& Review: One More Thing by B.J. Novak

One More Thing by B.J. Novak. Fiction. Publisher: Vintage

One More Thing by B.J. Novak. Fiction. Publisher: Vintage

The Book Itself: It stands out for it’s crazy lack-of-cover cover. It’s a white background. Scrawled title. It is difficult to keep this book clean (smudgy fingerprints and wear from sliding in and out of a purse already mar my copy), but it does make the book more intriguing. What’s it about? Was there no cover perfect/poignant/adequate enough to capture the essence of these stories??

My Review: B.J. Novak’s One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories is an endlessly entertaining, surprisingly sensitive, and startlingly original debut that signals the arrival of a brilliant new voice in American fiction.

A boy wins a $100,000 prize in a box of Frosted Flakes—only to discover how claiming the winnings might unravel his family. A woman sets out to seduce motivational speaker Tony Robbins—turning for help to the famed motivator himself. A new arrival in Heaven, overwhelmed with options, procrastinates over a long-ago promise to visit his grandmother. We also meet Sophia, the first artificially intelligent being capable of love, who falls for a man who might not be ready for it himself; a vengeance-minded hare, obsessed with scoring a rematch against the tortoise who ruined his life; and post-college friends who try to figure out how to host an intervention in the era of Facebook.  Along the way, we learn why wearing a red T-shirt every day is the key to finding love, how February got its name, and why the stock market is sometimes just . . . down.

Finding inspiration in questions from the nature of perfection to the icing on carrot cake, One More Thing has at its heart the most human of phenomena: love, fear, hope, ambition, and the inner stirring for the one elusive element that might just make a person complete. Across a dazzling range of subjects, themes, tones, and narrative voices, the many pieces in this collection are like nothing else, but they have one thing in common: they share the playful humor, deep heart, sharp eye, inquisitive mind, and altogether electrifying spirit of a writer with a fierce devotion to the entertainment of the reader.

Woah. That’s one doozy of a synopsis.

This is perhaps one of the most eclectic short story collections I’ve read. There were one sentence stories, ten page stories, straight fiction pieces, and magical realism.

But it felt like quantity over quality. There are 64 stories here. Sixty. Four. That’s a lot. A bunch are flash fiction. Really brief, bites of stories. And shorter did not mean better. For the most part, stories a page or less were not deep, meaningful, or even funny. They seemed like fluff, like filler material.

I did like a few pieces, mainly:

The Something by John Grisham” — John Grisham, the famous author, wakes to news that his latest book reached the bestseller list. Except…it gets published with the placeholder title. A funny take on fame and how a writer’s/artist’s intentions and true wishes get squashed sometimes.

“All You Have to Do” and “Missed Connection: Grocery spill at 21st and 6th 2:30 pm on Wednesday” — Several of B.J. Novak’s stories are interconnected. The subject of “The Girl Who Gave Great Advice” returns in a different story as a friend of a different protagonist. These two interconnected pieces made me go “awwww,” aloud. You don’t realize they’re connected until the end of the second piece. And it makes you smile 🙂

“Sophia” — A man orders a sex robot, and returns it when it falls in love with him. No joke. It sounds tawdry, but it’s actually quite touching and heart-wrenching. Is he also in love with his sex robot/”Sophia”? How did Sophia learn to love? Could it ever be a thing that lasts? The last line makes you want to weep a little.

“The Best Thing in the World Awards” — The tale of a fictional awards show emceed by none other than Neil Patrick Harris. The nominees? Nice feelings like love and kindness and charity. This year’s surprise contender? Nothing. A surprisingly chilling, interesting look at how we look at and evaluate what we consider “the best” of things.

Most of the other stories weren’t so memorable. I read the table of contents now, and I couldn’t tell you what half of them entailed. So, overall, a great many forgettable pieces, and only a few really poignant ones that felt like they were aiming for something.

Many of them felt kind of like Novak heard a phrase and then concocted a bizarre, pithy flash fiction piece about it. Example: “the stock market is down.” Why is the stock market so depressed? Why doesn’t someone cheer it up? “Why is February spelled the way it is?” The guy who invented the calendar just made a typo.

Overall, an uneven, cluttered collection with a few shining points.

