The Pirate's Wish (The Assassin's Curse #2)
Author: Cassandra Rose Clarke
Publication Date: 6/4/2013
Publisher: Strange Chemistry
After setting out to break the curse that binds them together, the pirate Ananna and the assassin Naji find themselves stranded on an enchanted island in the north with nothing but a sword, their wits, and the secret to breaking the curse: complete three impossible tasks. With the help of their friend Marjani and a rather unusual ally, Ananna and Naji make their way south again, seeking what seems to be beyond their reach.
Unfortunately, Naji has enemies from the shadowy world known as the Mists, and Ananna must still face the repercussions of going up against the Pirate Confederation. Together, Naji and Ananna must break the curse, escape their enemies — and come to terms with their growing romantic attraction.Review:
Above all else, this is a pretty satisfying conclusion to a story that began not so long ago with one runaway pirate bride on a camel. I thought I would have to wait a whole year to find out how the dreaded Assassin’s Curse was dealt with, but lo – the internet is generous to me. I read this book in about four noncontiguous hours of metro riding and would have happily holed up with it somewhere if I’d had the chance. It was a quick, enjoyable read. However, this second installment was not as enjoyable as the first for me, for a variety of reasons.
This second half of the duology starts off pretty much exactly where the first left us – with Ananna and Naji trapped on a mysterious magical island and bound by an impossible curse. As with all impossible curses, the cure involves three impossible feats – one of which is true love’s first kiss (naturally!). Poor, scrappy Ananna knows that it would be all too easy to complete that particular feat, but Naji is still delightfully clueless about her feelings. However, once a rather feisty manticore enters the picture, bent on curing Naji so she can have a tasty meal of non-cursed blood magician meat, things really get cracking.
I went into this thing expecting the final resolution (and mostly the kiss) to get pushed off (realistically or artificially – by any means necessary) until the very end. After all, the romance novels I know and sometimes love are notorious for dragging out final declarations and for placing undue emphasis on THE FIRST KISS. Here is how the average plot structure of a romance novel looks like to me:
Note the slow building tension, the climactic declaration scene, the HEA, and of course – the unnecessary epilogue where we’ll probably see the heroine blissfully happy with two precocious kids and a lust-filled marriage.
I must say that I was shocked when that didn’t happen! I have to give Clarke major kudos for punching my expectations in the face and surprising me many times in this book. I mean, not only did she give me yet another talking cat (close enough) for my collection, she let the heroine claim the first kiss in the beginning chapters AND learn to be an independent badass lady by the end of the book. However, weirdly enough I think that some of the things I admired about the book’s nonconformity to romance novel standards actually ended up lessening my overall enjoyment of the book. The plot of The Pirate’s Wish felt something like this:
While I applauded the kiss coming so early in the story, the pages and pages of angst which occurred after the kiss did start to feel tiresome to me. The battles (always occurring just in time to prevent something important from happening) were small and unexciting. The cures for the curse felt anticlimactic and unimaginative (and sometimes rather silly: see talking sharks). And the huge romantic declaration, which is something I’d usually rather skip, was largely MISSING from this book. I didn’t need a huge gushfest by any means, but I did need SOMETHING. I needed some small glimpse into Naji’s head, to be able to understand why he would want to be with Ananna. Sure, maybe Ananna is an independent woman who doesn’t need a ton of assurances or any proof of Naji’s love…but I guess I needed it.
And I think she deserved to have it. How strong and independent is she really, if she can't even ask for what she needs from him? Also, can I just say that I was sorely disappointed that Naji's bratty ex didn't make a reappearance for some good old-fashioned comeuppance, courtesy of Ananna?
However, I did really like that the ending was left open and only partially resolved and I also liked the lack of a completely gushy-mushy HEA slash epilogue. This was a bit of a let-down for me after the brilliance of The Assassin’s Curse,
but it was still a fun ride.Perfect Musical Pairing
Heart - I Didn't Want to Need You
This series is still satisfying, like the perfect pop song. And best of all, there's no more waiting required because it's a duology! I'm hoping she writes a spin-off series or two, but until then here's my tribute to Ananna and Naji from Heart.
The Lucy Variations
Author: Sara Zarr
Publication Date: 5/7/2013
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Lucy Beck-Moreau once had a promising future as a concert pianist. The right people knew her name, her performances were booked months in advance, and her future seemed certain.
That was all before she turned fourteen.
Now, at sixteen, it's over. A death, and a betrayal, led her to walk away. That leaves her talented ten-year-old brother, Gus, to shoulder the full weight of the Beck-Moreau family expectations. Then Gus gets a new piano teacher who is young, kind, and interested in helping Lucy rekindle her love of piano -- on her own terms. But when you're used to performing for sold-out audiences and world-famous critics, can you ever learn to play just for yourself?
National Book Award finalist Sara Zarr takes readers inside the exclusive world of privileged San Francisco families, top junior music competitions, and intense mentorships. The Lucy Variations
is a story of one girl's struggle to reclaim her love of music and herself. It's about finding joy again, even when things don't go according to plan. Because life isn't a performance, and everyone deserves the chance to make a few mistakes along the way.Reviews:
I love Sara Zarr's writing and I always will. At my very first book club meeting with the fabulous ladies of Fairfax Forever YA, I listed her as one of my favorite YA authors (this after being told that I would be judged based on my answers). I even got my club to go rogue one month and read Sara Zarr's How To Save A Life instead of the Forever YA selection. I love that Sara Zarr’s novels will always find a way to reach right under my rib cage and rip out my heart, no matter how little I initially relate to any of her characters. Her characters always, always find a way to get under my skin. Sigh. So why didn’t that happen with The Lucy Variations? When I wanted to feel connected, I felt unconcerned. When I wanted to feel the massive gut punch of Sara Zarr, I felt a fluttery twinge. When I wanted to swoon, I cringed. Unfortunately, I think a lot of the reason for my lackluster feelings lies in her use of the third person point of view, something that’s new for her. Some authors are able to use third person to great effect, in a way that still feels very personal (Stacia Kane, I am looking at you). The third person narration in The Lucy Variations feels distanced and impersonal. Worse, it sometimes feels overly summarized in that way that says there isn’t enough action and dialogue.
Then they went over here.
Then she talked about this.
Then he left.
