Then Now Next Thursday (April 30, 2015)

The Darkest Part of the Forest THEN

I finished reading (and reviewed) Virgin: The Untouched History. Since I last posted a round up, I’ve also started and finished Holly Black’s The Darkest Part of the Forest. That’s the quickest I’ve finished a fiction book, like, all year. I’m just having such a hard time concentrating, but man, it’s so good.

NOW

I’ve been really into nonfiction this year, so I read the intro to Neil Gaiman’s Trigger Warning, but then found that I wasn’t really interested in the stories, so I put it down and picked up How to be a Heroine, which I like a lot, even though I haven’t read most of these classics, except Anne of Green Gables.

NEXT

Karen Jensen on Teen Librarian Toolbox proposed the #SecondChanceChallenge, to give a book you dropped a second chance. I signed up and said I would try to read and finish The Twistrose Key and Shadowplay. Both were very good (like, I loved Pantomime, which is the first book in Shadowplay‘s series) but just not what I was looking for at the time, so I’ll give them both another chance.

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Irregular Review: Dragon’s Danger, Edward Branley

When I signed up for Story Cartel, I went straight for the fantasy and kidlit selections because, well, that’s what I read and that’s what I felt most comfortable reviewing. I chose Dragon’s Blood by Edward Branley because it had a nice cover. You know what they say, “never judge a book by it’s cover”? Well, they say it for a reason. Dragon's Blood

Dragon’s Danger
Edward Branley (Blood Bound #1)
☆☆☆☆☆ (No comment.)

Goodreads summary:

Don’t believe everything you read on the Internet!
Joey, Anne Marie, and David are three teens from New Orleans. They’re smart enough to understand this. Imagine their surprise when a “dragon’s egg” they bought online turns out to be from an ancient trading company that sells “collectibles and curiosities”. Suddenly it’s more than just kidding around, as they help their dragon avoid danger and evolve to its full potential!
For over a thousand years, the dragons have used the merchant concern, Hassan’s Collectibles and Curiosities to help identify those worthy of becoming the “Blood Bound” — humans who are willing to hatch dragon eggs and nurture the hatchlings to adulthood. The methods used by Hassan’s have changed over time, but the results are the same. The dragons live!
It’s never been easy to be a teen. Asking a teen to hatch a dragon egg is a big request. That’s why it’s important to choose a teen who has friends to help. Better yet, get three inseparable kids to do the job!

The Good
The cover art, as I mentioned, is what drew me to the story. The premise reminds me of Jeremy Thatcher, Dragon Hatcher, a book I loved when I was a kid, but if Jeremy had internet access.

The Bad
I didn’t finish this. I’m not one of those people who powers through when books get boring. There are only so many hours in the day. I dropped this book partway through the first chapter. Why? I didn’t feel like anyone had taken the time to edit it. So why should I take the time to read?

Sentences like, “Typical of New Orleans in February, it was cold for two days, today’s high would be much warmer,” and “Since most of New Orleans’ Catholic high schools are all-boy or all-girl, the boys ended up at one school, and Ann Marie at another, but regularly re-unite on holidays and in the summer” threw me out of the story while I tried to figure out what they meant. (Those were on facing pages, p7 and p8.)

Look, I don’t demand perfection, but two glaring editorial failures like this, in two pages, in the first chapter is unacceptable. I tried to look up the publisher, but was unsuccessful; if Elysian Fields Press has a website, they’ve done a mighty fine job of hiding it. (Goodreads lists the publisher as Smashwords, but the author’s profile doesn’t list any books.)

What really killed the book for me, however, was this:  “’Fuck you, Joey!’ she said, without even looking away from the TV.”

Dragon’s Danger is billed on StoryCartel as a “middle grade contemporary fantasy.” SFWA quotes agents and editors as defining MG as for children age 8-12. Dragon’s Danger has a casual F-bomb in the first chapter; searching the e-book pulls up an additional twenty five instances of the F word. His author bio rather defensively states, “he can attest that sixteen-year olds attending Catholic school do swear like the Trio do,” and while I’m sure they do, this is inappropriate language for a MG book. I wouldn’t feel comfortable putting this in my students’ hands.

So why was this a MG book? The characters are rather old for a normal MG protagonist (they’re all sixteen or so) and the language was more suited to a YA audience. This was the real lack of editing that made me decide not to finish this book, more than some awkwardly worded sentences.

I received a free digital copy of this book from StoryCartel.

