Saturday, April 14, 2012

Post-Apocalyptic Double Feature: Nomansland by Lesley Hauge and After the Snow by S.D. Crockett

Book: Nomansland
Author: Leslie Hague
Published: 2010
Source: Purchased

They spend their lives in training, constantly preparing against the enemy that could destroy their peaceful society. They're told the dangers of being soft, of being unprepared. If they succumb to the enemy, their lives will be taken from them and they will be subject to torture, rape, and the loss of their own will. They must be ever-vigilant against the enemy.


But one girl has discovered a secret treasure trove of items from before, when girls were soft and weak. Intoxicated by this mysterious new world, a small group of girls spends hours and hours exploring things like makeup, high heels, and soft beds. But the leaders of their society have a vested interest in keeping them away from these things, and it can't last forever.

I feel as if this was the first half of a book, and we were supposed to get a second half where the narrator, Keller, who has already started to tentatively explore the idea that men may not be entirely awful, gets proof first-hand. Unfortunately, she's mostly an onlooker to a corrupt society, brutally punishing an outlier, and this weakens the power of the book for me. I never felt as if I got beyond stereotypes in any character. The single exception, oddly enough, was Dayna, who never truly appears except through the treasure trove of her bedroom. With makeup next to soccer trophies, stuffed animals and posters of dreamboats, this super-typical teenage girl, long-dead, defies stereotypes in a way that the girls of Foundland never quite achieve.The premise was intriguing, but it needed stronger characterization and a more powerful story to really make it shine.

Book: After the Snow
Author: S.D. Crockett
Published: March 27, 2012
Source: Review Copy from publisher via NetGalley

His family has disappeared, taken away by the government men, and Willo is on his own in an icy, snowbound landscape. He knows his job--first, to survive, the way he's always been taught. Second, to find them.

The voice reminded me strongly of Blood Red Road, one of my favorites from last year. The dialect may drive people crazy, but I got used to it, and followed Willo through the frozen wasteland that is his world, into the grinding poverty of a broken city and the secrets of his family.

We never really meet the family, and that may be the source of my biggest complaint against this book. With no particular attachment to them, I never felt any sense of urgency for Willo to find his family, and honestly it didn't seem as if he did either. Granted, this is a kid who talks a lot tougher and more detached than his actions show, and maybe we're supposed to parse out his love for his family between the lines. But I think if we'd seen even one scene with them, as opposed to scattered memories, it would have lent his quest a lot more urgency. As it is, Willo seems to drift through the book, and I often had to remind myself of what his purpose was and why I was reading. A promising voice, but it needed more substantive world building and character development for me to get excited.

* * *

So why is this a double feature? And why, as underwhelmed as I was, am I talking about them at all? Because I read these books virtually back-to-back, and noticed the same thing about both of them. I was waiting for something that never came . . . specifically, the Big Lurve Story. Willo encounters some girls/women but never really falls in WUV! (Thank God, because one girl is thirteen, another is a sociopath, and the third gets killed messily.) Keller, for her part, doesn't have first-hand contact with the male of the species until the very last page, and it's hardly in a situation to promote the swoonage.

We're so used to having a love story in a dystopia these days that fans and media lend it far more importance that it really merits in the story. See: the Hunger Games. While I like the love story, it's not even close to what the whole thing is about, and I cringe for Suzanne Collins whenever I see something like "The Hotties of the Hunger Games!" Of course, hotties are an easier sell than revolution.

While I had problems with both these books, the lack of a love story was not one of them and it's something that made them both stand out for me. YA authors, don't put in a love story unless it's there.

Saturday, April 07, 2012

Book Review: Grave Mercy by R.L. LaFevers

Book Review: Grave Mercy
Author: Robin LaFevers
Published: April 3, 2012
Source: Review copy from publisher, via NetGalley

Sold off to a brutish husband, Ismae escapes and finds both salvation and purpose at the convent of St. Mortain. These nuns don't just do good works. They learn the art of death, and their saint--a god of old--sends them on his dark missions to destroy the enemies of Brittany.

