Saturday, January 17, 2015

Book List 2014: The First Half

That's right, it's time once again for the annual list of what I've read this past year. I know, I know, the excitement is palpable, right?

There are so many books out there and sometimes it can be hard to know what to read. That’s why I’ve taken it upon myself to help in some small way.

Are you going to like everything on the list? Absolutely not. Heck, I don’t even like everything on this list.

Are you going to agree with all my opinions? God, I hope not! How boring would that be? We’re different people and we like different things. My goal here isn’t that you’ll like everything I did. My goal is to provide you with an interesting cross section of reading material and hopefully a few ideas for future reads.

Plus I love seeing what friends are reading, and perhaps mine do too.

But enough of my jibber-jabbering. Let's get to the books!

 * = Reread
[GN] = Graphic novel/Comic anthology


Native American Myths and Legends

by. O.B. Duane

A collection of myths and legends from various Native American tribes.

While the myths and legends in the book were great, the author was...shall we say, not the best? For one thing he liked to say things like, “The Algonquin Indians were a tall, well-proportioned race, intelligent and obliging, who worked the land or hunted and fished for their survival.”

And for another he didn’t seem to understand basic aspects of North America. For instance his glossary defines a Buffalo as, “A type of wild ox...”

So...yeah. I’m sure there are better collections on the subject out there somewhere.

*   2.   *

The Color of Magic

by. Terry Pratchett

On a flat disc-shaped planet that rides through space on the backs of four elephants who stand on an enormous turtle, an incompetent wizard becomes a tour guide for the Disc’s first (and very possibly last) tourist.

I decided to start rereading all the Discworld books this year. After all, Terry Pratchett is my favorite author and this series is brilliant. Plus it’s been forever since I read the older ones.

And this was the book that started it all! I remember when my mom got it for me way back when. I had never heard of the series before and after I finished reading ir I immediately wanted to read them all.

Yet reading it now, it’s not nearly as good as it was back then. Although I’m pretty sure a lot of that sentiment is coming from the fact that I’m all too familiar with how good the series (and his writing) gets later on. So this early work seems all the more rough. Not to mention that the wizard-centric stories have always been my least favorite of the series.

My biggest annoyance though comes from the fact that the best thing about the Discworld series is that it brilliantly uses Fantasy as a way of satirizing our world, and this book doesn’t do that. This book uses our world as a way of satirizing Fantasy.

And that just isn’t as much fun.

[If you’ve never read a Discworld book before I wouldn’t suggest you pick this one as your starting point. Unlike most series, the Discworld books often can stand by themselves (some more than others), so it isn’t imperative to start at the beginning.  I usually tell people to start with Small Gods or The Wee Free Men as they both will give you a great taste of what makes Pratchett’s Discworld so enjoyable.]

*   [GN]   3.   [GN]   *

Avatar: The Last Airbender
The Promise

written by. Gene Luen Yang
drawn by. Gurihiru

After the events of the TV show, Aang & Zuko try to find a way to peacefully settle the land disputes over the Fire Nation colonies.

I was recently on an Avatar binge and after rewatching the TV series I wanted to reread some of the comics before I started rewatching Korra.

I have an Avatar addiction, okay? There. I said it.

Anyways, I’ve heard mixed reviews of the comics, but personally I quite enjoy them. So take that for what you will.

*   4.   *

The Light Fantastic

by. Terry Pratchett

This sequel to The Color of Magic returns us to the misadventures of incompetent wizard Rincewind and fool-hardy tourist Twoflower. This time a power hungry wizard has begun trying to harness the power of the 8 forbidden spells, but much to their mutual annoyance the 8th spell is currently residing inside of Rincewind’s head.

Umm...what to say, what to say. This one was a little better than The Color of Magic. Actually a lot of the stuff I remembered as being from The Color of Magic was from this one, so go figure! It still isn’t up to par with Pratchett’s later work, but it’s a fun simple kind of read and there’s a number of pretty fun scenes/bits of dialogue.

