Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Graphic Novel Review: The Plain Janes by Cecil Castellucci & Jim Rugg

"Art saves. Think big. Think P.L.A.I.N (People Loving Art in Neighborhoods)."

The Plain Janes by Cecil Castellucci and Jim Rugg
Genre: Contemporary YA
Publisher: Minx, 2007 - update: Ms. Castellucci just informed me it's been reprinted under the DC Vertigo Comics label. Congrats!
Awards: Joe Shuster Award for Outstanding Canadian Comic Book Writer, 2008
From: Local library

Story: Jane loves Metro City and isn't happy when her parents decide to move to suburbia. The kids at her new school are like they're asleep, but one lunch table looks promising. It just so happens everyone at that table is named Jane. Jane makes a plan to convince the others to join her in neighborhood "art attacks" to wake up the town. But they'll be in big trouble if anyone finds out.

Thoughts: The Plain Janes is my kind of graphic novel: interesting story, fun characters, and clear, amusing graphics. I love that the story is straightforward but still has several amusing twists. It's great that all of the main characters are named Jane (or Jayne), and each has her own, distinct personality and expertise. The art attacks the group pulls made me laugh and got me to think "I can do that," the ultimate danger of  free expression. And I loved that Jane is a vegetarian. Yeah!

Jim Rugg's clear greyscale drawings reinforce each of the Janes' personalities and clearly show the differences between Metro City and suburbia around Buzz Aldrin High. Jane always stands out with her clothing that's a little too hip for school. I love Jane's haircut, but it's hard to recognize her in flashbacks when she has her old hair. The all-caps dialogue is clean and easy to read with just enough bold to get the point across, but not too much to lose impact. I especially enjoyed the use of newspapers and letters to show the progression of events.

Final thoughts: Plain Janes is my favorite Minx title. The Janes are fearless in their efforts to challenge the ordinary and be themselves.

Grade: 5 out of 5

Monday, November 28, 2011

Winner in the Gratitude Giveaway and GFC update

Thanks to everyone who stopped by on the Gratitude Giveaway Hop!

Over 100 people entered my giveaway for a copy of Ready Player One by Ernest Cline.

And the winner is - ORIANA!

Congratulations! I hope you enjoy it.

As many of you know, Google Friend Connect is being discontinued. Since Nerfreader is on Blogger, it will still work here, but GFC will no longer be supported on other blogs, and I will eventually remove it as well. If you would still like to be informed of postings here at Nerfreader after GFC goes away, there are other ways you can connect.

- through Google Reader or your favorite reader site by coping Nerfreader's URL (http://nerfreader.blogspot.com) and pasting it into the Subscribe box on your reader's site
- using RSS by pressing the RSS button on the upper-right of this page and then pressing the button of your favorite reader
- following Nerfreader through e-mail by providing your e-mail address in the form on the right
- liking Nerfreader on facebook and checking for new posts on Nerfreader's wall
- following Nerfreader on Twitter where I announce most review posts

I use Google Reader to follow blogs, and that works very well for me.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Thankfully Weekend Wrap-up and It's Monday - 9

I am very thankful to Jenn for hosting the Thankfully Reading Weekend. I'm glad I got to spend so much time reading, and enjoyed myself immensely! I read a bunch of graphic novels -

Kimmy66 by Aaron Alexovich
The Plain Janes by Cecil Castellucci & Jim Rugg
The Guild by Felicia Day & Jim Rugg.
I also got caught up on my Guild watching. Looks like there are going to be some exciting changes in season 6. Fun!

On Saturday I went to see a local production of Hamlet and have been quoting it ever since.

I got some reviews posted, which was my real goal for the weekend -
Ghostopolis by Doug TenNapel
Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett
The Land of Laughs by Jonathan Carroll 
And the final touch, Neil himself (Neil Gaiman) re-tweeted me - twice, so I got a few extra visits to my Land of Laughs review. Hopefully everyone enjoyed it.

Before Thanksgiving I participated in my first Shaken and Not Stirred group audiobook listen and movie watch of Dr. No. I liked the book much more than the movie. I even won an audio copy of the next book, Goldfinger, from Blackstone Audio! I'm looking forward to listening to that and watching the movie in Januaray. Thanks to Jen from Literate Housewife and Tanya from Blackstone.

This week I plan to finish my graphic novel holiday leftovers, Good as Lily by Derek Kirk Kim and Jesse Ham (update- finished!) and The Drops of God, the maga about wine, by Tadashi Agi and Shu Okimoto. I'm listening to A Hat Full of Sky, the second Tiffany Aching book by Terry Pratchett (update - finished!).

This week I'm planning on participating in the Advent with Austen with Reading Fueled by Tea. The Sunday movie tweetfest is Bride and Prejudice. Since Pride and Prejudice is my favorite book, I'm sorry I missed out on the movie this Sunday. Can't wait to participate next week!

What are you reading?

