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The New World (Chaos Walking, #0.5)

The New World (Chaos Walking, #0.5) - Patrick Ness There are three bonus Chaos Walking stories, and The New World is the only one that's available on Amazon. It's also the first, chronologically, so I figured I would go for it.

Yes, I'm pacing myself. I have two more to go and I'm reluctant to read them, because that's The End.

Anyway, The New World is just a little bit of Viola's journey, her parents, her friends. I wish I had read it earlier so I could have recognized some of the other characters when I was going through the books proper, but the introduction was just as enjoyable retroactively.
SoulPancake: Chew on Life's Big Questions - 'Rainn Wilson',  'Devon Gundry',  'Golriz Lucina',  'Shabnam Mogharabi' I picked this up because: pretty cover, SoulPancake name recognition, Rainn Wilson. The intro was promising, and I got excited about reading the book, then I got into the main section and lost interest. I probably should have paged through it before checking it out, but I had the kids with me, and I am less choosy when they're around.

SoulPancake is essentially a bunch of exercises designed to help you explore some of life's more interesting (chewy) questions -- what's your idea of God, why are we here, what is art -- and I'm sure for people who enjoy workbooks, it fulfills its purpose well, but I just wasn't up for that. I was looking for more in-depth exploration by OTHER PEOPLE, I guess. There are some interviews peppered throughout the book that looked like they'd be worth the time, but the fill-in-the-blanks content of the book disappointed me so much I just returned it to the library without bothering to read them.

It did make a lasting impression, though: I am STILL wondering why birds need jetpacks.

Monsters of Men (Chaos Walking #3)

Monsters of Men (Chaos Walking #3) - Patrick Ness The fact that I am done with this series makes me so, so sad. I found three companion pieces Ness has made available; maybe they will help a little.

Divergent (Divergent #1)

Divergent (Divergent #1) - Veronica Roth It turns out I'm not a huge fan of Roth's writing, although it's not offensively bad or anything like that, and I found the world of Divergent difficult to buy into . . . I still don't understand the purpose of the aptitude tests, since everyone chooses their own faction. And is this weird faction system just in Chicago, or is it US-wide? And how does everyone within this system not see how ridiculous it is? I got past that with my super-great Suspension of Disbelief powers, honed by years of quality teevee programming -- Doctor Who is great training for this sort of thing, you know.

And I have to say, despite the perfectly serviceable writing and silly government-as-a-series-of-cliques conceit, I found Divergent to be magnetic, and I loved the protagonist, Tris. It got even better once I got past the INCREDIBLY SLOW first half of the book. Weird pacing. We go step-by-step through Tris's choosing of her faction and the beginning of her initiation and then somehow we're at the end of the second initiation phase (how did she figure out what she needed to do within the simulations to get through them without arousing suspicion?).

But whatever, once you get past the slow stuff the plot goes BANG and runs away with the action. It's hard to put down after that. I finished the last digital page at 3:30 this morning. I REGRET NOTHING.

Oh, there's a predictable but cute romance in there, too -- which I just discovered has been portmanteaud into Fourtris, which just cracks me up FOREVER for some reason. There's a lot of face-touching involved in this romance, which got a little boring to read, but still, cute.

I found out this morning that there's a Divergent movie on the way, not surprising. I'll probably watch it on DVD. It's no Hunger Games but I think it will be fun to see on screen.

The Crown of Embers (Fire and Thorns, #2)

The Crown of Embers (Fire and Thorns, #2) - Rae Carson Once again: not objective. The books that make up the "Fire and Thorns" series would be filed away on a bookshelf called "KAREN'S WEAKNESSES AND COMFORT READS" if such a bookshelf existed.

So, obviously I like the world Carson's built. There are some minor problems -- I mean, Elisa's first real love interest was HER KIDNAPPER in the first book. But even then, it was easy to tell that Hector was being set up as the long-haul Dude to Love, and just in case you couldn't deduce that from the hints in The Girl of Fire and Thorns, Carson spends a LOT of time discussing how young he looks in the beginning of The Crown of Embers. It's okay, I'd be Team That Dude anyway because he's been written to be the perfect guy for Elisa. IT'S ALMOST LIKE CARSON HAD A PLAN.

I feel like the characters are a bit flat sometimes, and there are spots of dialogue or internal monologue every now and then that make me roll my eyes (like when Elisa says a little prayer that the child of an acquaintance will be "charming and slender and beautiful"), but I really dig the overall plot and the world and the way that the politics of running a kingdom are woven into the story -- so most of the time, I probably didn't even notice things that might normally give me pause.

