Friday, 29 October 2010

Book Blogger Hop

Dear Blog,
I haven't participated in this bloggish meme hosted over at Crazy For Books in a while, but now I'm in search of some exciting new blogs and such, so here I am.

Each week, as well as posting your blog's link into, participators send in questions for you to answer in your Hop post. And this week it's *drumroll*:

"What is the one bookish thing you would love to have, no matter the cost?"
My answer: an infinite library, of course. It would be like Borders, but with several million digits' more books.  It would be one of the few places I wouldn't mind getting lost (along with central Vienna).   And seeing as there was no cost to the library, presumably that includes the books.  Free books= yay.

Anyway.  Hop forth, bloggers.

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Review: I Heart You, You Haunt Me

Dear Blog,
I'm sorry I've been neglecting my blog so much of late.  But I'm trying to finish writing a novel,  and of late I've been spending insane amounts of time doing music practice and playing in consorts and such.  Anyway, it's half term this week, so (fingers crossed), you can expect a few more reviews from me.
Summary (from Goodreads): Girl meets boy.   Girl loses boy.
Girl gets boy back...
...sort of.
Ava can't see him or touch him, unless she's dreaming. She can't hear his voice, except for the faint whispers in her mind. Most would think she's crazy, but she knows he's here.
Jackson. The boy Ava thought she'd spend the rest of her life with. He's back from the dead, as proof that love truly knows no bounds.

Review: Having read Far From You I'm now quite a fan of Lisa Schroeder, and had high expectation for this, her debut novel. And it was no disappointment.  It's the most romantic, poetic book I've read in ages.  The sort of book that critics would describe as one that breaks your heart and then fixes it again.

The story centres around fifteen-year-old Ava, and opens at the funeral of her recently deceased boyfriend Jackson.  For much of the book his death remains a mystery, until Ava finally faces up to the terrible night of his death about 3/4 of the way through the book.  Ava herself is a nice enough protagonist, though she does remain much of a mystery.  One one hand, all the poems offer a fragile glimpse inside her head, but on the other, who is she? Such is the problem with the first person, dear blog.  The first person doesn't need to explain to his or herself what he/she does or doesn't like.
Ava reminded me, actually, a little of the protagonist in Sonya Sones' What My Mother Doesn't Know, because even though the poetry offers a huge insight into the darkest depths of the narrator's mind, their outer self still seems very vague. 
And I would say that aside from that, Ava was a likeable, three-dimensional character who was easy to relate to, but if you find out little about her personality and such, does that really make her three-dimensional?

The mind boggles.

The relationship between Ava and Jackson is, in a word, strange.  Mostly because, apart from flashbacks,  Jackson is a ghost for the whole book. At first it seems slightly charming, but then  as the book went on I found myself disliking Jackson more and more, but then as his intentions were revealed right at the end I forgave him slightly.  Their relationship seems so human, just because of their reactions to the comings and goings of one another- for instance, when Ava goes out for a while and when she gets back all the kitchen drawers are open and the CD player is on (a.k.a Jackson's way of expressing his anger that she had left him to go elsewhere).  The ending was very satisfying, when both of them finally learn how to let go and move on.  In that sense it makes having your ghost of a boyfriend not seem romantic, but actually irritating when he stops you from having a life, especially when you can't see or talk to him.

But I think the thing I like most about Lisa Schroeder's novels is the prose.  Some verse novels read like prose novels that have been through a shredder, but every single sentence in I Heart You was just fragile, poetic perfection, from the choice of words, occasional alliteration, and form and shape of the poems, which changes now and again.  For instance, in parts in relevant scenes the words
and such. As well as being a fan of Lisa Schroeder as a reader, I admire her as a writer.  I'm currently writing two novels-in-verse myself (one of which is the one I mentioned that I'm trying to finish), and she along with
Sonya Sones, Ellen Hopkins and Virginia Euwer Wolff is one of those authors I'd answer with if I had to answer the question "if you could invite five authors to a dinner party, who would you invite?"  That way I could beg her to give me the secret to her awesome novels (*snorts to self* as if).

