Wednesday, April 30, 2014

What I'm Reading Wednesday

Because I am a librarian, I love alliteration.

So do bloggers, apparently.  There's Throwback Thursday and Mugshot Monday and Follow Friday and all this stuff.  Since I am way behind on everything and stuck in the middle of several books, I'm going to do a What I'm Reading Wednesday, which is mildly alliterative.

The Song of the Quarkbeast by Jasper Fforde

Fforde is one of my favorite authors.  I'd like to poke around in his brain and see how he comes up with his unique flavor of humor (which I just subconsciously typed as "humour").  Thursday Next is still my favorite, but this series, The Chronicles of Kazam, which is aimed at younger readers, still has that zany wittiness that I adore.  Halfway through this one, and it's a quick read.

Cipher by S.E. Bennett

I am considering DNF'ing this one.  When I do this, I really, truly, honestly have nothing against the author.  I often feel horrible about not finishing a book.  I strive to be very honest in my opinions, and sometimes my opinion is that it didn't work for me.  We shall see.

The Murder Complex by Lindsey Cummings

Everyone is RAVING about this on Goodreads so I started it last night.  I read just a few pages but it seems reallllly good.  Trying to finish Quarkbeast first, though.

Rot and Ruin by Jonathan Maberry

Woefully behind on this one (my friends were reading it years ago), but I'm liking it a lot.  A bit slow to get started, but I have a feeling we'll pick up momentum very soon now.

Mercy Mode by Em Garner

When I saw this on Netgalley, I freaked.  Contaminated has a sequel !??!????!  YES!  Started this one and it seems very promising.

Sometimes I wonder if I have ADHD.  Honestly.  Look at that list of books.  It wouldn't be surprising in my family.  Ha!


You've probably read this a million times already, but let me be the 1,000,001th person to talk about it.  We cannot--must not--stop talking about it.  And that's diversity in literature: specifically in juvenile and young adult literature.  I don't just mean diversity of characters.  I mean diversity of authors.  Because guess what (gasp!): OUR KIDS ARE DIVERSE.  The kids that I help every day at the library are not all the same (clutch your pearls!).  Their families are not all the same.  Yet the majority of popular, published J and YA books don't reflect the reality of their readers' lives.  It's still "noteworthy" when an author has their main character be a POC.  How is that noteworthy?  Why is that something extraordinary when for many, many people, being a person of color is their everyday existence?  Why should a child reading a book feel excluded or othered because of able-bodiedness or gender or race or anything else?

They shouldn't.

A lot of the recent uproar has come from a situation at BookCon, an event managed by ReedPOP and held right after BEA (Book Expo America) 2014.  BookCon's panels are exclusively men and one cat.  Grumpy Cat, to be precise.  this one by Preeti Chhibberthis one by Rebecca Joines Schinsky, and this one by Kelly Jensen (who also writes for Stacked Books and whom I totally respect and admire).  This article at the Daily Dot is a good compilation of everything that's going down.
Rick Riordan, in a move that made me love him even more, tweeted his confusion at the White Dudes Only memo that clearly went out at ReedPOP.  John Green's come under fire for his relative silence regarding the matter.  And YA authors, bloggers, librarians, and readers have risen up in this massive social media wave of indignation that has been spectacular.  This whole thing has been covered much more thoroughly and with more thought than I could possibly give it.  Check out all the postings on Book Riot, like

Ellen Oh (whose books are totally on my TBR, I swear, but a librarian's only got so many brains with which to read!  And I'm not The Doctor, with more than one heart, so it's hard to handle all the feelz) started a campaign called #WeNeedDiverseBooks.  It's blowing up on Twitter.  I've pledged to make a diverse books display at my library branches.  I sat and thought about how I could buy more books that represent diversity.  I'm planning on making a video about it for our library YouTube channel.

We cannot refuse to talk about diversity because it is uncomfortable.  When I was at PLA earlier this year, I had the privilege to hear Bryan Stevenson of the Equal Justice Initiative speak as our Keynote Speaker. He challenged us to be uncomfortable.  To willingly place ourselves in situations where we are uncomfortable.  To note that being uncomfortable isn't necessarily a bad thing.  We don't like it.  As humans, we like comfy chairs, warm cocoa, and snuggly animals.  If I asked you to please go sit out on a jagged piece of ice while wearing a wet bathing suit, covered in tarantulas, I don't think you'd do it.  You'd be really, really uncomfortable.  We're not doing that.  We're being uncomfortable with the rules society has set, with the barriers we grew up with and maybe didn't even notice were there until someone pointed them out to us.

Talking about diversity isn't some end-of-the-world thing.  It can be hard and we make mistakes and then we apologize and we keep going.  We owe it to ourselves and to our kids and our grandkids to talk about these problems in our society.  We owe it to the kids we serve as librarians and teachers to give them books that reflect who they are, not who the privileged want to portray because it's easy and comfy and will sell a lot of books.

Be informed about what's going on in the book world.  Speak up.  Tell them what you think, what you want, and what you need.  Demand diversity.

Monday, April 28, 2014

If I could, I'd use a meme for the title of this post

... the "Fry is thinking" meme.  Thusly:

I mean, some blogs I read post content multiple times per day.  Now, that might be easier if you're doing, say, a nail blog, where you can do different swatches and so forth, but with books, it's a lot harder.  Plus, I don't go in so much for criticism and thinky-thinky Let Us Discuss Issues, mostly because other blogs like Stacked Books or Book Riot or really any of the authors and bloggers I follow on Twitter and Tumblr do it so well already.  Mostly I read their super-insightful thoughts and I'm like, "Wow.  Uh, my blog post is about silly book titles!  Yours discusses privilege in YA sci-fi.  I'm going to go hide now."

These people can write, man.  Well, both blogs I cited have multiple writers, but even so, that's a lot of good content updated often.

And here I am.  Went to C2E2 (a comic con in Chicago) over the weekend and stayed an extra night just to experience a fantastic downpour + wind and am now exhausted and I didn't finish any books.  I had two train rides on which I could have been reading.  Well, okay, on the way down there I started an ARC, but I'm finding it increasingly difficult to stay invested in that particular story.  We'll see if I finish.  Then, I started another book that I purchased on my Kindle a long, long time ago in the same galaxy we're in now, thankyouverymuch, but never started reading because it is book 1 in a series and I'm pretty sure I'll need to just plow through the whole thing.

And then there were publishers handing out free books (free books!  I'm a librarian and the lure of "free books" still calls to me like a siren song) at C2E2 so I got a bunch of those and I realized I have to write a newsletter blurb for work and I cannot stop finding excuses.

So here we are.  I am currently reading five books.  I just need a kick in the pants to finish it.  I want to be like teh awesome bloggerz who do it while working their regular jobs.  This is a combination shameless excuse + shout-out to book bloggers post.

I leave you with my two favorite cosplays that I saw at C2E2. They weren't the most elaborate, but they were the wittiest and they made me laugh.

Friday, April 25, 2014


I'll be at C2E2 this weekend, soaking up some epic nerdiness and stalking some of my favorite authors and illustrators.  

Pics when I get back!

You Were Lost; You Are Found

I often say that I really enjoy Sarah Beth Durst's books, but then I realize I've only read one of them: Ice.  I loved it--she did a fantastic job with one of my very favorite fairy tales, "East of the Sun and West of the Moon."  A lot of her other books are on my TBR, so it's kind of like we've been acquainted, just haven't gone on any dates yet.

When I saw The Lost on Netgalley, I pounced.  I wasn't quite sure what I'd find, and even now, I'm still processing what I read.  That's a good thing.

Lauren Chase is twenty-seven years old, in a job that she hates, and her mom is in remission from ovarian cancer.  Her life isn't awful, but she's not happy.  One day, when her mom says that she needs to talk to Lauren about some test results, Lauren can't deal.  Instead of turning onto the road that would take her to work, she keeps driving.  And driving.  And driving.  After hitting a massive dust storm, she finds herself in the city of Lost.  Of course, all is not as it seems.

Lost is, well, where all of the lost things and people go.  That mitten that mysteriously disappeared?  It's in Lost.  Bigger things go there too.  Houses lost to foreclosure.  Children lost in a tragedy.  You.  You've lost some vital part of your soul, so you end up in Lost.

