Book Review -Midnight Blue-Light Special

Title: Midnight Blue-Light Special

Author: Seanan McGuire

Format: Paperback

Year Published: 2013

The sequel to Discount Armageddon, Midnight Blue-Light Special follows Verity Price as she approaches the end of her time in New York, and the deadline for her decisions about which life she’s going to choose – her dancing career, or the family business. Unfortunately, that’s not the only thing going wrong for her. Her maybe-boyfriend shows up with news: the Covenant is head to New York to “evaluate” him and to “purge” New York of anything non-human.

Not exactly something Verity will stand for. Now not only is it a choice between worlds, it’s a fight for her life and the lives of all those she protects. To make matters worse, one of the Covenant members is a distant cousin, who might be a better match for Verity than anybody else the Covenant could throw her way.

To be honest, I never bought that Verity was going to walk away from the family business. Even though she loved dancing, it never felt as important to her as she thought it was – some of that might have been because the focus of the books is on the cryptid communities and their problems, so we get very little focus on the dancing, but even when we have Verity and dancing, it seems more like we’re told how much she loves it, rather than having it be shown to us in the text. So when she realizes (about mid-way through, give or take) that she’s obviously going to chose her family’s career for her, it didn’t feel like the sudden realization I think the author was going for.

And in a similar vein, I also never bought that Dominic was going to return to his pre-Verity teachings and betray her and her family. Not just because he was in love with her (although that was part of his reasoning), but because his world-view had shifted and there was no way it was shifting back.

Interestingly, although the book is written in first-person, there is a portion written in Verity’s cousin Sarah’s POV – still first-person. It’s necessary for the way the book is told – Verity is captured and knocked unconscious, so for there to be tension for the reader as well as the other characters, we can’t know what is going on with her at first – but I wonder if it could have been told in a way that didn’t necessitate a change in POV. The two girls do have distinct voices and very different world-views, but I pretty much prefer my head-hopping to happen in third-person.

Despite some minor issues I have, the climax of the book makes up for a lot. Verity is tortured and the after-affects of that torture are not just pushed away when she tries to escape. (And the whole escape scene takes place while she is stark-naked, which is also not a thing that really happens.)

All in all, I didn’t think this was the strongest book, but the high points were very fun. 3/5 stars.

Book Review – Being Jazz

TITLE: Being Jazz: My life as a (Transgender) teen
AUTHOR: Jazz Jennings
FORMAT: Hardback
PUBLISHED: 2016

For those who don’t know, Jazz Jennings first hit America’s psyche as the 4-year-old kid who knew he was really a she. Since that moment 10+ years ago, Jazz has gained a bit more fame, and now has a children’s book and a television show, both titled I Am Jazz, and a slew of awards for being things like “amazing” and “wonderful” and “courageous” and whatever else in her quest to be an advocate for trans issues.

I wanted to read the book to understand better.

It’s listed as a memoir, published by a children’s publisher, and, at least in my library, shelved in the very odd…genre?… of YA Non-Fiction.
I don’t know what I thought I was expecting, but chances are that I wanted a look at actual trans issues.
What I got was…not that.

First of all, a then 14-year-old makes for a really boring memoir subject. I mean, take away the trans stuff, and all you have is soccer and good grades. And the book mostly glossed past all of that.

And it totally glossed over a lot of the trans stuff too. “Hey, my parents had to deal with me not being able to play soccer, but I still got to practice with the team, so at least I had that…” Um.
Somewhere about halfway through this book it dawned on me why I dislike the show so much, and it’s criticism here, too… Nothing ever is bad or hard or whatever. I mean, even when something *was* going wrong, she’d gloss over it like it was a little footnote. “My parents never told me, so everything was wonderful!”

Actually, on that note, it glossed over most stuff period. She used the phrase “chick with a dick” twice, but couldn’t actually use words to describe body parts when she talked about herself. She talked about her “D” the same way Anastasia Steele talks about her “sex”. (That is to say, stupidly.)

Come on. I know you’re not going to get the most amazing story ever told from a kid, but there are plenty of bios and memoirs about kids that were interesting to read (Ryan White, for example). This one was a snooze. The only thing that saved me from falling asleep was that it read so fast because Jazz herself is the one that wrote it.

