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A Reader of Fictions: November 2010

A Reader of Fictions

Book Reviews for Just About Every Kind of Book

Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Leader of the Pack - The Shangrilas

Once in a Full Moon
Full Moon, Book 1

Author: Ellen Schreiber
Genre: fantasy, young adult
Pages: 189
ARC Acquired From: HarperTeen via netGalley

Brief Summary:
Celeste is living the perfect life. She's one of the popular people and is dating the most popular guy in school, who is, of course, the star of the football and basketball teams. Her two best friends are dating his two best friends. What could be better? Well, maybe the mysterious, sexy new guy Brandon, who even saved her from a wolf pack, sustaining a bite in the process. Her boyfriend, Nash, has never been as attentive as she would like, so, after an act of cowardice and some flirting with another girl, she decides to break up with him. With him out of the way, she has time to research the werewolf legends in Legend's Run for a paper and to research Brandon too, who just might, unbelievably be a werewolf.

Celeste does not actually like Nash at all. She mentions that when he first asked her out, she truly thought it was a joke, because he "was known for pranks around schoolgum on chairs, funny sayings on blackboards, sticking naughty pictures in textbooksand I'd yet to be picked as his victim " (22). When Nash tells jokes, everyone laughs, except for Celeste, who finds them to be in bad taste (34). When he runs away from howling wolves, she has to "put on a brave face to mask [her] disappointment in [her] boyfriend's cowardice" (18). Despite her rather obvious lack of connection to Nash, even after the break up, Celeste continues to allow him to escort her to classes and buy her lunch every day.

Schreiber wants the audience to believe that Celeste and her best friends, Ivy and Abby, really love one another. But they totally don't. There is no evidence of it; these girls are as catty as popular girls tend to be. She describes their lunch time conversation as "wonderfully inane," (28) complains that they will not do any of the things that she is interested in, like spending time outdoors, and hates their disdain of Westsiders (the kids from the poor side of town, of which Brandon is one). The fact that she really does not like her friends matters quite a bit, since she refuses to acknowledge Brandon publicly because she is afraid of losing their friendship...

After Brandon saves her life, she feels drawn to him, so attracted that she cannot resist his pull. Of course, it doesn't hurt that he's model gorgeous (are they ever not?). She talks to him only in private and never tells her friends that she likes him or hangs out with him. Even at the end of the novel when she is entirely convinced of her love for Brandon, she still thinks of him like this (in incomplete sentences): "But I wasn't going to commit to Nash. Even if it were the smart thing to do, even if it didn't make sense to love a guy who I couldn't see at night and couldn't be embraced in front of my friends by day" (180). There are a couple of glaring problems here: 1) In what world is it logical to date a guy you hate who also happens to be a dipwad? and 2)How can you consider yourself to be in true, everlasting love with a guy that you will snub to hang out with your friends who, again, you don't actually like?

Celeste, because of the above, is an entirely unlikeable narrator. She is also stupid, as she never sees even the most glaringly obvious things coming. And it does not help matters that her friends all think she is the most observant and intelligent person (standards are low in Legend's Run).

Schreiber's take on werewolves is also pretty awful. I gave her props at first for having werewolves that are actually werewolves and not shifters that become wolves. Props end there. When people change into Werewolves here, they apparently become a cross between Fabio and Robin Williams; in other words, they get long hair on their head, neat facial hair, thick chest hair and ripped muscles. Werewolves are not supposed to be hot; they are hairy, and not just in the places where Ellen Schreiber happens to find hairiness attractive.

Yuck, yuck, yuck. This book is poorly written and poorly plotted. It at least has the advantage of being short.

"They told me he was bad
But I knew he was sad
That's why I fell for (the leader of the pack)"

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Saturday, November 27, 2010

The Rake's Song - The Decemberists

The Bar Sinister

Author: Linda Berdoll
Genre: Austen-inspired
Pages: 467 (but it feels like so many more)

Super Brief Summary:
Darcy and Elizabeth have wedded and begun their sex-filled life together. Berdoll's sequel to Jane Austen's classic proposes that beneath Darcy's gruff exterior lurks a big...heart. The story focuses on Darcy and Elizabeth's exploits with a back drop of tragedy and absurdity.

