Tag Archives: young adult literature

Another Meme, This Time About Books

I can’t resist a good meme. Especially when it’s about reading.

Literary Pursuits of a Young Lady by Harlamoff Alexej.

Literary Pursuits of a Young Lady by Harlamoff Alexej.

A. Author You’ve Read The Most Books From
Erm, probably Neil Gaiman. Though I’m not sure I want to admit to that any longer. Though if we’re counting comics, there are lots of mangaka I’ve read a lot more of.

B. Best Sequel Ever
Book series don’t usually feel like separate novels to me, but I have to say all the sequels in the Sandman Slim series by Richard Kadrey are great. They just get better and better as they go!

C. Currently Reading
Oh boy. I’m reading “My Gringo Cabron” by Jeannette Gau Stone and “Americanah” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. I’ve been halfway through “World War Z” since last summer because I loaned it out and just recently got it back. I just picked up “Horns” by Joe Hill and “The School for Good and Evil” by Soman Chainani from the library. I am always reading something.

D. Drink of Choice While Reading
Arizona iced tea.

E. E-Reader or Physical Books
I’m happy with both, though I admit I’m better with physical books. Sometimes I forget I’m reading things on my iPad.

F. Fictional Character You Would Have Dated In High School
Harry fucking Potter, man. I would have dated the shit out of him in high school. Now? Not so much.

G. Glad You Gave This Book A Chance
“Ruby Red” by Kerstin Gier. The back cover has pretty much the worst write up ever, but the writing inside is amazing and hysterical! Such a pity it’s got a terrible jacket blurb, because I’ll bet it’s made a lot of people put it down.

Reading Girl by Gustav Adolph Henning.

Reading Girl by Gustav Adolph Henning.

H. Hidden Gem Book
See above. The entire trilogy is amazing, honestly.

I. Important Moments of Your Reading Life
I can’t think of many of them, but my recent decision to break up with Neil Gaiman was a pretty good one. It was just time. He no longer loves me like he used to.

J. Just Finished
Anne Jamison’s “Fic.” An awesome exploration of fanfic and fandom. Mostly Western fandom, but still pretty interesting. I can’t wait until someone starts writing academically about anime and manga fandom. I honestly worry it might have to be me.

K. Kinds of Books You Won’t Read
I can’t read a lot of really popular stuff. 99.9% of time it’s terrible. I read “The da Vinci Code” once. That was a mistake I won’t make again.

L. Longest Book You’ve Read
Maybe “Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell”? Or “1Q84”. I forget which is longer.

M. Major Book Hangover Because Of
It took me NINE WEEKS to read Grant Morrison’s “Super Gods”. I don’t know why. It’s a ridiculous fucking book. I don’t know if that’s what this means by “book hangover,” but it feels appropriate.

N. Number of Bookcases You Own
Five. Two of them are short, only two rows, and one is small and mostly holds CDs and Erik’s cookbooks. The fourth is maybe a little shorter than me and holds mostly video games, DVDs, and some manga. The fifth is the tallest, and holds books, a printer, and some of Erik’s stuff.

O. One Book That You Have Read Multiple Times
Ugh, I’m not a re-reader. It’s really hard for me to reread books. That said, probably the “Alice” books.

P. Preferred Place to Read
On the couch, but I’ll read anywhere.

Q. Quote From A Book That Inspires You/Gives You Feels
“We have no idea, now, of who or what the inhabitants of our future might be. In that sense, we have no future. Not in the sense that our grandparents had a future, or thought they did. Fully imagined cultural futures were the luxury of another day, one in which ‘now’ was of some greater duration. For us, of course, things can change so abruptly, so violently, so profoundly, that futures like our grandparents’ have insufficient ‘now’ to stand on. We have no future because our present is too volatile. … We have only risk management. The spinning of the given moment’s scenarios. Pattern recognition.” – William Gibson, “Pattern Recognition”

R. Reading Regret
So much time and money spent on Neil Gaiman, I s2g.

S. Series You Started and Need to Finish
The Lunar Chronicles by Marrisa Meyer! The last book isn’t out yet though, sob. Also the Monster High “Ghoulfriends” series. The library only has books one, two and four, ugh.

Morning Reading by Zelio Andrezzo.

Morning Reading by Zelio Andrezzo.

