About this Site

Leslie Beslie is a personal blog of me, Leslie. I share articles and thoughts on where I live and things I like. This includes NYC, books, finances, running, music, cats, and drawing.

Other Projects: French Toast Brigade | Life & Spending 2016 Weekly Planner | College Football Daybreak Podcast

Q1 2015 Book Challenge Update

The first quarter of 2015 is behind us and I’m still powering through these book challenges. I am going for the Book Riot and Pop Sugar list separately. This means I will fulfill some categories twice. And I want to avoid duplicates. So each book will only be used for one category. This will take me longer than a year and that’s fine by me. I never want reading to become homework. I don’t have a list of “To Read” books. I just read books as I see them or hear about them. And 99% of what I read comes from the library. I am reading books other than specifically for the challenges. But they certainly are helping me broaden my general reading fare.

Here’s the challenges I’ve completed so far, with the book and author, and my subjective rating.

Book Riot Challenges

  • A book published by an indie press: The Empathy Exams by Leslie Jamison (3/5)
  • A book by or about someone that identifies as LGBTQ: The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters (2/5)
  • A book by a person whose gender is different from your own: Whiskey Tango Foxtrot by David Shafer (4/5)
  • A YA novel: The Girl From the Well by Rin Chupeco (3/5)
  • A sci-fi novel: Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer (2/5)
  • An audiobook: World War Z by Max Brooks (4/5)
  • A collection of poetry: Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine (3/5)
  • A book that was originally published in another language: Roadside Picnic by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky (3/5)
  • A graphic novel, a graphic memoir, comics: Seconds by Bryan Lee O’Malley (3/5)


My motivation for doing these challenges was to get outside my usual comfort zone of books, and I definitely did. That was the first audio book I’ve ever read and I loved it. I also rarely read poetry collections, so that was very interesting. And even the YA novel, which I was dreading, wasn’t that bad.

Pop Sugar Challenges

  • A book with more than 500 pages: NOS4A2 by Joe Hill (4/5)
  • A funny book: Mermaids in Paradise by Lydia Millet (3/5)
  • A book by a female author: Into The Go-Slow by Bridgett Davis (3/5)
  • A book with a one-word title: Thrown by Kerry Howley (3/5)
  • A nonfiction book: The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert (3/5)
  • A book based entirely on its cover: Strange Bodies by Marcel Theroux (3/5)
  • A trilogy: The Magicians by Lev Grossman (3/5)


I was dreading reading a trilogy so I got that out of the way quickly; powering through them all as though it were one long story. It was worth it as I really enjoyed it. However, I still think I’ll typically avoid trilogies as I just don’t have the attention span. Really.

What I Bought at MoCCA Arts Fest 2015

mocca arts fest 2015 purchases and favorite artists

Every spring the Society of Illustrators hosts the MoCCA Arts Festival in NYC. I’ve been going for several years now and always come home with a wonderful selection of hand-made comics, mass published graphic novels, and original prints. It’s one of the largest smallest comics-focused arts show in the city; definitely worth checking out next year if you missed it.

This year’s was different from previous years because the venue was moved from the Armory on the east side to a multi-story gallery space on the west side in Chelsea. I didn’t like the layout or security but it was kind of a fancy pants building.

More importantly, at MoCCA Fest I bought quite a few wonderful and beautiful things from some wonderful and talented artists.

Disturbing & Scary Books That are Great

I love scary books and movies even though I tend to really get scared easily. Scary movies I can’t watch alone. But books are great because you can read them in a public space, yet still feel creeped out. I’ve never really been scared by a Stephen King book, so none of those make this list. And there is a big difference between scary & disturbing.

american psycho book by bret easton ellis

Disturbing: American Psycho

The satirical aspect of American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis doesn’t make it any less disturbing. I get that it’s supposed to be repulsive. It’s supposed to make you want to feel sick. And uncomfortable. And uneasy. It’s supposed to be over the top – and it is! It certainly grossed me out several times but the writing never strays from it’s point and overall I’d consider it a great read.

This is one of the few books I remember feeling truly uncomfortable reading in a public place. It was specifically during the second sex scene and it involves…. an animal. And I’m squirming in my seat right now just thinking about it! But reading the details of this insane sexual act plus the gruesome murder following it, I truly felt uncomfortable reading this on the subway.

Here I was sitting next to people on the train, they’re like la la la going to work and I’m next to them reading about a man trapping a rat in a woman’s vagina.

