courtcat: (pic#727984)
( Jan. 6th, 2012 02:27 pm)
 I always feel as if saying it's time to let go (of anything, regardless of what it is) in any public forum (as the internet is) is akin to storming off in a huff, or to taking my toys and going home.  There are so few people who know what I'm talking about, and all of them follow me in all of those forums (except maybe Tumblr, but all I really use that for is reblogging stuff I think is cool or funny or whatever) and may or may not take it as a passive aggressive stab at them when it's not really anything but trying to do what makes most sense and is most healthy for me.  It takes more than a bit of energy to hold onto a thing, after all, particularly when one is being told "Oh, there's this, but maybe next time" with a startling regularity followed by long stretches of not a word.  This is no one's fault, obviously - I mean, issues and troubles abound everywhere I look and the people (because there's more than one, naturally) on the other end are generally in very different time zones than I.

At least one thing never started and the other seems to have pretty much come to an end, right?  So no harm, no foul.  Given that I don't have the time required to start up on a site again?  I'd guess this navel gazing has as much to do with the hobby in general as anything else.  Maybe it's time to find something new.
  • To write at least three hours a week. More is awesome. An hour a day is superlative. But three hours a week averages out to a half hour a day, six days a week, and even I can manage that. I think. Maybe.
  • To read at least one hundred books this year, not counting rereads but counting individually published short stories and possibly picture books I read with my kids.
  • To read (amongst the one hundred) at least twelve debut authors this year. Most of these will probably be YA, because that's mostly what I read.
  • To clean and purge my house in preparation for eventual moving. I know I say this all the time, but it really needs to be done. My life is a huge, cluttered mess and my house being the same makes everything seem worse.

Reading Challenges:
I found a nifty YA debut author reading challenge here and will be taking part in it - a fair number of these books, just the ones slated for January, sound all kinds of awesome. The twelve debuts will fit in nicely with my 2012 one hundred book challenge on GoodReads, as will any ARCs Penguin Teen happens to send my way. If anyone knows of a challenge similar to the YA debuts (there's also one for YA sophomore releases, I think on the same site) for adult fiction, that'd be awesome.

I intend to do more of both this year, starting with finishing the stockings and tree skirt I started for a friend of mine back in the beginning of December. Teachers' end of the year gifts will likely fall into this category, as may quite a few birthday presents. Ideally as I gain confidence in the basics I'll get better at costuming for both cons and SCA things, yay! I need more garb. And I want to wear costumes at the cons, really I do! I just never make things, or think to go shopping enough ahead of time.  Maybe that'll change this year, though probably not in time for ConFusion, alas!  Being a superhero or villain for the masquerade would have been cool.

And . . . that's about it, really.  I just haven't posted in a long time and felt like maybe I should.

Title: Legend
Author: Marie Lu
Publisher: G.P Putnam's Sons (Penguin)
Genre: SciFi, Post Apocalypse, Dystopia
Release Date: November 2011

This book's gotten comparisons with Hunger Games, it seems (I don't know first hand; someone said so on Twitter), but I'd compare it more to Matched (Ally Condie) or Across the Universe (Beth Revis), really - similar subgenre, but not quite the same.

We start with the formula (this isn't criticism by any stretch - formula becomes so because it works) that any dystopia starts with, though it's more vague in this than in many.  One assumes that there was a war and the Republic split from the Colonies and everyone had the best of intentions for a brighter future in mind, but it's not made clear.  At any rate, some unnamed time in the future (from the revolution or what have you), something's caused havoc with weather (I've never heard of hurricanes in California, and not even a slight earthquake?  But I'm a midwestern girl, so what do I know) and a good deal of the southwest has cut itself off from the rest of the country, forming a sharp divide between this new Republic and the Colonies.  There is, of course, unhappiness and upheaval - the socioeconomics of the Republic are a mess.  The rich are, comparatively, obscenely so and the poor grovel in what sounds to me like not long post-Katrina New Orleans.

