Beauty and the Best

Book Reviews

"Seconds" by Bryan Lee O'Malley

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From the author that brought us Scott Pilgrim, Seconds is Bryan Lee O’Malley’s reset story, in the vain of Groundhog Day and Live Die Repeat. In a reset story there is typically a deus ex machine device that allows the protagonist to reset the day and relive the experience, always with the goal of perfecting it. The problems usually arise when the time space continuum is befouled by such shenanigans, and that’s no different here.

Seconds tells the story of Katie, the executive chef at the restaurant of the same name, and her group of friends. Despite her outward success, at 29 Katie has no ownership in Seconds so she is trying to start a new restaurant that she owns (Lucknow). She’s also trying to get over a relationship and deal with some supernatural going-ons at her residence (which happens to be the upstairs of Seconds).

While things are hectic, they don’t really go bad until an accident occurs one day at Seconds that burns one of the waitresses, the lovely Hazel. Katie is so remorseful about this situation – she partially caused it by fooling around with Andrew, her protégée – that she makes a deal with the devil of sorts. That night when she goes to sleep, she has a strange dream where she finds a red mushroom, a pad and a pen. There’re some instructions which tell Katie to write out her wrong, eat the mushroom, and go to sleep. She does this and the next day when she awakens she is able to play out the same scenario, but without causing the accident.

But other problems crop up. There is a house spirit at Seconds that is rather covetous of the red mushrooms and does not want Katie eating anymore (and for good reason). Also, with each iteration the world becomes more bizarre and uncontrollable for Katie.

The artwork in Seconds is far better than Scott Pilgrim. Katie’s cantankerous personality is humorously conveyed through O’Malley’s drawings, reminiscent of Charles Shultz at times. The colors jump off the page. It is truly a visual delight.

The story itself is likable enough. I get the feeling the movie Coraline had some impact on O’Malley, as you can feel the influence of that movie on this story. But Seconds stands on its own and it’s a real page-turner once it gets going. It also has some nice touches of reality, which are usually missing from O’Malley’s work. For instance, Katie drools when she sleeps. There’s also a great sequence where she meets her ex and gets a case of the runs due to eating a bad hamburger.

I’d give Seconds a strong recommend. It’s an enjoyable story with improved artwork over Scott Pilgrim.

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Daughter of Smoke and Bone – Audio Book Mini Review by The X

It seemed like after The Hunger Games released and followed with an even more successful film there’s been a rash of teen books gracing the shelves featuring power heroines. The talented young Veronica Roth pinned the Divergent series, the Brit Samantha Shannon has introduced us to The Bone Season and the pink-haired Laini Taylor captivates with the Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy. Well, I’m not just saying this because Laini is from California or because she has published a comic book or that her husband’s a comic book artist – I truly think her series is my favorite so far – granted, I haven’t completed The Bone Season yet – and it’s good as well. The way Laini describes the moody misty landscape of Prague, the protagonist Karou’s relationship with the characters in her sketch book and the bond she shares with her best friend and tiny puppeteer is mesmerizing. Khristine Hvam narrated characterizations truly draw you into the story. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve listened to the opening of this book over and over again because I love the world that she’s created. This is a book about the eternal struggle that exists between good and evil as seen through the magical worlds of Angels and Demons interwoven within the human world. There’s humor, teen love, art classes, Poison Kitchen and teeth that are collected for reasons so interesting that I won’t tell you here and spoil the surprise. I’ve read and listened to a lot of books over the years and this book and the series is one of the best yet. And I’m not just saying this because Laini’s a cute lady. Check it out and recommend it to a friend. The sequels are Days of Blood and Starlight and Dreams of Gods and Monsters (released April 8th 2014). The film rights have already been scoped up so a script is in the works.

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A Review of Book “Orange Is The New Black” by Piper Kerman

blogEntryTopperIt’s the first book review for AGT!

I was reluctant to cover the novel “Orange Is The New Black” because the Netflix TV series is so damn trendy right now. But I was curious about Piper  Kerman’s ordeal, and as a lawyer, I had more questions about how she wound up in prison than the TV show could answer. The book satisfied some of my curiosity, but not all of it.

The most surprising element of the book is that it holds up on its own accord. I don’t know what I was expecting -- perhaps some hastily composed outline of a novel that was turned into a TV show because of its sensationalist subject matter -- but this is a full blown, well written book. Kerman has a directness and preciseness to her writing that is very enjoyable. There are no gratuitous big words here, as in so many novels. One of the more impressive passages describes the day a guard took Piper and several other inmates down to a nearby lake. It’s nearly transporting.

The most interesting and compelling section of the book is Chapter Two, entitled “It All Changed in an Instant.” This chapter describes how Piper’s life was turned upside down by a visit from federal agents to her new home in New York, years after she had put her life of crime behind her. It turns out Kerman didn’t go to jail for several years after she entered a plea-bargain for money laundering (rather than conspiracy, which is what she was originally charged with). Instead, she had to meet once a month with a Pretrial Services case worker while federal prosecutors tried to extradite the West African kingpin at the helm of a drug scheme of which Piper played only an infinitesimal part.