For her first big assignment, Ismae is sent to the royal court, posing as the mistress of Duval, the Duchess's bastard half-brother. It's her job to execute the enemies of Brittany, but who exactly are they? Political machinations swirl around the young Duchess, Anne of Brittany, as she fights to keep her homeland free from the grasp of the encroaching French. In the midst of rumors, betrayal, and uncertainty, Ismae discovers that nobody she trusted has told her the truth. And the one person she's sure she shouldn't trust may be the only one she can.

Isame has spent years in fulfilling servitude at the convent. But now her god, her abbess, and her heart all want different things, and she's afraid it may be a fight to the death

This book has been lurking around in my head ever since I read it, mostly because it sits on that line between YA and adult fiction. True, the main character is in her late teens, but she's moving in a highly adult world of politics, betrayal, and morality, not to mention the unique historical setting. I was about a quarter of the way through this novel when I had to fire up Wikipedia and figure out who Anne of Brittany was and what exactly was going on. It's a bit of European history that I hadn't heard much about, which is a shame, because it's fascinating. As I read further in the book, it became clearer, and I think that a kid who's used to complicated fantasy politics might not mind. I can't speak to its strict historical accuracy, but then we're discussing a book with a nun/assassin who gets cues from the god of Death.

There's a real density about this book. Complex characters, convoluted plots, questions that remain unanswered; it's not beach reading. But Ismae, tough, prickly, strong, uncertain Ismae, kept me going, as well as her gradual and cautious romance with Duval, himself at least as dangerous as Ismae. If sexy stuff gets your goat, be warned, it is discussed and there's a fade-to-black scene. But I felt it worked in this context.

The dense historical detail and the dark touches make this unique book one you'll have to save for those kids (and adults!) that will appreciate it.

Sunday, April 01, 2012

Reading Roundup: March 2012

By the Numbers
Teen: 10
Tween: 11
Children: 13

Review Copies: 10
Purchased: 4
Library: 12

Teen: Seraphina by Rachel Hartman
I am an evil, evil person for mentioning this because it won't even be out for months. But. I LOVED IT. Dragons and war and politics and adventure and romance and the deeply practical, quick-witted, identity-confused girl at the center of it all. Review closer to publication.
Tween: The Truth About My Bat Mitzvah by Nora Raleigh Baskin
I kept looking for this book because it promised to be about faith and coming of age, two of my particular loves. It brings that, but it's mostly about a girl coming to terms with her beloved grandmother's death and how her faith plays into that.
Children: Keeper by Kathi Appelt
I have a half-written review in my drafts, trying to put my finger on why this book about the Gulf Coast and mothers and cobbled-together families captured my heart. Guys, I don't know why, but it did.

Because I Want To Awards
Why Didn't I Grow Up in New York City?: Dash and Lily's Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn and David Levithin
Just like Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist, this book made me long to live in New York. At least over Christmas. Don't talk to me about the rents. This is my fantasyland.
Darker Than I Expected: Alibi Junior High by Greg Logsted
Okay, a kid raised in the CIA going to regular school for the first time? Should be laff-a-minute. But with lingering PTSD, a secondary character that's an amputee from the Afghanistan war, and the complicated realization that the way he was raised was completely crazeballs, this is a book with a little more meat on it.
I Love You, David Wiesner: June 29, 1999 by David Wiesner
Yes, this is an older one. I happened across it on my shelves, and I remembered why I'm a David Wiesner fangirl. It leads you blithely in one completely kooky direction, and at the last minute, cuts away and drops the reality (also deliciously kooky) into your lap.
Just Try and Keep It on Your Shelves: If Dinosaurs Lived Today by Dougal Dixon and M.J. Benton
Just for the picture of a bear fighting a dinosaur for a salmon, you need this book. But more, it's a book that posits dinosaurs in our world, speculates on what they'd eat and who'd eat them and how humans would use them. Too, too cool.