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.