Thursday, July 28, 2016

Not my Father's Son by Alan Cumming

I first spotted Alan Cumming in the remake of Annie. Even though the original will always have a special place in my heart, I thought Cumming's performance out shined the others performers, and I quickly found out who he was. I drudged up the movie of the remake of Cabaret, and I was transfixed.

He wrote this book because at the same time he was on "Who Do you Think you Are?" on BBC where he was on a mission to uncover the mystery of his grandfather's disappearance, his own father, after several estranged years, informed him, through his brother, that their mother had an affair, and therefore, Alan was another man's son.

I never really followed "Who Do you Think you Are?" on BBC, nor it's American equivalent, but I do have a fond memory of watching the David Tennant episode in Liverpool with Ren and her mother, and at a point where he reaches in a tomb of a relative and touches one of the skulls, they both exclaimed that he needs to watched out or else he'll get cursed! Haha!

Alan Cumming is an eloquent writer and speaker, and I feel like, in theory, I should be annoyed at this book. He talks about his acting and his traveling around the world, but he's incredibly candid and whereas there are a lot of actors that take their craft incredibly seriously, he doesn't, and knows he's incredibly blessed. I was captivated from the beginning, and though I was nervous that his Scottish accent would hinder the easy listening of the book, it actually brought the listener back to where Alan grew up on an estate in Scotland.

Alan travels back and forth in the book, talking about "Then" with the horrible abuse of his father, and "Now" his journey with BBC along with the journey of discovering whether or not Alex Cumming was, in fact, his biological father. You're unsure where it's going, but you know, that no matter what, Alan would be OK.

At least for me, I thought that since his father said that Alan wasn't his son, then it was the truth, right? However, with the twists and turns of this story, on top of his BBC episode, I didn't know what to expect by the end of it. And though it should have left me with a feeling of emptiness and sadness, the way Cumming handles it, with poise and grace, it allowed me to feel OK. That, no matter what, there is always a light at the end of the tunnel.

It's a riveting listen, and I would highly recommend the audiobook, even if you are not into it. Alan Cumming is phenomenal.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Nice Girls Don't Have Fangs by Molly Harper

The title is awful. Yes, yes it is. At first, I didn't want to buy this book, but alas, it was on sale, and when one reviewer on goodreads commented that it was like YA authors had a checklist of vampire fantasy (brooding vampire lover caught in a love triangle, living in the south, werewolves, etc.). Well, that's not telling me something I don't like, so I figured I would give it a try.

It did not disappoint. After the awful choice of Discovery of Witches, this was a delight. I found that I need a specific kind of book when I'm at work. I realize that I can't listen to books where I have to pay rapt attention too--I actually have to concentrate every so often, and it stinks if I have to replay what I heard because I was busy trying to figure out a problem.

However, this book, fluffy and silly, fits the profile. It's about a librarian, or well, an ex librarian by the name of Jane Jameson. She was let go from the public library, and decides to drown her sorrow at the local bar, where she meets Gabriel.

It's fantastic, because unlike Discovery of Witches, where Diana slowly turns into a drooling toddler with tits who has be led by the hand by M'estat, Jane openly makes fun of Gabriel but also digging him too. He tries to be the brooding mysterious vampire, but she gets more and more drunk, effectively making an ass out of herself. Though at this time, Jane doesn't know he's a brooding vampire, which makes it all the more charming.

She leaves her car and decides to walk home when she is mistaken for a deer and is shot. Gabriel saves her, effectively turning her into a vampire. And that's when the hilarity begins.

Women in prominent heroine roles with romantic interests in media, sometimes, well, most of the time, don't really make new female friends. Or really, make many friends at all. It might be just that sort of action adventure role where it impacts men as well, but with female empowerment, ditching the patriarchy and calling for more representation of diverse females in media, I really notice it when women don't have other female friends, make new female friends, or just talk about the men in their lives to their female friends.

Which is why Nice Girls is really refreshing. She's multifaceted--she underwent many life changes, snared a new beau but also, made several new friends with varying success. She's presented with a problem, messed a lot up but ultimately solved everything on her own. Jane also befriends both female and male alike, and though she's had a rough love life, she doesn't alienate her new friends for her vampire boyfriend, Gabriel.

