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A Reader of Fictions: August 2010

A Reader of Fictions

Book Reviews for Just About Every Kind of Book

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

From Russia With Love - Matt Monro

Russian Winter

Author: Daphne Kalotay
Genre: historical fiction, literary
Pages: 466
ARC Obtained From: HarperCollins booth at ALA 2010

Brief Summary:
This lush, literary novel weaves the past and present together seamlessly. Nina Revskaya, once a star ballerina in the Soviet Union's Bolshoi Ballet, is old now, eighty, her body wracked with pain and haunted by painful memories. When a professor, a young fifty, sends her yet another letter, an overture in hoped that she will answer his questions about her past, she decides to auction off all of her jewels. By divesting herself of these possessions, she hopes to free herself from the memories they bring with them, particularly the amber bracelet and earrings. The professor adds what may be a matching necklace to the set, drawing attention to the mysterious origin of these jewels. Nina, Drew Brooks, who works with the auction house, and Grigori Salodin, the professor, all confront their pasts while searching for the truth behind the amber jewelry suite.

My own skills lack to sum up this novel in the way that it deserves. This is one of the most beautifully written books I have read in a while. The story was lovely in its simplicity, every description dripping with meaning without being overly sentimental or pedantic. The whole way through I marveled at the language. Despite its length, the book moved at a swift pace. The plot was not one of action, but still I hardly wanted to put the book down. This is masterful writing.

The portrayal of Nina's past in Soviet Russia was fantastic. I have studied the Soviet Union quite a bit, particularly through the writings of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. Kalotay did a good job portraying the way Soviet citizens likely felt about their lives. She shows the reverence for Stalin, even in the worst times. Never once does Nina see him as anything but a savior; the problems come from others and he does not know. Shocking though that may be, anything else would probably have been inaccurate. The faith that she had in the country and the small things that lead her to question that are done well. Kalotay confronts rough issues with subtlety, with no overarching need to make her point clear by bashing you over the head with it.

I recommend this one extremely highly (in case that wasn't clear from the above). Do yourself a favor and read this.

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Sunday, August 29, 2010

Livin' La Vida Loca - Ricky Martin

Crusade, Book 1

Author: Nancy Holder & Debbie Viguié
Genre: young adult, fantasy
Pages: 470
ARC Obtained From: Simon & Schuster booth at ALA 2010

Brief Summary:
In some future time, vampires have taken over the world. Much like in the Sookie Stackhouse books, vampires decided to come out of hiding and make overtures of friendship with humanity. That kindness is a facade, allowing them to gain control over the governments of the world without much of a struggle. The only remaining resistance comes from people like Jenn, vampire hunters, although there are less of them all the time. Few academies are still going, shut down to appease the new vampire overlords. Spain, where Jenn's hunter group lives and patrols, is one of the last countries to resist the vampires. Jenn is American, having run away to study at the Academia to escape her controlling, vampire-believing father. Her boyfriend, Antonio, is a vampire (zomg, shock!), but don't worry, because he is the only good vampire in the whole world (of course). Of course, Jenn and Antonio do not have a perfect relationship: he is unwilling to give it up (he wanted to be a priest before he was turned and is determined to stick to his vow of chastity). There are four more in the vampire hunting group: Eriko, made super strong via potion, Skye, witch, Jamie, bad-ass, and Holgar, werewolf. Jenn has to leave Spain to go visit during a family crisis in California. When her sister gets taken by evil vampires (the only kind, except for dreamy Antonio), Jenn enlists her group for a sister-saving mission to New Orleans.

I chose Livin' La Vida Loca, a cheesy song from the 90s, because the book has a similar 90s-tastic feeling. It may not be as upbeat, but it is predictable and very much following along with the popular themes of the day, without trying to do anything particularly original. This was also the perfect song because of the authors' constant and annoying pretension to being extremely knowledgeable in every foreign language. Very few pages do not include at least one foreign word as an ejaculation from one of the characters. The main character is pretty much the only one who does not drop words of another language at every opportunity.

As with the languages, the diversity of the characters, who are a veritable grab bag of nationalities, should have been fun. But it wasn't. It was just the device whereby the authors could pretend to be exceedingly clever, while writing sentences of low complexity and constructing an even lesser plot.

The whole thing is overdramatic and obnoxious: the diction, the characters and the emotions felt. Poor Jenn whines through the whole book (except the last page) about her lack of awesome; everyone else in her group has amazing slaying skills, but she is a big ol' klutz (the whole Bella Swan ploy to catch yourself a sexy, schmexy vampire). This kind of heroine is so obnoxious; girls should read books by Kristin Cashore, Suzanne Collins and Tamora Pierce to see what real heroines are. The (forbidden!) love of Antonio and Jenn is the other main theme of the book and even that is not done well. It's not particularly sexy or gushy or sappy or intense. The characters have no chemistry. Neither seems particularly to like the other one, despite their constant inner monologue soliloquies to that effect.

I do not recommend Crusade. I am sure it will have dedicated readers, as these authors wrote a popular series on witches. That's fine, but I, for one, am done. For those who want (for some unknown reason) to read this book, Crusade goes on sale September 7.

