It’s been brought to my attention that I don’t write particularly positive reviews of books anymore. While that is true, it’s not because I’m deliberately trying to be curmudgeonly. I simply haven’t come across many things I’ve genuinely loved. But then I read Libba Bray’s The Diviners. It’s the sort of book I didn’t know was intended to be the first in a series, and wrapped up its main storyline so nicely that it could stand on its own, but introduced so many cool characters and elements that I wish it’d gone on forever (it is a series, apparently, so yay!). Spoilers after the cut…
Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal, by Christopher Moore, came across my lap one afternoon when I went to visit a friend working at the Waldenbooks in my hometown mall (Waldenbooks no longer exists and I don’t think that mall even has a bookstore anymore), and he enthusiastically passed me a copy and proceeded to reenact the scene where Jesus first drinks coffee and goes on a caffeinated healing binge. Needless to say, I was intrigued enough that I bought that very copy (all right, fine, I don’t remember, but it makes for a better story this way), and it immediately became one of my favorite books. Spoilers to follow…
You know, I had high hopes for Anatomy of a Single Girl, Daria Snadowsky’s sequel to Anatomy of a Boyfriend, which I liked enough to buy once upon a time. (For me, that is praise. I am a book enthusiast, but I am also cheap.) Together, they are the “saga” of sorts of Dominique Baylor, from her senior year of high school up until the start of her sophomore year at college, as she goes through her first serious relationship. It’s been likened to Judy Blume’s Forever… for its frank sexual discussion and activity, but a lot of things have changed since 1975. Spoilers, and some frank sexual discussion, to follow…
I was first introduced to Mike Leonard not through his work on The Today Show, but through his “appearance” as the father on The Brendan Leonard Show in 2003. The show itself was nothing short of a miracle, a teenager given complete creative freedom to provide forty episodes of content, the set his backyard, the cast his friends, the crew his relatives, the production company owned by his father two blocks from their house. That close-knit family appeal was fascinating to watch. And Mike Leonard’s work on The Today Show was all about slices of life, finding interesting things in weird places, finding friends in all corners of the world. Combine those two together and you have The Ride of Our Lives, the story of how Mike Leonard took three of his kids (and one daughter-in-law) and his aging parents in two RVs across the country for one last cool road trip. Spoilers to follow…
I am occasionally blessed, living in the metropolis that I do, to get to go to book signings. Book signings are awesome: they are a chance to interact with an author you really admire and respect (or, in my case, a chance to mutter crazily “THIS BOOK GOOD” and run away), and to walk away with a book that is now the pride of your collection because it has your name in it.
In 2012, I went to a total of 6 book signings:
- Daniel Handler & Maira Kalman, Why We Broke Up (I believe I’ve blogged about this previously, as Daniel Handler is my number one “YOU WRITE WORDS”/run away author)
- Sarah Z. Wexler, Awful First Dates
- Heather Cocks & Jessica Morgan, Messy (I also got my copy of Spoiled signed)
- Claire Legrand, The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls
- John Taylor, In The Pleasure Groove
- Daniel Handler again, Lemony Snicket’s Who Could That Be at This Hour? (I don’t have a problem. Who said I had a problem?)
Sarah Z. Wexler’s signing (at which the author provided tiny cupcakes) (I like when there are snacks) was a reading/Q&A about Awful First Dates, a compilation of bad date stories. It’s the kind of book that reading makes you simultaneously depressed and hopeful: because while your life/dating life may suck, at least you didn’t go out with the dude who runs over bunnies for ‘points’.
Heather Cocks & Jessica Morgan, also known as The Fug Girls, provided wine at their reading/Q&A. I love the Spoiled… series? duo?, which is all about ridiculous Hollywood life in the form of action star Brick Berlin and his egotistical, spoiled daughter Brooke and his illegitimate lovechild Molly that gets thrown into their affluent lifestyle after her mother dies. It’s all about sisterhood and bonding and unexpected connections, and since it’s the Fug Girls, it’s funny as hell. And as a result, the Q&A was open to pretty much anything. Plus, I respect that they signed my copy of Spoiled with references to my favorite guilty pleasure TV show (that they also happen to fugcap) (no, I won’t tell you what it is).