I am a huge Jane Austen fan, so much so that I read every bit of published fan fiction that I can get my hands on (often to disastrous results). Some are decent, but most are pretty awful. Of those, some truly fall beneath the heading 'atrocious.' Berdoll's The Bar Sinister is one such. She is one of the Austen-inspired writers who attempts to write in Jane Austen's style, by which I mean she pretty much refuses to use any words shorter than three syllables. She also likes to pretend that she knows foreign languages, especially Latin.

I have found that the best of the Austen-inspired works do not try too hard to capture her style of language and merely to do right by the characters. The reason that this is better is that these authors are modern; they are not from Jane Austen's time and her language does not come naturally. An author using words she does not know in an effort to sound classy and scholarly has the reverse effect. Words are misused and sentences fail to flow, as words have so obviously been substituted in for the originals after perusal of thesauri and dictionaries. I include here a sample of Berdoll's diction from the first page of the book:

"As each and every muddy mile they travelled diminished the distance betwixt Elisabeth and the awesome duty that awaited her as mistress of such a vast estate, she became ever more uneasy. It was not that she had only then fully comprehended what awaited her, for she had. At least as comprehensibly as was possible.
Hitherto, there had been the excitement of the wedding, and moreover, the anticipation of connubial pleasures with Mr. Darcy that buffered her from the daunting devoir that lay ahead."

These sentences are fairly mild as her language goes, but they get the idea across. Berdoll will never use the word between if she can say betwixt. She will also refer to the act of love making by every imaginable, old-timey term possible (and some that should not have been, such as many of her forays into Latin). I will finish complaining about the writing momentarily after an illustration that Berdoll does not know what words mean. On page 353 of my edition, Lizzy mouths I love you to Darcy and "he wordlessly said, 'I know.'" Wordlessly means that there should be know quotation marks, you dolt! Her writing makes the book, already one of the most absurd stories I have encountered, and makes the book possibly the worst I have ever read from cover to cover.

The story itself is truly atrocious. Lizzy and Darcy, when not having sex (a shockingly rare occurrence), encounter numerous personal difficulties: an insane footman who kidnaps Elisabeth and tries to rape her, a poor shot by Mr. Collins that nearly deafens Darcy permanently, a miscarriage and a stillbirth that nearly kills Elisabeth. And this is what happens to the characters Berdoll likes.

Berdoll hates Bingley. She must, because she has decided that he and Jane do not have a good marriage. Where Darcy and Lizzy are constantly soaked in various forms of connubial pleasure (which sometimes involve a mirror), Bingley does not manage to actually deflower Jane until after a few nights of marriage, during which he missed. There are no words. But, rake that he obviously is, Bingley manages not only to impregnate Jane (five or more times), but to also get a poor woman sick with tuberculosis pregnant with a bastard. Seriously. This happened.

Collins dies after getting chased into a pond by some bees. He lands upside down, gets stuck and drowns. For real real. Colonel Fitzwilliam falls in love with Elisabeth, which he feels guilty about. His guilt propels him to volunteer to go fight Napoleon (honestly referred to as Nappy within the 450 pages of dreck I read through). Georgiana, who is in love with him, follows him, enlisting as a nurse. He gets a little bit blown up, but survives, thanks to Georgiana's loving ministrations. When they finally return, brought back by an irate Darcy, they get married, because bum leg or not, Georgiana is preggers. Yup, shy wallflower Georgiana Darcy took charge and got herself a baby out of wedlock. I think not.

Wickham is found (supposedly posthumously) to be Darcy's brother (maybe), since Darcy's dad slept around (the sadness of which killed the former Mrs. Darcy). For this reason, Darcy donates money to Wickham and Lydia's litter of brats. Despite the fact that Wickham fathered a son on a serving girl at Pemberley when he and Darcy were young (they both slept with the girl, who later had a 'relationship' with the crazy footman mentioned earlier) and that Wickham (unknowingly but still) shot and killed this progeny while deserting the army in France. And even so, the book ends with the news that he is still alive. Great. I would not have finished this suck-fest, if not for the sheer joy of ripping it apart (figuratively, although literally is also tempting).

