A blog about books. Oh, and some other stuff too.

Three Books You Really Should Read: Unexpected Favourites from the Bookshelf

unexpected favourites

Summertime and the reading is … hot and heavy? For some reason, I’ve been deluged with reading to do and I’m spending a lot of time trying to catch up on some great books. These are not necessarily new to the world – in fact, I’d say that these are actually “hey, look – Jenn finally woke up and realized that book X is out!” realizations. Still, if you are looking for something different to read, then one of these might be right up your alley.

A note of warning: I’ve picked three very different books to highlight in this post. Different books often means different audiences, so all three books may not appeal to you – but I hope that at least one does, and that you’ll give it a shot. Thanks.

nimonaNemeses! Dragons! Science! Symbolism! All these and more await in this brilliantly subversive, sharply irreverent epic from Noelle Stevenson. Featuring an exclusive epilogue not seen in the web comic, along with bonus conceptual sketches and revised pages throughout, this gorgeous full-color graphic novel is perfect for the legions of fans of the web comic and is sure to win Noelle many new ones.

Nimona is an impulsive young shapeshifter with a knack for villainy. Lord Ballister Blackheart is a villain with a vendetta. As sidekick and supervillain, Nimona and Lord Blackheart are about to wreak some serious havoc. Their mission: prove to the kingdom that Sir Ambrosius Goldenloin and his buddies at the Institution of Law Enforcement and Heroics aren’t the heroes everyone thinks they are.

But as small acts of mischief escalate into a vicious battle, Lord Blackheart realizes that Nimona’s powers are as murky and mysterious as her past. And her unpredictable wild side might be more dangerous than he is willing to admit.

I fully admit that I’m not as up to date with web comics and manga as I probably should be – especially when you consider where I work. However, I do have friends who are extremely knowledgeable about such things, and I rely on their generosity and good nature to fill me in when there’s something on the horizon that deserves to be read. Such is the case of Nimona, a former web comic gone full-on printed page from HarperCollins (Canada, in my case).

If I was to sum this up in one thought, I’d have to say that Nimona is delightful and surprising and so much fun. Honestly, I laughed out loud so many times while reading this, and I must have marked at least a dozen pages to show my friend (sorry about that, Chandra). I’d forgotten just how wonderful a great graphic novel can be, and how quickly you can become emotionally invested in the characters. Nimona appears on the doorstep of Ballister Blackheart, ready to become his evil apprentice, but all is not as it appears. Nimona is a shapeshifter – or perhaps something more? Add to this the complicated relationship between Ballister and Sir Ambrosius (truly, this book needs to be written all on its own because their back story is ANGSTY!!), and a mysterious conspiracy that threatens the entire kingdom, and you have a rockin’ great read.

The illustrations are deceptively simple, but are surprisingly effective. Clean lines and a great use of colour draw the eye along into the story, and you begin to associate emotional moments by certain characters by the palate choice. The setting is both Arthurian and sci-fi, with various chants of “Science!” abounding throughout the text, yet magic and mayhem have their moments as well. Younger readers should be aware that the story takes a darker and more emotional turn near the end, and there are some fabulous moments that question friendship and loyalty throughout. There were times when the mood shifted within a panel from fun fantasy to dark menace, and it takes a brilliant author/illustrator to pull that off.

Put Nimona firmly on your radar (or your library hold list); you won’t be disappointed.

Nimona is available now from HarperCollins Canada, and may be purchased from any fine bookstore or online retailer. ISBN: 9780062278227, 272 pages.

azizAt some point, every one of us embarks on a journey to find love. We meet people, date, get into and out of relationships, all with the hope of finding someone with whom we share a deep connection. This seems standard now, but it’s wildly different from what people did even just decades ago. Single people today have more romantic options than at any point in human history. With technology, our abilities to connect with and sort through these options are staggering. So why are so many people frustrated?

Some of our problems are unique to our time. “Why did this guy just text me an emoji of a pizza?” “Should I go out with this girl even though she listed Combos as one of her favorite snack foods? Combos?!” “My girlfriend just got a message from some dude named Nathan. Who’s Nathan? Did he just send her a photo of his penis? Should I check just to be sure?”

But the transformation of our romantic lives can’t be explained by technology alone. In a short period of time, the whole culture of finding love has changed dramatically. A few decades ago, people would find a decent person who lived in their neighborhood. Their families would meet and, after deciding neither party seemed like a murderer, they would get married and soon have a kid, all by the time they were twenty-four. Today, people marry later than ever and spend years of their lives on a quest to find the perfect person, a soul mate.

For years, Aziz Ansari has been aiming his comic insight at modern romance, but for Modern Romance, the book, he decided he needed to take things to another level. He teamed up with NYU sociologist Eric Klinenberg and designed a massive research project, including hundreds of interviews and focus groups conducted everywhere from Tokyo to Buenos Aires to Wichita. They analyzed behavioral data and surveys and created their own online research forum on Reddit, which drew thousands of messages. They enlisted the world’s leading social scientists, including Andrew Cherlin, Eli Finkel, Helen Fisher, Sheena Iyengar, Barry Schwartz, Sherry Turkle, and Robb Willer. The result is unlike any social science or humor book we’ve seen before.

In Modern Romance, Ansari combines his irreverent humor with cutting-edge social science to give us an unforgettable tour of our new romantic world.

I’ll confess to not knowing a lot about Aziz Ansari before I read (okay, listened to) this book; when you live in the country without cable, your television options are limited. I had heard a little of his stand-up,and I have friends who have raved about his work on Parks and Recreation, so thought I would give this a go. I went into this blind, and didn’t really realize for some reason that this was an investigative study rather than a straight narrative – and man, was it ever interesting!

