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Friday, October 03, 2014

Books of September 2014

September included my first wedding anniversary, first NFL game (Browns vs. Ravens), first trail race, first time winning prizes at an event (not for my skills. They were thrown into the audience.), and my second and third time visiting my mom in the hospital. (She's better now!)

The book list of September, while it may appear impressively long at first glance, is actually filled with audiobooks and graphic novels. So, you know, really heady stuff. I'm trying to find a new batch of audiobooks to run to and it's slow-going.

Anyway, let's get started:

Finished September 4, 2014 (Audiobook)
by Lauren Oliver

Review: 3.5–4 / 5 
3.5-4: This is the best of the 4 Lauren Oliver books I've read or listened to. (Still need to read Panic.)

The story follows Sam, a high school girl in the top senior clique, dating a super popular dumb guy, and dealing with insecurities related to her less-than-popular past. A couple reviewers call it Groundhog Day meets Mean Girls. I can dig that. 

When a character relives a day over and over, it can become tedious. I thought Oliver did a good job making the repeated day feel fresh each time. The book's a bit long for what it is, but I can see why Sam had to have certain interactions before the end. 

As for the end: meh. I'd say that was my only strike. But really, what are you going to do with a theme like this? You can't have it end like Groundhog Day so, ultimately, I can respect the decision.

My only other complaint is teen angst – especially at the end with the otherwise calm Kent – but, I suppose that comes with the territory in a book like this. 

Finished September 8, 2014 (Audiobook)
by Lemony Snicket

Review: 3 / 5 
I picked this up on a whim and probably enjoyed it more as an audiobook than I would have in print. I enjoyed the different voices and the narrator's British accent. 

It's a pretty disturbing story when you think about it, but for some reason kids seem to like that. I know I did when I was young. 

I'll keep listening to these. They're really short and would probably keep me entertained during a long run.

Finished September 9, 2014
by Stephen King (Richard Bachman)

Review: 5 / 5 Best book of the month. 
I loved this. It's right up there with Misery as a favorite Stephen King (/Richard Bachman) novel. 

I can't say too much about it without giving up the end, but I did take to the web to find out "what it all means" after it ended. (The ending was pretty abrupt considering the long route to get there.) There were so many interpretations; mainly a commentary on society -duh- and perhaps referring to (too) young men volunteering for the military without knowing what to expect. 

I would love to see this as a movie, but it's been optioned for years, so I'm not too hopeful. The things they could do with flashbacks interspersed with the pain of the event -- whew. I'd see that in a heartbeat.

Abandoned September 10, 2014 (Audiobook)
by Suzanne Young

Review: 1 / 5 Worst book of the month. 
Audiobook rating: I gave this two hours and it never improved. The narrator is monotone and I can't tell if it's intentional or if she shouldn't be allowed to narrate books. 

Story: The plot is pretty much like every other dystopian teen novel, but I may pick up the book someday soon. I have faith it could be a quick, fairly interesting read. I'm just not sure I care about moody teens with high rates of suicide... especially if this is a series. 

Finished September 13, 2014
by Roald Dahl

Review: 3.5–4 / 5 
I saw the movie a long while ago, but never read the book. Found it for 80 cents and gave it a try. 

Pretty dark and twisted for a children's book. The grandma is pretty frank with her grandson about the witches of the world. Coincidentally, he walks into a witches' convention and overhears their grand plans. I remembered the movie pretty well, and about 3/4 through the book and the movie go different ways. The book ending is completely different - a bit dark, but still lovely - but I can see why the movie couldn't swing it. Very bizarre. I wish I'd read it as a kid just to see if I'd have liked it.

Finished September 15, 2014 (Audiobook)
by Chelsea Handler

Review: 3 / 5 
In the beginning, I kept thinking "Wow, Chelsea Handler is a horrible person." I maintained this opinion until the last two stories. Luckily, Ms. Handler seemed to have the same opinion and I felt she turned a corner near the end.

The audiobook was narrated by the same woman who read Orange is the New Black. In my times of deepest doubt (Story 1 or 2: "Am I going to finish this book?"), I would pretend these things were happening to Piper and it was easier to swallow.

Finished September 23, 2014
by Elsie Larson and Emma Chapman 

Review: 3 / 5 
I read their blog, so I've seen a few of these projects in the background of posts. 

What I liked: the photos and book layout are amazing. I really loved the table of contents and how it shows a thumbnail of each project. For the most part, Emma and Elsie keep things simple. I think that's what makes them so appealing. When I read their blog I feel like I could make everything I see. 

Not wild about: the tutorials were very simple. Almost to the point where I had to wonder if they had time to write the book while making all these items. Then again, if you've ever read a DIY book, chances are you can fill in the small steps yourself. 

