Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Review: Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

Title: Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore
Author: Robin Sloan
Genre: Literary Fiction
Publisher: Farrar, Strauss & Giroux
Length: 304 pages
Original Publishing Date: October 2nd, 2012
Series: Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore #1
Where I got it: Audiobook from the e-library
Links: Goodreads Amazon Author's Website


Synopsis from Goodreads: 
 
The Great Recession has shuffled Clay Jannon away from life as a San Francisco web-design drone and into the aisles of Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore. But after a few days on the job, Clay discovers that the store is more curious than either its name or its gnomic owner might suggest. The customers are few, and they never seem to buy anything—instead, they “check out” large, obscure volumes from strange corners of the store. Suspicious, Clay engineers an analysis of the clientele’s behavior, seeking help from his variously talented friends. But when they bring their findings to Mr. Penumbra, they discover the bookstore’s secrets extend far beyond its walls. Rendered with irresistible brio and dazzling intelligence, Robin Sloan's Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore is exactly what it sounds like: an establishment you have to enter and will never want to leave

Bloggers Note: You may remember that I wrote about being recommended this book by a highly intoxicated young man at a bar. He was very insistent that I read it and raved on and on and on about how it would change my life. In all honesty, this turned me off from this book for a while. However, after hearing raving reviews and seeing all the awards the book has won, I decided to give it a try. Boy, am I glad I did.
 
Main characters: 3.5/5

If I'm honest with myself, Clay was was one of the weaker aspects of this novel. Mostly, in the fact that he was forgettable and didn't have strong personality characteristics that identified him. I liked that he was sort of floating in a quarter-life crisis sort of aimlessness, after the recession forced the close of the company he was working for. I felt a lot of connection to him, especially as a recent post-grad. I understood what he liked, even if I don't like those things myself. There was a lot of good set up. But I didn't feel like I understood the depths of where his emotions or feelings came from.

Secondary characters: 4.5/5

Kat was a perfect foil to Clay. Where he was cautious, she would dive in head first. I love that the characters weren't always entirely likeable, but they fit at a good place on the likeable/realistic scale. Kat was the perfect example. She was so entirely driven that she could ignore logic or people's feelings. My one critique of any of the

Sloan's description of these characters is so on-point as well, that I feel like I know who they are in only a paragraph. That, ladies and gentlemen, is skill. It's the kind of telling, not showing, that works, but then on top of that, Sloan also shows you their personality, so by the end, you feel like you know them entirely.

Writing style: 5/5

As much as I wanted more depth and complexity from Clay, I had to give Sloan credit: man, could he create one heck of a writing voice. The sassy voice of Clay's was one of the few ways that I felt he truly stood out, and it made me understand how he felt about everything that was happening.

Sloan's writing is quick and witty. These are two things I really like. There are no giant paragraphs full of self-righteous flowery descriptions that take twenty sentences to do what Sloan can do more efficiently (and notably with more entertainment) in one. I have no negatives on the writing.

Plot: 5/5 
Yassssss.... I approve. First of all, I loved the clever mystery that developed. It is a delightful blend of quirky and fanciful, of old and new, of geeky and vogue, of modern and ancient. I was swept away in the world and I adored the whole journey.

I also just want to point out a rebuttal to some issues that others had. Some people claim that this is a whole big advertisement for Google, but I entirely disagree. In fact, I think it highlights more the failure of modern technology to take the place of the human mind and human emotions.

Ending: 5/5

I absolutely loved the ending. It worked out so perfectly and hit everything that I wanted it to. Not gonna lie, I was listening to it at work at 5am in the morning and I don't know if I was just really tired or if it was that impactful, but I definitely started tearing up at the ending.

Best scene: All of them. They were perfect. I really can't choose


Reminded Me Of: The Da Vinci Code meets Harry Potter

Positives: Everything

Negatives: Clay's characterization could be a little stronger, Kat was a manic pixie dream girl


Cover: So pretty and simple! And I heard it glows in the dark?


Verdict:  This is a perfect book. Love it like I do, okay?