*   [GN]   5.   [GN]   *

Legend of the Monkey King

story by. Kevin Lau & Erik Ko
art by. Kevin Lau & Omar Dogan
dialogue by. Jay Faerber

A modern re-telling of the infamous Chinese epic Journey to the West.

I was a teenager when this series was coming out and I was all over it. I mean a slick American version of the classic Journey to the West story? Teenage me was loving it. Unfortunately, however, not a lot of other people were and the series was soon canceled.

Which is a shame! Looking back on it now it isn’t as strong as it used to be for me, but there’s still some truly great things about it. This is probably one of the most fleshed out versions of Journey to the West I’ve ever seen. The characters are given backstories and personalities that are much deeper than the original’s.

It’s not perfect, but I still find it extremely interesting. It’s got a modern feel, a classic story, and some great reinterpretations. The real shame is that it wasn’t able to go on for longer. I’m really curious how their story would have evolved. The parts of the story in this volume is essentially just the preamble. It ends when Monkey and Tripitaka are about to depart on their journey. And that’s where the real adventure begins!

The actual comics got a couple issues past where this volume leaves off and it was really interesting. They had just introduced Pigsy and he was really fun! But they didn’t even get a chance to introduce Sandy! Lame, right?

*   6.   *

Equal Rites

by. Terry Pratchett

The eighth son of an eighth son is a wizard, but what happens when the eighth son of an eighth son is a daughter?

Equal Rites wins my award for being the best of the early Discworld books. It still isn’t as good as the later stuff, but it's still lots of fun.

*   7.   *


by. Terry Pratchett

Death takes a skinny young boy named Mort as his apprentice. However, Mort throws the balance of the world out of whack when he tries to save a girl from...well, from Death.

From what I hear a number of people suggest Mort as a good introduction to Discworld...heck, I think I even used to do that. But now I think that's kind of a terrible idea!

I’ll admit that this book has a very solid premise, but overall the story isn’t anything to write home about. It’s easy to remember it being better than it is, because there are some very memorable scenes. But the majority of the story isn’t about Mort and Death interacting (which is great), it’s about Mort trying to deal with the consequences of his interfering with the fates of mortals (which is pretty dull).

*   8.   *


by. Terry Pratchett

As we all know, the eighth son of an eighth son is a Wizard (a wielder of magic), but the eighth son of a Wizard is a Sorcerer (a source of magic). Normally this is never a problem as Wizards tend to be too preoccupied with other things to worry about sex, but a powerful ex-wizard desires revenge on the Wizards and plans to use his eighth son to do it.

Ugh! This is definitely my least favorite of the series. BY FAR. The villain is just so bland and woefully underdeveloped. And since the crux of the story is focused on the villain I just could not bring myself to care.

The one thing I will say to its credit is that it introduces Coinia who is a pretty fun character.


The Good Thief

by. Hannah Tinti

A young orphan dreams of the day when a family will adopt him, but because of his missing hand it seems like that’ll never happen. Yet one day a man shows up looking for him and claiming to be his long-lost brother. Now his dreams of family life are replaced with realities of thieves, murder, and mystery.

I’m not completely sure where I heard about this one. I think perhaps it was on some list of book recommendations and it sounded interesting?

Anyhoo, it was alright. There's a lot of interesting stuff in here. Though personally it just never grabbed me.


We Are Become Pals

written by. Joey Comeau
illustrated by. Jess Fink

A story of two best friends.

As some of you might already know, Joey Comeau is one of my favorite authors. So, surprise! I think this book is pretty brilliant.

Especially since Jess Fink worked with him on it and she’s pretty awesome in her own right.


Jennifer Government

by. Max Berry

In a near-future world where your job is such a part of your identity that it serves as your last name, a government agent tries to get to the bottom of a corporate sponsored killing.

Oh, Max Berry. He is such an intriguing author. He used to work in marketing so he has a deep understanding of that field and it really shows in his novels.

Overall I’d say the actual story is pretty bland and the characters aren’t the best, but the ideas at work in it are great. If you have an interest in marketing or media you should give his work a try sometime.


