Thursday, January 29, 2015

Book Review: "The Art of War" by Sun Tzu

I have long been curious about this book.  It is basically a handbook for being successful in war, and is still considered relevant despite being written a couple thousand years ago.

Now that I've read it - I can totally see it.  Yes, it is primarily a handbook for military operations, but I see the philosophy being easily applied to business and other managerial fields.  It is a really fast read - this edition was less than 100 pages, and really is only half that when considering how the text is printed (more on that in a second).  But this is one to hang on to, and I think I'll end up rereading this from tine to time.

Now on to the specifics of this edition, because I love it.  The text is printed with Chinese characters on the left side pages, and English on the right.  The Chinese characters are so beautiful, even if I can't read them.  Then, the entire hardcover book is bound in the traditional Chinese way.  This means that the pages are only printed on one side, folded in half, and then stitched together tightly for the spine. The spine is also threaded, binding a hard front cover and hard back cover to the rest of the book.  The overall effect is spectacular, and I'll be hanging on to this volume for this reason as well.  I'll include the ISBN number below if you are interested in this particular edition as well.

The Art of War
by Sun Tzu
Translated by James Trapp
Chartwell Books, 2012.  Originally published 6th century BC
96 pages
ISBN:  978-0-7858-2922-5
Source:  Purchased New


Monday, January 26, 2015

Book Review: "The DUFF" by Kody Keplinger

Bianca doesn't know why this is happening.  Why on earth is she even thinking about Wesley?  He is seriously the biggest a-hole womanizer playboy in school....   she hates him even before he informs her that she is the "Duff" of her friends.  Duff - as in Designated Ugly Fat Friend.  She can't stand him.  But things are going from bad to worse at home and she doesn't want to think about it.  Being with Wesley makes her numb to her problems - he is really nothing more than a distraction.  But the more time they spend together, the more they get to know each other and find that they may have more in common than they thought.  Bianca cannot be falling for Wesley, can she?

This has been sitting on my shelf for a long time, but I'm glad I finally got around to it.  I've heard that they were filming an adaptation of this too, and it actually looks like it may be coming out next month.  So there's that - gotta read the book before the movie!

Honestly, I wasn't really sure what to think of Bianca at first.  She's cynical and sarcastic, which I usually like, but to an extreme that made it hard to really embrace her.  Wesley really comes across as a jerk at first, and I loved that Bianca threw her drink at him.  (Side note - I have done that before, and it feels really really good.)  They do have this chemistry and passion though that is undeniable....  and it was really fun watching them figure that out and decide what to do with it.  Bianca also has these two really awesome best friends, and I always like seeing healthy girl-friendships written into YA novels.

Being honest, I'm going to say that I wasn't completely blown away by this, but I did enjoy it.  It is also making me remember A Midsummer's Nightmare - as it is a later companion novel that I a read about a year and a half ago - and wanting to skim through it again.

The DUFF: Designated Ugly Fat Friend
by Kody Keplinger
Poppy, 2010
277 pages
Source:  Purchased New


Thursday, January 22, 2015

Book Review: "And Then There Were None" by Agatha Christie

Ten people, all brought out to a mysterious island for various reasons.  The servants are a married couple, but other than that - there is no connection between any of the others.  They all discover that none of them have actually met their host, and that the host is not on the island.  After the first evening's dinner, a recording plays that accuses each guest (including the servants) of murder, complete with dates and names of their victims....  and then they each start to die, one by one.

THIS, right here, is why Agatha Christie is the Queen of Mystery!
I don't really remember reading Christie before, although I do have a memory of looking for her books in my public library when I was in 7th or 8th grade.  So for all intents and purposes, we'll call this my first Agatha Christie book.

I will say that the first two or three chapters were a little confusing for me, and for good reason.  The entire plot is set up quickly, and we are introduced to ten very different characters.  But by the third chapter (or whenever that first dinner is held), the pacing picks up very quickly and it is much easier to keep things sorted.  Also, the body count goes up at a pretty steady pace, so there are less suspects, I mean characters, to keep track of.  And yet, the final twist at the end was a complete surprise to me.  I was completely fooled and never saw it coming!  I am definitely a fan, and will keep looking for her books when I am in the mood for a good mystery.