While it is always irritating to have to wait to finish a trilogy, I think this one's worth it. I guess there's always the possibility that Carson will blow it in the third book, but I like the way it's looking from here.
The Girl of Fire and Thorns - Rae Carson This is not an objective review, AT ALL. The Girl of Fire and Thorns reminded me a lot of the YA Christian romance/fantasy books I read as a younger teen -- but better. Being SO IMPATIENT to get to something as racy as a kiss? Ridiculous, but I loved it the way I love grilled cheese and old musicals, and I was glued to it until I finished.

There was a lot of God in there, because the heroine, Elisa, is the bearer of a Godstone, which warms when Elisa prays, etc.; some might find that off-putting. I didn't mind it.

The other thing that I think stands out here is that Elisa is fat, which is unusual enough to be noted by EVERY SINGLE REVIEWER EVER. No, I'm exaggerating, but it is mentioned quite a lot in the book. At first I was thrown off by the wow, now that Elisa's been KIDNAPPED, she's lost that pesky weight and enjoys being naked and she's a much better person and also she's super hot! turn-around, but the physical part of that seems plausible, and after reading an interview with Carson in the back of my paperback, I was mostly appeased.

I have a hard time pointing out specific things I loved about Fire and Thorns, but I really enjoyed it. I found Elisa likeable and liked so many of the other characters in the book, the plot moved at a nice pace -- a little rushed at the end, with some strange gaps in Elisa's formerly whip-smart cleverness, but this is the sort of problem I bump against often in trilogy-starters -- and Carson's writing is great. Lots of descriptions of food, as Elisa tends to eat her feelings, but I didn't mind that at all. Anyway, whatever flaws I DID find in this novel weren't enough to stop me from starting the second book in the trilogy later that night.

(four-and-a-half stars)
All That Is - James Salter The feelings All That Is generated in me are similar to my feelings toward my least favorite of F. Scott Fitzgerald's novels. That probably means this is actually a good book but I am too shallow to appreciate it.

I did love Salter's writing. The craftsmanship behind the sentences is what kept me reading despite my aversion to the main character, the irritation I felt over the novel's treatment of women (appropriate for the times or deeply symbolic or something, I'm sure), and my boredom over keeping track of all the tertiary characters.

As far as that last item goes, I get it, in real life people pop in and out, but in a novel that I'm picking up and putting down multiple times, it just causes me to need a flowchart to remember who Bowman had sex with, or what he thought of this woman -- for "woman," read: potential sexual partner -- or that random dude in publishing.

Before writing this, I read a review that compared Bowman and All That Is to Don Draper and Mad Men, the story of a man in a certain time and place, and I can see that, but I watch Mad Men grudgingly, knowing I'm going to be bummed out at the end of each episode but watching anyway. Actually, that's an apt comparison, since grudgingly is how I approached this novel once I passed the halfway point and realized I was in for more of the same shallow exploration of one man's search for . . . something.

But the writing! I liked it too much to stop. It is the reason I kept coming back, much like my love for the sets and clothing in Mad Men compels me to watch each week.

And although, with the exception of a few POV shifts, the novel focuses on one character, it reveals very little of Bowman's inner life; it's all surfaces. Not my favorite kind of thing.

Honestly, I think I was just the wrong reader for this book. I will probably try another of Salter's novels, though, since I liked his writing style so much.

How To Be a Woman

How To Be a Woman - Caitlin Moran Reading How To Be a Woman was a strange experience. I could have done without the first quarter of the book, and the rest of it was uneven and scattered all over the place, but I got a lot out of certain essays -- like the abortion-centric chapter -- and ended up highlighting a bunch of stuff in one or two sections just because I like Moran's phrasing. Still, I wouldn't say I loved it. Three stars seems about right.

Let's Pretend This Never Happened: (A Mostly True Memoir)

Let's Pretend This Never Happened: (A Mostly True Memoir) - Jenny  Lawson I needed something fluffy. Let's Pretend This Never Happened is VERY fluffy, full of stories about Lawson's stranger life experiences. She has a readable style, although I'd advise taking a look at her blog to make sure it's not going to cause Death by Eyeroll before sitting down with a whole book's worth of her distinctive voice.

Although I did laugh out loud several times, I couldn't really connect with the book. I don't know, it is probably just the place I am right now, and has nothing to do with Lawson, but I think these exaggerated catchphrase-laden attacked-by-fake-editor's-notes stories probably land better when the reader feels a connection to the writer.

But I did lol enough to make reading Let's Pretend worth my time, and I fully understand why everyone on the Internets liked, tweeted, or forwarded the Big Metal Chicken* story. Good stuff.


