Tuesday, May 19, 2015

REVIEW: Cat Out of Hell by Lynne Truss

Published by Melville House, 2015. Hardcover, 156 pgs.

SUMMARY:  I must give my husband credit for discovering a book that is perfect for my feline loving heart, and also one that had flown under my radar. It was appropriately a Mother's Day present. The inside of the dust jacket trumpets "For people who both love and hate cats." So...the first sentence immediately grabbed my attention in a "How is this possible? I NEED TO READ NOW" kind of way. The story focuses on Alec Charlesworth, who is a librarian grieving the recent loss of his wife. He meets Roger, a talking cat who begins to tell him a great tale filled with secret societies, travel, and dark forces. Truss is most well-known for her punctuation novel Eats, Shoots, and Leaves. Cat Out of Hell is a foray into fiction and dark comedy, confirming some of our worst fears that cats do think they're smarter than us, and are using humans as pawns to achieve their goals.

WRITING: The writing is dark, often dry, British humor, with some flourish-y sentences. The format was strange in that some of it told from Alec's perspective as he's listening to audio of a man named Wiggy and Roger, and also looking at pictures that have been sent to him. Also, there is a lot of email correspondence woven into the narrative. I also found it a bit confusing in general...the story was trying to be too many things and I ultimately found it a tad disappointing. Some scenes were funny, others quite serious or graphic, then it would get almost philosophical and overly intellectual when Roger and fellow cat "The Captain" were reminiscing. Lots of things are forgivable when cats are part of the story, I just wish the tale had been told in a more orderly way for me to more appreciate the nuances of these animals. I did like "Through domestication and time only one cat in a million can fulfill the nine lives destiny."

PACING: This is almost novella length, and it's a good thing. The story didn't have enough structure and direction to be much longer. Truss even makes a small joke about the book being a bit here, there, and all over through her main character, Alec. "I'd like to finish my account with an apology. Reading it all back, I realise that at times I have been a tad flippant in the way I have written this, and I have also told the story with what appears to be a lamentable lack of narrative organisation." I know this is meant to be tongue-in-cheek, but it didn't feel as cute to me as the author meant it to be. I felt the story could have been so much more and thus was a little let down.

PLOT: Kind of meandering. The idea of exploring enigmatic cat behavior is a promising idea, but the story didn't live up to its potential. Instead of being cute, entertaining, and a bit dark, it felt mostly odd and unsure of itself. However, I suppose one can argue cats are odd as well.

CHARACTERS: The humans were delightfully quirky and had some killer names...Beezlebub and Wiggy for starters. Roger the cat was obviously the driving force of the story and often amusing. He wished for Daniel Craig to play him in a movie because he has "underestimated elegance."

Roger is condescending, intelligent, and impatient with human behavior. This is funny and will amuse all cat owners. Many fellow owners' assumptions will prove true in this story- namely that purring is often a way for them to lull us into complacency before a future attack. This is a quick read that has fun elements and great cat observations. However, most of the narrative and structure fell flat for this reader. I was hoping for more. Still an interesting book for all cat lovers, if you don't expect it to be one of your favorite novels of the year. Definitely just "okay".

Saturday, May 16, 2015

REVIEW: The Rithmatist by Brandon Sanderson

Published by Tor, 2013. Hardback, 370 pages

SUMMARY: Joel has always dreamed of being a Rithmatist. Rithmatists have the power to bring two-dimensional drawings to life, defending people against merciless chalklings (who are unleashed by an unknown source). Chalklings are evil creations whose intent is to kill. Joel befriends a young girl Melody, and together they end up helping Professor Fitch with the scandalous and mysterious disappearances of students. This is all you should know, as it is more enjoyable going into the book blind.

WRITING: Brandon Sanderson is one of my new favorite authors. I appreciate his magic systems, world building, and all-over creative talent. I loved just about all facets of the story. The only teeny thing that bugged me were the names of the United Isles (the fantasy world's version of the United States). Georgiabama and Cincinnatus are prime examples. Some of the states we know in the US stayed the same, like Texas and Tennessee. I realize this was intended for geographic familiarity, but I would have preferred wholly original names.

CHARACTERS: The characters perfectly fit with the story. In the beginning a bully tells Joel (the main character) "You have to admit, everyone treats you pretty well here. You've got a good life. Nobody picks on you." Gee, how sweet. You're an outcast, but at least you aren't tortured. The elite high school pecking order is an annoying reality in this novel. Sanderson cleverly shows how this behavior can make the bullied party prone to treating others poorly as well- partially as a way to compensate, and also passing on the learned behavior. Joel does this to Melody, is quickly shamed, and never makes the mistake again.

I ended up liking Joel and his earnest passion for Rithmatics, Melody for her sweet, eccentric charm, Professor Fitch for his quiet dignity and intelligence, and Principal York for having great morals and always doing what was in the students' best interest.

