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.

Don't dismiss children's literature just because you're an adult

Wild Things: The Joy of Reading Children’s Literature as an Adult - Bruce Handy

Wild Things: The Joy of Reading Children's Literature as an Adult by Bruce Handy showed up on my radar through a footnote in another book that I read last year. (Just one more reminder that I am 100% a nerd especially in regards to children's literature.) Handy splits the chapters into different books considered 'classics' of children's literature and he explains why they've had a lasting effect and endured as long as they have. He makes an argument that there is a reason books become classics but there is also a clarity in realizing that a difference of opinion will most certainly occur. A good example is Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown. I know this is a classic and it is still read by kids and parents now but I have never (and probably never will) consider this one a favorite. In that same vein, there were quite a few books that he mentioned that I had not heard of or had never read and I promptly added them to my TRL. (You may recognize some of the titles if you decide to read this book.) One of the best things about Wild Things was the organization of the chapters. It's quite obvious that Handy has not only done thorough research on the topic but has a real passion for the topic. This made it have an academic feel which I really appreciated. Interspersed throughout the book are personal anecdotes about the books he loved as a child as well as his experience introducing books to his children. (Get those tissues out, parents with small children. It's fairly sentimental.) I doubt this would be of as much interest to someone not in the field of children's literature but if you're looking for inspiration about what books to read to your kids at night then this would be an excellent source for you. 9/10

 

What's Up Next: The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde

 

What I'm Currently Reading: The Killings at Badger's Drift by Caroline Graham (Coincidentally, I'm watching Midsomer Murders which is based off of the book series.)

 

Source: http://readingfortheheckofit.blogspot.com

The last story strengthened my resolve to never go on a cruise

Roald Dahl's Book of Ghost Stories by Dahl, Roald (2012) Paperback - Roald Dahl

Roald Dahl's Book of Ghost Stories was a must-have for me for 2 reasons: 1. Roald Dahl is one of my favorite authors and I want to read everything he's ever written and 2. I love ghost stories. I have to admit that going into this one I was very much under the impression that this was going to be a book filled with stories written by Dahl himself. I clearly hadn't read the synopsis or book jacket because that is not what this book is about. This is a collection of some of Dahl's favorite ghost stories written by other people. He compiled this list when he was working on a project for American television and his preparation was extensive. He read 749 tales of the supernatural by different authors and from that large number he whittled it down to 14 of his favorites that he felt were not only excellent examples of writing in this genre but that would make for good television. (He also discovered that women are experts in this field and until the 11th hour he thought they would beat out the men with a hard majority.) Since there are 14 different stories in this collection, I will only talk about 2 that I found particularly chilling (and yes they are written by women). 

 

The first is called 'Harry' and was written by Rosemary Timperley. It bore a striking resemblance to The Imaginary in that its primary focus was on a little girl who had a strong friendship with an imaginary boy. The biggest difference here is that the mom tried very hard to squash this relationship because she had a deep and abiding fear...of the name Harry. Yes, I too found this odd. Nevertheless, while it may seem irrational this fear was quite powerful and instead of ignoring the interactions of her child and her invisible playmate she let it consume her until...well you'll have to read the story.

Source: http://readingfortheheckofit.blogspot.com

2017 Book Roundup

Another year has gone by and it's now time to compile the list of books that I read in 2017. Like last year, some of these books haven't been reviewed (yet in some cases and never in others) so you'll need to keep an eye on the blog to see what I thought of them. I'm going to do something slightly different this year. I've decided to include rereads in my count because I want to be able to keep a running record (digitally) of everything I've read in a given year. Here we go!

 