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Audiobook review: The Land of Laughs by Jonathan Carroll

The Land of Laughs (1980) by Jonathan Carroll
Genre: modern fantasy
Length: 8h 47m
Read by: Edoardo Ballerini
Audio publisher: Neil Gaiman Presents, 2011
From: purchased

Story: Tomas Abbey isn't sure what to do with his life. He teaches English in a New England prep school, but he doesn't like teaching, literature, or New England. He's thinking about writing a biography of his beloved children's author, Marshall France, but he's not sure how to go about it. No one knows much about the deceased author of The Land of Laughs, and France's daughter Anna has vowed never to authorized a biography. Tomas sets out to learn more about France, France's daughter, and her strangely isolated Missouri town.

Thoughts: With a title like The Land of Laughs, I was expecting insincere strongmen and menacing clowns. The cover image doesn't dispel these thoughts, but that's not this book. There are marionettes, but no clowns. Instead, The Land of Laughs is a story where the eerieness is just hinted at the edges, which to me is the best kind of horror. It's an excellent episode of Twilight Zone. It's my favorite type of book. The story moves smoothly, introducing neurotic and insecure Tomas and his fixation with the author Marshall France. This is a book where every character has a complex, and trying to determine which complex each person has is half the fun. Since the book was published in 1980, it has a nostalgic feel to it, which is magnified as Thomas takes his road trip into small-town Missouri which seems to be stuck back in time.

Reading: Edoardo Ballerini is a the perfect person to read this book. He gives just the right amount of pathos to Tomas without letting him get whiny. There aren't very many characters in the book, but each is distinct and recognizable.

Final thoughts: A great book anyone who likes a nice, slow burning mystery with just a touch of menace. Don't let the awful cover image scare you away.

TV appearance: A first edition hard copy of The Land of Laughs is shown in the Season 1 episode of Fringe, "Ability," when a customer sells the book to Markam, the rare book dealer.

Grade: 5 out of 5

Graphic Novel Review: Amulet 3: The Cloud Searchers by Kazu Kibuishi

Amulet: The Cloud Searchers by Kazu Kibuishi
Series: Third in the Amulet series
Genre: Middle grade action fantasy
Publisher: Scholastic Graphix
From: Local library

Story: Emily, her brother Navin, and their crew board an airship to find the lost city of Cielis. They have to find it fast, before the evil Elf King finds them.

Thoughts: I picked up the first Amulet book on a whim from the library. I liked the drawings but found the story a little thin. It is meant for middle schoolers. Since it was an easy read, when the second book was returned, I checked it out, too. This one had a more surprising and detailed story and random Star Wars references. Fun! Now to the third book which has the most intricate plot yet with one Star Wars reference after another. From searching for a pilot in a dive bar to refueling at an outpost run by an ex-friend, The Could Searchers is an ode to Star Wars intermingled with its own unique plot, and it's done well.

Emily is a great character as she slowly learns to control the Amulet's power. Navin, the younger brother, is routinely pushed to the side, though is engineering skills come in handy once in awhile. Old friends and new help the siblings out as they travel from one location to another on their fast-paced quest to find the lost city, fighting the Elf King's minions along the way. The Could Searchers has quite a bit of back story jammed in with it's non-stop action and revelations.

The drawings in Amulet are crisp and clean. There's a lot going on in each panel, but the details never detract from the main action. I particularly like the silent panels where the mood of the world really comes through. The book is in color, and the tones are well blended with each location having its distinct palate. Kazu Kibuishi is the founder and editor of the Flight Anthologies, which I've heard a lot about and must read soon.

Final thoughts: The Amulet books are great for middle-grade readers and up who like some fantasy in their action, and a fun treat for Star Wars fans who can re-live the story in graphic form. I'm looking forward to reading the fourth book, The Last Council, which is already out.

Grade: 5 out of 5

Friday, November 25, 2011

Audiobook Review: Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett

"Unlike wizards, witches learn to make do..."

The Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett
Series: first Tiffany Aching
Genre: YA action fantasy
Length: 7h 10m
Audio publisher: Harper Audio, 2004
Read by: Stephen Briggs
Awards: Locus Award for best Young Adult Book, 2004
From: Local library

Story: Tiffany wants to be a witch, but she's afraid her name may hold her back. She can't be the prince and doesn't want to be the boring damsel, so the witch is the only character left. Witches are just misunderstood. In the meantime, Tiffany has to take care of her little brother and make the cheese. But who are these little men who keep yelling "Crivens!"

Thoughts: This is one of my favorite books. Tiffany is only nine, but she has a good head on her shoulders. She figures things out, and she doesn't mind using her little brother as monster bait. The action is constant, and anytime the Nac Mac Feegle are on the scene, I can't stop laughing. With all the stealing, drinking and fighting, I wouldn't think they'd be my kind of men, but even though they're only six inches tall, they're fiercely loyal and dependable. And I love their accents.