And, tragically, it was a very short book, and I read it in one sitting.  Perhaps if it was longer then there would have been more depth to the characters- all the characters, not just Ava. For instance, one of the things I like most about Ellen Hopkins' novels is that with most of them around five or six hundred pages (Glass is at present the thickest at 680 pagesThe reader really gets to know the character in a way that you wouldn't with a 230-paged novel like I Heart You.  It would give the reader a better understanding of all the characters, especially the minor ones, if it was longer.
So, I don't quite think it was as good as Far From You, if only because of Ava's personality, or lack of description thereof.  Still, it was an excellent read and I'll definitely seek out her third novel, Chasing Brooklyn, which is also a companion novel of sorts to I Heart You, You Haunt Me.

In Three Words: romantic, poetic, hopeful.
Reccomended for: everyone.
Rating: 4.5

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Review: Firebirds

Dear blog,
An anthology  of all things fantasy, edited by Sharyn November.  I've read heaps of short stories of late, having been too busy lots of the time to sit down and read a novel (which also explains my lack of reviews recently).

Summary (from Goodreads): Firebirds gathers together sixteen original stories by some of today’s finest writers of fantasy and science fiction. Together, they have won virtually every major prize— from the National Book Award to the World Fantasy Award to the Newbery Medal—and have made bestseller lists worldwide. These authors, including Lloyd Alexander, Diana Wynne Jones, Garth Nix, Patricia A. McKillip, Meredith Ann Pierce, and Nancy Farmer, tell stories that will entertain, provoke, startle, amuse, and resonate long after the last lage has been turned. And they all share a connection to Firebird—an imprint, like this anthology, devoted to the best fantasy and science fiction for teenage and adult readers.

Review:  Like with Across the Wall, I'll review each short story individually.  There are sixteen stories, so some I might not say very much of to keep the entry (relatively) short and interesting.