Know what I mean? I want to know how they’re getting from place to place. I want to see the movement. I want to hear the conversation. I need more description, dialogue, and action and less simple narration of events.
However, does this mean I will be abandoning Sara Zarr and striking her from my judgment-worthy list of favorite YA authors? Hell no. I can only speculate, but maybe this is Sara Zarr’s attempt at a new creative direction, something that I can only support. Maybe this is the equivalent of her going up on stage and playing Philip Glass when we all expected to hear Bach. It wasn’t a perfect, error-free rendition, but I appreciate her effort. And I will keep reading and supporting whatever she decides to put out there.
The Lucy Variations was, for me, a parade of unlikable characters. I do not necessarily need likable characters in a novel but I do need something to keep me going if I am not enjoying the characters, and that is usually a compelling story. What could have been a literary Searching for Bobby Fischer-esque rise and (at least quasi-) fall of a child prodigy ended up falling flat for me. Without Zarr's typical first-person narration, I missed hearing the main character's perspective throughout and from the outsider's view, I never truly understood how Lucy could not see her own situation for what it was. Instead, she was pretty insufferable to her friends and family and refused to problem solve so I was unable to sympathize with her character. Several families in Zarr's prior works have similar communication problems to the Beck-Moreaus of The Lucy Variations, but as I get farther and farther away from this book, the characters who resonated most for me were Lucy's younger brother and Lucy's best friend--the only two straight shooters in the novel. The rest of the characters had me turning page after page waiting, waiting, waiting for people to tell others what they were thinking or how they had hurt each other.
In terms of the story, I was disappointed in the lack of resolution. The ending felt hurried and there were several loose ends--not "oh, I guess it could go either way and it's left up to interpretation" types of loose ends, more "why was this subplot even introduced if it was going nowhere?" types of loose ends. For example, the relationship between Lucy and her prior teacher felt like a speed bump in the story and I was not sure why it was included. And arguably the largest conflict in the book, that between Lucy and her grandfather, goes out with a fizzle. When it comes down to it, as a reader I felt that this novel was missing its emotional core, something Zarr is typically fantastic at cultivating, so I never really connected to the story, the characters, or the style. I'll still be first in line to read Zarr's next book, and in all likelihood, her next ten.
How great would it have been if Lucy had sat down at the concert and played the song from her grandfather's record collection that reminded him of his late wife? That would've been a kick in the pants for him.
It appears the three of us are pretty much on the same page as to why this new Sara Zarr novel didn't work for us. Pardon me for repeating what has already been said.
Generally, it's a good thing when authors try to experiment and explore new points of view and styles of writing. But sometimes when they try something new, it just doesn't work as well as the old. This is the case with The Lucy Variations
I think. The thing I disliked the most about this novel is its POV, specifically its 3rd person POV instead of Zarr's signature 1st. It was a challenge for the author herself (she talked about this in her blog post
), and the challenge, in my opinion, not well met in this case. I am still scratching my head in an effort to understand why Zarr chose to write this new novel this way. 3rd person POV added nothing to the narrative (it is a very close 3rd person, with only Lucy's perspective used, we never get insight into any other character's mind) and added unnecessary feeling of detachment to the story. As for everything else, while the book was still enjoyable to a degree, the plot felt a bit stale. I never finished Virtuosity, but these two novels sound fairly similar - artistic girls in creative and personal crisis and all that
. Whatever new and interesting Zarr had in her version - mainly Lucy's inappropriate relationships with older men - never materialized into anything tangible and punchy. Lucy's friends were a waste and underutilized in the plot, and so were many other plot lines which started out promising but ended wit.All in all, The Lucy Variations
is just an average read and by far Zarr's weakest. Fingers crossed, her next effort is better. 3/5 stars
The 5th Wave
Author: Rick Yancey
Publication Date: 05/07/2013
Publisher: Putnam Juvenile
Blurb(GR): After the 1st wave, only darkness remains. After the 2nd, only the lucky escape. And after the 3rd, only the unlucky survive. After the 4th wave, only one rule applies: trust no one. Now, it’s the dawn of the 5th wave, and on a lonely stretch of highway, Cassie runs from Them. The beings who only look human, who roam the countryside killing anyone they see. Who have scattered Earth’s last survivors. To stay alone is to stay alive, Cassie believes, until she meets Evan Walker. Beguiling and mysterious, Evan Walker may be Cassie’s only hope for rescuing her brother—or even saving herself. But Cassie must choose: between trust and despair, between defiance and surrender, between life and death. To give up or to get up. Review:
This book is damn near perfect in so many ways. It’s impressively well-written, compelling, and maybe not entirely original, but still doesn’t feel too derivative. So why didn’t I enjoy it more? I’m not sure, but while I acknowledge that this book is great, I can already feel it receding rather quickly from my memory.
But anyway, let’s focus on the good for a while, shall we? Good point number one: this book has aliens. And these aliens are especially frightening, because they manage to take down 95% of the human race without ever being seen. Good point number two: this book doesn’t really have aliens (at least not until the end). Yancey understands that the most frightening thing in the world is that which cannot be seen, or measured, or predicted – that which we are constantly forced to imagine
and wonder about. His aliens are insidious planners who prey on human weakness to great effect and that aspect is deliciously twisted.
Good point number three: there are multiple narrators who are used effectively and
feel distinct. First, he gives us Cassie, who is one of the most enjoyable people I’ve had spring up in my head in a long time. She’s brave but not arrogant, sarcastic and silly, and feels genuinely like a young girl (which I sometimes find impressive when the author is an adult man). The other main point of view, Zombie, feels entirely different and is most definitely his own person. I enjoyed him a bit less than Cassie, but his sections still contributed well to the story. And there’s a much smaller third point of view, Silencer, whose voice is poignant and mysterious.* I hope we get to see more of him in the next book. (I actually hope we get to see a few more of the minor characters as narrators in the next book.)
(As a mid-paragraphs aside here, I just want to add that this book is far less tragic romance-driven than the blurb above might lead you to believe.)
Good point number four: the writing is just flawless. The voices are bright and three-dimensional, the dialogue is entertaining and quick, the action is thrilling, and even though the ending is left just a bit open (just exactly the right amount), the story has a really nice beginning-middle-end cohesion. The parallels that Yancey draws between Cassie and Zombie feel downright literary. Actually, with the multiple narrators, the fast-paced writing, and the “sci-fi with a touch of the literary” feel, this book reminded me just a bit of The Knife of Never Letting Go.
