& Review: Red Rising by Pierce Brown

redrising

Red Rising by Pierce Brown

“Personally, I do not want to make you a man. Men are so very frail. Men break. Men die. No, I’ve always wished to make a god.”

Book Title: Red Rising
Author: Pierce Brown
Pages: 382
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Publisher: Del Rey (Random House)
Date Published: January 28th, 2014
Date Read: February 2nd 2014
Format: Hardcover
Cover Love:
This cover is pretty decent. There are some hokey, cheesy sci-fi/fantasy covers out there. The simplicity of this one is nice in comparison. I can only assume the wing has to do with the genetically altered appearances of the “Gold” members in society.
Given Synopsis:
“Darrow is a Helldiver, one of a thousand men and women who live in the vast caves beneath the surface of Mars. Generations of Helldivers have spent their lives toiling to mine the precious elements that will allow the planet to be terraformed. Just knowing that one day people will be able to walk the surface of the planet is enough to justify their sacrifice. The Earth is dying, and Darrow and his people are the only hope humanity has left.

Until the day Darrow learns that it is all a lie. Mars is habitable – and indeed has been inhabited for generations by a class of people calling themselves the Golds. The Golds regard Darrow and his fellows as slave labour, to be exploited and worked to death without a second thought.

With the help of a mysterious group of rebels, Darrow disguises himself as a Gold and infiltrates their command school, intent on taking down his oppressors from the inside.

But the command school is a battlefield. And Darrow isn’t the only student with an agenda…”
What I’d Add: When beginning this book, I thought this synopsis was pretty spoiler-y! It kind of spells out the losses, disillusionment, and sorrow of the book’s first hundred or so pages. But then a new kind of action picks up, that “command school battlefield” briefly mentioned, but which is the setting for the bulk of the novel. Quite a sly trick, ruining the first portion of the book while only hinting at the bigger picture ahead…
It’s Sorta Like: It’s got definite nods to Ender’s Game and The Hunger Games/Battle Royale (whose plots are incredibly similar). But with a Blade Runner-y twist. And Game of Thrones! There’s definitely something to the warring houses motif in there.
My Grade: B+
Review:
I described this book to someone as “Ender’s Game meets The Hunger Games with a really, really angry narrator.” It’s got space games, it’s got a violent competition between teenagers (who don’t act at all like teenagers, but I’ll touch on that later), and it’s got anti-government/authority figure feelings all over the place.

I’m wary of a book with such hype behind it. As soon as someone says “it’s the next insert-wildy-popular-franchise-here,” I bristle. Even the cover of Red Rising says “Ender, Katniss, and now Darrow” (comparing this book to those two Big Name Series I mentioned above). Add to that, several major magazines have pegged it as worthy – Entertainment Weekly, People, etc. And usually when I read books lauded like that, I end up being majorly disappointed. The Bone Season is a notable example.

In the span of the first 100 pages or so of Red Rising, I resented it. Darrow’s voice is overly dramatic and incredibly angry. The whole fight the machine, stick it to the man, I’m a downtrodden peon of society is already a pretty tired literary trope nowadays. And Darrow takes it to an acidic level. He’s never happy in this book. Even when he has a pleasant moment, he drags himself down and shakes his fist at the world. I became frustrated with him and the formulaic progression the plot seemed to be taking early on.

It’s been a while since a book changed my mind so drastically.

The thing with Darrow’s voice is that it becomes so immersive. The plot puts Darrow in a situation where his overwhelming anger makes more sense, where he can put it to better use than floundering around elsewhere on Mars. The action gets faster, the characters steadily more compelling (I do hope that secondary characters get more round in the next installments, though. I want to know more about them). I gobbled up the book once it got to a certain point because I really didn’t know who was going to do what next. My complaints about formula were, for the most part, addressed.

This situation Darrow is thrust into is a fight-to-the-win (not necessarily death, although some do not survive), majorly bloody capture the flag battle. And it lasts years. The houses have to survive through winters without food and summers without water if they cannot find or steal these resources. First, the members of each “house” fight to be the head of their respective houses (they have to fight to get into a house in the first place, but that’s another story), then they must fight the other houses to claim flags and slaves (who become slaves by being sealed on the forehead with the staff of the flags). Brown is skilled at writing action scenes, and there are plenty once the fighting gets good. And it’s well balanced with political agenda: the people vying for rule within the houses backstab and make backdoor deals with one another. It’s a veritable roller coaster. The winners of this war game are given top picks of sponsors for the next phase of school. It’s an insanely cool idea that Brown pulls off really well. The world-building is awesome.

Darrow’s voice, and the voice and actions of his fellow characters do seem a little advanced for their age. Yes, I get that they’re in a different society, where people live shorter lives and thus sixteen-year-olds take on more mature roles and ideas, but I mostly imagined Darrow as a twenty-something going on thirty for most of the book. This didn’t necessarily harm my image of him, though, so I guess no harm done.

And Darrow himself is somewhat of a Mary Sue, a hero who can do no wrong. In anything. Ever. This seems to bother other readers much more than it does me, but I’ve never had too much of an issue with Mary Sue heroes. I tend to notice the adventure and action rather than the exact measure of flaw a hero possesses. And really, Darrow screws up a lot – he just miraculously recovers and learns vital lessons much faster than anyone else. This sounds like the same thing, but I like to think that it’s different. Work with me here.

I found Red Rising to be an interesting, well-written start to a promising series. It is unique in voice and compelling in plot. I recommend it for major fans of dystopian fiction, like myself 🙂 The second installment, Golden Son, is slated for release January of 2015 (SO FAR AWAY!)