P.S. This book was republished as Mr. Darcy Takes a Wife, so avoid that too (or just stay away from this author in general).

P.P.S. Linda Berdoll, if Jane Austen were a vampire (as is the case in many books now), she would suck you dry with dispatch to prevent any further such disgrace being done to her characters.

"No more a rake and no more a bachelor
I was wedded and it whetted my thirst
Until her womb started spilling out babies
Only then did I reckon my curse."

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Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Angel of the Morning - Pretenders

Unearthly, Book 1

Author: Cynthia Hand
Genre: young adult, fantasy
Pages: 448 (I read this on my Kindle, but it really didn't feel that long)
ARC Acquired From: HarperTeen via Net Galley

Brief Summary:
Clara has known she was special (really special, not the your-parents-say-you're-special-but-you're-not kind of special) since she was 14, when her mom revealed to her that they are both part angel. Her mother is a Dimidius, half-angel, while she is but one-quarter angel. These descendants of angels refer to themselves as angel-bloods, not by the biblical term of Nephilim. What does this mean realistically? Clara has wings, extra athleticism, glory (super shiny commune with God state) and, oh yeah, her purpose. The first book in this new series focuses on her purpose. Every angel-blood receives one somewhere between their sixteenth and twentieth years; they learn what they are meant to do through visions. On the basis of hers, her family moves from California to Wyoming. Of course, nothing's going to come easy, considering how vague the visions are, but at least they involve a hottie.

Despite having read and been disappointed by a number of these paranormal series books, I still get really excited for every single one. Unearthly was no exception, except in the sense that this one proved not to be disappointing. Although this may not be a book I actually add to my personal library, I did love almost every minute of reading it and figuratively cannot wait for the next in the series.

Angel books can be really awful, even in the context of how bad some of the teen paranormal romances can be. When you bring in the whole pesky religion business, which is somewhat unavoidable with the whole angel thing, a story can go from fun to preachy in less time than it takes to cross yourself. Hand does a good job with this delicate subject: she does not ignore the issue, but nor does she dwell on it. The book feels like fantasy not like an allegory or disguised lecture on the one true god. Maybe she's got an agenda with her angel story, but I don't think so.

One of the things I appreciate about Unearthly, which falls into the realm of spoilers is that, even though there is a super perfect guy, she does not go for him. The boy in her purpose, Christian (for serious, she went there) is the super sexy guy with no faults who is dating the hot bitchy girl. She describes initial encounters with him thus: "And so far in the span of two weeks, the stars align exactly three times and he ends up in the desk next to mine. I smile and say hello. He smiles back and says hi. For a moment, an undeniable force seems to draw us together like magnets. But then he opens his notebook or checks his cell phone under his desk, signifying that our Nice weather we're having chitchat is over." It begins in a barf-worthy place, but then goes to a more realistic, this-magic-emotion-is-all-in-her-head-place. In another story, Personal Demons for example, he would feel drawn to her and she to him and no obstacle could possibly stand in the way of their monumental and immediate love. I really appreciate that Hand did not go that route, at least not yet. Just because the guy is a dreamboat and perceived as perfect (or even is perfect) that does not mean that he is perfect for the heroine.

The other thing I loved a whole lot were the pop culture references weaved in. The one that sold me was the nickname given to the main character by the guy that was not Christian. That is a reference (and hopefully an intentional one) to Anne of Green Gables, which made me, from first use of the nickname, root for that guy wholeheartedly. Her chapter titles are also frequently references, such as "My Purpose-Driven Life" (I burst out laughing reading that one). The song from the post's title is also referenced. For me, pop culture references = win, both because I love pop culture and because it's good not to take oneself or one's story too seriously.

Paranormal YA fans, find yourselves a copy of this one as soon as it's published and get a-reading!

