Thursday, August 28, 2014

Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith




So, by the time I finished Grasshopper Jungle I was like:




Which I believe  is the only correct response to this book. How do I know this ? Because when I Google Image Searched for this meme I found it on Writer For Wrongs review of the same book.It also shows up in pretty much every review of this book.

We on Books and Sensibility occasionally use tropes when we review books and if I had to pick some out for Grasshopper Jungle they'd include And I Must Scream, Nightmare Fuel, High Octane Nightmare Fuel, Fridge Horror with a sprinkle of Nausea Fuel

Seriously, bring on the brain bleach. Every time I dove back in to this I was like, well it can't get any worse and then Andrew Smith proved me wrong.

All that said...you can’t deny Andrew Smith is an excellent writer and is doing something very unique with the YA genre. His writing is probably some of the best I've read this year.

If you know this book, then you know the basic plot and it's very WYSIWG

Grasshopper Jungle centers around two major conflicts in 17-year-old Austin Szerba's life; he's in love with his gay best friend. And man-eating bugs the size of refrigerators are infesting his small Iowa town. There are also a few themes about identity and heritage that I liked, but I think the first two are all you need to know.

Despite the squick, I actually really liked this novel. Once I finished I couldn't stop thinking about it, I think it's because of how well Smith built Austin's town of Ealing, Iowa and the characters around it. I feel like I know the characters and how to act if I was dropped in this fictional Iowa. I mean look, these character's aren't in anyway likeable, they are extremely flawed and I think that's what makes them feel so real. You get the sense there is a lot of despair and pent up frustration in this town.That said the female characters do left a lot to be desired, they were like cardboard and maybe that has to do with out narrators perspective, but it was annoying that they didn't seem to have any agency or personality.

In a lot of reviews, Smith's style is often described as being Kurt Vonnegut-esque and I totally got that while reading Grasshopper Jungle. I haven't read a whole lot of Vonnegut, but the narration has this repetitive, rhythmic language like Slaughterhouse-5 and the weird science fiction elements I think Vonnegut is known for. I really loved how this novel was written. From page one you know you are reading a history so Austin will occasionally switch to what other people were doing while he was doing something and it turns the first person narration into a kind of third person with an opinion. 

However, if anyone asked me, I would be very cautious in suggesting this novel. I'm laughing at myself because I called Charm & Strange explicit, but it has nothing on this book. Smith examines the ugly side of life, this book has it's gritty moments, so I don’t think that’s going to be everyone’s cup of tea. And while there is a fair amount of stuff related to sex in here, I wouldn't call it titillating or super inappropriate or anything. The narrator tends to be kind of antiseptic about it.

Although I guess graphic content is just Smith's thing. As I was on Goodreads, I realized Andrew Smith is also the author of The Maybury Lens, a book I was going to read but had been warned it was graphic. That all said, I’ll be darned if Smith's next book, 100 Sideways Miles, about a boy who thinks he's a character in his Dad's cult classic novel sounds good (although the cover freaks me out).


Okay, off to find a coming of age contemporary romance to cleanse my brain!




1. The book was cool, but you couldn't pay me enough to see this movie.
2. The only thing better than reading this book is reading people's reactions to this book.


Monday, August 25, 2014

Jennifer Govenrment by Max Barry

When I finished reading Max Barry's 2013 novel Lexicon I went to Barry's site to learn more about him. From what I can tell Barry seems to have a thing for writing and satirizing the culture of  corporate America and marketing. I had mixed feelings about the  female characters in Lexicon, so the synopsis and title to Jennifer Government caught my eye.

Jennifer Government is set in a surreal low key society where everything has been privatized. The Government, PACS and even the Police are all private independent companies along with some of your well known favorites including Mattel, Nike and Pepsi. Corporations rule all and your employer is everything. . . even your last name. In a world now dominated by the free market anything can be bought  and everything has a price, including murder.

When  John Nike, an overly ambitious Nike executive, creates a killer (literally) marketing campaign to make Nike shoes seems more valuable,  he and numerous other characters get caught up in a twisty plot that spans halfway across the globe.

 Leading the way to bring the murders and those involved to justice is the cop with an axe to grind Jennifer Government. A government agent  who will quite literally stop at nothing to see Nike bought to justice.

