& Review: The Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi

The Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi. Fiction. Publisher: Audible Studios by Brilliance Audio.

The Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi. Fiction. Publisher: Audible Studios by Brilliance Audio.

The Book Itself: The physical copy of this book has a silvery foil, which makes the cool water-effect of the cover even cooler. I’m a sucker for simplicity! So this cover is really appealing to me.

My Review: In the American Southwest, Nevada, Arizona, and California skirmish for dwindling shares of the Colorado River. Into the fray steps Angel Velasquez, detective, leg-breaker, assassin, and spy. A Las Vegas water knife, Angel “cuts” water for his boss, Catherine Case, ensuring that her lush, luxurious arcology developments can bloom in the desert, so the rich can stay wet, while the poor get nothing but dust. When rumors of a game-changing water source surface in drought-ravaged Phoenix, Angel is sent to investigate. There, he encounters Lucy Monroe, a hardened journalist with no love for Vegas and every reason to hate Angel, and Maria Villarosa, a young Texas refugee who survives by her wits and street smarts in a city that despises everything that she represents.

With bodies piling up, bullets flying, and Phoenix teetering on collapse, it seems like California is making a power play to monopolize the life-giving flow of a river. For Angel, Lucy, and Maria time is running out and their only hope for survival rests in each other’s hands. But when water is more valuable than gold, alliances shift like sand, and the only thing for certain is that someone will have to bleed if anyone hopes to drink.

I read Paolo Bacigalupi’s (pronounced Bat-cha-gah-loopy. Say it out loud – it’s fun!) Ship Breaker a few years ago, and while I did not go onto the sequel (not that Breaker wasn’t good – I just got distracted by my immense to-read pile), I hear Drowned Cities is fantastic.

But I digress. Because this ain’t no young adult novel. This is a so-scary-because-it’s-coming-true adult fairy tale/dystopian tale with grit in every one of its story-crevices.

“Story crevices.” Gross, but an appropriate description.

I listened to this story via audiobook. It’s not a nice story. Or a happy one. And if you’re squeamish or can’t stomach graphic violence, don’t pick this one up. I was cringing on my morning commute when listening to the morgue scene – the obscene description of the torture done to bodies in this book certainly steps over the line a couple of times, and there are prostitutes and hints of sex galore.

But I’ve read worse (mini-confession: American Psycho is by far the most disturbing book I’ve ever read, hands down, bar none), and while the constant mention of violence and sex wasn’t my favorite aspect of the story as a whole, I understand that the goal is to shock and horrify the reader. I think it succeeds in that, and I think it’s also meant to point out something: if this horrifies you, do something about it. Because a lot of this is where the world seems to be tilting.

People kill for water, and those with money live in pampered greenhouse/terrarium apartments with waterfalls while the poor huddle around dusty water pumps and wait for the price to fall below $7 a gallon. Our players are a water knife – a mercenary hired to tell people that their business, their town, is being cut off from the major water supply. A journalist looking to graduate from writing about desolate, failing cities, to something really important (and does, only to find herself way over her head). And a girl in the wrong place at the wrong time, kept poor by her circumstances, forced to do awful things for money just to survive being run down by murderous hyenas at the hand of her brutish landlord.

They’re all a little…messed up. Strike that. They all become so ruined by their circumstances, you’re pretty sure everyone is going to die at more than one point in the story. Bacigalupi does a great job at ratcheting up tension here. The ending really fizzles out, and the moments after the crazy climax are a bit of a tangled mess. Overall I couldn’t find myself getting into it, or desiring to push the story forward (there were a couple weeks there where I didn’t put a CD in because I didn’t feel like continuing. It was a book I needed to be in the mood to hear, and it wasn’t a consistent mood). Perhaps it was because it was an audiobook, perhaps it was because the moments of despair and depravity so outweighed any moment of hope or beauty that I couldn’t get behind the book’s momentum. Whatever it is, it doesn’t turn me away from Bacigalupi’s work by any means, but this book won’t be in my top 5 this year.

My Grade: C

& Review: Written in the Blood by Stephen Lloyd Jones

Written in the Blood by Stephen Lloyd Jones. Fiction. Publisher: Mulholland Books.

Written in the Blood by Stephen Lloyd Jones. Fiction. Publisher: Mulholland Books.

The Book Itself: Pretty awesome effect, with drips (claw marks) clearing a space in the fog to reveal a girl (Leah, I presume). Ominous, eye-catching, and cool.

My ReviewSee the girl. Leah Wilde is twenty-four, a runaway on a black motorbike, hunting for answers while changing her identity with each new Central European town.