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Heat Wave - Martha Reeves and the Vandellas

The Scorch Trials
The Maze Runner, Book 2

Author: James Dashner
Genre: dystopia, young adult
Pages: 360

Brief Summary:
The Gladers are back and they're really happy to be done with the whole maze business. They think life will be better...for about five seconds. Then there are dead bodies and Theresa's gone and there are cranks outside the barred windows (Cranks rather resemble zombies, so not a good wake up call). Then they receive some news: they all have the flare (a disease that turns you into a crank) and they have a new challenge to complete if they want the cure. Adventure, violence, betrayal and some romantic drama (although not much).

I read the first book in this series, The Maze Runner, before I started blogging, so I cannot link to a review of it. So to sum up my feelings about book one now: I read it on high recommendation and as part of my dystopia obsession and was largely disappointed. While it is decent, it's not amazing and the lack of information given to the reader about the actual world outside the test makes it hard to know whether Dashner has a neat, unique apocalyptic view of the future or not. The book basically left me kind of lukewarm.

Book two very much follows in the tradition of book one, so I have little to add. The characters did not become any more dear to my heart in this book; in fact, I like most of them quite a bit less. Thomas spends a lot of time being emo because Teresa won't talk to him anymore; then, once she does, he's emo because she doesn't like him and he doesn't like her as much anymore either. That gets a bit trying. And, as much as I generally like for there to be a little romance in my fiction, I really could have done without it here.

If you thought escaping the maze meant that you, the reader, would finally get to find out what is going on in the real world in this dystopia, you are going to be seriously disappointed. I had a feeling that would be the case, what with the title including the word 'trials,' which would tend to indicate that this would be another test. Still, I find myself somewhat annoyed at the fact that there is little to no added to what had been learned in
The Maze Runner. I realize this is intentional and it leaves the reader feeling much like the kids in the trials: frustrated. And, although I dislike this gambit, I must admit that it works, as I do intend to keep reading the books to find out what's happening.

If you liked The Maze Runner, read this with dispatch, because you'll love it. If you just want to know what the heck is happening in this dystopian world, then you could, if you want to, read a summary of the plot and wait for a book where the kids do something real. If you didn't like The Maze Runner, you won't like this one any better.

"Stop this - it's got a hold on me
I said this ain't the way it's supposed to be

It's like a heat wave burning in my heart
I can't keep from crying
Tearing me apart"

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Saturday, November 20, 2010

Against All Odds - The Postal Service

Incarceron, Book 2

Author: Catherine Fisher
Genre: fantasy, young adult
Pages: 460
ARC Acquired From: Penguin booth at ALA 2010

I reviewed Incarceron a few weeks back and, although I didn't like it, I already had a copy of the ARC. Sapphique was not better than the first book in the series, but it was easier for me to get through, perhaps because I had much lower expectations. All of my problems with the first book still remain here.

The characters, all of them, are pretty much entirely unlikeable. Jared, Claudia's tutor, is the character I most liked, but the reader has known since the beginning of book one that he has an incurable disease, distancing one's affection for him. Claudia is obnoxious, power-hungry and mistrusting. Finn alternates between being emo and arrogant. Keiro is as he has ever been. Attia never really seems to coalesce into a definite personality. And those are just the characters you are supposed to be rooting for.

Romance is not to be found in Sapphique, even though the book ends with an engagement in place for two of them. Those two characters have absolutely no chemistry; in fact, the girl is clearly in love with someone else.

If you liked Incarceron, I doubt you will be disappointed by Sapphique. Otherwise, don't bother.

