I Am a Genius of Unspeakable Evil and I Want to Be Your Class President, by Josh Lieb

Oliver Watson, Jr., is an unpopular, overweight, not very smart seventh grader. Well, at least he wants you to think that last part. In reality, he is the titular genius and also rich and powerful, though he gets other people to stand in for him because little kids can’t sign contracts and stuff. You know. Red tape. He absolutely does not care what his father thinks of him, but when he finds out that his dad was once class president, Oliver decides to run. To taint his father’s memories of it, of course. But it’s not as easy as it seems… Oliver has to deal with opponents and bribe the administration all while working on expanding his evil empire and getting a nice, tasty grilled cheese sandwich. Life is tough!

Yes, this book is that weird. It’s also pretty entertaining. What kid didn’t wish she had a fake toilet full of candy in his school, or that he could listen in on the romantic goings-on in the teachers lounge? Seventh grade would have been so much more fun! So Oliver is fun, and even pretty realistic outside of the evil genius stuff. He’s just a kid who wants to be someone else. And Lieb does a good job of plotting — he throws a few twists and turns in there that I didn’t see coming, but that make perfect sense in hindsight, which is definitely a skill. Oh, and there are pictures of important things and also footnotes, and you know how much I like footnotes.

I would totally give this book to my little brother to read, if I didn’t think he’d go getting ideas. Maybe after his class elections.

Rating: 9/10
(Support Your Local Library Challenge)

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Pass me yours, if you’ve got ’em.

An Abundance of Katherines, by John Green (27 April)

Obviously, after the slow but interesting Murder, as I think I will call it from now on, I needed to go back to the YA brain candy. So I did. And it was good.

An Abundance of Katherines, as the title suggests, is about a kid called Colin with a lot of Katherines in his life… as of his high-school graduation, he’s been dumped by 19 of them. Nineteen! Of course, some of these are third-grade (third-grade!) relationships, but they still count because every single one of them has been named K-a-t-h-e-r-i-n-e. Not Kate or Katie or Catherine. Katherine. Yes.

This last Katherine having been his girlfriend for 11 months and eight days, Colin is understandably upset about this breakup. So, in the grand tradition of all high-schoolers everywhere, Colin and his best friend Hassan go on a road trip. From Chicago to middle Tennessee. Where they go on a tour of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand’s grave and then make friends with the also high-school-aged tour guide, whose mother gives the boys jobs and invites them to stay in her house. Right.

So then adventures occur and all the kids discover new things about themselves and, you know, come of age, as you do. Also Colin tries to develop a Theory of Underlying Katherine Predictability which will tell him how long a relationship will last. And there is math and footnotes and it’s all kind of ridiculous but you go along with it because why the hell not, we’re adventuring!

Seriously, it’s good stuff. I continue my *heart*ing of John Green in happiness.

Rating: 8/10
(Support Your Local Library Challenge)

Fool, by Christopher Moore (26 March − 3 April)

I’ve loved me some Christopher Moore since reading Lamb some crazy-long time ago (a few years?), and then Fluke and Island of the Sequined Love Nun and the others… and this new book does not disappoint!

Fool tells the story of King Lear’s fool. Yes, that King Lear. Now, I’ve never actually read the play, but I’m going to take a wild guess that this book is only very very loosely based on it. Especially since the witches from Macbeth show up. You know how it is.

But anyway, if you’re like me and don’t know the story, there’s a king called Lear and he’s kind of an idiot and he splits up his kingdom based on how much each of his daughters loves him. Two lie their arses off and get a fair bit of land; one tells the truth and is banished for her trouble. So then politics and intrigue happen because obviously someone is unhappy.

And in this version, the fool, called Pocket, is behind it all, with the help of some enchantments from the aforementioned witches. Hoorah. And, being a fool, he tells his story with lots of bawdiness and also vulgarity. And, the book being based on Shakespeare, there is also some crazy English borrowed liberally from King Lear and other plays that is conveniently footnoted for the modern reader. And there’s a ghost. And a raven. It’s awesome, is what I’m saying.

Rating: 8/10
(Countdown Challenge: 2009, Support Your Local Library Challenge)

Beat the Reaper, by Josh Bazell (28 February — 1 March)

Hee. This book was awesome. I’m not sure if it was just so much more awesome coming off of a book I didn’t like or if it’s actually as awesome as I thought it was, but either way it’s a quick and thoroughly entertaining read.

Our protagonist, Peter Brown, is a doctor at a crap hospital in Manhattan. He’s checking out a patient with cancer when he realizes — too late — that the patient is someone he knows from a past life. One that’s been covered over by the Witness Protection Program. The patient, Eddy Squillante, quickly realizing the leverage he has, orders a hit on Brown if Squillante isn’t alive by the end of the day. Inconveniently, the cancer he has is pretty much guaranteed to kill him, especially with the surgeon that’s come in to operate. Brown now has to “beat the reaper” and keep Squillante alive so as not to have to find a new life as a gas station attendant out west.

The book cuts back and forth between Brown’s current and previous lives, telling us how and why he got where he is, and it’s all done in a very conversational style that makes it feel like you’re really watching the action. Bazell also inserts witty footnotes (!) that let you learn possibly more than you ever wanted to know about medicine, the mob, pubic hair… it’s wonderful.

I didn’t quite appreciate the ending, though. The book ended right before I wanted it to, which was irksome, but I do like that he didn’t overwork the ending, so it ends up on the plus side.

Rating: 9/10
(Countdown Challenge: 2009, Support Your Local Library Challenge)

Special Topics in Calamity Physics, by Marisha Pessl (18 August − 3 September)

Ugh. This book. I can’t really decide whether I liked it or not, because I’m not entirely clear on what actually happened in the book.

Basically, you’ve got your protagonist, Blue Van Meer, an extremely smart and overly educated 16-year-old who travels around the country with her professor father, never living anywhere for more than a semester at a time as he moves on to bigger and better professorships. For her senior year, her dad gives her a gift − they settle down in Stockton, North Carolina for the whole year. She gets reluctantly adopted into a group of friends by request of the teacher they hang out with, Hannah Schneider, and she proceeds to have a really really weird year culminating in the death of Hannah and Blue’s investigation into it.

I can tell you that with no reservation because Blue tells us on the first page that Hannah dies… but the woman doesn’t actually croak until page 335 out of 514. Lovely. There’s certainly some interesting character development in those three hundred pages, and a lot of really good clues that build up for when we get to the mystery part, but oh. my. god. I really was just waiting for Hannah to die the entire time.

The story really drags up to page 335, and then all of a sudden it’s riveting, and then as soon as Blue figures out the mystery we jump ahead a couple of months and learn about those months through poorly exposited backstory. Sigh.

I’m not upset about having read the book, but I’m not thrilled about it either.

Rating: 5/10
(Countdown Challenge: 2006)