The Wee Free Men is the 30th Discworld book, but it takes place in a part of the world far away from the  other books, and only minor characters have appeared before. I've also seen this book labeled the 2nd Discworld Children's book. The first Discworld children's book is The Amazing Maruice and his Educated Rodents, and deals with different characters and settings. Wee Free Men is the first book with Tiffany Aching and stands firmly on its own, though after reading it you'll want to read the sequel, A Hat Full of Sky.

Reading: Stephen Briggs is a narration master. His Scottish accents for the Nac Mac Feegle are spot on, and I love his posh accents, too. My one quip is that Tiffany sounds strangely like an old woman at the beginning of the story, but the voice becomes her own as the narration progresses.

Final thoughts: This is a great book for anyone who likes to laugh, and Stephen Briggs' narration makes it the perfect audiobook. It's my first recommendation for someone not sure about audiobooks who wants to give them a try.

Grade: 5 out of 5

Most thankful book

The book I'm most thankful for is Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. I will admit, I saw the Jennifer Ehle miniseries first, but it inspired me to read the source material. I find something new every time I read the book or watch one of the movie versions (even the horrid 1940's move with screenplay credit to Aldous Huxly that takes place in the Civil War-era South).

I love Mr. Bennet's humor and Miss Bingley's scheming. I've had long discussions over how exactly Lady Catherine received her gossip and if Mary would have been happy with Mr. Collins.

My favorite quote is from Miss Bingley about Elizabeth, "To walk three miles, or four miles, or five miles, or whatever it is, above her ankles in dirt, and alone, quite alone! ... It seems to me to show an abominable sort of conceited independence,"

We should all show such conceited independence.

Graphic novel review: Ghostopolis by Doug TenNapel

Ghostopolis by Doug TenNapel
Genre: Middle grade paranormal action
Publisher: Scholastic Graphix, 2010
Lists: ALA's 2011 Top Ten Great Graphic Novels for Teens
From: Local library

Story: Garth Hale is dying, but he's not dead yet. So when he finds himself in the afterlife, he's got to get back to his mom and the living. Luckily he has a skeleton horse and mysterious boy to help him get to Ghostopolis where, hopefully, he can find a way home.

Frank Gallows has been employed as a ghost wrangler with the Supernatural Immigration Task Force a long time. He's tired. He's jaded. He's sloppy. He didn't mean to send Garth to the afterlife, but that's what happened. Now he has to get Garth back. He needs the help of his ex-girlfriend Claire, but they didn't part on the best of terms.

Thoughts: This book is a lot of fun. Frank Gallows is a great character with his wrinkled suit and sneaky yet authoritative ways. I would love a whole book just about the Supernatural Immigration Task Force (SITF) and Frank on the job with all of his ghostbusting tools. SITF and Frank are only a small part of Ghostopolis. There's a lot going on. The way your afterlife age is decided, the world's political structure, and the workings of time and physics are all described in a whirlwind as Garth races to the town. There's also a lot of heart as Garth learns about trust, compassion, and forgiveness. It was a quick and enjoyable read with only a few bodily function jokes for the younger set. I especially liked the hissing cockroches.

The graphics in this novel are great. The drawings are nice and clear, and there's usually something interesting going on off in the background. I usually don't care for coloring in my graphic novels, but this one does it well. I especially liked the shadowy blues used inside the buildings to notch up the suspense. The dialogue is hand-lettered in all caps, and was sometimes difficult to read due to the non-standard shapes and sizing. My problems were all at the beginning though, so I either got used to the writing or the lettering became more readable as the story went on.

Final thoughts: A fun ghost adventure for middle-grade readers with enough unexpected events to keep teens and adults happy. A Ghostopolis film, starring and produced by Hugh Jackman, is scheduled to be released in 2013.

Grade: 4 out of 5

Thankfully Reading this weekend

Happy weekend everyone! Instead of shopping, today I will be reading along with Jenn and all the participants in the Thankfully Reading Weekend. If you want to join in, you can sign up and post your progress anytime through the 27th.

Today I am thankful for my local library. I was extra thankful last week when I found out I could have a card from the library the next county over. They have a much larger system with branches in several small towns. I took a ride to one town I'd never been to before and was able to pick up a bunch of graphic novels I've been wanting to read. The town also has a Goodwill where I got some more books, so it was a a great find.

Scores from the library included
American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang,

The Plain Janes by Cecil Castellucci and Jim Rugg

Ghostopolis by Doug TenNapel, and
The Eternal Smile by Gene Luen Yang and Derek Kirk Kim.

From PaperbackSwap.com I was lucky to receive
Good as Lily by Derek Kirk Kim and Jesse Hamm,
Kimmie 66 by Aaron Alexovich, and
The Guild by Felieca Day and Jimm Rugg.

Then I broke down and bought The Drops of God by Tadashi Agi and Shu Okimoto. It's the only true manga on my pile that reads from right to left.

I've gotten a jump start on Thankfully Reading and already gone through some of these, so I plan to spend the weekend reading the rest and writing up reviews.