It gets better!  The Republic's government, which is a near Caesarean god-head sort of thing backed by the military but without that pesky council.  There are, of course, Things Afoot, but the people are, in general, too afraid to challenge this god-head president (Elector Primo, I think it was).  They're too poor in the poor sections where there's discontent, and in the rich sectors they're too complacent (and, in no few cases as we find out later, complicit).

Amongst all this, we have a boy and a girl.  One is the Republic's darling and one is an exile of sorts - a Romeo and Juliet, perhaps, or Tony and Maria.  We're led on a great tracking expedition for the Republic's darling, June, to find the criminal and suspected murder, Day.  Only Day is really just a Robin Hood, and of course he's being set up to take the fall almost from the beginning.

All in all, it's a great read - it's fast paced and interesting, and it promises to make a better movie than any of the other things that I think may well get picked up (rights were sold to CBS, so everyone go buy the books and make it happen, yeah?) by virtue of the way it's written.  The exposition is woven in so that it doesn't seem unwieldy or an interruption of the action, and the voices of the two main characters (who are in some ways a bit too perfect and in others delightfully flawed) are better done than any alternating POV stories I've read in awhile.  It seems like this will be a trilogy or more, and I can't wait to see where Ms. Lu is going with it.
Title: The New World (short story)/The Knife of Never Letting Go/The Ask and the Answer/Monsters of Men (all Nook)
Author: Patrick Ness
Publisher: .....someone
Genre: SciFi, Post Apocalypse, Dystopia
Release Date: 2010?

Oh, these books.  So. very. good.  Short synopsis is: Earth/home planet got screwed up.  People left at various times for various reasons, the better to settle this new planet that had a lot of the same things earth did, geographically speaking.  It was life bearing - there were indigenous plants, animals, and people.  Something happened that drove no small number of the first settlers to varying degrees of insanity, and there was a war that nearly wiped out both sides and quite a few of the human settlements.

We start our journey in Prentisstown, where there are only men and boys - or a boy, who is about to hit the magical age of thirteen, at which manhood is . . . well, enforced for lack of a better word, but we learn more about that later.  Our young protagonist, Todd, is unhappy.  He's lonely, and he knows something is wrong.  One day, not long before his birthday, he wanders out into the swamp near his village and runs into Viola - who is introduced better in The New World, the short story prequel, than she is here - and is terrified out of his wits, because he's never seen a woman (or girl, as Viola is roughly the same age as he is) before in the time he can remember.  Also because there's a trait that marks her out as starkly different than the men he knows, but to reveal that here would be telling, wouldn't it?

At any rate, Todd meets Viola and his world falls apart.  His village (with the exception of his foster fathers, who took over his upbringing when his mother died), intent on turning him into a man in the creepy, horrifying way they've agreed on for the majority of his thirteen years, go on the hunt for him and Viola both.  There's the dystopic dream team of politics and religion, and Todd and Viola escape death at the hands of a madman so often I lost count.  In the end - which, in this first book, isn't really an end; it reads almost like a serial - Todd and Viola are on completely uncertain and unfamiliar ground, and on opposite sides of what appears to be shaping into a civil war.  This is, all told, some truly amazing world building, and the character building isn't far behind.

In the second book, we pick up exactly where we left off; this is a device I wasn't particularly familiar with before The Hunger Games, though of course it must have been in use.  Todd and Viola are still on opposite sides and everything they think they know about this planet and their surroundings (both environmental and societal), their trust in each other and their endurance (physical, mental and emotional) continue to be tested.  This is, in fact, the darkest YA fiction I've read in . . . perhaps ever, really, and I love it all the more for that.  When I actually was what most people consider YA, there didn't seem to be a lot of light in the world, and that continues to be a theme.  Regardless, there are factions - made up of women which exist in far more abundance than Todd knew of (obviously) and men, in a large part.  Which isn't to say there aren't men in the Answer (one of the factions, clearly), but there truly aren't any women in the Ask.  (The settlers who were on New World, who Viola and her bunch of people didn't know about, are very Old West meets Puritan.  The grammar and writing in the parts Todd tells reflect this well, and often made me twitch.  Dialects in dialog are fine - entire books written in them require my poor little middle class American brain to translate.)  The character progression throughout is fantastic, and Mayor/President Prentiss may be one of the best written villains I've ever come across in any sort of literature, from children's up through adult, in any and all genres.  Aside from Prentiss, the characterization and progression both are phenomenal, though it's truly this man who shines through this and Monsters of Men.