Cotillion by Delia Sherman- is one of my favourite stories in the book, and a strong opening.  It's haunting and beautiful and full of mysterious fairies and such, with a 1960's NYC setting seems like an interesting setting- almost as if as well as all the mythical and mystical folk, the world of high society during the Vietnam War seems kind of intriguing.  It was like a world within a world, if that makes sense. 
The Baby in the Night Deposit Box by Megan Whalen Turner -- is despite the cheesy-sounding title, actually a pretty good read. It was well-paced, and the characters were all likeable in their various shapes and forms.  Look out for the kick-butt demise of the enchantress at the end.
Beauty  by Sherwood Smith -- was actually one of my least favourite stories in the book.  Perhaps that's because it followed on from the Crown Duel novels, which I haven't read. Either way, I found it really difficult to like the main character, and the story dragged on slightly too long.  Elestra was entertaining at first but then just became slightly whiny, and I wanted to slap her by the end. 
Mariposa  by Nancy Springer -  Even though I think that Elestra of Beauty fame was supposed to be likeable, and a strong/capable sort of young woman, in truth I actually preferred Amy/Aimee, the heroine of Mariposa.  Mostly because Amy/Aimee was flawed, and she changes.  For instance, she goes from abandoning her soul  to rescuing it.   Need I say more?!  
Max Mondrosch by Lloyd Alexander - I really struggled to *get* this story.  No matter how many times I read it, it didn't make much sense.  It was just a little too strange.  I think it was meant to be darkly humorous, but only if you can make any sense of it. 
The Fall of Ys by Meredith Ann Pierce --  Is a traditional Breton folktale, and the writing style is such that it reads like poetry.  It's one of the shortest pieces in the book, but one of my favourites.   It's haunting and tragic in a romantically poetic sort of way. 
Medusa by  Michael Cadnum - Is yet another one of the retellings in this collection.  And a retelling that's been done countless times (it seems that it would be more original nowadays to tell the story from Perseus' perspective).  But the writing style is poetic and absolutely beautiful, and Medusa's voice seems to really shine through, if that makes sense. 
The Black Fox by Emma Bull , Illustrated by Charles Vess- is a refreshing but slightly bizarre  change from the other stories in the book.  Bizarre in a good way.  This is because it's a graphic manga-esque story, based on an old folk song/poem.   It's pretty amusing, and the artwork is great.  Plus the lyrics are included at the start of the story, so you can sort of see where  the short story itself came from. 
Byndley by Patricia A. McKillip -  Was another story I wasn't too keen on.  Even though I read it three days ago I had to refer to the book to remind myself which one it was when I saw the title.  I don't know why, dear blog, but I found the writing style unbearably dry and the main character, Reck, was somewhat unremarkable.  Okay, I know that wizards are pretty unusual, but this is a fantasy anthology, where magic is somewhat the norm.  The concept is interesting- it'd make an interesting novel, but as a 20-paged short story and a dry writing style hold few thrills for me. 
The Lady of the Ice Garden / Kara Dalkey - is a Japanese-y version of The Snow Queen, complete with kimonos and everything else that you would require from such a story.  It's certainly an interesting twist on the norm, and the story seems comfortingly familiar while still being Girida and Keiken, with references and such to Shinto, kimonos and the like. 
Hope Chest / Garth Nix -- I reviewed this in my review of Across the Wall.  I'll quite from it here:
[Hope Chest] is an epic historical-western-scifi sort of short story, and at 40 pages or so the longest story in the book after Nicholas Sayre. The historical and western elements of the book are a little surprising, because Garth Nix doesn't normally include these things in his novels. The blend of western-meets-scifi is quite bizarre and "what?!", but it works (look out for the awesome shooting scene in the train).
Chasing the Wind by Elizabeth E. Wein -- Exotic location, great characters, interesting idea, perfect pacing, clear writing style, modern-historical setting, aeroplanes ...what more could you ask for? 
Little Dot / Diana Wynne Jones -- Yay for a UK author appearing in the book!  The Little Dot of the title is in fact a cat, and the story is told from his point of view, which makes for an interesting change and was kind of refreshing.  Also, the aforementioned Little Dot was a very likeable, entertaining feline who cam out with some very funny things. The story opens with "I am lucky enough to own a wizard who talks to me", and so the rest of the story is an amusing romp through the countryside in which Dot's preferred mode of transport is a chicken coop hovering off the ground.  Have I persuaded you to read it yet?
Remember Me by Nancy Farmer -- Was both heartbreaking and heartwarming at the same time that left me feeling slightly confused and unsure what to make of it.  Should I be happy that Flo returned from whence she came, or sad that she had left?  It had a strong moral in that sense, I suppose, in that Jessie had only sort of realised how much she really loved her changeling sister when she was gone. 
Flotsam  by Nina Kiriki Hoffman --  Is a very strange little story, but utterly enchanting anyway.  I'm sure that this has been done so many times before- girl rescues fairy-type being, who then goes on his way, and girl's life is altered forever.  But Becky is so likeable, and Poppy (a boy by the way) so sweet, the story is utterly irresistible. 
The Flying Woman  by Laurel Winter- is thrilling from the very start. A brother and sister get abandoned on an island by her father, and so it begins.  Throughout it's gripping, and a good conclusion; a dramatic, strong sort of ending that really wraps things up well. 

Other thoughts- I was kind of disappointed by the lack of science fiction, for this claims to be an anthology of fantasy and science fiction.  But the only sci-fi story in here seems to be Garth Nix's Hope Chest.  So that was a little disappointing. However, there are a couple of other anthologies, Firebirds Rising and Firebirds Soaring, and perhaps they'll hold more sci-fi. 

In three words: fantastical, readable, worthwhile.
Reccomended for: fantasy fans young and old.
Rating: 3.

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Review: How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff

Dear Blog,
a short-ish review because I have lots of homework to get through.
Summary (from Goodreads): Fifteen-year-old Daisy is sent from Manhattan to England to visit her aunt and cousins she’s never met: three boys near her age, and their little sister. Her aunt goes away on business soon after Daisy arrives. The next day bombs go off as London is attacked and occupied by an unnamed enemy.
As power fails, and systems fail, the farm becomes more isolated. Despite the war, it’s a kind of Eden, with no adults in charge and no rules, a place where Daisy’s uncanny bond with her cousins grows into something rare and extraordinary. But the war is everywhere, and Daisy and her cousins must lead each other into a world that is unknown in the scariest, most elemental way.
A riveting and astonishing story.