It's a beautiful day out, so I plan to take some walks while listening to Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett and maybe get one of the books on sale at Audible this weekend for $4.95.

I'm looking forward to seeing what everyone else is reading!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Mix it up challenge post

I love all the challenges that people are hosting for the new year. I keep trying to stop myself from signing up, but one that I do want to be involved in is Ellie's at Musings of a Bookshop Girl. She's hosing the Mixing It Up Challenge. This one is really different. There are 16 categories of books. Participants pick how many categories they want to complete, and go to town!  I'm going to join at the 9-12 level, but who knows, I may read more. Here are the categories.

1. Classics - I've already decided to finish reading Dracula next Halloween.
2. Biography - There's a great one of Nicolas Tesla I'm dying to read.
3. Food and wine - skip -Thought I do have a copy of In Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant that was given to me, and I'm planning on reading the graphic novel Drops of God about wine production.
4. History - skip - The Tesla book could fit here instead.
5. Modern Fiction - skip
6. Graphic novels - Yeah! I have several on order at the library and asked for more for Christmas including The Guild by Felicia Day.
7. Crime and mystery - I still haven't read Redbreast by Jo Nesbo, and I'm only on book two of the Charles Lenox series by Charles Finch
8. Horror - I still have to finish Haunting at Hill House for Halloween.
9. Romance - There's a new Pink Carnation book coming out by Lauren Willig, the Garden Intrigue.
10. Science fiction and fantasy - No problem.
11. Travel - skip - I am planning on reading Travels in West Africa this year by Mary Kingsley.
12. Poetry and drama - skip - I just checked out a manga version of The Tempest, but I don't think that counts.
13. Journalism and humor - skip - I'm finishing up David Sedaris' Holidays on Ice right now, so it's too early for the challenge.
14. Science and natural history - I want to read another book on string theory by Brian Greene, but maybe I'll find something else
15. Children's and young adult - No problem.
16. Social sciences and philosophy - skip

So, there are a lot of options, I'm committing to a lower number here at the beginning to see how it goes, but hope to stretch a little and read some books from some of the harder for me categories. It's been fun to remember the books I've read in the past that fit into each group.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Audiobook review: Doctor No by Ian Fleming

I didn't know James Bond was so insecure.

Dr No (1958) by Ian Fleming
Series: 6th 007 novel
Genre: Gentleman spy
Length: 7h 13m
Audio publisher: Blackstone Audio, 2006
Read by: Simon Vance
From: Purchased

Story: After being injured in the events of From Russia With Love, M sends Bond on an easy assignment to Jamaica. There Bond has a martini with lemon (not olives), gets mixed up with a guano pyramid scheme, and competes in his own private Hunger Games. He also learns the power of the Audubon Society and where evil masterminds go to college: Milwaukee, WI.

Thoughts: I wish I had joined Shaken, Not Stirred, from the beginning. James Bond is so much fun! The book James is nothing like the movie James. In the movies he's a jerk. In this book he's just insecure. He's always thinking "oops, messed that up," but he hides his feelings, so no one else would know. I also found his job to be much more mundane. He doesn't want to kill people, just get his paperwork in.

***I'm going to be talking about specifics in the book, so stop if you want to be surprised.***

My favorite part was at the beginning when James is ridiculed for carrying a "lady's gun." His Beretta .25 is "a bit fancy-looking, if you know what I mean..." James was so sad to lose that gun. Then he started talking about his tailor and bath salts and sunsets. He's so very metro. I wanted him to get his hair and nails done when he had the chance. His cuticles had to be pretty grim after that stint in the jungle.

The Audubon Society cracked me up! They kept saying how the Audubon had more money than the British secret service and "these old women's societies" couldn't be deterred. They're incorruptible, just like librarians.

My main inconsistency issue with the book is Chinese people don't wear kimonos. In the 1950's upper class Chinese men wore loose robes called changshan and women wore straight dresses with slits up the side called qipao. Get it right.

If I believe Wikipedia, Doctor No was panned by the critics for being sadistic and encouraging snobbery. I'm not sure where either of these charges come from. Snobbery is the whole point of James. He likes nice things. And I've purposefully forgotten all the sadism.

Reading: Listening to Simon Vance is always a joy. The Caribbean accents were a little rough, but I couldn't have done any better.

Final thoughts: I hope all the James Bond books are as fun as this one. I have never seen the move Doctor No so can't wait until Saturday to see what's different from the movie and the book. I'm sure the book is far superior, though Sean Connery.... Can't wait!

Watch Doctor No with us on Saturday, November 19, on Twitter. We'll be talking about the audiobook and then watching the movie starting at 9:30pm Eastern Time at #shakennotstirred.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Gratitude Giveaway Thanks!

Update - This giveaway is OVER. Thanks to everyone who participated!

Thanks to I Am A Reader, Not a Writer and All-Consuming Books for sponsoring The Gratitude Giveaway Hop.

I am grateful for my followers and readers who leave excellent comments and who encourage me to read more, so for you, this giveaway!

