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Monday, December 29, 2014

Victoria Reviews: Ensnared by A.G. Howard

I have been dying to read this for over a year, ever since I sailed through the ending of Unhinged only to be left clinging to the side of a cliff for a year as I waited (and waited…and waited!) to hear news of the finale of the Splintered series. And then finally it came. My arc of Ensnared arrived in the mail, and I was beside myself with excitement. I dived right into the story as soon as I could (which was, unfortunately, nearly a month after I received the book because school and finals came along to ruin my happiness), and I say with conviction that the wait was worthwhile. Howard has delivered a fantastic and un-put-downable conclusion to her wonderful trilogy, and it’s even better than I hoped!
I wrote in my review of Splintered that A.G. Howard knows how to write a killer love triangle, and this holds true throughout the trilogy. It’s the question on everyone’s minds: will Alyssa choose Jeb or Morpheus? Which will win her heart, Wonderland or reality? Most love triangles are easy to figure out. There’s usually one guy the main character primarily prefers (think Bella and Edward: did anyone really ever think she’d ever leave Edward for Jacob?). A.G. Howard, however, likes to keep readers on their toes. I spent the entire trilogy trying to figure out which guy to root for, which one might be best for Alyssa. I was just as torn between them as she was, and there was never a moment of certainty about which guy (and which world) she’d end up choosing. Ask me no questions and I’ll tell you no spoilers, but I, at least, was very happy with the way Howard chose to conclude this particular conflict.
One of my favorite things about this book was how much time I got to spend in Wonderland and
the Looking Glass World. Once again, no spoilers, but I think it’s okay for me to say that the majority of the book takes place far from reality, and that was a welcome distance. I loved reading about the fantastic world that Howard has created around Lewis Carroll’s original one; her creativity and ability to make Carroll’s worlds her known know no bounds. Howard’s world is her own, but it’s not entirely unrecognizable to fans of the original Alice stories. In fact, I think it’s the intricate links to and twisting of the original story that make Howard’s take so fascinating. She’s clearly done her research: she knows these stories well, and she’s done the originals justice.
I can’t recommend this series enough. To those Splintered fans awaiting this book with bated breath: you won’t be disappointed. To those fans of Carroll’s Wonderland who haven’t read these books yet: what are you waiting for?! Ensnared is up there as one of my favorite books I’ve read this year. It was thrilling, weird, and wonderful, and I’m so excited to have taken the journey with Alyssa through these books. It was a fitting end to a mad ride, and I couldn’t have asked for better.

Ensnared will be released on Tuesday, January 6th!

Monday, December 15, 2014

Frostborn: Thrones and Bones Book 1 by Lou Anders: A Read & Review Club Review

The CHB Read & Review Club is a chance for high school and middle school students who enjoy reading to share the joy of reading with others through reviewing and recommending books. As a bookshop, we often receive special review copies of books in advance of their release dates so that we can review them. However, since we can only read so many books and we value the thoughts and opinions of other readers, CHB is recruiting high school and middle school students who would like to read and review advance reader copies (or arcs) of middle grade and young adult books that we receive, and we'll be posting their reviews here!

Caitlin G. (14) is a Read & Review Club member, and she has written a review of Lou Anders' new book, Frostborn! Check out what she has to say about the book:

Frostborn is the first book in the Thrones and Bones series by Lou Anders.  Anders has beautifully written a fun and energetic middle grade book filled with many adventures. Karn and Thianna are two unlikely friends that are both searching for their own adventures in everyday life. Together they seek out trouble and overcome challenges that they never would have been able to overcome by themselves. They realize through their adventures what they really want to do with their lives, and they also discover the importance of finding who they are as people or frost giants can be. One of the main themes in this book is the importance of friendship.  Finding ways to overlook differences and being able to stay friends through arguments and rough times is capitalized on because of how different the personalities of the characters are.  The people that would enjoy this book are the people that have enjoyed books such as Magisterium by Cassandra Clare and Holly Black and the Unwanteds by Lisa McMann. Because of the magic and adventures present in this book and the challenges that relate to the common struggles in life, I recommend this book to people that have read similar books. This book was a very good read and I cannot wait to get my hands on the second book in this series, Nightborn.

Thanks to Caitlin for her review!

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

The Bane Chronicles by Cassandra Clare: A Read & Review Club Review

The CHB Read & Review Club is a chance for high school and middle school students who enjoy reading to share the joy of reading with others through reviewing and recommending books. As a bookshop, we often receive special review copies of books in advance of their release dates so that we can review them. However, since we can only read so many books and we value the thoughts and opinions of other readers, CHB is recruiting high school and middle school students who would like to read and review advance reader copies (or arcs) of middle grade and young adult books that we receive, and we'll be posting their reviews here!

Caitlin G. (14) and Samantha B. (15) are Read & Review Club members, and they have each written a review of the new short story collection by Cassandra Clare, Maureen Johnson, and Sarah Rees Brennan: The Bane Chronicles! Check out what they have to say about the book:

Caitlin: In The Bane Chronicles by Cassandra Clare, Magnus Bane’s life is revealed in ten short stories. These stories take readers through many different experiences including warlock cacti, Herondales, and humorous first dates. Clare brings characters from the past, present, and quite possibly the future into this mini-series.  I really enjoyed this book because it answers so many questions that I had about Magnus and his past.  Also I liked the fact that I knew many of the characters in the stories because of Clare’s Shadowhunter series.  Some of the new characters may end up in the next two Shadowhunter series that Clare is writing.  In this book, readers are shown who Magnus is and the life experiences that have helped to make him who he is in The Mortal Instruments and The Infernal Devices.  I think that people who have read one or both of Cassandra Clare’s past series will greatly enjoy The Bane Chronicles.  This book gives reasons for Magnus’s decisions in the Shadowhunter series and looks at Magnus’s immortal friends’ lives.  Magnus has always had a special relationship with the Shadowhunters and this book looks into that a little too.  Anyone that considers themselves a Shadowhunter will enjoy learning Magnus’s story. 

