Category Archive: General

All of the stuff that doesn't fit somewhere else.

Mar 01

Review: Skin by Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki

SkimI picked up this book randomly. I had seen a Goodreads recommendation for it, and one of my libraries was reading it for their teen book club, so I figured why not give it a shot?

And I’m so glad that I did.

Skim is the nickname of Kimberly, a bi-racial Canadian student in grade 10 who is one of the outsiders at school. She’s a practicing Wiccan, she only really has one close friend (and that has a lot of tension), and she exists in a low-grade depression that colors her experiences at school.

Most graphic novels are all about the action. That’s why I love them. There’s stuff happening. There’s stuff to look at. The dialogue is punchy. That’s what makes the form work.

But there’s none of that here. Instead, Tamaki has imbued Skim’s year in a mass of subtext and journal entries that let us into her head. While the story is ostensibly about her reaction to a high school in mourning after a popular girl’s boyfriend kills himself, it’s really about a lot more than that. It’s about Skim having a crush on a teacher who moves away unexpectedly. It’s abut the suicide maybe having happened because the volleyball player was gay, though maybe not. It’s about Skim falling away from her friends and gaining a new friend but really being isolated and only sort of okay with that.

It’s a quiet story. I don’t even know if that makes any sense, but I know that it’s absolutely true. It reminded me a lot of being in high school. The feeling of being surrounded by people and not really having anything terribly wrong to bring you down but still feeling suffocated and depressed. But it keeps going and some days are better than others and some are worse, and you keep going. The story ends with the popular girl moving on from the suicide, but it doesn’t feel like the story’s over. Because while the story was about the suicide, it was always about Skim and far more than that. But there’s nowhere to properly end a story of a life except by just walking away.

But it’s not a downer. I know it sounds heavy, and it sort of is, but there are such quirky and fun moments. The Wicca circle that’s also an AA meeting. Skim covering her Wicca altar in glitter and then having to spend two hours getting it off because it looked lame. The popular girl scratching the daisies off her cast because she hates their oppressive happiness. It balances nicely, and it’s packed tight in this less than 150 page story.

Oh, and Skim totally agrees with me about Romeo and Juliet: didn’t like it. Greatest love story ever told? Puh-lease.

I know this won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but for my headspace and where my heart is right now, this was absolutely divine. If you’ve never read this, give it a shot.

JMF Rating: 8/10

‘Til next time,

-JMF

Feb 28

Review: God Save the Queen by Kate Locke

God Save the QueenI read God Save the Queen in as close to a single sitting as it gets. I mean, I moved around the house, but I read it until I was through. It’s been too long since I’ve done that, and I like it when I get the chance.

The story is set in a steampunk Victorian England that has stretched into the modern day. There are three big alternate races: werewolves, vampires, and goblins. Each is caused by a mutation of the Black Plague. Victoria is a vampire, and she’s been ruling for 175 years. In Europe, those with the full plague rule everyone else. There are some half-breeds that are associated with the fully plagued, but the halvies serve as protectors, soldiers, and other functionaries.

Enter our hero Xandra who knows something is afoot when her sister is admitted to Bedlam Asylum. The sister immediately burns herself to death.

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But Xandra knows it’s not her! She was scared of fire! Everyone is being shifty about the death and there are a lot of almost imperceptible stress signals and moments of relief! And the diamond in her tooth was missing! This leads Xandra on a massive hunt to figure out where her sister is. And that revelation ends up putting her on a path where she can trust no one and where she finds that the things she has believed her entire life might just be a lie.

Okay, no might: they are a lie. This is one of those urban fantasy stories where the heroine has to learn a lot of things quickly, and everyone who should have been good is bad and everyone she meets since the beginning is pretty much an ally. Also, we indulge in the “most special girl in the world” trope that’s pretty common to urban fantasy/dystopia style literature. And I’m of two minds about it: on the one hand, does every story in these settings have to be about the person who can absolutely fix it because they’re special? On the other hand: why write a story if the main character isn’t at least a little special. It’s a balancing act, and for the most part, Locke succeeds. I liked Xandra.

And while Xandra figured out what she is and the person that was an immediate threat is neutralized by the end of the novel, the entire story (ESPECIALLY the ending) feels like a set-up for a series. Which it is. Obviously. I’m a little torn about whether to keep pursuing it because the problem with knowing you’ve got 4 or 5 books more is that I have a hard time getting into the hero’s plight: I know they’re going to make it out alive. Once again: not Locke’s issue, but just something I as a reader have to contend with.

Oh, and the very special Xandra has stolen the heart of the Scottish alpha werewolf. So mix in two ounces of paranormal romance into our steampunk-y cocktail.

