Thursday, May 26, 2016

Series Worth Reading: Monument 14 by Emmy Laybourne

I made a choice not too long ago to only read series when they were completed, and I had all the books in my possession.  What a good choice.  Instead of reading one book and then forgetting it and trying to get back into the series a year later, I can read them all within weeks of each other.  I usually intersperse standalones between books but not so many that I lose track of the series.  This has turned series reading into a welcome event instead of an exercise in frustration.  Happily, there are oodles and tons of complete YA series that are out there ripe for the reading (and reviewing...with only light spoilers!).

Monument 14 is one such series.  I'm an easy target for a good post-apocalyptic/dystopian series, and this one was great.

Book one wastes no time getting right into the nitty gritty of the apocalypse.  Dean and his brother Alex are running to catch their school buses little knowing that their lives as they knew them are about to be over.  Between home and school the buses are caught in a treacherous hail storm.  Dean's bus wrecks, but, quick thinker Mrs. Wooly, the elementary school bus driver plows her bus into a Greenway super store.  Unfortunately, the hail storm is only the beginning, and soon the group of unsupervised kids has taken more permanent shelter inside the store while the world outside endures catastrophe after catastrophe.

Monument 14 is cleverly conceived as both a post-apocalyptic thriller and a sort of social experiment that brings together average, slightly nerdy Dean with Jake the jock and Niko, a boy scout always prepared type, and a herd of scared and/or bratty elementary school kids.  While the world outside is crumbling under freak weather events and the release of a military grade toxin that interacts with certain blood types to produce dangerous effects, a motley assortment of grade schoolers is learning to rely on each other to survive.  It's interesting to see how long the normal high school social construct holds up before it becomes apparent that it's becoming a thing of the past.

The three books follow the group of kids from their safe haven in the super store out into the destroyed world, starting with Dean as the narrator and branching out to other points of view as circumstances change.  The post-apocalyptic world Laybourne presents is terrifying, filled with people desperate to get by and people who are wreaking havoc unaware thanks to the chemical weapon leak.  The pace is quick, with the kids dodging near disasters of all kinds as they seek a more permanent kind of safety than the Greenway has to offer.  Despite the abundance of characters presented, Laybourne doesn't scrimp on the character development, and each kid young and old(er) has a personality all their own.

The Monument 14 books are can't-put-them-down thrillers that read fast and have you longing for a happy ending for the "family" of kids who were unexpectedly thrown together in the Greenway on one fateful day.  

Monday, May 23, 2016

Choose Your Own Comment Adventure! (1)

Today's the day that I bring my comment crusade to life.  If you were reading yesterday, you'll know I've decided to make a feature out of my going on commenting escapades wherein I follow the comments from blog to blog, meet some new folks, pop in on old friends, you get the idea.  Basically, I started with the first post in my feed reader that had comment, left a comment there, then visited the first commenter leaving a comment on their most recent post, and onward like so for 10 blogs, with a minimum of backtracking and cheating to avoid duplicates and/or leaving the book blogosphere completely.      

In honor of the event, I made the above wretched graphic.  It just felt like it needed a picture to be a real feature.  Unfortunately, I have no real photo editing skills, in case you didn't take note of that already.  Oh well, bear with me anyway.  Here's where I went on my commenting adventure! (Full disclosure: I actually went on my "adventure" on Saturday morning, so these aren't the most recent posts anymore!)

I started off at Beth Fish Reads' Weekend Cooking post, all about cookbooks and foodie non-fiction she discovered on her trip to BEA.  I duly added one of the spotlighted books to my wishlist - Pancakes in Paris by Craig Carlson (coming in September).

It didn't take me long to discover a new (to me) blog with another Weekend Cooking post.  Tina at Novel Meals reviewed the 14th Inspector Banks novel from Peter Robinson, Close To Home.  In the process, she spotlighted a few delicious food references from the book that made me hungry!  Series mystery/thrillers aren't usually for me, but drawing the inner foodie out of a not food related book totally is!

Uh oh, I fell out of the book blogosphere.  Jackie's blog, Junkboat Travels, is a lovely travel blog with a beautiful cover image that makes this a detour well worth taking. However, I think I'll step back to the next comment on the last blog to stay on a book bloggerly track...

Joy at Joy's Book Blog is also linked up to Weekend Cooking, but just my luck, she's also got some Saturday Snapshot action going.  Joy's post features some beautiful shots from her trip to Cuba and a bowl of tasty looking squash soup.

