Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Afterworlds: Book Review

Title: Afterworlds
Author: Scott Westerfeld
Rating: 4/5
Age Group: YA

GoodReads Run Down: 

Darcy Patel has put college and everything else on hold to publish her teen novel, Afterworlds. Arriving in New York with no apartment or friends she wonders whether she's made the right decision until she falls in with a crowd of other seasoned and fledgling writers who take her under their wings…

Told in alternating chapters is Darcy's novel, a suspenseful thriller about Lizzie, a teen who slips into the 'Afterworld' to survive a terrorist attack. But the Afterworld is a place between the living and the dead and as Lizzie drifts between our world and that of the Afterworld, she discovers that many unsolved - and terrifying - stories need to be reconciled. And when a new threat resurfaces, Lizzie learns her special gifts may not be enough to protect those she loves and cares about most.

Review: I received an arc of this from the library but didn't read it for a while. First, I was nervous

So,this was my first Westerfeld book and I was suitably impressed. It's easy to understand why he's so popular. His writing is difficult not to gobble up - it reminds me of popcorn, you're sitting there munching on it and the next thing you know it's all gone but you feel like you just started eating. Though this book was 599 pages, it flew by - part of me wished for a bit more actually

The chapters alternate between Darcy the writer and her story about Lizzie. Lizzie's chapters were not my favorite but I enjoyed them. They were interesting reflections on the Darcy chapters, the parts I really liked. Lizzie's story was brutal and dark and I wasn't a huge fan of her. Of course, I say that, but really I was good with Lizzie until she does her thing with the shovel and then I was not down for her any longer. In fact, the moments leading up to that part and the aftermath bugged me and I pretty much lost interest in her story - which wasn't the strongest to begin with - what with the instantly falling in love thing and the nightmare inducing way we meet her.

Darcy's chapters though were my favorite. They were all about the writing world and really were YA Heaven. It was interesting what he did with her love life. I was a bit conflicted about this section because it seemed so easy. Maybe it is that easy now but when I with my first love it wasn't that easy. Darcy didn't have the questions I had when I first feel in love, the conflict of wondering what people were going to think, how this was going to play out or any of the practical elements of her relationship in the world. Of course, it's about 7 years after I had to deal with all those things and great political strides have been made so, maybe, the issues of those us before are none issues now. (Is that sufficiently vague enough?)

The ending was... not my favorite. Despite my lack of interest in Lizzie at the end, her ending was more fulfilling than Darcy's. I don't know what I wanted from Darcy's ending but I didn't get it. I guess I didn't feel any closure while with Lizzie I know there is more story but that story/chapter in Lizzie's life is finished so it's time to move on. Darcy's was supposed to feel like that, what with her lease over, her book published, etc. but it didn't feel that way. Rather, I felt a bit dissatisfied. I think I feel this more than the average reader though because so much of Darcy's love life was a flashback for me that how we leave it just nags at me. Such is life I guess.

If you're a book nerd this is a book for you. Westfeld is now on my list of authors to get more of because he totally sucked me in with this one.
about reading a Westerfeld because he's so popular. Second, I'm slammed with reading and this didn't fit into the categories I need to focus on but, well, it slipped in anyway.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Subtly and book lists

Blogging has fallen off my radar a bit recently but I've been reading up a storm - so much that I don't have time to blog it all. Selfish, I know.

Part of the reason I've had to kick it into high gear and read more than blog is because I'm working with this group to compile a list of books that will presented to middle and high school students around my state. These are books we, the group of old people who love to read and are connected to education, think don't get enough attention and students should be reading.

I've read the lists in the past and they are pretty good but there are always patterns. Patterns are everywhere and while I am rubbish at math, I see them every now and then. One pattern is that my state is in the Southeast, USA. Race is a hot button issue because everything happens here in slow motion, ideas are like trees - it takes years of slow but steady growth before you see any real change. Most would argue that with everything happening around the country, the Ferguson riots just the latest in a long stream of issues concerning race in my country, that race is a hot issue that needs more attention everywhere.

