Saturday, December 31, 2011

So Nice So Smart

Do you ever read the second book of a set and convince yourself that maybe you’ve forgotten to read a book? Like maybe you’re really reading the third one in the series? I just finished Crossed, the second book in Allie Condor’s Matched trilogy, and I was sure that I had skipped something. It hasn’t been that long since I read the first one, and I usually hold the details of a book for a very long time, but she would talk about something that had happened and I had no memory of what she was talking about. A piece of the book is about taking a pill to forget what has happened in the past and I sort of got paranoid that Condor had implanted one into the book. That way her characters could say, “Oh, yeah, remember how I already told you about this pivotal plot point?” I should have known that anything billing itself from the first moment as a trilogy wasn’t going to solve any giant questions in the second book, but it was a nice fast read. These are the books I’m overjoyed to get from the library for free – You read them in a day and (apparently) forget about them just as fast.

I did the opposite with MaryJanice Davidson’s Undead and Undermined. It’s the latest of the Queen Betsy books, which I love. (Very funny vampire series.) So Davidson starts off the prologue talking about her fans thinking she was crazy after the last book and time travel (Jazz Hands!), but I can’t remember anything too odd about the last book. So I start reading and I have no idea what they are referencing in the book. I decided it was a long whatever you call the prologue thing where the end of the book is at the front and then the rest of the book is how they reached that point. (There’s probably a word for that, huh?) I got about 50 pages in before I gave up and checked on Amazon to find that I had missed a book. I’m the reading genius this week!

Happy New Year! Get ready for the 100 book challenge!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Words Can’t Bring Me Down

I meant to write at least two posts every single week, but the holidays have knocked me back to one. I could blame it all on the work obligations (true) and social whirl (maybe a little less than advertised), but the real culprit is obvious. It’s stupid Words with Friends. I’m not an addict or anything. I don’t play in church or at the dinner table and that only has a medium amount to do with the fact that I can’t ever remember to turn off the popping bubble sound effects and my preacher and/or mother would take away my phone. I do have a lot of games going at once, though. I’m convinced that I’ll learn something new about people by playing them, so I mostly choose opponents I’d like to know better. So far, I’ve only learned who’ll apologize for playing ‘tooters’ and who’ll admit that they have no idea what a word means, but the computer accepted it, so it’s their new favorite ‘q’ word. No one ever trash talks, though, so I either have extra nice friends or we’re secretly Canadian. 

I have been reading, though. I’ve recently finished Entwined, a retelling of The Twelve Dancing Princesses. Apparently. This wasn’t a fairy tale I knew, so I just looked it up and it’s got some parts that link up, certainly. In any case, the 12 princesses are thrown into mourning at the death of their mother and not allowed to dance for one year. They are angry at their father, who is distant in grief, and determined to keep their spirits high during the year of mourning. A secret passage leads to a magic ballroom where the girls can dance all night. A man named “Keeper” controls the ballroom and would like to have the princesses under his control, as well. The parts of the book that aren’t full of fairy-tale darkness and danger are mostly concerned with the girls’ love lives. No one is in love with whom they should be, but all will be well. All will be exceedingly well.

I read The Julian Game, too. The cover with the blue-wigged girl and the freaky gloves. Popular girl uses nerd girl to help punish a hot boy they both like. The hot boy likes the nerd girl for a whole week or two before he goes back to his default boy-tramp mode. Popular girl punishes nerd girl with cyber bullying during her week of bliss. Nerd girl overcomes all with the knowledge that popular girl isn’t really that happy after all. Blurg. I know I shouldn’t be encouraging impressionable young people to take revenge, (It’s only for adults, like Kahlua), but COME ON. Nerd girl has popular girl’s computer password and can smack popular girl into civility, even if she can’t force her to be sorry, but it’s enough to know that popular girl is only mean because she’s unhappy? Like fun it is. Loser.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Add It Up

A few years ago, I kept track of every book I read for an entire year. In pure book-nerd fashion, I noted how many pages, start and finish dates, and whether I had read the book before. Goodreads gets some of that out of my system, but even with that tracker I’m constantly updating the title list after I’ve already finished the books. I came to blogging too late last year to join in any of the awesome book tracker programs last year (and I know you don’t think I could participate for partial credit and let someone think that my half-year tally was the total I read this year). Anyway, this year I’m getting in on January 1.

