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Monthly Archives: May 2011

Zombies vs. Unicorns edited by Justine Larbalestier and Holly Black

Zombies vs. Unicorns

Zombies vs. Unicorns

Much as I love short story anthologies, I tend to find them lying around half-finished, simply because it is so easy to put them down at the end of a story and get sidetracked by some other shiny book.  So although I bought this book and started reading it back in September when it was first released, it was only recently that I picked it up again and realized I had a couple stories left to go.

The premise of this anthology is an argument started via blog between YA authors Justine Larbalestier and Holly Black about the relative merits of these mythological creatures.  The stories alternate between zombies and unicorns, with a few combining the two.  The editors provide introductions to each story, arguing the virtues of Team Zombie (Larbalestier) and Team Unicorn (Black).  Many big-name YA authors have contributed, including Meg Cabot, Garth Nix, Libba Bray, Cassandra Clare, and Scott Westerfeld.  The bickering between the editors feels, at times, a bit contrived, but the stories deliver in fun and exciting ways.

Personally, I was firmly on Team Unicorn when I picked this book up.  In a revelation that is sure to send shock waves through the book blogosphere, I must admit: I am not a fan of zombie literature.  I know it has been very popular of late, with World War Z and Pride and Prejudice and Zombies hitting bestseller lists everywhere.  But I just do not see the appeal of shuffling, leaking, previously-dead people trying to eat your brain.  Unicorns, on the other hand, have a complex and contradictory mythology.  They have healing powers and a sense of purity about them, and yet they can also be deadly.  They have an air of mystery about them.  They glow.  And they don’t leak body fluids.

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33 Men by Jonathan Franklin

33 MenNormally, I’m not one for books about terrible tragedies or stories that have been unremittingly covered by the press.  At the end of a news cycle, most stories have been dissected to death, and I feel little need to learn what tiny details did not make it into the reports.  The saga of the 33 miners trapped in a Chilean mine was dramatic and drawn out, a sure recipe for desensitization via media, and yet – I am still utterly fascinated by it.

While reading the coverage of the rescue attempt, my mind kept going back to the 17 days these men spent at the bottom of a mine before the first drill broke through.  I get claustrophobic just thinking about it.  It’s so hard to imagine being trapped down there, with no way to communicate and the bare minimum of resources.  The fact that they were able to ration their food so carefully and keep some semblance of order is astounding.  But what were those first days like, down there in the darkest depths of a dangerous mine?

Franklin’s book sheds some light on these previously unpublished details, following the incident from the cave-in through the impressive rescue 69 days later.  An American journalist living in Chile for the past two decades, Franklin was granted a Rescue Pass, giving him unprecedented access to the rescue operation and, eventually, the miners themselves.  His account follows the action above and below the ground as both sides struggled to prevent a tragic outcome.  The book is a testament to the strong survival instinct and solidarity displayed under the greatest pressure, as well as the technical capabilities and dedication of rescuers who arrived from across the globe.

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Five Minutes with John Connolly

John Connolly

John Connolly

John Connolly is the internationally bestselling author of 14 books (15 later this year).  He is one of our favorite authors around these parts, mostly because his books are some of the best we’ve read, but also because he was kind enough to hold a signing at our store (back when we had a store in which to do that kind of thing).  He graciously agreed to answer some questions for our blog about his newest book, Hell’s Bells, released in the UK earlier this month.  (It will be out in the U.S. in October as The Infernals, but you’ll want to get your hands on it as soon as possible.)

[Booksellers Without Borders]: Why should anybody buy your book?

[John Connolly]: I have no idea why anyone picks one of my books over another.  I feel I should cling to their legs in an embarrassing show of excessive gratitude if, and when, they do.  That’s not false modesty: most authors have this weird ego/self-doubt inner battle going on.  When it comes to The Infernals/Hell’s Bells, or, indeed, The Gates, the answer is the same as for any other of my books: because I’ve done my best to ensure that you put the book down when you’ve finished it and think, gosh, that was actually kind of fun. I wouldn’t mind doing that again…

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Packing for Mars by Mary Roach

Packing for MarsLet’s start with a disclaimer: I read this book many months ago, soon after it came out in hardcover.  While my goal here is to mostly review recent reads, I’m making an exception in this case because of its trade paperback release last month and the final Shuttle missions.

If you’ve read Mary Roach before, you know what to expect: easily accessible science, research into unusual but fascinating areas, and a healthy dose of humor.  Packing for Mars is true to form, and was one of my favorite books to hand-sell during the last holiday season.

Before reading this book, I thought I knew a lot about the space program.  My father is an actual rocket scientist, and NASA has occasionally entrusted him with things like moon rocks.  I’ve read The Right Stuff, more than once.  We have Shuttle magnets on our refrigerator, and I even played with an astronaut Cabbage Patch doll when I was growing up.  Somewhere I have a Lego set of a Shuttle on a launch pad.