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& Review: This is How You Die edited by Ryan North

This is How You Die Anthology

This is How You Die Anthology

Book Title: This is How You Die: Stories of the Inscrutable, Infallible, Inescapable Machine of Death
Author: Edited by Ryan North, Matthew Bennardo, and David Malki
Pages: 475
Genre: Science Fiction/Fantasy
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Date Published: July 16th, 2013
Date Read: March 14th, 2014
Format: Paperback
Cover Love: That title just grabs you! Bold, blocky font, already a fascinating concept before you even read the book blurb, and then all these silhouettes of people facing their imminent doom. Love it for an anthology: different characters/silhouettes = different stories/fates.
Given Synopsis:
“THIS IS HOW YOU DIE
Stories of the Inscrutable, Infallible, Inescapable Machine of Death

The machines started popping up around the world. The offer was tempting: with a simple blood test, anyone could know how they would die. But the machines didn’t give dates or specific circumstances-just a single word or phrase. DROWNED, CANCER, OLD AGE, CHOKED ON A HANDFUL OF POPCORN. And though the predictions were always accurate, they were also often frustratingly vague. OLD AGE, it turned out, could mean either dying of natural causes, or being shot by an elderly, bedridden man in a botched home invasion. The machines held onto that old-world sense of irony in death: you can know how it’s going to happen, but you’ll still be surprised when it does.

This addictive anthology–sinister, witty, existential, and fascinating–collects the best of the thousands of story submissions the editors received in the wake of the success of the first volume, and exceeds the first in every way.”
What I’d Add: Hits the nail on the head. This anthology is alllll that (anybody else think of the Nickelodeon show? Anyone?)
It’s Sorta Like: It’s an anthology, so I can’t really pinpoint a franchise or book or TV show that it is most like. The stories truly run a full gamut of genres and tones: farce, horror, medieval fantasy, etc.
My Grade: A
Review:
I need to start reading more anthologies, if most of them are as interesting and all-around excellent as this one!

In all 31 stories, there were only a couple I felt indifferent about. So that’s a pretty good track record! I loved the different genres and different takes on the “Machine of Death.” And most authors incorporated a twist, a different interpretation of the Machine’s prediction that changed the character’s perspective and/or how they lived their life and dealt with their prediction. I loved getting to experience twist after twist, seeing how people and characters interpreted this concept.

In fact, there are so many interesting, well-written gems in this collection, if I reviewed every one, this post would be a mile long. So I shall address only a few, but trust me: all of them are worth reading!

“Zephyr” by George Page III explores the impact of this machine on the military and soldiers going into battle, knowing the very second they are most likely to die. They are separated into two units: the Ephemerals (those whose death time is imminent) and the Invincibles (those whose death is still far off). The action was compelling and well-written, and the twist was chilling as well as interesting, opening up doors for the author as well as the reader.

“Conflagration” by D.L.E Roger tells the story of a faltering marriage, where both halves are involved in Machine of Death predictions. One horrible realization shifts the story, and the complex relationships between characters, developed wonderfully within the short scope of the story, really deepens the impact of this machine in a modern world.

“Your Choice” by Richard Salter is a CHOOSE YOUR OWN ADVENTURE STORY! I mean, how cool is that?!

“Not Applicable” by Kyle Schoenfeld is the first published piece by this author, and I hope this guy writes a book because I love his writing style (another perk to anthologies – you discover so many new authors to explore and enjoy!). What happens when people start getting predictions that say “Not Applicable”? What happens when you discover the horrible truth behind those predictions, and need to say goodbye to everything you know? (Sorry, but it’s hard to summarize this story without spoiling anything!)

And there are still so many other great stories! “Screaming, Crying, Alone, and Afraid” (Daliso Chaponda) is what would happen if the TV show Criminal Minds had access to a Machine of Death. “Apitoxin” (John Takis) is a period perfect Sherlock Holmes mystery…you know, if Sherlock found out this machine existed. “Toxoplasmosis of the Brain…” (Gord Sellar) explores the machine’s impact on the AIDS epidemic. And I’m holding back from adding more. 

If you enjoy Sci-Fi/Fantasy short stories at all, if this concept sounds at all interesting, go out and get this and read it and love it. I know you will!

& Review: Landline by Rainbow Rowell

Landline by Rainbow Rowell

Landline by Rainbow Rowell

Book Title: Landline
Author: Rainbow Rowell
Pages: 320
Genre: Literary Fiction
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Date Published: July 8th, 2014
Date Read: March 21st, 2014
Format: ARC! Love ’em
Cover Love: I’m a big fan of simple, graphic covers. The giant phone is great. I love the font of the title. But I’m not a huge fan of when the author’s name is larger than the title.
Given Synopsis:
“Georgie McCool knows her marriage is in trouble. That it’s been in trouble for a long time. She still loves her husband, Neal, and Neal still loves her, deeply — but that almost seems besides the point now.

Maybe that was always besides the point.

Two days before they’re supposed to visit Neal’s family in Omaha for Christmas, Georgie tells Neal that she can’t go. She’s a TV writer, and something’s come up on her show; she has to stay in Los Angeles. She knows that Neal will be upset with her — Neal is always a little upset with Georgie — but she doesn’t expect to him to pack up the kids and go home without her.

When her husband and the kids leave for the airport, Georgie wonders if she’s finally done it. If she’s ruined everything.

That night, Georgie discovers a way to communicate with Neal in the past. It’s not time travel, not exactly, but she feels like she’s been given an opportunity to fix her marriage before it starts . . .

Is that what she’s supposed to do?

