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[sticky post] Fashionista Piranha Book Blog

Welcome to Fashionista Piranha Book Blog, where a good book is always your best accessory!  Life is too short to waste reading bad literature, especially when there's so many good books out there. If I can keep you from reading one atrocious novel, I've done my job. But if I help you find something you'll enjoy, even better. I've achieved my goal.

I have been reading, writing and reviewing since 2008, so there's a lot to see here.  To read the latest reviews, simply scroll down; in the sidebar to the left I also have the reviews grouped chronologically.  If there's a specific title or series you have in mind, I also have the reviews indexed by the author:

Book Reviews by Author, A-H
Book Reviews by Author, I-P
Book Reviews by Author, Q-Z

Sometimes I will wander off-topic and talk about theater productions I've seen.  Usually - but not always - it'll be Shakespeare-related (most commonly the plays from the Oregon Shakespeare Festival) or a stage adaptation of a classic book.  But if I see a show and I'm super-excited about it, odds are that it'll show up on Fashionista Piranha.  Less frequently, movie adaptations of books will make a similar appearance.

I always enjoy hearing from visitors to the blog, so please feel free to leave comments or email me at fashion_piranha @ livejournal.com.  This includes you, publishers and authors!  I am always happy to discuss your projects with you; feel free to check out my review policies here and drop me a line.
Thanks for stopping by!
Suzi the Fashion Piranha
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New Releases: August 25th, 2015

That's all I have to say this week.


There's something rotten in the state of Ohio, and it's smellier than a pile of putrid gym socks! Steer clear -- it's Sir Stinks-A-Lot! George and Harold, and their doubles, Yesterday George and Yesterday Harold, have a good thing going. Two of them go to school, while the other two hide in the tree house and play video games all day -- then they switch! But when their malicious gym teacher, Mr. Meaner, creates a method of mind-control that turns their fellow students into attentive, obedient, perfect children, the future of all humanity will be in their hands! Children's Fiction

SECONDHAND SOULS by Christopher Moore
Something really strange is happening in the City by the Bay. People are dying, but their souls are not being collected. Someone --- or something --- is stealing them, and no one knows where they are going, or why, but it has something to do with that big orange bridge. Death Merchant Charlie Asher is just as flummoxed as everyone else. He’s trapped in the body of a 14-inch-tall “meat puppet” waiting for his Buddhist nun girlfriend, Audrey, to find him a suitable new body to play host. To get to the bottom of this abomination, a motley crew of heroes will band together. Fiction

THE TAMING OF THE QUEEN by Philippa Gregory
Kateryn Parr, a 30-year-old widow in a secret affair with a new lover, has no choice when a man old enough to be her father who has buried four wives --- King Henry VIII --- commands her to marry him. Despite being a leader of religious reform and the first woman to publish in English, Kateryn cannot save the Protestants, under threat for their faith, and Henry’s dangerous gaze turns on her. The traditional churchmen and rivals for power accuse her of heresy. The punishment is death by fire, and the king’s name is on the warrant. Historical Fiction

X by Sue Grafton
Perhaps her darkest and most chilling novel, Sue Grafton’s X features a remorseless serial killer who leaves no trace of his crimes. Once again breaking the rules and establishing new paths, Grafton wastes little time identifying this sociopath. The test is whether Kinsey Millhone can prove her case against him before she becomes his next victim. Mystery

Peeking into the archives...today in:
2014: Sakuran: Blossoms Wild by Moyoco Anno
2013: Salt Sugar Fat by Michael Moss
2012: The Haunted Mansion Vol. 1 edited by Jennifer Guzman
2011: Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen
2010: News: Press “Pause” on the Piranha
2009: Random Ranting: Magazine Subscriptions
2008: Women of the Bible: Abigail's Story by Ann Burton

New Releases: August 18th, 2015

Lots of sequels this week - Auggie & Me for R. J. Palacio's Wonder, The Day the Crayons Came Home following up on last year's crayon-related hit!  But I think that Mona Lisa: A Life Discovered sounds the most interesting of the lot.


Over 2 million people have read the #1 New York Times bestseller Wonder and have fallen in love with Auggie Pullman, an ordinary boy with an extraordinary face. Readers have also been treated to three stories offering a special look at Auggie’s world through new points of view...These stories are an extra peek at Auggie before he started at Beecher Prep and during his first year there. Readers get to see him through the eyes of Julian, the bully; Christopher, Auggie’s oldest friend; and Charlotte, Auggie’s new friend at school. Together, these three stories are a treasure for readers who don’t want to leave Auggie behind when they finish WONDER. Children's Fiction

BORN ON THE BAYOU by Blaine Lourd
In honest, confessional prose, BORN ON THE BAYOU transports us to a pocket of the South where Lourd learns how to be a man from the two people he looks up to the most: his larger-than-life father, “Puffer,” a prominent figure in the oil business, and his successful older brother, Bryan. With an eye turned perpetually toward the gruff and distant Puffer, Lourd illustrates how those closest to us can cause the most hurt, even as we seek their approval. Whether he’s learning how to skin a duck at age ten, enjoying his first beer at thirteen, or detailing the finer points of ride-on lawn mowing, Lourd gets to the heart of being a Southerner with rawness and grace. From his early childhood through his eventual pilgrimage to the West Coast, he beautifully details what it means to have tangible roots to a place so ingrained it is a part of your own being. Memoir

THE DAY THE CRAYONS CAME HOME by Drew Daywalt & Oliver Jeffers
I'm not sure what it is about this kid Duncan, but his crayons sure are a colorful bunch of characters! Having soothed the hurt feelings of one group who threatened to quit, Duncan now faces a whole new group of crayons asking to be rescued. From Maroon Crayon, who was lost beneath the sofa cushions and then broken in two after Dad sat on him; to poor Turquoise, whose head is now stuck to one of Duncan's stinky socks after they both ended up in the dryer together; to Pea Green, who knows darn well that no kid likes peas and who ran away—each and every crayon has a woeful tale to tell and a plea to be brought home to the crayon box. Children's Fiction

EVERYBODY RISE by Stephanie Clifford
EVERYBODY RISE is a keenly observed novel in which a young woman plunges headlong into a glittering world of wealth and social prestige. Evelyn Beegan, an irresistibly flawed heroine, relentlessly elbows her way up the social ladder. In order to be accepted, she must pass as upper class and be seen as someone with an established old money background. Her lies start slowly but quickly grow until the ground underneath her begins to give way. Fiction

WE NEVER ASKED FOR WINGS by Vanessa Diffenbaugh
For 14 years, Letty Espinosa has worked three jobs around San Francisco to make ends meet while her mother raised her children in their tiny apartment on a forgotten spit of wetlands near the bay. But now Letty’s parents are returning to Mexico, and Letty must step up and become a mother for the first time in her life. She comes up with a plan to help the family escape the dangerous neighborhood and heartbreaking injustice that have marked their lives. But one wrong move could jeopardize everything she’s worked for and her family’s fragile hopes for the future. Fiction


GRAY MOUNTAIN by John Grisham
Samantha Kofer’s career at a huge Wall Street law firm is on the fast track --- until the recession hits and she gets downsized. However, she is offered an opportunity to work at a legal aid clinic in Virginia for one year without pay, after which there would be a slim chance that she’d get her old job back. Samantha’s new job takes her into the murky and dangerous world of coal mining, and within weeks she finds herself engulfed in litigation that turns deadly. Thriller

MONA LISA: A Life Discovered by Dianne Hales
Dianne Hales became obsessed with finding the real Mona Lisa on repeated trips to Florence. Here, she takes readers with her to meet Lisa’s descendants; uncover her family’s long and colorful history; and explore the neighborhoods where she lived as a girl, a wife and a mother. In the process, we can participate in Lisa’s daily rituals; understand her personal relationships; and see, hear, smell and taste “her” Florence. Biography

Peeking into the archives...today in:
2014: A Wedding in Provence by Ellen Sussman
2013: The Glass Swallow by Julia Golding
2012: Isaac: A Modern Fable by Ivan G. Goldman
2011: Stones into Schools by Greg Mortenson
2010: News: Press “Pause” on the Piranha
2009: Ashland 2009: Henry VIII by William Shakespeare
2008: Update on Neil Gaiman contest + author interview

New Releases: August 10th, 2015

Big Little Lies has been HUGE at the bookstore I work at, and I'm sure we'll get even more interest now that it's in paperback. My brother's really excited about Felicia Day's book. Mess appeals to me because, like many people, I am hopelessly addicted to TV shows like Hoarders.


MESS: One Man's Struggle to Clean Up His House and His Act by Barry Yourgrau
Millions of Americans struggle with severe clutter and hoarding. New York writer and bohemian Barry Yourgrau is one of them. Behind the door of his Queens apartment, Yourgrau’s life is, quite literally, chaos. Confronted by his exasperated girlfriend, a globe-trotting food critic, he embarks on a heartfelt, wide-ranging, and too often uproarious project to take control of his crammed, disorderly apartment and life, and to explore the wider world of collecting, clutter and extreme hoarding. Memoir

THE STORM OF THE CENTURY: Tragedy, Heroism, Survival, and the Epic True Story of America's Deadliest Natural Disaster: The Great Gulf Hurricane of 1900 by Al Roker
On the afternoon of September 8, 1900, 200-mile-per-hour winds and 15-foot waves slammed into Galveston, the prosperous and growing port city on Texas’s Gulf Coast. By dawn the next day, when the storm had passed, the city that existed just hours before was gone. Shattered, grief-stricken survivors emerged to witness a level of destruction never before seen: 8,000 corpses littered the streets and were buried under the massive wreckage. In less than 24 hours, one storm destroyed a major American metropolis --- and awakened a nation to the terrifying power of nature. History

Felicia Day is a violinist, filmmaker, Internet entrepreneur, compulsive gamer, hoagie specialist, and former lonely homeschooled girl who overcame her isolated childhood to become at least semi-influential in the world of Internet geeks and Goodreads book clubs. She moved to Hollywood to pursue her dream of becoming an actress and was immediately typecast as a crazy cat-lady secretary. But her misadventures in Hollywood led her to produce her own web series, own her very own production company, and become an Internet star. Memoir


BIG LITTLE LIES by Liane Moriarty
A murder, a tragic accident, or just parents behaving badly? What’s indisputable is that somebody is dead. BIG LITTLE LIES follows Madeline, a funny and biting divorcee; Celeste, the beautiful mother of rambunctious twin boys; and Jane, a young single mother with doubts about her son. When Madeline and Celeste take Jane under their wing, no one realizes how she and her little boy will affect them all. Fiction

A GREAT AND GLORIOUS ADVENTURE: A History of the Hundred Years War and the Birth of Renaissance England by Gordon Corrigan
The Hundred Years War was fought between 1337 and 1453 over English claims to both the throne of France by right of inheritance and large parts of the country that had been at one time Norman or, later, English. The fighting ebbed and flowed, but despite their superior tactics and great victories at Crécy, Poitiers and Agincourt, the English could never hope to secure their claims in perpetuity: France was wealthier and far more populous, and while the English won the battles, they could not hope to hold forever the lands they conquered. History

Peeking into the archives...today in:
2014: Twin Spica Vol. 1 by Kou Yaginuma
2013: RIP Barbara Mertz/Elizabeth Peters/Barbara Michaels
2012: Fashionista Piranha is on a break until August 14th...
2011: Mangaman by Colleen Doran and Barry Lyga
2010: The Secret Eleanor by Cecelia Holland
2009: News: Oregon Shakespeare Festival
2008: Red Letters: Living a Faith That Bleeds by Tom Davis
When To Rob a Bank: ...And 131 More Warped Suggestions and Well-Intended Rants
by Steven D. Levitt & Stephen J. Dubner

To celebrate ten years of Freakonomics, Levitt and Dubner culled through a decade’s worth of blog posts to pick the best posts to compile into a book. The result is When To Rob a Bank. Organized somewhat into categories, most of the blog entries are shorter, chattier, and far more casual than the chapters of previous books in the Freakonomics. Even more than Think Like a Freak, When To Rob a Bank celebrates the Freakonomics mindset and its approach to everyday and global problems.

Trouble is, blog posts by their nature are rarely deep in breadth or scope. The stories found in When To Rob a Bank are largely anecdotal, or are simply musings of the authors without extensive research to back them up. Now, to be fair, the authors are very upfront about this, just as they blatantly point out that all the material found within the book is already available for free online. This is a book created for a fanbase, like a new reader who doesn’t want to sift through ten years of blogging to find the gems or a long-time Freak who figures that buying a book every couple of years assuages his or her guilt over ignoring the Freakonomics podcast’s occasional pledge drives.

Many of the short articles are interesting, in the way that Buzzfeed Top 10 lists can be pleasantly distracting. I did like that they occasionally included notes to update readers on developments since the time the original blog was written. But for a deeper connection to the material, you’d have to look elsewhere. I guess I can’t say this is a real flaw with the book, because I knew that the book was a gathering of blog posts with minimal editing or additional research. But still…I kept hoping for something fresh and new, and found nothing.

3 out of 5 stars

To read more about When To Rob a Bank, buy it or add it to your wishlist click here.

Peeking into the archives...today in:
2014: Subscription Box: Powell's Indiespensable #48
2013: Wanted by Matsuri Hino
2012: Fashionista Piranha on hiatus until August 14th
2011: Guest Post: James Mace, author of Soldier of Rome: The Legionary
2010: Contest: The King's Mistress Giveaway
2009: Discussion Question: Sleeping and Reading (TSS)
2008: Author Interview: Thorina Rose (The Heartbreak Diet)

New Releases: August 4th, 2015

Some interesting new books coming out this week. Two of Haruki Murakami's older works, Hear the Wind Sing and Pinball, are finally translated into English. I've been disappointed by his more recent work, but I'm really looking forward to going back and finally seeing these two works. New China Miéville too - I didn't care for Three Moments of an Explosion but I know he has many fans among my readers.


In “Desert Hearts,” a woman takes a job selling sex toys in San Francisco rather than embark on the law career she pursued only for the sake of her father. In “Pearl and the Swiss Guy Fall in Love,” a woman realizes she much prefers the company of her pit bull to the neurotic foreign fling who won’t decamp from her apartment. And in “Barbara the Slut,” a young woman with an autistic brother, a Princeton acceptance letter, and a love of sex navigates her high school’s toxic, slut-shaming culture with open eyes. Lauren Holmes' debut collection is about family, friends and lovers, and the flaws that make us most human. Fiction / Short Stories

THE DOG MASTER: A Novel of the First Dog by W. Bruce Cameron
Thirty thousand years ago, ice was storming the planet. No stranger to the experiences that make us human, our ancestors competed for scant resources in a brutal landscape. Mankind stood on the cold brink of extinction...but they had a unique advantage over other species, a new technology: domesticated wolves. Only a set of extraordinary circumstances could have transformed one of these fierce creatures into a hunting companion, a bodyguard, a soldier and a friend. Historical Fiction

FISHBOWL by Bradley Somer
A goldfish named Ian is falling from the 27th-floor balcony on which his fishbowl sits. He's longed for adventure, so when the opportunity arises, he escapes from his bowl, clears the balcony railing and finds himself airborne. Plummeting toward the street below, Ian witnesses the lives of the Seville on Roxy residents. Fiction

JOY: Poet, Seeker, and the Woman Who Captivated C. S. Lewis by Abigail Santamaria
Joy Davidman is known, if she is known at all, as the wife of C. S. Lewis. Their marriage was immortalized in the film Shadowlands and Lewis’s memoir, A GRIEF OBSERVED. Now, through extraordinary new documents as well as years of research and interviews, Abigail Santamaria brings Joy Davidman Gresham Lewis to the page in the fullness and depth she deserves. Biography

THREE MOMENTS OF AN EXPLOSION: Stories by China Miéville
London awakes one morning to find itself besieged by a sky full of floating icebergs. Destroyed oil rigs, mysteriously reborn, clamber from the sea and onto the land, driven by an obscure but violent purpose. An anatomy student cuts open a cadaver to discover impossibly intricate designs carved into a corpse’s bones. Of such concepts and unforgettable images are made the 28 stories in this collection --- many published here for the first time. Fiction / Short Stories

WIND/PINBALL: Two Novels written by Haruki Murakami, translated by Ted Goossen
In the spring of 1978, a young Haruki Murakami sat down at his kitchen table and began to write. The result: two remarkable short novels --- HEAR THE WIND SING and PINBALL, 1973 --- that launched his career. These powerful, at times surreal, works about two young men coming of age are stories of loneliness, obsession and eroticism. Widely available in English for the first time ever, newly translated, and featuring a new introduction by Murakami himself, WIND/PINBALL gives us fascinating insight into a great writer’s beginnings. Fiction


BEOWULF: A Translation and Commentary written by J. R. R. Tolkien, edited by Christopher Tolkien
The translation of BEOWULF was an early work, very distinctive in its mode, completed in 1926. J. R. R. Tolkien returned to it later to make hasty corrections, but seemed never to have considered its publication. This edition is twofold, for there exists an illuminating commentary on the text of the poem by the translator himself, in the written form of a series of lectures given at Oxford in the 1930s. And from these lectures a substantial selection has been made, to also form a commentary on the translation in this book. Fantasy / Literary Criticism

HIROSHIMA NAGASAKI: The Real Story of the Atomic Bombings and Their Aftermath by Paul Ham
In this harrowing history of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings, Paul Ham argues against the use of nuclear weapons, drawing on extensive research and hundreds of interviews to prove that the bombings had little impact on the eventual outcome of the Pacific War. HIROSHIMA NAGASAKI presents the grizzly unadorned truth about the bombings, blurred for so long by postwar propaganda, and transforms our understanding of one of the defining events of the 20th century. History

RUTH’S JOURNEY: A Novel of Mammy from Margaret Mitchell's Gone with the Wind by Donald McCaig
On the Caribbean island of Saint Domingue, an island consumed by the flames of revolution, a senseless attack leaves only one survivor --- an infant girl. What follows is the sweeping tale of Ruth’s life as shaped by her strong-willed mistress and other larger-than-life personalities she encounters in the South. Here is a remarkable story of fortitude, heartbreak and indomitable will --- and a tale that will forever illuminate your reading of GONE WITH THE WIND. Historical Fiction

Peeking into the archives...today in:
2014: Bookish news of a personal nature
2013: Queen's Gambit by Elizabeth Fremantle
2012: Fashionista Piranha on a break until August 14th!
2011: The Murder of King Tut by James Patterson
2010: His Last Letter by Jeanne Westin
2009: Elizabeth Plantagenet, 15th Century English Queen, on Twitter
2008: So Long At the Fair by Christina Schwartz

Review: Thirteen Chairs by Dave Shelton

Thirteen Chairs
by Dave Shelton

A boy is drawn to an empty house on a cold, dark night. He’s heard rumors that something mysterious happens there at a certain time on a certain day, and curiosity insists he investigate. When he enters a room lit only by candlelight, he sees twelve people sitting around a table, with a thirteenth chair pulled out for him. When he joins the group, the telling of tales begins. All chilling, all creepy, all scary. The boy knows that soon his turn will come, and his own story will be told…

Kids need to be scared. Granted, I grew up in the generation that revered Goosebumps and Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark and as teens devoured novels by authors like R. L. Stine and Christopher Pike, so I naturally skew towards horror, but I still think it’s true. Kids need to be shaken up now and again, and a good ghost story is just the thing to do it.

Spooky and atmospheric rather than genuinely terrifying, the stories in Thirteen Chairs provide a varied introduction to the genre. There are old-fashioned folktales, modern hauntings, and the essential jump tales. In this manner, it’s very similar to Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, minus the frightening illustrations of Stephen Gammell that pushed an otherwise prosaic collection of ghost stories into one of the most challenged books in America. There are illustrated title pages in Thirteen Chairs, reminiscent of old medieval woodcuts. While they lack the visceral punch of Gammell’s work, Shelton’s stories are much stronger than Alvin Schwartz’s collection in both depth and plotting.

Each narrator has a slightly different voice, reflecting his or her background and age. It helps distinguish the stories from each other and add weight to the framing story about a group of storytellers meeting in a darkened room. There’s a growing sense of unease through the book as the boy Jack realizes that there’s something definitely wrong with the situation beyond the darkness and the ghost stories.

It’s a good collection of children’s ghost stories, spooky enough to make them jump but familiar enough that there won’t be lingering nightmares. Every generation needs a horror collection or two to read around campfires and at sleepovers, and Dave Shelton’s Thirteen Chairs is a great candidate for the current crop of kids.

3.5 out of 5 stars

To read more about Thirteen Chairs, buy it or add it to your wishlist click here.

Peeking into the archives...today in:
2014: Going Bovine by Libba Bray
2013: X2 (Times Two) by Shouko Akira
2012: Discussion Question: London Olympics & Children’s Authors
2011: People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks
2010: Old Spice Guys & Libraries
2009: Book Trailer: Sacred Hearts by Sarah Dunant
2008: Stealing Athena by Karen Essex

Review: Nimona by Noelle Stevenson

by Noelle Stevenson

Supervillain Lord Ballister Blackheart reluctantly accepts Nimona, an impulsive teen with a talent for shapeshifting, as his sidekick after she sneaks into the lab at the heart of his evil lair and begs for a chance to join him. Blackheart seeks to bring down the Institution of Law Enforcement and Heroics, but the organization is defended by his archnemesis, Sir Ambrosius Goldenloin. They two have been locked in an evenly matched battle for years, but Nimona quickly upsets that balance. Suddenly, Blackheart’s goal is achievable, but he is disturbed by his sidekick’s ruthlessness. As the dark sides of the Institution and Nimona’s abilities are revealed, the line between hero and villain is blurred.

When we first got it into the bookstore, my boss shelved it with other children’s books. Neither of us looked at it very closely. It was over a month before I got around to actually reading the book – at which point I quickly realized that it’s definitely not for kids. (Characters named Goldenloin and Ballister? I’m surprised we didn’t get a parental complaint!) It’s definitely for a teenage audience – and for that audience, it’s a fantastic, energetic mashup of science fiction and fantasy. Nimona has action, adventure, drama, humor, heartache, and great characters.

Let’s start with the title character, Nimona. When she first pops up, she’s a hyperactive burst of youth and vigor, helping Lord Ballister break free of the routine into which he’s settled. But as pages turn, chinks appear in her bubbly armor, revealing something sinister and amoral. Her true self shifts as freely as her outer appearance, making her impossible to pin down. Thanks to Nimona’s meddling, Lord Ballister is finding a way to be the hero he always longed to be, but his sidekick may be a greater danger than the Institution he swore to eliminate? Meanwhile, golden boy Ambrosius – literally, he wears golden armor and his perfect mane of blond locks is never out of place – grows disturbed as he is asked to perform increasingly drastic tasks to protect the Institution’s secrets. This friendships and rivalries between these three form the heart of the story, as each member of the trio moves from hero to villain to something in-between.

The art’s great, too. Stevenson’s panels are bright and clean, conveying the story at a rapid Saturday morning cartoon pace. The characters all have distinctive appearances. I loved the way Nimona’s punkish shaved head reflecting her anarchic nature, and that grizzled Blackheart and handsome Goldenloin matched the fantasy-world tropes of golden hero and dark villain so perfectly. You knew what each character was like the moment he or she appeared. The only weird thing? I was occasionally distracted by the characters’ impossibly tiny hands.