  1. Ms. Bixby's Last Day
  2. Have You Seen Elephant? (picture book - no review)
  3. Duck, Duck, Dinosaur (picture book - no review)
  4. Sidekicked
  5. Vampire Academy
  6. Dead Wake
  7. Hark! A Vagrant
  8. South Riding
  9. Wonderful, Wicked, and Whizzpopping
  10. The Burning World
  11. Cry, Heart, But Never Break
  12. The Dungeoneers
  13. Frostbite
  14. Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast
  15. Henry & Leo
  16. Frog on a Log?
  17. The Last Shadow Gate
  18. Terms & Conditions
  19. I Work at a Public Library
  20. A Freudian Slip is When You Say One Thing but Mean Your Mother
  21. I Don't Want to be Big
  22. The Unfinished World
  23. Frindle
  24. Waking Gods
  25. I Don't Want to be a Frog
  26. The Secrets of Gaslight Lane
  27. Trio for Blunt Instruments
  28. Lunch Witch: Knee-Deep in Niceness
  29. The Grumpface
  30. How to Build an Android
  31. Fortunately, the Milk
  32. The Shadow Land
  33. Emmy and the Incredible Shrinking Rat (for some reason I didn't review this?)
  34. Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life
  35. The House of Months and Years
  36. The Wild Robot
  37. Grandpa's Great Escape
  38. The Deadly 7
  39. The Phantom Tollbooth
  40. Book Uncle and Me
  41. Roller Girl
  42. The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle
  43. The Marvels
  44. Some Writer!
  45. The Invention of Hugo Cabret
  46. The Mysterious Benedict Society
  47. Wildwood
  48. The Cabinet of Curiosities
  49. One Day We'll Be Dead and None of This Will Matter
  50. Under Wildwood
  51. Stories of Your Life and Others
  52. Do Not Say We Have Nothing
  53. Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body
  54. The Trouble with Goats and Sheep
  55. The Book That Changed America
  56. Wildwood Imperium
  57. Comics Squad: Detention
  58. Wonderstruck
  59. The Imaginary
  60. HiLo (graphic novels 1-3)
  61. Ghost Waltz
  62. Bluffton
  63. The Storm in the Barn
  64. The Red Badge of Courage
  65. Science of the Magical
  66. The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey
  67. A Wrinkle in Time (reread)
  68. A Wind in the Door
  69. A Swiftly Tilting Planet
  70. Many Waters
  71. Grendel
  72. The Great Questions of Tomorrow
  73. Find the Good
  74. Thornhill
  75. Woolly
  76. everyone's a aliebn when ur a aliebn too
  77. Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore
  78. Roald Dahl's Book of Ghost Stories (not reviewed yet)
  79. The Importance of Being Earnest (not reviewed yet)
  80. A Veil of Shadows
  81. Wild Things: The Joy of Reading Children's Literature as an Adult (not reviewed yet)
  82. The Goldfish Boy (not reviewed yet)
  83. Close Enough to Touch (not reviewed yet)
  84. Deep Dark Fears (not reviewed yet)
  85. Fearsome Creatures of the Lumberwoods (not reviewed yet)
  86. The Unreal and the Real (not reviewed yet)
  87. The People's Republic of Amnesia (not reviewed yet)
  88. The Little Virtues (not reviewed yet)
  89. The Creeps (not reviewed yet)
  90. World of Lore: Monstrous Creatures (not reviewed yet)
  91. Weird Things Customers Say in Bookstores (not reviewed yet)
  92. My Friend Dahmer (not reviewed yet)
  93. Scythe (not reviewed yet)
  94. Mine Own Executioner (not reviewed yet)

 

And the reread books:

  1. The Rubber Band
  2. The Red Box
  3. Pride & Prejudice (every year)
  4. Star Trek Into Darkness
  5. Murder on the Orient Express
  6. The Neverending Story (every year)

 

That brings our total count to: 100 books.

 

You can always use the search feature to look up any genre, subject, etc. to find your next book to kick off 2018. :-) Happy New Year!!

Source: http://readingfortheheckofit.blogspot.com

Eventually your past will catch up with you

Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore: A Novel - Matthew J. Sullivan

I had hoped to keep up the momentum and actually post a new review every single day leading up to New Year's but I got super busy with mom in town and...ah well. :-)

 

I thought I made notes about every single book that I've read this year and then it's time to review Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore by Matthew J. Sullivan and I've got nothing. This leaves me in an interesting predicament because I read this book quite a while ago (September to be precise) and so this is going to be a test of the narrative's sustainability in my memory. (Full disclosure: I had to look up the synopsis because all I remembered was 'mystery, death, and bookstore'.) Without being too spoiler-y, the book follows a young woman named Lydia who works at the Bright Ideas Bookstore. Lydia has a secret. Well, it's at least a secret from her closest friends and co-workers. At the very start of the novel, Lydia discovers the body of one of her favorite patrons hanging in the bookstore where she works. (This isn't giving anything away because it's on the book jacket, ok?) This sets her off on a journey to not only discover why he killed himself but how the two of them might be interconnected beyond the clerk/customer relationship. Full of suspense (and not a little gore), this was an enjoyable read. I felt a bit like Sherlock Holmes trying to suss out the real clues from the barrage of information that the author threw my away but it wasn't too overwhelming. This is definitely a novel full of drama so if that isn't your jam I don't recommend this one. (And if you're squeamish I think you'd better steer clear.) 8/10 with a few points lost because I predicted the ending somewhat.