Or would Georgie and Neal be better off if their marriage never happened?”
What I’d Add: Maybe it’s just me, but I was under the impression, after reading this synopsis, that every time Georgie uses this phone, she reaches Neal at a different point in their relationship. This is not the case. She talks to him at a fixed point in their relationship when they weren’t talking, and weren’t in the same city. I don’t know why, but I felt the need to clarify this. Also, that synopsis seems SUPER melodramatic.
It’s Sorta Like: The writing style and some of the emotional turmoil reminds me a little of Jodi Picoult’s writing style. I thought the plot would be more Time Traveler’s Wife-y than it was, so that was a little disappointing.
My Grade: C-
Review:
I’m actually glad that I haven’t read any of Rowell’s other novels yet. It made me go into this one unbiased (her YA works are on my to-read list, however).

I zoomed through it; it’s an easy, accessible, one might say “fluffy” read. The characters are, for the most part, unique and memorable.

But I have to say, I wasn’t crazy about it.

Georgie herself is a Hot Mess Character. She spends most of the novel in outfits of questionable cleanliness, has the World’s Most Annoying Cellphone in that it cannot work unless she has it plugged in (thus the magic landline phone), and waffles between “doing her job” (aka NOT doing her job), and worrying incessantly about her absent husband. Somehow, she’s just likable enough for me not to want to wring her neck over all the stupid things she thinks and does. It’s good that Rowell includes flashbacks to instances when Georgie was NOT a Hot Mess. It made me relate to and like her a little bit more.

So, the other half to our Hot Mess Protagonist: her husband, Neal. The Neal we most get to know is Past Neal. And there are two Past Neals: the Neal who speaks to Georgie on the landline, the first time they were separated, right before they married, and the Neal Georgie first gets to know, told in flashback as Georgie meets him and starts dating him.

Here’s my problem with Neal: he’s not unbelievably likable (this is not to say that every character in every novel should be likable in some form. Boy, would books be boring if that were the case). I would have rooted for Georgie and Neal more if Neal had shown some tenderness and even tact for half of his scenes. He’s standoffish, he’s flaky, he’s brusque. The only sweet moments we see with him and Georgie are moments he’s half asleep and/or trying to sleep with her. I can’t relate to him or to his and Georgie’s relationship/marriage. 

Something else: Georgie’s job is the reason she doesn’t accompany her husband and two children to Omaha for Christmas. She has the opportunity to pitch this sitcom that she has created with her best friend to a bigwig in the TV industry, so she stays behind to write the required four episodes. Buuuuuut: we never know what this sitcom is about. I couldn’t tell you who the characters are, what the premise is, what makes this show so different from every other project Georgie’s been a part of. This is supposed to be really important to this character. I want it to be important to me too, but I’m kept out of it. So much of their script writing time is described as “Scott pitched a joke,” “I wrote on the whiteboard,” “we started from scratch on this episode we’d been working on” (these are not actual quotes, but they’re essentially the action that happens when Georgie tries to work on Passing Time (that’s the name of the sitcom, also telling me nothing about the show she’s supposedly devoted to)). I want to root for Georgie. I think I want this show of hers to succeed and for her not going to Omaha to mean something. But I know nothing about her work, this supposedly vital part of her.

The book ended clumsily and abruptly for me. It actually built up very well. I was turning pages rapidly to see what would happen. When something finally did happen, the book ends with little satisfaction. I don’t actually know how these characters are going to act after the closing scenes of this book (I don’t want to spoil anything, so I’ll leave it at that).

Landline has some solid, funny characters. Rowell is great at dialogue, she knows how to craft a scene, and as a whole, the book is, at a base level, enjoyable. But the main characters are frustrating. I feel like I’m not let in on some secret for them: Georgie’s job, Neal’s appeal, etc. I look forward to reading Rowell’s other work. Hopefully they will shine differently than Landline.

& Review: The Flight of the Silvers by Daniel Price

The Flight of the Silvers by Daniel Price

The Flight of the Silvers by Daniel Price

Book Title: The Flight of the Silvers
Author: Daniel Price
Pages: 608
Genre: Science Fiction/Fantasy
Publisher: Blue Rider Press
Date Published: February 4th, 2014
Date Read: February 20th, 2014
Format: Hardcover, borrowed from work
Cover Love: (Those little rainbow people in the picture there are actually silver in real life). I actually love this cover. It’s really eye-catching, mostly because the silver of the figures can glare in the overhead lights and BLIND you.
Given Synopsis:
Without warning, the world comes to an end for Hannah and Amanda Given. The sky looms frigid white. The electricity falters. Airplanes everywhere crash to the ground. But the Givens are saved by mysterious strangers, three fearsome and beautiful beings who force a plain silver bracelet onto each sister’s wrist. Within moments, the sky comes down in a crushing sheet of light and everything around them is gone.

Shielded from the devastation by their silver adornments, the Givens suddenly find themselves elsewhere, a strange new Earth where restaurants move through the air like flying saucers and the fabric of time is manipulated by common household appliances.

Soon Hannah and Amanda are joined by four other survivors from their world—a mordant cartoonist, a shy teenage girl, a brilliant young Australian, and a troubled ex-prodigy. Hunted by enemies they never knew they had and afflicted with temporal abilities they never wanted, the sisters and their companions begin a cross-country journey to find the one man who can save them—before time runs out.”
What I’d Add: The events described in said synopsis ^ are all pretty surface level stuff. Most of those events happen in the very beginning! I would have thrown in some kind of mention of the twists, the red herrings, the Who Do We Trust theme (poor “Silvers” can never tell who is on their side), etc.
It’s Sorta Like: It’s a little X-men-y (special powers, people discovering this factor while in a school of sorts), and there’s LOTS of time bending, a hint of Groundhog Day in a sense. Also reminds me of the TV show Fringe.
My Grade: B+
Review:
I’m doing this a lot lately: finishing really awesome, new books that are the first books in a series…that hasn’t been finished yet (See also: Red Rising). 

UGH. Flight of the Silvers is SO GOOD. It suffers a little from its huge and sprawling cast of characters, but I can appreciate the wide scope of the narrative and its people.