Despite the somewhat out of the box "you never know what's behind the door Kafka-esque set up", the world in the book is actually quite funny in how unbelievable it is. Every page characters find themselves in slightly outlandish situations.

The titular Jennifer Government (though I suspect in a book where characters take the name of their employer Jennifer Government was the preferred title than John Nike or Buy Mitsui or Billy NRA) is your typical H.A.M rebel cop character who I see as filling a satire of this archetype.

For example, her opening scene has her chasing down a bad guy, jumping off a third floor in a mall and landing on a car. A few scenes later she driving a car with her knees and firing a gun out of window (with a broken arm) She's a fun archetype but I think she has a interesting back story. While I found her "motive" a little weak she was still a  fun character to read about.

Barry seems to have this thing for characters who sort of amble around and find themselves in crazy over the top situations. Billy NRA in this story reminded me of a less developed Will Park from Lexicon.

Unfortunately, like in Lexicon Barry just doesn't develop character relationships in a way that makes a reader invested. A lot of it is glossed over for the next over the top moment.

With its over the top attitude and unbelievable plot turns this book was a lot of fun, it was one of those stories where I had not idea what to expect next,  I just kept wondering HOW Berry came up with this idea






Thursday, August 14, 2014

Kat Joins Bout of Books 11.0 ! / Updates



The Bout of Books read-a-thon is organized by Amanda @ On a Book Bender and Kelly @ Reading the Paranormal. It is a week long read-a-thon that begins 12:01am Monday, August 18th and runs through Sunday, August 24th in whatever time zone you are in. Bout of Books is low-pressure, and the only reading competition is between you and your usual number of books read in a week. There are challenges, giveaways, and a grand prize, but all of these are completely optional. For all Bout of Books 11 information and updates, be sure to visit the Bout of Books blog.

This Bout of Books kind of snuck up on me! I noticed I've been leaning hard on my library books recently so I'm going to diversify by doing a comic, a book I purchased, a review book and a library book.

Saga Vol. 1 (comic)
Every You, Every Me (The book I bought)
The Young Elites (review book)
Finish Complicit (library book)




I'll be updating on Twitter, Goodreads and Here ! 

Updates

Monday
Number of books I've read today:
Total number of books I've read:
Books:




Monday, August 11, 2014

The Great Greene Heist by Varian Johnson

  • Publication Date:
  • Pages: 240
  • Genre: Contemporary
  • Publisher: Arthur A. Levine (Scholastic)




The Great Greene Heist caught my attention during the #weneeddiversebooks campaign when John Green promised 10 signed copies of TFiOS to any bookstore who hand sold 100 copies of The Great Greene Heist. The synopsis felt Curseworker-ish (sans magic), which was enough for me to delve into reading my first Middle Grade as an adult. 13-year-old con artist Jackson Greene is cleaning up his act. After the Kelsey Job, or the Mid-Day PDA as his friends have dubbed his last con, Jackson is hanging up his cons for good. That is until he gets recruited by his best friend Charlie de la Cruz to rig the school election for his sister Gabby, the girl whose heart Jackson will do anything to fix. The atmosphere in this novel felt very campy and sort of like a satire. I don’t know if this is a typical of middle grade or if it’s just this novel. The students exist in a school where they are never in class, principals easily accept bribes and all clubs have a budget that the school council president controls. As I read this I imagine it as more as a cartoon or Nickelodeon sitcom than real life. As evident by the cover, there is a diverse cast of characters. Johnson's use of third person lends itself well to covering the characters. The students all fall into cliques, so there is the art kid, the environmentalist, the hacker and their designations are enforced by the clubs they belong to. The heist elements were fun and of course it had the big reveal at the end. The reveals kind of sped up towards the end and the narrative jumped around a lot, so I was a little confused on what exactly happened. This book had a lot more romantic plots than I was expecting in middle grade. I think I still need to get more comfortable with reading MG as it's own genre because I was always like "if this was a YA they would have..." or they probably couldn't do that. Some of my favorite parts had to be the nerd culture references and the doses of humor. Overall, I enjoyed this book and coming off a few more denser reads it was nice to have something light I could read in a course of day. I think this book could set up well for a series!

