Wednesday, October 31, 2007
Cool book, set in a dystopian future where all conflict is solved through fights in games, and the whole world plays this game called Epic. One's wins and losses within that game translate into real-life status and possessions, and a small group of teens from a remote island shake up the balance of power by becoming dragon-slayers.
Interesting story, good premise, a little predictable, but fun. This book seems to be getting a lot of buzz but I'm not convinced that this is the best YA book I've read this year.
If you're not into gaming, you'll be pretty damn lost reading it- I have played my share of kobold killing druids, etc, so it wasn't complete babble to me- I think my problem with the book was that even though there have been days when I sat in a seriously messy room, having my sim clean up their considerably cleaner home, in order to max out my room score, I just can't buy that an entire world would let that happen and that a power structure - the Casiocracy- could be born of gaming.
Quality: 8 Popularity: 8 Overall: 16
Lackluster book, I thought. I really wanted to love it (and I felt like I was cheating reading it- I've been choking down as much YA as I possibly can, and just felt desperate to read a book written for adults, but honestly, this was so entirely predictable that I could have written it for her.
The earnest debates over whether extra virgin olive oil is necessary, the longing to buy those interesting kevlar clothes in Brooklyn, how after a few months of not shopping, she started to feel serene....
It was dreadful and disgustingly bobo. I feel I should match the time I spent reading it doing some kind of penance.
Not Buying It
Quality: 4 Popularity: 6 Overall: 10
Sunday, October 28, 2007
Masquerade is a tight, well-written sequel to Blue Bloods, de la Cruz's first book about the vampire elite, and the plot thickens in this follow-up.
Schuyler van Alen and Oliver Hazard-Perry travel to Venice to seek out Schuyler's grandfather, and he comes out of voluntary exile to return to New York to watch over her and to train her in the vampire arts. Her mixed blood is causing problems, though, and it is decided that she should take a human familiar to feed from even though she is only 16 (the age of consent is 18).
Texan Bliss and New York It girl Mimi continue to enjoy their new powers, but Mimi's obsession with Jack leads her to experiment witht he dark arts, and the book wraps up with an exciting dramatic scene.
While the first novel was such a delightful surprise, as I hadn't expected such intricate, complex characters and plotting from de la Cruz, (her Au Pair series isn't nearly as good as these), the sequel makes me feel that Blue Bloods wasn't a fluke- this is good stuff. Can't wait for the next one!
Quality: 9 Popularity: 9 Overall: 18
Thursday, October 25, 2007
A little light reading!
No, this was fantastic- and anxiety-feeding! At first, 16 year old Miranda's diary entries hardly mention the collision. Sure, astronomers are warning that a comet will hit the moon, and some are saying that it could bring severe disruptions to life on earth, but most people aren't panicking.
The collision knocks the moon off its orbit, causing horrible tsunamis, earthquakes, volcanos, etc. on Earth. Now, I love a natural disaster movie, so this scenario was right up my alley, but the way Pfeiffer turned a huge-scale end-of -the-world story into a tight, claustrophobic, hopeful family story was amazing. That's a good trick, right there.
Very well written, plausible, realistic, and somehow elegiacal and offering hope all at once, this was a solid, good book.
Quality: 9 Popularity: 7 Overall: 16
New York anorexic Daisy is sent to England to stay with her Aunt Penn and her cousins. Shortly after her arrival, an (ominous but unspecified) act of international terrorism makes it neccessary for Aunt Penn (a vague but unspecified politican /advisor /academic?) to go to Oslo. After she leaves, WWIII breaks out, serious asymmetrical warfare, and in the ensuing chaos, Daisy and her cousins are left alone at their farm for a time.
Their struggle to survive without adults is interesting, but the most interesting part of the book was their struggle to get news- the (vague and unspecified) terrorists have (maybe) destroyed the telecommunications infrastructure, and news is just gossip. The government is planting stories (the smallpox) and no one can trust any information.
Daisy and her cousin Edmond fall in love, and begin a passionate romance before they are separated by the soldiers who eventualy commandeer the farm, and all in all it is a confusing, disturbing, wild ride of a book.
The vagueness was frustrating for me, although I can see that stylistically, it added to the anxiety of the book- the swirling rumors and the hinted terrorism gave an almost sickening feeling to the book. Strong book.
Quality: 8 Popularity:7 Overall: 15
Good book! I've been reading some good stuff lately. A lucky run.