Samantha: Cassandra Clare has done it yet again! The Bane Chronicles was absolutely amazing! I could not put this book down! If you liked The Mortal Instruments and The Infernal Devices, you will love this book! The characters were so well developed I almost started perceiving them as real people instead of fictional characters. When the author gives you the ability to lose yourself in the book, that is when you know they have done their jobs correctly. I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who has read any of Cassandra Clare’s work. These three authors really know how to get their readers hooked from the first page. Through every twist and turn, The Bane Chronicles will have you begging for more. The comic strips drawn in the book are fantastic! The comics that are drawn at the beginning of every chapter really help you visualize what is going on with Magnus. I highly recommend reading this book and the rest of the books by Cassandra Clare, Sarah Rees Brennan, and Maureen Johnson. You most certainly will not regret it! These authors will take you on an amazing journey though each of their books.

Thanks to Caitlin and Samantha for their reviews!

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Pennyroyal Academy by M.A. Larson: A Read & Review Club Review

The CHB Read & Review Club is a chance for high school and middle school students who enjoy reading to share the joy of reading with others through reviewing and recommending books. As a bookshop, we often receive special review copies of books in advance of their release dates so that we can review them. However, since we can only read so many books and we value the thoughts and opinions of other readers, CHB is recruiting high school and middle school students who would like to read and review advance reader copies (or arcs) of middle grade and young adult books that we receive, and we'll be posting their reviews here!

Caitlin G. (14) is a Read & Review Club member, and she has written a review of M.A. Larson's new book, Pennyroyal Academy! Check out what she has to say about the book:

In his debut novel, Pennyroyal Academy, M. A. Larson spins a story of fairy tales, magic and adventures. Larson brings a brand new meaning to the word princess.  Princesses go to Pennyroyal Academy to become trained in fighting witches with their courage and compassion.  Courage and compassion are two things that witches have no ability to feel in their dark hearts; they feed off of the fear that they give their prey.  This book is not just another fairy tale novel; it is very different.  There is a mixture of old fairy tale characters that everyone will recognize and new exciting characters that fit right into their world.  I really enjoyed Pennyroyal Academy because of the well-developed and very likable characters and the interesting plot.  I absolutely could not put this book down because of how involved I became with the characters and all of the challenges that they faced.  Fans of Marissa Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles will really enjoy this book because of the fairy tales and adventures. People that are big fans of fairy tales will find this book enjoyable as well.  In this magical book filled with princesses, knights, witches, and dragons, the plot twists will send readers’ minds reeling.  I am glad that I read Pennyroyal Academy and hope that there will be more books by Larson to follow.

Thanks to Caitlin G. for her review!

Monday, October 6, 2014

Black Ice by Becca Fitzpatrick: A Read & Review Club Review

The CHB Read & Review Club is a chance for high school and middle school students who enjoy reading to share the joy of reading with others through reviewing and recommending books. As a bookshop, we often receive special review copies of books in advance of their release dates so that we can review them. However, since we can only read so many books and we value the thoughts and opinions of other readers, CHB is recruiting high school and middle school students who would like to read and review advance reader copies (or arcs) of middle grade and young adult books that we receive, and we'll be posting their reviews here!

Samantha B. (15) is a Read & Review Club member, and she has written a review of Becca Fitzpatrick's new book, Black Ice! From the author of the Hush, Hush saga comes a new thriller: Black Ice by Becca Fitzpatrick. From the publisher’s summary: “Britt Pheiffer has trained to backpack the Teton Range, but she isn't prepared when her ex-boyfriend, who still haunts her every thought, wants to join her. Before Britt can explore her feelings for Calvin, an unexpected blizzard forces her to seek shelter in a remote cabin, accepting the hospitality of its two very handsome occupants – but these men are fugitives, and they take her hostage. Britt is forced to guide the men off the mountain, and knows she must stay alive long enough for Calvin to find her. The task is made even more complicated when Britt finds chilling evidence of a series of murders that have taken place there...and in uncovering this, she may become the killer's next target. But nothing is as it seems, and everyone is keeping secrets, including Mason, one of her kidnappers. His kindness is confusing Britt. Is he an enemy? Or an ally?”

Check out what Read & Review Club Member Samantha has to say about the book: Black Ice is amazing! I was hooked by the first page. Fitzpatrick really knows how to make her characters come to life and make you feel what they are feeling. The ending was not what I expected, but I was pleasantly surprised. This book is fantastic, gruesome, intense, and heart-stopping; I could not put it down! I didn’t want to sleep until I finished this book. I was up from dusk till dawn reading to see what would happen to Britt Pfeiffer! Would Calvin, her ex-boyfriend who haunts her thoughts, find her before it was too late? Mason was absolutely perfect in a kidnapper-but-awfully-kind way. I had trouble trying to figure out if he was Britt’s enemy or ally. I could only hope he was an ally when Britt makes a discovery that could make her a serial killer’s next target! You will not regret buying this book. If you loved Hush, Hush, you’ll love Black Ice. This novel is perfect! A thriller with just the right amount of romance, Black Ice is going to grip you and not let go until the ride is over.

Thanks to Samantha for her review!

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Let's Get Lost by Adi Alsaid: A Read & Review Club Review

Introducing the CHB Read & Review Club! The Read & Review Club is for high school and middle school students who enjoy reading and would like to share the joy of reading with others through reviewing and recommending books. As a bookshop, we often receive special review copies of books in advance of their release dates so that we can review them. However, since we can only read so many books and we value the thoughts and opinions of other readers, CHB is recruiting high school and middle school students to read and review advance reader copies (or arcs) of middle grade and young adult books that we receive, and we'll be posting their reviews here!

Alexis B.'s review of Let's Get Lost is the first Read & Review Club member review we're posting! Check out what she has to say about the book:

"Let's Get Lost is not just a book about love, friends, and adventures; it goes much deeper than that.  Let's Get Lost gives us a greater understanding of our need to find ourselves.

A mechanic/med school student, a runaway, a senior going to prom, and a girl learning how to love have only one thing in common: Leila.  Leila is traveling across the country meeting people that will forever affect her life.

Alsaid has written a very unique book. Many people compare his novel to John Green's novels, but each individual book tells an individual story.  If we compare these novels, we are saying they are cookie-cutter, and while Let's Get Lost may have the same effect on people as John Green's novels, it is a very unique novel. This novel is not necessarily a page-turner but in the best way. Let's Get Lost is the kind of book you want to take in slowly so you don't miss even a minor detail.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading Alsaid's new book and highly suggest it to anyone who wants to see their life in a different perspective because Let's Get Lost applies to everyone's hidden feelings."

Thanks to Alexis B. for her review!

Monday, September 22, 2014

Victoria Reviews: Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld

As soon as I heard that Afterworlds existed, I needed it. A book about a teenage debut young adult author trying to make it in the publishing world of NYC, coupled with the entirety of the novel she’s writing about a girl who can visit the ghostly Afterworld? And it’s by the brilliant Scott Westerfeld? YES PLEASE! I was hooked before I even cracked the spine. But crack the spine I did, and let me tell you, the book was even better than I imagined.

Darcy Patel is 18 years old, she’s just graduated from high school, and she has a book deal. She spent her last November of high school typing 1667 or more words a day for thirty days straight and, through the amazing process of NaNoWriMo (or National Novel Writing Month for those who don’t know), emerged with a completed (though unedited) novel. Determined to make it both as an author and as an adult, Darcy delays college and heads to New York to become one with the publishing scene and revise her novel. Through new friendships, books tours, YA author meet-ups, revisions, plotting, book research, and even an unexpected romance, Darcy must not only meet the deadline for revising her novel (a difficult job in itself) but also navigate her new life and take up the responsibilities of an adulthood that she’s not entirely sure she’s ready for yet.

I loved Darcy. She feels so real, and I wish I could befriend her and join her on all her crazy author/writing adventures (including driving a car around NYC with a friend locked in the trunk…anything for research!). Anyone who has ever written fiction at all will relate to Darcy’s struggles and insecurities as she revises her book and as she struggles to become and see herself as a professional author, despite her constant impostor syndrome. She’s funny, witty, and apprehensive, and I found myself really wanting her to succeed. By the end of the book, I cared about Darcy’s happiness and success, especially since the life she makes for herself as an author is one that I supremely envy.

Speaking of authors, this book is full of them. Anyone familiar with YA and YA authors will recognize hints of some of their favorite authors in Westerfeld’s characters. Though they are all completely fictional, the references to the world of young adult fiction and its writers are real and wonderful. On the one hand, it gives the reader the opportunity to see inside and experience that world for themselves through Darcy’s eyes. On the other hand, I can’t help but feel that this book contains a great deal of inside jokes and references exclusive to YA authors who have actually been through these experiences. This doesn’t take away from the novel at all; contrariwise, it adds another dimension of realism. It allows the reader to glimpse not only Westerfeld’s fictional YA world but also hints of the world of young adult literature as it actually exists. Darcy’s story also (for me, anyway) reignited my excitement and passion for writing. This book, more than just about anything else I’ve read or seen, made me want to be an author.

Darcy’s book is just as intriguing as Darcy’s own story. Afterworlds, the inner novel for which the book is named, follows Darcy’s character Lizzie after she survives a terrorist attack in an airport. To escape certain death, Lizzie inadvertently slips into the “afterworld,” the strange world that exists between life and death. After this first encounter, Lizzie is able to move between reality and the afterworld with ease, and she starts seeing and encountering ghosts, even in her own home. Helped along by the scared ghost of a little girl and a kind and protective psychopomp who never ages, Lizzie must learn how to use and embrace her newfound powers for good, even when a darker invitation comes knocking.

I couldn’t put this book down. It was really phenomenal. The two stories alternate, with Darcy’s story one chapter and Lizzie’s the next. I was worried that this method would make the stories feel interrupted and that they wouldn’t flow together well, but all my worry was for naught! Both stories fit together flawlessly. It was fun to pick out the bits in Darcy’s life that appear in her novel and observe how the two stories affect each other. I even found myself wishing I could read the other (fictional) YA novels mentioned and quoted in the book, because all of them sound that intriguing!

Afterworlds has earned itself a firm place on my favorite’s shelf (next to everything else Scott Westerfeld has written, of course). Westerfeld shines in this two-in-one-book; it’s well-written, compelling, and it features amazing characters that you can’t help relating to. This book is a must-read for Scott Westerfeld fans, and I’d also recommend this book to anyone who loves YA (of any kind), especially those interested in writing. I think Nerdfighters in particular will also get quite a kick out of this book, though in the interest of not spoiling things, I won’t say why!

Monday, September 15, 2014

Victoria Reviews: Otherbound by Corinne Duyvis

When I first picked up this book and started to read, I did not expect to find myself sucked into the story just as fully as Nolan, one of the book’s main characters, gets sucked into the world of Amara, the other main character, when he closes his eyes. The book was fascinating and kept me on the edge of my seat throughout.

Otherbound follows Nolan who inhabits another world every single time he closes his eyes (even if he blinks). Each time he closes his eyes, he is suddenly in the mind and body of Amara, a servant in a different world. Amara protects a cursed and exiled princess in the Dunelands as a healing mage, and Nolan can only observe her life without every interfering. Nolan has been diagnosed with epilepsy in his own world, since the best explanation for what happens when he gets sucked into Amara's world is a seizure. But what happens when he starts learning how to take over and control Amara? 

