Famed Friday

Image credit: The Sheridan Libraries Blog post in 201: http://blogs.library.jhu.edu/wordpress/2011/02/the-new-season-of-book-awards/

Image credit: The Sheridan Libraries Blog post in 2011:

Hey all!

#1: Sorry I’ve been behind on Friday posts. I’m still floundering after NaNoWriMo!

#2: 2014 is drawing to a close, which means it is time for Ampersand Read’s First Annual Year End Book Awards!

*sets off a party popper*

Without further ado, here are my completely made up categories, and choices for the winners of said categories…(all of these books were not necessarily released this year, I just read them in 2014)

Best Cover
Where’d You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple
I have no doubt that this quirky cover has made this book not only very recognizable in stores, but sold the heck out of it to people. “The cover has a picture of a woman with big glasses” I heard a few times this year, from customers unsure of the title (which could be a little unwieldy – so many words!), but who received the recommendation from a friend. As an added bonus, the story lives up to its quirky cover: collections of letters, e-mails, and other correspondences that detail the idiosyncrasies of a dysfunctional family and the matriarch that goes missing.

Best Twist
The Supernatural Enhancements by Edgar Cantero
A twisty ride of a book, this one is centered on “A,” and his mute, yet very capable companion, who inherit a family mansion filled with secrets both dark and fascinating. It all leads up to a tense climax, which then spirals into quick horror and discovery. Obviously I can’t say more about twists, as they are spoiler-y territory, but in this novel, the last few scenes are particularly thrilling. My review here.

Most Surprising
The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber
This book almost swept a couple categories (“Most Impactful” and nearly “Best Book”), but in the interest of diversity I gave it this one. I closed this book in awe of the story, and at a glance, it sounds absurd: the tale of a missionary in outer space, attempting to convert the local alien species. When I gush about this book, people go “Wait, what?!” but I loved this one. It’s so subtly moving. The tragedy is quiet and total, and it the relationships affected me personally in a way that only very good literature can. My review here.

Most Impactful
The Forever Watch by David Ramirez
Ah, the book that made me cry at the end! The ending to this story is gripping and powerful. From the climax and through the falling action (anybody else picturing the “story mountain” we all learned in grade school?!), this book keeps you in its grasp. The story of a population living on a ship in space, and centered around a woman solving murders onboard, while uncovering a much darker, heavier secret about the society, the whole thing broke my heart and made me want to read more. My review here.

Best Book I Read This Year
Red Rising by Pierce Brown
The sequel is out in two weeks, everybody!! I was so pleasantly surprised to have my mind changed about the narrator’s voice shortly through the novel. I disliked Darrow’s angry, black-and-white views of the world and what felt like rote the-government-is-evil-and-must-be-stopped theme, and then I found myself…unable to put it down. Darrow and the world Rising is set in is so immersive. It has a wonderful setting for story, and the changing allegiances of characters kept it interesting. I very must look forward to Golden Son, out on January 13th! My review here.

Honorable Mentions
california stationeleven

California by Edan Lepucki (review here)
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel (review here)
Both superb dystopian books (yet both classified as regular fiction…?) that came out this year. I have seen fan art set in both worlds circling around the Internet, and a new book by either one of these authors would be an auto-read for me!
by Max Barry
I think I so love this one because it reminds me so much of The Magicians by Lev Grossman, a book that has a permanent spot on my bookshelf. And this one is a wonderful arc of a novel, even if there is a slightly smushy/fluffy ending. Words used as weaponry is a fascinating concept, and this one plays it out well. My review here.



& Review: Cinder by Marissa Meyer

Cinder by Marissa Meyer. Young Adult Sci-Fi/Fantasy. Publisher: Feiwel & Friends

Cinder by Marissa Meyer. Young Adult Sci-Fi/Fantasy. Publisher: Feiwel & Friends

The Book Itself: Thank goodness this YA cover doesn’t have a generic-pretty-girl-face made up to look like a futuristic Cinderella. I hate it when generic-pretty-girl-faces try to sell YA books. The image of a mechanically-aided foot, is striking, and the red heel (instead of the expected glass slipper) is interesting. The color theme is one the rest of the series’ covers picks up: a deep blue/black and a bright red. Great idea to tie them all together.