What is not answered in “Orange” is why Piper was brought up on federal drug charges rather than state charges. I suspect it had something to do with the international element of the drug ring she was a part of. Piper also does not indulge the dirty details of prison confinement, such as how one goes about having the privacy of a good bowel movement or masterbation. (We’ve all seen those prison cells that house several inmates with just one toilet.)

There are some notable differences between the novel and the TV series. “Red” is really named “Pop” and she does not starve Piper out because of a careless insult on their initial meeting. Instead, the two are practically best buddies. Alex is actually named Nora Jansen, and her sister, Hester, is also involved in her drug endeavors (even though Hester is nowhere to be found in the TV show). Piper is not imprisoned with Nora/Alex for the majority of her sentence; they only run into each other in the very last month of Piper’s prison term. Nora/Alex claims the feds already knew about Piper’s involvement and only asked her to confirm certain facts. In other words, she didn’t rat Kerman out. We never learn if this is true or not, just as Piper never knows. Pensatucky really exists, but there is no mortal conflict between her and Piper. They are perfectly social with each other.

In fact, that’s the biggest difference between the book and the TV show: nothing dramatic really happens to Piper Kerman in prison (with the exception of the iceberg lettuce imbroglio in chapter nine). Most of the prisoners like Piper and she helps most of them with legal matters and other things involving reading and writing (obtaining a GED). Because of this, the book gets boring in the middle and the reader starts to feel like they’re serving that time out with Piper. But it picks up again, if only briefly, during the last couple chapters right before Piper is released and is transported via Con Air to facilities in Oklahoma and Chicago.

Let me preface my next comment by saying Piper Kerman is one of the good ones. Very few people would take the time to understand the other inmates of different ethnic backgrounds to the extent she did, let alone assist them. She has large reserves of empathy for her fellow female prisoners. That said, her constant self-congratulatory remarks are grating after a while. She remarks again and again that the other prisoners did not have the same support network that she did of family and friends, lacked the top notch legal counsel she could afford, didn’t have the bright future waiting for them outside that she did, etc. She also talks about how her blond hair and blue eyes constantly accorded her the benefit of the doubt. All true, no doubt, but quite unpleasant to hear repeatedly.

Truth be told, if Piper had never gone to prison, she probably would have been quite average in terms of her accomplishments. And that’s the real irony – the most tragic thing that ever happened to her is also the most exceptional and distinguishing.

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Ready Player One Audiobook Review

Reviewed by The X

Ready Player One is one of the best times I've had in literature since I was a kid. Filled with adventure, danger, mystery and even a touch of romance, Ernest Cline is clearly dealing with subject matter near and dear to his heart. Imagine a future where most people spend their waking hours inside a virtual video gaming world that looks real because it renders its hi-res imagery directly onto your retinas. This book will immediately resonate with those born in the 70's and 80's and fans of retro gaming, sci-fi, anime and John Hughes films.

The story is about a 16-year kid named Wade Watts living in 2044 and all hell has finally, totally and completely broken loose due to a Recession that turned into an endless Depression throughout the world. We have depleted most of our natural resources to the point where we’re just about out of everything we need to survive. Very few true cities exist any longer and humanity is about 25 years away from devolving into Thunder Dome. There are still some semblances of normalcy, such as running water, electricity, and public school but for Wade the latter is more like a nightmare. After the death of his mother, Wade has to live with his junkie aunt in The Stacks, a rickety network of trailer homes projects vertically stacked in order to conserve space. However, as with any good story, there’s a spark of hope and it exists within a virtual reality that’s become most people’s only reality called The Oasis. The Oasis (and yes, it’s an acronym) is accessed by the user via haptic gloves and a visor similar to those seen in Caprica. What? You haven’t watched Caprica? Yeah, I know. You and lots of other
people Anyway, The Oasis is what the name implies – a magical escape across the landscape of the digital created by the now deceased eccentric multi billionaire, James Halliday. Halliday, a teenager in the ‘80s, was obsessed with the culture of his youth, especially all things pertaining to video games. Inspired by the common practice of creating Easter eggs, or hidden secrets with video games, upon his death Halliday released a video announcing an Easter egg hidden somewhere within the massive world of The Oasis. Generally, these hidden prizes only held value to the hardcore gamers who weren’t satisfied until they’d successfully unlocked every part of a given game, but the prize for finding Halliday’s Easter Egg (as it became called) was his entire fortune, in excess of 240 billion dollars and complete ownership of The Oasis itself. Now the race is on to find the Egg and Gunters (Egg Hunters) have come out of the woodwork to join the hunt. A privatized faction of elite Egg Hunters called the IOI are hell-bent on monetizing The Oasis and Wade has to do everything in his power to stop them by getting to the Egg first. Wesley Crusher…I mean Wil Wheaton’s reading of Kline’s debut novel is heartfelt, colorful and down right cool in part because you know he loves the material, but also because of his natural sardonic charm. And if you listen closely, you’ll note that he even makes an appearance in the book himself. If you love the 80’s, video games, sci-fi and puzzle solving you’ll absolutely love listening to (or reading) Ernest Kline’s Ready Player One. You CANNOT have full nerd certification without complete consumption of this spectacular piece of contemporary fiction.

PS. Take a look at Ernest Kline's visit to gaming com… And Sepiawolf’s rendition of The Stacks

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