Monday, December 23, 2013

Book Report Monday: The Stand by Stephen King

Title: The Stand

Author: Stephen King

Genre: Fiction

Synopsis: This is the way the world ends: with a nanosecond of computer error in a Defense Department laboratory and a million casual contacts that form the links in a chain letter of death.

And here is the bleak new world of the day after: a world stripped of its institutions and emptied of 99 percent of its people. A world in which a handful of panicky survivors choose sides -- or are chosen. A world in which good rides on the frail shoulders of the 108-year-old Mother Abagail -- and the worst nightmares of evil are embodied in a man with a lethal smile and unspeakable powers: Randall Flagg, the dark man.
(from Goodreads)

Why did I pick it up?: So many reasons. It's one of my sister's favorite books, I remember enjoying the miniseries with Gary Sinise and Molly Ringwald, and I found it used at a local bookstore.

Favorite Line(s): "Culture lag, he thought distractedly, what fun it all is."

"She couldn't be on his wavelength all the time. When you could recognize that and deal with it, you were on your way to an adult relationship."

"Just the act of cooking made her feel better, because cooking was life."

"Love didn't grow very well in a place where there was only fear, just as plants didn't grow very well in a place where it was always dark."

"Baby, can you dig your man?"

My Review:

Things I do not recommend

1. Touching hot stoves
2. Wearing overalls if you are not under 10, pregnant, or employed in a profession where they are deemed appropriate such as general construction.
3. Twerking
4. Reading The Stand during Flu Season.

I do highly recommend that you read The Stand just at any other time of year. I enjoy King's writing but he can scare me into convulsions which is not good for someone living alone with just their dog. I should mention that far from being a protective guard dog, my fur child is afraid of storms, loud noises and any kind of mechanical whirring like when buses lower their handicap ramps. Most recently, he developed a fear of walking to the coffee shop as there is an overpass. Sometimes when we cross the overpass he freaks out and tries to dive into oncoming traffic. In his canine brain that seems like a safer option.

The Stand is a full account of the apocalypse caused by the Super Flu epidemic that wipes out 99.4% of the world's population. The highly contagious flu strand was developed in an underground government lab in California and is accidentally released. That's where the story begins and King explains how the Super Flu spreads across the US and into other countries. For the first few hundred pages characters are surrounded by people who cough, sneeze, and complain of exhaustion with watery eyes. (I read all about that while waiting to get my Flu Shot and riding the crowded T full of sniffling Bostonians.)

Another thing happening in those first few hundred pages is the courting of characters by the forces of good and evil. Mother Abigail in Nebraska is 108 years old, a devout believer in God and the Devil, and represents the good side. Randall Flagg aka The Dark Man aka The Walkin' Dude sets up his base in Las Vegas just in case there was any question about his being the personification evil or a sociopath or the Antichrist. Characters dream of Mother Abigail and The Dark Man and are pulled towards one or the other. It's not clear where all the characters will end up and that kept me turning the pages.

If you are someone who wants to know the whole story, you'll appreciate The Stand. It's a lengthy book, but I enjoyed every bit of it. Nothing seemed extraneous. There are a lot of characters and about 10 of them have their own point of view chapters. My friends and I would say that is, "very Game-of-Thrones-y". Yes, we've read all the books and know the series is A Song of Ice and Fire. 

My Recommendation: Fans of apocalyptic stories will enjoy this. If there's a Walking Dead fan left on your Christmas shopping list, they might like it too.

For Next Week: The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

Monday, November 25, 2013

Book Report Monday: Ape House by Sara Gruen

Title: Ape House

Author: Sara Gruen

Genre: Fiction

Why did I pick it up?: Pure animal love. Sara Gruen's books focus around animals who are shown as having defined personalities.

Synopsis: Sam, Bonzi, Lola, Mbongo, Jelani, and Makena are no ordinary apes. These bonobos, like others of their species, are capable of reason and carrying on deep relationships—but unlike most bonobos, they also know American Sign Language.
Isabel Duncan, a scientist at the Great Ape Language Lab, doesn’t understand people, but animals she gets—especially the bonobos. Isabel feels more comfortable in their world than she’s ever felt among humans . . . until she meets John Thigpen, a very married reporter who braves the ever-present animal rights protesters outside the lab to see what’s really going on inside.

When an explosion rocks the lab, severely injuring Isabel and “liberating” the apes, John’s human interest piece turns into the story of a lifetime, one he’ll risk his career and his marriage to follow. Then a reality TV show featuring the missing apes debuts under mysterious circumstances, and it immediately becomes the biggest—and unlikeliest—phenomenon in the history of modern media. Millions of fans are glued to their screens watching the apes order greasy take-out, have generous amounts of sex, and sign for Isabel to come get them.

(from Goodreads)

My Review: Gruen's formula which she used in Water for Elephants is apparent in Ape House. I enjoyed both books, but I know some people might not. They are too many coincidences, too much deus ex machina for some people's tastes. A lot of things, "just so happen" to work out. Since I assume most people have either read Water for Elephants, seen the movie, I'm going to drop some spoilers. That was your warning.

