5 Stars or Less in 5 Sentences or Less

Sep 18

Cleopatra Rules!: The Amazing Life of the Original Teen Queen by Vicky Alvear Shecter

3 star

Biography, Cleopatra, Egypt, Rome, Girl Power

Shecter’s thesis is that Cleopatra was slandered and was not an evil seductress but instead an educated, brilliant, charismatic leader who went to any lengths necessary to strengthen Egypt. She does a great job of backing this up with facts, and the images throughout are well-placed, and the indices at the end are very helpful for anyone looking for more detail. The actual writing style, however, got old really fast (at one point she makes a metaphor that banishing Cleopatra and expecting her to stay banished was as likely as taking a cell phone from a teenage girl) as it was chock full of annoying stereotypes that counteracted the feminist positivity Shecter uses to describe Cleopatra. A quick and fun read for fans of Ancient Egypt, but not a must read for fans of history in general.

Sep 17

Bossypants by Tina Fey

4 star

Memoir, Essays, Humor, Life

Tina Fey recounts her life, from theater camp to improvisational comedy troupe to SNL writer to tv show creator and star. The book does a great job of telling stories of her life that are sometimes outrageous and sometimes relatable, but each time she makes it clear why she told that story and what she has learned from the experience. I also like that she is constantly championing women and feminism. I listened to the audiobook and highly recommend it; Fey narrates and has perfect comedic timing as it her book, and she does some impressions and plays clips from SNL.

Sep 16

Third Grave Dead Ahead by Darynda Jones

5 star

Grim Reaper, Murder Mystery, Adventure, Sex, Humor

I can’t get enough of this insane, stubborn, and outrageously charming grim reaper—and apparently neither can the bad guys, because in this volume she is up against new kinds of evil and learns more about herself and the world of angels and demons beyond her. Charley is ferocious in going after what she wants, but what is truly amazing is that she is always doing the right thing, even if that means hunting down people who are probably (definitely) going to try and murder her, and her passion inspires incredible loyalty in the cast of supporting characters (who are both well-crafted and just plain fun). Jones strikes a balance between humor and horror which makes this book suspenseful but not in the way that makes you want to skip to the end, because you know the ride is going to be worth it.

Previous books: First Grave on the RightSecond Grave on the Left
Later books: Fourth Grave Beneath My Feet, Fifth Grave Past the Light, Sixth Grave on the Edge, Seventh Grave and No Body, Eighth Grave After Dark

Railsea by China Miéville

5 star

Railroads, Steampunk Future, Something Like Moby Dick, Adventure

If you threw Moby Dick in the bathtub and said you know what actually, water is stupid, let’s take the basic structure of this book but make it about RAILROADS and GIANT MOLES and a kid who’s on this MOLETRAIN and secretly wants to discover what happens where all the railroads END—well, you would have Railsea. Miéville has built a society, a scenario, slang, and a whole bunch of jobs that don’t exist today and has spun them into a tale that is as amazing as it is unique. His style of writing is expressive and fanciful and his plot is engaging. Would recommend to everyone.

Sep 15

Transfixion by J. Giambrone

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2 stars

Mind-Control, Mindless Fighting, Weird Protagonists, Teenagers, Survival

Kaylee’s journey starts when the TVs start broadcasting a signal that reprograms anyone who sees it into mindless soldiers bent on killing anyone who isn’t under the influence of the mind-control. Kaylee is mute for the first half of the book and a mute heroine struggling to make her ideas heard in the middle of a crisis has the potential to be great. However, she just doesn’t react to things in the way someone in her situation would— she barely reacts to the death of her mother in the initial onslaught and when her mind-controlled brother tries to break down the door to kill her, Kaylee just laments not being able to finish her book. Her unstable mindset and behavior is so bizarre it’s hard to care about her or anyone else. The war itself doesn’t make much sense either as the brainwashed “dupes” try to kill everyone instead of brainwashing them and the how and why of the TV signal is never explained (is it worldwide? countrywide? citywide? what’s the scale and purpose?).

Relish: My Life in the Kitchen by Lucy Knisley

2 star

Graphic Novel, Foodie, Memoir

Lucy recaps her young life with food-obsessed parents, up through their divorce and her food-obsessed teenage and adult years. She uses meals as metaphors and drops little recipes between chapters, but overall the whole thing seems very forced, like she is bored with her own subject matter and is trying to make herself seem more interesting through her relationship with food. Nothing interesting happens. The art is mediocre. Overall nothing special.

Sep 14

Wonderland by Tommy Kovac and illustrated by Sonny Liew

5 star

Graphic Novel, Wonderland, Fractured Fairy Tales, Whimsy

Wonderland without Alice, this graphic novel follows Maryann (the housemaid that Alice was mistaken for), a tidy perfectionist who is trying to keep it together in the aftermath of the Alice monster who has started a revolution that Maryann wants no part in. It is a delightful book that wastes no time because Maryann knows the rules of Wonderland. The art is fun and I would recommend to any Carroll fans.

Sep 13

Paperboy by Vince Vawter

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4 star

Memphis in the Fifties, Stuttering, Paperboys, Growing Up, Self-Confidence

A book about a boy, a boy who delivers papers, a boy who stutters, a boy who is nervous about speaking words he can’t get out, a boy who loves his housekeeper, a boy who tries to understand his parents and his world—but really, it is a story about a boy growing up. Vawter based the story on his own life and this I think is what lends such a feeling of authenticity to the story and the boy’s struggles, though some of the more harrowing events are pretty nerve-wracking and as I was reading I kept thinking oh no, I hope these parts are made up. It is a well-written story of language and understanding.

