Sunday, September 30, 2012

Corsets & Clockwork: Part 1

In the spirit of trying something a little different and due to the fact that my crazy life lately means less time to be reading novels, I've decided to have sort of mini-reviews from time to time as I make my way through short story collections.

I'm currently making my way through Corsets & Clockwork: 13 Steampunk Romances (Running Press, 2011). I'm new to all of the authors featured in this collection as well as the world of steampunk, so this has been an interesting read so far.

Story: Rude Mechanicals
Author: Lesley Livingston
Summary: Quintillius Farthing loves the theatre and working for his uncle, but is frustrated by the dismal future he sees coming of his chosen profession. When a mysterious man builds an Actromatron to be the perfect actress and revive the theatre, he challenges Quint to direct her.
Thoughts: What a weird and fantastical concept! The story and situation is built up well, and I could empathize with Quint's desire for love and art. While I felt like the story's ending was a bit on the abrupt side, that's not uncommon with short stories. There was a twist I predicted, but it played out alright.

Story: The Cannibal Fiend of Rotherhithe
Author: Frewin Jones
Summary: Silka, a half-mermaid half-human unaware of her aquatic heritage, makes her way from the small town where she's never been allowed to leave her house to London, searching for her true love and eating men who try to harm her along the way.
Thoughts: This is not a story for the squeamish, that's for sure. Readers learn all about Silka's twisted beginnings with a cruel father, and I actually came to sympathize with her a bit as the story went on. Not that I condone Silka's eating people, but it wasn't entirely her fault. The voice was gritty and the story provoking.

Story: Wild Magic
Author: Ann Aguirre
Summary: Pearl has been born into the aristocracy and with magical abilities her family would rather pretend didn't exist, but when a boy named Pick tells her she is the key to helping the lower (and magical) class, she learns to control her abilities, celebrate what makes her different, has adventure, and falls in love.
Thoughts: I was so disappointed when this story ended because I loved it! This was perhaps the most 'traditional' romance in the collection so far, and Aguirre did such a great job building Pearl, her world, and this incredible situation. This story was less steampunky than the others, but was still very Victorian and I wish I could know what happens next!

So that's it from me for this time. Comments welcome, and, as always, happy reading!

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Wednesday Words: Platonic People

It's hardly uncommon for teenage girls come up to me saying they're looking for books with romance. With YA lit today, it's a fairly easy order to fill. I feel like every other book on the shelf in our YA section has some sort of element of romance tied into it even if it's not the primary focus of the story. Even stories that aren't really 'romances' have it somewhere (a la Hunger Games and Divergent - it's the end of the world, but there's also kissing!)

Which brings me to my point: where have all the platonic people gone? Where are the books where guys and girls are just friends? Is it even possible, or were Harry and Sally right when they declared that guys and girls could never really be friends because sex always gets in the way? When I do see platonic friendships in YA lately, I feel like there's always some sort of twist on it. A guy and a girl are friends because one or both of them are gay, one or both of them are in relationships with other people, or they say they're just friends but clearly there's something else going on there.

I'm looking for recommendations, people, and writers out there, I'm looking for answers. Can platonic teen/young adult/new adult friendships happen in stories in lieu of romantic relationships, or would that be asking too much? Now I love romance and happy endings as much as the next reader, believe me, but as I get older, I realize this is a type of story I'd love to read and can't seem to find anywhere!

Comments welcome, and, as always, happy reading!

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Soul Searching: Inbetween

Inbetween by Tara Fuller
Entangled Teen, 2012

*Copy provided by publisher via NetGalley*

Ever since she was in a car crash two years ago that resulted in the death of her father, Emma has been a magnet for accidents, each of which come closer and closer to claiming her life. But Finn, a reaper who has been sent to collect her soul not once but twice, refuses to collect this time and devotes himself to keeping her alive. The two of them falling in love isn't just against the rules, but Finn is willing to do whatever it takes to keep Emma alive, battling the evil he accidentally unleashed on her life and willing to sacrifice the only thing he has left - his soul.

I've always been interested in books that explore 'what happens after we die' questions, so naturally this book was right up my alley. At first I found myself a bit frustrated - Fuller takes her time letting readers in onto the intricacies of what exactly Finn and Emma's situations are and how the business of souls, life, and death all work. I'm a reader who likes knowing more of the basics earlier on so I can then build off of that. However, as I kept going with the story, I can absolutely see why Fuller keeps you in the dark. For one piece of information in particular, it just makes its reveal that much more powerful.