I am giving away a copy of my favorite book of the year, Ready Player One! One lucky winner will have their choice of the hardcover or audio version. The audio version is read by the amazing Wil Wheaton.

Here's a link to my review. I loved it! This hop runs from November 17 - November 27. The winner will be contacted through e-mail on November 28.

This giveaway is international. The hardcover version of the book is available anywhere Book Depository ships. The audio version is available anywhere Audible allows a download. I will contact Audible to make sure the book is available in your area.

New or existing followers of this blog are eligible, just fill in the form.

There are over 300 participating blogs on this hop, so there's something for everyone to be thankful for!

Monday, November 14, 2011

November/December events

This November I'm participating in some great events!

First up is the Gratitude Giveaways Blog Hop sponsored by I Am a Reader, Not a Writer and All-Consuming Books. It took me awhile to figure out what I'm going to give away, and I think I've come up with something good. At first I thought I would only be able to have the giveaway for people living in the US, but it turns out it will be International, so good for all. This Giveaway starts this Thursday.

Overlapping the giveaway is the Thankfully Reading Weekend by the fabulous Jenn at Jenn's Bookshelves. I'm still in withdrawal after having so much fun with Jenn's Muder, Monsters and Mayhem October. I'm looking forward to digesting some great reads and seeing what everyone else is reading. Much more fun than braving the stores.

This year I signed up for two holiday gift swaps. The Book Blogger Holiday Swap sign-up has already closed, and I hope to get my secret someone's name soon. I've already starting thinking about what to get him/her and have started collecting a little pile of things I might send.

In the Winter Holiday Gift Exchange put on by Rants N Scribbles, the US is considered international since Gwenyth lives in Canada. I feel exotic. Love the button! This sign up is open until November 30. And there's a twist. Participants will get to know each other and their blogs. I can't wait to interview someone about their blog. I'm going to go after all the juicy back story. I was the first person to sign up, so it might be just me and Gwenyth. But that's ok. She has a great blog and can fill me in on the insider scoop.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

It's Monday, what are you reading! - 8

It's almost Monday again. Thanks go out to Sheila from Book Journey for hosing It's Monday!

I had a great week. I listened to a lot of new books and got some reviews in that had been on the shelf.

Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi - Living on the edge in a dystopian future
Immortality, Inc by Robert Sheckley - a view of 2110 from 1958
Zoo City by Lauren Bleukes - South African fantasy noir mystery
Timesplash by Graham Storrs - a new kind of time travel
Emiko Superstar by Mariko Tamaki and Steve Rolston - a great graphic novel about being your own star
Mini reviews of Snuff by Terry Pratchett, Crossed by Ally Condie, and September Society by Charles Finch - I liked the Victorian mystery September Society the best out of these three

I'm almost caught up on my reviews. I only have to post for:
Johnny and the Bomb by Terry Pratchett - his time travel children's story
Amulet series 1-3 by Kazu Kibuishi - the Star Wars references are not my imagination
1Q84 by Haruki Murakami - this one's scarred me, but hopefully I can get over it soon. I used to like the moon

This week I'm determined to finish
The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch - I've tried this one twice so far, but third time's the charm!

I'm also going to participate in I am a Reader, Not a Writer's Gratitude Giveaway Hop starting on Thursday. My last hop went really well, so I hope to find a bunch of new blogs from this one, too.

What are you reading?

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Timesplash by Graham Storrs

Timesplash by Graham Storrs
Genre: Time travel science fiction
Length: 9h 11m
Read by: Emma Newman
Audio publisher: Iambik Audio, 2011
From: Purchased

Story: In 2050, time travel is possible but illegal. That doesn't stop the extreme thrill-seekers who risk their lives for excitement and fame. If these "bricks" create a large enough paradox back in history, then when time self-corrects, it will be magnified through to the present, creating a "splash." The timesplashers are now taking things too far, creating bigger and bigger splashes. They're starting to kill people, even destroy cities, and must be stopped.

Thoughts: I find many time travel stories are overly concerned with paradoxes. I tune out whenever there are long explanations of things that might go wrong. I prefer characters to test their theories or just say "I don't know" get to their task in the past. In Timesplash, the time travelers have no idea how time travel works, and they don't care. That's what the techs worry about. Luckily, paradoxes are not possible. Time self-corrects, so it doesn't matter what timesplashers do in the past. They can't affect history. All they can affect is the present, and that's when problems arise.

Timesplash is a great near-future adventure story with two young protagonists who have to overcome their earlier traumatic experiences with timesplashing to try and stop widespread destruction. Sandra especially is an excellent character who starts off as a child in over her head and grows into a fiercely intelligent young woman who gets things done regardless of her fears or others' objections. Of course, I loved the shout outs to Star Wars and Doctor Who, even if the idea that teenagers will still be quoting these (or know who Patty Hearst is) in 2050 stretched my credulity a little. Unfortunately, it seems that all bad guys in the books I read lately are insane, so my one quibble is a personal preference for a more sane and functional bad guy. But then maybe he would have gotten away with it.

Reading: Emma Newman has a breathy, young-sounding voice that fits perfectly with the first female point-of-view character. Instead of acting out the story with different voices for the characters, Ms. Newman reads the book in her strong, clear accent. This worked quite well for most of the story. However, some of the passages with dialogue were difficult for me to follow since it was unclear who was saying each line.

Final thoughts: If you like cream crackers and sardines for breakfast (I remember eating this) or, more likely, if you like edgy time travel stories with a new view of time and lots of adventure, then try this one out.

Grade: 4 out of 5

Audiobook Review Roundup: Snuff, Crossed, September Society

In between the great science fiction I've been listening to lately, I've had to clean by aural passages with some quick listens. These are all sequels or later in series by authors I know and love. They don't really need full reviews, but I wanted to share my two cents.

Snuff is the latest by Sir Terry Pratchett
39th in the Diskworld series
Genre: Fantasy
Audio publisher: Harper Audio, 2011; Length: 11h 29m
Read by: Stephen Briggs

If you've read Diskworld then you know Commander Sam Vimes of the City Watch. In this outing, Sam and his wife, Lady Sybil, visit her country house with their young son. Now, I've read maybe ten Diskworld books. I knew Sam and Sybil were together, but didn't remember a son. Vimes is one of my favorite characters, so it's great to have another story with him. Snuff is marketed as a book for adults (as opposed to Wee Free Men), but there's an awful lot of scatological humor. My favorite part was when Sam and Sybil visited a family with six daughters, much like the Bennets. Sam tells the girls to quit sitting around waiting  for some unemployed layabout to marry them and instead find something productive to do like open a shop. He could give them a year's free rent. Priceless!

Stephen Briggs is an exceptionally good reader. I love his accents, and he really sounds like he's having fun with the reading.

Crossed by Ally Condie
Genre: YA dystopian SF
Audio publisher: Penguin AudioLength: 9h 50m
Read by: Kate Simses & Jack Riccobono

I picked up Matched not knowing anything about the story, and it was such a pleasant surprise. I loved the YA retelling of 1984 and Brave New World. It was great learning about the Society, all of their rules, and the small ways that Cassia subverted those rules. Crossed takes us away from the Society as Cassia and Ky are each sent to the Outer Provinces. There's a lot of pining and some wandering in the desert. I have a very low tolerance for book love and prefer stories where the couple hates each other and calls each other names until they suddenly figure out at the very end that they're Meant to Be. Since Cassia and Ky found out they were Meant to Be in the last book, this one was all downhill. Even worse was hearing both Ky and Cassia's viewpoints. I didn't even have the "maybe he's not that interested in me" suspense. I will fess up that I have a huge crush on the radio announcer Kai Ryssdal from American Public Media's Marketplace, so I'm prewired to love anyone named Kai or Ky, but I'm still not at all excited for the next book in this series.

Crossed is very well read by Kate Simses and Jack Riccobono.

The September Society (2008) by Charles Finch
2nd in the Charles Lenox Mysteries
Genre: Historical mystery
Audio publisher: Tantor Audio; Length: 8h 46m
Read by: James Langton

I picked up the first Charles Lenox novel, A Beautiful Blue Death because I liked the cover. I also liked the story, and Lenox, the Victorian gentleman detective, won me over. The audiobooks just came out this year, so when I saw an ad for the 5th book, A Burial At Sea, I decided had to catch up. In this installment, Charles returns to his alma mater Oxford to solve a missing persons case. All his old quirky friends are here, neighbor Lady Jane Grey, manservant Graham, and eccentric physician friend Dr. McConnell. Lenox is a great detective. He's tenacious, has unlimited free time, and has People to do all the boring bits.

James Langton pulled out 20 or more different British accents for this book. The writing was very specific about which part of England each character was from, and even though I can't tell a Yorkshire from a Lancashire, but they all sounded spot-on to me. I also liked his female voices, which were equally distinct. I kept rewinding so I could listen longer.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Audiobook review: Zoo City by Lauren Beukes

A fast-paced neo-noir journey through present-day alternate reality South Africa. With animal familiars!

Zoo City by Lauren Beukes
Genre: Modern fantasy mystery
Length: 9h 25m
Audio publisher: Angry Robot on Brilliance Audio, 2011
Read by: Justine Eyre
Awards: 2011 Arthur C. Clarke Award,
2010 Kitschies Red Tentacle
From: Purchased from Audible

Story: Zinzi December lives among criminals and ex-criminals in the tough Johannesburg neighborhood of Zoo City with the other Animalled. Zinzi's animal is a sloth, and her talent is finding things. But don't ask her to find missing people.