After Dark

by. Haruki Murakami
translated by. Jay Rubin

A story about all the little stories that take place late at night in Tokyo.

Murakami is such an unusual author. So much so that I’m often hesitant to recommend him to people. But there’s just something about his work that is wonderfully unique. Reading one of his novels is like getting to walk through someone else’s dream. It’s strangely ethereal and yet beautiful.

As someone who is a night owl by heart this book really resounded with me. He expertly captures what it’s like to stay up late.

*   13.   *

Ant Farm

by. Simon Rich

A collection of jokes and skits.

I was reading some reviews of this and people were complaining that it wasn’t really a proper book and that it was just a collection of silly little jokes/skits.

And they’re right. But that’s what makes it so much fun! It is pretty short, and it is a collection of funny little skits. It’s like reading a brilliant sketch comedy show. And most importantly: It’s hilarious! I mean if I’m reading this near anybody they better watch out because I just want to read them all out loud and share them with everyone. They’re just that good.


The Enemy

by. Lee Child

Military police officer Jack Reacher discovers he's being set-up while investigating the murder of an Army general. Someone high up in the military is going to extreme lengths to get what they want, but Reacher’s not about to go down without a fight.

This is the second Reacher novel I’ve read and I did not like it nearly as much as I did the first one. (The first one I read was One Shot). In this one Reacher is still in the military and one of the things I liked about him was that he was an unemployed drifter. Plus the villains were stupid and I just didn’t care. It wasn’t bad, but, jeez, compared to One Shot it was pretty darn disappointing.


Alone Together:
Why We Expect More of Technology and Less of Each Other

by. Sherry Turkle

Sometimes a subtitle is a synopsis in and of itself, don’t you think?

Oh, jeez, this book is a good example of why I should really write these things right after I read them and not months after. To be honest I don’t really remember much about this book. Mainly I just remember that I was disappointed with it, as it didn’t really deal with the question of “Why we expect more of technology and less of each other” as much as it did with people’s relationships with technology?

*   [GN]   16.   [GN]   *

City of Light, City of Dark

written by. Avi
art by. Brian Floca

In the land where New York City now stands an ancient pact is still in place. Every year a human granted with special powers must find a hidden token of immense power and bring it as a tribute to the Kurds (ancient beings of darkness who own the lands). If the token isn’t given in tribute the Kurds will take back what is theirs. But this year a rich man yearns to find the token and use its powers for his own selfish ends and a young girl is only one who can stop him.

I’m honestly not sure where this book came from exactly, but it’s been floating about my house for the longest time!

It’s a fun story though. I recently donated it to a book drive, so obviously I’m not saying it’s something you’re going to want to hang on to forever, but I’m definitely glad I read it. It's good YA fare.

*   [GN]   17.   [GN]   *


written by. Jeph Loeb
pencils by. Jim Lee

No one is free from suspicion when a mysterious figure begins sabotaging Batman.

While not the best Batman story around, I really do have a lot of love for this one. Just like Loeb’s The Long Halloween, this one is not only a fun mystery, but also a great excuse to tour Batman’s rogues gallery. Plus did I mention it includes a Superman vs. Batman fight? Because it does! And it's a lot of fun.

[GN]   18. & 60.   [GN]

Avatar: The Last Airbender
The Rift (parts 2/3)

by. Gene Luen Yang
art by. Gurihiro

Toph has to confront both her father and Aang when they discover a shady Beifong mining operation on sacred Air nomad land.

This is the first one of the Avatar comics that I didn’t like. Toph is quite racist against Aang’s people in this one (not to mention a total ass to Aang). I get that she’s supposed to be hard-headed and despise tradition, but she’s gone through so much with Aang, and it just seemed absurd that she’d act like this. “Ugh who cares about traditions? Who cares that those traditions are clearly the only way you have to feel a connection with your family/friends/culture that were all slaughtered. Gosh, your people are all dead get with the times.”

I mean, really? Anyways, the whole thing bugged me.