Ah, the final book.  I read these three in a row with no break between them and by the time I hit this one I was ready to be done - not because I didn't like them, obviously, but because they were so very draining.  It's not every book that makes you feel like you're there in that Bastian-fighting-the-Nothing sense, but Ness was fantastic at that throughout, and I was exhausted.  Here, though, is where - if you'll pardon the vernacular - shit got real.  There was violence, there was mind control, there was genocide and all of those things that, in a war, make monsters of men.  Here, Todd and Viola are still uncertain of each other and who they can trust.  Here, Todd thinks he can 'save' Prentiss.  Here, we find out that the 'aliens' - that indigenous species mentioned earlier - aren't as rare as we thought, and they're pissed off.  This is a suitably dramatic and horrific end for an awesome - in all senses - trio (plus a bit) of books.

Five stars.  Superb.  What are you waiting for?  Go read it now.
Title: Life As We Knew It (hard copy)/The Dead and the Gone (hard copy)/ This World We Live In (Nook)
Author: Susan Beth Pfeffer
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Genre: Post-Apocalypse, SciFi
Release Date: 2008, 2010

So, I just found out there actually is a fourth book to this coming out - goes to show how much I pay attention.  So really, that subject line up there should read 'soon-to-be quartet' or something where it says trilogy.  But since I've only read the first three books, I think we're good.  First, I should say the first two of these were largely an impulse buy because my Borders was going out of business and because one of them had a John Green quote on the cover, and I adore everything that man's written, that I've read, so clearly he must have good taste in things to read, right?  And he really may, but . . .

The science in this is just solid enough to make it a little better than that movie where the earth's core stops spinning or The Day After Yesterday.  Which . . . is probably fine to the intended young adult audience, but when it's presented in a very nearly hard sci-fi format, it seems it should be a little better researched.  I'm not spoiling anything when I say that the moon is knocked closer to the earth by an asteroid/meteor and this causes all sorts of havoc - that's all spelled out in the cover copy.  Even the one liner on the front says 'The weather's finally broken . . . for good' or similar.  Anyway, I could probably get past this if the story itself were good (it's rather repetitive in the first two, and quite horrifying on a human scale) or if there was some redeeming quality in the main characters . . . but there really isn't much.  And given the decline in writing quality between the first and third books, I really only stuck through it for completeness' sake, which is the same reason I'll probably grab the fourth for my Nook when it comes out.

Life As We Knew It is written from the point of view of its teenaged 'protagonist', in journal format, and is a bit more interesting than the others simply for that, I should probably say.  This World We Live In follows that, but it doesn't save it.
Title: Anna and the French Kiss
Author: Stephanie Perkins
Publisher: Dutton Juvenile (Penguin)
Genre: Romance, General Fiction, YA
Release Date: 2010

Title: Lola and the Boy Next Door
Author: Stephanie Perkins
Publisher: Dutton Juvenile (Penguin)
Genre: Romance, General Fiction, YA
Release Date: September 2011

These books could, technically, stand alone but they work well as companions, as they were written to be.  They're beautiful to look at and done with very similar photography styles and models for the cover art, which only enhances that impression - after being told for almost a year that I should read Anna, I went out and got it after getting Lola from Penguin Teen, starting it, and deciding I had to read from the beginning.  I was not at all disappointed!  Though the formula for the two books is very similar, and one used to looking for such things might find it a bit repetitive (I must admit, I did), this is easily forgiven on the strength of a plot line that I've seen happen in real life, and characters that so perfectly capture archetypes we all know.  The characterization is brilliant - these books' strength, I think - and the rest is all the best parts of romantic comedies mixed into something delightful.