See the man, having come of age in extraordinary suffering and tragedy in nineteenth-century Budapest; witness to horror, to love, to death, and the wrath of a true monster. Izsák still lives in the present day, impossibly middle-aged. He’s driven not only to hunt this immortal evil but to find his daughter, stolen from an Arctic cabin and grown into the thing Izsák has sworn to kill.

See the monster, a beautiful, seemingly young woman who stalks the American West, seeking the young and the strong to feed upon, desperate to return to Europe where her coven calls.

I reviewed The String Diaries, the first installment in this series, back in May. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and was pretty excited to see Written in the Blood on the shelf right after its November release. Just as a note: it is definitely necessary to read The String Diaries before its sequel. You’ll be lost otherwise.

The gang’s all here: Hannah and Leah, and the looming danger of the hosszu elet…only this time the threat is vastly different. Instead of running from a horrifying sociopath who just happens to be a shapeshifter, Hannah and Leah are trying to increase the population of the shapeshifters they once fled from. I loved that the book subverted the danger of the first story. You rooted for Hannah to save her family from a ruthless killer in Diaries. Now you come to understand that Jakab was just a bad seed in an otherwise proud but persecuted race.

We have some new Hungarian-based vocabulary in Written in the Blood. Our new enemies are the lelek tolvajok. If the hosszu elet are shapeshifters, the lelek tolvajok are body snatchers. They target the hosszu elet because their unnaturally long lives provide more sturdy stock than regular humans, whose fragile bodies and short lives run ragged too quickly. Their description is physically, brutally nightmarish. Where Jakab was sadistic and emotionally manipulative, the lelek tolvajok are physically terrifying, and ratchet up the demented mentality by about a thousand degrees. Their description and ominous introduction builds in an impressive way. It’s a horror element that I think is really well done.

Just to add another race in there, we have the kiretesztett, a kind of “Mudblood” if you want to get all Harry Potter with it. In Hannah and Leah’s attempt to raise the hosszu elet numbers, they try to turn to this exiled group of people who are neither “normal” or “special.” They are both heartbreaking and twisted, sympathetic and strange. It’s another set of characters that I think is very appealing from a story standpoint. And luckily the world expansion slows there. If we’d had another batch of characters with another Hungarian name to memorize, I would have had to break out the charts.

The book is a whirlwind, but an incredibly intense, well-structured one. You get over a dozen perspectives, from Hannah and Leah to the human victims of the lelek tolvajok, to the broken kiretesztett, and you  even get a little bit from Jakab and his brother Iszak (and you thought we were done with those two…) The climbing action is some of the finest I’ve seen in a story. By the end you’re turning pages as fast as you can to see how it all turns out.

I loved this sequel. It was as fast-paced and brutal as Diaries, and I even think it took that frantic energy and kicked it up a notch. The characters are equal parts likable and horrifying, complex and simple to understand. I’m not sure if this will become a trilogy. But if it does, I will be reading the conclusion.

My Grade: B+

& Fridays: A Chair to Read In…

Ever since I re-vamped by bookcases, I’ve been sort of poking around, searching for the perfect reading chair to set up in some space that the old bookcases formerly occupied. I walked into a specialty furniture store a few weeks ago, was whisked around the showroom, sat in a few chairs, then plunked in front of some design-your-own software to customize an armchair and ottoman. I left the store in sticker shock. I held a print out of my dream chair in my hands and it could be mine…for $2,500.00

I don’t really have that kind of change for a reading chair, so the hunt has been on ever since.

A wingback nailhead chair with pillow from Overstock.com

A wingback nailhead chair with pillow from Overstock.com

Here are my requirements: it has to be comfortable, of course (although this is difficult to test whilst online shopping, reviews can go a long way…). It has to has arms of a reasonable width, and I wanted the back to be tall, preferably with wings, so that should I fall asleep while reading, I could lean against something.

Ottomans might have to come later. I’m not sure if I’d even use one…

There’s this comfy-looking dusty-gray-blue number from Overstock.com. But is the back tall enough? I feel like I wouldn’t be able to really rest my head on the wings.

James Harrison Leather Wing Chair by West Elm.

James Harrison Leather Wing Chair by West Elm.

Or this mature-feeling leather piece from West Elm.

This place has a storefront that I could walk into and feasibly try out the chair, which would be a good thing, as it’s the most expensive of the bunch.

I like the slanted back, but the arms seem a little skinny. I’m not about to get a reading chair that is poke-y in any way!

 

Porter High-Back Club Chair by Three Posts on Wayfair.com

Porter High-Back Club Chair by Three Posts on Wayfair.com

 

I’m really liking this option from Wayfair.com.

