Saturday, December 28, 2013

Book review: Mistborn

I just finished reading Mistborn, by Brandon Sanderson.  It had been lurking in my to read pile for an obscenely long time, and I figured four years was about as long as I could reasonably put it off.  The verdict?  I'm a fool!  I could have spent years living a life enriched by this book and I missed out on them for no good reason whatsoever.  Actually it was a very good reason.  I was afraid I'd love them and decide that I needed to read all Sanderson's books.  If I had to read all his books, I would then have to read the Wheel of Time and I have a wildly irrational fear of Robert Jordan's life's work.

The thing that finally got me over my ridiculous procrastination was an offhanded remark in a review I was reading (TOR has signed him to write two more books in the series which reminded me I needed to read them) "What happens when the hero of prophecy fails?".  For whatever reason in all of my conversations about this book (there were many) no one seemed to find that plot point relevant.  I'll confess that I'm still a bit perplexed at how dozens of people managed to skip that tiny fact (I roll my eyes here), because fantasy is at its core, a very simple formula.

A hero and his companions (there are almost always companions, a good hero knows that he needs help) go on a quest (usually involving a magical jewel or talisman) to fight a tyrannical evil (who might have minions, but never companions, he doesn't think anyone can do something better than him. This is typically his undoing).  Said hero, with the aid of his aforementioned noble companions, will defeat his evil foe, often saving a beautiful girl in the process, and will then live happily ever after.  This isn't a set in stone formula, but it's pretty much the core of the fantasy genre.

Over the years authors have certainly strayed from the formula.  Tamora Pierce and Robin McKinley both gave their magic talismans to girls.  Terry Brooks sucked a man out of our world and gave him a magic kingdom, before he started following the designated path of a fantasy series.  But over all most authors stick to the Tolkien approach.  Even the most devoted Magic Card loving, D&D playing, David Eddings loving, fantasy geek can only read so many books with the same overall plot.  When I first picked up The Name of the Wind, by Patrick Rothfuss, I couldn't wrap my head around the protagonist's tales of growing up with loving parents.  Didn't Pat know that all heroes must be orphans?  It made us root for them.

All that is what finally made me read Mistborn.  A world that had been failed by its hero and suffered under an evil overlord for a millennium was just the thing to cleanse my literary palate.  It also got me thinking.  Right now is a really great time to be a fantasy reader.  Game of Thrones kicked the door wide open for non-traditional fantasy novels to make it onto bookstore shelves.  Whether its a change in location brought to you in The Lies of Locke Lamora (no knights and castles in this one, think renaissance Venice instead), Rothfuss and The Name of the Wind's assault on every fantasy trope out there, or Sanderson mocking everything fantasy readers hold dear by giving us a world where the bad guy won, things have certainly changed in mainstream fantasy.

It's refreshing to step away from tradition, even more so when the book doing the stepping is well written, and fun to read.  Any suggestions as to what I should read next?

New copies of Mistborn and Name of the Wind are available at Broken In Books in mass market paperback for $7.99 each plus tax. Anything else mentioned in this blog post can always be ordered or may be available used.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Book Review: Eleanor & Park

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

I decided to read this book around the time it started showing up on banned book lists.  All I can really say about it is it is phenomenal.  This is the sort of book that can really have a positive impact on kids lives, particularly if they're the sort who don't really fit in or have had difficult lives.  It's also a really good love story that has cross generational appeal.

Rowell does an excellent job of capturing the spirit of young, awkward love, and the book would still be amazing if that was all it had to say.  However it is more complicated than that, as the female lead Eleanor and her family are the victims of abuse at the hands of her drunken step-father.  It also shows the ways her family deals with being poor, which can be quite enlightening for kids who are more well off.

I endorse this book for both teenagers and adults.  There are some PG rated teenage love scenes and some language and abuse themes, but overall it's a fantastic book that most teens should be able to handle.  It also has appeal for adults, particularly those that enjoy the culture and music of the 80's as that is the time period in which the book is set.  It also takes perspective turns between Eleanor and Park so you can see the story from both perspectives, for example when she sees herself as looking fat and unattractive in her gym clothes, and he sees her as beautiful.

Eleanor & Park is a sweet love story between two teenage misfits.  It teaches a lesson of acceptance and hope and was one of the better books I have read this year.  I wholeheartedly endorse it, and can put a copy on hold for you right now if you give me a call, shoot me an email or write me a Facebook message.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Book Review: The Returned

The Returned by Jason Mott.

