2012-01-06 11:41 am

New Year's Resolutions, Reading Challenges, Etc

Resolved:
  • 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.

Sewing/Quilting:
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.

courtcat: (Pandemonium)
2011-09-10 06:06 pm

Book Review: Legend, Marie Lu

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.
courtcat: (Adventure)
2011-08-23 04:32 pm
Entry tags:

Book Review(s): Chaos Walking trilogy, Patrick Ness

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.
2011-08-23 04:12 pm
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Book Review(s): Last Survivors Trilogy, Susan Beth Pfeffer

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.
courtcat: (Storytime)
2011-07-05 07:58 pm

Book Review(s): Anna and the French Kiss + Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins

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.
courtcat: (Adventure)
2011-05-25 12:22 pm

Book Review: Wither, Lauren DeStefano

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).
courtcat: (Shadow)
2011-04-09 03:35 pm
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Book Review: Dreamland, Sarah Dessen

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: (WTF)
2011-04-07 11:46 am
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Book Review: Incarceron, Catherine Fisher

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.

courtcat: (Quieter)
2010-12-30 09:56 pm

(no subject)

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.)