But that kind of awkwardness is, in a way, reassuring. I’d question myself if I just shrugged at it. Plus, it’s pretty amazing to know an author’s words are powerful enough to make me feel such strong emotion. To describe acts so vulgar and disgusting that can still gross me out in this jaded day and age. American Psycho was written in 1991 (though it’s set in the 1980’s). And it’s disturbing factor still holds up over 20 years later. You can’t say that for too many stories (novels, movies, etc).

charles burns graphic novel black hole

Disturbing: Black Hole

Charles Burns illustrations are beautiful and fantastic and creepy as hell. The world he creates in graphic novel Black Hole is incredibly dark. His drawing style, mostly made up of blackness, only adds to that. Burns really brings out emotions in the characters, even if the story isn’t completely straight-forward. The world is confusing, just as some of the characters are emotionally confused. And it works so well.

The illustrations are never quite repulsive but they can be disturbing, which works so well for the plot. This is definitely a story that could only work as a graphic novel. And really, only by Burns.

nos4a2 by joe hill

Scary/Creepy: NOS4A2

At this point, it’s safe to say that I am in love with Joe Hill. I loved his previous novel Horns. And I really loved this one. Parts of this are a little disturbing because it has to do with a serial killer kidnapping children and his assistant doing gruesome things to women. But really the whole thing is creepy and borderline scary in some parts.

This is another book that I felt slightly odd reading on the subway but for a different reason than American Psycho. Although unfortunately both books do involve raping/killing/maiming women. Hill never gets nearly as gruesome in his descriptions and knows exactly when to end it. There was one scene in particular that was so scary/gruesome I found myself wishing I could read it through my fingers – like I do when watching scary movies. Unfortunately reading while half-covering my eyes didn’t work too well. But Hill knows his audience and just a sentence after I started getting too squeamish, the scene concluded smoothly.

What saves NOS4A2 from being disturbing is that part of it takes place in magical areas – or innerscapes as they’re described in the book. There is a supernatural aspect to the book which makes it a bit more creepy than disturbing. Plus, the atmosphere is spooky.

The book is revolved around the serial killer’s home innerscape of Christmasland. If you think about it, Christmas is really creepy! Christmas music, the lights, Santa Claus… if you take it out of context, it’s all creepy. Like, if someone were to seriously listen to Christmas music outside of the month of December, it’d be a little weird.

This atmosphere, especially of turning a holiday that is supposed to be of cheer into this entire world of fear, is just spooky the whole way through. Sure, some scenes are scary in themselves, but there is a lingering creepy tone to all of this, which just really made it a fun read.

Reading A Book Trilogy as a Really Long Novel

lord of the rings as one book

Series have always been difficult to keep my attention. Outside of The Boxcar Children or Babysitter’s Club, I couldn’t keep up with long story arcs and a rotating cast of characters. This also happens with television series. A long-winded plot just means filler episodes, disposable characters, and an often disappointing ending.

Trilogies, for books or movies, seem to be all the rage right now. And I get it. As the reader, you become attached to a character and want to learn more about them. As the publisher, you see $$$ knowing that even if the third book is poorly written it will still sell because now the audience is invested. Brilliant really.

Lord of the Rings “Trilogy”

I prefer to skip all that and stick to stand-alone books. I don’t need to continue a world or a character. One adventure is enough for me. With that said, I have read all of Lord of the Rings. Though it’s easy to see why I enjoyed those three books when I wouldn’t normally read a trilogy – LoTR is one long book.

For economic reasons, The Lord of the Rings was published in three volumes over the course of a year from 29 July 1954 to 20 October 1955. This was due largely to post-war paper shortages, as well as being a way to keep down the price of the book. – Wikipedia

Lord of the Rings is actually a novel, not a trilogy. It was all written at once, as part of the same story, and released with little time between each volume. As such, you really cannot read each book standalone. There are starts and ends to pieces of the adventure throughout the story, but the books were not meant to be read fragmented. There are no definitive conclusions at the end of each book. Because they were not meant to be separate books at all.

In this sense, reading these three books in a row as the novel they were meant to be wasn’t difficult. I enjoy adventure stories so it definitely kept my attention. And in parts where the politics grew a bit weary, it was quickly balanced out by learning about the amazing world Tolkien created. Like the ents, talking slowly, always in search of their lost entwives.

Reading LoTR as a novel also made the story very clear and kept me connected to the characters. After struggling with other series (The Dark Tower) and not being able to finish. I’ve realized that reading trilogies straight-through is best way for me to keep a connection to the story. So this was how I decided to read The Magicians Trilogy by Lev Grossman.

Magicians Trilogy

The Magicians

Knowing my difficulty reading series, I generally avoid them. So I was a little worried when I saw “read a trilogy” as one of the Reading Challenges that I’m currently participating in. However, the entire reason I wanted to join the challenge was to read outside my comfort zone. And I knew this would certainly be one of those times.

After hearing about the third book when it came out last year, I decided to read The Magicians Trilogy by Lev Grossman for the reading challenge. The entire series was already written and published, so I wouldn’t have to wait around between books. Now, each part is a novel unto itself. But it is also a trilogy so they are all connected and there is an overarching plot.

