Saturday, February 28, 2015

Short Story Saturday: Defy the Dark, Almost Normal

Welcome to Short Story Saturday! Each week, I'll talk about a different story from the collection I'm working my way through and offer up some thoughts. I'm currently reading Defy the Dark.

Story: Almost Normal
Author: Carrie Ryan
Summary: With the walking dead due to arrive to town in a few days, Connor and his friends make their way to a nearby amusement park in a last effort to forget about the end of the world as they know it.
Thoughts: Though I've never read Ryan's Forest of Hands and Teeth series, I've come across her writings in various other short story anthologies and familiar enough with her novels to know that zombies are sort of her thing. Which is great, but they're not really mine. Despite that, I was struck by how realistic I found this story to be. I could genuinely see (and to a degree, understand) how many people would seek solace in one last "normal" day before their lives crumble, and how something so innocent can turn terrible so quickly.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Science and Society: Dove Arising

Dove Arising by Karen Bao (Dove Chronicles #1)
Viking, Expected Release Date: February 24, 2015

*ARC Provided by the publisher at ALA Midwinter 2015 - Thank you! This in no way impacted my opinions of this book.*

Phaet (pronounced 'fate') Theta has always lived a quiet life with her family on the moon. Selectively mute since the death of her father years before, she has an aptitude for her work in the greenhouses and dreams of getting through school so she can focus on the work she loves. But when her mother is arrested, the only way to save her family from destitution is to join the Militia. If she can secure a high ranking after finishing basic training, there may be just enough money to keep her siblings alive and save her mom. But first, she needs to survive training, and she can't tell if her alliance with Wes, a fellow outsider, is a blessing or a mistake.

By all accounts, this is an impressive debut considering that the author is 19 years old. She started writing this in high school and has kept up with her craft while also studying science at an Ivy League university. The plot moves along at a good pace, and Bao has clearly put a lot of thought into the world she has built, specifically the science behind all of it. In the start, this heavy usage of scientific terms felt a bit heavy-handed and clunky, but a combination of the jargon smoothing out as well as me getting used to it as a reader made it easier to understand as the story progressed.

In libraries where science fiction and dystopians are still hard to keep on the shelves, Dove Arising is a good buy. It follows a pattern that seems to be becoming common in this genre: unassuming individual finds themselves needing to make a choice that will change the course of their life, a period of training/competing is involved, and just when it looks like they're in the clear and that the worst is over, it's a good thing all that training happened because now it becomes necessary in real life and more will come to light in book 2. I was hoping for something a bit more off the beaten path. The main reason I picked this ARC up on my last day at Midwinter was because the letter to readers on the inside declared this story "speculates about the future we may be facing if we continue to devalue art, music, and literature in our lives and willingly sacrifice our freedom and privacy in the name of security." I saw glimpses of this goal throughout reading though not as much as I would have liked, but hopefully there will be more in regards to those particular issues as the series progresses.

Over the few days it took me to read this book, I was engaged and interested in what happened next. I think Bao has a lot of potential and I'd be interested in possibly checking out future books from the library if I feel a particular craving for this kind of story.

Comments welcome, and, as always, happy reading!

Karen Bao's Website
Karen Bao on Twitter

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Short Story Saturday: Defy the Dark, The Sunflower Murders

Welcome to Short Story Saturday! Each week, I'll talk about a different story from the collection I'm working my way through and offer up some thoughts. I'm currently reading Defy the Dark.

Story: The Sunflower Murders
Author: Kate Espey
Summary: Carmen recalls the events of the night her best friend was murdered in a sunflower field.
Thoughts: This one is a little challenging for me to review because I don't quite know what I think about it. I liked the voice and style of writing, but plot wise I'm less sure of my opinion. The story kicks off right away with readers knowing how it will end, so as Carmen looks back at the night I knew that there was no chance of it ending well. As a result, there was a lack of suspense. Since this was the winner of a contest the publisher sponsored and the author of this story was in high school at the time, I'll say that I think Ms. Espey has a lot of potential and I'll keep an eye out for her name in the future.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

A Journey to Time Past: Call the Midwife

Call the Midwife: A Memoir of Birth, Joy, and Hard Times by Jennifer Worth
Penguin, 2002

Oh how wildly different the world was 60 years ago, especially in East London. Poverty was high, work was hard, and families were huge, all things that kept the Sisters at Nonnatus House busy. When young nurse Jenny Lee joined as a midwife, she had no idea what she was in for having grown up in a privileged West End life. But her years in the docklands and among these people would have a profound impact on her forever.