Rating:  9.2 / 10 (5 stars)


Your Thoughts: Have you read it? What did you think? If you haven't, will you be adding it to your TBR list? Let me know!

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Review: Vault of Dreamers by Caragh O'Brien

Title: Vault of Dreamers
Author: Caragh O'Brien
Genre: Contemporary/Science Fiction
Publisher: Roaring Brook Press
Length: 432 pages
Original Publishing Date: September 16th, 2014
Series: Untitled #1
Where I got it: ARC from ARC Tours
Links: Goodreads Amazon Author's Website


Synopsis from Goodreads:   

The Forge School is the most prestigious arts school in the country. The secret to its success:  every moment of the students' lives is televised as part of the insanely popular Forge Show, and the students' schedule includes twelve hours of induced sleep meant to enhance creativity. But when first year student Rosie Sinclair skips her sleeping pill, she discovers there is something off about Forge. In fact, she suspects that there are sinister things going on deep below the reaches of the cameras in the school. What's worse is, she starts to notice that the edges of her consciousness do not feel quite right. And soon, she unearths the ghastly secret that the Forge School is hiding—and what it truly means to dream there.

 
Main characters: 2/5

Rosie was a lackluster main character. The best I can say for her is that her backstory was interesting and I loved how she got to the Forge School. I also like how serious she was about the show and the debate between what line is okay to cross in order to be successful. Other than this, I simply didn't feel emotionally connected with Rosie. I'm not sure how I felt about Rosie being 15. In some ways, it seemed like she was a lot younger, and in some ways, like she was a lot older. Maybe it's just because I'm getting to be so much older than the characters, but it always seems so crazy to me how young they are.

Secondary characters: 3/5

I liked Linus and thought that he added something interesting to the story. He had a rough sort of bad-boy feel, but he ended up being really sweet. Bradham was a good foil to Linus and he added some extra intrigue and drama. I didn't really see much of the other classmates, and it didn't seem like Rosie had any close female friends. Besides the initial chemistry however, I was disappointed by the way that Rosie & Linus' relationship developed. It seemed flat and a little unrealistic.

Writing style: 2.5/5

I am torn between O'Brien's writing style. On one hand, I really liked the way that she could captivate my attention. I finished reading it in about 4 hours (maybe I should have taken a little longer- I really sped through this one). On the other hand, there were a lot of scenes that could have been cut. The writing was a little long-winded in some parts and the plot was unnecessarily dragged out.

Plot: 3/5 
I really liked the concept of Vault of Dreamers, however I felt that it turned out a little half-baked. The juncture of reality TV with science fiction was interesting, but it left me with some fundamental questions. Why are arts school students lives so interesting that people want to watch them 24/7? It didn't seem like there was anything that entertaining happening. And the plot sort of devolved from there. It was confusing, full of holes and lacking the right motivation to make me believe it. So disappointing, because I thought I was gonna LOVE the plot.

Ending: 2/5

I'm confused. Actually, I was really disappointed. The more I think about it, the more I wonder if I missed the point. I really wanted there to be some mind-screw that blew me out of the water. Then I went on Goodreads and BAM, it's part of a series? What? The ending seemed so stand-alone. Beyond all of this, I just felt like it wasn't executed to its fullest extent and there weren't enough answers given.

Best scene: When Rosie makes the top 50 cut


Reminded Me Of: The Truman Show

Positives: Such an intriguing concept, characters with some potential, fast-moving writing

Negatives: Execution, long-winded, the ending?


Cover: YES. 10.0. I love it so so so much. I would marry the person who designed this cover.


Verdict:  I wanted SO much more from this novel. The concept had the potential to be amazing. 


Rating:  5.0 / 10 (3 stars)


Your Thoughts: Have you read it? What did you think? If you haven't, will you be adding it to your TBR list? Let me know!

Monday, March 16, 2015

Review: Dessange Voxbox from Influenster


I'm so thrilled to have the opportunity to review these three wonderful products (ignore the godawful picture, I need to get better at photography).