I knew that the only way I could actually finish all three books would be to read them in order. I actually read these digitally on my second-hand Nook just so I would have them all queued up. As soon as I finished one, I could immediately start reading the other. Almost tricking myself that I hadn’t actually finished a book at all.

Reading an actual trilogy is different because each novel does have it’s own plot – a definitive introduction and conclusion. Sure, jumping into book two or three may be confusing as you’re not familiar with the world or previous character development, but you could still read it as a novel and feel complete.

Grossman actually did a really good job tying in past events and briefly explaining them for new readers or refreshing the memories of those who were not reading them back to back. These quick rehashes never took me out of the book and would have been just enough to bring a new reader up to speed.

If it were not for the book challenge, I wouldn’t have read any of The Magicians books simply because they are a trilogy. So the challenge is doing exactly what I wanted it to. And I am really glad I read the books because I definitely enjoyed the story. I liked it as one long story, reading the books back-to-back, with three separate smaller plot lines along the way.

Southern Reach Trilogy

But then some trilogies are written as separate books but don’t have any individual story arcs. They really are simply drawn-out versions of what could be a more concise novel. This is what Jeff VanderMeer’s Southern Reach trilogy reminded me of. Take this all with a grain of salt because I only read the first one, Annihilation. That short 198-page novel was quite difficult to get through and I have no interest in reading the other two.

The books were all released in 2014, so clearly they were all written at the same time. Annihilation didn’t have any sort of plot or conclusion. It was almost like a periodical in that way, the beginning of a series that you need to continue to get to the conclusion. Not a novel unto it’s own.

The book’s 200-pages merely introduced the world, though vaguely, and the main character. I liked the unreliable narrator aspect. But there was no set conclusion, although the book really wasn’t long enough to justify ending so early. I probably would have read continued reading if it were a long novel because I am curious as to what happens. But… not enough to read two other books.

There is just something about breaking up the reading that seems like such a turn off to me. I’d rather it all be one connected story than fragmented out. With my positive experience of reading The Magicians I thought I had another trilogy in me, but I think I’ll stick to my single novels for now. Besides, after hearing my friend’s frustration with the Wheel of Time series when the author died while writing the final book, I think I will stay wary of uncompleted series for a while as well.

Book Reviews: The Bone Clocks, Thrown, Into the Go-Slow, Gone Away World, World War Z

Although the holidays may be over, it’s still winter. And winter means SAD. Some people turn to alcohol to deal with their depression, I turn to books. I’ve done individual reviews of books I enjoyed, here are abridged reviews of books that were just okay.

The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell was a did not finish

The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell (DNF)

I tried reading The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell this week but couldn’t finish it. I saw this book on a list from a trusted reading resource and put it on hold at the library. I didn’t look up what it was about or anything. I never do. I didn’t know who David Mitchell was until I saw the cover which mentioned he wrote Cloud Atlas. I know nothing about that story other than they turned it into a movie.

Anyway, I loved the first part of The Bone Clocks. The first 100 pages focus on character Holly Sykes. A sixteen year-old who runs away from home. You learn that she had “daymares” as a child, was cured, then she begins having them again. These supernatural daymares are what kept me reading, as I wanted to figure out exactly what was going on. Holly Sykes’ character seemed spot on for an angsty teenager.

Then the story moves onto another character, a college student named Hugo Lamb and this is when I started skimming. The story is very non-linear, which is fine. But I guess I need the plot to be a tiny bit more straightforward than it was. The three sections of the book jumped arbitrarily 10 years in the future each time. Then Mitchell interjects dialogue and scenes to provide an explanation of what happened in the past.

He pulls it off, it is good writing. I just didn’t like it for storytelling. At the half-way point, about 300 pages, I gave up and called this book a DNF (did not finish). I didn’t see where it was going and grew tired of waiting for the book to be interesting again. Maybe I’m missing something in his writing?

Into the Go Slow by Bridgett Davis

Into the Go-Slow by Bridgett Davis

This was an interesting fictional story, though partly based on the author’s life, about a 21 year-old girl who is processing her older sister’s death four years later. Her sister died in Nigeria, so the main character decides to travel there, on a whim, to learn more about her sister’s death. The death was due to a car accident but the sister is suspicious of this.

This is sort of a coming of age story, and the main character does grow up in the end. But, really, 21 year-olds are dumb and make dumb decisions and say dumb things. And this type of dumb behavior is really annoying to read over and over and over. It’s realistic, don’t get me wrong. Just, frustrating.

As an example, while traveling in Nigeria alone, she is almost raped at the place where she is staying. Yet, the very next day, she follows a different strange man into an unfamiliar home under the assumption a woman she knows lives there. I actually believe this is realistic behavior. It is just really frustrating to read about.

