Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Review: Zoe's Tale

John Scalzi. Zoe's Tale. Tor Science Fiction: 2009.

I loved Zoe's Tale. It retells the exact same story I just read in The Last Colony, but tells it from the perspective of Zoe Boutin-Perry, a sarcastic, resourceful teenage girl who just happens to find herself in the middle of an inter-species conflict with an alliance of aliens. It fills in all the gaps that I noticed or subjects about which I wanted more information after The Last Colony.

The best thing about the book was Zoe's voice. It was light and snappy and utterly sarcastic in a way that I really identify with. Not everyone will, of course, but if you like to see a strong, witty female character in the middle of science fiction (which I do, A LOT) then this is a book for you. This is a science fiction adventure, but also a meditation on what it means to be a leader rather than a hero or a celebrity and about growing into your place in the world and the people who love you. The scenes between Zoe and her father (written, of course, by a man who highly identifies with the father) were truly beautiful in their combination of cleverness and affection. Now, I'm not necessarily claiming that this is an "authentic" teenage girl voice; I'm a little dubious about that, but I love it nonetheless.

My one complaint about this book is that it follows exactly the timeframe and most of the events from The Last Colony, which you will note that I read not long ago. Which means it took about 150 pages to get to any event that was really new to me. Seeing events from Zoe's perspective was interesting, but the events themselves were too fresh in my memory. I wish I had waited a year or so between these two books so there was some time for the details to fade in my memory.

I would LOVE to talk to people who read Zoe's Tale as a stand-alone novel, or people more familiar with the voice of a teenage girl (like, say, actual teenage girls). I'd love to know how this novel worked for other people. So would John Scalzi.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Elite Novels

I've been meaning to read the Elite series of YA novels for a while now. Author Jennifer Banash is giving away a
SIGNED ARC of Simply Irresistible, but ALSO a $25 gift card, a SIGNED ARC of The Elite (these are collectors items, people), AND a copy of the newest installment of The Luxe series, Envy

Pretty fabulous prizes! Help her celebrate the upcoming release of her new novel, Simply Irresistible. Go to here to enter!

Monday, April 27, 2009

The Books Not Taken

This is more Festival of Books follow-up. I though I'd share the books I saw and wanted at the book fair but didn't pick up (mostly due to the overwhelming number of books already purchased). Most of these will I will probably purchase at some point, but they were somehow less urgent than the ones I ended up taking home. I'd love to hear your thoughts on these and how quickly I should rush out and get them.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie:
In his first book for young adults, bestselling author Sherman Alexie tells the story of Junior, a budding cartoonist who leaves his school on the Spokane Indian Reservation to attend an all-white high school. This heartbreaking, funny, and beautifully written tale, coupled with poignant drawings that reflect the character’s art, is based on the author’s own experiences and chronicles the contemporary adolescence of one Native American boy as he attempts to break away from the life he seems destined to live. (From the author's website)

The Age of Dreaming by Nina Revoyr:
In her cunning follow-up to Southland, Revoyr returns to L.A., this time to when Sunset Boulevard was just a dirt road and Jun Nakayama was a famous silent film star. Prompted by a journalist's visit in 1964, 42 years after he left the screen for good, Jun revisits his youth in Japan, his discovery at L.A.'s Little Tokyo Theater, his rise to stardom and the scandalous events that led to his abrupt retreat from public life. Mixing real people with fictional characters like principled Japanese actress Hanako Minatoya, troubled starlet Elizabeth Banks (not the one in Seabiscuit), ingénue Nora Minton Niles and dashing director Ashley Bennett Tyler, Revoyr creates a vibrant portrait of a time when the film studio was a place of serious work. As Jun reveals the secrets he has kept for decades, he uncovers new twists in his own history and comes to terms with other painful experiences he has repressed, namely his loneliness and the effects of the anti-Japanese racism he mistakenly believed he could overcome by being as agreeable—and American—as possible.(From Publisheer's Weekly via Amazon)

The Android's Dream by John Scalzi:
A human diplomat kills his alien counterpart. Earth is on the verge of war with a vastly superior alien race. A lone man races against time and a host of enemies to find the one object that can save our planet and our people from alien enslavement...A sheep.(From the author's website)

Beige by Cecil Castellucci
From the author of Boy Proof comes an edgy novel full of humor and heart. Katy really doesn't want to spend two weeks in L.A. with her father, a recovered addict and drummer for a punk band. But she won't fuss. After all, she is a nice girl--a girl who is, well, beige. Or is she?(From IndieBound)

Gods Behaving Badly by Marie Phillips:
Being immortal isn't all it's cracked up to be. Life's hard for a Greek god in the 21st century: nobody believes in you any more, even your own family doesn't respect you, and you're stuck in a delapidated hovel in north London with too many siblings and not enough hot water. But for Artemis (goddess of hunting, professional dog walker), Aphrodite (goddess of beauty, telephone sex operator) and Apollo (god of the sun, TV psychic) there's no way out...Until a meek cleaner and her would-be boyfriend come into their lives, and turn the world literally upside down. (from the author's website)

Janes in Love by Cecil Castellucci:
In this sequel to The Plain Janes, the Janes are back. But when the Janes become entangled in matters of the heart, they discover that in art and in love, the rules don't always apply. (from IndieBound)