*Braces self for storm of people leaving this review to go pre-order this book* Only, (and I can whisper this now that all of those people have left) I think this book is better.
So why the hell couldn’t I get into the damn thing? Why was it so easy to set aside (and to set aside for hundred-page-long descriptions of made up sports, no less)? The only excuse I can come up with is that…I’m a lifelong sci-fi fan. I know that makes no sense, but just bear with me. I’ve been spending time with aliens since I was knee high to a grasshopper. Over the course of the past…let’s say 27 years, I’ve gotten to know the genre pretty well. And, I think it’s possible that, like the sexual sadist who must go to greater and greater heights of violence to reach fulfillment, I have become jaded. About sci-fi. It’s possible that I’ve reached a point where nothing less than slavering mosquito women
or giant living whale airships
will pique my interest, is what I am saying. And while this book is great in many ways, it also feels very approachable and commercial and just…not…weird. And I like weird.
*Our good friend Nomes reminded me in the comments that there's also one chapter narrated by Cassie's brother, Sam. Perfect Musical Pairing
The White Stripes – Fell In Love With A Girl
The musical way of describing this book is that it’s an A-side book. And I guess I’m a B-side girl, at least when it comes to sci-fi. However, I think this book’s appeal will actually make it a great choice for many, many, many people. This song (which I have chosen for Cassie, of course) brought a huge audience to The White Stripes, and I think this book will do similar things for Rick Yancey. I hope you all go out and get it. Meanwhile, I will be off investigating Rick Yancey’s B-side
I think that for me, this book is a 3.5 but I'm going to give it a 4/5
because I'm being silly and it deserves it.
Also, this ARC is too good not to pass on. Who wants a copy? U.S./Canada only and the giveaway ends at midnight on 04/03/2013. Have at it!
The Raven Boys (The Raven Cycle #1)
Author: Maggie Stiefvater
Publication Date: 9/18/12
Publisher: Scholastic Press
Blurb(GR): Blue has spent the majority of her sixteen years being told that if she kisses her true love, he will die. When Blue meets Gansey’s spirit on the corpse road she knows there is only one reason why – either he is her true love or she has killed him.Determined to find out the truth, Blue becomes involved with the Raven Boys, four boys from the local private school (led by Gansey) who are on a quest to discover Glendower – a lost ancient Welsh King who is buried somewhere along the Virginia ley line. Whoever finds him will be granted a supernatural favour.Never before has Blue felt such magic around her. But is Gansey her true love? She can’t imagine a time she would feel like that, and she is adamant not to be the reason for his death. Where will fate lead them?
When I first started this book many months ago, it fell right into not one, but TWO of my worst book dealbreakers. To quote myself from six months ago (because we all know how much I love to do that): “Forbidden Love + YA
= No. I just can’t handle it anymore. I can’t handle whatever crazy-ass excuse (different classes, different species, he’s a murderer, he’s a sociopath, he’s a stalker but he’s oh so HOT anyway…) will be used to keep the love interests apart. And even MORE than that, I definitely can’t handle the stupid justifications that will be used to actually bring them together. You know what? If there’s a hot guy who might murder you someday…maybe you just shouldn’t, okay? Can we all just agree on that?”
And “The problems of rich white people in boarding school/prep school
Substitute “hot guy” for “that kooky girl who feels isolated because she’s so unique and special and who makes her own clothes out of recycled materials” in the last sentence of “Forbidden Love + YA” and you have my basic reaction to the beginning of this book. Strike two: I have a really, really
hard time drumming up sympathy for entitled rich kids and I probably always will. Oh, so you get to go to a fancy school and you have enough money to live on for the rest of your life without ever having to work…but you might have to wear a tie someday? I FEEL SO SORRY FOR YOU
. Strike three: all of these characters feel less like real people and more like stock characters from a romance novel to me. Our heroes are:
- The straight-laced, ridiculously wealthy, overly mature one who just needs to loosen up (a la every hero ever written by Sophie Kinsella).
- The dangerous/violent (possibly insane) one who just needs a gentle hand (Jericho Barrons, et al).
- The traumatized one who’s had to fight for everything and just needs to learn how to trust (Jamie Fraser and basically all of my favorite romance novel heroes).
And of course, the stable of available guys wouldn’t be complete without the romance novel heroine, who as I stated before is just hopelessly, terribly unique and special. Needless to say, I didn’t get very far in this book on my first attempt.
But then I joined a book club...and although I admit that I have
stubbornly refused to read a couple of the selections, I do try to be good in general. So I ended up giving this one another try. And you know what? I’m kinda glad I did. Kinda. There’s no doubt in my mind now that Maggie Stiefvater can write. This book is beautifully detailed and atmospheric and I’ll be damned if I didn’t start caring for these boys by the end. I mean, that right there speaks volumes about this woman’s writing talent. Seriously, when she can get me to care about a guy who (at age 17) owns his own warehouse apartment filled with ancient tomes (plus like one issue of the sports illustrated swimsuit edition – just to give him a little bit of teenage legitimacy) and spends endless hours researching obscure Welsh monarchy, when he’s not helicopter-parenting his best friends with the dedication of the completely codependent, or “rebelling” by driving around town in his gorgeously restored “vintage” car or his sister’s helicopter…yeah. That takes some talent.
So I did really get into this book for about a hundred pages towards the middle. But then…I got to the “end”. I put that in sarcasm quotes because I scoff at the idea that the back of this book can be called an ending. Instead, this book commits one of the most annoying book crimes to arise out of the “every YA book must now be a trilogy” age that we live in: the non-ending. Only, I think in this case it’s much worse because I genuinely believed that I was going to get some closure. It all starts out so ominously with Blue’s vision and the PROPHECY about her deadly kiss and then there are all of these little hints along the way and I was just gearing up for some sort of huge climactic scene. But no. Instead we are left with about twenty questions and no answers in sight. And I personally was left with the unsettling feeling that I knew exactly where this whole series was going.