Imagine a world where the dead come back.  One day there is a knock on your door and there is a man from the International Bureau of the Returned with a loved one that may have died 10, 20, or even 50 years prior.  The loved one has returned unharmed and ready to start living their life again.  That is exactly what happens to Harold and Lucille Hargrave.  Their 8 year old son Jacob has been returned to them, at age 8 years old, exactly how he appeared before he died in 1966.  We follow what happens to the newly restored Hargrave family, and what happens to their town of Arcadia, amid the chaos of the dead returning to life all over the world.

What are they here for?  What caused them to come back?  Are they still human?  Are they our loved ones or some sort of sinister copy?  Do they mean us harm?  Are they here to stay?  Who comes back?  Who doesn't?  Will they overrun the Earth?  The Returned answers some of these questions but leaves many unanswered, eventually culminating in violence as most stories where people fear the unexplained must.

I really enjoyed this book.  It is a quick read and touches on some really interesting philosophical questions.  It spends a lot of time on the subject of grief, as would be normal considering the subject matter.  It comes off as a sort of supernatural mystery, and it is a quick and entertaining read with many interesting and likable characters.  I would definitely recommend this book.  Although the story has a supernatural bent, it shows us a great deal about human nature, and what people can do when they are motivated by pain and fear, and what they are capable of when they are motivated by love and acceptance.  I'm looking forward to whatever Mr. Mott has in store for us in future novels.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Book Review: The Bone Season

The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon

The year is 2059 and several major European cities are under the control of a security force known as the Scion.  People with special powers known as voyants (from clairvoyant) live a criminal existence in gangs on the fringes or society, or are captured and killed by the NVD.  But this society is not what it seems, and beneath it lies something even more sinister that our protagonist Paige Mahoney is about to discover.  Paige is a dreamwalker, someone who can enter people's minds, drive them crazy or even kill them.

The Bone Season has been receiving good reviews, with some criticism from book reviewers.  From what I understand some of the criticism lies in its similarity to other fantasy books, and I'd like to speak to that briefly.  I think people's natural tendency is to compare new books to older books so that readers will have a frame of reference.  Are some of the themes similar to other books?  Yes, but themes are typically similar and that is why they are themes, they recur.  I do not see a similarity to The Hunger Games, unless you are merely going with female protagonist that knows how to fight, which is a weak comparison at best.  As for the Harry Potter comparison, I don't really see that either.  Unless Hogwarts was a prison?  I'm starting to wonder if these book reviewers actually read the books they compared The Bone Season to.

And now for the comparisons that make sense to me.  There is an interesting Dickensian vibe here with Paige playing the role of Oliver Twist.  You also get an A Clockwork Orange vibe with some of the slang that is thrown around (not coincidentally one of Shannon's favorite books).  There is a glossary of slang at the end of the book, and it isn't used as much as in Clockwork, so there isn't a confusion factor.

The book itself is really quite original, Shannon creates a rich, developed world mostly based in Scion London, and its surrounding area.  She does a great job of world building, with the potential for more development in the upcoming sequels.  She also creates many different types and sub-types of voyants.  There is a handy reference chart at the beginning of the book, which honestly is unnecessary to appreciating the book itself.

From a purely aesthetic perspective this is a really pretty book.  It would appeal to fans of well made books everywhere.  The cover is beautiful, and the charts and maps are a nice addition, as are details like the red flyleaf with a symbol on it.  Sadly the only thing missing is a deckle edge.  No book is perfect I guess.

I loved this book.  I read it in two days (I even read it at work- ssssshhhhh don't tell my boss I may get fired).  It was really that entertaining.  It's definitely something I would suggest to everyone with an appreciation for fantasy novels, and any other good book.  Suggest, because it is rude to grab people and force them to read something.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Book Review: The 5th Wave

The 5th Wave, by Rick Yancey.

When I originally picked up this book and started reading it, I knew very little about it.  Only that it was this new dystopian Young Adult novel.  If I had a nickel for every book that thought it could cash in on the Hunger Games phenomenon...but it wasn't entirely like The Hunger Games, although I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it to fans.  First of all it's actually about alien invasion.  I can hear your collective groans.  I groaned too when I discovered this, but it is done in an interesting way and it's not like the aliens have lizard faces or anything (I'm looking at you V: The Miniseries and the trauma that ruined my childhood).