"How can I just let you walk away,
Just let you leave without a trace
When I stand here

Taking every breath with you
You're the only one who really knew me at all

How can you just walk away from me
When all I can do is watch you leave?
'cause we shared the laughter and the pain
And even shared the tears
You're the only one who really knew me at all

So take a look at me now
There's just an empty space
There's nothing left here to remind me
Just the memory of your face
Take a look at me now
There's just an empty space
You coming back to me is against the odds
And that's what I've gotta face"

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Sunday, November 14, 2010

Layla - Eric Clapton

Maybe This Time

Author: Jennifer Crusie
Genre: romance
Pages: 342

Brief Summary:
North and Andie got married the day after they met. The marriage lasted just a year, because North got caught up in his work at the family law practice. Sick of it, Andie left. For ten years, she did her best to avoid him and get over him. On the eve of her engagement to a writer, she feels compelled to return the alimony checks he sent her, their last connection. He agrees to take them back and stop sending more on one condition: that she go to a creepy haunted house and teach his messed up wards, hopefully convincing them to leave the house and move to Columbus in the process. Unfortunately, the house's ghosts won't let them go...

I do not read many straight up romance novels; they're just not my style. I make an exception for Jennifer Crusie, who Katelyn introduced me to my freshman year of college (Welcome to Temptation). Her novels are light, funny and generally have a bunch of awesome pop culture references.

Maybe This Time is a bit different than her other books because of the fantasy element (or is it?). The ghost plot line left me a little cold (pun, haha, get it?). That was the overarching plot of the book, so you couldn't take it out, but it just didn't work for me somehow. I also had some trouble accepting North as a name. I mean, come on!

Jennifer Crusie fans will still want to read this one, but it isn't her best. If you haven't read any Crusie yet, I recommend Welcome to Temptation or Fast Women.

"Let's make the best of the situation
Before I finally go insane.
Please don't say we'll never find a way
And tell me all my love's in vain."

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Saturday, November 13, 2010

Matchmaker - Fiddler on the Roof

Matched, Book 1

Author: Ally Condie
Genre: young adult, dystopia
Pages: 366
ARC Acquired From: Penguin booth at ALA 2010

Brief Summary:

Life is perfect in the Society. Cassia Reyes is looking forward to the best day of her life so far: her matching day and birthday all in one. In the Society, everyone, except the singles, receives their match at the matching banquet. They all get dressed up, choosing suits and dresses (a far cry from their everyday uniform plainclothes) and going with their family to the fancy banquet hall. Cassia selected a light green dress and was the only girl in her district to do so. Most people are paired with people from one of the many other districts. Cassia is surprised and thrilled to find herself matched to her best friend, the handsome Xander. She loves the Society, Xander and her parents; life really is perfect here. Until she goes home and puts the microcard on Xander (one is given to every matched person, since most people do not know their match) into a viewer and sees a face that is not Xander's. This face is familiar too. What does it mean?

Matched definitely shares commonalities with Lois Lowry's The Giver. The Society organizes people into tight-knit family groups, has hazy borders and guarantees long life to a certain point. Within the Society, everyone lives to their 80th birthday, at which point they die, having had a final meal and said goodbye to their closest friends and family. The people are matched up for compatibility, which has led to the elimination of almost all diseases. Food intake is controlled, as is exercise and behavior. Everyone is kept safe from harm.

Also as in The Giver, everyone in the Society has pills they have to take. In Lowry's story, they had pills to prevent The Stirrings; in Condie's, everyone has three pills: red, green and blue. The green pill has a calming affect, the blue heals and the red is a mystery to be used only in crisis situations. In Matched too, everyone's jobs are given to individuals based upon their talents. Here though, they remain in school until the age of seventeen, not twelve as in The Giver. I think Condie actually threw in an allusion to The Giver, because Cassia at one point thinks about what it must have been like to be colorblind (the Society bred that out of them long ago); in Lowry's book, everyone was colorblind.

Condie's book is not all the same though. The Society feels more realistic than that of The Giver. The most interesting and powerful element of the story is that the society no longer teaches writing, so people are unable to really create and speak for themselves. While I was not entirely blown away Matched, I definitely enjoyed it and hope to see more from Condie in general and this series specifically. Cassia very much feels like a real teen in an odd situation, working through something difficult to contemplate.

Dystopia fans, this one is worth checking out!

"Well, somebody has to arrange the matches,
Young people can't decide these things themselves."