The protagonist, a veterinarian student who is a few exams away from being a licensed vet, while in the midst of crisis hops on a passing train which turns out to be a circus train. As it just so happens this circus is in desperate need of a vet, so they don't throw him overboard. Very quickly, I think it was the next day, they stumble upon an elephant and it just so happens this elephant has already been trained only she was trained in Polish. Oh, did I mention our protagonist just so happens to speak Polish?

That's a lot of coincidence, too much? I think it depends on what you are looking to get out of a novel. Judging by the novel's success I don't think most of the country minds. If you want a realistic story, this might bug you. I didn't mind, because it's fiction and if it's obviously fiction that's cool. I also find the crux of Gruen's skill lies in her research. I learned a lot about elephants and the depression in America and the strange, cruel lives of the circus people in Water for Elephants. In Ape House, I learned about bonobos and I loved that aspect of the book.

The bonobos are smart, eerily smart. Though they seem more like children than human adults in how they give in to their desires and make demands. One example of this is a bonobo who wants Starbucks and refuses to accept "no" from Isabel, who eventually gives in and sends her assistant to get the ape a macchiato. Each ape has its own personality and I would have liked to have them fleshed out a bit more, but perhaps that was just me being more interested in the apes as characters.

Isabel considers herself an advocate for animal rights. She's a vegetarian and considers the apes as her family. She loves and spoils them with things like expensive coffees. But there are also extremists who protest at the language lab where Isabel works, she muses that this is largely in part to their lack of understanding what happens at the language lab and that the word "lab" gives them this incorrect impression. On the other end of the animal rights spectrum are the companies who experiment on animals and the entertainment mogul who buys the bonobos to create a Reality TV show around them. Isabel has discussions and arguments with representatives from all of these groups and I enjoyed seeing the issues brought to the reader's attention. However, I would have liked to hear why the work at the language lab was important. What do we have to learn from bonobos? How does communicating with them help us? How does it help them? After reading Ape House, I'm still wondering, though I feel it is important to understand the world around us and the other animals that inhabit it beside us. It would have been nice to hear a deeper reason for teaching apes sign language.

My Recommendation: Animal people,Water for Elephants fans, and readers of bestsellers would most likely enjoy this.

For Next Week: The Stand by Stephen King

Monday, November 18, 2013

Book Report Monday: Magic or Madness Trilogy by Justine Larbalestier

Title: Magic or Madness, Magic Lessons, and Magic's Child

Author: Justine Larbalestier

Genre: Young Adult Fantasy

Synopsis: For fifteen years, Reason Cansino has lived a life on the run. Together with her mother, Sarafina, she has moved from one place to another in the Australian countryside, desperate not to be found by Reason's grandmother Esmeralda, a dangerous woman who believes in magic. But when Sarafina suffers a breakdown, Reason is forced to move in with her grandmother in Sydney. The moment Reason walks through Esmeralda's back door and finds herself on a New York City street, she's confronted by an unavoidable truth - magic is real.

This thrilling novel will bring readers through revelation upon revelation, leading to Reason's ultimate discovery of the price she must pay if she uses her magic.

(from Goodreads)

Why did I pick it up?: Sometimes books get lost. Maybe you miss their window of popularity or maybe they just weren't popular enough to find their way to you. Whatever the cause it's kind of sad, isn't it? I know I'm missing out on a lot of books I would enjoy and I might never find them. That's why I'm glad I found the last two books in the Magic or Madness trilogy when I was at the Philadelphia Library last autumn. They were so cheap-
I think a quarter each-that I figured I'd get the first book on Amazon and read the whole series.

My Review: After being told her whole life that magic isn't real but that her grandmother- who is insane and evil-believes it is, Reason is forced to see the truth. Her mother lied. Magic is real. And Reason can use magic, but it is dangerous. Reason has no idea who to trust. She's spent her life running from her grandmother, but now there are others who may be even worse. 

Since using too much magic will shorten your lifespan and magic can be stolen, this world is a cutthroat one. And while Reason needs her friends to teach her, she also can't trust them, can she? Throughout the series Reason struggles with that very question. It makes every decision she has to make even more challenging.

One interesting aspect is how everyone sees and feels magic differently. It could be viewed as geometric shapes, as connections of energy between people, or (as it is for Reason) a combination of mathematical patterns and smells. 

Nerd Moment: Oh, the math! Can I just point out that I adored the math Reason uses throughout the series. Her favorite is the Fibonacci sequenceBefore she understands her power, she uses the numbers to calm herself when she's in danger of losing her temper and using too much magic. This was a rare instance when my mathematician-reader identity is perfectly pleased. 

Reason is Australian and the series contain a lot of vocabulary unfamiliar to American teens. It is explained and even joked about when Reason finds herself in New York City and meets Jay-Tee who finds the Australian way of saying things ridiculous and amusing.

I really enjoyed the series. It was a quick, easy read, and overall a fun journey. I could have done without a few predictable plot points that are overused in YA fiction, but to be fair these books came out just before the YA boom so I think that Larbalestier was a part of setting rather than copying trends which are now frustratingly overdone. 

