Saturday, October 15, 2011

Owly Volume One by Andy Runton

Owly, Volume 1: The Way Home and the Bittersweet Summer by Andy Runton

Rating: G; 3 1/2 stars

Summary: The Owly comics are books about an adorable owl and his best friend/roommate Wormy. Volume one includes a story about how Owly and Wormy meet, as well as an enjoyable summer spent with two hummingbirds.

Opinions: I don't know what it is, but I've been reading a lot more children's books lately. I mean, I normally read YA, but now I'm reading picture books and things of that nature. I suppose part of it can be attributed to my Children's Lit class...but I feel like that isn't all of it. In any case...

The Owly comics are unique among other comic books/graphic novels that I've read, based solely on the fact that there are no words in them (other than the occasional onomatopoeia or exclamation). The stories are told simply (as is necessary, in a story with no words), but that doesn't mean they aren't clever. I personally found them absolutely adorable. There's something so charming about Owly's simple naivete. In my experience with other Owly volumes, he's even adorable when he's sad, and no matter the situation, Owly is one of those books that will make you happier.

That being said, the format and style has its limitations. I can see someone not liking the Owly books simply because Owly is so relentlessly optimistic. Although it's enjoyable, it isn't very realistic. In the book's defense, though, I would laugh at anyone who said that Owly was supposed to be realistic. It would be like if someone argued that Calvin and Hobbes is supposed to be realistic. Some things aren't.

This book is also an incredibly quick read, and although that's sometimes nice, it can leave the reader with some slight dissatisfaction at the end. But I suppose that's an innate limitation of the comic form. Sometimes they are going be a bit too brief.

In general, I really enjoyed Owly, but the limits of the form are causing me to lower the rating just a wee bit. I spent an lovely half hour or so reading this, but I don't think it'll rank in my top ten for the year. There was absolutely nothing inappropriate or objectionable in this book. It may be a great book to read with a child who likes telling you how the story “really” goes.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

A Dignity of Dragons by Jacqueline K. Ogburn

A Dignity of Dragons by Jacqueline K. Ogburn, illustrated by Nicoletta Ceccoli

Rating: G; 5 stars

Summary: You know that a group of lions is a pride, and a group of fish is a school. But did you know that a group of dragons is a dignity? This short book is filled with group names for both common and obscure fantasy creatures. There were many creatures that I hadn't even heard of (and I say that as an avid reader and writer of fantasy). The back of the book includes descriptions of each creature mentioned.

Opinions: Conceptually, this book is really cool. It's quirky and clever, and I feel like there's been a place for this book within fantasy for years. But what really drew me in were the stunning illustrations. They are absolutely gorgeous, and I can't wait to find some more books illustrated by Nicoletta Ceccoli. There are many books that can be boiled down to either writing/concept or illustrations, but I don't think that's the case with this book. Both work together seamlessly to create a picture book that is sure to be well-loved. At the risk of sounding like I'm gushing, let me make this clear: I don't read many picture books, at least, not when there aren't small children around me. I was nearly late to class in my rush to check this book out from the library. It was worth it. I enjoyed this so much. It took me maybe five minutes to read. Maybe. But the beauty of this book and the lasting impression is wonderful. The excellent concept was handled deftly, and that combined with the illustrations made this a wonderful book. It was such an excellent experience that I almost forgot it was indeed a book that I read. Silly me. So seriously, this is a good book.

And, since this is such a short review (sorry, I'm not used to reviewing such short books!), time for some housekeeping things. No, this blog is not dead. I'm back at school now, so I'm trying to catch up on actually reading books and writing reviews. I'm definitely doing at least one a month now. I'll try to do every other week and hopefully build up to every week again. I miss being able to update every week. I'm trying, guys. Please bear (bare?) with me.

Also, it's Banned Books Week! Yay! This is my favorite week of the year (although the fact that it's necessary is upsetting). I would have loved to do a detailed post on book banning, but again, I am back in school, and that means that ALL THE TIME is gone. So here's a substitute: read banned books. They are good for your character and are filled with fiber.

Again, I'll try to stay on top of things from now on. I love you all, my dear readers!

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Hourglass by Myra McEntire

Hourglass by Myra McEntire

Ratings: PG-13; 3 1/2 stars

Summary: Emerson Cole sees ghosts. Sort of. Turns out they're actually rips—bits of the past washing through into the present. Which means that Emerson isn't nearly as crazy as she thought she was. How does she know all this? Her brother hired someone from the Hourglass agency to explain her powers to her. The problem? He's totally hot and nice, and totally off-limits. So now Emerson isn't crazy, she's just crazy in love. Oh, and she can time travel. Just what you need when you're 17 and still coping with the loss of your parents. Yup, totally normal. Not.

Opinions: This book is rather odd, for me. It's the first book I've read in a long time where I truly didn't know what I thought of it for the majority of the book. Certainly, the concept is intriguing and unique. I've read plenty of ghost stories, but none about “rips.” Time travel was definitely not something I saw coming. But at the same time, the writing was quite flawed, and the book seemed to give off distinctive Twilight vibes. And even on those last two points, I'm torn. A book does not have to be a magnificent literary achievement to be enjoyed, and as much hate as Twilight gets, people do enjoy it for the fluff that it is (they are just overshadowed by the twi-hards).

So yeah, I'm of mixed opinions on this book. Conceptually, it was great. The paranormal elements were different. The relationships between the characters, while certainly not unique, were not nearly as common as some. Example: the orphan angle is done a lot. The orphan-raised-by-adult-sibling-and-spouse angle is not common at all. In general, Hourglass is your run-of-the-mill paranormal romance.

However, my opinion on this book changed drastically at the very end. There were no less than three slap-you-in-the-face plot twists in the last twenty pages. These were so dramatic that I found my jaw dropping, and I wound up yelling at the book. They were also well-done enough as to fit in with the plot and characterization and not stand out awkwardly like “Hey! I'm a plot twist!” I'm sure none of that makes sense. In any case, I consider it to be a very positive quality when a book makes me react emotionally, and holding in tears while eating lunch in the school cafeteria is definitely an emotional response.