PLOT: The story is very well-developed and fits in that rare category of being not just suitable, but enjoyable for all ages. It would appeal to any kid who likes math, enjoys a good puzzle or mystery, and/or is artistic in any way. Geometry was one of my worst subjects in school and I was still utterly sucked in by the chalkling theory, history, and illustrations.

Example of awesome sketches:

PACING: I would recommend this to any reader, particularly those who tried Sanderson's Mistborn trilogy and found the pace quite slow. It has the same great sense of imagination, but is much faster paced. As in Mistborn, I'm not entirely sure I 100% understand the magic, but no matter because it was SO MUCH FUN and is slated to be a series.

WORLD BUILDING: I enjoyed the steam punk aspects- horses replaced with springwork beasts (fully functional with gears that click and twist), the innovative transportation method of traveling through springrail, and the lanterns. Armedius Academy was fully imagined, and I felt like I had a keen sense of the world with the added illustrations.

I'm glad Sanderson initially wrote this book as a creative diversion from his current project. Once he finished Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series, he revisited and revised this story. It was his first foray into the Young Adult genre, and coupled with the spectacular illustrations by Ben McSweeney (my favorite were the fighting unicorns!), I think he knocked it out of the park. This book is especially distinctive in that I could read it in any mood and find the story enjoyable. It could be classified as a "lighter read", but still had depth and attention to detail that is often reserved for more "literary novels". I'm reviewing this two days after finishing, and am still realizing brilliant things the novel accomplished- in addition to being such a fun experience. For example, the attached reading and activity guide would be a great resource for schools. It is perfect for sparking ideas through artistic projects. I can't wait for my girls to read it in a few years. Luckily, Sanderson is prolific and the abruptness of the ending lends itself to a series continuation.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

REVIEW: The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate

Published by HarperCollins Childrens, 2012. Hardcover, 304 pages

SUMMARY: One of the cutest books on earth. If you don't find it so you might not have a soul. Too strong? That might not be the best summary. I suppose I'll continue. This beautiful story of friendship follows a Gorilla named Ivan and his friends- Stella the elephant and Bob the dog at the Exit 8 Big Top Mall and Video Arcade. The story follows Ivan's musings on human behavior, his past life in the jungle with his family, and the ways in which he entertains himself to pass the monotonous days. Ivan's life changes with the arrival of Ruby, a baby elephant who is meant to be a new revenue source  for Mack's dying enterprise. Ivan is determined to make a better life for this little one and begins to use his "art" as way to improve their circumstances. Applegate based this novel on a true story of a gorilla named Ivan who was kept alone in a mall cage in Washington for almost three decades before increased pressure finally forced him to be relocated to Zoo Atlanta.

WRITING: There are often very few words per page, even though they pack an emotional punch. This sparse style is effective, especially when describing strong emotions like love, grief, boredom, and hopelessness. While I love this style in books, I was a greedy reader and wanted the story to be longer. I can see how this might dilute the content, but it would have made me happy to spend just a little longer with them.

PACING: The pacing is exactly as it should be. I immediately understood the sadness and acceptance of Ivan's living situation, even while chuckling at his confusion over "Human face licking" on TV.

PLOT: Applegate focuses heavily on the ethical treatment of animals, especially those who are kept in tight, unnatural environments. It raised the question of what our moral obligation is to wild animals.

CHARACTERS: There are two elephants, a witty gorilla, a little nut-brown stray dog named Bob, an evil animal trainer, a down-on-his-luck custodian (George), and Ivan's artistic human friend Julia. A full cast of cuteness. It's hard not to repeat how CUTE this book is. 

I wouldn't change a thing. While the book was terribly sad in many parts, it was pure joy in showing that animals are far more capable of forming non-judgmental, innocent friendships. They are also intelligent beings that need the proper environment to thrive. Their young age (like little kids) allows them a wonderful freedom from preconceived notions and prejudices. They just want to play and talk, with no regard to socioeconomic status, race, or religion. What would the world look like if this continued to adulthood?

Ivan talking about Stella the Elephant "We don't have much in common, but we have enough. We are huge and alone, and we both love yogurt raisins." 

However, like all youngsters, these precious creatures aren't immune to jealousy and silly fights.

I want a sequel. I want to stay with these animals. I hope to get to Applegate's author booth at BookExpoAmerica and beg for more (while getting my book signed). The story is totally adorable from beginning to end. I occasionally find this expression annoying but feel it adequately describes The One and Only Ivan- "It gives you all the feels."

