Monday, March 31, 2014

Boy21 (review)

4/5 stars

If you're looking for a basketball book with less play-by-plays and more true-to-life problems, Boy21 (Goodreads | Amazon) is an excellent choice.  Maybe I'm the only one actively looking for basketball books (hopefully not!) but Boy21 could be appreciated by sports-fans and non-fans alike. Sports are not just about watching a ball go through a hoop (or into a net or into the endzone).  This is something that non-athletes and non-sports fans seem to forget.  Sports are about so much more, and Boy21 handles that in a really in-depth and original way

For Finley, basketball has always been a way to escape his life.  He's a good point guard, but not good enough to play college basketball.  But basketball is something that makes sense and when he's tuned into a game he can forget about his life, forget about the gangs, poverty, his dead mother, his disabled grandfather and just focus on the game.  Even though he's not got a future in basketball, he works harder in the offseason and trains harder than any of his teammates.  

But then Boy21 comes to town.  He's a highly recruited basketball player but in the aftermath of his parent's murder he's refusing to play basketball, sheds his name and pretends to be an alien from outer space waiting for his parents to return and take him home again.  Finley's basketball coach, who was friend's with Boy21's parents, asks him to help bring the boy back to reality.  Even though it might cost him his starting position, Finley decides to help because he always does what his coach asks of him.

The meat of this book is the friendship between two broken boys, Finley who doesn't talk to anyone except his girlfriend Erin and Boy21 who finds Finley a calming presence.  Within each other they find someone they can trust, confide in and they understand each other.  They've both suffered tragedy in the past and they both need basketball, even if Boy21 doesn't want to admit it.  

This book is perfectly written, and as my second Matthew Quick book I knew to expect that. It's written in a simple down-to-earth manner.  They're both high school students, but smarter and maybe wiser than their years based on their life experience.  The writing captures that.  If I had any complaints about this book, it's that it's too short and maybe that's not a complaint at all.  The story was told, short, concisely but with a ton of emotional impact, but I wasn't ready for the book to end.  

Sunday, March 30, 2014

The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender (review)

4/5 stars

The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender (Goodreads | Amazon) is a beautifully written book, bursting with magical realism and lyrical writing but at the same time very accessible to read. At first, I wasn't sure how I felt about the multi-generational story but by the end everything was woven nicely together and the past was just as important as the present within the life of Ava Lavender herself.

The book doesn't begin with Ava Lavender, but with her grandmother's family the Roux's.  They're a family of immigrant making their way in New York City, both beautiful and strange.  The tragedies of Ava Lavender's life start way back with the tragedies of her grandmother's life and the flight that led them across the country to as far away from New York as they could go.  They continue with the heartbreak of her mother's Vivane's life, and the problems of her parents and grandparents are interwoven into Ava's life as well.

When Ava Lavender finally comes into the story she's a perfectly beautiful and normal little girl, with the exception of the inexplicable wings she was born with.  Out of all the people in the novel, despite her wings, Ava is probably the most normal.  I liked the juxtaposition of her physical abnormality with her normal childhood feelings and eventually normal teenage girl wants and needs.
"I mean, are you the threat, or are we?" 
"You are! Well, they are." I motion to the cluster of teenagers. Of course it was them. Rowe peered at me thoughtfully. 
"Funny. I suspect they might say otherwise." He stood. "And that might just be the root of the problem: we're all afraid of each other, wings or no wings."
I like that this book didn't give into high school tropes.  Even though Ava is home schooled (her mother is afraid something terrible will happen otherwises), she's befriended by a neighborhood girl.  After asking if she could fly (which is exactly what I would've done as a child), Cardigan and Ava become fast friends.  There is no girl-on-girl hatred or jealousy, just immediate and true friendship between two children that follows them into their teenage years.

The outside world is not nearly as terrible to Ava as her mother imagines, until as the title implies something terrible happens.  But part of the reason something bad happens is that Ava is too sheltered and not prepared to deal with people who wish her ill.  Even so, the evil done is treated as an aberration to humanity not the state of it.  For the most part, people mean well and this book acknowledges that while also showing that bad things do happen.

As far as debut's go, this one is pretty stunning.  It's ambitious and truly original, a story that doesn't seem like it should work but does completely.  Rather than give into the easy teenage tropes, Leslye Walton builds believable characters, a charming town and a timeless whimsical story that's a welcomed addition to the YA shelves.

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

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Sexism & Feminism in Geekery 16

Sorry for the delay in writing this column.  You may wonder why it has taken me so long to write this edition of Sexism and Feminism. Well, frankly, there were so many explosions on this front that it was intimidating as hell to attempt to gather and organize the information into one cohesive piece.  Sometimes I like to wait till the dust settles in hopes of gaining some perspective.  But to hell with being cohesive!  Here is a spattering of links for you to analyze!