If only the last 20 pages of a book could make up for a rather mediocre beginning, this book would be at least a four. However, in my opinion, they can't. They did bring the overall rating of the book up from my original opinion of 3 stars, so yay for that. I rated Hourglass PG-13 to be on the safe side. There are a lot of rather frightening images/scenes/concepts (whatever you want to call it in a book). There are also some unintentional (I think) sexual innuendos. I don't remember much swearing, but again, that doesn't mean that there wasn't any.

Overall, if you want a fluffy, paranormal romance with mystery elements, this is a very good read. It's a little slow to pick up, and the characters can be rather bone-headed at times, but it really is an enjoyable book.

Note: My apologies if this review doesn't read well. I was a little off my game in writing it, but I do like my reactions to books to be genuine (thus written as close to the time I read the book as possible).

Saturday, September 3, 2011

And Then Things Fall Apart by Arlaina Tibensky

And Then Things Fall Apart by Arlaina Tibensky

Rating: R; 3 1/2 stars

Summary: Keek is going through the biggest change in her life: parents splitting up, massive fight with her boyfriend, best friend betraying her. And on top of it all, she has the chicken pox. And she's stuck at her grandmother's internet-free house while her mom is out of state with Keek's aunt, who just had a baby very prematurely. So yeah, Keek's life sucks. But you know what, she's determined to work through it. With the help of an ancient typewriter borrowed from her grandmother and the immortal words of Sylvia Plath, Keek will emerge from the summer as a stronger person.

Opinions: To start off, you know a book has a unique voice when you start to write the review in that voice. Often, as I'm reading, I start to “write” the review in my head. If it's convenient for me to start actually writing it down then, I do. Otherwise, it sits in my head for another time. So while reading this book, my head was filled with snippets from how I would review it, all done in Keek's snarky, fresh voice. I didn't even realize this at first, but then I realized that it was quite a feat: the voice was so different and memorable that I integrated it into my own writing without realizing it. Kudos to the author on voice.

As a note of warning, I don't typically read books in this genre (contemporary YA). In general, I prefer to read things set in times-that-were or worlds-that-aren't. That isn't to say I don't like contemporary YA; if I had time to read everything in the world, I would. I just generally reach for something else first. However, when I found out about this book, I immediately wanted it. This is mostly for three reasons. First, Keek is a writer. In my opinion, there are too few books about teen writers. This is a shame, since my guess is that the vast majority of teen writers are also teen readers. We're missing out on a valuable opportunity here! Second, Sylvia Plath is a pretty major part of the novel. I really like Plath's poetry. I'll admit that I haven't read it all, nor do I know individual pieces by title, but what I've read, I like. And she's not an element of much YA at all. Finally, I thought the premise behind this novel was really interesting. The entire novel takes place while Keek has the chicken pox and can do nothing but lie in bed with a typewriter on her lap. It's such a brilliant, self-contained idea with so much potential. And I'm happy to say that it really lived up to that potential.

The characters in this book were so unique and quirky and well-developed. Voice, again, is a huge part of this. But it certainly isn't the only part. Take, for example, Keek's grandma. I expected Keek's grandma to be a really bitter old lady—no technology and all, but she really, totally wasn't. Which is amazing, because the bitter old person stereotype is way too overdone. Instead, Keek's gram was a snarky, wise old lady. She weathered Keek's emotional storms with the non-judgmental finesse of someone who has been there before. She was probably one of my favorite characters in the book.

There were other quirks, too, that really drew me to the book. Keek has a habit of saying “sofa king” instead of “so f*****g,” which, in my opinion, is really clever. The first few times, I did wonder if it was a typo, but then it's explained in the context of the story, so it's all good.

I will say that this book has quite a bit of swearing (sofa kings included), and also some sexual content. That's why I rated it R. But please don't let that deter you; this really is an awesome book. It's not the best I've read, but for an end-of-summer book, it's perfectly fluffy, and not quite as light as it seems like it'll be. Keek learns some hard truths through the course of the novel.

In short, this is an awesome little book that should be read. It isn't for everyone, but neither is the fantasy that I typically read (and review).

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children

Rating: 2 stars; PG

Summary: Sixteen-year-old Jacob grew up on his grandfather's stories of an orphanage filled with children who weren't entirely normal: strongmen, invisible boys, a boy with bees in his stomach, a girl who ate with the back of her head. As he grew, the stories seemed less and less real, until, in the aftermath of his grandfather's death, Jacob finds out they're all too true.

Opinions: This book had a really rocky start for me. I was really about to stop reading it, because it just wasn't interesting. All the narrator does for the first few chapters is whine and complain. I was really disappointed, because conceptually, this book should be excellent. The idea of placing weird vintage photos into this paranormal, mystery-type book is a really good one. It's interesting and new. Unfortunately, it really just didn't live up to expectations. The first chunk of it was just boring, and I felt like the photos that were so important conceptually were just thrown in. Part of this may be because I read the ebook version, so there was no “two page spread” sort of thing, but still. The pictures almost felt unnecessary.

Granted, the book got better as it went on. After awhile I started to actually care about what was happening. But still, I did not like the narrator, and there was just something lacking about the writing. I felt like a lot of things were thrown in just to confuse the reader without being particularly relevant to the plot. It also seemed like a lot of things were too convenient, particularly the identity of the antagonist.

It was really hard for me to finish this book. I just wasn't all that interested in. I wasn't invested in the characters like I should have been. I found that I didn't really care what had happened. There was nothing really age-inappropriate, though some of the children and the monsters may frighten younger kids.

In short, if you are interested in the concept of this book, you can try reading it, but otherwise, it really isn't worth the time.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Touch of a Thief by Mia Marlowe

Rating: R; 3 1/2 stars

Summary: Lady Viola Preston is odd for a jewel thief on multiple counts. First, she's female, and titled at that! Second, when Viola touches a gem, she hears it speaking to her. If she lets herself, jewels draw her into visions of what has happened in their history. As interesting a gift as this is, it is also rather painful. After all, admitting to such a thing in Victorian England could find Viola committed.

Greydon Quinn's problems are more of a political nature. After spending time in India, he is trying to stop a dangerous rebellion from some unhappy Indians. His method? Locating a priceless jewel that was stolen from an Indian temple and returning it to its rightful resting place. Lucky for Quinn, he has Viola Preston by his side. Of course, no one said that trying to steal a gem like this was simple, and he hadn't counted on the Mayfair Jewel Thief to be female!