Bonus swag: Messy handmirrors.
Claire Legrand was booklaunching Cavendish. This, like Messy before it, I was late because of work and missed the reading itself, but came in time for the Q&A. Cavendish is a middle-grade book, the super creepy story of young, perfect Victoria, whose less-than-perfect best friend goes missing, and she has to give up her perfection in order to search for him in the neighborhood home for wayward orphans, which might also actually be alive. I’d never been to a booklaunch before, but they go all out: snacks included a cheese and crackers spread, and a cake designed like the book cover. Swag included bug jewelry (it’s thematic!), magnets, AND tote bags. I love me a good tote bag.
John Taylor’s signing I believe was also technically a booklaunch, as it’d just been released that day, but John Taylor being the pretty boy bassist of one of the most popular bands of the eighties, it came with a built-in fanbase (as autobiographies so often do), and so the name of the game was just ushering fans through the line. That said, I did get my three seconds with a member of Duran Duran, who said “Hello, Casey,” and took a photo with me. I actually did really enjoy the book: his writing style comes off a bit like he did a lot of cocaine in the eighties and doesn’t remember all of it, and that is kind of the point, so it works.
Lastly, I saw Daniel Handler again, this time acting as the representative of the erstwhile Lemony Snicket, author of the first in his new, semi-autobiographical series All the Wrong Questions. No snacks, only swag to be found was a pencil, but there was a funny activity sheet to fill out, and Daniel Handler does a lot of running and yelling and manages to consistently be charming while facing a long line of people that are too shy to tell them how much they like him (children, and also me) (okay, so maybe it’s a little bit of a problem).
I apologize for deviating from the norm for this blog, but I do appreciate that since moving to The City, I got to start expanding my social and cultural repertoire by gushing over writers that I liked – to their faces. Simply put, it’s nice to like things. It’s nice, if you are a creator of things, to have people tell you that they like the things you create. And it’s nice to get out and talk with friends and strangers about books you like. I hope by this point next year I’ll have a list for y’all about all the stuff I got signed in 2013.
David Levithan’s Every Day is a book recommendation that came to me from overhearing a conversation between a shopper and an employee at one of my favorite small bookstores. If there was any lesson I took from this, it’s not to eavesdrop and not to trust the recommendations of people who don’t know you or your tastes (or, for that matter, aren’t recommending the thing to you specifically). (Okay, that’s two lessons. An educational experience all around.)
In any case, I knew vaguely of David Levithan from being co-author of things like Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist (I don’t recall ever having finished reading this novel, but I’m pretty sure I did, and I know I saw the movie) and Dash & Lily’s Book of Dares. Every Day loosely dances on the line of being SFF, since conceptually it’s about an individual who wakes up every day (aha!) in the body of a different person. But then in the very first day we see, our protagonists meets Rhiannon, and it instantaneously becomes an entity-meets-girl story, and sacrifices any bit of interesting it had going for it in the pursuit of a lackluster romance between a dull girl and a slightly villainous gender-neutral being. Spoilers to follow…
Regular readers of this blog will note that I haven’t been updating nearly as frequently in 2012. Starting a new (second) job will do that to a person, I’m afraid, not to mention that it cut into my reading time and limited me largely to what I could read on my various commutes. That being said, I still managed to read 96 titles.
The majority of this accomplishment was from reading through the entirety of Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series, including the supplementary ‘between the numbers’ novels. Hey, they’re cheesy fun, and good for train rides, even if the schtick is getting tired and I wish Stephanie would just commit to one of the men in her life.
I ended up starting a few series that I didn’t know were series: Pittacus Lore’s Lorian Legacy series (with I Am Number Four) and Kami Garcia & Margaret Stohl’s Caster Chronicles (that’s what Goodreads told me it was called; with Beautiful Creatures). I may or may not read the next book in the latter, though I thought it held up okay as a solo effort; meanwhile, I was bored with the first (though it was one of those books that clearly set itself up as a series) and probably would never touch them again. I also started Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments series (with City of Bones) on recommendation, which I enjoyed and will read more of, but did not love.