Originally a webcomic, the print version of Nimona includes revised art, a new epilogue not found online, concept sketches, and other bonus material. It’s one of the best comics I’ve read this year (so far) and I can’t wait to get it back in stock at the store – although this time, I’ll make sure we stick Nimona in the young adult or adult graphic novel section.

5 out of 5 stars

To read more about Nimona, buy it or add it to your wishlist click here.

Peeking into the archives...today in:
2014: The Supermodel and the Brillo Box by Don Thompson
2013: A New Adventure: Moving to Utah
2012: Otomen Vol. 1 by Aya Kanno
2011: Ghost Radio by Leopoldo Gout
2010: Off to Ashland for Oregon Shakespeare Festival!
2009: Random Ranting: Digital Textbooks Practical for College?
2008: Dragon Road by Laurence Yep
A Historical Tour of Walt Disney World, Volume 1
by Andrew Kiste

When a reader asks about the story behind a Disneyland or Disney World attraction, he or she is usually referring to the history of that ride or show. However, there’s another history to consider: the history that inspired the attraction. How do historical pirates from the seventeenth century compare to their theme park counterparts? What real-world landmarks inspired the architecture behind Disney World’s restaurants and lands? In A Historical Tour of Walt Disney World, Volume 1, Andrew Kiste explores the history behind some of the most famous attractions at Disney World, from the Jungle Cruise in Adventureland to the Carousel of Progress in Tomorrowland.

Kiste’s essays take a unique approach to Disney World; there are many books out now that will talk about the development of an attraction and its role in theme park history, but I can’t think of another book that looks at the historic record to find the source material that inspired Disney rides, buildings, and shows. Each essay is packed with historical trivia. When he writes about the Carousel of Progress, a theater that moves theme park guests in a loop around a series of staged Audio Animatronic scenes, Kiste convincingly pulls together evidence from character dialogue and objects in each scene to pinpoint the exact date and year in which it is set. He zooms in on small details, like the narrating father’s passing mention of a new film starring Al Jolson that will feature talking and singing, and expands on them, introducing the film The Jazz Singer and its impact on the film industry.

Sometimes, I think Kiste goes a little overboard in his elaboration. In an earlier Carousel of Progress scene, a girl is seen wearing a corset and bloomers as she curls her hair. Kiste writes, “The use of corsets was also common to create the illusion that a woman was thinner than she really was.” (p. 97) That seems unnecessary; most adult readers already know the function of a corset and don’t need it explained.

A little extra information isn’t a bad thing, so long as it is properly cited. Kiste does include a Selected Bibliography at the back of the book, but he never directly his names sources in the essays themselves. At least six sources in the bibliography must have been used for the chapter on the Crystal Palace, a restaurant off Main Street in Disney World based on real nineteenth century buildings in London and New York City. However, for other chapters he includes no source material at all. One of his longer chapters is a twenty-two page essay on Pirates of the Caribbean and historical pirates, and there are no books or scholarly articles listed in the back for potential sources. I’m left to wonder where Kiste got his information from. Did he pull it from Wikipedia? Daniel Defoe’s A General History of the Pyrates? Current archaeological research? I would love to know where he found a legend that pirates wore earrings because they believed the jewelry would prevent drowning and, if killed, send their soul to the afterlife. Maybe it’s common knowledge to sailors but I’ve never heard this particular superstition before.

In another chapter – an introduction to the book’s Adventureland section - Kiste claims that the fictional town of Agrabah, in which the film Aladdin was set, dates to around 400 BC. Where did he get that number from? I have no idea. The movie takes place in an Islamic kingdom, but Muhammad wasn’t even born until the sixth century. Is it a weird typo, or did I miss some major evidence pointing to that date as I roamed through Adventureland? The architecture in the park seems inspired not by Achaemenid architecture but by later Muslim buildings, which is consistent with the movie. It bothered me enough that I wanted to contact the author and ask for clarification, but couldn’t find a website or Twitter or e-mail account through which he could be reached. Maybe I’m just overly nitpicky, but I can’t help but question the rest of his research when this seems such an obvious mistake and there’s so little source material for other chapters.

This is the first volume in a proposed series, so the book only focuses on seven of the Magic Kingdom’s attractions. If you’ve ever wondered where Imagineers found inspiration for the Jungle Cruise, the Enchanted Tiki Room, the Carousel of Progress, the Crystal Palace, Pirates of the Caribbean, Tomorrowland, or Main Street USA, A Historical Tour of Walt Disney World Volume 1 might teach you something new. In the end, I felt the book was a little unfinished. I'm not sure if this is due to the lack of citations, the absence of a conclusion, or the fact that this is just the first volume.

3 out of 5 stars

To read more about A Historical Tour of Walt Disney, Volume 1, buy it or add it to your wishlist click here.

Peeking into the archives...today in:
2014: Judge Bao & The Jade Phoenix by Patrick Marty & Chongrui Nie
2013: Review: Mila 2.0 by Debra Drizai
2012: The Pioneer Woman: Black Heels and Tractor Wheels by Ree Drummond
2011: Guest Post: Cecelia Holland, author of The King’s Witch
2010: Off to Ashland for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival!
2009: Beautiful as Yesterday by Fan Wu
2008: The Treasure of Montsegur by Sophy Burnham

New Releases: July 14th, 2015

This week GO SET A WATCHMAN hits stores shelves - does it even matter what else is being released this week?  All of the hype will be focused on Harper Lee's controversial second novel.  I feel sorry for any debut authors trying to catch a break this week - going head-to-head with the most hyped book since the final Harry Potter novel is not an enviable position.


Originally written in the mid-1950s, GO SET A WATCHMAN was the novel Harper Lee first submitted to her publishers before TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD. Assumed to have been lost, the manuscript was discovered in late 2014. GO SET A WATCHMAN features many of the characters from TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD some 20 years later. Returning home to Maycomb to visit her father, Jean Louise Finch --- Scout --- struggles with issues both personal and political, involving Atticus, society, and the small Alabama town that shaped her. Fiction

THE ART OF THE CON: The Most Notorious Fakes, Frauds, and Forgeries in the Art World by Anthony M. Amore
Art scams are so numerous today that the specter of a lawsuit arising from a mistaken attribution has scared a number of experts away from the business of authentication and forgery, and with good reason. Art scams are increasingly convincing and involve incredible sums of money. The cons perpetrated by unscrupulous art dealers and their accomplices are proportionately elaborate. Anthony M. Amore's THE ART OF THE CON tells the stories of some of history's most notorious yet untold cons. History / True Crime

1883. Thaniel Steepleton returns home to his tiny London apartment to find a gold pocket watch on his pillow. Six months later, the mysterious timepiece saves his life, drawing him away from a blast that destroys Scotland Yard. At last, he goes in search of its maker, Keita Mori, a kind, lonely immigrant from Japan. Although Mori seems harmless, a chain of unexplainable events soon suggests he must be hiding something. When Grace Carrow, an Oxford physicist, unwittingly interferes, Thaniel is torn between opposing loyalties. Fiction

OPEN GRAVE by Kjell Eriksson
Professor Bertram von Ohler has been awarded the Nobel Prize for medicine. This news causes problems in his otherwise quiet upper-class neighborhood in Uppsala, Sweden, as not everybody is happy with the choice of winner. Mysterious incidents start to occur. “Boyish pranks” say the police, but what follows is certainly not innocent amusement. Detective Inspector Ann Lindell becomes involved in the case and immediately is transported back into her own past. Mystery


BLUE-EYED BOY: A Memoir by Robert Timberg
In January 1967, Robert Timberg was a short-timer, counting down the days until his combat tour ended. He had 13 days to go when his vehicle struck a Viet Cong land mine, resulting in third-degree burns of his face and much of his body. He survived, barely, then began the arduous battle back, determined to build a new life and make it matter. Memoir

LIBERTY’S TORCH: The Great Adventure to Build the Statue of Liberty by Elizabeth Mitchell
The Statue of Liberty has become one of the most recognizable monuments in the world: a symbol of freedom and the American Dream. But the story of the creation of the statue has been obscured by myth. In reality, she was the inspiration of one quixotic French sculptor hungry for fame and adoration. LIBERTY'S TORCH tells the story of an artist, entrepreneur and inventor who fought against all odds to create this wonder of the modern world. History

THE LAST WHITE ROSE: The Secret Wars of the Tudors by Desmond Seward
One of the most dramatic periods of British history, the Wars of the Roses didn't end at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485. Despite the death of Richard III and Henry VII's victory, it continued underground into the following century with plots, pretenders and subterfuge by the ousted white rose faction. In a brand new interpretation of this turning point in history, historian Desmond Seward reviews the story of the Tudors' seizure of the throne and shows that for many years they were far from secure. History

Peeking into the archives...today in:
2014: Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy by Karen Foxlee
2013: The Twice Lost (Lost Voices #3) by Sarah Porter
2012: Daughter of the Centaurs by Kate Klimo
2011: Fashionista Piranha will be on hiatus for a while…
2010: Dolis by Maki Kusumoto
2009: Tattoo Machine by Jeff Johnson
2008: A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. LeGuin

Review: The White Forest by Adam McOmber

The White Forest
by Adam McOmber

Once, Jane Silverlake was part of a trio of inseparable friends. She, lovely Madeline, and dreamer Nathan went everywhere together. But their idyll couldn’t last, and after joining a secretive cult, Nathan vanishes. As Jane and Madeline try to solve the mystery of his disappearance, Jane wonders if Nathan was driven toward the cult by his fascination with her strange ability to hear the “souls” of man-made objects, a gift that repels Madeline but that Nathan found tantalizing. As a famous detective from Paris searches for evidence, the leader of the cult, Ariston Day, reaches out to Jane, asking her to use her gifts for his own purposes. Horrified that Nathan revealed her talent to Day, Jane initially refuses, but as time passes she and Madeline begin to fear that without Day’s help they’ll never find Nathan again.

I was in the mood for a thrilling, chilling gothic tale, something with a brooding atmosphere and that Victorian sensibility that lends itself so well to the dark and macabre. In every way, The White Forest fulfilled this desire. It’s a rich story, almost fairy tale-like at times. At times it is pervaded by a rich mysticism as characters delve into an otherworld that Jane can see through her abilities; as time passes, her abilities expand to allow her to communicate with other women who possessed her talent in the past, creating a long line of powerful women tracing back to the dawn of creation. It’s a beautiful mythology that reveals itself slowly, peeled down layer by layer like an onion.

At the same time, there’s a strong pressure for the characters to engage in scientific ways of thinking. The constant tug-and-pull between spirituality and rationality torments each character in a different way, twisting and forcing their relationships into ever-more complicated webs. This inner turmoil is such a standard component of gothic literature, but I thought it was done especially well here. The world is strange, but undeniably grounded in our reality.

There’s a mystery surrounding Nathan’s disappearance, but it’s not really a mystery novel. The narrative is really focused on Jane and her search to find a place and make connections with other people. It’s driven by her quest to belong, and how the decisions she’s made led to the present situation. So yes, there’s a detective lurking in the background, sleuthing away, but the story is focused not on his work but on the inner workings of Jane.

The best word for the story is haunting. It lingers in the corner and wraps around you like a shadow until you’re engulfed in the world of The White Forest.

4 out of 5 stars

To read more about The White Forest, buy it or add it to your wishlist click here.

Peeking into the archives...today in:
2014: Wars of the Roses: Stormbird (Wars of the Roses #1) by Conn Iggulden
2013: The Eternity Cure (Blood of Eden #2) by Julie Kagawa
2012: Fashionista Piranha on hiatus until June 2012: Sailor Moon Vol. 4 by Naoko Takeuchi
2011: Fashionista Piranha will be on hiatus for a while...
2010: Lady of the Butterflies by Fiona Mountain
2009: The Angel's Game by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
2008: The Heretic's Daughter by Kathleen Kent
Proof: The Science of Booze
by Adam Rogers

Man has been making alcohol since the dawn of civilization. In fact, the desire for alcohol is virtually universal across cultures, with every group creating their own local variation. Starting with basic ingredients like yeast and sugar, Adam Rogers traces alcohol through production and aging to its impact on the body and mind of the drinker. He unites a variety of scientific disciplines, including physics and chemistry and biology, with history and sociology to explore booze from every angle. Whether you’re a gourmand seeking to learn more about your favorite cocktail or a technology nerd interested in the equipment used to manufacture alcohol, Proof is a fantastic companion to bring to the bar.

Recently, I’ve been taking chemistry classes, and I find them dull. Boring. But man, that background sure was useful while I was reading Proof. The book is jam-packed with information, and Rogers’ enthusiasm flows through every sentence. In his excitement, he jumps topics frequently, so at times it’s a bit chaotic. But I didn’t mind; the author manages to keep the material interesting and accessible to readers who may not be scientifically-minded. I loved learning how fruit and grains are transformed into spirits, and why whiskey is different from gin or rum or tequila. But this isn’t just a history of alcohol; it’s a study of the relationship between it and humans. So there are chapters that talk about alcohol’s appearance, smell, and effect on the body.

The best chapter was probably the last one, which discusses hangovers. I had thought that something that afflicts so many people would have been studied extensively, but while there’s plenty of research on alcohol consumption there’s not much on its aftereffects. Rather than be discouraged, Rogers and some friends decide to do their own research testing hangover remedies. The drinking party is a fun way to close out the book, even as Rogers’ descriptions of the following morning left me feeling sorry for his self-induced misery.

4 out of 5 stars

To read more about Proof, buy it or add it to your wishlist click here.

Peeking into the archives...today in:
2014: Wars of the Roses: Stormbird (Wars of the Roses #1) by Conn Iggulden
2013: The Eternity Cure (Blood of Eden #2) by Julie Kagawa
2012: Sailor Moon Vol. 4 by Naoko Takeuchi
2011: Fashionista Piranha will be on hiatus for a while...
2010: Lady of the Butterflies by Fiona Mountain
2009: The Angel's Game by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
2008: The Heretic's Daughter by Kathleen Kent

News: July Movie Adaptations

Read the Book Before You See the Movie!

Thank you IMDB.com for providing the movie plot summaries.

Date: July 17th
Adapted From: Marvel Comics' character Ant-Man
Starring: Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Corey Stoll
Plot Summary: Armed with a super-suit with the astonishing ability to shrink in scale but increase in strength, con-man Scott Lang must embrace his inner hero and help his mentor, Dr. Hank Pym, plan and pull off a heist that will save the world.

Mr. Holmes
Date: July 17th
Adapted From: A Slight Trick of the Mind by Mitch Cullin
Starring: Ian McKellen, Laura Linney
Plot Summary: An aged, retired Sherlock Holmes looks back on his life, and grapples with an unsolved case involving a beautiful woman.

Paper Towns
Date: July 24th
Adapted From: Paper Towns by John Green
Starring: Nat Wolff, Cara Delevingne
Plot Summary: A young man and his friends embark upon the road trip of their lives to find the missing girl next door.

Peeking into the archives...today in:
2014: News: Reading Rainbow Kickstarter campaign ends at $5.4 million
2013: Chew Vol. 1 by John Layman and Rob Guillory
2012: Of Love and Evil by Anne Rice
2011: Fashionista Piranha will be on hiatus for a while…
2010: The Map of True Places by Brunonia Barry
2009: Discussion Question: Eating and Reading
2008: The Heartbreak Diet by Thorina Rose

New Releases: July 7th, 2015

I imagine that most of the people who read my blog won't be interested in Ayn Rand's previously unpublished novel IDEAL, but I definitely know my in-laws will be curious about it! Lots of books I enjoyed last summer will be coming out in paperback this week, including MAMBO IN CHINATOWN and THE VISITORS.


IDEAL by Ayn Rand
Originally conceived as a novel, but then transformed into a play by Ayn Rand, IDEAL is the story of beautiful but tormented actress Kay Gonda. Accused of murder, she is on the run and turns for help to six fans who have written letters to her, each telling her that she represents their ideal. Each reacts to her plight in his own way, their reactions a glimpse into their secret selves and their true values. In the end, their responses to her pleas give Kay the answers she has been seeking. Fiction

AURORA by Kim Stanley Robinson
A major new novel from one of science fiction's most powerful voices, AURORA tells the incredible story of our first voyage beyond the solar system. Brilliantly imagined and beautifully told, it is the work of a writer at the height of his powers. Science Fiction

THE LAST PILOT by Benjamin Johncock
While America becomes swept up in the fervor of the Space Race, Jim Harrison, a test pilot in the United States Air Force, passes up the chance to become an astronaut to welcome his daughter into the world. Together, he and his wife confront the thrills and challenges of raising a child head-on. But when his family is faced with a sudden and inexplicable tragedy, Harrison's instincts as a father and a pilot are put to the test. The aftermath will haunt the Harrisons and strain their marriage as Jim struggles under the weight of his decisions. Historical Fiction

A PARIS AFFAIR by Tatiana de Rosnay
In her new collection of short stories, Tatiana de Rosnay takes the notion of Paris as the city of love and makes it something so much more passionate. In each story, she manipulates both characters and readers into believing that everything is as it should be, then changes the dynamics completely, leaving them in a tangled mess. It’s a little book full of intensity, love and agony. Short Stories

