Sunday, August 27, 2017

Summer Reading 2017 36 Questions That Changed My Mind About You


Imagine that you are two 18- or 19-year-olds who have agreed to participate in a psychology study. You are in a room together with 36 questions and you have to answer them honestly to each other. What do you think would happen? In the story, the study is testing to see if a sense of connection can be fostered by this type of communication. Bob and Betty (our test subjects' code names), seem to be such total opposites that they may not make it through all the questions without some sort of violence. It doesn't help that Betty is dealing with a tense situation at home and isn't eating or sleeping well. The fact that Bob seems to be there only for the $40 stipend, and is sarcastic and grouchy, isn't helping. In classic rom-com style, opposites make sparks fly and also make progress on the questions despite all the interruptions and delays that come up. Everything from tropical fish, snow storms, and doodles on a restaurant table play into the final resolution of the question. Can a connection be fostered by requiring two people to be honest with each other?

Based on an actual study that used this type of organization, the story of Bob and Betty (aka Paul and Hildy) will have you laughing, wincing, groaning with despair, and perhaps even suffering from spillage out of tear ducts that are too small. The characters of Hildy's friends Xiu and Max are entertaining as support cast in the drama unfolding between the two test subjects. And I must say that Kong, for a nonverbal fish, manages to add quite a bit to the mood of the story.

A great pick for fans of tales such as "Ten Things I Hate About You," The Only Thing Worse than Me Is You, or YA romantic comedies in general. I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Summer Reading 2017 Invictus


The blurb does such a good job of covering the basics, there isn't much left to say. Imagine a world where time travel is not only possible, but taken for granted. Students can attend the academy and train to be a Recorder (the one who goes out and actually gets video of history), an Historian (who helps prep the Recorder and works on wardrobe design, etc.), or an Engineer (who can run the ship and all the gadgets). And the rest of the populace watches the recordings and mimics the historical wardrobes when they get the chance. After going to work for a black marketeer as the only way to have access to time travel, Far and his crew plunder history for artifacts. One mission it might be a pirate's cutlass, another it might be a rare bottle of wine - but always things that are already considered lost, or not easily missed in their own time.

So, partly it's a good heist tale with high speed chases, split-second timing, and cover stories firmly in place. Then there's the time travel, paradox, alternate universe side of things. And the mystery - where does the enigmatic Eliot come from before they meet her on the Titanic? How is she able to teleport and travel through time without a ship? What is she planning? Friendship, trust, family, loss, redemption, all sorts of themes also work their way into the fabric of the story as a whole. By the time we reach the climax, we feel as if we have lived for hundreds of year with these characters and that the fate of the universe truly does rest with them.

Highly recommended for fans who enjoy historical fiction with a sci-fi twist. "Carpe the hazing mundi!" (And as a Latin major, I have a great appreciation for the Latin words and phrases scattered throughout the story, including the title. Just saying.)

I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Summer Reading 2017 Spinning

Released today. See stores near you!


Tillie Walden's graphic memoir reflects on her time as a competitive figure and synchronized skater, hence the title. But, as she explains in her author's note, it couldn't just be an inside look at the world of skating. Everything else going on in her life affected her skating and her confidence, so she had to weave together multiple story lines about her family, school bullies, friends, and her first girlfriend to make the book complete. The skating comes through as a constant in her life, something that is always there whether the family moves to another state, or she changes schools, or comes out to her family and classmates. 

Skating also serves as a metaphor for life. It can be slippery and dangerous, exhilarating and challenging. Sometimes it's all about appearances - and the wrong color of tights can ruin everything. Other times it is all about discipline and holding on, no matter how hard the fast pace tries to sling you out of formation. And despite the surface perfection you might project, there are all those issues hidden underneath the surface that can throw off your performance.

Readers who appreciated the complexities of Bechdel's Fun Home should give Spinning a try. I received a copy from the publisher for review purposes.

Summer Reading 2017 Cast No Shadow


So, combine one boy born without a shadow, one lonely girl who happens to be a ghost, and what do you get? A love story? Yeah, that's part of it. It's not surprising that they would be attracted; they are both outsiders of a sort and they share similar stories of a mother dying young and unexpectedly, a father finding a new companion after his grief, and how difficult it can be to let someone else into a family. But Greg also has his friend Layla, her new boyfriend Jake (that Greg can't stand), and the antics of Jake's father - who became mayor of their town after Greg's mother died. There is a lot of anger and frustration building up inside this boy, and when it breaks loose, the town is in for a wild ride. Can Greg, Eleanor (the ghost), Layla, Jake (the new boyfriend), and the town's soothsayer really figure out a way to put everything right?

Tapalansky and Espinosa have created an amusing story that also manages to touch on grief, change, growing up, and letting go. Not that the story is a downer, far from it. What story containing the world's biggest hairball, the world's biggest collection of souvenir spoons, and a psychic singalong be a downer? Great for readers who like some spookiness and action mixed in with their star-crossed lovers.