It, again, doesn’t seem as tall as the West Elm piece, but doesn’t it look cozy??

I don’t have many black accents in my room…it’s all blonde wood and the walls are a burgundy color, but black is a pretty standard accent color. It kind of goes with everything…

Except for a deep navy blue. Navy and black aren’t always friends. But I digress. I’d put a fun pillow on there, regardless, to give it more color (can you tell I’m a fan of color?)

Arm Chair by Wildon Home on Wayfair.com

Arm Chair by Wildon Home on Wayfair.com

But what about a chair with actual writing on it?! And this one, also from wayfair, has a high back!

The arms do seem skinny, again, as do the wings. And I can’t go out and try this one.

But the script pattern does appeal to me, as does it’s lighter color.

Of course, I would spill marinara sauce on it the first week I used it…I might have to impose a “no food in the reading chair” rule for myself.

Even hot cocoa. *sigh* I love hot cocoa.

How’s that for a random Friday post for ya? There’s kind of a Goldilocks-and-the-Favorite-Reading-Chair vibe to it! How about you, my lovely readers? Do you have a chair that is yours? One that you’ve claimed for your own, that no one else can sit in? What makes it your favorite? Let me know if you find contenders for me, as well. Remember: comfy arms and high wings are what make my reading chair a winner! Happy Friday!!

& Review: Friendship by Emily Gould

Friendship by Emily Gould. Fiction. Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Friendship by Emily Gould. Fiction. Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

The Book Itself: Get it? Friendships are the ties that bind? And there are ropes on the cover? Joking aside, it’s a solid illustration. Simple, metaphoric.

My Review: Bev Tunney and Amy Schein have been best friends for years; now, at thirty, they’re at a crossroads. Bev is a Midwestern striver still mourning a years-old romantic catastrophe. Amy is an East Coast princess whose luck and charm have too long allowed her to cruise through life. Bev is stuck in circumstances that would have barely passed for bohemian in her mid-twenties: temping, living with roommates, drowning in student-loan debt. Amy is still riding the tailwinds of her early success, but her habit of burning bridges is finally catching up to her. And now Bev is pregnant.

As Bev and Amy are dragged, kicking and screaming, into real adulthood, they have to face the possibility that growing up might mean growing apart.

Friendship, Emily Gould’s debut novel, traces the evolution of a friendship with humor and wry sympathy. Gould examines the relationship between two women who want to help each other but sometimes can’t help themselves; who want to make good decisions but sometimes fall prey to their own worst impulses; whose generous intentions are sometimes overwhelmed by petty concerns.

Friendship is a book you think you’ve read before. In my review of In Some Other World, Maybe (review here – spoiler alert: I liked that one), I mentioned that it’s a plot that gets used a lot: modern day friendship or family-hood, the tracking of a handful of lives as they figure out their place in the world. So a book that does this has to bring something unique to the table.

And Friendship does. Up to a point.

For starters, it’s relatable. I can point to a lot of instances that brought me back to specific memories from my own female friendships. And, as someone brought up in a technology-rich time period, those instances where Bev and Amy blogged and texted their way to understanding made a lot of sense to me. Social media and messaging equipment at your beck and call make it easy to decimate a person’s feelings or ask your friend to bolster you up during your lunch break at the touch of a finger. Friendship does a great job slyly pointing out how both dangerous and useful this can be.

This book also captures the utter helplessness that entire people’s lives, whether twenty-something or thirty-something (and beyond). When we meet Amy and Bev, one of them is a wreck, the other barely hanging on to what seems like a pretty decent life: work, housing, love, etc. Then we watch as the tables turn, and how each woman uniquely adjusts to

I liked the way Friendship dealt with time. There weren’t dates or time stamps (“SIX MONTHS LATER,” or “THE NEXT WEEK”) that told you what to feasibly expect. Instead, the passing of time comes across in the writing. It’s been a couple months since Amy has talked to Bev. Three months after this, this is how her job is doing. It’s a subtle, realistic portrayal of the slippery aspect of time. How many months has it been since I talked to so-and-so? Wait, that girl I was friends with in high school has two kids now? Where did the years go? That’s the kind of thing I think Friendship is illustrating well.

But it does slip. When the focus slides from our two main characters – the friendship backbone in a book called Friendship – the book loses focus. Sally, a woman the two girls house-sit for in the beginning of the novel, and become inextricably and confusingly entwined with as the novel closes, draws away from what should be the story’s central focus. Some chapters are told jarringly from her point of view, when she’s not as compelling as Amy or Bev. Her role in one of their lives particularly (sorry that’s vague – it’s a little spoiler-y) I found to be pretty unrealistic.  I suppose she’s there to simplify one of their lives and complicate the other, but it was just distracting. I wasn’t a fan of Ms. Sally.