BEYOND THE KINGDOMS (Land of Stories #4) by Chris Colfer
The Masked Man is on the loose in the Land of Stories, and it's up to Alex and Conner Bailey to stop him...except Alex has been thrown off the Fairy Council, and no one will believe they're in danger.  With only the help of the ragtag group of Goldilocks, Jack, Red Riding Hood, and Mother Goose and her gander, Lester, the Bailey twins discover the Masked Man's secret scheme: He possesses a powerful magic potion that turns every book it touches into a portal, and he is recruiting an army of literature's greatest villains! Children's Fiction


LANDLINE by Rainbow Rowell
Two days before they’re supposed to visit his family in Omaha for Christmas, TV writer Georgie McCool tells her husband, Neal, that she has to stay in Los Angeles. She knows Neal will be upset, but she doesn’t expect him to pack up the kids and go without her. That night, Georgie discovers a way to communicate with Neal in the past. Is this an opportunity to fix her marriage before it starts…or should it never have happened? Fiction

Twenty-two-year-old Charlie Wong grew up in New York’s Chinatown, the older daughter of a Beijing ballerina and a noodle maker. Now grown, she lives in the same tiny apartment with her widower father and 11-year-old sister. But when she lands a job as a receptionist at a ballroom dance studio, Charlie gains access to a world she hardly knew existed, and everything she once took to be certain turns upside down. Fiction

PRINCE LESTAT: The Vampire Chronicles by Anne Rice
The vampire world is in crisis. Vampires have been proliferating out of control, and old vampires are doing the bidding of a Voice commanding that they indiscriminately burn vampire-mavericks in cities from Paris and Mumbai to Hong Kong, Kyoto and San Francisco. The worlds and beings of all the Vampire Chronicles come together to ultimately rise up and seek out who or what the Voice is, and to discover the secret of what it desires and why. Horror / Fiction

THE VISITORS by Sally Beauman
In 1922, when 11-year-old Lucy is sent to Egypt to recuperate from typhoid, she meets Frances, the daughter of an American archaeologist. The friendship draws the impressionable young girl into the thrilling world of Lord Carnarvon and Howard Carter, who are searching for the tomb of boy pharaoh Tutankhamun in the Valley of the Kings. Lucy discovers the lengths to which people will go to fulfill their deepest desires --- and the lies that become the foundation of their lives. Historical Fiction

Peeking into the archives...today in:
2014: Empress Dowager Cixi by Jung Chang
2013: A Game of Thrones (A Song of Fire and Ice #1) by George R. R. Martin
2012: Hetalia: Axis Powers Vol. 1 by Hidekaz Himaruya
2011: Fashionista Piranha will be on hiatus for a while…
2010: Museum & Children’s Books
2009: Johannes Cabal the Necromancer by Jonathan L. Howard
2008: The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher by Kate Summerscale
Jane Slayre
by Charlotte Bronte & Sherri Browning Erwin

Remember back in 2009/2010 when mashups between classic novels and classic monsters was the biggest trend in publishing? Kicked off by Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, the genre flourished for about a year and then faded away as suddenly as it had appeared. It is now quite easy to find these books inexpensively as copies pass from personal bookshelves to library sales and used book stock. I thought I’d revisit one of these titles on a hot summer day when I just want to read something silly and fun. I think that Jane Slayre will suit quite nicely!

After being orphaned, Jane is raised by vampyre relatives. Her aunt cruelly insists that her human niece observe the same hours as the family, forcing Jane to forsake the daylight and eat nearly raw meat at mealtime. One evening, while being punished for fighting with her cousin, Jane is confronted by the ghost of her uncle, who instructs her become a slayer of monsters as her parents were before her. Sent to a boarding school where ailing students are transformed into zombies (compliant and perfect for a future in domestic service!), Jane finds a sympathetic teacher who begins her instruction in the way of slaying. Upon graduating, Jane finds a position as a governess. Upon meeting the master of the house, the brooding Mr. Rochester, Jane begins to fall in love – but she can’t shake the feeling that there’s a great secret being kept from her, something that threatens her safety and happiness…

Bronte’s original novel has plenty of supernatural overtones, with ghosts, an old house dripping atmosphere, and communication through dreams. Expanding that world into one in which vampyres, zombies, and werewolves coexist works surprisingly well. While some might find the novel a bit crowded for including all these different creatures, it makes sense to me – if you’re going to create a world in which one sort of paranormal being can exist, why not more? After all, Buffy the Vampire Slayer fought just about every sort of demon literature has seen fit to create! The twists on the original plot are fitting: the Reeds are vampyres, explaining one reason for why Jane is never embraced by them. Her boarding school specializes in creating zombies from its students. No wonder the institution treats the children so poorly – the administrator Mr. Bokorhurst wants them to die! Mr. Rochester’s secret wife, kept hidden in the attic, is eventually revealed to be a werewolf. His strange decision to hide her existence from Jane suddenly makes a little more sense than it did in the original story. The origins of each creature are distinct: vampirism seems common in Europe and in India (whether it’s a result of colonialism or common throughout Asia is never explored) while werewolves originate in the far-off tropical islands where Mrs. Rochester was raised. Zombies can only be created by a bokor/witch doctor, and are thus introduced into England only when Mr. Bokorhurst begins creating them through his “charitable” institutions. I can’t remember if this variation of zombie can spread through bites, because I can’t recall a case of anyone surviving an attack. No matter. The point is, within the context of the story all these different monsters make sense.

Jane Eyre’s character is consistent with how I remember her, but it’s been several years since I last read the novel so I may not have noticed the subtle changes. It’s a ridiculous parody of the original novel that brings many laughs while still celebrating the language and the characters that make Jane Eyre so beloved today.

3.5 out of 5 stars

To read more about Jane Slayre, buy it or add it to your wishlist click here.

Peeking into the archives...today in:
2014: Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge
2013: Happy Fourth of July!
2012: Theater: Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson
2011: Fashionista Piranha will be on hiatus for a while
2010: A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini
2009: Reading Challenge: The Newbery Medal
2008: Ruby Slippers by Jonalyn Grace Fincher

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