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Leah

Meatspace

posted by: November 17, 2015 - 7:00am

Cover art for MeatspaceNikesh Shukla’s second novel Meatspace is what happens when the fractals of a man’s loneliness are traced through social media and reassembled into a spectre of depression. Tweets, status updates and blog posts are the 2015 equivalent of wearing one’s heart on one’s sleeve, and the characters in Meatspace are all very expressive. Cut through the gristly irony and melodrama, and the remaining sinew shows readers how Shukla’s cast of aimless authors are feeling at any given moment of their days — except when they’re on the Tube.

 

Kitab Balasubramanyam was fired from his job in London for writing a novel in a secret Google doc instead of earning his pay. Now he’s holed up in a bachelor pad with his brother Aziz and a fridge full of chutney that his ex-girlfriend Rach left behind. Every minute of every day he’s online, randomly liking his relatives’ status updates and photos on Facebook or deleting and rephrasing a tweet to sound more authorial as he checks the nonexistent sales figures of his now-published book. Living off his mother’s life insurance policy is only going to get him so far, so he’s trying to make the author thing work out by doing readings at local pubs, which is going as fantastically as it sounds.

 

Dawdling in the bar bathroom after his latest stint at the mic, Kitab Balasubramanyam meets another guy who is also floating through life: Kitab Balasubramanyam. A second Indian guy at the same exact London pub book reading with the same exact name. Weirdness ensues.

 

Every chapter starts with a glimpse at Kitab’s browser history and is permeated with hashtags and blog posts and stored tweet drafts, all of which jigsaw together to illustrate how not-okay he is. Meatspace is brimming with pop culture references so relevant it’s like Nikesh Shukla has found a way to make ninja edits to the print copies, as if it wasn’t already impressive enough.


 
 

Akame ga KILL!

posted by: November 13, 2015 - 7:00am

Cover art for Akame ga KILL!The world of Akame ga KILL! is like a frenetic mash-up of The Hunger Games and Attack on Titan. The premiere volume of the 2010 manga series made its U.S. debut in March, pitting vivacious and foolhardy swordsman Tatsumi against the Capital, an affluent city rife with corruption and depravity.

 

Surrounded on all sides by roving gangs of assassins, rebel armies and nomadic tribes of ferals, the Capital is many impoverished settlers’ only hope — or option — for survival. Tatsumi embarks for the Capital from his village with his friends Sayo and Ieyasu, dreaming of becoming a renowned mercenary. The three are separated during an ambush; Tatsumi assumes his friends will journey to the Capital to regroup, so he does the same, utilizing his superior skills in battle to aid fellow travelers along the way.

 

When he arrives, Tatsumi is awestruck by the sights and smells of the city. Amidst the aristocracy, he finds a tavern and encounters Leone, a cat-like vixen who cons him out of all his earnings from the journey’s battles. Now desperate, Tatsumi sheepishly accepts an offer of lodging from a wealthy family in exchange for his service as a guard at their estate.

 

As quickly as Tatsumi settles into his new routine as a sentry, a team of brutal assassins assaults the estate and murders the entire family in cold blood. Tatsumi protects the family’s youngest daughter from a skilled female ninja, but she cajoles the girl into revealing her family’s terrible secret. The assassins are impressed by Tatsumi’s unwavering demeanor and “kidnap” him after the ordeal to offer him a choice: join their ranks and become a killer by trade or die.

 

Akame ga KILL! Vol. 1 is filled with characters who hide their lunacies behind perfect façades absolutely begging to be sliced in twain, and there is no shortage of bloodshed in the first volume. Manga and anime fans who revel in seeing justice gracefully dispensed with a katana will surely dig this.


 
 

The Other Serious

posted by: October 16, 2015 - 7:00am

Cover art for The Other Serious by Christy WampolePrinceton professor and essayist Christy Wampole weeps for the millennial generation. In her collection The Other Serious, she discusses America’s cultural reliance on irony to get through work and school days, muses on the rapid rise and fall of hipsterdom as a fashion trend and state of mind, laments the lack of conversation between young and old people in America and pities the overly serious states in which many people conduct their lives. Her essays are a beautifully written series of polite reality checks arranged to highlight how deeply American youth is entrenched in consumer culture.