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Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Ultimate Showdown of Ultimate Destiny - Lemon Demon

Zombies vs. Unicorns

Editors: Holly Black & Justine Larbalestier
Genre: fantasy, young adult, short stories
Pages: 415

Today, I'm going to do something a bit different. Having finished this short story collection, I am going to give the stories awards to convey the best and the worst.

Funniest Story: "The Highest Justice" by Garth Nix- I have not been a Garth Nix fan, much to my own disappointment, but I though he did a great job with this story. It's absurd, but in a way that I found entirely comical. Nix does not take the whole thing too seriously and keeps up the comedy throughout. Win. Also the only story to feature both zombies and unicorns, although it is ranked with Team Unicorn. Honorable mentions: "Princess Prettypants" by Meg Cabot, which started off a bit lamely, but got to be laugh-out-load funny at parts; "The Purity Test" by Naomi Novik- a unicorn who gives up on finding a virgin in NYC enlists a hungover girl on a park bench, which is funny all on its own.

Most Terrifying: Tie between "A Thousand Flowers" by Margo Lanagan and "The Children of the Revolution" by Maureen Johnson- Which is worse: bestiality or zombie children? Lanagan's unicorn story is absolutely disgusting; she tries to sell some sort of warped interspecies romance, but I'm not buying. Blech. After reading that one, you will want to cleanse your brain with soap. Through some folly or evil prank on the part of the editors, "The Children of the Revolution" is the next story in the collection. This one is more out and out horrifying, mostly because I am a bit terrified of kids to begin with. Also, I am now haunted by Sponge Bob.

Most Romantic: "Love Will Tear Us Apart" by Alaya Dawn Johnson- Philip's a zombie, but, brain-eating aside, he's a pretty good one. None of the rotting and he has great taste in music (like the Arctic Monkeys). Just as he is arranging his next meal of mac n' cheese (i.e. human), his prey starts getting more and more appetizing, only not in an entirely food-like manor. Can Philip hold back his zombie urges enough to make it work with Jack? Also, I have to mention, major props to this collection for representing gays and lesbians, who feature in Scott Westerfeld's story; I love seeing young adult fiction become more open-minded. Honorable mention: "Cold Hands" by Cassandra Clare- another zombie story, but I suppose the category above proved why the unicorn tales don't feature much romance.

Why Come Up with a New Idea When You Can Recycle?: "Bougainvillea" by Carrie Ryan- Really, Carrie Ryan? You can't right anything not set in your world that bears an uncanny resemblance to The Village? Not to mention that many of the themes of the stories are in every single one. God forbid a heroine find any amount of happiness or ever seem like a real person. Although not part of this category per se, I also must comment on the fact that her choice to alternate between past and present did not tell the story very effectively. Honorable mention: "The Care and Feeding of Your Baby Killer Unicorn" by Diana Peterfreund- a good story and definitely not the same as the Astrid books. Still, it might have been nice to see Peterfreund do something different with the unicorns.

Weirdest: "Love Will Tear Us Apart"- Although, as I mentioned above, this story has some good points, it's also one of the most oddly constructed pieces of fiction I have ever read. It jumps around in time and is told largely in second person. Honorable mention: "Prom Night" by Libba Bray- the story didn't feel complete to me at all, so it just left me confused and unsatisfied.

Most Depressing: "The Third Virgin" by Kathleen Duey- A unicorn bothered by its past wanders around trying to commit suicide makes friends with a suicidal virgin. A regular barrel of laughs.

The Story I Most Wish Were a Book: "Inoculata" by Scott Westerfeld- Although rather reminiscent of the recent film Zombieland and with a common theme to The Dead-Tossed Waves, Westerfeld has done some interesting things here. The story felt a bit like a teaser; when it was over, there was a lot more I wanted to know.

Team Unicorn or Team Zombie? While I like both, on the basis of the stories here, I declare myself a member of Team Unicorn. Partly because the unicorn stories were better overall, since a couple of the zombie stories really failed to impress me, but also because I got sick of Justine Larabalestier's (leader of Team Zombie) snide comments at the beginning of every story.

