Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Review: Everything is Perfect When You're a Liar by Kelly Oxford

Everyone has their one "quirk" genre in their favorites list. For some, it's something basic, like sports novels, or novels set in a particular place, like Paris or your hometown. For others, it's those mystery series where the protagonist is a cat. Regardless, everyone's partial to their own particular brand of entertainment. My genre is - and probably always will be - comedy memoirs. So when I saw that Kelly Oxford's Everything is Perfect When You're a Liar ebook was on sale for Kindle, I jumped headfirst.

Kelly Oxford is a comedy screenwriter and mother of three from Canada whose internet stardom effortlessly translated into this hilarious memoir book of essays, Everything is Perfect When You're a Liar. Charting her comedic rise, from youthful ambition to stoner teenager-dom, to dodging the life of a widowed waitress, to taking her kids to Disneyland, Kelly just can't stop herself from telling the truth... and while her life may not be perfect, it sure is funny.

The genre of comedian memoirs has its variations. Some are actual, stand-up, on-stage comedians - like Steve Martin - and others found their ground as practiced comedy writers for either television or print - like Tina Fey- and some are even a hybrid of both, like my personal goddesses, Mindy Kaling and Chelsea Handler. Some are funny, like you'd expect them to be, while others choose instead to detail their personal journeys towards humor, which, more often than not, contain a fair amount of tragedy as well. Any and all are beloved by me.

Oxford manages to convey both the sad and the glorious in equal measure, detailing some of the most excruciating, awkward, terrible, train-wreck tragic parts of her life... by telling them in a way that keeps you laughing. (And not just "blowing a little harder through your nose" laughing. I mean full-on "makes people opt out of sitting next to you on public transportation" laughing.)

Everything about these memoirs are flawless. There isn't even a single aspect of her writing style I would have rather done without: her profanity and unabashed fondness for the inappropriate make her sense of humor comparable to Chelsea Handler; however, there's a distinct difference in comedic timing. Oxford's knack for the cramped confines of a well-delivered tweet translates into line after line of simmering humor that boils up to a well-organized story arc for each essay. There's no space wasted with filler or unnecessary material... if you're not laughing, it's because you've died laughing.

However, the book does have its reflective, tender moments, between all of the chuckles. From a call home to her mom from her elementary school office, or the calm of a car ride home with her dad after a wild teenage party, to her brief time spent assisting the elderly, Oxford puts the "art" in "heart" by sneaking the sentimentality in between curse words and anecdotes about poop.

Just read "An Open Letter to the Nurse Who Gave Me an Enema Bottle and Told Me to Do it Myself While I Was High on Morphine," and you'll be hooked. I promise.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Review: Timebound by Rysa Walker

(This novel was purchased through Amazon's new Kindle First feature, which allows for editor's picks of upcoming ebooks to be purchased prior to their release date. Timebound will be available on January 1st.)

So, I mentioned recently that I went on a bit of a book-buying binge a couple of weeks ago, as a means of distracting myself from Finals preparation. Now that I've gotten over those woes and am on Winter Break, I can finally read those books (and no worries about my classes... I 4.0'd English and got a 3.8 in Fairy Tales)! I was most excited about Timebound, by Rysa Walker, so I decided to give that one a go first, out of the many books I have on my Winter TBR list, because, honestly, with 3 weeks off of school, a lack of time was no longer a problem for me.

Timebound (first in the "Chronos Files" series) details the story of sixteen-year-old Katie Pierce-Keller, a normal girl with divorced parents, who finds out, one day, that she's never existed. Well, not in this timeline, anyways. But if that's true, then it means everything her grandmother has told her, about the organization CHRONOS and the genetically-determined ability to travel through time, is true. Suddenly, Katie has to cope with a present where her best friend is part of a cult, her mother was never born, and her new boyfriend is the guy who took her place when she disappeared. But when it comes down to it, can just a normal teenage girl make the difficult decision, of which time stream is correct... and which one is right?

I initially approached this novel with no small amount of trepidation, due to the typical tricky nature of building a cohesive and fully-integrated world oriented around the concept of time travel. There's a lot of rules to explain, fundamental issues to address (um, why are things randomly disappearing?), and we can't forget the tweaks to the time-old idea that makes the concept individual... and it's difficult to make such a popular plot device your own.

Ultimately, all of my questions about how, exactly, this was going to work were answered; however, in citing the age-old adage of "actions speak louder than words," I wish there had been a little more demonstration than info-dumping. The benefit of having a clueless protagonist who is learning information at the same rate as the reader is that there's the opportunity to explain... I just wish it had been done in a less drawn-out and monologue-like fashion.

To be real, I almost DNF'd at around 25% of the way through the novel. I just found the pacing uneven, the constant descriptions to be pretty droll, and the relationships too unrealistic (not because of the time-travel thing, but because of the whole insta-love thing). The novel - though containing a lot of interesting historical factoids - was unfortunately written in a more basic style as well. Probably a good choice, due to the already confusing nature of what is being discussed, but boring. And honestly, for a novel that builds up to the 1893 Chicago Worlds Fair, they sure took their sweet time in getting there.