 

In “The Great American Irony Binge,” Wampole diagnoses today’s espresso-sipping, Apple-worshipping, tight-jeaned and handlebar-mustached facetious youth with chronic boredom and hopelessness, positing that a lack of any clear life direction and the Sisyphean nature of the U.S. college experience has caused them to chisel broken facades and congregate to strengthen the radiance of their collective “It’s cool, man, everything’s cool” attitude. In “Toward a Sterile Future,” she wonders whether our perpetual quest to streamline every aspect of human life with consumer technology puts us at risk to become complacent. She imagines a future in which there is no such thing as an artisan and people are one more cloud-based service away from becoming the machines on which they rely for daily function. She segues this into an assertion that human interactions feel weird because people are usually enshrouded in the snuggle of online anonymity when conversing. Face-to-face interactions are becoming rarer and rarer, to the point where they are beginning to feel surreal. In “On Awkwardness,” Wampole suggests that simply embracing the weirdness and remembering that we are all individuals with different values and experiences could lead towards a new social enlightenment.

 

Wampole offers gentle criticism while never disparaging any group or individual, and does so with a style that embraces the beauty of simplicity. Splashes of effervescence and relevant cultural references make her essays incredibly engaging, and her arguments foster creative evaluation in the best way possible. Perhaps the best way to summarize The Other Serious is with this quote from the titular essay: "I want to understand what has forced half the population into an unbearably heavy seriousness and the other half into an unbearably light, confettilike eruption of irony."


 
 

So Cute It Hurts!!

posted by: October 13, 2015 - 7:00am

Cover art for So Cute It Hurts!!

After working on her last series for four years, mangaka — that’s someone who writes and illustrates manga — Go Ikeyamada has a super-fun and adorable new series called So Cute It Hurts!! The first volume of So Cute It Hurts!! follows identical twins Megumu and Mitsuru Kobayashi as they meet their first real high school crushes at the same time. Apparently, it’s a twin thing.

 

Megumu, or Mego for short, is a hapless history otaku who knows everything about Japan’s feudal warlords. Mitsuru is really good with a kendo sword and fights for his school team, but he’s even better with the ladies from the visiting schools. While his body is agile, his mind is not so sharp, and he’s bombing his history class. Knowing that his sis is well-versed in Japanese lore, he asks her to swap clothes with him and go to his all-boys school to take a test and save his grade. Mego likes her brother, but not enough to agree to such a hackneyed scheme.

 

When she wakes up the next day, Mego finds a wig and a note from Mitsuru in her room and realizes that he’s already absconded with her books and school uniform. Begrudgingly, she equips his slacks and hoodie and heads to his school, only to be accosted by the third toughest guy in the entire student body. Meanwhile, Mitsuru, dressed as Mego — “I’m so cute it hurts!!” — witnesses the class beauty tormenting a girl for being different, and can’t help but intervene. Neither Kobayashi twin realizes they’re about to meet the person of their dreams, but as their school days progress they draw closer to the fateful encounters that’ll leave them breathless and starry-eyed.

 

So Cute It Hurts!! is filled with lots of manga in-jokes that fans of the medium will appreciate, but newcomers will still laugh out loud at the silliness of the plot and the situations in which the twins find themselves. Ikeyamada’s art mixes traditional anime styles with adorable chibi stand-ins on nearly every page, giving the story a very light-hearted feel. So Cute It Hurts!! is shaping up to be a great teenaged romantic comedy that manga fans should definitely check out.


 
 

The Game Believes in You

posted by: September 10, 2015 - 7:00am

Cover art for The Game Believes in YouJournalist Greg Toppo, author of the new book The Game Believes in You: How Digital Play Can Make Our Kids Smarter, has experienced both sides of the highly polarized and controversial status quo of video gaming. While some abhor games, believing them to be time sinks that are slowly brainwashing our youth, others value them as unique forms of highly engaging media capable of reaching an audience that is notoriously unengaged. In The Game Believes in You, Toppo analyzes current efforts to blend education and recreation into perfect learning tools for plastic minds.

 

The Game Believes in You is comprised of 12 chapters. The majority focus on the positives and argue that games could — and should — be used in public school classrooms, and a few debunk falsities that have stigmatized games in recent years. Toppo profiles visionaries who are championing Pokémon as the nation’s answer to No Child Left Behind, teaching curriculums entirely from within the realms of World of Warcraft, renting land in Second Life to serve as virtual Open Door space and even developing methods to mentally control games as a form of therapy to treat ADD, ADHD, PTSD and depression.

