April 19, 2014

Audio book: Dad is Fat

by Jim Gaffigan
read by the author
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: Some mild swearing (like, less than a dozen times) and it's all about parenting, so I'm not sure how many kids would be interested. It's in the humor section at the bookstore.

Jim Gaffigan is a comedian (whom I hadn't heard of) and a father of five kids. In New York City. He lives in a two-bedroom apartment in a five-story walk-up. And as you can imagine, all this leads to an immense amount of hilarity, most of which he turns into comic gold. (Well, not gold, really.)

Like most comedians (and humor really), it's really quite subjective. This one tickled my funny bone, partially because I could relate to it (one tweet I sent out: "So true: 'When children see animals in captivity, it makes them want ice cream.' - Jim Gaffigan), perhaps because I have nearly as many kids as he does. And partially because he's honest about himself and his abilities as a parent. I want to sit down with him, swap horror stories, and say, "Yeah, I think I suck at this parenting gig, too."

I'm not sure I would have liked it if I had read it, but Gaffigan is a terrific narrator of his own material (see: stand-up comedian), and I often found myself guffawing (yes, I do guffaw) along with his hilarious and often ridiculous (see: five kids in NYC) stories. As I was telling a friend of mine: there's nothing like listening to the war stories of someone who's got it more challenging than you to make you feel good about your life.

And this was a thoroughly diverting ego boost.

April 18, 2014

Fangirl

by Rainbow Rowell
First sentence: "There was a boy in her room."
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There's quite a few f-bombs, and some insinuations of sex. Plus a lot of underage (and overage) drinking. Also, it's about college freshmen, a subject which I'm not sure younger readers want to read about. It's rightly in the teen section (grades 9 and up) of the bookstore.

Cath and Wren are twins. Wren is the outgoing one, the pretty one, the fun one. And Cath stays home and writes Simon Snow (think Harry Potter) fanfiction. She's really good at it: her stories get thousands of hits, and are widely talked about on the fanfiction sites.

But none of that is going to matter now that they're freshmen at the University of Nebraska. Cath wanted to go the safe route by rooming with Wren. But, for Wren, that wasn't an option. So Cath is forced to branch out. Experience things. Actually have a life.

In many ways, this is a love story to those who write fanfiction. Yes, Cath is an introvert, and no she doesn't want to engage in what most people call "living", but in no way does Rowel make Cath seem pathetic. She puts her in contrast to Wren, who spends weekends (and some weeknight) partying until we hours (the "normal" college experience) and lets us choose on our own. Perhaps some readers will see Cath as pathetic and without a life, but I never did. (Perhaps, too, that's because I'm an introvert and I have a nerdy family who actually read -- and write -- fanfiction.)

It's also a traditional love story. Cath's roommate, Reagan, has a boy, Levi, kicking around. Cath thinks they're dating, but eventually realizes that it's really her Levi is interested in. And it's their romance that made the book for me. Levi is so danged good and it was a pleasure watching the good guy get the girl. (So often it's the "bad" one.) I loved the banter, I loved the push and pull, and I loved watching Levi draw Cath out of her shell, while simultaneously wholly accepting her for who she is.

The ending was a bit pat, I thought, and all the drama with her parents (dad's a bit on the manic side; mom walked out on The 9/11, and Cath is understandably resistant to her attempts to reconnect) was a bit over-the-top. And while I appreciated that Rowell was reaching out to those who immerse themselves in a fandom, including pages and pages of Cath's fanfiction was a little boring for me.

Even with the quibbles, though, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this one.

April 16, 2014

Under the Egg

by Laura Marx Fitzgerald
First sentence: "It was the find of the century."
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There some descriptions of horrible events, but nothing graphic. I think younger readers might have problems with the languages -- there's French and Latin, though translations are provided -- and some of the names, but it's in the middle grade (grades 3-5) of the bookstore, and I think it fits there.

Theodora (call her Theo) Tenpenny is the granddaughter of an artist and the daughter of an extreme introvert. She lives in what was once a grand old New York City house, but over the years has become neglected. Her grandpa Jack has kept everything reasonably in shape over the years and has managed to keep the family afloat by being mostly self-reliant. But since he was hit by a car and died (which seems overly gruesome for a guy in his mid-80s), Theo's been in charge. And she's struggling.

