Saturday, May 30, 2009

This Just In: Reading the Myths (or I've got a book buying problem part 999,999)

I've decided to read the Myths series books. I've made some progress so far with The Fire Gospel by Michel Faber (review forthcoming) and The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood, which I read last year.

From the website:

Myths are universal and timeless stories that reflect and shape our lives — they explore our desires, our fears, our longings, and provide narratives that remind us what it means to be human.

The Myths series brings together some of the world's finest writers, each of whom has retold a myth in a contemporary and memorable way. Authors in the series include: Margaret Atwood, Karen Armstrong, AS Byatt, David Grossman, Milton Hatoum, Natsuo Kirino, Alexander McCall Smith, Tomás Eloy Martínez, Victor Pelevin, Ali Smith, Su Tong, Dubravka Ugresic, Salley Vickers and Jeanette Winterson.

The series launched on 21st October 2005 and is the most ambitious simultaneous worldwide publication ever undertaken.

I'm in the middle of Karen Armstrongs A Short History of Myth and I just purchased:
  • Lion's Honey, David Grossman
  • The Helmet of Horror, Victor Pelvin
  • Weight, Jeanette Winterson
If anyone wants to join in let me know. I'm trying buff up on my mythology.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Currently Reading: The Sorceress

The Sorceress (Book Three of The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel)
by Michael Scott

Publisher: Random House Children's Books
Pub. Date: May 2009
ISBN-13: 9780385735292
Age Range: Young Adult
Pages: 512pp
Genre: Fantasy (with some mythology) synopsis:

Nicholas Flamel's heart almost broke as he watched his beloved Paris crumble before him. The city was destroyed by Dee and Machiavelli, but Flamel played his own role in the destruction. Sophie and Josh Newman show every sign of being the twins of prophecy, and Flamel had to protect them and the pages from the Dark Elders.

But Nicholas grows weaker with each passing day. Perenelle is still trapped in Alcatraz, and now that Scatty has gone missing, the group is without protection. Except for Clarent—the twin sword to Excalibur. But Clarent’s power is unthinkable, its evil making it nearly impossible to use without its darkness seeping into the soul of whoever wields it.

If he hopes to defeat Dee, Nicholas must find an Elder who can teach Josh and Sophie the third elemental magic—Water Magic. The problem? The only one who can do that is Gilgamesh, and he is quite, quite insane.

Pre-reading thoughts:

YAY! It's here! I wasn't completely sold on this series until the second one (I read them last year) but these are really fun and interesting. I'm a big sucker for retellings of mythologies of all kinds. I had a hard time at first getting past my preconceptions of Nicolas Flamel from Harry Potter, but once I did that, I was fine. It appears that there will be six books in this series, which makes me sleepy just thinking about it. I do love reading series, but sometimes they wear me out! I can't ever just read A book any more. They only come in multiples!!!

I'm starting this one tonight!

Review: Darkest Powers

The Darkest Powers Series
by Kelly Armstrong

1. The Summoning
2. The Awakening
3. The Reckoning (due in 2010)

The Gist: Muy muy interesante.
The Recommendation: For fans of paranormal YA fiction.

Chloe Saunders is a sort-of-normal 15-year-old. She lost her mother when she was young and her father travels a lot for work, so she is left alone with minimal supervision from nannies, housekeepers, and her Aunt Lauren. Despite this lack of supervision, Chloe is a good kid, she obeys rules, works hard at school, has interests in film. But one day, Chloe starts seeing ghosts. She sees them and they see her. Chloe has a breakdown at school, after being chased by burned-up janitor, and is sent to a group home, the Lyle house, for treatment and recovery from schizophrenia.

Once at the Lyle house, Chloe begins to realize that things are not what they seem. The other kids also show signs of supernatural powers, and Derek, a diagnosed antisocial, prods Chloe into realizing her true nature, a necromancer.