Sure, is it eerily like the Sookie Stackhouse series? Yes, it is almost parallel to those books, except Jane Jameson isn't someone who is completely helpless. She makes a lot of mistakes, she makes fun of herself but she keeps on trying and learning. She's smart and wants to solve problems but like a person, she doesn't do it right the first time and doesn't get a guy to help her fix it. Sookie Stackhouse wasn't completely helpless either, but whereas Sookie was a waitress with no aspirations to be anything else (and that's fine), I identify with Jane because she went to school (two advanced degrees, get it girl) but her life veered off in a way that was unexpected, and she has to cobble together something after her transformation. Jane does so, after a few failed attempts at other jobs.

Boy do I relate.

The audiobook is a great listen and by definition the accent should be annoying, it really lends itself to the story. Give it a try, despite the terrible (but kind of growing on me) title.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

The Scorch Trials by James Dasner

I listened to the first book, The Maze Runner on audiobook. Actually, it was my first book ever that I bought on audiobook and listened to it when I worked at Rite Aid. In a way, I will always look at that book series with fondness, even though I've heard better books since then.

Josh got me this book from the library, and in order to meet the deadline to return the book, I put aside another book to get started on this one.

It's a quick read for an adult, considering it's a YA novel. It's about a group of boys who are unwilling participants in some kind of government experiment in order to save the world. The first book ended with Thomas, Newt, Minho, along with a girl named Theresa, who activated the ending of the Maze, being "rescued." They are transported in a bus to a new location, fed, showered and shown their rooms.

However, not all is well for the group, and Theresa is whisked away during the night and replaced with a boy named Aris. Oh, Theresa, Aris and Thomas are telepathic, and can speak to each other. Aris reveals that there was a Group B, just of girls, and Aris was the activator to ending the Maze. Thomas assumes that Theresa and Aris were switched, though they aren't sure why.

A man arrives and informs them their task: to go to the surface and go North past the mountains. They are all infected with The Flare, a disease that has overtaken Earth. They all have it, but if they make it to the "Safe Haven," they will be given the cure.

This book is definitely a step up from the Maze Runner. There are more characters, and this time, there are girls, instead of just Theresa. It is centered around Thomas, who's best friends with Minho and Newt, but there women to identify with this time around.

To be honest, this book is also a bit scarier than the first book. So, Thomas and the other male gladers arrive to a run down city where the current government disposes people who are infected by the Flare, which makes people act insane. Thomas is separated from the rest of the gladers after an explosion but he's with a new girl by the name of Brenda. She knows the city and she takes Thomas under the tunnels to try and get out of the city to meet up with everyone else.

Well, since they are in the dark tunnels, of course people with the Flare, or "Cranks," track them down and want to kill them. It was terrifying, especially the part where Thomas and Brenda were hiding from them in a small cubbie.

It helped this time that I read the book instead of listening to it. I was able to read as fast as I wanted, and I was able to get through the book in a few days, instead of a few weeks.

Josh and I are going to watch The Maze Runner and Scorch Trials this weekend, so "Which is Better?" posts are coming up!

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

We Bought a Zoo by Benjamin Mee

I remembered the movie coming out, and me thinking, "Ugh, that looks so stupid." Years later, I buy the audiobook. It was on sale, and I forgot that Matt Damon was in the movie, so I figured, why not? I think also Scarlett Johansson is also in the movie, but I don't know who she plays.

The audiobook opens with a British narrator. Oh sweet, it's a British family who bought a farm in the UK. Cool. A family who decided to take a risk by buying a farm! Interesting!

Uh, this book opens with a major bummer. Benjamin, Katherine and family moved to France... because, well... just because? I think they just wanted to move there, and both Benjamin and Katherine could work remotely. They purchased a house where Benjamin could fix up when Katherine started to become listless and not herself.

She has a brain tumor, and it's one of those really tough, rare brain tumors that no matter what a person does, it comes back.

This book is going to be devastating.

The first 50 pages of the book is not about the farm at all, but the set up Katherine's eventual passing. You hope, despite of all the odds, that her brain tumor is not going to come back after it's removed, but 3/4th of the way through the book, after they struggle their way through buying the farm, the brain tumor comes back, and Benjamin describes in heart breaking detail of his wife's demise. The way he wrote her was so tender, and even some of the grosser aspects of him taking care of her.

I loved the way he wrote, and of course, I always have a fondness of dry, British humor. Benjamin goes through the process of buying a very run down zoo, with the intent of giving the animals a good home. His entire family, his mother and his siblings, put a lot of money into it. It was a bit stressful hearing how many loans they had to take out, as well as the all the loans that kept falling through.

