Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Tesla's Attic (review)

4/5 stars

Tesla's Attic (Goodreads | Amazon) is fun lighthearted middle-grade book.  It's the type of book that I hope kids can still enjoy, it has a dash of mystery, a good sense of humor and a nice adventurous plot to keep readers entertained.  There are nice heartwarming moments without feeling message-heavy.  Overall, this book does everything right.

After a fire destroys their life and kills their mother, Nick and his family pack up their lives and move to Colorado Spring to a house previously owned by his great-aunt.  The house is a sprawling older home and filled with lots of strange junk that hasn't been touched in years.  To create space in the attic, Nick decides to have a yard sale in hopes of offloading some of the old crap he found. The garage sale goes miraculously well, the whole neighborhood flocking to his house in the middle of a storm to find their perfect item.  It's strange, almost impossible, how determined the shoppers are but Nick doesn't complain because his family could use the cash.  Only afterwards does Nick realize what might have looked like typical household items have strange unknown powers.

Supposedly Nickola Tesla, the famous inventor, created all these items and hid their ability.  The science is questionable at best, creating more of a sense of magical-realism with the inventions rather than science based on anything possible.  But the tidbits about Tesla, his outcast status, his fights with Edison, are interesting and insightful.  The writing style is fun, the point of view jumping between a few quirky characters like Petula, a bit of a schemer, Caitlin, the artist popular girl who likes to pretend she has it together, Theo the jock who tries to be mediocre, and the main character Nick who might be the most normal of the bunch.
"Petula didn't consider herself a scheming person, she preferred to think of it as interpersonal engineering.  It was all about spin."
Despite the heavy backstory, this book is a fun and lighthearted adventure story about Nick trying to find his place in a new school, trying to find out what Tesla's inventions do, all while avoiding the dreaded secret society The Accelarti who are after Tesla's inventions for their own financial gain. It's a quick-reading, quirky, sometimes silly and enjoyable romp of a book.

I received an advance reading e-book in exchange for an honest review. 

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Alienated (review)

4/5 stars

Alienated (Goodreads | Amazon) is the fun, frothy type read that I like from Disney Hyperion.  I picked up this book because it sounded like a Disney Channel original movie (Stepsister from Planet Weird to be precise) and that was exactly what I got.  Zetus lapetus, this book owns it's silliness while still maintaining a readable story.

Cara Sweeny is handpicked for a scholarship program that requires her to host a foreign exchange student.  Only this isn't your typical Swedish girl, but an alien boy from the planet L'eihr.  Two years ago the aliens made contact, giving the humans the cure for cancer as a goodwill offering.  Now they're in alliance negotiations and as an experiment they send three student ambassadors to earth.  They look like humans, in fact they're almost genetically identical but the L'eihrs are a few thousand years ahead of mankind evolution-wise.

The story keeps it light, mocking fangirls L'annabes (L'eihr wannabes), with silly culture clashes while having bigger issues like xenophobia, paranoia and fear broiling in the background.  The crazier the human "Patriots" get, the closer Cara becomes to her exchange student Aelyx, a ridiculously hot, intelligent know-it-all kind of a guy.  As she gets "alienated" from her lifelong friends, Cara and Aelyx begin to have feelings for each other.  Little does she know that Aelyx hasn't been forthcoming with all of his secrets or his intentions on planet earth.

There's no denying this book has it's ridiculous moments, but it's the type of silly that I've been known to love.  It's hard to believe that humans would accept an unknown cancer cure without years of testing (and lots of lives perishing in the meantime), but that's a stretch I can allow especially when the paranoia and fear of the general public feels embarrassingly realistic.

Onto the romance, which isn't a spoiler since it's right in the Goodreads synopsis.  Yes it's a little overwrought and melodramatic, but considering the circumstances and how the whole world is going crazy I don't feel like Cara has much time to be rational.  It feels overwrought in a way that is decidedly accurate teenager.  My only real qualm is her parents reaction, but when there's an angry mob threatening to kill your family you might make snap decisions (and for the record her parents are great, a rarity, and always choose kindness).

The second half of this review might not make the book sound fun, but I swear it is!  From Cara's lighthearted blog posts, to Aelyx cluelessness as to human social interactions and struggles with food, this book had me laughing and smiling throughout. It's got a little bit of Zenon, little bit of Stepsister from Planet Weird and the combination works for a book that's fun, sarcastic and exactly what I wanted it to be.