I'll confess that I decided to read this memoir because I quickly fell in love with the TV series it inspired. Here, Jennifer Lee Worth focuses on a handful of the people she came to know at and through Nonnatus House. Sisters Monica Joan and Evangelina couldn't have been more different, but both taught Jenny much about life in general. Fellow midwife Chummy was larger than life in more ways than one, but her big size also meant that she had a tremendous heart. Fred was the convent's handyman and was generally always up to something to try to earn money, though it may not have always been legal. And then there were the many many patients and cases that Jenny worked with at all hours of the day.

I'm not quite sure what to make of this memoir, if I'm completely honest. The book opened my eyes to the incredible poverty of the time, but also the strength of the human spirit. Many of these people were flawed, and they all certainly had their own crosses to bear. Some were successful, some were survivors, and some were victims of an unkind fate. It was also interesting to see how the National Health Service was radically changing some of these circumstances, especially since that program is something that has not only survived but thrived and is still a huge source of pride for the British people today.

My primary criticism, therefore, lies with Worth's writing style (which I feel especially awkward saying since Worth passed away in 2011). I agree with other reviews I've seen on this book that the several chapters regarding a young prostitute called Mary were unnecessarily detailed. As a reader, I easily could have gotten a sense of what the girl saw and experienced another way, and given the way Worth wrote about other situations, since most of the Mary story is told second-hand, I do wonder how much embellishing may have taken place. Also, I felt that at times Worth was a contradiction. One moment she would be saying how she had no idea the world could be so cruel to these people and how she admired them, then the next she seemed to imply how lucky these people were to have a someone like her around to help. Similar sentiments sometime arose regarding her views on the religious life she was surrounded by but wasn't really a part of. Tighter editing could have avoided this.

All in all, I found this book to be an interesting one time read from my library. Should the urge strike, I could see myself checking out the two follow-up books Worth wrote about more of her time as a midwife.

Comments welcome, and, as always, happy reading!

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Short Story Saturday: Defy the Dark, Night Swimming

Welcome to Short Story Saturday! Each week, I'll talk about a different story from the collection I'm working my way through and offer up some thoughts. I'm currently reading Defy the Dark.

Story: Night Swimming
Author: Beth Revis
Summary: While there's technically no such thing as night on spaceship Godspeed, one passenger recalls the truths and feelings he confronts during the hours that are supposed to be designated for sleeping, including the idea that he may not be crazy.
Thoughts: Though I have not read Revis's Across the Universe trilogy, I am familiar enough with it to know that this story takes place within that universe. In some respects, I felt like this put me at a slight disadvantage - I probably would have connected with this story more had I read those books - however it's not necessary to have read the trilogy to understand what's going on here. Secrets and suspense drive this short story, and fans of Revis's series will no doubt like this extra scene.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

The Weight of Living: I'll Meet You There

I'll Meet You There by Heather Demetrios
Henry Holt, 2015

*ARC provided by the publisher - thank you! This in no way impacted my opinion of this book.*

Calling Creek View a town is being generous. Especially since her dad died, Skylar Evans has dreamed of leaving her trailer park and at the end of the summer, it will finally happen when she moves to college in San Francisco. At least, it was looking that way until Mom lost her job and Skylar will have to pick up the pieces. Again. Josh Mitchell also had plans for a life far away, and he even had it for a while when he joined the Marines. But after losing his leg, he is back, a shell of the person he used to be. These two have little in common besides working at the Paradise, yet this quirky motel becomes a place where an unlikely friendship, and more, finds a home.