Packing for Mars, however, explores space exploration from a very different, but very human, point of view.  From the psychological effects of being confined in a small capsule or floating freely out in space to the problems that arise from collecting human excrement without gravity, this book is an in-depth look at the lesser-known engineering marvels that have allowed humans to travel, live, and work in the void of outer space.  It is not just a matter of how to propel machines into space that interests Ms. Roach, but the idea of learning what humans need to survive in such and environment and adapting the vehicles accordingly.

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Geektastic edited by Holly Black and Cecil Castellucci

Geektastic

Geektastic: Stories from the Nerd Herd

Here’s the back story to this YA anthology: Editors Holly Black and Cecil Castellucci were at Comic-Con 2007 and got to talking about how many Jedi and Klingons were present at such conventions.  They thought it would be fun to write a story about a Klingon and Jedi who wake up together after a late night partying.  Awkward “morning after” meets forbidden geek love.  Except, who would publish such a story for them?  The obvious answer was to contact other geeky YA authors and create an anthology to be this story’s home.  Contributors include Libba Bray, Cassandra Clare, John Green, David Levithan, Garth Nix, and Scott Westerfeld.

If the premise of said story sounds hilarious to you, buy/borrow/steal this book today.  If you are confused or bored, it’s probably not for you.

The stories and comics in this anthology cover a wide range of geeks: Sci fi / fantasy; theater and band; role playing, video playing, and cosplaying; comics and graphic novels; and my favorite, the literature geeks.  I only fall into a few of those categories, but I understood the culture more than enough to enjoy these stories.

I was disappointed to find that a lot of geek stereotypes were upheld, including geeks being less attractive and popular than their non-geek counterparts.  Who says someone who is a geek in one area also has to be less athletic and deficient in personal hygiene?  Why is there always one token girl geek?  I won’t even get into the nomenclature of geek vs. nerd.  (I generally identify more as a nerd, but in the end it doesn’t matter.)

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Hell’s Bells by John Connolly

Hell's Bells by John ConnollyFirst a quick note: John Connolly’s latest book was released yesterday in the UK with the title Hell’s Bells.  In the US, it will be released in October under a different title: The Infernals.  Who can wait another 5 months, though?  I recommend ordering a copy from the UK today, although this should in no way interfere with your plans to buy the US edition in October.  You can thank me later.

Connolly is best known for his crime fiction series (starring PI Charlie Parker) and the previously-reviewed The Book of Lost Things.  The Samuel Johnson books, however, are more humorous and adventuresome and generally not as dark.  Read these with tongue fully in cheek!

Hell’s Bells is a sequel to The Gates, featuring a boy named Samuel Johnson and his trustworthy dachshund, Boswell.  In The Gates, the Great Malevolence and his minions tried to invade Earth, but found themselves thwarted by young Samuel, the ever-loyal Boswell, and a very minor demon called Nurd.  Hell’s Bells sees Samuel and Boswell lose the home court advantage as they are transported to Hell by a demon who has fallen out of favor after the failed invasion. Along for the ride are a group of notorious dwarfs, a couple of policemen, and an ice cream truck.  Throughout, Samuel’s ordinary life problems (divorced parents, unattainable girls, and the like) are superseded by the demons he encounters and the battles he witnesses.  His perseverance and continued good humor keep these books light, despite heavy subject matter.

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Bossypants by Tina Fey

BossypantsI was looking forward to this book like a person looks forward to things they look forward to. And there were parts of it that totally piqued my interest and made me “LOL” in the literal sense (and then explain myself to whoever was in the room). But for the most part this book was only mildly entertaining. I know! Sacrilegious.

The vague premise of the book is Miss Tina Fey teaching you how to rear your child to grow up like her: a confident, witty, feminist geek who doesn’t march to the beat of her own drummer only because she decided to play the triangle instead. And let’s be honest with ourselves: who wouldn’t want to be Tina right now? She writes great shows and movies, gets to star in said great shows and movies, has a great family, supportive parents, and counts Amy Poehler as one of her friends. Sign me up!

But the way she goes about teaching you is kind of an organized mess of anecdotes that show how Tina or someone she loves/admires responds to a given life experience. Which, okay, I guess you are the sum of your actions. But hearing about her honeymoon cruise debacle, how she discovered she liked white guys, and her inability to decide whether or not to have another kid is stuff that is interesting only to close friends. And although I’d like to consider myself and the great T.Fey besties, my lack of interest in such anecdotes proves that I’m not.

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Posted by on May 8, 2011 in Book Reviews, Humor, Memoir / Biography

 

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