Both Amara and Nolan are wonderful characters. Despite much of their shared experiences, they are two very separate people, and their individuality is a large part of what helps drive the story. There’s never any point where it’s unclear whether it’s Amara or Nolan is thinking or feeling something, even if they are both experiencing the same things. Amara is a servant whose tongue has been cut out – all servants have their tongues removed – and she bears the mark of a servant on the back of her neck in the form of a tattoo. She uses sign language to communicate, another mark of a servant in the Dunelands, and her job is to help protect the princess Cilla at all costs. Cilla has been cursed, and shedding even the smallest drop of her blood will activate the curse, leading to her almost immediate death. Amara is servile in all ways. The duties and expectations of a servant are constantly in the back of her mind, and she almost always does her best to observe them. Even in situations where she could (or needs to) take power, Amara is uncomfortable. Being an abused and watchful servant is all she knows of life, and she isn’t quite sure what to do in situations where she needs to take charge. She doesn’t know how to treat Cilla, who is both her better and possibly a friend. Her uncertainty along with her hatred of feeling this way pervades the book. Though Amara may dream of freedom, she is aware that she might not be able to accept it comfortably.

Nolan has been seeing Amara’s world through Amara’s eyes since he was a child. He’s been in several comas, and he lost his foot in an accident once when sucked unexpectedly into Amara’s painful world. His parents, teachers, and doctors all keep a careful watch on him, often to Nolan’s frustration. He puts up a front to them all, giving out “teacher-smiles” and constant refrains of “I’m okay” to everyone expressing concern. Nolan knows that he doesn’t have epilepsy, and he knows the medications don’t work; however, he can’t tell anyone about Amara’s world, because he knows they wouldn’t believe him. So he simply lives with the pain of existing between two worlds: with his eyes closed he enters Amara’s world only to observe and feel her pain, and with eyes open he must attempt to live out some semblance of a normal life with people who can’t possibly understand him.

There’s a lot of depth to these characters. Even as the book progresses and the characters develop, they still stay themselves – the unity that Duyvis maintains in characterization is quite impressive. Amara acts only in ways that it is believable for Amara to act based on who she is, and the same goes for Nolan. Even by the end of the book, they are still not entirely okay, all of their problems and flaws not magically solved along with the conflict. This makes the book that much more real and convincing – you can almost believe that the Dunelands do in fact exist, if only you could forge your own mind link to see it.

The story itself was fascinating, and the plot twists were completely unexpected. Instead of just pulling twists out of nothing, however, Duyvis manages to make them flow naturally from the story. Once the twist happens, suddenly everything else you know about the story shifts, and you see how that made perfect sense; you can’t believe you didn’t figure it out yourself.

Duyvis’ worldbuilding was excellent; the Dunelands were detailed yet understandable. The details of this world came naturally throughout the story. I never once felt like something had happened or someone had spoken simply so the reader could learn information. One thing I found very interesting was the concept of language and communication in the Dunelands. Different races or nationalities speak different languages, and the mute servants use sign language to communicate, often having to spell out unfamiliar words. Though all languages used in the book are written out in English (even the sign language), it was interesting to see the character stumble a bit in trying to translate certain words, especially English words.

Overall, this book was excellent. It was a fantasy story taken to the next level by its combination with our world. Though it’s a standalone novel, I’d gladly read a sequel or anything else taking place in Amara’s world, if Duyvis ever chose to write such a thing. I loved the characters, and I’m sad to let them go. I’d recommend this book to anyone who likes YA fantasy (especially fans of Catherine Fisher’s Incarceron series or Half Bad by Sally Green) or anyone who is simply interested in a compelling story.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Reading Group Selections - September 2014

The best books for reading groups are the ones that foster discussions - whether your book club members are boisterous or more subdued, talking about books is what those meetings are all about! Picking just the right book is always a thrill; love it or hate it - book club books are the ones that stand out. 
  
Here are a few recent releases that would lead to great discussions in any book club:

Juliet's Nurse by Lois Leveen

In Verona, a city ravaged by plague and political rivalries, a mother mourning the death of her day-old infant enters the household of the powerful Cappelletti family to become the wet-nurse to their newborn baby. As she serves her beloved Juliet over the next fourteen years, the nurse learns the Cappellettis' darkest secrets. Those secrets--and the nurse's deep personal grief--erupt across five momentous days of love and loss that destroy a daughter, and a family. 

A heartfelt, and riveting biography of the short life of a talented young African-American man who escapes the slums of Newark for Yale University only to succumb to the dangers of the streets--and of one's own nature--when he returns home. When author Jeff Hobbs arrived at Yale University, he became fast friends with the man who would be his college roommate for four years, Robert Peace. Robert's life was rough from the beginning in the crime-ridden streets of Newark in the 1980s, with his father in jail and his mother earning less than $15,000 a year. But Robert was a brilliant student, and it was supposed to get easier when he was accepted to Yale, where he studied molecular biochemistry and biophysics. But it didn't get easier. Robert carried with him the difficult dual nature of his existence, "fronting" in Yale, and at home. 
Fives and Twenty-Fives by Michael Pitre

A heart-stopping debut novel about war and its aftermath by an Iraq War veteran--and an essential examination of the United States' role in the world.
The Garden of Letters by Alyson Richman

Set against the rich backdrop of World War II Italy, Garden of Letters captures the hope, suspense, and romance of an uncertain era, in an epic intertwining story of first love, great tragedy, and spectacular bravery.
Maplecroft by Cherie Priest

"Lizzie Borden took an axe and gave her mother forty whacks; and when she saw what she had done, she gave her father forty-one...." 
The people of Fall River, Massachusetts, fear me. Perhaps rightfully so. I remain a suspect in the brutal deaths of my father and his second wife despite the verdict of innocence at my trial. With our inheritance, my sister, Emma, and I have taken up residence in Maplecroft, a mansion near the sea and far from gossip and scrutiny. 
But it is not far enough from the affliction that possessed my parents. Their characters, their very "souls," were consumed from within by something that left malevolent entities in their place. It originates from the ocean's depths, plaguing the populace with tides of nightmares and madness. 
This evil cannot hide from me. No matter what guise it assumes, I will be waiting for it. With an axe.
The Mathematician's Shiva by Stuart Rojstaczer

