Friday, December 31, 2010

Discovering bell hooks

A friend suggested I check out bell hooks after a really good discussion at work. I'm in the middle of reading "All About Love: New Visions" and "Feminism is for Everybody."

Neil and I started reading "New Visions" together, and the same reasons that I love it so far are the same reasons it drives Neil crazy. Go figure.

It's the first noon-fiction work I have really gotten into. It doesn't read like a text book, but I don't think hooks is exactly preachy, either. She simply tells the reader what she thinks, how she's feeling, and why, drawing heavily on personal experience and quoting a few other authors, sociologists and psychologists along the way.

Hooks contends that Americans no longer know how to love - that we confuse affection and care with love. Someone who is abusive does not love the person he or she is abusing. The short book focuses on different subjects every chapter - familial love, passionate love, greed, religion and spirituality, etc. Love should be more about respect -- you should cherish those who stand by, who you feel most comfortable around ... when it is all too easy to take them for granted and take things out on them. But doing that is not love.

This isn't to say that I agree with everything she has to say, and I don't think you have to in order to enjoy this book. It simply challenges you to question our society's views on love, how the media perceives love, and what it means to love.

More later, once I finish it.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

A Northern Light

Historical fiction abounds. It's not exactly hard to find a children's story about a kid who meets Abraham Lincoln or befriends Mark Twain or whatever it might be (in the adult section, too). It becomes a rarity when you stumble across a historical fiction book that works. Jennifer Donnelly's "A Northern Light" is one such work. In it, the real 20th century murder of Grace Brown is interwoven into the life of 16-year-old Mattie Gokey, as Mattie is working at the hotel in a town where a pregnant Grace is found drowned in the lake.

The story weaves between Mattie's present -- the summer of 1906 working at the hotel, getting to know Grace and then trying to understand her death -- and flashbacks to Mattie's past year working at home, going to school and trying to obtain her high school degree.

It's not hard to see why "A Northern Light" won a Carnegie Medal, Printz Award and was selected as a Borders Original Voice. The book deals with a lot of heavy issues - classism, racism, women's rights - in an accessible way, while still having an interesting plot and full characters. The Appalachian dialect of the early 1900s is done really well and really adds to the setting.

I had not heard of Jennifer Donnelly before reading this book. Her latest novel, "Revolution," came out earlier this year, and is also getting strong reviews. Looking forward to checking it out, too.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Maggie Furey

I finally finished Maggie Furey's Shadowleague trilogy sometime in November. When I first started the series with "Heart of the Myrial," I thought it was a pretty stereotypical, predictable fantasy series. It ended having a few surprises, getting progressively better with the final two books -- "Spirit of the Stone" and "Echo of Eternity."

The story centers on a group called the Shadowleague who are supposed to be the only beings on the world that can penetrate the barriers between the different countries on the planet. Each country is divided by a curtain wall that keeps the different elements and geographical landscapes separate. Some are rainy and mountainous -- others, dry and arid. Specifically designed to cater to the species living in each different location, every country is perfectly suited for its inhabitant. The dragons, who need sunlight to survive, are located in the dessert. Humans who rely on cattle and farming are in a green, lush plains. But then something begins to destroy the curtain walls separating the different climates, causing all of the species to begin to deteriorate. The destruction of the curtain walls wreaks havoc in each country as normally dessert lands become rainy and mild, tropical climates turn bitterly cold. Humans, centaurs, aliens, and dragons all begin to suffer and die.

Later on in the series, the main characters discover that the world was actually built by a superior alien race -- it is a giant machine that is slowly breaking down, destroying the curtain walls in the process and mixing the weather. The Loremasters of the Shadowleague are specially selected members of each race on the world, the gate keepers of the knowledge of the planet. They alone know the secret to penetrate the curtain walls, as they alone have shared knowledge of all the different countries, so of course they alone can save the planet.

It sounds cheesy, I know. It is a straight up adventure fantasy, but a good one, with likable, well-rounded characters and an enjoyable, entertaining storyline. Simple enough, but a quick read and one that keeps the reading interested.