Perkins writes with a joy and passion that shows in every word, in the way she crafts her sentences, and that draws in almost as much as her skill with creating likeable characters that I truly wanted to know more about.  I can't wait to immerse myself in this world again, when Isla and the Happily Ever After comes out next year.
Title: Wither
Author: Lauren DeStefano
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing
Genre: Distopian-ish, Scifi, Mystery, YA
Release Date: 2011
Sort of maybe spoiler-y but not really. )

Clearly, this book has problems.  However, it's the first in a trilogy so I'm willing to give it a bit more leeway than I would many others.  It's also written quite well, despite the use of present tense which always throws me for at least a few pages; it's very immersive, and one of those things that makes you feel like maybe you could be in that world.  There are some things that are fairly difficult to believe given the problems mentioned behind the cut, the youth of various characters, the relative nearness to the singularity, etc, but I'm willing to set those aside (more so than I am what appear to be flaws in research that I hope are fixed in the subsequent books).  Many people have likened this to The Handmaid's Tale for young adults, and I can certainly see it, to an extent.  The comparison's flawed, but then most are.

It's harder to write a non-spoiler-y review of this than it has been with previous reads!  I'm not sure why.  But, I gave it a five star rating for readability and the likeability of the main secondary character more than anything else, and also the part where I'm really kind of dying to know more about the universe DeStefano's built.  I really hope it pulls together for the sequel(s).
Title: Dreamland
Author: Sarah Dessen
Publisher: Speak (Penguin)
Genre: General Fiction
Release Date: 2000

This is a well written treatment of a delicate subject - it's a story that needs to be told to a generation that didn't grow up with after school specials.  Covered inside are a lot of teenage problems, some more technically serious than others, and I can't find fault with the way it's done.  My problem with it all, I suppose, is that I did grow up with after school specials.

I don't mean to trivialize the subject or anyone who's been victimized on any level.  And by all means, it was a decent book.  It's simply that I've read it before by various and myriad authors, not to mention seen it on TV and in the occasional movie.  In this particular case, there's very little redeeming about the main character; there's nothing with which I can empathize, though maybe that's part of the point.  It's not just the ones that seem like the 'type' who fall into these behaviors and have to come out of them.

In short, I didn't love or hate this book.  It didn't stand out, and I'll probably forget about it completely in a couple days.  It made me think of any number of books by Lurlene McDaniel (without the potentially mortal illness), Nicholas Sparks or Jodi Picoult, and will blend into the same background noise quite nicely.  I've been told by more than one person, though, that this was their least favorite Sarah Dessen book, so I may go back and give another a try when the vague discontent this one left me with has dissipated.

courtcat: (Storytime)
( Apr. 7th, 2011 02:18 pm)
Title: Yours
Challenge/Prompt: #98 First
Original Fiction or Fanfiction [Name of fandom]: Original, but based in/around World of Darkness Changeling the Dreaming
Characters/Pairings: (if applies) Gregory/Evan
Rating: PG?
Warnings: Angst.  Probable hawtness
Disclaimer: I do not own the World of Darkness, nor am I a money-grubbing White Wolfer.  I'm just a fan of the game.
Summary: Things happen.  Promises are made, lines crossed, hearts won and broken.
Author's Notes: This version of Gregory was created for a Changeling game set in London, England and molded by collaborative storytelling.  Thanks to the people who helped!  Also, this is slightly over 100 words - 133, to be exact.  But it's my first try at this sort of thing!

Read more... )
Title: Incarceron
Author: Catherine Fisher
Publisher: Firebird (Penguin)
Genre: Sci-fi?  Yeah, we'll go with that.
Release Date: 2007

A key.  I have a thing for keys - modern ones, antique ones, toy ones, real ones, it doesn't matter.  I like keys.  I'm not sure what this says about my personality or psyche or whatever, but there it is.  So there's this book, and it has a key on it - not just any key, but an opalescent foiled key in the midst of black and silver and gray with the coolest font I've ever seen used for the title splash.  And under that, there's this little splash for rusty, bloody red and I'm in love and avoided it for years (or as long as I've been seeing the trade paperback edition that looked like this) because I knew it would swallow me whole.  They key, the book, both, whatever.  Anyway!