When the greatest female mathematician in history passes away, her son, Alexander “Sasha” Karnokovitch, just wants to mourn his mother in peace. But rumor has it the notoriously eccentric Polish √©migr√© has solved one of the most difficult problems in all of mathematics, and has spitefully taken the solution to her grave. As a ragtag group of mathematicians from around the world descends upon Rachela’s shiva, determined to find the proof or solve it for themselves—even if it means prying up the floorboards for notes or desperately scrutinizing the mutterings of her African Grey parrot—Sasha must come to terms with his mother’s outsized influence on his life.
Spanning decades and continents, from a crowded living room in Madison, Wisconsin, to the windswept beach on the Barents Sea where a young Rachela had her first mathematical breakthrough, The Mathematician’s Shiva is an unexpectedly moving and uproariously funny novel that captures humanity’s drive not just to survive, but to achieve the impossible.
This is How I'd Love You by Hazel Woods

As the Great War rages, an independent young woman struggles to sustain love—and life—through the power of words.
It’s 1917 and America is on the brink of World War I. After Hensley Dench’s father is forced to resign from the New York Times for his anti-war writings, she finds herself expelled from the life she loves and the future she thought she would have. Instead, Hensley is transplanted to New Mexico, where her father has taken a job overseeing a gold mine. Driven by loneliness, Hensley hijacks her father’s correspondence with Charles Reid, a young American medic with whom her father plays chess via post. Hensley secretly begins her own exchange with Charles, but looming tragedy threatens them both, and—when everything turns against them—will their words be enough to beat the odds?

When Reverend Thomas Johnson receives an anonymous phone call, he learns his Dylanesque rock star father is acting deranged on stage, where he's being worshipped by a cult of young people who slash their faces during performances. In his declining years, Israel Jones has begun to incite his fans to violence. They no longer want to watch the show--they want to be the show.
Eager to escape troubles with his congregation as well as gain an apology from his dad for abandoning his family, Reverend Johnson leaves town and joins Israel Jones's Eternal Tour. This decision propels him to the center of a rock and roll hell, giving him one last chance to reconnect with his father, wife, congregation--and maybe even God.



Monday, September 1, 2014

Michelle Reviews: Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay

Much like Roxane Gay, I too am a Bad Feminist. I alternate between simpering and cowering away from the supposedly militant term to donning my angry feminist coat and seeking to squash the patriarchy. (This coat is merely metaphorical, though sometimes I wish it were real. A Power Coat. Maybe it would be made of puppies a la Cruella DeVille. Here’s a question; was Cruella a feminist? Did she Lean In? Have we been misreading 101 Dalmatians this whole time?!) I’m a Bad Feminist, but I think you can enjoy this collection regardless of how you self-categorize.

The first line that really struck me in this book was in the very first essay: “The notion that I should be fine with the status quo even if I am not wholly affected by the status quo is repulsive.” That is the summation of my indignation with society, with our culture at large, despite my overwhelming privilege. From there I knew I could follow Gay throughout her collection (to be fair I kinda knew this already because I have been following her online for quite some time); we are simpatico.

So here’s the thing…this collection of essays will not always make you comfortable. In plain fact some of these essays will make you uncomfortable. And that is just beautiful. Gay’s interests here span the dissection of race, gender, culture, and competitive Scrabble. She writes about her love of The Hunger Games and Law and Order: SVU alongside stories of rape, oppression, and the damage done by our modern fairy tales. Gay balances her frustration and anger with moments levity and pure openness. At times she seems fearlessly honest. You will probably agree with her, fervently. You will probably disagree with her, fervently. She leaves plenty of room for both. Gay states her opinions, she owns them, grounds them in fact and rationality, but she also admits to being human, being messy and making mistakes. There is a grace to that that few other cultural critics ever achieve.

If being a Bad Feminist means acknowledging the ways in which I am flawed, the ways in which feminism is flawed and yet still recognizing both the importance of the ideology and my own autonomy then I am quite frankly proud to be a Bad Feminist. I urge my fellow Bad Feminists as well as Good Feminists, Misogynists, Misandrists, and just regular folk to read this collection. Engage with it, challenge it, let it challenge you. I assure you, you will learn something. Roxane Gay is someone who is thinking critically about our world and it is a better place for it. She admits that she doesn't always get things right, that she lets herself down - that's the glory in being a Bad Feminist, you don't have to be perfect which is lucky because no one is.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Omar Reviews: Seconds by Bryan Lee O'Malley

It has been four years since Bryan Lee O’Malley released the sixth and final volume of his Scott Pilgrim series, Scott Pilgrim's Finest Hour. It has been well over two years since his new book, Seconds, was announced. And it was three weeks after the release of the book that I was able to sit down and read it. It was worth the wait.

Seconds is the story of Katie, a 29 year old chef at a popular restaurant called Lucky’s. Her dream is to own her own restaurant, a dream she is working toward achieving. Katie lives above Lucky’s. One night, she discovers a box in her apartment. Inside the box is a notebook, a single mushroom, and a notecard offering the opportunity for a second chance. All she has to do is write down her biggest mistake, ingest the mushroom, and go to sleep. When she wakes up, the mistake will not have happened. But you’re only allowed one chance, and the mistake must have occurred in Lucky's. What would you do with that power? Would you change one large mistake from your past and be satisfied? Or, would you find a way to change all of your mistakes, attempting to create your perfect life? That is the dilemma facing Katie once she finds the source of the magic. Like all great fantasy, things are not as simple as they appear.

Seconds is one part science fiction, one part fantasy, and one part reality. It is, first and foremost, a character driven book. Most of the story revolves around Katie’s emotional development. Bryan Lee O’Malley is a master of blending the fantastical and the mundane. The fantastical elements of the story serve to highlight the more realistic elements of Katie’s journey, a journey I was happy to take with her. I found myself identifying with Katie more and more throughout the book, as someone who wants to own my own business, as someone who wishes they could change their mistakes, and as a person who has learned from their mistakes. I wanted things to end well for her; I felt that if things ended well for her, they could end well for me as well.

