Excellent look at childhood loss and letting go, along with some brilliant illustrations. 


Proxy by Alex London -  3/5 YA
A young adult dystopia where the main character is gay AND not-White! 

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie - 4/5 YA*

Inexcusable by Chris Lynch - 3/5 YA

The First Part Last by Angela Johnson - 3.5/5 YA

The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey - 4/5


The Hive by Gill Hornby - 3/5
Cute and funny. 

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky - 4/5 YA

The 9/11 Report by Sid Jacobson - 3/5 YA

The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon - 2.5/5
Creative world-building and well-written, though plot left some to be desired.

Incarceron by Catherine Fisher - 2/5 YA
Interesting world-building, though ultimately tedious. 

The Body of Christopher Creed by Carol Plum-Ucci - 3/5 YA


The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame - 4/5 J*
October Mourning by Leslea Newman - 3.5/5 YA

Luna by Julie Ann Peters - 4/5 YA

Stoner and Spaz by Ron Koertge - 3/5 YA

The Fields by Kevin Maher - 3.5/5

Winter Town by Stephen Emond - 2.5/5 YA
Would have been better as a completely graphic novel, as the prose was awkward in places. Story could have been better fleshed out. 

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys - 4/5 YA
If you must read a book about shades of gray, let it be this one about the forcible relocation of Lithuanians by the Soviet Union. 


The River of No Return by Bee Ridgeway - 3.5/5
The plot bits were interesting, the romance bits tedious--but hey, maybe it's just me. 

Boxers and Saints by Gene Luen Yang - 4.5/5* YA/GN 
Heartbreaking look at the Boxer Rebellion from two different point of views. I'd say definitely read Boxers first. 

Money Boy by Paul Yee - 3/5 YA
Interesting, though the writing style was a little hard to get into and the story felt somewhat abrupt.

Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh - 4/5*
Simply hilarious. 

The Silmarillion by J.R.R. Tolkien - 5/5*
There's nothing I can say about this book that hasn't already said.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid (Vol 1-8) by Jeff Kinney - 3/5 (not included in final tally)
It's just too funny. 

The Rehearsal by Elizabeth Catton - 4/5
A little confusing and slow moving at times, but very well written.

* - highly recommend
YA - Young adult
GN- Graphic Novel
J - Children's

Stay tuned for the FANCIEST BOOK of 2013!

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Tenth of December Review

Tenth of December - George Saunders



I read this book ages and ages ago, and never quite got around to reviewing it, and I was going to just toss it into my end-of-the-year un-reviewed list, but this book is way too good for it to not have its own.

So I really, really, really wanted to give this books a 5, but the thing about short story collections is that some are a hit and some are a miss, and unfortunately, there were some stories that I was less enthused about than others. Not that they were necessarily bad, but that they were lacking in that mph that really makes a short story punch. But of course, not every single story you write can be amazing, though when George Saunders is at his peak, damn.

So, Tenth, for those of you who haven't been paying attention (because its had a fair amount of hype) is his latest collection. I'd previously been aware of his work from a class I took waaaay back as a freshman in college and while I really liked his stories, I wasn't a big short fiction reader at that point and so kind of forgot about him for a while, except that I knew his name and I associated it with something good. So his new book came out and I put a hold on it and four months later I finally got it and I just cannot get enough of George Saunders.

I've heard his work compared to Vonnegut, and that's probably the best way to describe his writing--his stories often utilize the tragicomic and the strange. It's funny and clever, but then also really sad and really dark.You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll go home happy. I really don't know what else to say because it's all just going to sound like gushing.

So, my favorites out if this collection:
"Victory Lap", "Home", "Escape from Spiderhead", and especially, "The Semplica Girl Diaries" and the eponymous  "Tenth of December".

While it's not my favorite of his collections--that would probably be CivilWarLand in Bad Decline, considering he's my favorite living short-story writer, it's all good.