For example…the following is a list of the people you need to keep straight by the story’s end:

  1. The Silvers themselves: A group of people who were given bracelets to escape the apocalypse of their Earth, harvested, in a sense, for their abilities (I liked that they were an array of ages. It lent variety to their voices). There are five (sometimes more) separate points of view in this group.
  2. The medical team who house the Silvers when they first arrive in AltAmerica.
  3. Another group of people with abilities who attack the Silvers multiple times throughout the novel. Their names and abilities, especially in scenes where they are in close proximity with The Silvers, are sometimes tough to separate.
  4. The all-powerful, alien looking super race family – the Pelletiers – who act as a deus ex machina sometimes…but they’re also pretty spooky and dangerous. I like that they don’t just pop up. They pop up and drop some spooky knowledge. I get the feeling they’re integral to the story, and not just there to rescue The Silvers.
  5. Then there are the government officials chasing The Silvers down because they tend to break a lot of laws when they’re out in public. This group is led by a memorable, dreadlocked tough-cookie-cop kind of woman, but add to her the names of people she orders around and it gets hard to keep everyone straight.

SO. That’s a lot of people! That’s a lot of backstories, morals, relationships, and attributes to flesh out. Some are developed better than others. The Silvers are pretty well explained, although I think the two sisters who open the novel, Hannah and Amanda Given, are paid attention to the most. This is definitely a book you have to pay attention to. I have a feeling that it would be difficult to drop for a week and then pick up again. Luckily, this book is so well written, and the plot so action packed (gotta love an author who can write an action scene!), that it’s not difficult to demolish this thick monster of a book in a short amount of time.

I would like to see The Silvers grow and fill out more as characters. In the grand scheme of this grand novel, they are the ones the reader gets closest too, but sometimes it doesn’t feel like quite enough. The other groups of people you have to keep track of hurts this goal (the goal, as it is in most successful fiction, is to understand – even if we don’t enjoy them – round main characters). Because you’re so busy keeping track of these other people, the semi-large cast of main characters don’t feel so familiar by the novel’s conclusion. Hopefully in the second installment (The Song of the Orphans as it is currently being advertised, due out sometime in 2015 – UGH THE WAITING!) gets us a little closer to our Silvers.

I’m anxious how all of the parallel storylines, the warping of time, and dead characters that keep cropping up again and again (I’m not spoiling anything when I say that a man named Judge is killed before we ever really get to know him, yet somehow remains integral to several character’s backstories and futures) will pan out, but I will most certainly tag along for the ride that is this series!

& Review: Graduates in Wonderland by Jessica Pan and Rachel Kapelke-Dale

graduatesinwonderland“I think I live almost too much in the present moment, because everywhere else I’ve lived feels so incredibly far away that it now feels made up.” -Jess to Rachel

Book Title: Graduates in Wonderland
Author: Jessica Pan and Rachel Kapelke-Dale
Pages: 289
Genre: Biography
Publisher: Gotham
Date Published: May 6th, 2014
Date Read: May 14th, 2014
Format: Paperback
Cover Love: I do really like the whole compilation of the cover: the fonts of the title, and subtitles, and the background photo (taken by photographer Tamara Staples, who has a blog right here on WordPress!)
Given Synopsis: “ Fast friends since they met at Brown University during their freshman year, Jessica Pan and Rachel Kapelke-Dale vowed to keep in touch after their senior year through in-depth—and brutally honest—weekly e-mails. After graduation, Jess packs up everything she owns and moves to Beijing on a whim, while Rachel heads to New York to work for an art gallery and to figure out her love life. Each spends the next few years tumbling through adulthood and reinventing themselves in various countries, including France, China, and Australia. Through their messages from around the world, they swap tales of teaching classes of military men, running a magazine, and flirting in foreign languages, along with the hard stuff: from harrowing accidents to breakups and breakdowns.

Reminiscent of Sloan Crosley’s essays and Lena Dunham’s Girls, Graduates in Wonderland is an intimate, no-holds-barred portrait of two young women as they embark upon adulthood”
What I’d Add: The synopsis makes it sound more career-focused and living abroad happiness. There’s quite a bit more guy-chasing and musing than those other topics. More on that in a bit.
It’s Sorta Like: I’d disagree with the Sloane Crosley comparison in the blurb. I loved Crosley’s first book – I Was ToldThere’d Be Cake – and this book, while good, is not as intentionally funny/witty/lighthearted as that. It is more akin to Girls: sometimes whiny and frustrating, but overall very relateable.
My Grade: C
Review:
   One of my best friends LOVES Alice in Wonderland. I remember going to an Alice in Wonderland-themed murder mystery party for one of her birthdays (I was “The Witness,” and the Cheshire Cat did it. I don’t remember who he killed though…some Witness I am). This same best friend is also graduating from college in a month, and the moment I heard that this book would be published I thought of her.

But I had to read it first 😉

Graduates in Wonderland follows Rachel and Jess, best friends from college, as they try to sort out careers, dating lives, and living situations in several different countries. Their situation and emotional turmoil feels very prescient to those of us who (ahem) have graduated college and are still (ahem) figuring things out. Not that any of us here have ANY idea what that is like.

The two post-grads are supportive of each other, witty, and friendly. They experience moments of confusion, joy, and turmoil together in a way that is very relateable and kind. And I think people years before or after their senior year of college can appreciate this friendship and these feelings.

But, and far be it for me to condemn boy-craziness or stick up my nose at forever analyzing the complexities of love (I have a celebrity boyfriend board on Pinterest, for God’s sake), most of the e-mails these friends zip back and forth are about the boys they meet and what it means when he says that or does that, or why can’t I like him as much as he likes me? (and vice versa) Rachel and Jess spend a majority of their expansive e-mail relationship dwelling on these topics. In practice, hearing from your best friend gushing about her guy and asking questions about your love life can be nice. Wonderful, even. But it makes for a repetitive, sometimes cloying read.

