February 4th, 2012
From one kind of magic to another seems to be the theme around here lately. Jo Walton’s ridiculously good novel, Among Others, while dealing with a similar kind of world, where magic exists as reality and not illusion, couldn’t be more different than The Night Circus. The novel follows the diary of 17-year-old Morwenna Phelps, who after living through the horrific death of her twin sister, which leaves her disabled and walking with a cane, is shipped off to live with her estranged father in England, where it’s exceptionally hard to see the fairies.
Promptly enrolled in boarding school, Mor tries to make sense of the world, and, as if it’s hard enough being a teenager, she’s got to contend with a terrible witch for a mother, aunts insistent upon casting their own spells, and a crush on an adorably inappropriate boy in her science fiction book club. An outcast if there ever was one, Mor’s also incredibly strong-willed, fiercely intelligent, and remarkably brave in terms of the troubles she endures. When my friend Dan sent the book over to me, he implored me to ignore the cover, which is, honestly, quite terrible — and I’m ever so glad that I did. I devoured this novel. I simply couldn’t put it down, then I gave it to a friend at work just so she could read it and I’d have someone to talk to about it. I didn’t want it to end — I was so proud of Mor and how she dealt with her tragedies, and I haven’t rooted for a female character like this since Katniss volunteered in The Hunger Games. (more…)
December 20th, 2011
I might be the last person on the planet to read The Hunger Games. The story of Katniss, who volunteers in place of her younger sister, to fight to the death as a tribute from her area in The Hunger Games of the book’s title. A fight to the death where teenagers from every district in Panem engage in the bloody, terrifying televised war, only one person survives to win — and, in this case, Katniss will do anything not only to survive but to do her family, and her district, proud. They choose two people from each district, and Katniss’s partner is Peeta, the son of a baker who simply doesn’t have the survival skills that she has been honing her entire life.
Ever since the death of her father, Katniss has been honing her hunting skills. Creeping out from the fence that surrounds her district, she heads into the woods, her second home, with Gale, her friend, confidant and hunting partner. They shoot, kill, and trade what they scavenge from the woods for the things they need to survive in this post-apocalyptic world. It’s a hard living but Katniss does what she does to keep her family afloat, her sister, Primrose, and her mother whose depression since the death of their father has left her almost unable to cope.
The games are violent, intense and utterly captivating. Televised for the entire country to watch, the tributes are helped along by mysterious packages dropped into the games by sponsors who see and support their performance. An under current of a love story drives through the book as both Gale and Katniss learn that to survive means to play up their alleged (is it really?) romance. I loved the Katniss character — she’s a survivor who’s strong, smart and quick thinking. Such a better role model for young girls than the soppy, sodden Bella from that other series. The description “page-turner” was meant for this book — once I started I really couldn’t put it down, and I was consistently engaged by Collins’s descriptions of not only the world she created but of the violence that drove the games. The best science / speculative fiction, in my opinion, is the kind that’s just so-close to the world that we are familiar with to make it feel utterly real. Collins does an exceptional job — her world reminds me of the one that Atwood created in her latest novels, it’s stark, and the people who have survived have done so simply because they both play inside and outside of the rules. In The Hunger Games, it’s a fight to the death, and while we know from the outcome that Katniss is the hero of this story, how she survives is almost as interesting (SPOILER) as the fact that she does. I can’t wait to see the movie. I think it’ll be spectacular on the big screen.
November 29th, 2009
This cold has lingered, and actually rendered me quite useless yesterday, which meant I did a lot of reading (and watching of movies). I finished Mo Hayder’s latest Walking Man novel, Skin (it’s excellent), Anne Giardini’s enjoyable Advice for Italian Boys, and Twilight (note the lack of adjective).