4/5 Fancies.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The Ocean at the End of the Lane Review

The Ocean at the End of the Lane - Neil Gaiman



To be completely honest, I was rather disappointed with this book. I suppose part of it may be due its hype of being the new Neil Gaiman book, plus, I suppose, the hype of Gaiman himself, because I definitely expected better. Admittedly, the only other book of his I've read was Coraline, and that was years ago and also for children, but I'm aware of him and his works and I guess I just expected better, particularly as this is billed as an adult book, though between the language and content, I'm not really sure why. I could see this better placed as YA--it's not like they'd lose the adult market anyway.

Basically, a middle-aged man, returns to his childhood home and flashesback to his childhood, specifically an incident that occurred when he was seven years old. As child, a man boarding in his family home kills himself which somehow unleashes a terror upon the boy and he must turn to a witchy, tri-generational trinity of women (and girl) who live at the end of the lane.

The story was interesting enough, though, in my humblest of opinions, it felt very similar to Coraline,  particularly with the recurring childhood vs adulthood dichotomy. And while I've got nothing against that theme, by the end of the book, it almost felt as though he were beating us over the head with it. By the time we get to the ending, it's like okay, I get it, adults are lame and boring and don't listen to reason and ruin things and childhood is better because imagination and fun! Which is another reason I think this would appeal better to a YA audience. Also, it's suppose to be "horror", and from an adult perspective it really wasn't that scary. Although to be fair, I had also just read Junji Ito's Uzumaki, and that's about as terrifying as it gets.

The main problem I had with the story was that it just didn't feel fleshed out. The entire book is under 200 pages and while quantity is no guarantee of quality, in this case, there just wasn't enough content. The "Acknowledgements" states that this grew from what was originally a short story, and I think it definitely reflects that. Really, it feels more like an intermediate draft between the short story and a full novel...perhaps Neil was getting a little too close to the deadline? The storyline just didn't come off as terribly creative, though it definitely had the potential to be if there had been a greater level of detail. As it was, I felt very little connection to any of the characters nor did I ever get a really good feel for the world it takes place in. Of course, the writing itself was no help, as it, too, seemed lacking.

His sentence structure was rather stilted which ruined the flow--they were either too long, or too short, or oddly broken up, and repetitious. For instance, there is a paragraph on page 18 in which all five sentences begin with the word "It". And I think he may have chosen this stylistically to emphasis the "It-ness" of the subject, but at the same time, it just doesn't flow well. And then there's this lovely sentence (emphasis mine):
"We pushed our way into a clump of trees, and through the clump of trees into a wood, and squeezed our way through trees too close together, their foliage a thick canopy above our heads."
If this had been a singular example, it would probably have been forgivable, but the thing is, it. kept. happening. Later on there's: 

"Lettie walked and I walked beside her" and also "...its shadow perfectly positioned to cast nightmare shadows on the wall..." just to point out a few.
To be fair, the editors are probably also partially to blame, as the point of having editors is to catch things like this. Though I'm wondering, if perhaps publication was rushed just because they knew it would sell regardless of the editing because it's Neil Gaiman (which might also explain that "intermediary" feel I mentioned above).

 Of course, I'm not necessarily turned off of Gaiman because of this. According to my sister, Stardust is quite good, and she is one who's opinion I can trust. I've also flipped through American Gods, which looks to be much better and is on my To-Read list. Really, what I found the most disappointing was that this book could have been so, so, much better because there were some really interesting quotes and ideas that just needed some more depth (and editing). I'll say it again, this book comes off as a draft, not a finished novel. But, I suppose every author has his hits and misses, and this one happens to be a miss.

As short at it was, still not really worth the time it takes to read it. 2.5/5 Fancies.

Read Instead: The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly
                        A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Blankets Review

Blankets by Craig Thompson


Last year I read Habibi and that was brilliant and then I came across Blankets which was apparently Thompson's first Big Deal.

So, Blankets is basically a memoir of Thompson's religious childhood out in the middle of Nowhere, Michigan. While it does cover some of his childhood and his relationship with his brother, the main focus of the book is a two week "vacation" when he was a teenager, in which he stays with his "more-than-a-friend-but-not-quite-a-girlfriend", Raina. And that's about it for plot because this book isn't about plot, it's about Thompson's growth and development as an adolescent.