I’m planning to participate in the 100 books in 2012, YA of the 80s and 90s, (Could that one be more up my alley? I have a valid reason to re-buy all the Wildfire Teen books of my youth. Actually, a commitment.), and the 2012 eBook Challenge. I’m still trying to figure out how to add the buttons to my site, because I’m the wrong kind of nerd, but you can watch for them in the sidebar and play along. You can also treat the challenge like a game of Donkey Kong and throw distractions in my way, like vacations and party invitations, to keep me from reaching my goal.

If you can’t beat me, join me. 

100 Books in 2012 is hosted by Book Chick City, Sarah at Workaday Reads is hosting the 2012 eBook Challenge and the Book Vixen hosted YA of the 80s and 90s last year, so I’m hoping she’ll do it again this year. You don’t have to have a blog to participate and you can sign up well into next year. I’m all excited about those little tracker things to mark my progress, but I might wind up having to add little hash marks to the bottom of my posts, instead.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

This Time Tomorrow

More Time Travel! I just finished The Future of Us by Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler and R.J. Anderson’s Ultraviolet this week. I was waiting so impatiently for The Future of Us and I wasn’t completely disappointed, but it wasn’t as much fun as I was hoping it would be. I loved Asher’s Thirteen Reasons Why, as depressing as the subject of teen suicide is. The idea of someone committing suicide and saying, “You. You made this happen and here’s what you did.” was kind of fascinating in a voyeuristic way. In The Future of Us, the central premise is just as engrossing.

It’s 1995 and a girl gets her first personal computer. Her next-door neighbor and former best friend-boy brings over an AOL CD with 100 free hours of internet time. (If I looked hard enough, I probably could find one or two of those disks in my storage box.) She signs up for AOL and manages to open Facebook, 15 years in the future. She can see who she marries and where she lives and has enough hints from her status updates to judge that maybe she’s not so happy in the future. So, she starts actively changing the present to affect the way her life will turn out, with instant results to her future Facebook profile. Her neighbor, on the other hand, has the future life he’s always dreamed of, and he’s desperate for her not to mess it up. I really did love the idea of this book, but I did hope it would come down to more than a sub-plot in the traditional boy/girl Y.A. love story.

Ultraviolet was a different kind of story. Alison wakes up in a mental hospital, remembering only that Tori, the most popular girl in her high school, disintegrated during their fight. She’s not sure if she killed Tori and went into a fugue state or if she’s truly crazy. Complicating the issue is that Alison has severe synesthesia, where one sense triggers another. Letters have specific colors and tastes, visual cues have sounds associated with them, words have personalities. She’s convinced that her synesthesia means that she’s schizophrenic, anyway, so she’s not really sure that she didn’t kill Tori. There’s not much else I can tell you about the book without giving away major plot points, but just allow me to say, Time Travel!!! (Imagine it with jazz hands and an Oprah lilt for the full effect.)

I don’t think the next book in the stack has any time travel, but you have to see this cover. It’s weirdly fetish-like for a Y.A. novel, but I don’t think it has anything to do with latex. I’ve been wrong before, of course, but that would be an interesting new genre to fall into, wouldn’t it?

Saturday, December 10, 2011

You’re My Best Friend

Does it count as time travel if a character disappears as a child, then reappears as a 17 year old? If not, then maybe my unexpected time travel streak has been broken! I just finished Sweethearts, by Sara Zarr, where Jenna’s former best friend Cameron shows up after a multi-year absence. In those days, Jenna was Jennifer, overweight and outcast, and Cameron was her only friend. (Cameron is a boy, of course. Not because the name is gender specific, but it’s a YA novel, so it had to be a boy) Jennifer was alone most of the time and forced to raise herself while her mother worked full time and went to nursing school. Jennifer’s life was difficult, but Cameron’s life was a nightmare. Cameron’s father physically and mentally abused his wife and children, and after a life-changing incident with Cameron and Jennifer, their link was permanent.

Jennifer’s mother finished school, married a truly kind and gentle man, and, as their circumstances changed, Jennifer changed herself. With rigid self-control, Jennifer became Jenna – a happy, normal girl who has never known isolation or humiliation. The lines between Jenna and Jennifer blur and knit when Cameron suddenly reappears (like time travel!) on her 17th birthday. Jenna has to figure out which parts of her old life she needs to acknowledge to become (in total YA-speak) truly herself.

Cameron’s dad was a monster and, since I had a Mike Brady dad (but with 60% less hipness), I always hope that these horrible abusive dads are exaggerated for effect. I know they’re not. There are parents out there who make The Great Santini look like Mike Brady, himself.

