Sunday, March 31, 2013

Madapple (review)

3/5 stars

I'm glad I listened to Madapple (Goodreads | Amazon). However I'm not sure if I can say I actually liked it.  It's a disturbing read about a girl named Aslaug who's sequestered away from the world by an overprotective mother.  Because of her isolation, Aslaug both loves and hates her mother, which skews her understanding of family and love for the whole book.  When her mother unexpectedly dies, Aslaug has to face a world she does not understand and is not prepared for.

This book asks a lot of questions without ever answering them.  But the way it asks them, the struggles Aslaug has, are interesting to read.  Aslaug's story and her mother's story are very interwoven.  The more she learns about herself the more she understands her mother and why she abandoned the world for isolation on their small farm.

One of the most disturbing elements was mutual crush between two cousins (who may or may not be half-siblings as well).  Because Aslaug has been isolated and never known a boy her own age, it's understandable to an extent. But being understandable does not make it any less gross.

The biggest problem with this book is the pacing. I appreciate discussions of theology (probably more than most people do) but there's a point where rehashing those conversation drags down the book.  There a whole section where this book is almost 90% theological discussion while nothing else happens.  As a writer it's good to know all that information and to do all that research.  However, the readers don't need all that information, only the sliver that is most relevant.

What this book did was very interesting.  The story jumps between a murder trial and Aslaug's story.  You never quite understand the timeline, what is happening or what has happened until the very end.  Even though my feelings about this book are very mixed and muddled, I think it's worth reading to see what you think about it.  The story is different enough to be compelling despite it's flaws.

Actually the narration really worked for me.  I think this is the type of book I would've been tempted to abandon.  But there it was every time I climbed into my car there it was, well-narrated and it was too much effort to go to library to search for a new audiobooks. The narration captured Aslaug's otherworldly feel, her isolation and separation from the world quite well.  At times I did get confused because the way the book is structured and started passages over to figure out where I was.  I think this would've been a better audiobook for a longer car trip where I was forced to focus on the story for more than 15 minute intervals.  But like I said, for me this worked and I think it was a good way to get through a difficult book.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Follow Friday - Emotional Scenes

Follow Friday is a feature created by Parajunkee and Alison Can Read.  It's a fun blog hop where you meet other book bloggers and find people to follow.
Question: Tell us about the most emotional scene you've ever read in a book -- and how did you react? 
It's hard to say what the most emotional scene "ever" is because I've read a lot of books. The thing about emotions is that they are kinda fickle and fade.  So it's much easier to remember the most emotional scene of the past year or tow, than the most emotional scene ever in my life.  Of the past couple years, the most emotional reaction I can remember is to The Fault In Our Stars (review here).  That ending.  I can't really say more because of spoilers. But it's a book about 2 kids with cancer so you can imagine that it reaches some pretty dark places.

I sobbed during that book.Messy, mascara running tears till the point where I could not read the page.  I kept having to put the book down every few minutes and gain a little bit of self control before continuing the book.  Often times when books are too emotional I have to set them aside, return to reality, then pick them back up with the emotion has passed.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Rachel Hartman Book Signing

Before Rachel Hartman was a best-selling award winning author she was a Kentuckian.  Little known fact about Kentucky -- we LOVE Kentuckians.  We root for them in all endeavors (well good ones, evil villains we blame on other states' bad influence).  I've been waiting to buy Rachel's book for nearly a year, not because I don't love it, but because I knew she'd be back someday and I really wanted a signed copy.  So when she tweeted me that she was visiting her parents and appearing at a mutually favorite bookstore, I headed down the great I-64 divide (alongside a lot of Louisville citizens going to Lexington for other reasons, sigh. Let's not tal about that.) to finally get my hardcover.

This is the location of the signing.  The wonderful Joseph-Beth, the Lexington branch of a group of independent bookstores. It's massive, beautiful and everything I think a bookstore should be.  I spent a good portion of my college years hanging out on benches and chairs in this store and Rachel spent her high school years there. It's a welcoming and recommended spot.