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Monday, November 8, 2010

Romans 10:9 - The Mountain Goats

The Painted Boy

Charles de Lint
Genre: fantasy, young adult
Pages: 433
ARC Acquired From: Penguin booth at ALA 2010

Brief Summary:
Jay Li thought he was a normal boy until, at the age of eleven, a tattoo of a golden dragon spread itself across his back in one painful day. This means that he is a yellow dragon, selected to protect like many throughout his line, which runs back to the time of the emperor in China. His grandmother Paupau is a dragon too; she teaches him with riddles and breathing exercises but will tell him nothing concrete. This is understandably frustrating. It is decided that he will leave, as part of his training and go prove himself as a dragon somewhere. He chooses a new place by pointing at a map and then moves to his new home, Santo del Vado Viejo. Quickly, he makes new friends and new enemies in this desert town. His life has more meaning now than ever before and he loves living there, except that he keeps discovering new abilities and responsibilities. How can he live a real life if he actually is a dragon?

Before picking this book up, I had heard of Charles de Lint, but had never gotten around to giving any of his books a try yet. Well, I will now. I loved this book from the first couple of pages and it never lost my interest. The story is original, the characters likable and the plot well-paced. Charles de Lint, if this book is representative, is a master storyteller and I cannot wait to read more of his books. I may have just found a new favorite!

The only thing that I disliked about this book was some unevenness in the point of view, which may have been sorted out in the finalized copy of the book. Most of the story is told in third person and follows various characters. Occasionally though, a section will be given the heading "Jay" and will be told from Jay's perspective. While this is clear, it does feel a bit like cheating. Either do the whole book from Jay's perspective or do it all in third person. This might not have bothered me had it felt like there was any reason for these four or so sections to be from his point of view; I really do not think that these windows to his thoughts added anything that could not have been done with the third person narration.

Jay has a major task to accomplish and a bad guy to take down, which is typical for a fantasy novel, but that is not the real focus of the novel. The Painted Boy is first and foremost a Bildungsroman, a coming of age story for Jay. The focus is placed on his inner development and not on the external struggle. Do not think that this means the book lacks plot or excitement because of this.

Highly recommended!

"Try to think of ways to fix myself but everything ends in a cul-de-sac
The beast broke from the barn while we were sleeping, face it, face it, he's not coming back

Don't see what the point is in even trying to fight

Look for the bigger picture when I close my eyes real tight."

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Saturday, November 6, 2010

Over and Over - The Dave Clark Five

I just finished reading Fire by Kristin Cashore for the second time and thought I would do something a little bit different today to commemorate the completion of this absolutely marvelous book. Rather than writing a review of the book, I will discuss my opinions of rereading. Although I do need to state just one more time for the record that Kristin Cashore is an amazing author (although she needs to publish another book soon!). Anyone who likes Tamora Pierce will love her.

Personally, I love rereading books, although I know some people can't stand to do so. Even with my love of it, I do acknowledge that in a lot of ways it is incredibly inconvenient, considering that I already have far too many books that I want to read during my lifetime. Still, for me, the experience is one hundred percent worth it in most cases.

I am aided by the fact that my memory tends to be pretty weak over the long term. I will remember that I have read a book (usually) and how I felt about it, but will not be able to remember any of the details. I can reread a book and have the ending be a surprise yet again. This is both convenient and inconvenient. However, my rereading is not limited solely to books whose awesomeness I have forgotten; I also reread my favorites that I know practically by heart already. In this category are books like Pride and Prejudice and The Witch of Blackbird Pond. I read them again for the sheer beauty of the work, which does not diminish with further scrutiny.

Rereading really does allow you to notice new things that you missed entirely on the first go through or even the first five. There is something magical in that. I am often better able to appreciate the author's skill with language than on my first reading, when I am usually focused on following the story. Of course, rereading also provides more of a guarantee of experience than trying out something new; you have read the book already and loved it, so it will likely still be enjoyable.