#64 – Skin
Mo Hayder’s writing scares the living bejeezus out of me. She writes excellent mysteries that keep you guessing to the very end. This book picks up right where Ritual ends, picking up the threads of the story just a couple days after Flea Marley and Jack Caffrey solve the muti case they were working on. There’s a serial killer in this book who will send shivers up and down your spine, and the twists and turns that the book takes will no doubt have you shouting, “No!” as much as I did. Mo Hayder’s writing’s as addictive as her stories are — once I started this book, I didn’t put it down until I was finished. There’s a lovely image of Flea in the middle of the book feeling as if the sky is pressing down on her — squeezing all of the air out of her lungs — and the passage was just so perfect, so indicative of Hayder’s simple prose powers, that even if the book had stopped there I would have been satisfied.
#65- Advice for Italian Boys
Full disclosure — I interviewed Anne Giardini for work the other day and had managed to read half the book before sitting down to talk to her (it was a REALLY busy week). Let’s keep in mind that Ms. Giardini’s a CEO of a giant company in her day job as I tell this story.
1. I forgot the battery to my recorder. And had to race back to my desk to get them.
2. Then I put said battery in upside down and had to fight with it to get the little thingy back open to switch it over.
3. I turned it on and set it down in front of her and started the interview. But I didn’t press RECORD. So we had to start the whole interview over again after I realized that I wouldn’t have a single note because I was relying on the audio… Sigh.
Regardless, she’s lovely, and talks how she writes — in long, luxurious sentences. The novel loosely follows the almost coming of age of Nicolo, a twenty-something Italian-Canadian man whose trying to find his way in the world. He still lives at home, works at the gym, and hasn’t quite had a significant relationship with the opposite sex. The middle child (in between two Enzos), Nicolo has a very special relationship to his advice-spilling Nonna, whose sayings pepper the story and the text with old-world common sense. Giardini said that she wanted to write a book about a good man, a man who isn’t without conflict, but one who at his core has a moral centre that’s just right. She accomplishes this, and it’s a breezy, delightful novel that presents the picture of a lovely family that you’d be happy sitting down and sharing a meal with — and damn, I’d bet the food would be fantastic.
January 10th, 2009
Sometimes, even before I begin, I’ve got to digress. We’ve been watching The Wire, and after I finished reading and blogging on Tuesday I had no idea what to read. Pulled down a few books from the shelf, looked at them, and was not inspired. I gave up, put a novel beside my bed, and then started to watch “Dead Soldiers.” The teleplay was written by Dennis Lehane. The literary lightbulb went off and, when we paused for a moment, I grabbed The Given Day down and read before bed.
The next morning was snowy, cold, miserable and full of bad news. I read the book waiting (an hour plus, weather delays and general mayhem) for the Super-Fancy Disease Doctor, and then went in to hear my fate. When he was asking me about the dose of one of my meds, I had to pull the book out of my bag. He picked it up, started going on about how a “buddy” had been raving about it, and that it’s the best book he’d read in a long time. I said, “You can have that copy.”
SFDD said, “Really?”
I said, “I have another one in my office, it’s our book, we publish him.”
He looked a little shocked for a moment, thanked me, laughed, said that he never takes gifts from patients and winked, “But I will take this though.” Heh.
So, there goes my copy of The Given Day. On the way into the office via the TTC, I started reading The Picture of Dorian Gray on my Sony Reader until I got into the office. I had to run into a meeting the moment I got into work; afterwards, Liza (the key person for kids books in sales) pulled me into a little meeting and said, “You have to read this book.” She handed me a copy of Cory Doctorow‘s Little Brother. So suddenly, in the span of 12 hours, I’ve been through three different books and not finished a single one.
And I loved it, Little Brother. In some ways it reminded me a little of War Games, but for this century. Marcus and his friends are out and about in San Francisco, bunking off school to play in a large-scale game organized online and played in the real world. And then a giant bomb goes off in San Francisco — a terrorist attack upon the city. Marcus and his friends, Darryl, Van and Jolu, are scooped up and taken to a form of Guantanamo Bay. Eventually they let Marcus go, but after five days inside, the entire world has changed and DHS (Homeland Security) has taken over everything, tracking people by their public transit cards, their internet access and all kinds of other complex and unseemly stuff. While three of his friends get out, Darryl’s left behind, and this spurns Marcus on to buck the system. To force his freedom as far out as humanly possible to make the point that living in a police state means the terrorist win.