I was very excited to learn that the seeds of Seraphina began in Kentucky (Really we'll take credit for anything here). Back when Rachel was a seventh grader at Southern Junior High she had an assignment to write a narrative poem. For the first and only time in her life Rachel had a narrative poem bubbling inside of her.  It was about a little girl named Sir Amy who was a knight.  There was also a dragon who played the cello (which conveniently rhymes with jello for poem purposes).  It took place in Goredd, the world where Seraphina is set. 

That world stayed with Rachel, who wrote comic books set there in her 20s.  Because drawing dragons is difficult and according to Rachel she wasn't very good at it (I would really like some evidence), she came up with the idea of dragons that could take human form.  "From laziness came a wellspring of ideas."  

Some other fun notes:

  • When the Morris Award committee called her on her cellphone she responded, "Oh good. Now I'll be able to sleep tonight."  In fact she was too excited to sleep that night.
  • Rachel wants to write other books set in the Goredd after the sequel to Seraphina. 
  • I find it reassuring that Rachel started taking herself seriously as a writer when she hit 30. I have 3 years to get serious folks! 
  • A sixth grade teacher wrote "Rachel you are a real writer" on a piece she did. From thenceforth she saw herself as a real writer. 
  • The glossary was added to the book because both Rachel and her editor have an affinity for strange words.
  • "Quire" is not actually a Rachel-ism but how Canterbury Quire was spelled in medieval times.

Look at that long line! Good turn out. 

Me and Rachel.
(Or as the bookstore employee called me
"The lady who is buying 3 books")

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Game (review)

3/5 stars

Every March I decide to combine two of my favorite things, basketball and books.  The problem is my first March Madness book, Ball Don't Lie, is still my favorite.  It's not that I want something to topple Ball Don't Lie, it's on my all time favorites list.  Just like with any sports event I would like something that looks like competition.

The biggest problem with Game (Goodreads | Amazon) is that the author writes too much about what happens on the court and not enough about what happens off the court.  Because of that, Game severely limits it's readership to those who watch and understand basketball.  Also those of us who watch basketball would rather watch basketball than read a  book full of overly described play-by-plays.

Because the majority of the action takes place on the court the characters are never fully developed   There's an interesting storyline, Drew a hot-shot player that wants to a Division I scholarship finds imself taking a backseat when his coach changes the game plan to focus on a new white player from Eastern Europe.  This is supposed to be the driving force of the storyline and it should be.  Sports stories are about people, their dreams, obstacles and how they overcome them.  However, winning the regional tournament and making it to state takes up most of the novel and it really only touches on what a DI scholarship would mean for Drew.

There were also some times when you could tell the author was living in the past basketball-wise (maybe reliving his own basketball past).  At one point the book mentioned North Carolina, Duke and Kentucky looking for white players.  Sorry if maybe this is a point where I am too knowledgeable on at least where Kentucky is concerned.  Former coach Joe B. Hall began really trying to recruit black players way back in 1965, so a book published in 2008 and includes iPods and cellphones, should be aware that the blueblood basketball programs have changed vastly since the racially charged 1960s. Another point where maybe the past, not the present, influenced the book was when the player "wrote" the National Letter of Intent rather than signing it.  In the current model the school provides the letter which the student signs and returns to them. (Researched here)  It's a binding contract between school and player, so in this litigious age it makes more sense than a high school athlete composing it himself.

This book was okay, a nice quick read about one of my favorite topics, but nothing particularly special. I want more sports books that understand what we (sports fan and non sports fan) looks for is the narrative of sports, not necessary the play-by-play, because what happens off the court is often just as important as what happens on the court.

In case you're curious about other basketball books, this is only a 3 year old tradition and sadly YA basketball novels aren't that common, the other March Madness book I reviewed was The Final Four. If anyone has any basketball book recommendations PLEASE share in the comments. This is something I'm actively wanting to read. 

