Saturday, June 30, 2012

Book Review: Dust Girl by Sarah Zettel

Book: Dust Girl
Author: Sarah Zettel
Published: June 26, 2012
Source: Review copy from publisher, via NetGalley

It's not easy being half-black and half-white, or living in a dying little Kansas town during the Dust Bowl, or watching your mother's ludicrous faith that your father will return, when you've never seen him in all your thirteen years. But somehow Callie's doing all of that. And life isn't about to get any easier, because she's just discovered that her father was not only a black man, but a fairy as well, prince of the Midnight People. And as the princess and last heir to the throne, she's the top of everyone's list . . . and not in a good way.

But Callie's got weapons she never dreamed of, and if she masters them fast, she may just make it out alive. Callie's got to find her mother, she's got to find her father. But before all of that, she's got to find herself.

I've been hearing good things about this book. The premise intrigued me. A story set in Depression era America, woven together with Americanized fairy lore? Possible mashup heaven. Then I read it and oh yeah, definite mashup heaven. From the moment Callie realizes that the strange new guests at her mama's hotel are really giant locusts in disguise to the moment that the long black train pulls up on a Kansas City sidewalk, this was a wild and wonderful ride.

But what really knocks this book out of the park for me is the way that history and fairy lore weave together. For every wish granted, for every mythical monster that strolls on the stage, there's something equally strange but true to anchor it. Callie's first attempt at magic calls forth a huge dust storm. They get caught in the middle of a rabbit drive, trying to escape from a murderous zombie. The climax of the novel is set during a dance marathon, (with the band led by none other than Count Basie). The effect is that for everything that human beings have dreamed up, human reality has produced something stranger.

Wild and weird, rich and textured, this is a freaking amazing book. And I want more.

Music, particularly the folk music of the Depression, plays an enormously important role in this novel. So here's a treat for you:

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Book Review: Froi of the Exiles by Melina Marchetta

Book: Froi of the Exiles
Author: Melina Marchetta
Published: 2012
Source: Local Library

Froi would do anything for his queen, so when she asks him to travel to nearby Charyn and assassinate their king, he agrees without a second thought. But it's not going to be as easy as slipping in with a dagger in the dead of night. Froi has to pose as a young nobleman who's come to the palace to impregnate the princess, the last in a long string of unsuccessful attempts. Only when she's conceived a child will the curse of infertility that's lain on the country for eighteen years be broken.

Froi finds himself drawn into this drama, because the princess is irresistible. Oh, not for her beauty or her charm, because she has neither, but her ferocity, her secrets, and her strength under an unbearable situation. As Froi fights his way through the thickets of schemes and danger in the Charynite palace, every answer just seems to lead to more questrions. How did the curse come about? Why is the princess's mother locked away? Who exactly is Gargarin, his prickly companion?

And most importantly, what does Froi himself have to do with it all?

This was a behemoth of a book, weighing in at nearly 600 pages, and not light ones either. It's a complex tapestry of a novel, with multiple plotlines, secrets, and schemes to follow. I stuck with it for the characters. Froi, impulsive, hot-tempered, and unexpectedly sweet. Quintana, both damaged and powerful in ways that keep being discovered. Gargarin, Arjuro, Lirah, the older generation who are inextricably entwined in Charyn's curse.

It's also an examination of love, family, politics, and power, and how they're forever intertwined. Each is affected by the other, and very often in ways you can't predict.
While Froi's story is the central plot, there are two threads back at home in Lumatere that didn't work quite as well for me. As individual stories, yes, but I couldn't work out until near the end what they had to do with Charyn or the central plot, and I suspect that I'll have to wait for the third book, Quintana of Charyn, to really understand all the ins and outs.