I mean, I think anyone who’s read a fair number of these forbidden love stories can make a prediction at the end of this book. And I’m just not sure that I can take another six to eight hundred pages of Blue and Gansey angsting about kissing or not kissing, of Adam becoming more and more sullen and jealous and possibly evil, of Gansey trying desperately to mess with some mystical thing that actually allowed him to escape death. (Why, Gansey? When you are given a second lease on life I say just take it and don’t ask questions.) But that’s just me. I know that this series has a ton of fans and I will be relying on all of you to let me know if my predictions of angst come true. If not, I hold out the right to come crawling back to this series and beg forgiveness later on when all the books are released and I can have closure.2.5/5 Stars
The Freedom Maze
Author: Delia ShermanNarrator: Robin MilesAudio Sample
Publication Date: 9/25/12
Publisher: Listening Library
Set against the burgeoning Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, and then just before the outbreak of the Civil War, The Freedom Maze explores both political and personal liberation, and how the two intertwine.
In 1960, thirteen-year-old Sophie isn’t happy about spending the summer at her grandmother’s old house in the Bayou. But the house has a maze Sophie can’t resist exploring once she finds it has a secretive and mischievious inhabitant.
When Sophie, bored and lonely, makes an impulsive wish, she slips back one hundred years into the past, to the year 1860. She hopes for a fantasy book adventure with herself as the heroine. Instead, she gets a real adventure in the race-haunted world of her family’s Louisiana sugar plantation in 1860, where she is mistaken for a slave. President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation is still two years in the future. The Thirteen Amendment—abolishing and prohibiting slavery—will not be not passed until April 1864.
Muddy and bedraggled, Sophie obviously isn’t a young lady of good breeding. She must therefore be a slave. And she is.Review:
According to an interview with Delia Sherman at the end of this audiobook, it took eighteen years, twenty-seven drafts, countless hours of research, and a whole bunch of informed beta readers to complete this book – and it shows. If you’re looking for historical fiction that’s been thoroughly researched and very well done, this is an excellent choice. And the best part is that this was written for children.
I know that I’ve talked about this before, but it bears repeating: children deserve great books too. I think sometimes writers approach the children’s or young adult genre with the attitude of, “Oh, they’re just kid’s books…”
as if somehow being young means being able to see past flat characters, gaping plot holes, and overly simplistic stories. Anyone who has any dealings with the young can tell you that this is categorically untrue. My kids can easily differentiate between a good book and a bad book (or worse, a condescending book). So it really impresses me when an author has clearly gone the extra mile (and then some) for children.
At the beginning of this book, Sophie is a very late-blooming thirteen years old. It’s 1960, and much to her traditional grandmother’s disapproval, her parents are getting a divorce and her mother has decided to go back to school. Sophie’s mother struggles to fit between her very traditional upbringing and what she’s had to do (and worse…enjoyed doing) to survive. She’s strict and overly critical of just about everything – especially Sophie. Sophie’s father has disappeared to New York to live a new life that doesn’t include anything about his old one. When Sophie’s mother foists her off on her grandmother and aunt to spend the summer holidays at the family’s ancestral home, Sophie wishes for an escape. She wishes to go on a marvelous, grand adventure just like her favorite fantasy stories. She wishes to finally have a close family and friends. Things get interesting when a very tricky spirit decides to grant her wish – by sending Sophie back into the past, where her ancestral family takes one look at her and assumes she’s a slave.
Delia Sherman impressed me greatly by going the extra mile in researching this book, but she impressed me even more by presenting such a dark, difficult subject (human slavery) so honestly. I know that it can be difficult to navigate these topics with children, but I think it becomes even more important not to resort to oversimplification when relating the uglier aspects of our history to them. Delia Sherman is one of the few authors I know about who does it perfectly. She doesn’t sanitize slavery at all. She also doesn’t sensationalize the (already horrifying on its own) cruel treatment that most slaves received. Nor does she pretend that these cruelties didn’t exist. Instead, she relates the details of slavery in layers: the kids might only pick up on the surface ideas (which are still related with stark honesty), but the adults will be able to see much more. In fact, to an adult who is perhaps already seeing beneath those surface layers, Sophie’s initial perspective might feel a bit too
simplistic. However, through the course of this story, Sophie gains a huge amount of perspective. Through Sophie’s eyes, we get to experience her initial ignorance about slavery give way slowly, by degrees – a changing perspective which will (I think) encourage child readers to follow in her footsteps down through the surface layers and into the deeper, darker themes.
Sophie's changing perspective even encouraged me to think about slavery in ways that I'd never fully considered. For example, I initially had some trouble buying into the idea that Sophie’s family could mistake a Caucasian girl (with a tan) for a slave. Once I began to enjoy the story, I mostly just decided to let my skepticism about Sophie’s appearance go – I mean, this is
a middle grade fantasy after all, and a little suspension of disbelief is pretty much par for the course. Or so I thought. At the end of this audiobook, Delia Sherman reveals that part of her inspiration for this story was an advertisement she found in a historical archive for a runaway slave – a girl who “had blonde hair and blue eyes” and “could pass for white.” It’s not like I didn’t know that Thomas Jefferson had (and still has) African American descendants, or that the word “quadroon” used to be a thing. I guess I just never gave a ton of thought to how complicated that must have been - living in a system where parents, children, and grandchildren were sometimes separated by this arbitrary line that labeled one human and one animal. Were the American plantation owners really so blind to the fact that these people – who were living side by side with them, raising them as children, and maybe even related to them genetically – were actually people?
Delia Sherman doesn’t shy away from investigating these questions either and the resulting view of a system that has blinded so many for so long is utterly compelling. This is a fantastic audiobook that I recommend for children and the adults in their lives. I think this would be an excellent introduction to American slavery for any middle school classroom.Perfect Musical Pairing
Aretha Franklin - A Change Is Gonna Come
(Sam Cooke cover)
This was a hard one to choose because there are so many themes in this book that I wanted to cover in the space of one song. Luckily for me, Aretha Franklin is the Queen and she does provide. Who else could weigh one song down so heavily with all the strife and hardship of a century’s worth of civil rights battles? I mean, I do love the original of this song but Aretha really just BRINGS THE EMOTION. When she says “it’s been long and it’s been an uphill journey all the way” you can really feel all of those years (and the years still to come). And of course she brings a huge dose of woman power to this song, which I think also pairs up with this book so well. Yes, this book is about civil rights but it’s mostly about one girl finding her own strength.4/5 Stars
Author: Adam Rapp
Publication Date: 5/12/09
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Blurb(GR): An award-winning writer and playwright hits the open road for a searing novel-in-letters about a street kid on a highstakes trek across America.
