Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

In this book Katniss has struck a deal with District 13 to become the Mockingjay, the symbol for the rebels. Most of her job consists of doing propos, advertisements for the rebels to play on television throughout Panem. Katniss is reunited with Prim, her mother and Gale but many from her district are dead. Peeta is stuck in the capital and being held by President Snow in an attempt to break Katniss.

This is a very exciting book. I understand why other people like it, but truthfully it just wasn't for me. The last quarter of the book just felt like horrible violent death after horrible violent death. One of the death's particularly bothered me because it almost made me feel like the whole series was for nothing. Katniss had one goal from the very beginning and it felt like too much that she shouldn't achieve it.

I think part of my problem with this book is that it scares me. It reminds me that there are people out there that value life so little that this kind of violence is not impossible.

I did like the ending though because Katniss returns to being the person she always was. She doesn't go on to rule Panem or do anything else crazy. She settles back into obscurity and it's implied that she leads a good life.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

So apparently it has been almost exactly a year since I read the first book in The Hunger Games Trilogy. I really didn't like the first book so I wasn't planning on reading the rest of the trilogy. However my kids at the library kept asking me if I'd read them and what did I think along with other people I know so I finally caved and decided to read the next one. I'm glad I did because I did enjoy it considerably more. In Catching Fire Katniss and Peeta have returned home however their problems are far from over. Katniss' actions have made her a symbol for many people who are unhappy with their lives in Panem. Her actions are the catalyst for an uprising. As punishment her and Peeta along with other previous Games winners are sent back into the ring.

I think the reason I was able to enjoy this book more was because this time at the very least the deaths kind of seemed to serve a greater purpose in the end, which made them a little bit easier to bear. Additionally many of the more brutal deaths in the arena happened out of range of Katniss and her allies and we were spared many of the kinds of details that the last book seemed to thrive on. This made it easier for me to pay more attention to other factors of the book that I weren't enough to carry me through the last book.

Katniss is a strong female character with a deep moral streak which I find gratifying considering the threats and harsh living conditions she has survived through. While I don't always agree with every decision she makes and at times she is a little slow to get to what I consider the important point she is a character that I most definitely respect.

President Snow is definitely a horrifying villain. Seeing the lengths he is willing to go to is the stuff of nightmares; giving people the power to kill or maim for miniscule infractions and punishing as many people as possible in extreme forms. The cat and mouse game he plays with Katniss is the utmost cruelty, especially since uncertainty makes it difficult for her to function in many ways.

The book ends on a cliff hanger however the upside to waiting so long to read it is that I immediately get to start the next book.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness

Diana Bishop is a witch, but when she was a child her parents were killed and Diana associated it with being a witch so she has tried her best to cut witch craft and magic out of her life. Unfortunately Diana is a powerful witch so magic is not willing to leave her alone. As a historian working on a paper in Oxford, she one day calls up a Ashmole 782, an alchemical text hidden with spells for centuries that may hold the key to any number of things depending on what witch, vampire or daemon you talk to. It's drawing her all kinds of attention from the witches, daemons and vampires she has been trying to avoid; including one Matthew Clairmont, a powerful vampire that she finds herself developing a relationship with.

I really loved this book so much. It was recommended by a friend and even though it took me almost a week to read, I was thrilled with the outcome. The book is sooo rich in detail. Historical details and figures have been intricately woven into an amazing world populated with paranormal creatures. There are references to famous playwrights, musicians, monarchs and popes. It was kind of wonderful to see find out who was human and who wasn't and how the creatures traits were woven into the existing historical figures behaviors.

I also really loved the interplay of genetics in this book. Science can be kind of a turn off because it's not my strong suit and sometimes it just confuses me enough that I can no longer follow the story. However all of the science here makes sense and the explanations are basic enough that I don't feel like I'm lost in it. The science part of the plot was enough to even make my fiance interested in the story. (Not a big paranormal fiction reader). I especially like the idea of science and magic being tied together in such a strong way. I've always thought that the best kinds of magic were probably science that hasn't been explained yet and this book subscribes to that theory in a strong way.

