Sunday, August 28, 2011

The Way We Fall (review)

4/5 Stars

The Way We Fall, Megan Crewe's second novel, takes all the potential I saw in Give Up the Ghost and capitalizes on it. She's switched genres and found somewhere where I think she can really thrive. It's a good small-scale dystopian (but I think the scale will grow in the next book). Recently I said to myself "Maybe I should give the dystopians a rest." But I'm glad I didn't. This book proves that dystopian isn't quite over yet. It's a worthwhile book--not too futuristic and grounded enough in the reality to be a little bit scary.

The novel is written completely in letters to Leo, the main character's former best friend. It's one of the few novels where letters work. Keeping the perspective in close first-person POV also works, letting the reader piece together the puzzle with Kaelyn, not before or after her. The story maintains a perfect balance between what's known and what's unknown.

The story starts with a lot foreshadowing. A dead bird here, someone with a strange cough there, before building into the island completely shutting down with the deadly virus. Because as the reader you know it's a book about a virus, the foreshadowing builds an atmosphere of foreboding and you're looking at everything as a possible clue.

Kaelyn is a likable main character. She feels isolated and alone. Rather than whining, moping and feeling sorry for herself, she deals with it. She's in the process of trying to be the "new Kaelyn" and actively trying to improve her life. Like any teenager she occasionally falls into self-pity, but she keeps on trying to live her life. She's a little introverted, thinks too much and misses her former best-friend Leo who is currently off-island. Without being in the book, Leo's a constant presence because of Kaelyn's letter. You feel like you know him without ever meeting him.

The book moves at just the right pace--not so fast that it forgets to leave clues, but not so slow that you feel like it's dragging it's feet. Kaelyn wants to figure out what's causing the virus, why some people survive and wants to protect her family. Over the course of the novel she becomes a strong heroine, helping the community survive rather than curling up in a shell-shocked ball and avoiding the world. (Which is what most people would do).

Kaelyn wants to be a scientist so she's always observing what's going on around her. She's a teenager, but she's a smart teenager. Kaelyn doesn't hold back in the letters. They're her confessions and she records everything that she sees happening on the island.
"You know, for all the talk you hear about "Mother Nature" and the harmony of the natural world, the truth is, nature doesn't give a crap about anything or anyone.
Below is another quotation I love. To me, it just rings true. It's teenage angst but who hasn't felt like this? It's one of the reasons I find Kaelyn completely believable.
"If there is a God I would punch him in the face ten times harder than I ever kicked Quentin."
This book is a dystopian virus-sweeping-the-world done right. It keeps its scope small--focusing on the impact in one community following one girl's perspective. You see the government panic, the people panic and how when everyone starts dying the world just falls apart. But you also see the strength of the people who try to put it back together again. I kept expecting Kaelyn to give into the mope, and she did for about 2 pages before regaining her grip on reality. She's a heroine forced to become strong for those she loves. She doesn't want to save the world, she just wants to save the people she loves and protect the people around her.

The characters are what makes this novel work and stand out in the sea of fast-paced, unrealistic dystopians. The novel doesn't look down on teenagers, but allows them to be human, make mistakes and grow up over the course of the story.

I think the main reason I liked this story so much is that I found it believable. It didn't seem so far-fetched, Kaelyn felt like a real teenager and her motivations weren't grand, they were grounded. Somehow that's refreshing.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Kingdom Come (Hiking in Harlan County)

I'll let you in on a secret. I love being from Eastern Kentucky. I'm Appalachian. My family comes from a place called Stinking Creek where they've been for 200 years. I love these mountains, the hidden beautiful places that are under-appreciated and usually not that crowded. They aren't tall and snowcapped like the Rockies or strange and alien like Yellowstone. But whenever I find myself on an overlook in Eastern Kentucky it feels better than the Swiss Alps, better than Yellowstone because it always feels like home. I'm proud to be Appalachian, to be a coal-miner's granddaughter just one generation removed from the holler. I'm tired of people from my region being ashamed of their roots. Eastern Kentucky is one of the most beautiful places on earth.