That's the basis for this series. The big plot arc revolves around the group running the Lyle house and the kids' struggle against them. The Summoning is the escape; The Awakening is the chase. My guess is that The Reckoning will be the confrontation, a fight to the death (gotta love those).

I would definitely say that most of The Summoning was world-building/set-up. But, I didn't find it to be boring at all. I flew through it, reading it in one day without even realizing it. I had one major issue with the book (J. Kaye had the same issue) and that was the cliffhanger ending. That's really doing it more justice. The book simply ended mid-scene. I find this SO ANNOYING. "I have to tell you something." The End. I kept flipping the last page back and forth thinking my copy was messed up. Authors, end your books please. Even though it's a series. BECAUSE it's a series. They ARE separate books, are they not? Cliffhangers like this one are bordering on insult. It's a gimmick. I feel a rant post coming on.

I also agreed with J. Kaye, that Chloe didn't seem to try very hard to find out about herself. Maybe the author intended her simply to be reluctant, as she was clearly a timid teenager, but she came off as naive. I may be jaded, or out of the loop, but the "timid teen" persona is hard to pull off in the world of Google and internet. The FIRST thing I would have done was to google "seeing ghosts" or something.

I gave The Summoning 4 out of 5 despite these annoyances. I simply enjoyed reading this book. It's really easy to go on and on about the things that bothered me, but there were more things that I liked. I thought the book was well-paced, the characters were developed, and the plot had me guessing (there was one point when I was convinced that Derek was a ghost--I was wrong). Even though plenty of questions went unanswered, plenty were. I wasn't in the position I was in Bones of Faerie where all the important questions went unanswered or unsatisfactorily answered.

I also gave the The Awakening 4 out of 5. Despite my annoyance over the cliffhanger, I was out the next morning purchasing a copy of this book. I guess the cliffhanger served it's purpose, even though it pisses me off to admit that. (I've got problems, I know this.) This book was on par with the first. Most of the book was spent escaping from the Edison Group stronghold and running to the home of a friend of Simon and Derek's father. I've never been a teen on the run, so I don't know the realities of that, but it just seemed too easy for them. The last bit reminded me a little bit of the Hunger Games, with the tree climbing. Thankfully, this book had an actual ending.

I'm excited for the next book. There aren't any details available on her website (that I could find) but I'll definitely be keeping an eye out for it.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Review: The Luxe Series

The Luxe Series
by Anna Godbersen

Since I read these in quick succession without writing reviews, I figured I do a kind of series review in one post.

The gist: Loved it.
The recommendation: Read it.

This series currently consists of three books Luxe, Rumors, and Envy. A fourth (and I believe, final) book is due out in 2010. These aren't stand alone books at all, when you finish the first you'll be grappling for the next and if you start in the middle (although, why would you do that?) you'd be very confused.

These books follow the New York debutantes Elizabeth Holland and her younger sister Diana, their treacherous friend Penelope Hayes, the Holland's servant girl Lina Broud, and, the man-in-the-middle, Henry Shoonmaker. These books are a drama for sure: absoultely ridiculous wealth, beautitul handmade gowns, star-crossed lovers, illicit sex, betrayal, death. Seriously, what more can you ask for?

Beth from BethFishReads wrote a great review of the first book, Luxe, here. She's much better at the summarizing thing than I am, so I urge you to check that out. I also agree with her, these are a nice change from the supernatural YA books that have taken over the market. Like I said before, the other books are mainly a continuation of the story, but if you're looking for summaries look here for Rumors and here for Envy.

I gave these all a 5 out of 5 rating. Are these amazing pieces of high quality literature? Um, no. But dammit, they are entertaining. I pretty much couldn't put them down. I have nothing really to complain about in the books, the dialogue was fine, I had no issues with the writing style, there were no glaring plot holes, they had believeable, well-rounded, dramatic characters, and interesting plot twists. I suppose my only complaint is that the ends of the books aren't very satisfying: Big cliffhangers. But I'm pretty much a sucker for that tactic, despite the fact that it drives me crazy. And just look at those covers. It makes me want to squeal, I want those dresses so badly!

