Saturday, April 23, 2016

The Passenger (A Mystery or Thriller)

Pro: You'll keep wondering until the end. And oh, that twist.
Con: It's not as nail-biting as it sounds.

The Bottom Line: Definitely worth your time, but I almost chose a different category as while it is a mystery in an odd way, I hesitate to call it a thriller.

I ended up reading this book as I did most - bored in the back room at work and it was sitting there as an ARC. But it began interesting and it stayed interesting, so I cruised on until the end.

Tanya Dubois considers her options when she discovers her husband's dead body at the bottom of the stairs. But in the end, she grabs some money, dyes her hair, and hits the road. With a single phone call she demands money and a new identity to start over. But when she meets another woman by the name of Blue, things only become more complicated. New identities, men with guns, and a shady past are all clamoring for Tanya's attention. But who is Tanya Dubois really - and what lurks in her past?

It sounds exciting, I know, but it's actually pretty mellow, in a way. Not bad mellow, just...not much happening mellow. Yes, there are moments where things jump up a notch, but for the majority of the time you follow Tanya around the pages as she seeks to become a new person. To disappear into the world and remain safe. She's been doing this sort of thing for so long it's like she's become a bit numb to it. And you're just a weird outsider watching her do these things.

I can't say that I was ever on the edge of my seat. But I was entertained and kept wondering how things were going to work out. You knew the second she met a cop, he'd be the kind to not let up. And I liked that guy. Moreover, Tanya is smart, resourceful, and I was glad when she finally decided she was done and chose to face the very thing making her run. Though you can understand why she did in the first place. The story comes to you in bits and pieces, through snippets of emails and memories, and you learn who you ought to despise and eventually the reasons why.

The twist, however, was not something I saw coming. Sure, it's not hard to guess why Tanya might be running, and whether or not it's something she's actually a part of. But the very, very end. That's a wow moment right there. And you think, maybe if those idiots had chosen to let that ugly little secret out in the first place, poor Tanya might not have had any of this happen to her. But once it's over, you wish her well, and will find yourself satisfied with the results.

For the record, Blue is my hero.


Saturday, April 16, 2016

Alight (A Trilogy x2)

Pro: An excellent second installment in the trilogy
Con: Trouble with some descriptions, but maybe that's just me. I also wish the covers were better.

The Bottom Line: I'm loving these books and I'm super excited that the next one comes out in October!

While I truly enjoyed the first book and had a blast with this second one, I'm still not sure how it made it into the Teen section given the amount of violence. I guess publishers are letting up and realizing teens aren't as innocent as they've always thought (heck, I watched Aliens at age 10 and loved it). The Hunger Games actually didn't have a lot of violence at all, as most characters died off screen. The Maze Runner definitely kicked it up a notch, particularly in The Scorch Trials, but Scott Sigler's Generations Trilogy is a whole new ball of wax.

Still, if you or your teen has read the other two trilogies and some of the other various dystopian, survival-style books out there, then no big deal.

Em and the others have landed on the planet Omeyocan. They discover a jungle and a massive city – that may at one point have been two cities. But the problem now is food. They only have a limited amount before they starve. Aramovsky isn't above scheming and whispering in order to subvert Em's position as leader. But what might be most dangerous of all is that they aren't alone on this planet. Something knows they are here...

Oh boy, what a ride! Sigler knows how to pen a story brimming over with excitement, anxiousness, and high-strung emotions of every kind. I think I had to put the book down and stop reading a few times just to take a break and regroup. He brings you everything from death to life to love to let's-blow-some-shit-up. So many times you hope Em might just waste Aramovsky, but she doesn't since she knows that would be a poor choice as a leader. Other times you might hope she figures out what to say, but being who she is she just can't. She has to battle with what Matilda was and how those thoughts occasionally invade her brain, and remind herself that she is her own person – not Matilda. It makes for some interesting internal struggles.

There is a bit of a love triangle, but I love how Sigler handled that too. Instead of having Em agonize over it she realizes now is not the time to worry about it, and then Sigler takes care of the problem by yanking things up from under Em and burning one of those choices to the ground. Almost literally, in fact.

All the other characters, no matter how briefly they may be on the page, leave some kind of impact so that once something happens to them, you feel it. The history that still waits to be revealed gets more and more intriguing and bizarre, and what happens at the end – man, I'll be very interested in seeing how Sigler managers to cram all that into one final book. But no matter what, I am looking forward to it.