 

Games can also become new means to teach the classics. Walden, a game is volunteer-developed and aims to condense Henry David Thoreau’s social experiment into a replayable, decision-driven adventure. Lexica is a tablet-based MMO (massively multiplayer online game) in which players create avatars and help classic literary characters who have been sealed away in a gigantic library to be forever forgotten. Both games draw heavily from source texts for inspiration, and Lexica even includes entire books to be read for quest credits to level up and unlock new content.

 

Toppo posits that games are becoming more accessible to children at even younger ages as the 21st century progresses, and educators everywhere should be taking advantage of this. Rather than lambasting our youth for staring at their beloved screens all day, we should be using those screens as conduits to their malleable minds and showing them that education can be just as fun as their favorite games.


 
 

Sword Art Online: Girls' Ops

posted by: August 26, 2015 - 7:00am

Sword Art Online: Girls' OpsWriter Reki Kawahara and designer abec have experienced unbridled success in the past half-decade with their original series Sword Art Online. In 2009, the first SAO light novel about virtual reality video games with real-life implications was released. The novel has since been expanded to 15 volumes and has spawned two seasons worth of anime, three PlayStation games, a handful of mobile games and eight manga adaptations. The most recent manga book to arrive stateside is Sword Art Online: Girls’ Ops, and it’s just as fun and endearing as the original SAO. It’s definitely cuter, too.

 

In SAO:GO, series favorites Suguha, Rika and Keiko are coping pretty well with the aftermath of the Aincrad tragedy, and are still just as hopelessly addicted to online gaming as ever. The trio play the new VRMMO Alfheim Online religiously, and are ecstatic to find a new add-on quest has arrived after a long day at the SAO returnees school. Dubbed “the Angel’s Whisper Rings,” the adventure has the young ladies aiding an angel in strife while proving their devotion to one another to earn powerful rings of friendship.

 

The three dive into Alfeim Online ready to take on the new high-level quest as their avatars Leafa, Silica and Lisbeth, using their previous experience with the angel in SAO as a starting point. On their way to find her, the trio encounters a familiar dual-wielding swordsman clad in a midnight-black coat. Fans of the series will know it’s fate that unites the girls with this swordsman, but will never foresee the impending twist that makes SAO:GO an enjoyable departure from the previous SAO adventures.

 

SAO:GO is a quirky, adorable spinoff of the Japanese megahit Sword Art Online. Readers who have enjoyed SAO arcs Aincrad, Fairy Dance and Progressive will find so much to love about Girls’ Ops. Gamers and anime fans alike should also check this out.


 
 

The Job

posted by: August 21, 2015 - 7:00am

Cover art for The Job by Steve OsborneRetired New York City police officer Steve Osborne has a swell of stories to tell, and his debut The Job: True Tales from the Life of a New York City Cop collects his written and oral tales featured in the popular NPR live program “The Moth.” After standing in at a show that was missing an act, Osborne’s penchant for chronicling his adventures on the beat in New York City’s ninth precinct landed him a nationwide storytelling tour and convinced him to keep writing in his spare time.

 

The Job contains heartfelt, easy-to-read stories with a great balance of action, humor and drama. In “Hot Dog,” Osborne recalls running into a repeat drug offender a few years after the man was released from Riker’s Island. “Midnights” details some of the worst possible calls a cop working the graveyard shift could receive — all of which flood Osborne’s precinct in one night. A woman reports a rape case and Osborne’s unit confronts the oddball assailant before he skips town in “Stockbroker.” Osborne reflects on the first time he had to face a mother and inform her of the death of her child in “Growing Pains.”

 

After taking in the stories collected in The Job, readers will get a great sense of the kind of cop Osborne was and the kind of guy he is now. His no-nonsense sincerity shines throughout his recollections, and he never shies away from portraying himself, his police allies or their suspects honestly. Osborne’s world views have been shaped by the survival tactics he had to employ every shift he worked, and the stories he shares are evident of the toll he has paid.


 
 

Make Something Up

posted by: August 17, 2015 - 7:00am

Cover art for Make Something UpMake Something Up: Stories You Can't Unread collects shock-fiction author Chuck Palahniuk’s stories written from the conception of his first book Fight Club up through his latest novel Beautiful You. With a sequel to Fight Club making its run as a monthly comic book right now, it’s the perfect time for these stories to bubble to the surface and explode in a mess of bilious, sticky grossness that you will never be able to bleach from your conscience.