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Follow Friday - No Guilt

Follow Friday is a feature created by Parajunkee and Alison Can Read.  It's a fun blog hop where you meet other book bloggers and find people to follow.
Question: What is your guilty pleasure as far as reading? Is it a genre, or is it a certain type of book?
One of the things about blogging and using goodreads is that all my books and reading habits are out in the public. I don't really feel guilty about much of my reading.  Yes there are love interests that make my heart go pitter-patter (See October Daye series, The Assassin's Curse, The Agency etc [Odd that these are all Breakdown of a Heroines rather than reviews. I didn't realize till I started linking. I like men who like strong women]), there are books that are just fun and they're not trying to be anything else (Jacky Faber here, here, here ), books with very attractive male main characters (Hammered), etc.  But I'm not embarrassed by them.  I feel like every book I read serves a purpose.  Not every book should leave you emotionally destroyed and sobbing.  Sometimes books are fun and emotionally damaging  Sometimes they are just fun. That's ALL okay.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

You Know What You Have To Do (review)

1/5 stars

Sometimes books actually make me angry.  They can be so frustrating, annoying and insipid that I find myself wanting to smack something. Unfortunately, after a decent start, You Know What You Have To Do (Goodreads | Amazon) completely fell apart.

I actually like the idea of a book written from inside the head of a villain.  A mild-mannered teenage nobody who's secretly killing people? Odds are I'm going to be curious about that book every time. However this book had piss-poor character building and I hated how it dealt with women's issues.

Mary Magdalene (Maggie for short) is one of the unpopular kids, sitting at the loser table with only two friends, the loyal Abigail and the annoying Lester.  What nobody knows is that Maggie hears voices in her head telling her to kill people.  But that probably just runs in the family since her father's a convicted murderer.

One of the biggest problems with this book is that Maggie is just not fleshed out.  She's a caricature of a high school girl, never really developed enough to have her own personality.  For this concept to work the main character needs to be complex and interesting, someone who feels (either good or bad) about what they're doing.  We don't have to like her but we do have to believe her and be interested in understanding her.  Maggie's not interesting.  Yes she kills people -- but she neither struggles nor relishes in it.  I want to see that internal debate and some strength of character. Instead the voice says "Hey kill that dude he's bad" and off Maggie goes.  Yes technically she resists once but that scene felt tacked on to say "Look Maggie's not completely a monster."

The way it dealt with female issues is where the book really went to hell for me.  There's girl-on-girl hate and that's expected, considered the norm in this book.  As soon as loyal BFF Abigail loses the braces she joins the popular crowd and abandons Maggie.  Having such distinct cliques is a shortcut to actually developing the characters and a believable high school setting.  Instead we're handed these cartoon versions of popular girls, losers and nerds.  There's nothing to make anyone interesting.

If girl-on-girl hate and friendship abandonment isn't enough, there was also a rape in this book that was never really addressed.  It just kinda happens.
"Did you know he used to be a wrestler in his old school?" ... "He was on the varsity team in his freshman year." ... "He's so strong. I couldn't get him off," she says.  ... "When he really got into it, I liked it. It felt good. I didn't want him to stop."  (Note: Only showing Abigail's side of conversation for brevity)
WHAT? SAY HUH? Note that Abigail kept dating him and nobody really says or does anything about the fact he raped her. Nobody. I can't cope with books that don't recognize rape as rape.  I just did a search of my ebook and the word rape, rapist or raping is never used in this book. When they eventually break up she notes that him and his tendencies are another girl's problem now and calls her a whore.

There's more I could say about what made this book bad.  The mundane teenageness of love-triangles, the slut-shaming, the fact that a guy flirts with Maggie by saying she looks like the girl off of the "J Crew commercial", the fact that at least 3 people know that Maggie has killed somebody, lack of character progression, etc.  But do I really need to beat this dead horse?  This book was a waste of my time.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

In the Shadow of Blackbirds (review)

4/5 stars

In the Shadows of Blackbirds (Goodreads | Amazon) was a surprisingly wonderful book.  It's a small slice of history, one of my favorite things in books, with some paranormal elements and a great main character.  This book made me a little nervous (anything paranormal does that to me because so many are poorly done), but it did almost everything right.

The main character in the book was exactly my type of girl, strong-willed, intelligent and practical. Mary Shelley Black, named after the famous author of Frankenstein, carries her mother's doctor bag, wears Boy Scout books and doesn't take shit from anyone.
"Well there you have it," She held up her hand as if she had just solved the deepest mysteries of the universe. "You read too many books that encourage the loss of innocence."
"I lost my innocences on April sixth, 1917. And it had nothing to do with Gray's Anatomy." ..."The day this country declared war against Germany," I reminded her. "The day spying on neighbors became patriotic and boys turned into rifle targets. That's enough to take the sweetness out of a girl."  