 

What's Up Next: Roald Dahl's Book of Ghost Stories 

 

What I'm Currently Reading: I FINALLY FINISHED SCYTHE

Source: http://readingfortheheckofit.blogspot.com

What thoughts do eggs have?

Everyone's a Aliebn When Ur a Aliebn Too: A Book - Jomny Sun

Everyone's a Aliebn When Ur a Aliebn Too by Jomny Sun was an odd little book.  The reader follows our main character who is an alien (or aliebn if you prefer) sent to earth to learn about humans but because he's never met one he assumes every living thing he sees is a human. Therefore, he becomes good friends with a tree, beaver, egg, etc. Reminiscent of Find the Good, this book is chock full of life lessons about what truly matters. Our little alien friend learns how to be content and happy, what loneliness is, how to be a good friend, the value of creativity, and most of all how to accept oneself. There's also an underlying message about doomsday and what the planet would be like without human habitation. Is this actually an apocalyptic tale cloaked behind a cute alien story?  I have to point out that the misspelling (as you see in the title) was highly annoying even after I managed to somewhat successfully ignore it and took away some enjoyment from the overall reading of the book. However, if you are able to look past that (and I was mostly successful) then it's a nice little read with great messages. This author isn't afraid to tackle tough subjects and I believe he does so with sensitivity and insight. This would make a great gift for that introspective friend (or a great addition to your own collection). I'd say it was a solid 7/10 because while it was a really nice book it didn't blow me out of the water. (The best graphic novel remains The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil by Stephen Collins.)

 

Source: Sweet

 

 

What's Up Next: Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore by Matthew J. Sullivan

 

What I'm Currently Reading: it's 1 day til Christmas...do you think I'm reading?

Source: http://readingfortheheckofit.blogspot.com

Genetics gone wild...and woolly

Woolly: The True Story of the Quest to Revive One of History’s Most Iconic Extinct Creatures - Ben Mezrich

YES. That is literally what I have written first in my notes for today's book review. Woolly: The True Story of the Quest to Revive One of History's Most Iconic Extinct Creatures by Ben Mezrich is the perfect mixture of technical science and literary narrative. This book tells the story of Dr. George Church and the Revivalists (a group under his tutelage) who are trying to do what has been thought impossible: Bring back the woolly mammoth from extinction. (I have to wonder if the author received a financial backing from this group because if he didn't then he certainly deserves one. He's a major fanboy.) Mezrich covers not only their attempts at this breakthrough in science but also their competition from Seoul which owns the market on DNA cloning. The company in Seoul believes it is possible to find a complete DNA strand while Church's group thinks that the DNA will be too degraded. They're working from pieces of DNA and splicing together traits unique to woolly mammoths with the hope that a viable fetus can be carried by an Asian elephant. A scientific group dedicated to the reversal of extinction of local flora and fauna in Siberia has begun work on Pleistocene Park which is most likely going to be a functioning reality but will take several years. This is where the woolly mammoths (who wouldn't be technically true mammoths) will reside. The controversy and hubris of scientists (especially geneticists who write DNA/RNA) is extensively discussed and is fascinating to me (and I'd imagine to most laymen). However, this isn't only about the woolly mammoth. It's also an in-depth biography of George Church and how he came to be one of the leading figures in genetics. Total 10/10.