Sometimes I do reread books that I did not like (or even loathed). Occasionally this was for school, as in the case of Fahrenheit 451 (which I still hated). Generally though, I put myself through this experience, like when I decided to give 1984 another chance while taking a course on the Soviet Union. While I cannot honestly say that I loved the book (or even really liked it) the second time, I definitely understood it better and got a whole lot out of the experience of reading it.

My personal library is primarily built on rereading too. Almost all of the books within it fall into one of two categories: books I have not yet read or books I want to read again. There are a few exceptions, which tend to be books that were a bit of a slog to get through (good and rewarding, but probably not to be reread). These I want to keep and display just because I read them. Two examples of this category are Bleak House and Crime and Punishment.

What are your thoughts on rereading?


Tuesday, November 2, 2010

This Place Is a Prison - The Postal Service

Incarceron, Book 1

Author: Catherine Fisher
Genre: young adult, fantasy, dystopia
Pages: 448

Brief Summary:
Finn cannot remember a time before he awakened in one of Incarceron's cells at the age of 15. He fervently believes that he came from Outside the prison and that his visions (he is a Starseer to the people in Incarceron; one who has visions of the Outside, of escape) are actually memories of before he arrived here. No one else believes him, because they all no the truth: no one enters or leaves Incarceron. Except, maybe, for Sapphique, a legend who supposedly escaped ages ago. The appearance of a mysterious crystal key, along with a timely vision leads Finn on a quest to find out his past and to find a way out of Incarceron.

Meanwhile, Claudia, the daughter of the Warden of Incarceron, seeks the truth about Incarceron, a perfect community set up...somewhere. Her father keeps secrets and is incredibly distant. Her search becomes ever more frantic when she learns that her wedding to Prince Caspar, a horrible excuse for a human being, has been moved up. She wanted to marry Giles, her original betrothed who was killed in a horseback riding accident, but is stuck with this oaf instead. Perhaps if she can learn enough, she can escape, one way or another, this dreadful union.

For the last several months, I have been on a dystopia reading kick. Of the ones on my list to read, this one ranked highly on the expectations scale. In fact, the book was even highly recommended to me. Unfortunately, expectation does not by any means guarantee that the expected outcome will be the one to occur. Incarceron failed to grab me at any and all points. Not to say that it was awful, because it wasn't. It just failed to entice me; I read it out of some sense of duty, rather than a drive to find out what would happen or to enjoy the language.

I think, and I do use the speculative verb intentionally, that my problem here resulted from an inability to suspend disbelief for this book. Before anyone gets too accusatory, let me assure you that this is often not a problem for me. See previous reviews for support of this fact. Incarceron lacked some of the back story that would have helped me buy into this absurd society. Without some explanation of the crazy wars that lead to this situation or an example legal document setting the systems in place (as was done in Unwind), I had trouble figuring out how this system could possibly have been the chosen solution. There are documents at the beginning of the chapters but they say little more than "There was a crazy war, so we will do this" (paraphrased). This just didn't convince me entirely. A lot of the physical descriptions of the workings of Incarceron are also baffling and perhaps entirely inconceivable. I would give a specific example, but to do so would contain spoilers, so I won't.

What it all comes down to though is that I just did not care. One of the mysteries of the book is whether Sapphique escaped or not, assuming he existed at all. I suppose I should have been speculating about whether he did as I read and new information was revealed. This I did not do. I just read patiently and waited for information to be revealed. I could care only slightly less about whether the evil forces lost and whether anyone escaped from the prison, and even whether Claudia had to marry the obnoxious prince (especially since any descriptions of her given by other people were entirely unflattering personality-wise).

For my part, I would recommend reading The Maze Runner instead of this book, even though I had mixed feelings about that book as well. A lot of the themes within them reminded me of one another and I thought that one had a slightly better premise. Still, lots of people have loved this one, so if you're up for it, go right on ahead.

"This place is a prison
These people aren't your friends
Inhaling thrills through $20 bills
Tumblers are drained and then flooded again and again

There's guards at the on ramps armed to the teeth
And you may case the grounds
From the Cascades to Puget Sound
But you are not permitted to leave

I know there's a big world out there."

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