Thursday, September 29, 2011

Everybody Sees the Ants (review)

4/5 stars

I always appreciate books that contain intelligent discussion about depression. So often that conversation is trite, trivial and about how you can fix your life if you just do a, b, and c. Then it's always the goth or the emo kid who's depressed, never the smart or pretty people. Depression doesn't happen to them!

Except that it can happen to anyone.

Everybody Sees the Ants by A.S. King doesn't talk down to people struggling with depression or bullying. It takes more of a conversational tone. This book is an "issue" book without being an "issue" book in the traditional sense. It deals with bullying, depression and suicidal thoughts. But it does it in a cool, creative way that I've come to expect from A.S. King.
CHARLOTTE: Nah. I'm fine. Everyone thinks about this shit, don't they?
ME: Me too.
CHARLOTTE: But I'd never do it.
I've never read a passage about depression that felt more true. Because yes I've felt that too and I've said that. Last year when my grandfather died and my longterm boyfriend proved he wasn't up to snuff, I was right their with those characters feeling like life sucked. Feeling like I wasn't sure if it's worth it. (I should note that I was really close to my Papaw. And spoiler alert: It is worth it, eventually).

This book isn't told in a straight linear narrative. It's told from the perspective of what happened at school, then his summer vacation in Arizona, then the dreams where he visits his missing grandfather in a Vietnam POW camp. Switching between the perspectives keeps the dark subject matter from weighing down the novel but also shows Lucky's internalization of his problems. In his dreams is where he works through the bullying, the depression and his loneliness. His MIA grandfather is his best friend and the person he can talk to about everything.

The adults in this novel are just as disastrous at the teens. At times I just want to yell at them, but it adds to the realism of the story. Often adults just don't get bullying. (Read this article about how even the terminology we use is often wrong). This novel shows how the inaction of adults allows bullies to reign. Sometimes parents even create the bullying situation by justifying their kids actions or being bullies themselves. This novel is very aware that bullying doesn't just die with high school but is something adults deal with it too.

If you would've told me that I'd like a book about bullying this much I wouldn't have believed you. But AS King has a very stylish, fun and honest way of tackling the difficult subjects. "Issue" books don't have to be straightforward because life is not straightforward. This is a book that anyone can read about bullying without feeling like it's a trite treatise on the evils of high school. I think it's an important and relevant subject matter that's handled in the way that's somehow quirky and fun even while talking about serious subjects like depression, bullying and suicide. Don't believe me? Then read the book for yourself.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Daughter of Smoke and Bone (review)

4.5 out of 5 Stars

Sometimes I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with paranormals with leanings towards the hate side of things. I love different creatures, new interpretations of mythology and the not-quite-our-world-but-almost settings. But paranormals have a tendency to have the mopiest and weakest female heroines. They tend to fall apart at the love story--too much love at first sight, too little relationship building and way too many love triangles.

Daughter of Smoke and Bone is not your typical paranormal. It's beautiful and lyrical, funny yet not a comedy. Karou, the main character, is a delight to read. She's beautiful and strong. She doesn't know who she is but she does know what she believes. Karou is very much relatable, like someone you know, yet somehow she is so much more. She's so many things I admire in a person. She's loyal, loves-deeply, curious and bold. She'd die for her family and do anything to protect her friends. But she's also painfully lonely, confused about her place in the world and just a little bit vindictive (but in a funny way).

The book is set in the very atmospheric city of Prague (where I've always wanted to visit) and the main character is an art student. Lately I've read a few books with art students as the main character and somehow it always seems to work. They see the world differently and so does the reader. Their problems are not my problems but I can still relate to them. They do things like create giant marionettes and draw naked people without blushing. Art-students, written well, are down-to-earth and cool without being pretentious.
"Zuzana arched an eyebrow. She was a master of the eyebrow arch, and Karou envied her for it. Her own eyebrows did not function independently of each other, which handicapped her expressions of suspicion and disdain."
The writing floats between being very poetic and humorously blunt. Karou despite her otherworldly blue-hair, necklace full of wishes and unconventional family of monsters, is still a seventeen year old girl. She worries that her breath smells like goulash when she thinks she's going to be kissed, wants to get revenge on her ex-boyfriend for taking her virginity and also just happens to run errands for a Chimaera who collects human teeth.

I think Laini Taylor does an excellent job of finding the humanity within the paranormal without sacrificing their otherness. You will not mistake the creatures within this novel for normal humans (sometimes I feel like this is where most parnormals fail) but they aren't so different that you can't understand their motivations.

This is a book that is getting a lot of much-deserved gushing around the internet. It's wonderful. Things that I normally hate work in this book because the author spends enough time building the characters and creating the necessary connections. She builds a main character you can trust. By the time it gets to the love story I trusted Karou's judgement. She's got a good head on her shoulders and is not the boy-chasing type. Knowing Karou allows you to withhold judgement while the love story plays out.

It's not fast-paced, but more character driven. Karou is a mystery--to herself, to her friends, to everyone. This book seems to be all about getting to know Karou, discovering her past and finding her place in the greater cosmic struggle. There are all these oddities and clues. What's behind the other door that Karou's not allowed to open? What's with the teeth? Why are these collection of Chimaera raising a human child? Trust me, it's a mystery worth unravelling.

This book is also going around the world. BUT I'm one of the first stops so I'll let someone else post a blog when there are more postcards.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Ender's Shadow (review)

4/5 stars

Ender's Shadow is a parallel novel to Ender's Game. Not a sequel, not even a companion novel, but the same story told through a different point of view.

Though I loved (LOVED) Ender's Game I was a bit of a skeptic. Last time I heard someone talk about writing a story from a different POV it was Stephanie Meyer and in my opinion NOTHING she does is a good idea. Sorry to the fans. Yes I know that Ender's Shadow came first but I didn't hear about it first.

But Orson Scott Card is a heck of a writer and Ender's Shadow is a great book. I don't think it's as good as Ender's Game but very few books are that good.

Ender's Shadow follows Bean, who I remember vaguely but it's been a few years and a few hundred books since I've read Ender's Game. It starts early in Bean's life growing up on the streets of Rotterdam. It showed a darker side of life on earth than we saw with Ender. He grew up with a family, Bean grew up with a crew on the streets fighting for survival.

Bean's story diverges enough from Ender's that it deserves it's own book. It's interesting how two people can see the same situations differently based on their background and perspective. Whereas Ender is grounded by his heart, Bean relies on his intellect more. Both of the novels are so character driven that they are very different despite the fact that it's basically the same story.

So why isn't this book as good as Ender's Game? Because at times it feels like it tries too hard. Ender's Game is shorter and more edited. I think more could've been cut from this book, especially where it rambles about religion. Don't get me wrong I enjoy the philosophizing, but I think for a YA novel it needs to be reined in more. I'm not suggesting cutting it out completely. It's too much at the core of the story but sometimes could be more concise on the point. I even noticed a technical error where it broke from 3rd person POV into 1st person POV for one sentence. I know I'm being nit-picky but I found it so jarring that I re-read to make sure the surrounding passage was all in 3rd person.

If you like Ender's Game or like Sci-fi in general read this book. But don't read it before Ender's Game. Technically you can but just don't. It'll take away from the Ender's Game experience. This novel explains the twist and turns because Bean's rational intellect discovers things before anyone else. So if you read this novel you'll be spoiled for Ender's Game, but not the other way around. Ender's Game is simply perfect. Ender's Shadow is just a really good book.

Actually reading this book really made me want to re-read Ender's Game. Not in a bad way, but because I want to compare the stories side by side to see what I may have missed the first time around. Trust me, I'll be paying extra attention to Bean this time around.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Julie of the Wolves (review)

I was a little bit curious when I saw this book on Netgalley. It's not like the other new releases. Mainly because it's not new at all. It's a Newberry Medal winner published in 1972 repackaged for the ebook market with a shiny new cover (which I like).

Aside from the curiosity two things drew me: Alaska & Eskimos (any variety of Native Americans has this effect on me). Child me loved stories involving Native Americans, obsessively so. I even built a wigwam in the woods once with sticks no joke. In other news I was a really strange child.

Julie of the Wolves took me a little while to get into it. The style is different from the fast-paced melodrama of current YAs. It builds slowly but the pay-off in the end is worth the wait. At least it was for me.