Thoughts: My dream superpower is the ability to find lost things, so Zinzi December was a kindred spirit from the start. I loved her sloth, her tenacity, and her dress sense of "Grace Kelly meets Sailor Moon." Zoo City starts by following Zinzi as she goes about her piecemeal jobs. The beginning was a little rocky for me. It took a while to get a feel for the unusual setting and characters, but as soon as the main mystery plot came around, I was hooked. I'm a huge Raymond Chandler fan, and a noir detective story with magic is right up my alley.

The story is peppered with newspaper articles, website pages, and other media excerpts that describe the  recent appearance of animal familiars. The articles provide theories on where the animals might come from and why. They provide great back story and explain some of the differences between the Zoo City world and ours. Zoo City is also a travel log, showing Johannesburg from its slums and condemned buildings to multi-million Rand mansions. My one quibble is that the villain wasn't quite as unique and interesting as the rest of the cast. Luckily, Zoo City has more than enough characters to make up for it.

Reading: I'd heard Justine Eyre from her work on A Spy in the House by YS Lee, so I was a little surprised she was reading Zoo City. Zinzi is black African living in the inner city, but she's voiced with a very posh British accent. This choice is better explained as the story goes on and more of Zinzi's former life is reveled. I did enjoy the voices of Zinzi's friends and neighbors, especially BenoĆ®t, whose accent took me back to my time in West Africa and my own red and blue woven plastic bags.

Final thoughts: An amazing crime thriller through the backstreets of Joburg with a lot to say about guilt, discrimination, redemption, and fuzzy animals.

Grade: 4.5 out of 5

This post is part of Devourer of Books' weekly audio roundup, Sound Bytes. Have a look at the other great audiobook reviews from this week.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Imortality, Inc. by Robert Sheckley

What if you died and woke up...in the future?

Imortality, Inc. (1959) by Robert Sheckley
Genre: SF Time travel
Length: 5h 48m
Audio publisher: Blackstone Audio, 2011
Read by: Bronson Pinchot
Nominated for a Hugo under the name Time Killer
From: Purchased from Audible
Buy this audiobook from Audible.com

Story: Thomas Blaine, a 32 year-old junior yacht designer, is already obsolete in 1958. There are only so many yachts that need designing. When he gets in a car wreck and wakes up in 2110 New York, he has some serious questions. How is he alive? What's happened in the past 150 years? and Who will hire a 20th century yacht designer?

Thoughts: For such a short story, Imortality, Inc. is full of big ideas. It's also really funny. I guess 'yacht designer' is an occupation much like 'architect.' It's upper class, cerebral, and pays well, but it's so random, it made me laugh every time it came up. The story follows every-man Blaine from the '50's as he bumbles around future New York. It's less about time travel and more about a future where ghosts and zombies have been scientifically explained, immortality can be bought, and the afterlife is for anyone who has the right insurance. Imortality, Inc. is a forward-thinking story that could almost have been written today. Almost because it shows its age in its female characters. They start off strong and unsympathetic, but as soon as they start acting sympathetic, they fall into the female 50's stereotype of stopping their own lives to follow their men. Bleck. Ignoring the women, this is a great story with fabulous ideas.

Reading: I knew Bronson Pinchot from his role as Balki on the 1986 sitcom Perfect Strangers. He did a great job on that show, but I had no idea the guy reading this story was the same person. His voices in Immortality, Inc. are all distinct and extremely well done with a 50's noir flair. I especially liked the voice of Joe, who sounded a lot like Peter Lorre in The Maltese Falcon. His female voices were good, too, although I didn't care for the 50's baby-doll bimbo. I know it's a period voice, but it's a period voice I'd like to forget. 

Dose of Wikipedia: Imortality, Inc. was loosely adapted into the 1992 movie Freejack starring Emilio Esteves, Mick Jagger and Anthony Hopkins. That movie sounds so bad it must be good!
A scene from Imortality, Inc. where Blaine mistakenly stands in line for a suicide booth, was used in the pilot episode of Futurama. Funny stuff!

Final thoughts: A SF classic and must-listen for science fiction aficionados and Futurama lovers alike.

Grade: 5 out of 5

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Graphic novel review: Emiko Superstar by Mariko Tamaki

"How wyrd it is that 1 summer can chg everythg" - Emiko

Emiko Superstar by Mariko Tamaki and Steve Rolston
Genre: Contemporary YA
Publisher: Minx DC Comics, 2008
From: Library booksale

Story: Emiko is a half-Japanese, half-Caucasian Canadian trying to figure herself out during her high school summer. Along the way she meets some freaks and geeks. Which is she?
Update - Here's a 20 page preview courtesy of artist Steve Rolston. Thanks, Steve!

Thoughts: I am so sad the Minx imprint of DC comics is gone. Minx put out graphic novels for girls from 2007-2008, and every one of them is amazing! I always stayed away from comics because they're so serialized, but graphic novels, where there's a whole story with pictures in one book, touch my sweet spot. I especially like graphic novels about strong girls. Minx only put out 12 titles during their short time, but every one I've read has been great.

Emiko Superstar is an excellent example. Emiko's geeky high school friends are heading in different directions over the summer, so Emiko has to find her own path. After a few false starts, she decides performance art is her calling. Of course, things don't go smoothly from there.