I loved getting to know the characters in this book as well, from Diana and Matthew to Ysabeau and Sophie. While not everyone is obviously likable initially they are all interesting. Reading about them opening up to each other and their origins or even just the long lives they have had the opportunities to lead was one of the things that really kept me going.

Matthew and Diana's relationship at the moment does leave something to be desired, mainly because Matthew is kind of stuck with many of the sensibilities he developed during his life and because of his predatory instinct. Right now Diana is walking a very thin line, trying not to become subservient but being more flexible then she would normally be to accommodate for him. One of the things I love about Diana is how strong and independent she is and I don't want to see her lose that. I also like Matthew chivalrous nature but these habits of his to dominate make me wonder if I am going to continue to like him. I can't wait to read the next book in the trilogy and see what happens and learn more about the world the author has created. (Of course with my luck that wont be for forever.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Strings Attached by Judy Blundell

Again I waited way too long to review a book. Gotta stop doing that. Kit Corrigan has left her family in Rhode Island and moved to New York to try and make it as a Broadway star. The show she's in is a flop and her money's running out fast when Nate Benedict, her ex boyfriend's father and a mob lawyer makes her a deal. Keep an eye on Billy (the ex) and do a couple of favors and she's got a new job and a new place. Billy joined the military along with Kit's brother, the night it all ended because of Billy's temper; but there is still a lot unresolved between Kit and Billy.

Kit is a great characters and I really loved looking at the world through her eyes. She's trying to figure out what to do and is unhappy with herself for taking the easy way out. She is a very strong girl but she doesn't see it yet. I was happy to watch her start to find her strength again at the end of the book.

The book goes back and forth between Kit's early childhood, when her and her brother and sister (they are triplets) were part of the Corrigan three; growing up with her aunt and her father and dance lessons; and the beginning of her relationship with Billy. Along the way we get Billy's history and her aunt and father's history as well.

The plot here is strong and interesting, the characters are extremely well developed, even the minor ones and I thoroughly enjoyed the book but there was one question it raised for me. At what point does a specific time period get relegated to historical fiction. The work takes place in the fifties (not the sock hop Leave it To Beaver, happy suburbia fifties but lives that are grittier and certainly feel more realistic), and while I wasn't alive yet some of my coworkers were. I've wondered about this a lot and have asked around. I find that the answer I tend to get depends on when the person I am talking to was born.

In the end it was more of a feeling that made me consider this book historical fiction. Everything in this book feels very old fashioned. From the descriptions of the more superficial things such as clothes, food and furniture to the more in depth such as social customs, class and behavior. Also the occasional trips to the forties and thirties to get background information on characters and their situations allowed me to rationalize my decision.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Firefly Letters by Margarita Engle

Fredrika Bremer was a Swedish suffragete that traveled the world writing books. She spent three months in Cuba and while she thought the country was beautiful, she felt it's beauty was very marred by slavery. The story's narration alternates between Fredrika, her translator Cecelia who is a slave and Elena the daughter of the Cecelia's owner.

The story is told in free verse and is absolutely beautiful and lyrical sounding. I think that this really brings home stark contrast of a beautiful country and and a horrible practice. The introspection into each characters thoughts give you a wonderful opportunity to see how Elena and Cecelia are changed by Fredrika's presence. Elena's change is particularly drastic, however it is a change for the better. Elena's eventual longing for freedom really made me feel for her. In many ways she is more trapped than Cecelia is, even though she is a free woman.

I also really appreciated the notes that the author included. Frederika Bremer was a real person and she really did have a translator named Cecelia when she was in Cuba. Elena was made up however I could easily someone being so changed by seeing another woman live with such freedom. All of the thoughts and dreams are made up as well however they really feel like they fit and I really enjoyed the book overall.

Part of the reason I read this was because it was one of this years Pura Belpre Honor books and I've been wondering if I should add that to the list of awards I want to make sure I keep up with. Also one of the kids from my Teen Book Reviewers group read it and wrote a really great review of it and was so totally thrilled by the story that I decided I really wanted to give it a shot. It was a great book but I still haven't made a decision about trying to keep up with the award this year, probably because I'm so behind in my reading right now. Does anyone else follow any specific reading lists or awards?