Emma and Finn are both interesting characters facing unimaginable circumstances. Fuller did a really great job thinking about each of them in multiple dimensions, and her transitions between the chapters told from Finn's perspective and Emma's are seamless, allowing for you to see how each of them are dealing with this battle that goes beyond the usual stakes. I would have liked to see equal depth given to the secondary characters, but hopefully that will come with the next installment of the series.

Overall, I thought the story was okay. It was a quick read with an interesting premise, and I see this series as having potential. I wasn't blown away, but I could also see myself checking into book two eventually after it comes out and seeing what happens to Emma and Finn next.

Comments welcome, and, as always, happy reading.

Tara Fuller's Website
Tara Fuller on Twitter 

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Wednesday Words: High Hype Pressure

Read this book! You will LOVE it - everybody who's anybody does! Anybody else out there feel like this is an awful lot of pressure not only for a book to live up to, but also for people to love it as much as we're told we ought to?

It's a complicated feeling for me when it feels like everybody else seems to be totally in love with something that for whatever reason just doesn't spin my wheels. So many of my friends in high school thought The Catcher in the Rye was most amazing. Me? I kind of thought Holden was a phony, though I'll admit that when I read it a few years later, I didn't dislike it quite as much as I did the first time. But I hate admitting to people that I didn't care for it. I mean, it's a Classic and I'm a librarian. How could I NOT like this book? Simple: I just don't, and that's okay... Right?

I'm finding this happening again lately as I'm getting ready for the film adaptation of The Perks of Being a Wallflower by rereading the novel. Now I like this book. I like this tale of a freshman boy who is lost and a loner and finds friends and gains a feeling of belonging. But as I'm rereading, I find myself questioning if I really liked it so much the first time around, or did I just convince myself I liked it more than I did because it got so much hype? I mean, I'm rediscovering that Charlie is a kid with a lot of issues on his plate. Maybe it's because this time around, I'm reading it as a teacher and someone who works with teens. I'm identifying very strongly with his English teacher, Bill, and looking for warning signs. But I know better than to say this to some of my friends for fear they might slap me upside the head.

So long story short, I want to pose a question. What books have you read that you feel just didn't live up to the hype in your eyes, or did you feel pressured to like because 'everybody else does'?

Comments, comments please! I'm really interested to know people's thoughts on this!

Sunday, September 16, 2012

A Debut with Flash: Struck

Struck by Jennifer Bosworth
Farrar, Straus and Giorux BYR, 2012

I'll say this for the debut author class of 2012: they are absolutely blowing me out of the park again and again and again. Struck, the debut novel by Jennifer Bosworth, is one of those books. The premise is incredible, the story has intense world building that is also remarkably realistic, and I've been telling everyone I know 'you have to read this book!'

Meet Mia Price: lightning addict. She's a human lightning rod who has been struck more times than she can count, and her affliction is the whole reason she, her mom, and her brother moved to Los Angeles in the first place - it barely rains there. But then the earthquake happened not so long ago, leaving the entire city in devastation. Rance Ridely Prophet, a televangelist with a large cult called the Followers, has announced the world will end in three days. There's also the Seekers, a group of people who want to take down Prophet and the Followers at any cost. Both sides have prophecies indicating that Mia is a central player in all of it. It doesn't seem to matter to anyone that she wants nothing to do with any of them - all she wants is to keep her family alive - but she also desperately wants to trust Jeremy, a stranger who says he wants to protect her. When the end of the world is on the line, Mia must risk everything to try to save what she loves.

Not since Katniss Everdeen have I come across such a strong protagonist. Mia is willing to do whatever it takes to keep her mother (who is suffering from PTSD) and her brother safe. She has an incredible ability that she'd rather not use because she hates bringing pain to others. She is incredibly complex and a survivor in every sense of the word.

Bosworth's world building here is also impecable. I've only been to LA once, but I have very little doubt that this is what the end of the world would look like there. The situations that arise and the fears that consume people within these pages are all incredibly realistic, as are the wide range of reactions.