Review:  I really wasn't sure what to expect with How I Live Now.  The cover, the blurb, never gives away any elements of potential war and dystopian life.  It's only when you start reading then you realise how big a part war plays in the book.
Well, never judge a book by it's cover, I guess.

How I Live Now is, if this makes sense, wonderfully chaotic (I just realised how I contradicted myself with that sentence.  Baha).  The writing style is absolutely all over the place, but the confusing-ness seems to add
to the essence of the story. I don't know why, but the almost freewheeling air of carefree-ness reminded me a lot of Bonjour Tristesse.  Which is a little strange, but still, to my mind, true.  Even amidst occupation, the first weeks Daisy spends in England just seem totally perfect anyway, cut off from the world in the middle of the countryside in an English summer where-gasp- it's not raining non-stop. It's so idyllic and perfect.
That is of course until the war really affects Daisy and her cousins.  When she and Piper are sepearated from the boys and sent to live elsewhere, tragic things ensue. 

The main romance in the book is the relationship between Daisy and her slightly younger cousin Edmond.  Incest in some circles, just slightly strange in others.  True, but Edmond himself is absent for the second half of the book, only really appearing at the beginning and then right at the very end, and even though he remains much of a mystery to the reader.  Still, you can't help but wish that he and Daisy could be re-united, and bitter and disappointed when you do.  Daisy's emotions seem so real, that the reader ends up longing for Edward to turn up and make everything right again.

One thing that I'm not so keen on, though, is how vague the book is. You never really find out why England is at war, or who the occupiers are.  I suppose this is to make the situation seem more real, as if it could happen at any time, but instead it just doesn't make much sense.  Still, it's interesting to watch England fall apart in such a way, seeing as it features little in YA dystopian fiction. 
Despite that slight flaw, How I Live Now is devastating and utterly heartbreaking anyway.  Especially part two, the last twenty pages or so of the book.  It's hard to explain without giving heaps away, so I'll keep my lips zipped. Still, it was utterly devastating with one of those tiny flickers of hope at the end that makes it even more tragic, in a way. 

In Three Words: confusing, heartbreaking, wonderful.
Reccomended for: teenagers and adults. 
Rating: 4.5

Sunday, 10 October 2010

In My Mailbox, or, The Week of Interesting Books

Dear Blog,
hosted as ever by Kristi over at The Story Siren.
This was an interesting week, in which I strayed from my normal comfort zone of teenage fiction in search of other things, including plays, Chinese journalism, and Ukrainian classics. 

Knife Edge by Malorie Blackman (I read Noughts  & Crosses about a year ago and haven't gotten round to getting hold of the sequel until now)
Dance Dance Dance by Haruki Murakami
The Good Women of China by Xinran
The Importance of being Earnest by Oscar Wilde (I need it for coursework and such)

Once was Lost by Sara Zarr
Guantanamo Boy by Anna Perera (review here)
Death and the Penguin by Andrey Kurkov
How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff (Currently reading, it reminds me a lot of Bonjour Tristesse for reasons I cannot yet explain )

Well, that was my bookish week.  How about yours? 

Friday, 8 October 2010

Review: Guantanamo Boy

Dear Blog,

Summary (from Goodreads): For Khalid, the war on terror  just got personal.
Fifteen-year-old Khalid likes seeing his friends, playing football down the park, the normal things. He isn't too excited about going to visit his family in Pakistan, but his mum and dad want him to come with them. So he goes.   And a living nightmare begins.
Khalid is kidnapped and forced to go to a place no teenager should ever see. A place where torture and terror are the normal things. Somewhere he doesn't know if he will ever escape from.
A place called Guantanamo Bay.

Review: I first saw this on my friends' bookshelf a few years ago.  I saw the cover and the title and I was like, OMG where did you get this book I must read it now.    And  then I found a copy in a library and, naturally, borrowed it.   