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I Kissed a Girl - Katy Perry


Author: Jane Eagland
Genre: historical fiction, young adult
Pages: 349
ARC Obtained From: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt via netgalley.com

Brief Summary:
Louisa Cosgrove, a British girl with a large nose wants nothing more than to be a doctor. Unfortunately, very few people support girls as doctors in her day and age. In fact, they sometimes have girls like her, ones who want silly things like independence, shut up in mental institutions, because, if you do not want a man to tell you what to do all the time, you must be insane. Louisa's life in that time period is made no easier by her being in love with her cousin either, her female cousin (they were totally okay with male and female cousins hooking up).

Wildthorn is not an ideal choice for those in search of happy fun times all the way through, but definitely an interesting topic not much touched on in teen literature. The first half of the novel switches between Louisa's experiences in the mental institution and her memories of her life and how she ended up there. Louisa is very sympathetic for a modern audience. The portrayal of the mental institution clearly reveals the horridness of that setup. Troublesome women truly were shunted off into these institutions and they could do nothing to escape. Most poignant is the impossibility of proving one's sanity. How do you convince people that you are not crazy when they keep calling you by a name that is not your own?

The lesbian angle was interesting too. Finding LGBT fiction for teens can be difficult; I took a course on young adult resources and in the week on this topic, we had no books about lesbians. This book fills a gap in teen literature and does quite a good job of it. Eagland does not shy away from the topic, nor does she overdo it. The story manages to be sweet and serious, a solid, slightly more deep than average teen read. It also has a beautiful cover!

Recommended if you like Sarah Waters, since this seems much like a teen version of Fingersmith.

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Saturday, August 28, 2010

The Vampires - Paul Simon

The House of the Scorpion

Author: Nancy Farmer
Genre: science fiction, dystopia, young adult
Pages: 380

Brief Summary:
Matteo Alacran lives the first years of his life in a house, knowing only the woman who watches over him, Celia. One day he cannot resist peeking out the window at two older children, even though Celia told him never to be seen by anyone. He injures himself when he tries to jump out the window the next time the children come to see him, so they take him back to their huge manor house. This leads to Matt's discovery that he is not human; he is considered an animal, a beast, a clone. Everyone treats him horribly, at least until El Patron, the dictator of the country of Opium and the man who Matt is a clone of, arrives and forces everyone to at least pretend to be kind to Matt. His life improves, materially at least, until he realizes why El Patron had Matt created in the first place and how El Patron has lived for over a hundred years. Matt must escape and find a new way of life where he can escape from the horror of being a clone.

Farmer's book has won many awards, most notably the National Book Award, so you do not need me to tell you whether it is well-written or interesting. Although I had not heard it particularly listed as such, The House of the Scorpion is a dystopian novel. Matt lives in the country of Opium, formed as a barrier to immigration between the United States and Mexico. Opium, as its name implies, earns money almost solely from the export of drugs. The workers are treated even worse than slaves. A steady supply of new workers come from the people in the U.S. hoping for better conditions in Mexico and vice versa. There is no better place: there is only Opium. Mexico has become a communist country, with all of the excesses and hypocrisy that brings.

Although the story was incredibly interesting, I had trouble relating to much to the characters. They all seemed to be driven by only one personality trait, which got quite old. People have more depth than that generally. Matt and El Patron were both driven almost entirely by the desire to preserve their lives, although El Patron includes with his life his hoard. Maria wants to save all creatures who cannot save themselves. Tom only cares about screwing with people. None of the characters were particularly likable, even Maria, who could be too trusting of people despite the evidence to the contrary.

Recommended for fans of dystopia and alternative futures. Especially recommended if you liked Neal Shusterman's Unwind.

P.S. The song choice is not to reveal surprise vampires. There are no actual vampires in this novel. I chose the song because the tone and sound of it was very fitting.

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Friday, August 27, 2010

Set Free - Katie Gray

The Hunger Games, Book 3

Author: Suzanne Collins
Genre: dystopia, fantasy, young adult
Pages: 390

I will not endeavor to sum up Mockingjay, which I finished less than a minute ago (the tears still stain my cheeks). Books do not often make me cry, but this one definitely did. It almost did innumerable times, but in the end it got me. I will not add my opinion on the book to the internet; I just want to say that I felt heartbroken the entire time I was reading it. This series makes you feel.