On top of Pine Mountain (side of HWY 119) & loving it

Cave Amphitheater at Kingdom Come State Park

View from halfway up Raven Rock

Raven Rock

Cool little shelter along the trail

We didn't peddle-boat. But I bet it's a wonderful Saturday afternoon activity.

No luck seeing live bears. But at least there's a stuffed & mounted one in the visitors center.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Blood Red Road (review)

Warning: First paragraph is poorly written dialect
I spect if I writ this hole review like the books writ you werent read very far. Fortntly for "Blood Red Road" Moira Young aint bad at this writting thang like I am. (Try reading with a twang it might work better).

Really I thought about trying to write the whole review in dialect. In my head it sounded like a good idea but it takes a stronger person than me to purposely misspell words. Please don't hold my poor attempt at dialect against the book. The twangy uneducated language is actually one of the best parts of the book. Young has a gift for making dialect feel natural and preventing it from interfering with the story.

Blood Red Road is a Dystopian Western (at least that's what I'm calling it. I swear in my head Saba's wearing a prairie dress the whole time). Its fast paced and action-packed, a quick fun read. Saba, Lugh, Emmie and her father live in the middle of nowhere. Literally, freaking desert with a dying lake. They're isolated and don't trust outsiders. So when four cloaked horsemen kidnap Lugh (Saba's twin) and kill their father, Saba stubbornly decides she's going to rescue her brother. I'll be honest, for most of this book I thought Saba might be in love with her twin brother. No it doesn't really go there. But trust me, she's so isolated from the world and selfish with her brother's affection that you'll at least ask the question.

This book has a little bit of everything (too much of everything). Kidnapping, cage fighting, giant reptiles, even a musical interlude. The best I can say is that it's fun. The worst I can say is that sometimes it doesn't really make sense.

The only real problem with Blood Red Road is that at times it moves so fast that it forgets about logic. Here are a few examples of what we will call "logic fails"
  1. For someone who only knows her brother, her sister and her father Saba seems a little too intuitive about people.
  2. Saba is excellent at hand-to-hand combat with absolutely no training. She can even beat experienced fighters.
  3. There's a bird that's WAY SMARTER than Saba herself, but there's no magical explanation. (Really I love the bird but logic tells me that it couldn't possibly really exist).
  4. There are giant worms that eat people. Except everyone forgets about them and they don't show up when a whole army needs to cross their territory for the final battle.
Honestly if I tore this book apart I could probably find a lot more problems. But I enjoyed this book and don't want to destroy the fun. When you read this book just don't think very hard, preferably not at all. I would recommend this book to a lot of people. It's enjoyable, fast paced, and completely harmless.

It's like the poor-man's Chaos Walking--not as smart and not as much meat. But that doesn't mean this book doesn't have a place. Probably it's biggest pitfall (among my friends) is that it'll draw too many comparisons to Chaos Walking. These books don't have similar ambitions. This book is the equivalent of an action movie whereas Chaos Walking is a thought-provoking art film. Blood Red Road has lots of violence, special effects, a bad boy love interest and that's it. I really don't think it's trying to be anything more.

Blood Red Road succeeds at what it attempts and that's being a fun read. So enjoy a mindless adventure with a dash of cheese, no harm. I'm not ashamed to admit that I did.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Iron Knight (review)

4/5 stars
The Iron Knight is the 4th in the Iron Fey series. I've tried to keep the spoilers for the previous book minimal but they're hard to avoid.
I've enjoyed the whole Iron Fey series. But I've tried not too think about it very hard. I was surprised that I liked anything produced by Harlequin. I'm openly non-romance (even my friends are surprised I liked this series). But I do love faeries and epic stories of sacrifice. I've been reluctant to analyze these books because I didn't want to stop enjoying the series.

They're a unique take on faerie. Julie Kagawa's creation of the Iron Fey was a brilliant and bold move (I mean come on, who messes with faerie lore?). At time she's a little too descriptive for my taste (I like things sparse) but she's created a compelling version of faerie that I've enjoyed exploring. Now that I've finished the whole series, I'd really like to revisit The Iron King at some point and try to figure out what grabbed me. I tried to look back at past reviews but it turns out that I've never reviewed any of the books, just gave them four stars and moved on.

