Sunday, October 31, 2010

Matched by Ally Condie

In Cassia's world, the Society makes every decision for you, from what you eat to who you marry. When her match contains a surprising mistake, Cassia begins on a journey that will lead her to question everything about her life, including herself.

Okay, I see why people really love this book. The world-building is intriguing and well-imagined; the ethics very blurry. Nothing is truely what it seems, nor is anything black and white/good or evil. Cassia herself is both likeable and irritating at turns. And the boys, even moreso.

I especially liked how the romance was handled in the story. Cassia loves them both; she really is torn for most of the book. And the relationships change in a believable manner, over months and due to time spent together and things learned, just as real romances do. Cassia becomes an adult, in a way that many of the adults around her never do.

Even the side characters are well-drawn and believable. Gavin, her Grandfather, her parents, they all seemed very real and very stuck in the world they live in. Even when they make the "right" decisions (as if they really get to make any) things can take an awful turn.

I'll be thinking about this story for some time. And while I do see the similarities others have mentioned to The Giver and A Wrinkle in Time, I don't necessarily think that is a bad thing...

Monday, October 25, 2010

Star Crossed by Elizabeth C. Bunce

I was not going to read this book because of its lackluster cover (I am slightly pained to say that since I feel like I should be above it but let's face it ya'll, I'm totally not). Then I read Bookshelves of Doom's review and thought that it sounded awesome. And so now when I look at the cover I think, you know, it really isn't all that bad, just a bit blah. Which is a shame because this is such a fantastic book that I'm mortified that I almost missed it.

It features Digger, a thief who ingratiates herself with a noble family while hiding her true identity (she's a pickpocket! I have a soft spot for pickpockets, but only in stories in real life they suck) and they invite her to winter with them at their remote castle. She's thinking this is pretty fabulous as it gets her outta dodge and she'll get to rob some heavily lined pockets to boot. Only someone there knows her secret and is blackmailing her to spy on her hosts. Which is problematic, as she's starting to really like them.

There is a pretty intense political system that the author has created and it took awhile for me to understand it all, but that really might have been the wine I was drinking... In a nutshell this is a world where magic is illegal and there is an inquisition (A freakin' Inquisition!!!). There are two potential heirs and there is a rebellion brewing. Digger lands herself in the middle of all of it.

Bookshelves of doom mentioned that fans of Megan Whalen Turner would like this book. I agree wholeheartedly. I would add fans of Graceling as Digger is a phenomenally strong and interesting female protagonist.

There is action, there is a really great plot, the characters are interesting and varied, there is the potential for hot steamy romance which the author wisely chose to leave for the sequel, which for the record, I am dying to read.

Yes, you could say that I am very enthusiastic about this book.

Book Source = Publisher review copy

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Cate of the Lost Colony by Lisa Klein

As a reader, I’m always inclined to head towards the science fiction books, so much so that that I am continually surprised by how much I like historical fiction. I really enjoyed Cate of the Lost Colony and read it pretty much straight through. That’s not to say I didn’t have some issues with it, but I thought the story and the writing was compelling enough that I forgave them.

The story begins with Cate as a lady in waiting to Queen Elizabeth, (who is portrayed as a rather overbearing and vain queen). Cate runs afoul of her and is sent as punishment to the colony on Roanoke Island in Virginia in 1587.

The thing to remember is that Cate isn’t an actual historical figure (the author note informs us of this), it doesn’t really matter, but I was sad that the whole set up of why Cate was sent to Virginia was completely fictional. I guess that gives the author the ability to create a character and infuse her with all the characteristics that she needs to have the story flow, but even so I was disappointed. There is a love affair that I would have relished more if it had been real (although her love interest was sort of a self-absorbed ass) and Cate is just such an interesting character that it bummed me out that she never actually existed. I mean, who wouldn’t fall in love with a female colonist that learned the language of the locals?!

Klein also invents a happy ending for the colonists (as happy as an ending can be for the survivors of starvation, attacks, sickness, general despair, etc). As their true ending is one of the great mysteries of colonial America I thought that speculating on the part of the author was fine. I even enjoyed the turn their life took and found much of it to be quite believable.

On a whole (and added to last year’s awesome Written in Bone) I’m sort of frothing at the mouth to read more about colonial America.