“What Are You Reading?” Wednesdays (February 18, 2015)

The SilmarillionWhat are you currently reading?

I’m kinda/sorta (re)reading The Silmarillion, but I will be honest with you: I’ve been in the worst reading slump. I just can’t focus on anything, and it’s awful.

What did you recently finish reading?

Since I last updated, I’ve read: In Real Life, Take Me Out to the Yakyu, The Hobbit (can you tell I’m on a Middle-earth kick?) and the online edition of Nimona. (I can’t wait for the print version this May.)

What do you think you’ll read next?

Ugh, I don’t know. I just hope I’ll find something to pull me out of this slump.

“What Are You Reading?” Wednesday (January 28, 2015)

“What are you reading?” Wednesday has been absorbed into Musing Mondays over at Should Be Reading, but I’ll continue posting on Wednesdays.

What are you currently reading?

Lately, I’ve had a hard tine focusing on any one thing in particular even – especially? – if it’s really good. I’ve been on the same page of Iron-Hearted Violet for almost a week now, though I did get halfway through Capture the Flag before one of my students borrowed it off my desk. I checked out The Hobbit from our secondary library, too. I think the difference is, Capture the Flag and The Hobbit are in print, but Iron-Hearted Violet is an ebook.

I hope I can snap out of this slump soon. As a young and unsettled expat, 99% of my library is on my phone.

What did you recently finish reading?

When You Reach MeI read When You Reach Me in about two days, after an SLJ review suggested it for people who liked The Riverman. I still haven’t made up my mind about The Riverman, and I won’t until at least I’ve had a chance to read The Whisper, but probably not even then, until the third book comes out. I’ve accepted the possibility that I might never know.

I do know how I felt about When You Reach Me, though, and that is: it was awesome. It was awesome in a quiet, creeping way that sticks with you, but I dreamed about it both days I read it, and that’s always a sign of a book really sinking it’s teeth into you and not letting go. (This book was also in print, from our school library.)

What do you think you’ll read next?

I need to get through Iron-Hearted Violet. It’s really frustrating me that I’m having such a hard time focusing on my phone, because, you know, this book is really good and filled with things I love (headstrong, imperfect girls! the multiverse! things seeping through the walls between worlds! clever metafiction!) and for some reason, I just go crosseyed looking at it. Sigh.

If this ebook slump continues, then I’ll make my way through The Hobbit and then, if I’m still having a hard time, onto The Fellowship of the Ring.

“What Are You Reading?” Wednesday (January 21, 2015)

“What are you reading?” Wednesday has been absorbed into Musing Mondays over at Should Be Reading, but I’ll continue posting on Wednesdays.

Iron Hearted VioletWhat are you currently reading?

Iron Hearted Violet, by Kelly Barnhill, and it’s so good. I have a few other books on my ereading app (don’t I always?) but this one has just been so amazing that I haven’t even been tempted at all to see what else I’ve got on there.

What did you recently finish reading?

I read (and reviewed) Vivian Apple at the End of the World.

During my lunch breaks at work, I read Afternoon of the Elves, the 1991 Newbury Medal winner, in the Open Library online reader. It was … okay, I guess, but I’m surprised it was a Newbury Medal winner. Was 1990 just a slow year for children’s fiction, or something? It wasn’t bad, exactly, but with that golden sticker on the front, I was expecting better.

What do you think you’ll read next?

I still have Shadowplay on my phone and I’m about halfway through So You Want to Be a Wizard. I should probably try to get through my backlog of half finished books before I start anything else, but “should” doesn’t necessarily mean “will,” because one of my students is reading The Fellowship of the Ring and another student is reading The Golden Compass and I want to reread both of those things now so I can talk about it with them. (Not that I haven’t almost memorized both of those books, but, you know.)

Top Ten Tuesday: FREEBIE: Top Ten Favorite Books to Reread

Top Ten TuesdayThis week’s Top Ten Tuesday (hosted by The Broke and the Bookish) is a freebie and it’s too much responsibility!

I decided to write about my “Top Ten Favorite Books to Reread.” Some books stand up well to rereading and revisiting at every stage of life, but others fall flat when you’re older and wiser.

… and, since I’m still pretty new to this book blogging game, I thought it would be a good “getting to know you” list.