Opinions: I checked out this book because of the interesting premise. I knew that it was a romance novel, but I hoped (somewhat naively, I might add) that it wouldn't be an explicit romance novel. I was wrong, very wrong. This novel isn't as graphic as some, but it is definitely, well, steamy. That being said, it was the plot and characters that had me going through this book so quickly. I read close to half of it in one sitting, and finished the whole book in like 2 1/2 days.

The concept of being able to “hear” gems simply by touching them intrigued me. This isn't an ability that is common; I certainly haven't read another book that so much as mentioned it. Considering a great deal of what I read is fantasy (or at least, stories with fantastic elements), it is rare that I come across something that I really haven't seen before. This was one of those things. So concept is what brought me to the book, what got me to start reading. But, what kept me reading was definitely the plot and characters.

The plot had a sufficient amount of mystery to keep me guessing at what would happen. The mystery didn't overwhelm the definitely-romance feel of the book, but it did make me feel like I was reading more than just a love story, something with a little bit more meat. I also have to admit my love for/obsession with India was a key selling point for me. Although most of the novel did not take place in India, the entire work was touched with just a bit of India. And it was wonderful.

I also really liked the characters. I felt like they were well-developed; they all had their secrets and motivations. I also liked how all the characters played off each other, especially the main two, Viola and Quinn. Their dynamic was just really interesting, and it was fun to watch it develop. They had several misunderstandings, that I've come to understand are staples of romance, but not so many that it felt like a rom-com (I hate romantic comedies. My reaction to them is “Argh, why won't you just own up to your feelings and tell the truth!). For the most part, everything felt realistic to the time-frame. I mean, it's a romance, so certain...familiarities were played with much sooner than would happen in real life (I hope...), but nothing was so ridiculous that I was unable to suspend disbelief.

In general, this was a very light read (as romances often are). It's a perfect beach read, although now that summer is ending, maybe it's better suited for overstressed college students. :) This is definitely for an older crowd—there are definitely books out there that are more sexually explicit, but this is far more than YA-explicitness. Still, this is an enjoyable book for anyone that is partial to romances, historical fiction, or fantasy. In my opinion, those that read adult historical fiction and fantasy will see nothing out of the ordinary in the sexual content, but others may disagree.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

The Emerald Atlas by John Stephens

The Emerald Atlas by John Stephens

Rating: PG; 4 stars

Summary: The P siblings, Kate, Michael, and Emma, have been shunted from orphanage to orphanage for as long as they can remember, each one growing progressively worse. Kate knows they're not orphans, she remembers her mother telling her that she'd be back for them. But that doesn't stop everyone from calling them orphans. After the Edgar Allen Poe Home for Incorrigible Orphans, the P children wonder how any home could possibly be worse. But as it turns out, the quality of the food and beds is the least of their concerns. Upon arriving at their new home, the children discover a magical book and are promptly taken back in time. Although Kate and Emma find their way back with no problem, they soon realize that Michael was left behind. The two sisters journey back in time, hoping to save their brother and return to their own time. But there are many in the past who have different plans for the trio...

Opinions: The Emerald Atlas begins on an enchanting note. The first chapter, to me, was very reminiscent of the beginning of the Harry Potter series, and not in a copy-cat way. It just had the same magical spark. I'm predicting big things for this series. As a whole, the book reminded me of Harry Potter, Chronicles of Narnia, and A Series of Unfortunate Events, all excellent book series. The book was fast-paced, but still took its time on the details that can make a story like this really shine.

I thought that the P siblings were what really made this book wonderful. They are all uniquely their own person, but each had qualities that nearly any child could relate to: outward toughness with inward uncertainty, bookish, reluctant leader, etc. I found myself relating to Kate because she is the oldest, but also with Michael because of his academic leanings, and also to Emma because of her devotion and loyalty. I think that most readers will find something of themselves in each of the children.

I also felt that the worldbuilding was very well done. Everything fit, from the different races, to the magic system. The “nameless” characters of the townspeople were realistic. The villains and monsters were frightening. In short, this has everything that should make a series like this a big hit.

I gave this story 4 stars because although most of the time the familiarity and comparison to other books was welcome, there were times when I felt like I'd read this before. They were few and far between, but still, originality isn't appreciated today the way it should be (ahem, the 18 million vampire novels out there). The orphan angle has been done a lot, and there isn't much new to do by it. Other than that, this book was truly endearing to me. I rated it PG for some frightening moments. There isn't a lot of one-on-one violence (as opposed to a battle, where although many people may be hurt, you don't hear about it). There's no swearing that I can recall, and seeing as this is a middle-grade book, I'm sure I'd remember if there was some.

In short, this is an excellent book. I recommend it to anyone who likes Harry Potter, Lemony Snickett, or the Chronicles of Narnia. I'm waiting eagerly for the second installment of the series.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Karma by Cathy Ostlere

Karma by Cathy Ostlere

Rating: PG-13; 5 stars

Summary: It is 1984, and Maya is on her way from her home in Canada to her parents' native India. She is traveling with her father to give Maya's mother a proper Sikh funeral. Once she arrives in India, however, everything changes. Prime Minister Indira Gandhi's Sikh body guards shoot and kill her, and now it seems the entire city is out for Sikh blood. Struggling to stay safe, Maya and her father are separated. Thus begins Maya's journey through a foreign land, where she will learn just how strong she really is.

Opinions: This book was a treasure. And I mean that in multiple ways. But, before I continue, I'm going to caution that I may very well be biased. I love verse novels to an extreme, and I'm also obsessed with India, due to the fact that I took Hindi classes a few years ago. There. Now that that's out of the way, I'll continue.

I had only a vague idea of what this book was about when I checked it out. I saw “verse novel” and “India” and immediately checked it out from the library. So, I was surprised to find out that the whole book wasn't about the assassination of Indira Gandhi. Sure, that influenced most of the book, but it actually wasn't as big as I thought it would be.

I found the format of the book to be utilized very well. Telling a story through a diary or journal is very easily cliched, even more so when the novel is written in verse as well. However, I found that it was used very skillfully here. There were many times that I forgot it was a diary altogether.