The next post I visited was from Christine at The Book Trunk Blog whose post is also linked up to Saturday Snapshot.  Christine shared some lovely photos of resurgent wildflowers called snake's head fritallaries.  Along with the pictures, Christine summarizes some really interesting background on these unique looking flowers.

I'm starting to get off the bookish track again (because memes), so I backtrack a little and end up in a familiar place.  Kathy at BermudaOnion's Weblog reviewed one of my favorite books from recent years - The Book Thief.  Good news, she loved it as much as I did!

Elizabeth at Silver's Reviews is celebrating her niece Elizabeth's (who is named after her!) graduation today.  Congrats, other Elizabeth!

Maria at A Night's Dream of Books responded to the Book Blogger Hop prompt, "Do you keep a blog roll list?" Spoiler alert: she gave up on hers because of the overwhelming amount of blogs she was following.  I can relate!

Kim at Bookworm Book Reviews featured a pair of Friday memes.  She shared the beginning and a blurb from My Sister's Grave by Robert Dugoni, which sounds like a very interesting mystery/thriller.

Lauren at Always Me loves time travel books and shared a tempting teaser excerpt from her current (much anticipated!) read, Future Shock by Elizabeth Briggs.

There you have it - my maiden voyage in serendipitous blog commenting.  If you need more commenting (and serendipity) in your life, give it a try yourself!  There are no rules except the ones you make.  Of course, I'm more than happy to lend you my delightful graphic...if anybody else would dare to besmirch their blog with that poor thing.  ;-)

Sunday, May 22, 2016

A Cure for What Ails the Disconnected Book Blogger

Greetings all and welcome to my fair and neglected blog!

I've been having blogger guilt lately, but not the usual blogger guilt. You know, the guilt that says, "You should write more book reviews! You should have clever features and pretty pictures and stop planning to do bloggy community things and then failing to follow through!" I know if I applied myself, and sacrificed some Netflix time, I could fill this blog with lovely content. What's been bothering me lately isn't that I'm not really doing a stellar job of blogging but more that I'm doing an even worse job of commenting. I might be able to fire a post or two off into the void every now and then, but I've been dreadful about commenting back, meeting new people, everything except fulfilling the bare obligation to breathe life into my languishing blog once in a while.  Happily I have a few stalwart commenters that despite my considerable lack as a blogger, don't leave me alone to shout about books into nothingness. (Thanks, guys!!)

Anyhow, I'm pretty sure I'm not the only one in this boat.  It seems like half the blogs I visit have so few comments these days. I sometimes feel like we (er...I?) traded in book blogging community for shouting into the emptiness in the name of getting a few new books. That or we're so overwhelmed by the wealth of social media that we've traded in trying to have meaningful blog exchanges with each other for 140 character chatter or that perfectly posed coffee and a book picture on Instagram.

This was nowhere more apparent to me than when the decision was made to no longer cheerlead on blogs for the 24 Hour Readathon and only do the cheering on Twitter.  There's nothing wrong with Twitter cheerleading (I've done it, it's fun, especially late in the evening when everybody's getting punchy), and I mean no offense to the organizers who do such a great job of wrangling such a large event into submission. Alas, when I saw that, a part of me felt like a little bit of the heart fell out of the Readathon.  It was too time consuming, too difficult for us to engage one another on the very social media that spawned the Dewey's Readathon to begin with....blogs.  Book blogs. 

I wish I could say I handled myself maturely, but the most maturity I could muster was to not sign up to cheer and if I couldn't say something nice, I decided I would say nothing at all.  Today I was all ready to whip up some primo content (read: a few clumsily worded book reviews), and I said to myself as I too often do these days..."Self, what's the point of writing these reviews if you're going to carry on being such a half-assed member of the book blogging community?" 

At that point, instead of dejectedly going to clean the bathroom or some other only marginally rewarding domestic chore that I claim takes up so much of my time that I can hardly spare the time to write blog posts....instead of that, I had an idea.  I daresay it may even be a good idea.  In fact, this post was supposed to actually embody the fruit of that idea, but it's already grown too long under the weight of my musings, so you may have to wait a day or two to see....Choose Your Own (Commenting) Adventure!  A way for me to plug myself back into the book blogosphere, put a fire under my butt to comment more, and have content for my blog!

Instead of being constrained by the dutiful emptying of my Feedly, another place where blogging fun becomes a joyless obligation, I decided to leave a comment on the first post in my reader this morning that had a comment, then visit the first commenter on that post and so on until I had visited 10 blogs linked by their commenters.  Admittedly, I cheated a bit to keep my journey in the book blogosphere and out of niches where I genuinely didn't have much to say. 