Sameera, nicknamed Sparrow, was adopted as a Pakistani infant by an American diplomat and his wife. Fast forward, and he's a Republican candidate for President. Sparrow leaves her European boarding school and her friends to come 'home' to be a part of his campaign. Sparrow is promptly thrust into the political spotlight, with ugly headlines appearing above photos of her and her father like "Is Righton soft on Muslims?"
A campaign aide steps in, offering assistance- an American makeover, starting with her name. Anxious to assist, Sparrow becomes Sammy, a designer-wearing perky girl, with a fake blog written by staffers. In a satisfying twist that leant depth to what could have been a cardboard baddie, the aide who orchestrates the makeover had been a political daughter herself who had been crucified in the press (think Chelsea Clinton).
Sparrow's conflicts are well presented- she wants her father to succeed, and as much as she wants her mother to go back to looking like the fair-trade policy wonk that she is, she understands that appearances count in a modern election, and that Mom will probably stay blond and exfoliated if she becomes First Lady. Sparrow wants to do her part, but to have a life at the same time.
Exerpts from Sparrow's own real blog, and the comments her friends leave are a great counterpoint to the fake Sammy's blog, and when Sparrow begins to wear salwar kameez to preserve her anonymity in DC, the casual racism she encounters is enraging. It was such a well written book, and this character was a delight- thoughtful, interesting, and interested in the world around her.
The only thing that seemed implausable was that her parents were Republicans. I mean, really?
Quality: 10 Popularity: 7 Overall: 17
First Daughter: Extreme American Makeover
5 girls, a clique of friends. Maya, Brianna, Renee, Darcy, and Candace. One morning, Candace decides Maya is out.
The narraration shifts from girl to girl, from Maya's lonely agony and bewilderment to Brianna's consciousness of her own weakness and Renee's social insecurity, Darcy's sick and submissive relationship with Candace, and Candace's own unhappiness and need to prove her power. Each girl's voice was unique, and each was very believable.
This book perfectly captured the almost desperate need to belong in middle school, and the pain of social ostracism.
I think the best evidence I can find of why I feel the voices are so authentic is to point to "A Kid's Review" on Amazon
"This is one of the most best book I have ever read. It is about 5 girls named Maya, Ren'ee, Darcey, Brianna, and Candance. Candance is the main member of the group and Darcey is her best friend and the other girl are the more less important one,s. Candace starts to kik out Maya for no reason. Then she kiks out Brianna too! Ren'ee starts to get comfused because they did not do anything. She trys to think what to do but what could she do? If you would like to find out what she does and what happens read the book and it will give you the answer. "
I think that a book making a child want to try "to think what to do" means that that child believed in the authenticity of those voices. I thought it was a very good book(and at a very low-level reading level, which seems hard to pull off.
Quality: 9 Popularity: 8 Overall: 17
Yes, that Douglas Adams. Hitch-hiker's Guide to The Galaxy Douglas Adams. The Restaurant at the End of the Universe Douglas Adams. The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul Douglas Adams. Writing one of the most gentle, furious, loving, ranting, powerful non-fiction books to ever break my heart.
Adams (1952-2001) and his friend, zoologist and photographer Mark Carwardine were asked by the BBC to go look at some of the world's most endangered animals, and this is the resulting book.
From New Zealand to Kenya to China, they visit the passionate 'eccentrics' who devote their lives to saving such species and attempt to at least see the animals themselves. Komodo dragons, mountain gorillas, an awkward non-flying bird called an aye-aye, the baiji Yangtze river dolphin- each in terrible peril of being the last of its kind.
Adams' writing is always clever, and in this book he is able to bring some of his trademark absurdist humor into his writing, but reading it, his horror and sorrow come through.
The great joke of Hitch-hiker's is that the ugly and stupid Vogons destroy the Earth to make a hyperspace thru-way - it must have been appalling for Adams to come face to face with the fact that despite our so-called 'humanity', those grunting beasts are us.
Adams died in 2001. The last documented sighting (supported by photographic evidence) on the baiji dolphin was in 2002. In 2006 a massive survey of the Yangtze river and its tributaries failed to find even one. So long and thanks for all the fish, indeed.
I have a very hard time believing in an afterlife, but let me say this- I hope with every fibre of my being that Adams and a pod of baiji are heading for tea at the restaurant at the end of the universe.
Quality: 10 Popularity: 7 Overall: 17
Fantastic book about climate change and the early impact of global warming that is already disrupting human and animal life. Lynas takes a world tour of global hotspots, and reports on how extreme weather, sea level rise, and changing climactic conditions are affecting them.