For a runaway boy who goes by the name "Punkzilla," kicking a meth habit and a life of petty crime in Portland, Oregon, is a prelude to a mission: reconnecting with his older brother, a gay man dying of cancer in Memphis. Against a backdrop of seedy motels, dicey bus stations, and hitched rides, the desperate fourteen-year-old meets a colorful, sometimes dangerous cast of characters. And in letters to his sibling, he catalogs them all — from an abusive stranger and a ghostly girl to a kind transsexual and an old woman with an oozing eye. The language is raw and revealing, crackling with visceral details and dark humor, yet with each interstate exit Punkzilla’s journey grows more urgent: will he make it to Tennessee in time? This daring novel offers a narrative worthy of Kerouac and a keen insight into the power of chance encounters.Review:
I’d basically like to hold this up to all those people in camp “YA has abandoned boys” as an example of how YA has…you know…not abandoned boys. Of course, that might be problematic because I’m pretty sure that that particular camp shares a lot of members with camp “YA is too dark.” And this book is plenty o’ dark. Or at least, it certainly contains the hallmarks of what those lovely campers like to label as “dark”. This book contains drug use, violence, sex, parental abandonment, cancer, and a very realistic portrayal of what life is like for a runaway teen. I honestly kept putting down my kindle every few chapters while reading this and thinking – is this really YA?
But yes, the silver embossed P on the front assures me that it is. I think what astonished me the most about this book is how positive it is – even with all of those “dark” themes – this book feels hopeful and sweet.
Too often I find that books featuring “troubled boys” are not about troubled boys at all. They’re about boys who are kind and gentle and good and oh, if the world could only see things from their point of view then they wouldn’t be so misunderstood and blah blah blah – it’s as if there’s this belief that genuinely
violent, troubled boys are not deserving of sympathy. I think it was incredibly brave of Adam Rapp to give us a boy who does
live rough, use drugs, and who has (like pretty much all of us) not escaped his childhood without real scars. He has been discarded by his parents, abused and misused, and he survives by committing acts of violence. He is that boy that so many in our society would spare one glance to and summarily label completely beyond redemption.
I was surprised by how attached I became to Jamie (Punkzilla to his friends). On the surface he’s a fourteen year old uneducated, violent thug coming down from his first meth hit, on a greyhound bus trying to get to his older brother. Perhaps he’s a bit of that under
the surface as well. But just like every uneducated, violent thug out there, he is more than just a collection of his worst attributes, and this book really challenges the reader to sympathize with him. And that is why this book is so powerful to me – it rings so true. Maybe there are one or two people out there who are just one hundred percent evil with no redeeming qualities, but I think that most of us have layers. Jamie is also insecure and intelligent and lonely and compassionate and a very loyal brother.
I also was really blown away by Adam Rapp’s writing. It’s bright and messy and fluid. He captures the voice of fourteen year old Jamie perfectly in letters – they’re cluttered and painfully honest, full of Jamie’s bravado in the face of terrifying circumstances and the fear and grief that he can’t quite cover up. Through letters from Jamie, Jamie’s parents, his brother, friends, and military school teachers, Adam Rapp gives us a very panoramic view of Jamie’s life and circumstances. I was held by this book from beginning to end.Perfect Musical Pairing
The National – Bloodbuzz Ohio
This was actually one from Noelle’s playlist last month, and it’s also one of my favorite songs from The National. (I’m still hoping there’s a zombie book that I can assign this one
to someday!) Maybe I’m interpreting the lyrics incorrectly, but to me this song is about drug-fueled nostalgia. The speaker is taken back to memories of his hometown, but they aren’t happy ones: “I never thought about love when I thought about home.”4/5 Stars
Editors: Tobias S. Buckell, Joe Monti
Publication Date: 10/1/12
Publisher: Tu Books
[Goodreads | Amazon]
Blurb(GR): “No one can doubt that the wave of the future is not the conquest of the world by a single dogmatic creed but the liberation of the diverse energies of free nations and free men. No one can doubt that cooperation in the pursuit of knowledge must lead to freedom of the mind and freedom of the soul.”—President John F. Kennedy, from a speech at University of California, March 23, 1962
In a world gone wrong, heroes and villains are not always easy to distinguish and every individual has the ability to contribute something powerful.
In this stunning collection of original and rediscovered stories of tragedy and hope, the stars are a diverse group of students, street kids, good girls, kidnappers, and child laborers pitted against their environments, their governments, differing cultures, and sometimes one another as they seek answers in their dystopian worlds. Take a journey through time from a nuclear nightmare of the past to society’s far future beyond Earth with these eleven stories by masters of speculative fiction. Includes stories by Paolo Bacigalupi, Ursula K. Le Guin, Malinda Lo, Cindy Pon, Daniel H. Wilson, and more.
I like the idea
of this anthology way more that I liked the anthology itself. This world is by no means populated by a white majority, so I think it’s ridiculous that so much of young adult literature is. One of the main things that can make me interested in reading a YA fantasy these days is a non-western setting - perhaps because I’ve read so much western-centric YA. I was really looking forward to reading this anthology, but after finishing it I found it to be mostly forgettable. However, there were a few really bright spots. Here's the run-down (listed from lowest rating to highest): “Freshee’s Frogurt” by Daniel H. Wilson (1.5 stars)
: What the heck is this even doing in the collection? All of the main action and story is told by a white guy! I feel like this snuck in on a technicality (whether that technicality is the Native American character or the fact that Daniel H. Wilson’s Robopocalypse
is being made by Steven Spielberg, I am not sure). This story is all mindless action with no substance. “The Last Day” by Ellen Oh (3.5 stars), “Blue Skies” by Cindy Pon (3 stars),
and “Gods of Dimming Light” by Greg Van Eekhout (3 stars)
were all sorta interesting but ultimately very forgettable. I am having a hard time remembering anything but the vaguest of details right now. “Uncertainty Principle” by K. Tempest Bradford (3 stars)
: The beginning of this really caught my interest, but then it just unraveled. It felt like she had a great idea for a full length novel, but then decided to cram it all into a short story. The second half felt completely rushed and as a result, most of the tension built during the first half was lost. “Next Door” by Rahul Kanakia (3.5 stars):
This one stuck out to me because I thought the world was a really interesting idea – a place where everyone is so plugged in and oblivious that they don’t even “see” the hundreds of their fellow humans squatting in their own homes/garages. It’s like human apathy to an extreme degree. However, the story itself did almost nothing for me. “What Arms to Hold” by Rajan Khanna (3.5 stars):
This is another one that I mostly liked. It also has a very interesting premise – very reminiscent of Ender’s Game.