T. Three Of Your All-Time Favorite Books
Ooh, so hard. I forfeit, because this is constantly changing.

U. Unapologetic Fangirl For
A young adult novel series with well written female characters.

W. Worst Bookish Habit
Having too many! I’m working on it though. And I mean it this time!

V. Very Excited For This Release More Than Any Other
Ooh, the new Ever After High novel! They have a lot of upcoming books I’m excited for. The series about Lizzie and Duchess is going to be amazinggg.

X. Marks The Spot (Start On Your Bookshelf And Count to the 27th Book)
“The Westing Game” by Ellen Raskin. A fantastic children’s puzzle mystery.

Y. Your Latest Book Purchase
Purchase? I don’t actually buy books much, if you can believe it. I usually go to the book exchange, get given books, or borrow from the library or friends/family. I think the last book I *bought* was Ruth Ozeki’s “A Tale for the Time Being” last summer. Which was great, by the way.

Z. ZZZ-Snatcher (last book that kept you up WAY late)
Again, Anne Jamison’s “Fic”. SO GOOD, GO READ IT.

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Blog ABCs: P through Z – The End!

Fact: updating daily is impossible. Let’s finish out this nonsense.

P is for Pink

Pink is the color my bedroom was painted when I was a wee thing. I whine and moaned and told my parents that I want a red room, but they weren’t interested. I was getting pink walls (and subsequently, a pink bed, since we had enough paint left over) whether I liked it or not.

Fast forward a good 20 years and it’s now one of my favorite colors. As a kid, I knew my favorite color. And it certainly wasn’t pink. As an adult, I hate the question; how could you make me choose?! But pink is definitely up there.

Exhibit A: A semi-bad hair day from college.

Q is for Quiet

I’m not gonna lie, I’m just trying to finish this thing. But damn do I love the quiet. Now hush and let me be.

R is for Reading

I wish I could say I’ve loved reading all of my life, and though I did spend a lot of my parents’ money on books as a child, I almost never read them. They just kind of sat on the shelf and sometimes I flipped through them, but I didn’t really read them. I don’t know what exactly I thought they were good for,  but eh. I’ve learned.

Now, reading is, in fact, my jam. I try to read at least 50 books a year, and though I’m not always successful, it’s not for lack of material. I have a stack of at least ten borrowed books on my desk. I have an iPad with five apps dedicated to ebooks. I abuse my library card. The local book exchange can’t get rid of me. I don’t want to get up and count the number of bookshelves I own, but it’s definitely more than a one bedroom apartment should have.

S is for Sailor Moon

from bishoujosenshisailormoon.com

from bishoujosenshisailormoon.com

Wow, this is kind of a big subject. Let’s start with history.

On a summer’s day in my youth, I was hanging out with my cousin in park near her home in New Jersey, when she asked me an innocuous question “Do you like Japanimation?”

I had no idea what she was talking about, but not for long. She introduced me to Toonami, an after school programming block Cartoon Network showed on weekdays in the 90s and 2000s, which was populated by shows like Dragon Ball Z, various Gundam series, and yes, Sailor Moon. I recognized SM as a show I had sometimes caught very early in the morning years before when waiting to go to school, and happily began rewatching the original series and R season. In the early 2000s, Cartoon Network bought the rights to the S and Supers seasons, and though I knew all about them from doing lots of “research” online, I watched them all anyway, immediately dropping everything when I got home from school to turn on the TV.

To say Sailor Moon was a big part of my childhood would be incorrect. Sailor Moon is a big part of my LIFE. It was one of the first times I had ever seen a show, cartoon or live action, that was almost completely populated by girls and women. Books did it sometimes, but no one really liked those – and as I mentioned, I wasn’t great at keeping up with my reading as kid. But there was Sailor Moon on Toonami along side other cool action shows, with it’s femininity front and center.

And now, 15 years later, Sailor Moon Crystal is being simulcast all over the world, and it and the original series will soon be released on DVD with a new dub for an entirely new generation of girls to find and fall in love with. I’m elated for them.

And for  me too, of course. ;)

T is for Tattoos, planned

Hi, I’m Michelle and I don’t have any tattoos. But I want them.