Sure, race is an issue that deserves attention because it's not real, it's just colors of our skin. We don't have genetic differences really and the entire thing is just absurd. Yes, I get this. I'm one of the people who grew up commuting between sets of parents. One set of parents did nothing but rant at the evils of the South and plot to move as soon as the kids turned 18 and the leash was cut. The other set of parents walked a stranger line, with a number of raciest members. Now, you should understand they don't see themselves as raciest, just speakin' the truth.

Gross. I know. Why I do I explain this though? Because I want to make it understood that I do believe racism needs attention and that it's problem we, embarrassingly enough, have not been able to kick in our country. We're like recovering alcoholism - we do pretty well for a while, collect a few shiny sobriety chips then BAM we walk into a bar and get shitfaced.

Now you're wondering, how the hell does this connect to books? What does this have to do with some random committee picking books for kids in school? (I know most of you aren't actually thinking this because you know, but hey, I'm working on clarity in my story telling so bare with me.)

It's this - so far there are a bunch of books about the civil rights movement in the South on this list of potential books. I'm really conflicted because I feel like the civil rights gets loads of air time in most schools. It doesn't in all but in many it does and I think the constant nomination of these books might be getting a bit old. The point of this list (the list has voting and such for the kids in the end to entice  them to read the books) is to pull kids into reading and bring attention to books that don't get enough air time. You know, those books that hide in the shadows of Divergent and The Fault In Our Stars. It's important to me that the books offer something social as well but I'm not sure continually pushing civil rights books is the way to do it.

There are so many other ways to address race than the books that hit you over the head. I mean, come on, give kids some credit, they understand subtly AND if they don't, isn't it partly our fault for not offering it to them enough? Why can't we push some smart urban literature instead? Why not put some out, proud, and brown, gay, or whatever on the list? Because I fully intend to because I think kids are smart and if we do our job, they will see, understand, and be changed by the power of stories.

**This said, there are already a handful of books on the list of books for me to read but I'm wondering if I should push them to the bottom and if I get to them great, if not, well, such is life. Because for me, it is more important to offer books that challenge kids in new ways, that entice them with shiny, glossy, glam but keep them with the power of story. Am I saying that the civil rights books on the list can't do that, no, but I am saying COME ON PEOPLE! Give me something else! Please!

Monday, September 8, 2014

The Inventor's Secret - Review

Title: The Inventor's Secret
Author: Andrea Cremer
Rating: 3/5
Age Group: Grades 8 and up

GoodReads Run down: 
Sixteen-year-old Charlotte and her fellow refugees have scraped out an existence on the edge of
Britain’s industrial empire. Though they live by the skin of their teeth they have their health (at least when they can find enough food and avoid the Imperial Labor Gatherers) and each other. When a new exile with no memory of his escape from the coastal cities or even his own name seeks shelter in their camp he brings new dangers with him and secrets about the terrible future that awaits all those who have struggled has to live free of the bonds of the empire’s Machineworks.

The Inventor’s Secret is the first book of a YA steampunk series set in an alternate nineteenth-century North America where the Revolutionary War never took place and the British Empire has expanded into a global juggernaut propelled by marvelous and horrible machinery.

Review: I'm not a big steam punk fan but this world didn't bother me much. Many of the inventions were interesting and didn't distract from the story as I feel like often happens in the genre. Rather, the inventions and steam punky elements added cool imagery.

The alternative history was...strange. The heavy presence of Greek mythology was bizarre and I didn't really see the point. The structure of the world was off because of this...a bit clunky and strange. I don't begrudge the info dumps much but they weren't great. There were a few times I had a difficult time paying attention and the info dumps didn't help.

This isn't a bad book, it's fun in many ways but I felt misled. The blurb talks about adventure, a strange boy, and wonders what you would do for freedom but I felt like the real focus of the story was the love story. More time was spent on the love triangle than the resistance. In fact, I don't really know what the point of going to the city was beyond the love tangles because the big reveal is pushed aside and rushed feeling while the dresses and tingling love feelings take their time.

I adored the iron forest and the tinker fair though. Those two elements pushed this from a 2.5 to a 3 for me. The city is actually very cool, structurally and culturally. I enjoyed hearing about the different layers and wished we were privy to more of the spy networking that happened on these levels, in the ballrooms, and such. Really it's a pretty cool world and the characters aren't bad but I just felt really unfulfilled. We didn't get enough of anything. Long winding passages of social networks while short passages of spies and surely not enough of the Winter daughter.

