Saturday, September 24, 2016

Inkheart: A Reminder Not to Judge Books by their Cover

Find me on Amazon!
As you may recall from another post, I unintentionally read three different versions of Taken recently. Inkheart by Cornelia Funke was the second one I read, but the first "reverse Taken" that I'd ever encountered.

Oh, so the dad gets kidnapped and sold into sexual slavery in this too? I thought this was a young adult book!
I think this is actually a children's book, and yes the dad gets kidnapped in the beginning. Luckily, neither he or his daughter are sexually molested. The father's kidnapping at the beginning of the book and the daughter's desire to run off and find him are actually the furthest Inkheart makes it into the Taken plotline. In reality, the plot is equal parts "be careful what you wish for," "don't judge a book by its cover," and missed opportunities. I felt the "don't judge a book by its cover" part most keenly since based on the cover and description on the back, I was expecting a more exciting, magical adventure with our little girl protagonist. Based on the description, our 12-year-old heroine— Meggie— is thrust into a book-like adventure where only she "can rewrite the story" and ultimately give it a happy ending. Based on the cover, I expected that adventure to include at least one minotaur, one unicorn, and a troop of flying monkeys. There were no minotaurs, unicorns, or flying monkeys. There was barely even any adventure. Instead, we had a series of kidnappings: first the dad, then the girl, then they escape, then Meggie gets kidnapped again, etc.

That sounds frustrating.
It really was! The sad part is that Cornelia Funke set up some legitimately good hooks at the beginning of the story, which were then resolved in a lackluster sort of way. For the first 300 or so pages, I was convinced that the story would get better! "Wait until I get to the part where they reveal this, and that, and the other thing!"

The way things start out is that 12-year-old bibliophile Meggie wakes up in the middle of the night to see that there is a strange man standing outside of her home. In a fit of panic, she rushes to inform her equally bibliophilic father so that he might send the stranger away. Her father is actually acquainted with the man: Dustfinger the fire-eater, who has searched for them in order to warn them that someone is on their trail. Meggie's father, Mo, possesses a certain book that our story's villain desires, and they must keep it from him at all costs... Thus, our beginning hooks: What could Capricorn, our villain, want from our book-binding papa (Mo)? What's so special about this book he wants? Why is Dustfinger warning them? Is he ally, or foe?

Who the hell names their kid "Capricorn," or "Dustfinger?"
Authors, of course. You see, Dustfinger and Capricorn do not belong in Meggie's world. They are actually characters from a book titled Inkheart, written by some guy in Italy (inside of Cornelia Funke's Inkheart).

It's just a book... No harm ever came from reading a book.
Meggie's father possesses a strange power: whenever he reads a book out loud, something ends up popping out of the book. Sometimes, it may be a bird, or a gold coin. However, for everything that comes out of the book, something else must go into it (presumably to maintain some sort of balance). In the instance of Inkheart, various characters— including Dustfinger, Capricorn, and several of Capricorn's henchmen— make it into Meggie's world, and her mother disappeared into the world of the book. Now, nine years after their appearance in Meggie's world, Capricorn has gathered and destroyed all copies of the story he came from. He needs only the one Mo owns to bring forward more of his evil cronies...

You wrote a book in a book that was better than the book you wrote...
Oooh... Book-ception!
It really did take approximately half of the book to get that all set up, and by then there had already been a kidnapping or two in progress. After that, it all went downhill. Unfortunately, the characters just weren't compelling. For example, as a reader I was told that Dustfinger was really an affable character in his book! However, in the actual book that I was reading, he was pathetic. He was desperately unhappy to be out of his story and wanted nothing more than to return home. Dustfinger gives Mo and Meggie up to Capricorn thinking that somehow— despite all of Mo's previous attempts to read him back— being under Capricorn's scrutiny will force Mo to control his power and send Dustfinger home! Meanwhile, Capricorn was repeatedly described as being a terrifying villain in his own book, with dead eyes devoid of pity. To encounter him in the book I read was to read about a man who wanted gold, and weapons to frighten people with. Color me unimpressed with his goals to be the douchiest douche-nozzle that ever douched. Capricorn is the sort of character one would call the police about, because they can handle him. He didn't have any particularly special powers, so I don't understand why the cops in the book were such pushovers that they didn't just go out and do their jobs.