I'd shelve this next to the Attolia series for the complexity of politics, the fate of countries and the fate of individual hearts.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Book Review: What Happened to Goodbye by Sarah Dessen

Book: What Happened to Goodbye
Author: Sarah Dessen
Published: 2012
Source: Local Library

Thanks to her dad's job, Mclean Sweet has lived in four towns in two years, and in each town she's reinvented herself, even down to her name--always a version of her middle name, Elizabeth. School spirit girl, drama queen, prepster. It's easier that way. She can be a type, not a real person, and when she has to leave, she's not leaving friends, only acquaintances.

But the newest town, Lakeview, is defeating all her attempts to hold it at a distance. Although she had a name and an identity all picked out, everyone somehow meets Mclean instead. Now comes the real question . . . can she let anybody get close enough to discover all her flaws? And what will she do when it comes time to leave again?

Sarah Dessen is one of those dependable authors. You pretty much know that you're getting a book about a girl wrestling with her identity and with her choices, and very often with her parents. There will be a varied (though Dessen usually stops short of full-on-wacky) group of friends, a lively and character-filled workplace, and a smart, cute boy, all of which prompt and aid her development. In this one, there was a theme of the difficulty of loving somebody in a way that could encompass their mistakes, but that was strongest in the scenes between Mclean and her mother.

Although it hit all the usual marks, I feel like this book never really came together for me. The different threads somehow didn't mesh.  Maybe it's because I never felt as if I got to know anybody except Mclean and maybe her mom. Everybody else, like Mclean's former identities, was a type. It's all right, but I wouldn't call it this author's best.

Monday, June 11, 2012

48HBC: Finish Line!

I'm writing this very late at night, but scheduling it to post at 6:30 am, the time that I started this bloggy adventure two days ago. So here are the totals:

Reading: 24:03:35
Blogging (including this post): 4:54:10
Socializing (Twitter, FB, other blogs): 1:57:35

Grand Total: 30:55:20

Yes, there are seconds on there. I use a stopwatch system, because estimation makes me twitch a little bit.

This is more than I've ever hit before, which is just awe-inspiring. More so when you consider that I had to work for a few hours Saturday morning.

Total: 10 plus one audiobook
Longest time spent reading: Froi of the Exiles by Melina Marchetta
Shortest: Darth Paper Strikes Back by Tom Angleberger

Giving Back
I pledged $10 per finished book to RIF, so that's $100 right there. Also, $1 per comment, though I won't count it up for a couple of days, so feel free to leave comments anywhere.

I've been thinking that I'm not reading as fast or as much as I used to, but this weekend showed me that it's because other things are taking up my time and energy. Not that it's a bad thing. You have to have balance, after all. But it is nice to just hunker down and read down your stack. '

Next year I don't think I'll pair two long books back-to-back. While Leverage and Froi of the Exiles were separated by a night of sleep, it was still a considerable energy drain.

This was my first year writing up capsule reviews. I still wrote full-length ones, but I'm saving them to schedule on my blog. I found it interesting to pick out just one or two lines that distilled my reaction to the book, and I also really like the idea that there are reviews ready to go for a couple of the busiest months of my year. You guys will have to let me know how it worked for you.

I always enjoy this. There's something about doing something so crazy along with a bunch of other people who are also blogging and tweeting and sharing about it. Thanks again for another great year, MotherReader!

48HBC Audiobook: The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Book: The Hunger Games
Author: Suzanne Collins
Reader: Carolyn McCormick
Published: 2008
Source: Local Library

Time: 4:18:34

We were allowed to pick one audiobook as part of our 48HBC reading, so this is what I picked. I haven't read it since it first came out, and what with all the hoopla about the movie, I thought I'd go back and see what I thought. I started it this weekend, listened to it about one-third of the way through (while driving, cooking, knitting, etc) and stopped it just before the Games themselves started.

From a technical standpoint, this isn't the best-written book ever. Collins' prose can be downright clunky and infodumpy, with frequent diversions into flashbacks while big things are going on in the present. I wasn't a fan of McCormick's voices either (though she did do a killer Effie). The power of the book comes from two things: the sheer horror of the premise, and Katniss herself.