That is, until she takes her grandfather's last words -- "Look under the egg" -- literally, and discovers that he's been hiding a very old painting underneath the one of an egg that's been hanging over their mantelpiece for years. Because she's spent her life in her grandfather's shadow, going to the Met and other art museums, Theo has a good eye, and realizes at once that this painting is something special. Something, perhaps, worth a lot of money.

However, as she and her new friend, Bodhi, find out, declaring a painting a lost work by a master is easy. Proving it is another matter. Especially when it turns out that this could be looted Nazi treasure.

On the one hand, there's a lot of information to be had in this slim book. Both art history as well as WWII history play a major role in the plot. But I think that Fitzgerald handles it well, even if all the information and history might make it harder for younger readers to get into the book. But, she gave us a couple of great characters in Bodhi and Theo; they really are a team that works well together. I enjoyed the old-fashioned sleuthing to solve the mystery of the painting, and I liked how the history fit into the larger picture. I did find the ending to be a bit convenient, but even that was explained in a reasonable (if somewhat implausible) manner.

In the end, a highly enjoyable book.

April 14, 2014

The Shadowhand Covenant

by Brian Farrey
First sentence: "It was exactly the funeral Nanni always wanted."
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Others in the series: The Vengekeep Prophecies
Content: There's some intense action-related moments, and a small amount of violence, but nothing else. It's perfectly happy in the middle grade (3-5th grade) section of the bookstore.

When we last left our fair Grimjinx family, they were trying to leave behind thieving. Jaxter was off to the Dowager's estate to become apprentice to her, and the rest of the family was becoming (mostly) clean. Six months later, things aren't exactly happy. Jaxter and the Dowager are fighting and he's seriously considering giving up the internship altogether. So, when he heads back for Nanni's "funeral" (it's Par-Goblin custom to throw a funeral when a thief retires), he's pretty much sure that he's going to try and find another line of work.

But then, he, his Ma and Da get summoned by the Shadowhand, a super-secret organization of thieves. Someone's making them disappear. And it seems to be tied up with valuable relics that were stolen from the High Laird. And the Sarosans -- a group of gypsy-like people who are against magic and the Palatinate, the group of mages who seem to be grabbing too much power.

Of course, Jaxter gets involved (though not because he wants to; his hand is kind of forced), and he uses his knowledge of plants and powers of deduction to help him -- and his friends -- out.

Much of what I loved about the first book in this series is back: I adore the Grimjinxes as a family. They're fantastic. It's not very often that you have amazing parents in middle grade, but Ma and Da are them. Sure, Farrey has to find a way to separate Jaxter from them so he can have adventures. But they're so supportive and just plain good people (thieving aside, of course). And I still love how bookish Jaxter is. He's not athletic, and he's terrible at magic, but somehow he makes his book knowledge work for him.

I also liked the action in this one; Farrey has a good sense of action sequences, and there were a couple of moments when I was on the edge of my seat, wondering what's going to happen next.

And Farrey does a series right: each of these books have their own plot, wrapping it up by the final pages, while having a slower over-arcing plot weave them together. The writing's smart, the characters fun. It's fantastic.

April 13, 2014

State of the TBR Pile: April 2014

I was thinking that my TBR pile looked a lot like last month's. But then I checked (one of the great side benefits of doing this), and nope. I actually have rotated out quite a few books for this month. We'll see how many of these I get to, though. I keep getting sidetracked with awesome, like Laini Taylor's Dreams of Gods and Monsters, which I'm in the middle of right now.

As for the rest of the pile:
Wanderville, by Wendy McClure (Because of the Kansas connection.)
Under Magnolia, by Frances Mayes (I meant to read this before it came out. Still. I liked some of her other books.)
The Geography of You and Me, by Jennifer E. Smith (Because I'm in the mood for romance.)
Lifesaving Lessons, by Linda Greenlaw (Because I'm going to an author event with her. I probably should read it first...)
Half Bad, by Sally Green (Really, really, really out to get to this one.()
The World's Strongest Librarian, by (For my in person book gro)
All These Things I've Done, by Gabrielle Zevin (Because I've been meaning to for years.)
The Shadow Throne, by Jennifer E. Nelson (The last in one of my favorite series.)
Not pictured: Cruel Beauty, by Rosamund Hodge (YACker's book this month. It's waiting for me at the library.)

What's on your reading pile this month?