Wondering how a glacier his father photographed in Peru in the 1970's was faring set Lynas off on a fascinating journey.
From tipsy forests in Alaska (no, not drunk, but leaning because of permafrost thaw) to taro plots in Tuvalu that are dying because of daily inundations of sea water, Lynas sees the evidence that we are already in what is being called the anthropogenic era - a man-made climate.
Although this book is already out of date (Lynas's figures suggest that nations will have more time to solve our problems than we will- more recent reports, including the IPCC's latest offering suggest that we are experiencing climate change at rates hardly mentioned in early projections) it is more of a travelogue of what is being lost than an argument, so I don't think it loses any power by being 3 years old. If anything, reading it is even more sobering, knowing that those tipsy forests are degrees of magnitude vaster, that Tuvalu is evacuating, that even more glaciers are gone. His writing is accessable and smooth.
Quality: 10 Popularity: 5 Overall: 15
Tuesday, October 23, 2007
Fifteen Candles: 15 Tales of taffeta, hairspray, drunk uncles, and other Quinceanera stories, edited by Adriana Lopez
This was a lot of fun to read, and to me, an intimate look at something I've never experienced.
The 15 stories are a mixed bag of experiences, and some appealed to me more than others, but overall, the quality of the writing was excellent. I loved how the Quince experience or even the lack of a Quince is such a major thread in these lives, and the formality of the roles and the coming of age ritual is very cool.
I think my favorite story out of them all was The Dress Was Way Too Itchy, by Monica Palacios, but I truly enjoyed them all.
Quality: 8 Popularity: 7 Overall: 15
Monday, October 22, 2007
This was powerful. Three girls try to cover up a wild night out with a lie that spirals out of control and changes not only thier lives, but the lives of others around them. I thought the teen voices were very real, and the ways that Anna, Emma and Mariah each changed through the novel seemed very plausible- Anna's increase in confidence and visibility and her ability to almost convince herself that 'it' happened was sad and real at the same time. Mariah too was a very well written character, with her loneliness behind her cockiness.
This was definitely an 'issue' YA novel but I thought it was well done, well written, and I couldn't put it down, even as my stomach was sinking over the consequences of their 'harmless' lie.
Quality: 9 Popularity: 8 Overall: 17
Sunday, October 21, 2007
This was a damn good book. Steve is awaiting the trial that will determine the rest of his life. He is being tried as an accomplice to murder, and the way the story is framed through Steve's own screenplay not only makes the story very vivid, but it allows the author to leave out the actual crime- a robbery that went wrong, during which the store owner was killed.
Steve's innocence or guilt is never made clear, it is up to the reader to determine whether he is the 'Monster" of the title, but the way the legal system treats a black teenager is certainly monstrous.
Quality: 9 Popularity: 8 Overall 17
Won the Printz Award for Excellence in Young Adult Literature
National Book Award Finalist 1999
I don't know what else to say-it was very good.
Quality: 9 Popularity: 10 Overall: 19
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
Planet Janet was fun, quick, breezy, and terribly familiar. Cross a young Bridget Jones with Louise Rennison's Georgia Nichols, dye her hair purple, and you have Janet. Complete with the little glossary to help translate those puzzling Briticisms (something that drives me crazy beyond all reason- are editors convinced that Americans are so stupid that they'll never figure out what knickers are?) this book went fast and forgettably. I finished it a few hours ago and if it weren't for this log, I would totally forget about it.
Quality: 4 Popularity:8 Overall: 14
These books have it all — fantastic character development and smart, clippy writing, and they address just about every major issue facing teens today, in an entirely non-preachy way. It is a tour de force. The heroine, Tally Youngblood, hurls herself across that line between safety and freedom, defies societal pressures and expectations to be conventionally beautiful, and tries to address the legacy of the environmental destruction left behind by the “Rusties” — us.
This unflinching series is impossible to put down, and impossible to forget, if only for scenes such as the one where Tally, on the run, encounters fields of genetically modified white orchids which have crowded out every other plant. The questions of what is beautiful and of what is natural and of what is right are worth thinking about.
Moon was raised in the wilds of Alabama by a father whose Vietnam experiences drove him into becoming an isolated survivalist. Moon can read, write, hunt, build shelter, grow food, but has never been around people. When his father dies (unneccessarily) after an accident, Moon tries to make it on his own but is betrayed by a well meaning lawyer, captured, and forced into society.