And far be it (again) for me to complain about complaining, but there is a lot of despairing about jobs that just don’t feel right and roommates with whom they aren’t very close with anymore. And again, I feel like a hypocrite because, uh, that’s what friends are for: to listen to you whine and complain and still love and support you at the end of the day. But the green envious monster in me goes, “You’re in China/Paris/Australia! STOP COMPLAINING!” Alas, no matter where you are there is something to complain about. But reading about it in several e-mails lost its appeal and relatability (a real word?)

The utter confusion and lack of direction that these women experience is very easy to relate to. But this concept falls a bit flat: a book of hundreds of personal e-mails, detailing the sometimes repetitive road to finding yourself and figuring out who you’d like to be with comes off as a little pushy.

Book Gifts for Graduates

Hey all! (or all five of my followers so far – hello!)

So graduation is upon us. I know at least four people graduating from college in about a month. And if you’re hesitant to just dole out cash or gift cards (which is completely and totally acceptable and wonderful – speaking from experience, they’re coming from a broke college kid life to a broke graduate’s life. Except for those lucky few who managed to find employment before they graduated. Jerks), then might I suggest some awesome books?

Note: most of these are applicable to college graduates (the career books mostly), but high school graduates could dig them too. If you want more suggestions/more apt suggestions, drop me a message or comment below!

Inspirational

Words to give you pause – famous speeches of advice to graduates.

This is Water by David Foster Wallacewearsunscreenmakegoodart

This is Water by David Foster Wallace:
The speech titled the same was a commencement speech for Kenyon College in 2005. It was recorded, then posted on YouTube and became a HUGE hit (The kinetic typography used in the video is AMAZING – watch the 9 minute video here and be changed). The book version has the full text of the recording, arranged plainly on the page. But it makes the message that much more impactful. Plus it was written by a famous author – perhaps one your grad is a fan of?

Wear Sunscreen by Mary Schmich:
It’s a similar case for Schmich’s advice. Although it was posted online in 1997 as an article and became hugely popular, for a time everyone thought Kurt Vonnegut had written it instead. She was later correctly identified, and the advice is still apt and touching today.

Make Good Art by Neil Gaiman:
A commencement speech for University of the Arts in Philadelphia, Gaiman’s speech is obviously tailored toward graduates looking for a career in the arts, but the advice is applicable for many reasons and desired occupations. Best quote? “Husband runs off with a politician? Make good art. Leg crushed and then eaten by mutated boa constrictor? Make good art. IRS on your trail? Make good art. Cat exploded? Make good art.”

Some other great commencement speeches are assembled together here. Some of which have been made into books!

CEO Advice

Books written by CEO’s/Presidents of famous companies – advice on management, being a contributing employee, as well as insight into these unconventional workplaces

Creativity Inc. by girlbossStart Something That Matters by Blake Mycoskie

Creativity Inc. by Ed Catmull:
Written by the co-founder of Pixar Animation Studios, this book is marketed as a Business/Management book, but it also has clues on how to be a good employee. Plus, it’s an awesome look into Pixar and Disney as companies and how they run things (apparently a rare look – they’re like the mafia, those companies…)

#GIRLBOSS by Sophia Amoruso:
CEO of Nasty Gal, a cool vintage clothing and shoe website. It’s an unconventional rise to fame for Amoruso, and she has an unconventional management style. For that “cool” graduate on your list. Or maybe one who just likes vintage clothing 😉

Start Something That Matters by Blake Mycoskie:
The guy who started a little company called TOMs Shoes. If you know a graduate already involved or looking to be involved in the charity/non-profit sector, this is a solid choice. Also good for those looking to start something completely new – entrepreneurs (boy, is that a weird word…)! Plus, when you buy a copy, a book gets donated to a child in need, following TOMs “One for One” policy.

Funny Stuff

Want to subtly give advice to your graduate? Give them a collection of hilarious essays or practical life tips peppered with nice little pencil drawings!

Adulting by Kelly Williams Browndontworryitgetsworsefckiminmytwentiesgraduatesinwonderland

Adulting by Kelly Williams Brown:
I LOVE this book! Practical advice delivered cheekily, and it’s GOOD advice. I got a copy for myself and a friend who claimed she was having a “quarter-life crisis.” She’s incorporating some of the advice into her financial life now and says it’s going well!

Don’t Worry, It Gets Worse by Alida Nugent:
Drunken adventures post-college life. That’s the summary of this book in a sentence. Written by a Tumblr blogger with a nice sense of wit, this is a collection of essays immediately following Nugent post-college-graduation, through a scary place called Craigslist, and that fickle friend called money.

F*ck! I’m In My Twenties by Emma Koenig:
I mean, a title doesn’t get any better than that! Along with the most popular posts from her blog of the same name, Koenig includes graphs and checklists in her stories – you gotta love a flowchart!

Graduates in Wonderland by Jessica Pan and Rachel Kapelke-Dale:
As I’m writing this post, I am also reading this book (not simultaneously – haven’t mastered that particular brand of multi-tasking!) before I give it to my best friend who just happens to be graduating college next month AND is obsessed with Alice in Wonderland. Perfect match. This is a series of real-life e-mails between two friends who go very different directions after college, namely China and New York. It’s a great testament to friendship, honesty (brutal honesty, sometimes. Mostly about a guy the other friend wants to date), and the complete black hole that post college years can feel like.

