The Adventurer’s Guide to Successful Escapes

adventurersguideby Wade Albert White
First sentence: “At Saint Lupin’s Institute for Perpetually Wicked and Hideously Unattractive Children, every orphan is treated with the same amount of disdain and neglect.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Release date: September 13, 2016
Full disclosure: I had dinner with the author at Children’s Institute, and think he’s delightful.
Review copy provided by the publisher. I met the author at Children’s Institute 4
Content: There’s some biggish words, and a wee bit of violence, and maybe some of the humor will go over the heads of the younger kids, but mostly it’s just fine for the middle grade (3-5th) grade set, which is where the book is located at the store.

Anne has spent her whole life at Saint Lupin’s Institute, working and wishing she knew where she came from. She has a plan: when she gets to leave when she turns 13 (everyone is kicked out because the Hierarchy stops supporting them), she’s going to go adventuring and looking for her past. However, when her birthday comes, the Matron denies Anne the right to leave. That starts a chain of events that leads Anne to accidentally stealing a gauntlet (a metal hand thingy) and a prophecy medallion, that starts a Rightful Heir Quest (an unheard of Level 13!), which gives Anne and her friends Penelope and Hiro, four days which to fulfill. It’s not an easy thing: solving riddles, finding weird robots, traveling by fireball, but someone’s got to do it. And maybe save the world (and pass Questing 101) while they’re at it.

I haven’t had this much fun reading a book since The Hero’s Guide to Saving Your Kingdom. It’s got the same sort of off-beat humor, full of puns and plain silliness. It’s different though; the world that Anne is on is one that isn’t fully fleshed out. It feels like an old-fashioned fantasy, but there’s robots and computer screens and elevators… and mention of an Old World. Is it scifi or dystopian?  I wasn’t sure. (Actually, I do have a working theory of the world, but I’m going to keep it to myself, until I figure out whether I’m right or not.) But, in spite of those questions, I enjoyed this one thoroughly. It was fun, it was funny, it was clever, and it was pretty much exactly what I wanted out of a middle grade fantasy.

I’ll definitely be picking up the next one when it comes out.

Me Before You

mebeforeyouby Jojo Moyes
First sentence: “When he emerges from the bathroom, she is awake, propped up against the pillows and flicking through the travel brochures that were beside his bed.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There’s a bunch of f-bombs scattered throughout (but not enough to seem excessive) and some talk of sex (but none actual). It’s in the adult fiction section of the bookstore.

I’ve known about this one for years, and I’ve just been putting reading it off. Perhaps it’s my aversion to all things “everyone” reads (I know: I should read The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead, but…). Maybe I thought it would be maudlin and depressing. The movie came out (and went, here), and I still didn’t really feel much of a need. Then, as summer book bingo is winding down, I had the “Everyone But Me Has Read” square, and I figured this was what needed to fill it.

(I’m assuming y’all know what the plot is.) What I wasn’t prepared for was how much I enjoyed it. I loved Lou; she was smart and spunky and real. I loved her relationship with Will, that it was complicated but also honest and open. And I loved that Moyes faced the ideas of a Life Worth Living head-on. I’m not sure I agree with the conclusions, but it made me cry and it gave me something to think about.

In short, maybe the hype was right about this one. Now, to see how the movie holds up.

Audiobook: The View From the Cheap Seats

viewfromcheapseatsby Neil Gaiman
Read by the author.
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There’s a handful of f-bombs scattered throughout the book. It’s in the creative nonfiction section of the bookstore.

I’ve often said (many times) that Neil Gaiman can come to my house and read my grocery list and I’ll be happy to listen to it. That is still true. I will listen to Gaiman read anything, including works of short non-fiction, from articles and interviews to book introductions and speeches. He has a fantastic reading voice, and I love that it gives depth to his words.

That said, this was more of a dip-in, dip-out book rather than a read straight through one. Even though I love Gaiman on audio, I found myself kind of impatient with the sections (like the one on comics) that didn’t interest me. If I had actually read this one (and many of the pieces are worth reading), I would have picked and chosen the ones (like “What the Very Bad Swear Word is a Children’s Book, Anyway?” or “Make Good Art”) that I was interested in, and left the rest alone.

But, like anything Gaiman writes, when he was good, he was interesting, and the observations were thoughtful and thought-provoking. Though audio maybe wasn’t the best choice for this one.

Textbook

textbookby Amy Krouse Rosenthal
First sentence: “Welcome to the first book that offers additional engagement via texting.”
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Content: It’s wonderfully interactive, with short vignettes rather than long passages. I’d give it to a middle- or high-schooler who expressed interest. There’s one swear word. It’s in the biography section of the bookstore.