Dessange Paris' new Oleo Miracle Collection includes Replenishing Shampoo, Conditioner and Oil. This line is specifically for damaged and overprocessed hair. Now, I don't know if my hair is overprocessed, but I definitely have some crazy split ends going on, so I was thrilled to get these products!

My first impression in the shower this morning was the amazing scent. If you are big into floral scents, this product isn't for you, and I know some reviewers were turned off by the scent. I, on the other hand, adored it. It's very musky, with almost a hint of amber. It smells very familiar, but I can't quite put my finger on the exact scent. Basically though, it's pure heaven. And while it lingers, it's definitely not overpowering.

The shampoo was nice; it lathered well and left my hair feeling clean. The conditioner had a nice weight and feel, and the best part? I had absolutely no tangles afterward. That's a bit of a rarity. I tried the oil afterwards and was pleased with the way it went on. The bottle recommends 2-3 pumps, but I feel that's a bit much.

So, while my split ends weren't healed overnight, my hair feels shiny and soft today! I'll give more updates after multiple uses, but it was a great first impression for these Dessange products!

Disclaimer: I received these products for free in exchange from Influenster for an honest review. I was not otherwise compensated and all opinions are my own.

Friday, March 13, 2015

How Do You Keep All Your Notes Organized?

Combine Pocket with Evernote for a Clutter-Free, Paperless System
My dream organizational flow chart... plus a few more

I love keeping organized and taking notes. I have notes on things I want to do, blog posts I want to write, story ideas, project notes, and more, and these notes keep growing. On the other hand, I love keeping organized. But all my tools for organization are starting to run into each other.

Originally, I hand wrote everything. Physically writing down notes is still my favorite- it feels more personal and you get the satisfaction of crossing things off as you go. But then what if I forget my notebook? And hand writing takes so long...

So I integrated Google Drive. Google Drive is perfect because it acts as a Word document (allowing me to write longer documents) but allows me to access the information from anywhere. And it has spreadsheets!

Ok, great. But now I find Evernote. Those little notes and reminders that seemed silly to put in their own Google Doc? They go perfectly in Evernote. But am I getting to the point now where I am implementing too many devices? Are my notes landing in too many places?

So, here's a question to any readers out there. If you use multiple note applications or tools, how do you integrate them? How do you keep them organized?

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Review: Wings by Aprilynne Pike

Title: Wings
Author: Aprilynne Pike
Genre: YA Fantasy
Publisher: HarperTeen
Length: 290 pages
Original Publishing Date: January 1st, 2009
Series: Wings #1
Where I got it: Audiobook from the e-library
Links: Goodreads Amazon Author's Website


Synopsis from Goodreads: 
 
Laurel was mesmerized, staring at the pale things with wide eyes. They were terrifyingly beautiful—too beautiful for words.

Laurel turned to the mirror again, her eyes on the hovering petals that floated beside her head. They looked almost like wings.

In this extraordinary tale of magic and intrigue, romance and danger, everything you thought you knew about faeries will be changed forever.

 
Main characters: 1/5

To say I was not thrilled with Laurel would be an understatement. She was a curious mix of ignorantly naive, judgmental and the "perfect Mary-Sue". But most of all, she was boring and immature. Her thoughts and dialogue made me think that she was younger even than her stated age- 15.

There weren't really any redeeming characteristics of Laurel, except maybe that she was slightly more capable than the other gamut of awful FMCs out there: Bella, Nora, etc.

Secondary characters: 1.5/5

The love triangle is back with a vengeance in Wings. Maybe not back, because it actually came out in 2009, so maybe it was part of the height of the love triangle. Regardless, I am less than thrilled. Between the two, David is much preferred. He reads like a fifteen year old; slightly awkward, unsure but sweet. On the other hand, Tamani is ridiculous and pulling stunts straight from Edward Cullen.

I was particularly disappointed with the characterization of the villain, who came flat as cardboard out from a fairytale. 

Writing style: 1/5

Childish and juvenile just about sums it up. I kept getting jolted out of the story because of the writing and the silliness of what was happening. Pacing was extremely slow and jarring. The action at the end was the best part of the book, but even that was hard to understand and mediocre writing.