Friday, November 12, 2010


This started out as a post about the Shadowleague trilogy (original intent, anyway), and ended up like this:

The entire living room is filled with books: only science fiction. Four bookshelves, and we still had to stick two more in the spare bedroom.

And that only covers science fiction/fantasy. The rest of the spare bedroom is children and young adult. The dining room is poetry. The bedroom is just two shelves of all the books we want to read "soon." The basement is fiction, but only the first three shelves of it. Behind the fake bamboo room in the basement, Neil has 40,000 comics and graphic novels.

And I still haven't gotten to the boxes of books we have yet to unpack -- history, philosophy, the rest of fiction. We can't use the garage, because it is filled with bookshelves we won't have room for until we finish the basement.

It's kind of disgusting, really. This is why I sit at home, alone on Friday nights, reading and writing about what I read.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Turn of the Screw

I like to think that I read a lot of books - certainly more than the average person. back in the day, I might have considered myself well-read ... but now, not so much. Being told to write for an audience with a fifth-grade reading level ... and eventually reading on basically the same level, must have had an effect eventually.

Anyway, I haven't read a "real" book a while. I used to love the classics, but now all I read are books that don't take much brain power ... teen fantasy, science fiction, graphic novels. Don't get me wrong: clearly I love the teenage brain sludge, otherwise I wouldn't read it ... but when I went back to the classics with "The Turn of the Screw" by Henry James, I think it made my head hurt a little.

James was a wee bit over my head. I have absolutely no idea if the narrator (the governess) was insane and imagining the whole thing, or it was supposed to be just a straight up ghost story. How can you tell when the narrator is reliable?

Quick summary: the novella begins with a friend recounting a tale of a dear friend he had, now deceased, who was a governess for a wealthy gentleman out in the country where she is instructed to care for two children, but never to contact their guardian for any reason. The story soon switches to this governess' perspective. And of course, she meets the two children, Flora and Miles and they seem perfect. Pale, blue-eyed, the whole package. And then the governess starts seeing dead people around the house. Oh, and they happen to be the previous governess and her lover. And she is the only one who can see them. And she is convinced the children can see them, too, and are being "influenced" by them ... and are just pretending to not see them.

But maybe it doesn't really matter. Either the governess was crazy or it's a straight up ghost story. I'm just not completely sure if the governess was supposed to be the bad guy, or the ghosts were supposed to be the bad guys.

Either way, it was a short novella and a nice ghost story of sorts to read in October.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Books I've read recently, but have been too lazy to write about

So, hey, you get the condensed versions:

• Percy Jackson and the Olympian's "The Battle for the Labyrinth" by Rick Riordan. I love this series. A lot. It just keeps getting better and better - sad to be only one away from finishing. I guess I will have to check out the Red Pyramid and some of his other new stuff.

• "The Lions of Al-Rassan" by Guy Gavriel Kay. I love every Kay book, and this is one of his best (doesn't quite beat Tigana but it is definitely up there.) This has to be the most historical book of his I've read, not nearly as fantasy-like as most of his other works. There are real parallels here to Spanish history and the wars with Christians, Jews and Moors. Well worth a look if you are at all into historical fantasy.

• "The Heart of the Myrial" by Maggie Furey. Another Maggie insisted that I read this book a long, long time ago. It took me about 7 years, but I finally got around to it. While it began as a rather typical fantasy, it packed a few surprises. The writing gets better with the series.

• "Mockingjay" by Suzanne Collins - The entire Hunger Games series was excellent. As with anything that gains the slightest bit of notoriety, critics wailed about how violent and "adult" the books are. Death? Corrupt politicians? Noooo! So beyond a teenager's reach. But, seriously, the entire series is impossible to put down, and the ending didn't disappoint.

• "Girls in Trucks" by Katie Crouch. Crouch's debut, another one I picked up at a GM meeting a few years ago. I had heard nothing about it since I got it three years ago, so was surprised when people approached me saying they had heard good things about it. A national bestseller - who knew? What started out as a somewhat stereotypical YA about a high school girl took a few surprising turns. Deep, probing -- it asks all the tough love questions. Crouch just came out with her second, this spring. I will have to check it out.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

A good Shannon Hale book!

You might think I would have given up on Shannon Hale after starting with "Austenland," but I decided to try "Princess Academy," as I already owned it.

I should probably be a little ashamed at how much I like this book. I REALLY loved it. A lot. It had surprising depth for a YA novel. Not only was it a great fairytale princess story, but it also portrayed teenage insecurities, classism, and typical childhood rivalries exceptionally well. I guess I shouldn't have doubted a book that got a Newberry Honor nod.

Friday, August 6, 2010


I picked up an advanced copy of "Austenland" at one of the last meetings I attended before being forced to leave the book world. Like nearly every other hopelessly romantic female in the world, I gravitate toward all things Austen, but this one was too much for me. I can't imagine this book appealing to anyone who isn't an Austen fan (or at least Pride and Prejudice -- be it the book, BBC or 2004 film version).

It is such a short, quick book (basically the only thing I've been reading, this summer. surprise surprise!) that I did manage to get through the whole thing, but it was trite and predictable the entire way.

Don't get me wrong: generally, I can't get enough of horrible, predictable romantic comedies, but even I have my limits. Ugh. This is the worst post ever (and that's saying something, since all I do is ramble about my personal opinions of the books I read without any sort of critique whatsoever) but man, sorry. I'm done.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Alison Croggon

Alison Croggon's Pellinor series begins with "The Naming" (released outside the U.S. as "The Gift").

There is nothing remotely original about the series, drawing heavily on LoTR and Harry Potter (right down to defeating a sea dog monster by singing it a lullaby in the second in the series). But, the writing's better than average and the characters are interesting.

I read the first one really quickly but am having a hard time getting through the second in the series, "The Riddle." I am struggling with the same issue I faced when reading "The Historian" -- I just feel like the same stuff keeps happening over and over again, without really going anywhere. Maerad and Cadvan are traveling. They're faced with a force of evil and banish it. She talks about the weather and landscape. They get to where they're going. They hear bad news, then they travel again. They're faced with a force of evil and banish it. They travel some more. They meet another bad guy. They travel some more. She talks about the weather and landscape. Then they get to where they're going. (In "The Historian" -- oh! another dead end and lost clue. Noooo!). "The Historian" dragged forever without really going anywhere -- Croggon's second is just repetitive.

This series has been recommended to be several times; a good bookseller friend of mine raves about it. So maybe I'm the only one who thinks it is a little too Lord of the Rings/Star Wars (don't go to the dark side, the light is all about "balance"/Harry Potter?

Ah well. With any luck, it will get better as the series goes on (again, like HP).

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Melissa Marr's Latest: "Radiant Shadows"

When I started working at Borders, Melissa Marr had just released her first young adult novel, “Wicked Lovely.” Since 2007, she’s released one a year. Her latest came out this spring, “Radiant Shadows,” and I have yet to really be disappointed by the series.

Marr keeps the storyline and fantasy world fresh by having each story focus on a different character. A character that may be present only in a chapter or two in one of the earlier books becomes the main character in the next.

Such is the case in “Radiant Shadows.” The Unchanging Queen’s brother, Devon, is also her Bloody Hand -- he does all her dirty week, serving as the eyes and ears of the high court outside of Fairie.

Ani is Gabriel’s daughter, half fey and half mortal. Both characters were introduced earlier in the series, but in “Radiant Shadows” they come together when readers learn that Ani is only alive because of Devon’s interference.

Don’t get me wrong: it is still just another young adult fantasy series. But it can be rather challenging to find one that is actually written with some skill. Most are so badly written they jar you out of the plot with the awkward transitions and poor diction (House of Night, anyone?). That is not the case with the “Wicked Lovely” series. Marr does an excellent job of keeping all of the threads of each character up in each new installment - e.g. a character doesn’t just drop off the face of the earth, never to be heard from again.