O’Malley’s stylized artwork comes to life in this book. Seconds is some of his best artwork to date. His cartoon-inspired style serves to beautifully mix the elements of reality and fantasy. Like Scott Pilgrim, many settings in Seconds are based on real places which helps the book seem more real. I always love that O’Malley draws characters that look sort of the same, yet entirely different. They look like they all belong in the same book together and the same world, but you never get characters confused for other characters. Too many graphic novels run into the problem of characters looking too similar; Seconds doesn't have that problem at all.

Seconds is aptly titled. As soon as I was done reading it, I wanted to read it again. I was skeptical that Bryan Lee O'Malley would ever be able to churn out something as fun, poignant, and enjoyable as Scott Pilgrim. Not because he's untalented, but simply because Scott Pilgrim was incredible. Then he released Seconds, and I remembered why it's worth it to wait four years for his work. O’Malley never fails to impress.

If you have never read a graphic novel, Seconds would be a great choice for your first.

P.S. – Fans of Scott Pilgrim, keep an eye out. You may recognize a few of the characters in the background.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

A Summer of #CHBPotter

We've reached the end of our CHBPotter journey, and though we're definitely feeling the sadness, it's been a fun and educational journey. Michelle and I are blogging one last time this summer to discuss our Wizarding World trip and to say farewell to the Boy Who Lived.

First, we'll tell you all about what it was like to visit the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

V: Walking into Diagon Alley for the first time, I felt exactly like Harry in Sorcerer's Stone. There was so much to see, and I wished I had more eyes...my head was swiveling in every direction trying to take it all in. There wasn't a single time I walked down Diagon Alley that I didn't see something amazing that I hadn't noticed the last time I'd looked. Universal did an AMAZING job of creating this immersive experience. Except for the heat, you could really believe you're in Rowling's Diagon Alley. There were people everywhere pointing, laughing, and waving wands to cast their spells (Universal has created interactive wands to use in the parks). My favorite part of the experience (aside from, you know, the entire thing) was seeing Celestina Warbeck in concert. Hearing these magical (and very jazzy) tunes being sung in Diagon Alley by this background character that never gets any notice...that made my entire trip. My other favorite part was the Ollivander's experience. In case you're unfamiliar with the way things are done, Ollivander's Wand Shop allows in a certain number of people per "show," and from that group, the wandmaker picks one person to actually undergo the experience of being chosen by a wand. I've been picked before, but I definitely wanted to try it again so I could have video of the experience. No surprise, I got picked again. The woman playing the wandmaker was fantastic and incredibly believavbe. Not that my first experience was bad, but this one blew it away. I performed Accio to bring a ladder closer (resulting in crashing wand boxes), Lumos to light up the room (and I accidentally made it storm), and then I finally was chosen by my perfect wand. It's a very magical experience, and it draws you in. Michelle, I know you said in the podcast that your favorite moment happened in King's Cross. Was there anything else that stood out to you?

M: Yeah, the King's Cross employee instructing me not to run through a brick wall was pretty great, but really just seeing it all. Or if I'm really honest it was the snacks. From Butterbeer and Pumpkin Juice to Chocolate Frogs and Cauldron Cakes...I've wanted to taste these things for sixteen years! I bought ALL the candy in Honeydukes. It was thrilling to be able to be a part of that world for a while. I also really loved the details. Universal went to great lengths with even the small details; this really helps to keep the crowds from overwhelming the experience. Sure sometimes when you look around all you see is a sea of people, but look there are Hermione's dress robes or check out that Crumple-Horned Snorkack - it pulls you right back in to the Wizarding World experience.
Another way of continuing the Harry Potter experience that I only first undertook this summer is Pottermore. I'm still working my way through Sorcerer's Stone, but Pottermore really is totally worth the time it takes to move through it. J.K. Rowling has written tons of addition content for the site that really expands upon the world of the seven HP books. This summer in particular has seen a glut of new information. There's a story about Dumbledore's Army meeting up at the Quidditch World Cup, a story about the life of Celestina Warbeck, and much much more. Anytime I have a spare few moments at my computer I run through a few "Moments" on Pottermore. Definitely recommended for those who've been on the fence about it.

V: Absolutely! Pottermore is great for those fans of the books who wish they could just know more about these characters and places and this whole world! I particularly loved the backstories on both Lupin and McGonagall, and I think those things add so much to their characters and the way you read them. Also, the Celestina Warbeck recorded version of "You Stole My Cauldron" is possibly my new favorite thing, next to frozen Butterbeer.
It's been a heck of a summer for us here at CHB. Reading and discussing the Harry Potter series again and topping it all off with a trip to the Wizarding World has, for me at least, really brought back all my memories of midnight release parties, dressing up, and fan theories and speculation. To me, one of the most magical things about Harry Potter is that it brings people together. No matter who you are, where you're from, your beliefs, likes, or anything at all, if you love Harry Potter, we have common ground and a firm foundation on which to build a friendship. This is the reason that I believe Harry Potter will never disappear and the fandom will never end: we have made too many connections to and through this series of books, and those links are much too strong to be broken by time or distance. The bonds that fans make may have their roots in Harry Potter, but they extend to much more than that, and I think that's absolutely fantastic. And it keeps going. Every new person who picks up the books has the chance to share in these links and these lessons. The magic of Harry Potter lies in the way that it helps us connect to others, be more empathetic, and ultimately, it helps to make us better people.

And on that resonating note, CHBPotter comes to a close. We hope you've enjoyed the books, our discussion and thoughts, and we hope you've learned something along the way, just as we have. We know that Harry Potter isn't for everyone, but to deny the power of Harry Potter is in part to deny the power that literature and stories hold in our lives. Stories are important and they matter. They help us see and realize things about our lives and world that we might not otherwise notice. They help us learn to be better people through empathy and the idea that everyone has their own unique story to tell. To all who have followed along, we thank you for your thoughts and support. And to those who are just now discovering the magic of Harry Potter, we hope you enjoy the journey. CHBPotter has been a magnificent experience for us, and we hope you've enjoyed the ride. To sign off, I'll quote Lee Jordan's ending to Potterwatch, which seems fitting: "Keep each other safe: Keep faith. Goodnight."