What I'd like to see more of: before and afters. I'm sure it was a result of having an outside photographer, but I would have loved to see some of the spaces before they were finished. 

I'd also love to see more from their team. I think this was written before they had full time staff, but the pages with nine of the same object in different styles got me thinking: Their next book could include some of the new, more complicated woodworking tutorials from Josh (?) and several variations of smaller projects by each member of the staff - including the husbands. That would be cool. 

Overall, a fun book. I didn't come out of it with any new projects, but I appreciate their not perfect approach to life. This had a lot less text than the photo book, but I'm not sure that's a bad thing. 

Finished September 23, 2014
by Elsie Larson and Emma Chapman

Review: 3 / 5 
Overall, it feels like this book was right in their wheelhouse vs the home DIY book. I think they're starting to get deeper into home decor, but they were more experienced with photography when this book was written (and had more content as a result).

As many have stated, this is not for photographers. No F stops and ISO, just simple ideas for taking photos, developing skills with a camera that does most of the work, and refining an eye for detail.

I didn't read much that I didn't already know, but I could see it being helpful to someone starting out.

Other reviewers also mentioned this feels like a book about taking perfect Instagram pictures and selfies. In the end, it did sort of feel that way with all of the images of Emma and Elsie. But it's their book and they practice on each other, so it makes sense. If they create a second edition or volume, I'd like to see them include their staff (though maybe Sarah will be the photographer?) and maybe tips about natural settings/travel photography.

The tutorials at the end were a mix of great ideas and a few "yikes, you must have run out of time" projects. I think their new team members could probably help flesh that out a bit, too.

Oh! One thing I loved and want to see more of: the examples of bad setup vs good (lighting mainly). Would love to see this extended to cropping, framing, color selection, filters, etc.

Finished September 25, 2014
by Lev Grossman

Review: 4–4.5 / 5 
The second actual book I read this month!

My favorite of the series, by far. It had a lot of the elements I liked in the other books, but smooshed together: Brakebills, Fillory, underground magic, etc. 

To be honest, I forgot most of the plot from the first and second books. I should have refreshed myself with a summary, but I was afraid of spoilers, so I avoided it (advice: Wikipedia is spoiler free for book 3 if you only read the plot summaries for books 1 and 2.) I was able to fill in the blanks as it went along, but one character reveal in the middle confused me and didn't make sense until I finished the book and consulted Wikipedia. 

Anyway, I think these books would be even better on a second read. I may even try them on audiobook. 

Quentin started the series as a total tool, but in the end he seemed like a decent guy. Occasionally I'd roll my eyes at a plot point that seemed a little too convenient, but overall I'm very satisfied with the ending. 

Read on September 25, 2014
by Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky

Review: 4 / 5 
I enjoyed the back and forth between times; now, then, and later. The art was nice and clean, though the main characters looked a little old. Maybe they are. Anyway, the background gags were fun to seek out. I laughed out loud at a few. 

I was surprised how graphic it was, but probably because I read kid comic books. ;) Nothing too crazy, but lots of naked bits and porn. But what was I expecting from a book called sex criminals? 

I'll keep reading these as they are released. I appreciated the art process write-up and the extra cover art in the back of the book.
Read on September 30, 2014
by The Oatmeal (Matthew Inman)

Review: 3.5 / 5 
I have stupid reasons for not giving it a higher rating, so I thought I'd round up to 4. 

First, I've read a lot of this before on The Oatmeal or other websites. I don't seek out his comics daily, so I was surprised I'd seen half of the book. I do appreciate the new content. 

My other ridiculous complaint is how he depicts himself as a fat blobby man. It's really cute and endearing... until you see what he actually looks like: a thin, fit runner-man. So, having that mental image of a person in tip top shape (who is very fast for a non pro runner, despite his statement about his PR) is a little weird when you read all of the negative statements about his body and eating habits. It almost seems like body dysmorphia, but in this case I think he's trying to appeal to a larger crowd. Also, he said he used to be fat, so I'm sure that's always with him.

I could relate to a lot of this book, but he is pretty intense in his running, feelings about people at the gym, and life in general. I've enjoyed many of his online comics, but those are usually about more universal topics like work, grammar, or cats. 

I'm sure a lot of runners will get this for Christmas / Hanukkah 2014.

- - - - - - - -

For the most part, these reviews were ripped from my Goodreads. 

What did you read in September? 
What are you reading now? 

What I'm looking forward to: Getting back to House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski. Totally abandoned it last month. Whoops. I have a few books reserved at the library, but I forget what they are so they must be super exciting.

As always, be my friend on Goodreads.

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