As far as finishing things went, I got through both Crossed and Reached from Ally Condie’s Matched series, and I say “got through” largely because I found them kind of dull and semi-confusing. The latter is my own fault; I don’t think I was paying enough attention through the first novel.
I of course accomplished my yearly re-read of Daniel Handler’s The Basic Eight, but also started the year off right with his new YA novel, Why We Broke Up. Come October, he released the first of the All the Wrong Questions quartet, which is designed to be a prequel to the Series of Unfortunate Events. I liked Why We Broke Up better, but Who Could That Be At This Hour? is more in the noir style, which isn’t my bag, and I felt that it wasn’t nearly as Handler-stylized as I was expecting. Oh well.
More favorites from the year: in the realm of fiction, I fell in love with The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making (apologies to the friend upon whom I thrust this book during the holidays. Only not really). A fantastic, old-school fairytale in the classic Wonderland and Oz visiting realm, where a spunky girl makes her way to and through Fairyland, meets fantastical creatures, learns some magic, eats some fruit, changes some lives, and gets involved in a little political intrigue, as you do. Nonstop fun. There was also Christopher Moore’s Sacre Bleu, which is probably his second-best novel (after Lamb, of course), an equally fantastical story about why all of the painters in nineteenth century France were quite so crazy. It’s not on the same level of dick humor as some of Moore’s previous novels, so if you’re going into it for that, you’ll probably be disappointed, but if you want to visit one of Moore’s absurd realities, in the vein of Jesus’s wacky best friend, or Lear’s sex-crazed dark jester, or a man who wakes up and realizes he might be Death, Sacre Bleu is creative, fascinating, meticulously researched, and fun as hell.
I didn’t read much nonfiction this year, but I did enjoy John Taylor (of Duran Duran fame)’s autobiography, In the Pleasure Groove. While it teasingly glossed over some of the more sordid details of the band’s millennium reunion, it was still educational in its entertainment, and John’s gnetle writing was a nice counterpoint to guitarist Andy Taylor’s semi-harsh 2008 autobio, Wild Boy. (When Simon Lebon writes a book, I will be first in line for whatever whimsical nonsense will follow.)
Books I hated were Eve & Adam by Michael Grant & Katherine Applegate, and You Have Seven Messages by Stewart Lewis. It was generally a pretty good year for not hating things. Which, let’s be honest, is not an easy thing for me.
Happy new year and happy reading!
I like Katherine Applegate. I read the Animorphs series many times over. I like Michael Grant. The Gone series started really strong (I never finished, in part because it’s really dark, and in part because it’s really long, and in part because I can’t always remember who is who, but that is something else for another time). And I like, in theory, husband/wife writing teams. (You bring your work home with you! Cozy offices with multiple desks! You argue about character development! Couples therapy is less about your marital problems and starts becoming about plot points!) So with all of this in mind, I was really looking forward to Eve & Adam, which is theoretically about a girl using a simulation program to create the perfect boy. And yet, the book was barely about that, and I’m still on the fence as to how I feel about it. Spoilers to follow…
My motivation for picking up Rebecca Harrington’s Penelope was largely limited to “a girl named Penelope goes to college in Boston? Whee!” Which just goes to show, I am not particularly discerning. When you go into a read with that kind of ‘I’ll try anything once’ attitude, either you or the novel will suffer for it. And unfortunately for Harrington, I’m the one that’s suffering. Spoilers, if you can call them that, to follow…
I love fairytales. Who doesn’t? Fantastical characters and creatures, in a fantastical world, bound – or not – by fantastical rules. Magic is prevalent, sometimes helpful and sometimes dangerous. People will often pop up, say something critical but cryptic, then disappear, never to be seen again, leaving our hero (or, more often, heroine) to ponder that over until the exact right situation occurs where the tidbit becomes useful. And that’s another thing, you will find yourself with so many female characters in fairytales. Sure, some are conniving queens or princesses in need of being rescued, or witches with tempers and bad social skills, but they are women doing things, and so help me, I love it. So keeping all of this in mind, it probably doesn’t surprise you that when I went out and immediately bought a copy of Catherynne M. Valente’s The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making before I’d even finished reading my library copy. (Do I even have to say it? Spoilers to follow…)