*Just google "big metal chicken" if you somehow missed it, especially if you're considering reading this and haven't read The Bloggess before.**

**Also, if you don't enjoy footnotes (weirdo), don't read this book.

(three-and-a-half stars)
Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe - Benjamin Alire Sáenz Aristotle and Dante isn't my usual thing -- I lean more toward supernatural/fantasy YA, or coming-of-age stories with female protagonists -- but every so often the stars will align just right and I'll actually read up on current notable books and put a few of the not-my-usual-cuppa books on my wishlist just for kicks.

Anyway, after the first couple of chapters I was solidly in love with the way Sáenz writes, or at least how he wrote this story. It's lovely. Everything about Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe is lovely, from the title to the last page. Melancholy and beautiful. Great characters and a slow and quiet story that sticks with you.

And because I'm old and notice these things now: The parents are loving and wonderfully written. Many bonus points.
The Diviners - Libba Bray The Diviners has great spooky atmosphere, some fab characters, and a giant hook of a story. Bray goes a little overboard with the 20s slang -- when I read the first few pages, I was happy with how she made the period setting obvious without stating it out loud, but that impression faded quickly -- but I guess for an audience that hasn't heard been exposed to the Roaring Twenties before, it might not be as overdone?

Bray's obviously done her research into the pop culture of that era, and it seems like she tried to cram as much of it into the book as possible. That sounds like a terrible backhanded compliment, but . . . I guess it kind of is, actually! But I still loved the book! I mean, I gave it four stars EVEN WITH the over-peppering of "pos-i-tutely"s and "jake"s and "unc"s.

The main character, Evie, wasn't my favorite, and I didn't fully buy one side of the obligatory romantic triangle, but that didn't lessen my enjoyment of the book as a whole (and it is a whole lot of book, clocking in at almost 600 pages). And there's a lot of promise with all the "supernatural skillz" stuff, but it wasn't explored as much as I'd like in The Diviners -- I guess because Bray is trying to pace herself since it's meant to be a series.

But as much as I felt ambivalent about Evie, there were several characters that I LOVED, and I totally got caught up in the story, and even with the overdose of slang I was way into the setting, which doesn't seem like a common one in current YA. At least, I haven't run into it lately. Much better than yet another cardboard high-school-hallway scene.

So yeah, creepy and compelling and yet another series to follow.
Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk - Ben Fountain Oh, I waited too long to review this. I don't remember why I didn't like Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk more . . . it's an interesting look into the mind of a young soldier, taking place during a football game (Billy Lynn and the rest of the Bravo company, Iraq War heroes, are being honored during halftime) but with frequent flashbacks, so it doesn't seem to be standing still.

Fountain's writing is compelling and all, and I liked Billy despite his stereotypical teenager crap, and I thought it was funny in spots, but I don't think I ever connected with the story, which is fitting. Oh, wait, also, it was SUPER DEPRESSING. I remember now. That was the main problem, Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk is satire and has funny moments but the reality of it all, the truth underneath the satire, is terrible and I had a hard time separating that from the book.

So I did not like this more for roughly the same reason I don't watch The Daily Show anymore.

And as a purely fluffy side note, I got a kick out of counting reviews that mention this is a Man Book because it involves football and war.

(three-and-a-half stars)
Young House Love: 243 Ways to Paint, Craft, Update & Show Your Home Some Love - Sherry Petersik, John Petersik Although I'm not a Young House Love (the blog) reader, I enjoyed rummaging through Young House Love (the book). It has a lot of little projects that don't cost a ton but will freshen up a space. This is all standard Pinterest stuff, like painted headboards and etched glass jars, but it's presented prettily and the directions seem easy to follow. Each project is marked with its estimated cost and difficulty level, which is nice.

There is some chattiness included with the how-tos, which is fine, but not something I really look for in a craft book. If you are already a fan of the Petersiks, I'm sure you'll enjoy that.

If you weren't previously a fan, I don't know... it depends on your temperament, I guess. For instance, before/after shots are generally not my thing. It tends to make me feel jealous, because I am a horrible person, to see someone's house go from what mine looks like (this "before" shot is generally disparaged in the captions) to a house that is spotless and full of expensive furniture and hip paint colors and knick-knacks I can't afford. Some people probably use this sort of thing as motivation, aspiration. I do not.

So the photos in Young House Love that are supposed to reassure the reader that getting a house together tends to take some time, no matter who you are, don't add anything to the book for me.