The Forever War

by. Joe Haldeman

A race of aliens is discovered and soon after humanity is at war. The only problem is that the aliens exist thousands of light years away and the only way to get there quickly is through wormholes. However, because of relativity, a couple years in the life of the soldiers travelling at near lightspeed is centuries for the people of Earth. Needless to say, this is going to be a complicated war.

While this book is far from perfect (it was written in the 70s and some of the ignorance of the time are apparent), I have to give it a lot of credit for using ideas of relativity to ask some really interesting questions about space travel.

Just think about it. You’d send out a ship of soldiers on a mission and by the time they got there their technology would be a 100 years outdated. Eventually after multiple groups being sent out over the years you’d end up with soldiers from the same place, but who couldn’t understand one another because they were born 1,000 years apart and their culture and languages would have changed so much.

And what about diplomacy? Everyone would have been at war for generations, and diplomatic talks would all have the same challenges. For instance, how can you condemn an action one group has taken when to them that was their ancestors decision long ago?!


The Fifty Year Sword

by. Mark Z. Danielewski

At a gathering a storyteller is asked to tell the children a story. A fairy tale of magic and vengeance, but perhaps it is more than just a story.

If you’re a fan of books written in atypical fashions than you need to start checking out the work of Mark Z. Danielewski. He was the author of the brilliant House of Leaves (a story that was told as a man’s notes on a film analysis of a documentary film about a family who discovers their house is somehow bigger on the inside than the outside). And he’s back at it here. This story features different colored lines of text and each color signifies a different speaker.

I think you’ll either love Danielewski or you’ll just be “What...the fuck am I reading?” Personally I get a kick out of it. He’s out there trying all sorts of crazy shit. Playing with text colors, formatting, story structures, just all sorts of new things. And the result is a story unlike anything you’ve ever read before. One that draws you in and forces you to be an active participant in the story whether you want to or not.

*   21.   *

Wyrd Sisters

by. Terry Pratchett

The story of a trio of witches who are forced to take action to put the rightful king into a position to assume the throne.

You know, when I was younger I remember that the witch stories were some of my least favorites in the Discworld series. But now? Now I’m finding them to be some of my absolute favorites. So go figure.

This one is probably the weakest of the witch stories though. It’s still pretty fun, just a little formulaic. Pratchett has yet to really figure out who the witches are and really use them to as expertly as he does later.


The Rook

by. Daniel O’Malley

A woman wakes up in a park surrounded by dead bodies and no memories of who she is. She discovers a letter in her coat pocket from...herself. She learns that she is actually an administrator in a clandestine and supernatural agency (think bureaucratic X-men). What’s more, someone out there is trying to kill her and take over the agency. Now she must not only get to the traitor before they get to her, but she’s also going to have to hide her amnesia from everyone while she does it.

It’s a fun book, but there’s not a lot to it. I mean, I love mysteries and stories about super-powered individuals and it’s got plenty of that. It’s just that the story itself is rather lazy. For instance there’s one part where the author basically just straight up says that the agency is organized in a frankly idiotic fashion because it sounds “cool.” I mean, essentially the author just poked their head in occasionally to say, “Sure this doesn’t make sense, but whatever. It sounds so cool!”

*   23.   *

Uncle John’s Bathroom Reader Plunges into Minnesota

by. The Bathroom Reader's Institute

A collection of short Minnesota facts, trivia, and anecdotes suitable for reading while sitting on a toilet.

This is another one of those books that I have no idea how I ended up with. But who doesn't enjoy trivia?

*   24.   *

Death by Black Hole:
And Other Cosmic Quandaries

by. Neil DeGrasse Tyson

A collection of astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s essays dealing with such cosmic topics as “What would really happen if you entered a black hole?,” “Astronomy mistakes is cinema,” “How sticks and rocks can show us the basics of astrophysics,” and more!

Neil DeGrasse Tyson has that rare ability to be both scientifically minded and adept at explaining complex ideas in a way that anyone can understand them.


The Lies of Locke Lamora

by. Scott Lynch

An orphan is adopted by a con artist and made a part of the infamous Gentleman Bastards gang, but when a brutal coup in the underworld threatens their livelihoods, it’s up to the Bastards to save the day.