If I had to liken this to any book it would probably be Ender's Game, although the main protagonist is female.  There are kids, there a war games, and they are tasked with saving what remnants of humanity from the alien invaders.  It is told in first person point of view, although it is told from the perspectives several different characters to keep things interesting.  It's very well done, and the fast past action keeps you hooked.

Although it is long, this is a very quick read and once you think you have everything figured out, it changes and you don't.  There are at least two major plot twists.  Give it a read to see if you can figure them out yourself before they are revealed.

I would recommend this to young adults and adults as well.  There is a little language, and some pretty mature themes, but it's good for teens.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Book Review: The Ocean at the End of the Lane

The Ocean at the End of the Lane, by Neil Gaiman is his latest adult novel and most recent since the release of Anansi Boys in 2005.  It is an absolute delight of a modern fantasy novel.  It is a quick read clocking at only 181 pages, but never seems too short covering exactly what the author wants you to know and still leaving a sense of mystery.  The story is told from the point of view of an adult male looking back on certain events of his childhood that are both supernatural and terrifying.

The three main female characters, Lettie Hempstock, her mother and her grandmother, are endearingly sketched and unforgettable.  The novel encompasses a time when the narrator lived in a house close to the Hempstocks.  It covers the horror when the boarder who live with the narrator's family, an opal miner, committed suicide, and the surrounding supernatural aftermath.  This part of the book was actually taken from Gaiman's own childhood, when his father's car was stolen and the thief was discovered to have committed suicide in the vehicle.  There is also a delightful photograph on the rear of the book of Gaiman himself as a child standing atop a drainage pipe.

Alas if you are interested in more of the plot, you will have to read the book yourself.  I found it wonderful, so you will not be wasting what little time it takes to finish.  The Ocean at the End of the Lane is another successful entry in Gaiman's pantheon of  modern day fairy tales, and certainly worth a read or two.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

James Patterson Wants Us to Have A Conversation

This past weekend the prolific author James Patterson took out ads on the front page of Publisher's Weekly, The New York Times Book Review and Kirkus.  His advertisement poses the questions, "Who Will Save Our Books? Our Bookstores? Our Libraries?"  His goal here is to start a dialogue that the industry and society as a whole has been largely ignoring.  He argues that the government stepped in to save our banks and automobile industry but where is the government on bookstores, libraries and the importance of reading?  There is article after article about the collapse of the book business, but no one has proposed any suggestions for how to save it.  Patterson doesn't make any suggestions either, he's just trying to "stir the pot" as he says.  He's looking to start the conversation in a constructive manner instead of just ignoring it like we have thus far.

It is also interesting the adversarial relationship that has developed between publishers and librarians over ebooks.  When only physical books were available libraries and publishers worked together cordially.  With the rise of the ebook format publishers have suddenly seen libraries as enemies.  Libraries typically get physical books at a 40-42% discount off the publisher's list prices.  For ebooks they are expected to pay 10 times the retail price and sometimes more.  That's if the publisher decides that their ebooks should be available at all to libraries.  With ebooks for whatever reason, publishers feel that libraries having ebooks will undercut their sales of those books.  The lack of anything physical or tangible associated with these books means that there would be little point in wanting to keep them forever, unless you are the type to reread books.  Why not just borrow them from the library and return them when you are done?  Why bother amassing an ebook library when no one will be able to use it but you?

Which is one issue facing libraries.  The constant cuts to their meager budgets is another.  They can't really afford to pay $100 for an ebook when that would equate to 5 hardcover new releases.

The problem facing bookstores is the same one that has existed for years and years.  Bookstore sales have been falling for years (typically between .5-1% per year) not because people are buying fewer books, but because people are not choosing to buy their books from bookstores.  They are buying online from Amazon, or at Target or Walmart, but not from bookstores.  This may in part be a chicken and egg situation.  Are people choosing alternative ways to acquire books because their local bookstores have gone out of business or have their local bookstores gone out of business because people have chosen to buy their books elsewhere?  In reality it's probably a little of both.

Personally I have experienced nothing but growth since purchasing Broken In Books in 2010.  And we are doing fine, but every store that says they wouldn't rather be doing better is lying.  

Sales of ebooks are also included in these figures, as most bookstores now have the ability to sell them online, so for our purposes they are merely a format of the book, not a replacement for the book.