That doesn't mean you can't go home again (holla Flannery!).  You just need the Missing Man, who's kind of like the Santa Claus of Lost, to send you back.  However, there's a catch.  You can only go back after you've figured out or found what you lost.  When Lauren arrives in Lost, she doesn't quite understand what's happened to her.  I mean, if you've abandoned your mom who probably is dying of cancer, and you've driven for hours and arrived in a new town, your first thought probably isn't, "I'm in some sort of existential limbo where all the lost things go."  She thinks it's just a quirky town.  Well, the diner isn't super friendly, and the girl at the hotel seems to be stuck in the '80s, but, you know.  Every town is different.  It's not until the Missing Man walks into the diner, sees Lauren, and skedaddles that she knows something is seriously wrong.  This guy books it when he sees her, causing everyone in town to FREAK OUT.  Your first day in a new town shouldn't end with a chase scene and a mob.

Lauren befriends Claire, a little girl with a penchant for teddy bears and knives (for real) and Peter, the man in black who she saw in the dust storm while coming into Lost.
"The man is dressed in a black trench coat that falls to his ankles.  Beneath the coat he wears black jeans and is bare-chested.  His chest is decorated in a swirl of black feather tattoos, and he is almost unbearably beautiful."
There is a romance with Peter, and Lauren often refers to his dark and brooding hotness, but the rest of the story was so good that I (gasp!) didn't really mind this.  However, Lauren doesn't trust him right away (smart girl) and actually *thinks* about their relationship.  I'm peeling my jaw off of the floor.  This is so rare.  When Peter says something extra romantic, she says, "It's a line from a dozen romantic movies, and if I were the romantic sort, this is where I would swoon, take his hand, and pledge my devotion.  I'm not romantic, but I'm also not stupid.  So I take his hand and lie."  

Talking about an ex-boyfriend, Lauren muses about people who wonder "why I broke up with that boyfriend that everyone thought was better than sliced bread.  He wasn't.  But he thought he was, too.  And he took my best pair of sunglasses when he left.  He didn't respect me.  Certainly didn't respect my dreams.  He might have respected my sunglasses."

Claire becomes both Lauren's little sister and bodyguard.  I particularly liked how Lauren treated Claire: as an equal.  "I am not going to lie to her.  I always hated when adults did that to kids--all the classic lies, like you can be anything you want to be and work hard enough and good things will come to you, and all the little lies, like you're smart, you're beautiful, you're special."  Amen, Lauren Chase.

 Both Lauren and Peter are exceptionally well-read, and sometimes they have entire conversations in book quotes, which tickles my librarian heart.  Peter openly acknowledges his similarity to Peter Pan, but it's not explicitly stated that he is Peter Pan.

I also loved Lauren's sense of humor.  I could relate to her: "I am not lucky.  I always pick the longest checkout line, the one where the woman at the front of the line has fifty expired coupons and intends to argue each one ... Traffic lights turn red when I approach."  She's tough but fragile, which definitely shows.  She's an artist who lost her art and toils away at a desk job.  Money over soul, and if you're mom is dying of cancer and needs treatment, what are you going to do?  Her musings on makeup were also hilarious:

"I've always worn makeup.  As a teen, I'd apply black eye goop as if t were Egyptian kohl.  Now that I'm a professional woman--which makes me sound like an assassin or a whore, either of which have to be more interesting than my actual job--I use 'natural' colors, dusting them over my cheekbones and eyelids."

You might have guessed some things about Lauren already, but the whole point of the book is self-discovery.  We are most blind when it comes to truths about ourselves.  The book's plot is not: what will happen to Lauren? but: how will Lauren figure out who she is and what she needs?

The last quarter of the book surprised me a bit.  I felt, at first, as though things were resolved too quickly.  Then I realized I was jumping to conclusions a bit.  Durst shows us what we often don't see after a character's venture into some sort of magical world: the aftermath in the "real world."  This is the part that made me cry.  Lauren's mom is definitely one of those "force of nature" women, and I believed in her completely.  Like she could step of the page and be a completely real, living woman in front of me, and we would have hilarious conversations and she would set me up with random passersby.

Now I just have to wait FOREVER (slight exaggeration) for the next book.  Please hurry.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

This is what amuses me...

As I've mentioned, I like to peruse lists of upcoming books on Goodreads.  I often find some interesting titles and descriptions.  I'm not in any way affiliated with Goodreads or any of these authors, and this is just my own personal opinion.  I don't have anything against these authors in any way.  I just have a twisted sense of humor.

State of Infection: "A zombie/Civil War novel."  Hmm. This raises several questions.  Did zombies cause the Civil War?  Are the noninfected using the zombies to fight for them?  Do you only become a zombie after you die in battle?

Hang on, I just clicked on the book and read a longer synopsis.  Evidently this isn't the Civil War, it's about a Second Civil War (which really should be specified in the first place). It looks like all of the 5-star reviews are by sockpuppets* ... no one loves any zombie book that much.  Stay classy, author.  Because no one notices that all of those accounts started up this month and the only book they've read and rated as 5-star quality stuff is yours.  Ugh.

After sitting here for a few minutes, if a New York physician is so insecure about his novel that he needs fake accounts, eh, I don't care.  That's really ethical.

I'd like to quote this tidbit from the blurb for A Betty's Pledge, Vol. 1: (note: I have no idea why my text size just changed.  I blame the fact that I was working on a Windows ... thing earlier)

"Too many men out there favor the trashy crap that often parades around the local bars and college hangouts. "  Yay women!  Unless you are "trashy crap."  In which case, boo hiss.  I can't believe this.

Turkey: A Short History.  This seems mildly impossible.  (FYI: It's about the country, not the game bird.)  I don't think it would be a simple task to reduce the history of an area that's been zinging between "East" and "West" for centuries into a short beach read.  Nor is it necessarily a good idea.

Someday Always Comes
I had no idea.  Just remember, tomorrow never dies.

Bald New World.  Hmm.  Alopecia.  Scourge of the dystopian future?

Unchopping A Tree.  This book provides "mystical instructions" for putting a tree back together.  Is that like "Unbreak My Heart?" 

This author's name is too good not to comment on: "Vincent B. Chip LoCoco."  Sounds like Momo B. ChaCha from Libba Bray's Beauty Queens. (Psst.  Read that.  It's insanely good.)

I leave you with this title and cover: Dog Aliens 2: Oreo

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Wink at Me

One of my very favorite book experiences is receiving an ARC that you forgot you requested.  You don't know anything about it, or at least, you've forgotten what you may have once known.  You don't have high hopes.

And it ends up being fantastic.

I'm not quite sure how I stumbled upon Wink by Eric Trant on Netgalley.  Serendipity at work.  My brain, which often makes strange decisions, decided that this was YA, and so that's how I filed it on my Kindle.

Yes, my Kindle has genre folders.  I must categorize.  Like a categorization Dalek.

I hesitate to label this as a Southern Gothic, mainly because I associate Flannery O'Connor and William Faulkner with that subgenre, and I'm not entirely sure that Wink belongs there.  But it feels Gothic, and it is set in the South, so let's run with it.

Marty's life is pretty rotten, but he's gotten used to compartmentalizing the danger and the horror and the squalor of his existence.  His is the quintessential dysfunctional family.  His mother has "spells" or rages when she violently attacks others, with strength far beyond her 100-pound frame.  It's not entirely clear whether she's taking meth or not, but she definitely has an untreated mental disorder (says the armchair diagnostician).  Marty's mom's instability also stems from what happened to his brother Gerald.  A few years ago, the boys were playing with dad's gun, and Marty accidentally shot Gerald in the head.  We, as readers, can't really judge or blame Marty.  He was a kid in a family where "gun safety talks" had negative priority on the parenting list.  Now Gerald, once strong and funny, lies in a hospital bed, brain dead, hooked up to a respirator, in a diaper.  He has no adequate mental treatment and his back is just open bed sores.  It's utterly horrific, but this is Marty's reality.

And Daddy dearest?  If I told you that his aspiration was to kill a guy, and that he was bummed that he hadn't quite gotten there yet, do you get it?  He leaves the family for unknown periods of time, doing who-knows-what, and then roars up in his truck, demanding unshaken cans of beer and lounging around in dirty underwear.  He and Gerald's mom get into it constantly.  This usually ends with Gerald's mom doing something really terrifying, like trying to gouge out his eye with a crochet hook.

Wait, we haven't even gotten to the "horror" part of the novel, as one would define "horror."  In my reading experience, Gerald's day to day existence really added to the horror aspect of the novel.  This was made even more powerful by the knowledge that kids really do live in these conditions.  That was probably scarier than any boogerbear.

"Boogerbear?" you ask?  "What's so scary about something called a boogerbear?  Sounds lame."  Actually, it's a perfect name for something you don't want to believe exists.  But it does, of course.  Given Gerald's charting of the setting sun given in the second chapter, and the repeated mentions of I-10, I have wielded Google Maps in a mighty way and figured out that this probably takes place in southeast Texas.  There's talk of Cajun granddads, so there's a definite Bayou influence and flavor to the story.  "Boogerbear" fits into the vernacular of the American bogeyman quite nicely.  Kind of like how Stephen King's Walkin' Dude should be silly, but is just plain scary as all get out.

So.  Gerald's just trying to survive.  He's found a bowie knife blade at the dump and is making a special carved handle for it.  His uncle was a woodworker, and after Gerald shot his brother, Gerald's mom kicked him out, and Gerald learned woodworking.  He has a gift.  Intricate designs that should be difficult simply flow from Gerald, though the knife, into the wood.  His neighbor, a young girl who lost the use of her legs in a car accident, can see him hiding in the attic, carving.  She cares about him and persuades her mother, who ardently believes that Gerald's house is full of wickedness, to let her meet Gerald.  Their meeting sparks both downfall and salvation.

As the book progresses, we find out unsettling things about Gerald's house.  Not only is it full of his mother's hoarding, but it's also full of snakes.  I mean full of snakes. 

Bull snakes, rat snakes, snakes in the walls, snakes everywhere.  Plus, Gerald starts hearing footfalls in the attic when no one can possibly be up there.  The heavy clomping of a boot--heel, toe, heel, toe.  Black shapes, feathery and full of wrongness, flutter from the eaves.  These are the boogerbears: once held at bay by Gerald's uncle's glass eye--he'd wink at them--but now loose again.

The climax of the book is horrifying, unsettling, and yet perfect for the story.  Eric Trant manages to take many disparate elements: winged beasts, mental illness, brain death, child abuse, paraplegia, and salvation, to name just a few, and concoct a marvelous story that hits you like a sucker punch.  You're breathless, but you still turn the pages for more more more.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Meh and Meh Part Two

I hope it doesn't seem that I request ARCs of books only to turn around and totally rip them to shreds.  Or just plain give up on them.

That happens often, but I do find wonderful, fantastic books in my ARC pile.  Notably: The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender, The Pretenders, The Faceless One, and Wink all spring to mind.  Unfortunately, the old saw about sifting through the chaff applies here as where as anywhere else.

The two ARCs I recently had to admit to myself that I simply couldn't finish were both ones that I had had hopes for.  Not excessively high hopes, mind, but hopes nonetheless.  Alas, alack, and woe is me.

First up: Take Back the Skies by Lucy Saxon.  I received this as an ARC from Netgalley.

Airships?  Check.  Heroine disguised as boy?  Check.  Alternate reality?  Check.  This seemed like a very straightforward entry-level steampunk, but it never really went anywhere.  It was like a dirigible with too much ballast.  The narrative lumbered and stuttered instead of soaring and swooping.

I admit that I was really taken with Saxon's vision of the alternate past/future/present/who knows.  Catherine's parents are aristocracy, and therefore have all the advantages that come with being born into high positions.  Her father is a minister of something-or-other, which makes him unpopular with the populace at large.  Her mother is a recluse.  She's doomed to be married off to this absolutely vile son of an aristocrat, and so she does what any sensible girl would do: she runs away.  So far, I was in approval.  She cuts her hair, reinvents herself as "Cat," and stows away aboard a skyship.  Here's where everything began to break down for me.

Generally, in steampunk (and I'm not saying all the time, so don't get all technical on me here), the ships are either dirigibles or some sort of steam-powered contraption or something quasi-organic (see: Scott Westerfeld).  As far as I could make out, in Cat's world, people navigate in what are basically sailing ships but in the air.  I don't really understand the mechanics of this world, and the tell is that I don't think the author does either.  She didn't make me believe in these ships.

Once aboard the improbable ship, Cat, being adorable and useful, is adopted by the crew and tutored by Fox, who is, naturally, exceedingly foxy and Cat's love interest.  The ship flies to Siberene (Russia?) which is supposed to be undergoing some sort of horrible war but ... not all is as it seems!

Then she goes pickpocketing with absolutely zero experience but overhears Anglyan (that's her nation) soldiers talking about a Big Cover-Up and while she is listening she gets caught but rescued by Fox and then her shirt comes off as normally happens and he sees her boobs and is like, "Whoa, it's a chick!"

At this point I had to stop.  I was pretty sure I could figure out what was going to happen in the rest of the book, and none of the characters or plot points were compelling enough to make me want to read further.  

I realize that Saxon is a very young writer--18, I think--and she has potential, but this needs to be polished and she needs to bust out of just doing what everyone else does.  It reads a little like Leviathan fanfic.  No, not the Hobbes Leviathan.

Meh DNF part two:

The Bird Eater by Ania Ahlborn

I received this from the Amazon First Reads.  Basically, you get a free ebook at the beginning of the month to review.  The only one that I really liked was The Faceless One by Mark Onspaugh--the rest have been duds (for me).  I was hoping The Bird Eater would make up for that with a good old spooky story, but nope.  It was more of a "whaa?" story that could have been spooky-ish going on, but I got so distracted by the boringness of the beginning that it was just not worth my time.  Which sounds really mean, but it's true.  I have a gajillion other books waiting to be read.  I'm not going to read something that is already giving me bad vibes.

Here is the plot of The Bird Eater as I divined it by 9% in:

House has ghost.
Ghost makes people go crazy.
Ghost kills people.
Boy orphaned by ghost comes back after personal tragedy (OF COURSE PERSONAL TRAGEDY) to investigate/reopen old wounds.
Ghost attacks.
Everybody dies (I don't really know about the last one, but the author seemed like she was trying to do Stephen King, so I'm pretty sure that means the protagonist dies).

I assume there are also birds involved but I didn't get that far into things.  I guess the ghost gets mad about cruelty to birds???

Some people on Goodreads were saying it was really freaky but it's not enough for something to be spooky.  It has to be well-written, engaging, with memorable characters and a plot that makes sense in the world where it is set.  

Short reviews tonight because for some reason my hands are all swollen and painful.  JUST WHAT I NEED.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

On Books and Shoes

The stereotypical composite woman, as defined by Hollywood and/or chicklit and/or any random dude you encounter on the street, probably has a fanatical love of shoes.  Obviously, this is not true of every woman on the face of the earth, because life just doesn't work that way, yet it is a myth that persists.  I blame Sex and the City, of which I never saw one episode, but I know enough about it to kind of despise the weirdly twisted aspirational thinking it engendered in many women.  I, being female, am supposed to get all faint at the sight of an $800 pair or shoes, have a walk-in shoe closet, compare shoe notes with my besties,* et cetera.

I'd much rather buy books.

Even better, I'd rather go to the library (where I work, so yes, I am biased, but hear me out) and check out a massive pile of books for FREE.

Don't get me wrong: I like shoes.  I can appreciate them aesthetically, and I, of course, have favorite pairs of shoes.  Unfortunately, the shoes I would like to buy are out of my price range, and so I content myself with Target, because Target is the jam.  I browse the Nordstrom Shoes page and add gajillions of shoes to my Pinterest pages but never buy any of them (side note: I think Nordstrom is reading my brain right now because their featured shoes for me are all pointy toe d'Orsay flats, which I have been obsessed with for about two months.  They want all my money.).  Plus, I know that if I buy shoes, I will like them for a while, and then get bored with them.  I might even realize (horrors!) that they are fantastically uncomfortable and I never wear them again.  Blast.

Books are different, though.  I don't need to write some sort of fancy, purple-prosy woo-wah about how books take you places and teach you things.  That's why you have Wikiquote and Pinterest.  Go find your inspirational quotes elsewhere.  But at the library, books, and therefore fantasy and ray guns and recipes and yes, even books about shoes (which I do read) are all free!  Even were I to buy books, it would work out to like 1 book for every .33 shoe or something, which means I could have proportionally more books than shoes.  You can't wear books, unless that is your arty hipster Etsy store, but books burrow into your mind and soul and change you, fundamentally.

No shoe in the world, no matter how pretty, can do that.

*I loathe this word with the fiery passion of a million suns, and am here using it ironically, in case you didn't know.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Y: The Last Man. Our Last Hope. He's An Idiot.

I've heard fantastic things about Brian Vaughn's Saga series, but it's always checked out at the library, and I'm still waiting for Vol. 1 to come in for me.  While waiting, I figured that I'd check out one of his other series: Y: The Last Man.

Just so you know, I'm still going to read Saga, since one of my coworkers called it, "One of the best things going on in comics today," so duh, yes, I'm going to read it.  I just won't be reading more of Y.  I don't think.  Well, maybe.  I might want to see if it got any better.  I'm also a book masochist.

So, the basic premise is that something (ooga-booga-booga!) wipes out ALL THE MEN on Earth.  They just keel over.  Plop.  Goners.  All except ... our hero.  Naturally.  Well, him and his pet capuchin monkey (also a male).
y the first man unmanned
Not a lot happens in this first volume.  It goes something like this:

1) All the men die.
2) Main character shows up in Washington, D.C.
3) Main character leaves Washington, D.C. to go on a quest.

It's pretty basic.  As far as a potential story, there is a lot of play in it.  Vaughn could have done a lot of different things.  However, most of the subplots introduced don't bring anything fresh or new to the idea.

The concept of a plague or mysterious weapon destroying half of the population isn't new--in fact, it feels a bit pulpy, a bit Edgar Rice Burroughs to me.  There could be a noir with one of those iconic covers: a dame with full red lips, smoking a cigarette, thigh-high stockings, a tagline, "When men are away, the women will play..."  You know.  That sort of thing.  And, unfortunately, that's pretty much what you get with Y.

After all the men die, women evidently drive around in skimpy tops and short shorts in order to collect rotting bodies.  As you do.  They form tribes of "Amazons" where they do the whole radial mastectomy thing (the narrator calls this "burning off a breast" but I assume it's implied that they cut off a breast and then burn, or cauterize, the wound.  You can see this in later illustrations.)  Not because they have to wield a bow (and I'm pretty sure women can shoot bows without lopping off a breast.  Exhibit A: katniss everdeen), but because ... I don't know?  The world is ending and all we can do is regress to Homeric fantasy???  Oh, and of course, they are all lesbians who want to kill any surviving men.  Instead of, you know, maybe having more babies to repopulate the Earth.  Gracious, that would be the sensible thing to do.  We can't have women be sensible now, can we?  They must be radical and scary and uniboobed!

So our protagonist, Yorick (yes, that's his name, more on that later), must get to Washington, D.C. to find his mother, who's a member of the House of Representatives.  Except now that all the men have died, she has a pretty important position in the White House (not the President, but close).  Of course, they are overjoyed to be reunited (blah blah blah), but Yorick feels that the most important thing to do is go to Australia, where his girlfriend was working abroad, and find her, since he proposed just as all the bad stuff went down.

Wait.  Stop.  You are the last man on Earth.  You are possibly the last hope for humanity as a species.  And instead of, you know, doing something scientific to help the ladies out, you decide to run away to Australia.  Which is on a different continent.  Across an ocean.

Q: Where is he going to get a ship?
A: That's not important right now!  We need more panels of gun-toting Amazons!  Hop to it!

O-kay.  Yorick's mother doesn't agree, but she also doesn't seem too keen on protecting Earth's newest most precious resource.  Instead, she sends him off with an agent who only has a number for a name, 355, to find a scientist who had done important work on cloning in the past.  They want to find out why Yorick and the capuchin lived and all the other men died.  She allows him to make fantastically stupid decisions, but somehow they make it and find the scientist but some Israeli women (???) torch the lab the end.


Aside from the rather nonsensical "plot" and the horribly cliched world-building, the whole thing with names was pretty dumb.  Yorick gets all blushy and embarrassed when it comes up.  He explains that his dad was a Shakespearean scholar and professor, and gave them "obscure" names from Shakespeare.  Hmmm, last time *I* checked, Yorick from Hamlet was not completely unknown.  Doesn't everyone misquote the line about knowing him well?  Yorick (Vaughn's Yorick)'s sister is named Hero, who's one member of one of the two main couples in Much Ado About Nothing, which happens to be my favorite Shakespeare play.

 If you don't like that play, I don't think we can be friends.  Sorry.

Vaughn obviously wanted a Y name for the y chromosome and came up with Yorick and felt that it needed to be justified and then justified again.  I do like Hero as the name of his sister, since there is this whole question of gender and such in the series.  But then again, I like the original play, so: me=biased.

Another ridiculous part occurs when Yorick and Mom of Yorick are in the White House, and they hear something menacing.  Yorick asks what it is, or is it "zombies?"  Mom replies, "No, worse ... Republicans."  /awkward silence  Because ... everyone who reads comics is a ... Democrat?  (Note: I am neither a Republican nor a Democrat and I still thought the "joke" was stupid).

I might flip through the next volume when I have time to kill (so, never) just to see what happens.  Might.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Poe No

Last year, my library received a grant for a really cool program from the NEA called The Big Read.  There's a list of books that a community can choose from, and then the idea is that the community reads the book and creates and participates in activities based on that book.  We did Selected Tales of Edgar Allan Poe in October, which was wonderfully spooky and just a ridiculous amount of fun.  I had forgotten how seriously disturbing (yet amazing) some of his stories are.  Poe is also kind of an enigma, but I've always been pro-Poe, even if he did marry his cousin.  Poor guy had issues.

Too often, the misunderstood or marginalized become the villains of a narrative.  I guess it's somehow more convenient to transform an ill person into a bad person than to transform a goody two-shoes into the harbinger of doom.  I mean, in comic books, disfigurement or mental illness lead straight to villainy.  This is something we need to change.  It perpetuates the shunning of the "other" and makes people think that legitimate mental illness indicates that that person is also a) a psychopath, b) a murderer, or c) both.

This is what happens, unfortunately, in Of Monsters and Madness.  (This title felt vaguely familiar to me and I didn't know why, until I realized that I was thinking of the band Of Monsters and Men.  TOTALLY different.  This book is not Icelandic, for one thing.)  Of Monsters and Madness is a reworking of Edgar Allan Poe's life ... well, kind of.  The subject of his famous poem, Annabel Lee, is the narrator of the book, but they don't live by the sea.  They live in Philadelphia.

Annabel Lenore Lee (ha!  I see what you did there!) comes from Siam to live with her father.  From what I could gather, Annabel and her mother first lived in England, then "stowed away" with some missionaries on a ship to Siam.  As you do.  In Siam, she learns to meditate, she prefers simple food, and her mother is some sort of acupressure practitioner (I am not making this up).  While that may seem fairly common today, I don't really think English citizens in the 1820s would be accepting of those lifestyles.  Annabel also seems to think that the style of dress in Siam (Thailand) is the kimono.  According to some quick research (hi, Wikipedia!) traditional Thai dress for women has different pieces such as the sinh or the pha nung.  No kimono here.  Because people in Japan wear kimono.  

ANYWAY.  Annabel shows up alone in Philadelphia, as her mom died a month before the ship tickets arrived.  It's not convenient to have both parents alive, you know, especially in YA historical fiction.  Her father is a scientist-ish-type guy who is very rude, but Annabel still wants to please him.  After he abandoned her and her mother.

Upon her arrival in Philadelphia, Annabel promptly falls in the river and is rescued by the dashing Allan Poe, her father's research assistant.  He fishes  her out of the drink and instructs her new maidservant to loosen her stays ... wow, this scene reads remarkably like that one in Pirates of the Caribbean.  "Obviously you've never been to Singapore."

Annabel meets her friendly grandfather, whom she must address as grandpère, because, you know, French???? (I honestly have no idea here), and her father, who suffers from the residual effects of a serious bout of "typhoid," which causes him immense pain.  His symptoms sound more like rheumatoid arthritis, but whatever.  Typhoid.  Fine.  He is an immense jerk to his daughter, whom he presumably wanted to come to the States, since he paid for her ticket and all.  The author sets him up as the classical mad scientist.
So, Colin Clive, but with a limp and an even worse attitude.
I kind of stopped reading at this point.  This is like 25% of the way through the book.  I skimmed through and another guy named Edgar Poe shows up, and he's dangerous and smoldering and absolutely bonkers.  Murders grip Philadelphia--who could possibly be committing them???  I'll give you three guesses, but you won't need the second two.

