Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Iceling by Sasha Stephensen

genre: young adult science fiction

Lorna's sister Callie didn't come into her family in the "normal" way.  While Lorna's father was on an Arctic expedition, Callie was just FOUND, on a boat, with hundreds of other babies and although she was adopted into Lorna's family and treated with great care, she is still so different.  She doesn't speak.  At all, or even attempt it.  This means that Lorna has no way of knowing how Callie processes the world and despite how frustrating it can be, she is fiercely loyal to Callie.

And that loyalty is why, one day, Lorna makes a crazy rash decision. And that decision leads to a journey to a frightening and unknown place - and Callie can't even help explain it.

This totally gripped me from the start.  The build up is good, it's a totally intriguing premise and the writing is strong and lyrical.  My biggest gripe: it's super repetitive.  I mean, saying the same thing in different ways A LOT of times.  Yes, it would be hard not to understand the world around you.  YES it would be frustrating to have a person who can't understand the world around her as your sister.  That is driven into the ground a bit too much.  However, I was surprised by how things went down and it was more violent and dark than I'd originally imagined it would be.  The ending was super sudden and I wish I somehow knew ahead of time that this was going to be a series because I would've prepared myself to just be left dangling there.  There were also a few times where I read something that didn't make logistical sense and while it was made clear later, a little better editing would've made for a smoother reading experience.

I would read more, though, after all that.  It's a really intriguing idea, these teenagers with no language of their own and their siblings who won't give up.  I appreciate that bond and how it can make you strong enough to do things you might not have thought you were capable of.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Redshirts by John Scalzi

genre: science fiction

Andy is a linguist and ready to begin his first experience on the Universal Union Capital Ship Intrepid.  Not only will he hopefully be able to use his skills translating, he's been assigned to the Xenobiology laboratory where he can serve help the crew with whatever problems arise.

He's not long on board, however, where he becomes suspicious of The Intrepid.  Curiouser and curiouser, he notices that certain people always manage to survive "away" missions and yet someone nearly always dies in a most horrific way.   With the help of a hidden friend and a lot of mind-bending conversations, Andy soon learns that he's in a race to save his own life.

I would have never picked this up, had not a friend of mine mentioned she enjoyed it.  I have never watched an episode of Star Trek, although I know enough to get the majority of the humor, I think.  And there is definitely humor.  I didn't love how crude it was sometimes but other times I had to chuckle out loud.  The dialogue is smart and the overall plot had my brain straining to piece it all together (I'm not sure it TOTALLY did in the end, but I got it enough to appreciate it).  It was all kinds of meta and that worked well enough to be satisfying, I like this plot device in general.    Surprisingly, some parts were even a bit tender.  I liked the ending a lot and I'm glad I stretched myself and gave this a try.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Dare to Disappoint: Growing Up in Turkey by Ozge Samanci

genre: graphic novel autobiographical memoir

Dare to Disappoint is the story of Ozge, born about the same time I was, but in the country of Turkey. Living in a politically charged climate, Ozge's childhood is full of imagination and creativity centered around loyalty to country and to her family.   Being female required more work and effort if you wanted to be an acceptable citizen and as a second child, Ozge spent much of her time trying to be what everyone else wanted.  Soon, though, she has to figure out if she has what it takes to follow her OWN dreams.

I liked this, for a lot of reasons.  First of all, for me it was very aesthetically pleasing - a lot to look at and mixed media art that gave a depth to the story.  The pacing was good and the stories she shares felt relevant to the overall narrative.   I liked that it opened my eyes to Turkey in general, its' history (briefly) and culture.  I also liked just the overall arc of her experience, the hard lessons she learned and what she finally ended up choosing. The back and forth with parents felt very authentic without feeling overdramatic.  I think older middle schoolers and high schoolers to relate to some of her angst and maybe learn a thing or two about what it's like to grow up in a different place.