Much like The Rook this book creates a very interesting world full of intriguing characters, but the story just stumbles around in it. It’s very much an “And Then” story.

I can never remember if that’s a common term or not? In case it’s not, you know when you’re telling your friend about what happened to you at work today and it sounds like, “And then I did this, And Then this other thing happened! etc...”? Stories sound that way when we’re trying to get strings of events across to others, and not necessarily trying to create a narrative. And therein lies the difference between a rehearsed Story and a simple depiction of events. A well-written story makes the action seem natural by creating a seamless narrative.

So yeah, there was a lot of interesting elements in here, but I just couldn’t get into the story, because it struck me as to disjointed.

Also there was only a handful of female characters and they refrigeratored one! UGh.


Red Dragon

by. Thomas Harris

The FBI begs Will Graham, the man who was able to catch Hannibal Lecter, to try and get his help to catch a new serial killer. But in order to get back in the heads of criminals, Will’s going to need to face the man who nearly killed him.

So I’m kind of obsessed with NBC’s show Hannibal by Bryan Fueller. After the thrilling end of season 2 I needed a Hannibal fix so I decided I would go read all the Hannibal books! Huzzah!

It’s kind of weird reading the books as their descriptions don’t match the shows actors (which now have become the standards in my head). So, for instance, there’s a passage where the character Jack Crawford is said to have long pale arms, and I’m thinking, “That doesn’t sound like Laurence Fishburne at all!”

[GN]   27.   [GN]

Problem Sleuth, book 2:
This is Complete BS

by. Andrew Hussie

Imagine a comic about detectives that was written as a sort of text-adventure wherein internet-user-submitted commands are what moves the story along. Now imagine it going slowly going from slightly silly to wonderful madness.

That’s Problem Sleuth.

Problem Sleuth is a webcomic and you can read it for free! Actually it’s one of those rare webcomics that actually works better online, because it makes use of GIFs and saving your place and other fun stuff. But I like reading long things on paper, so whatever!

I have a love of the old text-adventure / point&click adventure games, so I really enjoy this series. But the easiest way to decide if you like it is to just go to the site and check it out. You’ll find out pretty quick if it’s up your alley or not.


Oryx and Crake

by. Margaret Atwood

In a ravaged version of the world we once knew, possibly the only human survivor lives in the woods, looking after the strange new sentient creatures that are his last connection to his former life and reminiscing about his role in the end of the world.

A friend recommended this one to me and I’m glad they did because it was pretty great. I love how it weaves between this fucked up world and the past one and creates this wonderful mystery where you’re dying to know what happened.

*   29.   * 


by. Terry Pratchett

A young man studying at the Assassin’s guild is called back home to take on the role of Pharaoh after his father dies. The only problem is that he has no idea how to be a Pharaoh.

Pyramids is probably one of the better of the early Discworlds...technically. It has a much better story structure than most of them, but it’s definitely not one of the most memorable.


Mary Poppins

by. P. L. Travers

If you actually need a synopsis for Mary Poppins, then I feel a little bad for you.

I figured it was finally time to read the book the inspired the movie. Much to my surprise I think I vastly prefer the book! Don’t get me wrong, Julie Andrew’s Mary Poppins is delightful, but book Poppins is just so great. Case in point, this quote:
“Jane and Michael kept out of her way as much as possible, for they knew that there were times when it was better not to be seen or heard by Mary Poppins.

‘I wish we were invisible,’ said Michael, when Mary Poppins had told him that the very sight of him was more than any self-respecting person could be expected to stand.



The Year of the Flood

by. Margaret Atwood

The sequel to Oryx and Crake, about the lives of two women who managed to survive both before and after the fall of mankind.

I didn’t enjoy this one nearly as much as I did Oryx and Crake. It was alright though. Atwood does a great job at creating a really interesting world and characters. It just lacked that hooking sense of doom and mystery that the first one.