I'm ecstatic that the first book of the Iron Fey series that I'm going to review is The Iron Knight. This is my type of story. Faerie quest, friendship, unbeatable odds and an impossible task. YES PLEASE. I think it's the best of the series!

This book follows the adventure of Ash "emo-kid" Winter Prince and Puck "anything for a laugh" Summer Jester. From the opposite sides of Faerie Courts, sometimes friends, often enemies, they are a great combination. Puck never lets Ash fall too deep into the mope, and Ash carries the story's heavy heavy heart. They balance each with banter and bickering like a cute old married couple.
"Hey, iceboy, you okay? You've got your brooding face on again."
This story has the vibe of a classic faerie quest. Following Ash's POV is a nice change and allows us to get a deeper look at faerie itself--the politics, the heartaches, what it means to be fey. Even though we've seen the fey behave badly in past books, the main characters have come across as almost-human. But this book really delves into Ash's past. It finally deals with the Ash vs. Puck rivalry, but goes beyond that. During his search for a soul Ash must face his past actions and his inhumanity. He is an Unseelie fae. He is a monster. This is what I've been waiting to see from Ash--to know who he is and to understand the darkness he's trying so hard to control.
"I didn't want to remember the laughter, the easy camaraderie, between myself and my once closest friend. Because remembering Puck as something more than a rival only reminded me of my vow, the one spoken in a flash of despair and rage, the one that had turned us into bitter enemies for years to come."
Exploring Puck and Ash's relationship is probably the most rewarding part of this book for people who have followed this series. When they finally confront their mutual demons it does not disappoint. You see the cost of one mistake on a friendship for both Ash and Puck, and how their regrets have haunted them ever since. Knowing their story makes them both more compelling and more real than they've ever been.

I really love a good book about faerie, and this book is VERY good. But there's one thing that doesn't jive with me. Not just with this book, but with all of these faerie love stories. If faeries have no soul, how can they love? I think this book had an opportunity to address that topic and part of me wishes it had delved deeper into the question. As I read about the former friendship of Puck and Ash, their shared past, both of their love for Meghan, they don't seem soulless at all to me. They seem hurt, damaged and remarkably similar to humans.

But that might just be me and my understanding of love interjecting itself into the story. Maybe this is a topic that's impossible to address, one of the mysteries of faeries that mere mortals cannot grasp. I don't know. But for ancient soulless faeries, both Ash and Puck felt remarking real in this book.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Graffiti Moon (I think I am in love - review)

4.5 out of 5 stars
Sometimes in the book obsessed life you find a book that leaves a novel shaped hole in your heart. You continue to seek something comparable, something to fill the void left by no longer reading that book, but instead it becomes the novel you constantly compare everything else to.

For the last year that novel has been Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta. Though I have loved many books since I first read Jellicoe Road, nothing compares to the soul-crushing, sweeping, pile of emotions that it gave me.

Graffiti Moon comes close. Being compared to Jellicoe Road is like a medal of honor that I don't give very lightly. In fact I don't think I've ever given it before. But like Marchetta novels, Graffiti Moon somehow realistically captures what it means to be human. It's sometime painful, sometimes beautiful and always hopeful.

Grafitting Moon is an eloquent book. The emotive language is wonderful, never purple and always heartfelt. Crowley says things in ways that I've never thought of but makes perfect sense. It's simple words, no thesaurus needed, but somehow says everything she needs to and more. The passage below is where I knew I was falling in love.
"I liked that he had hair that was growing without a plan. A smile that came out nowhere and left the same way. That he was tall enough so that I had to look up to him in my dream sequences."
I don't know if I've ever read a description quite like it. This book was already stealing my heart but when I read those words I melted. MELTED, not for Ed, not for Shadow or Poet but for this novel. Melted for someone putting into words what I've felt but never been able to say.

The story follows 6 teenagers celebrating the last night of year 12. There's Lucy--artistic, thru and thru--with Jane Austen romantic ambitions, Jazz her psychic somewhat wild best friend, Daisy who needs a break from her boyfriend, Dylan said clueless boyfriend, Ed and Leo. On a final night of misadventures they're going on a quest to find Shadow and Poet, 2 elusive graffiti artists.