 

What's Up Next: Everyone's a Aliebn When Ur a Aliebn Too by Jomny Sun

 

What I'm Currently Reading: it's 2 days til Christmas so I'm all over the place

 

Source: http://Https://readingfortheheckofit.blogspot.com

Fed up and gonna do something about it

Thornhill - Pam Smy, Pam Smy

Just to show how long I've had some of these books on the back burner, today's book was actually read around Halloween of this year. Thornhill by Pam Smy immediately caught my attention because of its stark black and white illustration on the cover (and the black edges of the pages). This is one of those times that the cover was not misleading as to the artistic style found within the graphic novel. Reminiscent of Brian Selznick, the art was done with pen and pencil and was entirely black and white. That definitely helped to lend a creepy vibe to the text (although it didn't need much help). This is the story of Mary, an orphaned girl, who spends her time making dolls and writing diary entries about her miserable existence at Thornhill, an all-girls orphanage. The reader is introduced to Mary through her diary entries which are read by Ella, a lonely girl, who lives with her absentee father next to a desolate, run-down building with Thornhill written above its gate. At first, it's rather confusing as to which point-of-view we are seeing and which time period we are inhabiting but I think that's done on purpose by the author. Both girls are very similar especially in terms of their circumstances i.e. they're both very lonely. As mentioned before, the tone is quite eerie but at the same time I felt that it was very realistically written. Alienation, abandonment, bullying, and emotional and psychological abuse are explored in a very interesting way. If you like Gothic horror with a dash of realistic drama then this is the perfect book for you. I read it at Halloween for the ambiance but you wouldn't be wrong reading this on a dark, stormy night either. 9/10 (with a deduction because creepy dolls are creepy)

 

I mean look at this stunning artwork. [Source: Macmillan]

 

 

What's Up Next: Woolly: The True Story of the Quest to Revive One of History's Most Iconic Extinct Creatures by Ben Mezrich

 

What I'm Currently Reading: it's 3 days til Christmas so I'm all over the place

Source: http://readingfortheheckofit.blogspot.com

Not exactly what I wanted

Find the Good - Heather Lende

I went into Find the Good: Unexpected Life Lessons From a Small-Town Obituary Writer by Heather Lende with a lot of perhaps too many expectations. I anticipated (and hoped for) humor of the macabre variety. Find the Good is a book of anecdotal advice from someone who regular faces death head on...or at least experiences it alongside those left behind. From the book's blurb, I thought that this was going to be a look at death with a light touch because how else can one continually run up against death and retain their positive outlook on life? I guess in a way Lende does explore the way she has had to structure her life so that she can continue to be a shoulder to cry on or an ear to listen when the grief overflows. As an obituary writer in a small town, most of the notices that she has had to write were about people that she knew if not intimately then by sight. That takes a toll on a person and also fosters an environment for emotional and spiritual growth.  There are some good, positive points made but in my opinion not enough to warrant an entire book. It would have made a good article or think piece. There's very little I can say about this one other than it didn't really live up to my expectations or blow me away. It would probably work well on a short train ride or as a beach read. It's a 3/10 for me, guys.

 

What's Up Next: Thornhill by Pam Smy

 

What I'm Currently Reading: still reading Scythe and Mine Own Executioner

Source: http://readingfortheheckofit.blogspot.com

Thinking ahead

The Great Questions of Tomorrow (TED Books) - David Rothkopf

Have you guys ever watched a TED Talk? Well, apparently some of those Ted Talks are turned into published works so that the ideas can be delved into a little deeper. (To see more you can visit their website here. (They haven't asked me to review today's book by the way.)) I hadn't watched David Rothkopf's talk but The Great Questions of Tomorrow was featured in my regular 'what's new at Simon & Schuster' email and it seemed to be calling my name. Rothkopf is exploring a very wide and diverse range of topics with a central theme of  'what does this mean for the future?' running through them all. I guess it should come as no surprise that this book thoroughly freaked me out while at the same time fascinating me. Have you thought about the future of drone warfare and whether or not it might constitute the necessity for intelligent machines to have rights as members of society? WELL, NOW YOU ARE. He jumped from frightening scenarios like that to ones that hadn't even occurred to me such as complete mobile banking which would see the demise of physical currency and brick and mortar banks. O_O I especially enjoyed his take on government and how we should be trying to elect leaders who not only understand technology but can look towards the future to prepare accordingly. His example of how this was not done was that just because there was one shoe bomber it shouldn't mean we have to remove our shoes at airports into perpetuity. All in all, it was a fascinating read that I zipped right through. It's great for the people in your life (or yourself!) that enjoy philosophical discussions about the future and how actions of today and yesterday have and should continue to have direct bearing on how we handle events in the future. 10/10

 

Rothkopf's original TED Talk "How fear drives American politics"

 

 