Career

DISCLAIMER: I hesitate to recommend these books, simply because it can be a slap in the face, as if you’re saying to your graduate: “Hey! You don’t have a job! YOU BETTER FIND ONE SOON! AND IT BETTER BE THE RIGHT ONE!” So proceed with caution. Know your graduate real well before you put one of these in their hands. Not everyone is a personality quiz junkie like me…

dowhatyouarestrengthsfinderwhatcolorparachute

Do What You Are by Paul D. Tieger & Barbara Barron-Tieger:
A huge tome outlining career advice by Personality Type. Take the Myers-Briggs Personality Quiz (outlines whether you’re Extroverted or Introverted, Thinking or Feeling, Judging or Perceiving, and take in information by Sense or Intuition), then read what occupations prove most rewarding, your typical strengths and weaknesses, etc.

Strengthsfinder 2.0 by Tom Rath:
Strengthsfinder is a 200+ online questionnaire that tells you five  of your core leadership strengths. I’ve taken it twice for various leadership roles in campus organizations, and it’s proven very helpful to see what areas you are successful in and what roles you’re more suited to take over. The book outlines the 34 strengths and what makes them mesh together, what areas each strength falls into, etc.

What Color is Your Parachute? 2014 by Richard N. Bolles:
Oh, the Parachute book. Re-released every year since the 1920’s, this is the quintessential career book. You take a series of quizzes, listen to Mr. Bolles talk about finding your passion, your message, and fill out what your ideal job would look like (as well as desired/required salary).

& Review: The Forever Watch by David Ramirez

The Forever Watch by David Ramirez

The Forever Watch by David Ramirez

Book Title: The Forever Watch
Author: David Ramirez
Pages: 336
Genre: Science Fiction/Fantasy
Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books
Date Published: April 22nd, 2014
Date Read: May 1st, 2014
Format: Hardcover, borrowed from work
Cover Love: Mehhhh…it doesn’t stand out a whole lot from the other Sci-Fi/Fantasy books out there. They’re all futuristic landscapes and jewel tones. Or dragons and pastels. Or a combination of the two. The picture of that city is beautiful, and does give a nice glimpse into how Ramirez pictures cities on the ship – The Noah. But the book flap made me want to read this book. Not the cover.
Given Synopsis:

“All that is left of humanity is on a thousand-year journey to a new planet aboard one ship, The Noah, which is also carrying a dangerous serial killer…

As a City Planner on the Noah, Hana Dempsey is a gifted psychic, economist, hacker and bureaucrat and is considered “mission critical.” She is non-replaceable, important, essential, but after serving her mandatory Breeding Duty, the impregnation and birthing that all women are obligated to undergo, her life loses purpose as she privately mourns the child she will never be permitted to know.

When Policeman Leonard Barrens enlists her and her hacking skills in the unofficial investigation of his mentor’s violent death, Dempsey finds herself increasingly captivated by both the case and Barrens himself. According to Information Security, the missing man has simply “Retired,” nothing unusual. Together they follow the trail left by the mutilated remains. Their investigation takes them through lost dataspaces and deep into the uninhabited regions of the ship, where they discover that the answer may not be as simple as a serial killer after all.

What they do with that answer will determine the fate of all humanity in this thrilling page turner.”
What I’d Add: There’s a lot of Government Grubbing also – complaining about abuse of power, wondering if ignorance truly is bliss, etc. It’s a tired sci-fi/dystopian theme, but Ramirez does it creative justice (more on that in a bit). Hana also develops a lot of time and attention to a piece of technology she creates and grows to help her investigate the murders. Her “Monster” (which develops many names throughout the narrative) is a key part of the story.

And the search for this serial killer is just the tip of the iceberg that is The Noah and it’s mission (oooh, ominous!)
It’s Sorta Like: Errmmmm…probably a bunch of stuff I haven’t read yet. Invention and technology-nerdiness plus anti-government grumblings plus police investigation. And dystopian worldbuilding.
My Grade: B+
Review:
The Forever Watch  tears me in two a little. It has some nagging flaws. It has big parts that drag on and make it a little difficult to keep engaged. Its characters are hard to get to know, and the dialogue can be glaringly poor at times.

But there are books whose ending completely ruins the narrative. You’re reading along, completely content, enjoying it even, and the ending stops so suddenly you’re flipping pages to see where the rest of the story is, or characters die that you feel are completely unnecessary (the epitome of this for me is My Name is Memory by Ann Brasheres – loved the book,  completely hated the ending, which ruined the ENTIRE story for me). For The Forever Watch, the exact opposite is true.

Not in that the whole first part of the book sucked. It was decent. The world of The Noah is set up wonderfully. There isn’t a waffling of will-they won’t-they get together between the main character and her male companion (pretty refreshing after pretty much every. TV. Show. Out. There. I can tell who will get together with who by episode two – WHY drag it out until season 3?!). I loved the idea of buying other people’s memories as entertainment, like you would buy a Netflix subscription or watch a YouTube video. It’s both a creepy concept and yet totally believable as a vice people in the future would develop. The Implant that every citizen gets as a way to hone their Abilities (superior physical prowess, nicknames “Bruisers,” and “Reading,” and “Writing,” Abilities that allow people to read minds and transfer thoughts and feelings to others) is also intriguing, and a nice addition to the complex world aboard the ship.

But holes develop. The dialogue can be patchy. Characters speak in a certain dialect (dropping the n’s off words, for example), and then in a few pages have no distinguishing speech patterns – they suddenly sound like everyone else. A gay character is somewhat stereotypical: makeover and sex-focused. At one point he actually utters the word “Dah-ling.” It made me cringe (not that those people don’t exist. I know some and I think they’re fabulous).

The hardest bit for me was accepting all the technical-nerdery (new word!) that peppered every few pages. Hana is a technology whiz. She specializes in creating computer programs, in hacking and hiding her work from people who would penalize her for it. And she tells the reader her every. Single. Step. All the edits she makes, all the programs she writes and firewalls and synapses she adds…and whatnot. I can’t remember half of the things she does because it flew right over my head. An instance or two of this would have been great. It gives a nice insight into the work she as a heroine/protagonist can do. But it becomes so frequent. Great swathes of the technical speak could have – and should have – been cut. Perhaps they would make sense to a person more technologically savvy than I, but it really bogged down my reading. I read it but absorbed nothing.