I received an advance reading e-copy in exchange for an honest review. 

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Sexism & Feminism in Geekery 14

Catch-up continues in this column but we're almost out of links I've been saving (meaning we can get properly behind again soon!)  If you ever find a great link related to sexism/feminism in geekery feel free to send it to me.  I want this feature to cover as much as possible and sometimes I miss great things.

Obviously, Peeta is my girlfriend

When this article came out in November I tweeted, facebooked and emailed it to everyone because suddenly my love of Peeta was explained.  As far as fictional boys go, I've loved Peeta the most and always found my attachment to this fictional teen a little puzzling.  But NPR opened my eyes to why.
But one of the most unusual things about Katniss isn't the way she defies typical gender roles for heroines, but the way Peeta, her arena partner and one of her two love interests, defies typical Hollywood versions of gender roles for boyfriends.
I like Peeta so much because he also defies gender roles and fully supports Katniss as the heroine.  He in no way feels threatened by Katniss's strength but admires it.  Maybe as a girl who has always been fiercely independent, I see in Peeta something that's difficult to find in boys.  Read more here.

The Problem of Panels about Boys Reading

A couple things happen when we focus all of our collective attention on boys and whether or not they are reading. First, we tell boys that they are not reading, and that reading is not an inherently “boyish” thing to do. We expect them, in fact, not to read, and boys who love reading are outside the norm. Next, we start gendering books and telling boys that they like certain kinds of books, that they are interested in humor and adventure and fun. And they specifically do not like the sort of books that help kids at this age figure out how to be in the world, and they specifically do not like literary books or hard books or emotional books. And they absolutely positively do not want to read a book starring a girl.
The whole article is a must-read.  It goes on to talk about how if there are panels specifically about boys reading, why not have panels about girls reading and how we are creating the problem by assuming that boys don't read in the first place.  Read more here.

Movies About Girls Make Money, Huh? 

In a turn of event that baffled the men of Hollywood, the year ended triumphantly for the ladies.  Not only did Frozen have a crazy successful long run, Katniss Everdeen won the box office for the whole of 2013.  That's the first time a solo female lead has won the box office since 1973 when the Exorcist came out. (And don't argue that Peeta is a co-lead. As much as I want it to be so, it's just not true).  It only took 40 years, but maybe Katniss Everdeen can start a revolution in real life.  Read more about Catching Fire winning the box office here. Bonus link to an infograph about the success of Bechdel Test passing movies (but as the Mary Sue points out, better writing probably leads to better women as well as more successful movies).

If you find any interesting articles about sexism or feminism you think would be good leave links in the comments and I'll check them out for the next edition!

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Follow Friday - 2014 Books I Want Now

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 books are you looking forward to reading in 2014?
I'm sure there are LOTs of books but right now I can only come up with two off the top of my head.

Clariel by Garth Nix (which I have been waiting on for YEARS)
Rebel Belle by Rachel Hawkins because I'm pretty sure her books are my soulmate

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Code Name Verity (review)

5/5 stars

Code Name Verity (Goodreads | Amazon) exceeded my high expectations.  It feels like everyone has given this novel glowing reviews, so mine almost feels unnecessary.  If I didn't absolutely love this book I wouldn't even review it. But I did love it, to an almost evangelical point and feel the need to share the world about it. What I love most about Code Name Verity is that it's first and foremost the story of a glorious friendship between two teenage girls.  So many books focus on romance, making girls competitors, but this book focuses on a different kind of love and admiration, the relationship between Maddie and Queenie.

The story starts in Nazi prison, where one of the girls is being interrogated.  They want information about airfields, spies and the British war effort in occupied France.  What they don't take into account is their prisoner, a brilliant girl, great with languages who studied at the best boarding school in Switzerland.  She gives them radio codes and information in exchange for the opportunity to record her story, the story of two best friends who love each more than anything in the world.

All of this takes place against the backdrop of WWII, with interesting history involving women's pilots and civilian spies that the broad-strokes of my high school social studies course never covered.  It's fascinating and terrifying the position these girls find themselves in, and the lengths they're willing to go to for each other and their country. You will rarely meet characters and fleshed out and complicated as these two girls. They're both brilliant and brave, each in their own individual way.  They react to things differently, come from different social backgrounds, but find common ground as two willful young girls with interests that take them beyond a typical woman's place in society.