Rather than saying anything else myself, I will conclude with the lyrics to a song I do not know particularly well, which came on while I was reading the book and struck a particularly fitting chord:

"There's a cold fire
There's a crossfire
And there's something
Inside, inside

And we'll never, never
Make it
And we'll never, never
Break it

Until, until

There's a long game
That's a wrong chain
And it's something
We all hide it

And we'll never, never make it
And we'll never, never break it
Until we learn to see
Until we set free

And you got style
And you got grace
And you got the means
To leave that place
But you'll never, never make it
And you'll never, never break it

Until you learn to see
Until you set free

So set free
Set free

Set free
Set free

De de dum de de de
De de dum de de de

Free, oh
Set free

If we could see that this was all that we need
Inside our minds
Bodies and souls
We wouldn't run and we would let go
Cause we'd realize
That we had
That we had no control"

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Wednesday, August 25, 2010

It's Been a Long, Long Time - Perry Como

The Way of Kings
The Stormlight Archive, Book 1

Author: Brandon Sanderson
Genre: high fantasy, epic
Pages: 1007
ARC Acquired From: TOR

Brief Summary:
Summarizing fantasy novels, as I have actually heard the author of this novel say, is a tricky venture. Even the best of fantasy novels sound absurd when explained in short bursts. The back of the ARC copy is no help either, giving only a brief entry to three of the main characters of this lengthy tome. To sum this up as simply as I can: A fantasy world full of strange powers and races has been warring and generally going about their ways, until the powers of the past, long lost to people, begin to return.

This is the first book in The Stormlight Archive. Sanderson is obviously much indebted to Robert Jordan in the scope of the novel, but I do not see that he particularly copied the elements of the fantasy world or the nature of the characters. Like many fantasy novels of epic scope, Sanderson takes quite a while to establish the functioning of the fantasy environment and to build up a stock of characters. Getting to where I particularly cared about any of the characters or felt swept up in any of the action scenes took a few hundred pages. From the beginning though, I was impressed with some of the elements of the society, particularly what can be done with Stormlight (this leads to some really awesome battle scenes!).

The society has some interesting quirks with regards to gender. Women can be quite powerful, especially since they are the only people who can read. Yup. It is shameful for men to be much educated; reading is especially dangerous. Way to alienate much of your audience, Sanderson! (Just kidding) Seriously though, I was unsure how to feel about this: glad to see women given power or irritated to find yet another world where some things are women's work and others only for manly men. Women also (at least in Alethkar, where most of the book is set) have to cover their left hand, their 'safehand' in public; to do otherwise would be indecorous. That's a little weird. I know weird fashions happen. I could accept the hands needing to be covered, but why only one? A concession to the fact that a woman with covered hands couldn't actually do anything? Other quirks in the society that would be good to know are that the people reverence lighteyes (blue and probably green), who form the aristocracy, and that spren, spirits of sort, are attracted to pretty much everything (firespren to fire, rotspren to an infected wound, etc.).

The characters are, obviously, numerous. The back of the book (as I mentioned earlier) detailed only three: Dalinar, Kaladin and Shallan. Dalinar is the uncle of the King and a High Prince of the powerful country of Alethkar (blah blah blah). He is a warrior, but one who endeavors to do the right thing, rather than to show up others and increase his own wealth. Visions he has been having of what may be the past have started eroding his credibility, even with his own sons. He and his eldest son, Adolin, are interesting men who I look forward to learning more about in the future. Dalinar definitely took a while to grow on me though; his macho man stuff did not particularly attract my interest, but his visions made for good fun, along with his ideals (especially in comparison with all of the jerks in Alethkar).

Kaladin is Stormblessed, which basically means he is one lucky s.o.b. He also can wield a spear something fierce. He was the first character I really grew attached to. His manly, spear-wielding abilities definitely had something to do with it, especially when packaged in a young man (where do I sign up for one of those?), but what really interested me was something else. He attracts a windspren, which is a sort of spirit thing. This is not a common occurrence; it shows he has some sort of power, and, well, I love powers. Kaladin gets thrown down about as low as a man can go on the totem pole of life (since women are on an entirely different totem pole). Thankfully, he has the strength and awesome new powers to start pulling himself again. I would probably read the sequel just to find out what happens to Kaladin.

Shallan is one of three female characters to receive a decent amount of page time. She is a young girl whose family has fallen on incredibly tough times (they're being hunted down by creditors and some kind of fantasy-world mafia). She travels to meet the king's sister, a great scholar, to become her ward and steal a powerful artifact, with which she should be able to save her family from utter ruin. Shallan appealed to me at first for her sharp wit, but soon irritated me with her whining. All through the book, I flip-flopped about how I felt about her character, for those exact reasons. She could be an awesome character once she increases her own sense of self (yes, I know how hard that is) and becomes a force to be reckoned with (which will be aided by her burgeoning powers).

While I did enjoy this book, I recommend it with caution. It is long and, as observed above, reading it takes a long, long time. These fantasy novels generally attract the kind of nerds who will enjoy them (like me!). I do not think Sanderson has quite got it yet. For example, a number of characters are introduced and go through scenes which have no impact (that I could tell) on anything within this volume. While they may come into play later, it is a bit clunky and made getting into the book that much harder. Nevertheless, I think there is definitely promise in this first book and hope that the series can fulfill that.