  • More More MoreMore, More, More! Said the Baby, Vera B. Williams I haven’t read this book in years – maybe literally even a decade, at least – but it was my absolute favorite book when I was just a baby and toddler. I asked my mom to read it to me so many times that she eventually got sick of it and hid it on top of the fridge, forgotten until I grew tall enough to reach up there for the chips I wanted for an after school snack.
    I always loved books, no doubt thanks to my mother’s patience in reading this book to me over and over and over again, until I can still – twenty years later – recite some of it from memory. (I probably would have hidden it from me, too.) Maybe I didn’t just learn to love reading from my parents, but to love rereading, too.
  • The Little Prince, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry My fourth grade teacher read this one out loud to us, and I remember the dreamy feeling of knowing I had just experienced something important but not quite knowing what. I knew that I didn’t understand it, not really, and I understood that understanding would come in time and there was no need to rush it. I was basically Hermione when I was in school – know-it-all, frizzy hair and everything (see below, about Harry Potter) – so it really was incredible, knowing that I didn’t know and that knowing would come in time. Now it’s my honor to read this aloud to my fourth and fifth grade students and hope it touches one of them the way it touched me.
  • Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's StoneThe Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien I finished reading Fellowship of the Ring in the theater, frantically turning the last few pages as the lights went down on the Saturday matinee. (Spoiler: Boromir dies at the beginning of The Two Towers. Imagine my surprise.) My dad took me to see it. I was so excited. It was hard – I fought harder to read The Lord of the Rings than I have ever struggled to read a book in my life – but it was so worth it. I return to this one periodically when I need a reminder of my dad, or of who I am – as a person, as a reader. Every time I reread it, I feel like I understand it differently; I used to identify most with Merry and Pippin, or Éowyn, but last time I read it, Boromir really… I finally got Boromir.
  • Harry Potter (series), J.K. Rowling I loved books before I read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (USian), but I haven’t loved something so completely before or since. I doubt I ever will. Growing up with Harry was a thing, and nothing quite like it will ever happen again, I think. I dressed up for the book release parties of Book 4, Book 5 and Book 6. (I was in China when Book 7 was released.) Whenever I feel sad, or nostalgic, or homesick – or, let’s be honest, just whenever – I like to pick this up and reread it, revisit Hogwarts. Every time I read it, I identify more or less with other characters. I’ve always been very much like Hermione – she’s probably what made me adore the series so much – and as I’ve grown up, I’ve understood or identified with Tonks, and McGonagall and Remus.
    I read Sorcerer’s Stone thirty two times before I stopped counting (and I stopped counting in seventh grade/2002).
  • The Golden CompassHis Dark Materials (series), Philip Pullman The only books that mean more to me than Harry Potter are His Dark Materials. While Harry Potter was a lot more fun, His Dark Materials moved me, when I was a tween, in a way I didn’t really understand. I only knew for certain that I had experienced something monumental, something huge and life-changing, and I didn’t know why. I couldn’t even say what had happened; I still remember sitting in the library parking lot trying to explain to my dad. Every time I reread this, I understand it a little bit better, and I feel like Lyra (re)learning how to read her alethiometer.
    I never really identified with Lyra – never in my life have I been half as wild or wily as her – but I admired her, and I still do. I wanted her as my friend, even as I was a little frightened of her; now I want to protect her, and I want Mary Malone as my friend.
  • TSUBASA: RESERVoiR CHRoNiCLE, CLAMP I’ve only read this series front-to-back, first-to-last twice, because it’s long, and because my entire collection is, inconveniently, located on the other side of the planet. But I would be lying not to include it, because I would read and reread volumes over and over (… and over and over) waiting for the next release when it was in English-language serialization and I just love it soo much. I can acknowledge that the plot is … unstable, what with all of those plot holes, but gosh, I just love the characters and I swear, this silly manga series got me through college with at least a little sanity left over, even if it is completely ridiculous.
  • TSUBASAThe Vampire Lestat, Anne Rice Unlike the other books on this list, The Vampire Lestat has no particular deeper meaning to me. I don’t have, like, a deep attachment to it, or anything. It’s just fun. It’s some funny brain fluff and Lestat is a really great narrator. I’ve reread some of the other Vampire Chronicles books, but this one is my favorite, no doubt. Maybe it’s because I like Nicki? Or because Lestat is my favorite member of the Coven of the Articulate?
  • The Drawing of the Three and The Waste Lands (Dark Tower series), Stephen King I can’t honestly include the whole series here, because I usually skip The Gunslinger and lose interest again somewhere in Song of Susannah and I always skip the middle flashback bit of Wizard and Glass, but man, some of the scenes in The Drawing of the Three and The Waste Lands (and even Wizard and Glass and Wolves of the Calla) are so cool. Like, I just know it will be soo satisfying to watch Eddie Dean destroy Blaine. I’ve already read that part a million times but I always cheer anyway, even though I know what’s going to happen.
  • How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Dr. Suess I’ve mentioned before that I reread this book every year around Christmastime. It’s true. My mom used to read it to me every Christmas Eve, and now I read it to my students during their last library visit before winter vacation. I love the rhyme and rhythm of the story, and I love the memory of my mother reading it to me, and I love that, once again, I have it nearly memorized. Most pages I can say without even looking, and the rest need only a glance before I’m off.
    I have to like the books I read aloud, as I usually read them between six and fourteen times a week, depending on my lesson plans, but this one is always my absolute favorite.