I received a copy of the book from the publisher for review purposes.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Giveaway: Autographed Copy of Mystic Tides

Win an autographed copy of Mystic Tides, first in a new fantasy series inspired by "The Little Mermaid" by Hans Christian Andersen.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Summer Reading 2017 Super Women: Six Scientists Who Changed the World


I am very impressed by all six of the women included in this book. I had heard of Eugenie Clark and Katherine Johnson, but the others were to me. Each of these women had to work around the system that would have kept them from their chosen careers due to their gender, and sometimes their race, too. If you are someone who gets frustrated by stories of inequity and prejudice, then you may need to do some deep breathing while you read Super Women. Eugenie Clark was held for questioning by the FBI due to her Japanese ancestry and lost her place on a research trip to the Philippines because of it. Katherine Johnson and other African American computers had to eat in a segregated dining room at NACA. Gertrude Elion's applications to graduate school were turned down because she was a woman. Marie Tharp wasn't even allowed on ocean research vessels because she was female. Margaret  Burbidge had to pretend to be her husband's research assistant to get access to Mount Wilson Observatory (although she wasn't allowed to use the restroom while she was there). And Florence Hawley Ellis had to fight against the belief that archaeology was men's work and too hot and dirty for women.

It's hard to imagine how they managed to keep their composure and accomplish all they did despite all the obstacles that were placed in their paths. Author Laurie Lawlor details the route that each woman took to make their incredible contribution to science - in drug research, zoology, research mathematics, astronomy, archaeology, and cartography. Quotes from the women, archival photos, and other background information bring their careers and personalities to life for readers. Back matter includes a glossary, source notes, index, and photo credits. A welcome addition to biographies of famous scientists.

I received a review copy from the publisher.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Summer Reading 2017 A Plague of Giants (Seven Kennings, #1)


Fans of Kevin Hearne's Iron Druid stories will be glad to see the start of a new series. While they will recognize Hearne's usual attention to detail and intricate plotting, this time they will be experiencing an entirely new setting. The kennings refer to powers or blessings that individuals from each of the realms may receive after passing through a deadly trial. There are five known kennings, with tales that a sixth and even a seventh may exist but have yet to be found. The five include air, water, earth, fire, and plants. So a person with the air kenning might be able to hold him/herself aloft in the wind and travel without touching the ground, or one with water powers might be able to breathe underwater, etc. The culture of each realm is greatly influenced by these kennings, but it will take all of them to even have a hope of defeating the giants who attack across the continent.

The tale of the invasion and the battles against the giants are told in a unique way by a bard who travels from one realm to another. Along the way he gathers more bits of the story and adds them to his performance, similar in a way to the collected reports and observations of World War Z. The action jumps from one realm to another, with a different key personality as the focus in each area of the conflict. This jumping from scene to scene keeps readers eager to return to favorite characters and their part in the action. In addition to the incredible world building with all the realms, kennings, and cultures, the characters themselves are fascinating and compelling. Whether it is a sedentary scholar caught up in trying to translate the giants' language, or a scout looking for a way to stop the enemy advance, each of them is a distinct and memorable individual.

Readers who enjoy tales of armed combat, mental or supernatural powers, honor and sacrifice should pick up a copy of this book, and then pre-order the next one.

I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Summer Reading 2017 Harley's Little Black Book


Collecting issues #1 - 6, this compilation features stories of super-powered team-ups with some of the biggest names in the DC Universe. Harley Quinn battles drug lords and evildoers while attempting to bond with Wonder Woman. (Can you imagine the two of them as besties trying on each other's clothes?) She has an adventure with Green Lantern after purchasing a red and black power ring online. Harley sees dead people, and so does new friend Zatanna as they try to save some spirits being tormented in the spirit world. Superman and Harley have a no holds barred boxing match to save planet Earth. A trip to Superman's arctic retreat leads to a bit of pilfering that leaves Harley in possession of the ability to travel through dimensions. She manages to visit World War II and meet the Bombshells - Catwoman, Batwoman, Big Barda, Zatanna, and even a version of  herself. Then she finds herself on a spaceship boarded by Lobo and Dawg, before they are forced to spend time on an unknown planet.

Whether you have imagined Harley teamed up with any of these characters, or always thought that she could never be a team player, this series is full of action, humor, and plenty of attitude. Everything from her fan girl collection of super hero items, her discussions with her stuffed beaver, and her insatiable appetite for hot dogs and pizza comes together to round out the depiction of this anti-hero. Not for the very young; there is plenty of language, violence, nudity, and sexual innuendo. Fans who fell for Harley in the movie "Suicide Squad" will enjoy these outings with other DCU names.

I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley.