Tuesday, February 28, 2017

February: Diverse Reading Challenge and #diversitybingo2017

I didn't read as many diverse books as I would have liked to in February, but I did move halfway across the country and there's not a lot of time to read in there.  I didn't read very much, period.  I have a bunch of titles lined up for March, though, so it should be better!

Want by Cindy Pon.  I have to figure out how to review this one--it is so, so, so, SO GOOD!  And look at that cover!  A Taiwanese boy on the cover of a SFF YA novel!  This is a tightly written thriller that everyone needs to read.  I'm serious.  Check back for a review (but not too soon--my backlog of stuff to write is ENORMOUS).

Eliza and Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia.  This is repping the neurodiverse front and it, too, is amazing.  I seriously want to read it again.  I even loved the I-have-a-secret-I-can't-tell-the-person-I-love romance--which I NEVER DO!  Who am I??? Am I having an existential crisis?

Dreamland Burning by Jennifer Latham.  Er, I didn't like this one at all.  I thought it was really problematic and I'm working on a detailed review right now.  Stay tuned.

The Inquisitor's Tale by Adam Gidwitz. Holy dogs! Mixed-race monks! A practicing Jewish character! This book has everything and I loved it unconditionally.  And we have rep on the cover, which is aces.

And here's my updated #diversitybingo2017 sheet:

For more bloggers doing the Diverse Reading Challenge, check out Octavia, Angie, and Shelley's blog at Read.Sleep.Repeat!

Monday, February 27, 2017

The Inquisitor's Tale

The Librarian's Tale:

The Inquisitor's Tale is the Canterbury Tales-inspired middle grade novel that you never knew you always needed. I promise you that you will not be disappointed if you read this. If you are, I will do some sort of medieval penance.

Okay, so maybe not medieval penance. That stuff was off the hook scary. Hairshirts and scourges and an annual bath.

Anyway, I knew from meeting Adam Gidwitz at BEA 2016 that I could expect a farting dragon, which is most excellent, but I didn't realize how deeply and thoughtfully this book would discuss things like religious persecution, the nature of faith, and what makes a person truly a saint.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Prisoner of Ice and Snow

Prisoner of Ice and Snow is a perfectly fine middle grade novel that never quite rises above the level of "perfectly fine."  It reminded me a bit of Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy in that it had some very good ideas and settings, but the delivery was rushed and too many elements introduced.

Valor has to attempt to kill a member of the royal family in order to save her sister.  Ever since Sasha was arrested for the theft of a very important music box that had a part in a treaty with a neighboring country, Valor has been trying to figure out how to save her.

Okay, I know you just stopped on the "very important music box" part.  I know.  Me too.  It's really ... really ... unconvincing.  Why would a ruler agree to a treaty only if they got a music box--even if it is a FabergĂ©-esque music box with an egg on top?  Even if the other party wanted a token of good faith, a music box seems an odd choice.  Personally, I would go with a sword or something.  Something fancy yet useful.  Anyway, enough about the music box.  It's basically a MacGuffin.

Sasha was imprisoned in the ultra-scary, ultra-inescapable, ultra-gulagy Tyur'ma prison, where all the criminal children of the kingdom of Demidova are sent.  It's a big prison, and it's chockful of kiddos.  Which leads me to wonder what, exactly, are all these other kids in for?  Sassing their parents?  Eating an extra piece of bacon for breakfast?  Because Sasha, Evil and Dangerous Music Box Thief, has been placed with the Black Hands, which is the scariest and most violent area of the prison.  Oh noes! You really have to question the government of a country that has a special prison just for kids.

So in order to free her sister, Valor first has to get into prison.  And what better way to assure her incarceration than to attempt to assassinate Anatol, the Crown Prince of Demidova, during a festival?  Valor is an ace shot with a bow, so she's skilled enough to get close but never actually hurt the prince.  Per her plan, she's sentenced by Queen Ana, who recently banished Valor's family for their other daughter's alleged theft, and sent to the prison for children that is so well-fortified that an army couldn't break in.

Once in prison, Valor doesn't initially get along with the other kid prisoners, like her roommate, who is introduced as having an issue with being dirty and makes everyone wash their hands. Except that only comes up twice in the novel and is then forgotten. This is not character development.

Valor heads out with the chain gangs to pick gems out of rock and do the laundry and other slavish work.  Somehow, she's also able to steal things like a pickaxe and a piece of metal to use as a lockpick because Valor is Super Special.  The rest of the novel involves Valor and Sasha attempting to escape the prison via Secret Tunnels that no one knows about except for Valor's dad.  Along the way, they accumulate extra escapees despite being warned to trust no one, and one of their friends is definitely a traitor.

Isn't it a given when one character says "Trust no one!" and the main character does the exact opposite that someone is going to be a traitor?

Anyway, the actual escape is a rushed mess and leaves the book with at least 50 pages to go because it happens too early.  We then have a second crisis wherein Valor confronts the real music box thief (I mean, if you didn't figure out that Sasha was innocent, then... I can't help you) and histrionics are had but then reason prevails and Valor and Sasha are rewarded.  Happy ending!

In a middle grade book, I don't expect an intricate plot, but I do expect something that makes sense. The lack of characterization, particularly for the secondary characters, adds a lot of confusion.  At the end, when everyone was escaping, I kept asking myself, "Who are these people?  How are they all friends now?" The kids all have generic Russianesque names like Viktor or Katia or Nicolai (spelling from the book, not me) and have generic dialogue and fall into predefined roles, like the prickly person with a heart of gold, and the charming thief, and the cranky bossy girl.

Yes, there are good ideas in this story. I like that Valor is described as being tall and strong instead of the usual "I'm too skinny and delicate" aesthetic. I like the idea of Tyur'ma and its various punishments. The settings were rendered realistically, and the scene where Valor kills an entire wolf pack from the battlements of the prison is pretty cool.

Everyone who's read this so far seems to have loved it, and that's fine.  I did not, which is also fine. I would consider this a secondary purchase.

P.S. Who names their daughter Valor in a vaguely Tsarist Russia-inspired fantasy land?

Monday, February 13, 2017

I'm Moving!

Although I've been reading like a fiend, trying to finish as many ARCs and library books as humanly possible before they must be boxed up or returned, respectively, I've not found a lot of time for reviewing. I have five SIX drafts to work on and my brain just isn't there.  

Also, I'm still recovering from an ALL THE FEELS attack thanks to Elle Katharine White's brilliant Heartstone.  This means that I tend to speak in absolutes and in gifs.

I'll still be on Twitter @Pamelibrariland, or you can follow this blog for updates with Bloglovin' or email subscription using the boxes over there --------------->

Catch you on the other side of the country!

Friday, February 10, 2017

Mini-Review: The 5th Wave

Critics often say that it is better to do one thing and do it well than to do many things and do them with mediocrity.  But what about the people who do many things and do them all well?  People like Rick Yancey.

This is my third book/series by Yancey, and I'm really impressed by how he changes voice, vocabulary, and structure to suit the story he is telling.  This is not to say that I dislike formulaic books--they are rather like delicious, empty calories for my brain on days when I just need to unwind.  Yet as I began reading The 5th Wave, I had a bit of trouble reconciling this alien invasion survival story and its direct prose with the ornate and gruesome Monstrumologist books.  However, as the book progresses and the characters begin to open up to each other and to the reader, Yancey's deft touch with language and imagery comes to the fore and stuns you.  I never thought that a book about the end of humanity could be so beautiful.

I cannot say much about this book that has not already been said.  The 5th Wave is narrated by three distinct voices, which are, blessedly, actually distinct.  Cassie been on her own for a while--just her, Bear, and her AK-47.  Cassie tells us, via her journal, about the invasion.  Earth is now in the midst of the Fourth Wave, where aliens either control or have infiltrated other humans, invisibly.  No one can be trusted.  Nowhere is safe.  Cassie dubs these creatures Silencers.  

But Cassie can't stay hidden in the woods forever, even though she would like to.  She promised her little brother that she would come find him, and that promise cannot be broken.  She will bring Bear back to him and save what remains of her family.  So she ventures out, risking her life in the wintry, desolate wastes of Ohio.

There are Silencers in the woods, and one of them tracks Cassie.  But he can't bring himself to kill her.  Why can't he do it?  Why does he care so much about this human girl?  Instead of a headshot, he shoots Cassie in the leg and leaves before knowing if she dies or not.

Meanwhile, kids are being trained to fight back against the aliens.  This is no Independence Day-style hooah rally for the destiny of humanity.  No--this is pitiful and weak.  It's the last of the last-ditch effort to stop Them.

Yancey weaves his narrators together, in and out of the truth, in and out of life and death in a feat of literary legerdemain.  This is a meditation on love, humanity, and the true nature of survival.

Also, this book has reinforced my conviction that I would probably be one of the first to die in some sort of alien/zombie invasion, as I am an awful runner, have never fired a gun, and faint when I see gruesome wounds.