I also really liked the ending – it was pretty dark stuff. I’d like to read more from this author. “A Pocket Full of Dharma” by Paolo Bacigalupi (3.5 stars):
This was the second time I’ve read this one and I liked it less the second time. A very well developed world that is very authentically non-western with a sympathetic main character, but it didn’t really wow me. It’s a stand-out in this collection, though.“Pattern Recognition” by Ken Liu (4 stars):
This was one of my favorites. I loved Liu’s tie-in of real world child labor, and it was a nicely contained story that felt complete and very well executed. “Good Girl” by Malinda Lo (4 stars):
Dear girls of YA, please stop falling for the first jerk who treats you like crap. Even if she’s a girl, it’s still not sexy. That being said this was actually one of my favorites of the collection. It felt like an intense snapshot of the life of a girl I could completely relate to, and I thought it had a great ending. Maybe I didn’t quite like that Lo’s “good girl” main character would fall for the bad girl jerk, but it did feel authentic to the character that she would want to rebel a bit, and the relationship was painted realistically without any rosy, romantic artificiality. This was one where I wished for more. “Solitude” by Ursula K. Le Guin (4.5 stars):
Probably my favorite in the collection, although it’s a re-print. Ursula Le Guin isn’t afraid to dive headlong into a completely foreign culture and fully commit herself to its point of view. Here, we follow a young girl who’s relocated to a very tribal planet by her anthropologist mother and raised within its customs as a sort of experiment. However, when the time comes for her family to relocate back to their homeland, she finds that she can’t bear to part with her childhood home. A very interesting look at cultural perceptions and the things that shape us.
On average, this collection rates:3.5/5 Stars
I'm sure I'm not the only one who's happened to glance at her list of books to be reviewed after a few busy months and suddenly realized that said list is now in the dreaded DOUBLE DIGITS. In an effort to play a bit of catch-up, I am taking a leaf out of Flannery's book
and writing a batch of mini-reviews. These are YA, adult, old, new, not-yet-released...basically it's a mixed bag here. The one thing uniting them all is that I really wanted to write something about them, even though I've been short on time. So hopefully you all can forgive this Reader's Digest collection of my reviews for today!
Jackaroo (Kingdom, #1)
Author: Cynthia Voigt
Publication Date: 8/26/86
[GR | Amazon]Noelle
mailed me the second
book in this series last year for my birthday and then challenged me to actually get off my butt and read it this month for She Made Me Do It
. And then, she also sent me the description for this
book – the first in the series – by email like a juicy little lure. A description which contains mention of a feisty innkeeper’s daughter who’s independent and strong and doesn’t want to get married and who stumbles across a disguise for the legendary Robin Hood type figure Jackaroo and decides to start dressing up in his clothes. Noelle definitely knows how to get me interested. Needless to say, I finished this in a very short amount of time and stayed up way later than I should have in the finishing. This is classic female hero driven fantasy at its best, and I would absolutely recommend it to fans of Tamora Pierce or Maria V. Snyder.
I loved that Cynthia Voigt took inspiration from the middle ages, but didn’t romanticize
the middle ages. Gwyn’s life is brutally hard, and the struggles of the people around her are dire. I loved that Gwyn saw how impotent she was to change everything, but still felt compelled to try. Her actions as Jackaroo are sometimes harsh (the phrase “vigilante justice” comes to mind) but so is her world. The only part of this story that I didn’t really love was the ending. Yes, it’s what I wanted and it was very satisfying. However, I really wish that Gwyn had gotten there by choice.
It’s lucky for her that she randomly fell into a marriage with the man who was perfect for her all along, but it would have been much more fulfilling for me if she had actually chosen that relationship on her own. 3.5/5 Stars
Eleanor & Park
Author: Rainbow Rowell
Publication Date: 2/26/13
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
[GR | Amazon]
This was my blackout read and it served its purpose incredibly well. I was utterly absorbed by this story – much more than I ever expected to be. This book reminded me that I am
a closet romantic and I really do enjoy romance when it’s done well. Even when prickly Eleanor and quiet Park were saying some pretty cheesy things to each other, my cringe level stayed surprisingly low. But then, Rowell does such a wonderful job of bucking the typical YA romance roles. Eleanor is overweight, dresses in ill-fitting thrift store clothes, has a thorny personality, and has to deal with poverty and an extremely bad home life. Park is an outcast both at home and with his classmates. He’s quiet and small; he wears black and listens to new wave. He’s the lone Asian kid in a WASP community.
When these two slowly forged a connection – through nonverbal sharing of comic books and music at first, and then eventually through…you know, actual talking – I bought it. This book also reminded me vividly of how horrible it can be to be a child, completely beholden to someone else for your shelter, food, and security – and not always someone with your best interests at heart. I didn’t connect quite as well with the middle of the book, when it got super romancey with the declarations and whatnot but I thought the ending was pretty great. It was just resolved enough and it felt realistic. I will definitely be looking for Attachments
by this same author, as I hear that it’s even better. 3.5/5 Stars
Sorta Like a Rock StarAuthor: Matthew Quick
Publication Date: 5/1/10
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
[GR | Amazon]
Have you ever wondered what would happen if Pollyanna had a baby with Benji and that baby grew up to be a quirky urban YA novel with lots of weird slang? Well, wonder no more, for here lies your answer. Amber Appleton is an irrepressibly optimistic teenage girl who travels through her town spreading hope and cheer wherever she goes. Nothing can get her down for long – even the fact that she’s living in a school bus with her alcoholic mom and it’s the middle of winter. She seems to thrive on being selfless and generous – on kindling hope in others. In short, she’s exactly the opposite of how I would be in that situation.