He had many antidotes about putting together a working crew, dealing with their personalities as well as accumulating money in order to get the zoo up to working order. I also enjoyed the bits about the various animals and their circumstances, with Benjamin's dash of absurdity.

Some of the reviews state that he was dry, but I didn't get that at all. It's possible that it made a better audiobook, with a sweet British accent that could read the British sarcasm and wit; capturing the absurdity of life, and the inclination to not take it so seriously.

I definitely like audiobooks where you can zone out and come back to them, without really missing a whole lot. What I've also realized that I like audiobooks where the plot is a bit simpler, so I can work and listen at the same time.

So, overall, it's a good book if you want an emotional wrecker with the pick me up of saving animals.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

AWOL on the Appalachian Trail by David Miller

David Miller frustrated with his job as a computer programmer and the limitations of now 3 weeks paid vacation, drops everything, his job, his family and decided to go on a thru-hike of the Appalachian trail, or, as it's referred to: the AT.  Thankfully, his wife fully supports him, though his job does not grant his leave, and he resigns.

A thru-hike is where a person hikes by foot for the entire trail from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Mount Katahdin in Maine. There are different interpretations of this, which David goes into for the book. A "White Blazer" which sticks to the original trail and a "Blue Blazer" which has some short cuts. There are national parks along the way, with shelters, designated camping grounds as well as trail towns where hikers can go to resupply, pick up their posts and rest. 

It's refreshing to read a book about a man who essentially abandons the expectations of what a man in his 40s needs to do, and decides that life is about adventure. He repeatedly states that his wife supports him absolutely, and mentions that he wouldn't have gone if it wasn't for his wife's blessings.

Which is good, because this would have been a different book if it had ended with his wife divorcing him. I felt bad that the only time they hiked together, he decided to hike 20 miles with her, and of course she burned out. I would be so angry if my husband did that to me. Like, not only did she have to hold the fort down, the only time they ever hiked together, he did it to prove a point to her. Sure, he sort of apologized for it, but he seemed a bit dimwitted about it. Like, of course someone can't hike for 20 miles in one day.

He's very blunt about the woes of hiking and his mindset of nearly quitting a few times. He discusses the tolls it takes on his knees, ankles and feet, as well as his back from carrying the 35 pound  backpack. Even though he doesn't shy away from the pain of hiking, he does make it sound romantic, walking into the wilderness in order to get in touch with what really matters; what life is all about.

It makes me want to do it as well. However, I am realistic. I could probably never do the thru-hike. Josh would want to do it with me and the both of us couldn't just quit our jobs and hike for six months with no income. I'm also not sure if I could go that much time without a space to call my own.

David encounters many different hikers; some are thru-hiking like he is, and others are sections hikers (hike a section over several years) and others are weekend or day hikers. However, it's interesting that David actively keep to himself and even though he meets many people during the course of the trail, he doesn't stay with them, instead deciding to walk much of the trail by himself.

Even though I found the book fascinating, I couldn't relate to him walking the trail alone. I think it's a part of being a woman now, even though it's not correct at all, is being wary of traveling by herself. He also talks about hitchhiking, and going into random stranger's houses for a bed and a meal, something he chalks up to "trail magic." I don't know about all of that.

I would most likely would like to travel with someone anyway, I don't think I would have the luxury of traveling alone: no one to financially support me while I was away, along with not feeling safe enough alone on the trail.

It's a soothing book to listen too. I'm not sure if I would have felt the same way if I had read it, but listening to it felt like I could zone out, do some work, and come back to it, and feel like I have not missed anything. That might not be the best thing to admit but it was a good enough book to listen too during the work hours.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness

This is... this is a piece of work. I wish I had read some goodreads reviews before getting the audiobook, but I don't usually like to do that. I do listen to the buzz surrounding books, and suggestions, but you never know what you're really going to get when you read reviews of it, because there are some books that the goodreads community HATES, but I absolutely adore, and vice versa.

I was first drawn to the half-off book sale on and I was intrigued by the interesting book title and the blurb. It was also 23 hours long, which, at the time, thought it would be a good way to pass a few days of work.

Boy was I wrong.

This book is absolutely terrible. At first, the reader is lured into the prospect of an exciting book. It's about a woman who is a legacy. Her family come from a long line of Salem witches, but Diana Bishop, however, refused her birthright after the death of her parents. After trial and error, with enormous power that she couldn't control, she abandons it to become a historian. The set up reeks of elitism, because she goes to Harvard, or Yale, and gets her doctorate and becomes a tenured professor... before she's 30, I presume.