There’s a lot of complex material in the book, loads of interesting tidbits of information, and Doctorow dispels them in ways that pull you further into the story without making you feel like a dolt because you’ve never heard of arphids or Kerouac. There’s a sweet love story, a kid with a great relationship with his parents, and a brain big enough to have DHS running around in circles until it all comes crashing to a head. Writing intelligent, engaging fiction for young adults isn’t easy, the tone has to be just right, the subject matter can’t alienate the audience, and if it has cross-over appeal to the adult market, all the better. Little Brother hits all of these points and then some. But mainly, I had fun reading it, completely unexpected, totally giddy fun.
And because Kerouac’s one of my favourites too, I couldn’t help but mark this lovely passage:
There was a rhythm to the words, it was luscious, I could hear it being read aloud in my head. It made me want to lie down in the bed of a pickup truck and wake up in a dusty little town somewhere in the central valley on the way to LA, one of those places with a gas station and a diner, and just walk out into the fields and meet people and see stuff and do stuff.
READING CHALLENGES: Doesn’t count toward a single one. In fact, knocked me off course completely in terms of my reading but when someone at work says, “you’ve got to read this,” really, you don’t have a choice.
WHAT’S UP NEXT: Finishing The Picture of Dorian Gray and The Given Day.
December 12th, 2007
Okay, I hate secrets. I have a hard time keeping them and even harder time not knowing if someone whispers, “I have a secret.” There’s just something in me that has to know. It’s gotten much better the older I get, and obviously, I’ve learned to keep as many secrets as I’ve maybe leaked, but Sara Shepard’s book Pretty Little Liars certainly understands girls like me when it comes to the whole idea of a mystery: I simply have to know what happened and why.
For years, I’ve read the ends of mysteries half-way through. I am not unapologetic about this — I certainly know it ruins the surprise, but goodness, I just can’t help myself. I read spoilers. I know what’s about to happen on Corrie Street because, let’s refrain here, I just need to know. So you can imagine what happened when I read an entire YA novel based on the idea of secrets: I almost imploded.
Who is the mysterious “A” that keeps tormenting the girls? Why is she doing it? What happened that set the four girls apart in the beginning? There are so many mysteries and secrets running amok in this book that it’s almost impossible to keep them all straight, which is kind of half the fun. So if you’re looking for a pure guilty pleasure, I’d say give Pretty Little Liars a try. Not as addictive as The Luxe, but just as fun.
December 31st, 2005
Sometimes, I wonder if I should count YA novels towards the final count, but when the book runs over 250 pages, I think it’s a solid book. Libba Bray’s A Great and Terrible Beauty is a fanciful tale about a young girl named Gemma whose mother is murdered. She’s sent off to a finishing school (it’s the Victorian age) where she discovers a lot about herself (she’s got magical powers) and finds herself in over her head in terms of how to use said power for good.
A lot happens, but I found the book kind of silly, perhaps because I’m not a sixteen-year-old, but I loved the character and might read the next installment next year.
So I made it to 65 books this year. I wanted to hit 75, but I didn’t even come close. Guess that’s my goal for 2006!
March 28th, 2005
…I couldn’t put this book down. I read it in about two hours. It’s a young adult book about four friends who find a pair of magic pants; pants that give them strength, support and courage during the first summer they spend apart.
My life lesson today: don’t ever assume you’re too old to read kid’s books. Sometimes, they can surprise you, like your sweet, sweet nephew cuddling with you on the couch because you’re still sick at Easter dinner and feeling sorry for yourself.
The book makes me want to tell my girlfriends how much I love them; how much I’m looking forward to getting old with them; how much they inspire me and give me strength; they make me stronger than I could ever be standing alone in this crazy, fucked up world.