After so much exposure to the premise, from having read the book first and then the movie hype, you'd think I'd be used to it by now, but oh God. I'm so not. Children killing each other, and their families being forced not only to watch but also to treat it as entertainment? It's the nausea that keeps on giving. Every time I think I'm hardened to it, I run across something else that makes me goggle in horror. Mostly, this comes from the disconnect between the Capitol dwellers and the district Tributes, particularly those like Effie Trinket, Caesar Flickerman, and Katniss's design team, who make their living from these games. They see these kids year after year, up close and personal as they shine them up for the unforgiving eye of the camera, then see them die, and the next year they do it all over again. The next year they are able to do it all over again. That's a special kind of soullessness.

I've heard people complain about Katniss. She's self-involved, off-putting in her determined self-sufficiency. She doesn't change, doesn't grow. In fact, I think she's so complex to start with that a fair amount of the book is taken up with simply getting to know her, even though we're in her head.

Everyone tries to make her into something, with limited success. My favorite example of this is when Haymitch is trying to prep her for her interview, trying on different personae like coats, and finally gives up in disgust. When she's told to be honest, her interview is a semi-successful blend of sparkling girl and ferocious warrior, but in truth she's not wholly either.

She tries to be hard and uncaring. In fact, when I was listening to the first chapter, I was amazed at how brittle she came across. But then you see the flashes of the girl underneath, the tender heart protected by a thick hedge of thorns. Katniss is as tough as she is on the outside because she's so vulnerable underneath. Perhaps due to her awareness of this, she reacts with fury and horror at any suggestion that she might be weak or in need of help (in fact, at the suggestion that she might have any stereotypically feminine traits, which is probably a subject for an entire Gender Studies thesis).

As a revolutionary, Katniss is a total disaster. She doesn't care about changing the world. She's worried about staying in it. It's other people that ignite her sense of the tremendous unfairness of it all. Or more accurately, her sense that something can be done, because she's known from the start that the world is unfair. As it happens, it's Gale and Peeta who jointly effect this change. Don't tell the "teams," but these two boys are far more similar, both as individual characters and in their relationships with Katniss, then they'd like to admit.

No, she's not a comfortable person to spend an entire book with. In fact, there are times when she's downright smackable. But whether she's being tough or impulsive or sad or nasty or simply shooting herself in the foot, she's definitely interesting, and definitely someone you want to spend a book with, comfortable or not.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

48HBC Book Ten: The Hidden Gallery by Maryrose Wood

Time: 1:29:21
Source: Local Library

My last print book for the evening. I'm crashing hard, and I'm quite content with the amount that I've read.

Capsule review: "Wood retains the madcap feel of the first book, and adds a few sparse crumbs to the great mystery of the Incorrigible children."

Now I'll listen to my audiobook for awhile and try to write something about that before I go to bed. Or possibly in the morning.

48HBC Book Nine: Prom and Prejudice by Elizabeth Eulberg

Time: 0:58:30
Source: Local Library

I'm getting to the point in this challenge where I want light and easy books. This one fit the bill nicely.

Capsule review: "Pride and Prejudice is my all-time favorite book in the universe, so anytime I see a retelling, I'm compelled to pick it up. It's always fun to see how plot points and characters get morphed into a different setting. This one was enjoyable, if a little clunky in spots. . . . But it was an entertaining way to spend an hour."

48HBC Book Eight: Beauty Queens by Libba Bray

Time: 3:12:16
Source: Local Library

This one actually took longer than I thought it would. Not sure if I'm getting tired or there was just a lot more to it than I was expecting. Probably both.

Capsule Review: "If you're a plot person, don't read this. If you're into strict realism, don't read this. But if you love wicked satire with just enough silliness to keep you laughing, feminism with some teeth, stories about love and friendship and identity and courage . . .Well, this is the book for you."

48HBC Book Seven: Darth Paper Strikes Back by Tom Angleberger

Time: 0:36:24
Source: Local Library

After the marathon that was Froi of the Exiles, this quick and light-hearted read was just what I needed.