My only qualm was the occasional bit of description. I had a hard time visualizing the things Em described as a snake-wolf, as well as how people sat on the pentapods once they discovered what they were. It's as if in those cases there just wasn't quite enough description for it to work in my brain. There are a few others, but part of me wonders also if I was just reading a little too fast for the pictures to catch up in my mind. Other times the descriptions were perfect, such as the climb up the Observatory and the awful statues. Messed up, man.

I do really wish that the covers better reflected how kickass these books are. They're just faces with some typeface that doesn't really have anything to do with the insides of the book. Ok, sure, the first book was Em's face I guess, but there's just a fraction of the circle's edge on her forehead. The symbol on the person's head for the cover of this book is slightly easier to see (I think it's supposed to be Bishop?), but you still have to know it's there to get what's going on. Even then, you can't see it clearly at all. The original cover of the first book was a little better, in my view, but still. Ah well.

(There is this video of Scott's editor talking about why they made the change. Frankly, I don't know who would have thought Em was dead, among other things, but whatever. Still think they could have been way better.)

But I'm totally digging on this trilogy, I love the Aztec imagery and all the borrowing that's been done to make everything here even more unique, and I am really, really, looking forward to October. Normally it takes much longer for the next book in a series to come out, but Scott Sigler either had a huge chunk of it done or he's in the writing zone – either way, I'm glad!


Saturday, April 9, 2016

If At Birth You Don't Succeed (A Memoir)

Pro: Hilarious.
Con: Only if you don't like to laugh. In which case I worry for you.

The Bottom Line: I recommended this book at work before I was even halfway through – and I wanted to write this review then too because I was having such a great time.

The first time I'd ever heard of/saw Zach Anner, he was dressed in a suit and leading around another man in fishnet tights, handcuffs, and a gag. The group he was with all intended to see Fifty Shades of Grey in full Fifty Shades garb. Several men I was already familiar with, including Josh Flanagan, Aaron Marquis, and Chris Demaris (which now sort of makes them like the sex dungeon Three Musketeerm, and, sorry Chris, but I'm pretty sure you're D'Artagnan). I will admit I'm an avid Rooster Teeth fan, so I didn't have any idea who Zach was, aside from their friend. I was amused, and then moved on with life.

It wasn't until about 7 months later Zach appeared in a series RT was doing called Buff Buddies. And that's when I discovered just how freaking funny Zach is. So when I heard he had a book coming out, I signed myself up. Not that there's anything I had to actually sign up for. Though I did have to order in the books myself because someone upstairs is a moron and didn't order any for my store. YOU DON'T OWN ME, BUYER PERSON.

I'm sorry, I'm getting off track.

Zach Anner is, at this point, an internet celebrity. Born with cerebral palsy (the sexiest of palsies, I feel I ought to add), he's made his way through the world despite some rough times, but shows that with a solid attitude and the help of friends and family, you don't have to let a disability define you.

The book is divided up into separate parts with a few chapters within each part. Though ultimately a memoir, it doesn't necessarily read in chorological order. This isn't a "I was born, here's my childhood, here are the obstacles, here's me into adulthood, yadda yadda" autobiography. Rather, it's a series of stories from Zach's life, some slightly more serious than others, but each one showcasing an important point in his life, from hosting his own show on Oprah's TV channel to discovering the kind of person he is or wants to be.

All throughout the book Zach's injected his humor and wit, and it's all so well done that quite frequently people would look over at me while I sat there and giggled at something on the page. I actually tried to take my time with this book so I wouldn't finish it too fast. I managed to stretch it out to about four days – here's hoping Zach does indeed plan to write another one at some point because he's got some excellent stories.

You also learn a lot of interesting things about walks of life most of us never experience. How they treat you on a reality TV show. What it's like to be disabled while on a reality show. What it's like when things go wrong because the European outlets fried your wheelchair battery. Or the simple fact that just because you're disabled doesn't mean you can't still do a lot of cool stuff. Zach's traveled to a lot of great places, from Disneyland to Berlin to Canada, and here I am with a fully functioning body and I've never even been out of the country.