Tomorrow or the next day, I plan to write up my short adventure around the blogosphere in that old "blog carnival" style.  Just a little link and a blurb for everyone I visited (in addition to my comments on their actual blogs).  It was great fun - I really read people's posts instead of just skimming them on my phone.  I thought of something at least semi-worthwhile to say to each.  I found a bunch of new to me blogs and stopped by a few old friends.  With any luck, it's something I'll start doing and writing about on a regular basis.  With any luck, maybe a few folks will join me in choosing their own commenting adventure.

What do you think?  Is commenting and feeling like a part of the larger book blogging community something you struggle with? 

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

If At Birth You Don't Succeed by Zach Anner

Look, everyone, it's time for another rarity!  A blog post from me?  Yes!  But no, actually, a blog post from me where I review a non-fiction book.  I'm terrible about reading non-fiction.  I have great intentions.  I'm terribly interested in so many topics covered in non-fiction books.  I even acquire a decent amount of them.  When it comes to reading them, though, I tend to fall a little (er, a lot) short.  And when I do read them, they're usually memoirs or, at least, memoir-esque.

If At Birth You Don't Succeed by Zach Anner is a charming amalgamation of memoir, humor, and (dare I say it?) self-help.  When a pitch for the book landed in my inbox, I was unfamiliar with Zach Anner, who got his start on a short-lived travel show on the OWN network and now has a significant internet following on YouTube.  Anner was born prematurely and has cerebral palsy - the "sexiest of the palsies."  Instead of letting his disability keep him down, Anner decided not to take life quite so seriously.  For him, being handicapped is no excuse for not getting out there, traveling the world, and living life with abandon.  Life might be full of disasters waiting to happen, but for this guy, that just makes more opportunities for a good laugh.

Anner's book is refreshingly open, honest, and vulnerable.  He doesn't gloss over the struggles of his disability to paint a "flowers and rainbows" pictures of his life.  Instead, in a book rich with gratitude for all the opportunities the technology age has provided for him, Anner shows readers that it's when things don't go quite to plan on his life's journey that he has had occasion to roll with the punches, find the humor in life, and show what he's really made of.

The chronology of If At Birth You Don't Succeed is a little wonky.  Instead of opting for the linear, Anner dips in and out of his memories, usually drawing a lesson out of them by the end of each chapter that can be the slightest bit preachy.  The chronology is a little hard to get used to, but in the end I was totally won over by this guy who was irrepressibly optimistic even at his lowest point and who is using the achievement of his life goals to make the world a little funnier and a little better place.  If At Birth You Don't Succeed is a book that will make you smile.  It's funny, uplifting, and also a sweet tribute to all the people whose love and care helped propel Zach on the path to his success.

(I received a free copy of this book from the publisher for review consideration)

Thursday, April 21, 2016

For the Record by Charlotte Huang

I really need to stop downloading "read now" books from Net Galley.  Alas, it's one of my great hobbies to cruise the read now pages for potential hits, and that's how I came by For the Record.  Now, there's nothing wrong with For the Record, but, well, you get what you pay for.

When punk rock band Melbourne's lead singer jumps ship to live a normal life, if the band of prep school punks wants to stay together they have to find a new lead singer.  Enter our narrator, Chelsea.  A runner up on a "Who wants to be a pop star?" sort of reality show, Chelsea gets the chance of lifetime when she is asked to go on tour fronting a band that she used to simply be a fan of.  Eager to leave her hometown where a scrape with an ex-boyfriend has left her on the outs, Chelsea jumps at the chance.  Unfortunately, getting in with the band isn't as easy as being their lead singer, and as Chelsea tries to make a place for herself on tour, her relationship with a movie star who is every girl's dream and forays into ill-conceived advertising threaten to tear what remains of the band apart.

For the Record is, essentially, fan fiction for a fictional band.  Chelsea may be a little big and a lot insecure, but she is, for most of the book at least, the quintessential Mary Sue, arriving on the scene to save a band in crisis with her vocal stylings, happening to fall in love with movie superstar Lucas Rivers, and even using her very limited capital to bring her best friend on tour as the merch girl.   Obviously, there is a love triangle with a band mate, an "artistic" feud with another band mate, and a crop of unexpected betrayals all around. 

For me, this book was entirely brain candy.  It was predictable enough that I might not have finished it but for the fact that I needed a breather after finishing a dense, slow read of a book.  For the Record, despite its flaws, is a fun romp with a band on tour, full of drama and with a fast reading first person narration.  While it's unlikely to make my best reads of the year list, I can't deny that I got what I came for, a fun, quick-reading "brain break."