Monday, May 11, 2015

Review: Matilda by Roald Dahl

Published by: Penguin Young Readers Group 1st American Edition, 1988 Hardcover, 240 pages

SUMMARY: Ah, Matilda. My hero! A wonderful, gifted little girl who is a math and reading prodigy by the ripe old age of five. Self-taught through her local library, Matilda escapes her surroundings by reading Dickens and Hemingway. Her used car salesman dad and bingo playing mom blame her for all their shortcomings, treating her deplorably. The story focuses on Matilda's struggles at home and in school as she makes her way through Kindergarten. Through it all, she remains the ideal kid- lacking conceit and self-consciousness while having a sweet personality.

WRITING: This is my first Roald Dahl book. The dude is dark. However, he is quite witty in describing children and adults. I appreciate an author who who is smart enough to realize that children are more perceptive than we give them credit for, and have the ability to be brutally honest.
"Do you think all children's books ought to have funny bits in them?" Miss Honey asked.
"I do...Children are not so serious as grown-ups and they love to laugh" (Matilda)
Matilda is straight forward and looks at life simply but accurately. I was utterly in love with all facets of her personality.

PACING: Appropriate...this is a short children's book and didn't suffer structural problems that often plague literary fiction and fantasy. The story moved along well.

PLOT: Wowser. I was a bit astonished at the extreme physical violence, verbal abuse, and even a cuss word. I wouldn't recommend this to early readers, but rather late middle school to high school reading set. I realize Dahl was playing with extremes, but the ranting and raving of Ms. Trunchbull and the Father were excessive in my opinion. It was blatantly clear that these miserable human beings wanted to squash any happiness or success in others, but it felt like the reader was beat over the head with the hatefulness. It wore on me after a few chapters.

CHARACTERS: Wonderfully done. With characters like Trunchbull, Ms. Honey, Hortensia, Lavender...you could get a sense of personality simply from the names. The over-the-top father is a caricature of madness, and Dahl isn't subtle about making him a shady and ridiculous person.

 Matilda is one of my new favorite characters. Obviously without her there would be no book, but if I hadn't loved her so completely this would get three stars. Dahl also did a great job using the characters as a way to bring attention to social issues...such as resilient children who succeed in spite of atrocious parenting, and how decent teachers must often become the "parent"/mentor and pick up the slack. The book certainly left me feeling a bit disturbed and surprised, but that is obviously the point. The illustrations by Quentin Blake add depth and comedy to the story, and greatly enhance the reading experience!! I recommend to young adult readers looking to root for an adorable protagonist, even though it is technically labeled a children's book. 

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Review: Theodosia and the Serpents of Chaos by R.L Lafevers

Published by Houghton Mifflin, 2007. Hardcover, 344 pages

It is London, 1906, when Theodosia Throckmorton roams the halls of The Museum of Legends and Antiquities. Her father is the head curator, and she is busy banishing ancient Egyptian curses from artifacts with her beloved cat, Isis. Her archnemesis, Clive Fagenbush, "smells of boiled cabbage and pickled onions", and often sneaks around thwarting her plans with his spying. In this first installment, the Heart of Egypt goes missing and Theo uses her skills in Egyptology (aided by her parents inattention) to investigate before the world is doomed!

R.L Lafevers did a good job describing things from an eleven year old girl's perspective. Her annoyances, interests, and observations were appropriate for the time period and her uncommon living situation. I don't know of another kid who sleeps in a sarcophagus regularly. I loved her trusty feline companion and their deep bond. Also, we don't use the word "muttonhead" enough in our culture. I also want to perform the exorcism cleverly outlined on page 78 for my own evil orange tabby, Cat Deeley.

The plot is quite fantastical as Theo is left to her own devices and gets in life and death situations, travels great distances, and is allowed to do things that children just wouldn't be able to do unnoticed today. However, this is before helicopter parenting and the rise of Child Protective Services. Plus, this is a fun adventure for children and requires suspension of belief.

PACING: Everything moved well towards the conclusion. I loved hearing about the staff at the museum and also the secret society members. It was fun to hear about Egyptian Gods and rituals, and I'm glad Lafevers took the time to include them and create the necessary spooky atmosphere for the story.

CHARACTERS:  Theodosia, her grandmother, Henry, and Will were the most developed. I also liked Wigmere and hope he will continue to feature in the series. While her parents rushed in and out of the story, the father was still interesting in his nutty-professor aloofness.

This book is eerily reminiscent of another one of my favorite children's/Young Adult series...Alan Bradley's Flavia De Luce character from The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie (book one). The similarities are startlling: both are young girls in England in the 1900's (Flavia is later in the 1950's), have mothers who have been away on expeditions, and are often left alone to explore and learn about their environment. The Fathers love them as best they can, and often underestimate them since they are children. Theo's dad states "a mere child wouldn't understand" and other condescending remarks quite often throughout the story. Theo also references how her parents "get annoyed when she's underfoot".

This was a library copy but I will be buying the entire series for future reading to my children. I highly recommend this as an imaginative, delightful, and engrossing read!

Friday, May 8, 2015

Book Expo America + BookCon!