What do you think?  How do we get consumers to choose the physical bookstore over the myriad of other options available to them?  Should we try?

Sunday, April 7, 2013

So Last Week Amazon Bought Goodreads

Last week Amazon bought Goodreads.  While I am excited for the monetary reward the creators of Goodreads received as a result of all of their hard work, I am also disappointed and angry.  I am angry because there is only one reason Amazon would have any interest in purchasing Goodreads, and that is data mining.  They want to know what we read.  They will use this information to market specifically to people so they can sell more stuff.  This tactic isn't really a problem.  That is what businesses do.  When I sign up for your site, I am giving you permission to use my data.  I fully expect you will do everything in your power to monetize my data, particularly by directly marketing products and services to me.  That is the way of the world.  However, knowing all of this, when you later tell me you are going to sell my data to a company that was heretofore not associated with your company, that is when I get a bit twitchy.

The same thing happened when Barnes & Noble purchased Borders Rewards information.  When you sign up for a rewards card, you can rest assured that the company is using that information to try to make more money.  If you would assume that your purchasing history would die with the company, you would clearly be wrong.  One of the assets Borders liquidated was my buying history.  They sold their rewards information to Barnes & Noble.  This includes purchasing history and God knows what else.  We were given the option to opt out of our histories being sold to Barnes & Noble, which I immediately did.  That is not what I signed up for.

Now the main issue I have with opting out of Goodreads is I really enjoy the site.  I love the shelf system, and to see what all of my friends are reading, and to be able to track and rate what I read in a year.  There are several other sites I have encountered as a result of my attempts to leave Goodreads, and take my data with me, thank you very much.  I think the one I enjoy the most in Booklikes.  It has most of the same functionality as Goodreads (although the inability to place the same book on multiple shelves is a bit of a downer) and also includes a blogging function which is nice.  If I can manage to get my entire Goodreads history to upload it's probably a no-brainer.  And magic of magics, it allows you to rate half stars.  I can rate something 3 and a half stars instead of having to decide between 3 and 4.  And they respond in live time to help requests.  That is amazing.  And there is the part where the site actually looks better than Goodreads.  It is more modern in appearance.

So Goodreads account deleted.  On to the next chapter.

Now to prevent Amazon from buying anything else I love.  There's the rub.

Do you have a Goodreads account?  Will Amazon's purchase of Goodreads make you delete it or otherwise change your social book tracking habits?

Monday, March 11, 2013

Electronic or Print?

Although it pains bookseller Luddites like myself to say it, it would seem that ebooks and ereaders are here to stay.  This is a reality most of us accepted years ago, and as such we have two lovely Kobo ereaders for sale at the store and and presently sell ebooks at our own store branded site.

Ebooks seem to be different from buying downloads of music online though, and people seem to be switching in part and not entirely.  I have also met some people who get really excited about their ereaders at first and then return to exclusively reading print books.  Then there are those who use their ereaders on vacation but typically prefer a print book for everyday reading.

I can honestly say that I use both an ereader and read print books.  I don't notice much of a difference until I switch back to a print book from the ereader.  You don't miss the bulk of the physical book, but you do miss the sensory experience.  The sensory experience of a physical book is just more full and rich than reading on an ereader.  I miss the way books smell.  The sterility of the ereader leaves me wanting more.

I have also recently realized that there are certain books that just work better as physical copies.  If I am using a book to work on a project for work, be it updating my business plan or writing a marketing plan, I just prefer a physical book.  It is much easier to flip back and forth, or highlight or underline, or put a post it note in a place I would like to refer back to.  I understand that these are all functionalities that ereaders have desperately tried to adopt, but something about them just falls short.  

There are also certain books, that having read them as physical copies, I cannot fathom trying to read as ebooks.  Books like David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest.  That book literally has footnotes with footnotes.  All that flipping back and forth in the text on an ereader would probably make me nauseous. 

Admittedly there are still some people who refuse to change to ereaders at all.  These are people who see the book more than just something to read.  It is something to be displayed proudly after completion.  I encounter these book objectifiers every day, and they run the gamut of ages and social classes.  And for those who want a library, I can't argue with you there.  Books are more than just stories, they are artwork, and I have seen some stunning examples of this.

What do you think?  How do you decide whether to read the physical or e-version of a book?  And do you prefer a tablet or ereader for your ebooks?  Or would you rather die than read an ebook?