JMF Rating: 6/10

‘Til next time,

-JMF

Jan 10

TBR Pile Challenge: 2014

Slow, hazy day at the library. So, I have been going around the blogosphere, pumping up my Feedly with book review blogs that seem fun and interesting. And that’s when I stumbled across Roof Beam Reader’s TBR Challenge. Basically, you take 12 books from your To-Be-Read List that have been there at least a year, and you commit to knocking them out in 2014. So, here is my list of TBR on Goodreads, and here’s what I’ve decided to read:

1. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian by Sherman Alexie (2007)

2. Of Human Bondage by W. Somerset Maugham (1915)

3. The Devil in the White City by Erik Larrson (2002)

4. Blueprints of the Afterlife by Brian Boudinot (2012)

5. Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro (2010)

6. The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon (2001)

7. Quicksilver by Neal Stephenson (2003)

8. Five Chiefs by John Paul Stephens (2011)

9. Love in the Time of Cholera bu Gabriel Garcia Marquez (1967)

10. Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie (1980)

11. Burning Chrome by William Gibson (1986)

12. Six Characters in Search of an Author by Luigi Pirandello (1921)

Alternates (in case any of the above prove to be unreadable)

13. Party Monster by James St. James (1999)

14.The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt (2011)

So, yeah. We’ll see how it goes.

Dec 05

Review: Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh

Hyperbole and a HalfHoly backlog, Batman! I have been reading all the things, and not reviewing them, and that’s no good. So here we go. It’s get caught up time. Starting with one that Dale has been hammering me to talk about ever since we got done with it: Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh.

I first discovered her blog when I was living out in Orange County. I don’t even know what the first post I read was, because I ended up reading the whole thing that afternoon. I laughed so hard that the people in the living room thought I was having some sort of attack. When they rushed back, the tears streaming down my face and my inability to catch my breath from laughing so hard did nothing to disprove these concerns. But I finally got it together. And I’ve been an advocate for Brosh ever since.

Brosh uses an illustration style that is done entirely in MS Paint. But it’s not bad because Brosh can’t do better; many of her drawings are hella complicated. But she wants them to be the funniest, most informative, and most useful to the story as they possibly can be. And between the stories and the pictures, this book reads incredibly quickly (also, each story is on different colored pages making it a breeze to thumb through!).

This book is a collection of many of the best essays…blog posts…picture stories…whatever you want to call them from Hyperbole and a Half. Whether it’s the epic Why I’ll Never Be An Adult or the Stupid Dog Test, Brosh’s humor and self-deprecating style will leave you in stitches. In addition to the best of her blog, there are several original stories in this book, including a conversation with her two dogs, a story about her mother getting lost in the woods with them as a child, and the goose story.

I have rarely seen Dale laugh so hard as he did at the goose story. And, I’m pretty sure that when Dale got done reading it, he immediately read it again because he realized that the whole story was true. Basically, Brosh’s house was invaded by a goose. Who promptly went crazy. Anybody who has spent any time around geese knows how mean they are, so the story of how they had to deal with this devil spawn is hilarious. Brosh was able to record the goose’s escape from her kitchen and include the images with the book. Dale has been desperately searching for the actual video, so if it’s posted, let him know where.  And don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed this story. Just not as much as Dale.

I love the blog, so I knew I’d love the book, and I bought this to support an author who has given me tons of joy over the years. I wasn’t disappointed, and you won’t be either. Unless you don’t like humor or fun or laughing. Then you shouldn’t buy this book. Because it will be a real disappointment.

JMF Rating: 9/10

‘Til next time,

-JMF

Sep 26

Review: Spook by Mary Roach

Spook Mary RoachOkay, so once upon a time, there was this really cool secondhand bookstore that I went to in Tallahassee’s Railroad Square.  That’s where I usually go rock climbing, but Dale and I went early one day and explored the galleries, restaurants, yarn stores, and this place. All the books.  Excellent selection.  Great prices.  So I promptly bought all of the books and didn’t read them.  But, I was looking for a shorter book to finish off my reading goal for the year (75 books down!), and I decided to pick up Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife by Mary Roach.

I am a Mary Roach fan.  I have been a Mary Roach fan since my creative writing teacher in college gave me Stiff as an example of how nonfiction can be crazy informative and funny all at the same time.  And then I read Packing for Mars which almost cured me of ever wanting to go to space because the discomfort just might not be worth it.

Spook is a little different from Roach’s typical books.  Instead of looking at the human body, she’s looking at the soul and whether she can find any proof for the existence of the hereafter.  She goes an exhaustive hunt for evidence, from the history of weighing dying people to see if the departing soul led to weight loss to stories of reincarnation in India to modern medical experiments about near death experiences, Roach leaves no stone unturned in her investigation.  For anyone who wants a practical history of ghost hunting, mediums, hauntings, and electronic voice projection, Roach has you covered.

And let’s not forget:  this book is funny.  Like inappropriate chortle in the middle of church funny.  Dale looked over at me several times as I was reading in bed and just laughing and laughing.  And then I’d read him a section and he wouldn’t really laugh because it’s all about context, but trust me–it’s pretty damn funny.  Especially the chapter about going on a weekend retreat course in how to become a medium.  I didn’t even know such a thing existed, but now I want to go.  Because oh the stories you could tell after that.

So I don’t know why this book never came together for me.  It was funny.  And engaging. And the subject matter is up my alley. But I had the hardest time getting through it.  I’m going to blame myself.  I’m so crazy busy with Capstone writing and life living and new job finding that my focus can be a little at loose ends.  And it certainly hasn’t dissuaded me from pursuing the rest of Roach’s catalog.

JMF Rating: 7.5/10

‘Tl next time,

-JMF

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