Steve Rolston's clear greyscale graphics are perfect for showing Emiko's suburban lifestyle and, later, the Freakshow. I liked how the frames with the Freaks get more and more cluttered until there's a Where's Waldo? effect with too much going on and nothing shown clearly. Emiko is a Superstar, if only in her own mind.

Final thoughts: A fun story of growing up with great drawings. I could use more books like this about both girls and boys.

Grade: 5 out of 5

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Audiobook review: Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi

A glimpse of one kid's life living near the bottom of a desperate and very believable near-future world.

Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi
First in the Ship Breaker series
Genre: Young Adult Science Fiction
Length: 9h 8m
Audio publisher: Brilliance Audio, 2010
Read by: Joshua Swanson
Awards: Michael L Printz Award winner, National Book Award nominee
From: Library OverDrive

Story: In a world where the glaciers have melted, oil is gone, and gigantic hurricanes ravage the coasts, scrap metal is a precious commodity. People who strip derelict oil tankers for parts are called Ship Breakers, and children are sent through the duct work to get at the valuable copper wiring. Nailer is a Ship Breaker, but he's getting too big for a child's light duty, and he's wondering how he'll survive among the adults.

Thoughts: What a great book. It's rare that I listen to a YA story where the protagonist hasn't grown up in the suburbs, so to hear about Nailer and his crew, living in shacks on the beach and working to exhaustion  just to survive, was inspiring. Even though they live in a dog-eat-dog world, literally due to genetic engineering, these kids don't pity themselves. They don't have the luxury to mope. They just get on with it. Nailer could teach some of those emo characters from other books a thing or two, after he roughs them up and steals their wallets.

Throughout the book Nailer is confronted with complex decisions, and I like that he weighs the options realistically. What's better, the sure money now or the chance of a larger payoff later? How does doing the right thing fit in? What is the right thing? Right for whom? He's never sure if his decisions are the correct ones, but once they're made, he sees them through to the end, even though most come back to haunt him.

I was also impressed by the female characters. Nailer is a teenage boy, but the leader of his crew and several of its members are girls. The girls are all competent, talk to each other about things other than boys, and are neither nice or polite. They never look in mirrors and don't care what anyone thinks. So refreshing.

Ship Breakers is the first in a series, but it's a complete book that can stand on its own. When it was over, I didn't know there was a sequel until I looked it up. It's nice to have a story that finishes in one book instead with a "to be continued" cliffhanger.

Reading: This is the first time I've listened to Joshua Swanson, and I liked his reading. His narration was clear and moved the text along. He used a lot of fun, distinct voices, although the Jamacian-ish females sounded strange to me. I'm looking forward to hearing more from him.

Final thoughts: An exciting, unique story in a very well-defined, believable world. I understand this book takes place in the same world as The Wind-Up Girl and Pump Six and Other Stories. I can't wait until the next Ship Breakers book comes out in 2012!

Grade: 5 out of 5

Monday, November 7, 2011

It's Monday What Are You Reading? 7

It's Monday! Is hosted by Sheila at Book Journey. Thanks, Sheila!

This week I was traveling, so I only got my October recap posted. October was a great month.

So far November is shaping up into Time Travel month. Several of the books I've been listening to have (unknown to me when I chose them) included time travel. I'll have to keep up the theme. This week I put in a lot of listening. Reviews coming!

1Q84 by Haruki Murakami - travel between parallel- worlds Japan
Johnny and the Bomb by Terry Pratchett - kids travel to 1941 Britain
Timesplash by Graham Storhhs - Time travel in the future for fun and profit.
Immortality, Inc by Robert Sheckley - Time travel for profit, but not for fun. 1959 Hugo award nominee.
Zoo City by Lauren Beukes - Alternate-reality present day South Africa with daemon animals, like in The Golden Compass, only neo-noir.

And some non-time travel books:
Emiko Superstar by Mariko Tamaki and Steve Rolston - Great graphic novel about a girl finding her wild side.
Snuff by Terry Pratchett - no time travel, but fun Pride and Prejudice references!

What have you been reading this week?

Sunday, November 6, 2011

RIP, MX3 and October wrap-up

October was great! Since I was traveling, it's taken me awhile to get to my wrap-up post up, but now that I'm back, here it is.

RIP VI from Stainless Steel Droppings started in September, but I didn't sign up until October. I started MX3 from Jenn's Bookshelves at the same time. For these challenges I got through 10 spooky audiobooks and 2 graphic novels. 

I also reviewed two audiobooks in October outside of the challenges. 

This month I participated in Leswamee's Literary Blog Hop Giveway and the fabulous Dewey's 24 Hour Read-a-Thon.  So much fun! Stainless Steel Droppings is hosting The Sci Fi Experience starting in January, and Jenn is doing a Thanksreading weekend over Thanksgiving. I can't wait! Let me know what cool challenges/events you're doing.