December 19, 2014

Audiobook: The Art of Asking

by Amanda Palmer
Read by the author
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: Amanda doesn't check her language. There's a ton of swearing, of all shades. And she's pretty frank about pretty much everything. It's in a couple of sections at the bookstore: self-help (which it really isn't) and biography (where it fits a bit better).

When this book came in, the conversation with one of my bosses as I was shelving this went something like this:

Her: "I saw Amanda Palmer once. She was intense."
Me: "I didn't know who she was until she started dating Neil Gaiman."
Her: "You know, she's her own person."

That last sentence really does sum up this book quite nicely: Amanda Palmer is, for better or worse, her own person. And she is not ashamed of any of it.

Nominally an expansion of her TED talk, it's more a meandering look into what makes Amanda Palmer tick. On the surface, it's not a book for everyone. Amanda is frank, which means that sometimes she (and her music) will rub you the wrong way. BUT, she is frank. Which means she's honest, and that gives the book a refreshing clarity. She talks about a lot of things: her time as a street performer, her music, her relationship with Neil Gaiman, but at its heart, it comes down to one thing: she is interested in the connections between people and how we ask for things.

Because of who she is, this is framed in music terms: a musician asking her fans for support, help, love, money. But what she says -- that there are ways to ask that isn't begging, and that it's the connections (what she calls the net) that makes asking possible -- is applicable for just about everyone. It got me thinking about gifts and connections, and how we work at relationships, and about how I'm much too hesitant to ask for things. At one point, she says that asking without condition is a gift, because it allows the other person to give. That's something that resonated with me.

I enjoyed the audio version of this quite a bit as well: while Amanda's voice was sometimes difficult for me to hear (which is entirely my fault), I loved hearing snatches of her music (I prefer her later, ukulele songs to the Dresden Dolls stuff) and her Neil Gaiman voice (seriously: she had a slightly British affection when she had him talking. It was quite adorable). But, mostly, I felt like she was in the car with me, explaining her life view, and how, just maybe, it might make my life a little bit better.

Highly recommended.

December 17, 2014

The Grimjinx Rebellion

by Brian Farrey
First sentence: "Of all the wisdom passed down through the generations of the Grimjinx clan, the bit I think about most came from Jerrina Grimjinx, wife of Corenus, our clan father."
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Others in the series: The Vengekeep Prophecies, The Shadowhand Covenant
Content: There's some action, and a few intense moments. The length will probably deter less confident readers, but (aside from the made up words) it's really a page-turner. It's in the middle grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore.

Jaxter thought, after he defeated the Shadowhand, that his troubles would be over. But, the High Laird has been raising taxes, and the population of the Five Provinces are getting restless. None of this bothers Jaxter very much, until the mages kidnap his sister. Who happens to be a powerful seer.

Jaxter, of course, can't let this happen. So he, his parents, and some of his friends, head off to rescue Aubrin from the power-hungry mages and discover that they're plotting to overthrow the High Laird and take over the provinces. Once again, Jaxter (and the whole Grimjinx clan) is in over their heads. But, true to form, they rally and figure out a way to Save the Day.

This is such a solid series: a great overarching story (elements of the first book came back again in this one), that involves themes of freedom and who has the right to rule. But it's also grounded in family: I love the whole Grimjinx clan (even the wayward uncle) and how they pull for each other. They can do things individually, true, but as a family unit, they're unstoppable. And I love how Jaxter's friends got adopted into the family: they're as important to him as his actual family. I especially like his relationship with Callie: you can tell he's concerned about her, but there's no romance. They're just friends, and that's great.

I also loved how this wrapped up, but didn't tie everything up in a nice, neat bow. Farrey chose to leave things hanging; and I appreciated the ambiguity. Anything could happen, and that's just great.

It's a fantastic end to a fantastic series.

December 15, 2014

The Terrible Two

by Mac Barnett and Jory John, illustrated by Keven Cornell
First sentence: "Welcome to Yawnee Valley, an idyllic place with rolling green hills that slope down to creeks and cows as far as the eye can see."
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy snagged from the ARC shelves at my place of employment.
Release date: January 13, 2015
Content: It's a bunch of silly pranks. Simple writing and lots of illustrations make it good for younger and reluctant readers. It will be in the Middle Grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore.