 

Palahniuk claims to have lost count after making over 200 audience members faint during live readings of his story “Guts,” and the tales in Make Something Up have been let from the same vein. “The Toad Prince” deserves immediate mention — a young man becomes fascinated with STDs so he decides to collect them by tracking down prostitutes and swabbing their unmentionables. He cultures the samples in petri dishes in his room, and what he does with those samples... let’s just say the growth is unexpectedly potent. There’s a trio of stories in which personified animals work menial jobs and disappoint their lovers while their offspring huff glue on recess playgrounds; Aesop would weep. A pony-loving farm girl tricks her father into purchasing a horse she and her friends found in a viral video in “Red Sultan’s Big Boy.” Fight Club hero Tyler Durden turns up in “Expedition” to shepherd a man in denial down the dark path through his subconscious to a place we do not talk about.

 

The longer stories in Make Something Up feel like condensed versions of Palanhiuk’s earlier novels, with unforgettable plots and enough gory detail to turn you shades of green. Reading his shorter stories is like taking a rib-breaking Epinephrine shot straight to the heart and feeling the surge race through your veins to your vital organs, working them double-time. Readers who have enjoyed any of Palanhiuk’s books should definitely check out Make Something Up.


 
 

Binary Star

posted by: August 4, 2015 - 7:00am

Cover art for Binary Star by Sarah GerardSarah Gerard’s unnamed narrator in Binary Star is channeled from a place most of us will never visit in our lifetimes. It’s a wonder that Gerard is capable of emerging from this place only to return again for the sake of siphoning creative energies, and her trial blurs the story in Binary Star into an unsettling reality.

 

The nameless protagonist in Binary Star is a young woman studying astronomy at Adelphi University in New York. She is anorexic and bulimic. Her boyfriend John lives in Chicago and is an alcoholic and an abuser of prescribed medication. The narrator is at a point in her life where she feels completely directionless. Though she’s intelligent enough to realize the cause of her misery is her failing health — she weighs just a hair over 90 pounds — she refuses to break the cycle she’s trapped in. John denies his condition with boisterous, masculine assertions, often leading to broken bones and bruised egos. Together, the two are a pathetic spectacle — but at least they’re something.

 

Gerard illustrates in Binary Star that sometimes people need each other in order to exist. Splashes of science parallel this tumultuous relationship:

 

A binary star is a system containing two stars that orbit their common center of mass. The relative brightness of stars in a binary system is important. Glare from a bright star can make detecting a fainter companion difficult.

 

They embark on a road trip with no real destination, which necessitates visits with old acquaintances and frequent stops at convenience stores. Through vegan literature collected during their journey, the couple becomes devoted to anarchy-fueled ecoterrorism. Will this new cause balance their orbit, or cause them to violently burn out?

 

Readers who enjoyed the classic anonymously written and narrated novel Go Ask Alice will find a lot of similarities in Binary Star. For more literary work on the topic of eating disorders, readers should look for How to Disappear Completely by Kelsey Osgood.


 
 

Gutshot

posted by: July 21, 2015 - 7:00am

Cover art for Gutshot by Amelia GrayMost of Amelia Gray’s stories in Gutshot are unusually short — two or three pages each — which makes their power to shock and awe feel overwhelming. Each story begins with a harbinger sentence informing character or setting and descends into chaos, with all kinds of taboos roiling around between the beautifully adorned covers.

 

Grindhouse-level ultraviolence comprises the stories “Fifty Ways to Eat Your Lover” and “The Moment of Conception.” In “Date Night,” couples out for a good time flay one another to get to the person within. Different perceptions of love and adoration are absolutely ruined in “House Proud,” “The Swan as a Metaphor for Love” and “How He Felt.” “The Lives of Ghosts” portrays the departed returning to life in the form of grisly bruises and boils on those who miss them most. There’s provocative defilement in “Monument” and “Legacy,” and perverse detainment in “Western Passage.” In “House Heart,” a couple confines a girl to the ventilation system of their house and listen to her shimmy around...as foreplay.

 

Disgusting as this may sound, Gutshot is a tiny grimoire of genius brimming with macabre and hilarious imaginings. For every derisive snort elicited, there’s an equine chortle that’ll render readers suddenly cognizant of their wide-eyed, shell-shocked states. In the right light, stories like “Thank You” and “Go for It and Raise Hell” and “Gutshot” can feel like palate cleansers, reminding readers that it’s all for fun and nobody actually got dismembered at a fancy restaurant. 


 
 

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