Friday, May 15, 2009

One Story (#118) "Hurt People" by Cote Smith

People, if you haven't subscribed to One Story, click over there and do it now. It's $21 for 18 issues, one story about every 3 weeks.

Hurt People is the third story I've read published by One Story, and just about the only thing that makes sense to say is to subscribe to this publication because these are some of the best stories I've personally read. Now, I'm no short story expert. I was really only recently introduced to them; I never really understood before why you would read short stories if you could read an entire novel.

But, I get it now. There is something so perfect about reading a good short story. When they are done right they leave you with an impression that has a different impact than the novel.

One moment in Hurt People that really made an impression began like this:
"Turn it off," someone said. Rick stood, sleeveless, arms crossed. Before they could say sorry, Rick put his hands on the boys' heads. He waited a second then knocked the brothers' heads together. Stunned each boy rubbed his temple.
"Think about your mother," Rick said. "What would happen if something happened to you shits?" Rick walked away without answering his own question.

Then the younger brother tried to tell his mother what happened:
The mother exhaled. She put the broken part on the counter. She wiped her forehead, smudging some of the ink. When the mother's reply came a moment later, she did not look up.
"I've told you before. Rick has got his own hurt," she said. "And hurt people hurt people."
Oh boy. That line really gets me.

Another excerpt and author interview here.
One Story Blog post on Hurt People here.

(#12 for 100 Shots of Short)

Monday, May 11, 2009

Short Stories for Short Story Month

Ok, I've gotten off to a poor start, but in my defense, I was writing my own short story to turn in for class. But now that is done and I can finally get down to the fun!

To start off with, I read a few stories out of The Best American Short Stories 2008. You know, the one edited by Salman Rushdie, whose work I haven't read any of and who has a name my mouth can't seem to pronounce. However, I have a dilemma. How do you review stories that have already been deemed the best? Let's just assume they are good, and I'll give some highlights. :)

Admiral, by T.C. Boyle (originally published in Harper's Magazine) (#9, 21 pages)
She knew in her heart it was a mistake, but she'd been laid off and needed the cash, and her memories of the Strikers were mostly on the favorable side, so when Mrs. Striker called--Gretchen, this is Gretchen? Mrs. Striker?--she'd said yes, she'd love to come over and hear what they had to say.
This was an interesting story that dealt with a lot of issues. Namely, animal cloning, cancer, quarter-life crisis, heartbreak, and loneliness. I definitely sympathized with the narrator, not the dog-sitting for millionaires part, but the disappointment and sadness and heartbreak.

The Year of Silence, by Kevin Brockmeier (originally published in Ecotone) (#10, 13 pages)
Shortly after two in the afternoon, on Monday, the sixth of April, a few seconds of silence overtook the city.
Wow. Very cool. Moments of complete silence start to overtake the city. The people begin to find solace in the silence, begin to crave it, and then create it for themselves.

Galatea, by Karen Brown (originally published in Crazyhorse) (#11, 14 pages)
I married William in upstate before he turned out to be the Collegetown Creeper.
Hmm...I think that probably says it all.

Friday, May 8, 2009

May is Short Story Month

...and I'm already way behind. Dan at Emerging Writers Network has declared May Short Story Month and his goal is to read three short stories a day and review them. Yeah, I'm not that good. BUT, I'm going to try and read and review more than I have in the past. I'm not sure that's really much of a challenge, but I've fallen head over heals for short stories (thanks to Rob from RobAroundBooks's influence) so I have to join in.

Today I'm going to try and read some stories from 2008 Best American Short Stories and hopefully come back here and talk about what I've read.