Book Source = Review Copy

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Sweet Valley Update

So, here is the newly revealed cover art for the upcoming Sweet Valley Confidential: Ten Years Later by Francine Pascal. The book is scheduled for release on March 29, 2011.

I read an excerpt from the first chapter, and it was okay. Despite that, I remain intrigued and I will be checking it out or buying it in March. I need to know.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

So...Like...I haven't been reading all that much

It is confession time. I haven't really been reading too much or at least I've been reading more adult fiction than teen (although I may have to give up on The Passage...). Frankly, I've just been more interested in sewing. So! I thought I would share my favorite project. I made a robot costume for my little dude. Cute, no?


Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Enchanted Ivy by Sarah Beth Durst

Lily loves Princeton. Her Grandfather went there, her father went there, it has been a part of her life since she was born. So when she's presented a challenge by a secret society to find a special key, she accepts. The prize, after all, is guaranteed admission to the school.

This was a fun book. Gargoyles that talk, a stone dragon, a secret gateway into another world, not to mention all those dark family secrets that Lily stumbles onto.

I must admit I spent a good part of the book yelling, "your [name removed] is eeeeeeeevil! Why can't you see?!" But I'm not going to tell you if I'm right or not. Just that the suspicion was definitely there.

Spoilers=== I really liked the parallels between the magic creatures who fed off of humans and the knights who fed off the magic creature. And I was also referring to the grandfather being eeeeeeevil. I'm not sure I bought his redemption at the end. I prefer to think of him as baddun. But, you know, maybe I'll get over it someday. ====end of spoilers

Book Source: Review copy from publisher

Sunday, October 10, 2010

What I've Been Reading

Been awhile since I did a post. I have been furiously reading for the Lone Star Committee, the Texas Library Association reading list for middle schoolers. And of course, I had to read Mockingjay when it came out.

Anyway, here are a few of the really good books I have read recently...

The Boneshaker by Kate Milford
The town of Arcane, Missouri sits near a crossroads where strange things are known to happen and the Devil is said to walk. When a creepy medicine show comes to town, it's up to thirteen-year-old Natalie to save not just her family but the whole town. Reminiscent of Bradbury, Sterling, and King, the Boneshaker conjures a world of wonder, evil, and great strength. Natalie is a great protagonist and Milford weaves a dark mystery that is not quickly or easily resolved. It's really hard to believe that this is her first book!

I really liked the characters, especially the supporting ones. Old Tom is fascinating; at first he seems one dimensional, but as you read the story, he becomes more than you expected. Even Natalie's parents and friends (except maybe the boys) develop and change. The "villain" turns out to be much more nuanced than just a con artist or evil person who consorts with demons; you eventually discover that even he has reasonable motivations and desires.

Countdown by Deborah Wiles
In the Fall of 1962, in the midst of the Cuban Missile Crisis, Franny Chapman struggles to understand herself, her family and friends, and the whole crazy world.

The main buzz on this books seems to be about the pictures and nonfiction bits scattered throughout. Some people have found it distracting; some love the integration of information. I myself really enjoyed it. Much of the information was things I would have looked up while reading this story anyway. And I always like pictures from the time period when I am reading historical fiction. I found this device to be atmospheric, helpful, and a great tension-releaser at times.

Both The Boneshaker and Countdown have gotten Newbery buzz...

Okay, I really needed a graphic novel fix, um break. So I read this...

Beasts of Burden: Animal Rites by Evan Dorkin and Jill Thompson
In Burden Hill, strange things keep happening and the only ones to notice are the dogs and cats of the neighborhood. So, of course, they are the ones who are trying to stop it. Zombies, ghosts, witches, giant killer frogs--you name it, it is coming to Burden Hill.

Beasts of Burden features a small cast of dogs and one cat, all pets, who are just doing there best to keep their neighborhood safe. Ace is the leader, a calm and resourceful husky with a small wild streak. Jack is level-headed and kind, while Rex may look large and dependable, but is actually a coward. Whitey is a bit spastic and Pugsley is the continual voice of desent and complaint, yet always seems to join in and help out. Orphan is the cat, a stray whom the dogs take in, with a rough past and an interesting set of skills and connections.