I don’t even know where to start with this. Perhaps with it’s the most unique reading experience I’ve had in a long time. The basic gist is that Amy Krouse Rosenthal wrote this as a sequel (of sorts) to Encyclopedia of Me (but  you don’t have to read that one first). It’s a collection (of sorts) of thoughts, musings, Things That Happened, and insights into Amy’s life and mind. But it’s more than that.

Loosely laid out like an actual textbook, there are quizzes, math problems (radiant + redolent + gorgeous + melancholy + patina + rhapsody + calm = words I kept trying to find a home for in this book), Art, observations on Life (both Amy’s and Life in General). And perhaps it was a case of right book for me at the exact right time, but I found it to be charming, interesting, and quite lovely.

A suggestion: go in wanting to be an active participant in the book. Text the number. Follow the instructions. Click on the links. Submit your pictures (I still have one picture I need to submit before I am truly done). The book (and you) will be better for it.

This one is not just a book; it’s an experience. And a delightful one at that.

The Trouble with Twins

troublewithtwinsby Kathryn Siebel
First sentence: “And so it begins in front of the fire, the story of two twin sisters.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There’s some neglectful treatment of kids and some awful parenting, but nothing physically harmful. It’s in the middle grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore.

Arabella and Henrietta are twins (in some distant past). Arabella is the beautiful, smart, sweet one and Henrietta is… not. (Before I get too much further, the better sister story, if maybe a bit more mature for this age group, is Jacob Have I Loved which is one of the more powerful reading memories I have as a child.) Henrietta is neglected, ignored, unloved. And so when she tries to get attention by cutting Arabella’s bangs off (they seem a bit old for those kind of shenanigans, but maybe that’s me projecting), she’s banished to Great-Aunt Priscilla’s house. Where she’s basically Cinderella. That is, until Arabella decides she misses her sister and goes looking.

It’s kind of a Lemony Snickett/Roald Dahl feeling book, where there’s bad adults (but not quite as bad as Dahl) who are neglectful and hate children and it’s the good, long-suffering child who gets the reward in the end. And in that light, it’s a good little book. The thing that got me was the intrusive narrator. Usually, I don’t mind them. But, this time the framing conversation between a mother and daughter just grated. I think it was meant to be cute, but it just didn’t work for me, and as a result the whole book fell flat.

I think I’ll see if any of my Dahl kids are interested in this one; maybe it’s just me being overly sensitive.

Monsters of Men

monstersofmenby Patrick Ness
First sentence: “‘War,’ says Mayor Prentiss, his eyes glinting.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Others in the series: The Knife of Never Letting Go, The Ask and the Answer
Content: It’s a violent book — it’s a violent series — and no one is safe. It’s also emotionally difficult. That, and mild swearing, puts it in the Teen (grades 9+) section of the bookstore, but I’d give it to an interested 6th grader.

This is a big, difficult book to get through. Not because of the length (though it is nearly 600 pages), but because of the emotional content of this. I’m incredibly glad I’ve had a book group to read this one with because otherwise it would have been much too difficult to handle.

I don’t want to spoil the book, so let’s just say that everything culminates in this one, and that characters you thought you knew you find out you don’t. That nothing is safe, and that (especially this) war is an awful thing and unless someone takes the higher road, there will be no end to it.

The thing that has surprised me most about this series is how relevant it still is. The best thing speculative fiction does is explore the issues in the world, and this one takes war, terrorism, and power head on. It’s brilliant in its portrayal of colonization, of the way people grab and hold on to power, and the sacrifices it takes to make it all just stop.

I’m usually disappointed with endings, but this one fit the series. Harsh and brutal, and yet hopeful, it didn’t make me cry, but I definitely respected what Ness did.

A very, very good series overall.

State of the TBR Pile: August 2016

Ah, August. The hot, dull month in which I happily send my children back to school and get back to reading. Except I really don’t feel much like reading anything on my pile… That may change, though.

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Redshirts, by John Scalzi
Searching for John Hughes, by Jason Diamond
A World Without You, by Beth Revis
Me Before You, by Jojo Moyes
Nine, Ten, by Nora Raleigh Baskin
The Inquisitor’s Tale, by Adam Gidwitz
Welcome to Wonderland: Home Sweet Motel, by Chris Grabenstein
Insert Coin to Continue, by John David Anderson
Falling Over Sideways, by Jordan Sonnenblick
Torch Against the Night, by Sabaa Tahir
Top Prospect, by Paul Volopini
The Scourge, by Jennifer Nielsen
Framed!, by James Ponti

What’s on your pile?