My Recommendation: Fans of The Faeriewalker Series by Jenna Black would probably enjoy these.

For Next Week: Ape House by Sara Gruen

Friday, November 15, 2013

Letting Go: It's a Process

I don't know why I need books the way I do. Obviously reading them is wonderful. Every book is a unique experience in a different world, an escape from reality, a journey into the unknown, and like George R.R. Martin* says, "A reader lives a thousand lives." I understand what I love about them, but I don't know why I need books around.  

Libraries make me feel like dancing too, Belle.

Once upon a time, I was a having horrible day. I was at work and needed to get out before I emotionally imploded. Lucky for me, there was a Barnes & Noble next door. I grabbed a Soy Chai Tea Latte and walked around the fiction and young adult sections. I ended up buying a gorgeous copy of Persuasion, my favorite Jane Austen. I don't know why the sight of books calms me, but it does and it didn't let me down on Monica's horrible day. There's so much to discover and experience in the world, too much to get caught up in the trivial annoyances and hiccups of daily life. Books are a tangible representation of all the world has to offer. Okay, I guess I just realized why I like having them around...

The flip-side to basking in their presence is getting nervous at the thought of parting with my books. When my friend mentioned her school's annual book drive, my first thought was going and increasing my collection. When she said they were accepting donations, I felt an irrational pulse of terror. 

Not my books!**

Fortunately for the school, I am a rational individual and (though it was with much trepidation) I decided to donate some. My shelves are overflowing and I can't stop buying more. Yes I have a Nook and I take advantage of the Boston Library's fabulous eBook loaning program, but I continue to buy new and used books. I just love them.

When I went through my 300+ books, I did my best to consider the ones I should keep. Those being the ones I thought I might read again or would be likely to loan to other readers. I came up with four that I was willing to part with...

I have problems. First world problems. Nerd girl problems. Ravenclaw problems. I could go on, but won't.

I gave myself a stern talking to about how important it is for affordable used books to be available, how great it is to support a wonderful local school, and how I probably wasn't going to read most of these books again. What was I doing really? Just hoarding the knowledge for myself, which isn't cool. Knowledge is power and I want to share that power. Plus hoarding is unhealthy and kind of weird. I mean it would be weirder if they were cats or VHS tapes of my favorite late night infomercials. Minimal level of weirdness aside, I went through my shelves again. 

The donate pile grew and grew until it contained about twenty books!

I felt great after I filled the huge tote bag with thousands of pages of goodness. Soon other people will enjoy these books. Three cheers for being charitable. Plus, now I've got some space on my shelves...

*But writers only live one, so maybe write a bit faster, okay Georgie?
**Those actually aren't my books. They belong to the Boston Public Library. They were also mostly in French, which Belle would have appreciated.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Book Report Monday: The Dovekeepers

Title: The Dovekeepers

Author: Alice Hoffman

Genre: Fiction

Synopsis: Blends mythology, magic, archaeology and women. Traces four women, their path to the Masada massacre. In 70 CE, nine hundred Jews held out for months against armies of Romans on a mountain in the Judean desert, Masada. According to the ancient historian Josephus, two women and five children survived.

Four bold, resourceful, and sensuous women come to Masada by a different path. Yael’s mother died in childbirth, and her father never forgave her for that death. Revka, a village baker’s wife, watched the horrifically brutal murder of her daughter by Roman soldiers; she brings to Masada her twin grandsons, rendered mute by their own witness. Aziza is a warrior’s daughter, raised as a boy, a fearless rider and expert marksman, who finds passion with another soldier. Shirah is wise in the ways of ancient magic and medicine, a woman with uncanny insight and power. The four lives intersect in the desperate days of the siege, as the Romans draw near. All are dovekeepers, and all are also keeping secrets — about who they are, where they come from, who fathered them, and whom they love.

(from Goodreads)

Why did I pick it  up?: If Alice Hoffman writes a book, it's on my To Be Read list. She's my go to comfort read.

Favorite Lines: “He wanted pain, I saw that in him, and what a man wants he will often manage to find.”

My Review: I have so many things to say. I have no idea why I took so long to read this. The prose alone was enough for me to love this story, but of course Hoffman delivers more. Yael and the other Dovekeepers are strong.

As a Ravenclaw it's in my nature to crave knowledge and I loved learning about Masada and the religions practiced in 70 CE. I found the Essene, a religious group believing that the apocalypse is coming, fascinating as every generation seems to have at least one group of end of days zealots.

Each of the four women has her own story but they are joined together not because they are kindred spirits but because they are women struggling without husbands. They are shunned by the society of most because of their independence and whatever led them to be alone. In the Dovecote they are free. Free to be who they are without the rules of society or judgement of their neighbors.

Ghosts haunt them. Magic is prevalent not only in the form of Shirah's practice but in Hoffman's signature style of storytelling. The desert is unforgiving and one thing I love about Alice Hoffman's writing is how often she highlights the extreme. Kisses so passionate they cause lips to blister and that sort of thing. Days so hot, parked cars have melted tires. The desert climate and living conditions during the siege of Masada offered up plenty of opportunity for the Hoffman prose I enjoy.

Masada, Israel

Recommendation: If you liked The Red Tent by Anita Diamant, you will probably like this too.

For Next Week: Magic or Madness trilogy by Justine Larbalestier

Monday, November 4, 2013

Book Report Monday: Half Broke Horses by Jeannette Walls

Title: Half Broke Horses

Author: Jeannette Walls

Genre: A True-Life Novel

Synopsis: Lily Casey Smith, this novel's feisty Texas protagonist, is a frontier teacher, a rancher, a rodeo rider, a poker player, and bootlegger. In Half Broke Horses, she survives droughts, tornados, floods, poverty, and whatever else fate can throw against her. Based on author Jeannette Walls's grandmother, Lily is a plausible character because she has a voice that synchronizes with her history. This novel lives up to the still gathering acclaim for Walls's novel The Glass Castle. 

(from Goodreads)

Why did I pick it up?: Years ago, I read The Glass Castle for a book club and I'd been meaning to pick up Half Broke Horses since I heard it came out. Yes, I've been meaning to read this for four years. I'm glad I got around to it.

Favorite Lines: "I hadn't been paying much attention to things like the sunrise, but that old sun had been coming up anyway. It didn't really care how I felt, it was going to rise and set regardless of whether I noticed it, and if I was going to enjoy it, that was up to me."

My Review: Similar to The Paris Wife, in that the story is a fictionalization of true events. Though in my opinion it's much better done in Half Broke Horses. Perhaps novelizing your own Grandmother's life is easier, plus I wasn't rooting for someone else the whole time. If you've read The Glass Castle, I think most people have, then you will most likely enjoy this story. There are little nuggets of references that foreshadow events that take place in Jeannette's memoir.

A Half Broke Horse, is a horse that has been caught and partially trained and then released back into the wild and its own natural devices. Lily who helped her father train horses before leaving home, is familiar with these horses who when caught again no enough to submit to a rider but also know they might escape again. Throughout the story she encounters people who are likewise only "half broke" and will never quite fit into society as a result. Anyone who has read The Glass Castle would see how Jeannette's parents are just like half broke horses.

I found the details about life in the South Western United States in the early 1900's to be fascinating. The lack of paved streets, indoor plumbing, electricity and everything I've never lived without seemed trying and it was insane to realize it really wasn't that long ago that the story is taking place. Lily lived in a rural part of Texas and late in a rural part of Arizona. People out in the more densely populated East, had electricity and running water much sooner. And just like I loved learning that when America was discovered the rest of the world was highly suspicious of the tomato, which they'd never seen before. They called it the witch's apple and said it was poisonous. Crazy, right? Well maybe it's just amusing to me. Similar to the mistrust of new foods, when Indoor plumbing was spreading across the country a lot of people were skeptical and grossed out. In Half Broke Horses people ask, "Isn't that unsanitary?" and "Who would do that in the house?"

There's no rush to finish the book, no great mystery waiting to be revealed., and yet the story held my interest. However, if you're the sort of reader who needs a strong reason to turn the page this probably isn't for you.

Recommendation: Fans of memoirs and anyone interested in settlements in America should check this out.

For Next Week: The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman

Monday, October 28, 2013

Book Report Monday: Allegiant by Veronica Roth

Title: Allegiant (Divergent #3)

Author: Veronica Roth

Genre: Young Adult Dystopian

Synopsis: One choice will define you.

What if your whole world was a lie?
What if a single revelation—like a single choice—changed everything?
What if love and loyalty made you do things you never expected?

The faction-based society that Tris Prior once believed in is shattered—fractured by violence and power struggles and scarred by loss and betrayal. So when offered a chance to explore the world past the limits she’s known, Tris is ready. Perhaps beyond the fence, she and Tobias will find a simple new life together, free from complicated lies, tangled loyalties, and painful memories.

But Tris’s new reality is even more alarming than the one she left behind. Old discoveries are quickly rendered meaningless. Explosive new truths change the hearts of those she loves. And once again, Tris must battle to comprehend the complexities of human nature—and of herself—while facing impossible choices about courage, allegiance, sacrifice, and love.

Told from a riveting dual perspective, Allegiant, by #1 New York Times best-selling author Veronica Roth, brings the Divergent series to a powerful conclusion while revealing the secrets of the dystopian world that has captivated millions of readers in Divergent and Insurgent.

(from Goodreads)

My Faction(s): When I first read Divergent, I knew immediately that my friend, Liz, would be in Amity. When she finally read it, she agreed. She'd be dressed in red and yellow, farming and hugging everyone but she asked me where I would be. Given my nerdy passions and love for tattoos it was a draw. At 16, I dreamed of rebelling though I didn't have much to rebel against so I put pink highlights in my hair and tried to look tough or tortured, but usually ended up smiling and ruining the whole thing. 

Since the choosing ceremony is for teenagers, I would have chosen Dauntless. And I probably would have been terrified the whole time. If I had to choose today, I'd go with the Erudite instead. I still feel the pull of the Dauntless crowd, but guarding the fences doesn't appeal to me as a long term occupation. I just want to wear their clothes and keep my tattoos, maybe get some more. Can't I have tattoos and read books all day?

