Category Archives: Jez

The Dark Between the Stars (2014) and The Blood of the Cosmos (2015) by Kevin J. Anderson

darkbetweenstarsLove wide worlds full of details and interwoven stories similar to A Game of Thrones, but want something more technologically advanced? The Saga of Shadows is the ideal series for you.

In the far future, humanity has moved out among the stars and formed clans and colonies throughout the galaxy, working alongside alien races like the Ildirans. Twenty years after the elemental war, as told in Kevin J. Anderson’s previous series, The Saga of Seven Suns, this trilogy follows the lives of dozens of characters and their families through multiple points of view as a new threat rises in the form of the Shana Rei, shadow-like creatures who want to destroy all of creation.bloodcosmos

Anderson does well to balance the large-scale battles with more individual struggles, such as the loss of one’s home, disease, love, and family. The first book, The Dark Between the Stars, is an excellent start, and the Hugo-nominated sequel, The Blood of the Cosmos, is even better. The third book in the trilogy, Eternity’s Mind, is expected to release in summer 2016.

Lumberjanes by Noelle Stevenson (2015)

lumberjanesJo, April, Molly, Mal, and Ripley are teen lumberjane scouts at Miss Quinzella Thiskwin Penniquiqul Thistle Crumpet’s Camp for Hardcore Lady Types, where they spend the summer learning valuable skills like knot-tying, archery, and battling supernatural creatures. As the girls start running into monsters and brainwashed boy scouts, they realize things at camp may not be what they seem and begin to investigate.

Comic fans will recognize the names Noelle Stevenson, Grace Ellis, Faith Erin Hicks, and Shannon Watters and know this is not a series to be missed. Lumberjanes is full of fantastic female characters and references to powerful women (often using phrases like “Oh my Bessie Coleman!”), fun dialogue, and intriguing mysteries. Lumberjanes Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 collect issues #1-8, but if you’re like me and simply can’t get enough, you can check out newer issues through Hoopla or eReadIllinois.

Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari (2015)

modernromanceParks and Recreation star Aziz Ansari is a standup comic who made jokes and observations about the state of dating in the digital era during his Modern Love tour last year. Building on those observations, Ansari teamed up with New York University sociology professor Eric Kleinberg to write a book on romance, texting, dating, and more with lots of facts, charts, and jokes. Modern Romance is a fascinating and entertaining look at not only the dating culture in America, but in Brazil, Japan, France, and Qatar.

I listened to the audiobook, read by Ansari himself, and I have never had so much fun learning!

As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of the Princess Bride by Cary Elwes (2014)

asyouwishRob Reiner’s The Princess Bride is a beloved classic of many, and it’s no surprise why. The movie has something for everyone, being packed with pirates, sword fights, castles, giants, princesses, true love, and about a hundred famous lines to quote.

But the road to becoming a classic isn’t easy and at times, it seemed like the movie may not get made at all. It’s that struggle that Cary Elwes, the actor in the lead role of Westley, covers in his memoir. He writes of the fight to get the script’s rights and get a director and actors to sign on, then covers the months of filming and swashbuckling practice, and even covers the years in which the film grew in popularity since its debut over 25 years ago. The book includes pieces of interviews with other members of the cast and crew, including Robin Wright (Buttercup), Mandy Patinkin (Inigo), Wallace Shawn (Vizzini), Billy Crystal (Miracle Max), and Rob Reiner (director), many of whom add their voices to Elwes’s in the audiobook adaptation.

As You Wish is a fantastic read full of fun anecdotes and movie magic which is sure to please any Princess Bride fan.

I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson (2014)

giveyouthesunAt thirteen, twins Jude and Noah are opposites: light and dark, wild and reserved, sporty and arty, but they’ve always on the same team. At sixteen, the two are hardly speaking to one another, and it becomes increasingly obvious that they are hiding more from each other than they are sharing. At thirteen, Jude is queen of the surfers and beginning to attract all of the attention of the boys, but perhaps moves a little more quickly than she can handle. Noah also meets a boy, but he’s far too afraid of being outed to the bullies at school to do much about it. His only hope is that his painting skills are good enough to get him into the special arts school in town, where he can finally be free of his tormentors and among people like himself. The twins’ mother tries to help both of her children apply for the school, but Jude becomes increasingly jealous as she feels her mother favoring Noah.

Three years later, their mother is dead—and haunting Jude. Jude interacts with the silent, angry ghost of her mother (who ruins all of her artwork) and the helpful, talkative ghost of her grandmother, bringing some magical realism to this contemporary young adult novel. As both stories unfold through alternating points of view and timelines, family mysteries are revealed, loves are won and lost, and this family is torn apart and brought back together again.