This is one of those books where I was torn between wanting to inhale it as fast as possible and knowing that I shouldn't, that I should take my time to absorb and appreciate the story, the characters, and the incredible twisting of my emotions on every single page. I did the later and I'm so happy I did. While this story is told mostly from Skylar's perspective, Josh's voice is peppered throughout, offering insights into what happened to him in Afghanistan, his feelings about his friends and fellow soldiers - some still living, others not, what it's like for him to be back in Creek View, the loss of his leg, his feelings for Sky, and the PTSD that pulls at every part of who he is.

Demetrios is one of those rare writers who has the magical ability of writing a story that is simple on the surface in terms of plot, but incredibly complex in terms of feeling and characters. Every single person in these pages is flawed and is struggling with something in their own way. Sometimes they're succeeding, sometimes they're not. I was engaged and invested every single step of the way, and much more emotional than I usually am while reading.

This is a shining example of a great book and an exceptional YA novel. A solid choice for the older YA crowd, younger readers (or perhaps parents of younger readers) should know that this is a more mature book both in terms of subject matter and language aka adult situations and swearing. While I had absolutely no problem with either of these things and this book will joining my school library's collection, it is something to be aware of.

This book packed a punch in all the right ways, making me think and leaving me raw and in awe. PTSD is a hard topic to tackle, but Demetrios does it both well and realistically. If you're someone who doesn't mind books puts your heart in an emotional blender but leaves you better off, then you must read I'll Meet You There.

Comments welcome, and, as always, happy reading!

Heather Demetrios's Website
Heather Demetrios on Twitter

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Short Story Saturday: Defy the Dark, I Gave You My Love by the Light of the Moon

Welcome to Short Story Saturday! Each week, I'll talk about a different story from the collection I'm working my way through and offer up some thoughts. I'm currently reading Defy the Dark.

Story: I Gave You My Love by the Light of the Moon
Author: Sarah Rees Brennan
Summary: Berthe suddenly gets sick at a coffee shop and leaves to go home, but must accept the help of a mysterious stranger who claims if she doesn't want anyone else to get hurt, she must come with him.
Thoughts: Called it! I called it. I figured out the direction that this story was going in pretty early on and am now being purposely vague so as to not spoil anything. However, I like the complexity of the characters in this particular situation. Brennan does a good job of taking a situation that's been a popular trope in fiction and adding another human dimension to it. Nice job.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

It's a Wild World: The 100

The 100 by Kass Morgan (The Hundred #1)
Little Brown, 2013

A while back, I was judging a speech tournament like I do almost every Saturday in the winters when one of the students from my school was going on and on about this great TV show he'd been binge watching. He was so enthusiastic and the whole time I couldn't help but think This sounds super familiar. And then it hit me - I'd ordered this book for our library years ago! The 100 TV show is based on (more like inspired by) this novel by Kass Morgan, and while the two are wildly different, they both are action packed and kept me on my toes!

So, a recap. The book follows four teens who, like the rest of the survivors of the human race, have spent their entire lives living on a space station. That's how it's been for the past 300 years, ever since war left the planet toxic. Strict rules are in place to ensure survival, and even minor infractions by adults are punishable by death. Minors are imprisoned with the chance at a retrial when they turn 18. But now the space station is dying, and people need to know if it's safe to return to the ground, so 100 juvenile criminals are sent down.  While they've each broken different laws, one thing becomes clear on Earth: there is no law here.

At first I was nervous when I saw how many different points of view there were, but I had absolutely no trouble following the story. Clarke, Bellamy, Wells, and Glass all have stories that intertwine, yet are each tackling their own demons, some of whom I was more sympathetic or empathetic to than others. I also felt like the pacing of events on the ground was much faster on Earth than the chapters taking place in space, but that could be because there were more characters there.

People expecting the book and show to be identical will be in for a surprise - other than the basic premise and some character names, these two stories are very different. This was some escapist reading for me, in a way reminding me of The Selection books by Kiera Cass - there's nothing too deep or complicated going on, but the story was engaging so I'll keep up with this series, on the page and on the screen.

Comments welcome, and, as always, happy reading!

Kass Morgan on Twitter