Monday, May 4, 2009

April Wrap Up

Books Read:
  1. This One is Mine, Maria Semple (4/3) ****
  2. The City of Ember, Jeanne DuPrau (4/4) ***
  3. Book of a Thousand Days, Shannon Hale (4/8) *****
  4. Slaughterhouse-Five, Kurt Vonnegut (4/16) *****
  5. The Sword Thief, Peter Lerangis (4/18) ****
  6. Tithe, Holly Black (4/18) ***
  7. We Have Always Lived in the Castle, Shirley Jackson (4/18) *****
  8. The Magical Life of Long Tack Sam, Ann Marie Fleming (4/18) ****
  9. Fade, Lisa McMann (4/19) ***
  10. The 13 Clocks, James Thurber (4/19) ***
  11. Enna Burning, Shannon Hale (4/21) *****
  12. The House on Mango Street (4/21) ****
  13. Drown, Junot Diaz (4/21) *****
  14. Wicked Lovely (4/25) *****
Reviews: I only wrote 2 reviews this month. Hmmmm.....maybe I need to work on that.
Total Pages: 3,293

Short Stories Reviewed:
  1. A Splendid Life, Carrie Brown (4/6)
  2. Meterology, Adin Bookbinder (4/13)
  3. The Hollow, James Lasdu (4/25)
  4. At the Zoo, Caitlin Horrocks (4/26)
Total Short Stories: 8
Total Pages: 66

Lit mags finished:
  1. The Paris Review, Spring 2009 (4/30)
Total pages: 170

Total Pages in April: 3,529
Year to Date Pages: 15,068

New Authors: 10

Fiction: 13
Nonfiction: 1
Young Adult: 6
Middle Grade: 2
Adult: 3
Short Story Collection: 2

From TBR: 7
From Library: 5
Review Copy: 1
From Friend: 1

Female authors: 9
Male authors: 4

In translation: none (boo!)
As part of a series: 6

In Progress: (I'm ashamed of this list)
  • The Moonstone
  • The Russian Debutante's Handbook
  • The Paris Review Interviews, Vol. 1
  • A House for Mr. Biswas
  • Sum
  • Ink Exchange
  • Olive Kitteridge
  • Middlemarch
  • Rumors

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Young Adult Challenge Wrap-Up and Mini-Reviews

I actually finished a challenge ahead of the end date! Well, considering this one goes to December, I suppose I was always going to finish it early. :)

J. Kaye sponsored this challenge, which required you to read 12 YA books. Because I've been a lazy blogger, I haven't written reviews for most of them yet, but I'm going to list them all here and write mini-reviews/recommendations for each.

1. The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins. (1/5) 5 out of 5

A must read. That's all there is to say.

2. Speak, Laurie Halse Anderson. (1/5) 5 out of 5

I definitely think this is must read for teenage girls and boys.

3. Jenny Green's Killer Junior Year, Amy Belasen (1/18) 4 out of 5

This book was absolutely hilarious. It is about Jenny Green a New York JAP (Jewish American Princess) attending a boarding school in Montreal. Don't think you will relate? I didn't either. But as Jenny starts break down into a murderous rage (due to several questionable boyfriend choices), her humorous outlook on her situation and her ridiculous nature in general will keep you hooked. I recommend it for a quick and humorous read.

4. The Goose Girl, Shannon Hale (3/6) 5 out of 5

Oh Shannon Hale, how you have stolen my heart. Excellent fairy tale retelling, although the beginning was slow.

5. Wake, Lisa McMann (3/15) 3 out of 5

I didn't love this as much as everyone else seemed to. I liked it, I didn't love it. The language was very choppy and it didn't seem like a style choice as a much as a defect in her writing. It would have been clearer if there had been a style change from the regular text to the dream text. I also thought the ending was odd, but I won't spoil it. I didn't find it to be believable. The book did, however, leave me wanting more and I read the next book, Fade, and I'll read the next as well. If you follow YA fads, you'll probably want to read this series.