What about you? What are your favorite books to reread? What did you choose for your Top Ten Tuesday list this week?

Irregular Review: Vivian Apple at the End of the World (Vivian Versus the Apocalypse)

Vivian Apple (2)

Vivian Apple at the End of the World
Katie Coyle (Vivian Apple, #1)
★★★☆☆ (I liked it.)

Goodreads summary:

Seventeen-year-old Vivian Apple never believed in the evangelical Church of America, unlike her recently devout parents. But when Vivian returns home the night after the supposed “Rapture,” all that’s left of her parents are two holes in the roof. Suddenly, she doesn’t know who or what to believe. With her best friend Harp and a mysterious ally, Peter, Vivian embarks on a desperate cross-country roadtrip through a paranoid and panic-stricken America to find answers. Because at the end of the world, Vivan Apple isn’t looking for a savior. She’s looking for the truth.

So, Vivian Apple.

The Good

I could not put this book down. It’s one of those things that I would sneak in pages at any opportunity – on the train, during lunch, under my desk, in the middle of a conversation. I needed to know what happened, and I needed to know if the Rapture happened or not. (I won’t say. Spoilers.) Some twists, I sooo called before they were revealed. Others, I didn’t guess. It was a good mix; it shouldn’t be too obvious, or too difficult. This wasn’t a mystery novel, although the mystery of the Rapture is the question Vivian has to answer, and why she goes on her Great American Road Trip out west.

I’m not sure how I felt about the ending, and I think the sequel, Vivian Versus America, will help me decide whether or not I liked it. How things shake down from here will put the end of the first book in perspective.

Vivian felt real to me, and I think a certain kind of goody two shoes will relate to her, although personally, I think reading this as a high schooler, she would have annoyed me. But Vivian was very “likable.” She’s the sort of person you’d want to befriend.

It’s subtle, but there’s an undercurrent of feminism throughout the whole story. Vivian drives the plot, and most of the time, the car. The Rapture happens to her – and her parents disappear, leaving holes in the roof of their home – but after a little bit of wallowing, she takes action to get to the bottom of this mystery. It’s Vivian who decides to leave the New Orphans and Vivian who decided to take this road trip in the first place; Harp and Peter are just along for the ride.

Along the way, she articulates her discomfort with the Believer’s anti-feminism, how women are controlled by Frickism, following “their” men a step or two behind, dressing “modestly,” punished for their sexualities. Frickian homophobia becomes a plot point, but that’s not something that happens to Vivian, but it happens to scare Vivian.

Which brings me to…

The Bad

Vivian is a straight white girl. Her best friend, secondary character Harpreet Janda, is Indian-American. Harp’s brother, Raj, is gay. So, points for inclusion, but this is still Vivian’s story and, given the unsubtle message about the dangers of religious fundamentalism and extremism, it would have been stronger if Vivian had been a person of color, or a queer, or disabled, or something that put her in danger from the remaining Believers.

As a non-Believer, Vivian is an outsider. Most of America has converted, and the “left behind” Believers are focused on a passage from the Book of Frick about how “the road to salvation is overcrowded with the damned” and some have taken that to mean they must exterminate the “sinners” – non-Believers, generally, but in particular, “harlots” and “fags.”

I would have found the story much more compelling if Vivian had more at stake – if Peter, the love interest, were Petra, for example. Even Vivian’s non-Belief isn’t a thoughtful articulation of her theological or even moral qualms with Christianity in general or Frickism in particular, she just floats along, not believing. How would this story go if she did believe, but in something else? What if Viv was Catholic? What if Viv was Muslim?

I don’t want to hate on this book for everything it wasn’t, but I think it could have been stronger if Vivian had more left to lose after the Rapture.