The book starts by following Miyax (Julie is her "gassak" aka whitefolk name) lost on the tundra as she tries to gain acceptance into a pack of wolves. My modern very skeptical brain of course is like "Could this really happen" but then child me pops in "Who cares! And you totally would've believed that when you were young." In the end I don't know enough about wolf behavior to make a judgement call. But I decided it didn't matter because connecting with the wolves had more to do connecting to her Eskimo culture than anything else.

I enjoyed reading about the wolf pack and their behavior. But the novel seems slow at this point. Child-me would've loved it because well...not only was I obsessed with Native Americans BUT animals. I tried to rescue all the neighborhood dogs. Like I said, weird kid. But I don't know how this point will connect with the modern YA audience because even though I'm only 26 their childhoods were SO different from mine. They're so much more iPhone and less save the puppies! Though my sister still constantly brings home strays so maybe I'm wrong.

But once it flashbacks to Julie's life with the Eskimos I was completely engrossed. In the Eskimo village she's like every girl, she wants to be normal but she's not. She doesn't know where she belongs. She's lost both her mother and more recently her father. She dreams of San Francisco, of somewhere different where her penpal Amy lives. The penpal relationship was one of my favorite aspects of this section. Amy's life contrasts with the Eskimo traditions and lifestyle.

At age 13 Miyax is married to Daniel. But not for the reasons you think. It's not that type of novel and I was glad for it. For the most part it harkens to a more innocent time and avoids melodrama. But Daniel starts out dull, but becomes worst with time. Rather than be mistreated she leaves immediately. I love the strength and determination of Miyax. She's not mopey and doesn't feel sorry for herself. Even when she's worried about starving she doesn't sit around pouting. She does something about it. There's a self-sufficiency and strength that I find admirable.

This book has a quiet strength and for me the ending packed a punch. I'm really glad I read this book but kind of sad I didn't read it as a kid. Because if you haven't realized it, kid me would've been obsessed. I hope the re-release and repackaging helps this finds a place with a modern audience. Somewhere there might be a kid like me waiting for this book and I hope she finds it.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Melina Marchetta around the World

Sometimes the internet is a magical and wonderful place that brings the world together. These are the days that I love the internet. Nothing online has made me happier lately than my Goodreads group "Melina Around the World Challenge."

It started a few months ago when Carmel discovered a little book called "The Gorgon in the Gully." It's a middle grade Melina Marchetta book only available in Australia. My goodreads group is a a wee bit (okay a lot) obsessed with Melina Marchetta's YA novels. Mainly we think they're the best YA books out there & wonder what exactly is in Australian water.

The rest of my group mourned our inability to purchase The Gorgon in the Gully. Especially when we discovered the Protagonist is Danny Griggs--that's right, Jonah Griggs' (from the incomparable Jellicoe Road) little brother. So Carmel gave us some Aussie trivia questions and 2 people won copies of the book.

Then comes in Catie's brilliant idea. It was ludicrous to ask Carmel to send EVERYONE copies of this book (have you seen Australian shipping rates?). But maybe we could all share. Thus the Melina around the world challenge was born! As it's travelled everyone has added postcards, a couple of bookmarks and signed their names. It been something magical and interconnected. Our group has never felt so close and even though we're all spread out on different continents this is something we're doing together. The book is halfway through the list and still going strong.

So where has it been and where it is going?

Catie - Virginia, USA
Isalmq - Manila, Philippines
Roshini - Petaling Jaya, Malaysia
Atiqer - Singapore, Singapore :)
Arphaxad - Cambridge, UK
Alleycat WPS - Redditch, UK
Michelle - Connecticut, USA
Bluemoon - Ontario, Canada
Alyssa - Ontario, Canada
Wendy F - Michigan, USA
Peep - Pennsylvania, USA

Cassi - Kentucky, USA
Brandi - Tennessee, USA
Heidi I - Illinois, USA
Kristina - Missouri, USA
Jessica - Missouri, USA
Amanda - Minnesota, USA
Jaimie - Colorado, USA
Jen - Colorado, USA
Becca - Utah, USA
Claire - California, USA

Yes I took the book on a hike. I wanted to show it Kentucky!