I was really fascinated by the way Zarr treated the relationship between Jenna and her mom. Jenna understood why her mother had gone to school full-time while working full-time, also, but there’s a deep vein of resentment. She never says anything to her mother about being alone so much, but she deeply resented her mother not being there to help her fit in better. She recounts her mother’s often-told  story of how they had survived the lean years with pluck and good humor with near-contempt, but it’s all internal. That anger doesn’t fit what she thinks of as Jenna, and she remembers Jennifer as being too mousy and scared to complain, so that rage has nowhere to go and all Jenna can do is suppress it. Those old Campbell soup commercials where the kid brings his going-back-to-school mom a bowl of soup because he’s worried about her working too hard have taken on a new nuance. He may have poisoned her soup so she’ll have to stay home and do laundry for once.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Spooky Little Girl Like You

Surprise! The idealistic young lawyer (IYL) in John Grisham’s The Litigators failed miserably. His clients all end up much worse for having met him and they all die in abject poverty. Uh-huh. You know they all wound up rich and happy because IYL touched their lives. Grisham is getting tired, though. This one was a paint by numbers of legal thrillers, so shallow that you barely notice when a major character dies.

Ramsom Riggs’ Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children was not paint-by-numbers. The Goodreads summary -

A mysterious island.

An abandoned orphanage.

A strange collection of very curious photographs.

It all waits to be discovered in Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, an unforgettable novel that mixes fiction and photography in a thrilling reading experience. As our story opens, a horrific family tragedy sets sixteen-year-old Jacob journeying to a remote island off the coast of Wales, where he discovers the crumbling ruins of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. As Jacob explores its abandoned bedrooms and hallways, it becomes clear that the children were more than just peculiar. They may have been dangerous. They may have been quarantined on a deserted island for good reason. And somehow—impossible though it seems—they may still be alive.

I get on kicks sometimes where it seems like every book I pick up will have a common theme or motif, even if there’s no mention of it on the back flap. I went through a period where every book I read had a Young-Jewish-Boy-Coming-of-Age. It didn’t matter what the main book topic was, there was a YJBCoA in there, somewhere. I’m apparently in a time-travel loop right now. (And a cliff-hanger loop, but that’s not so much a motif as a maddening cheap shot by authors who haven’t figured out how to properly close a book while still leaving room to continue the adventure.)

Anyway, there’s time travel in Miss Peregrine’s. The story concept was truly original and fascinating, but the book wavered in places. The themes were decidedly adult, but Riggs didn’t treat them with the depth of an adult novel. I think when people complain about Young Adult novels, they’re often remarking on the shallowness of theme treatment. The book would have been much, much richer if more time had been spent examining Jacob’s torn loyalties and adolescent impulses from a slight remove or an adult perspective.

The vintage photographs make this book. I read Miss Peregrine’s on my phone and, for the first time, was glad that it was difficult to skip back and forth to the photos. I waited with anticipation for another illustrative photo to appear and then was forced to leave them and continue on with the story. If they had been on the page, I would have surely spent more time poring over the photographs and missed the narrative thread of the story. There was a fascinating note at the end of the book that none of the photos were created for the book, They actually existed and were loaned to the author by various collectors, and the characters had been written around the images.

I highly recommend the book. I think it’s possible that you, as the reader, may ponder some of the morality issues raised in the book more deeply than did the author, but that’s good practice for when we write our own bestsellers.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Time in a Bottle

The Christmas frenzy started early this year, so my reading has suffered. I did finish Rebecca Stead’s Y.A. book When You Reach Me this week and I’m halfway through the new John Grisham, but I finally have Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children and I'm resenting every delay from getting to read it. I’ve finished my friend gifts and most of my family gifts, but I still have to do the work gifts. I wonder if they would accept book reviews in lieu of hot pepper crackers?

When You Reach Me was an odd book about friendships.. and time travel. It was a lot like an old-school Judy Blume book – Why can’t boys and girls be friends? What do I do when my best friend starts hanging out with other people? My mom is dating and I don’t know if I want a new dad. But, then, in the middle of this perfectly normal stuff, Miranda starts finding these notes about the future and the neighborhood crazy man starts to talk to her like they’re friends. At the same time, Miranda does make a new friend, one who tells her about the possibilities of time travel and how you wouldn’t know the person, even if you saw them together current and future, because of the age difference. Will there be time travel? Did someone come back in time to save someone’s life? I would never dream of spoiling it for you.

The Grisham is a Grisham. They’re fun and fast to read, but I got away from legal thrillers a few years ago, so I’m not overly involved. I’ll let you know if there’s a giant twist and the idealistic young lawyer loses the case! I’m reading as fast as I can to get to Miss Peregrine’s and Sybil Exposed: The Extraordinary Story Behind the Famous Multiple Personality Case. How AWESOME is that one going to be?!?