Sep 12

Second Grave on the Left by Darynda Jones

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5 star

Grim Reaper, Murder Mystery, Adventure, Sex, Humor

Charley may still be beat up from last week, but there’s nothing like a 2am wakeup call from her best friend and some coffee to keep her on her toes (and entertaining me). Charley is splitting her time looking for Reyes, the lost love of her life, and searching for Cookie’s missing best friend who just may be involved in more than anyone suspects. This volume is just as fast-paced, hilarious, and sexy as the first.

Previous book: First Grave on the Right
Later books: Third Grave Dead Ahead, Fourth Grave Beneath My Feet, Fifth Grave Past the Light, Sixth Grave on the Edge, Seventh Grave and No Body, Eighth Grave After Dark

Sep 09

Like China by Varley O’Connor

5 star

Life, Abuse, Growing Up, Relationships, Family

This is the story of 25-year-old Katha, an abused wife trying to find the courage to leave and stay gone, and 11-year-old Peter, the boy who lives down the street who mows her lawn and is being raised secretly by his two older brothers since his father ran out on them a month ago. This is a story of people, and relationships, and blame, and life. O’Connor’s first novel, it was written in 1991 but is still an incredibly powerful and realistic book that addresses very real issues in a way that makes you feel without preaching.

Sep 08

First Grave on the Right by Darynda Jones

5 star

Grim Reaper, Murder Mystery, Adventure, Sex, Humor

Charley Davidson is a grim reaper and she uses the ability to see the newly departed dead to run her PI business and help her uncle (a detective); a few people know about her abilities, but most people just know her as a sensual, sarcastic, willful 27-year-old. But now, in addition to her normal reaper duties, she is being followed by a shadow that has saved her life each time she was in danger since she was a child — and the shadow may actually be someone she has met. Charley is one of the few characters that has ever made me laugh out loud, and I devoured this story. It was funny and perfectly paced to build plot and characters and show off Charley’s smart mouth and fearless investigative abilities. Can’t recommend enough!

Later books: Second Grave on the Left, Third Grave Dead Ahead, Fourth Grave Beneath My Feet, Fifth Grave Past the Light, Sixth Grave on the Edge, Seventh Grave and No Body, Eighth Grave After Dark

Sep 07

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

5 star

Virtual Reality, Adventure, Thriller, Friendship, Culture

Wade escapes from his miserable life by slipping into the OASIS, a virtual reality universe that started as a video game and expanded to include shopping, adventure, gaming, lifestyle, and even Wade’s online high school. Wade is one of the nerds obsessed with Halliday, the man who created the OASIS, because whoever discovers his hidden game wins his entire fortune and control of the company — but when Wade finds the first clue a rival corporation tries to kill him for his knowledge and the race is on to find the clues before they do. It has a wacky start as Cline has to explain how shitty the world is and why everyone is so obsessed with this hunt for Halliday’s game, but it warms up quickly into one of the most action-packed and intense books I’ve read in a long time. It is hilarious and heart-pounding while managing to avoid those cringeworthy moments where the character does something dumb, and if you love the eighties you will adore all of the pop culture references that practically spill out of its pages. It is long enough to allow you to fully understand the world and keep you up two nights in a row and leave you sleep-deprived and short enough that the action never stops.

Sep 06

The Limbus of the Moon by Bill Mego

3 star

Environmentalism, Adventure, Romance, Politics, Smuggling

It all starts when a possibly crazy man named Bobowski wants to find a way to engineer a rare anemone that may have medicinal uses, and snowballs as he brings in Rob and Jessica (the professor and the government agent who begin a cute flirtation), two well-to-do brothers with high tech gadgetry, and some high-ranking players in China. The adventure starts in Key West and takes you to Vancouver and on a magical catamaran ride through the Caribbean, and the plot itself is fascinating. The story unfortunately tends to drag on in places with too much description and doesn’t spend enough time on characterization or interaction. The ending would have been a lot more satisfying if the characters had been more fleshed out, but I am still excited for the sequel. Would recommend to anyone looking for an ecological mystery!

Sep 05

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

5 star

Childhood, Magic, Protection, Guardian Women, Monsters, Truth

The story is a framed by a middle-aged man who, upon leaving a funeral, drives past the housing development that used to be his family’s farm and keeps driving until he stops at the farm at the end of the lane where he remembers being friends with a young girl and questions why he never returned there. Upon entering the house, he remembers vividly a week when he was seven years old and he first met the women of the house—and they introduced him to a world of earth magic and other worlds that held monsters themselves. Gaiman’s eloquent prose is childlike as befits our narrator, but never simple or small. It is a story like a fairy tale with good and bad people, but it is also about fear and friendship and life. Would recommend for everyone.

Sep 04

Avalon by Mindee Arnett

4 stars

SciFi, Horror, Space Pirates, Family

Jeth Seagrave and his crew are teenage mercenaries working for a powerful and volatile crime boss. While Jeth works to earn enough money to buy back his parent’s ship and freedom for himself and his little sister, an assignment brings new information about the death of his parents and the true nature of the metatech that makes space travel possible. The story moves quickly and throws a lot of surprises at you. Although it doesn’t avoid the average teenage romance drama that tends to make its way into many young adult books, Avalon does manage an interesting take on space and the horrors made possible by future technology. The story for me felt like a strange and exciting combination of elements from the show Firefly, the book House of Leaves, and the video game Mass Effect.

Sequel: Polaris

Short Story Prequel: Proxy