I also found that the shifting perspectives worked to the book's advantage. Too often having multiple points of view can be jarring or confusing to the reader, but this definitely worked. It was used with skill and it made sense in the context of the plot and the development of the characters.

I read close to half this book in one sitting because I was hooked so much. Granted, I read verse novels much quicker than prose novels, but this one still clocks in at over 500 pages. This book really draws in the reader. It is captivating and hard to put down. The setting is used richly, and I personally loved the Hindi thrown into the mix.

I gave this book 5 stars because I really did love it. I'd been experiencing a sort of reading slump until I got into this book and polished it off in about 2 days, which considering I work in the afternoon and evening, is kind of astonishing. I rated it PG-13 for violence and some implied sexual content. All the swearing I can recall is in Hindi, but that doesn't mean there isn't any English swearing. I just only remember the foreign cursing. There were several typos throughout the book, but these weren't enough to lower the book's rating.

This is an excellent book, although I don't think it is for everyone. It is a verse novel, which some people won't like, and it also relies heavily on the setting, so if reading about foreign lands isn't appealing, you probably won't like this book. However, I really enjoyed it, and I think that many people will too.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Delirium by Lauren Oliver

Ok. So this post is a week late. I've been incredibly busy. And sick. And busy. I'll try harder to stay on schedule from now on. So anyway, here goes.

Delirium by Lauren Oliver

Rating: PG-13; 4 1/2 stars

Summary: Imagine a world cured of the most deadly disease in history. Now imagine this disease isn't cancer, AIDS, or any other known medical problem; this is disease is love, amor deliria nervosa. This is the world Lena Holoway lives in, the only world she has known. And she is looking forward to the cure, the medical procedure that will forever keep love from her body and mind. She has memorized the symptoms. She takes care of herself, for she doesn't want to end up like her mother: infected with the deliria to the point of suicide. Yes. Lena is excited for the cure. And then she falls in love, and nothing will be the same.

Opinions: This is my first dystopian read of the year, which is rather sad, as dystopian is one of my favorite genres. Delirium definitely didn't disappoint. So much in dystopian fiction is about concept, and this was definitely a good one: a world in which love is illegal and is treated and “cured” like a disease. That's some heavy-handed stuff. On top of that, Oliver's protagonist-narrator is complex and well-developed. And despite the dystopian setting, Lena thinks and acts just like a teenager. She is awkward, moody, and confused about herself and her upbringing. She just had this air of genuineness about her.

One of my favorite things about this novel is actually a pretty unimportant detail: I loved the melding of religion and science. The future that Lena lives in is filled with the combination of religion and science that, to us, would be weird, if not offensive. But to her, it's the only thing she's ever known, so it all makes perfect sense, even the poem for remembering the periodic table, which is recited as a prayer.

In a similar vein, the world building in this novel is just fantastic. Every detail included is convincing, and nothing necessary is left out. Each chapter is headed by an excerpt from some literature of this society; most chapters have propaganda or other government texts, but further into the book are examples of banned writing. I found this fascinating, wishing that Oliver would take the time to actually write some of these texts in full. I haven't really had this wish since I finished the Harry Potter series.

I also loved Lena's attitude towards her world and its rules. In a lot of similar books, the protagonist is either rebellious from the beginning, or at least curious about other ways of doing things. Lena is convinced that “the cure” is the only way. She is terrified of contracting deliria nervosa. As the novel progresses, she starts to think differently. But it isn't until almost the end that she reaches a conclusion that most readers will have had from the beginning (I won't spoil it).

I gave this book a PG-13 for language, violence, and some very light sexual content. There's not really too much that might be objectionable, though the f-bomb is dropped a few times. The violence is no worse than in a lot of classic literature, but there are definitely books lighter on violence. I gave it 4 1/2 stars for several reasons. I really enjoyed this book. That being said, there really wasn't anything that made it stand out as a 5 star book. I'm starting to think that I'm rating books too easily and I need to be more critical. So yeah, there was nothing to make this really stand out as a 5 star book. I was also disappointed to find out that this is part of a series. Based on recent experience, I'm starting to sigh when I find another dystopian series, not because I don't like series, but because I want to see a YA dystopian that can do it all in one book. I also really liked the ambiguity of the ending of Delirium, and the fact that it will probably be clarified in the next book is a little disappointing.

Rest assured that I will continue the series, though. This was a really good book. I read the last twenty pages or so while following my mom around in the grocery store, it was that unputdownable. I definitely recommend it to fans of dystopian fiction, and even for those who maybe don't read the genre as much. Once you accept the premise of the novel, it is very easy to get swept up in Lena's world (even if the romantic in me was weeping for much of the novel :P). This is a great book, and although I wish it was a standalone, I am looking forward to the next installment.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Geektastic edited by Holly Black

Geektastic edited by Holly Black

Rating: PG-13; 4 stars

Summary: In short, Geektastic is an anthology about geeks, edited by the lovely Holly Black. There are 29 pieces in the anthology, though only half of those are stories; between each story is a one-page comic. The authors present in this anthology include such YA giants as Cassandra Clare, Libba Bray, Scott Westerfield, and John Green. Each author only has one story, with the exception of the two editors, Black and Cecil Castellucci, both of whom co-wrote all the comics, as well as the first story in the anthology. The stories are varied, with each author covering a different aspect of geekdom.

Opinions: I didn't expect to like Geektastic as much as I did. I checked it out mostly because of my love of Holly Black. Although I consider myself an academic nerd, I'm not really into geek culture. I don't obsessively game; I tend to not prefer stories set in space (there are exceptions, and I don't hate the space-bound story; I just don't go looking for them). I've never been to any sort of con. I don't watch Dr. Who. But despite my limited knowledge and experience of geek culture, this anthology was incredibly easy to follow. And as a moment of irony: I took a break from writing this review to check out something on an ebook library, and listed on the front page was the link for Conversational Klingon. Weird. But I digress. The stories in this were just really interesting. And there was a really wide variety. I mean, I suppose I should have expected it, since this is an anthology and not just a collection by one author.