As always, he masterfully merges the story with his illustrations, even when he touches on uncomfortable subjects, which are even more gut-wrenching because this is a memoir and therefore things that actually happened to him.

The only drawback, at least for me personally, is the focus of the storyline. To be honest, the whole teen-romantic-angst angle just wasn't particularly interesting to me. I've probably said this before, but I'm not a romantic person, and I find romance (particularly teen romance) and the drama associated with it, to be tedious. Honestly, I thought dynamic between he and his brother more interesting and would have liked to see more of that, although apparently they sort of drifted as they got older so perhaps there isn't too much there. Of course, he was also still pretty young (24) when he started working on this book, so of course his formative teen years are going to be the focus, and Raina appears to have had the biggest influence on him during that time.

There are parts where the drama seems a bit too drawn out, and parts where the glowing perfection that is Raina seems a bit unrealistic, but then you have to remind yourself that this is from his memories and his perspective, so of course things are going to be skewed. Raina appears perfect because that's how he saw her.

Overall though, it is an enjoyable read, and despite the size, rather quick as it is a graphic novel. Thompson certainly captures the growth and development of his person through childhood to adolescence and beyond.It'd be interesting to see him put out another memoir as a much older person with more life experience to reflect on.
3.5/5 Fancies. 

Friday, June 28, 2013

Dreams and Shadows Review

Dreams and Shadows - C. Robert Cargill


First, I just want to say that I think we've reached a saturation point in regards to books about fairy/faerie/faery and whatever other spellings there may be. I mean, the whole seelie/unseelie/Tithe thing has be come a bit, at least in my humblest of opinions, overdone. Particularly as most of these books seem to follow similar plot lines.

However, it's a little hard to describe the plot of this book in particular because I feel like it was never quite fully fleshed out and while there was definitely a lot of sequential action, the exact point of the story isn't immediately apparent. Part of me thinks Cargill was just jamming every supernatural creature he could think of--changelings, djinn, redcaps, Sidhe, nixies, angels, Coyote...--into one story and then come up with something for all of them to do. He even references "the La Llorona", which awkwardly translates to "the the Weeping Woman".

Back to the story: a child named Ewan is stolen from his human parents and replaced by dastardly changeling named Knocks, meanwhile a child named Colby runs into a djinn named Yashar and makes some poor choices in wishes. Eventually they all end up together and become embroiled in a violent revenge plot.

In terms of world building, Cargill does a pretty good job. As I mentioned before, stories about Fairy Land, called the Limestone Kingdom in this book, are nothing new, but Cargill still manages to make the world his own. So kudos to him for that. The problem, is that there isn't quite enough plot to support that world. Knocks, as the villain, was probably to best fleshed out character, who's motivations were the most thorough and believable. However, the other aspects, Ewan and Mallaidh's romance along with Ewan and Colby's bromance, weren't really given enough description and time to grow and felt more like rather than showing us Ewan and Colby's deep-felt, decade-spanning friendships, we're simply told, "oh by the way, they're BFFs now." As for the side characters, their motives and actives are also given poor explanation, and where they are explained, the reasons aren't terribly substantial.

That all said, it was an entertaining read. There's a fair amount of disembowelment, dismemberment, decapitation, so depending on how you generally feel about violent books, may or may not be your thing. Personally, I've read so many violent books at this point I didn't really give it a second thought, but I had read some other reviews where people were complaining, so I figure I ought to give a fair warning.

I suppose it's a good read for those fans of Faerie who haven't quite gotten sick of the genre yet. Otherwise, it's nothing to race off to the library for. 2.5/5 Fancies.   

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

The Obsidian Blade Review

The Obsidian Blade - Pete Hautman


This book was thoroughly underwhelming. I’ve already mentioned that I approach YA fiction with a certain level of hesitancy because a lot of the time I’ll start one that has an interesting plot, but then it just disappoints me in the end due to either poor plotting or inadequate prose. Unfortunately, this book was no exception.

I think I originally read about the upcoming sequel to this book and that seemed interesting, but of course I have to read the series in order, so I picked up the first book. 