Everyone Has Thoughts About John Green

Y'all, this is probably the biggest reason for the delay.  Someone wrote an article about John Green and his impact on the success of women writer's in YA.  By the time I saw the link to the article, supposedly it'd already been changed and updated by the writer. Thus I found it difficult to get a grasp on what was actually said.  However, I did see some very interesting twitter conversations surrounding the article, so those are what I will share.

Sara Zarr also had an interesting storify on the conversation that's worth reading.  Here's the thing, I like John Green.  I was involved in Nerdfighteria before I was a book blogger or before I read John Green's books.  I've noticed through following Green on different mediums throughout the years that he tries to spread his success around.  When people try to crown him the High Priest of YA he points towards books that he considers better than his (many of which are by my favorite authors like Melina Marchetta and that I agree are better books).  Yes, John Green has influence in the YA community and he's a bit of a media darling because he's a bit of an oddity.

However, attributing a female author's success to him is problematic for a variety of reasons, mainly because it discredits the woman's work.  Does John Green champion books he loves? Yes.  But you know, I think the credit still goes to the author herself for writing a book worth championing.  That's not to say John Green's influence isn't weird and disconcerting at times but let's try not to discredit women in our attempts to understand the gender politics of publishing.  (Note: I feel bad for leaving out Maureen Johnson's tweets on this topic and other's. There was so much intelligent conversation around this topic that I cannot include it all).

John Green and Twilight (Is this whole column about him?)

So there was a second John Green incident.  One that was a little bit blown out of proportion in my opinion (mainly because I've seen others say the same thing).
In the past, I've linked articles that discuss how many of the "Twilight is terrible" conversations are misogynistic and how the world likes to shit on things that teenage girls like (See example here).  I've read even more articles than I've linked about how the levels of hatred for Twilight are worrisome.  Here's the thing, I hate Twilight for the same reason most feminists hate Twilight, i.e. the abusive relationship.  But I also hate the people who hate Twilight just because teenage girls love it and thus it's clearly worthless.  For the record, I read the Twilight books but a lot of people just love loathing without any knowledge of why. To be honest, I almost wrote a whole column about how you could complain about both but then John Green actually elaborated.
So I think we’re talking about two different kinds of criticism: The totally legitimate criticism we see in literary journals and feminist web sites about misogyny, and the demeaning and dismissive this-sucks-because-teen-girls-like-it-and-everyone-knows-that-teen-girls-are-not-fully-human criticism we see in popular culture.
THIS EXACTLY. This is the problem with a lot of the Twilight hate.  Read his full response here.

SFWA Petition WTF

So this one is SUPER SPECIAL.  A guy who isn't even in SFWA decided to create a petition in response to the accusations of sexism in the SFWA bulletin.
But you don’t get to claim marginalization when you’re at the center of a thing. You can’t endorse the efforts of bigots to establish a safe space for their bigotry, and then plausibly claim you’re not one of them. You don’t get to pretend that you’re in the demographic minority when you’re… not. And like I Tweeted yesterday before I had to go offline for some therapeutic Mass Effect 3 Multiplayer, you don’t get to pretend you’re being mistreated when really, you’re just being treated like your voice isn’t the only important one in the room anymore. 

N.K. Jemison gets to the heart of why the petition is problematic (read more). Radish Reviews has a nice summary here as well as a link to the original petition.  You can read the crazy facebook rant of the person who sent out the petition here.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Follow Friday - Changing Reading habits

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.
How have your reading habits changed in the past few years? Did you get interested in a new genre? Do you read more? Less? Why do you think your habits changed, if they did.
I read SO MUCH MORE.  I'm a goal oriented person, so between being a blogger and the Goodreads challenge my reading has increased a lot.  I also think more about what I read, what worked and didn't.  For me this is one of the best things about being a blogger.  When you're in school you're forced to think about what you're reading but once your an adult you can just read however and whatever.  I like putting thought into what I read.

Another thing that has changed in the last few years is the number of audiobooks that I read. I'd listened to a few over the years.  After my grandfather died a few years ago I didn't like spending that much time with my thoughts.  I also had a job with a decent commute that required a lot of driving.  So I started listening to audiobooks and now I can't identify songs on the radio because I'd rather spend my time in stories than anywhere else.

Monday, March 17, 2014

March Madness

So anyone who follows me on twitter knows that books aren't the only thing I'm passionate about.  I love love love basketball, particularly University of Kentucky basketball.  That might seem odd for a 5ft-nothing girl bookworm who played one season of youth basketball (nobody would pass me the ball because I was short so I stuck to gymnastics), but in Kentucky, UK basketball is a way of life.  We live, breathe and bleed blue here. March is our favorite month of the year.