My Review: Humans and androids crowd the raucous streets of New Beijing. A deadly plague ravages the population. From space, a ruthless lunar people watch, waiting to make their move. No one knows that Earth’s fate hinges on one girl. . . .

Cinder, a gifted mechanic, is a cyborg. She’s a second-class citizen with a mysterious past, reviled by her stepmother and blamed for her stepsister’s illness. But when her life becomes intertwined with the handsome Prince Kai’s, she suddenly finds herself at the center of an intergalactic struggle, and a forbidden attraction. Caught between duty and freedom, loyalty and betrayal, she must uncover secrets about her past in order to protect her world’s future.

Yeah, yeah, I know that I’m late to the game with Cinder. It’s been out since 2012, there are at least four or five other series just released this week I should be commenting on, right?

Well too bad, because I like this one. 🙂 Even more than being a retelling of a classic fairy tale, this one is steampunk, girl power, and tense scientific mystery/class warfare tale all in one. Sure, some of the plot twists were easy to see coming, but overall I thought it was original and well-done. I’ll continue with the series.

Cinder is a mechanic, although you don’t see an awful lot of her doing what she does. I think she fixes two phones/tablets by slamming them against the counter, only to have the tough little things blink on and work good as new. She works on her android pal, ­­­­Iko, and her own bits and pieces of electronic doodads and limbs (exactly how much of her is metal I can’t remember. It tripped some readers up, not knowing if she was more human than robot. It was hard to know if her feelings worked the same way as a human if things like her tears and her emotions would send up alerts in her vision should they threaten to overwhelm. It didn’t bother me too much).

Her capital “L” Love Interest, the Prince Charming of our tale, is okay. I found Cinder to be far more interesting, and sort of wished she’d gone the independent woman route, and didn’t need a man to do all this stuff she was already going to kick ass doing. But then it wouldn’t be a retelling of Cinderella, so there’s that.

Plus, Prince Kai’s storyline sets up the story’s world for further installments. Our protagonists are all in sticky situations, with not a lot of options before them. And the options they do have…don’t look so good.

What I particularly liked about the story as a whole was, as I mentioned, Cinder and her somewhat atypical tough girl story. She’s not the meek Cinderella, sweeping up the house and mending hemlines. She’s a mechanic, working for money of her own, and for money to buy her own parts and help out those around her. And she’s got more than one enemy working against her. She’s got a ton of enemies, actually. More than seems possible to overcome. Which just makes it more interesting.

There are times when it got a little too YA-ey for me. Rolling of the eyes moments like gushing how attractive the prince looks when he’s just dressed in a hoodie (for all the prince has to do, it does seem awfully easy (and convenient) for him to dress in “disguise” (read: he wears a hoodie) and leave the castle to mingle among the commonfolk. Especially when Cinder recognizes him upon first glance…mighty convenient there…). Revelations that were pretty easy to see. Like a prophecy introduced midway through that of course has to do with our heroine. That she is obviously shocked by, but this reader wasn’t. I just sighed and turned the page. I’d guessed it fifty pages back, what’s the big surprise?

The ending, in its own cliffhanger-y way, is more satisfying that any “plot twist.” I’m honestly worried for the characters and how things will pan out. It’s going to make me go out and buy/borrow the next installments. As a whole, the narrative is satisfying and well done. While the characters can grate and confuse at times, I want to know how they’re going to get out of this. And I’m intrigued by the new people about to be introduced: a version of Red Riding Hood and her Big Bad Wolf (in 2013’s Scarlet), and later, Rapunzel (in 2014’s Cress).