And Then There Were None
by Agatha Christie
William Morrow, 2011.  Originally published 1940.
247 pages
Source:  Purchased New


Monday, January 19, 2015

Book Review: "Not in the Script" by Amy Finnegan

Emma is getting ready to start shooting her new TV show and is ready for all the good things it has to offer.  She likes this director, filming is being done in Arizona instead of LA where the nasty paparazzi are all over her, and one of her co-stars is her long time crush Brett Crawford.  She is still getting over her last boyfriend, and that relationship did not end well.  Her best friend Rachel will flip when she finds out that another co-star is her crush - a male model named Jake.  Emma promises to try and set Rachel up with Jake - she needs to do something to ease the guilt she feels over all her success when Rachel could be a successful actress too.  But when she and Jake start to hang out.....  And then there is also Brett, with whom she is linked in a fake romance by the press.

This book is so much fun and completely adorable.  The story is told in alternating points of view - Emma and Jake's.  So we get to know both of them really well, and cheer for them completely.  It is so fun to see sort of a "behind the scenes" look at young people in Hollywood - and the making of a TV show that reminds me of Beverly Hills 90210.  I laughed out loud in so many places, and cringed in others.  Yes, some of the plot is kind of predictable, but honestly - I wasn't looking for a mystery here.  This is pure sugary sweet romance and I absolutely loved it.

I guess this is part of a series called "If Only" in which the books are not at all related to each other, but they are all YA romance novels.  I might have to check more out when I'm in the mood for a sweet love story!

Not in the Script
by Amy Finnegan
Bloomsbury, 2014
367 pages
Series:  If Only #3
Source:  Purchased New

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Book Review: "The Bane Chronicles" by Cassandra Clare, Sarah Rees Brennan, and Maureen Johnson

So you *might* recall that I am a huge fan of the Shadowhunter world created by Cassandra Clare in The Mortal Instruments series and The Infernal Devices series.  Therefore, I'm sure you're not at all surprised that I jumped for this book as soon as it arrived at my library.  You might be surprised at just how unimpressed I was though...  I mean, I sure was.  So....

This is a collection of short stories written by Cassandra Clare and one or two of her friends, Sarah Rees Brennan and Maureen Johnson (both published authors in their own right).  All of these short stories are about the illustrious Magnus Bane, the warlock we love from the Shadowhunter world.  Each story takes place in a different period of time (Magnus is a couple centuries old after all) and feature other characters from the Shadowhunter world.   Everyone loves Magnus from the other books and wants to know more about him, so here you go.

These short stories were originally released one at a time digitally, and I think they might read somewhat better that way.  If given a little time between each, you might not feel like Magnus' fashion choices are so repeatedly over-emphasized for effect and not to add to the story.   Also, the different authors definitely add their own style onto the writing - which when taken all together, doesn't seem to flow well from one to another.  One of the authors (and I'm not sure which) has a thing for strange sentence structure which was confusing at times and took me right out of the scene.  Also, some of the stories were just plain boring.  And really, this can only be read and truly understood by those whom have already read all of the other books.  Even if they had only read a couple, these spoilers would ruin the rest for you.  If they hadn't read the books, this is absolutely NOT the place to start.

The stories I liked most were the ones that more directly involved the Herondales or Alec Lightwood, though I suppose most would agree to that.

The Bane Chronicles
by Cassandra Clare, Sarah Rees Brennan, and Maureen Johnson
Margaret K. McElderry, 2014
507 pages
Series:  Companion to The Mortal Instruments and The Infernal Devices
Source:  Library


Monday, January 12, 2015

Book Review: "Evil Librarian" by Michelle Knudsen

Mr. Gabriel is the new school librarian, and while Cyn doesn't see the big deal - she kind of loves that her best friend Annie has developed a crush on him.  It kind of makes up for all the times Annie has had to listen to Cyn go on and on about her hopeless crush, Ryan.  But Annie's crush seems to get a little crazy pretty fast... and Cyn doesn't have a very good feeling about Mr. Gabriel.  She starts to notice things about him, and the affect he has on other students - not just Annie.  Evil things.  Is Mr. Gabriel really who he says he is?  Or is there something more sinister going on....  Cyn has to find out and save her friend all while putting on the best school musical ever.

I'll be honest, I got this book for the library on title and cover alone.  I mean, how could I not?  And then I read it, and oh my goodness is this book fun and completely unexpected.  Cyn is so freaking funny - I laughed out loud many, many times.  And then the whole evil librarian thing got really creepy too, which I also love.  There is also this crush/love story that is adorable.  This book has it all!

This book was exactly what I needed to help me out of my reading funk.  The writing is so fresh and just what I was looking for.  I also have to add that while there is a glaring set up for a trilogy here, there is absolutely no cliff-hanger type situation.  This completely stands on its own.  And while I would love to spend some more time with Cyn and Ryan and Annie and some other more unusual characters that we met here...  I love that it doesn't feel urgent or rushed.  The stories will come when they are ready and awesome, or they won't and I am perfectly happy with either option.

