Reading For The Heck Of It

Gosh, I love books. I love the way they feel in my hand, the way they smell, the way they look piling up all around me as I drown amongst their pages...I really, REALLY like books.

 

Favorite genres: nonfiction (especially science), sci-fi/fantasy, classics, and children's literature.

 

Unread/unloved genres: romance and seafaring odysseys.

The violinist from Bulgaria

The Shadow Land - Elizabeth Kostova

Because I loved The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova, it really wasn't a difficult decision to pick up her newest novel, The Shadow Land. This book takes place in Bulgaria which is a land I am not at all familiar with beyond Viktor Krum and his Quidditch teammates. (I hope you know what that references because if you don't...let me know so I can review them for you.) You couldn't get further from witches and wizards with this book. The main character, Alexandra, is an American who travels to Bulgaria with emotional baggage (which I honestly could have cared less about) and an intent to teach English. Instead she stumbles into a mystery and a lot of dramatic intrigue. The cast of characters includes but is not limited to a wily taxi driver, an elderly artist, a menacing statesmen with flowing locks, and an intelligent street dog. I was expecting a lot from this novel and I have to admit that I came away disappointed. The characters weren't nearly as compelling or detailed as those in The Historian. **Possible spoilers ahead** The entire backstory of the main character turned out to be pointless. I had thought that there would be some kind of twist at the end but that did not turn out to be the case. For the most part, it was pretty predictable. **No spoilers beyond this point** Kostova still remains impressive when it comes to describing setting and events but as mentioned above the characters felt flat and one-dimensional. However, if you're a fan of historical fiction that is chock full of detailed descriptions then you're probably going to be a fan of Kostova's writing and if you're particularly interested in Bulgaria then you couldn't go amiss with this one. For me, I'm sorry to say, it's a 5/10.

Source: http://readingfortheheckofit.blogspot.com

Persistence pays off

The Grumpface - B.C.R. Fegan, Daniela Frongia

The following book was kindly sent to me by the author, B.C.R. Fegan, who requested a review. This book is out now and you can get a physical or ebook copy by visiting the publisher's website, TaleBlade Press, or by checking out Amazon. :-)

 

The Grumpface by B.C.R. Fegan with illustrations by Daniela Frongia is told entirely in rhyme. It's the story of Dan who is a clumsy dreamer inventor who is simply trying to win over the affections of the girl he's loved from afar. The Grumpface is a creature determined to thwart anyone he comes into contact with no matter how earnest or good-hearted. It's not a huge leap to learn that the main character and Dan have a run-in and shenanigans ensue. If you're looking for a sweet book about a character that never gives up no matter how insurmountable the odds then you should look no further. Added bonus is that this book is told in rhyming verse which hearkens back to the fairytales of old (and which little people especially enjoy). This is one that I think they'll be requesting over and over to read. 7/10

 

Source: TaleBlade Press

Source: http://readingfortheheckofit.blogspot.com

Sculpting the future

How to Build an Android: The True Story of Philip K. Dick's Robotic Resurrection - David F. Dufty

Longtime readers of the blog will recall that I've had a certain fear fascination with robots and A.I or Artifical Intelligence. You can check out my posts about books like Our Final Invention which details the growth artifical intelligence into super intelligence or In Our Own Image which is a thought experiment about what the evolution of AI will look like in the future to get an idea of what I mean. Today's book is somewhere in the middle. How to Build an Android: The True Story of Philip K. Dick's Robotic Resurrection by David F. Dufty covers the creation of a robotic incarnation of the famous sci-fi author which (according to its creators) has the ability to learn as it communicates with humans i.e. it is self-aware. The novelty of this machine was that it was created in the image of a man who was known for his paranoia about 'thinking' machines and that it was an artistic as much as technological acheivement. This book chronicled the creation of the android from its inception including the sculpting of the head and body by Dr. David Hanson through to its programming by Andrew Olney. (Not to mention the many volunteers from the FedEx Institute of Technology in Memphis who logged many hours helping to make this dream a reality without any compensation.) The PKD android was a sensation among scientific circles as well as among laypeople because of his realistic facial features, expressions, and his seemingly intelligent responses to questions. However, I am not convinced that he would have passed the Turing Test which proves that he was a self-aware artificially intelligent machine. Moreover, I found this book was lacking in many areas. Each of the chapters seemed to end without any real resolution and the ending fell flat. Also, one of my pet peeves is a nonfiction book without any endnotes or at the very least a bibliography and this one committed that sin. Overall, I'd say that this book would appeal to someone who hasn't done any significant research into this field and wants to dip their toe into that world but for me it didn't make the grade. 5/10

 

If you want to see the PKD android in action then you can check out the Hanson Robotics website. Be forewarned, if the idea of a seemingly artificially intelligent machine with human-like characteristics freaks you out then you shouldn't go to that website. To see what I mean, take a look at the pictures below. *shudder*

 

Source: Ascend Surgical

 

Source: Philip K. Dick Android Project

Source: http://readingfortheheckofit.blogspot.com

Which witch is your fave?