Those last hundred pages or so, though. They were spectacular. The way I mark a book as good, great, AMAAAZING, is when I think of it long after I finish it. If I feel deeply for the characters and care about their fate when the narrative ends, the author has done his or her job. And The Forever Watch ratchets up the action, the tension, the stakes for the characters in that homestretch (and by homestretch, I really mean the last third of the novel – it has a nice, strong arc). Everything comes to a head. You switch the side you are rooting for. Multiple times. You sit your butt on that couch and read for hours to see how it will end. And your heart will break on the final page (oh, and there’s literally a twist in the last three pages. And it works!). I am not ashamed to say that I cried at the end of this book. Crying (usually) means something has been done right – you’re feeling something for a written work. I felt something for the characters, for their circumstances, their fate.

I so wish I could give this book an enthusiastic A – put it on my Favorites shelf, loudly promote it to everyone I know. But a great ending does not necessarily a wonderful book make. It does make a great book, which The Forever Watch is, despite it’s knobby flaws. I’m still recommending it – as long as you think you can stick it out, because that ending is worth it.

 

& Review: Astonish Me by Maggie Shipstead

astonishme

Astonish Me by Maggie Shipstead

“Ètonnez-moi, Diaghilev had said to his dancers in the Ballets Russes. Astonish Me.”

Book Title: Astonish Me
Author: Maggie Shipstead
Pages: 257
Genre: Literary Fiction
Publisher: Knopf
Date Published: April 8th, 2014
Date Read: May 8th, 2014
Format: Hardcover, borrowed from work
Cover Love: I like the font…and the ballet ribbon is a nice touch. It’s very obviously catering toward the “chick lit,” demographic, but then again, I don’t think many of my guy friends have a hankering to read a novel about ballet…Overall a take it or leave it cover for me. The title is really what drew me in. It’s commanding, bossy. Very in line with the teachers and rigors of ballet in the story.
Given Synopsis: “From the author of the widely acclaimed debut novel Seating Arrangements, winner of the Dylan Thomas Prize: a gorgeously written, fiercely compelling glimpse into the passionate, political world of professional ballet and its magnetic hold over two generations.

Astonish Me is the irresistible story of Joan, a ballerina whose life has been shaped by her relationship with the world-famous dancer Arslan Ruskov, whom she helps defect from the Soviet Union to the United States. While Arslan’s career takes off in New York, Joan’s slowly declines, ending when she becomes pregnant and decides to marry her longtime admirer, a PhD student named Jacob. As the years pass, Joan settles into her new life in California, teaching dance and watching her son, Harry, become a ballet prodigy himself. But when Harry’s success brings him into close contact with Arslan, explosive secrets are revealed that shatter the delicate balance Joan has struck between her past and present.

In graceful, inimitable prose, Shipstead draws us into an extraordinary world, and the lives of her vivid and tempestuous characters. Filled with intrigue, brilliant satire, and emotional nuance, Astonish Me is a superlative follow-up to Shipstead’s superb debut”
What I’d Add:  Secondary characters also get their chance to shine a little: Harry’s childhood friend, Chloe plays a big part in the book. Chloe’s parents, and Joan’s former roommate Elaine all have storylines that run parallel to the others.
It’s Sorta Like: Those ballet documentaries you see in your Netflix queue: First Position is the one that comes to mind for me (it’s an awesome documentary – go watch it!)
My Grade: A-
Review:
It doesn’t surprise me that this book spawned from a short story – “Battements” – that Shipstead was encouraged to expand. Every chapter reads like a short story loosely tied together to create a vast, expansive narrative. Great gaps of time separate the chapters, so that Joan (our main character) is newly married in one, and then with a seven year old in the next. This results in some great moments – Shipstead writes beautifully in this book (and I can only speak for this book because I haven’t read her other novel, Seating Arrangements) – but also leaves a gap between reader and character. Most of the characters: ballerinas, instructors, and children we only see growing up in spurts, are detached. They are disciplined, tightly wound. They are aloof, and so we as the reader, feel a little aloof from them.

BUT…I think this works! For a novel set in the strict structure of the ballet world, the isolation and lone-wolf feelings the ballerinas and their families feel seems normal and appropriate. When I think ballet, I think I could never do that. And/or Good lord that looks like a lot of work. But boy, does it look amazing. A ballerina’s dedication and skill intimidates me. I both envy the beauty they can create and am thankful that I don’t have to put my body through that pain, that rigor (I told you – I’m inherently lazy!). That’s what you feel that these characters experience – they’re exhausted having to create the illusion of effortless-ness. They keep each other at a distance (no one is particularly close in any of their relationships: mother and son, teacher and student, husband and wife, friends…), and don’t allow themselves to be particularly emotional.

Shipstead’s writing does that instead. Boy, can this author paint a picture, sum up feeling, describe a dance  so that it is clear and lovely to read. I can’t imagine describing a ballet in prose. I mean, I am not a ballerina (I don’t think those two months of ballet classes when I was six count…), nor have I been to many ballets (one in total: The Nutcracker around Christmastime last year), but it’s not unlike writing an action scene: all that movement, the steps and the visual picture a dancer’s body creates, it’s so hard to coordinate and make clear! I am to Shipstead what I am to those darn ballerinas: envious and exhausted just thinking about the task she’s seemingly so effortlessly executed.

It’s a beautiful, but not touch-y feel-y novel. If you like short stories, an episodic feel to your novels, and/or well-executed “flowery” language (negative connotation, I know), then Astonish Me will do exactly what it’s title promises (oh man, see what I did there?!)