Another criticism I have is that Jazz sort of assumed the only people that would ever read the memoir were in a trans world somehow. A lot of the chapters start off as stories but then near the end of the chapter, the fourth wall comes down and there’s a part where Jazz says something like “Hey, reader, if you need help, you should look at the appendix”…

So, again, a book I had high hopes for that ended up pretty much being crap. I mean, I don’t see a lot of purpose to the book and it’s totally fluff. Even the Q&As at the end of the book with her family seemed like crap. In the interview with her brothers, we basically get “We hate being lumped together as twins” (irony – theirs was the only interview with two people at once) and “She got to meet the president and we didn’t, but it’s okay!”

Since it’s like the only resource out there for trans kids, I should probably cut it a little slack, but the fact that there’s little resource here and just a fake sense of perfect rainbows, I’m giving it a 2 out of 5. Maybe the book will help somebody who is trans, but for anyone who isn’t, there’s nothing helpful here.

Book Review – Echoes of a Giantkiller

Title: Echoes of a Giantkiller

Author: E. Jade Lomax

Format: Paperback

Year Published: 2015

Echoes of a Giantkiller is the second story in the Leagues and Legends series by Lomax (review of Beanstalk here). I’m already on record for loving the way she writes, so I’ll try to restrain myself here.

Giantkiller starts almost immediately where Beanstalk leaves off – Jack, Gray, Rupert are off to the Mountains, tracking Laney as she travels with mage kidnappers to find out where they’re going. Of course, things can’t go smoothly with this group. Not only do they need to keep Laney (and then themselves) safe, Jack and Gray are forced into confrontations with their pasts.

I liked how the secrets came out organically – that Jack’s are basically thrust in his face until he can’t avoid, and that Gray’s sneak up on him until everybody has no choice but to notice.

George the Dragon Slayer. I loved George – it’s nice to have two strong female characters who are so different from each other. And it’s nice to see the changes in George from Jack’s perspective – we can tell she’s changed by the way they react to each other.

So my favorite character in this book: Rupert. Oh, man, do I have Rupert feels. I’ll be honest, he wasn’t my favorite in Beanstalk, but I adored him here. (Mild spoilers, but they won’t make sense until you get to this point.)

Rupert saved people quietly, his hands wrapped around theirs, explaining things in a low voice while he brought them back into balance.

Jack thought it was very fitting.

Laney loses her place as my favorite in this book, but not because she is any less awesome, but because everybody else steps up their game. I can’t wait to see what she does.

I’ll admit, I didn’t like Giantkiller as much as I liked Beanstalk. At first. Then I re-read both of them and seeing all of the earlier hints put in Beanstalk that pay off here, and seeing how all the threads tie together here, made them so much better. I’m pretty hard pressed to pick a favorite now.

4/5 stars, and I can’t wait until Remember the Dust comes out.

). I’m already on record for loving the way she writes, so I’ll try to restrain myself here.

Giantkiller starts almost immediately where Beanstalk leaves off – Jack, Gray, Rupert are off to the Mountains, tracking Laney as she travels with mage kidnappers to find out where they’re going. Of course, things can’t go smoothly with this group. Not only do they need to keep Laney (and then themselves) safe, Jack and Gray are forced into confrontations with their pasts.

I liked how the secrets came out organically – that Jack’s are basically thrust in his face until he can’t avoid, and that Gray’s sneak up on him until everybody has no choice but to notice.

George the Dragon Slayer. I loved George – it’s nice to have two strong female characters who are so different from each other. And it’s nice to see the changes in George from Jack’s perspective – we can tell she’s changed by the way they react to each other.

So my favorite character in this book: Rupert. Oh, man, do I have Rupert feels. I’ll be honest, he wasn’t my favorite in Beanstalk, but I adored him here. (Mild spoilers, but they won’t make sense until you get to this point.)

Rupert saved people quietly, his hands wrapped around theirs, explaining things in a low voice while he brought them back into balance.

Jack thought it was very fitting.

Laney loses her place as my favorite in this book, but not because she is any less awesome, but because everybody else steps up their game. I can’t wait to see what she does.

I’ll admit, I didn’t like Giantkiller as much as I liked Beanstalk. At first. Then I re-read both of them and seeing all of the earlier hints put in Beanstalk that pay off here, and seeing how all the threads tie together here, made them so much better. I’m pretty hard pressed to pick a favorite now.