Readers will be kept on their toes as they make their way through this story. Primary and secondary characters are all fully flushed out, and Bosworth does an especially good job with Jeremy in my opinion. All in all, this book has action, big questions, big emotions, and the fate of the world is on the line. I was blown away by this novel, and I cannot wait to see what Bosworth comes up with next.

Comments welcome, and, as always, happy reading!

Jennifer Bosworth's Website
JenniferBosworth on Twitter

Friday, September 14, 2012

Book Haul

I'm not usually one for making a whole lot of book purchases (or win books) since I get most of what I read from the library, but the last couple of weeks proved to be an exception!

Comments welcome, and, as always, happy reading!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Wednesday Words: YA the New Chick Lit?

Earlier today, I came across a thought provoking article on BuzzFeed posing this very question: Is Young Adult Fiction the New Chick Lit? It's an interesting concept, and one that I inadvertently touched on a few weeks ago when I talked about the growing need for a New Adult genre. When it comes to chick lit, maybe I'm still not quite at the right age to be able to fully relate to it. Or maybe I'm just too jaded. I get annoyed reading about these protagonists in their mid-20s, living fabulously in a big city with a pretty decent job as someone's assistant, weekends filled with a bursting social life and their biggest problem is finding Mr. Right.

I mean, come on. Really? I'm 24 and I can honestly say that while I have been incredibly fortunate in my life, it doesn't look anything like that.

But I have no problems escaping into the world of YA for quite a lot of my fiction choices (which you probably already know if you're reading this little blog of mine haha). Because I've already survived my teen years somehow. I can relate to that level, or at least that age and time in my life. It can be messy and feel complicated (especially once you live through what comes next) and there are constant highs and lows you have to navigate. And thank goodness there are so many talented writers out there writing for young adults who refuse to believe that teenagers and fans of these books can't or don't want to handle the tough stuff, the big questions. It's simply not true and we know this because the bar is continually being raised and pushing the limits of genres time and time again.

So for me, I guess the answer is yes, YA has filled the void that a generation before me probably would have satisfied with chick lit. And I still hope that the emergence of New Adult happens and happens soon as a type of literature more in line with what other 20-somethings like myself can find on bookshelves, with protagonists and stories we can relate to.

But what do you all think? Comments are always welcome, and happy reading!

Sunday, September 9, 2012

A Pirate's Life for Her: The Dust of 100 Dogs

The Dust of 100 Dogs by A.S. King
Flux, 2009

In the 1600s, teenager Emer Morrisey has already seen more than most have in a lifetime, which isn't a surprise since she's become one of the most successful and feared of pirates. But a hard life grows harder when on a beach in Jamaica, just after having buried her treasure so she can return to it later, the love of her life is killed and Emer is cursed to live 100 lives as a dog before she can be human again. Three hundred years later, she's reborn as Saffron Adams, her memories from all her lives completely intact, and with one goal in mind: get back to that beach and reclaim what's hers.

Awesome premise, right? In her debut novel, A.S. King set the bar high and leads readers into the fantastic world of magical realism. It's a story telling trope that isn't so commonly used, but when King utilizes it, it blows me away time after time.

The story has not one but two protagonists in Saffron and Emer - they are two very different girls, but Saffron is in a unique situation in that while she holds all of Emer's memories, she's not exactly Emer. Reincarnation is a tricky business, after all. They each have different goals and personalities, but are undeniably linked. The novel goes back and forth between each girl's story, building up to how each of them have lives leading to a Jamaican beach. Portions of the text are also dedicated to Fred Livingstone, the reincarnation of the Frenchman who cursed Emer and killed her love all those centuries ago.

All in all, I really liked the book. It's a fun premise, Emer and Saffron are both incredibly well rounded and deep characters, and there's light shone on parts of history that I never really thought about before (such as Cromwell's invasion of Ireland). As usual, King is never afraid of taking on the things that others may deem too gritty or unpleasant for readers to want to explore, and I admire that. She is a rockstar, standout author in my mind because she never underestimates her audience - in fact, she challenges them to rise up. If I'm honest, though, I wasn't in love with this story the way that Please Ignore Vera Dietz completely consumed me. I enjoyed it, I'm glad to have read it, but some books just take a tighter hold of you than others, I suppose.

If you want to dive into the world of magical realism, pirates, strong girls, and stories that refuse to paint the world in black and white, then I highly recommend giving The Dust of 100 Dogs a read.