Well, where can I start?  Guantanamo Boy is the most difficult, disturbing book I've read in a long time.  Yet I read it in a morbidly fascinated sort of way to find out what was going to happen next- the sort of book where you both want to throw it out the window and go and watch a cheerful Disney movie instead, and both read on in the hope that something good might happen.  I won't give much of the plot away, because you'll have to read it and see for yourself. 

You can't not like Khalid, the protagonist of the book.  Because it's just so wrong that at aged fifteen he should be accused of terrorism and have to be subject to such torture- things like being tied to a board and then tipped backwards into a tub of water until he confessed to crimes he didn't commit, and being chained to the floor and having his eardrums practically burst and such.  It's kind of hard to describe such scenes- on one hand it was too terrible to be happening to an ordinary teenager, to anybody, but on the other I guess it could have been  a lot more graphic (I'm glad it wasn't).

I suppose in that case, then,  it's very emotionally draining.  So much of the book is focused on Khalid's thoughts and emotions.  Which makes sense for two reasons: 1) in the 2 years he is in Guantanamo, a lot of it was pretty uneventful, and 2) that makes him a much more believable character who you can really feel for, whose thoughts you can really see into.  I think that was the most affecting thing about the book.

The ending was...strange.  It felt very surreal, perhaps because the reader gets as used to the bleak solitariness (real word?  I guess not) of Guantanamo as Khalid does.  The conclusion seemed kind of rushed and "oh, that's it?"  It seems kind of hard to accept that after everything he's been through, the book ends at that stage, with everything (seemingly) wrapped up nicely.  It's supposed to be satisfying, I think, but the rest of the book was so difficult to read, it seemed a little irritating.

At first the writing style seemed to get on my nerves- it was so simplistic, with little description.  And when there is it's very basic indeed,  I guess to convey the stark nature of the book (which I think the cover sums up perfectly).  Also, Khalid is no poet but your average teenage boy, so the writing style, however basic it may be,  makes sense I suppose. 

This is one of those books that absolutely everyone should read regardless of age and background.  Whether you're a teenage boy or a 40-year-old politician then it will no doubt at least make you think.  It will certainly change your attitudes to terrorism. In that respect it's a very thought-provoking book without being overly preachy and "death to America."  Which was pleasing.

In three words: unforgettable, disturbing, heartbreaking.
Recommended for: everyone. 
Rating: 5.

Monday, 4 October 2010

Review: Three Rivers Rising

Dear Blog,
2010 Debut Author Challenge novel #3.  I had better get reading if I want to complete the challenge, which I do. 
Another short review- Is there such a thing as reviewers block?  If so, I think I might have it. But I'm reviewing Three Rivers Rising because it's a wonderful book, anyway, and I need to say why.
Summary (from Goodreads): Sixteen-year-old Celestia is a wealthy member of the South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club, where she meets and falls in love with Peter, a hired hand who lives in the valley below, and by the time of the torrential rains that lead to the disastrous Johnstown flood of 1889, she has been disowned by her family and is staying with him in Johnstown. Includes an author’s note and historical timeline.

Review: Historical fiction, verse novels and dual narratives all make me very happy.  Put them together and you have the work of art that is Three Rivers Rising.  What more could I ask for?!  But for all my interest in American history, I'd never heard anything about the Johnstown Flood.  Maybe I've missed out on what's considered to be a huge tragedy over in the States, and I'm just ignorant.  Either way, now I've read about it, it was pretty fascinating.  And of course the idea for a story based around such a devastating event was fantastic. 

This book alternates between the points of view of Celestia, Peter, Maura, a girl not much older than Celestia but already married with three young children, Kate, a young window-turned-medical student, and, briefly, Celestia's father. At first when Maura and Kate came into the story I was slightly confused about what their place was in both the universe and the novel.  Their place in the universe still remains to me much of a mystery, but their place in the novel is to give it extra dimensions, points of view and adding extra dimensions and meaning.  I think Three Rivers Rising would have been more of a hopelessly romantic yet poetically tragic love story  if it hadn't had those other elements to it. It is a hopelessly romantic yet poetically tragic love story anyway, I suppose, but these extra voices give it more depth.  For instance, the brief glimpse into the mind of Whitcomb, Celestia's dad, makes him seem like much more of a complex character, and more of a person than a rich businessman.  He is, I suppose, the closest thing that the book has to a villain. 