Each year, I read a basketball book during March to celebrate my two combined passions.  Sadly, there aren't nearly enough basketball novels out there so I ration my basketball novels in hopes of not running out of March reading material. Seriously, I need more basketball books (or just sports YAs) to be published.

So I'm wondering, does anyone want to join me and read a basketball book this month?  I can't get enough basketball during March, between watching all the games and reading a book it's all-basketball-all-the-time for me.  If you're not sure where to start with reading a basketball book I highly recommend Ball Don't Lie by Matt de la Pena (review here).  Last year I read Game by Walter Dean Meyers (review here). In 2012 I read The Final Four by Paul Volponi (review here) This year I plan to read either Boy21 by Matthew Quick or Rebound by Bob Krech (depending on how quickly I finish current read vs. how quickly library request goes through).

And while we're talking about basketball book recommendations, please let me know if you have any recommendations in the comments!  Hell, I don't even care if you're self promoting if it's an actual basketball book. That's how desperate I am. If anyone's interested in joining and doing a basketball read-a-long let me know!  I'd love to meet other book bloggers or readers who love sports as much as me.  Let's defy stereotypes together!

Sunday, March 16, 2014

The Mark of the Dragonfly (review)

3.5/5 stars

Mark of the Dragonfly (Goodreads | Amazon) is a book that's quite good but feels like it should've been better.  The premise for the story itself is a great idea.  Piper is an orphan living in a scrap town working as a machinist.  The scrappers are the poorest of the poor.  When a caravan is destroyed during a meteor shower, Piper finds a little girl and rescues her.  She discovers an elaborate dragonfly tattoo, the mark of the southern king, on the girl's arm and starts on a path that will hopefully both find the girl's home and change Piper's fortunes. It's a daring adventure southward, through a world filled with danger and unexpected magic.

The steampunk-esque world (I'm not sure it's actually steampunk hence the esque) is elaborate and interesting.  Rather just dump the whole setting on us at once, the writer wisely reveals the politics, kingdoms and different people while Piper and Anna (the rescued girl) travel through the country on a train.  The world is intriguing and complex with many enticing mysteries still unexplained by the end of the book (leaving you wanting to know more).

Another aspect that worked for me was the friendship between Piper and Anna that blossomed throughout the book. The pair balance each other out, Anna is highly intelligent and Piper has the street-smarts. Whereas originally helping Anna may have had half-selfish intentions, they learn to love each other as friends.  That was the key relationship to the story, but that brings me to one of the book's biggest flaws.  There is a dash of romance between Piper and another character (which is obvious from the moment they meet).  The problem?  Both characters are just thirteen but throughout the building of chemistry, they feel considerably older.  It's not that they do anything inappropriate for their age, but the I've always thought that showing chemistry was more important than showing action in a book. These characters have great chemistry and the relationship is treated as more significant than their age merits.  What's weird is, I'm not even opposed to this romance like I often am.  It doesn't detract from the plot.  However, the characters feel painfully mis-aged to the point where it was distracting for me as a reader.  The interactions between these two read like 16 or 17 year olds when they're definitely not.

Aside from that, the book was pretty good.  At times it was slow, but I liked the character, the world and the storyline enough to trudge through the sections where it dragged.  It had enough twists to surprise me.  Overall it was a strong book, a nice middle-grade fantasy story with an original setting, an original concept of magic, which all builds and comes together nicely by the end of the book.

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

Friday, March 14, 2014

Follow Friday - Read 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.
Spring is in the air! Show off your favorite outdoors reading spot. If you don’t go outside…well where else do you read that isn’t inside your house? We want pics!
Well normally I do these on Thursday night.  But it's dark at night which is not conducive to photo taking.  My apartment has the BEST patio.  Honestly it's what sold me on this place.  Sometimes I read there, sometimes I write.  I really should spend more time out there.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Uncommon Criminals (review)

4/5 stars

Uncommon Criminals (Goodreads | Amazon) is a book I should have read earlier.  Due to my Seriously Saturday Series Catch-Up challenge, I finally picked up the second book in this series and once again felt like I was late to the Ally Carter Party.  Uncommon Criminals is so much fun; it's smart, clever but mostly enjoyable.

At the beginning of the book Kat Bishop is working on her own, stealing artwork and giving it back to the rightful owners.  The thing about Kat is that she is VERY good at her job.  As far as thieves go, she's a bit of a prodigy.  Her problem?  That she can do most jobs all alone.  No worries, a job to steal the impossible and cursed Cleopatra emerald falls into her lap, and Kat has finally met her match so she calls on her talented group of teenage criminals to help pull off the heist.

If you're looking for something quick and fun, this series should move to the top of your list.  If you're looking for something with an intelligent female main character who can think her way out of trouble, then move this to the top of your list.  My favorite thing about Kat Bishop is that she uses her brains not her brawn to get into and out of trouble.  It's her intelligence and her ability to out-think you that makes her a gifted thief, not any miraculous physical capabilities..