Find a copy of Jandy Nelson’s moving novel, I’ll Give You the Sun, today.

The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil by Stephen Collins (2014)

giganticbeardWelcome to Here, a perfectly egg-shaped island, completely isolated. Everything Here is perfect and peaceful, with all of the houses identical and no competition between neighbors. All of the men in Here are clean shaven, except Dave who is bald, save for a single hair on his chin that resists both plucking and shaving. One day, the hair begins to grow and grow, until Dave has a full beard, which just keeps getting bigger and bigger, until the size of it is making daily life on Here difficult, not to mention the beard is proclaimed on the news as a “portal to Hell.”

Beautifully illustrated in a black and white minimalist style, The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil by Stephen Collins is a well-considered and hilarious satire of normalcy and keeping order.

Choose Your Own Autobiography by Neil Patrick Harris (2014)

nphbioNeil Patrick Harris’s autobiography is not your regular autobiography—it’s a choose your own adventure book. Written in second person, the book mimics the format of the Choose Your Own Adventure series he grew up reading, where the reader is given choices and asked to turn to a specific page to follow that choice to its conclusion. These include pursuing a career as a teenaged doctor, learning magic, and meeting the man of your dreams—but be careful, some roads lead to death by quicksand!

In this unusual autobiography, Neil covers his childhood, how he first got started in theatre and television, and his time on Doogie Howser, and later, How I Met Your Mother. The chapters on his personal life “behind the scenes” and about his family are my favorite and you can really feel the love Neil feels for his husband and children. The print version gives you the full experience of the format, but the audiobook makes up for this by including recordings of speeches Neil has given, one as a thirteen year old, and one as an adult, receiving a Tony award. The format does make the audiobook tricky, but it was handled well, asking the reader not to turn to a page number, but to “keep listening” or “wait awhile.” Included in both are drink and food recipes, as well as instructions for magic tricks.

Choose Your Own Autobiography is a fun and fascinating detour from the usual memoir fare and it’s done in a way that only NPH could do.

Seconds by Brian O’Malley (2014)

secondsKatie’s restaurant has been doing really well, but it no longer feels like hers with all of her original staff gone. Looking for a new adventure, she plans on opening a second restaurant, but things are moving pretty slowly and she keeps wondering if she should have chosen somewhere else to build. When one of the waitresses in her current restaurant is badly injured, Katie is visited by the resident house spirit, who gives her the power to restart her day and give her a second chance. The rules are simple: 1. Write your mistake, 2. Ingest a mushroom, 3. Go to sleep, 4. Wake anew. The spirit gave Katie only one mushroom, but when she finds more beneath the floorboards, she tries to reset all her mistakes, including her restaurant location and her last break-up, but things get out of hand quickly.

The art in Seconds is adorably unique and fun, with lots of dynamic and entertaining characters. I greatly enjoyed Katie’s story and the mythology behind the house spirits and their connection to space-time, giving this book both a supernatural and science fiction feel. Readers of Brian Lee O’Malley’s Scott Pilgrim series should also look closely – there’s a few Easter eggs hidden in the panels for them!

Yes Please by Amy Poehler (2014)

yespleaseFans of Amy Poehler’s time on Saturday Night Live and Parks and Recreation will be impatient to get their hands on this autobiography. Poehler has written a book that is part memoir and part self-help book. The memoir portions cover her childhood, her time in improv with the Upright Citizen’s Brigade and Saturday Night Live, moving to her own show, her friends (Tina Fey and Seth Meyers, among others), her divorce, and her children. Poehler is unflinchingly honest and open in these chapters and I certainly learned a lot about her life.

The other parts of the book offer advice and talk about dealing with things like anxiety and self-doubt, especially when it comes to body image. These pages will resonate with readers and were perhaps my favorite part of Yes Please, though Poehler’s humor throughout makes this an enjoyable read no matter her topic.

For more memoirs of comedians, check out our Stand-Up Memoirs bibliography.

Smile by Raina Telgemeier (2010)

smileIn her graphic memoir, Raina Telgemeier relates her long and painful journey towards a perfect smile. It all began when Raina was in sixth grade, tripped, and lost her two front teeth, injuring the bones above in the process. The years that followed were filled with surgeries, head gear, retainers, and a painful amount of braces as dentists attempted to ultimately move all of Raina’s teeth towards the middle of her mouth. While she deals with all this, Raina is also trying to fit in at school, make friends, and (if she’s lucky) find a boyfriend.

Smile is a hilarious tale of a dental tragedy that is told expertly through the graphic format and Telgemeier’s engaging art, which won her an Eisner award. While this book is aimed at younger readers, the humor within is sure to garner laughs from any age reader, and readers in their 20s and 30s especially will find a lot of nostalgia in the early 90s setting.