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

I had always heard a lot about this book and it was always on my list of things to read. Then this Christmas my department head gave me a signed copy as a present. I decided that it was definitely time to read it yesterday when I wasn't feeling well.

Melinda is starting her freshman year of high school as an outcast. Everyone thinks she called the cops at the big party at the end of the last school year. No one bothered to find out why she would have called the cops, not even her best friend Rachel. Her parents aren't around much either. They are both always working and don't really know much about what's going on in Melinda's life. As the year progresses Melinda speaks less and less. She feels as though her throat is closing and her lips and mouth are always dry.

When I first started reading this book I went online and checked out a couple of reviews. People seem to love or hate this book. There is no in the middle and I think that that is usually a sign of a great book. It illicits strong feelings in everyone who reads it.

For most of this book Melinda is trapped in her own head. She can't deal with what happened to her on top of everyone's perceptions of her actions. She ends up hiding from the world and her parents lack of interest and her fellow students unwillingness to look past the obvious. I really liked how her friendship with Ivy and with her lab partner organically bloomed and the way these friendships and her tree project began to make her come out of her shell and deal with what happened.

I also liked the style the book was written in. I liked the mini headings instead of full on chapters. It felt like a good reflection of how Melinda was living her life, one little piece at a time because anything else was too big to handle.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Jane Goes Batty by Michael Thomas Ford

Jane has a lot going on right now. Her book is being turned into a movie in her very own town. She's got a new editor that hates her. Walter's mother is visiting and it turns out she knows more then meets the eye. Add to this the usual worries about "our gloomy friend," a festival and twins and this makes for a very stressful period for Jane.

I have to give Michael Thomas Ford credit. Jane had so many different problems and such craziness going on that the anxiety just roiled off the page for me. (Then again I am an anxious kind of person and I tend to feel that life is way crazier then it should be, so maybe I can just relate.) The feelings of anxiety and all the craziness going on made this book feel a little bit more serious then the last one. However there were still a lot of laughs, a lot of great literary references and I thoroughly enjoy it.

I am wondering if the last one will be much more serious or kind of keep this mix of slightly more serious but still very funny.

Monday, March 7, 2011

It's Monday What Are You Reading?

This meme is hosted by Shiela at One Person's Journey Through a World of Books. The point is basically to share what you've reading, what you're reading and what you think you're going to read.

Read This Week:
Jane Goes Batty by Michael Thomas Ford
Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
The Firefly Letters by Margarita Engle
Strings Attached by Judy Blundell

Currently Reading:
A Discover of Witches by Deborah Harkness

To Be Read:
Stolen: A Letter to my Captor by Lucy Christopher
The Abused Werewolf Rescue Group by Catherine Jinks
Mad Love by Suzanne Selfors
Dash & Lily's Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn & David Levithan
Sleeping Beauty Vampire Slayer by Maureen McGowan
It's Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini
An Abundance of Katherine's by John Green

I really only started reading regularly again at the beginning of this week, which is why I hadn't done an It's Monday in a month. I'm finally down to about five boxes to unpack (it's actually been about two weeks since I only had about five boxes left; I really need to just buckle down and unpack them.)

I definitely think that doing this meme was helping me stay focused so I definitely want to stay on top of it and keep participating. Unfortunately I just got a list of books that I need to read for work pretty quickly so I don't know how that will affect the rest of my reading. Looking at my to be read list I definitely think that it's at least two weeks worth and that's without including the 7 extra work books. Wish me luck.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

The Vespertine by Saundra Mitchell

Amelia is sent by her brother to Baltimore to catch a husband. In Baltimore she stays with her cousin Zora. While in Baltimore the two girls quickly gain fame when Amelia begins having visions of the future. Amelia has some trepidation about these visions although she is distracted from it all by Nathaniel an artist she meets at a family party that is below the standing, however she can't seem to keep herself from wanting him.

It took me a long time to figure out how I felt about this book. There were a lot of things about it that drove me crazy. Mainly I felt like certain parts of the plot were just glossed over, and there was one point I'm still kind of confused about regarding Nathaniel, particularly the ending. (I'm not going to go into detail because I don't want to spoil anything for anybody.) Those are the gripes, now onto the good stuff.

I absolutely adored the writing style and ambiance. While it was written in a standard prose style there was something very poetic about the writing. Even the simplest of descriptions sounds absolutely gorgeous. The beauty of the language is just absolutely entrancing. My favorite descriptions were of her visions, particularly the happy ones. When Amelia has a vision, she experiences it as though it were happening to her; the happy scenes are lovely and moving. The sad and painful ones are down right gut wrenching and painful, especially when they are for someone Amelia likes or loves.

The language definitely contributed to the ambiance the book has. (Although I feel like I don't have the right kind of language to describe it.) At the opening of the book we actually start at the end, when Amelia has returned home from her adventures in Baltimore. The despair that she feels over the outcomes can be felt in every word. You feel for Amelia and how for her the sun will never shine again. Then we switch to Baltimore and Amelia's initial arrival. You feel her excitement and nervousness and it's a sharp contrast to the despair the novel opens with. Through out the book we go back and forth and I think this serves to heighten the tension in the novel, because you already know it will go wrong and just how bad it will really be.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Vixen by Jillian Larkin

Vixen follows three girls living in the roaring twenties. Country-cousin Clara is putting on a show of being a goody two shoes while staying with her cousin. She's living in Chicago with her cousin Gloria who is supposed to be planning one of the most important social events of the season, her weading to Sabastian Grey. Lorraine is Gloria's childhood best friend and she is getting very jealous of Gloria. Gloria's fun in the speakeasy, Gloria's upcoming marriange and Gloria's relationship with her cousin Clara.

It took me a while to review this one because I kept getting distracted by other things. I should have reviewed it right away so I could be more specific but cest la vie.

The beginning of this book was just not entertaining to me. It felt like the author was trying to hard. There was too much slang and it didn't all sound right. Some of the descriptions were a little heavy handed too. (The description of her first taste of gin was just a little bit much, I'm not going into specifics cause it was just gross.)

However as it progressed I started to enjoy it more and more. There were lots of little mysteries going on. What was Clara's secret? Who kept spilling Gloria's secrets? I felt like these little mysteries made it more interesting and kept the book going for me.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

February in Review

So I didn't get much reading done this month because I was trying to get our new place unpacked. I think I'm doing pretty good. I've got about 5 boxes left and a couple of bags that need to be sorted through.

Also the roller derby season started up again this month, so I'm going to start getting super busy with that. I am a nonskating official (the easiest way to explain the job is to say that I work with the refs keeping track of points and penalties) with the local women's flat track derby league. I will also occasionally go help the local mens league out. If you haven't got a clue what I'm talking about check this out and hit up Derby News Network and WFTDA. Hopefully those help.

Challenge-wise I think I still did pretty good this month. I read two Printz Award/Honor books and four YA historical fiction books. Four of the books also went towards my off the shelf challenge. Not bad considering I only read eight books total this month.

Here's this month's books and where they came from, everything is linked to goodreads so you can add it to your to be read list. There is one old review I put up this month because I was reading the sequel so that wont appear on the list, and some reviews are forthcoming:

1. Bleeding Violet by Dia Reeves (off my book shelf, bought from Barnes and Nobles with a gift card the week after Christmas)
2. Secret Society by Tom Dolby (off my book shelf, got it at an SCLA meeting last November)
3. Click by Nick Hornby, et al. (from the library, I just thought the concept was so cool I had to read it)
4. A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly (from the library, Printz Honor book, so part of my challenge)
5. The Season by Sarah MacLean (off my shelf, brought for me from an SCLA meeting by one of the lovely library ladies I work with)
6. Revolver by Marcus Sedgwick (from the library, one of this years Prints Honor Books)
7. Vixen by Jillian Larkin (off my shelf, an arc given to me last year by one of the lovely library ladies I work with)
8. The Vespertine by Saundra Mitchell (e-book from Netgalley books, for review)