It is 1918, the height of the Spanish influenza pandemic that swept the world (death estimates range from 20 million to 100 million) and the world's gone to hell in a handbasket.  Mary Shelley's father is in jail for treason, her sweetheart Stephen is away at war and she's living with her Aunt Eva who's so terrified of the flu she barely let's Mary Shelley leave the house.

With all the death surrounding 1918, it's not a surprise that Spiritualism was a popular movement.  Missing loved ones, people wanted answers about the afterlife and seances and spirit photography became widespread.  When there's a tragedy scam artists will always rise to the occasion. A good portion of this novel is devoted to Mary trying look at spiritualist phenomenon scientifically, both scams and her own experience.

When Stephen dies in battle, appearing in a spiritualist photograph taken by his brother Julius, and a telegram about her father's imprisonment arrives on the same day, Mary Shelley gets angry at the world.  In a fit of rage she decides to fly a kite in a lightning storm, a rash suicide attempt, because the world is so unjust. She gets struck by lightning, temporarily dies then everything changes.

You might be thinking "Hell no, not another paranormal ghost love story. Kill me now."  Hold that thought.  This is not a paranormal love story.  When Stephen starts appearing to Mary Shelley, of course she feels all the reminates of first love. But Mary Shelley is a smart and practical girl. So what does she do?  Not cling to something that's impossible.  Mary Shelley sets out to solve the mystery surrounding Stephen's death so he can finally rest.

The mystery is nice and twisty.  To say I was fooled once (or twice or three times, I stopped counting) is an understatement.  This book kept me guessing, growing in creepiness all the way until the end.  Oddly the realism more than that paranormal elements is what makes this story scary.  It doesn't depend on cheap thrills and bumps on the night, between the flu, the war and the circumstances surrounding Stephen's death ghosts aren't the scariest thing haunting Mary Shelley.  With a main character than shines, interesting history and a nice little mystery, this book proves its worth until the very last page.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Follow Friday - Reading Outside

Follow Friday is a feature created by Parajunkee and Alison Can Read.  It's a fun blog hop where you meet other book bloggers and find people to follow.

Activity! Hopefully war weather for most of us is here tell us about your favorite outdoor reading spot. or take a picture.

This is actually from my vacation a couple years ago.  Behind the lodge at Blackwater Falls State Park there's all these chairs facing a gigantic gorge.  It's an amazing view with a cool mountain breeze even in the middle of July. I spent considerable time of my solo-vacation reading out there.

My new apartment has this LOVELY patio.  So far it's completely empty.  But with some furniture and a little love I think it'll make an excellent outdoor reading spot.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

The Body of Christopher Creed (review)

3.5/5 stars

The problem with picking up awarding winning/Printz honored books is that you have high expectations.  That's why you read them--you expect greatness.  In the case of The Body of Christopher Creed (Goodreads | Amazon) what I got was a good but not a great book.

It's hard for me to place my finger on what held the novel back.  I keep coming back to that it just felt young.  I never believed the main character Torey was a junior in high school.  For the longest time I thought he was in middle school. From the way he talked about girls, to the fact he kept referring to himself as a "kid."  Yes they cursed and talk about sex, but it felt a little forced, like little boys just learning the lingo.

The story itself is good.  The class outcast Christopher Creed disappears after sending a cryptic email to the school principle.  People aren't sure if he ran away or committed suicide.  His mother refuses to accept either possibly, claiming that Chris was kidnapped or murdered.  She blames the "boons" aka the poor kids from the wrong side of the track.  The class division between the boons and the people from town was an interesting conflict to add but felt a little extreme.  I have trouble believe that nobody ever crosses that social line.  The book was published in 2000 not 1900, and as someone who was in high school during that time the social structure was not that rigid.

I'm a little unsure on the use of technology in the book.  Sometimes things seemed technically incorrect.  One of the boons, Bo, got on the school library computer and took the email message Chris sent the principle out of the email sent folder. Rather than making a duplicate, somehow that deleted it from the sent folder and the message when missing.  Not only can I not imagine a library having a community email portal (we all made hotmail accounts in 8th grade) I'm not sure that's actually what would've happened. (There is always the chance I'm misremembering but it's worth noting because I puzzled over while reading the book).