I'm glad I picked it up.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

The Graces by Laure Eve

genre: ya paranormal

The Graces.  In River's high school, there are three of them.  Perfect.  Beautiful. Comfortable in their own skin. As tight as three peas in a familial pod.  And River wants in.  Making a place for yourself that will stick amongst the Graces is no small feat - but River knows that whatever magic is at the heart of The Graces, she has to have some.

Whatever it takes.

At first, The Graces felt a little too Twilight for me, but that soon went away as the story morphed and darkened.  Our protagonist's yearning, her absolute obsession with this family is sometimes over the top but sometimes totally understandable, as they seem to have everything she doesn't.  She's VERY much a teen, with her absolute hate of fakeness but yet always worrying so much about every single thing she says or does - being in her head was kind of exhausting as she constantly struggles between the girl she IS and the girl she THINKS they WANT her to be - which maybe she is but maybe she not.

The paranormal stuff worked for me, for the most part.  The ending did leave a lot of questions unanswered, which was a little frustrating - the "magic" River is so obsessed with is definitely in a darker vein.  I guessed a few plot twists but some things did surprise me and while I didn't love it or find it completely satisfying, it did entertain me.

NOTE: strong language, teen sexual situations

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

A History of the World in Six Glasses by Tom Standage

genre: non-fiction

When my daughter told me I had to buy this Summer Reading book for her AP World History class, I was intrigued. The history of the world as it relates to six specific beverages?

It totally works.

Beginning with beer and working our way through wine, spirits, coffee, tea and Coca-Cola, we follow our world through the Neolithic and ancient ages, through the Greeks and the Romans, through Colonizations and Revolutions to the age of true Globalization. A few statements seem like a bit of a stretch but for the most part, Standage makes a strong case for these drinks both being present while history is created and in some cases, being the reason for significant history itself.

I liked this take for a history book - it lent itself well to a smooth chronology and there are a lot of interesting little tidbits and a LOT of familiar names and events that are tied in nicely.  My favorite section was probably the coffee one, mostly because it was all so new to me - I had no idea how integral a role the "coffeehouse" played.

While it isn't particularly witty and the writing didn't blow my mind or anything, this really was an interesting read full of the sorts of random facts that I enjoy learning.

Monday, January 2, 2017

2016 in books!

In 2016 I read 80 books!  What a great way to spend a year :)  I spent a huge amount of effort moving all my books over from Shelfari to Goodreads and in the process I tweaked my tagging process to have a better sense of what I'm reading.  Here's what I learned about my reading this year, based on my tags:

I read 76% fiction and 24% non-fiction

54% of the books I read were read on my kindle
16% of the books I read were actual paper books that I own
15% of the books I read were listened to in audiobook form
15% of the books I read were books I got from my library

I rated 11 books 5 stars!  That's a lot more than last year's four :)

A dark, dystopian tale of a solider and a spy - super fast paced in a Roman-like world 
(part 1 in a series).

I think he would've totally convinced me to commit treason.

This fantastical look at the life of Lady Jane Grey had me laughing out loud - I highly recommend the audiobook.

If you are a fan of this musical like I am, this is a MUST read - not only do you get the entire libretto but all the background, his notes, pictures.  It's fabulous.

So many good ideas in here, things that actually made my life easier.

From my review: "As someone who rarely, if ever, picks up a book with the death of a young girl at its core, Everything I Never Told You engaged me with its gentle yet painful quest to peel back the layers of a family...The one major drawback, of course, is that it is only ever sad. People make poor choices, completely misunderstand each other and make very regrettable mistakes. Blatant or underhanded racism and misogyny is painful to read about. A daughter is dead. With a fifteen year old daughter myself, I had a lot to sort through in my own emotions and choices, and that isn't particularly comfortable either. Despite these hard things, or maybe because of them, the book gets five stars from me because it stretched me and makes me want to live my life a little more kindly and deliberately. Five stars for the almost poetic prose and a conclusion that, while not full of sunshine and rainbows, felt right and redemptive enough to be satisfying. note: language and some mild sexual encounters"