It’s a nice story. Not groundbreaking, but it had some lovely moments. Even heartbreaking, for those of us who haven’t spoken to a friend for a while, for whatever reason.

My Grade: C+

& Fridays: The Pen is Mightier

I figured a good companion piece to notebooks would be pens!

I thought I considered myself a bit of a pen snob. And then I read an article in the July issue of mental_floss magazine about an actual, real-life pen snob. Brad Dowdy creator of blog and podcast The Pen Addictowns around 300 pens, and has written reviews on everything from pens bought at your nearby office supply store to specialty pens from Japan (FYI: his favorite “cheap pen” is a Uni-ball Jetstream). I loved reading the article, and perusing his blog. I, too, like a good pen, and I’m always buying new ones to try.

Here are some favorites:

EnerGel Liquid Gel Ink pens. I use primarily 0.7 mm

EnerGel Liquid Gel Ink pens. I use primarily 0.7 mm

I go through EnerGel Liquid Gel Ink pens like nobody’s business. I get the multi-color packs, and the 3-pack of black pens whenever I see them on sale.

The colors are super vivid, they don’t bleed into the paper behind the one you’re working on, and the line is very solid. On shiny paper, they can smear a little easier than most, and I go through the black ink ones A LOT, so maybe there is something to be said for their ink capacity, but I’m still going to buy them.

 

 

The cute and sassy seven year pens. This image found here, but the manufacturer of the pen found here.

The cute and sassy seven year pens. This image found here, but the manufacturer of the pen found here.

I found The Seven Year Pen a couple of years ago. I bought one and lost it probably 6 months into owning it, only to have my best friend replace it because she remembered which one I owned. The extra-long ink cartridge and specialty tip boasts the pen’s ability to write 1.7 meters a day for seven years.

I will say that neither of the two I own have run out or seem to be losing steam any time soon. But the line made by a Seven Year Pen is not as strong as you’d expect from a typical ballpoint pen. The stroke is a little weak, and there is no comfort grip to make holding it easier, but I’m still a fan, probably because of the attractive packaging.

Just look at those! They come in tons of fun designs, and I’ve given a couple to friends who I thought of after looking at a particular design (I gave the dachshund one to a friend who owns two real-life wiener dogs, and the flamingo design to a pal who loves the pink birds).

What about you, my fellow pen-lovers? Are you a fountain pen person? Are you big into calligraphy (I’m trying to do this, too! It’s tons harder than it looks!)? Let me know, and happy Friday!

& Review: My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry by Fredrik Backman

MGAMTTYSS by Fredrik Backman. Fiction. Publisher: Atria Books.

MGAMTTYSS by Fredrik Backman. Fiction. Publisher: Atria Books.

The Book Itself: Now that is a title…but doesn’t it look so whimsical, so pleasant?? A little girl, a cute doggy wearing a scarf. Come on.

My Review: Elsa is seven years old and different. Her grandmother is seventy-seven years old and crazy, standing-on-the-balcony-firing-paintball-guns-at-men-who-want-to-talk-about-Jesus-crazy. She is also Elsa’s best, and only, friend. At night Elsa takes refuge in her grandmother’s stories, in the Land of Almost-Awake and the Kingdom of Miamas where everybody is different and nobody needs to be normal.

When Elsa’s grandmother dies and leaves behind a series of letters apologizing to people she has wronged, Elsa’s greatest adventure begins. Her grandmother’s letters lead her to an apartment building full of drunks, monsters, attack dogs, and totally ordinary old crones, but also to the truth about fairytales and kingdoms and a grandmother like no other.

When I was in college, I took a yearlong Creative Writing seminar where we had to focus on a theme in our writing or the stories we read and write a term paper about it at the end of the year. I wrote about the imaginative world that young characters built for themselves in order to distract from problems in their present reality.

Too bad MGAMTTYSS wasn’t written back then. Because I totally could have used it.

Notice that I have to abbreviate that thing. When people asked me what I was reading, I usually responded with something like this: “It’s called My Grandmother Told You She Said…wait, no. It’s My Grandmother Asked Me to Say That…that’s not it either.” I don’t know why it was so hard for me to remember the title. But it’s kind of a long title! Especially for an author whose last book was simply titled A Man Called Ove.

I’d heard good things about Ove. And MGAMTTYSS is completely endearing, so Ove might have to go on my to-read list.