Mini-review of Gorgon in the Gully
I've said it before and I'll say it again. Melina Marchetta can do no wrong. The Gorgon in the Gully is a lovely book about friendship. Danny's a lovable little kid--fearful, loyal, as well as a bit of a organizer. I was always the one coming up with schemes as a kid so I really related to this story. For us YA loving Marchetta fan there's lots of easter eggs and Jonah-references. In case you thought you couldn't love Jonah Griggs anymore--you will by the end of this book. I said on goodreads (in my normal silly way) that this book left me feeling like I was swimming in a sea full of warm fuzzies. How has this not been released everywhere? I want to give this book to children I know. Its such a hopeful, darling, fun story that I think everyone can enjoy.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Breakdown of a Heroine - October Daye

Series always present a weird quandary as a reviewer. Because I want to tell you about the series, really I want to RAVE about this series, but somehow I have to avoid spoiling it at the same time. When I finished One Salt Sea I needed to talk about. I could do an infomercial about how much I love these books. "Feeling frustrating with weak pansy paranormal characters? Tired of fickle fae? Do I have the product for you! October Daye! Strong, stubborn, followed by the warm aroma of coffee and copper. Buy yours today! Call now & we'll throw in a complimentary kitten." (Imagine that in my best infomercial voice)

So to avoid spoilers, I'm going to do a "Breakdown of Heroine" series style. Because if you're feeling the woes of weak female characters October Daye is someone you need to meet!

Who is October Daye?
She's a changeling, half-fae, Amandine's daughter, somewhat accidental knight and personally committed to keeping the coffee industry in business. She spent years trapped as a fish so now she has an aversion to water. Her mother has gone galavanting off into the world of faerie insanity so she's stranded with weak magical abilities and not much training. Toby has a tendency to find herself in sticky situations. Luckily she's too stubborn to die. Faerie seems to either love her or hate her. She annoys them by being smarter, more clever and solving problems that her "betters" fail to handle on their own. She's pretty much a faerie queens worst nightmare. That's part of why I love her so much.

Strength of Character
Toby's one of the strongest characters I've ever met. She's also one of the most stubborn. She doesn't avoid danger, but has a tendency to follow it around poking it with a stick. Somehow she's become the dependable hero despite the fact that she's mortal surrounded by immortals. She can't mind her own business and finds herself defending the innocent and saving faerie and mankind on a regular basis.

Toby's Storyline
Since there are 5 fantabulous books it's hard to give you a storyline. But Toby's part detective, part the unluckiest changeling in the universe. She always finds herself at the center of whatever drama's going on in the San Fran faerie world. If it could happen, it happens to Toby. The fae world has a twisted sense of humor where she's concerned.

Romantic Entanglements
Yes please. I'll take one of those with Tybalt.
But about the book, the relationships never intrude into the story in an unrealistic way. Considering how sexy the men are that's an accomplishment! Toby rarely takes the time to stop and be romantic, despite some good-looking and often willing fae partners. It's hard to focus on relationships when it feels like someone is always trying to kill you. Toby seems to be a hero first then a woman second. That kinda sucks for her, but it's better than being someone who just gives up and chases boys while the world falls apart.

Despite being fae and a knight, Toby is relatable. She's the type of hero that struggles as much as she succeeds. You ache for the choices and the sacrifices she has to make. It's not all guts and glory. Sometimes it's heartbreak, regret and not enough money to pay the bills.

This is also a RARE series where the books get better and better. Admittedly the first is the weakest (and PLEASE if you like it at all continue. I beg of you. You will not regret it!). Sometimes by the time I've reached book 5 I'm ready for a series to end. I don't like it when stories get stretched like Gumby to last longer and longer. This story isn't dragging its feet. Every book is satisfying. This is one of those books that I really want to succeed. For purely selfish reason of course, I still want more.

Toby Daye I really hope faerie isn't done screwing with you. I love you, but I'm not ready to let you go yet.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Breakdown of a Heroine - Katarina Bishop Heist Society

Who is Kat?
Kat's someone who trying to be someone different than who she is. Not in a weak, pushover, trying to gain popularity type of way. Let me rephrase that. Kat is trying to be better than who she is. Katarina Bishop comes from a world-renown family of art thieves. She's strong-willed, smart and her life sounds pretty glamorous. But Kat's not sure it's the life for her. She cons her way into Colgan boarding school because she wants everything the criminal life can't give her. She wants a place to call home and stability. Thievery is a high-pressure, stressful job and Kat wants out.

Strength of Character
Kat's not the "badass" type of criminal. She's subtle and intelligent. Even though she has a lot of help from her friends, they don't try to push her around. Throughout the book she's the one leading and planning their heist.. She's strong and has a pretty strong moral compass for an art thief. I liked seeing the criminal as the good guy in this book.