[GN]   32.   [GN]

Scott Pilgrim, vol.4 (color edition)

by. Bryan Lee O’Malley
colors by. Nathan Fairbain

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, if you’re a Scott Pilgrim fan you gotta check out these color editions. They are so frickin’ pretty! Normally I’m against people coloring comics that were intended to be Black&White, but Fairbairn’s work is so bloody fabulous. I’m loving these new editions.


The Name of the Wind

by. Patrick Rothfuss

A scribe manages to convince a broken innkeeper to tell him the story of his life: the story of the most notorious magician the world has ever seen.

My roommate recommended this book to me and I can see why he really likes this series, but it just wasn’t for me. The main character just has a really bad case of “I’m the most amazing person ever and excel and everything I do!” And it’s hard to care about what happens to someone like that. I much preferred the bits where he was a broken innkeeper and not as an upstart kid. And I've gotta admit I am quite curious about what happened to him to end up like that.


The Silence of the Lambs

by. Thomas Harris

When a serial killer kidnaps a senator’s daughter the FBI starts to get desperate.  Agent-in-training Clarice Starling is asked to visit the notorious cannibal Hannibal Lecter in prison and try to get his help on the case.

In case you were like me and had only ever seen the movie: the movie was very true to the book. So there you go. Overall, I think I prefer the movie, but the book is definitely very well done. It has that same edge of creepiness that the film did. To me The Silence of the Lambs is one of the best depictions of the horrifying misogyny of our society. I mean, sure, the serial killers are freaky, but it’s that air of, “Oh my God, something horrible is going to happen to this poor woman! What kind of fucked up world is this!” that really freaks me out.


A Natural History of the Palette

by. Victoria Finlay

A look at different colors and the history of those colors of paint.

There’s a lot of really interesting stuff in this book. Though, it was hard to get through some parts, because the author likes to talk a lot about herself and share her own personal anecdotes way too much. I just wanna know about the history of paint colors, darnit!



by. Thomas Harris

7 years after the events in The Silence of the Lambs, epicurean cannibal Hannibal Lecter is on the run and a more mature Clarice Starling is on the trail.

My roommate tells me that after The Silence of the Lambs Thomas Harris didn’t actually want to write any more books about Hannibal Lecter, but he was told that if he didn’t the movie studios were just going to start making Hannibal movies without him. So he wrote Hannibal and Hannibal Rising, but made them kind of inherently ridiculous as a big F.U. to the studios.

I haven’t actually gone out and confirmed this information, but I like thinking that it’s true, because the story definitely takes some weird turns and it’s nice to think they were intentionally bizarre instead of faults.

It doesn’t have the same edge as the first two did, but if you’re a fan of the franchise then I think you’ll enjoy it all the same. Plus it helps you understand NBC’s Hannibal all the more! And isn’t that what really matters here?

[GN]   37.   [GN]


by. David B.

A graphic novel memoir about the author’s life and his experiences with his severely epileptic brother.

Overall, this graphic novel wasn’t my cup of tea, to be honest. That being said, I have a lot of respect for it. It contains a powerful story that adroitly uses its art to get across very complex feelings and emotions, which in turn creates a very engaging tale of how disease and misfortune can take leading roles in our lives.

My problems with it stem mostly from the fact that it can be a bit long-winded at times, especially in the middle of the book. In those moments I’d find myself getting rather bored, as it was his emotional journey that I found the most interesting and not the minutia of his life story.


Me, The Missing, and the Dead

by. Jenny Valentine

I’m sorry to say that I don’t remember anything about this book! But the back of the book says:
Me: Lucas Swain—I'm nearly sixteen years old and live in London. I was fairly normal until the night I found Violet. Then everything changed.

The Missing: Dad. He disappeared five years ago. Nobody knows what happened to him, and nobody cares except me. It's enough to drive you crazy.

The Dead: That's Violet . . . in the urn. Speaking of crazy—I know she's trying to tell me something, and I think it's about my father. . . .

A dead lady may not be much to go on, but my dad's out there somewhere, and it's up to me to find out where.”