*Requested for review from NetGalley





Another reason I picked this book up is because Varian Johnson is from the same town as my parents!

Sunday, August 3, 2014

The Golem and The Jinni by Helene Wecker





  • Release Date: April 23 , 2013
  • Pages: 496
  • Genre: Historical Urban Fantasy
  • Publisher: Harper
Hey, did you read Erin Morgenstern's The Night Circus ?  Did you fall all over the magical aspects, charming side characters and nonlinear narrative ? Well, I did and if you need something to fill that hole I highly suggest The Golem and The Jinni. I grabbed this off my library's Overdrive after seeing so many people reading it on vacation and it was just my kind of book.

Drenched in Kabbalah and Arabic folklore Wecker's debut novel  is the unlikely story of two  creatures  believed to exist only  folklore finding their way in the immigrant  neighborhoods  of 1890's  New York. 

The  Golem is a newborn woman made of earth, who is quickly abandoned as soon as she is bought to  life. Hiding out in the Jewish populated Lower East Side, her only solace is trying to meet the wants of others without revealing herself first.

Once free to roam the deserts of Syria, the Jinni is now selfish-arrogant creature made of fire and smoke, who is bound to human flesh,and has inexplicable awoken in New York City's  Little Syria.

Unable to sleep, these two spend the night exploring the city where they will soon learn that their fates and those of the people in their neighborhoods  are more entwined than they could have every thought.

Both the Jinni and the Golem have very big personalities that lead to a complicated friendship between them. Wecker has a strong grasp for creating and forming characters, the cast of unique and charismatic side characters will have you feeling apart of these close knit neighborhoods.

This novel  gave me a lesson in U.S immigration. In school I  always learned about the Irish and Italians but this was the first time I'd read about immigrants from the Middle East coming to America and  the sort of exploitative exoticism they found here. Wecker shares a bit more in the back pages of how journalist romanticized  these immigrants.

I like to compare this book to The Night Circus because both books ask questions about nature vs. nurture and much like Cecelia and Marco's circumstances in The Night Circus, The Jinni and The Golem have  no free will in there situation either. They didn't choose to end up in New York City and  they didn't choose who they are.

The Golem and The Jinni is a charming quasi-urban fairytale. They city, characters come alive, I read the e-version of this book and the 500 pages flew by. I wanted to keep following the day to day know the intricacies and daily lives of the immigrants.

I think this is one of those books where it would be fun to go on a tour of New York City and visit some of the places the character go to; like the Washington Square Arch. The scene featuring the arch is a great scene and probably why it gets the cover.

In an interview with Smart Bitches, Trashy Books. Wecker says  she is working on something she hopes to be a sequel.





Friday, August 1, 2014

This Summer So Far....in Books


I'm kind of breaking the rules by talking about books too but, oh well ! 

A while ago we took a small hiatus from book blogging because a lot of things were going on. Not big things, just general busy-ness. Partially inspired by this post from River City Reading I tried to put these past few weeks into books.

Visions of the Sea

For the week of July 4th  we went on a cruise to Cozumel, Mexico !  It was 4 days of tasty meals, sun, clear water and a missing cellphone fiasco that could have left us stranded in Mexico. While this wasn't my first cruise I was  fascinated by the cruising  lifestyle. Cruise ships are like these nonstop floating  party and hospitality machines that attract people of all ages and backgrounds.

On our last day at sea I discovered the 5th deck was where everyone came to read, I pulled up a chair (with a glass of White Zinfandel) and got through half of Life After Life by Kate Atkinson to the sounds of crashing waves.  After coming back I started reading A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again by David Foster Wallace, his essay about his experiences on a 7 day cruise. I've never read his essays before, but I can see why he is so beloved in the literary community. What I find so fascinating is how nothing much has changed for the cruising world  in nearly 20 years, it's crazy how true it all still is !



This Old House

Parquet floors ?
Jess and I have shared an apartment for the last 2 1/2 years and recently  moved. I really loved the old apartment; it was huge,  in downtown and had an exposed brick wall--like Andrea in  Devil Wears Prada. However,  it was getting pricey and the parking was less than glamorous. So we moved to an area called the Near West End. While the new place has great parking and trees  it's kind of...old.  Like no dishwasher/washing machine old. The community is listed in the National Register for Historic Places and it made me think of Beautiful Creatures, because so much of that story is about old Southern homes.