This book reads a little young, but that doesn't bother me because it's meant to appeal to younger audiences.  It's a fun romp with characters I really like spending time with and sometimes that's exactly what I need.  At times it's a little simple, there was one running joke that wore on me, but overall this book is exactly what it should be.  Can't wait for the next one!

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Follow Friday - Backlist Recs

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 of the Week: Recommend some of your favorite back-list books - books that are at least a few years old (I’m thinking 5-10 years old rather than classics)

  1. Sabriel, Lirael, Abhorsen (the whole trilogy dammit!) by Garth Nix - Severely under-appreciated high fantasy with great female characters.
  2. Alanna Quartet by Tamora Pierce - Amazing books with underlying feminism. Also high fantasy and the peak of my favorite trope (girls dressing as boys to have adventures). These are my go-to read whenever I have a reading slump.
  3. Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta - HELL YEAH I CAN RECOMMEND THIS AGAIN. Seriously this book is confusing at first but breathtakingly by the end. Melina Marchetta writes the most authentic characters I've ever read.
  4. Bloody Jack by LA Meyers - This book is just squeaking in age-wise BUT it also includes my favorite trope.  The story of a street girl who joins the British Navy and has adventures throughout history.
  5. The Boyfriend List by E. Lockhart - I'm amazed that this one is old enough to fall in the list (2005!)  Ruby Oliver is my fictional best friend y'all.  This book seems deceptively light, but it's a lot of fun with great underlying subtle messages about self-love and feminism.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

The 57 Lives of Alex Wayfarer (review)

4/5 stars

The 57 Lives of Alex Wayfarer (Goodreads | Amazon) is an interesting blend of sci-fi and fantasy.  Alex has always had strange visions starting when she was just a child.  Not having any control of the visions, the results have led to social exile in high school.  Alex thinks something is wrong with her mental health and seeks help, but then a guy named Porter comes along who knows about her visions and what they really mean.

What he tells her seems crazier than anything imagined.  Alex's visions aren't what they seem.  They're flashbacks into her past life, she has one soul that has lived 57 times (thus far). Once Alex learns how to access her past lives intentionally, via limbo, Porter begins teaching her about the scientific corporation that created her reincarnations and the way they've been using her over the course of her 57 lives.

I like books that mesh sci-fi and fantasy, even if the science is questionable, because the blurry in-between is often interesting and original.  The 57 Lives of Alex Wayfarer is both of those things, with enough twists and turns to keep me guessing throughout the novel.  It was nice to be surprised for a change.

The only problems this book had were that some passages with Porter read a bit like an infodump (though I have no clue how to fix it) and even though the main character was a smart, strong heroine, the book seems to crap on other female characters and resort to a simple mean-girl character to represent all high school girls.  The description made me worry that the book might focus too much on romance but really that wasn't a problem.

With it's complex plot and interesting exploration of historical time periods, this book definitely stands out from the pack as something original and unique.  The 57 Lives of Alex Wayfarer is a really intriguing and worthwhile debut.

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

Monday, March 3, 2014

Etiquette & Espionage (review)

4/5 stars

As a long-time Gail Carriger fan, I've been anticipating Etiquette & Espionage (Goodreads | Amazon) for awhile.  One of my favorite adult authors ventures into my favorite type of books (young adult)? Yes please!  And while I can't say I enjoyed this book as much as her Soulless series, I enjoyed it and feel it's a good beginning for a new series.

To me, this book felt younger that a lot of the YA books I read.  Partially that's because of the time-frame that it's set and that it's a boarding school novel but it's still worth noting.  That in itself is not bad, actually this will probably be a good introduction to Steampunk for younger young adult readers.

The main character fourteen-year-old Sophronia is exactly what I'd want from a YA book set in the Soulless universe.  She's not very good at being proper, she's too curious and scientifically-minded, but at the beginning of the novel she's still a girl of her time in regards to dresses, parties and boys.  After one mistake too many, her mother decides to send her to finishing school to try to straighten out her behavior.

Only that's not the kind of finishing school where Sophronia ends up. Mademoiselle Geraldine's Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality does teach girls how to curtsy, dance and all the womanly arts necessary for the time-period, but it also teaches them to spy, snoop and even kill if necessary.

As a Soulless reader, I kept trying to figure out the time-frame of this series.  For the record it takes place years before that book and you'll run into a few familiar characters as children.  It's a neat scavenger hunt to recognize them, but it's not necessary to have read Soulless to enjoy the book.

Overall this was a fun read.  I expect as Sophronia grows up we'll get more of the flirtyness that Carriger writes so well, but as for the first book it's focused on adventure and friendship, which is a nice change of pace for YA since it tends to be so romantically driven (not that there aren't first crushes in this book, but at fourteen that's just not the driving force of any of the characters lives).