4/5 stars, and I can’t wait until Remember the Dust comes out.

Book Review – Smile

TITLE: Smile
AUTHOR: Luis Sanchez
FORMAT: Paperback
PUBLISHED: 2014

On my little book date, I discovered a wonderful series of books called 33 1/3, the name of course coming from the size of a record, which was cool because they’re a series of music books.
The first one I found was Smile, which dealt with the Beach Boys, a band I grew up with. I wasn’t familiar with Smile as a piece of work, at least by name, which isn’t saying much because I never know titles of things. So, you know, I was excited to find this.

Except here is the thing. The little book reads a lot like a badly organized college paper (And this from a guy with a PhD in Musicology), and by a guy who totally misses the point.
The first thing the book talks about is a SNL (Saturday Night Live) promo skit where Brian Wilson is chased by the surfing police and sent out in the water on a surf board which he hardly manages to use, at one point using the board backwards even. Cue rant by Sanchez about how the skit misses who the Beach Boys are, yadda yadda, whatever.
Except that you can watch the skit on YouTube, and if you watch it, it’s clearly satire, it’s meant to be cheezy as heck, and Sanchez would still miss the point if it was the broad side of a barn.

Then, the book flops around back and forth about how fat Brian Wilson is and a few other things, but it never really talks about SMILE whatsoever, and by the time I got halfway through the book, I didn’t really know what the point of all this was, and, even worse for a book… I didn’t care.

So, the book had promise, but Sanchez clearly didn’t.
Two out of five pages.

Book Review – Discount Armageddon

Title: Discount Armageddon

Author: Seanan McGuire

Format: Paperback

Year Published: 2012

 Discount Armageddon (which I will never spell correctly the first time) is the story of a girl. A girl who really loves to dance, and who wants to be a professional ballroom dancer. Unfortunately, this girl was born into a family who work with creatures of fairy tales and legends, and she will have to choose which path to follow, because she can’t follow both.

Meet Verity Price. After doing very well on a reality dancing show, Verity is in NYC trying to decide if she wants to pursue her career in ballroom dance, of if she wants to fall back onto the family business of cryptozoologist. Unfortunately, life gets in the way. A member of the Covenant of St. George, who pretty much have a “shoot to kill” order for the Price family as well as any cryptid that they see, has arrived in Manhattan, and cryptids are going missing. They’re going to have to work together to find out why, and to stop it all before the rest of the Covenant descends on the city and ruins Verity’s life in the process.

I enjoyed the book a lot. Verity is a fun heroine, one who knows what she’s worth and isn’t about to let other people tell her otherwise. And although she’s not sure which way she wants her life to go, both choices are presented as valid options, with both their pros and cons. I also liked that even when Verity is shagging Dominic’s brains out, that she doesn’t really trust him to have her best interest at heart and even though it hurts when she runs up against the brick wall of his convictions, she’s not willing to back down.

(As an aside, it was fairly obvious that Dominic was going to change his mind about how he interacted with the cryptids, but the change of mind was very sudden, and not believable. Some of this comes from the first-person POV, as we don’t get to see Dominic change his mind, and some of it is that Verity pretty much just believes him.)

I also really enjoyed Verity’s friends and family (I particularly loved the way she interacted with her old brother Alex, and am excited to learn the third book is about him). The world-building is not showy, but gradual, and every time you need more information, it comes out organically.

The villains – one is very easy to spot, as the text tells you about it, and the other I suspected pretty much on introduction, but even knowing about them doesn’t diminish enjoyment in the story.

While I enjoyed reading about the mice, I would never want to live with them. Verity is a stronger person than I am.

I have the rest of the series on hold at the library, and am looking forward to delving more into this world. A solid 4/5 stars.

Book Review – Hungry Planet

TITLE: Hungry Planet – What the World Eats
Author: Peter Menzel and Faith D’Aluisio
Format: Hardback
Published: ? (2000-something or other) [NOTE: I seriously cannot find it in the book anywhere… Amazon says 2005]

So, there’s a group of photos that goes around Facebook from time to time that shows a few families and what they eat in a week. Of course, because it’s FB, the pictures don’t have any captions beyond the country, and no further information. Pretty much all it managed to do was make America look bad. Amidst a conversation about what info I wished accompanied them, a friend of mine said “Hey, do you know those are from a book?”
SO I went to the library and got the book.