P.S. check out our final Potter podcast, Beat Back Those Bludgers Boys, and Chuck That Podcast Here! You can listen in you browser by clicking here or go straight to itunes.

Monday, August 18, 2014

All Was Well: Our Thoughts on Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

This is it. The final chapter. Michelle and I have finally finished our Harry Potter read-through with the seventh and final installment of the series, and what a journey it was. With heavy hearts, we discuss Harry Potter one last time this summer:

V: Oh man. This book was very difficult for me. This is the 13th time I've read it, but it still completely broke my heart to read it again. In fact, I cried so hard over the last page that my tears have smeared and bled the ink of my underlines and notes. Finishing this book left me with this deep and undefinable sadness and pain. This is my absolute favorite book of all time, and it's because 7 years and 13 reads later, it still holds so much meaning for me.One of the things that still affects me every time I read it (and it's something we've discussed before, too) is the absolute tear-down of Dumbledore we see in this book, particularly in Harry's eyes. Before Book 7, Dumbledore shines in Harry's eyes. It's not necessarily that he can do no wrong, but he's the one you can always trust, the one who will always be there to save the day and to make things right. Dumbledore always has a plan, and Dumbledore's plans will always work. Of course, the tear-down obviously began happening much earlier than Book 7. In Order of the Phoenix we are forced into the realization that Dumbledore does make mistakes, and his mistakes are very, very costly. But no matter what happened before, Harry still always trusted Dumbledore and held him in incredibly high esteem, so watching that image of perfection and trust shatter right before his eyes is quite heartbreaking. The scene after they read the chapter in The Life and Lies of Albus Dumbledore where Harry finally screams out all his horror and frustration with Dumbledore and the mess into which he's thrust Harry just hurts me to read. However, one thing that does come out of this is that we finally see the trio - and especially Harry - figuring things out completely on their own. The chapters at Shell Cottage, where Harry finally comes to terms with everything that's happened, starts to put all the pieces together, and learns how to trust again...this section and its follow-through to the end of the book is one of my favorite things to read in the entire series. What are your thoughts on Dumbledore's fall and Harry's development in response to this?

M: We've written time and again about just how impressive the character development is throughout this series. You've mentioned that the trio are still clearly written as kids (especially early in the series) despite being our heroes and heroine. We've talked about the development of Tom Riddle/Voldemort. The last character to be fully fleshed, to become fully human in all that that entails is Dumbledore. Had Rowling not chosen to dismantle Dumbledore's pedestal in the final book I don't believe that Deathly Hallows would have been nearly as emotional. By this time in Harry's development his reliance on Dumbledore has trumped his reliance on himself - having to question all of that really brought emotional heft and increased the stakes for both himself and the reader. It's about becoming an adult, making your own decisions, and realizing that there will not always be someone there to come to your aid - Harry comes into his own power and it's really impressive. This idea moves from Harry's decisive actions at Shell Cottage all the way in to his final decision in the forest (though these choices, made by Harry, were still in many ways manipulated by Dumbledore but they are finally on Harry's terms).On of the big things I wanted to talk about with this book is the idea of trust. Frankly, everyone trusts Dumbledore and Ron and Hermione trust Harry but no one else trusts anyone else and that often leads to problems. In book 5 Dumbledore sees how dangerous keeping the whole truth from Harry can be but after an "I won't keep any more secrets" conversation we get book 6 and it is an entire book of secrets! I feel like a big theme here is both the necessity of trust and the importance of not giving it too freely. 

V: I agree completely. Voldemort, Dumbledore, and Harry all employ different opinions about and kinds of trust, and they all meet with mixed results. Voldemort does not trust because everyone else is lesser, and to an extent, this is also Dumbledore's view. If he tells people things, his plan will fall apart. The difference is that 1) Dumbledore is doing things to help those people he won't trust rather than things for his own benefit like Voldemort and 2) Dumbledore expects people to put their faith and trust in him in ways that he is unwilling to do for others. Harry comes in the middle of all this and has to learn that trusting even Dumbledore isn't always wise and has to learn to trust himself and his own instincts. At the same time, he has to also learn that though trusting other people is always a risk and always involves putting yourself out there, it can be worth it, and there are definitely times when you need to trust other people to do the right thing. Reading through the destruction of Harry's faith in Dumbledore is very hard, especially because the books naturally encourage the reader to feel this same faith, only to take it away when the real trouble starts. Harry's pain and desperation and his realizations that they are just teenagers who are barely scraping by in their attempt to save the world...this breaks me, especially when you hold it up next to 11-year-old Harry's belief in possibility and wonder. It took 7 books to break Harry down to rock bottom, and I think once he gets there, he's surprised to find that he's more capable of dealing with these things than he originally thought.

M: Your points about Dumbledore make me think about his own words, "for the greater good." That's such a dangerous idea, which Dumbledore clearly realizes in his later years. One thing that I really love about this series is how cohesive it is. Everything builds to this epic conclusion, and I enjoy thinking about just how complex it all is. Much like life - many decisions have lasting repercussions and we will continue to return to them. This book doesn't break me down emotionally in the way that it does you, for me it's more of an opening. While reflecting on character and depth and complexity of narrative I'm also thinking about myself and how I've grown/aged/changed as a reader and a human. The Harry Potter series stands, for me, as a symbol of everything books can do. And that's pretty amazing.