The book opens up and she's at Oxford. Yes, for the summer, researching alchemy. I don't particularly care about what part of alchemy she's researching, because no one really "researches" alchemy anymore. However, that's not the part of the book that goes completely south. The set up, no matter how eye roll-y it is, doesn't hold a candle up to the shit show that happens after that.

And I don't mean shit show like it's exciting action. Literally NOTHING happens in this book.

So, she's researching alchemy, and she pulls up this manuscript. The amount of times they mention manuscript in this book is mind boggling, but apparently, since she has all the magic, she finds this special manuscript, which sets off the magic spell that was on it, and alerts all the magical beings. I don't know why all the magical beings wanted this manuscript, and maybe it would have been interesting to me if Harkness hadn't felt the need to concentrate on boring subjects like:

  1. Everything Diana Bishop eats
  2. Everything Diana Bishop wears
  3. Diana's exercise regimen, including a 10 page description of a yoga session
  4. How Diana and Matthew both smell at any given time

Now, before, Diana Bishop and the New England backstory was eye roll-y. Visiting Oxford to do research? Eye roll-y. But the appearance of Matthew... what's his last name? Crawford? L'estat? Who knows, but he's a vampire who felt the magic book and ran into Diana. At first, she is bothered by him and ignores him. But like all possessive vampire romance novels, it quickly turns into something cringe-y and repulsive. My blood ran cold as their relationship progresses, and Diana, someone who seems to be a smart, capable, Mary Sue, turns into a drooling toddler who can't think of herself. Some things that Matthew does:
  1. Drug her because he thinks she needs to sleep and she doesn't want too
  2. Holds her in his arms by her wrists despite her repeatedly telling him, "no" and to "let me go" and "stop it" 
  3. They go horseback riding and she momentarily thinks about jumping the fence, and Matthew turns and tells her, "we will be done horseback riding if you had jumped the fence." 
  4. Constantly corrects her but also tells her how flipping fantastic she is all the time
  5. Stalks her 
At the horseback riding incident in France (yes, they are in France, not sure why), I had to stop this book. I realized a lot this year about the meaning of my time... and life is too short to hate listen to a an audio. At one point, I sped up the audio, and a lot of times, I zoned out to do various work things... and I didn't miss much. When the characters give you goose chills, it's time to stop. 

Don't get this book. It's the worst. 

Thursday, July 7, 2016

The Magician's Land by Lev Grossman

I'm really glad that I didn't wait to read the final installment of the Magician's trilogy. It's interesting to read other's reviews of the books, especially on goodreads. I personally loved the snark of Quentin and co, simply because I'm full of snark and salt, and  I'm just getting saltier with age.

It starts off with Quentin 30 years old. That was a reality check for me, since I turned the big 2-9 this year, and staring down the face of 30. Whereas in the second book he's still dissatisfied with life (and despite all that he went through with the first book, has not learned a thing), he's finally humbled, and is at peace with how the events of the second book turned out. He goes back to Brakebill's and becomes a teacher, a choice where normally, I wouldn't agree with (education always seems to be the backup career) but he settles into it, and enjoys it. He is also finally given a discipline, "repair of small objects."

Meh. I'm not sure about all of that but I'm sure it'll come in handy later on.

A few other things happens that signals the change of life for Quentin: his father passed away, and Quentin, though matured, has a hope that his father was also a magician, and goes looking for this "final quest" in his office, searching for meaning. When he figures out that his father wasn't a magician, and his death was just a part of life, Quentin is distraught, but moves on and goes back to Brakebill's.

Until Alice. He rescues a student when she encounters Alice the Niffin when a prank goes wrong. Plum is expelled from Brakebills and Quentin is fired for not following teacher protocols. From there, they start their weird partnership, seeking out a job stealing a suitcase.

What is also different about this book is the perspective of Elliot and Janet. Elliot was a prominent figure in the second book, but Janet took to the sidelines when Julia became a main character. I was really intrigued by Janet's story, even though interestingly enough, Grossman didn't go back to the beginning and describe how she even got to Brakebill's, which I guess is a moot point now. Janet is unapologetic and capable, which makes her a fun read.