However, once they did, things finally got interesting. Really interesting, actually, and really quickly. The plot - finally straightened out and fully operational after all of that exhausting and extensive back story - takes off with a bang, and the stakes are made clear. The endless pages dedicated to the construction of, well, everything, form a complexity of interwoven webs in the time stream where, all of a sudden, we jet directly to the action, and it's nothing but a race to the finish line.

The book was hard to get through in a lot of places, but in the end, I really enjoyed it. Walker tackled a subject that's both been overplayed as well as over-hyped and wrote a book that utilizes the topic of time-travel in a totally new and engaging way. The book leaves off at a pretty interesting moment, and it's primed and ready for the next book in the series to completely blow us away, like the second half of this first book did. Walker took her time building the car... now let's just see how fast it can drive.

For fans of historical and science fiction for the YA set, as well as evil cult-ish religions manipulated for secret purposes and lots of Princess Bride references, I would recommend Timebound, if just for the adventure that's clearly in store with the next novel in the series.

Monday, December 9, 2013

All That Power

There are some books you like, and some books you don't. There are some books you fall in love with completely, and then, sometimes those books have sequels. And on an all-too rare, rare occasion, sometimes those sequels just as amazing - and maybe even better - than the original novel. Let me put it this way: I have been stalling the writing process of this review for over two weeks because I'm still trying to process the magic that I have read.

Crown of Midnight, by Sarah J. Maas, is the dazzling sequel to last year's thrilling Throne of Glass, a novel that introduced us to the fantasy world of Erilea, the powerful and evil King of Adarlan, his handsome son Prince Dorian, gruff Captian of the Guard Chaol Westfall, the mysterious and hilarious Princess Nehemia, and most importantly, the kickass, beauitful, leaves-no-survivors (or so you think) force to be reckoned with that is Celaena Sardothien. She's finally gained the position of the King's royal assassin, but her loyalties certainly aren't to the King, the man who sent her to the saltmines of Endovier in the first place. Involved in the duplicitous dance of remaining under the hand of Erliea's malicious monarch, while still standing true to her own beliefs, as well as the people she cares about most, Celaena has a lot on her plate already, even without more magical interference. However, as evil forces gather on the horizon, our heroine is forced to make some powerful choices, about what she's willing to do to fight for what's right.

I was completely terrified of the "sophomore slump" coming into this book, which is why - no matter how excited I was - I put it off 'til Thanksgiving to read it. I was worried that there's no way the sequel could contain as much suspense, action, romance, and intrigue as the first, that there was no way the stakes could be raised quite as high, or the plot would move along quite as quickly.

And then ohmygod I caught whiplash from the vertigo-inducing pace and found myself reeling from plot twist after plot twist, careening through expertly-crafted battles of both the hand and the heart, and being drawn in by even more well-written lore and world development.

My expectations did a complete 180 degrees from what they were coming into the novel, boomeranging from high hopes and low expectations to barely hanging on the sides of my chair, as the story raced along at 100 miles per hour starting from Page 1. The stakes aren't just raised, they're jettisoned into the sky, as the characters we've already grown to care about are put in more danger than ever before. Even characters I didn't care about were suddenly thrust into peril and it made me care.

Other things Maas made me do? Swoon. Sigh. Shake my head. Rock back and forth. Bite my nails. At one memorable moment about halfway through the novel... break down in tears. Like, completely. Maas is exceptional in her abilities to make you relate to and empathize with a character - even the nearly-despicable ones - and every single member of the cast of characters is fleshed out in full.

So, in total, and in attempting to keep my super fangirl emotions in check, Crown of Midnight not only successfully continues on the already-impressive saga of Celaena Sardothien, but does so in a way that gets your heart pumping and leaves your mind spinning, while still drawing in the reader to the dynamic character development and intricate world building that made the first novel in the series, Throne of Glass, so immensely popular.

Specifically, for fans of well-written high fantasy, as well as of Maas herself, read this book, read this series, and pre-order The Assasin's Blade immediately, if you haven't already. Because it's just so totally worth it.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Stacking the Shelves: Surprise Finals Procrastination Book Haul!

Stacking the Shelves is a weekly Saturday book meme from Tynga's Reviews, all about sharing the books you've added to your shelves over the course of the week.

For us over here at the University of Washington in Seattle, things have gotten very, very quiet, as Dead Week ends, and Finals kicks into full gear. Friends are finishing up classes, and going home, while I'm stuck waiting for the inevitable, and frankly, getting bored of studying. These last two Finals for me - if Midterms were any indication - are going to be painfully easy, and now, I'm just stalling out my time until I get to go back to Tacoma on Wednesday night. Can you really blame me for buying a couple of books on my Kindle? 

Of course not. They were on sale!

There are nine of them. 

That's right. I just bought nine new books for my Kindle in the past three days, totaling up to under $27, which is approximately $3 per book. One of them's the start of a series I've been meaning to read, two are part of a series I wanted to pick up again, and one's not even being released in hardcover until next month. 