There are comics in between each of the stories in this anthology. They didn't do much for me. It's not that I hated them, because many of them were clever and amusing. It's just...ok, here's the thing. It's been so long since I've been able to read for pleasure, that I'm obsessed with quantity. I need to read 5 books this week. I need to finish this book today, or else. And all those comics were was a check mark on the table of contents. They just didn't stick with me. And this is probably a personal thing because I treat reading like a competition, but that's what they were to me.

There was one major issue I had with a lot of these stories: gender of the narrator. There is a stereotype that geeks are guys more often than girls, but a lot of the narrators sounded like girls. There were several times when I had to wait several pages or more to find out the gender of the narrator for sure. And when pretty much the entire anthology is written in the first person, this constant guessing-game can get rather irritating.

The formats of these stories were really interesting: one story is a letter, one an audition monologue, and well, you get the idea. Although the majority of them were written in first person, it didn't feel like just a bunch of stories in the first person. They were all so unique that it balanced out.

A few of my favorites, for those who read this anthology, “Once You're a Jedi, You're a Jedi All the Way,” “Definitional Chaos,” “I Never,” “Quiz Bowl Antichrist,” “The Quiet Knight,” and “Secret Identity.” My top three are definitely “Definitional Chaos,” “Quiz Bowl Antichrist,” and “Secret Identity.”

I think my favorite thing about this anthology is the variety of geekdom explored. Yeah, you have D&D, LARPing, and Star Trek vs. Star Wars. But it also covers quiz bowl/academic challenge competitions, marching band, theatre geeks (you can tell I'm one by how I spell theatre :P), dinosaurs, superheros, author/fan interaction, the list goes on and on. I foolishly came to this anthology expecting not to relate (I am a nerd, not a geek), and came away relating with almost every story in some way, even if it wasn't in the geek aspect.

I gave this book four stars because I did enjoy all the stories. If I had to pick out the weakest piece in the book, it would collectively be the comics. But even those weren't boring or unenjoyable (I think I just invented a word). Not all the stories were so wow-worthy that I'd give this anthology 5 stars, but I did really enjoy it. I gave it a PG-13 for some sexual content (though not explicit), and possibly language. It seems that I always have a hard time recalling whether or not there's swearing in a book. But it wouldn't surprise me if there was some in Geektastic that I just forgot.

This book was really enjoyable. I'd recommend it to anyone who has ever felt left out because of their interests, anyone who considers themselves a geek or a nerd, and really, anyone who likes reading. In my experience, bookworms often are geeks, even if they won't admit it. After reading this anthology, I am proud to consider myself a geek.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Vixen by Jillian Larkin

Vixen by Jillian Larkin

Rating: PG-13; 4 stars

Summary: Gloria Carmody is getting ready for her wedding—a wedding to rich boy Sebastian Grey. But before she ties the knot and has to worry about keeping house, Gloria would like to have some fun. And fun in the 1920s is generally spelled speakeasy. Unfortunately, Gloria has Country Cousin Clara to contend with. Clara is uptight and a bit boorish, and she's also hiding secrets of her own. Country Clara hasn't lived in the country for quite some time. In fact, she was sent to her aunt's house in Chicago because she ran into trouble living as a flapper in New York City! Gloria doesn't know this, of course. Nor does Gloria's best friend Lorraine, a rich-girl wannabe flapper. All three girls have their own motives and ambitions that will drive them further from where their parents want them, and further into trouble.

Opinions: It seems that last year was the year of weird niches—between a plethora of books on Cleopatra, plus two YA novels on flappers, both of which seem to be part of two different series...yeah. Weird niches. So anyway, this is the second of those flapper books that I've read. I also reviewed the other one, Bright Young Things. The two books are vastly different. Now, the first chunk of this book I only got in audiobook form. I meant to reread it from the beginning, but when I started it just seemed too redundant, so I ended up picking up where I left off with the audiobook.

Vixen is told from shifting perspectives. Each chapter is told from the point of view of a different character—either protagonist Gloria, her best friend Lorraine, or her cousin Clara. This works really well. It allows for full development of all the three main characters and their pasts. Because the book is written in third person, the shifts aren't distracting or confusing.

This book sparkles. I know that sounds weird, but stay with me. This book is filled with so much glitz and glam (after all, the protagonist is, as Lorraine would say, très rich) that it just sparkles. While reading, I was immediately put in mind of a dim room filled with sparkly dresses, in other words—a speakeasy.

Going back to the comparison to Bright Young Things, Larkin definitely doesn't utilize the same sentence-level prose-prowess that Godbersen does. However, in place of swoon-worthy sentences, Vixen is compulsively readable. The period details are striking and draw you in without being overpowering and alienating. Period appropriate slang is utilized often, and well.

Vixen contains innumerable twists and turns, and I'm interested to see how they're all wrapped up (or not) in the sequel. I didn't guess anything at all, which as I may have said before, is rare for me. The quantity of books I've read in my life leads me to spot patterns and the like. So the fact that I was unable to figure anything out before it was revealed is a testament to the strength of the book.

I gave this book 4 stars because although I enjoyed it for the most part, there were still moments when I didn't want to continue. Now, most of these weren't because of boredom. Rather, I don't like reading about people getting in trouble at school, particularly if that's out of character for the people involved. It's one of those weird things about me. And there were a couple of moments...Now, my guess is that this won't bother most people, but it bothered me. It was also just missing that special spark that gives books 5 stars. I rated it PG-13 for violence and some sexual content, though none of it is explicit. I don't recall any swearing, but that doesn't mean there wasn't any.

In general this is an excellent light read, a beach read. Like Bright Young Things, there isn't very much substance to it (although to be fair, Vixen is heavier than Bright Young Things). However, books don't need to reveal the Great Truth of the Human Condition to be good books. Sometimes, they don't even have to be written well to be enjoyed (ahem, Certain Book About Vampires). Vixen isn't the Most Beautiful Piece of Prose I've seen, but nor is it filled with errors and things that make you cringe. It's written to be readable, not beautiful. This is a light, enjoyable read that is rife with period details that should come in handy if you ever find yourself transported back to Chicago in the 1920s.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

The Tiger's Wife by Téa Obreht

The Tiger's Wife by Téa Obreht

Rating: PG-13; 4 stars

Summary: Natalia is a doctor in a Balkan country decimated by years of civil war. While journeying across the border to bring vaccinations to orphans, Natalia finds out that her grandfather has died. While working with these children, Natalia cannot help but recollect on her grandfather and the stories he told, namely those of the tiger's wife and the deathless man. These thoughts lead her to investigate the roots of these stories and then lead her to a surprising conclusion.