For all these many voices, Jame Richards still manages to make each voice unique,  and give each person a story to tell.  They're all three-dimensional.
It's hard to say that Celestia was a likeable main character, mainly because all the other characters are so well-rounded and have you rooting for them, it's hard to call her a "main character" (even though she is really).  Anyway, she was brave and true to herself, even though admittedly she does suffer a little from Rebellious Princess Syndrome,  it's not in such an obvious sort of way  à la the girls of Spence Academy in the Gemma Doyle trilogy. 

I suppose the one thing I wasn't too keen on was how rushed the opening of the book was.  It's strange- the reader seemed slightly thrown in at the deep end in that Peter and Celestia were already having secret meetings and kissing by page seventeen.  However, on the other hand, the book opens the summer before the flood, allowing Peter and Celestia to get to know each other and such before the flood.

And the flood itself. Especially towards the end of the book, Three Rivers Rising was devastating and utterly heart-wrenching.  I thought it was particularly effective how the day of the flood, as well as stating the location and which character is narrating, the time of day, so the reader can observe the events unfolding from the failure of the dam to the destruction of Johnstown.
For all the novels-in-verse I devour, it's rare that I come across historical fiction written in verse format,  so this made me happy.  And it was particularly wonderful poetry, which seemed to flow, almost, like a river.

In Three Words: poetic, heart-wrenching, fascinating. 
reccomended for: everyone.  Especially those who've never heard of the Johnstown Flood.
Rating: 5. 

Friday, 1 October 2010

Review: The Fences Between Us

Dear Blog,

This will have to be a pretty short review,  seeing as my time is of the essence, but anyway-

Summary (from Goodreads): Thirteen-year-old Piper Davis records in her diary her experiences beginning in December 1941 when her brother joins the Navy, the United States goes to war, she attempts to document her life through photography, and her father--the pastor for a Japanese Baptist Church in Seattle--follows his congregants to an Idaho internment camp, taking her along with him. Includes historical notes.

Review: When I first heard about the relaunch I was like "ohymword ohmyword new Dear America books MUST PRE-ORDER NOW." Alas I couldn't pre-order it, and ended up spending a fortune on postage trying to get to it.

Piper, the protagonist, was pretty likeable. She seemed to sound very much like a thirteen-year-old; I think that sometimes when people write historical fiction, they can forget that the main character is a child, and how to write from their way at looking at the world. I guess (nay, know) that Kirby Larson isn't thirteen, but Piper's voice really seems clear and sort of shines through. Plus, she's funny and thoughtful and considerate in turn, kind, but with suitable elements of selfishness to give her flaws and stop her seeming overly perfect.

The supporting characters are all likeable in their various ways; Betty Sato was a particularly interesting, if only for the circumstances she was in, and Bud made suitable material for Piper's first boyfriend.
Piper talks a lot in her journal about her older brother Hank, serving in the navy and at Pearl Harbour at the time of the infamous Japanese bombing. Yet for a lot of the book he himself remains a mystery, only appearing once or twice to visit Piper and her father, and only for a few days. So it was quite hard to really relate to Piper and hope for his safe return if I didn't know him, or read about him anyway.

I can't help but think, though, that for all its interesting subject matter, The Fences Between Us would have been even more fascinating/effective if it had been written from the point of a Japanese-American incarceree in Minidoka. I mean, it's all very well that Piper goes to school there and such, but it's not the real insight into an internment camp that you might get from the point of view of an Issei or Nikkei. Two words: companion novel, from the point of view of Piper's Japanese-American friend Betty Sato, perhaps, à la Molly Flaherty from Where Have All the Flowers Gone?  and her brother Patrick  in the My Name is America series.  So although I guess it was pretty interesting to have an "outsider"'s point of view, it would be even more so to see things from the point of view of an internee.

So, well, it makes me very happy that Dear America  has been brought back for another generation of readers.  It was well worth the wait, and the read.

In Three Words: insightful, rewarding, enjoyable.
Reccomended for: Dear America fans old and new.
Rating: 4.