What's Up Next: Find the Good: Unexpected Life Lessons From a Small-Town Obituary Writer by Heather Lende

 

What I'm Currently Reading: Mine Own Execution by Nigel Balchin

Source: http://readingfortheheckofit.blogspot.com

This is bona fide angst

Grendel - John Gardner

I have to assume that a large majority of you studied the epic poem, Beowulf, when you were in high school. If you recall, this is often cited as the oldest example of an epic poem in Old English and it tells the story of the hero, Beowulf, who comes to aid a king who is plagued by a monster known as Grendel. It goes on to discuss Beowulf's homecoming and his continuing adventures (with a dragon no less). All I remember of the poem was a fight in a cave. (Clearly I was unimpressed with this work's historical lineage.) So it might come as a surprise that when I saw Grendel by John Gardner I was intrigued by discovering that it was a kind of retelling of the poem in narrative format...from Grendel's point of view. Straight out of the gate, this was an absolutely bizarre piece of literature. I came away from it thinking that it was too cerebral for me (Farewell hubris!) because there were many times I felt like I had absolutely no clue what was going on. I think part of this lies with the narrative style which mixed Old English language (like the original) with contemporary phraseology (curses galore, ya'll). I was nearly tempted to reread Beowulf for reference. (Spoiler alert: I didn't.) This is a philosophical novel that ponders the nature of existence and what it actually means to be 'good' or 'evil' because for something to be truly 'good' there needs to be a corresponding 'evil' to balance it...right? Grendel is a classic example of an antihero but boy does he jaw on and on and on about his place in the universe. I found him bitter and whiny but I don't know if that's due to characterization or if it's the author's 'voice' projected onto the character. I guess I'll have to decide if I want to read more of Gardner's works to find out the answer. It's hard for me to sum up my feelings on this one other than to say it wasn't an especially enjoyable time and I don't know who I'd recommend this one too because it's very niche. It's a 3/10 for me.

 

What's Up Next: The Great Questions of Tomorrow by David Rothkopf

 

What I'm Currently Reading: Mine Own Executioner by Nigel Balchin (and also Scythe which apparently I'm never going to finish)

Source: http://readingfortheheckofit.blogspot.com

Revisiting an old favorite + the movie is coming out next year

Madeleine L'Engle's Time Quartet Box Set (A Wrinkle in Time, A Wind in the Door, A Swiftly Tilting Planet, Many Waters) by Madeleine L'Engle (2001-09-11) - Madeleine L'Engle

For many years, when people would ask me about my favorite book I would promptly say that it was A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle. Recently, I started to wonder if my love for the novel had stood the test of time so I picked up the 4 book series entitled the Time Quartet (I have the box set that I got years ago) from my shelf and dove in headfirst. Reading the first book in the series, A Wrinkle in Time, completely transported me back to middle school when I first discovered the delightful writing of L'Engle. The book was just as fantastic as I remembered but with the passing of time I see more clearly the overt references to Christianity which were lost on me as a child. (She's a bit like C.S. Lewis in the way that she writes for children about Christianity but instead of fantasy devices she uses science fiction and fantasy.) This literary device would increase as the series continued and in a lot of ways it took away some of the enjoyment of the books for me. One of the bonuses of L'Engle's writing is that it is never 'dumbed down' for her child audience. She uses technical terminology and speaks of scientific endeavors as if the reader should already be aware of them. When I first read that book, this was a foreign concept to me as I didn't think I was any good at the sciences when I was in school. (Now look at how many scientific books I've read and reviewed!)

 

The main character in the first book is Meg, eldest sister of the Murry clan, and we see everything from her point of view. A large portion of why I loved this book was that Meg wasn't a typical girl of her age and I strongly identified with her (and I had a crush on Calvin).  A Wrinkle in Time focuses on Meg's relationship with herself, her family, and her peers (especially Calvin). She sees herself as 'other' except when she's with Charles Wallace or her mother (or Calvin...yes, I'm enjoying myself). It doesn't help that their father has been missing for so long that the postman in town has started asking impertinent questions. (The whole town is gossiping or so it seems.) While Meg plays a large role in A Wind in the Door, the main part of the plot is written with Charles Wallace (youngest Murry son) as the main character. Both books are full of adventure and self-discovery. Both Murry children come into their own and use their unique strengths to help them accomplish their goals. The stakes are always set extremely high and the pace is alternately rushed no-holds-barred action and so lackadaisical as to seem stagnant. (Note: If you don't enjoy books with a lot of descriptions and copious amounts of symbolism then I'm afraid this isn't the series for you.) By A Swiftly Tilting Planet, I felt almost overwhelmed by the underlying religious messages and the conclusion, Many Waters, which focuses on the twins, Sandy and Dennis, was so far-fetched as to be ridiculous. (Books 3 and 4 are so convoluted that I don't feel like I can talk about them in detail other than to say they are out there.) Part of me wishes that I had stopped reading at A Wrinkle in Time (as I had done for so many years) so as to not shatter the illusion of what this series meant to me but part of the reason I started this blog was to explore new books and to give as honest a review as possible. The hope is that even if I don't enjoy a book it might interest someone else. With that being said, A Wrinkle in Time remains in my top 50 all-time faves but the others...not so much. 9/10 for book 1 and a 3/10 for the series overall.

 

A/N: I just did a little Google search and discovered that although I have the box set which is called the Time Quartet there was actually a fifth book written called An Acceptable Time and which called for a new set to be created, the Time Quintet. I feel like I've been hoodwinked! Does this mean I need to find a copy of this book to complete the experience?! (Spoiler alert: I am probably not going to do this.)

 

Here's the complete set. [Source: Barnes & Noble]

 

 

What's Up Next: Grendel by John Gardner

 

What I'm Currently Reading: Scythe by Neal Shusterman (been reading it for weeks because I've reached the end-of-year reading slowdown)

 

Source: http://readingfortheheckofit.blogspot.com

Where's a Sherpa when you need one?

The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey  - Diana Sudyka, Trenton Lee Stewart

When we first met the intrepid, orphaned quartet that made up a large part of the Mysterious Benedict Society we were left feeling that surely this couldn't be the last adventure that they'd be on together...and we were absolutely right. The whole gang is back in the second book in the series by Trenton Lee Stewart titled The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey. (Note: A new illustrator, Diana Sudyka, has penned the drawings for this book and forthcoming books in the series.) The beginning of the book starts off with the kids separated and trying to live as close to normal as possible. The reader is once again following the main character, Reynie, as he heads to meet up with everyone on the anniversary of their last adventure together. However, when they are all reunited at Mr. Benedict's house they are met with a very unpleasant surprise. (No spoilers here!!) What follows is a treacherous journey (hence the name of the book) that takes them on boats, trains, and up the side of a mountain in another country. While the central theme of friendship and working together is still present, this book is much darker in tone and a sense of foreboding lingers over every page. (In some ways, it reminds me of the progression of the Harry Potter series.) The illustrations again accompany a portion of the text and even though it's a different illustrator the sense of whimsy is ever-present. Overall, very enjoyable and fun to see how the author expands on each of the characters personalities and abilities. (Constance plays a much larger role in this book.) I have to confess that I've had the third book in the series gathering dust on my desk at work (and a copy of it here at home) but I haven't felt an overwhelming urge to pick it up just yet. I have a feeling this will be one of the first books I get to in the new year. XD If you read the first book in the series then I'm confident you'll enjoy the sequel. 8/10

 

 

A sample of the new illustrator's style [Source: Kinder Books]

 

 

What's Up Next: The Time Quartet series by Madeleine L'Engle

 

What I'm Currently Reading: Scythe by Neal Shusterman

 

Source: http://readingfortheheckofit.blogspot.com

Make sure to read the footnotes

Science of the Magical: From the Holy Grail to Love Potions to Superpowers - Matt Kaplan

Science of the Magical: From the Holy Grail to Love Potions to Superpowers by Matt Kaplan is a compendium of magical anecdotes. (It would have to be with a mouthful of a title like that.) Kaplan organizes everything under different subsections which allows him to cover a lot of ground but as someone who has delved into a lot of this genre much of it was already known to me (or self-explanatory). My favorite thing about this book were the often hilarious footnotes which I think saved the book from becoming too overblown. For instance, while a lot of the book was informative and genuinely interesting it was marred by the author's writing 'voice' which came across as forced. It seemed like he was trying too hard to be 'cool' and 'relevant' and instead it was just grating. By the time the reader reaches the conclusion, you expect there to be some sort of overarching theme or lesson learned but Kaplan seems to almost have tacked it on at the very end in an almost halfhearted fashion. It doesn't so much as conclude as leave the reader feeling somewhat disappointed that it wasn't well-rounded. I don't want this to come out as overwhelmingly negative because if you're someone who hasn't read much on these topics then this would be a great jumping off point but for the more seasoned reader it's less of a revelation and more of a rehashing. If you want a book which is full of facts and historical anecdotes then you could do worse by picking up this book. 6/10

 

What's Up Next: The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey by Trenton Lee Stewart with illustrations by Diana Sudyka (!)

 

What I'm Currently Reading: Slightly Foxed: Issues 54-57 and rereading (very slowly) The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

Source: http://readingfortheheckofit.blogspot.com

Little boys at war

The Red Badge of Courage - Stephen Crane, Alfred Kazin

Today's book is a classic that I have wanted to read for quite some time but never got around to...until now. Stephen Crane's The Red Badge of Courage covers the American Civil War from the point of view of a Union soldier. It's the gritty portrayal of life at the front and just what it's like to lay down your life for a cause that you don't fully understand. In fact, our protagonist has almost no clue what it is that he's fighting for or against. He joined up because it was the done thing which seems to be the case for the rest of his regiment as well. There are those that brag about their bravado but when the time comes for the bullets to fly they are the first to turn and run. At first, our soldier is condescending towards these 'cowards' as he sees them but he very quickly sees the futility of their regiment's actions as they seem to be merely feinting and arbitrarily gaining and losing ground. It is a gritty, raw description of battle and defeat which is undercut with confusion and fear. These are children playacting warfare but the injuries and death are very real. Crane's insistence on not holding back lends a realistic, deadening of the senses feel to what it's like on the battlefield when you are surrounded by death and horror at every turn. He was making a commentary on the futility of war and how those who are a part of the 'war machine' are generally lost as to the meaning of why and who they are fighting. I am immensely glad that I finally picked this book up and gave it a read. I encourage ya'll to do the same. It's a slim volume and will take no time at all (though I don't promise you'll want a break every now and again from the bloodshed). 9/10

 

Here are a few more covers which I thought were worth sharing because they tell slightly different stories (and illustrate the point that covers do matter):

 

This one screams patriotism. Source: Goodreads

 

 

Yes, that is a bald eagle. [Source: Waldina]

 

 

Just so you get the message. [Source: Goodreads]

 

 

And my fave because RAINBOW. [Source: Amazon]

 

What's Up Next: Science of the Magical: From the Holy Grail to Love Potions to Superpowers by Matt Kaplan

 

What I'm Currently Reading: Slightly Foxed: Issues 50-53

Source: http://readingfortheheckofit.blogspot.com

Unresolved conflict

Ghost Waltz: A Family Memoir - Ingeborg Day

I read Ghost Waltz: A Family Memoir by Ingeborg Day on recommendation from a patron. She assured me that I would love it and that it was right up my alley as it was a nonfiction book that covered events from WWII. What hooked me into reading it was that it was covering the events of WWII from the perspective of someone who was on the 'other side' aka the Nazi perspective (as opposed to the 3rd person nonfiction narrative or survivor memoir). Ingeborg wanted to uncover the secrets of her father's past and hopefully work out exactly what his role was as a member of the Nazi Party and SS. She revisited old memories of times spent living in shared accommodation with other families, rationing, and the charged silence around the dinner table. She continually reiterated that she had no memories of her parents ever saying anything about Jewish people or showing any violence whatsoever toward anyone...and yet the undertones of the book were very anti-Semitic. I honestly found this a very uncomfortable book to read especially considering that she seemed to vacillate on her own beliefs and feelings towards those who were slaughtered en masse while her father served as a member of the Nazi party. (Her conflicting beliefs made this a very disjointed read.) For those interested in knowing just what his role was and his innermost beliefs, you will be sorely disappointed. There is no clear cut conclusion to be found among the pages of Ghost Waltz. The author herself couldn't seem to work out her own feelings much less those of a man who she had no contact with as an adult (there was an event after she left home which led to a rift). This wasn't my favorite read of the year for multiple reasons but mostly for those stated above: anti-Semitic sentiment and unsatisfactory conclusion. It's a 2/10 for me. :-/