His observational study on just how people have put themselves out there to find partners was fascinating. I loved how he examined past trends (the neighbourhood connection) and how we’ve evolved to a more global arena, yet how our options haven’t really improved with the advent of technology. I could identify with a lot of the things he discovered, and at times felt that he might have been at the next table while my friends were lamenting their lack of dating success. While I know the whole area of dating is pretty huge, I also appreciated that Ansari gave the limitations to his research up front (heterosexual couples in a middle class income bracket, with strategic examination of specific international markets).

“A century ago people would find a decent person who lived in their neighbourhood. Their families would meet and, after they decided neither party was a murderer, the couple would get married and have a kid, all by the time they were 22. Today, people spend years of their lives on a quest to find the perfect person, a soul mate.”

The energy and attention to detail that Ansari and his co-author, Eric Klinenberg, put into their research project is admirable. This is a meaningful look at a topic that is obviously something of great interest to both of them, and as a result, I found myself pulled along by their enthusiasm. At the core of it all is our human desire for connection – to be in a relationship with someone. Using humour and some pretty interesting statistics, this book manages to open some doors and to help us to examine how and why we communicate with each other.

I really liked that there was an international component to things; too often we feel that North America is the be-all and end-all of everything, when the fact is that finding a partner to share your life is a universal issue. We will approach it differently based on cultural norms, and these discussions were highly engaging. It was interesting to be given the male perspective as much as the female, and having Ansari share some of his own experiences (often as a humourous counterpoint to what had just been presented)  gave context to what was being said. The people who were interviewed do not live in a vacuum, and their experiences are those of many others.

It’s definitely made me look at the way I use my cell phone, not only with potential partners but also with friends and family. I’m trying to make a more conscious effort to use my phone as a phone (gasp!) in order to connect directly with the people I want to spend time with, and I’m noticing a difference. Long and involved text conversations, especially those between multiple parties only result in confusion, while a ninety-second phone call can resolve a host of issues.I hate it when people play waiting games with me, and yet I recognize that I’m sometimes guilty of that myself … so I’m working on that.

Modern Romance is a great book for the non-fiction reader, but also for anyone who’s wondered why it’s so hard to connect with someone in today’s world, and why we can’t all just find someone next door like our grandparents did in their time.

Modern Romance is available now from Penguin Press/ Penguin Random House of Canada, and may be purchased from any fine bookstore or online retailer. ISBN: 9781594206276, 277 pages. 

opening up

The men of the Twisted Steel custom build bike and hot rod shop are great with their hands…and they’re not afraid to get dirty. PJ Colman is exactly the kind of complication Twisted Steel owner Asa Barrons doesn’t need. The last thing he wants to do is mix business with pleasure, and PJ does some of the best custom detailing he’s ever seen. But the chemistry between them won’t be denied, and one kind of complication turns into another as she awakens a possessive need inside him he’s unable to deny. 

Racing royalty PJ Colman knew from the first moment she laid eyes on Asa that he would rock her world. But what started out as a fun romp in the bedroom soon becomes an all-consuming passion. Soon he’s introducing her to a whole new world in the bedroom, pushing her far beyond anything she’s ever experienced.And he’s her sounding board, her refuge and her biggest annoyance as she has to learn how to manage an alpha male with protective instincts like the one she’s fallen for.

Lauren Dane is pretty much an auto buy for me now. Her characters are consistently strong and interesting, and while they may have their flaws, they are always authentic and justified. The personalities of each character is unique and you can clearly see why each person is drawn to the other. Since this is the first book in a new series, I was a little afraid going in that there would be a tonne of introductions; I shouldn’t have worried, as Dane introduces her characters in a very organic way, and we learn as much – or as little – about them as we need to in order to fit this story.

I really enjoyed that PJ was a strong and capable female in what is primarily a male-dominated industry, but that she owned how talented she was and her femininity in equal measure. Her work was an evolution of the family business coupled with her natural talents and inclinations, and I appreciated a hard-working character who was able to merge the two to find a unique way. I also appreciated that while she didn’t have a positive relationship with her father, she did try to have a great relationship with her siblings and mother. I’m not going to lie, though – I still wanted to drop kick the Dad into next week.

Asa was a little more difficult to get to know, but once he opened up and you saw where his sense of loyalty lay, he’s in. As with Cake, we have an older male fighting an attraction to a younger (and fully capable and consenting) younger woman; this meant a delay in the two of them starting their relationship together, but it also gave us some great discussion to explore the chemistry between them. For Asa, family – blood and otherwise – is everything and his devotion to his friends, his family and eventually to PJ was his biggest strength. I loved how protective he became and how he stepped up to be supportive when it was needed.

As I’ve said before, I appreciate that Dane’s characters are grown ups. They have disagreements, they get angry with each other – and they talk it out. They call each other on bad behaviour and stupid statements, and they recognize when they are wrong and make events (eventually). This makes their relationship much more mature and believable, and as a reader I felt far more connected to them because I shared in their struggles to build the relationship as adults. Because they are adults, the sex scenes are just as intimate as the conversations; Dane has always written intensely erotic scenes that demonstrate the connection the partners have with each other, and this book is no exception. Put this one on the scorching hot side of the scale, because PJ and Asa have some serious chemistry.

I’m really looking forward to the next book in the series, and I’m wondering if PJ’s siblings will make another appearance – I’m not sure I’m ready to be done with them yet, so I’m hoping that there are some side stories for them in future books.

Opening Up is available now from Grand Central Publishing, a division of Hachette Book Group, and may be purchased from any fine bookstore or online retailer. ISBN: 9781455586219, 336 pages. 

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Jenn has read 112 books toward her goal of 125 books.
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