Wednesday, January 22, 2020

[Book] Of Curses and Kisses by Sandhya Menon

Book cover
I usually don't do the comparative thing, but this one stuck me pretty directly.  Imagine the movie Crazy Rich Asians, but teenagers at a boarding school in the mountains outside of Aspen, with a broadly international cast.  Main point: pretty much everybody is insanely rich.

The main character, Jaya Rao, is a princess from an old kingdom of India who is literally there to break someone's heart.  That someone is Gray Emerson, Lord Northcliffe, who hails from a British Colonist family that had been a rival of the Rao family for six generations.  The problem is that he's a recluse who neither likes nor trusts people.  There's also a thing about an ancient curse (like the title suggests).  Of course, family obligations and family business are never left far behind in any of this.

The pacing of this book was excellent, the characters all felt believable, and mostly sympathetic.  I guessed a fairly major plot point very early in the story, though the writing was compelling enough that I wasn't disappointed that I had guessed correctly.

I feel that the book is written with a PG-13 rating in mind, so some swear words, emotional abuse, and a side of bullying, and it feels like the book did suffer in places because of that.  The version I read was a very early advanced readers copy (ARC/Galley) that very specifically states that it hasn't been publication proofed yet, so the few places where I felt the wording was particularly awkward may be changed prior to final publication.

Read this book for the light, fun romance that it is.  There's nothing deeply complicated, no deep thought, but it was not boring in any way.  Skip it if you are the type of person who doesn't feel they have time for something without deep meaning.

Sunday, October 6, 2019

Stopping Regular Book Blog

For over a year, I have published a book review every other week, on Wednesday, at noon.  Every week in the middle of both summers.

Reading for review

My wife is a librarian, and when I started this blog, it was partly a way for me to share something about the numerous pre-release books that she and I would get when we went to book events.  Also, when I started, doing this was fun, and I figured that if I were any good at it, maybe I would reach other readers.  That maybe someone might reach out to talk about a book I reviewed that we both read.

However, in the last year, my wife has only gone to one book event.  I've covered some classics, and even purchased a few books for review purposes.  I've heard directly from exactly one reader, one time, so it mostly feels like I'm typing into the void at this point.  That means that this is no longer fun.  I realize that reading with the knowledge that I'll be writing a review, has become a chore.


Each post gets up to 19 readers.  Typical, though, is much closer to 8.  I don't even know if the (as little as 3) readers are regular readers, or just folks who stumble onto the blog through search, looking for information about a book I reviewed.

My style of review does not lend itself to Amazon/Goodreads (where I can just add my stars to the pile).  I try to pull out the things that might make a book worth reading, and the reasons someone might want to skip a book.  To me, this is the type of review I like to read and find most useful.

That's the rule of creative work anyway, right?  Create the thing you wish existed.


I will still write reviews, but they won't be regular.  As far as my thoughts are today, I have already written and scheduled a review for late January for a book that is releasing in February (2020).

To those few of you who have come along with me on this journey, thank you.

Thursday, October 3, 2019

[Book] The Snow Queen by Hans Christian Andersen

Title Illustration
I read somewhere that the story of Disney's Frozen was based on this book, so I decided to read and review it for this blog.   I want to be clear that there is almost nothing that the story of Frozen has left in common with this original fairytale, except for a talking reindeer.  This is a short read, and I've linked to the full text via Project Gutenberg in the book information block below.

The story starts with the creation of a mirror by a mischievous hobgoblin/sprite, which once broken spreads, as dust and tiny shards, evil into the world.  In the second chapter, we are brought forward to meet the main characters, a young boy named Kay and a little girl named Gerda, and we learn that the worst snow storms are accompanied by the Snow Queen.

As fairy tales go, this one is elaborate.  There is a great deal of symbolism that may have been recognizable tropes to a contemporary reader of 1844, but left me feeling a bit lost.  Even the Snow itself is described instead as "white bees swarming".

Even though it is a short read, I don't recommend it.  I felt that most of the imagery was too abstract in that it doesn't translate to a modern day very cleanly.  That is, trying to figure out the meaning behind certain things was exhausting.  Chapter 3 introduces an Enchanted Flower Garden, but I couldn't figure out what the point was of most of it.

Feel free to try to explain what I'm missing in the comments below.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

[Book] The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

Book cover
The Graveyard Book isn't a horror novel, but it is absolutely goth and macabre. The story follows a boy from 18 months old when his whole family is murdered and he wanders off into the night through his childhood as he is raised in a graveyard by two ghosts and a vampire as guardian (who supplies physical things, like food and clothes).  At one point, we meet a werewolf and ghouls as well.

We never learn the boy's birth-name, so the ghosts of the graveyard named him Nobody, which gets shortened to Bod.  As an accepted member of the graveyard, Bod gets to use many powers of the dead - but only in the graveyard.

The story is paced very well, and the chapters are also individual stories that make the book easy to pick back up.  Yet, I found it compelling enough that I read the whole thing in two sittings (and within 24 hours).

Young adult books are absolutely best when they don't feel like books written for a teenage audience, and this book fits right in there.  There is light romance, a lot of death (not just the already dead) and a whole lot of action.