From the beginning, there are comparisons that can be drawn.  The first thing I think of is the Cube movie franchise, particularly Cube Zero where some of the back story is made clear.  It's a very different future-world that's painted, but no less oppressive for it; everything in this world revolves around a vaguely Regency-seeming 'Protocol', with very obvious social castes and a less parliamentary monarchy than England's current one, but the governmental system is quite clearly influenced by the author's experiences in Great Britain as much as her study of history.  I also think of Beth Revis' Across the Universe to a somewhat lesser extent, though the writing here is more taught, more suspenseful.  Several times in the first handful of chapters I found myself be-goose bumped and with my heart racing a little, yelling at the characters to the point that my children wanted to know what I was reading and what they were doing.

We find out early on that this stalling of time in the Regency era came because a king somewhere back along the line thought life simpler and more idyllic then.  At what I think is roughly the same time a prison that was meant to become a utopia was designed and executed and the earliest prisoners - political dissidents and liberal academics along with murders and the like - put inside to start the experiment.  Each chapter is begun with a quote by some person from that time period, or by a quote from the legends of Sapphique, which I can only imagine will be plumbed further in the sequel titled with his name, and at these beginnings there are vaguely ominous chips and gears and things that match those on the covers.  But these things are light and easy compared to what comes later in the chapters.  Our characters are butterflies pinned to a backing and labled for us, or so we think.  Outside of the obvious prison's confines there are the angry, haughty, rebellious daughter (Claudia) of the cold, seemingly uncaring father (who happens to be Incarceron's Warden), her loyal teacher and friend (Jared), the staff who are all well paid spies and double agents, for the most part.  Inside, we have the amnesiac and unwilling hero, prone to visions and seizures (Finn) - seen as both weak and fearsome by those around him, and daring near to stupidity to make up for it - the loyal-for-his-own-reasons oathbrother (Keiro, which I keep pronouncing in my head as Kiero, like Fiero in Wicked), the teacher (who is of the same . . . race?  Family?  Classification, anyway) as Jared, and the life-debt (and possibly love, of a sort) bound Attia who is far more clever and stronger than she seems at first.  Around them, through them, there are plots and counter plots, some Courtly, some known, some only hinted at until the end.

There's the clear set up for the sequel, though this could be read on its own and left like that if you're not me - the story is tied up neatly enough at the end that, if you don't care about the secondary characters, there's no real need to read Sapphique (and I think there's another - it's a trilogy, isn't it?).  However, given the writing and the tension I still feel, hours after having finished Incarceron, there's no doubt I'll be at my local bookstore as soon as I have the cash and car to do so, just to pick it up.

In short, this is a must read.  And!  A good part of that is because of the setting-as-character; Beth Revis (again, I mention her!) wrote an entry about it on the Leage of Extraordinary Writers blog somewhere, and Catherine Fisher has made her world so masterfully.  I'm breathlessly (almost literally!) waiting to read more.

Title: Imaginary Girls
Author: Nova Ren Suma
Publisher: Dutton (Penguin)
Genre: Supernatural
Release Date: 14 June 2011

This book is stunning to look at - there are no sparkles to the finish, but something about colors, contrast, etc.  It's a trade sized paperback (the ARC is, anyway), which I've decided is the perfect format for most books; there's a heft to it that just isn't there in a pocket paperback, and yet it isn't as unwieldy as a full hardcover would be.  But all that's just aesthetics and while they're important?  They aren't necessary to carry the book as they can be sometimes.

