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) (http://www.theguardian.com/books/gallery/2014/jul/23/man-booker-prize-2014-longlist-in-pictures)

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”.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Ruin and Rising Review

Title: Ruin and Rising - Grisha 3
Author: Leigh Bardugo
Rating: 4/5
Age Group: YA

GoodReads Run down: The capital has fallen.

The Darkling rules Ravka from his shadow throne.

Now the nation's fate rests with a broken Sun Summoner, a disgraced tracker, and the shattered remnants of a once-great magical army.

Deep in an ancient network of tunnels and caverns, a weakened Alina must submit to the dubious protection of the Apparat and the zealots who worship her as a Saint. Yet her plans lie elsewhere, with the hunt for the elusive firebird and the hope that an outlaw prince still survives.

Alina will have to forge new alliances and put aside old rivalries as she and Mal race to find the last of Morozova's amplifiers. But as she begins to unravel the Darkling's secrets, she reveals a past that will forever alter her understanding of the bond they share and the power she wields. The firebird is the one thing that stands between Ravka and destruction—and claiming it could cost Alina the very future she’s fighting for.

Review: Third/concluding books are always difficult. They are difficult to wait for, difficult to write, really good. You know?
and difficult to read. There are so many things attached to them - the hopes and dreams of the characters, the world, the desires of the readers, and the pressure and loss of the writer. It's rare that I read a concluding book, especially that of a trilogy, and feel really good about it when I'm done. I mean, sometimes I feel good, but not

The only trilogy I can remember finishing and feeling really good about it, breathing a beautiful sigh of relief and happiness at how everything turned out, and even feeling like, wow, that was rocked, was the concluding book in the Casting Trilogy. Freeman nailed it. It's been a couple of years since I read it but every now and then I relive the ending and my mind is blow again.

Ruin and Rising had me a bit nervous but not as nervous as I could have been. The first two books were good, solid reads, worth the time and enjoyable. These books didn't blow me away though, they didn't make me long, so I didn't press getting the book. I don't own any of them and I'm really okay with that. So it took me a while to get to read this one because the library always gets books a bit after they come out and then someone actually beat me in line (yes, I could have cheated and gotten it first as I work at the library but I didn't).

When I finally sat down to read this I did in three days. That was the perfect amount of time for me too. Not so fast I forget it in a couple of months and not so slow I didn't want to read it. Bardugo's pace was good and her characters stay true. There are twists in the right places and her voice is so strong it felt like she was reading it to me.

This book actually had me loving a character as well. The other books were good, they had characters I really enjoyed and had some affection for, but not love. This time I did love Harshaw. Harshaw and Oncat (yes, I know, it's a typical J-book trope, the pet) made me love them. I laughed out loud many times and reveled in their small scenes.

"I want one!" called Harshaw
Zoya blew a damp curl from her forhead. "Oncat has a better change than you."
Harshaw held the little tabby above him. "Why, Oncat," he said. "You rouge."

 That was one of the best moments in the book. Page 290 was my favorite page I think, because the whole interaction was great but that was my favorite exchange.  I was all warm and fuzzy and giggling. These small slices of life, moments of lovely life, are Bardugo's magic in this book. I guess the first two books had those moments but they didn't strike me the way this one did. 

Bardugo handled the ending well, overall. I wasn't thrilled but I thought it was pretty cool. She pulled a JKR - did what was needed without being Veronica Roth. Well done. 

One thing about this book though - I forgot they were teenagers. Did anyone else feel like this was an adult book, just without the intense detail of typical, adult, high-fantasy and abundance of sex that plagues those books? I felt like the line between YA and Adult was especially blurred. I almost wonder if this was more of a YA written for adults book. I mean, I'm not complaining, but it just felt different, felt like adults were living this and not teens. ** Disclaimer - this has been on my mind recently. I read something about keeping YA for teens and I've been consumed with it since. Maybe that's another blog post though. **

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The Fire Wish Review

Title: The First Wish
Author: Amber Lough
Rating: 2.5/5
Age Group: YA - even late middle school

GoodReads Rundown: A jinni. A princess. And the wish that changes everything. . . .

Najwa is a jinni, training to be a spy in the war against the humans. Zayele is a human on her way to marry a prince of Baghdad—which she’ll do anything to avoid. So she captures Najwa and makes a wish. With a rush of smoke and fire, they fall apart and re-form—as each other. A jinni and a human, trading lives. Both girls must play their parts among enemies who would kill them if the deception were ever discovered—enemies including the young men Najwa and Zayele are just discovering they might love.

Review: I should start that I was really excited about this book, so excited I got nervous it wouldn't
live up to my expectations. So I avoided reading it for a couple of weeks. Finally, I needed something quick and easy for my vacation (reading in airports can be distracting and planes as well but this was a good fit).

The world is cool. The underground city of the Jinn is interesting and the rules of the Jinn are a good adaptation of the traditional mythology. I even liked how the bottles were used. Also, how exciting is it that this is a book in the Middle East?! I was pumped about this part, because it's in an interesting part of the world we don't see much often in YA and since it had the fantasy element it wasn't straight depressing treatment of women. Buzz word alert, buzz alert, buzz alert - diversity in YA!

That said, the characters weren't amazing for me. Najwa was pretty cool - a Jinn spy who is captured and must live as a human or be killed. Yes, awesome idea. Only, she didn't have much umph. She was kind and cool and adapted well but I didn't feel much spark from her, which is ironic as she's party made of smoke and fire. She almost instantly feel in love with the Prince, which, ok, not that big of a deal because he's a prince, he's cute, he's smart, and he's forbidden. I am fine with it, only, I wanted more development. There were so many moments between them that were close to greatness then fell short. They could have really connected but it didn't happen as intensely as the ending called for.

Zayele, on the other hand, had spark but I really disliked her. She sets the entire story into action. Her relationship with her brother is pretty cool until you find out more of the back story and then I disliked her even more. She's so selfish and I know that's a typical problem - with teenagers and adults. Some selfish characters don't bother me and some do. She's one of the ones who did. I think in big part because she is so selfish she abandons people and has blinders on so she doesn't pick up on obvious clues. She's a bit dense. As in, there were things that were so obvious she should have figured them out and she didn't until she was flat out told.

The supporting cast has potential. The best friends were cool and I would love to see more of them. The adults weren't awful either but none of these people got much screen time to really develop. It felt as though every moment was an obvious push to move the story. Every moment should move the story but it shouldn't always feel like their only role is to move the story along, they should be complex and interesting too. I didn't feel like that here.

This is the first in a series but the ending of this book was enough for me. I doubt I'll read on in the series.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Meeting your Political thriller and action needs

People are heading back to school this week in the good ol' South but summer isn't over yet! Something all those procrastinators keep telling themselves. Those great people at SYNC YA have provided us with two more awesome listens - because they aren't letting the summer go gently either.
We've got two weeks (including this one) left until they finally close down for the summer.

So, the best news - those of you who didn't get all your summer reading done, well here's a book that's on many The Red Badge of Courage:

And, when that's done, if you're still in the mood for some awesome boys becoming men in the heat of battle here's another great listen.