Moon's lifestyle was fascinating, and the survivalist stuff seemed like it would be right-on, although I have no experience to compare it too. I wish it had gone more into the Vietnam experiences of Moon and Hal's fathers, but maybe leaving that ambiguous worked for the story. I gave it a 8 for quality, but I don't know how easy a sell it would be, and the cover wasn't one that caught my eye. In fact, I thought the cover was kind of the weak point of a fantastic book.
Quality: 8 Popularity: 6 Overall: 14
Great cover. I think it will move based on the strong cover, and Anderson's reputation as a writer, but this book left me pretty high and dry.
Tyler's social exclusion because of the Deed seemed overdrawn, Yoda was a cliche character, as was Bethany, as was Chip, etc etc. I mean, really, is it too much of a stretch to come up with a name besides Chip for That Guy? Bethany- how many teen books/movies have That Perfect Unattainable Girl That The Unpopular Guy Really Loves and Understands? And so she gets drunk and slutty- oh, well, if you want to read it, you'll find out, so I won't go on and on, but seriously, it was a let down of a book and the ending was so sudden and startlingly wholesome- like, immediately after he turns 18, Tyler's whole life changes? Really implausible plot, cardboard characters, weak Teen Issue Drama, it was really A Very Special After School Movie.
Quality: 5 Popularity: 7 Overall: 12
For some reason I had a hard time getting into this book- maybe the revolving narration threw me off- but once I settled in I really enjoyed the different voices, and the story seemed very real to me, maybe because I remember what a huge thing battle-of-the-bands were in high school- it all felt so exciting, and this book really brought me there. I loved all the Rhode Island flourishes- the Mel's Lemonade, etc, and think Rhody kids would get a kick out of that. I think this would be an easy 'sell' to readers. I wasn't crazy about the cover art, but LOVE the website.
Quality: 8 Popularity: 8 Overall: 16
Richistan: A Journey Through the American Wealth Boom and the Lives of the New Rich, by Robert Frank
Fantastic, fast and fascinating look at new money in America. From yacht-size to butler school to charitable 'investing', he studies how money is handled by the newest class of multimillionaires.
Although the book is a breeze and fun to read, it is a seriously researched book, and Frank does discuss the widening gap between the rich and the rest of the country.
Quality: 9 Popularity: 9 Overall: 18
Ooof. This was a heavy, heavy book.
Pecola is poor, black, and friendless. She suffers abuse, incest, racism, etc. Very graphic, very violent, very disturbing book.
I can't criticise it without sounding vile, so let me just say that it was not a book I enjoyed, and if you are like me at all, awful things stay in your head long after you read it, and I just really don't want that.
Ellie and her friends return from a camping trip to find that their homes are deserted and looted, and that a foreign power (China, from all I could gather but never named here) has invaded the country. There are great action-adventure scences, some great battle scenes, and the Hell, the outback hollow where the teens hide out is described in effective, compelling detail. The real interest of the book was how the different characters deal with the threat, and in how their ethical dilemmas unfold, as they unexpectedly have to deal with life or death choices.
Although I did thoroughly enjoy this title, I haven't gone on to read any of the sequels, which is strange for me. We'll see.
Tomorrow, When The War Began
Quality: 8 Popularity: 8 Overall: 16
The Rapture happens, and the 'saved' get sucked up to Heaven, leaving their clothes and prosthetics behind. The unsaved, including rascally journalist Buck, almost adulterous pilot Rayford, his doubting daughter Chloe, and others soon find that the end of the world is nigh, and that an obscure Carpathian politician is the devil.
It was badly written, the anti-Semitism was hard to swallow, and, well, ridiculous. It was like watching wrestling or porn or something- hard to believe that people read this and harder still to believe that some people believe that the 'rapture' is really coming.
It is terrifying, actually, because while reading this book, I also read Deer Hunting With Jesus: Dispatches from America's Class War by Joe Bageant, which was wonderful.
Bageant had been raised in Virginia in a family that believed in the rapture, and one day as a child he went into his family home, and no one was there. He describes the terror he felt, as he came to think that the rapture had happened and that he had been left behind as a sinner, and he wrote about how years later, when he talks with people who were raised that way, others had the same horrific experience. Of course, his parents and brother came back home from visiting the neighbors, but he said that it was sheer terror. It seems like child abuse to me to fill someone's head with this kind of dangerous malarky.