Personally, I find faeries more interesting than vampires (probably because they’re generally witty and quick, rather than just blood-sucking), and will keep watching for Marr’s take on the world of faerie. The final book of the Wicked Lovely series is slated for publication February 2011.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

An Abundance of Katherines

Continuing down the line of John Green works, I finished “An Abundance of Katherines” a few weeks ago. Though vastly different from Green’s debut, “Looking for Alaska,” "Katherines” is another coming of age novel centering on learning how to survive in one’s skin. The age old teen struggle of learning to like yourself and like yourself enough to show other people who you really are - not shirk away from your perceived flaws. Learn to be OK with how people see you, because it is often only a reflection of how you see yourself.

In “An Abundance of Katherines,” the narrator -- a washed up child prodigy named Colin -- has dated a lot of girls for his 17 years -- all of them named Katherine. 19 of them, in fact. And Colin has been dumped by every one of them.

After Katherine XIX dumps him -- inevitably, in Colin’s mind -- he can’t shake the stupor. His best friend (e.g. his only friend) cajoles him into taking a road trip: destination anywhere.

They are lured to Gutshot, Tennessee, the final resting place of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand and find jobs to keep them there for the duration of the summer.

OK, so I've only read the first two of Green's books, but even simply going off of the first two I would recommend him to anyone who appreciates a well-written, quick read. I cannot put them down. It is rare to find an author who can actually write good, believable characters and a good story, but Green does it. Character-driven and still an interesting plot.


Saturday, June 19, 2010

Wings, Spells and two more

My mom happens to work for a pretty impressive school district, especially when compared to today's typical state of slashed budgets where kids no longer have physical education, let alone music, art or foreign language. But at the middle school where she works, they actually still get to go above and beyond and have authors, artists and speakers visit. Amazing, eh? One of them that visited this spring was Aprilynne Pike. And being the awesome person that she is, my mom gave me copies of her books.

Pike debuted in May 2009 with "Wings," the first in a series of four (tetralogy?) centering on Laurel, a girl who discovers she's a fairy at 15. The storyline should be familiar to anyone who has read any YA fantasy book published in the last 3-4 years. However, I have to give Pike some credit because she at least *tried* to make her plot slightly different, combining a few of the traditional tales to give the typical Avalon/fantasy/fey line a bit of a face lift.

Yep, fairies in Avalon. And trolls. And plants that look like humans, and all kinds of stuff.

"Spells" is the second installment and gets a little more into the dramatic/romance oh how do I choose between two boys crap (or ... a wolf and a vampire/human boy or fairy), but you know: that's what happens when you're friends with Stephenie Meyer. But don't worry: she doesn't wallow nearly as much as Meyer, nor does she show the same sappy attachment to her characters. For me, that is what ruined the Twilight series. Meyer so fell in love with her own characters, and she refused to let them make harsh choices or have partially tragic endings. So far, Pike seems to be avoiding the trap that her well-known friend fell into.

Worth checking out, if you're looking for a quick fantasy read.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

What I miss about bookstores

The store had only been open for a few weeks, if that. There were people everywhere; the shelves were overflowing with books, music, movies. There were even displays of books outside the store, greeting you before you even entered (this was the first time I had ever seen that). There were stacks of books at the ends of shelves. There were books above the shelves they had so many books. There were employees at every register, a line at the information desk, a line at the music desk, a line at the cafe.

This was back when the Information Desk was still, indeed, an information desk. Employees stood behind the desk, with the computers facing them. They happily told you where to find what you needed, or took you there themselves.

This was back when James (for the purpose of this article, let’s call him James) still worked at Borders. Back before things “went corporate,” as he used to say ... though technically, it was already Borders Group, Inc. Over time, James grew to recognize me when I came into the store. He would find me kneeling in front of the Science Fiction section, to see if Gaiman had released anything new (Neverwhere!!), or replenished the third book in the Fionavar Tapestry, and he would thrust a stack of books into my hands.

“Did you know that Douglas Adams did some nonfiction? Have you seen this?” he would say excitedly. And I always loved every book he introduced me to - from Sidhartha and Last Chance to See to Good Omens and The Things They Carried.