Alright, I've teased you enough! Here's how I stacked my shelves while procrastinating for Finals: 

Timebound, by Rysa Walker
Set to be published on January 1st, this Amazon First Reads YA pick follows a sixteen year old girl struggling to survive as a murder at the 1893 Chicago Worlds Fair destroys her very existence from time. 

A Storm of Swords and A Clash of Kings, both by George R.R. Martin
Yes, I'm starting to read Game of Thrones again. Shut up, they're great. 

Stardust, by Neil Gaiman
An author I truly admire with a book I vaguely remember reading half of the fifth grade. Maybe I just need a little high fantasy and falling stars in my life, that's all. 

Everything is Perfect When You're a Liar, by Kelly Oxford
I love memoirs, and I especially love funny women. This selection promises both, as an uproariously funny Twitter mommy shares her life story. 

Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, by Sheryl Sandberg
What can I say? I'm doing big things in life. More like, I want to be able to do big things in life and I just have a real penchant for self-help books, but still. 

Under the Never Sky, by Veronica Rossi
A highly-rated start to an incredibly popular YA fantasy series, so why not give it a read, right? Besides, book 2 in the series is supposed to be even better than the first, so I've got to start somewhere. 

Not Pictured (because I'm a snob for cover art): 

Pastels and Jingle Bells: A Novella, by Christine S. Feldman
Self-published holiday-themed romance novella? Why not. 

Treasure Island, by Robert Louis Stevenson 
Motivated primarily by the fact that I had a Disney movie night with my bestie, my Little, and Disney's Treasure Planet last night, and I'm feeling nostalgic. 

Now, primarily to keep my father from going apopleptic now that we've gotten to the end of the list, I'm going to promise that I won't read a single one of these books until I've finished rereading Great Expectations for my English Final on Monday. (Well, I mean, I'll try.) 

What's new on YOUR shelves this week? 

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

College Fashion Post Link Up: Hans Christian Andersen

Well, we're now in the last month of my contributing editorship with College Fashion, and you'd think that I'd be taking this opportunity to really pour a lot of love into these last few posts, right? Unfortunately, Dead Week at the University of Washington doesn't allow for much "free time" to do things like "read books" or "sleep," which means that such luxuries as actually putting Tender Loving Care about what I write is outside the bounds of what I'll be able to do with my life as long as school is still in session. 

Thankfully, I'm taking a Hans Christian Andersen class right now - shout out to the UW Scandinavian department! - and I found inspiration staring me right in the textbook. 
Here's a sneak peek, over to a look inspired by the classic Andersenian classic "The Red Shoes": 
(unfortunately, in rereading the article, I realize that there was incorrect information in the summary of the story itself, and thought I'm 90% sure it was the fault of the person who edited my article, and not me, that doesn't mean that I'm not incredibly guilty and sad about it...:( )

So, click on over to College Fashion by following the link right here, and leave a comment as to how lovely I'm doing with my last few posts! 

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Coming Attractions: December

{Partaking in a Tacoma tradition over Thanksgiving Break with Point Defiance Zoo's "Zoolights"; Attending a campus club's event with some girls from my sorority; Scanning over the first signs of holiday season at our house} 

It's almost Winter, so it's understandable that sometimes, you get sick. Sometimes, you get a little tickle in your throat, or a sniffle of a cold; that's totally fine. What is NOT fine is a hacking cough that interrupts all semblance of normal sleeping patterns, and ends up racking your body with spasms so frequently that you pop the cartilage running along the bottom of your ribs, so now not only do you feel constantly choked, but you can barely sneeze without feeling like you've been shot. Bonus points if you can also drop a fully-loaded 32 oz. water bottle on your foot, and put two toes completely out of commission as well. 

Oh, and did I mention we're now entering Dead Week, and Finals start directly after that

And yet, I'm feeling okay with (most of) life. Primarily, the life that involves silver bells, green trees, warm hot chocolate, swirling candy canes, and the dulcet tones of Micheal Buble. That's right, folks, it's Christmastime once again, and while I suck down Twinings tea and Halls Triple Soothing Action drops, and bury my nose deep, deep in my study files, I'm jingling these bells like you've never seen before. So, with a ho-ho-ho and a rousing chorus of "Frosty the Snowman," here's what I'm decking the blog with this holiday season: 

  • My two last-ever College Fashion "Looks from Books" articles (the first of which is coming up this Wednesday!), and a Rundown Runway of my top five fave looks from all of the books I've discussed on the series! 
  • Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and Literary Pandering: Who is the real target consumer in the recent pushes for modern book adaptations of classic works, and how is this practice of Frankenstein-ing favorite novels going to affect our cultural regard for age-old art? Discussion! 
  • Tales Told Around the Fire: Detailing some of my favorite-ever books to read over Winter Break
  • As well as plenty of Top Ten Tuesdays, news from Book-World, and hot new reviews, one of which has been languishing on my to-do list since its ending left me emotionally crippled. Can you guess which one it was? 
And if you don't think that's enough of a gift for y'all, have you checked out my brand-spankin'-new Review Library? Classy stuff, ladies and gents. It's almost enough to make me feel like I've got my life in order. Then, of course, my toes start throbbing, and I feel my ribs start poking a hole in my skin, and I've just got to accept that's not the case.