Of course, the point is that one aspect of our personality, no matter how strongly it influences us, is not all we are. No one can be a perfect fit in any faction. I may like the Dauntless style, but I have no desire to throw knives or to be involved in violence. Even my makeup is cruelty free. Similarly, my friend may have been be the poster child of Amity, but she'd object to the use of Peace Serum. Drugging people to accept the peaceful way of life is harm, albeit a nonviolent sort of harm. 

My Spoiler-Free Review: Overall, I liked Allegiant more than Insurgent. The final installment in the series is told from dual perspectives. The chapters flipping between Tris and Tobias. Tobias is an intriguing character with a dark past, impressive determination to overcome his four fears, and I was interested to see what his view would be like. 

After the big reveal at the end of Insurgent, there's plenty of anticipation to see how the information will be handled within the city. The world they've always known full of factions and rules of behavior defined by your faction has been dismantled, the world outside the fence is a mystery. 

Unlike the Hunger Games and other YA Dystopian stories, which leave many questions unanswered about how the world got to be split into Districts, Allegiant covers the history of Tris's world. In the Hunger Games, the cause of the changes between our world and Katniss's remained open to your imagination. I thought it worked because it didn't matter why there are districts or why the population is so much smaller than ours. It could happen, that was all that mattered. es to leave it unanswered. In the same way, it also makes sense for Allegiant to explain what happened as it affects Tris and her story.

Recommendation: Fans of The Hunger Games would probably enjoy this series.

For Next Week: Half Broke Horses by Jeannette Walls

Friday, October 25, 2013

Boston Book Festival 2013

Saturday was the Fifth Boston Book Festival in Copley Square. I went to hear the YA: Legends Revisited talk featuring Maggie Stiefvater, Nancy Werlin, Shelly Dickinson Carr, and Marisa Meyer. I haven't read anything by Carr or Meyer yet, though Meyer's Cinder has been on my to read list for a while and after hearing about Carr's take on Jack the Ripper in Ripped, I can't wait to pick it up. I've reviewed Stiefvater and Werlin's books on this blog. The talk focused on using pre-existing stories, myths, fairy tales, and historic events in their writing. It was right up my alley! Also, it was conveniently located near my office.

I felt a familiar sense of validation in hearing successful authors discuss their writing methods. 

"Hey, they do some things like I do. Maybe I am really a writer." 

Okay, maybe I let go of the doubt about whether or not I'm a "real writer" a while ago. Thank goodness! Still it's nice to know these women have had success and their processes are not all that different from mine. They also got me thinking about some things that could become blog topics in the future. Thanks ladies!

There were a lot of panels and readings, though I only attended that one. Outside they had booths set up for local publishers, self publishing companies, magazines, schools featuring MFA programs, and pretty much anything related to books, literature or reading. It was a gorgeous day and I was totally in the zone.

Check out the swag I snagged: a copy of Writer magazine, a SciFi Story Anthology, and a free ticket to the Boston Book Fair in November.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Book Report Monday: The Voyage Out

Title: The Voyage Out

Author: Virginia Woolf

Genre: Literary Fiction

Synopsis: Woolf’s first novel is a haunting book, full of light and shadow. It takes Mr. and Mrs. Ambrose and their niece, Rachel, on a sea voyage from London to a resort on the South american coast. 

“It is a strange, tragic, inspired book whose scene is a South americanca not found on any map and reached by a boat which would not float on any sea, an americanca whose spiritual boundaries touch Xanadu and Atlantis” (E. M. Forster). 

(From Goodreads)

Why did I pick it up?: I have a collection of her novels and short stories on my nook and I intend to make my way through them all eventually. The Voyage Out was first.

Favorite Line: "Did love begin that way, with the wish to go on talking?”

My Review: After living a sheltered life with her Aunts in England and occasionally on board her father's ships, Rachel Vinrace journeys to South America with her Aunt and Uncle. At twenty-four she's in danger of becoming an old maid and every man she meets is evaluated as a potential husband. 

While still on the ship Rachel is kissed by an excited Mr. Dalloway. At first she's excited believing, "something wonderful had happened" and feels that all the possibilities are laid out before her for the first time. But later the memory of the passion disturbs her and causes nightmares of barbarian men hunting for her. It's not clear to me whether it was guilt for given herself over the the baser instincts which women should not do or from anxiety the physical intimacy of her future which she seems to only just realize. 

Afterwards Rachel continues to approach the idea of love and marriage without much passion or thrill. Once she has a suitor, she considers marriage and decides it is not for love, but so the couple can renounce the real world and essentially hide in their marriage. 

It's worth noting that Woolf's first novel, The Voyage Out, has much less stream of consciousness narratives and dream-states which she is known for in her later works. So if you've ever read a novel of her's and that frustrated you, you might enjoy this one.

Recommendation: If you liked To the Lighthouse, you should like this too. There are a lot of parallels. 

