Johnny Hiro: Half-Asian, All Hero by Fred Chao
2009. Tor. Paperback. 192 pages.
Recommendation from: Aarti of Booklust
Fred Chao’s graphic novel, Johnny Hiro, is a wonderful blend of action-adventure, everyday trials, and the absurd. When Johnny and his girlfriend Mayumi’s apartment is destroyed by Gozadilla, they not only have to triumph over the giant lizard, but they also have to deal with their landlord who sues them for the damages. Further adventures find Johnny and Mayumi trying to please their bosses at work, enjoy a trip to the opera while dodging a group of samurai, and make some time to see each other. The humor comes through in both the drawing and the dialogue. I also enjoyed the bizarre cameos by celebrities such as David Byrne, Mayor Bloomberg and Gwen Stefani.
Situations Matter: Understanding How Context Transforms Your World by Sam Sommers
2011. Riverhead Books. Hardcover. 290 pages.
Situations Matter was a fast, enjoyable read. Sommers gives the reader an entertaining survey course on how little we understand the factors that cause people to do what they do – that cause us to do what we do. People often slip into the mindset of What You See is What You Get (WYSIWYG), but research study after research study shows that the reliability of this mindset is questionable. Chapters in the book address the bystander effect, groupthink, gender norms, factors in love and attraction, and bias against people outside the in-group. Some of the research studies were familiar to me, but there were some new ones that contained surprises. I liked how Sommers showed that our romantic relationships are influenced by more than just the other person’s personality and appearance. We give far less credit to factors such as proximity, familiarity, the perception of reciprocity, and perceived obstacles.
Sommers is very personable, sharing often self-deprecating anecdotes from both his teaching life and his family life, that are still relevant to the points he is making. And even though a number of the points made in the book were not brand-new to me, I appreciated the refresher on why situations matter. It’s so easy to fall into making snap judgments about another person or about a situation, and this book reminded me that there is usually more to the story than first meets the eye.
Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor
2011. Hachette. Hardcover. 418 pages.
Recommended by: my co-worker Kim
In this fantasy novel, a girl named Karou lives a double life. Most of the time, she is a teenage art student in Prague, with a good friend and a bad ex-boyfriend. But she is also the foster daughter of and errand-girl for a powerful chimaera – some might say monster – who collects teeth for a purpose that is mysterious to Karou. One day while running an errand in Marrakesh, Karou crosses paths with an angel who tries to kill her. This encounter leads Karou to life-changing discoveries about her monster family and about her own past.
Daughter of Smoke and Bone almost lost me in its first fifty or so pages. The beginning seemed painfully overwritten to me and Karou’s run-in with her ex-boyfriend, her pranks during art class, and her Prague life did not engage me at all. But Brimstone and the other members of Karou’s monster family were fantastic creations, as was the world they came from. And once the characters from the other world take prominence, the novel just takes off in a good way. Taylor has pulled off some amazing world-building in this book. All of the scenes in the other world – the flashback history – were so vivid. There’s an atmospheric scene where a character walks among the dead in a battlefield that particularly sticks in my memory. The tragic moments in the story felt earned. The angsty romance actually had very good reasons for the angst. I was left stunned by the ending.
Given these strong feeling, I of course sought out the next book, Days of Blood & Starlight, but for some reason couldn’t make headway with it, and decided to abandon it, for now.