In related news...a post on Bookshelf 3.0 should be coming soon !





Move ALL the books !

Moving was quite an experience, but perhaps the worst part of it was that it took  1 college trunk, 2 suitcases and a 35 gallon Rubbermaid tub to move the books. When I first moved on my own--3 months into book blogging-- I could fit them all in my college trunk. My overflowing 
One of many trips
TBR pile is pretty much all because of the book blogger world which makes me think of the one book series that was kind of the catalyst of this whole crazy book blog. The Mortal Instruments series.  I'm not sure if we've ever mentioned this but part of the genesis of Books and Sensibility  came from when I was unemployed and started annotating a copy of City of Bones Jess was reading. We were tossing the idea of putting that online and the rest is a (disputed) history. Needless to say I have a love/hate relationship with the TMI books... and I'm okay with that.



One Ticket to  Colby, NC Please 

It's hot and I can't talk about summer without giving a should out to Sarah Dessen, an author I don't think I'll ever grow out of. I picked up This Lullaby at random from the school library 10 years ago and have been reading her ever since. I still haven't gotten through all of her books, so I think this summer I'm going to tackle The Moon and More. I recently found out her fictional Colby, NC is based on Emerald Isle, NC which is like 4 hours away from where I live so I'm totally doing a road trip one day !











Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Book Review : The Winner's Curse by Marie Rutkoski

  • Release Date: March 4th 2014
  • Genre: Historical/ AU
  • Pages: 355
  • Publisher: Farrar Strauss & Giroux
SynopsisAs a general’s daughter in a vast empire that revels in war and enslaves those it conquers, seventeen-year-old Kestrel has two choices: she can join the military or get married. But Kestrel has other intentions. One day, she is startled to find a kindred spirit in a young slave up for auction. Arin’s eyes seem to defy everything and everyone. Following her instinct, Kestrel buys him—with unexpected consequences. It’s not long before she has to hide her growing love for Arin. But he, too, has a secret, and Kestrel quickly learns that the price she paid for a fellow human is much higher than she ever could have imagined.
 For 10 years the Valorians  have ruled the Herrani, a race of people enslaved in their own land. At a slave auction Kestrel, a member of the  Valorian upper class, wins the Herrani of her choice and in that moment of winning she will also lose everything and she doesn't even know it.

The story follows Krestel as she makes her way through high society and  how it often clashes with her candor and affinity for music and art.  She is also at war with her growing feelings for Arin the Herrani slave and the truth he is making her see.


Honestly, I think Krestel had a bit too much going on conflict wise. She's at a crossroads she can either get married or become a solider but  wants to do neither, she likes music but that is not thought highly of by her people. She struggles with what how to treat Arin in addition to feuds with fellow Valorians. I  think I would have preferred to focus one one of these conflicts. 


The big winner in this book has to be the forbidden romance that forms between Kestrel and Arin , overall that was what kept me reading during the somewhat slow build in the novel. I don't want to give to much away about Arin, but his character development in the book was one I enjoyed reading. I wish that the novel focused more on him.


 I  wanted a little bit more action in the novel. It starts to pick up in the later half of the book which I left me racing to finish. The glimpses of  political  intrigue and the daunting rules of society reminded me of Robin LaFevers'  Grave Mercy, but without the ability to really root the story with any  historical context I kept feeling lost. When it comes to novels set in alternate worlds or low fantasy I just can't feel invested in the story if I don't know the world



 In the back of the book Rutkoski does say the world is based on the Greco-Romans but I kept getting 18th century vibes due to the balls and civility ( and because of the cover) so that kind of threw me off.

This novel fell into a void that wasn't quite the romance or  historically-set saga I was expecting. The story was interesting enough, but I just couldn't get a good grasp on Kestrel to really care towards the end.


This was the BIG book of  2014  and after reading Cuddlebuggery's review I was ready to love this as well, but it just fell flat.  Steph reviewed the audio, so I may try listening to it  if I decide to read the next one.






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