And he would tell me about how virtually every paycheck he made at Borders went right back into the company. He told me about the amazing monthly book credits employees received, how he had crates of books instead of furniture in his apartment, and he made me fall in love with the company -- moreso, as I loved just about any bookstore that carried, well, books.

Fast forward nearly 10 years, to where bookstores are today. Where Borders no longer carries obscure music, and it’s been years since I’ve heard anything playing overhead that I have wanted to buy. Where Amazon is changing the landscape of the book industry, and e-book readers with it.

Where I go into that same store, and James is gone, and Ben, Kristen, and the rest of them.

Where Borders Cafe is now a Seattles Best, and Paperchase is more successful than the backbone of the business -- books. Where you got into a store and have to ask for a book that has been out for a four days -- only to find that it hasn’t been shelved yet, because the employees don’t have enough hours to keep up with 20,000 sq.-ft space. The shelves are in disarray, and you find roleplaying in the middle of Sci-Fi, or a romance book in Young Adult.

What happened to my bookstore?
When they sold books -- not candies, stuffed animals and bags. This was back when the average employee was anything but average. They were passionate, smart people who read just as much as the customers. They would find you browsing Phillip Pullman and ask if you had read Amelia Atwater Rhodes. They didn’t greet you at the door with a coupon and ask if you needed help finding something, rather they thought it was a short visit if you had to leave after 45 minutes of browsing and managed to limit your purchase to three books, not six or seven.

This was back when the average customer spent at least an hour in the store -- they didn’t come in asking for the latest NYT bookseller or Oprah book, but went beyond the bestseller fixture at the front of the store.

What happened to employing people who read?
Now, when I ask for a book, I get blank stares. When I asked the general manager at a store in Michigan what his favorite book was, he shrugged and said he didn’t read, but liked movies.

Shouldn’t it be a prerequisite to like books, to be able to work there? Am I being old fashioned? I don’t think so ...

In my hometown, I grew up going to Borders, Barnes & Noble, and Joseph-Beth Booksellers. I think as a kid, and even as a teenager, I would have been hard-pressed to tell you the difference between any of the brands. They were bookstores, so I loved them. Sure, maybe some of them had dark-wood shelves, and others lighter birch or something, but a bookstore of any kind is a good thing. I connected with people who read, and I found some of the people at each place.

I miss going into a bookstore on a weekly basis, and having the employees recognize me, sometimes running up to me with a book I have to read.

I miss even recognizing the employees, myself, to be honest. Nowadays, I rarely see the same employees twice at the local Borders I go too.

I love Borders, and will fight for the survival of bricks and mortar bookstores in every way that I can (mainly just from continuing to buy from them), but my heart aches for what was.

I know I am generalizing a lot, here. Of course there are still smart people at Borders, in the stores and elsewhere. And I know that people still go in there and waste an afternoon exploring and reading. But there just seems to be such an air of defeat, at the very least indifference, to the place.

And I miss my Borders.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.

I'm way late too the bandwagon on this one.

Can't even remember why I bought this book - if I did. Maybe I picked it up in the free book room from work, maybe it was a gift ... Regardless, I'm not really one to read "diet" books, which I thought this was. It's not.

It's awesome. And I rather fanatical about this book - so much so that I can't really write anything concrete about it, except ...

I think every person on the planet should read Michael Pollan's "In Defense of Food." It is the only book about diet/nutrition/food that I have ever read that is actually readable, interesting, and makes sense. (OK, not that I've ever read many. I think it I'm up to two, with this one.)

If you want to know why America has higher rates of obesity, heart disease and diabetes than anywhere else on the planet, read this book.

It gives you fantastic advice, like ...

• Eat meals
• Don't get your fuel from the same place you car does
• Try not to eat alone
• Cook, and if you can, plant a garden
• Eat slowly

Simple stuff: it doesn't tell you that you to avoid certain food groups that make no sense (cough Atkins cough cough), but yes, it does tell you to lay off the Pringles, white bread (e.g. bleached/processed flour + sugar = bread devoid of nutrients), Cheetos any other fake/ridiculously processed foods.