This is the first in a series...maybe. There's little to no information on Goodreads or the author website but the ending leaves us hanging so I hope there's another. I will keep reading these in hopes we get to see more things like the iron forest.  

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Top Ten Tuesday

It's been a while but my love for lists has won out again - another list for Top Ten Tuesday.

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and Bookish
It's all about my favorite things - bookish lists!

This week's question made me pause - I thought back to my lunch group in high school and had a ton of laughs. We were  a strange group of misfits. I've tried to represent everyone.

Top Ten Characters That Would Be Sitting At My Lunch Table

1. Anya 
2 & 3  Cath and Reagan

4. Blue

5. Anda 

6. Josey 
7. Mercy 

8. Andrea 

9. Anne 

10. Rose 


Sunday, August 31, 2014

Uni the Unicorn - Mini-Review

Title: Uni the Unicorn
Rating: 5/5
Age Group: picture book - 4 and up

GoodReads Run down: In this clever twist on the age-old belief that there’s no such thing as
unicorns, Uni the unicorn is told there’s no such thing as little girls! No matter what the grown-up unicorns say, Uni believes that little girls are real. Somewhere there must be a smart, strong, wonderful, magical little girl waiting to be best friends. In fact, far away (but not too far), a real little girl believes there is a unicorn waiting for her. This refreshing and sweet story of friendship reminds believers and nonbelievers alike that sometimes wishes really can come true.

Review: I don't normally review picture books but this book is just so cute I had to make an exception. One of my library co-workers also has a blog for kids books and so she gets a number of picture book arcs. The other day I was at her place and her daughter and I read Uni together.

It was instant love. Her daughter had read the book a few times already but loved it so much she wanted to hear it again. The illustrations are beautiful - so lovely I would hang them on my walls. There is one image of Uni blowing a dandelion and the little seeds swirling into what can only be a wish. I adored this and all the other illustrations. It was great too because there are two bedrooms and they are a mirror of one another so the little girl and I could look between the two and find similarities - you know, work on our reading and observation skills.  

The story is beyond adorable as well. Uni believes in little girls even though everyone says she's silly and that little girls aren't real. It's not difficult to see where the story is going but it's a sweet twist on the same story that makes your heart all warm and fuzzy.

By the end of this book I knew I had to get a copy for my future children.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Gallagher Girls 1

Title: I'd Tell You I Love You, But Then I'd Have To Kill You (TOO LONG TITLE!)
Author: Ally Carter
Rating: 3/5
Age Group: Grades 8 and up

GoodReads Run down: 
 Cammie Morgan is a student at the Gallagher Academy for Exceptional Young Women, a fairly
typical all-girls school-that is, if every school taught advanced martial arts in PE and the latest in chemical warfare in science, and students received extra credit for breaking CIA codes in computer class. The Gallagher Academy might claim to be a school for geniuses but it's really a school for spies. Even though Cammie is fluent in fourteen languages and capable of killing a man in seven different ways, she has no idea what to do when she meets an ordinary boy who thinks she's an ordinary girl. Sure, she can tap his phone, hack into his computer, or track him through town with the skill of a real "pavement artist"-but can she maneuver a relationship with someone who can never know the truth about her?

Cammie Morgan may be an elite spy-in-training, but in her sophomore year, she's on her most dangerous mission-falling in love.

Review: This was a free audio book from SyncYA - you know, the group I've pushed all summer - they are awesome! It had pretty solid reviews on GoodReads and a great premise. In the long run this was just okay for me. Cammie and her brilliant friends pose as rich girls at a prestigious school while really they are spies in training. Yes, yes, I know, it sounds so cool. Only, in real life, it just plays out as meh.

One thing though is this - I thought the book was for high school but it's more of a middle school book. If I had a daughter or my little sister was still that age I would encourage her to read this because the females are strong, smart, independent, and there's romance from a few angles - just enough to make you happy but nothing graphic. 

Cammie goes on a mission with her friends and meets a boy. He's a pretty average boy but Cammie's zero experience with boys makes him a fallen star and her world is consumed by him. I, on the other hand, have a hard time remembering his name.