Plot: 1.5/5 
There were some positive aspects of the plot: Pike's innovative twist on faeries and their origins was unique. She incorporated a wide gamut of the fantasy/fairy-tale creatures and lore. There are some interesting beginning thoughts on science versus magic, though they are largely brushed over later.

The negatives, however, come with the unbelievability and the execution of these ideas. They end up sounding silly and contrived.

Ending:1/5

A pretty fitting ending for how much I disliked this novel. The way that the love triangle is solved (or not) in the conclusion was disappointing. I also didn't feel any need or desire to read any further sequels.

Best scene: Where Laurel finds out what she is


Reminded Me Of: Twilight meets Lament by Maggie Stiefvater

Positives: Not much. Some innovative folklore about faeries

Negatives: Everything else?


Cover: I don't like this cover


Verdict:  Disappointing and juvenile


Rating:  2.0 / 10 (1 stars)


Your Thoughts: Have you read it? What did you think? If you haven't, will you be adding it to your TBR list? Let me know!

Friday, March 6, 2015

Top 10 Favorite Apps

Finding new apps has been one of my favorite things in the past couple weeks. Some of them are just silly and for fun, but I love finding things that can actually make my life easier. Besides, the obvious, here are some of my new favorites.

  1. Zite: While it may not be perfect, I really like the way that this app curates articles for me to read. I always skim through it to check and see if anything interested pops up
  2. TED: If I need a pick me up, I check out the TED app for a quick talk that will be sure to perk me up. 
  3. Goodreads: An obvious pick for this bookworm, but sometimes I just need to quickly rank that book I read so I don't forget!
  4. OverDrive: The app that I use to download audiobooks from my local library; an absolute must. 
  5. Mint: Thank God for this app. Being financially responsible is an ongoing learning process, but Mint has taught me so much about my own spending habits and makes sure that I'm holding myself accountable for my purchases!
  6. QuizUp: Just for fun. I know Trivia Crack is the big thing right now, but I really prefer QuizUp personally. 
  7. Clue: Um, yeah. This is essential for remembering that time of the month. A lifesaver because I'm so forgetful!
  8. Songza: I'm a music buff and I listen to music while working at the college, so Songza is a lifesaver. I usually don't like when other people curate playlists (I prefer to pick my own), but they just have so many options! It's great. 
  9. Bond: Ok, this is a fun one that I don't see around much but helps me out immensely! I am notoriously bad at texting and social media- I have gotten chewed out for not responding and for good reason (I really am bad). With Bond, I set alerts to go off to remind me to text my friends and family!
  10. Evernote/Google Drive: I always have projects and notes open that I'm in the middle of working on, for work and for fun. Google Drive is where I keep the writing that I'm working on, and Evernote is for little notes and fun projects. I love being able to access them from wherever I am.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Review: Incarnate by Jodi Meadows

Title: Incarnate
Author: Jodi Meadows
Genre: YA Fantasy
Publisher: Katherine Tegan Books
Length: 374 pages
Original Publishing Date: January 31st, 2012
Series: Newsoul #1
Where I got it: Audiobook from the e-library
Links: Goodreads Amazon Author's Website


Synopsis from Goodreads: 
 
New soul

Ana is new. For thousands of years in Range, a million souls have been reincarnated over and over, keeping their memories and experiences from previous lifetimes. When Ana was born, another soul vanished, and no one knows why.

No soul

Even Ana’s own mother thinks she’s a nosoul, an omen of worse things to come, and has kept her away from society. To escape her seclusion and learn whether she’ll be reincarnated, Ana travels to the city of Heart, but its citizens are afraid of what her presence means. When dragons and sylph attack the city, is Ana to blame?

Heart

Sam believes Ana’s new soul is good and worthwhile. When he stands up for her, their relationship blooms. But can he love someone who may live only once, and will Ana’s enemies—human and creature alike—let them be together? Ana needs to uncover the mistake that gave her someone else’s life, but will her quest threaten the peace of Heart and destroy the promise of reincarnation for all?