Kat's Storyline
Kat's hiding out at boarding school, avoiding her life as a thief when her best friend, the dashing Hale shows up and gets her kick out of school. But not without a good reason. Someone has stolen a priceless collection of artwork and Kat's father is the only suspect. In order to save her father she needs to return to her life of crime. With a makeshift crew of family and friends, Kat's on a deadline to re-steal the paintings before the owner gets his hands on her father.

Romantic Entanglements
There's some flirty-flirtiness in the book with a dash of jealousy but it doesn't really go beyond handholding. Hale, her wealthily, handsome, best friend, is clearly a romantic interest but not much happens during Heist Society. Mainly because Kat's too distracted by silly things like trying to save her father's life. Can't believe she'd put her love life on hold for that! Briefly they tried to amp up the jealousy, but I just feel "eh" towards that whole plot thread.

This is book is fun, with a little bit of froth, but also a lot of heart. There's a family, non-traditional, criminal, but still a family at it's core. Kat's friends are there for her even though she'd abandoned them. At the end of her day her friends are also part of her family. There are some flaws. For example the whole Nick thing I just didn't understand and it seemed unnecessary romantic tension. But Kat's got a level head, intelligence, the willingness to do anything for her father AND an appreciation for art. In my book that's good enough to be a heroine. This is a worthwhile book and I definitely want to read the next in the series.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

The Girl of Fire and Thorns (review)

4/5 Stars

I think this book was a matter of the right book at the right time. Sometimes I miss a good fantasy adventure. I wanted something like Tamora Pierce--strong female heroine, fate, gods-intervening and dreamy boys. This book had most of that (mainly it lacked in really dreamy boys. *sadface* Tamora Pierce I need you!)

There's a lot to like about this book. The book immediately thrusts you into the story. It throws you into a world of political intrigue, arranged marriages and bloody battle scenes. Lately it a lot of books seem to start slow, building to the action. Not this book! It jumped right into the story without sacrificing character development. Elisa is developed throughout the action, not before or later as an after-thought.

The premise of the Godstone had me giggling at time. Mainly because I wish God would talk to me through a belly ring (I'd get a piercing for that!). That kind of guidance would be welcomed. Though I tease, I actually liked the concept most of the time. Someone marked by God in an obvious physical way that you cannot ignore. It's just a gemstone stuck permanently in someone's navel is something that takes a little getting used to.

I liked how this novel dealt with faith. Having faith is complicated. Faithful people are often filled with doubts and even the most faithful question God. This book allows Elisa to be both human and chosen. That's refreshing. She's not the type to follow blindly or pretend to know God's will. She's confused but trying to follow her faith. The discussions surrounding faith, such a competing theologies and different understanding of passages, rang really true for me.
God's will. How many times have I heard someone declare their understanding of this thing I find so indefinable?
While I'm glad that this book had a fat Princess it seemed a bit too obsessed with its weight. For the first half of the book it seems Elisa is whining about being fat while simultaneously stuffing her face. Then the heroine really only finds her strength after she burns off the access fat in a month long walk across the desert. I think this book is trying to give overweight girls a role-model but I'm uncomfortable with the picture it presents.

Even though the book isn't perfect, its really enjoyable. For me it was a one day, non-stop read. Elisa is an unlikely heroine, not a strong warrior, but a doubtful child of Faith who second guesses herself all the time. She's realistic. A pampered princess, a little whiney, who's afraid of her great destiny, yet doesn't want to go down in the history books as a failure. This book is recommended for fans of Tamora Pierce type fantasy. It was a nice throwback, a step away from the overrun paranormal genre that seems to be choking out the fantasy books.

I had a few qualms with the ending but those involve spoilers. If you're interested I've put it behind spoiler tags on goodreads. (I wish the whole internet had spoiler tags). Goodreads review

I also want to note how happy I am that the publisher changed the cover before publication. While the cover on the left is graphically pleasing--the colors, the font, the swirly thing, it's not Elisa. It could maybe her her sister Alodia or Condessa Arina. But it's not an overweight and dark skinned princess. It's pretty but does not relate to the story. Props to the publisher for realizing their mistake and fixing it. The new cover fits the story much better.