The girls at the academy are fun though. Brilliant and starting to explore the world beyond the massive walls that protect them. Each smart in a different area but good at teamwork and always having each others back - that is awesome.  Even the girl they don't like, the girl who is forced to join to their crew but is still an outsider, well, you like her in the end. I'm a difficult person to win over, I get this strange overly, somewhat misled, loyalty thing and characters who start bad in my eyes have a VERY long road to redemption but Carter pulls it off. That alone makes make like this book more than I typically would.

 I did like the end though, it was fulfilling and Carter makes you happy with things that might not always rock your boat but do here. I've heard the books get better so I might give them a try later, when I'm not as loaded down with things. I will not listen to these though - ugh, the reader changed her voice to make all the girls sound like they were in elementary school and whiny.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Booker's Long List 2014

A few years ago I took a class centered around the Man Booker Prize. It was the only class with openings that fulfilled a requirement and I thought the class would be dull (though upon reflection I'm not sure why). I was so wrong. The class was great. I read books that changed my life and I'm now a life-long Atwood and Ishiguro fan. Not to mention, the Man Booker Prize itself is a really interesting prize.

Why is it interesting? So many reasons. I'll name a few but understand that this is a strange, rouge unicorn of a prize and there are many complexities.

1. The prize began of James Bond. Yes. Look it up. Long story short  -  Flemming was worried about his family's financial well being because he was getting old and didn't want to leave them in a lurch when he died. In the UK, and most countries, once an author dies their books have a few years where the profits go to the family of the author then the rights move around. Many things can happen to them but the author's family doesn't normally get the money.

So, one day, while golfing with a wealthy business friend, Flemming had this conversation and the friend ended up buying the rights to all the Bonds and more. This bloomed into the company acting as a shelter for authors. Which led to the creation of the Booker-McConnell Prize. *Please note that's a VERY abbreviated version.*

2. The prize eventually became the Man-Booker (another company bought in, then it became it's own thing, etc.). The rules though, for the longest time, were that any novel from a British Commonwealth could be nominated by a publisher. The rules this year have changed, it used to be that publishing houses could nominate around two authors who had never made the long list before and any author had had, at minimum, made the long list. This gave established publishing houses a BIG leg up because they could nominate a number of people after a while.

The rules changed this year. It feels like ALL the rules changed. Now these are the submission numbers:

1 submission - publishers with no listing
2 submissions - publishers with 1 or 2 longlisting(s)
3 submissions - publishers with 3 or 4 longlistings
4 submissions - publishers with 5 or more longlistings

AND! ANY NOVEL FIRST WRITTEN IN ENGLISH IS ALLOWED (*self-published not included) This is huge. Now the Americans can get in on the action. Now ANYONE can get in on the action.

I'm conflicted.

Now they've let the Americans in and I'm not sure how to react. Ok, yes, we were once part of the UK and I always wondered if they just didn't let us in because they were a bit bitter. Yes. Expanding to allow more people in is cool. The more the merrier, right? Well, I'm not sure.  

The Booker is HUGE in UK and the countries originally allowed to submit.  The judges, a group of writers, editors, celebrities, and anyone with any soft of name recognition, are always watched by the public, in the news, and stirring up drama. People place bets - YES! This is a big betting event. The newspapers write about, the gossip columns twitter, and bookies are in the spotlight. Book-bookies. YES!

Will it be as big here? Does it matter if it is? I don't know. I do know I don't want the prize dominated by the Americans. I also worry because the prize, while still dominated by white men, did have a number of authors of color on the list and as winners. Will this still happen? I ask because the books sells there probably don't compare to the book sells here and what if the prize picks more Americans because we have a bigger book market? Do we have a bigger book market?

UGH! I just don't know! So many questions. I need to do research.