Capsule Review: "The great charm of these novels is that they're not about Star Wars at all, but about the thorny social interactions of tweens, wobbling on the threshold of teenagerhood."

48HBC Book Six: Froi of the Exiles by Melina Marchetta

Time: 4:26:09
Source: Local Library

Wow. I saved this one for this morning, when I had a little more energy. Smart move. Compared with some of the others on my stack, this was a marathon all by itself.

Capsule Review: "This was a behemoth of a book, weighing in at nearly 600 pages, and not light ones either. It's a complex tapestry of a novel, with multiple plotlines, secrets, and schemes to follow. I stuck with it for the characters. Froi, impulsive, hot-tempered, and unexpectedly sweet. Quintana, both damaged and powerful in ways that keep being discovered."

I'm definitely going for a very quick and easy read next.

48HBC Book Five: Leverage by Joshua Cohen

Time: 2:37:03
Source: Local Library

Oof. Last full book for the night. I may read a few pages of another one before I fall asleep, but definitely not a whole book. I think my review's probably a little incoherent too. Good thing you're only seeing the . . .

Capsule review: "At one point, I had to set the book down and go do other things for awhile. Not during the rape, as you might think, but shortly afterward . . . You get a glimpse into how these narcissistic young men have come to believe that they can do whatever they want without consequences, because the adults in their life have taught them that athletic prowess equals moral superiority, which equals untouchability."

Saturday, June 09, 2012

48HBC Book Four: Dust Girl by Sarah Zettel

Time: 1:45:21
Source: Review copy from publisher via NetGalley

My fourth book, and I'm on a definite fantasy kick.

Capsule review: "But what really knocks this book out of the park for me is the way that history and fairy lore weave together. For every wish granted, for every mythical monster that strolls on the stage, there's something equally strange but true to anchor it. . . . Wild and weird, rich and textured, this is a freaking amazing book. And I want more."

However, Joshua Cohen's Leverage may be calling my name . . . 

48-HBC Book Three: Princess of Glass by Jessica Day George

Time: 1:30:59
Source: Local Library

Continuing on with my retold-fairy-tales theme from A Tale Dark & Grimm, I picked up this one, which I've been waiting to read for awhile.

Capsule Review: "This is a book that so easily could have had the wrong heroine. I spent a great deal of it going, 'Oh for Crissakes, Eleanora, grow up.' Though she is the Cinderella in this story, she's also whiny, self-pitying, and tends to depend on others to rescue her. It's our good luck that our heroine is Poppy, who is practical, capable, and brave."

I'm going to take a short knitting break (there was knitting all over this story!) and listen to some of my audiobook before picking up my next print book.

48HBC Book Two: A Tale Dark & Grimm by Adam Gidwitz

Time: 0:46:22
Source: Local Library

I needed something fast and entertaining and totally different, so I picked up this book, which is pretty famous for its gore content. It fit the bill.

Capsule Review: "In this sometimes funny, sometimes sad, sometimes scary, often gruesome, and always marvellously entertaining book, Gidwitz has stitched together some of the Brothers Grimm's most bloody tales. . . . I think kids will eat up this fast, gruesome ride, and come out of it with a new desire for the fairy tales that they've always encountered in their sanitized versions before."

48HBC Book One: What Happened to Goodbye by Sarah Dessen

Time: 2:22:36
Source: Local Library, downloaded onto my Nook

My first 48-HBC book! I started it before work this morning, stopped about an hour in to go earn some of my paycheck, and finished it when I came back.

Capsule review, snipped from the full-length review that I just wrote to be posted later this summer: "Although it hit all the usual marks, I feel like this book never really came together for me. The different threads somehow didn't mesh."

Now a brief blog-socializing break, and then on to my next book.

48HBC: Kickoff!