The Lunch Witch #2: Knee-deep in Niceness - Deb Lucke

On a whim, I picked up Lunch Witch #2: Knee-Deep in Niceness by Deb Lucke. I was intrigued mainly by the artwork (it's a graphic novel) which at first glance seems delightfully whimsical. However, I found myself disappointed with the book overall. The story was only so-so and didn't really do it for me. I've certainly read more engaging graphic novels for this age group. Our main character, the Lunch Witch, was fairly boring. The plot was...threadbare is the only word I can think of to describe it. The highlight of the book were the pets (the bats were especially entertaining). The artwork was hit-or-miss and didn't make up for the bland storyline. I read some reviews for this book after I had finished and it seems that the consensus is that after the first book in the series (oops I started on #2) this one was a bit of a letdown. I've also just discovered that they're making a film adaptation with Kate McKinnon as the lead. Now that I'm looking forward to especially considering how the main character is depicted as such as the archetypal hag and you just know she's gonna be hilarious. With that being said, this book didn't rate higher than a 4/10 for me I'm afraid. I have no plans to continue reading anymore of the series. :-/

Source: http://readingfortheheckofit.blogspot.com

In the mood for some mystery

Trio for Blunt Instruments: A Nero Wolfe Threesome - Rex Stout

Trio for Blunt Instruments by Rex Stout draws us back into the world of Nero Wolfe and his loyal assistant, Archie Goodwin. The last time I visited with these distinguished detectives was back in 2015 (it's been too long!) so I was very happy to get a 3-in-1 with this book. This volume contains the following mysteries: Kill Now -- Pay Later, Murder Is Corny, and Blood Will Tell. As this is a collection, the stories aren't overly lengthy (Murder Is Corny was previously unpublished and was the last novella written by Stout.) but as with all of Stout's writings they pack a powerful punch no matter the length. I continue to maintain that Archie Goodwin is one of my favorite literary characters. His veracity, loyalty, bravery, and overwhelming likability mark him as a singular character that it's nearly impossible not to like. There is something so real about him and his narrative voice as the reporter of Wolfe's cases lends reality and humor. Of course, Wolfe is a singular character in his own right as a true 'armchair detective' in every way.

 

Kill Now -- Pay Later covers the story of Wolfe's shoe shiner who witnesses something (it's not too much of a shock for me to tell you it's related to a murder I don't think) and comes to Wolfe immediately afterward. Once Wolfe is on the case, it turns out that it's not as straightforward as the police think especially since a subsequent crime is marked as a suicide and the case is considered closed. It's up to Wolfe and Archie to continue the case to its bitter end no matter how winding their path becomes.

 

Murder Is Corny is an extremely corny title for one of Stout's mysteries as the victim works at a farm that produces corn. <pause for grimace> Archie is pegged as the main suspect after one of his prior flames indicates that he was at the scene of the crime. Wolfe at first demurs as it's 'Archie's private affair' but when he realizes that he stands a good chance of losing someone he relies on he steps in. This one has a lot of moving parts and quite a few memorable characters but what marks it as unique is that Goodwin isn't interested in the main female character. ;-)

 

And that brings us to Blood Will Tell which opens up with Archie receiving a rather strange package in the mail and snowballs into a dramatic story about spurned love, boorishness, and snappy dressers. I think this one was my favorite of the three because it provided a lot of sidestories to sink your teeth into and it kept me guessing up until the last.

 

Whatever your taste in mysteries, you can't go wrong with this 3-in-1 because it has a little something for everybody. If you haven't ever tried a Nero Wolfe mystery then this is an excellent place to start. 

Source: http://readingfortheheckofit.blogspot.com

Short but sweet

I Don't Want to Be a Frog - Dev Petty

I've fallen for Dev Petty and Mike Boldt again. I Don't Want to be a Frog reunites us with our spunky frog friend and his glasses-wearing dad as he continually asserts that he'd rather be anything except a frog. Once again, the humor and illustrations pair together perfectly to tell a fantastic little story about an adolescent amphibian that doesn't feel overly satisfied with his lot in life. (Frogs have to eat bugs after all. Yuck!) Get ready for the end because it's sure to cause howls of laughter with the little people in your life as you read it out loud to them. I could go on and on about how much fun I think this book is but I have to get back to reading. :-P

 

PS This is definitely one for storytime.