However this book was a good book.  The message was a little heavy-handed, but it was a nice message about how the way we treat people matters and how we don't always see what people really are but what we expect them to be.  This is a coming of age story where the main character suddenly sees the world and despite it's negative aspects, chooses to continue seeing the world (whereas other people refuse to see the world for what it really is).   The book was a little bit mystery with some "was that real, was that not" mythical moments.  My favorite part, oddly enough, was the ending where Torey is reading emails that come in to his website.  It's clever, funny and made me laugh. After a dark and heavy book it was nice to have some levity at the end.

The audiobook narration was acceptable   It never really shines or adds anything unique or special to the story but it doesn't hinder the story either.  I didn't really like how the narrator shouted when Torey was mad and it's possible he contributed to the youngness of the book with his narration.  This isn't an audiobook I'd rush out and buy but if you see it at the library and need something to read it's not a bad choice.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Deep Betrayal (review)

3/5 stars

Deep Betrayal (Goodreads | Amazon) picks up 30 days after Lies Beneath ends.  Lily is back in Minneapolis finishing high school and waiting.  In that time, aside from fleeing Lake Superior, nothing has happened and she hasn't seen Calder.

To be honest, I'm unsure how I feel about the plot of Deep Betrayal.  The plot felt slower than Lies Beneath.  It meandered this way, then that way, dropping red herrings to think you were finally getting somewhere (you weren't).  Then there were clues that went nowhere in this book (I am to assume that they'll mean something in the future. Otherwise I'll be very annoyed).

This book feels very transitional to me.  Like we needed to be somewhere by the end of it but how we got there wasn't necessarily essential.  Hence clumsily following around plot bunnies  until the end of the book.

In Lies Beneath what worked for me was an understanding that Calder was a predator. Often I feel like paranormals want to ignore the negative attributes otherworldly beings.  Lies Beneath didn't.  That seemed less prevalent in this book.  The relationship was a little too central and mushy for me in this one.  However I guess they've earned a little bit of mushiness. I'm just not much for romance.

So why does this get 3 stars?  Because Anne Greenwood Brown writes a book that is compulsively readable.  It's well-written and I just kept turning pages.  Despite my lack of enthusiasm for the plot, I rarely felt annoyed with the book.  I just kept reading and reading.  My favorite parts were Lily's mermaid experiments which added a nice dimension to the book.

For those who really care about Lily and Calder's relationship (Sorry I am not one of these people) you'll probably really enjoy this book.  For me, I hope this is just a typical sophomore slump because I still like the mythology of these books and still see potential.  But the story needs to go somewhere and this book doesn't go much of anywhere (until the very end).

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Follow Friday - Books ya'll got wrong

Follow Friday is a feature created by Parajunkee and Alison Can Read.  It's a fun blog hop where you meet other book bloggers and find people to follow.
What is a book that you didn't like that all your friends raved about or what book did you love that wasn't popular?
I have to say I cannot think of a book immediately that my friend loved and I hated.  My book blogging friends, bless them and their wonderful recommendations and good taste, seem to be pretty reliable sources.  Sometimes I know based on reviews and interests that I won't like a book that they like but normally their reviews give me enough information to make an informed decision (i.e. not reading it).  That is reason 1,000,001 why bloggers and goodreaders are the best ever.

Here's a list of a few books that quasi-fit the guidelines:

  • Quite a few of my friends disliked The Adoration of Jenna Fox but because of their bad reviews I was prepared for a disappointing ending and able to enjoy the book.
  • I'm surprised by how little attention Sorta Like a Rockstar received (though it seems to have picked up since Silver Linings Playbook by the same author became popular)
  • Only four of my Goodreads friends have read Alif the Unseen even though 27 have it shelved. Seriously folks what are you waiting for? Get on that yesterday. 
  • The Lions of Little Rock should be way more popular than it is.  Yes it's middle grade and historic but very very very good. None of my goodreads friends have read this gem. It even made my best of 2012 list (surprising even me).
  • The Shwa Was Here should be way more popular especially considering the popularity of Unwind. 
  • Anna and the French Kiss a lot of people loved. I felt (considering my normal tastes) predictably meh towards it. 
  • Oh and I don't do Sarah Dessen. I've tried twice and both times were pretty bad experiences. 