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Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Fairytale - Sara Bareilles

The Grimm Legacy

Author: Polly Shulman
Genre: young adult, fantasy, books about books
Pages: 325

Brief Summary:
Elizabeth Rew does not have any friends in her high school; unlike most teens, she actually gets the most joy out of her school work. After writing an A+ paper on the Brothers Grimm for her history teacher, Mr. Mauskopf, he offers to set her up with a job. She agrees and finds herself working at a freakin' sweet and unique library. Rather than lending books, this library (repository) lends materials, like chess sets, antique doublets, parasols and vases. In addition to that stuff in the main stacks, the 'dungeon' has all of the magical and science fiction-y items, straight out of fairy tales and novels. Elizabeth finds danger, excitement, friends and romance once she finally gets to open the door to the Grimm Collection in the dungeon.

The Grimm Legacy brimmed with magic. I love the premise; I so want to work at that library! The magical objects are hilarious to read about and Elizabeth is exceedingly likable. While many of the side characters lack depth, they were not totally static either. The focus of the book is more on Elizabeth's feelings about herself and development as a person that it is on the dastardly plot of a villain to steal the priceless items from the Grimm Collection. The whole mystery plot line is a bit absurd, with the bad guys never seeming any real threat and not being particularly hard to discern either. That said, do not read this out of a love for mystery.

This is a book for book lovers; Shulman's love of books and libraries exudes from every page. She compares Elizabeth to an ordinary fairy tale heroine throughout the story and makes some clever observations. It is always nice to find more teen books where the heroine does not have to be incredibly beautiful or a princess or an incredibly beautiful princess. Elizabeth is smart and, while certainly no troll, not particularly pretty. Her romance, too, follows a more believable pattern than I see in much teen literature.

This is a fun, fast-paced, magical read, well worth your time!

"Once upon a time in a faraway kingdom
Man made up a story said that I should believe him
Go and tell your white knight that he's handsome in hindsight
But I don't want the next best thing"

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Friday, August 20, 2010

Malvolio Rampant - Shaun Davey

The Fool's Girl

Author: Celia Rees
Genre: young adult, historical fiction, books about books (or in this case, plays)
Pages: 297

Brief Summary:
Celia Rees picks up where Shakespeare's play Twelfth Night (my personal favorite) left off. The main character of The Fool's Girl is Viola's daughter, Violetta, who travels with Feste. After a coup in her home country of Illyria, Violetta and Feste escape to England, where they actually encounter Shakespeare. Violetta tells him her mother's story and her own in an effort to enlist his help to regain her rightful place in Illyria. Romance and drama abound in this sequel to Twelfth Night.

While I do not necessarily agree with all of the decisions Rees made in her composition of this novel, I do think her interpretation was incredibly interesting. Her analysis of the hasty marriages between Viola & Orsino and Olivia & Stephano at the end of the play certainly seems spot on to me. Her use of Malvolio and Sir Andrew Agueface as harsh villains I have more trouble accepting. As I know the play so well, I have trouble picturing Malvolio without cross-gartered with yellow stockings and Sir Andrew as capable of using a sword.

Rees does a good job creating some of the atmosphere of the play and its characters (Feste in particular is spot on). The book is definitely less comedic though, so do not expect it to be just the same. Rees conveys the spirit of the time fairly accurately in most instances, although sometimes I wish she had not; I have trouble escaping my silly modern sensibilities, which feel that first cousins should in no instance have a romantic relationship (Oh wait, they're not silly: hemophilia). Cousins aside, this book is a great choice for any Shakespeare fans. I think Rees tackles of writing a sequel to the bard without being overly silly or overly pedantic. Check this one out, thou of good taste!

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I'll Follow the Sun - The Beatles

Aries Rising
Star Crossed, Book 1

Author: Bonnie Hearn Hill
Genre: young adult
Pages: 278

Brief Summary:
Logan McRae has two awesome best friends, Chili and Paige. Otherwise though, her high school life is drab; she feels invisible, except when the mean teacher (who the students have dubbed Frankenstein) calls on her in class. Logan's mother is a famous golf player, so she is almost never home. Logan's crush, Nathan, has been showing interest in the hottest girl in school (unfortunately this is not Logan). One day while digging through boxes in her family's house, she finds a book on astrology. Logan decides that she will use the information in this book to remake her life and herself. She has three things she wants to do with the book: get Nathan to want her, win the writing contest at her school, and catch the mischievous Gears (a sort of secret society whose pranks have been getting increasingly mean).

Let me begin by saying that I would never have read this book had it not been a free giveaway at ALA, along with the second in the Starcrossed series (which I will read as well, although probably not review). Aries Rising was entertaining, but it will not be the latest teen fad or receive critical acclaim. Learning about astrology is (for me) amusing, but I cannot help laughing at how seriously Logan takes the whole thing. No comment is ever made about the obvious drawbacks of astrology (like the fact that every person born at the same time and place will not have the same personality).

The book does manage to avoid getting too cheesy, which was definitely appreciated. While she does moon over Nathan, she does so in a very realistically high school way, rather than in a Twilight-ish-we're-totes-in-love-already kind of way. Her relationship with her teacher, Frankenstein, and her friends are believable as well, and probably the best part of the book. The plot and the revelation of whodunit are straightforward in obvious. The guilty parties for the various pranks and graffiti-ing that occur within the book are obvious almost as soon as they happen (to me although not to Logan or anyone else in the book). Logan is convinced for much of the book that one of the Gears is a guy with a lot of tattoos, regardless of the fact that one of the pranks involved the Gears streaking past while Logan and her friends were in Chili's hot tub; if one of them had tattoos, she would have seen them. Such obvious deductions are above and beyond our teenage astrological sleuth.