Comments welcome, and, as always, happy reading!

A.S. King's Website
A.S. King on Twitter

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Where's Your Bookmark? (13)

My thoughts on The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater, coming to bookstores and libraries on September 18, 2012.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Wednesday Words: Word of Mouth

One of the biggest tools we talked about in my various classes in library school was the power of word of mouth. You can have the biggest marketing budget in the world for a book, but that may mean nothing if it doesn't have good word of mouth buzz. The Harry Potter series started out as the little book that could and turned into a world-wide, multi-million dollar phenomenon, and there have been a handful of similar situations before and since then.

I got to experience being a part of the power of word of mouth a bit this weekend and was reminded about how much of a change it can make. In January, I read The Fault in Our Stars by John Green and was completely blown away. I've read a lot of amazing books this year, but that still remains my favorite. When it came time to put together suggestions at school for what to put on the summer reading list (we let students pick what they want to read from a set group of titles), I suggested TFiOS - it's the right age group, it's contemporary, still fairly new, and the students I had coming into the library who already read it loved it just as much as I had, so I knew that I wasn't just being biased by my love for the Vlogbrothers or with my background as an English major. The book was put on, and all of our copies are constantly checked out.

So naturally when I saw a work friend of mine with this book in hand last Friday as we were all taking off for the long weekend, I was so excited that she was finally taking the time to read it because I've been pestering her since January to do so. I gushed about it again and she was really excited. Then that night on Twitter she said she couldn't put it down. We had a bit of back and forth until she finished it Saturday night, and when we got back to work after the holiday weekend yesterday, she started gushing to our whole lunch table about this Amazing book she just read and now there are eight other people who are interested in what this YA novel is all about.

See? Just as the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, sometimes the journey of a book changing the lives of many starts with one compliment. So, moral of the story, if you like a book, say so!

And those are my two cents for today. Comments welcome, and, as always, happy reading!

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Actions Speak Louder Than Words: What I Didn't Say

What I Didn't Say by Keary Taylor
Create Space, 2012

**Copy supplied by NetGalley**

Jake is a bit of a golden boy. He's on the football team. He has awesome friends. His dream of joining the Air Force is less than a school year away from coming true. But then he gets drunk at a party after winning the homecoming football game. He gets into a car accident. He gets a t-post through his throat and his vocal chords are destroyed. He'll never speak again.

With his world now turned upside down and his dreams for the future gone, perhaps his biggest regret is what he didn't say - he never told Samantha, the girl he's had a crush on since their first day of high school, that he loves her, and now he'll never be able to.

As Jake learns how to keep living his life now mute, he learns what family really means. He also finds himself spending a lot more time with Sam, realizing that even though he lost his voice, compared to some of the burdens she's had to bear, he's still very fortunate. And maybe, just maybe, he'll finally be able to tell her what he couldn't before.

Taylor takes on a few things here that I really found interesting. I've never read a novel before in which the main character was involuntarily mute, and this story does a really great job capturing what that sudden shift would be like to voicelessness. I also applaud Taylor's ability to tell the story from the point of view of a teenage boy and it still be realistic. Sometimes I find when the author is one gender but the protagonist is another, the voice can feel slightly off, but that was never the case hear. Readers get well formed characters in a richly described small town in a corner of the US that we rarely hear of or see.

Without giving spoilers, though, it's hard for me to express the things that didn't quite sit right with me in this story. In my eyes, it was a case of just a little too much tragedy. Things go from bad to worse to even more awful still for Jake and Sam. I can absolutely see and understand why Taylor took the story in the direction she did to emphasize that while Jake has lost his voice, he's still incredibly fortunate and that things could be a lot worse, but sometimes while reading I just couldn't suspend my imagination enough to accept that all these bad things could happen at once. It was as if someone had found Pandora's box and dumped it out on Jake and Sam's heads.

What I Didn't Say is well written and looks at issues that many of us may ordinarily over look. It gives insight to the idea that losing your voice doesn't mean everything is lost. If you like contemporary fiction and "issue novels," this may be one you want to check out from your local library.

Comments welcome, and, as always, happy reading.

Keary Taylor's Website
Keary Taylor on Twitter

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Where's Your Bookmark? (12)

My thoughts on Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll.

Comments welcome, and, as always, happy reading!