But what happens when Amber’s already rough life is rocked by a huge tragedy? What happens when the ambassador of hope loses the ability to help everyone who’s been counting on her? Well, if you’ve seen either Pollyanna or Benji, then you will probably know the answer to that question (minus that whole subplot in Benji with the kidnapping scheme). What elevated this book a bit for me was the style of the writing. There’s some weird slang in this book, and it is very distracting to begin with but it became more and more endearing the more I read. Truth? Truth. Amber has a kind of merry band of misfit boys, she loves to talk to the big JC (aka Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ, for all the Outlander
fans), she regularly debates an ancient pillar of negativity, and she runs a Motown chorus for recent Korean immigrants. Where this book felt formulaic and predictable in its story, it felt fresh and creative in its style. I think this would make a great movie. It even has the perfect Hollywood ending. 3.5/5 Stars
Author: Catherynne M. Valente
Publication Date: 3/29/11
Publisher: Tor Books
[GR | Amazon]
Undoubtedly this is one of the most brilliant things I’ve read this year. I’m coming to realize that that statement will probably apply to just about every Catherynne Valente I read. One of the major reasons that I didn’t review this upon finishing it was that I just had no idea how I was going to possibly say anything coherent about something so over the top amazing. HOW? How do I explain that this is one of the most seamless, meaningful unions of fantasy and reality that I’ve ever read? Not only does she bring Stalinist Russia to life, she populates it with legendary fairy tale characters, magic and myth. In a time of revolution – in a time when new ideas are embraced and the old are burned – she gives us the stories that are so ingrained in the soil and the sky and the blood of the people that they can’t ever truly disappear.
I had never read about Koschei the Deathless, or Ivan or Marya Morevna before, but from what I understand (mostly from reading Wikipedia articles – not gonna lie) she turns this story on its ear. She takes a story featuring the archetypal captured girl (innocent and helpless), the cruel captor (evil and selfish), and the rescuing hero (stalwart and brave), and turns it into something completely
different. What if the girl, through blood and battle, became a formidable woman? What if she didn’t want to be rescued? What if the captor were the only man who could truly match her? I won’t forget this story for a very, very long time. 4.5/5 Stars
And here’s a song, because I just can't help myself on this one:
Dmitri Shostakovich - Symphony No. 7, "Leningrad"
Necromancing the Stone (Necromancer, #2)
Author: Lish McBride
Publication Date: 9/12/12
Publisher: Henry Holt & Company
[GR | Amazon]
This one is going to be super short because I just don’t have much to say. I never do about this series, even though I love it. These books are completely enjoyable and fun and they make me smile. I love that Sam, the “sensitive beta-male” isn’t afraid to let his alpha girlfriend be a powerful leader, even at the expense of their relationship. I love that he’s willing to step aside and respect her decisions and give her time to work out her own life. Sam is like that sweet, crunchy granola guy who I’m sure we’ve all met a few times in our lives – he’s unassuming and kind, easy to talk to, and he just wants to get along. In this book, he has to take a bit more decisive action in his life, but he finds a way to do it that’s true to his character and I really appreciated that. He also becomes somewhat of a badass (in a crunchy granola sort of way) which is pretty satisfying to witness. This book also had me cackling like a mad woman. Lish McBride’s humor is easy and effortless and often reminds me of me and my friends just sitting around making random jokes. Which is probably why it completely works on me.
Oh, and here’s a song for this one too:
Peter, Bjorn, and John - May Seem Macabre
No and Me
Author: Delphine de Vigan
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Childrens
Publication Date: 8/3/10
Blurb(GR): The international award-winning story of two girls from different backgrounds, united in friendship
Parisian teenager Lou has an IQ of 160, OCD tendencies, and a mother who has suffered from depression for years. But Lou is about to change her life—and that of her parents—all because of a school project about homeless teens. While doing research, Lou meets No, a teenage girl living on the streets. As their friendship grows, Lou bravely asks her parents if No can live with them, and is astonished when they agree. No’s presence forces Lou’s family to come to terms with a secret tragedy. But can this shaky, newfound family continue to live together when No’s own past comes back to haunt her?
Winner of the prestigious Booksellers’ Prize in France, No and Me is a timely and thought-provoking novel about homelessness that has far-reaching appeal.Review:
One of my most vivid memories from childhood is the first time I realized that homelessness is a regularly occurring thing. I think I was about five or six, and as my parents and I were climbing into our old car, a man came up and asked my father for some spare change so he could get something to eat. My father gave him some coins but I was so shocked and devastated. It didn’t seem like enough. Surely this man needed immediate help! When we got home, I went to the plastic jar where I’d been storing up loose change for months, hauled it out, and demanded that we go back and find that man so I could give it to him. In my child’s mind, that jar was a vast fortune, capable of solving the whole situation. My mom brushed it off and demurred, but I didn’t understand. There was a man out there who didn’t have enough to eat and obviously that was an emergency that needed to be dealt with. I felt anxiety for that man for months afterward, wondering where he was and what happened to him.
In later years, when I didn’t have enough to eat, I learned that poverty is something that most people don’t want to hear about or acknowledge unless they’re living it. I learned that it should be a source of shame for those who experience it first-hand. I learned to hide it and pretend as much as I could that it wasn’t happening. Now, when I’m driving in my closed up, air-conditioned car I often pass by people on the street, holding up signs asking for help. And maybe I feel a stab, but I don’t stop. And I try not to think about them after I’ve passed.
This book so artfully encompasses both of those points of view: the child’s and the adult’s. Lou, the thirteen year old narrator, is a child prodigy wise beyond her years in some ways but still very immature in others. When she begins interviewing eighteen year old No, homeless and abandoned by everyone she ever counted on, she wants to save her. She’s old enough to know that saving No is not something that she should wish for or attempt, but she’s young enough to try to do it anyway. She still has a bit of that belief left – that a jar of coins or a bath or a home or unconditional acceptance could solve everything.