Prom Dates from Helll by Rosemary Clement-Moore
Maggie Quinn knew high school was hell, but even she thinks the smell of brimstone is a little out of the ordinary. When she’s the only one to see that something supernatural is stalking the school’s ruling clique, it’s up to Maggie to channel her inner Nancy Drew and ferret out the origin of the ancient evil, before all Hell breaks loose at the Senior Prom. (from the author's website)

What Would Jane Austen Do? by Laurie Brown:
From the author of Hundreds of Years to Reform a Rake, a new time travel romance featuring a modern day career woman swept back in time to Regency England, where she thwarts a Napoleonic spy, chats with Jane Austen, and falls in love with a notorious rake.(from the publisher's website)

And there were a couple of books I came prepared to buy if I saw at the festival but that I didn't happen to run across. It's part of the luck of browsing that I didn't happen to see them, but I will probably pick these up soon, too.

The Forever War by Joe Haldeman:
Mandella starts out as a foot soldier in man's thousand-year war against the Taurans and ends as a reluctant major. Spanning the stars at faster than light speeds, Mandella and his comrades age only months as the centuries zip by on an earth that becomes increasingly foreign. But few soldiers will return to the altered home planet; in battles fought with powered suits and other stranger weapons, the odds for survival approach zero. This war is the opposite of the one Heinlein glorified in Starship Troopers (1959)- bloody, cruel and meaningless. (from Kirkus via Amazon)

Jane Austen Ruined My Life by Beth Pattillo
Emma Grant has a major beef to settle with her literary heroine, Jane Austen. Austen’s novels taught Emma, a college professor, to believe in happy endings, but her own happy ending goes up in flames when she discovers her husband, Edward, in the arms of her teaching assistant, after which the two have her professionally discredited by claiming she plagiarized a paper. Disillusioned and disgraced, Emma flees the U.S. for her cousin’s house in England after being contacted by Gwendolyn Parrot, an elderly woman claiming to be in possession of a stash of lost Austen letters. Rather than simply handing over the letters, Mrs. Parrot sends Emma on a succession of tasks that gradually reveal a secret about Austen’s life previously unknown to scholars. Along the way, Emma reconnects with Adam, her former best friend whom she fell out of touch with after marrying Edward. (from Booklist via Amazon)

Poison Study by Maria V. Snyder
About to be executed for murder, Yelena is offered a reprieve. She'll eat the best meals, have rooms in the palace, and risk assassination by anyone trying to kill the Commander of Ixia. And so Yelena chooses to become a food taster. But the chief of security, leaving nothing to chance, deliberately feeds her Butterfly's Dust, and only by appearing for her daily antidote will she delay an agonizing death from the poison. (from the author's website)

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith: Just what it sounds like: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies!

As you can see, I may be in the mood for a Jane Austen takeoff marathon sometime in the future.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Musing Mondays: Nonfiction

I'm not sure yet how much I'm really into participating in a lot of memes, but this is a question that felt relevant for me to answer.

Today’s MUSING MONDAYS post is about reading non-fiction…

Do you read non-fiction regularly? Do you read it in a different way or place than you read fiction? (Musing Mondays is hosted at Just One More Page. This question is courtesy of Diane at The Book Resort)

I recently completed my Ph.D., so I read A LOT of nonfiction, particularly in the subjects of film, theater, gender studies, cultural studies, and literary theory. I also do some reading about technology, and recently I've been interested in California and Los Angeles history. I also teach composition, so I read short, popular non-fiction essays to stimulate discussion and serve as examples.

I tend to read in most of the same places (sofa, bed, floor, coffehouses), but I don't take nonfiction books into the bathtub or to the beach. I also always read nonfiction with a pencil and a highlighter nearby - I never write in fiction books, but I make notes all over my nonfiction.

From the Festival

This post is in the spirit of the In My Mailbox posts hosted by The Story Siren and inspired by Pop Culture Junkie, though none of these books were in my mailbox - they all came from the LA Times Festival of Books, where I spent way too much money!

M.T. Anderson. The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation. Volume 1: The Pox Party. Candlewick Press: 2008. - I've been meaning to read this for a while. I foresee a historical fiction streak in my near future.

Raised by a mysterious group of rational philosophers, young Octavian is dressed in silks and given the finest of classical educations. His regal mother entertains the scholars with her beauty and wit, but Octavian questions the purpose behind his guardians' fantastical studies. As the disquiet of Revolutionary Boston grows around him, Octavian dares to open a forbidden door, only to discover the hideous nature of the experiments - and his own chilling role in them.

Ally Carter. Cross My Heart and Hope to Spy. Hyperion Paperbacks: 2008.

All Cammie Morgan wants is a peaceful semester, but that's easier said than done when you're a CIA legacy and go to the Gallagher Academy, the premier school in the world... for spies. Despite Cammie's best intentions to be a normal student, danger seems to follow her. She and her friends learn that their school is going to play host to some mysterious guests - code name: Blackthorne. Soon Cammie and her friends are crawling through walls and surveilling the school to learn the truth about Blackthorne and clear Cammie's name

Ally Carter. I'd Tell You I Love You, But Then I'd Have to Kill You. Hyperion Paperbacks: 2006. - Yay! This sound like so much fun! Hooray for teenage spies!

Cammie Morgan is a student at the Gallagher Academy for Exceptional Young Women a fairly typical all-girls school - typical, that is, if every school taught advanced martial arts in PE and the latest in chemical warfare in science, and students received extra credit for breaking CIA codes in computer class. The allagher Academy might claim to be a school for geniuses, but it's really a school for spies. Even though Cammie is fluent in fourteen languages and capable of killing a man seven different ways with her bare hands, she has no idea what to do when she mets an ordinary boy who thinks she's an ordinary girl. Sure she can tap his phone, hack into his computer, or track him through town the skill of a real "pavement artist" - but can she maneuver a relationship with someone who can never know the truth about her?

Carol Higgins Clark. Jinxed. Pocket Star Books: 2002. - This just looked totally cute. I've always associated Mary Higgins Clark and Carol Higgins Clark with my mother, but I think it's time to give this one a try and admit I may actually like some of the same books as my mom (GASP!). Also, this appears to be the 6th book in a series. Oops!

A fun detective romp set in California wine country. Regan, a private investigator, must find Whitney, an actress, before her great-aunt Lucretia's wedding as Whitney's family, former hippies running the Altered States Bed & Breakfast and Meditation Center, will receive a fortune if everyone attends. Lucretia, an aging silent-film star, inherited a fortune and then made more money in a dot-com enterprise. Of course, the groom and his cronies are criminals out to thwart the family attendance by kidnapping Whitney so that they will receive more money. Add to this framework a motorcycle gang, two friends in their 90s, buried treasure, news coverage, and wildfires for an exciting mystery. (description from School Library Journal via Amazon).

Junot Díaz. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. Riverhead Books: 2008. I hear such good things about this, and it won the Pulitzer, so it must be worth reading.

Oscar is a sweet but disastrously overweight ghetto nerd, a New Jersey romantic who dreams of becoming the Dominican J.R.R. Tolkien and, most of all, of finding love. But Oscar may never get what he wants. Blame the fukú - a curse that has haunted Oscar's family for generations, following them on their epic journey from the Dominican Republic to the United States and back again.

Denise Hamilton, Ed. Los Angeles Noir. Akashic Books: 2007. - I write about film noir and Los Angeles history in some of my academic work, so it's natural that I do a little fiction reading around it.

Los Angeles Noir brings the ethos of Chandler and Cain filtered through a twenty-first-century, multicultural lens. This is a literary travelogue from the Chinese mansions of San Marino to the day spas of Koreatown to the windy hills of Mulholland Drive, the baby gangsters of East Hollywood, the OG entrepreneur of Leimert Park, the old money of Beverly Hils, and the working class of Mar Vista. Los Angeles Noir offers tales of crime and passion and betrayal from some of the most innovative and celebrated writers working today.

Charlaine Harris. Grave Sight. Berkley Prime Crime Books: 2006. - Free with purchases from Mysterious Galaxy. I LOVE Mysterious Galaxy. I'm probably lucky it's in San Diego and not easily visitable.

Ever since Harper Connelly survived a zap from a lightning bolt, she's been able to find dead people, a skill that makes the protagonist in the first installment of Harris's new series a tad more bizarre than the mind-reading heroine of the author's Sookie Stackhouse books (Dead as a Doornail, etc.). Harper travels to the Ozark town of Sarne, Ark., to find a missing teenage girl's body, accompanied by her stepbrother, Tolliver, who acts as her manager and bodyguard and with whom she shares a thinly disguised physical attraction that they manage to keep at bay by engaging in casual sex with various partners. Finding the body takes no time at all, but leaving town afterward isn't so easy. When Harper's life is threatened and Tolliver ends up in jail on trumped-up charges, it quickly becomes apparent that something sinister is going on in Sarne. (from Publishers Weekly via Amazon).

Jennifer Kaufman and Karen Mack. Literacy and Longing in L.A. Bantam Dell: 2006. - It's set in LA and about someone who loves books, how could I resist? Looks like fun chicklit, but I'm a little worried that the story may reject books in the end, in favor of a man and "real" life. I'll have to read it and see!

Dora, named for Eudora Welty, is an indiscriminate book junkie whose life has fallen apart. She's coping with a painful separation from her husband, scraping the bottom of a dwindling inheritance, and attracted to an aspiring playwright who seems to embody all that literature has to offer - intelligent ideas, romance, and an escape from her problems. As she navigates the road between reality and fiction, Dora faces powerful choices: between two irresistible men, between idleness and work, and most of all between the joy of well-chosen words and the untidiness of real people and real life.

Rochelle Krich, Michael Mallory, Lisa Seidman, Eds. Murder on Sunset Blvd. Top Publications Paperback: 2002. - More noir short stories set locally.

There are a million stories along this Boulevard of Dreams. Murder on Sunset Boulevard contains twelve of them, imagined by members of the Los Angeles Chapter of the international organization Sisters in Crime. But more than simply a collection of tales, Murder on Sunset Boulevard is a veritable journey down the city's 25-mile -long mother road, revealing the desires, dreams, failures, hopes, and passions of the people who make up the diverse fabric of Los Angeles.

John Scalzi. Zoe's Tale. Tor: 2008. - YAY! This is the book I was most excited to get. It's not even supposed to be released until next week! I've started it already.

How do you tell your part in the biggest tale in history? I ask because it's what I have to do. I'm Zoë Boutin-Perry: a colonist stranded on a deadly pioneer world. Holy icon to a race of aliens. A player and a pawn in an interstellar chess match to save humanity, or to see it fall. Witness to history, Friend. Daughter. Human. Seventeen years old. Everyone on Earth knows the tale I am part of. But you don't know my tale: how I did what I did - how I did what I had to do - not just to stay alive but to keep you alive, too. I'm going to tell it to you now, the whole thing, the only way I know how: not straight but true, to try to make you feel what I felt; the joy and terror and uncertaity, panic and wonder, dispair and hope,. All through my eyes. It's a story you know. But you don't know it all.

Mary Shelly. Frankenstein (1818). Ed. Maurice Hindle. Penguin Books: 2007. It's almost a crime that haven't read this yet, and I couldn't resist the fabulous comic-style cover. Even though I could have gotten the story more cheaply, I love this edition.

A deluxe edition of Mary Shelley’s haunting adventure about ambition and modernity run amok. Now a Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition with an introduction by Elizabeth Kostova and cover art by Ghost World creator Daniel Clowes, Mary Shelley’s timeless gothic novel presents the epic battle between man and monster at its greatest literary pitch. In trying to create life, the young student Victor Frankenstein unleashes forces beyond his control, setting into motion a long and tragic chain of events that brings Victor to the very brink of madness. How he tries to destroy his creation, as it destroys everything Victor loves, is a powerful story of love, friendship, scientific hubris, and horror. (Amazon product description).

Salman Rushdie The Enchantress of Florence. Random House: 2008. I thought this sounded lush and brilliant when it first came out in hardback, so I figured I should pick it up now that it's in paperback.

The Enchantress of Florence is the story of a mysterious woman, a great beauty believed to possess the powers of enchantment and sorcery, attempting to command her own destiny in a man's world. It is the story of two cities at the height of their powers - the hedonistic Mughal capital, in which the brilliant emperor Akbar the Great wrestles daily with questions of belief, desire, and the treachery of his sonse, and the equally sensual city of Florence during the High Renaissance, where Niccolo Machiavelli takes a starring role as he learns, the hard way about the true brutality of power.

Connie Willis. To Say Nothing of the Dog. Bantam Books: 1998. - Humor and time traveling sounds like fun to me! I'm a little worried that I should read Three Men in a Boat first, though.

Ned Henry is badly in need of a rest. He's been shuttling between the 21st century and the 1940s searching for a Victorian atrocity called the bishop's bird stump. It's part of a project to restore the famed Coventry Cathedral, destroyed in a Nazi air raid over a hundred years earlier. But the Verity Kindle, a fellow time traveler, inadvertently brings back something from the past. Now Ned must jump back to the Victorian era to help Verity put things right -- not only to save the project but to prevent altering history itself.

Note: All descriptions from the back of the book (some edited) unless otherwise specified.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Saturday Short Story: Mulholland Dive

Michael Connelly "Mulholland Dive." Los Angeles Noir.Ed. Denise Hamilton. Akashic Books: 2007. 21-38.

A departure from everything I've read and discussed here so far, "Mullholland Dive" is a short story set in Los Angeles, written in the noir style. It features Detective Clewiston, an accident investigator, as he attempts to explain what caused a brand-new Porsche to dive off the side of the road, killing the rich and famous driver who happened to be involved in a messy divorce.

While this story was slow to capture my attention, starting as it did with blood and crime scene procedure (including some unfamiliar police vocabulary), by the end I was impressed by Connelly's command of the form. It was a tight, clever, and perfectly illustrative of the noir style, particularly the work of James M. Cain. It also has an excellent sense of place, perfectly depicting the geography and spirit of the dark and twisty roads that divide city from suburbs.

This is a story for lovers of noir and lovers of Los Angeles, one of those short stories that leaves you with a wry smile on your face and an admiration for the author's skill.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Review: Year of the Griffin

Diana Wynne Jones. Year of the Griffin. HarperTrophy: 2000.

I couldn't resist; I followed up Dark Lord of Derkholm with Year of the Griffin, and I must admit that I enjoyed the sequel enormously. Year of the Griffin takes place 8 years after Dark Lord of Derkholm in a greatly changed world. It focuses on Elda, Wizard Derk's youngest griffin daughter, Elda, as she leaves home to go to the University to study magic. Where Dark Lord of Derkholm was a bit of a clever spoof on sword and sorcery fantasy novels, this volume focuses on a group of magical first year university students, and thus feels highly influenced by Harry Potter. It's also, however, a scathing critique of the absurdities of academia and I personally enjoyed it on both fronts.

This book feels like a cross between the Harry Potter books and Terry Pratchett's Unseen University characters, and it is once again incredibly good-natured; you can't help but liking almost all the characters. Even the bad guys (in this case pompous and neglectful professors) don't seem exactly BAD so much as ignorant and lazy. I liked Jones' variation on the Harry Potter theme in which six members of the 1st year class ALL work together to learn what they aren't being taught. There's a strong sense of equality and cooperation between characters throughout the book, and they face challenges that, while not exactly common everyday events are at least not requiring one character to be the saviour of the world. The six students faces assassins, pirates, mice, jinxes and terrible cafeteria foods - and they defeat these problems with library books and teamwork rather than sheer magical power. These are such fun, sweet, clever adventure stories and I recommend them for anyone who's a fan of magic and wizards.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Review: The Dark Lord of Derkholm

Diana Wynne Jones. Dark Lord of Derkholm. HarperTrophy: 1998.

I was in the mood for some fantasy with wizards and adventure, and this was the perfect choice. Diana Wynne Jones creates wonderfully imaginative magical worlds and Dark Lord of Derkholm was a brilliant meditation on tourism and exploitation in the form of a sweet magical adventure that also works as a spoof of other sword and sorcery novels. It's a clever novel without being ostentatiously so and it's a simple adventure in which all the characters are rather sweet and lovable and well-meaning (with the exception, of course, of the evil Mr. Chesney who exploits the the land with his magic tourism).

This is the story of the Wizard Derk, who has a lot of talent with plants and animals, but otherwise not much magical skill. He is chosen to play the role of the Dark Lord to harrow and intimidate the tourists who tramp through his land every year. Derk and his family must play their roles in an extended play creating adventure for the tourists all the while trying to find a way out of the demon-enforced contracts and financial dependence that place them at the mercy of the tourists from the non-magical world next door.

This book was great as a fast-paced magical adventure story filled with good, honest characters. The story kept my interest all the way through its 517 pages and I look forward to reading the sequel, Year of the Griffin. This has the feeling of Terry Pratchett's wizards but with less biting satire. If you like a good-natured fantasy adventure, this one is definitely for you.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Review: Cupcake

Rachel Cohn. Cupcake. Simon Pulse: 2007.

Cupcake continues the tale of Cyd Charisse, the fast-talking, independent-minded heroine of Cohn's Gingerbread and SShrimp. In this third installment, we find CC living with her gay half-brother Danny in New York City getting ready to start on her adult life.

Even though I have nothing in common with Cyd Charisse's rebellious ways, I find this trilogy utterly delightful. I'm am particularly charmed by CC's unconventional voice and punk rock style. This series deals with very adult situations in such an honest, whimsical manner that I can't help but fall in love with it. Cohn has crafted vibrant characters that make real-world places and situations feel like fairy tales in which acceptance of others and living in harmony with family and friends are happily every after. It's the kind of world that makes me appreciate my own family of choice and the connections and choices we make in this world. It's a story of growing up and finding yourself and making a home among like-minded people and I love it for that.

This book reminds me of Dangerous Angels but feels more realistic in its portrayal of punk rock aesthetic New York with real-life actions and consequences than Block's fairy tale punk rock Los Angeles. I highly recommend it! I also love this cover, and I really wish I had these covers for Gingerbread and Shrimp as well!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Book Zen

My fabulous BEDA buddies asked if I read a book every day, and though I've been reading a lot, the answer is a resounding no. I've been pushing myself to finish books quickly in order to facilitate the blogging every day, but some days I just don't make it. Jane Eyre, for example, took me four days. And I'm certainly not going to finish anything today - I have plans tonight. A lot of books, however, I can finish in a day if I want to. If I get hooked on a series, like I recently did with The Dresden Files, I will stay awake far too late in the night to finish one, then foolishly pick up the next one the next day. I love getting caught up in a world for extended periods of time.

This month, with my push to blog everyday and the resultant push to read every day, I've been working my way through some of the books on my bookshelf. I haven't bought any new books, and I've mostly chosen to read short books and YA books so that I can keep up the reading pace. Part of this has to do with anticipating the book-buying binge that I anticipate at the Festival of Books and part of it has to do with money and guilt over the books I've bought but not read.

The thing I love about the Festival of Books is that I spend time before it anticipating it and thinking about what books I want, and then I end up coming home with things that are completely unexpected. It's a true browsing experience, where I get to be around smart people who love books and they get to show me what's exciting that I might not even know I want! Even though I spend a lot of my time reading YA and science fiction, I often come home from the book fair with general fiction, or chick lit, or mysteries and I read them and love them. Part of this has to do with the fact that I go to the festival with my parents and even though I'm a grown-up, they always buy me the books, which is a wonderful treat, but also leads me into getting things that they might like so that we can share. It's like a mini book group. So even though I'm looking forward to the festival, I'm also considering buying the Gallagher Girls and the Secret Society Girl series because they sound so fun and cute. Even though I know that in a week I'll have a pile of new books to destract me for a while.

So, what are your favorite book zen finds that you stumbled upon where or when you least expect it? And what do you recommend that I keep my eyes open for at the book festival while still trusting to chance and fate and parents to help me decide what to read?

P.S. It was this interview with Diana Peterfreund that reminded me that I've always meant to read the Secret Society Girl Series. Now Peterfreund and Reviewer X are giving away a set of the whole series on Reviewer X's blog, so go here to enter.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Review: Zamora's Ultimate Challenge

M.K. Scott. Zamora's Ultimate Challenge. Quake: 2008.

Zamora's Ultimate Challenge is the story of two brothers, Mason and Conner, who are sucked into a video game and must fight through many challenges and monsters in order to rescue their baby sister. Along the way they are constantly reminded to believe in themselves, love each other, and "trust the light from within." I enjoyed the video game concept and the adventure throughout the story, but I found the book a little heavy-handed with the life lessons about love and light. The book had some great moments when the brothers teamed up to overcome their own fears and insecurities and there were some fabulous bad guys including dinosaurs, pirates, and poison fairies. I liked that the boys faced both intellectual and physical challenges, but the book moralized a too much for me.

I am clearly not the intended audience for this book - it's aimed at boys around 10-years-old, and that's a little young for my normal reading level. I'm going to give it to my mom's 4th grade classroom, where it will find its way into the hands of some kids who will probably love it; I can't wait to hear what they think of it! If you have a boy who loves video games and adventure, this might be the book for him.

I won this book from a giveaway at drey's library and I'm really glad I did. I wouldn't have read it otherwise, and I did enjoy it even if I had some problems with it. It definitely made me want to read more books about being sucked into videogames. I remember reading Piers Anthony's Killobyte when I was in jr. high or high school and loving it. Are there any other video game books I should check out?

Now I'm off to play some Legend of Zelda; this book put me in the mood for adventure!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Review: Lament

Maggie Stiefvater. Lament: The Faerie Queen's Deception. Flux: 2008.

I bought this book after reading about it on Unshelved - it sounded too good to pass up, and I'm so glad I picked it up. I was a little wary about a book that focused on characters playing musical instruments (I'm a musical dunce, despite living with musicologists), but Stiefvater's mythology employed music in a way that was entirely engaging and required absolutely no knowledge, understanding, or affinity for it.

What I loved about this book is it's a fairy tale that's not afraid of how truly nasty faeries are mythologically. The faerie aspects of the story unfold slowly, so for a large part of the novel there's just a suspenseful sense of faerie menace. There are so many wonderfully evil characters that I wanted to bask in the feelings of danger. While sometimes I've felt that I've read too many stories about faeries at the moment, this book didn't make me feel this way - it withheld the answers to the end so much that I HAD to keep reading.

My one complaint is that this book felt like it ended really abruptly - I would have liked to see a little more wrap-up and clean-up at the end. There's a sequel, Ballad, coming out in October, but in the meantime, there are so many more things I want to know! But if you can handle not having all of your questions answered, this is a great book that was suspenseful without being scary. I'd say it's like Holly Black's Tithe series with more drama and fewer answers.

P.S. Bookluver-Carol is giving away a copy of Lament here!

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Short Story Saturday: A

Neil Gaiman. "A Study in Emerald" Fragile Things: Short Fictions and Wonders: 2007. 2006.

I downloaded this story for free from audible, or you can listen to it here. It's delightfully weird - a combination of Sherlock Holmes and Lovcraftian Cthulhu mythology, in neither of which am I really an expert. This story asks for intense listening - I wanted to stop and pay attention to it. It's short and sweet and its pacing unfolds perfectly.

What I loved about this story is that it felt wonderfully self-contained and yet opened the possibility for whole worlds of other stories at the same time. I wished for more glimpses into that world, and yet I was satisfied with what I read. I highly recommend you check this out - it's sort and sweet and free and it's an excellent demonstration of storytelling craft.

Short Story Saturday

I'm playing with this idea as a weekly feature. In general, I'm not in favor of memes that force me into a weekly schedule, but weekends are tough for me to find time to read and write in general. I also don't generally read short stories very often. I prefer long form fiction - I'm more into sagas and series than short stories. If I like a story, I want more, so short stories are often frustrating. There are a lot of short stories out there, including many cheap or free on audible and I have a couple short story collections kicking around my house that would be good for me to pick up. So, we'll see how long I can keep this up as a weekly meme.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Review: Metatropolis

Jay Lake, Tobias Bukell, Elizabeth Bear, John Scalzi, Karl Schroeder, Ed. John Scalzi. METAtropolis. 2008.

This book was originally conceived as an audiobook project in which five great scifi authors collaborated on creating a world, and then each author wrote their story separately and then they were published together. It's now being released as a book, but really the audiobook is worth hearing. I don't know if it's still going on but here Scalzi explains how to get the audiobook for free to celebrate it's Hugo nomination.

Anyway, this is post-apocalyptic scifi set in a very near future that feels all too present. That's what I was constantly amazed by in these stories - how current and possible a complete societal collapse and restructuring feels. In it, the U.S. has partially broken apart and re-formed into independent city-states, some of which are loosely affiliated with each other. They're separated by wilds of abandoned suburbs. The stories explore new ways of getting things done and organizing activities and people in less wasteful ways, from collectives and communes to underground rogue states to online games that overlay the real world. I'm impressed by how brilliant and engaging each of the individual stories were.

I bought this audiobook because I'm a fan of John Scalzi and because I've been meaning to read something by Elizabeth Bear for a while, but I was pleasantly surprised with how much I loved each of the stories. I was particularly impressed by Jay Lake's "In the Forests of the Night," narrated by Michael Hogan, which takes place in a forest in the Pacific Northwest when a stranger makes his way into a very private underground commune. I also loved Karl Schroeder's "To Hie from Far Cilenia," which explores what is possible when cities go virtual and political and social affiliations exist in layers on top of the current political reality. I think I'm going to have to check out more of each of these authors' works sooner rather than later.

If you like science fiction that makes you rethink your current reality, this is for you. I'm having trouble comparing it to anything because each of the stories is pretty different, but lets say the universe is sort of Blade Runner meets Little Brother with some Michael Pollan and Jared Diamond thrown in for good measure.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Review: Jane Eyre

Charlotte Brontë. Jane Eyre (1847). Wordsworth Classics: 1992.

"A classic [is] something that everybody wants to have read and nobody wants to read" - Mark Twain

Jane Eyre was one of those books that I was never made to read in school (somehow I ended up studying 17th and 18th century novels, but not 19th!) and that I therefore could never make myself read, mostly because it was a classic - old and long and presumably stuffy. It's been on my bookshelf for years, picked up for $3.00 (price tag still on the cover) at some discount book warehouse store. I thought I knew the general plot, and I didn't think I was missing much by not reading it; I was wrong.

This book felt as engaging as a contemporary novel set in Victorian England. It's the story of a plucky teenage heroine mistreated at home and sent away to a horrible school, who then falls in love with her employer at her first job. It has fantastic Gothic elements - although they never appear, you get a strong sense of the ghosts and fairies haunting Jane's imagination as if they literally populated the English countryside. Once I had started the story, I wanted to finish it; both the mystery and the romance kept me engaged, even though I knew how it would end.

I could easily do a feminist reading of this, but I think this is the place for me to just say: I'm glad that I finally read this, and I admit that the prejudice (in the Jane Austen sense) that kept me from it in the past was foolish. It's an impressively well-written book, of course, but it's also the Victorian version of a great YA romance. It was a lot slower to read than most of the novels I read these days, and there were many words I didn't recognize (and I have a pretty good vocabulary - look for an edition with good footnotes*, if you can), but overall it was a highly enjoyable reading experience.

Now that I've finally read Jane Eyre, I'll have to start checking out the many derivative works that refer to it, like Wide Sargasso Sea and The Eyre Affair.

*My Wordsworth Classics edition pretty much only translated the French and gave the references for Shakespeare and Bible quotes. There were times I definitely wanted more historical and cultural information. I'd generally go for the Norton Critical Edition, which will have way more information than you need, but in this case I might choose this illustrated edition instead.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Too fun not to share!

I got the link from GreenBeanTeenQueen:

Brooke Taylor Books is offering readers an opportunity to win Geektastic, which looks like a super awesome book full of short stories about all sorts of geekiness by fabulous YA authors. Here's the description:

Acclaimed authors Holly Black (Ironside) and Cecil Castellucci (Boy Proof) have united in geekdom to edit short stories from some of the best selling and most promising geeks in young adult literature: M.T. Anderson, Libba Bray, Cassandra Clare, Tracy Lynn, Cynthia and Greg Leitich Smith, David Levithan, Kelly Link, Barry Lyga, Wendy Mass, Garth Nix, Scott Westerfield, Lisa Yee, and Sara Zarr.

With illustrated interstitials from comic book artists Hope Larson and Bryan Lee O'Malley, Geektastic covers all things geeky, from Klingons and Jedi Knights to fan fiction, theater geeks, and cosplayers. Whether you're a former, current, or future geek, or if you just want to get in touch with your inner geek, Geektastic will help you get your geek on.

Anyway, you enter the contest by telling her what makes you a geek, which is fabulous. I'm finding it totally addictive to think of all the things that make me a geek.

Enter here!

Choosing Books

There are several discussions out there right now about how you choose what to read. Some of them are selecting books in preparation for the 24-hour readathon, which I wish I could participate in, but I have theater tickets Saturday afternoon that will interrupt my reading time. Others are about requesting ARCs and writing reviews, which isn't an issue for me at this point. I've just started blogging and am mostly working on reducing my TBR pile of books I've bought. But if you want to know about ARCs, check out The Story Siren and her very important reminders about manners and humility. The Bookgirl Reviews is offering readers an opportunity to select what books they want her to review next. So I thought I'd let you all know how I choose what to read.

Mostly, I'm new at this, so it is in no way systematic. I'm a compulsive book-buyer, so I have a huge TBR pile at any given time. I have certain authors and series that I follow and will therefore pick up and usually read immediately a new book as soon as it comes out (in paperback). I also read a lot of (mostly YA and scifi) book review blogs, and when something has amazing buzz, I will pick it up as soon as it comes out. But unless it's something that rockets to the top of the TBR pile, I mostly pick novels off my bookshelf on a whim. I will tend to read genres in spurts. I will read a bunch of, say, vampire novels (recently the entire Anita Blake Vampire Hunter seriesand several Sookie Stackhouse books) and then I will all of a sudden be in the mood for realistic romances and I won't want to look at anything supernatural for a while. Then I'll slowly work my way back into scifi or fantasy. So right now, I'm only reading things that have gotten my attention enough that I've felt compelled to buy them, but I will skip around between genres depending on my mood.