Recommended for teenage girls who check their astrological forecast every day.

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Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me) - The Temptations

The Eternal Smile

Author: Gene Luen Yang
& Derek Kirk Kim
Genre: graphic novel, fantasy
Pages: 170

Brief Summary:
The Eternal Smile is a compilation of three different stories, all with their own plots and art styles. The first story, "Duncan's Kingdom" explores the imagination of a young man, who believes himself to be a hero in love with a princess. The second story, "Gran'pa Greenbax and The Eternal Smile" features the persistent grin from the title of this volume, along with a money-grubbing, anthropomorphic frog (who is somewhat reminiscent of Scrooge McDuck, especially in his love for money pits). The final story, "Urgent Request" focuses on an unhappy, passed over, put upon office worker who falls for an internet scam.

The first and last stories share a common theme of escapism into imagination, although the two characters respond differently to a confrontation with the fact that they are living in their fantasy worlds. I liked this first story the best, both the art and the plot line. The second story I found to be largely obnoxious, although the ending redeemed it somewhat. The last story just depressed me, as the character could hardly have been more pitiful than she was. The fact that each tale had clearly been illustrated by someone different also bothered me a bit when all sandwiched together this way, especially since I did not like some of the art (last story, I'm looking at you). This is definitely a quick read though, so, if you're interested, go ahead and give it a go.

"Just my imagination, once again
running away with me.
Tell you it was just my imagination
running away with me.
I never met her, but I can't forget her."

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Monday, August 16, 2010

Wrapped Up in Books - Belle & Sebastian

Endymion Spring

Author: Matthew Skelton
Genre: fantasy, historical fiction, young adult
Pages: 392

Brief Summary:
Blake Winters has been displeased with what his life has been bringing him. His parents have been having problems; his mother, an academic, moved across the Atlantic Ocean to Oxford, along with Blake and his sister, Duck. Blake worries that the separation may be permanent. Although his mother is supposed to be teaching him, she is too busy with her own studies, leaving the two children to explore the library and forcing Blake to babysit for his sister. All he wants is for his family to be together again, until the day he discovers a mysterious, old book on the shelves of the Bodleian Library. Suddenly, he is embroiled in a war against good and evil that has been going on since the days of Johann Gutenberg and his assistant, Endymion Spring.

I picked this book up, because, as a librarian, it is rather a prerequisite to enjoy metafiction, books about books. This has at times betrayed me (ex. The Grand Complication incident), but often works out in my favor, as with Endymion Spring. The weaving of the sections set in the past (1453 with Endymion Spring) and the present (Blake) is done expertly. The book conveys a true love of libraries and of books themselves. It does a marvelous job also of blending fantasy and historical fiction, weaving magic into a tale with a basis in truth. The characters are a bit one dimensional, but still likable (particularly Duck with her yellow raincoat and curiosity). I recommend this book to lovers of metafiction (people who liked Inkheart, I'm talking, or typing, to you).

"Our aspirations are wrapped up in books"

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Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Attagirl - Bettie Serveert

First Test / Page / Squire / Lady Knight
Protector of the Small Quartet, Books 1-4

Tamora Pierce
Young Adult Fantasy
Brief Summary:
Fifteen years after Alanna (from the first Tortall series by Pierce) became the first female knight in hundreds of years and the king once again allowed women to become pages, the first girl actually tries out for knighthood. This brave girl's name is Keladry of Mindelan, who firmly believes she has it in her to become a knight of the realm. Unlike Alanna (who pretended to be a boy), everyone knows Kel is a girl all along, which makes her predicament infinitely more difficult in a lot of respects. The series follows Kel from the age of ten in First Test through the attainment of her knighthood in the final book, Lady Knight.

This series has a lot in common with Pierce's other Tortall books, such as a number of characters. Alanna, Daine, Numair and Lord Raoul (among many others) all make frequent appearances. One of the things that is so nice about these fantasy authors who stick to a particular world is that you can see favorite characters return without being done to death (either figuratively or literally) in their own series.

The books are definitely comparable to the Alanna quartet, but they have some major differences. The Protector of the Small books focus much more on the military aspects than on magic or romance. Battles abound, so girls who want to see a lady kick some ass would be well advised to give this series a shot. Alanna (for all she was pretending to be a boy through much of the series) got a lot of action (wink wink nudge nudge), whereas Kel is much less driven by that. In the series she has only one beau and only for a small portion of the series comparatively. The ending of the series suggests that more of Kel's story remains to be told. I, for one, would not be averse to reading it.

"This is a story for the girls back home
Living on their own
Looking for something"

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Carry On Wayward Son - Kansas

I'm in the mood to lose myself in the story of someone else's life. Does anyone have any good biography/memoir recommendations? I've started reading Smashed: Story of a Drunken Girlhood, but the writing's a little flowery for me. I don't want something heartbreakingly sad or violent, although I would be interested in reading about someone living with a painfull disease or similar, and would like something emotionally resonating and possibly funny. Anyone have any suggestions?