Also the main character is obsessed with her dead sister. I understand this and am sure it is realistic but… is still uncomfortable to read about. She wears her sister’s clothes, braids her hair like her sister, listens to her records, etc. It’s understandable but uncomfortable.

What did make up for the odd story was the writing. I was captivated to continue reading the entire time, even when I grew frustrated or annoyed. I can’t recommend this one but it was subject matter I don’t typically read so in that way it was interesting.

Thrown by Kerry Howley

This is a literary non-fiction story about MMA Fighters out of Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Howley is age 28-30 when writing this; part of the time a full-time academic. The writing is very academic, almost thesis sounding at some points. Definitely a bit too literal and over-the-top sounding. Yet, also enjoyable. Mainly because we keep waiting for a moment to happen. Why? Because Howley is waiting for this moment. Some moment, I’m not exactly sure what. Some sort of philosophy of catharsis maybe?

It never happens. But we do learn a lot about the fighters and the scene itself. I found the parts about weighing in and starving themselves rather interesting. The abuse their bodies take outside of the ring. Howley never passes judgement. But she does talk about herself a bit more than she should. At times she would think her role in these fighters’ lives was a bit bigger than it actually was. But there’s enough of a balance that it’s not too terrible.

This is a short read so I do recommend it but it’s not a casual read, even though the subject matter is.

Into the Gone Away World by Nick Harkaway (DNF)

I typically enjoy dystopian novels and really thought I would enjoy this one based on the summary. Unfortunately, I didn’t and after 200 pages, I gave up. The introduction to this story is wonderful. You get introduced to a set of very interesting characters and learn about a very interesting problem they need to solve in this very interesting world. I was hooked.

Then suddenly you’re transported back several decades to when the main character was 5 years-old and you learn about their best friend. At this point, it becomes a character study. The two friends grow up together, meet other characters, go to ninja fighting school, have a teacher, go to college, join the military, etc etc etc. Blah blah blah. The entire time I was trying to figure out what all this had to do with the very interesting beginning. And I’m sure it was related, somehow.

I wanted to fight through this part and get to the very interesting part again, but I just couldn’t. The writing style is, as a friend described it, “silly.” I thought of it as Catch-22-esque. This is definitely satire, which I usually enjoy, but in a very confusing type of way. Scenes are long-winded and nothing is clear.

I am aware that the end does tie up everything, with a twist ending even, so it works out. But there is no way I could get that far. If you like these types of books, you’ll love this. But I just couldn’t make it through.

World War Z (Audiobooks)

One of the Book Challenges I’m attempting this year is to read an audiobook. I don’t read audiobooks! Never listened to one! So I looked up recommended audiobooks. Not just books put on tape, but actual good recordings that worked well on audio. World War Z came highly recommended; though I had little interest in reading the actual book. I know what it’s about but am over zombies. Though I did watch the movies because I love dumb action movies.

Surprisingly, the audiobook was fantastic! Since the book is mainly first-person encounters told through interviews, it lended itself very well to an audiobook. There was a star-studded casting for each character. And I enjoyed hearing different voices for each character. It felt more compelling than if I had just read the book. Sure, some of the accents made me feel uncomfortable. But for the most part, everyone did a great job.

This is short – a total of 6 hours – about two days for me. I’m not sure how I feel about audiobooks in general. I kind of liked that I couldn’t see the spoiler at the bottom of the page and I didn’t know what was coming up next. But it also was more difficult for me to listen. I couldn’t just ‘read’ a page or two while standing in line like I can with an actual book. And there were definitely times that I just wasn’t paying attention and had to rewind.

I may consider trying out another audiobook if there is are any recommendations as it was a very interesting experience. I really did enjoy this version and story much more than I thought I would.

Books: Reading Challenges

Typically I just read whatever I come across. These are usually staff picks from local bookstores, recommendations from friends, books I see on the shelf at the library, or just titles I hear about in passing. There’s not really a rhyme or a reason. So when I saw that Pop Sugar and Book Riot were offering Reading Challenges, I thought I’d give it a shot. I like the idea of broadening what I read and reading “outside my comfort zone.” Especially with formats, like audiobooks. I’ve never listened to one!

I’ll try to keep this updated. I am not making a list of books ahead of time to fit each category. My plan is for the most part, to just read what I normally do and see where those fall into the categories. I would like to have a unique book for each category (no duplicates) so I am not giving myself a deadline to finish this. The goal isn’t to read more books, but to read about different cultures, from different perspectives. That’s something I should keep doing and not stop after a year.

Started 1.1.15; Updated 12.05.15; Completed 51/74 (Excluding duplicates)

Reading Challenge List

A romance novel Eleanor and Park
A book that is a retelling of a classic story (fairytale, Shakespearian play, classic novel, etc.) The Madman’s Daughter
A book published this year The Girl on the Train
A sci-fi novel The Humans
A book that takes place in Asia The Incarnations
A book written by someone when they were under the age of 25 Eragon
A book written by someone when they were over the age of 65 Mr. Mercedes
A collection of short stories (either by one person or an anthology by many people) The Empathy Exams
A book published by an indie press Into the Go-Slow
A book by or about someone that identifies as LGBTQ The Paying Guests
A book by a person whose gender is different from your own Whiskey Tango Foxtrot
A book by an author from Africa An African in Greenland
A book that is by or about someone from an indigenous culture (Native Americans,Aboriginals, etc.) Tracks
A microhistory Rats: Observations on the History and Habitat of the City’s Most Unwanted Inhabitants
A YA novel The Girl From the Well
A National Book Award, Man Booker Prize or Pulitzer Prize winner from the last decade Just Kids
An audiobook World War Z
A collection of poetry Citizen: An American Lyric
A book that someone else has recommended to you We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves
A book that was originally published in another language Roadside Picnic
A graphic novel, a graphic memoir, comics Seconds
A book that you would consider a guilty pleasure The Lost World
A book published before 1850 The Legend of Sleepy Hollow
A self-improvement book (can be traditionally or non-traditionally considered “self-improvement”) How To Be An Adult in Relationships

A mystery or thrillerGirl On The Train
A book of short stories
A popular author’s first book
A book based on a true storyTracks
A book at the bottom of your to-read list
A book that scares you
A book more than 100 years oldLegend of Sleepy Hollow
A book with antonyms in the title
A book set somewhere you’ve always wanted to visitThe Nightswimmer
A book that came out the year you were born
A book from your childhood
A book with a love triangleThe Paying Guests
A book that made you cry
A book with magicThe Magicians
A book you own but have never readAn African in Greenland
A book that takes place in your hometown
A book that was originally written in a different languageRoadside Picnic
A book set during ChristmasNOS4A2
A banned book
A book based on or turned into a TV show
A book you started but never finished
A classic romance
A book published this year Mislaid
A book you can finish in a day The Happiness Project
A book set in high school Everything I Never Told You
A play A Streetcar Named Desire
A book with bad reviews In An Unlikely Event
A book with more than 500 pages NOS4A2
A book that became a movie The Lost World
A book with a number in the title Station Eleven
A book written by someone under 30 The Bone Season
A book with nonhuman characters The Android’s Dream
A funny book Mermaids in Paradise
A book by a female author Small Victories
A book with a one-word title Thrown
A book set in a different country The Night Swimmer
A nonfiction book The Sixth Extinction
A book from an author you love that you haven’t read yet Heart Shaped Box
A book a friend recommended A Million Miles
A Pulitzer-Prize Winning book Middlesex
A book your mom loves Poisonwood Bible
A book based entirely on its cover Strange Bodies
A book you were supposed to read in school but didn’t Lord of the Flies
A memoir Relish
A trilogy The Magicians
A book set in the future Annihilation
A book with a color in the title Wolf in White Van
A graphic novel Tomboy
A book by an author you’ve never read before Dirty Job
A book written by an author with your same initials Rooms

Started 1.1.15; Updated 12.05.15; Completed 51/74 (Excluding duplicates)

Anything that has a title next to it but isn’t striked out, is a duplicate.

Book Review: Fourth of July Creek by Smith Henderson

fourth of july creek by smith henderson

Fourth of July Creek by Smith Henderson is a modern-western fiction novel taking place in Montana. It is a story of an anti-hero, Pete, who is a social worker with a family as fucked-up as his cases. The prose is beautiful and interesting, though the story is dark with lots of characters. I definitely recommend the novel but it slowly grew on me and might not be for everyone.

This is not a page-turner with action around every corner. This is not a coming of age story for anyone involved. No one learns their lesson. There is little self-awareness. There is no deep character growth or change. And you know what, because that’s how life is sometimes. Sometimes, we don’t change after major life experiences.

This is a book about characters, not plot. Despite the characters not learning about themselves, you do learn about them.

Then there is the prose. The writing is gritty and beautiful at the same time, a bit similar to Cormac McCarthy but with a little less flourish. Through the dialogue you can easily see that everyone is on the same page here. The dialect and grammar never felt forced or that it was making fun of anyone.

The protagonist, Pete, isn’t better off than anyone else.Even as a social worker he fully admits that his family is as bad as the ones he works with. He is definitely an anti-hero in the story. I am a sucker for anti-heros. It makes sense too, since this is a modern western.

Since the story does not have a straight-forward plot, and is only about the life of one character, it doesn’t have a straight-forward ending. I don’t mind this as our lives don’t always have a concrete resolution to problems either. But if you are looking for the story to be fully resolved at the end and tied with a bow, you’ll be disappointed. The story is dark from start to finish – no happy endings here.

If you enjoy well-written fiction, dark stories, or westerns, I definitely recommend this one. This is Henderson’s debut novel and it makes me look forward to see what he can write out next. I give this one 4 out of 5.

Book Review: Whiskey Tango Foxtrot by David Shafer

whiskey tango foxtrot by david shafer

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, David Shafer’s debut novel, is a well-written story of conspiracies, world travel, action/adventure, multiple storylines, and unsympathetic characters. All in good ways!

Now, I hadn’t heard anything about this book when I picked it up. I saw it on a list, then saw it at the library. I didn’t read any reviews or see any hype about it. However, after I read it (and enjoyed it) then I looked up reviews. A lot of them are complaining about the book being 1) overhyped and 2) not ending.

Here’s the thing with the ending. I love that it ends exactly where it needs to. You know everything you need to know. Look, the good guys are going to win, okay. I don’t need to read 50+ pages on how exactly they win. I know they’re going to. That stuff is actually boring. So this book ends when you learn that certain people have joined the good guys. Then the good guy group outlines their entire plan anyway. As a reader, we can only assume that the good guys will win. This is what we want. We do not need to see it being executed. It will not further character development. And the only way to keep that type of thing interesting, is by making it predictable.

So, I am completely fine with the book as a whole and do recommend it. 4 out of 5 from me.

Book Review: Seconds by Bryan Lee O’Malley

Seconds by Bryan Lee O'Malley

Seconds is the first graphic novel from Bryan Lee O’Malley since he finished the Scott Pilgrim series. And it is a fantastic follow-up. The illustrations are cartoonish but unique. They are still obvious in a lot of places but his style is his style. The characters are around the same age and stuck in a weird mix of immature behaviors while having mature real-life positions. Not completely unrealistic. Then some sci-fi/folklore/timetravel/string theory things happen which, although a little confusing, really makes the story interesting.

The story’s main character is Katie. Katie owns a restaurant and is a chef. She is dealing with a bad break-up and is trying to open a second restaurant. She pretty much only dates guys at work. Then becomes obsessed with befriends one of the waitstaff, Hazel, and they develop an odd sort of friendship. Most of the story takes place at Katie’s current restaurant, which is named, Seconds.

Seconds by Bryan Lee O'Malley artwork

I really loved the coming together of the story here but it seemed like there were really two different stories. One of them doesn’t have a resolution but the one clearly does.

First, there’s the plot line that she gets second chances. Katie can write down a “mistake” in a notebook, eat a mushroom, and go to sleep. Then in the morning it will have been like that mistake never happened. The only rule is that the mistake occurred on the premises of the restaurant. Well, Katie lives in a dumpy apartment right above the restaurant, so that caveat doesn’t affect too much.

As one would expect, Katie gets greedy and starts changing her whole life around. But other things get mixed up in the midst. Things don’t end all happy even when they should be. She goes back too far, erases too much. Then there is a whole string theory bit. That every revision is an entire different world. That part is interesting though far from a new concept. O’Malley’s illustrates the erasures and new revisions in an identifiable way. Through his illustrations we’re able to see more subtle differences within each “revision”, which helps to show just how much is being changed.

Seconds by Bryan Lee O'Malley inside of comic

Then there is another story-line that isn’t related to her erasing mistakes at all. This storyline involves common folklore about “house spirits”. Katie brings home a clay pot from an abandoned building, which unfortunately contains that building’s house spirit. Of course, her apartment already has a house spirit. So then there is this creepy sort of conflict/battle between the ‘evil’ house spirit and the good one. The evil one is obviously trying to take over. The illustrations are creepy, the atmosphere set is creepy. O’Malley tells all of this very well. It also wasn’t predictable, which made it even more interesting.

In the end, she is able to help the ‘good’ house spirit. And in turn receives help, that resets her world back before she erased anything. (This isn’t a spoiler because it’s exactly as you would expect). So then she truly is given a second chance to do things the right way from that point forward.

I give the book a 4 out of 5 as it was enjoyable and the illustrations worked well with the story. Although you do have to like O’Malley’s drawing style to like the book.

While I was reading this, I couldn’t help but think of another graphic novel I read a few years ago NonNonBa by Shigeru Mizuki. This is a graphic memoir that tells of the Yokai, similar type of house spirits as part of Japanese folk lore. If that part of the story interested you, this is definitely another good read.

2014 Big List of Books I’ve Read

Continuing the yearly tradition from 2012 and 2013, here is the big list of books I read during 2014.

Fiction: 23
Non-Fiction: 14
Comics/Graphic Novels: 10
Did Not Finish: 7

Total Spent: $35
Total Books Taken out from Library: 41
Total Saved by using the Library: $680 (at retail price)

Marbles by Ellen Forney / Graphic Novel

Page from graphic memoir Marbles by Ellen Forney

Page from graphic memoir Marbles by Ellen Forney

This is a graphic memoir from Ellen Forney about her initial diagnosis and coping with bipolar disorder. It is the best description of mania & depression I have ever read. And is absolutely perfect for the graphic novel format.