Junko-Full1_2-Laptop-sig

 

Above is the first tattoo I plan to get. It’s the signature of mangaka and fine artist Junko Mizuno, whom I talked about a bit in the last post. I don’t want the entire picture above, just the bunny skull and crossbones, perhaps on the inside of my forearm. I’d love if Junko herself could sign it and I could then get that tattooed on as well, but I’d like to focus on just getting the tattoo first and seeing if I want to make any alterations later.

eye tattoo

The next one has a bit of an interesting story. When I was very young, maybe in kindergarten or first grade, I found the above drawing in my backyard. It had blown in on the wind and stuck in the grass. At first I thought it was amazing, and I was surprised by the two numbers written on the paper, since I was learning something similar in math class at the time. (That would be, having two numbers and circling which one was the larger or smaller number. Very difficult stuff when you’re six.)

And after 20 years, I still think it’s pretty awesome. I may redraw it to make it look cleaner, but I think I’d still like this somewhere on my body. I’m not sure where yet, but I’ll figure it out.

I’ve always wondered if this was someone’s original design and who they were, and if it’s not original, what it might be from. Watch, it’s just from a CD cover or something. But even if it is, it’s pretty damn cool.

Those two are so far my only planned tattoos, but who knows what else I might stumble across that I want to ink permanently on my body?

U is for Undecided

I really don’t know what to put here. I want to finish this meme. Here, have an appropriate image:

IMG_1891

V is for The Victorian Era

I’m not one to romanticize the past, but if I ever had too, I think I’d probably go for the Victorian Era. Everyone was much kinkier than you’d think and they all had amazing clothing. I mean, there was also a lot of disease and other horrible stuff, but hey. Pretty dresses!

W is for Wonderland

ttl7

You know what else happened during the Victorian Era? My most favorite books ever, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass (And What Alice Found There) were published.

Anyone who knows me knows I love these books, and the many pieces of media, et al. based on them. I own a number of editions of both books, books of academic essays about them, a few movie versions, an Alice costume and plenty of memorabilia. And of course American McGee’s games. Slap something Wonderland-themed on your product and I will at least gaze longingly at it. I also know a shit-ton of trivia. Ask me anything. I probably know the answer.

X is for XD

‘XD’ is my emoticon of choice. I will use it in any and all situations, guaranteed. Yes, probably even ones it would be inappropriate for. Sorry, not sorry.

Y is for YA

I think this kind of speaks for itself. I’ve been reading a lot of Young Adult fiction for the past couple years. Feel free to read some of my reviews. Next on my list is Soman Chainani’s “The School of Good and Evil.”

Z is for Zat’s All Folks!

Yeah, I’m done. So very done.

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More Adventures in the Young Adult Lit Universe: Doll Tie-In Edition

Ah, the tie-in novel; an age old tradition usually reserved for a mass market paperback with a movie poster on the cover. In the world of toy marketing, the tie-in novel is usually produced to get parents to buy more from whatever brand their child is already obsessed with and is often, uh, terrible. Since getting into Monster High and Ever After High, and spending probably a little too much money on dolls, I knew I wanted to read the books, but couldn’t afford to drop too much more cash to do so. So I did what any self-respecting adult fan of a children’s toy line would do – I borrowed them from the library.

Spoilers ahead.

Monster High by Lisi Harrison

Monster-High-Books-2012-Pic I admit I only read the first volume of this four book series (and a couple chapters of the fourth book because I’m a big fan of Draculaura), but that was enough for me. The first book read like the author took the characters of Monster High, whittled down their personalities, and stuck them into a Gossip Girl-esque world. Compared to the charm of the webisodes and movies, it was like reading some jaded teenage sister’s attempt at showing her little sister how Monster High could be made “cool.” One thing that especially stuck out for it’s awfulness was the character of Melody Carver, who seems to exist to be a checklist for fan fiction Mary Sues: sudden transformation that made her beautiful, actually a monster born to a “normie” family that just doesn’t get her, has a beautiful singing voice that can enchant anyone who hears it & make them do what she wants, and has serious angst due to her singing voice being the one thing she can’t share with the boy she loves for reasons that are dumb. Seriously, did Harrison write Harry Potter fic back in the early 2000s? Because that is some My Immortal level character building.

(And just in case you were wondering, I don’t even have a problem with teenage girls writing Mary Sues in fan fiction. They can do whatever their little hearts desire, but I expect more from a published author.)

The one  thing I will give this series is that it zeroes in on the core message of the MH franchise, that being yourself is key, and textually acknowledges that monsters (or “RADs” at the book calls them) are feared and hated in the same way that people of color, homosexuals and other groups have been over the years. Unfortunately from what I’ve read, it looks like that’s ALL the series does, briefly talking about it and then going right back to being shallow.

Rating: No stars. Just. None.