My Grade B

& Review: Yes Please by Amy Poehler

Yes Please by Amy Poehler.  Autobiography. Publisher: It Books

Yes Please by Amy Poehler.
Autobiography. Publisher: It Books

The Book Itself: Surprisingly heavy! Cracking open the front cover reveals why: the book is printed on lovely, thick, glossy paper, the kind photos are printed on. The cover material is the kind that fingerprints can stain easily, so keep that in mind if you’re throwing it in your bag a lot, to take it places. Poehler throwing up the peace sign on the cover is nice, although not really explained. It’s not a gesture that implies asking someone for something (as the title suggests), but Poehler looks great, the neon sign above her, bright and eye-catching.

My Review: In Amy Poehler’s highly anticipated first book, Yes Please, she offers up a big juicy stew of personal stories, funny bits on sex and love and friendship and parenthood and real life advice (some useful, some not so much), like when to be funny and when to be serious. Powered by Amy’s charming and hilarious, biting yet wise voice, Yes Please is a book is full of words to live by.

The Funny People Essays era has begun (Poehler, Tiny Fey, Mindy Kaling, Nick Offerman, and also very recently, Neil Patrick Harris). Fey and Kaling’s works sit on my shelf, for when I’m in the mood for a funny, pithy piece of writing. Neil Patrick Harris’ is up near the top of the to-read shelf.

Yes Please is fantastic. As with any collection, there are strong installments and weak installments. But sometimes even better than the stories and the essays are the frame-worthy sayings Poehler emblazons every few stories: “Figure out what you want. Say it out loud. Then shut up,” “Nothing is anybody’s business.” Each section features a picture of Poehler dressed up as various characters, á la SNL: an old lady, a scruffy looking man with a come hither look, holding a rose. And with the added bonus of pictures from her improv days, stills from SNL, and family photos, Yes Please is far from a typical book of essays from a funny person. It is personal, at times it is intensely deep, and of course, it is laugh out loud-able (a phrase? It is now).

My favorite essay is one in which Poehler details the one SNL skit she wished she could take back, and what happened when someone wrote to her about how it hurt them. Entitled “Sorry, Sorry, Sorry,” the story is sad, touching, frustrating, and very, very familiar. As I read Poehler’s reaction to this scathing email (her initial feelings were indignation and frustration with the situation, while still feeling a little shame), I thought yes! I’ve thought and felt exactly this! And it was equal parts awful and vindicating and all-consuming! The story comes full circle, with a satisfying conclusion, but after that one I had to put the book down for a bit, so close to home did it hit.

Some of her pieces do feel a little inside joke-y. Her recollections from the set of SNL, and especially her memories from doing improv in various cities feature a lot of name dropping, and a lot of moments that are neither particularly funny or familiar. I suppose to get the full effect, I should YouTube the improv shows, Google who these people are that she performed with. But I also feel that I shouldn’t have to do that, to get the feel for a situation in a novel or short story. I haven’t seen every SNL episode there is to see, but I’ve seen enough to understand the names and situation Poehler drops in her book. These allusions are far more accessible, I feel. Although most readers probably know Poehler from SNL, right? Any exclusively Parks and Recreation fans out there, who didn’t get the SNL references at all?

So I think it has a little for everyone. Those familiar with Poehler’s works will have a better time, I think. But for the most part, the essays are strong, and the meaning behind them endearing and special.

My Grade: B+

& Review: Shovel Ready by Adam Sternbergh

Shovel Ready by Adam Sternbergh. Fiction. Publisher: Broadway Books

Shovel Ready by Adam Sternbergh.
Fiction. Publisher: Broadway Books

The Book Itself: An eerie image: blood-red city on a background of pitch black. It matches the mood of the novel: graphic, ominous, blurred lines for characters and readers.

My Review:The futuristic hardboiled noir that Lauren Beukes calls “sharp as a paper-cut” about a garbage man turned kill-for-hire.

Spademan used to be a garbage man. That was before the dirty bomb hit Times Square, before his wife was killed, and before the city became a blown-out shell of its former self. 