The problem with reviewing this book, is that like any good spy novel it has it's secrets.  So there are things I can't elaborate on or explain, but trust me they're worth waiting for.  This book is evocative and breathtaking.  Emotionally, you won't come through this book unscathed.  But it's a story that needs to be told and a book that I expect will stand the test of time.  

I listened to this on audiobook and so should you.  The narration is just spectacular, hitting all the emotional notes (and they're a lot of them), AMAZING accents and perfect narration.  This was the type of audiobook that made me want to fill my car up with gas and just drive until I'd finished the story.  At the same time, due to the nature of the story, it was the type of audiobook where I sometimes had to pause and come up for fresh air because emotionally I had to step back from the story.  If you consider yourself a lover of accents or a connoisseur of audiobooks, either find this at your local library or buy it outright, either way it's worth it.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

No Surrender Soldier (review)

4/5 stars

No Surrender Soldier (Goodreads | Amazon) was a surprising book.  Not because it doesn't match the description, but because I felt like it flew under the radar despite being really solidly good.  That might be because it doesn't fit into one of the popular niches, it's a historical YA (but not as far in the past as historical YA usually is) that reads like a contemporary.

Even though it's set in 1972 Guam, Kiko's problems feel like those of a modern teen.  He worries about keeping his family's shop afloat, his first kiss and his grandfather's worsening alzheimer's disease.  Then his older brother goes missing in Vietnam and Kiko's grandfather, in an Alzheimer's episode, attacks a Japanese man and accuses him of raping his daughter.  That's when Kiko realizes what happened to his mother and their community during the occupation during WWII.  Kiko is being forced to grow up quickly and grapple with what it means to be a man and his new responsibilities with his family.

At the same time all of this is happening, Kiko discovers a straggler, a Japanese soldier who never surrendered after WWII, living in the forest behind his house.  The book alternates between the straggler, an old man who is struggling to survive in the woods, and Kiko who is dealing with what the Japanese did to his mother and what may be happening to his brother in Vietnam.

Normally historical young adult books dive further into the past and don't deal with nuances like No Surrender Soldier does.  This is a classic coming of age story, only set on Guam in 1972.  It's not a setting or a time-frame the YA audience is used to, which is why I'm so glad that this book was written.   The story of the Japanese straggler was based on a real life straggler who survived on the island for 29 years (and oddly just died this week). These two stories come together in a way that is really interesting and doesn't feel contrived at all.

This book, the setting, the way the story was handled, the real life history it was based on, impressed me.  It gives you a sliver of a piece of history without feeling like it's trying to be educational and gave me a book I didn't even realize I was looking for.

I received an advanced reading e-book in exchange for an honest review.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Follow Friday - Besties?

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.
Who is your blogger BFF? Tell us a little bit about him or her?
I feel like we've had this question before and my answer has always been Catie from The Readadventurer but Catie and Readadventurer are not blogging as much as they used to which makes me sad.  According to a website that analyzed who I talked to most on twitter, the person I @reply with the most is Megan from Bookbrats.  Right now I feel like I have a lot of awesome blogging friends, but I'm not sure if I have a bestie (I'm not sure how a blog that's a sorta on hiatus counts).

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Sexism & Feminism in Geekery 13

Sorry for the long delay!  That's how these posts always begin.  I think I'm going to quit pretending I'm going to post on Fridays.  My brain just doesn't fuction enough after a long week of work.  I've got some oldies in this edition of Sexism and Feminism in Geekery but they're good articles I've been saving just for you.

Jezebel Recommends Feminist Fantasy
With all the Susan in Narnia talk yesterday I got thinking about my favorite fantasy books when I was growing up, the things that made me feel ok to be a girl/young woman, the books that prized diversity and normalized being not a cis, white, hetero dude. So I've made a list, and I'd love to hear your suggestions, too!
The Jezebel list is pretty awesome.  It includes Tamora Pierce (bow down to the feminist fantasy queen), Diane Wynne Jones and my favorite underrated fantasy writer Garth Nix. Read more here.

Steven Moffat Quotes: Fake or Real? A fun infuriating game!
“There’s this issue you’re not allowed to discuss: that women are needy. Men can go for longer, more happily, without women. That’s the truth. We don’t, as little boys, play at being married—we try to avoid it for as long as possible. Meanwhile women are out there hunting for husbands.”
The article takes actual Moffat quotes and quotes from a "Moffat Says" parody tumblr and compares them.  The above quote is an example.  What do you think readers, real or parody? Read more here.