Here are some of my favorite bios:

Oh the Glory of It All by Sean Wilsey:
Oh the Glory of It All, besides having an awesome title, follows Wilsey through growing up in San Francisco with an often drugged, celebrity knowing Mom, and divorced Dad who almost marries Danielle Steele, and through high school as he gets kicked out of prep schools until he finally attends one where they have to do physical labor and scream their feelings out loud. Another fun fact: his mom wrote a counter memoir "Oh the Hell of It All".

Cheaper by the Dozen by Frank B. Gilbreth Jr. and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey:
I love the wackiness of this big family and all of the fun things they do, such as when their Dad paints messages in Morse Code around their lighthouse summer house and they have to learn Morse Code to be the first to decode it.

Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert:
This heartfelt memoir of a woman's physical and mental trip to recover from a divore and find herself is wonderfully written. Gilbert did a great job writing this and I connected with her and enjoyed reading about someone who shared so honestly the reality of her life.

My Horizontal Life: a Collection of One-Night Stands by Chelsea Handler:
This memoir of Handler's wacky family and run-ins with sex had me laughing out loud. Reading this is a great stress reliever.

The Year of Living Biblically: One Man's Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible by A.J. Jacobs:
I learned a lot about what is in the bible through this book and found it hilarious to follow A.J.'s very real attempts to uphold different facets of the bible in literal ways. A.J. Jacobs does a great job researching and talking with people of different viewpoints on the Bible. This book is funny but he does a serious job of attempting this undertaking.

Patriots: the Vietnam War Remembered from All Sides, edited by Christian G. Appy:
This book is a collection of short interviews of people from all different positions from both sides in the Vietnam War. It's incredible and moving and great to read piece by piece. There's a woman who works as a nurse in a Viet Cong hospital that has to relocate sometimes to avoid detection. There are all sorts of stories in here, and they are organized into chapters based on when they were during the war, with explanation at the beginning of each chapter as to what was going on. Try this and see the Vietnam War through many different viewpoints.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

If I Only Had a Brain - The Flaming Lips

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: Dawn of the Dreadfuls

Author: Steve Hockensmith
Genre: Quirk
Pages: 287

Brief Summary:
Dawn of the Dreadfuls is a prequel to the extremely popular Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, which has precipitated so many other so-called quirk classics. The Bennet girls are in their teenage years; Jane is already out in society and Elizabeth about to come out (funny how that term not means something the British in the Regency period would not be pleased to have their daughters do). Upon attending a funeral, the Bennets and much of Meryton society discover that the zombie menace, thought to have been defeated many years ago, has returned. Mr. Bennet begins training his daughters in the ways of the deadly arts to fight the zombies, here called unmentionables.

I am an ardent Austen fan girl and read far more of the published fan fiction than is probably entirely good for me. Along this vein, I could not resist picking up Pride and Prejudice and Zombies when I heard of it. I expected hilarity, but got what I found to be a shoddy, lazy job. That book seemed to have been written primarily through the use of Word's ctrl-f replace function, changing terms like "practicing the pianoforte" to "practicing the deadly arts." There were a few clever elements, but, for the most part, I hated it. Nevertheless, I could not resist giving the prequel a try.

To my surprise, this one was much better. The reason for this is that Hockensmith could not simply change a few words and sections in an already published novel. He actually wrote a story. It is silly and sensational and gory, the plot rather ridiculous, but that is all to be expected. For my part, I recommend reading this and skipping the book it is prequel-ing, but everyone can make their own decision on that.

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Black Hole Sun - Soundgarden

Black Hole Sun
Black Hole Sun, Book 1

Author: David Macinnis Gill

Genre: young adult, dystopia
Pages: 352
ARC Acquired From: HarperCollins booth at ALA 2010
Release Date: August 24, 2010

Brief Summary:
Location, location, location. That's what makes this dystopia original and what makes the planet Earth so desirable. Jacob Durango is a Regulator, sort of a gun for hire, living on the civilization established on Mars. He has a davos, a team, of other Regulators, of which he is the chief and a sarcastic computer in his head that gives him an edge in almost every situation. Regulators live by strict codes of conduct. One rule, to give an example, is that a chief should not have a romantic relationship with anyone in his davos, which can be difficult if your right hand 'man' is an incredibly gorgeous girl (which happens to be the case for Durango).

Mars is not a pleasant place to live at the best of times. Crime seems to run rampant, air is barely breathable and the life span is half of what it would be on Earth. To make this worse, a mysterious queen leads a group of cannibals, Draeu, in an attempt to establish dominion of the planet. Despite an awareness that doing so will likely be a death sentence, Durango agrees to bring his crew out to defend poor miners against the Draeu.