Yay! I'm starting my 48-Hour Book Challenge right now, 6:30 Saturday morning, and going through 6:30 Monday morning. I have to work three hours today, but the rest of the weekend will be devoted to the bookshelf you see in the picture below. I've spent the last three weeks pulling together books that make me go "Eeek!" with excitement. There are 20 from my library, 5 that were either purchased or swapped, and 7 electronic ARCs from  (The little stickers you see are my way of keeping track of electronic books in my TBR shelf. I'm analog like that. Some might argue you could leave off the -og in that word. Some might be right.)

Unlike prior years, I'll only be posting time updates and capsule reviews. I'll write real reviews and save them to post later on in the summer, when my blog usually stagnates because my brain is so full of Summer Reading Program that it leaks out my ears. If you want to read my reviews, click on the 48-Hour-Book-Challenge tag at the bottom of the review, or even that link there. (See what I did? I'm smart! S-M-R-T!)

I'll also be tweeting madly from my @mosylu Twitter handle and dropping in on other blogs also doing the 48-HBC, which is possibly the most fun part of this weekend. No, the most fun is getting the excuse to drop everything and read for 48 hours without guilt. But the community building is a pretty close second.

For every book I finish, I'll donate ten dollars to Reading is Fundamental, which is the offiicial charity of this year's 48-HBC. For every comment left on any one of my posts, including this one, I'll be donating a dollar.

My first book will be What Happened to Goodbye by Sarah Dessen. My audiobook for the weekend, which will be my reading while I'm driving, cooking, or taking a knitting break, will be Suzanne Collins' The Hunger Games, which I haven't read since before it came out. It'll be interesting to hear the source material since the movie and all the hype and hoopla.

Are you joining us in this crazy weekend? Or just cheering us on?

Friday, June 01, 2012

Reading Roundup: May 2012

By the Numbers
Teen: 15
Tween: 10
Children: 5

Review Copies: 7
Swapped: 1
Purchased: 2
Library: 17

Teen: Mistwood by Leah Cypess
I kept this on my list because there were some comparisons to Meghan Whalen "Creator of Eugenides" Turner, but secretly I was wondering how it would be. I think the comparisons were warranted. While some secondary characters weren't very strong, this is definitely in the same vein of complex political machinations and multi-layered inner life of the mysterious protagonist.
Tween: Julia Gillian and the Dream of the Dog by Alison McGhee
This last book in the Julia Gillian trilogy is all about what we knew would happen from the first book. To put it succinctly, yes, the dog dies, and serious, sensitive Julia Gillian has to handle it as best she can. Well, really, what did you think would happen? Sniff.
Children: Alvin Ho: Allergic to Dead Bodies, Funerals, and Other Fatal Circumstances by Lenore Look, illustrated by LeUyen Pham
Of all the things to fear, this is the biggie: death, and Alvin Ho handles it in his inimitable fashion. He's still an unabashed scaredy-cat, but he's starting to handle it now, learning that being afraid doesn't mean he shouldn't face things. He's also getting into some more stereotypically second-grade trouble, although mostly because he's too shy to open his mouth and correct misconceptions.

Because I Want To Awards
Was Most Surprised to Like: Lies Beneath by Anne Greenwood Brown
Okay, y'all . . . homicidal mermaids. So many ways this could have been bad. Instead, it was surprisingly good. Although I would have liked to had Calder in his merman guise on the cover, instead of Generic Girl Mermaid.
Most Challenging: Love You Two by Maria Pallotta Chiarolli
Also known as the polyamorous-mom book. Because I have very strong feelings about monogamy in marriage, I was squarely in the protagonist's camp at the beginning of the book, not a comfortable place to be really. The happy-sweet-we-love-and-accept-everybody-no-really-everybody message started to be a bit much near the 3/4 mark, but I still think it's well worth reading for the reminder that love comes into our lives in all forms.
Least Sympathetic Main Character: Archvillain by Barry Lyga
Lyga treads a careful line in making his superpowered genius kid arrogant, a little nasty, a lot thoughtless, but not truly evil, just painted that way by circumstances. An entertaining look at the other side of the mask and cape, and the start of a series I'll keep on hand for comic-book mavens.