Why we need more Mary Sues!
We need more Mary Sues. We need more unapologetically powerful female characters, on a wish-fulfilment level of awesome. We need them to be gods and superheroes and billionaire playboy philanthropists and science experiments gone wrong and normal kids bitten by spiders who now save the world. Why should female characters have to be realistic, while male characters have all the fun? 
This article has been floating on the internet since September but I only recently found it.  Pity because it's a good article and I wish I'd read it sooner.  Read more here.

WHAT? Boys will read about GIRLS?
Note, I didn’t write my book that way in service to some supposed “feminist agenda”. In fact, when I wrote my first draft of Knife back in 1993 I had a quite negative impression of what feminism meant and would have been reluctant to call myself “feminist” at all.* But what I believed back then, and still believe now, is that women are interesting, diverse, multifaceted human beings whose stories are worth telling.
R.J. Anderson talks about how her book where girls rarely talk about boys and how it attracted both boys and girl readers.  Read more here.

There's nothing like a good Twitter discussion

You need to read the responses and conversation following this tweet.  Interesting stuff.  Read more here.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Follow Friday - Goals for the New Year

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: Resolutions: Put together your blogger resolution list for all of us to see!
Oh goodness.  I don't really have resolutions but let's see what some of my goals are for the years. (After I typed these I realized I have a lot of goals just off the top of my head)

  1. Request more physical ARCs.  I requested my first few last year and received some.  I've been mainly using Netgalley because usually it gives me enough books to review early.  But after my first push of requesting them I fell off the bandwagon because emailing and presenting yourself well is so much pressure (and sometimes I am terrible about emailing in general).
  2. Read more of the blogs I subscribe to via email or unsubscribe.  I recently got an email from Hotmail warning me my account was growing too large. OOPS.  Something necessary I need to take care.
  3. Finish some damn series/read books I'm waiting for.  I have this problem. Often I read my Netgalley books at the expense of the books I'm anticipating.  Even though I want to request more physical ARCs I need to balance my reading life better.
  4. Be more social. This year has been a huge year of changes for me.  I moved to Louisville, got a real-life social life, got disillusioned with Goodreads, etc, etc. This year I'm going to try to get back into Goodreads and back to commenting on my favorite blogs.  I just need to find the time to catch up.
  5. Actually put effort into my blog's facebook page.  Here's the thing, I should do better at this. I'm literally a professional, I do public relations and manage five facebook pages and four twitter accounts for my job.  Somehow that makes me really lazy about doing my facebook page.  The low likes number doesn't help.  I'm almost embarrassed by it.  (And if you want to help you can like my page here)
  6. When books are bad DNF.  Life is too short for bad books. I need to quit trying to "win" and take back my reading time when books aren't worth it.
  7. Learn some more HTML/Other languages.  I know enough HTML to update my work webpage and to mess around with my blog.  I know enough joomla, well to update a site someone's already built (the how-to book I bought was really boring).  My library has an account with Treehouse learning and I need to take advantage of that.  Not only for my blog because that stuff is just good to know. 

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Breakdown of a Heroine: Katie from The Hallowed Ones

Goodreads | Amazon

Who is Katie?
Kate is not the type you would have pegged as a badass heroine.  She's a good Amish girl, hardworking and mostly obedient, working on her family's farm and dreaming of her upcoming Rumspringa.  For the most part, she does what she's supposed to and what's expected of her.  Until she's faced with difficult choices and then you really see what Katie is made of.

Strength of Character
What you don't see at first glance is Katie's intelligence.  Like all teenagers, she rebels, but her rebellions are not wild parties and creating mischief.  Instead, Katie reads comic books and thinks for herself.  Her rebellions are more mental than physical, reading, thinking and most dangerously questioning the decisions of those around her.  Even though Katie has been raised to listen to church elders, when she sees them doing something that goes against what she believes is right Katie stands up to them.  Even when she's ordered to do something else, Katie chooses kindness.  She has a quiet strength that we don't see often enough in books.

Katie's Storyline
Katie's life changes on the day the world outside of her Amish community ends.  Something unexplainably evil happens outside, creating massive unrest and destroying whole towns, but somehow within the boundaries of their Amish community they remain safe.  The elders of her community make a rule: no one goes in and no one goes out.  Then Katie finds an injured young man in one of their fields.  When the elders refuse to help him, Katie takes matters into her own hands and hides him in her family's barn, nursing him back to health.