I highly recommend this to someone looking for some fun with their creepy and a side of romance, a fantastic best girl friends story with a touch of adventure as well as the strange and unexpected.  Just go with it - it is worth it!
Evil Librarian
by Michelle Knudsen
Candlewick Press, 2014
343 pages
Source:  Library


Thursday, January 8, 2015

Graphic Novel Review: "Ms. Marvel #1: No Normal" by G. Willow Wilson

16 year old Kamala Khan wishes that she was a bit more normal, but she isn't.  She is who she is, a Muslim teen girl living in Jersey City, New Jersey, idolizing the Avengers and wishing she was allowed to do things like go to parties with the other kids from school.  When a freak fog rolls in, it seems she is granted superpowers and becomes the new Ms. Marvel.  It isn't easy for her to figure out what that means, or what kind of superpowers she has...  or how this is all supposed to work.  And who can she tell about this?  The only thing that is certain, is that she's probably going to be grounded forever now.

I LOVE this story line!  Kamala is so easy to relate to, and all the issues that she's having with this transformation make absolute sense.  And she's fun, too.  She has a couple of best friends that represent the worlds she's trying to piece together within herself:  A fellow Muslim girl and an American boy with nerdish tendencies just like her.  She gets some evil to battle as well, and considering how long she's been a superhero - it doesn't go very well.  But the big story is really dealing with being yourself, figuring out who you are, and finding peace with that.

For extra fun - check out the fine details in the art, especially in the backgrounds.  Some definitely made me giggle, and it all worked to keep a more lighthearted feel to this book, even though it is certainly dealing with a heavy topic.

This book collects issues #1-5 as well as some material from All-New Marvel Now! Point One #1.  Can't wait for more!

Ms. Marvel #1:  No Normal
by G. Willow Wilson
Marvel, 2014
120 Pages
Source:  Library


Monday, January 5, 2015

Graphic Novel Review: "In Real Life" by Cory Doctorow

Anda discovers the MMRPG game Coarsegold and everything changes.  Where she felt kind of alone and invisible and perhaps even powerless in real life, she found friendship, goals, and power in the game.  As she explored the world within the game, she got to know the other players - the roles they play within the game itself, but also what is happening in their real lives.  Anda decides to break her usual character - and do what she can to help others both inside and outside the game.

I'll be honest here - this is the first time I've read Cory Doctorow, but I have heard many many good things about him.  So I was very interested when I saw that he had a graphic novel out.  And while I am not a gamer girl by any stretch of the imagination, I get it - or at least I think I do (to a point, anyway).  Doctorow wrote a fascinating intro to this book that really got me excited about what was to come; he spoke about economics as a driving concept of life and how economics affect people differently.  This works as the general theme of this story and I really liked that.  The actual story itself is kind of lightweight where it may have gone deeper in a traditional novel, but it works for this format.

This is a great choice for anyone who likes MMRPG online gaming, or who likes to lose themselves in their leisure activities.

In Real Life
by Cory Doctorow
First Second, 2014
175 pages
Source:  Library


Thursday, January 1, 2015

Happy New Year!
 Welcome to 2015 folks!  

I hope you all rang in the new year in style.  We had a little quiet New Years Eve at home with just my family.  The 5 year old made it all the way to 11:37 before conking out... but the 8 year old was ready for kisses at midnight.  

Looking back on 2014, I feel like I had a very good reading year.  I ended up reading 106 books, which was more than my GoodReads goal for the year, so yay!  I also completed the What's in a Name Challenge, which is always fun.  I've upped my 1001 Books to Read Before You Die total to 75, and have upped my total Classics Club reads to 26 (a little over 2 years to go to get to 50 - yikes!).  I failed every other challenge I signed up for, and am not even a little broken up about that.  I will sign up for new challenges for this year... they are just for fun anyway!

So what will 2015 bring?  I will graduate and earn my MLIS this spring, and I cannot even begin to express how excited I am about that.  I have settled into my position as YA Librarian, and love it.  My family life is right on track and I'm looking forward to a couple vacations this year (some big, some small - all fun and relaxing).  These are just the things I know about...  I hope 2015 brings some happy surprises too!  

Happy New Year to all of you.  I hope that once I'm out of school I'll be able to focus a little more on this space and breathe some new life into this blog.  I also really need to get back to my duties as co-moderator of The Classics Club.  I do plan on running a readathon over there on June 6th, if anyone wants to mark their calendars :)  Happy Reading!  
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