I am so excited to announce that I will be going to the Bloggers Conference and various sessions around BEA in NYC May 27-29. I will also be attending the BookCon event on Saturday May 30. Unfortunately we fly out early on Sunday May 31, so I won't get to the Booktube meetup. However, I'd love to meet any fellow booktubers for lunch or book shopping in the city. I will be active on Twitter (@PattiReads) during that week, as well as vlogging when possible. 

My husband is coming along for the ride so other activities are planned as well. We're seeing Aladdin, Billy Joel, and the Broadway play Fish in the Dark as our major events. We also have reservations at Toloache, Blue Smoke, and Ruby Foo's for dinners. If anyone has any bar/lunch/shopping recommendations I'd love to hear them. 

I'm thrilled for this bookish trip and hope to meet many of my online buddies. Let me know in comments or Twitter if you'll be in the area. Have a great weekend reading friends!

Saturday, May 2, 2015


Published by Skyscape (division of Amazon) 269 pages, release date May 19, 2015

**DISCLOSURE: I was provided a copy of this novel by the author in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own**

*Big thanks to Karen McQuestion for selecting me to read her book. She was very kind and I appreciated the thought. She has written other novels for children and adults, including her highly acclaimed YA Urban Fantasy series called Edgewood about four teenage super heroes. Also, she acknowledges bloggers as the "unsung heroes of the publishing world" in her Acknowledgement section of this book....and that means quite a lot to this small reviewer!

Emma and Lucas are two Wisconsin teenagers in love. However, tragedy has struck and the normally vibrant and athletic Lucas has terminal cancer. His organs are shutting down as Emma keeps a vigil at this bedside, with frequent run-ins with his mother, Mrs. Walker. Mysteriously, Lucas begins to get better. This happens to correspond with a suspicious crash of a disc-like object on the farm's property. As agents come to investigate the disturbance, Emma and Lucas's brother Eric begin to question Lucas's miraculous recovery. However, Lucas is not the same and it us up to them to figure out how to completely restore him. Equal parts mystery, adventure, and romance, McQuestion looks into extraterrestrial life and how help can come from unexpected places.

I was drawn to do this review based on the premise, cover, and also loving a Lucas (my husband). In addition, I am one of those unlucky people who can empathize with watching a loved one suffer with cancer and the Hospice process. I enjoyed reading a book where miraculous cancer recovery occurs, as that is everyone's dream outcome!

WRITING: The writing was good. The most enjoyable scenes were between Emma and Scout as they were traveling. I liked when they were in a Diner and we were made privy to Emma's thoughts: "...two ladies were talking loudly about scrapbooking, oblivious to the alien presence one booth over".

There were some obligatory teenage-angsty scenes that were full of raw emotion and "our love will never die" type stuff. This can be realistic to seventeen year olds, but sometimes icky to read as well.

PLOT: The combination of aliens and illness was a cross that I have never read before. The two elements are common, but made a fun story when mashed up. There is some suspension of belief required in how the ultimate task is completed, as the characters are lucky enough to get exactly what they need in the moment.

PACING: Well-paced. McQuestion sets up the issue in an appropriate time period and moves the story along towards it's conclusion at a pretty fast pace. The book is a great length, and doesn't suffer from being unnecessarily long.

CHARACTERS: My favorite characters were Eric, Lucas's handy, fix-it, shy brother, and Mack, the family dog. My least favorite characters I wanted to throw rotten tomatoes at....Mrs. Walker, Lucas's mom, and the hospice worker.

First, Mrs. Walker is not pleased with Emma, but she takes it beyond the "she's not good enough for our son" type thing to outright hostility...banning her from the house, telling her she's in the way, and yelling at her for wanting to be near her dying boyfriend. I realize slack should be cut for misdirected anger due to her son's terminal illness, but this lady was more than a little cruel. This is proof that everyone copes differently, but she was a real piece of work.

ALSO...the hospice worker was pretty deplorable. If a hospice nurse had told me when my mom was sick:  "family members see improvement as more than it is so I have to be the one to bring them down to earth", I would have FREAKED. WHAT???? Outrageous. Either use those words in private with another co-worker or rephrase for the family. I wanted to see her fall on her tush as well.

So McQuestion definitely evoked strong emotion, and whether that is positive or negative, I always appreciate an author who can make me feel!

I liked the examination of young love, the protective nature of parents, and the way McQuestion highlighted the decision-making ability of teenagers to pull themselves out of a mess (whatever the result may be). Emma was a sweetly optimistic teen who refuses to give up on something she believes in, and that was nice to read. I saw a Goodreads review recently that said this book could be the lovechild of These Broken Stars and Alienated. I'm not sure if that's true since I haven't read these two books, but it seemed to get a lot of online support. This is a cute, fast-paced book with a little romance and some other worldly elements. I think teenagers will enjoy!