I have been all over this dystopia craze, so, when I had the chance to grab an ARC of Black Hole Sun at ALA 2010, I was all over it. The appeal mostly stemmed from the dystopia love mentioned above, but I suspected I would like the book for the literary references. The title is a reference to the Soundgarden song and the cover also includes the line "The End of the World As You Know It" (which may not actually be intended as a reference to the song by REM, but I'm pretending it is either way).

The book moved along at a good pace with a lot of action (gun fire, explosions, cannibals, snowmobile chases). The characterization is weak, but perhaps the book is meant to appeal more to a crowd that prefers the aforementioned action to knowing much about the backstories of the characters. Despite that, I did rather like the chief and his davos, even though I knew little about them. The action scenes are well-drawn, allowing me to draw a decent picture of the scene in my head, which some books do not.

The plot could have been better too, I felt. Much of the book seems to be spent running after characters who have gone sneaking off for no particular reason. This was fine the first time, but got old quickly. Another odd element was the creation of a new menace in the last few pages, some evil lurking an area never mentioned before then. I suppose this indicates that a sequel is in the works. At this point, I cannot say whether I will read it, but suspect that I may not unless I hear some really good buzz.

I recommend this one for anyone who loves battle scenes and explosions.

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Monday, August 9, 2010

Guest Blogger

Just dropping a quick post to say that my friend Katelyn will be joining me as an author on this blog. She will be contributing reviews, articles, whatever, just the way I do. Katelyn and I went to college and bonded over our mutual love of books during freshman year, in which we had dorm rooms next door to one another. Out friendship formed because of the books she recommended and I read over spring break that year:

Rant About the Government's Treatment of Libraries

Bad Decisions in the Government, Or Why Libraries Are More Important than Ever

One of my friends sent me this link this morning: http://www.philly.com/philly/news/new_jersey/100099219.html. For those not particularly eager to actually read the article, allow me to sum up. As is the case everywhere, the economy sucks. The government needs to cut budgets and turns to libraries, seeing them as a luxury rather than an essential. As a result, libraries are struggling to keep their doors open; many have reduced hours and some, like the system in Camden, NJ, may shut down entirely. Camden is not just shutting down one branch, but the whole system. That means there might not be any libraries in Camden next year.

For those outside of the library profession, maybe the importance of libraries is not as obvious as it is to me, so let me explain. More people are using the library now than did before the economy's precipitous descent into recession. The reason I think is obvious: libraries offer books (and often movies and CDs as well) for FREE (excepting fines). These are items that were easy for many families to go purchase on a whim ten years ago, but now are mostly for purchase solely around holidays and birthdays. When money is tight, you want to save money for absolute essentials. This means that if a soccer mom can get the latest Danielle Steel or Nora Roberts from the library instead of purchasing it from Borders or Barnes and Nobles, she will do so and save her the cost of $17.99 for each one.

On top of that, libraries offer free connection to the internet. Camden, according to the article, is a poor area; only one-third of the residents have internet at home. The internet may once have been a luxury, but now it is de rigeur and pretty much necessary for living in modern America. For example, if you want a job, the best way to look for positions is...on the internet. Applications are more and more frequently to be filled out and submitted online or emailed. For any but the most rudimentary position, you are going to need an email address.

So government people, what are you thinking (assuming that you are capable of doing so)? Please remove heads from sphincters and give the libraries money, because they improve life in an economic downturn for all people smart enough to appreciate them.

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Friday, August 6, 2010

Cry Baby Cry - The Beatles

Birthmarked, Book 1

Caragh M. O'Brien
young adult, dystopia

Brief Summary:

Birthmarked is one of many in the recent wave of dystopias. This future America has clearly had some sort of environmental cataclysm; the lakes (called unlakes) are dry and rain comes but infrequently. Crops are difficult to sustain, so mycoprotein, which can be grown without sunlight, has become important for subsistence. The society consists of the better-off people inside the Wall, who have technology and running water. Outside the wall, they live more like subsistence farmers or a third world country.

Sixteen year old Gaia has lived a pleasant, if hard-working, life outside the Wall. Her mother works as a midwife and Gaia is finally old enough to be making it her career as well, no longer merely an apprentice to her mother. Her life is not an easy one, but she is happy and dearly loves her mother and father. The only thing that mars her existence is the scar on her face, which prevented her from being Advanced (taken to be adopted by a family inside the city). Midwives have to Advance a quote of a babies every month and the mothers just have to accept this; Gaia's mother gave her first two children, both sons, to be Advanced.

Gaia's life is thrown into chaos when she discovers that her parents have been arrested. She cannot fathom why this has happened and doesn't know what to do. All she has is a small mysterious package, the last thing given to her by her parents, and a guard interrogating her in her parent's house. Disgruntled with life after these new revelations, Gaia determines to sneak into the city to find, and possibly rescue her parents. She finds that life is not necessarily any better behind the Wall and that first impressions can be quite wrong, even about herself.

Birthmarked is a good read, not incredibly fast paced, the way The Hunger Games is, but it moves along steadily. The characters feel realistic and multidimensional. My only real criticism of the novel is that I could not picture any of the characters. O'Brien does wonderful descriptions of the places and the codes, but does not tend to describe people, except some of the details. This may be a good thing, if you are one of the people who likes being able to create the character's physical appearance in your mind. (Personally, I like to have a 'correct' picture, by which I mean based on the canon of the author's description.)