I also (sort of) read more than one book at a time. First, I'm usually reading one book and listening to a different book on my ipod for when I'm driving and doing chores. Right now, I'm reading Jane Eyre and listening to METAtropolis. I tend to start several different books in different genres, and a few pages or sometimes a few chapters in, I will decide that one of them is the one I really want to be reading at this particular moment and I will continue with and finish that one. That one often leads to others like it, and so I'll have several other books that I've opened and started that I'm sort of but not really reading at the same time. You'll notice that the 4 books I've listed as the ones I am currently reading in the side bar aren't the ones I'm actually currently reading as I stated in this post. They're all books I've started, read a few pages of, and mean to and want to read, but that for one reason or another I picked up something else and got engrossed in that instead.

In addition to picking up books on a whim, I try to follow along with the reading at the Sword and Laser podcast and the Galactic(a) Watercooler Book Club, but if those aren't what I'm in the mood for, they often fall by the wayside. I will also gladly entertain recommendations and suggestions from friends, readers, and fellow bloggers. If you want to request a review of a certain book, I love to have people to talk about books with, so I will gladly be guided by the stars (or the readers) to pick up a book you want me to read or review sooner rather than later.

I tend to read more YA and fantasy than anything else because I can generally read them pretty fast, whereas hard core scifi (or Jane Eyre, which isn't that long but is somehow a lot slower than other the things I've been reading) can require an investment of a week or two. This is mostly relevant because of BEDA; because I'm trying to blog every day, I need to have new things to blog about, so I'm trying to read more books more quickly than I normally would. Usually, I don't care if it takes me a day, a week, or a month to finish a book, but I want to establish a baseline of several reviews on this blog to give readers a sense of my taste and style. I'm reading both recent and older books at the moment, both in order to demonstrate who I am and what I like to read, so that my book discussion isn't just about the newest, shiniest books out there but actually establishes a sense of who I am and what I like to read.

I also this week won my first book on a blog giveaway (yay! super exiting!), so when that book arrives, I might move it to the top of the pile just because it was free and I was excited to win something and I appreciate that someone bothered to give it away. If I ever happen to get to the point where publishers or authors actually wanted me to read and review things, I assume that this would be my policy, too - that, assuming it was something I was interested in reading, I would move it to the top of the pile. Right now, though, I'm just enjoying reading and writing about whatever I want as the spirit takes me.

Perhaps I will, like Bookgirl, catalogue some of the books on my TBR pile and ask the internet what they want me to read next. I wonder if it would work? I wonder how that would change my reading habits?

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

My Favorite Holiday

Coming up soon is the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books here in Los Angeles, and I must say I can't wait for April 25th. This is a huge outdoor festival where local bookstores, authors, publishers etc set up booths for the weekend and sell and sign and discuss books all over the UCLA campus. I think it was here 5 years ago that I really started picking up YA books on my own (other than Harry Potter, of course) - before that I just stole books from my mom's elementary school.

Because I go with my parents, I'm sort of constrained by their interests, so I'll probably be attending a panel on writing California history and not attending the panel on YA lit moderated by Cecil Castellucci (sigh), but I will be able to pick up books from all of my favorite indie bookstores at once. Yay! At the book festival, I tend to have the most success finding science fiction, fantasy, mysteries, young adult books, and quirky, intelligent general fiction. There's not a noticeable queer presence, but I usually pick up an offbeat queer book or two.

I'm always sure to pick up several books at the Mysterious Galaxy booth and usually do well at Book Soup and Skylight Books as well. It's always fascinating to see what all the different bookstores choose to bring as recommendations and representations of their own unique identities. Of course you can find major bestsellers at many different booths, but this festival is a great way for bookstores and publishers to highlight things I don't really know about yet. I love it!

So, I'm asking the internet to help me prepare. What offbeat or lesser-known books do you think I should look out at this year's festival? What do you predict I will fall in love with? What titles or authors should I look for? What new releases might I find there first? I'd be glad to take recommendations or suggestions for my annual book-buying binge! And if you're in the LA area, this event is definitely worth attending - I find it such a beautiful, idyllic day to wander among bookstalls in the spring weather.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Review: Tattoo

Jennifer Lynn Barnes. Tattoo. Delacorte Books for Young Readers: 2007.

Tattoo is a fun little book about a group of four teenage girls who get temporary tattoos at the mall and find themselves possessed with superpowers. Soon, they are caught in the middle of a supernatural battle between life and death that combines Celtic and Greek folklore into a fun mythology adventure.

Personally, I liked this story quite a lot. It's in no way a challenging read but it moves quickly and it presents a playful vision of mythology mixed with contemporary teenagers. I loved the group of four girls with a loving, unproblematic friendship; they laughed and quarreled and teased each other and loved each other. Each of them was distinct, although their characteristics were more descriptions and quirks than character development, but that's at least partially because the book was short - there may be more development over multiple books. I totally love Zo, who wasn't our main character but she was the one who wasn't into clothes and boys and the mall. She was a little athletic and protective toward her friends. But really, all four of the girls were cute and likable.

I must admit, I only picked up this book because the cover of the sequel, Fate, is so awesome. I really do love it, and I liked Tattoo enough that I'm excited to read Fate. Tattoo is a good, quick read and lots of fun. You'll like it if you like mythology. It's a girly version of <The Lightning Theif* without the adult supervision. It's not great literature, but I enjoyed it anyway.

*I keep comparing things to the Percy Jackson series for some reason. Am I missing diversity in my frame of reference, or is it just because I like those books so much? What else should I be comparing this book to?