I think that what hits me the hardest about this story isn’t so much that Lou would try to save No, would believe that she could
save No, but that No so obviously wants to be saved. Despite knowing deep down that no amount of Lou’s help will save her, No wants it to be true. Not just for herself, but for Lou too – it’s as if she wants to give Lou the gift of her rescuing. And despite my years and years accrual of denial and apathy, these girls got to me too. Even though I knew that nothing in this world is ever solved that easily, I desperately wanted it to happen. As the story progressed and the slow but inevitable intrusion of reality set in, the sense of doom I felt really turned this quiet little book into something substantial and powerful for me. No and Me
has the kind of narration that I love best: a deeply personal voice with a narrow focus that feels all-consuming. Lou is the very real, flawed, sympathetic person who gets to tell this story, but No is always very much there
. She may be in the background but her actions – both on and off-stage – are a huge presence in the novel. If you’ve ever been a square peg/over-thinker/misfit (as I believe many of us readers are) then I think you’ll probably really relate to Lou:
“I’m not too keen on talking. I always have the feeling that the words are getting away from me, escaping and scattering. It’s not to do with vocabulary or meanings, because I know quite a lot of words, but when I come out with them they get confused and scattered. That’s why I avoid stories and speeches and just stick to answering the questions I’m asked. All the extra words, the overflow, I keep to myself, the words that I silently multiply to get close to the truth.”
No’s story hit me the hardest, but I loved Lou’s as well. She’s a very closed-off and fearful person and her relationship with No (and with sweetie/layabout classmate Lucas) leads her to a very grey but fulfilling ending, which I needed after No punched me in the gut.
Delphine de Vigan’s writing is clean and subtle but powerful and I am completely impressed by the translation. I’ve read a few translated novels this year and this one really stands out. Every word just feels right.
That being said, this book also feels absolutely Not American which I LOVED. I hate it when translated books are stripped of everything uniquely foreign during translation – what’s the point? I read French and German and English and Australian and etc. books because I WANT to experience something non-American.
This book reminds me quite a lot of Antonia Michaelis’ The Storyteller
, but it’s much less brutal and much more quirky and sad. Apparently there’s also a film
! But it’s only available overseas. Boo. Perfect Musical Pairing
Brand New – Sowing Season
Noelle from Young Adult Anonymous
gave me this song and I matched it up with this book for her in one of our challenges
. I still think about this book every time I hear this song, which to me is about slow healing and recovery and about inner strength.
But, while I was listening to this song (over and over, naturally) I started thinking about how much I love songs in general that have delayed and sudden crescendos (and books too...kinda like this one, for example). And that made me think of this song:
Jimmy Eat World – Invented
Which I think is my song for Lou and Lucas and that ending which was just perfect.4/5 Stars
The Diviners (The Diviners #1)
Author: Libba Bray
Publication Date: 9/18/12
Publisher: Little, Brown Books For Young Readers
Blurb(GR): Evie O'Neill has been exiled from her boring old hometown and shipped off to the bustling streets of New York City--and she is pos-i-toot-ly thrilled. New York is the city of speakeasies, shopping, and movie palaces! Soon enough, Evie is running with glamorous Ziegfield girls and rakish pickpockets. The only catch is Evie has to live with her Uncle Will, curator of The Museum of American Folklore, Superstition, and the Occult--also known as "The Museum of the Creepy Crawlies."
When a rash of occult-based murders comes to light, Evie and her uncle are right in the thick of the investigation. And through it all, Evie has a secret: a mysterious power that could help catch the killer--if he doesn't catch her first.Review:
This is actually my sixth Libba Bray book (although I never quite made it through Going Bovine).
It’s also the sixth book of hers that I’ve liked but haven’t loved. I’m not sure why I keep coming back. I think that Libba Bray is a hilarious person, a talented writer, and I agree with pretty much all of the views she writes about (most entertainingly) on her blog. And yet, I never seem to connect with her books.
It’s hard to pinpoint one precise reason why this disconnect keeps cropping up, but one thing I have noticed is that her books consistently leave me feeling overwhelmed and fatigued. I feel like she never does anything subtly or realistically. Everything is over the top – cartoonish even. In this case, I felt repeatedly smacked across the face with the fact that this book takes place in the twenties. The slang, descriptions of the characters’ appearances, and the name-dropping of various locales and historical figures all got incredibly tiresome to me. YES, I get it. WE ARE IN THE TWENTIES. Only, this never feels like any real
time period – it’s more like the twenties as visualized by the directors of The Hudsucker Proxy or Sin City – i.e., completely exaggerated comic book versions that have little to do with the real thing.
This book is also has a very odd timeline. It feels like a series of origin stories for a cast of superheroes all laid out in a row with no middles or endings – like the beginnings of about seven comic books all laced together. And on top of that, the background stories really aren’t that original. This cast could easily fit into any superhero team. They have their troubled pasts, their secret powers, and of course – their hidden depths. I’ve consumed my share of superhero entertainment and although this lot are all of the occult flavor, which is somewhat novel, there’s nothing really new about them. And with background/origin stories taking up about 80% of the book, even the ones I liked started to get tedious.
Okay, yes. There is
one character who doesn’t fit the mold – but mostly in the way that you’ll be scratching your head going “One of these things is not like the otherrrsss….” He stands out, not because his story is original, but because he doesn’t fit.
The overarching mystery is also pretty unoriginal and wasn’t enough to tie it all together for me. There’s a ritual serial killer with ties to a strange cult. He must complete a certain number of murders, all following a specific plan by a specific time. And of course, the main characters never suspect that they will in fact be a part of his final pièce de résistance. Am I the only one who’s seen Se7en? The final act involves you! That’s practically written in the contract! The odd thing is that the mystery wraps up well before the end of the book (and rather lamely, I might add) – leaving chapters and chapters to go – for (you guessed it) more background and origin story. And really, there are only 2-3 characters who are actually
involved in the main mystery. The author makes a small effort to include some of the others but really I just ended up wondering why all of these characters were even introduced in the first place. Pre-planning for book two is my best guess.
Which I guess is good news for book two. With the foundation so thoroughly built, hopefully there will be room in the second book for all of these characters to finally come together and form the mystical crime fighting team I know they’re destined to be. Based on the rather large amount of backstory Bray’s already provided here, I can see a lot of where book two is headed (and possibly even book three). I strongly doubt that this will be one of those series that meanders and goes on too long. It’s clear that Libba Bray has a definite plan for these characters in mind, and that gives me hope. She has a really well-rounded cast here and now that she’s spent so much time giving us their life-stories, I hope she can send them all out to have more exciting adventures.
I also have to give fair warning: It appears that the new love triangle is in fact, a LOVE SQUARE.
Update: I saw these tweets the other day and now I'm not so confident about book two.
Come on Libba Bray! You can do it! Rah rah rah! Make me want to read book two!
I hope this is exactly what book two sounds like.