Monster High Ghoulfriends Series by Gitty Daneshvari

61XLvT72yDL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_

The Ghoulfriends series is very different from the first Monster High series in that it takes a much more basic and familiar approach to the MH universe. Instead of trying to make the ghouls act more like stereotypical teens, this series tries to keep the innocence and charm of the webisodes and movies intact while telling a story about tertiary character Rochelle Goyle, Robecca Steam and Venus McFlytrap. The main ghouls make appearances as well, but usually acting as side characters.

I have read the first two books of this series , and while they were much easier to get through than any of the original MH series, it’s still not quite what I was looking for. I realize Mattel does not keep tight a canon with Monster High, but I felt Daneshvari’s characterizations are still a bit off, or at least unappealing. Rochelle is cute, and her obsession with rules and correction reminds me of many teenagers I’ve known (and perhaps been), but Venus and Robecca fell flat. Robecca relies heavily on the young adult literature trope of tirelessly spewing catchphrases when the author doesn’t have a voice for her. Being a recently reassembled 116 year old robot, she naturally uses dated slang like “bee’s knees,” but then goes about inventing similar sounding expressions that seem to pop out of nowhere, such as “mouse’s house.” And while this could be considered at least cute and charming, Venus, on the other hand, comes off as an annoying hippie type, getting angry at Cleo for using paper shopping bags and sneezing her “pollens of persuasion” on people when they don’t agree with her viewpoints.

I like both Venus and Robecca, but I don’t feel like they need to be featured so heavily in these books. If I had the chance to do something with the series, I would love to see perhaps Skelita and Jinafire step into their places, becoming Rochelle’s roommates after the events of the Scaris movie. Skelita and Jin do play a small part in Ghoulfriends, but they are largely ignored by other MH canon, and I feel fleshing them out in a series like this would be a big improvement upon their state as one-note cultural placeholders. I like them both a lot, and I felt their characters were poured from the molds of “Mexican monster character” and “Chinese monster character” when developed for Scaris and have yet to develop personalities that differentiate them from just their cultural identities. Making them two of the three main characters of series like this would flesh them out beyond “Mexican skeleton with a sugar skull for a head” and what basically boils down to the fact that the design team created a stereotypical dragon lady. (Which honestly blows my mind, like – how did that get past marketing???)

But I digress. Two big saving graces of this series are the beautiful cover & chapter art and the story’s original characters. The drawings are numerous and done in a sketchy pen and ink style that stays true to the original character designs and makes the covers very attractive. The original characters, unlike Melody Carver of the first MH series, are actually interesting and engaging, and fit in well with the universe and it’s style: Cy Clops, a shy, one-eyed monster with a crush on Robecca; Ms. Sue Nami, a waterlogged disciplinarian who refers to the students as “non-adult entities”; and Ms. Slyphia Flapper, a dragon, new teacher, and the main antagonist of the series. Just from their punny names alone I love how well they fit into the universe and have so far been a lot of fun to follow and watch interact with the main trio.

I will probably finish this series, as it only took me a couple hours to read each book, but I’m not assuming the story will get any more engaging or the characters any more rounded. Cute and charming, not unlike the webisodes, but still leave something to be desired.

Rating: ★★★☆☆

Ever After High: #1 The Storybook of Legends & #2 The Unfairest of Them All by Shannon Hale

eah

It’s hard not coming off as biased, but I LOVE these books! I think I can chalk my love of the Ever After High story to Mattel’s tight canon bible as well as Hale’s (h)excellent writing. I definitely got the impression from both books that they are what’s really going on behind the doll line, a mature, but still sweet and charming take on the Ever After High universe with wonderful characterization, great plots, and well-written prose. These books really round out the characters we’ve so far only seen in webisodes and make the universe seem all that much more alive and thriving.

I’ve talked a bit on my Twitter about my love for EAH, with it’s many layers of meta text, focus on choice and choosing your own path in life (but remembering the consequences), and message of living the life you want, free of expectations of others, especially peers and parents. I could talk endlessly about the world building, the meta, and the excellent messages it has for kids and adults alike, but then we’d be here all day.

The series itself is well written and Mattel did itself a great favor in picking Hale to write it. She clearly understands the conceit of the series and writes the characters so well that they are all sympathetic and interesting. Apple White, a hated character among webisode-only fans, really shines, getting her message through and actually making me question my very rebellious leanings. And while the books don’t follow the canon of the webisodes to a T, or vice versa, they parallel and compliment each other nicely.

I have literally nothing bad to say about this series and I really hope Hale is able to write it until it’s inevitable “The End.”

Rating: ★★★★★

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YA Lit: Year One

That title makes this entry sound badass, like the origin story of a comic book character. But really, this post is just about the other handful of YA books I read last year and haven’t yet talked about, in the vein of this post.

9779094This Dark Endeavor (The Apprenticeship of Victor Frankenstein #1) by Kenneth Oppel
I hate to say it, but I couldn’t really find anything I liked about this book. It didn’t seem to know what it wanted to be, but here are a few things it tried to be: the origin story of Doctor Frankenstein from the novel Frankenstein; a romance novel/paranormal romance/love triangle Twilight-esque thing between twin brothers and their cousin; an adventures novel with a lot of really confusing descriptions of said adventure; and smart, which it wasn’t. Burn? I don’t know, this just didn’t do it for me. As I read, I kept waiting for it to get more interesting, but it mostly just read as a bastardization of the original Frankenstein story. Which it was. Many YA novels based on classic works of literature are prone to this problem, but this was especially bad. [GoodReads]

Rating: ★☆☆☆☆

10369932The Eleventh Plague by Jeff Hirsch
I may just be biased, but I really can’t get into YA novels with male narrators. Nine out of ten times, I just won’t be interested from the get-go, and this book was no exception. I was really hoping for some zombie carnage to see if that would save it, but no, this was mainly a survival story. The writing was solid though, and I will give the author props for making the “minority” of this story an actual minority, not just some white guy with like, mutant powers or a weird disease. The world and it’s post-apocalyptic problems were also very realistic, but I just wasn’t into it. If you’re a fan of adventure/survival, this may be for you, but it just didn’t do it for me. [GoodReads]

Rating: ★★☆☆☆

13316306Invisible World by Suzanne Weyn
This book is a hybrid as far as historical significance is concerned, because not only is it about the Salem Witch Trials, it’s also a story about slavery, which I loved. So many novels, especially of the YA variety, will focus on one significant historical event while ignoring anything else happening during the same time period. Although clearly a fictionalized version, where witches actually exist, some good and some evil, it depicted the period well and fairly accurately.

That said, it read much like a YA novel from before the recent boom – a standalone book with a meandering plot that focused less on the paranormal elements and more on the inner feelings of the main character. Though this is not necessarily a bad thing, it wasn’t really what I was looking to read when I started on this adventure. I give major props to the author for being daring with historical integration, though. Very few YA novels set in this time would bother trying to tie in a slavery subplot, and Weyn does it very well, making it significant but not preachy. [GoodReads]

Rating: ★★★☆☆

12188615Ten Miles Past Normal by Frances O’Roark Dowell

I have to wonder just how many American kids spend their teenage years living on farms after their parents decide on a whim to relocate them in an attempt to… I don’t know, ride out a mid-life crisis? Anyway, I see this as a plot in books quite often: “How can I make my main character weird in a way that doesn’t actually make them weird, but might get them teased and would definitely make them hate their parents? I know, I’ll have them go from living in the city to living on a farm! Genius!” Really, you could replace farm with just about any place that isn’t the sort of place a teenager would want to live and it would still work. What I’m saying is, it isn’t a terribly original plot device. But it wouldn’t be a plot device then, would it?

The book itself is well written, but like The Invisible World, it reads like  a pre-boom novel with a meandering plot and a teenage protagonist whose only worries are smelling like cow pies and having a flaky best friend. Not that every YA book needs heavy (or any) supernatural or romance plot lines to carry it, but it was again just not what I was looking for. And it was cute, but it could definitely have been better. [GoodReads]

Rating: ★★★☆☆

13602234Scarlet (The Lunar Chronicle #2) by Marissa Meyer
Oh gee golly gosh am I glad about how quickly Meyer gets these books out. Only a few scant weeks until book three is released! End preemptive squeeing.

Scarlet is the second book in The Lunar Chronicles series and introduces quite a few new characters. Cinder remains, and spends much of her time running from the law in this novel, while Meyer introduces the second girl in the “team,” Scarlet. Scarlet is a French girl whose grandmother has gone missing. When her absentee father suddenly returns, she knows something is up, and partners with a prize fighter named Wolf to find her.

Though I think Cinder spent a little too much time on the lam without much to show for it (except a new partner in crime and Iko’s transformation from robot to ship), meeting Scarlet and seeing what Queen Levana is truly up to was definitely worth it. It actually took me a while to finish this book because I was reading an ebook version on my iPod. Yeah, my iPod. That’s how desperately I wanted to read it, but the eye strain kept getting to me. I persevered and finished, but for the next one in the series I think I’ll just get a print copy. [GoodReads]

Rating: ★★★★☆

5530930Geektastic: Stories from the Nerd Herd by Holly Black & Cecil Castellucci, et al.
WOW, did I have a hard time with this book. Short stories collections are great, because it basically gives you allowance to jump around a book without consequence, but this one was a goddamn nightmare. For every good story, there was a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad one. And who they were by would surprise you. (Maybe.)

It is now apparently a trend to make your geeky protagonist a middle-to-high-school aged girl with a single quirk that makes her “geeky”, give her a BAOF (“best and only friend,” a term actually used in one of the stories), and then pit her against a popular girl, or have her have a hopeless crush – or worse, both. The stories in the collection that boil down to this were clearly phoned in, and it shows. But let’s not dwell.

Some stories that were really amazing were the following: Black & Castellucci’s “Once You’re a Jedi, You’re a Jedi all the Way”, a Romeo & Juliet/West Side Story-esque tale about Klingon and Jedi cosplayers who meet at a con and fall in love, is hilarious and cute. Tracy Lynn’s “One of a Us”, about a group of geeks who teach a cheerleader how to be, well, one of them, is incredibly sweet and heartwarming, as well as great commentary on geeks and geek culture. M.T. Anderson’s “The King of Pelinesse” is melancholy and smart, a take on the pulp novels of the mid-20th century. And Wendy Mass’ “The Stars at the Finish Line” is a cute romance that was actually believable and fun to watch unfold.

And I may have embellished a little. Many of the stories were very good. I’d say maybe only a third were utter trash. But in the words of LeVar Burton, don’t take my word for it. [GoodReads]

Rating: ★★★☆☆

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This Post Contains a Lot of Spoilers

2013 is my year for reading Young Adult literature, and so far, so good. I may have cheated a little and read a few in late 2012, but I was eager to get started. Here’s what I’ve read so far:

11870085The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
I figured if I was going to start anywhere, I might as well see what the big fuss was about with John Green. I’m a fan of him and his brother, Hank, and their various YouTube channels (though, if I’m being honest, I have to say I like John’s videos better), so I figured why not give his books a try? I pretty much automatically went with “The Fault in Out Stars,” since it’s his latest and most famous work. The book was good, and Green writes teenage girls pretty well. I like that he treated her as a person rather than just a “girl character”. Considering I’ve heard all of his protagonists have thus far been male, and all of their love interests manic pixie dream girl types, I was delighted to find how much I liked Hazel.

Overall, I found it a sweet, sad and enjoyable book, though I noticed a lot of John Green’s characters sound just like John Green. A lot of the time, I read their dialogue in his voice. Thank God Hazel never really said “And then I took off my bra.” I also didn’t cry, but it might have more to do with the fact that I’m a heartless bastard then anything.

Rating: ★★★☆☆

11235712Cinder by Marissa Meyer
I’d been wanting to read this since I heard about it, as I first saw it at Books Inc. being recommend with the phrase “Blade Runner meets Sailor Moon”. And if you know me at all, I love anything and everything that has to do with Sailor Moon.

The book itself was an EXTREMELY fun read. I love the characters, the fast pace, the funny dialogue and the world Meyer built in New Beijing. Cinder herself was smart and resourceful, and I love that in a YA heroine. I also love the trope subversion of “the girl does not think she’s beautiful until someone else (usually a guy) points it out”. Cinder is (SPOILERS) Lunar, so she is able to use a glamour to make herself look differently, which is something she didn’t know until a scientist told her. Anyway, it amuses me.

I was really impressed by this book, and also downloaded the shorts stories “Glitches” and “The Queens Army” from iBooks. I had no idea it was such a trend to write short stories to tie series books together, but apparently it’s then norm in YA books these days. The second book in the series, “Scarlet” is out now, and I can’t wait to get my hands on it!

Rating: ★★★★☆

7137327Enclave by Ann Aguire
I found this book a little duller than the other two on this list so far, but I really liked the world in which it was set. In fact, the two short stories that accompany this book “Foundation” and “Endurance,” the first being about the how the underground enclaves came to be, and the second about the main character’s best friends and their escape from their enclave, were a lot more interesting to me. Post-apocalyptic stories are some of my favorites, and I always love to read about different versions of how people will think the world may “end”. I was just sad to find the characters that live within the world kind of boring. My favorite parts were definitely before they left the enclave, and everything after that seemed kind of slow and meh. Also, the character of Stalker especially bothers me, since he and the main character, Deuce, have a dubious relationship. Considering his original plan for her was (trigger warning: rape – highlight to read) most likely a gang rape, I am not happy that he joined the “hero’s party,” as I tend to call it.

I will give the second book a try,  but I am not in love with the main cast. It’s a little disappointing since I liked the short stories so much. I hope the characters receive more development in the later books and become more interesting and likable.

Rating: ★★☆☆☆

12000129What the Dog Said by Randi Reisfeld
I was surprised to see Randi Reisfeld’s name on the cover of this book, as I recognized it from the novelizations of the television show “Sabrina the Teenage Witch” I used to read when I was a kid. It’s interesting to see she’s doing original writing and now, and was also responsible for the book series T*Witches (along with H.B. Gilmour, to whom “What the Dog Said” is dedicated), which I remember being turned into a Disney Channel movie starring Tia and Tamara Mowry from “Sister, Sister”. I’m having flashbacks to the 90s, guys.

“What the Dog Said” is a cute book about a girl who starts hearing her sister’s dog talk. I thought the summary sounded a little like a Disney Channel movie, as it seemed like it would appeal to a younger audience than YA readers, but what do I know about them? Though I thought the narrative dragged in place, I liked Grace, enjoyed her story and even related to her. She’s depressed due to her father’s death, and when she gets stuck with training the service dog her sister brings home, it was encouraging to watch her pull herself out of her muck and learn to feel better again. And I may also have a soft spot for goofy dogs.

Overall, a cute book, and though it might be a little on the young side for me, it was a good story with a good message. I hope it encourages a couple of kids who read it to think about training a service dog, or to at least adopt one from a shelter if they can.

Rating: ★★★☆☆

12358349Ruby Red by Kerstin Gier
I’ve already written a short review for this on GoodReads, so I think I’ll just copy and paste it. ;)

I was very surprised by Ruby Red. First, whoever wrote the jacket description should be fired. It does not reflect the good, solid writing contained within, nor does it do it justice. The book is well-written, funny and charming, which is exactly how I like my YA novels. If you have to spend an entire book (or three) in someone’s head, they had better be entertaining. The other thing that surprised me about the novel was that I actually cared about the main couple, which is not something I tend to do with YA books. Often the romance seems forced or unimportant to the overall plot, but Gwen and Gideon’s relationship seemed very natural, and the author didn’t leave you wondering about it. She tells you within the first half of the first novel they’re a thing, and, unusually for me, I wanted to find out how it happened! Time travel is tricksy that way. Not to mention, the time travel aspect thus far well done, too. It’s not easy keeping track of complicated timey-wimey rules, but Gier manages it. I’m just hoping the next installments shed some light on the mysteries and don’t leave too much unsolved, but suffice to say I will definitely be reading them.

Rating: ★★★★☆

And that’s all so far! I’ve got a few more on my current list, including the second books in the “Cinder” and “Ruby Red” series. I’m currently reading “This Dark Endeavor” by Kenneth Oppel, about the twin brothers Frankenstein, and I also have “The Eleventh Place” by Jeff Hirsh and “Invisible World” by Suzanne Weyn waiting – courtesy of my mother-in-law who teaches seventh grade English and knows about all the good YA books. (I actually read everything on this list except “Cinder” and “The Fault in Our Stars” on her recommendation!)

Does anyone else see a trend here, by the way? Every YA book I’ve read so far has been narrated by teenage girls. And it’s kind of great. A lot of YA books I read in the past and disliked (“The Perks of being a Wallflower” by Stephan Chobsky, “Hairstyles of the Damned” by Joe Meno, “Playing with Matches” by Brian Katcher, “Miss Peregine’s Homes for Peculiar Children” by Ransom Riggs, etc.) all had male narrators. I’m not saying men/male narrators automatically make for bad YA books (I didn’t like the way “The Hunger Games” was written, and Cory Doctorow’s “Little Brother” is one of my favorite YA books), but I think I was just reading the wrong stuff. How sad that it put me off the genre so long!

How about you guys? Read any good YA lately? Have anything to recommend? I’m all ears!

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Lloyd Alexander’s “The Chronicles of Prydain”

This post contains spoilers if you’ve never read the series.

Lloyd Alexander’s “The Chronicles of Prydain” is a fantasy series of five books and one short story collection about a magic world not unlike Wales. Or anyway, the names are all Welsh, and the stories are based on Welsh legend and that’s really all the evidence I have. But that’s not what I’m here to talk about.

The five books chronicle the adventures of Taran, Assistant Pig-Keeper, who instead of caring for an oracular pig (you read that right), wants to become a hero. He does this by getting a sword, meeting a lot of royal and powerful people and passing out whenever there’s danger, so as not to get caught in the middle of it and die before achieving his dream. The short story collection is about side, secondary and tertiary characters, as well as a lot more interesting.

It took me from March to July to get through all six books, which is very unusual for me, as I love to read and I read quickly. But when I’m not enjoying a book, I can’t help but ignore it when I have free time. The Chronicles of Prydain were, sadly, those kinds of books.

I originally became interested in the series when I saw an (even more heavily) edited version of Disney’s “The Black Cauldron” on TV. I thought it was a very dark, interesting universe, I liked the character designs and the voice acting and I liked the idea that it probably would have scared me as a child. I collected the 6 books soon afterwards, but didn’t get around to reading them until recently, as I was furiously trying to finish/get rid of books before the move.

The Chronicles kind of stymied me in this quest, as reading them became a chore. For a fictional universe, the speech was strangely proper and stiff. The only character I enjoyed reading the dialogue of was Princess Eilonwy, but that was only because she was hilarious. Other characters, such as Taran, spoke much too formally for my taste, and I couldn’t see a kid enjoying his speech patterns. Many of the other characters spoke repetitively. Fflewdur Fflam, a traveling bard/king, always lied and spouted invented phrases like “Great Belin!” Another character, the fair folk dwarf Doli grumbled a lot and complained about being depended on, using the phrase “Good old Doli!” one too many times. Gurgi, a hairy and possibly non-human character, always spoke in rhyme, saying things such as “crunchings and munchings” and “beatings and pleadings.”

Another problem was with the story structure in general. In the first few novels, Taran would often pass out at important moments, and he and the reader would only find out about the daring events that took place after he woke up. Alexander finally gave that up by book four, but he still found ways to shorten the action. In the fifth book, after chapters of traveling and no action, Taran defeats the big bad, Arawn Death Lord, in two sentences. This character has been talked about since the beginning of the series. His horrible deeds are always mentioned and he’s blamed for everything that’s gone bad in Prydain. Understandably, having a name like “Death Lord” probably makes you a bad guy, but the readers never get to meet him! He never speaks, and in the final confrontation, when he is defeated, Alexander writes “Arawn Death Lord vanished.” Vanished? I was sure he had just disappeared in a puff of smoke after reading that line, and that he would be back to terrorize our group of motley heroes! But, not so. That line is Awarn’s only death rattle.

The ending of the fifth book also bothered me in other ways, as I wrote to my friend on Goodreads:

It was nice that Eilonwy and Taran stayed together, but I was kind of surprised they didn’t go to the Summer Lands/metaphorical heaven with everyone else. Sure, Taran felt all weird about not keeping his promises, but I think Prydain would have made it on its own. I was never really convinced by their relationship anyway, and that Eilonwy gave up her magic to stay with Taran was kind of annoying. But I guess that’s generic happy ending fair, so I shouldn’t complain. I just wished there was more substance to the series in general.

I like YA literature, but I feel this series was seriously lacking in the depth department. Not in the same way, say, Twilight does, but the story just felt hollow. Taran wanted to be a hero, he faced great challenges, but then he did become a hero and a king. The other characters didn’t grow at all, and while the reader may have learned new things about them along the way, they didn’t change or grow. Emotions weren’t shown, but told, which is one of the reasons I never bought Taran and Eilonwy’s relationship; Alexander was forever telling us about Taran’s feelings for her rather than showing them. Eilonwy remained static as a character, and so her personality and regard for Taran never changed. It was hard to buy such a romance.

Not that I’m knocking the series completely. I think it would be very entertaining for younger readers and anyone who is really into the fantasy genre. But for as me, it was really hard to finish. I am actually surprised I managed to finish the entire series. The books just weren’t for me, but I wholeheartedly recommend the movie.

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