from my review: "Sometimes you listen to a series of books that entertain in their own way but it feels episodic and choppy.  And then sometimes you find a gem of a series that is truly just one long story - The Harry Potter Series and The Daughter of Smoke and Bone come to mind.  At the beginning its as though a thousand piece puzzle was thrown onto the floor by one of my three year old sons.  And slowly pieces begin to be put together, things that astound and amaze, ideas that feel right and true and powerful, things just FIT, things you hadn't imagined - pieces from past and present that rearrange and reconnect to make the future possible.  By the end of your puzzle-venture you stand back and are so pleased with the overall picture, how every little detail fit into the whole. " Yeah.  These books are like that.  Not QUITE as amazing as HP and DOSAB but close.  There is magic, romance and adventure in a historical setting.  I HIGHLY recommend the audio.

This is a story about two broken teens, one with significant mental illness, one struggling with an incredible loss. It's also about suicide and while not everyone wants to read about it, the reality is that people DO commit suicide - I lost a close friend to suicide after high school - and it is important to have books to help us process the loss.  This is an incredible and beautifully written story.  Warning: language and teen sex (not graphic).

from my review: "This is an incredibly readable story, a tale of not only disease investigation but also social history and the personalities of a doctor and a priest that used creativity and critical thinking to turn a stack of statistics and narratives into a defined path of contagion.   We also spend time learning about urban sprawl itself, it's benefits and shortfalls, how millions of people living in proximately to each other can affect our health.  Yes, it's nasty. We are talking about cholera: waste and filth and people who are living in the actual dung heaps of London life.  But it was reality for generations of people and their lives deserve to be documented.  As a history and a mystery, this story is at the literal heart of modern-day epidemiology and I was fascinated."

And also, I didn't give these books five stars because they have some minor flaws, but, oh MAN did I love the Winner's Triology.  I gulped them up like a freezing cold Diet Coke on a hot day.  Please do not judge them by their covers.  The covers make me sad because they give you absolutely NO sense of how awesomely intricate and dark these books are. They look like they'd be trashy and dumb.  They aren't.  They are about war and figuring out how far you're willing to go for the greater good and how does one go about rewriting your own schema of right and wrong?  Plus, fabulous romance and intriguing secondary characters.  

Oh friends.  BOOKS.  I just don't know how to not always be reading a book. One of the best parts of the new year is looking forward to whatever gems I find next.  If you have a recommendation I always love when people pass on what they like!!

Saturday, December 31, 2016

My True Love Gave to Me: Twelve Holiday Stories edited by Stephanie Perkins (audiobook)

genre: young adult short stories

When it was getting to be December and I needed a new audiobook, my sister recommended this collection and I'm glad I gave it a try. I'm not super a short story person but I like several of the authors already and I DO like romantic holiday stuff and so yes.  I tried.

And I liked!  They are all SO different - and there really isn't hardly a thread between them except the holiday season and a romantic element.  I liked having all the different narrators and none of them drove me crazy.  I liked that some of them are crazy out-there-magic-and-fantasy and others were contemporary and more poignant, a couple even had really tender moments that touched me. I liked that there were male and female protagonists and that they didn't shy away from the hard that can make the holiday season even more painful.

My favorites: Midnight by Rainbow Rowell, Angels in the Snow (strong language), It's a Yuletide Miracle Charlie Brown, Beer Buckets and Baby Jesus, Welcome to Christmas, CA and The Girl Who Woke the Dreamer.  I didn't hate the others, they were just more meh or didn't flesh out as much. I didn't super DISLIKE any of them and I'm glad I had this on to listen to during the Christmas season.

Friday, December 30, 2016

Chalice by Robin McKinley

genre: young adult fantasy

With only the Master to answer to, the role of the Chalice is embedded into the life of the demesne.  It is her responsibility to ensure that the earth itself, its trees and streams, animals and people are bound together in such a way that there can be harmony and prosperity.  Whenever there is a new master, there will be discord and unrest until things can be bound and settled.

As a new Chalice, Marisol is overwhelmed when the new Master of the demesne arrives and he is more fire than human.    Her task is made lighter only by the bees over whom she has had keeping since before becoming Chalice - that and her sure knowledge that she must help her strange new master or else ruin will follow for all the demesne.