Basically, Tucker’s dad disappears one day, and then reappears a few hours later wearing strange clothes and with a strange space-girl with a poor grasp of the English language named Leeloo Lahlia. Weird things start happening, such as his father, the town preacher, declaring he no long believes in God, his mother going steadily crazy and dysfunctional with a mounting obsession with Sudoku, and weird shimmery disks and ghosts appearing around roofs, until finally his parents flat out vanish. He then proceeds into a time-warping adventure chased by homicidal future-priests.

I suppose this book isn't necessarily bad, so much as simply not engaging. Certainly Hautman has his world building down, and while there were still a lot of open questions at the end, as I mentioned, this was just the opener to a series (an inevitability, it seems, to YA books these days), so presumably, there will be answers to come. But as the story progressed, I was enjoying it less and less and reading it became almost a chore and I only finished because I'd already invested so much time into it.

The beginning moves slow, I mean, you're practically halfway through the book before it really gets going. But that's almost okay, because the whole time it's building up, you keep reading because you're just waiting for something to happen. The problem is, the prose is very sparse. It's a lot of "He did this. Then this. Then he did that. And that." Which didn't draw me in and didn't make for very interesting reading, regardless of the action going on. Plus, Tucker was rather bland--really just standing in as a blank slate asking questions for the readers, and Lahlia, who was a bit more interesting, remained a vague and mysterious figure throughout, so I didn't really end up caring about any of the characters enough to be invested in the story.

Although the sequel is what initially attracted me to the series, I won't be continuing on. 2/5 Fancies. 

Sunday, June 9, 2013

The War at Ellsmere/Zombies Calling Review

DUO REVIEW! Because both of these are short, graphic novels, written by Faith Erin Hicks, that I read over the course of a half an hour, it seemed better sense to stick them together. This is a little tough because I have met Ms. Hicks and she is super fun and super nice so I don't want it to seem like I'm just gushing (even though I am, a bit, because I just love her art), but I also don't want to say less than positive things because she is super fun and super nice. Luckily, she hasn't given me reason to say too many less-than-positive things.

The War at Ellsmere


Juniper (Jun) is the new scholarship student at prestigious (and expensive) Ellsmere Academy. She befriends her roommate, the weird girl, and goes head to head with the bitchy rich girl who is mean to everyone.

Okay, so maybe that description doesn't quite do the story justice. So, We've all seen this plot before. But then, technically, we've see EVERY plot before. At this point, it's all about execution. I always tend to give graphic novels a bit more leeway in terms of literary ability because I feel like they exist in a space where it's slightly easier for me to suspend my belief because of the pretty, pretty art.

I suppose my main beef is that it's so short! There was good build-up, and while the wrap-up was cohesive and mostly comprehensive, I feel like there could have been more. More build up! More character depth! MORE PRETTY PRETTY ART. It seemed this story really just scratched the surface of the characters and the setting and then it was suddenly over. I think there could have been a lot more to it and the ending does seems a little contrived, though Hicks has admitted this herself. But it's a fun, quick, read.

Read-a-Likes: The Dreaming by Queenie Chan


 Zombies Calling 


So we jump forward from high school to college in this one. I'll admit, when I first picked this book up, my initial reaction was "Oh god, another zombie book?" Because lets be honest, I feel like zombies have reached a certain market saturation point. But Zombies Calling is fully aware of this and part of the point is that the characters are aware of and utilize zombie-tropes.

Joss loves zombie movies and has the "rules" of the genre memorized. Which is lucky for her because suddenly there's a zombie outbreak on her college campus and now she and her friends have to try to stay alive, using the "Rules" of zombie movies that Joss knows.

It's a pretty simple story and delivers exactly what it promises.As with The War at Ellsmere, the story has a decent amount of build-up, but then the ending sort of rushes on, right after a great deal of exposition about what it all means. This is her first (formally) published book (Ellsmere was second), and she says her main goal with this book was so that she could have some tangible piece of accomplishment at the time, and so with that in mind she met her goal.

I would definitely say that she has improved as a writer and an artist, and if you're interested in getting in to her work, start with her graphic novel Friends with Boys, which is a later work of hers and reflects how she has stylistically grown.

I'd say 2.5/5 for both, but toss in an extra .5 for the art so 3/5 Fancies.