For Next Week: Allegiant by Veronica Roth

Monday, October 14, 2013

Book Report Monday: The Raven Boys

Title: The Raven Boys (Raven Cycle #1)

Author: Maggie Stiefvater

Genre: Young Adult Fantasy

Synopsis: "There are only two reasons a non-seer would see a spirit on St. Mark’s Eve,” Neeve said. “Either you’re his true love . . . or you killed him.”

It is freezing in the churchyard, even before the dead arrive.

Every year, Blue Sargent stands next to her clairvoyant mother as the soon-to-be dead walk past. Blue herself never sees them—not until this year, when a boy emerges from the dark and speaks directly to her.

His name is Gansey, and Blue soon discovers that he is a rich student at Aglionby, the local private school. Blue has a policy of staying away from Aglionby boys. Known as Raven Boys, they can only mean trouble.

But Blue is drawn to Gansey, in a way she can’t entirely explain. He has it all—family money, good looks, devoted friends—but he’s looking for much more than that. He is on a quest that has encompassed three other Raven Boys: Adam, the scholarship student who resents all the privilege around him; Ronan, the fierce soul who ranges from anger to despair; and Noah, the taciturn watcher of the four, who notices many things but says very little.

For as long as she can remember, Blue has been warned that she will cause her true love to die. She never thought this would be a problem. But now, as her life becomes caught up in the strange and sinister world of the Raven Boys, she’s not so sure anymore.

From Maggie Stiefvater, the bestselling and acclaimed author of the Shiver trilogy and The Scorpio Races, comes a spellbinding new series where the inevitability of death and the nature of love lead us to a place we’ve never been before.

(from Goodreads)

Why did I pick it  up?: I liked the Wolves of Mercy Falls trilogy and this was available as an audio book at the library. It was a good length for my drive to and from Boston while I was apartment hunting.

Favorite Lines: “The journal and Gansey were clearly long acquainted, and he wanted her to know. This is me. The real me.”

“How do you feel about helicopters?"
There was a long pause. "How do you mean? Ethically?"
"As a mode of transportation."
"Faster than camels, but less sustainable.”

A Quick Review: I was surprised by how much I liked this book. Not that I had any negative expectations. I had enjoyed her Wolves of Mercy Falls series and The Raven Boys sounded interesting, but I was unexpectedly caught in the clutches of the story. I love when that happens, which is why it's getting ridiculous that I haven't picked up the sequel which just came out in September. I'm sure I will soon, I'm just trying to put a dent in the stack of books waiting to be read on my desk.

Despite the prophecy about Blue's true love in the synopsis,she is not love-obsessed. In fact, Blue tries to stay away from any temptation that she fears could lead to love as she doesn't want to be the cause of anyone's death. A lot of characters, particularly teenage ones, would be intrigued and eager to find love more so because of the danger involved. The prophecy is mentioned throughout the story and as you might expect weighs heavily on Blue's shoulders. I think her decision early on in life-to never fall in love and therefore never be  the cause of her loved one's demise-leaves her free to be more practical about romance and the Aglionby boys, who she joins forces with.

I loved how the story moved between characters and I particularly loved Gansey's voice. His passion for his quest is contagious not only for other characters but for the reader. I was rooting for him the whole time. The quest, which involves finding the tomb of an ancient king requires magic, science, a wealth of historical knowledge and it seems a decent amount of luck. Gansey's approach to the mystery is methodical and not nearly as crazed as he may seem to others who heard about his plans. He breaks the stereotype of the rich, white, prep school guy and earns your respect for being a solid human being, a loyal friend, and an interesting character. I still don't know what he's all about, but I'm eager to find out.

Recommendation: YA Fantasy fans. Fans of Beautiful Creatures will probably enjoy this.

For Next Week: The Voyage Out by Virginia Woolf

Monday, October 7, 2013

Book Report Monday: Perfect Ruin by Lauren DeStefano

Title: Perfect Ruin (Internment Chronicles #1)

Author: Lauren DeStefano

Genre: Young Adult Dystopian

Synopsis: On Internment, the floating island in the clouds where 15-year-old Morgan Stockhour lives, getting too close to the edge can lead to madness. Even though Morgan's older brother, Lex, was a Jumper, Morgan vows never to end up like him. She tries her best not to mind that her life is orderly and boring, and if she ever wonders about the ground, and why it is forbidden, she takes solace in best friend Pen and her betrothed, Basil.

Then a murder, the first in a generation, rocks the city. With whispers swirling and fear on the wind, Morgan can no longer stop herself from investigating, especially when she meets Judas. He is the boy being blamed for the murder — betrothed to the victim — but Morgan is convinced of his innocence. Secrets lay at the heart of Internment, but nothing can prepare Morgan for what she will find — or who she will lose.
(from Goodreads)

Why did I pick it up?: I enjoyed Lauren DeStefano's Chemical Garden Trilogy. And her cats are pretty adorbs.

Favorite Lines: "For a moment I envy his blindness. I want to curl up in that darkness and have the city disappear around me. I want to be in a place where awful things are never seen and never known, and there's only the whir of the transcriber as the paper fills with fiction."

"He says there's nothing wrong with me, but it's entirely possible he hasn't been paying enough attention."