Jodi Meadows expertly weaves soul-deep romance, fantasy, and danger into an extraordinary tale of new life.

 
Main characters: 3/5

Ana had this helpless thing going on that I'm not a fan of, but ultimately I simply found her a little bland. It was hard for me to understand why Sam found her so fascinating, other than her novelty.

Sam, on the other hand, was fascinating to me because of his past lives and the curiousness of what that meant in his and Ana's relationship. The part where Ana borrows his dress from his past life as a woman? So weird. And I like that. Something that has me scratching my head like that is memorable.

I like the pace of their romance, although because I wasn't sold on Ana, I wasn't completely sold on the couple.

Secondary characters: 1.5/5

Thoroughly underdeveloped. I would have liked to see more of Stef because she threw an interesting wrench into Sam and Ana's relationship. Li was plain nasty and I didn't see any redeeming or even vaguely human qualities about her. The others simply all blended together, with no distinguishing characteristics.

Writing style: 2.5/5

Sometimes the writing style felt like a fairy tale to me, and not in a good way. It had this whimsical feeling that I don't know was intentional. I missed that gritty realism of the world; part of it was lacking in the plot and premise, and part in the writing style. Meadows was a little flippant in her descriptions that would have added gravity to plot and the world.

Plot: 2/5 
A very cool premise, but a very lacking plot. The idea of a world where everyone knows each other and reincarnates except one is fascinating, but the execution fell flat. As I mentioned earlier, it had this childish fairy tale evocation that I wasn't a fan of, and the major plot points were there, but didn't have the meaning and purpose that I wanted from them. The dragons and sylphs seemed abruptly tossed in, not meaningful. Even the major conflict and climax seemed uninteresting and I wasn't buying in.

Ending: 2/5

I got a little confused at the end as the writing became rushed and the plot events meshed together. I was also a little disappointed in the set-up to the sequel. What was Soul Night? Why was the Menehem arc so rushed?

Best scene: The one where Ana spots Sam in pictures of himself in previous lives


Reminded Me Of: The Eternal Ones meets Through the Ever Night

Positives: The premise, Sam

Negatives: Helpless Anna, secondary characters, execution of the plot, rushed climax and ending


Cover: I love the colors of this cover, but the font is yucky and I'm just not into butterflies


Verdict: A fascinating and unique premise that did not work for me. 


Rating:  4.4 / 10 (2 stars)


Your Thoughts: Have you read it? What did you think? If you haven't, will you be adding it to your TBR list? Let me know!

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

TED Tuesday: The Demise of Guys?


When I was in high school, I took an AP Psychology class and every week the instructor would plug in an instructional video and zonk out in the corner. These videos were corny, filmed in the 1980s, and starred this man, Phillip Zimbardo.

Zimbardo is perhaps most famous (other than these fascinating videos) for the notorious 1971 Stanford Prison Study, and perhaps also for role as an expert witness at Abu Ghraib. I studied him later in college during a colloquium focused on psychology and "bad behavior": lying, prejudice, stereotyping, and more. My focus in the class was on "going along with the bad", or what causes us to participate in group events that we wouldn't otherwise. Abu Ghraib was of particular note, and so I was interested in Zimbardo's studies again.

I was pretty happy when this Zimbardo TED talk popped up on my app the other day, even though it was a departure from his other studies. Zimbardo discusses graduation and dropout rates, video game, internet access and porn to argue that boys are struggling in school, relationships and intimacy. He ends with a sounding of the alarm and a call to action for society to start fixing it.

Okay, number one here, it was beyond weird to hear Zimbardo saying the phrase "a real man who they can talk to, who can dance, who can make love slowly". Um, no, weirdest mental image ever. 

But in all seriousness, is this really a demise of guys or is this a demise of the current generation? How is this specific to one gender? Maybe women are having their own sets of hurdles that are leading to our demise? I think there's a lot more to be addressed here and Zimbardo is really just skimming the top.