My Grade: C

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& Fridays: Cover Love, Part 2

I just love talking about pretty book covers, so much, I had to come back for more 😉

Jane Austen Cover to Cover by Margaret C. Sullivan. Publisher: Quirk Books

Jane Austen Cover to Cover by Margaret C. Sullivan. Publisher: Quirk Books

There is a book about book covers. Cue Inception-sound-effect here.

Jane Austen Cover to Cover: 200 Years of Classic Book Covers details Austen novels from their very first printings to the copies used in classrooms today (Bantam, Oxford, Penguin classics). A little blurb accompanies each cover describing the design and, at times, critiquing the artistic choices. It’s a really awesome journey-through-editions. I hope they do these with a bunch of the classics!

What’s more, there is a website that goes in depth about how covers are developed and chosen! I stumbled on this blog when I was first hatching my own. Talking Covers lays out several recent releases, then goes into interviews with the author about their input on the cover and how they settled on the final product, interviews with the cover’s artist, and/or options for said cover (this part’s my favorite: it’s cool to see what the book could have been! And for the most part, the best cover was definitely selected). The last post was in 2013, and I’m so hoping this blog or something similar to it will start up again.

Okay, just had to get those couple of things out of my system. Happy Friday!

 

& Review: The Sculptor by Scott McCloud

The Sculptor by Scott McCloud. Graphic Novel. Publisher: First Second.

The Sculptor by Scott McCloud. Graphic Novel. Publisher: First Second.

The Book Itself: Eye-catching (I find most graphic novel covers to be that way, especially if I like the artist’s work). The title “sculpted” into a brick wall, the girl coming out of the brick work…very cool.

My Review: David Smith is giving his life for his art—literally. Thanks to a deal with Death, the young sculptor gets his childhood wish: to sculpt anything he can imagine with his bare hands. But now that he only has 200 days to live, deciding  what  to create is harder than he thought, and discovering the love of his life at the 11th hour isn’t making it any easier! 

This is a story of desire taken to the edge of reason and beyond; of the frantic, clumsy dance steps of young love; and a gorgeous, street-level portrait of the world’s greatest city. It’s about the small, warm, human moments of everyday life…and the great surging forces that lie just under the surface. Scott McCloud wrote the book on how comics work; now he vaults into great fiction with a breathtaking, funny, and unforgettable new work.

This book caught my eye as it sat on a feature table at my work. Scott McCloud, I thought. Where have I heard that name before? A quick Goodreads detour revealed that he is responsible for such famous books on comics as Understanding Comics, Making Comics, and Reinventing Comics. His name sounded so familiar because I have a very talented artist friend who loves the comic art form. When she’s had to send me things in the mail, she’s decorated the envelopes with sketches of things like woodland creatures baking cookies. A caricature that she drew of me was my Facebook profile picture for a couple of weeks.

But enough about my friend Hannah (Hey, Hannah!!). The Sculptor is delightful. You can definitely see that McCloud knows his stuff. The artistic style is really on point. The character’s expressions, and the inventive way McCloud utilizes speech bubbles (so skillfully that you forget it’s a comic, that it’s a speech bubble spouting from someone’s head), are impressive, to say the least. And the way plot twists are laid out really gets you turning pages.

You really start to feel for the characters, and you ache a little when the story ends. The premise alone sets you up for some heartbreak: this guy is going to die in 200 days, and partway through that, he meets and falls in love with someone (who just happens to be a little damaged too – character flaws are well-rendered here too). But the journey to this deal’s end is a long and tangled one. David’s success doesn’t come as easy as he would hope. In fact, his first exhibition kind of flops. He’s crazy awkward around women, he makes misstep after misstep when it comes to his lady love, and he’s moody and depressing and somehow, still brilliant.

The book had a lot to say about art and commercialism and living in the big NYC. I liked that it was a gritty graphic novel. It dealt with real, complex issues in a way that was visually beautiful.

The ending felt a tad clumsy…without spoiling the whole thing, you have to pause at the end to suss out what’s real, and how the book really…ended. For such a solid book, it was an ambiguous ending, and I felt the story deserved more (and the sunshine and rainbows half of me wanted it of course to end happily for everyone!)

Great art, that has a lot to say about art itself. The ending brought the work down a little, but it’s a story that makes you think about it long after you’ve turned the last page.

My Grade: B

& Fridays: Cover Love

I’m always amazed at the power of a book’s cover to draw a reader in. Heck, even the spine, the title of a book can make me pick it up and read the synopsis. And yes, I have purchased a book because it looked pretty, even if the synopsis didn’t exactly appeal. I picked up The Book of Strange New Things because the pages were gold! (I’m just lucky that it turned out to be so good! Review here)

theflamealphabet

leavingthesea

Now, you know I like simple and graphic. Ben Marcus’ books, The Flame Alphabet and Leaving the Sea feature just that. They look like a really awesome craft project, with jewel-toned construction paper graphics and the titles and author name printed on slips of white. I’m a fan of simple and graphic because I think it makes books jump out from the shelf. These on a shelf next to a series of historical romance/bodice-rippers? Definitely different.

riflepaperco

“Puffin in Bloom” series of classic kids books by Rifle Paper Co.

 

 

Do I need another copy of Heidi, Anne of Green Gables, Little Princess, or Little Women? No. But these newly released covers by Rifle Paper Co. are delightful. They’re bright and colorful, perfect for kids, yet whimsical enough for a spotlit feature on an adult bookshelf. What, your bookshelf doesn’t have spotlights? Guess that’s just the dream bookshelf in my mind’s eye, then…

 

 

 

 

theselectionseries

The Selection series by Kiera Cass. Young Adult Sci-Fi/Adventure. Publisher: HarperTeen

 

I have a confession about these ones. These right here are my YA guilty pleasures. I did pick up The Selection because it featured a big, gorgeous dress. And the plot itself turns out to be full of holes, and a lot of the characters insipid and annoying, but damn if I didn’t read the whole series, and squeal with excitement when I found out a fourth one was in the works (also featuring a big, gorgeous dress).

youareabadass

You Are A Badass by Jen Sincero. Self Improvement. Publisher: Running Press

 

 

 

Or perhaps you fall for titles? I personally like being told I’m a badass 😉

Let me know about your cover love stories! Did a beautiful book turn out to be an amazing story? Or was it overcompensating?

 

& Review: Trigger Warning by Neil Gaiman

Trigger Warning by Neil Gaiman. Science Fiction/Fantasy. Publisher: William Morrow & Company.

Trigger Warning by Neil Gaiman. Science Fiction/Fantasy. Publisher: William Morrow & Company.

The Book Itself: An almost gloomy, ghostly book jacket – VERY appropriate to the stories amassed here. The flock of crows (are they crows?) the long figure with a bunch of skeletal branches…spooooky.

My Review: In this new anthology, Neil Gaiman pierces the veil of reality to reveal the enigmatic, shadowy world that lies beneath. Trigger Warning includes previously published pieces of short fiction–stories, verse, and a very special Doctor Who story that was written for the fiftieth anniversary of the beloved series in 2013–as well “Black Dog,” a new tale that revisits the world of American Gods, exclusive to this collection.

Trigger Warning explores the masks we all wear and the people we are beneath them to reveal our vulnerabilities and our truest selves. Here is a rich cornucopia of horror and ghosts stories, science fiction and fairy tales, fabulism and poetry that explore the realm of experience and emotion. In “Adventure Story”–a thematic companion to The Ocean at the End of the Lane–Gaiman ponders death and the way people take their stories with them when they die. His social media experience “A Calendar of Tales” are short takes inspired by replies to fan tweets about the months of the year–stories of pirates and the March winds, an igloo made of books, and a Mother’s Day card that portends disturbances in the universe. Gaiman offers his own ingenious spin on Sherlock Holmes in his award-nominated mystery tale “The Case of Death and Honey”. And “Click-Clack the Rattlebag” explains the creaks and clatter we hear when we’re all alone in the darkness.

I must be on a short story collection kick lately! Neil Gaiman is an almost universally loved science fiction/fantasy author. Unfortunately, being a terrible person who is equally terrible at reading things that she is considered to “have” to have read, I have only consumed American Gods. Several years ago. So I remember very little (towards the end, there’s a car at the bottom of a lake, right?).

In contrast: my coworker just got his signature tattooed on her thigh.

SO. I know he’s a Big Deal. So I decided to see what his stories might be like. (Note: if you’re already familiar with Gaiman’s stories, most of the stories here have been published elsewhere. I think “Black Dog” might be the only one unique to this collection. So keep that in mind, if you’re a superfan ;-))

Not sure if it’s because the last two short story collections I read were lackluster, but I quite enjoyed this one. It’s weird and very, very creepy at times, but the man can WRITE. His longer stories read like stories and folktales I’ve known forever. And who knows, for a sci-fi/fantasy fan someday, these could be the fairy tales they tell their kids (provided the children aren’t super prone to nightmares). Here are a couple that I have something to say about:

“The Thing About Cassandra” — What happens when your friends and family start insisting that they recently saw your first girlfriend around town….and you made her up?

“A Calendar of Tales” — This is – shocking – a series of twelve stories, sometimes having little to nothing to do with the month that bears their title. Gaiman participated in a Twitter writing contest of sorts, and took random, quirky prompts from fans who wrote in. The thing is: you are not told what the prompts are. So it just seems like a dozen random vignettes. But they’re all really good. So there’s that.

“Nothing O’Clock” — Even if you haven’t watched one minute of Doctor Who, I think this story would stand just fine on its own as a suspenseful, riveting tale. But, since I am a fan of such things, I geeked out a little, picturing the 11th Doctor and Amy saying and doing these exact things. If this were a real episode though, it would be one of them that would scare the bejeezus out of me.

“The Sleeper and the Spindle” — A creepy tale, with zombie-like overtones, featuring both Snow White and Sleeping Beauty…you know, if they both had more agency and backbone and one of them wore battle armor in order to save the girl. This is apparently going to be released in its own volume, alongside illustrations, at the end of this year. Might have to get that one on my shelf!

“Black Dog” — This is a side story set in the same world as Gaiman’s American Gods. Like I said, I don’t remember a whole lot of the story (not a reflection of Gaiman’s work or writing – I have a terrible recollection of stories I’ve read, even months previous. It’s one of the reasons why I started this blog! To aid in recollecting good books!), but I didn’t need to to appreciate this story. It’s probably not intended to be the creepiest in the collection, but I found the whole thing unsettling and eerie and skin-crawling in the best way. Moment after moment makes you want to keep a light on when you go to bed.

Overall, a collection with some very strong spots. In his Introduction, Gaiman leaves a little space to explain each story: why it was made, for what publication or occasion, and sometimes his thoughts on any of the above. It’s a nice hand held out to guide you through the collection. My only complaints would be that there isn’t necessarily a thread that weaves through every story to bind it to the collection, as they were all written at different times, for different publications. And I found a couple of the pieces to be…not lackluster, but just not overly memorable.

An excellent journey if you love Gaiman’s work, if a tone of creepy crawly in your fantasy is A-OK with you, and if you’re a fan of strong atmosphere.

My Grade: B

& Fridays: Book Quirks

Do you do weird things when you read books? Ever since I was a child, reading The Babysitters Club and Thoroughbred books (Anybody else remember Thoroughbred?! I was way into horses as a kid), I did this odd thing where I moved the right hand page. I’d fiddle with a corner or ripple the page as I read the sentences on it. You’d think it would be distracting, but I don’t even notice it now. I had a friend point it out to me a couple years ago, and I had stopped recognizing that I did it whenever I read!

It is difficult to do that with ebooks, however.

I used to take the first word in the book and the last word in the book and try to make a sentence out of them. Or take the first and last sentence and try to make a kind of story out of that. 

I still calculate where the middle of the book will be. If it’s 382 pages, I take stock at page 191, tilting the book to look at how the spine creases right in the middle.

So if you didn’t already think I’m a weirdo, guess what? I TOTALLY AM.

Do you have to move the page when you read? Do you bend back the front cover? Dog ear to keep your place? Jiggle your leg or wear your lucky reading glasses? Let me know! And happy Friday!!

& Review: A Small Indiscretion by Jan Ellison

A Small Indiscretion by Jan Ellison. Fiction. Publisher: Random House

A Small Indiscretion by Jan Ellison. Fiction. Publisher: Random House

The Book Itself: Not entirely sure what the nape of a redheaded woman’s neck has to do with the story…but it’s a nice, simple picture. The title really stands out on top of it (also: if that were my hair, there is no way that messy/casual style would stay up all day…)

My Review: At nineteen, Annie Black abandons California for a London winter of drinking to oblivion and looking for love in the wrong places. Twenty years later, she is a happily married mother of three living in San Francisco. Then one morning, a photograph arrives in her mailbox, and an old obsession is awakened.
 
After a return trip to London, Annie’s marriage falters, her store floods, and her son, Robbie, takes a night-time ride that nearly costs him his life. Now Annie must fight to save her family by untangling the mysteries of that reckless winter in Europe that drew an invisible map of her future.

Annie Black is what we’d call a “hot mess.” In the span of a weekend, her livelihood, marriage, and the life of her oldest child are thrown into jeopardy. So naturally she spends the entire book reflecting on her past and the itty bitty moments that led up to each unraveling. You know the whole thing is going to build up to some big, hairy reveal, and it’s a bumpy, sometimes fascinating ride to get there, but some character flaws are too grating to ignore, and the framing of the narrative still has me scratching my head.

To start off with: this book suffers from a kind of How I Met Your Mother effect. Annie Black tells the events of the story to her oldest child, after his hospitalization for a serious accident. And she is very…generous…with her description. Kind of like how in Mother, Ted supposedly frequently tells his kids about allllll the women he slept with before he met their mother? Yeah, Annie Black does much the same with her story. They must have a very open relationship. If I were her son, hearing/reading this, I’d be horrified.

But she’s a fictional person and I get that it’s a story-telling vehicle that allows for a lot of personal introspection. Still though…no one wants to hear their mother go into the nitty, gritty detail about her sex life.

And still…you want to shake Annie sometimes, for how stupid she’s being. Why are you doing this to yourself? Why are you ruining everything around you? Why are you toying with this guy’s emotions? That guy’s emotions? QUIT WHINING! Instead of seeing a real growth in her character from when she recalls her 19-year-old self to her grown, married-and-with-children self, we see her making the same mistakes, making the same excuses and generalizations about herself and the people around her. The moments of frustration with her character outweighed the times I felt real sympathy and/or empathy with her.

There’s a twist in there that I honestly did not see coming. Maybe I should have? But I didn’t. That’s always nice: when you actually do a little gasp out loud while reading.

The book is nicely written. It flows well, and the European settings are nice color. Annie can be a bit needling, but it’s a very human piece. It’s got some really nice moments, and for that, it gets a pretty good rating.

My Grade: B

& Fridays: Book Snacking

What’s your go-to snack when you’re in a serious book reading session? The kind where the book is so good, or it’s getting toward the end and the action is really ramping up and you have no choice other than to read straight through?

I’m a big sweets eater. Maybe it’s more of a sweets problem.

My two favorite sweets to indulge in? Sno Caps, a movie theater candy that’s no longer included in most theaters – basically chocolate chips covered in sprinkles 😛

Oh yeah. Crispy M&Ms.

Oh yeah. Crispy M&M’s.

And M&M’s. My favorite flavor was discontinued for a long, long while. And guess what? THEY JUST BROUGHT IT BACK. Crispy M&M’s, my friends. Revolutionary. Basically a crisped rice cereal kind of deal INSIDE the M&M. It’s magical.

And you? Popcorn? Pretzels? Chocolate covered macadamia nuts? Are you more of a salty connoisseur, or a sweet? Fruity, perhaps? When chocolate gets to be too much, I reach for a nice apple to dunk in peanut butter, myself.

Fictitious Dishes by Dinah Fried. Publisher: Harper Design

Fictitious Dishes by Dinah Fried. Publisher: Harper Design

Speaking of books and food, I recently added this great book to my seemingly endless coffee table collection. It’s called Fictitious Dishes, and it’s a collection of photographs of famous meals in literature – from Oliver Twist to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. The meals are recreated and captured beautifully, and there are bite-sized (pun intended) facts about the author of the stories, as well as quotes from the scenes in which the meals feature.

So…hungry yet? 😉