Artistic Lucy feels like Shadow is the only person who might understand her, that he can be Mr. Darcy to her Elizabeth. She's tired of the mundane world of high school and arse-grabbers. Lucy wants sunsets, starry nights and someone who sees into her soul.

Jazz, celibate for 6 months due to final exams, wants to kiss a boy and celebrate the end of her childhood. Daisy is along for the ride, needing something different after being egged by her boyfriend earlier that day. Dylan comes along because he doesn't want to lose Daisy. Leo's curiousity is piqued by Jazz. Ed is somehow dragged into all of their plots against his will.

Normally I skeptical of books that use alternating POVs between boy and girl characters. Generally speaking I think it's an overdone gimmick, a writerly easy road to romance. In Graffiti Moon the different POVs are necessary and well done. They actually serve a purpose that advances the story.

This book involves art and poetry without feeling pretentious. It's just who these kids are. They still have real world problems like rent, broken families, unsure futures, and it keeps the story grounded. Lucy & Ed (who become the main characters) are so painfully cool that I'm just a tiny bit jealous. But they're also real and relatable.
Jazz and I made lists of people we'd do it with once. She looked over mine. "Yours are all fictional characters."
When I read that passage I thought "Lucy I have SO been there," and I think most avid readers will relate to the sentiment. That's something everyone has felt. That there has to be something better that what's right in front of us.

Graffiti Moon is genuine and heartfelt in a way that most books aren't. What happens over the course of the novel could occur on many continents, many time periods, to many people. We've all had weird misadventures, nights with friends that have changed us, the moments of our youth we remember fondly despite all the real life that's happened since. This book captures all the best parts of the teenage experience without glorifying or overreaching. It's a story of one great night with grand implications, but it doesn't tell us what will happen next. There isn't a message. There's just life, played out beautifully on the pages in front you. It's messy. It's wonderful. But most importantly it's real.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

The Magician's Elephant (review)

Sometimes I miss the sense of childlike wonder that kids have. Last night one of my little cousins was making up a tall-tell about his mother making him pay rent. The fiction just flew from his lips naturally. It's like the realm of make-believe lives right below the surface and kids can jump in anytime without any effort.

Maybe that's why I keep falling for sweet innocent books that remind me of fairytales. Maybe I'm trying to recapture something I've lost along the path to adulthood. Whatever the reason I love books like Goose Girl, Princess Academy and the latest, The Magician's Elephant.

It's such a sweet beautiful little book. The book contains a magic that my normal YA can never capture. It's the magic of being a 10-year-old child where the world is so big and anything is possible.

The Magician's Elephant completely charmed me. The language is whimsical and witty. It manages to be poetic and unobtrusive. It's simply perfect and I can't imagine the book being written any other way. As I read, I kept hearing a gentle lyrical voice (think of the Pushing Daisies narration) reading the story to me. Almost every page had a clever or poetic phrase. Never have I been so grateful for my Kindle highlighting feature and I'm not typically an underliner.
"Looking out over the city, Peter decided that it was a terrible and complicated thing to hope, and that it might be easier, instead to despair.
The book has an usual premise, a little boy named Peter spends his bread money at a fortuneteller because he wants the truth. The truth he gets is wonderful, yet impossible His sister, who his guardian said was stillborn, lives. She lives! We get the sense of joy and responsibility that Peter feels towards his sister immediately. First he needs to find her. The fortuneteller says the elephant will show him the way. But there are no elephants anywhere near where Peter lives so the wonderful beautiful hope he is given seems cruelly impossible.

Lucky for Peter, this is a book that believes in the impossible.

The Magician's Elephant is a hopeful story. I think all ages will appreciate the beautiful poetic language and deceptively simple story. The story manages to capture the wonder of a child and a child's audacity to believe in the impossible.
What are we to make of a world where stars shine bright in the midst of so much darkness and gloom?
It's hard to do this book justice. The Magician's Elephant is a bright, shining, audaciously hopeful book. It's a joy to read And I know it'll be a regular re-read. I loved the feeling of reading this book and I know I'll want to experience that again. The book is magic. For a brief few pages it gave me back my childhood, my sense of wonder and reminded the word is a very big, impressive and magical place. And that maybe, just maybe, believing in the impossible is the best way to live.