I really enjoyed this Beauty and the Beast story.  I have no complaints about the characters - Marisol is as strong and capable a heroine as I'd expect from McKinley.  The bees and their honey make a very intriguing plot devise that really made this story more interesting for me.   I liked the world building, too, my only real gripe is that I wanted more from the romance.  By the end (which was a bit perfunctory) I felt disappointed and let down by the lack of romantic climax and its abrupt resolution.

Not sorry I read it, just wanted more.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave

genre: historical fiction

Mary is living a perfectly sensible life in London when World War II begins.  She's from a respectable family and is expected to behave as such.  But with the announcement of war, she rashly decides to join up and is assigned as a school teacher.  Teaching those children that have fallen through the cracks of the evacuation, her role as teacher picks up her life and turns it in a different direction.  The people she meets change her, unutterably.

Tom and Alastair are close friends when one of them chooses to enlist and the other chooses to stay home.  But in London, even home isn't safe and these three young adults will watch their world change forever as Hilter unleashes his fury on Europe.

This took me a surprisingly long time to read.  I liked it - it was the book I always chose to read if I had time, but I wasn't MAKING time to read it, if that distinction matters.  It took a long time for me to invest, for some reason - although, again, I did LIKE it.

I like Mary as a character - sharp and witty.  I understand her weaknesses and can imagine her pain living through the Blitz.  I have read so many books about World War II and this one does do a particularly good job of forcing the reader to THINK about the Blitz, what that life must've been like, not having our hindsight and knowing that it will eventually end.  

However, other parts didn't seem to sit quite as well historically, based on what I've read in other places - racial division felt played up to prove a point.  I appreciated the point, but nonetheless had a hard time swallowing it.

What I did like the most was some of the things it made me think about - about how I might handle this very real situation.  What would I do if my friends all around me were dying?  If my beloved city was literally being blown to bits?  If I was in a city under seige?  If I was mortally wounded and could save myself by allowing a lie to pass as a truth, would I? I think this book delves more into the psychological pain of war than others and I appreciated that it made me think. I just kept waiting for that beautiful minute, though.  The one amidst the devastation that shines a light - any kind of light - on the strength of the human condition.  The one where unrelated plots and ideas suddenly come together in a way that blows my mind.  I just never really found it but it was a good enough book that I really hoped I would.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

The Winner's Kiss by Marie Rutkoski

genre: young adult fiction

This is the third and final book in the Winner's Curse Trilogy, so lots of spoilers ahead, obviously.

First, I have to say something.  When I first saw the cover of the first book, I assumed it was some kind of Gilded Age gambling book.  I ignored it, until a friend I trust told me the books were really good.  When I saw the final cover (and even title) I was sad because they give you absolutely NO sense of how awesomely intricate and dark these books are. It looks like it would be trashy and dumb.

It's not.

As punishment for treason, Kestrel is taken to a workcamp on a tundra wasteland and Arin is left to prepare for battle against the empire.  Her heart broken, questioning every choice she's ever made, Kestrel knows she must escape but even if she does - what then?  She's given away Arin's trust and because of the path she chose, there is no one else left to mourn her.  The lull between battles is only the deep breath before all-out war and even if Kestrel survives, is there any way for Arin's counrtry to still exist when east and west collide on its beautiful shore?

I drank this in one greedy gulp.  While sometimes dragging out a romantic conciliation bothers me, this felt really right - with two very broken people trying to sort through the damage and find where to find kernels of truth and feeling that will last.   I believed it.  The romance is heady and lovely. This is a battle-heavy book and during the final battle, in particular, I actually found myself with a hand-over-mouth-tears-in-the-eyes moment.  I tend to skim over that stuff a bit but this had some powerful moments about choice and the-greater-good and things-worth-dying-for.  I liked the secondary characters in this installment, they provided some comic relief as well as some needed compassion in a book that is heavy with grief and death.

I am so glad I waited until all the books were out so I could just read all three in a rush - as one long story, the trilogy flows really well and with an ending that settled just right.

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