So, yeah. All I can say about this book is that it is extremely forgettable.



by. Ryu Murakami
translated by. Ralph McCarthy

A widower who lives alone with his young son decides it’s time to remarry. In a terribly creepy move, he holds auditions for a movie he never intends to make with the idea of using them to scout potential wives. He soon becomes infatuated with a ballerina with a mysterious past, but like his audition, she’s not as innocent as she seems.

Do you like stories that are 150 pages of weird/sexist love story, 20 pages of random happenings, and 20 pages of brutal yet slightly wacky violence? Do you enjoy characters whose motivations don’t really make any sense? How about books where dogs named “Gangsta” make you wonder about what kind of liberties the translator was taking?

If you answered YES to one or all of these questions, then, my friend, this is the book for you.


Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs:
A Low Culture Manifesto

by. Chuck Klosterman

A collection of short essays revolving around low culture.

This book was sort of a mixed bag. While Some of these essays tons of fun and I loved, some of them seem kind of petty and mean and made me uncomfortable.

41-44*, 46-47*, 49-50*, 52*, 55-56

A Series of Unfortunate Events

by. Lemony Snicket
illustrations by. Brett Helquist

The tale of the Baudelaire orphans and the wicked Count Olaf who will stop at nothing to get their fortune.

If you’re looking for a happy story full of sunshine and youthful exuberance, a word which here means “lots of skipping and giggling,” then these are not the books for you. However, if you’re in the mood for a dark tale of obstinate orphans, abominable actors, and woeful wordplay, then you should definitely give these books a try.

Yes, they’re kids books, and sure, they’ve been out for over a decade now, but the Series of Unfortunate Events books still crack me up. No other children’s series lampoons adulthood so thoroughly as Snicket does here. The Baudelaire’s massive misfortunes are more often caused not by the fiendish Count Olaf’s clever crimes, but by their various caretakers’ utter lack of common sense and their refusal to take the children seriously. Their woeful ineptitude continues to emotionally scar and endanger the 3 protagonists at every turn. Now if that’s not a brilliant metaphor for parenthood then I don’t know what is.

It’s definitely a very style-centric series though, so if you’re not into the style of it then you're just not going to like them. But give it a try and see what you think.

[GN]   45.   [GN]

Brain Camp

written by. Susan Kim & Laurence Klavan
art by. Faith Erin Hicks

A summer camp claims to be able to turn anyone into a child prodigy. However, when misfits Jenna and Lucas are sent there they realize that there’s something not right about the camp. Something dangerously not right.

Overall it was an alright YA kind of story. BUT the reveal was just way too bizarre. Just...way too bizarre.


Hannibal Rising

by. Thomas Harris

The story of the origin of Hannibal Lecter.

I’ve heard a lot of bad things about The Silence of the Lambs sequels, but actually this one isn’t that bad. I mean...I can definitely see how Thomas Harris was screwing around with the story [citation needed] as there are some parts that are really quite ridiculous, but still! Still enjoyable.


From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail

by. Cheryl Strayed

The memoir of a woman whose life was in pieces and decided to hike the Pacific Crest Trail as a way of putting her life in perspective.

I have a lot of trouble trying to describe this on its own, because I just can’t help but compare it to Bill Bryson’s book A Walk in the Woods, which is a far superior book. Not that this book is bad, but it just isn’t as good.

Her story is an interesting one though. But I’ve gotta say that multiple times during this account I was thinking, “She is straight up dangerously stupid.” I mean, she decided to do this epic undertaking with what amounts to ZERO hiking/camping experience. She didn’t know how to properly use her supplies and she didn’t even have properly fitting shoes. She got EXTREMELY lucky, because a number of times her ignorance very nearly killed her.


The Incredible Journey

by. Sheila Burnford
illustrations by. Carl Burger

A group of animals think their master has abandoned them when he leaves them in another’s care to go on a vacation. They then undertake an epic journey to try and reunite with him.

So when I found out that the movie Homeward Bound was based on a book I just had to read it. Interestingly, unlike the movie, in the book the animals don’t have any dialogue. Their emotions and intentions and such are just described and that’s all.

Overall I really liked it. It’s a very unique sort of read.