Source: http://readingfortheheckofit.blogspot.com

Recommended read gone wrong

The Shadow of the Wind - Lucia Graves, Carlos Ruiz Zafón

Couldn't finish it. I don't think I even made it 1/4 of the way through. was turned off by the explicit sexual scenes especially considering the first involved an 11 year old. They felt gratuitous and unnecessary.

Sometimes you're just not in the mood for a rabbit romp

Watership Down - Richard Adams

Honestly I just wasn't in the mood so I got to page 30 and decided that this was one I might revisit in the future but for now I'm not interested. :-/

Good premise but a disappointing execution

The Terranauts: A Novel - T.C. Boyle

I got to around 150 pages into this book and realized this one was just not for me. I gave up the fight and returned it back to the library. I had such high hopes and thought the premise sounded really great but it felt completely flat to me. I figure I gave it enough of a shot though to see that it wasn't the book for me. :-/

All the bants

The Secrets of Gaslight Lane - M.R.C. Kasasian

Thanks to my friends (Katie, I'm talking to you!) over at Pegasus Books, I was able to get my hands on the latest installment to The Gower Street Detective series before publication (April 11th aka my birthday). Sidney Grice and his plucky assistant, March Middleton, are at it again in The Secrets of Gaslight Lane where they are tasked with solving not one but two locked room murders perpetrated in the same house several years apart. I have to caution yet again that this is not a series for anyone with a weak stomach or an aversion to overuse of adjectives and adverbs. (I think M.R.C. Kasasian possesses the most extensive vocabulary of any author I have ever read.) For those hoping for further resolution to the dramas surrounding Grice's past with March's mother and/or March's relationshiop with Inspector Pound then you're going to be fairly disappointed with this book. This is a case-heavy narrative with complicated facets and multiple characters. It's also chock full of hilarity and acerbic wit. Grice and March are definitely getting in the groove of their partnership and their back-and-forth banter (especially with clients) is delicious. This is a series I could see being re-tooled on Masterpiece Mystery and if cast correctly it would be fantastic. And as with his previous books in this series, Kasasian manages to drop a bombshell at the end which will leave readers salivating for more. 10/10 and I can't wait for Dark Dawn Over Steep House which will hopefully be out at the end of the year.

Source: http://readingfortheheckofit.blogspot.com

War of the Words

Frindle - Andrew Clements, Brian Selznick

I had never heard of Frindle despite it being an award-winning book (2016 Phoenix Award) with many admirers (teachers, librarians, and children alike). Written by Andrew Clements with illustrations by Brian Selznick, this is the story of Nick Allen who is the premier 'idea man' of the 5th grade...until he meets Mrs. Granger. It's then that Nick's place among his peers is questioned as she challenges him to think more creatively than ever before. The humor, inventiveness, determination, and perspicacity of our main characters makes this an instant favorite for all ages. This is a super fast read (I read it in an afternoon commute in its entirety and I'm not a particularly fast reader.) and I think it would be a great one for reluctant readers especially if you're reading with them at home. Bonus: It's educational without ever really making that a big thing which is the perfect recipe for this age group especially if they're reluctant readers. *hint hint* This book is full of heart and more than a few surprises (this might give the little ones in your life some especially mischievous ideas) which means it gets a 10/10 from me. XD

 

Source: Book-A-Day Almanac

A different kind of robopocalypse

Waking Gods: Book 2 of The Themis Files - Sylvain Neuvel

By chance, I saw that the second book in The Themis Files series by Sylvain Neuvel had hit the shelves. You may recall that I posted a review of the first book, Sleeping Giants, not quite a year ago and I really enjoyed it. It's a unique story that blends aliens and robots *shudder* with a heaping dose of science-y adventure and intrigue. In the sequel, Waking Gods, we're reunited with our mysterious narrator who continues to record his interactions with the team tasked with uncovering the mysteries surrounding Themis, the robot pieced together and purportedly left on earth by an alien race in the distant past. In the first book, the lid was blown off the super secret agency housing the alien creation. This book starts 10 years later where Themis and the EDC (Earth Defense Corps) are now household names. However, years of study haven't revealed all of the answers about this alien race or why they left pieces of a scattered robot across the globe. In fact, Dr. Rose Franklin is starting to wonder if maybe they were never supposed to find the robot at all... It becomes an even more pressing issue when another giant robot (larger than Themis) materializes in the middle of London. Is it a sign that they want to make contact? Is it a threat? How will the human race react? All of this and much more is explored in this book and if you thought the first was fast-paced and action packed then this one is sure to knock your socks off. 10/10

Source: http://readingfortheheckofit.blogspot.com

I really am my mother's daughter. It's another frog book!