Now he’s a hitman.

In a near-future New York City split between those who are wealthy enough to ‘tap in’ to a sophisticated virtual reality, and those who are left to fend for themselves in the ravaged streets, Spademan chose the streets. His new job is not that different from his old one: waste disposal is waste disposal. He doesn’t ask questions, he works quickly, and he’s handy with a box cutter. But when his latest client hires him to kill the daughter of a powerful evangelist, his unadorned life is upended: his mark has a shocking secret and his client has a sordid agenda far beyond a simple kill. Spademan must navigate between these two worlds–the wasteland reality and the slick fantasy–to finish his job, clear his conscience, and make sure he’s not the one who winds up in the ground.”

This is not a “nice” novel. Nothing really happy happens in it. No one has a happy past, no one gets to dwell in happy memories for long. And it tries plenty of times to turn you away. To disgust you and shock you. Grisly murders, tortured backstories, rape, drugs, cult-like religion, addiction, incest, murder, murder, murder….and no quotations for dialogue.

Honestly, I don’t understand the stylistic choice for that last one. All conversation is told in spare, brief sentences, no quotations, no dialogue tags to outline who is speaking when. The mood of the story is very noir: think everything in dark lighting, a surly anti-hero, the dark side of humanity at every turn. Conversations are quick, and everyone seems to speak in one syllable words. But if I’m to read these scenes quickly, quotation marks would go a long way in making that easier. Sometimes it was hard to tell who was speaking, and whether or not this short sentence was someone speaking, an action someone was performing, or a description of the setting. There weren’t a ton of instances of this, but enough to make it irksome.

Sternbergh certainly knows how to ramp up a scene, though. And he knows how to make a character complicated. That person who just murdered someone? You’re going to be rooting for them in about twenty pages. Think Spademan is a poor man with a tortured past, just doing what he has to do to live in a tortured world? Wait until you hear what he has in his freezer.”Anti-hero” has a lot of complicated connotations, but I appreciated the little efforts here and there to both turn you against, and then make you root for, the next horrible thing a character does.

So Spademan operates in a post-apocalyptic New York. Surprisingly, only New York seems to be affected. The bombings and mass destruction and terrorism stop at the state line. According to Spademan, other states, even some neighborhoods far from the center of Times Square, are perfectly fine, running as normal. At the beginning of the story, I thought the entire world was like that: the rich retreating into their shells, the poor toughing it out on crime-riddled streets. I wonder if future novels (the second installment, Near Enemy, comes out in January (AND HOLY CRAP, THAT’S NEXT MONTH! WHEN DID IT BECOME THE END OF THE YEAR?!)) will explore that territory: places where everything is fine. It might provide an interesting juxtaposition.

So despite the nitty gritty, the nastiness of the subject matter, and the frustration with quotation marks, this is a pretty great book. It’s a fast read, the action doesn’t stop, and there is enough there to base a series from. If you can stomach the tough subject matter, you’re in for a wild ride.

My Grade: B

Flourishing Friday

My official winner's banner!!

My official winner’s banner!!

You guys. You gals. I did it.

I wrote 50,000 words in 30 days.



It was tough. I was better prepared than I was last year, and still it was tough. There were nights I’d come home from work and I wouldn’t want to write a word. There were days I didn’t write a word. There were days I had to make myself sit and write 5,000 words.

Here! The proof!


Can you see where I tried to go on a girl’s weekend in the middle of the month? And where I floundered a bit around Thanksgiving?

And since I like graphs, here’s last years:


So overall, I think I’m improving. Maybe next year I won’t have any more 5,000 word days.


I make myself laugh.

So…as you may have noticed, I didn’t get a review out on Monday…and this Friday post is late.

Hey, I’ve had a lot of writing, I’m a few reviews behind! (Okay, around five reviews behind!)

They will get here, I promise! I just wanted to share my little success with all of y’all. Because I like you or something 🙂