THEN we find out that Annabel's pops was experimenting with a serum that separates the good and evil parts of a person's personality.  Thus, Edgar and Allan are the same person.  Dun dun DUNNNNN!  In the end, all is well, and Allan commits himself to a hospital in penance for the crimes of Edgar.  The last chapter occurs two weeks after the main action, and somewhere in that period, Annabel's dad has disappeared, so she sneaks into the hospital, disguised as a boy (why???) to ask Allan to take the serum and again become Edgar so he can find her father.

What?  When did daddy dearest go missing?  Why does she need "Edgar" to find dad?  Why is she disguised?  I am so confused.

So, basically, this is a strange, muddled retread of The Strange Case of Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Stevenson, but with Edgar Allan Poe as a murderer.  There are these winky nods to Poe's work--such as Annabel's dad's house having stained glass windows donated by "Prince Prospero."  I totally want the depraved Duke of the Red Death to have a hand in my interior decorating!  There's Annabel's middle name, Lenore.  There's the book that Allan is writing.

Evidently, it's just easier to cast Poe as the villain because he is mysterious.  He was troubled.  Tortured.  Hmmm ... obviously he must have had Dissociative Identity Disorder!

 Actually, it's theorized that Poe had bipolar disorder (no puns, please), and looking at the high highs and low lows of his work, as well as his extreme intelligence yet lack of comfort in society, that's certainly a valid hypothesis.  But nope.  Let's just give him a serum to turn him into a monster.  Makes better fiction.  Ugh.

The other thing that seriously irked me about what I managed to read was that practically every other sentence consisted of Annabel saying something like, "In Siam, ..."  YES.  Siam is a different country, with a different culture; ergo, your experiences in America will be different.  I do not need that pointed out to me at every turn, thank you very much.

Okay, the other other thing that irked me was the lack of plot (which a very few books can get away with, but that's because they're character studies or avant-garde).  What little plot existed came straight out of other authors' works.  It was Dr. Moreau meets Dr. Frankenstein meets Dr. Jekyll.

Not recommended at all.  I have other things to read.

A digital copy of this book was provided by NetGalley for my review.  All opinions in this review are my own.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The Fierce Reads Anthology: I Can't Believe I Read the Whole Thing!

Slight exaggeration.  I actually wanted to read almost all of these.  I mean, Emmy Laybourne/Monument 14 prequel?  Me:

Just a slight exaggeration.

Actually, I can't believe I read the Anna Banks story in toto.  She writes books about merpeople, which is totally fine, but they're also very romantic-he-looked-into-her-liquid-eyes-and-was-mesmerized-by-her-gently-curved-lips, if you know what I mean.  I don't do that.  My friends know I don't do that.  Generally, all of that woo-wah lovey-dovey stuff introduces a) angst, b) a love triangle, or (lord help us all) c) BOTH OF THOSE, which I just cannot handle.  I mean, why add more unnecessary angst to your life (unless it is angst Weetzie Bat-style, in which case, carry on)?

I think some of these stories were individually available as well, but I liked having them all together in one (free!) collection.

First up, Anna Banks' Legacy Lost.

So, I know Anna Banks' series is about merpeople called Syrena and it has very kissy-looking people on the cover.  I know what I like and what I don't like, and I am just not a romance person.  However, I read the story. It had ... love in it.  Yikes.  But ... it wasn't bad.  It was intense, but not vomit-inducing.  Basic premise: merprince has to mate with a merprincess who he thinks is a total brat, but then she ends up being SUPER HAWT and they have this mystical connection .  She's a daredevil and he's not, but I guess their babies are supposed to have mystical powers or something.  I didn't read the full books and I think fans of those would appreciate this more.  I did, however, like the ending.

The Witch of Duva by Leigh Bardugo

I had harsh words for Bardugo's first entry in the Grisha Trilogy.  But after this story ... I'm tempted to go and read the second two.  Really.  Bardugo has a great command of the fairy tales she's working with, and the twist about who the monster really was floored me.  Two thumbs up.

Prophet by Jennifer Bosworth

So, Jennifer Bosworth's full-length novel is Struck, which I just happened to put on display so it stuck in my mind.  Her short story is an interesting exploration of extremism in religion.  The transformation of the main character from defiant boy to mad prophet is believable because of his extreme circumstances and unusual background.  Bosworth paints a deft portrait of his family life with just a few paragraphs.  I'm intrigued and now I'm considering adding Struck to my already hefty TBR.

Dress Your Marines in White by Emmy Laybourne

Okay, this is the real reason I downloaded this anthology (followed closely by Marissa Meyers' story, but still.  Emmy Laybourne first).  I am a huge Monument 14 fan and this really rounded out the story.  It's an explanation of the biochemical weapon that affects humans' by blood type.  The official report v. what really happened format is extremely effective, and frighteningly plausible.  This one was gritty and satisfying.  Yum.

Glitches by Marissa Meyer.

Two words: Cinder's backstory.  You're welcome.

Overall, I highly recommend this anthology.  It's free on Google Books (not a paid endorsement, etc.) and completely worth it even if you're a fan of only one of the authors or their stories.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Monument 14: Sky on Fire

What's your blood type?

Monument 14 is the second book/series that I've read recently that deals with blood type as a delineator of the population--the other is Orleans by Sherri Smith, which I cannot recommend highly enough.  But that's another story.

There are real advantages to using something biological like blood type in a post-apocalyptic/mildly-dystopian book.  Instead of being divided geographically (The Hunger Games) or by personality (Divergent), you're distinguished from others by who you are, physically.  It's not something you can control.  You can't choose a blood type like you can choose a faction, nor can you run away from it like you can a District.  It's you.  That's all there is to it.  (Note: I am not, in any way, criticizing the systems used in either The Hunger Games or Divergent.  I'm just using them illustratively.)

In Monument 14, the first book of the trilogy, not only does the weather have a massive conniption, raining down deadly hail, but the defense labs at NORAD are breached, releasing a biological weapon into the atmosphere.  That weapon, which Laybourne elaborates on in her short story in the Fierce Reads Anthology, affects people differently based on their blood type.

A: Blood blisters.  It's like you're being boiled--inside and out.  Short exposure means small blisters, while prolonged exposure basically just melts your flesh.  Not a pretty or pleasant way to go.  Not that people who design biochemical weapons really care about that.  "Oh, gee, hope you have a great time dying!"  Nope.

AB: Paranoid delusions.  This can be every bit as deadly as the blisters.  If you can't trust your friends, and you can't trust your own mind, then things are going to go south pretty quickly.

B: Sexual dysfunction.  I suppose that for some people this would be absolutely terrifying, but most of the characters in the book, despite being teens and therefore RAGING HORMONAL IDIOTS (not really, but you know, teenagers) take this rather well.  I mean, I'd rather be infertile than incinerated.

O:  In an ironic twist, the "universal donor" becomes the most lethal.  The compound is like a massive adrenaline hit, combined with blinding rage and an obsession with killing.  Os are obviously the most dangerous.

Quick recap of Monument 14:  Aforementioned bad things happen, and 14 kids take refuge in a Greenway, which is kind of like a Super Wal-Mart or SuperTarget.  Their bus driver, Mrs. Wooly, leaves, but promises to send help.  6 of the refugees are teens, and 6 are little kids.  They create their own sort of family in order to survive, and the character exploration is really fantastic.  Laybourne brings up some very real and gritty problems (drug abuse, pregnancy, and rape) but doesn't glamorize them or go into the nitty gritty detail.  In the end, the kids caulk up the bus that Mrs. Wooly left behind, swathe themselves in protective gear, and head off to Denver International Airport, because that's where help is supposed to be.  All of them except two of the teens and three of the kids--type Os.

Sky on Fire picks up directly where Monument 14 left off.  Laybourne helpfully recaps all of the characters for us in a form of an SOS written by Alex, the younger brother of our main male character Dean (he's the boy at the Greenway).  Almost immediately, the bus runs into a lot of trouble, while Dean, Astrid, and the three kids at the Greenway continue to protect themselves against looters and murderers.  Dean is extremely attracted to Astrid, but there are three big problems here:
1) Astrid has a boyfriend, Jake.  Jake took one of the guns and abandoned them, but still.  Popular boyfriend.
2) Astrid herself is popular and pretty.  Dean is ... not.
3) Astrid is pregnant.

When people start coming back, and a bunch of military students take over the Greenway, Dean and Astrid have to protect the little ones and stay alive.  Meanwhile, the bus group has to make it 60 miles to DIA--on foot.

I really enjoyed Sky on Fire, but my main quibble is that it isn't long enough!  I wanted mooooore of everything.  Greedy, I know, but I think I'm entitled to be greedy when the first book was so stinking good.  I also thought the sexytimes scene was a bit cringey, but mercifully brief and definitely not explicit (yay!).  Laybourne actually keeps this pretty clean, as the characters often use curse-substitutes instead of the real deal.  That's definitely a good idea when you're trying to keep 6 little ones calm and alive!

The scenes with the military were done really well, and I loved the twisty ending.  So happy there's a third one of this!  I hope Laybourne keeps writing, and writing, and writing.

This series is definitely still a two-thumbs-up from me, and I can't wait until May for Savage Drift.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Grace and the Guiltless

I only recently started watching westerns.  Films, I mean.  As a kid, I watched North to Alaska with John Wayne on the regular, but mostly because of the zippy dialogue and that catchy theme song.  I've seen a few classic westerns, but only really enjoyed True Grit.  Part of that might be because we've been to Ridgway, CO, where the town scenes were filmed.  There's actually a True Grit Café there. 

Yet, I generally considered the western as a sort of cheap hack movie.  You didn't have much of a plot, so you got a lot of guns and a lot of horses and went off into the desert and shot some movie about revenge.  Bonus points if there is a bosomy woman involved.  Double bonus points if she needs to be rescued. 

One day, I was browsing the DVDs at the library (where I work, obviously), and picked up The Magnificent Seven.  I knew it was a reworking of Seven Samurai, which I enjoyed very much, so I decided I could attempt to watch it.


First of all, I realized that Yul Brynner was, in fact, a danged hot dude.  Wow.  The Wild Bunch.  Again, it was more about morals, choices, and humanity than firing a lot of guns (although The Wild Bunch does have a high body count).  I loved the scenery and the scheming. 
Secondly, that was a really good story.  It had strong performances and fleshed-out characters.  So, I tried

So I figured, hey, why knock the western?  When I saw a teen-directed western ARC on Netgalley, I had to request it.  A rare breed, that.  I don't know if I can name *any* teen westerns off of the top of my head that aren't "space westerns" or "steampunk westerns" or something like that.  I really, really hoped that Grace and the Guiltless (which appears to be book one of a series) would fill a gaping hole in the world of YA.

The first few pages were okay.  A little reminiscent of Laura Ingalls Wilder with the spunky teen on the homestead who's close to her Pa.  But, you know, they're horse trainers, so, that's different.  Our heroine, Grace, has a way with wild horses.  Even the fierce Bullet, Wild Mustang of the West, settles under Grace's hand.  D'awwww.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch (sorry, I had to), some no-good dudes ride up while Grace is in the root cellar.  They proceed to kill her family (obviously this is not a spoiler because the whole book is about her revenge) and burn the homestead.  Grace knows the leader of the gang--the Guiltless Gang, which is possibly one of the most boneheaded names for a group of ruffians that I've heard--and promptly jumps on Bullet (who can now magically be saddled and so forth) to ride into Tombstone (of the pizza) to get HELP.

Grace decides to go to the sheriff for help.  There are two kinds of sheriffs in westerns: corrupt sheriffs and naive sheriffs.  We've got specimen A here.  Although the exposition is really heavy handed: Grace has to go into the brothel to get him (meaning he is a Bad Man, because brothels are Bad Places), whereupon, instead of solving her problem, he tries to recruit her for the madam: " 'Miss Lydia could use a pretty little thing like you.  Once you're cleaned up a bit...' "  Grace totally doesn't get that the sheriff is in cahoots with the leader of the unfortunately-named Guiltless Gang, and storms off and threatens to shoot a bunch of people who rather inexplicable want to shoot her horse.  Then a guy comes and gives her a pouch of silver nuggets.  Grace, being a complete genius, uses the entire bag of silver to pay for one (1) night's lodging and a dirty bath.  Because she is, if you haven't guessed yet, several cards short of a full deck.

Okay, so in the morning, she rushes off into the desert to get into the mountains to track down the Guiltless Gang.  Except, you know, she forgets to bring any food and doesn't check her water skin.  She ends up getting totally dehydrated but is rescued from the brink of death by an itinerant preacher who wants her to let go of her hate (like Yoda told Luke) and accept God.  Grace goes on a rant about how she doesn't believe in God; preacher is all like, "God loves everybody and does things for a reason, so don't hold a grudge."
The preacher seemed vaguely menacing.  This is how I pictured him.

That's when I went to check the imprint, suddenly wondering if this was Christian YA.  There's nothing wrong with Christian fiction; however, I don't read it.  Nope--this is straight-up regular fiction.  So they say now.  But when the preacher can't stop talking about how "God has a special plan for your life," I get mildly uncomfortable.

Grace has now decided to stop believing in God and proceeds to climb into the mountains in pursuit.  On the way, she loses the only photo of her family that she has.  Instead of going on, she turns around and goes all the way back to where she started to look for it.  Mind, she still doesn't have enough water or food.  Life choices.  Grace does not make good ones.  A lot of book reviewers call this "too stupid to live," or TSTL.  Grace is definitely a TSTL heroine.  Er, "heroine."

Next morning, Grace and Bullet fight off a bear.  Legit.  I started skimming at this point because a bear?  And your horse goes after it like some sort of trained destrier, while you let it claw up your arm?  And hey, now that the bear's gone, I'm hungry, so let's eat these totally foreign berries which are poisonous.  Now near death from several causes, Grace is conveniently rescued by the boy/man who gave her the silver earlier.  His name is Joe and he lives with the Ndeh (Apache) people whose camp is in the mountains.  There is a very convoluted reason for this and it exists mainly to transfer Magical Native Person powers to a white person, which some people might find more palatable in a romance (*massive eyeroll*).  Joe tries to get Grace "accepted into the tribe as a warrior" (what is this, Disney's Pocahontas???) but she still has to get revenge.  Although the book sounds like it is respectful of Native peoples, Joe at one point calls Grace a paleface, which was another record scratch moment for me.

I admit I stopped reading about here.  Literally everyone in this book is giving her some sort of woo-woo advice about letting go of the hate and filling her heart with love and forgiveness.  There's this whole subplot about, "Yay, now I am friends with the native people and they will teach me mystical ways!" which is just ... um ... I can't even explain how ugh that is.  I guess she goes and kills a guy and gets all hot n' heavy with Joe (but I didn't get the vibe that they actually do it hee hee hee) but must go find her own path the end.  Once the romance started up it was just too much.

The author's note points out that she lives in North Carolina, which could explain a lot of this desert ignorance stuff, but most of it is just common sense.

I am back where I started: with no solidly-written, entertaining, new YA westerns for my collection.  I don't think they're particularly in demand, so I don't feel too bad, but this could have been a lot better.  The writing level is very low and the plot is pretty much nonexistent.  It feels more like an outline for an old Boxcar Children book than a standalone YA novel.

I'm just queuing up this next western with Spencer Tracy in it instead.

Note: I received an ARC of this novel from Netgalley and the publisher in exchange for my honest review.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Bronx Masquerade, and On the Horribleness of Some People

I'm rather ashamed that I hadn't read anything by Nikki Grimes until yesterday.  I've had Bronx Masquerade on my TBR for a bit, and since I was able to download the ebook for free through our library system, I figured, hey, why not.


happy dog

This is spot-on.  I will happily hand this (read=I am going to rec this at any and every opportunity) to a reluctant reader, someone who wants a shorter book, or someone just looking for the un-Twilight.  Actually, I'd give this to anyone.  It's that good.

Realism and I, well, we've become friends over the past months.  What's so amazing about Bronx Masquerade is that it was written over 10 years ago, but it doesn't feel like it.  Grimes limits the narrative to emotions and actions.  While some of the characters name-drop Dr. Dre, that's still someone who's pretty relevant in the rap arena.  This story is a chameleon.  Because of the large cast of real, flawed, intense characters, a reader will find someone they can relate to.  (Yes, I know that technically it should be "to whom he/she can relate" but that sounds foofy).  Grimes is never preachy, and her poetry is fantastic.  Each poem uniquely suits the student delivering it at the poetry slam (Open Mike Friday in the book).

I believed that these kids existed, you know?  They weren't cariciatures.  The most hard-hitting for me was Lupe, who felt unloved.  To remedy this, she felt that the only way to discover unconditional love was to have a baby, and she envies a classmate who has a baby.  Grimes then immediately goes into the classmates story, and you see the reality of being a teen mother.  She loves her baby, but can't finish her schoolwork because of late-night fevers or fussing.

The students (and, by proxy, the reader, since we too are attending this Open Mike Friday with the rest of the kids cutting class to go) find that poetry is an ideal medium to express their true feelings.  They discover that their preconceived notions about each other are completely untrue, and even our jaded narrator, Tyrone, who generally has a cutting comment about something, begins to soften as the book closes.

This is a class act, 5 star book, no doubt.  I now have the urge to add all of Nikki Grimes' books to my library card--her latest effort for kids won a Coretta Scott King Honor for this year.  Yeah!  (Bronx Masquerade was a winner).

And now on to the social issue.  I went over to Goodreads to rate this book and scrolled through some of the reviews.  One that started out, "Racism" completely shocked and horrified me.  It was repulsive.  Somebody evidently thought that Grimes' message of accepting your skin color, accepting your identity, and being proud of who you are is "racist against white people."  Dark Helmet
A commenter then made a death threat against Ms. Grimes.  You better believe I flagged that.

Look, I'm not naive.  I know people are racist.  It sucks.  It rots.  It's so bloody horrible that I cannot even express how angry I am.  I'm repulsed that someone thought it was appropriate to write that in a public forum, and even more repulsed because I know that many, many people say these things out loud every day as a matter of course.  The next person who says we're living in a post-racist, colorblind society will be shown this person's horrible, vomit-inducing comment.

The hard part is that IT SHOULDN'T BE THAT WAY.  I'm a big stickler for DOING THINGS RIGHT.  This is not RIGHT.  I'm so upset that someone would denegrate such a fantastic book that I'm resorting to ALL CAPS and ... ellipses because I find it difficult to adequately express myself.

So I ask you to do two things.

1) Read Bronx Masquerade
2) The next time you hear someone say something even remotely racist, say something.  Tell them it's inappropriate or not cool or however you want to phrase it.  But tell them no.  Help to change the narrative.  Change our narrative.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Nothing to See Here

I'm completely bogged down.

No, scratch that.  I'm not motivated.  I'm lazy.  It's springtime.  I want to be outside!

I'm still working my way through The Sorcerer of the North (which is a slightly misleading title, hee!) by John Flanagan.

FBP turned out to be a total bust (at least for me).  I got super-confused when our main character, Adam, went off into "the desert," which I assumed was in Mexico, since that's where his dad was last seen.  There, he met his uncle, who dressed not unlike a Sikh.  Unless he just happened to be a Sikh man living in the desert wilds of Mexico.  You know.  As you do.

I have to tackle more of the ARCs piling up (digitally, of course) on my Kindle, too.  Yikes.

You'll find me hiding under my bed for the next few days.

Tabula Rasa=Awesome (the book, not the treatment)

Tabula RasaTabula Rasa by Kristen Lippert-Martin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

So.  Much.  Fun.

This is what a good YA thriller should be.  There's action, action, action, a wonderfully dramatic bad guy, an isolated setting, a sweet yet subdued romance, and oh, right, a kick butt heroine!

Sarah--or at least, that's what they tell her that her name is--is in the tabula rasa program at a remote hospital.  She's repeatedly told that she is very lucky to have this second shot at life, so she'd better not act up.  Sarah's main activity is counting ceiling tiles and waiting for her next surgery. Brain surgery.  We jump right into this as Sarah's set up in her halo (a metal cage that holds the skull in place) and the doctor drills into her skull through metal ports.  He's injecting a substance into her brain to gradually erase her memories and make her a true blank slate, or tabula rasa.  During her last surgery, though, the power suddenly goes off, a mysterious figure shoves some pills and a note into her hand, and gunfire erupts.  Someone is besieging the facility, and Sarah's got to escape.

On the run from soldiers who don't hesitate to shoot hospital staff, Sarah runs into a hacker.  Actually, first she punches him in the face.  The boy, whose name is revealed to be Thomas, is a hacker who's there with his dad, 8-Bit, a super-hacker who's been contracted to take down the computer systems of the Tabula Rasa Hospital.  Problem: 8-Bit's gone missing and their extraction team doesn't arrive.

After hiding out in 8-Bit's yurt, Sarah and Thomas realize that they have to risk going back to the hospital--for several reasons.  Along the way they encounter other survivors who don't seem to have fared as well in the program as Sarah has.  They meet a small squad of vets suffering from PTSD and a boy named Oscar who's super-violent.  Like the storm around them, Sarah and her antagonists swirl around each other until a mind-bending, Bond-esque finale.

I liked almost everything about this book!  Sarah's reaction to her situation--very few memories, sudden blasts of remembrance that leave her incapacitated, and a strange abhorrence of a woman named Evangeline Hodges--feels very real.  She mourns the loss of her memories, but doesn't dwell in a sort of sludgy despair.  Rather, she channels that loss into anger and revenge, which, if I were her, I would think was totally justified.

Thomas is also a cutie.  He's awkward but not stereotypically so.  He has his own demons to deal with, and I particularly liked the exchange between Sarah and Thomas when he says he wishes he could take her place.  It was a bit shocking at first, but also heartbreaking.

Lippert-Martin deals a lot with family relationships, particularly the parent-child dynamic.  Sarah and her mother Blanca were exceptionally close, but she never knew her father.  She suspects it was a man her mom used to work for, since Latina girls don't usually have green eyes.  Thomas was adopted by a rich family and bonded with his adoptive sister, but was always at odds with his adoptive mom and dad.  When his genetic dad, 8-Bit, pops back into the picture, things don't get much better.  And the mother situation is even worse!  Lippert-Martin handles all of these relationship issues with aplomb, never delving too far into melodramatic overreactions from her characters.

Another aspect of the story that I really liked was the subplot involving the soldiers with PTSD.  They, too, underwent the tabula rasa treatment, only it backfired on them.  Instead of erasing the traumatic memories, the soldiers have become trapped inside of them.  Their trauma is now their reality.  It's deftly revealed and my heart really broke for these guys, who were obviously very skilled and very smart, but ultimately victims of their own experiences and the mad scientists at the heart of the program.

Okay, yeah, the whole "mad scientist" thing and the secret research lab and the very long MWAH-HA-HA villainous explanation scene at the end were a bit much.  It felt a bit silly after the earnestness of the rest of the book.  It was really just infodump time.  However, I can't hold it against the story as a whole--well, not too much.

I think the ending was handled very well.  It's not a super-rosy-future ending, but there is love and there is hope.

I'm shocked that I actually liked the love story in this one.  I need to go take my temperature.

Highly recommended!

Note: I received an ARC of this title from Netgalley and the publisher in exchange for my honest review.

View all my reviews

Friday, April 4, 2014

What I'm Reading This Weekend

I'm completely hooked on Kristin Lippert-Martin's Tabula Rasa, so that will be finished shortly.
 It's really tightly written, and I'm especially loving that we're staying pretty geographically static.  Books that move around the globe in just a few chapters tend to get a bit too big for their proverbial britches.

Also up at the plate: (SAAAA-WIIINNG BATTAHHHH!)

FBP: Federal Bureau of Physics, Vol. 1 by Simon Oliver

I've been waiting for this for a very long time.  One of my co-workers bought it straight out and disliked it, which means I'll probably like it, as our tastes in the graphic medium are pretty much polar opposites.

The Sorcerer in the North (Ranger's Apprentice #5) by John Flanagan

I really love this series.  It's so engaging.  It's nothing that hasn't been done before (ha ha, look at all those negatives) but Flanagan makes it fun and zippy.

Monument 14: Sky on Fire by Emmy Laybourne

It's no secret that I loved loved loved loved loved Monument 14.  I happened to watch Superstar on the same weekend and it was a major Emmy Laybourne fangirl moment.  Alas, someone decided to never return the library's copy of the sequel, Sky on Fire, so I had to reorder it.  And wait.  And wait.

And now, in time for book three, Savage Drift, I can finally read Sky on Fire!  Yesssssss.

Four books is a reasonable number, right?  For the weekend?

Oh yeah.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Red Has Risen ... the Golds Just Don't Know It Yet

Books do not generally confound me (the fact that some books have actually been published, however, is another matter).  I like to think that I have strong opinions about what I read, and that I'll express them even if they're not popular or flattering.

When I finished Red Rising, I really, truly didn't know what I thought of it.  My first thought was, "Oh.  It's over?"  Then, "Poop, when does the next one come out?"  Then, "Um, did I really like it?"  "Why did it end so bloodyd*mn fast?  What's a slingBlade again?"  I actually couldn't sleep because I was thinking about this book.

This morning, I realized that that meant it's a goryd*mn good book.  It mixed up all of my feelings and made me wonder if I could do what Darrow did.  You might love him or hate him.  Some reviewers call him a Gary Stu--the kind of character for whom everything happens just right.  He's not, though.  He makes some pretty big mistakes, and you can't exactly kill off the main character in the first book.  Not if he's going to lead a rebellion.  Only George R.R. Martin does that.

I, personally, liked Darrow a lot.  The development of his character in the beginning was very good, and I really loved Eo (even though she got very little "screen time").  Their relationship felt so real, even though it's hard for us to think about having that level of maturity in a relationship at 16.  But hey, if you're a Helldiver, you're gonna die young.  What society forces Reds to do to their family members in the name of mercy is horrifying, yet it explains why and how Darrow can do what he needs to do.

The big reveal is a surprise to Darrow, but not to the reader.  This is where I started wishing that this book were longer.  I would have loved to explore the Mars that Brown has created.  Hopefully we'll do this in later books.  But after Darrow is literally ripped apart and rebuilt (again, a trope not uncommon in sci-fi but done very well here), he's whisked off to compete against other Golds for a position of power in society.

I have to say, the Passage was particularly shocking, but after that is when I started to lose a little steam.  The rest of the book consists of Darrow and whomever he's got as an ally *checks watch* now running around the arena launching sneak attacks and capturing people and messing around with the proctors (each of whom represents a different House of a different Roman god--Minerva, Mars, Juno, etc).  It started to pick up again when Darrow finds out that the games are actually fixed, and then he gets really teed off.  People start running around in wolfskins.  They acquire catchy nicknames like Mustang and Reaper.  You're barreling full-force in an assault against Mount Olympus and then ... it stops.  It's such a whiplash-inducing moment that I felt lost and sad when it happened.  I had just really started getting into the whole plotting thing that was going on and then WHOOM.  Over.  Done.  That's it.  Make your choice, Darrow.  Book 2.  

As for the supporting characters, I think they were done really well.  The only one I question is Pax--and it's not so much his character, but rather Darrow's complete 180-turn in his opinion of Pax.  One second Pax is a monster, the next, a gentle giant.  Mustang is fantastic--smart and tough without being gushy, and Sevro is magnificent as the off-kilter wolf guy (no other way to explain it).  Titus is suitably insane, and unlike other reviewers, I did not feel that the rape subplot was in any way exploitative or dismissive of rape.  I could easily see all of this happening in the sort of situation described.  Brown does not glamorize rape.  

I also really, really liked the Mars lingo and how it reflected the stratification of society.  I'm a sucker for new words and phrases in far-future books, so this was a lot of fun for me.  I'm a language nerd--what can I say?

So, basically this review has been me blithering (pointlessly, and with little substance) on about the book.  Let's get down to brass tacks.

Would I recommend it?
Did I adore it?
Did I like it very, very much?
What was my main complaint?
This could have easily been twice as long and I would have been much happier.  I wanted to dig into this world and watch every single plotting session and every single battle in excruciating detail.  That's how I like my sci-fi and fantasy.

Did Darrow inspire me to join his revolution? (His speeches are really good, by the way.  Pierce Brown is excellent at propaganda)
Bloodyd*mn yeah.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Red Rising Review is ... Rising? Sometime ...

I finished Pierce Brown's Red Rising last night and I'm still processing it.  I didn't know, even when I finished, whether I loved or hated it.  I'm  pretty sure I didn't hate it, but I'm not yet sure if I loved it.  I think I did.

I actually stayed up thinking about it, which was kind of a bad move, because we had an early staff meeting this morning where I actually had to think about programming and stuff that people care about.  Then I went to a dentist/scam artist who told me I had eight (8! Ocho! Huit! Acht!) cavities and wanted to fill them for almost $2000.  Needless to say, that completely derailed my line of thought and took up time I would usually use to write blog posts, etc.

Hopefully, tomorrow I will have figured this all out.  Or, maybe next week. 

Book Title Bingo, Part 2

Yep, it's that time again.  I'm browsing the Goodreads First Reads pages to look for YA ARCs and to find some of the more interesting titles on offer.

I find this horribly creepy

Blurb: A brilliant woman, a couple of mad scientists, and an erotic experiment with shocking results…
I totally didn't get that it was an erotic novel until I read the blurb.  I just thought they had creative capitalization.  Whoops.

I really hope there are no dead people involved here.

Once Pregnant, Twice Shy

Oh, Harlequin.
How does that work, exactly?  Are you twice as shy now that you're pregnant?  Are you extra leery of getting pregnant again?  Are you SO OUT OF PITHY PHRASES that you have to just use one that doesn't make sense?  *bonus points* the female lead is an orphan.

The Emergency Sasquatch Ordinance: And Other Real Laws That Human Beings Dreamed Up

Not gonna lie; I entered the giveaway for this.  I love lists of kooky laws.

The Lost Art of Dress: The Women Who Once Made America Stylish

The level of girl-on-girl hate in the blurb is flabbergasting: "As a glance down any street in America quickly reveals, American women have forgotten how to dress. We chase fads, choose inappropriate materials and unattractive cuts, and waste energy tottering in heels when we could be moving gracefully. Quite simply, we lack the fashion know-how we need to dress professionally and flatteringly."

Dressing "properly" is the most serious problem facing American women, evidently.  Not, you know, harassment or rape or being told you're not smart enough or being paid less than all the guys in your office.  WE CAN'T DRESS.  DEFCON 1, EVERYBODY.

lucille bluth 


Do Your Laundry or You'll Die Alone

Hmm.  That sounds more than vaguely threatening.  Evidently, if women don't step up and do laundry like grown ups, they will never attract A Man to marry them, which is the single most important thing a woman can do.  Besides laundry.  Right?

liz lemon eye roll

Speedos, Tattoos, and Felons

One of these things is not like the other.  Although it does sound like an, er, interesting combo.

This next title doesn't sound so bad; in fact, it's rather bland:
The Prophecy of Arcadia, but this line in the synopsis was fantastic: 
"A great mix of romance and mystery with sexy aliens!"
Dang.  I was hoping for vomit-inducing aliens.  

Lamby the Lonely Lamb

Look, I really like sheep.  But I wouldn't buy this book.  In that picture Lamby looks like he's really, really angry and is going to attack you like some sort of demon-possessed sheep.

And my favorite "whaaaaaaat?" title:

Beyond Cynical: Transcend Your Mammalian Negativity

So, are plants not cynical?  How about cephalopods?  Jolly all the time, eh?  Should I adopt a more reptilian attitude in my life?  This book promises that "you will literally forget to be cynical."  What if I'm just figuratively cynical?  Is there no hope?  Wait, is that me being literally cynical?

Also: dogs are mammals.  According to this book, mammals are negative.  But dogs are not negative.  They are the happiest gosh durned creatures I know.  Ergo, the premise is false.  Now I will pretend that I know something about logic and debate.

If you learn nothing else from this book, it's that monkeys and the earth live inside our brains, which are connected directly to our eyeballs.  Our eyeballs send zappy beams of stuff at another Earth, which is not inside our brains.

Please note that I have not read any of these books, nor do I harbor animosity toward their authors in any way.  I've merely found their titles, premises, or blurbs amusing.