6. Paper Towns, John Green (3/22) 4 out of 5

What can I say about John Green that hasn't already been said? I enjoyed this book, but I found Margot to be incredibly selfish and obnoxious, not to mention unbelievable. Quentin's obsession with her is understandable and of course the mystery she leaves in her wake is intriguing. It was a good read, I couldn't put it down. Green is good at writing sidekick characters; Quentin's friends are probably more interesting than he is. I would recommend this, but you've probably already read it.

7. Fever 1793, Laurie Halse Anderson (3/3) 3 out of 5

On the heels of Speak, and The Heretic's Daughter (which isn't really a similar book, but I couldn't help but compare the voices in my mind), this book didn't do it for me. That's not to say it isn't a good book. It is. I just couldn't help but think it wasn't good enough. I know the narrator is young, but the her voice was just too childish for me. Sometimes, for me, period pieces with heavy topics like plague and death aren't epic enough. That is to say the depth and the tone don't match the topic. I still recommend this as a quick read, and definitely fans of Laurie Halse Anderson should read it.

8. The City of Ember, Jeanne DuPrau (4/4) 3 out of 5

I was so excited to read this book. I even went out and bought all the available books in the city. It was such a cool idea, a community constructed underground and dependent on electricity (which they don't fully understand) that is coming closer to their "apocalypse" because they are running out of supplies and their electricity source is aging quickly. Oh boy. I was disappointed! Something was just missing for me. I'm really not sure if it was just the reading mood I was in or if it was the book. I'll be eventually finishing the series, so maybe my opinion will change.

9. Book of a Thousand Days, Shannon Hale (4/8) 5 out of 5

Shannon Hale has yet to disappoint me. This is the tale of a lady's maid, a former mucker (a kind of country healer), who is locked up in a tower for 1000 days with the lady she is bound to serve. Once they escape the tower, they are forced to hide in a neighboring kingdom until her lady can claim her rightful place. Swoon. Great love story, strong woman character, interesting fantasy world, all the characteristics of a great retelling. I highly recommend this one.

10. Tithe, Holly Black (4/18) 3 out of 5

This was the second book I read for the Read-A-Thon and it took me forever to get through. I wasn't a big fan of it after finishing it and then after finishing Wicked Lovely, I realize that it is definitely not one of the bettter faery books. If I were in the habit of changing my ratings, I'd probably go back and change it to a 2 out of 5. One thing that really bugged me was the "bad kid" attitude, especially toward the beginning of the book. It wasn't really all that convincing. It was too much. And, she smoked cigarettes with her mom! I'm pretty sure she was only 16. Now, I'm not for censoring teen books, I think teens can read about all kinds of things, and YA has always been a category not an age group for me. But parental approval of smoking is something I just can't condone, book or no book. Ugh! If you're looking for a faery book, try Wicked Lovely. It was much much better.

11. Fade, Lisa McMann (4/19) 3 out of 5

I landed in about the same place with Fade as I did with Wake. I missed the novelty of Janie's ability but I thought the undercover police thing was handled better in this book than in the first. It was actually the plot, instead of the plot twist, which worked better. But the way Janie learns to manipulate dreams from the dead old lady (whose name I can't remember right now) was just really weird. And the magical element it brings to the book is out of place and seems like a deux ex machina. BUT, it is an entertaining read. Gone comes out in 2010 as far as I can tell. I'll most likely read it to finish out the series.

12. Enna Burning, Shannon Hale (4/19) 5 out of 5

Shannon Hale writes the books I would write, if I were a writer. This is the second book in the Bayern series after The Goose Girl. This book is focused around Enna, a minor character and friend of Isi in The Goose Girl. Similar to Isi's control of the wind, Enna surepitiously learns how to control fire. She must learn how to control the fire's power over her and help Bayern in their war against the Tiran army without destroying herself or her loved ones. This was a great book. I can't say much more than that. I've got the next one, River Secrets, ready to go. There is also a fourth coming out soon, Forest Born. What are you waiting for!?! Go out and get them!

I'll be reading many more YA books this year, so maybe when I hit 24 I'll do another wrap up post.