And with that we end our final review in the Harry Potter series. We can't really let it end there...we'll be posting one final wrap up to celebrate our summer of CHBPotter, or trip to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, and the all the ways the series continues even after you turn the final page. Keep checking back on our Twitter, Tumblr, and Facebook for our final thoughts. Also, don't miss our first podcast, Jiggery Pokery or second and final Potter podcast will go up later this week.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Victoria Reviews: Frozen by Melissa de la Cruz and Michael Johnston

The inside cover description portrays Frozen as a Vegas-esque romp through a nearly destroyed future with hints of magic and darkness lurking around every corner. As exciting as that sounds, thankfully the book is quite a bit more than that. The setting is frozen both literally and figuratively: everything in the world not covered by ice and snow is toxic waste, and passage between civilizations is either highly regulated or impossible. Society is frozen in its current state, with the rich and privileged spending all their time gambling while the lower classes struggle to survive in such a toxic environment. The government has as tight a control as it can manage on the world, and those trying to slip under the radar are usually caught and quickly executed.

Amidst the militaristic rule and dog-eat-dog population comes a surprisingly old-fashioned tale. Arrogant good guy meets independent, no-nonsense girl, and what results is a toxic seas adventure more like Pirates of the Caribbean than a Las Vegas thriller.

This pirate adventure may sound like it couldn’t possibly fit in with the futuristic Vegas that the book paints as its setting, but the interesting thing is that it actually does; the two seemingly opposing ideas flow together quite naturally, even when you throw in a bit of sorcery and a promised land of the kind Wendy Darling could only dream of.

The characters manage to hold their own despite the mixed setting. Nat and Wes are strong people, capable of handling just about anything that comes their way. But at the end of the day you’re reminded that, despite their ingenuity and intelligence, these are only two teenagers making the best of the cruel world in which they are stuck. Hope and a refusal to give up are sometimes the only things giving them the strength to keep moving.

All in all, I must admit that while I started this book with my expectations closer to the floor than the ceiling, I was rather impressed at the way de la Cruz and Johnston managed to seamlessly stitch together so many vastly different pieces to create a complete and compelling story. I’d recommend this book to anyone who likes fantasy and dystopian stories, as this is a bit of both. Frozen is the first book in the Heart of Dread series, and I'm sure the next book will be just as fantastic and surprising as this one!

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Reading Group Selections - August 2014

The best books for reading groups are the ones that foster discussions - whether your book club members are boisterous or more subdued, talking about books is what those meetings are all about! Picking just the right book is always a thrill; love it or hate it - book club books are the ones that stand out. 
  
Here are a few recent releases that would lead to great discussions in any book club:

This is the Water by Yannick Murphy

At a swim meet in their quiet New England town, Annie watches as her daughters glide through the water. Her thoughts drift lazily from whether she fed her daughters enough carbs that morning to why her husband doesn't kiss her anymore, to Paul, a swim-team parent, who's taken notice of her and seems to embody everything she's beginning to think her life is missing. When a girl on the team is murdered at a nearby highway rest stop--the same spot where Paul made a gruesome discovery years ago--Annie and her fellow swim-parents find themselves adrift. With a serial killer too close for comfort, they must make choices about where their loyalties lie. And as a series of shocking events unfolds, Annie must discover what it means to follow her intuition--even if love, as well as lives, could be lost.

Someone Else's Love Story by Joshilyn Jackson

For single mom Shandi Pierce, life is a juggling act. She's finishing college, raising precocious three-year-old Natty, and keeping the peace between her eternally warring, long-divorced parents.Then she gets caught in the middle of a stickup at a gas station and falls instantly in love with William Ashe, when he steps between the armed robber and her son. Shandi doesn't know that William's act wasn't about bravery. When he looked down the barrel of the robber's gun he believed it was destiny: it's been exactly one year since a tragic act of physics shattered his universe. But William doesn't define destiny the way other people do--to him destiny is about choice. Now William and Shandi are about to meet their so-called destinies head-on, making choices that will reveal unexpected truths about love, life, and the world they think they know.

Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty

Sometimes it’s the little lies that turn out to be the most lethal. . . .
  A murder… . . . a tragic accident… . . . or just parents behaving badly?  
What’s indisputable is that someone is dead.   But who did what?
  Big Little Lies follows three women, each at a crossroads:   Madeline is a force to be reckoned with. She’s funny and biting, passionate, she remembers everything and forgives no one. Her ex-husband and his yogi new wife have moved into her beloved beachside community, and their daughter is in the same kindergarten class as Madeline’s youngest (how is this possible?). And to top it all off, Madeline’s teenage daughter seems to be choosing Madeline’s ex-husband over her. (How. Is. This. Possible?). Big Little Lies is a brilliant take on ex-husbands and second wives, mothers and daughters, schoolyard scandal, and the dangerous little lies we tell ourselves just to survive.

Snow Hunters by Paul Yoon

This slim volume, in near poetry, paints the unlikely portrait of a poor North Korean prisoner of war who, almost by hazard, begins a new life in a low-key port city in Brazil rather than returning home. Taken in by a kindly Japanese tailor, Yohan learns the trade, learns the language and slowly becomes a member of this odd foreign family of two. A touching portrayal of immigrant life, isolation, and the search for human connections in a strange new world. -- DarwinEllis, Books On The Common, Ridgefield, CT

We Are Not Ourselves by Matthew Thomas

Born in 1941, Eileen Tumulty is raised by her Irish immigrant parents in Woodside, Queens, in an apartment where the mood swings between heartbreak and hilarity, depending on whether guests are over and how much alcohol has been consumed. When Eileen meets Ed Leary, a scientist whose bearing is nothing like those of the men she grew up with, she thinks she's found the perfect partner to deliver her to the cosmopolitan world she longs to inhabit. They marry, and Eileen quickly discovers Ed doesn't aspire to the same, ever bigger, stakes in the American Dream. Through the Learys, novelist Matthew Thomas charts the story of the American Century, particularly the promise of domestic bliss and economic prosperity that captured hearts and minds after WWII. The result is a riveting and affecting work of art; one that reminds us that life is more than a tally of victories and defeats, that we live to love and be loved, and that we should tell each other so before the moment slips away. 

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