I Don't Want to Be Big - Dev Petty, Mike Boldt

I didn't mean for this to happen but somehow I ended up running across another picture book that prominently features a frog. This one is I Don't Want to be Big by Dev Petty with illustrations by Mike Boldt and much like Frog on a Log? it's part of a series. It was the artistic style which originally drew me to this book but it's the humor that had me taking it along to storytime. This is a fantastic book to read to kids since it deals with that all-important topic: 'growing up'. Our main character is adamant that growing up is the absolute worst and he is determined that he's not going to do it. His father (an adorable frog wearing glasses) tries to convince him of the merits (all in the name of eating his dinner I might add) but the little frog has some pretty convincing arguments. I'd say my one niggling criticism is the way that the speech bubbles tend to overlap on the page which can make it a bit confusing at times (especially when you're doing different character voices). Other than that, it's a solid readaloud book that I highly recommend. 9/10

 

Source: Amazon

Source: http://readingfortheheckofit.blogspot.com

Cabinets full of curiosities always seem to come with a blood sacrifice

The Unfinished World: And Other Stories - Amber Sparks

About a year ago, I stumbled into a cute little bookstore which specialized in mystery, sci-fi, and fantasy of both the new and used variety. I felt it was my solemn duty to have a close look and about an hour later I left with a few (or three) choice items. One of these I already reviewed and today's was actually a signed copy titled The Unfinished World: And Other Stories by Amber Sparks. As the title suggests, this is a collection of short stories that have an eerie, fantastical vibe to them. Some of them are downright disturbing (the taxidermy one in particular stands out) while others are merely just off the beaten path into strangeness. If you like dark, eerie fiction that crosses into the borders of the unknown then this book would be right up your street. If you're looking to delve into short story collections but you're not sure where to start this also might be a good fit for you. As for me, I enjoyed a few of them but overall this wasn't my favorite of the short story collections I've read. (That honor either goes to Through the Woods or The Opposite of Loneliness.) 5/10

Source: http://readingfortheheckofit.blogspot.com

Why did the chicken stop in the middle of the road?

A Freudian Slip is When You Say One Thing But Mean Your Mother - Gary Blake

I think I've called this book everything but it's actual name when talking about it to other people and that's probably because it has quite the title: A Freudian Slip is When You Say One Thing but Mean Your Mother: 879 Funny, Funky, Hip, and Hilarious Puns by Gary Blake. If you think the title is a mouthful you should take a peek at what's inside. It's absolute chock full of punny goodness. My mom left this with me nearly a year ago with turned down pages and highlights of her favorite jokes (this is so her type of humor). I enjoyed employing them on unsuspecting coworkers and watching their eyes roll into their back of their heads at the corniness (and sometimes incomprehensibility). 

 

To give you a taste of what I'm talking about here's one from page 211:

Did you hear about the guy who was hit in the head by a bottle of soda? Lucky for him, it was a soft drink.

Cue all of your friends either nominating you for an award because you used this on them or they might actually whack you upside the head with an actual bottled beverage. I must also caution that there are some rather problematic jokes in this book (the argument could be made that he doesn't pull any punches toward any group of people). Also, if you're not particularly hip to the political jibe (as I'm not) then some of these aren't going to make a lot of sense. I think this is one of those books that you come to every now and again but I wonder how many people sit down and read it cover-to-cover as mom and I have done...unless they're trying to get some new jokes under their belt. ;-)

 

PS The answer to the joke in the title of today's post: It wanted to lay it on the line.

Source: http://readingfortheheckofit.blogspot.com

Wait til you read about the sweatshirt.

I Work at a Public Library: A Collection of Crazy Stories from the Stacks - Gina Sheridan

After I started my dream job last year, my mom bought me a copy of I Work at a Public Library: A Collection of Crazy Stories from the Stacks by Gina Sheridan. (Thanks, mom!) I'm actually glad that I waited to pick this up because of the experiences I've already had after working as a Children's Librarian just a few months. (Don't worry. I'll remember them in my future memoir.) It still would have been funny back in December but it's exponentially more hilarious comparing it to my own experiences. (Note: If you don't work in a public library you'll still think this book is a hoot.) Sheridan has amasseds a collection of true things that have occurred in public libraries all over the world on her blog aptly named I Work at a Public Library which she started when...she started working at a public library. (I think you get where this is going from the title right?) It's organized according to the Dewey Decimal System and absolutely bursting with hilarious, heartwarming, disturbing, and disgusting tales. If you don't laugh out loud at some of these or gasp in shock then you're probably an automaton (and I'm terrified of you). Whether you're a library nerd at heart or just want to get a glimpse behind the scenes of where the library nerds gather this is the book for you. 10/10 and already trying to get all of my co-workers to read it. :-)

Source: http://readingfortheheckofit.blogspot.com

Currently reading

The House of Months and Years by Emma Trevayne
Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life by Amy Krouse Rosenthal
Fortunately, the Milk by Neil Gaiman, Skottie Young