Opinions: I don't generally read literary fiction, like this book. I want to, but something keeps bringing me back to genre fiction (specifically fantasy). So when I got this book from the library, I made a point of reading it. Being a poet at heart, I really appreciate beautiful writing. This book was beautifully written. Obreht does an excellent job at crafting a setting that feels both familiar and foreign at the same time. However, being a reader mostly of genre fiction, I need a compelling plot too, and for the most part, The Tiger's Wife provided that.

I think perhaps my favorite thing about this book was its meandering nature. Obreht took her time to get to each plot point, and it really worked well in this book. Storytelling and folklore are essential to the plot, so the fact that Obreht was able to weave that style into the narrative is exceptional. I'd say that the book jumps around from the tiger's wife to the deathless man, to the war, to the present day, but that isn't really the case. The book shifts quite a lot, but it doesn't have that jumping feel; it truly is meandering.

The setting of this book is another remarkable thing to notice. Obreht truly places the reader in the setting. While reading, I felt the effects of the war that Natalia had lived through. The names and bits of foreign language that were slipped in felt mostly natural; there were only a few times that I wished I had an exact meaning. For the most part, Obreht did an excellent job at making meaning clear through context.

So then, if this book was so technically great, why only 4 stars? Maybe it's because I don't read a lot of literary fiction, but there were parts where I pretty much had to force myself to continue. They were few and far between, but the fact that they were they, that parts made reading feel like a chore, was a sizable detriment to me. From a technical aspect, I'd say this book is darn near flawless. Since I finished it, obviously it interested me too; I'd say it interested me quite a bit. But I couldn't help but knock it down a star for the periods of boredom and disinterest. I gave it a PG-13 for violence. I don't recall any obscene language or explicit sexual content, but that doesn't mean it isn't there. The nature of the plot almost made me rate the book an R, but it's really somewhere between PG-13 and R.

This book isn't light reading. If you relax too much while reading it, you're likely to miss something. That being said, it is an excellent book. I wouldn't say enjoyable; that's not really the right way to convey it. However, it's safe to say that it is something. If you want a mentally stimulating book, I wholeheartedly recommend this. It isn't much of a summer read, where books are typically as light and fluffy as cotton candy, but that doesn't mean that it isn't good.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Cloaked in Red by Vivian Vande Velde

Cloaked in Red by Vivian Vande Velvde

Rating: PG; 3 ½ stars

Summary: Cloaked in Red is a collection of short stories that retell the classic fairy tale “Little Red Riding Hood.” All the stories were written by Vande Velde. There's not much to summarize other than that, without giving too much away. The introduction to the collection goes into a bit of detail about how the collection came about, including examining exactly how ridiculous the original story is, even by fairy tale standards. Other than that, the stories are really all just variations on the original tale.

Opinions: Which isn't to say I didn't like them. As is often the case with short fiction collections, not all the pieces were stand-out amazing. However, I did think that they all twisted the original story very well. I enjoyed the humor in each piece and the variety of characters. I have to say that my two favorite stories in the book are “Granny and the Wolf” and “Deems the Wood Gatherer.” I also enjoyed “Little Red Headache.” I liked that the stories weren't the “typical” retelling which, in my experience, retells the story, but with the same protagonist as the original (example: Ella Enchanted, by Gail Carson Levine). Instead, these stories had a variety of protagonists: the grandmother, the wolf, Red, the wood-cutter. Characters from other stories even have a couple of cameos, as well as the Brothers Grimm, themselves.

One of the things that makes this collection so great is its sense of humor. Vande Velde managed to find humor in some really weird places, and it hits the mark pretty much every time (I'd say all the time, but I don't like using definite articles unless I'm 100% certain). And even when the stories aren't outright funny, there's just this tongue-in-cheek tone that makes me believe Vande Velde had a great time writing this.

Now of course, I did only give this book 3 ½ stars, so obviously it wasn't perfect. One of the things that lowered its rating was the fact that not all the stories were enjoyable, at least to me. And in a collection of stories that barely over a hundred pages, every story needs to count for something. The other thing I really didn't like about this book is more of a formatting thing: each story has a little illustration alongside the title. Now, this is a good idea conceptually, but I found that most of the illustrations were really generic, like someone Google searched for stock photos. Some of them are better than others, but in general they were just annoying. The book rated a PG because while there wasn't anything really objectionable, the nature of any sort of closer look at “Little Red Riding Hood” merits more than a G rating.

This book is a really quick read, so if you have an afternoon to spare, it's probably worth your time. Some of the stories weren't to my taste, but that doesn't mean that everyone shares that opinion. The writing is sound, and the characters are well-developed. It just wasn't as much of my cup of tea as I had hoped.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Little Princes by Conor Grennan

Little Princes: One Man's Promise to Bring Home the Lost Children of Nepal by Conor Grennan

Rating: PG-13; 5 stars

Summary: Connor Grennan wanted to travel the world. To kick things off, he volunteered at an orphanage in Nepal. Little did he know that the Little Princes orphanage would change his life forever. While volunteering, Grennan learned that the civil war in Nepal had led to families in remote regions selling their children, in the hopes that better lives would be available elsewhere. Though the parents had good intentions, they were actually endangering their children. Grennan decided that he needed to help, and so he did.

Opinions: This book is what I wanted the book Three Cups of Tea to be: focused on the kids. I understand that the books' respective organizations have different goals, but the end result in both cases is for the kids. Little Princes was wonderful in its focus on the children, how they lived, how they changed, their hardships and triumphs.

This story is a sad one: parents and children separated in a third world country, assuming they will never see each other again. In many cases, the assumption was that the children or the parents were dead. I probably spent close to half of this book in or near tears. That being said, there was actually a lot of humor in this book. Children are resilient creatures, and the kids Conor Grennan was involved with are no exception. Despite hardship in their lives, their still children. They play and wrestle and do anything that kids do. I found myself either laughing or crying for the majority of the book.