Oh, and don't miss the beautiful artwork. Full color paintings and good attention to the details of how animals move and look make the pictures a pleasure to read as well. Thompson is best known for her work in The Sandman, Scary Godmother, and Magic Trixie. Once again, her talent and sense of color shine through.
Check it out while I eagerly await the next volume!

Birthmarked by Caragh O'Brien
Gaia Stone has just delivered her first baby and taken it to the city to become part of a wealthy family, when she discovers that her parents have been arrested for keeping records of births. Now she must infiltrate a structured and controlled caste society to save them or die trying. More dystopian fiction. Deals with reproductive rights and the question of the good of the one vs the good of the many.

I'll admit, it took me awhile to get into this one. It starts a bit slow, but once it picks up, it's pretty intriguing. I like that there were no easy answers, no definite good or bad, and that the characters, at least most of them, continually question themselves, their motives, and the system.

I am very eager to read the sequel.

Behemoth by Scott Westerfeld
I reviewed Leviathan, the predecessor to Behemoth, last year and I wasn't that sure about it. Review is here. However, on rereading (well, listening to the excellent Alan Cummings audiobook) I kind of fell in love with the whole world of it.

So when I read Behemoth, it swept me up. The crew of the Leviathan, including Deryn/Dylan and Alek and his Austrians, arrive in Constantinople (hereon referred to as Istanbul). Unfortunately, Austria-Hungary is now at war with Brittain, so the captain has effectively placed the Austrians in captivity. So they escape, or at least half do. And join in the Ottoman revolution...

The relationship between Alek and Deryn slowly develops and a couple people do discover both their secrets (well lots discover Alek's). Politics, intrigue, and lots of walker battles make this episode of the story fast-paced and full of revelations. We finally find out what is in the eggs! Not what I expected, but I love it!

Westerfeld's masterful, slow revelation of character and his fabulous fight and chase scenes make this a fun read. I got to the end and screamed with joy to find out where the crew is headed next. Can't wait a whole year for Goliath!!!!!

Friday, October 1, 2010

Keeper by Kathi Appelt

The first thing I experienced when reading Keeper was frustration. I found the start agonizingly slow. It bounced back and forth between Keeper waiting for the tide to come in (and waiting and waiting…and waiting…and then waiting some more) back to what led her to get in the boat in the first place. And what led her to get into the boat isn’t fully revealed until almost 200 pages. I feel torn about this. On the one hand not revealing it all at once added to the suspense and kept the story moving, on the other hand I was left feeling like Keeper was majorly overreacting for a large chunk of the story. Feeling like that made it hard for me to understand or empathize with her decisions (you know because I spent my time wondering why she was being such an idiot).

At the same time the narrative switches off between characters and these characters include an elderly man, a seagull, some dogs, and other important adults. That part I loved. It added sweet perspectives and some magic into a story that at its heart is about a girl coming to terms with her absent mother.

There is a lot of repetition going on in this book. Not only do we get scenes replayed, becoming fuller and longer bit by bit, but we also get phrases (“the world unto itself” is one) repeated throughout the story. Appelt is really playing with language here. Alliteration and rhythm are ever present. It gives the book a real sense of place and an identifiable style.

At the end we have a breakthrough moment where Keeper dredges up a memory of her mother that is equally heartbreaking and infuriating. We learn the truth of Keeper’s mother as well as how Keeper got her unusual name. Possible spoilers ==> what I wondered is did she really not have a name for 3 years of her life? Seriously? They just had pet names for her? I find this hard to believe. And is Keeper her real name or another pet name (and if it’s a pet name it seems like a hella weird choice). Those thoughts led me to ones on whether or not Keeper even has a birth certificate which is certainly outside the scope of this story. Anyhow, with respect to drama, Keeper’s name scores an A, it was a very dramatic scene and I choked up reading it, but it was definitely problematic for me.<== End of spoilers. In the end, I did enjoy this book. I loved the shifting perspectives, the beautiful use of language. I loved how the story was resolved for Keeper, but perhaps even more so for Dogie and Signe and for Mr. Beauchamp. Everything is tied up nicely, but it feels right. It feels like this is where they were headed from the beginning and they’ve finally caught up to where they are supposed to be.

More Spoilers ==> Was I disappointed that her mother wasn't a mermaid? Maybe a little. But I did sort of love how mermaids were real, even if her mother was just a crappy mother. <== end of spoilers.


Book Source: Library Copy