That being said, Left Behind had decent action-adventure type stuff, if you could get past all the terrible writing and hideous premise. Deer Hunting With Jesus was one of the best books I've read this year and I recommend it without reservation.
Left Behind Quality: 5 Popularity: 8 Overall: 13
Deer Hunting With Jesus: Dispatches from America's Class War Quality: 10 Popularity: 8 Overall: 18
The setting (at Los Alamos before and immediately after the Trinity tests) was an immediate attention catcher, and the conflicts between the scientists over the ethics of their work seemed like it would make this book a great starting point to intense discussion. I also thought that the female scientists, like Suze's mom, were gracefully brought into the story and the differences between them and the female 'computers' could lead to a great group talk too. Suze's character growth didn't feel forced, and Dewey- what a protagonist!
I enjoyed this more than the score can possibly express- I will be handing this book to everyone who comes up to me looking for 'something good to read'. This book made me want to reread every other book I've read that was set at Los Alamos, made me want to visit that area, reminded me that abstract ideas can lead to devastating consequences, oh, it was a good good read.
The Green Glass Sea
Quality: 10 Popularity: 8 Overall: 18
Winner of the 2007 Scott O'Dell Award for Historical Fiction
Alice is one of the most authentic teen voices I've encountered in reading (a ton of) YA books. Her journal is hilarious, thoughful, weird, and so good. She has been homeschooled, gets into the strangest situations, has horrendous haircuts and surprising taste in clothes.
Alice decides to try going to high school, out of sympathy for her therapist... You know what? I loved this book so much that I don't even think I can summarize it neatly.
Alice, I Think
Quality: 9 Popularity: 9 Overall 18
Claire's parents (improbably) move into Massie's parents' guest house. Massie is a dreadful little bitch who is senselessly cruel to Claire, because Claire's parents aren't as rich as Massie's, and because Claire is (at 13) still wearing jeans and keds. Massie makes her 'friends' be cruel to Claire as well. Claire is a cardboard character and a total masochist, so she keeps trying to befriend the sociopathic girls.
Everything about this book was heartbreaking. The fact that it was not only published but is such a huge best-seller is nauseating. It is completely sick.
The cruelty is astonishing, the lack of any kind of adult authority figure is disturbing, the consumerism makes Teen Vogue look wholesome, and the writing is nothing short of astoundingly bad.
Quality: 2 Popularity: 9 Overall: 11
The third book in the Ember series was, to me, the weakest. Set an undefined amount of time earlier than the Ember or Sparks books, this one is about Nickie, a young girl who is in town to help clear out her grandmother's house, and becomes involved in what seems like mass hysteria. A woman who had a stoke (maybe???) is being revered as a prophet, and her mutterings are being taken as divine.
It was all a little weird to me, and although I appreciate the 'message'- don't follow blindly, etc., it felt a little overblown and implausible.
The connection between this book and the others is extremely tenuous- it really didn't fit in with the others.
Quality: 5 Popularity: 8 Overall: 13
After Lina and Doon led the people of Ember out of the underground, they all eventually come to a town called Sparks, where the inhabitants have been struggling to eke out a living, and the community has a hard time absorbing the Ember refugees. I didn't enjoy it as much as City of Ember, but it was a YA look at the issues a society faces when trying to handle crisis.
Quality: 7 Popularity: 9 Overall: 16
The plot was intriguing, and plausible, the writing was smooth and clean and the descriptions of Ember were chilling and conveyed the claustrophobia of the underground world. I loved the scenes set in the municipal greenhouses and the fact that farmers were so respected, I loved the appreciation of maintaining infrastructure, Lina and Doon were great characters- it was wonderful.
Anyway, Megan gets kind of tricked into becoming a tutor to a pair of heiress sisters (I know...) who are evil to her and everyone else until Megan discovers that they are actually brilliant at making databases (I know...) and they all become close friends.
In between there was a ton of nonsense about clothes, mistaken and false identities, waxing, and tutoring. It was pretty awful.
Quality: 3 Popularity: 8 Overall: 11
In Philadelphia during a yellow fever outbreak, 16 year old Mattie loses friends and family to the fever, gets sent away, and returns to run the family coffee shop. She was to me a maddening character, and her perky comeback as an 18th century barista cemented my dislike of the book.
That being said, the number of people who have raved about it leads me to think that maybe it just wasn't my cup of tea.
Quality: 5 Popularity: 8 Overall: 13