Their families were being threatened?
Boo-fucking-hoo. You know what would help? Arresting the bad guys! The worst part, though, is that Inkheart spent a lot of time telling me how great Inkheart was. If the story these awful characters came from was so great, how come I'm not reading that instead?! Overall, the writing wasn't bad, though things did get tedious toward the end. I could have done without the repeated kidnappings, for example. Mo and Meggie's curse/ability to read characters out of their stories was an intriguing concept that got me to start the book, but only sheer determination on my part could make me finish it. Funke missed so many opportunities to make this a better story. I think she got lost in the cleverness of having a great book tucked away in a mediocre one.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Hello, Bicycle: A love letter on two wheels

Mango and I went to the e-cycle place in town to get rid of an old scanner,
then treated ourselves with a trip to the library!
My husband spoils me: for my birthday he bought me a shiny new bike. Though I originally intended to get a folding bike (for easy storing and getting around town), the folks at our local bike shop pointed out this beauty and I fell in love with it. I call her "Mango," and I take her out for rides as often as possible. Though Mango and I are probably in the honeymoon phase of our relationship, it is clear that Anna Brones and her bike are not. She obviously has a deep, abiding love for her two-wheeled conveyance. Hello Bicycle is clearly her love letter to bicycles with added useful information to their riders.

Find me on Amazon!
You are a woman of strange passions...
I am a woman of varied passions, that's all. And bicycling is now one of them! I requested Hello Bicycle from Blogging for Books— in exchange for an honest and fair review, of course— because it promised a "practical guide to the bike life with real-world advice" which I hoped included how to fix a flat tire. Honestly, I wasn't sure what to expect beyond that, and I was happy that I got it! I suspect Anna Brones is a woman of varied passions as well, since she includes more than just bike history, maintenance, and various reasons you should dust off your bike and get pedaling. Were you wondering what you could do with a bicycle beyond going for a joy ride? Ultimately we ride because we want to and it's enjoyable, but had you considered other possible biking adventures like camping, touring, or just commuting? And how will you remain fueled? Brones includes snack recipes to keep you pedaling, gear that might make your life easier if you want your two-wheeled steed to be as utilitarian as possible (or you want to go touring), and even up-cycle projects you can do when you inevitably get a flat tire (or two) and can no longer patch the tubes in your tires. All of that and more in a short book that you could read in an afternoon!

Overall, I would classify this book as a good, beginner "bike info sampler." You can tell with every sentence that Brones loves her cycling. She gives compelling reasons to add cycling to our everyday lives, as well as points out how easy it would be. If you haven't been on a bike since you were a kid, but you want to get back into it: this would be a good book for you. You'll get help figuring out what you need in a bike and additional resources to check out. If you're looking for something with more technical jargon, move along.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Art of Coloring Disney Princess: 100 Images to Lull You into a Catatonic State

Find me on Amazon, I guess.
This book was not made for me. When I see the title Art of Coloring Disney Princesses, certain expectations and standards come to mind. I expect a certain amount of froufrou nonsense and hoity-toityness featuring a pack of damsels in distress. Then I remind myself that "Disney Princess" refers to more than the classic damsels like Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, and Cinderella. My hopes rise, knowing that bad-asses like Mulan and Merida might be present. Let's not forget that Jasmine, Tiana, Rapunzel, and Belle are also intelligent, quirky, and brave. So I bought this Disney Princess coloring book with the expectation of seeing a variety of "princesses" doing and being more than decorative damsels in distress. Further, I expected the artwork would meet the high Disney Standards: interesting, dynamic, and beautiful. What I got amounts to little more than a Barbie-like coloring book with some characters standing or sitting around, looking pretty, with vacuous smiles plastered on their faces.

How do you know they're vacuous?
Because their eyes are glazed and unfocused, and they're staring at nothing in particular! The whole book is generic, discount, knock-off Disney at best! I find it insulting— to me as much as to these princesses— that they should take some genuinely interesting characters and have them only stand or sit, and smile at the camera. These ladies have better things to do! Tiana has work to do. Mulan has villains to outwit! For fucks' sake, Belle has a giant library to read, and Aurora could be taking a nap, and these artists interrupt their busy ass schedule to have them stand against a backdrop and smile?! Or they got a Disney Princess stunt double to sit/stand against a backdrop with infrequent wig and wardrobe changes.