Miles Murphy is The King of the Pranks. Or, at least he was back in his old school. But in his new one? Not so much. Oh, he tries to become the king again. But in small Yawneee Valley, Miles is finding it difficult to get a good prank in. He keeps being thwarted by someone else. Soon, it's an all-out prank war, the like Yawnee Valley has never seen.

As soon as I saw this one, I snagged it; Mac Barnett is one of my favorite picture book writers, and I figure he and his friend (or so the bios say) Jory John had to produce something worth reading. I was right (of course!). It's hilarious. Silly and stupid. Dumb and amusing.

It's perfect.

Really. It'll be great for the reluctant readers who need something silly to keep them turning pages. (Plus: illustrations!) It's got some great conflict, a hilarious buffoon of an adult to root against, and the best. ever. prank. at the end.

What more could you ask for in a book?

Absolutely nothing.

December 14, 2014

State of the TBR Pile: December 2014

I know it's a bit early for resolutions, but I have one. Next year, I'm going to control this mess:

Seriously. There are books several years old on this shelf that NEED to be read. So I'm going to stop checking books out from the library (*sigh*) at least until I can get a bit of a handle on this shelf.

However, I do have a few books out from the library that I need to finish, so this month, I'm going to try and read:
Marina, by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
Glory O'Brien's History of the Future, by A. S. King
The Map to Everywhere, by Carrie Ryan and John Parke Davis
Absolutely Almost, by Lisa Graf

Hopefully, I can finish them in what's left of 2014, and then I can start the new year fresh.

What's on your TBR pile this month?

December 13, 2014

Graphic Novel Round Up, December 2014

In Real Life
by Cory Doctorow and Jen Wang
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There's a couple instances mild swearing and because it's about economics and gaming, it's in the teen section of the bookstore. That said, A (who is in 5th grade) read it, understood most of it (at least the general idea), and really liked it. It's in the teen graphic novel section of the bookstore.

I've never read anything by Cory Doctorow, but I was intrigued by this when it came into the store, and after reading a review of it for the Cybils blog I knew I needed to pick this one up.

Anda is a gamer. Which makes her a bit of an anomaly in her new school in Flagstaff, Arizona. So when a woman comes to their tech class, inviting them all to join this new online gaming community, Coarsegold, Anda jumps at the chance. Once inside the game, though, she soon finds out things are not all coming up roses. She hooks up with another player, Sarge, who introduces Anda to the world of gold farming. Actually, Anda and Sarge's job is to kill off those who are gold farming -- harvesting virtual gold for real money.

But then Anda befriends one of the gold farmers, a Chinese boy who goes by the English name, Raymond. She discovers that he's being forced to work for hours on end without a break, for very little money and no health coverage. So, she gets Involved.

I enjoyed much about this foray into the gaming world. I enjoyed Anda as a character, and that Jen Wang drew her realistically. Even her avatar, which was slimmer and "whiter" than Anda was, wasn't Barbie perfect. I enjoyed the fact that the introduction to the gamer world was a girl, as well. Especially with gamer-gate, acknowledging that girls are gamers, too (and good at it) is a good thing. Doctorow mentions in his introduction that this is not just about gamers, but it's also about economics and making a difference. And I could see that as well; it's a primer how electronic transactions take place and a reminder that in this world, no one is truly ever disconnected from anyone else.


I Remember Beirut
by Zeina Abirached
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Others in the series (loosely speaking): A Game for Swallows
Content: Much like Hidden, this is about the effects of war on everyday people. It's pretty matter-of-fact, but it feels like an older graphic novel. It'd be in the teen graphic novel section of the bookstore.

This is basically Abirached's memories of growing up during the war in Lebanon. Her  house was in the middle of what she called "no man's land", which was a zone in between the worst of the fighting and the safer places in Beirut. Her memories are organized roughly chronologically, and range from the mundane -- how they showered -- to the macabre -- her brother loved collecting bits of schrapnel -- to the sad -- when a neighbor had to move because their house got blown up.

Done in the same stark black and white drawings, it's a reminder that no war is without casualties, and that sometimes those casualties are the everyday lives of people who aren't even involved in the fighting.