& Blogging

Hey! If you’re going to read a blog with book reviews, here is a quick guide to how I’m going to do them.

Book Title: [first comes all the basic stuff…title, author,  publisher, pages, etc.]

Author:

Pages:

Genre:

Publisher:

Date Published:

Date Read: [just to show how long I wait to read certain novels 🙂 ]

Format: [I own an eReader – a Barnes & Noble nook – but I also read physical books, new and used, all the time. I work at a bookstore that allows me to borrow any hardcover book for two weeks, so when under “Format,” I write “Hardcover borrowed from work,” that does not mean I stole it from a place that sells books…]

Cover Love: [this is where I judge a book by its cover. If you don’t hear about a book from a friend or another entertainment source, sometimes you have to pick up a book because of its cool cover, or even an inventive spine. And sometimes an awesome book has a crappy cover. Here’s where I distinguish between the two]

Given Synopsis: [What the back of the book or inner flap of a hardcover says about the plot of the novel. I don’t often see the point in book reviews re-stating the synopsis within the review when all that information is provided. But…]

What I’d Add: […sometimes the description does leave out something crucial. So I add it here.]

It’s Sorta Like: [If the plot/characters/genre reminds me of another book or movie or cultural point I’ve experienced, I’ll put it here. Maybe you’ll get into another series or read a new movie because of it]

My Grade: [How I rate things! I’m going simple, old school here: A grading scale like in school: A being the highest and F being the lowest. My rating system might change as this site gains traction, but this system is familiar to most people. Here are my guidelines for grades:

A   This book is great – amazing, even! – It’s solid on all fronts, takes some risk(s), has enjoyable, complex characters, and I blabbed about it for days after I finished it. I’ve thought about it way after the last page was turned and something about it changed my perspective on how I see things.
B   A good, solid book. It lacks the special sparkle of a favorite book (an “A+”), but it’s still impressive, well-written, and one I would recommend to friends and/or fans of the genre.
C   C’s are considered the catch-all “average” grade. “Average” grade books have great parts. They have bad parts. It’s a rare book that is across-the-board awesome, so an uneven plot or writing style is forgivable when a premise is awesome or the action scenes are virtually flawless or I fall in love with one of the characters (occupational hazard).
D   For the most part the writing is clunky or poor, the plot or characters unrealistic. Often the premise is promising – the description on the book flap drew me in – and the execution is flawed. Big opportunities are missed. It’s disappointing. Sometimes it gets difficult to continue reading. I keep going, hoping it gets better, and it just does not live up to any of my expectations.
F   (Side bar: isn’t it weird that F’s don’t get pluses or minuses?) I very much doubt that I will grade any book on this blog an F, because I’ll only be reviewing books I’ve read in their entirety. If a book is truly bad, I usually don’t finish it.

And I’ll most likely be using pluses and minuses, for the same reason that other bloggers/reviewers give things half stars, half bookmarks, half…teacups. And because I’m wishy-washy like that.]

Review: [Where my review goes! There’s no real template. I might start with my favorite bits, then point out a few points that might bother other people, or I might make a bulleted list. Every review will be different in this way (and, you know, different in that they’re all about different books…) I will always preface a spoiler-y review with a disclaimer. You read ahead on those at your own risk.]

& Begin!

Well, hello!

I’ve got a thing for names. I’ve named my car, my camera, and in high school I even nicknamed my calculator. A story without a title is completely unfinished to me. A character without the right name drives me nuts.

So, it took me months to start this blog. I’ve been an avid reader since I could figure out the words on a page. My parents read to me and my brother before bed – the Wishbone mysteries (everybody remember Wishbone?! I loved the show and the books! I wanted a dog that looked just like that), The Boxcar ChildrenNancy Drew and The Hardy Boys, the whole His Dark Materials series, and more. Barnes & Noble was my favorite store, and the first day I visited Powell’s City of Books, I fell in love with a building (it’s a 4-story bookstore that fills up a whole city block, in case you’re unfamiliar with Portland, Oregon). And I still think that if I could subsist on reading books alone, I’d be content with that life.

Although that life might actually be pretty isolating. And I have friends and family and whatnot to pay attention to, so what do I know.

But I digress. The point is, I’ve wanted to start this blog for months. Probably for over a year. And the thing that kept stopping me was the name. It’d have to be a good one. It’d have to stick. I didn’t want to have to change it if I got bored or if no one showed up because no one remembered the name.

And then I realized that I was making excuses. I sat down one day, made a list of names, some better than others (Oh man, I love lists. Get ready for lists on this blog), and finally picked a name. Ampersand Read. Ampersanding.

I picked this name because:

1.) I really like the word “ampersand.” Just say it – it rolls of the tongue!

2.) I wanted it to be clear that this was a blog about books, but I didn’t want it to be so obvious as “Sarah Reviews Books”! (My name’s Sarah, by the way. Nice to meet you!).

And 3.) Everyone wants a little “and” in their life. Nobody wants to deal with the “or” (yeah, we have to, that’s life). And if the thing on the other side of that “and” is reading, then I think that just might make the world a little better 🙂

Look, a list! ^^

I’m a strong believer that reading can do good. You read to escape. You read to get new ideas, whether you cracked open that book to get them or not. You’re exposed to different viewpoints and beliefs and people when you read, even if it’s a paperback crime novel you bought at the airport just to make it through your flight.

So, I love to read. I made this blog to find others who like to read and who can recommend new books, new ways of seeing the world, the characters in the people around us, and to have fun with writing (plus, it’ll force me to write. Deep at heart, I am truly, inherently lazy…) So please, read some reviews! Comment! Follow! I hope adding reading to your “and” makes you happy too 🙂