In the about the author, it mentions that Ms. Suma studied photography and it shows in the way she writes; there's a visual in every scene, every movement, and I feel like the phrasing she's using is as much a frame for the image as it is anything else.  In an age where so much YA fiction reads like it's intended to be edited into a screen play, this doesn't and yet it still screams to be presented in a visual medium.  I can see shots, I think, or at least how I'd do them; I have a general idea of who I'd cast in most of the parts.  (This, I think, is a trouble with literature getting made into movies - if there's a strong description of a character, it's distracting to not have said character look as s/he does in type.  But that's me.)  More than that, though, I feel as if I'm sitting with Chloe and Ruby on the bench in the Village Greene, or with London, Owen and the crowd on the rec field.  This book reaches out and twirls itself through your hair, into your clothes, like a fog and you don't realize you're in the thick of it until you've been reading for two hours and you're half way through it.  You don't realize that you're creeped out until you come up for air and your heart is beating a bit faster than it should be and you're looking over your shoulder to make sure no one's watching you.

It's not the story that's something new - it's supernatural fare, complete with ghosts and strong willed not-quite-witches - but the way of executing it.  It's the rich history of the Hudson River valley and how it's been incorporated and made a part of everything.  But mostly?  Above and beyond all that?

It's how I'm still half afraid of Ruby, and I look for balloons trailing red ribbons out of the corner of my eye.
Title: If I Stay
Author: Gayle Forman
Publisher: Dutton (Penguin)

I bought this book because I received an ARC of its sequel from Penguin Teen - and I felt about it roughly like I thought I would.  It's a teeny-bopper love story of the variety that I didn't even like when I *was* a teeny-bopper.  This isn't to say it has no redeeming qualities, because despite proclaiming 'LOVED BY PEOPLE WHO LOVED TWILIGHT' or something along those lines, it wasn't nearly that bad.  I loved. Loved. LOVED all the music references (which is probably why I gave it three stars instead of two, especially when paired with the author's thoughts on being so heavily compared to Twilight).

People who loved Twilight probably will love it (sorry, Ms. Forman), as will a lot of the 13-18 set.  And I'll still read the ARC, because . . . well, because I read.  But this one, at least, isn't something that will stick with me for long.
courtcat: (pic#727984)
( Jan. 26th, 2011 10:33 pm)
Solely to show off the icon.  What up,  [ profile] tithenai ?
I'm a bit early for 11:11, but oh well.  I am here to pimp a fantastic book that I was lucky enough to receive an ARC of through Penguin's Teen Talk program.  There will be link spam and videos!

Here, the author talking about the ship-contained world of her book:

Here, the book trailer:

Here is the book's official facebook page.  There's a nifty map of the ship, a community link, more book information, etc!
Here is the official website.
Here are the author, Beth Revis', website, blog and twitter.
Here are Penguin Teen's website, twitter and facebook fan page.
io9 will be posting a 111 page excerpt at 11:11 am that will only be online through 11:11pm today!  This is an io9 exclusive.  All times are Eastern (or GMT -5).

And there you go.  Enjoy!
courtcat: (Adventure)
( Jan. 7th, 2011 10:06 pm)
Title: Across the Universe
Author: Beth Revis
Release Date: March 2011 (according to the spine, though I've heard January and 'Spring' as well)
Publisher: Razorbill (Penguin Young Readers Group)
Genre: YA dystopian sci-fi

First things first - I'm pretty meh about the aesthetics of this book.  It's fairly brilliant conceptually (I think), in that there's the plain, white world behind Elder and the complicated cosmos behind Amy, but there's nothing that really makes it pop, despite the vaguely holographic sheen with Amy and the stars.  All of this is okay, though, because . . .

Characterization.  Oh. my. gods.  It was fantastic, really - I think Revis got the teenage voice (at least that of my own teenage years) pretty spot on.  So much YA stuff (or stuff with teen-early twenties main characters) comes off as treacly or trying to be cool, or . . . just off, really.  And I wanted SO VERY BADLY  to write this off as the same, except that both Elder and Amy thought and/or said things that I thought or said in the throes of adolescence.  In addition, the world in which the story is set is so wonderfully fleshed and nuanced that it becomes a character itself (and reading a post on Revis' blog, I understand why), but in a wonderfully contained way.  While there's certainly room for other books written in the same world, it doesn't scream with the need for more, more, more the way a lot of serial stuff has lately.  This is because of this fantastic world-build, I'm fairly certain.