I do not want to spoil anything, because I know that is unbearably obnoxious, but I will say that this book flows much more like a traditional dystopia and less like some of the more cheerful ones coming out for children now. Some comparisons could be made here perhaps to The Handmaid's Tale, although obviously less harsh for the teen audience. O'Brien came up with a different plot line, focusing less on how the society came about and more on the problems within it (particularly the unforeseen complications a small population can bring). I highly recommend this as one of the better written and more original books coming out now.

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Karma - Alicia Keys

The Eternal Ones
Eternal Ones, Book 1

Author: Kirsten Miller
Genre: young adult, fantasy
Pages: 416
ARC Acquired From:
Penguin booth at ALA 2010
Release Date:
August 10, 2010

Brief Summary:
Haven Moore is an outcast in her small hometown in the Bible belt Tennessee. Everyone, including her grandmother, believes her to be possessed by a demon, because of her visions of her past life. Her mother has been distant and a bit crazy, since Haven’s father died in an accident with his mistress. Haven has only one person she can truly depend on: her best friend, and designing partner, Beau. For a long time, Haven questions whether her visions are truly real or whether she is just crazy. She discovers notes of her father’s and learns that she has had the same visions since she was a child. Not only that, but she accurately knows buildings in New York, a city she has never visited. When she has another vision after seeing a scandal-ridden playboy, she becomes convinced that he is her lover from her past life. She runs away to New York to investigate her past life, the mysterious Ouroboros Society and perhaps find her true love.

I have a bit of trouble trying to determine exactly how I feel about this book. Perhaps the best way to describe my reaction is this: the idea is an exceedingly interesting one, but the execution could have been better. The characters never truly sprang alive for me. The bad guys were even more weakly drawn, never making me feel truly worried for the protagonists. The love story never sold me either; Haven and Iain, the playboy, never really seem to have any real chemistry and their relationship lacks any foundation or trust. The ending was predictable, poorly explained and rather cheesy. What worries me perhaps the most are the strange religious themes, which point to Pentecostal Christianity. Not the staid version either, but the rattlesnake in a box ones. I really cannot figure out what that whole element was doing in there or what the reader was supposed to make of it.

Nonetheless, the book progressed at a decent pace and is perhaps worth a read, if only for its relatively unique ideas. This is not a great book, but if it intrigues you despite the review, check it out.

"It's called Karma baby and it goes around"

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Wednesday, August 4, 2010


For several years, I have intended to get going on a book review blog, with smatterings of other content, but, through sheer laziness, have not done so until now. It seems appropriate to begin with a few comments about myself. I am a 22 year old librarian (cue Lily Allen's 22 on your playlist) from Georgia. No, before you ask, I do not have a southern accent. I am from the suburbs of Atlanta and never did have one, since my parents, like many residents of Atlanta, moved here from Ohio. I attended Hanover College in Hanover, Indiana and received a Bachelor's Degree a full year ago.
Realizing my calling as a librarian took a while, although it should perhaps have been a rather obvious choice, given my lifelong interest (read: nigh unhealthy obsession) in books. I had just never considered the possibility of being a librarian; once I did, it soon became evident that I was not suited to much else, which is perfectly fine with me. I just (literally just) finished my MLIS (Master's in Library and Information Science) at the University of Pittsburgh. Unfortunately, the economy has necessitated the rather shameful step of moving back home with my parents while I continue to hunt for one of the rare and mythical positions in a public library.
Enough about boring background! Let's return to the really interesting stuff: books! My parents bred the book love into me from birth, reading to me every night for years. I am grateful, although the people who "don't like reading" who come into contact with me may not be. I graduated pretty quickly from children's books to adult literature, since teen fiction was only just developing at that point. I gained an early appreciation for Jane Austen, which I retain to this day. My reading has gone through definite phases, which I say only to read the reader of this blog (presuming of course that one actually exists). Currently, I am reading a lot of teen fiction, but there will be other books that show up as well. My tastes are somewhat varied, so the reviews probably will be as well. Posts will, if I am diligent appear as often as I finish a book. To find out more about my reading habits and book crazy, visit me on Shelfari or Goodreads.
The final thing I want to say in this initial post is that I am a massive lover of movies, music and television shows as well, so expect quotes and references thrown in willy-nilly. Each blog post title will be a song title from my personal music collection. The title of my blog is drawn from a song as well. If anyone who reads this can tell me who the artist is, they win my respect and my recognition of their excellent taste.
The picture above is of my rather overloaded bookshelves. They are holding all 500+ books currently in my personal possession. A couple of shelves sag in the middle (poor dears), evidence of the toll they bear. Each shelf has a double layer of books, front and back. Even so, they barely fit. Yes, I do have another book case, but it's rather ponderous and I don't know how long I'll be in my parent's house. (Also, excuse the mess please, as I have only just gotten home from graduate school. Cleaning comes later...maybe.)