But I thought some of the projects looked fun! I won't be buying this one because there's a lot of overlap with other craft books I own, but I'll definitely check out the blog, and I might take the book out of the library again after the hold list calms down a little.
Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, And The Fate Of Every Person - Rob Bell I wrote this long review of Love Wins then set the review aside for a weekend. When I came back, I realized I had basically written a giant diary entry. My history with Christianity is complicated, let's leave it at that and move on to the actual book.

Obviously, a lot of readers will have a hard time being objective about a book with a subtitle like A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived, so I'm not going to pretend that I'm the best person to look toward for an unbiased review. I share most of Bell's beliefs and a hearty handful of the four stars I gave it are due to the fact that I think Love Wins tries to answer important questions -- questions that are especially important for someone from an IFB background -- and I tend to agree with most of Bell's conclusions.

However, his conclusions are drawn somewhat haphazardly. It can be difficult to understand some of his reasoning and I think his arguments could be stronger.

In case you haven't seen this book in person,
random sentences
are broken
as if the book
were a poem.

And the poetic line breaks came off as gimmicky, honestly, especially when there's already a non-standard font and unusual paragraph justification in the mix.

But the title is A+ -- the "love wins" part, I mean -- so bonus points for that.
Code Name Verity - Elizabeth Wein I don't know what to say without giving anything away, because I loved reading it without knowing much about it. So this will be brief.

I actually debated starting Code Name Verity, because it was due back at the library since someone had requested it, and I didn't want to have to stop halfway through. Needless worry, since I would only put it down very reluctantly... I even held onto it while I watched my Sunday night teevee shows, reading it during commercial breaks.

What can I say without revealing too much? I mean, I think the book's description on GR gives away more than I'd like to have read before I read the novel. Let's try this: Code Name Verity is a YA novel, historical fiction in the World War II flavor. At its heart it's the story of a friendship between two young women -- one a pilot, one a spy -- and it's an epistolary novel, but don't let that scare you off. IT'S GOOD. It has CAPSLOCK! It's an adventure.

And I didn't cry much during the first half, and thought I'd gotten off easy, but then I made up for it during the last half, so I GUESS YOU WIN, WEIN.
Put 'em Up! Fruit: Creative Recipes for Making and Using Fresh Fruit Preserves, Chutneys, Infusions, and Pickles - Sherri Brooks Vinton I LOVE this cookbook and am planning to buy my own copy. Put 'em Up! Fruit is a good introduction to preserving fruit, with a heavy focus on canning using the boiling-water method. It includes other preservation methods -- drying and freezing -- but the star of the show is definitely canning.

First off, this is a beautiful cookbook, but it is also laid out very cleverly, and it's not style-over-substance: the photos are as helpful as they are pretty. There's a boiling-water canning guide in the front that incorporates great reference photos, and I wish I had seen it before I ever started canning. Maybe I wouldn't have tried using the wrong end of my canning tongs to pick up hot jars.

There are troubleshooting guides (ah, FRUIT FLOAT, that's what happened to my strawberry jam last summer) and photos demonstrating what terms like "julienne" and "dice" mean when it comes to prepping your produce.

The info in the front would be enough for me to recommend this cookbook, but the included recipes are also great; Put 'em Up! Fruit contains a nice range of recipes, organized by fruit, from jellies to to vinegar to dried lemons, which look a little alarming but are supposedly delicious. Even better: behind each recipe, there's a recipe that shows you a way to put your newly preserved produce to work. For instance, a recipe for blueberry syrup is paired with a recipe for blueberry lemonade, which uses the syrup as a flavoring.

As usual, I picked a recipe to test out. My grocery store had blood oranges, which I love, so I figured I'd try the recipe for blood orange marmalade. This was my first attempt at marmalade, so I didn't know what to expect, but the instructions were easy to follow and Vinton's easy-going but knowledgeable style helped me not to stress about it. I made a smaller batch than the recipe called for but didn't run into any problems downsizing it.

The blood orange marmalade turned out really well! And it's very, very pretty. My only criticism is that I think the oranges should be cut in eight pieces, not four, as the pieces of rind in the marmalade were a touch too large for me -- but I think that's a matter of personal taste. I'm looking forward to trying the accompanying recipe for salmon with orange glaze that incorporates the marmalade into a sauce. There's also a variation, brandied blood orange marmalade, that I'd like to try, if I can find more blood oranges.

I try not to hoard cookbooks these days, as I turn to the internet for recipes more often than not, and I have already have too many books to fit on my bookshelves as it is, but I make exceptions for cookbooks I know I will use, and this is definitely a good one for my little canning shelf.

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