Elliot has definitely matured. Even though this is the first time we're able to read his perspective, he's mostly a main character, so I feel like I know him. He's thinking of Fillory, and the destruction of the world, and everyone in it. When leadership is thrust upon him, Elliot doesn't buckle and instead uses his kingship to try and solve the problem. I love their friendship, I love how they work together, and Janet is a BAMF.

There are a lot of strong opinions about this series, but I loved it. I loved the stupid, silly meta references and again, the snark has matured, but there is still lots of snark in there. I really liked the ending, and how Quentin found what he was looking for, despite losing everything in the second book.

Enjoyable read.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

City of Ashes by Cassandra Clare

I guess I wanted to see what the big deal was. The mystery of the first book was ruined for me since I saw the movie and the TV show before the book, so I figured before the second season aired, I should read the second book and see if... maybe my feelings had changed? Maybe it's actually a diamond in the rough and we had it all wrong with Cassandra Clare?

I've read some really great YA books, and I've read some really shitty YA books that I couldn't even finish. This... is in the middle. If someone were to ask me if they should read this series, I would shrug my shoulders. It's a "meh" book. If you want something easy to read while you're on the plane, and can pick it up whenever, this is the series for you.

It's YA fluff with action, fantasy, romance with some themes of friendship and resilience. It's a good set up with a protagonist who has a complicated family life (because who doesn't) and wants to learn about her past. Clary is her own person and makes silly decisions like other teens her age. There is a love triangle, but it's not really a triangle... it feels like a bunch of teenagers trying to navigate their feelings, which is more realistic than 2 guys vying over a girl. Jace turns out to be her brother, which has loads of weird, unusual feelings, and the Simon/Clary ship is mercifully finished by the end of the book, when Simon breaks up with Clary when he realizes that Clary doesn't feel the same way about him.

Magnus and Alec are dating and Clare gracefully navigates all the feelings of being in a  gay relationship or the first time. I wish I could say that "coming out" seemed a bit outdated, but in light of the Orlando shooting, it's not. I'm glad there is representation in the series.

Like the first book, the plot is contrived and instead of a Mortal Cup, there is a sword, and the evil Valentine is going to use the sword for... something, I'm not sure. I think an army to take down the Shadowhunters and then the rest of the Down world? The team has to get it back and Clare reveals that both Jace and Clary have special powers that Valentine has given them. Mmmmk. Sure. We'll go with it. Clare also foreshadows a big reveal about Valentine and Jace. We don't know what, but it's coming!

With my lukewarm reaction to the book, there were some notable things that I disliked about it.

I found it strange that Clary does not have any other female friends and in one part of the book, states that she is jealous of how another girl looks, and that is why she always had male friends. I'm not saying that it's not true to reality that sometimes girls don't have female friends. But that type of behavior is harmful and patriarchal. It's not good to not like your own gender, and though points for Clary to own up to not liking other women because she sees them as potential competition, it's also kind of weird. This thing about women not having female friends extends to all the other women in the novel, including the Isabelle's and Alec's mother, whose peer is the Inquisitor, a hostile angry woman who lost her son to Valentine. Kind of weird, Cassandra Clare.

Along that strain of disliking women, there is a scene, a very plot motivated scene where the Fairy Queen (yes, you've read that right) demands, through a riddle, that two in the group (Simon, Isabel, Jace and Clary) kiss because, I guess, love. The group goes through pairings, including the "hilarious" pairing of Simon and Jace. However, there is never any mention of Isabel and Clary kissing.

Weird, right? Cassandra Clare seems to reallly hates women. Women can't be friends and they most definitely can't kiss each other.

Also... Simon doesn't die? He turns into a vampire (soz, spoiler, but if you watched the show, it already happened) and after the big boss battle, he is trapped in the middle of the lake on a truck bed as the sun is going up. I thought it would have been a very bold move if he died, but instead, he is able to withstand the sunlight. It's a mystery for the next book and it's not romanticized at all but... I thought the twist was a bit lame.

Finally, the themes of the book also didn't resonate with me. It's a YA novel, so naturally, it's geared towards young adults, and I am no longer a young adult. So themes of "not letting your past define you" and "choosing your own family" are just moot points to me, but are valuable lessons for youngsters who are trying to navigate this little thing we like to call life. Clary, Jace and the others desperately try to do this, with varying results throughout the book, and undoubtedly, Clare will come back to it later in the series as they all get older and the plot develops.

Clare set herself up well with this universe and is starting to get her footing with this second book. Since Josh is now a regular at the library, I'm going to have him get the third book (I'm invested now, don't look at me) but not pay for it.