As an artist, she spends the latter half of the book debating about taking medication. Her worry is that bipolar disorder is actually the key to her creativity and antimanic drugs will take that away. She then goes through a brief history of famous writers who have been diagnosed as manic or depressive post-mortum. In the end she finds a combination of drugs that reduce her bipolar mood swings while keeping her creativity.

Although I have not experienced mania to that extent, her description of depression was quite spot on of my own experiences. She mentions getting out of bed just to go to sleep on the couch and how her therapist was proud of her for just getting out of bed. Because that truly is an accomplishment when in a severe depression.

The illustrations of her mood swings are very vivid. Providing a better explanation than words on exactly how she was feeling each time. Even though her bipolar disorder will never go away, after a two year struggle she has learned to manage it, which triggers to avoid, and when a mood swing could be coming on. I can’t recommend this book enough.

Saga written by Brian K. Vaughan and illustrated by Fiona Staples / Comics

Saga Vols 1-3

Saga comics Volumes 1-3 (current)

I first read the beginning of Saga’s Volume 1 immediately following Preacher and thought it was a rip-off. The storyline seemed too similar to me so I bailed. It took me a year to give it another chance after hearing many people rave about it. I’m glad I gave it a second chance.

The story line, while not original, is certainly interesting. I love that the point of view is from the child. The cast of characters are intriguing and I hope there will be more development. More than anything, the illustrations are wonderful.

Other Graphic Novels/Comics

The Scar Boys by Len Vlahos / Fiction

The Scar Boys by Len Vlahos

The Scar Boys by Len Vlahos

I loved this short, straight forward, coming of age story. Revolving around an outcast who forms a band (of course) in high school then the emotions & adventures that happen to them. The main character is very interesting although the ending gets a little too predictable and sappy. But this was a great quick read I was able to finish in two days and I loved every word of it.

Jumper by Steven Gould / Fiction

Jumper by Steven Gould

The first half of this book is some of the best adventure sci-fi I’ve read. The idea of being able to teleport to places you’ve already been to is a really fun concept to think about. I love that the 18-year old male main character does exactly what you would expect of an 18-year old male who just found out he can teleport. First, he robs a bank. Then, he tries to impress a girl. Lastly, he avenges the death of his mother.

For this same reason, the last half of the book grew tiresome for me. Teenage boys are stubborn and, well, dumb, and this character is no exception. That means it is realistic. But still frustrating as a reader. It is still a really fun adventure story although I probably would have enjoyed it more as a teenager myself.

Jennifer Morgue by Charles Stross / Fiction

Charles Stross' Laundry Files

Charles Stross’ Laundry Files

This was the first Stross novel I’ve read and I really didn’t know what I was in for. This is part of a series of stories in this weird sci-fi world Stross created. The world is a mix of sci-fi monsters & demons, with james bond spy plots, plus Douglas Adams-esque wit & humor.

I wasn’t completely able to follow the plot but I loved the world and the characters. This is a book that knows exactly what it is and owns that. The main character makes many jokes and references to spy movies, which means no one is taking this book seriously and that is a perfect fit.

This story can be enjoyed by both spy/adventure fans and fans of sci-fi, it really is a good mix of both.

Horns by Joe Hill / Fiction

Joe Hill's Horns

Joe Hill’s Horns

This is the first book I’ve read by Hill and I loved it. The story is slightly fantasy as it involves the main character waking up one morning with horns growing out of his head. His transformation to the devil is an interesting one. And he is also a crime solver as he needs to prove himself innocent of the death of his girlfriend from a few years ago.

I loved the writing, the pacing, the characters, and the plot itself. The ending got a little… weird. But it wasn’t completely expected, which is always a relief.

City of Thieves by David Benioff / Fiction

A City of Thieves; Historical Fiction of the Siege of Leningrad by David Benioff

A City of Thieves; Historical Fiction of the Siege of Leningrad

This fictionalized version of the Siege of Leningrad is partly based off of Benioff’s grandfather’s personal stories. Most of the historical events are true but many of the scenes have been embellished to make a good story. It works for me.

Despite the context of war, this is a story of two teenage boys who get in trouble and have to essentially perform community service to get out of it. They trek across the country side to run an errand for a general. Along the way they make friends, see how the war is affecting their country, learn about each other, and themselves.

Although it is a fictional account, history fans will find the story interesting. It is a coming of age story at it’s heart but the war aspect is very This story was based on Benioff’s grandfather’s experiences during the Siege of Leningrad as a teenager.