The setup is pretty simple. There’s a picture of a family, surrounded by all the food they eat in a week’s time. There’s a short feature article about them, age and occupation of all of them, and a list of really important facts like what appliances they had or whether or not they had refrigeration.
Of course they’re going to eat much simpler than Americans when they’re cooking from scratch and can’t store processed crap.

It also talked about how much they spent and where they got everything, and even how they got it home.

I think the most amazing part of this book wasn’t seeing how much more or less somebody consumed, but seeing how differently people eat from one area to another because of societal factors. One person commented once it was weird to buy a week’s worth of food at a time instead of shopping every day. There were discussions of neighborhood markets vs big superstores, of gardening, of schlepping stuff home, of how often they ate meat. Even of eating habits – how many of them were eating on the run vs sitting down for a communal meal in the middle of the afternoon no matter what.
The thing that had most bothered me on FB was the crappy money comparison. “Africa only pays $1 a week to eat, omg!” Except that this book does everyone a solid and shows an amount that wouldn’t count for a stronger currency conversion like that – it showed how much money it would cost to buy the same thing here.

So a picture might tell 1000 words, but it certainly doesn’t tell the whole story, you know?
Let’s take the Aboubakar family from Chad. Mom is 40; the children range from 2-16. They’re refugees with no running water, no refrigeration, just an open cooking fire. Their food budget of $1.23 was for 9 oz. of dried goat meat, 7 oz. of dried fish, pepper and ginger, also both dried, onion and limes, which miraculously weren’t dried, dried red peppers and okra and tomatoes (yes, dried tomatoes)… What the price doesn’t include is 50lbs of rations – sorghum, corn/soy, sugar, salt, oil, pulses (seeds of legumes and the like), and a 77 gallon water ration.

…I think this book was amazing.
A photo, a stat box, a story about the people we’re looking at, statistics about purchasing power parity and the number of McDonalds in the country, and population and alcohol and dozens of other things, photos that make everything seem so rich and vibrant.
But unlike seeing just the photos on social media, such a more interesting and full story. For instance, some photos show more than a week’s worth of stuff if a larger quantity had to be purchased at a time (i.e., a bag of something lasts two weeks), notes about what they provide without cost such as home grown produce. The book also includes favorite recipes from each family. I’m tempted to try one or two.

I think this book is amazing. I think it should be required education in schools and set on everyone’s coffee tables for amazing meaningful discussion.
Definitely a 5 out of 5. I’m going to go buy myself a copy.

Book Review – Sparrow Hill Road

Title: Sparrow Hill Road

Author: Seanan McGuire

Format: Paperback

Year Published: 2014

You’ve heard the stories – a man picks up a girl on the side of the road on prom night, heads off with her somewhere, and it’s only the next morning that he discovers that she’s dead.

Her name is Rose, and she’s been dead for a long time, holding out her thumb and hitching rides, saving what lives she can. She was run off Sparrow Hill Road by a man named Bobby Cross – who needs her death to pay a price for him. Unfortunately, Rose isn’t okay with this idea, and she’s been running to stay out of his clutches for more than sixty years.

Sparrow Hill Road began life as a series of short stories, and causes the somewhat disjointed feel of the book. While there is definitely an overarching plot, and the stories do link together, there is no flow from one to another.

This is one book, though, where I will agree that the first-person POV was necessary – I’m not sure this book could have been told as successfully in third. We need to know what Rose is feeling and thinking and to make it an intimate experience.

I loved all the world-building that took place – dozens of ghost stories, and all with their own mythos, the different ways that they could play out, and still firmly rooted in the stories that are told around campfires. I liked the characters, too, and unlike some other recent books I’ve read, I liked the main character as much as the side characters. Rose is allowed to have flaws, and those flaws get her into trouble sometimes, and she is hurt (or others are hurt) because of it.

Beyond the disjointedness of the book, the biggest issue for me is that the big bad isn’t defeated, though that seemed to be where it was headed. They won a battle against him, but they don’t win the war. Not something I necessarily object to, but I was expecting something bigger at the end and felt let-down when I didn’t get it.

Over all, a 3/5, and I look forward to the sequels.

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