Plot-wise, it's solid.  Not unique (I honestly think 'unique' is a next to impossible thing to achieve), but different enough from the stuff that I want to set it beside that it doesn't seem repetitive; it just seems as if I've read a lot of the same books the author must have.  We have a small population on a space ship headed for somewhere far away, a catastrophe, and the resulting chaos that leads to a totalitarian sort of government that becomes more and more of a dictatorship as time goes on.  Like in Ally Condie's 'Matched', the language and phrasing in the beginning (well, that of the male lead, anyway) are fairly simplistic, and indicative of the life he thinks he's leading in the world in which he thinks he lives.  This changes as things progress, as moral and ethical dilemmas - and a certainty that he doesn't know everything he needs to know - change his view of his world and all the people in it, including himself.

The dual points of view are difficult to follow sometimes, largely because the two 'voices' become a bit to similar in places, and is often distracting though the only way to fix that would be to have two separate books.  My trouble with this is simply a stylistic preference.  It will be interesting to see what Revis brings to us in the future!
courtcat: (Quieter)
( Dec. 30th, 2010 09:56 pm)
Title: Between Shades of Gray
Author: Ruta Sepetys
Release Date: March 2011
Publisher: Philomel Books (Penguin Young Readers Group)
Genre: YA historical fiction

In mid-June of 1941 (June 14th, to be exact) wholesale deportation of skilled and educated people of the Baltic states began; I've known this for ages, but not known much about it other than that because of course the focus of most (American) education on the subject of WWII is the German and American fronts (in the way that America had a 'front', eg. Pearl Harbor), with side trips into the various Russian occupations.  It saddens me to admit that, as the history obsessed person I am, I didn't look more into this until I was presented to this book.

As always, for me, it begins with the aesthetic; the book is marbled and matte but for the shoot of some plant (perhaps potato, given events in the story) pushing up through snow crusted ground.  It feels like leather or silk (or some delicious hybrid) to hold, and I can only hope this holds true in the retail release.  There are some errors in the construction that I can only assume will be fixed in the finished product (bits of section two inserted into section three, for instance).  But this, of course, is not as important as the content.  It's just a thing that made me pick to read it before the other ARC that came at the same time.

The main character's name is Lina, and she's part of an upper middle class Lithuanian family (if such things existed in Lithuania at the time - it's what it equated to in my head, anyway) - two parents and a brother, cousins and an aunt and uncle.  Her father was a university professor and her mother a well educated housewife, and they were, of course, fairly radical and met with people of similar mind to discuss politics and the like.  At some point, not really as part of the story, the cousin and aunt and uncle escape to repatriate in Germany, while Lina and her family remain to be a part of the mass deportation of June 1941.  It's not at all an unfamiliar story in most ways; it's been told about Danes and German Jews and various people going through France with a great many different details.  What marks this out is Lina's voice, which is that of a strong willed, independent girl who wants to be an artist with every bone in her body and every breath she takes.

This is something different from most female protagonists in most fiction about the time; most people write them as uncertain, confused and weak.  While Lina certainly has her moments of all of that, she finds strength she didn't know she had and perseveres when countless around her are dying, being killed, or being used to various ends.  The tone fits wonderfully with both the story and what the author is trying to get across - that hope and love, in the end, will win against even the most dire of situations.

The one thing that irks just a bit is the end - it seems abrupt, almost hurried, as if the author came up against deadline or hit the proscribed number of pages (or words) and quit while the quitting is good.  It was a small thing, though, and didn't detract much from the enjoyment of the story, or the fascination of learning a bit about a section of history I didn't know much about before.  And yes, it has inspired me to research . . . so thanks are owed to Ms. Sepetys.

(Cross posted all over the place.)
Title: Matched
Author: Ally Condie
Genre: YA Sci-fi, Distopian future

I received an ARC of Matched from Penguin Teen sometime in early-mid November, and I'm going to do this with as few spoilers as possible, though I think we all know the story whether or not I tell it here.