I also loved how honest Grennan was. He admitted from the beginning of the book that his motives for going to Nepal weren't great. He wanted to volunteer for a few months so that when he traveled the world vacation-style, his friends wouldn't give him funny looks for being wasteful. He admitted that he knew next to nothing about working with kids. And yet...and yet he was successful. His honesty from the get-go made this book seem all the closer to me, although I have never been to Nepal.

I loved learning about Nepali culture. I realize that there are probably a million books in the world that are specifically about Nepali culture, and not focused on children, but I loved it anyway. I took Hindi a couple of years ago, and I get very excited about anything I can connect to what I learned. I recognized many Nepalese words as variants on words I knew in Hindi. I also enjoyed all the Buddhism references in the book; I took a course on Buddhism last fall, and ever since, it seems as though I can't get away from it. Neither Hindi or Buddhism are things that other readers would necessarily care about, but they made the book a little more personal for me.

I gave this book 5 stars because I just really enjoyed it. I have this feeling that because now that I'm at college and don't have time to read for pleasure as much, I'm being really lenient on book ratings. I don't really care about this, but I just figured I'd warn people. I loved this book, and if a sequel comes out for whatever reason, I'll definitely read it. This merited a PG-13 for two reasons: the subject matter can be difficult, both to grasp as reality, and just to understand. This book is also definitely written for an older crowd; I believe that younger readers would find themselves bored very quickly. I normally don't rate books based on certain age groups getting bored or not understanding, because everyone develops at their own pace. However, since this is non-fiction, I figured I'd include it in the rating.

In general, I'd say if you like kids and learning about different places and cultures, this is an excellent book. Nonfiction isn't everyone's cup of tea (no pun intended), but if you like it, this is definitely a worthwhile read.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Fairy Tales in Electri-City by Francesca Lia Block

Fairy Tales in Electri-City by Francesca Lia Block

Rating: R; 5 stars

Summary: This is a collection of poetry. As such, there isn't really much to summarize. All the poems share the common theme of some element from folklore, fairy tales, or mythology. The degree of that varies. While one poem strongly alludes to The Tempest, another only invokes the fantastic by personifying love. In general, though, they all contain some grain of the fantastic.

Opinions: Ok, I think it's pretty obvious that I'm a huge Francesca Lia Block fan, and I have been for a a few years now. That being said, I haven't read nearly as much of her poetry as I should. She has such a way with words, and it seems like she's never at a loss for a new interpretation of some fairy tale or mythical creature. I will say that I'm generally not a fan of poems with no capitalization, mostly because I went through a phase where I hated capitalization and punctuation, and it didn't really work. However, I find that I don't even notice it in Block's poetry. Her work speaks well beyond the words and letters on the page.

I read this entire book (little though it may be) in one sitting, sitting out in the sun on one of the first really warm days of this year. Sunny spot=good poetry reading spot. I shared all the good parts with my friend sitting next to me.

So, seeing as this is poetry, there isn't much to say on the book as a whole. I guess all that's left is to comment on some of my favorite poems in the book. To start, I loved the first poem in this book (the title poem, as well): “fairy tales in electri-city.” It's a longer piece, and some of it is very dark, but I loved the narrative flow of the poem. I wouldn't consider most of the poems in this book narrative, although I'm sure others would disagree, so this is one of the few that is narrative in nature. There's such a sense of wonder to this piece, but also a sense of knowing. I can't help but wonder if parts of it (the happier parts) are semi-autobiographical. But that's just a theory.

I love “centaur” for the sheer sensuality of it. And I would argue that it's a humorous poem, even if the topic isn't very funny. The language lends itself to humor (and there's just something about internally rhyming priapic with d***...). I loved “bear and deer,” and I can't even say why. I just loved it. “Fox girl speaks” spoke to me on a personal level; it reminded me of some friends I have. Those are just my personal favorites.

I rated this book R for sexual content and possibly language—I can't recall offhand if there's swearing in it, but it wouldn't surprise me. This definitely isn't a book for kids. However, I also gave it 5 stars, because I love it. I suppose I could be biased—I love poetry, and I love Francesca Lia Block. This is both of those. I'm sticking by my 5 star rating, though.

In short, if you like poetry, this is a good read. If you don't...I'd recommend giving it a try anyway.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Bright Young Things by Anna Godbersen

Bright Young Things

by Anna Godbersen

Rating: PG-13; 3 ½ stars

Summary: Cordelia Grey and Letty Larkspur are leaving boring Union, Ohio for the glitz and glam of New York City in 1929. Astrid Dolan is already living a life of ease in NYC, and is in no great hurry to leave it. Once in New York, Cordelia sets off to seek her long-lost father, and winds up befriending Astrid in the process. Letty seeks for fame on the stage. Before the end of that summer, all three girls will find themselves in over their heads and in need of each other more than ever.

Opinions: First of all, the writing in this book is really well done. Godbersen has quite a bit of skill in crafting beautiful sentences. I just wish that could have carried more into the plot. Now, don't get me wrong—I really did enjoy this book, but it was almost more of a guilty pleasure. Everything seemed to come too easily for the thee main characters. SPOILER: The day they arrive in New York, Cordelia finds her father, who it turns out is a fabulously wealthy bootlegger. END SPOILER That being said, I found the book really hard to put down by the end. The book really drew me into the time period, although I have always felt like I was a flapper in a former life. :) I enjoyed the nods to Romeo and Juliet, as well as the possible nods to The Great Gatsby. I really wouldn't hesitate to recommend this book anyone who wants a light read, and I would really recommend it as a good beach read. But, for the reader looking for more substance, this isn't really the book. It has its moments, but I just found a lot of the plot to be really convenient, from a writer's perspective.

I have a feeling that this book is part of a series, or will at least have a sequel. This is partly due to something from the prologue that is never wrapped up, and also partly due to the note the book ended on. It didn't have the finality I was looking for, although perhaps that's what Godbersen was aiming for. It's possible that there is no sequel or series, and Godbersen just wanted an open-ended, unsatisfying ending. The nature of the book is such that it could go either way.

I gave this book 3 ½ stars, because although I really enjoyed it, I couldn't get over the ease with which her characters arrived at their circumstances. Though it definitely didn't stop me from reading, the convenience of it all bothered me. As for PG-13, I'd say this is a light PG-13. It has no swearing that I can recall, but there is some sexual content. It's nothing graphic, but characters are having sex, and the reader is aware of it. There is also some violence towards the end.