Source: http://readingfortheheckofit.blogspot.com

Fathers and sons in America: A Matt Phelan Masterpost

Bluffton - Matt Phelan The Storm in the Barn - Matt Phelan

I had said in last week's post that today I'd be writing a Matt Phelan 'masterpost'. Typically this means that I cover 3+ books by a single author (or multiple authors writing together in a series). However, today I'm just going to talk about 2 books because honestly that's all I could get my hands on and so that's all I managed to read. :-) I picked up Bluffton: My Summers with Buster Keaton and The Storm in the Barn with fairly high expectations based on the work I had seen by Phelan in the Comics Squad compilation I read and reviewed not too long ago. On the one hand, I was not at all disappointed. The illustration style is most definitely up my street. He is excellent at drawing evocative expressions on people's faces. I think where I was let down was on the overall reading experience. Let me take each of the books separately so that I can (hopefully) explain what I mean.

 

I read Bluffton first because it featured a circus and I am all about that circus lifestyle. Firstly, when I grabbed this book I somehow missed the subtitle and therefore was shocked to discover that one of the main characters in this book is that famous star of vaudeville, Buster Keaton. Secondly, I went into this book expecting a rollicking good time and instead got a somewhat borderline depressing narrative of what the childhood of Buster would have entailed since he was a performer from infancy. It's about the expectations that a parent has for their child and how those might be vastly different from the aspirations that the child holds for themselves. It's also about the nature of friendship and jealousy (especially when one of the friends is an itinerant performer). It's a coming of age tale that paints a rather grim picture of child stardom and how the experiences of our youth shape us into the adults that we will one day become.

 

Then there was The Storm in the Barn which I can only categorize as a Debbie Downer type of book. I'm not sure that this falls under any one genre. It's most certainly historical fiction as it depicts a little boy, his family, and his community as they struggle during the time of the Dust Bowl in Kansas circa 1937. However, it also contains fantasy elements of which I can't really go into without spoiling the plot... It's certainly rooted in reality because Phelan does not shy away from the harsh conditions that these characters face (don't even get me started on the rabbits). He covers bullying from both peers and parents. The protagonist is forced to watch a beloved sister struggle with a possibly fatal illness. The entire plot is fraught with tension and a dark cloud seems to hover over every page. What I'm trying to say is that if you're looking for a light read to send your tots to sleep at night then you should probably keep looking. BUT if you wanted to teach your kids about an era of history that's not usually dwelt upon in the classroom then this might indeed be the right selection for you.

 

I'd rate both books about the same. In terms of imagery and writing, they're both 10/10. The issue is that I held expectations about these books (as readers do from time to time) and I finished both of these feeling somewhat let down. I understand that not all books are going to be rosy, sweet, and fun. I know that not every book has a happy ending. And yet when these two books delivered hardship, sadness, and loss I was ill prepared and disgruntled. I can't honestly flaw these books and say that from a reviewer's standpoint they were faulty...but I still find it difficult to give them full marks just the same. Does this make sense? I guess my point is that a book can tick off all the boxes and still fall short based on the assumptions of the reader and/or their relative mood when they picked up the book. ¯_(ツ)_/¯

 

Now let's take a look at Buster from Bluffton followed by a page from The Storm in the Barn:

 

Source: YouTube

 

 

Source: books4school

 

What's Up Next: Ghost Waltz: A Family Memoir by Ingeborg Day

 

What I'm Currently Reading: Kid Authors: True Tales of Childhood from Famous Writers by David Stabler

Source: http://readingfortheheckofit.blogspot.com

Currently reading

The Killings at Badger's Drift by Caroline Graham
The Portable Nineteenth-Century African American Women Writers (Penguin Classics) by Hollis Robbins, Hollis Robbins, Henry Louis Gates Jr., Henry Louis Gates Jr., Various
Einstein's Dreams by Alan Lightman
Mine own executioner, by Nigel Balchin
My Friend Dahmer by Derf Backderf
Scythe by Neal Shusterman
Weird Things Customers Say in Bookstores by Jen Campbell
Kid Authors: True Tales of Childhood from Famous Writers (Kid Legends) by David Stabler, Doogie Horner
Soonish: Ten Emerging Technologies That'll Improve and/or Ruin Everything by Kelly Weinersmith, Zach Weinersmith
Haunted Nights by Lisa Morton, Ellen Datlow