Anyway, here is the long list - list borrowed from the Guardian because it had pictures and I didn't have to gather them myself as I'm already running late for work (yes, it a bit late, oh well. I'll publish the short list on time) (

Joshua Ferris: To Rise Again at a Decent Hour
Dentist Paul O'Rourke cannot face the thought of his own mortality, and swings between religions and relationships for solace. When someone adopts his identity online, he worries that the online "Paul" may be a better version of himself. The Guardian’s Alex Clark called it “enormously impressive”.
Richard Flanagan (Australian) The Narrow Road to the Deep North (Chatto & Windus)
Richard Flanagan: The Narrow Road to the Deep North
Alwyn Evans leads J Force, a group of second world war PoWs working for the Japanese on the infamous Burma Railway. The novel looks at the men on both sides, and circles through decades to explore the war's impact. The Observer's review declared it “a classic in the making”.
We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler
Karen Joy Fowler: We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves
Upon its release, this novel tied reviewers in knots trying to avoid spoiling Fowler’s shocking novel about a 1970s Midwestern family torn apart by a behavioural psychology experiment. The Guardian called Fowler’s 10th novel an “achingly funny, deeply serious heart-breaker”.
Siri Hustvedt: The Blazing World (Sceptre).
Siri Hustvedt: The Blazing World
Presented as an academic paper, The Blazing World explores the cruelty of the art world through the eyes of a bitter painter who believes her lack of success is due to entrenched misogyny. She tests this theory by persuading three men to show her work under their names, and guess what happens?
Howard Jacobson: J
Howard Jacobson: J
Set in a brutal future where the past cannot be spoken of and the present is shadowed by a catastrophe referred to as “What Happened, If It Happened”. Two people fall in love, not knowing if they have been manipulated into the relationship. A big departure for the author of the Booker-winning Finkler Question.
Paul Kingsnorth: The Wake (Unbound).
Paul Kingsnorth: The Wake
“With my scramasax i saws up until his throta is cut." Eco-activist Kingsnorth crowd-funded his debut novel, a story of 11th-century English guerrillas fighting the Norman invasion written in a “shadow” version of Old English. The Guardian review declared it “a literary triumph”.
David Mitchell: The Bone Clocks (Sceptre).
David Mitchell: The Bone Clocks
Quasi-immortals battle at the margins of the everyday world; “bone clocks” are the human herd, doomed to run down and die. It’s a fantastical ride as we follow Holly Sykes, from runaway teenager to an old woman watching civilisation fail. We also meet a novelist who is cheekily reminiscent of Martin Amis.
Neel Mukherjee: The Lives of Others  (Chatto & Windus).
Neel Mukherjee: The Lives of Others
Set in Bengal, Mukherjee's novel focuses on the affluent Ghosh family and the social divisions of the 1960s. While the young Supratik becomes a communist, the rest of his family clings to an older order. Ranging over a large cast, it was praised by AS Byatt as "very ambitous and very successful".
David Nicholls: Us (Hodder & Stoughton).
David Nicholls: Us
After the huge success of One Day, takes on marriage and parenthood. Douglas Peterson faces life alone, as his son is about to leave for college, and his wife for good. But Douglas is devising a plan to use a family holiday around Europe to win back their love. Due in September, this is bound to be the bestseller of the list.
Joseph O'Neill: The Dog by (Fourth Estate).
Joseph O'Neill: The Dog
Due in September, this darkly comic novel is O'Neill's second Booker nomination, following 2008's Netherland. In 2007, a New York lawyer takes a job in Dubai, managing a huge family fortune. Hoping for a fresh start after a failed relationship, O'Neill's cerebral protagonist finds his gilded new world is not what he hoped.
Thomas Powers Orfeo Booker
Richard Powers: Orfeo
An elderly composer reads about the DIY biology movement – people tinkering with DNA at home – and orders the kit from the internet. Els accidentally becomes a wanted man, a bioterrorist on the run. The Guardian review found the book – much more about music than terror – "formidably intelligent" and "ecstatically noisy".
Ali Smith: How to Be Both
Ali Smith: How to Be Both
The Orange and Booker prize-shortlisted author publishes her new novel, a celebration of art and versatility, on September 4. In typically playful style, it spins two stories – about a 15th-century Renaissance artist, and a “child of a child of the 1960s” – into a double narrative.
Niall Williams: History of the Rain (Bloomsbury).
Niall Williams: History of the Rain
Williams is best known for Four Letters of Love. This new novel features a bedbound Irish woman reading her way through her dead father’s books, as she listens to the rain on the roof. It’s a celebration of books, love and “14 acres of the worst farming land in Ireland”.