In general, this was an enjoyable book. It has its weaknesses, but nothing so glaring that the book can't be enjoyed anyway, particularly by someone who is just looking for a light read.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Lament by Maggie Stiefvater

Lament by Maggie Stiefvater

Rating: 5 stars, PG-13

Summary: Deidre Monaghan is sixteen, a gifted harpist, and a girl with terrible pre-performance nerves. She can also see faeries. A summer music competition brings her her best performance, as well as a boy named Luke who, it seems, can help her nerves. But there's more to Luke than meets the eye. Luke knows Deidre can see the faeries, before she knows this herself. As Deidre tries to find out more about Luke, she learns more about herself and her abilities. Before she knows it, Deidre is fully swept up in the fey, and she must do what she can to stay alive and keep her family safe.

Opinions: After reading Shiver, I was instantly a Maggie Stiefvater fan. It's hard not to be one. Her writing is wonderful, and she has an excellent presence in the online YA lit community. She's funny and smart and, well, you can see that I'm a fan. That being said, it certainly took me awhile to get to Lament. I blame it on being a busy college student. And the internet. And I'm sure Lego Harry Potter might have something to do with it. In any case, when I had some time to read and realized that Lament was available on the Ohio Ebook Project (which is FABULOUS!), I jumped on it.

This book had me raving like a crazy person. My friends were quite concerned. I read nearly the whole book in a day (BTW, the same day that I'm writing this post), and spent the entire day babbling about homicidal faeries. I also managed to accidentally insult one of friends by calling Deidre stupid and having a friend think I was calling her stupid (I'm sorry, Emily!). Now, being a bookworm, I do tend to become emotionally invested in books, sometimes to a ridiculous extent, but I usually manage to internalize that, unless I'm crying my eyes out. I threw this book down. I yelled at it. I swore at it. In other words, I acted like a crazy person (see above).

Said craziness is only one example of why this is a wonderful book. I find it to be the mark of a good author that I can get angry at the protagonist to the point of yelling at her in public and yet still like her as a character. I also find it a mark of a good author when I can't predict things. Or at least, when my predictions are wrong (as many of mine were for this book: SPOILER—Delia is not a changeling. END SPOILER). Pretty much the only thing I figured out before Deidre (besides things that were given away by the blurb and prologue, where Deidre is not narrating) was the fact that one should not piss off the faeries. Of course, I mostly know that from reading Holly Black's work (which I also recommend), and just from being a knowledgeable reader of fantasy (note to self: must find iron jewelry).

On a side note, I would like to say that Maggie Stiefvater has an annoying habit of writing boys that I want. To date. This is only annoying, of course, because said boys (AHEM, Sam and Luke and James) are fictional.

So yeah, basically I loved this book. I would have liked a little bit more backstory on Deidre's family, but since there's a sequel, I'll wait to pass judgment. Ratings: I think it is rather obvious why I gave this 5 stars. In case it isn't: I love this book. I rated it PG-13 for violence. There's very limited swearing. There is also very limited sexual content, although sex is suggested through the words and actions of one character in particular (I'm talking about you, Freckle Freak). Basically, read this book.

Ok. I wrote this review well over a month ago, and the writing isn't my best, but I wanted to keep the genuine emotion behind the frenzy that was the reading of Lament and subsequent writing of this review.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Wintergirls Review

Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson

Rating: PG-13; 5 stars

Summary: Lia is a wintergirl. Frozen in a world of thin is in, she is like the walking dead. Only now, she doesn't have her friend Cassie to struggle with her. Cassie died, alone, in a motel room. Before her death, she called Lia thirty-three times. Now, Lia has to fight her body's need for food on her own, as well as dealing with the torment of losing her best friend and parents who don't have time to care. But as long as Lia keeps getting thinner and thinner, she is in control. She is winning.

Opinions: This book is scary. I'm not talking scary like Steven King, or scary like Saw. I'm talking so scary because you know it's real. You know that this is something that thousands, if not millions, of people go through. When I started reading this book, I read for over an hour and a half straight without talking, noise-canceling headphones on. I don't recommend this. When I finally returned to the real world, I felt incredibly alienated. Anderson doesn't tiptoe around putting the reader in the story. From the very beginning, you are in Lia's world.

I have read very few books that drew me in as much as this one. When I was reading, I was Lia. I'm nowhere near anorexic, but that didn't matter. I didn't judge Lia; I was Lia. Anderson wrote this brilliantly and in such a way that I had no trouble believing in Lia or her world. I would like to think that people don't think the way Lia and Cassie do, but I know that's not the case.

When I was a sophomore in high school (God, that was three years ago!), I read Speak in my English class. It was assigned on the first day of class, and we had to read like the first chapter. I read the entire thing in one sitting. Laurie Halse Anderson is known for writing exceptional books about difficult issues. I found Wintergirls to be even more stunning than Speak. Sure, I didn't read Wintergirls all in one go, but I'm very glad I didn't. I was incredibly alienated after just an hour and a half; I hate to think of how out of it I would have been had I read the whole thing in one go.

I rated this book PG-13 because of violence and language. Also, it ought to be known that this book could potentially be triggering to someone who struggles with an eating disorder; after every food in the book, Lia lists how many calories are in it. I imagine that this could trigger some people. I originally rated this book 4 ½ stars, simply because it's so emotionally heavy. However, as I wrote this review, I realized that the heaviness is what makes it such a memorable book, and that it is definitely 5 star material. This is a raw, powerful example of exactly what realistic characters and beautiful writing can do when put together. I cried at the end of this book. And yes, I cry a lot when I read, but that's not the point. I cried because I felt the end events as Lia did.

Honestly, I can't say enough by this book. I'm still stunned by the places it took me emotionally. It was certainly a very different book from The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, which is the book I read just before Wintergirls. I wouldn't call Wintergirls an enjoyable book, simply on account of the subject matter, but I would definitely say that it is very necessary book. I feel very different for having read it. Not necessarily better, but different.

Also, as an FYI, I'm a bit backed up on posting for now, so things aren't going to be posted in the order I've read them. And I'm making it a summer goal to post once a week, so here's to lots of reviews!