Society's gone to hell in a handbasket.  There were wars that tore apart the US (because this is fairly obviously set here, I'm guessing somewhere in the general vicinity of the author's Utah though it's generic enough to not be obvious), and possibly the rest of the world, after which a Big Brother type of government has taken control.  This government is in charge of everything, from what people eat to when (and who) they marry and breed and die.  There are methods of keeping control; humans are, after all, herd animals.  Regardless, with this government (the Society, it's called) come strict rules and guidelines, and also pills.

The blue pill is nutrition, the green pill is calm and no one seems to know what the mysterious red pill does, though it becomes fairly obvious when there's some fairly heavy handed conversation about the symbolism of the color red in this world, between the two main characters.

So basically, we have your classic distopian world a la 1984, Farenheit 451 and Harrison Bergeron combined.  I haven't read Lois Lowry's "The Giver", but this book draws a lot of comparisons in other reviews I've read (though, all of you who are rabid about saying Ms. Condie plagerized or stole her ideas or owes credit or whatever, seriously, go back over your junior high and high school reading lists.  It was done many times long before "The Giver" came out).  I can't fault Ally Condie for any this, not really; there are only so many ways a distopian future can go, after all, as far as our minds know.  Which is to say, this book presents nothing new.  It's safe, and known, and certainly enjoyable, and immersing enough that I'm eager for the next two books to come out (because yes, it's a planned trilogy).  The characters are not particularly unique or memorable either, though they're hardly cookie cutter; they are, in fact, at least as nuanced as the main trio in the Hunger Games trilogy or Harry Potter.  We have the girl who thinks she's safe in her rule following, who ends up paired with her perfect match who also thinks he's safe in the constraints of the Society.  Then we have the outsider who is so perfect in his mediocrity that he stands out, until the girl begins to see the cracks and he begins to challenge her an she him.

This is, of course, where the teenage romance drips in, and I'm not going to spend a lot of time on it - it's cute, but a bit too cute.  I am, granted, an adult - but it feels a bit too formulaic to me.  Of course it was what was going to happen, and it came to the obvious outcome, down to the cliffhanger-ish ending.

But, for all this book's plotting issues (which aren't really so much issues, obviously, given the success of so many like it before and quite likely a great many to come), I really loved this book.  It's not the plot or the characters that drew me in, not really.  My love for it started with the appearance.

We have a largely white book, though there are sparkles and rainbows in the white, on which there is a girl in green trapped in a bubble that she's trying to pop.  The girl part is fairly melodramatic and expected, but the rest is as austere and clean as the world presented inside.  The aesthetic matches the impression given in the book, in a world where an entire street's trees are cut down because they aren't uniform (and for other reasons as well, but you'll just have to read it to find out).  And then, inside!  There's a world that makes me think of straight lines, of white walls and steel.  It feels like Camazotz in Madeline L'Engle's "A Wrinkle in Time".  Despite not being a big fan of present tense writing in my fiction (outside of gaming, because yes, I'm that kind of geek), there are many places where I don't think the writing would have been as effective in the past tense.  It felt immediate, as if I were there in this austere world where everyone does what they're told, except when they don't.  It's a world full of beautiful lines (I came across one of my favorite YA lines I've read in awhile here: "The books' backs are broken; their bones, thin and delicate, fall out.") and imagery even amongst the sparse description.  This is why I think this book is the best, and where it is - it leaves room for people to imagine, where so few stories do these days.  It doesn't tell us what to think or how to feel.  It doesn't paint the Society as purely evil or the rebels as purely good.  There is no black and white, only shades of pearl, with rainbow sparkles within.  It leaves room for the reader to find him or herself inside.

As I said earlier, I eagerly await the sequels.
courtcat: (Cure)
( Oct. 22nd, 2010 01:19 pm)
.....and by red, I mean angry.

Dear Landlady, )

Dear Upstairs Neighbors, )

Dear Husband, )





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