You got a problem with looking pretty and having a rich husband?
Not at all! If you're pretty, have a rich husband, and that makes you happy? Good on you! I simply find it dull. My high school yearbooks were more interesting than that! Which leads me to my biggest problem with this book: It is mundane, uninspired, and mediocre. You're more likely to be lulled into a catatonic state while coloring these pages than be creatively inspired. But prepare yourself. There's a kicker. ... Are you prepared?

You're the Diet Coke of Disney. Just one calorie: not Disney enough.
I think so...
Of the approximately 120 pages to color, 98 are dedicated to generic, repeating wallpapers. I know. I counted. For the purposes of this math, I want you to understand that if the image was a mandala with a princess silhouette or a repeating pattern, I counted it as "wallpaper." Therefore, not really a princess. Just patterns. There were only 23 images of princesses (with vapid smile facial details), and even some of those pages were more patterns than princess.

Overall, I found this book terribly disappointing and misleading. It is monotonous at best, and I don't recommend it at all. In addition to all the problems with content, the book itself is odd in that it is a hardcover coloring book—

That's kinda cool!
—but the covers are actually just cardboard pieces stuck on the outside of a soft-cover book. It makes little sense, and it looks weird. It doesn't really bother me. I'm just annoyed at the book in general. But that does bring me back to my first point: This book wasn't made for me. I gave it to my friend, and he loved it. Know your audience, I guess. I bet my audience loves narwhals.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

The Cruelty: Red-headed stepchild of the YA genre

I will find you... And I will read you. On 2/17/17
People who read my blog, take note: I am a bibliophile. You probably gathered as much from the fact that I have a book review blog that I post in on a mostly regular basis. Still, I wanted to preface the following review with that statement, so you would understand just how I came to possess a copy of Scott Bergstrom's The Cruelty. I love books, and if a print copy of something should be offered to me for free, well... How could I say "no"? It had everything to do with wanting a new book, and nothing with the fact that it's "young adult" fiction or that the plot is essentially reverse-Taken.

It's "reverse Taken"...?
Yes: a loved one is kidnapped by terrorists/mobsters/criminals that are involved with human trafficking and our heroic protagonist must save them. It just so happens that this time, the daughter has to go save her kidnapped father instead of the other way around. Dad's been damseled, but everything else is very similar.

Our heroine, Gwendolyn Bloom, is the seventeen-year-old daughter of a kidnapped diplomat, and she has tough choices ahead of her. Terrorists rarely pick the best time to kidnap one's family, and for Gwendolyn they chose the day after the tenth anniversary of her mother's murder. With one parent already brutally slain, Gwendolyn won't let the other go. The choices she faces begin benignly enough: will she go meekly to live with a distant relative she doesn't know and accept that the authorities are doing everything in their power to rescue her father— the only family she's ever really known? Or will she wrest control of the situation and do everything she can to get him back? I don't think we'd get much of a book if she'd done the former— "well-behaved women seldom make history" (L.T. Ulrich) and all that jazz. From that point forward, Bergstrom sets the narrative on cruise control in the "action packed novel" lane, complete with training sessions (where Gwendolyn emerges as a teenage badass capable of defending herself against anything after a month of intense training), breaking and entering, murder, even picking up on a cold trail in a missing person's case through Europe (which is where her dad disappeared).

That sounds intense!
It's predictable, yet satisfying. Except for a slow start— potentially a case of "first novel syndrome"— the writing was interesting and well-paced. I only wish that I'd actually been in the mood to read it, and that it weren't in the first person point of view because I find that irritating— both of which are personal problems and not the book's fault. It also didn't help that this was the third version of the Taken-plot I've read in the past month. (That was purely accidental, by the way.) But if you don't share my personal problems and you're a fan of action-packed, young adult thrillers drizzled with murder, you'll probably like this book.

There were a few things that pulled me out of the action. They mainly had to do with the aforementioned "first person perspective." That and I find it hard to believe any normal, "soft" 17-year-old could do this kind of stuff: leave the comforts of home only to get her ass handed to her repeatedly until she learns to destroy everything in her path. Still, it made for a good story.

Wait, how is this the red-headed stepchild of the YA genre?
Ah, that... Apparently the author made some disparaging remarks regarding young adult fiction, its writers, and audience in general. Or at least, he made remarks and they were taken very personally by the audience. If you google his name and the name of the book, it's practically the first thing that pops up. I mention this because I think the negative reaction is exaggerated— especially when people are rating the book like crap even if they haven't even read it purely because Bergstrom made some ignorant remarks.

I did receive a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review.