Romantic Entanglements
For most of this book, Katie struggles between who she's supposed to be, the life she's supposed to live and who she finds herself becoming.  Within the Amish community, Elijah is her best friend and she's always assumed that they would marry one day.  But as Katie discovers her independence, Elijah begins to rely more heavily on the church and Katie finds herself at a crossroads. Even where the romantic relationships are concerned in this book it's not really about romance, but about Katie discovering herself and making her own choices.

Katie is the type of heroine I like to highlight.  She is not strong or tough in the traditional sword-wielding heroine type.  But Katie is just a courageous and strong as any character you meet.  When the world goes to hell, Katie chooses to rebel against authority in the name of kindness, compassion and mercy.  She chooses to see Alex, the injured man, as a human being, not as an outsider or intruder.  When the time comes to make tough choices, despite what she's being told by those she's trusted her whole life, Katie thinks for herself and makes decisions based on her moral compass.

I have not done this book justice.  It's a mind-blowingly different book.  Who ever thought you could combine Amish people and a dystopian apocalypse to create a thought-provoking and action-packed thriller?  The Hallowed Ones does just that and it's absolutely brilliant.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

The Troop (review)

2.5/5 stars

Don't ask me why I powered through The Troop (Goodreads | Amazon).  There is some stubbornness to blame. Two of my friends had already marked it "Did Not Finish," not because it was a bad book but because they just couldn't do it.  I was determined to be the one to push through.

The Troop is by far the grossest book I've ever read.  I don't consider myself weak stomached, but this book got my gag reflex going.  Some people may like that, personally I did not.  I understand wanting to create a scary thriller, but the things is you still have to create a readable book.  There were many passages I had to skim quickly because I just couldn't read them and I lost nothing plot-wise for skipping them, meaning they could have probably been trimmed.

You have a description of a boy picking apart a crawdad eyeball by eyeball, a gorilla eating itself, descriptions of crazy scary mutated tapeworms, etc.  I tend to think what's scarier in thrillers is the unseen and the mental aspect.  This book attempted to bring in the mental aspect with a character who was a straight-up sociopath, but even the mental games played by this character had physically grotesque (and difficult to read) results.

The story and the mystery aren't bad.  I liked the interspersed news reporters, scientific experiments and therapy journals.  Without those I would have never made it through the book.  But they did not balance out the over-description.  It was like how we often complain about purple prose in romance novels, only taken to the opposite extreme where everything over-described was disgusting.

If you think you can handle the blood, gore and tapeworms you might like this book better than I did.  Good luck.

I received an advanced reading copy in exchange for an honest review. 

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Follow Friday - Fave of Year, wait again?

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 were your favorite books of 2013?

Oddly enough I already wrote a WHOLE post about that without prompting (because let's be honest it's an end of the year requirement for bloggers).  If I had to pick one off the list it would be Teeth by Hannah Moskowitz.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

More Than Good Enough (review)

3/5 stars

More Than Good Enough (Goodreads | Amazon) is the story of Trent Osceola, half Miccosukee and half white, a teenager who is living with his father for the first time since his childhood on the Miccosukee Reservation, a piece of his culture he really doesn't know much about.  Having recently failed out of his prestigious music high school, Trent is drifting through life without much direction.

There are aspects to this book that I like.  I think Trent's identity struggle, not knowing where he belongs and feeling disconnected from the reservation community is the more interesting piece of this novel.  But it's not enough of the book.  We don't meet Cookie, one of his relatives on the reservation and probably the best character in the whole story, until nearly the end of the book.

Instead we're given the story of Trent breaking up with his DJ girlfriend Michelle, starting a new public high school and trying to romance his childhood sweetheart Pippa.  These sections of the book seem like they're trying to be hip, painfully so, using slang like "homeslice" and having Pippa dress like something off the hot-topic website.

The book is short, which makes it a quick and easy read, but also prevents the relationship between Trent and almost anyone (his father, Pippa, etc) from developing.  Sometimes the conversations and Trent's internal monologue were too random.  Though that's probably realistic for teenagers, it's not particularly enjoyable to read.  While I like what this book was trying to do, it feels too scattered and plotless for the first half while simultaneously trying too hard to be cool.

I received an advanced reading e-book in exchange for an honest review.