"I want the world that was promised to us when we were small. Uncomplicated and nonviolent."

My Review: Perfect Ruin is even better than The Chemical Garden trilogy and I really liked that series. I fell in love with DeStefano's short but profound and often lyrical sentences. Many of her passages remind me of Alice Hoffman, but that may be because of the way they make me feel, almost weightless like I'm not even aware that I'm on the couch or the train while reading them. Perfect Ruin retains that quality, but both the story and characters are noticeably more complex. It's not that I found Wither to be full of simple characters or to have a weak story. It's kind of like, when you didn't realize you were hungry until you took your first bite. I thought her other books had given me plenty, but then she gave me more. (I hope you know what I mean, otherwise someone is bound to have me classified as irrational.) Most writers continue to improve as they hone their skills more with each project. And Lauren DeStefano has obviously been honing.

Morgan Stockhour is loyal and trustworthy, the kind of character you can support right away. Still, at times she's awkwardly fifteen, she's independent despite being betrothed since birth, she's generally happy despite being shunned by most of her classmates because of her brother's actions years before.

One thing I really liked about her was her awareness. Morgan's convinced there's something wrong with her but also she seems to know there's something wrong with Internment. I read a lot of YA and a decent amount of that is Dystopian and it's a common theme for the main character to be totally shocked that the ruling body might be wrong. Morgan isn't an angst-filled rebel on page one and she is shocked by the murder, but she's smart and observant. She knows everything isn't as perfect as it seems and that there are things you don't say, because the people in charge would punish you for saying them and she seems to know to be wary of them.

Another refreshing change is the lack of romance as a theme. There is some, as I said, Morgan is betrothed. Her relationship with Basil is well developed and really sweet. They're best friends who grew up knowing they'd be married one day. And while they have some adorable moments, this story isn't a love story. I don't have anything against YA Romance but it's nice to read YA with less of a romantic focus.

As someone who strives to be earth conscious, I had a lot of questions about life on a floating city. With limited resources, no substantial bodies of water, and I imagine some kind of weight restriction to prevent the whole city from just sinking to the ground, they obviously can't have waste piling up. I was happy to learn about those pieces of life on Internment throughout the story. That might just be because I'm green and nerdy about it, but I was happy to have my questions all answered.

Recommendation: If you liked her last series, I'm sure you'll love Perfect Ruin. Also anyone who liked the Matched series by Ally Condie, is waiting impatiently for Catching Fire to hit theaters or who appreciates beautifully crafted sentences.

For Next Week: The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

The Dangling Carrot vs The Stick

Deliciousness brought to you by Kickass Cupcakes
Confession: I'm horrible about sticking to self imposed deadlines.

It's weird because I have an excess of will power in most areas of my life. If I can logically explain how a thing is bad for me, I have no problem giving it up. Yet when it's crunch time for reaching my own writing goals I make new deadlines rather than scramble to finish on time.

Who cares if I push it back again? I don't have an agent and no one will know...

Last year I got a bottle of really nice champagne for my birthday in August. I told myself I'd open it when I earned it. I landed a new job I really wanted in October, wrote over 10,000 words in November but still didn't pop the bubbly. Once the goals were attained, I didn't feel like a reward was in order. I do see how this is insane reasoning and it isn't that I didn't think what I had done was impressive. For me, getting the job and the satisfaction of a productive month of writing were enough.

It comes down to whether someone is after the carrot or dodging the stick. Some personality types are driven by threat of the stick or repercussions of failure. Others are enticed by the carrot or the reward that success will bring. My dog* for instance, he's definitely after the carrot.**

He was willing to do anything for this PupCake

I realized that when I was in a critique group, I got my pages reviewed and out to my critique partners on time...okay I cut it close occasionally, but I got the pages and my critiques out.

I'm not actually interested enough in the reward. In fact, I have been known to procrastinate cashing in the rewards I have earned for myself. Even the cupcakes in this post, which were a post-5K run reward, weren't my idea. My friend who I ran with suggested it.

What really gets me to follow through is fear of letting someone down or of embarrassing myself by not doing what I promised. This makes my problem with writing deadlines apparent-I don't have anyone holding a stick.

The solution, which may be obvious at this point, is that I need to someone to be my stick wielder and hold me accountable if I don't get my pages done. Of course, I could do another critique group, but I want to get my first draft complete as soon as possible and as much as I like critiquing I don't really have much time to spare for that right now. So, I volunteered a friend to be my beta and first line of defense against awful grammar, typos and crummy plot lines. I'm going to send her 50 pages every two weeks. I sent her my first 50 pages on Sunday. The theory being that by August I should have a complete draft that's fairly clean. Then I can beg for critiques and send a polished draft to the rest of my betas.

Now if only I could get someone to force me to eat cupcakes...

*All dogs are like this, which is why it's best to punish your dog with the lack of a reward. They'll figure out what they have to do to get the reward, especially if it's a delicious puppy cupcake.