*   54.   *

Fantastic Mr. Fox

by. Roald Dahl
illustrations by. Donald Chaffin

Families of woodland creatures try to survive after Mr. Fox wages war on local farmers.

Okay, right off the bat I want to take a moment to say that it’s really weird to read a Roald Dahl book that wasn’t illustrated by Quentin Blake. I mean, in my mind at least, Blake’s illustrations are synonymous with Dahl’s stories. And there is a Blake version out there. So really, if you ever want to read this book you should find that version.

In any case, I couldn’t remember much about this one, so I figured I’d refresh my memory. Generally I’m a big Dahl fan, but this one just isn’t for me. It mostly comes back to the fact that I just don’t like Mr. Fox. I mean, sure, the farmers are assholes, but Mr. Fox is a straight up thief. And a really pompous one at that.


Orange is the New Black:
My Year in a Women’s Prison

by. Piper Kerman

The memoir of a well-to-do woman who was put into prison for a year after a drug trafficking charge from her past caught up to her.

After getting hooked on the Netflix series I was curious what the book was like. I liked it, but I think what I liked most about it was seeing how it fit into the show. So take from that what you will.



by. Max Berry

A story about secret group who have mastered the art of language and persuasion and use it to control others, the woman who would destroy them, and a man on the run from them.

If you have an interest in communications and marketing, Max Berry is always an interesting read. But I was completely unprepared for this book. It is by far his best work to date. I was just completely won over by it. It takes a Science fiction/superhero kind of approach to the simple idea that Persuasion is the ultimate skill. No matter what field you work in, the art of persuasion is one we all use in every part of our lives. Which creates a lot of fascinating scenarios regarding the ethical ramifications of persuasive exploitation.

[GN]   59, 63, 66, 68   [GN]

Concrete, (vol. 1-4)

by. Paul Chadwick

After being in the wrong place at the wrong time a man’s mind is put inside the body of a rock creature. Now he struggles to find a way to take advantage of his new body and use it to do something no one else can.

This is a really hard series to describe properly, because there really isn’t any parallel I can link it to. I suppose it’s part of that whole reinvention of superhero comics movement that was going on in the late 80’s. Comics like Alan Moore’s Watchmen were introducing an element of dark and gritty realism into the cartoony world of superheros. And Paul Chadwick was doing something similar here. With Concrete he took a completely fantastical idea and once he established it, he dealt with it completely seriously.

What would a person with such a body do? How would they feel? How would the world respond to and treat them?

I mean, Concrete doesn’t fight crime. Concrete just does...stuff? He tries to swim across oceans, climb mountains, make movies, do farm work, bodyguard work, and more.

It’s a very unusual series to be sure. But if you’re looking for a very different sort of comic here you go!


The Fault in Our Stars

by. John Green

A romance about two young people who meet in a cancer support group.

I kept hearing people mention this one so I figured I would see what all the fuss was about. Plus Romance tends to be a genre that gets neglected in my readings.

While I don’t really think the book was as good as all the hype around it suggested, I did enjoy it nevertheless. Nothing too far off the beaten YA romance path, but the writing was well done and there’s a number of poignant lines like:

“You don’t get to choose if you get hurt in this world, old man, but you do have some say in who hurts you. I like my choices.

[GN]   62.   [GN]


by. Bryan Lee O’Malley

A stressed restaurant owner discovers a way to fix any mistake she’s made, but learns that running from your mistakes can have dire consequences.

First of all, let me just say that the artwork in seconds was absolutely wonderful. The character design, the coloring, everything was just fantastic.

Unfortunately, however, the problem is that the actual story failed to live up to the artwork’s level of quality.

While the plot line is far from original, the biggest problem by far was that O’Malley’s quirky charm was frequently lost in a sea of endless narration that attempted to tell you everything that he should have been showing you instead. It’s like watching a movie with a friend who insists on trying to point every little thing out and explain everything to you (even though you never asked) and you end up spending the whole thing just wishing they would shut up so you could watch it for yourself.

One of the side effects being that the characters never seem quite real or very endearing. Instead they just come across like actors hired to act out narration.

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