But it's not all sunshine and roses. Zach lets readers in on some of his less than perky moments, such as an incident involving razors (trust me, not in the way you think), or when he hit a low point and decided to go on random trip to anywhere just to get away and see something different and it completely failed on him. Still, he imbues these things with what he's learned, so that we might in turn learn from him.

Whether you end up loving this book for it's hilarity, inspiration, writing, or all of the above, it's definitely worth a read. And if you don't know who Zach Anner is, trust me, after this you're going to want to find out.


P.S. Dr. Phil is a dick. Though I feel this should surprise no one.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

None of the Above (A Book Set in High School)

Pro: A solid look at an issue you may not have heard about
Con: No one ever punches Bruce in the face

Bottom Line: An excellent story and the kind of book you feel may help some folks and enlighten others.

Our Children's Lead decided to make a list of LGBTQ books to display for teens one day. But when we needed that space for other books, we had to take it down. Have I mentioned that I'm no longer a Children's Lead at work? I'm a Merchandise Manager now. And guess what?

When I had some empty display space, I put that sucker right back up.

I kept walking past it and finally paused to read just what this one was about. And of course, we all know what happens when I do that. I basically just end up reading the book.

Kristin Lattimer is a track star. She's got a boyfriend. And she's about to be named Homecoming Queen. Life is pretty awesome and she's feeling so great she's decided she's going to take things to the next level with her boyfriend. Except things are not what she expected. At all. Her concerns bring her to the doctor's office where she discovers something she never, ever expected. She's intersex – on the outside she looks female, but she has male chromosomes as well as a few additional "parts." Handling such a life-changing fact is hard enough, but even the people you trust can betray you as suddenly the entire school knows – and the result is not pleasant. Kristin isn't sure anymore about who she is and if she can keep going with her once normal life.

Fun fact: this is I.W. Gregorio's first novel and was inspired by a patient she had that was, in fact, intersex, otherwise known as Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome (AIS). She wondered about how that girl's life may have played out, and decided to create a novel that examined such issues.

Frankly, I think she did a damn fine job. It doesn't surprise me at all that, even in 2016, people would flip out in ways that a lot of Kristin's classmates did over her condition. Which is some serious bullshit considering she was born that way and was basically at the mercy of her body and the way it handled itself before birth and so on. (here's a super quick link of info for you if you like about AIS). It's annoying to read about even if it's fiction because that kind of crap happens all the time in real life. I'm one of those folks that just thinks, "How do you people not understand by now? Biology is weird. Shit happens. Get over yourself – and why do you care about someone else's super-personal issues anyway?"

But I digress. Kristin is female, despite her XY chromosomes stating otherwise. But she has a really hard time coping and figuring things out. She worries that her running scholarship might be taken away, as the thought of her being male gives her an unfair advantage (as other athletes with AIS are mentioned in the book had similar issues – real people, by the way). She's turned on by people she never believed would turn on her. But luckily she finds comfort in unexpected places, and in the end, simply needs to figure out how to turn off the rest of the world (a difficult feat for most teenage girls) and focus solely on herself.

I admit, as I read, I was a little hard on Kristin about her handling of the situation. Not so much about the AIS – that's a pretty big twist in your life – but about how people treated her afterwards. How she basically folded like a wet paper cup under people's eyes and assholishness. I'm the type that, while I wouldn't ever say I'm outgoing, didn't take people's stupid shit either. I once had some guy try and make fun of the cheap brand of jeans I was wearing and I stared him dead in the eye and said, "Yeah. So?" with a look that clearly said, "They're pants, asshole. Who the fuck cares what brand they are?" Not a peep out of him after that. But Kristin was high on life in every way possible before people flipped like a dog suddenly gone rabid, so it's more understandable that she would want to bail. Though I still wish things would have turned around sooner so she would go back to school that that "Yeah. So?" attitude and put a few people in their places.

And Bruce needed to get slapped in the face by Vee or something. I always desire comeuppance when it comes to awful people.

Give it a read. Even if you're not in high school like I am. People have tough times everywhere, and maybe it can give you some insight into the kind of world other people have. Besides, it's 2016 – there's no need to be a jerk.


Caraval by Stephanie Garber

Whoops! I completely forgot to mention this. Last month I reviewed Stephanie Garber's amazing book Caraval for the web blog I curre...