Other Fiction

Welcome to Shirley by Kelly McMasters / Non-Fiction

Kelly McMasters' Welcome to Shirley

Kelly McMaster’s Welcome to Shirley

This is part environmentalism and part memoir as the author grew up in the “atomic town” of Shirley she is writing about. Shirley, a small town on Long Island, NY, is located near a national laboratory that tends to have a leaky reactor.

The first half of the story is simply her auto-biography. She also gives a wonderful history of the town of Shirley. As a New York native, I found all that pretty intriguing. Then the second half turns to environmental awareness as she becomes a teenager and many of her neighbors get cancer. A very rare type of a cancer. Such a rare type of cancer that it doesn’t make sense so many people in such a concentrated area would get it.

That is when the town started looking into the near-by reactor. McMaster’s research is sound and her personal attachment only makes this feel more authentic than if it came from an outsider. The story of her life and all the history actually works very well together. Nothing is too sappy or over exaggerated. Simply knowing that that is where she came from makes the environmental hazards of the laboratory feel even that much worse, as a reader.

A History of Food in 100 Recipes by William Sitwell / Non-Fiction

History of Food Sitwell

This is a history book told chronologically through the lens of food.

Each chapter is a recipe though the text is often more about the time period than the actual recipe or food. The opening chapter is circa 1958-1913 BC and describes how the Egyptians used food for daily life, ceremonies, animals, and other ways. The recipes are put there to provide context but are not really meant to be followed.

There was an incredibly interesting chapter on the first supermarket in the US, Piggly Wiggly. He goes into detail on the history of self-service supermarkets and the man who invented them. It was incredibly interesting. And for the life of me I can’t remember what the recipe was for that chapter.

The recipe and the chapter text seemed to correlate less and less as the time period grew newer. I loved the history segments in the beginning of the book but my interest did wane by the last quarter. The modern recipes just weren’t as interesting.

This is a book more for history nerds than foodies.

On Writing by Stephen King / Non-Fiction

On Writing by Stephen King

I’ve read several of the ‘best’ writing reference books by authors now and there is definitely a reason why this one always makes that list. Honestly, I was skeptical that King’s advice would be practical because of all his success. But it really is.

Heads up, the beginning quarter is an autobiography. I understand why he did this but it was quite boring for me. I wasn’t reading this to learn about King, I wanted to learn about writing.

So he more than makes up for this in the rest of the book. He actually goes beyond my expectations by talking about sentence structure, contractions, adverbs, publishing, agents, literary journals, writing environments, and even provides good & bad examples of his own writing & editing.

There were certainly some take-aways I got out of this story that I really put to use in this year’s NaNoWriMo writing. I stayed clear from adverbs; King hates them. I did most of my writing in one spot, at home, instead of jumping around from one coffee shop to another facing many distractions.

He also makes strong points on limiting dialogue, showing not telling, and not to worry if you don’t have a plot. As he says, get your story down first, the plot will come later. People’s lives have stories, not plots. That is some of the best writing advice I’ve heard.

Tell-Tale Brain by V. S. Ramachandran / Non-Fiction

Tell Tale Brain

I started getting into pop-neuroscience books last year after reading Hallucinations by Oliver Sacks. The Tell-Tale Brain was a book Sacks referenced so I decided to go straight to the source. While it is readable for the layman, it isn’t quite as “pop” as Sacks’ writing. I enjoyed it though some parts were a bit over my head.

The two most interesting topics were phantom limb syndrome and blind sight. Both are amazing medical conditions where the brain ‘sees’ one thing but our physical bodies ‘do’ another. He goes into details with case studies and the entire thing is very fascinating.

A Season of Saturdays by Michael Weinerb / Non-Fiction

A Season of Saturdays College Football Michael Weinerb

I picked this up at the library to get ready for the start of the college football season. This is another history book within the context of college football. Although it is very football focused, it also includes history about various colleges, rivalries, the ivy leagues, and the sport of football itself.

Weinerb never gets too technical in terminology but this is a book about football and you probably would only enjoy it if you enjoy college football.

Other Non-Fiction

The Lost Continent by Bill Bryson / Did Not Finish

bill bryson the lost continent small town life

Bill Bryson’s cross-country trip across the United States; he is miserable the entire time

This book completely turned me off of Bill Bryson. His behavior and attitude throughout most of the book is pretty despicable. He is absolutely miserable, insulting every person and town he drives through. There are nothing but complaints despite he is going on an amazing road trip across the United States. At the time he wrote this, he was living in Britain and he won’t let you forget it.

The story itself is strange because there is little context as to why he is taking the trip or what he expects to get out of it. Basically the opposite of his A Walk in the Woods. He doesn’t like anything he sees, mocks everyone, and is generally a curmudgeon.

I read 3/4 of the book then couldn’t stand to hear him complain about the New England towns. The entire book is completely repetitive and I simply had enough at that point.

Other Did Not Finish Books