Elsa lives with her mother and stepfather in a big apartment building with perhaps the most motley assortment of characters you’ve ever seen. This includes her grandmother, who has fed Elsa bedtime stories set in the Land of Almost-Awake for as long as Elsa can remember. It is an elaborate world, with seven different kingdoms and wars and magical creatures not seen anywhere else.

And then Elsa’s beloved grandmother dies, and Elsa begins to see the parallels between her grandmother’s real, tumultuous life and the stories she told to put Elsa to bed.

This story does a great job with complex characters. Elsa’s grandmother is only alive for the first chapter or so in the book, but her background is slowly filled in with detail provided by the people she has Elsa deliver letters to. Her story is heartbreaking and heartwarming at the same time, and I found her to be totally believable. I could see an eccentric old lady, jaded from memories in her past and haunted by mistakes she made with her own daughter, clinging to a granddaughter and trying it make it so that her young life is filled with as much positivity and fun as possible. But she also knows that Elsa must grow up, and by slowly revealing the characters from the Land of Almost-Awake in the real world, she hopes to ease her into that.

The book also helped me appreciate a character I initially loathed. I despised her for most of the book. Britt-Marie is the building busy-body who is so passive aggressive, it hurts your teeth, you’re gritting them so hard. I could hear her voice, all simpering and sweet, insulting Elsa’s mother for working when she has a young child and a baby on the way. I hated her along with the other building residents, whose monthly meetings were run by this dictator in a floral jacket.

And then you find out more about her backstory. And she has such a moment of strength toward the end of the story that I really found myself rooting for her. She’s still a rude busybody, but at least she was somewhat redeemable.

Elsa herself can be a little inconsistent. She is a seven (“almost eight,” she likes to point out) year old child, but sometimes acts like an adult or teenager in her knowledge or understanding. In one scene, she mistakes a therapist for a terrorist, even pronouncing it with a childlike lisp (“terrapist”). In a later scene, she talks about a therapist in her past. So…if she had one in her past, how come she didn’t remember what one was? Her voice wobbles in maturity. She understands too much, and then she seems to understand nothing at all about how the world works. I think child narrators are often difficult because you want to write them like adults, but you still have to maintain a childlike wonder and simplistic understanding of the setting. I think that was a little shaky at some parts in this book.

The book did lag for me a little. I tended to put it down for a couple of days between chapters. But the characters were vivid – the Hagrid-like giant “Wolfheart,” the “wurse,” or giant dog who becomes Elsa’s friend and confidante (and who she feeds a frightening number of chocolates to). It is a lovely, complex book which has a great side-world to its story in the Land of Almost-Awake.

My Grade: B

& Fridays: A Slight Notebook Problem, Part 2

You came back! Hello! And Happy Friday!

Journals! With books inside! This collection found for purchase here.

Journals! With books inside! This collection found for purchase here.

THE LINES ARE THE WORDS FROM THE BOOKS! HOW COOL IS THAT?!

THE LINES ARE THE WORDS FROM THE BOOKS! HOW COOL IS THAT?!

I’m currently cover-(and page-)lusting after A Novel Journal’s books. Not only do they come in fun colors, with a quote from a famous novel on the outside, the lines inside are the complete text from the book! I’m including a picture for reference, but isn’t that awesome?! Instead of your regular ruled notebook, you have a story to inspire you right there. I can’t choose which one I like more – Great Expectations (“You are in every line I have ever read”) or Jane Eyre (“I am no bird; and no net ensnares me”)? Emma (“You must be the best judge of your own happiness”) or The Wizard of Oz (“True courage is in facing danger when you are afraid”)?!

Moleskine notebooks with Shakespeare quotes. Buy here.

Moleskine notebooks with Shakespeare quotes. Buy here.

Moleskine is doing a series of Shakespeare-themed journals with quotes on the cover, and I am really liking them. My favorite? All’s Well That Ends Well’s quote “Love all, trust a few, do wrong to none.” You can tell I’m a quote nerd, can’t you?

And last but not least, another favorite journal company of mine is Studio Oh!’s journals and sketchbooks. I actually used their colored pencil-themed sketchbook for my first foray into writing exercises this year. I filled it all up and now it sits in a place of importance on my bookshelf (all the way at the top!). They have really thick, textured covers with beautiful photos or quotes on them (the next one waiting for me to fill it up says “The best way to get something done is to begin”). But my favorite feature is the spine, because it allows you to lay the whole thing flat while you’re writing without snapping anything or loosening any of the pages.

Two of my Studio Oh! notebooks - love the covers!!

Two of my Studio Oh! notebooks – love the covers!!

Whew! How about you, fellow notebook-addicts? What were the newest additions to your collections? What are your favorite brands? Does one hold sentimental value over another? Tell me about it!