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Clay's Ark (review)

3.5/5 stars

Clay's Ark (Goodreads | Amazon ) was a very pleasant surprise. I bought the book at a library sale because it was an out-of-date sci-fi book with a purple cover.  I didn't know the author was rather prolific or that the book was the 3rd in a series (oops).  It didn't sound terrible but the cover was just so old looking and I was charmed.

Despite being the 3rd in a series according to Goodreads, this book never felt like a sequel.  All of the information you needed was in this book so as far as I'm concerned for reviewing purposes it's a stand alone novel.  The book started quickly, throwing characters and situations at you and pulling you into the story immediately.  Maybe it's because it's a shorter sci-fi novel, but it didn't fuss a lot about slow-burning world building and I liked that.  It was quick to read and very readable.

It's interesting to read a book that was written in the past but set in the future, especially where race relations play into it.  The three main characters in this book are a white father and his two biracial daughters.  The father feels like he constantly has to explain that they are his daughters. At one point a character points out that despite his great credentials as a medical doctor there was no way a white man married to a black woman would've been accepted into the space program.

I know things aren't all peachy-keen perfection in race-relations, but it's interesting to note that we're further along than an author from 1984 imagined we'd be in a far-off future where we're sending people to other planets.  They couldn't have imagined a white man married to a black woman as an astronaut. Our president's father was black and his mother was white.  Regardless of your politic opinions, it's something interesting to notice in this book.

This book did have it's share of problems.  Characters were never fully developed (it's not a very long book) and there's a lot of rape or talk about raping in this book.  There's a reason for it plot-wise, however that doesn't make it any less triggering.  Honestly I'm not sure how I feel about every scene regarding this topic.

At times the writing is obviously dated and not the best, but overall this was a very enjoyable science fiction/dystopian story. I recommend it especially if you're looking for a quick read.  If I can find them easily I want to read the rest of this series.  It's always interesting to read a throw-back-book, especially one like this where they're envisioning a future and see how different the world is now from when they imagined back them.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Being Henry David (review)

2.5/5 stars

When "Hank" wakes up in Penn Station he has no memory of who he is or where he comes from.  All he has is an old copy of Walden Pond by Henry David Thoreau.  So when someone asks his name, for lack of anything better he calls himself Henry David (before eventually shortening it to Hank).

The first half of this Being Henry David (Goodreads | Amazon) is quite compelling.  While trying to put the pieces of his life together, Hank finds himself adopted by some street kids and brought into a crime ring before running away to go on a pilgrimage to Walden Pond. His struggles with "Who am I" and "Am I a monster" are very readable and I enjoyed trying to put together the pieces alongside Hank.

However the second half of this book is considerably less enjoyable.  Once Hank has arrived in Concord he immediately meets a pretty girl named Hailey.  The story goes from intriguing to mundane in record time, as the book stops focusing on Hank finding his identity and switches into a story about him and Hailey entering a Battle of the Bands.  Yes the search is still going, but the amount of word-count spent on that decreases while the battle of the bands and relationship subplot takes over.

Then when everything is revealed it's not nearly as satisfying or mysterious as it should be.  I was left thinking "Really? That's who he is and how he ended up on the streets?" I don't find his backstory quite believable.  Where the reveal should pack a punch it's more of a whimper.

I received an advance reading copy via netgalley for reviewing purposes. 

Friday, March 1, 2013

Follow Friday - Blogger Sins

Follow Friday is a feature created by Parajunkee and Alison Can Read.  It's a fun blog hop where you meet other book bloggers and find people to follow.
Confess your blogger sins! Is there anything as a newbie blogger that you've done, that as you gained more experience you were like -- oops?
I probably have plenty of blogger sins since I kinda started blogging by accident.  However, I don't really remember what most of them are.  What I do remember (and really isn't that bad) is being gentler on books than I am now.  I think as a blogger it takes awhile to find your voice and the bravery to be like "This book sucks so much" when your instinct is to not piss anyone off. At first I didn't want to hurt any feelings or ostracize any publishers. When I wrote bad reviews I was apologetic because I legitimately felt guilty.  Now I just don't care. I'm like "I have a library card! Give me your worst!"


While you're here you should check out my giveaway for The Sin-Eater's Confession.