Review: The Curse of the Boyfriend Sweater

The Curse of the Boyfriend Sweater: Essays on CraftingThe Curse of the Boyfriend Sweater: Essays on Crafting by Alanna Okun
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I gobbled this book up. I heard an interview with the author and went home and immediately bought it, which I never do, and then the second it came in I put aside my other books and gobbled. It is a book I didn’t know I needed.

It is alternatively poignant and funny, and I felt the author’s feelings right there beneath the page. I love the footnotes.

There are a lot of resources from sciencey folks telling us that crafting is good for mental health, but this is spoken here directly from the crafter. That gives the message a vividness and a relatablity that made me feel not alone.

It’s one of the themes that echos throughout the book: oh, you like this too? How wonderful, let’s be friends! And because I am the most crafty person I know, this book made me ache for a crafting community, or just a person like the author in my own life. But I know I am Not Alone, and that may be enough.

I do have two complaints:
1) the title, taken from one of the essays, makes this seem like a book about boys/love/grief. It is not. It is about crafting and its place in our lives. A better title, poached from inside another essay, would have been Unfinished Objects (UFOs).

2) There is not a single pattern or craft suggestion in it! A missed opportunity, because now that I’m done I want to make a thing and have to go find an idea all my own somewhere else.

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Review: A Darker Shade of Magic

A Darker Shade of Magic (Shades of Magic, #1)A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

While the ideas behind this book were really interesting–unique magics, other worlds like but not like ours, a feisty female thief with nothing to lose–this story didn’t work for me nearly as much as I thought it would. Something was just missing. It felt like it had been edited into blandness; I could anticipate beats and twists well before they showed up.
I did like the story, but I don’t know, it felt like every other modern magic book out there. I just didn’t connect with it.

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Review: The Mutual Admiration Society

The Mutual Admiration SocietyThe Mutual Admiration Society by Lesley Kagen

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I admire author Lesley Kagen’s devotion to a narrating character’s very fresh and original voice. She really captures the sound of a 10-year-old kid who has had a rough life in the early ’60s. The plot is cute (what kind of mysteries would a kid dream up and how would they really resolve?).

But it’s too much. You just drown in the main character’s (Tessie) mental side thoughts and lists and repetition and overall ooze of the voice. It’s exactly like listening to a chatty, imaginative kid hyped up on pixie sticks talk right in your ear…for 12 hours. Not something a lot of people would sign up for.

The mystery isn’t as big of a mystery as it seemed, but a great deal of neighborhood drama is revealed and handled instead. It was cute but overmuch. And I found the “aristocratic TV language” asides from the little sister to be way too hard to believe–even though Tessie frequently gets mixed up on phrases, her little sister periodically (when the plot desires it!) pops out with perfectly logical and grammatically correct posh phrases we’re supposed to believe she picked up from TV.

Good luck to you if you can get through this one; you might want to bring some earplugs.

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Review: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It is impossible to read this book without comparing it to the iconic movie, but both stand up well on their own as distinct art pieces. There is overlap, but they are so different it’s like chocolate chip cookie dough compared against cookies ‘n’ cream ice cream–both are pretty good!

The book makes the “electric sheep” rather literal–fake sheep, in a world where owning an animal is a statement about wealth. In fact, it’s Deckard’s driving motivation. He is desperately embarrassed about his electric sheep and longs to upgrade to a real animal. This need is both sort of amusing and deeply philosophical in line with the story. Does it matter if something is real if you have to do all the same motions to keep up status when it is fake? (Pretending to feed and groom your electric sheep, for example, so your neighbors don’t find out). This question of “what is real?” is returned to again and again.

However, this is classic sci-fi, so it comes with some problems. Apparently Dick can easily imagine androids and Mara colonization by 1991…but women can only be secretaries or housewives. And midway through the book Dick developed some kind of fascination with breasts. I laughed out loud when one description read, “she glanced at her husband, her breasts rising and falling,” as of her bosom were somehow autonomous and just moving of its own volition.

But despite that, and despite his strong preference for the word “ersatz,” this is absolutely worth the read.

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Review: The Prince of Shadows

Prince of ShadowsPrince of Shadows by Rachel Caine

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I would never have thought there was more to Shakespeare’s Tragedy of Romeo & Juliet, but lo and behold, not only is there more but it’s intense and magical and deeply political. R&J has become a trite school rite-of-passage; everyone has 14-year-olds asking “wherefore art thou Romeo?” and so no one gives it a passing thought.
Rachel Caine took a second glance, and her story brings to life a Verona as thick with blood in the streets as any block warred over by crips and bloods. It’s told from Benvolio’s perspective, the annoyed and no-fun cousin who just thinks everyone should stop fighting already. But why? The Prince of Shadows has an answer.
As a fan of the Baz Luhrman version of R&J, I can’t help but see that cast in this story, particularly in the maddened/drunken/high out of his mind Mercutio. But instead of the passing whimsy friend who dies for no good reason, Caine gives us a powerful backstory that pushes the whole plot–love and death and all–forward.
I was worried this book would be a rote retelling, but the actual Shakespearean language comes in only briefly, and always raises the sense of dread. (“Oh no,” you think, “that means we’re in Act Three! He’s running out of time!”) Caine has upgraded the apothecary to a herbalist/witch, to great effect. It has all the feel of the original, with modern depth and a much higher headcount.
This is a great book for a summer’s day before you hit up the Shakespeare in the Park. You’ll never look at R&J the same.

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Review: Solid State

Solid StateSolid State by Jonathan Coulton

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Weird, beautiful, and good. I haven’t yet heard the album for which this was written, and maybe that’s a mistake, but Matt Fraction was co-author and I had to gobble it up.
First, the easy part: the art is good. It brings depth that a novelization just couldn’t match. I like the lines and the use of color and the general absurdity, particularly with feelings communicated with thumbs-up and thumbs-downs.
The story–more complicated. In fact I think I’ll have to read it again to really grok it, but it is essentially about reality and time and privacy versus privilege. It is a flag in the ground for the net neutrality wars, a banner that sometimes there is just a too far. And yet even that acknowledges there are consequences.
It’s a bit non-linear–I think–but it’s a comic/book that will both please you and make you rock back and think.
It’s also charming, for me, to learn that one of my favorite nerd musicians (Coulton) is a fan of one of my favorite comic writers (Fraction). But of course he is. I saw throwbacks in this, too, to some of Coulton’s earlier hits, like Code Monkey. The man has his themes…and it works.

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Review: Ash and Quill

Ash and Quill (The Great Library #3)Ash and Quill by Rachel Caine

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Jess is back in the teeth of the wolf for the penultimate book in the series–this time set in the rebellious, Library-hating Americas!

The story really lets Thomas shine and deepens the relationship between Wolfe and Santi, which is touching and feels realistic. The Burners, even, are shown to be nuanced, justifiably hating the Library and yet still with kindness in them.

The ending had me literally gasping, but the middle felt a bit –obvious? The pacing was predictable, and so often Jess would narrate something and it would immediately be repeated as true on the next line. “…It also made him think, They should be afraid.
Jess certainly was.”
That kind of thing, over and over and over, until I could hear the …dada dada da? Da da…pacing in the text. It got wearying.

But the characters are still vibrant and I’m still not clear how the story will end, so I’ll meet you for the final soon.

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