**My dog would like you all to know that he hates carrots and doesn't appreciate this analogy.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Book Report Monday: Hounded

Title: Hounded, Iron Druid Chronicles #1

Author: Kevin Hearne

Genre: Urban Fantasy

Synopsis: Atticus O’Sullivan, last of the Druids, lives peacefully in Arizona, running an occult bookshop and shape-shifting in his spare time to hunt with his Irish wolfhound. His neighbors and customers think that this handsome, tattooed Irish dude is about twenty-one years old—when in actuality, he’s twenty-one centuries old. Not to mention: He draws his power from the earth, possesses a sharp wit, and wields an even sharper magical sword known as Fragarach, the Answerer.

Unfortunately, a very angry Celtic god wants that sword, and he’s hounded Atticus for centuries. Now the determined deity has tracked him down, and Atticus will need all his power—plus the help of a seductive goddess of death, his vampire and werewolf team of attorneys, a sexy bartender possessed by a Hindu witch, and some good old-fashioned luck of the Irish—to kick some Celtic arse and deliver himself from evil.

(from Goodreads)

Why did I pick it  up?: It sounded pretty fun and it was available as an ebook at the library. Plus, the guy on the cover is pretty cute.

Favorite Line: "Monty Python is like catnip for nerds. Once you get them started quoting it, they are constitutionally incapable of feeling depressed."

My Review: Very fast paced and fun reading. It reminded me of the Stephanie Plum novels. If Stephanie Plum was a demon hunter instead of a bail bonds person. There are a lot of characters mentioned but none that I really got attached to. I didn't feel like there was enough time to develop any emotional connection to Atticus or his cohorts, which include some rare Gods and Goddesses. The coolest of which I thought was the Morrigan, who is the Goddess of war and/or death in ancient Irish mythology. Appearing as a crow or a woman in one of three forms: beauty, mother or crone. The Morrigan is also mentioned in A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray when Miss Moore takes them to see the cave drawings. With so much Greek and Roman Deity focus it's a nice change up.

Of course, I did think the dog was pretty awesome. Atticus has an Irish wolfhound who he can communicate with telepathically. It makes for some humorous conversation to say the least. Sometimes I imagine what a conversation with my dog would be like, and while I hope he'd have some wisdom to drop, I suspect it'd mostly be about him getting more treats and belly rubs. Though maybe there is a different kind of wisdom in that...

Overall I enjoyed Hounded, albeit in a superficial way. Not that superficial reads are bad. I may prefer when a book pulls me in and makes me laugh out loud or cry in public (I'm looking at you George RR Martin), but every book can't do that. Besides sometimes it's nice to read something lighter. And I personally get a lot of satisfaction out of completing a book, so short fast reads are always okay by me. I'll definitely read the rest of the series. I think it would be great for the beach or even for a weekend spent lazing on the couch.

Recommendation: Adult fantasy fans or anyone who likes fantasy but doesn't like 1,000 page books. It is marketed toward males, that doesn't stop me from recommending it to women.

For Next Week: The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman

Sunday, May 19, 2013

The Return

As much as I wanted to continue blogging regularly I couldn't find it in me to make the time for it over the last eight months. It's been a long while since I've been active here and I've had a lot of guilt about that. Life got in the way. I still read lots of books and blogs though I did not write as much as I would have liked, but I couldn't harness the energy to blog.

I switched my day job and quit Philadelphia for Boston. Leaving my job was hard, I'd been there for almost 6 years and I was sad to say goodbye to many of my coworkers, but I wanted to relocate and I am happy that I did. The move was an adventure for sure but it took a long time to come to fruition.  I've had the desire to flee to New England for years. I primarily credit Alice Hoffman, maple syrup, and the Autumn season for this desire. In theory it sounds dreadfully romantic, doesn't it?

Picking up and moving however involved a lot more steps, planning, and frustrating apartment hunting than they show in books and movies. Though I enjoy planning, list making, and employing excel spreadsheets to pave the way so I'm not complaining. Also, the most frustrating piece of apartment hunting was getting a landlord to accept my 50 pound dog and I would never complain about that. I knew what I was signing up for when I adopted him five years ago and I'm happy I found a place with a fenced in yard.
I think he likes it.

We arrived just in time for our new city to be attacked on Marathon Monday. My family was not entirely pleased to see me relocating so far away, but they understood it was something I needed to do. I live alone and I think that stresses them out to a certain extent. The Marathon Bombings, which occurred half a block from my new office, did not help assuage their worries. Boston, however, is a strong city and the response to the attacks have only served to affirm that I made the right decision.

Yesterday when she was over my friend, Liz-who played a vital role in my move, said it looks like I've lived here for years. And I do feel settled now. With the to do lists put aside and the stress of moving ebbing, I find the words come easier. The itch to dust off my last project and breath life into it is stronger than ever. Writing playlists are revamped. Deadlines are updated in spreadsheets and I feel the writer inside of me nudging herself to the forefront again. I'm more myself when I'm writing regularly and though I was too occupied to feel the hole not writing left in my days I can sense the completeness that was not there over recent months. It's a comfort and I'm beyond grateful for it.

Hopefully, I'll get back on track with a blogging schedule soon. I know some folks have missed my Book Reports and I have definitely missed some folks.