I didn't realize until organizing my thoughts for this review: This book has a lot of parallels with Harry Potter.  Anyone who has moral issues with the Harry Potter series would probably have the same problems with this book.  Also, being raised by those who are already dead, Bod has a bit of a different morality about death itself.  That is, I can totally see some folks thinking that this book might not be suitable for their children.

To me, though, the moral ambiguity and the very different magic of the dead made this book feel like an introduction to a whole new, very believable universe.  For that, I definitely recommend this book.  It also makes a really great Halloween read (I read this book and wrote the first draft of this review just after Halloween, 2018).

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

[Book] This Fight Is Our Fight by Elizabeth Warren

Book Cover
Elizabeth Warren is running for president, and pretty much every candidate writes a book prior to running.   It's a good way to let folks know where they are coming from, and do so in a long format, unfiltered by the journalist's desire to pare things down into sound-bites.

This book is subtitled: The Battle to Save America's Middle Class.  This is a book about politics, personal history of the author and the economic history of the country along with ample explanation of why the past matters today.  This book does not shy away from discussing racial economic disparity. Though, I definitely feel it could have gone much deeper into those subjects (as I don't think that past is well understood by most).

Overall, this is about the author trying to sell us her plan for the future, and it lays out a good narrative that moves between individual voters that the author has talked to, and how the economic changes of the past have directly affected those people.  This is then followed up with political policy statements.  Often, this is re-instating protections that have eroded in the last 50 years, but with modifications that acknowledge racial and gender disparities of those past policies.

Personally, I have found this book to be quite compelling, and to my mind, Elizabeth Warren is the front-runner.  That said, this is mostly because she has actually put in the time to make actual policy statements, and directly talk about the plans that she would support.  Most other candidates aren't to that point yet (and some may never get there).  She's done her homework, and is serious.

Recommended: assuming you can deal with some politics.  There are enough personal touch-points in here to keep my attention (which is rare with a political book).  Skip it if you just don't have the emotional bandwidth for this sort of thing.  There are certainly many things pointed out about the current state of this country that had me feeling quite angry, and I totally get that not everyone can handle reading a deep dive on all the things that have gone awry on our way to this point.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

[Book] How To Be A Snow Queen by Mari Schuh

Book cover
This is a children's (6 to 10 years) book about leadership, the subtitle is Leadership With Elsa.  While recapping the story of Disney's Frozen, it is a combination of pointing out leadership traits within the story, and pop-up video style call-outs to movie related facts.  Because this is an educational title riding on top of the fictional story of Frozen, it is categorized as a non-fiction book.

Even trying to keep in mind the young audience that this book is for, I felt that the book was very light on leadership itself, and was much better at other real-life tie-ins.  For example, one pop-up suggests that the animators learned a lot about meteorology for the movie.  Another pop-up describes the career choice of "Doctor" (in relation to a healer Troll).  There is a very short glossary on the back page which includes; Architect, Candidate, Confidence, Coronation, Kingdom, Meteorology and National Park (only one of these being a leadership related trait).

So, while I don't recommend this book specifically for leadership information, I genuinely enjoy the story, illustrations and pop-up facts that go along with it.  It is also difficult to read out loud, because to read the pop-up information, you have to temporarily drop the narrative.  There's not an obvious place to pause and read the extra word-bubble.

Get this if you want a Frozen book for a Frozen-obsessed kid, and you want it to offer more than a recap the story: That is the sweet spot for this book.  Skip it if you don't have a Frozen obsessed kid, or if you have a kid who is actually interested in leadership.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

[Book] The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain

Book cover
This is a book that I've known about for most of my life, and Tom Sawyer is a character that I've heard referenced through my entire life.  A fairly large area of Disney's Magic Kingdom is dedicated to this book; one of my favorite places to hang out for an hour.  Yet, nothing of the story was spoiled for me.

First and foremost, the "n word" appears nine times through the text, four of them clustered together in two adjacent paragraphs of dialog.  Frankly, it sucks, and really does sully the experience of the book as well as my opinion of the Author.  There are a few black slave characters in the book, but none are given depth or consideration. As I also said in my review of Peter Pan, the slur was as much a disservice to black Americans then (only a decade from emancipation) as it is today.

The villain of the novel is Injun Joe, referred to as half-breed without explanation as best as I recall.  Not quite as painful as Peter Pan, but still several "Indian" stereotype checkboxes are used for this character.

A modern reader literally has to "get over" both of these things to be able to see the story.  Yet, this story has both of these things, and I suddenly understand why I've never heard the story before.  It is an archive of prejudices that went out of style for mainstream America before I was born, featuring the title character lying, skipping school, stealing, running away, smoking tobacco and somehow, ending up without lasting consequence.

Past the prejudices, the writing is good, and mostly everything feels like it could have happened.  The first half of the book drags on, and there isn't much adventure, mostly endless mischief.  Tom Sawyer does grow some in the book, but not as much as I'd expect.  This book kept my interest, but mostly because of the historic context.  This is, in part, how children acted in the 1830s, and what a small Missouri town about a mile off the Mississippi river was like.  Many of the places written about are real, and I'm fond of history.

Ultimately, I cannot recommend the book.  There were parts of it that I enjoyed, but the parts that made me uncomfortable pretty much outweigh the overall experience.  If you've read the book, and think I have it wrong, let me know... I'm happy to hear from others.