Even if you can't stomach being preached at, the book covers a decent amount of history on the food industry - from the advent of margarine and a history of Kellogg's to the lipid hypothesis.

If you don't want to know the why behind the what, just pick up "Food Rules," which is basically an expansion of the past part of "In Defense of Food."

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Discovering John Green

Nothing makes me appreciate opportunity cost more than the realization of what amazing literature I missed while attending college. Really. It's the only possible excuse I could have for not knowing an author like John Green for the first half-decade of his career. Sadly, I didn't have much time for pleasure reading while I was in school - probably because most of my classes involved journalism, English or German.

But anyway, an MLS friend of mine finally told me to read "Looking for Alaska." Well, anything by John Green, but I like to start with the debut work first, if I can.

And John Green is Stephen Chomsky meets Salinger meets Gabriel Zevin meets John Knowles. I'm not kidding, it is that good.

I can't remember the last time a book made me cry, laugh out loud, and ponder the meaning of life before I was halfway through it. Particularly in young adult.

"An Abundance of Katherines" is next.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Tiger! Tiger! (Or, the Stars My Destination)

Everyone has read, or at least heard of Huxley's "A Brave New World" and George Orwell's "1984." From there, the list of dystopian, futuristic novels goes on: Ayn Rand's "We the Living," Bradbury's "Fahrenheit 451."

So why are those considered classic literature when Alfred Bester's "The Stars My Destination" is not? The stigma of science fiction is a funny thing.

Originally published as "Tiger! Tiger!" in the U.K., the first title is much more fitting than the U.S. title "The Stars my Destination." The American title is much too soft, inviting for a novel centering on Gully Foyle, the most ruthless, single-minded criminal of the future.

Gully Foyle is so inhumane, truly a tiger, that it is impossible to sympathize with him. He is transformed so completely a mere few chapters in that you no longer recognize the man behind the mask.

With such a cruel main character, I was skeptical about getting through the book, but Bester's reputation did not disappoint. It is such a detached, clinical read that one can easily look beyond the horrors the characters endure to focus on the plot. Even the characters who are "normal" (e.g. not on a suicide mission of revenge) are easy to dismiss. The characters are not meant to mimic people, they are just vessels to get the point of the plot across - not flushed out or wholly developed personalities, but one-dimensional creations that Gully Foyle can easily and thoughtlessly destroy.

It was a much faster read than I expected, too. Highly recommend it for anyone into dystopian novels or science fiction.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Gabrielle Zevin's Debut

People seem to think it matters how a couple meets, but I have always been much more interested in how one parts. In general, I think endings tend to be more informative than beginnings. And yet, people love those meeting stories, even though they are all the same. It's always "a friend introduced us" or "I was in love with him from the moment I saw him" or "we were just friends."

I think that's why people love these stories actually. People love to hear them, because the stories are all the same-the stories remind us of ourselves.

Maybe ending stories are all the same, too. "I fell in love with someone else" or "I woke up one morning and I didn't love him anymore" or "She died" or "He died" or any combination therein.
--From Margarettown: a Novel, by Gabrielle Zevin

I read the first Gabrielle Zevin that most do: Elsewhere. It won some awards and can be found in just about any bookstore. From that point on, I was hooked. I followed it up with Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac, her other young adult novel.

I finally dug a little deeper and came upon her adult stuff: Margarettown and The Hole We're In. I just finished Margettown, her first published novel. Vastly different from her YA stuff, a bit more raw and just as engrossing.

She is rapidly becoming one of my favorite authors of all time. Margarettown is a love story. The story begins with the narrator, "N." writing to his daughter, Jane, to tell her about her parents met and fell in love - how"N." falls in love with Margaret Towne, really.

It sounds so ordinary when I sum it up that way; I don't know how else to succinctly sum it up without giving away too much. But it is so much more than a simple love story. It certainly doesn't really read like a romance (except for maybe about the first five pages). The book is harsh in its portrayal of how love can be, how hard it is to really know a person. Everything about the book is engaging, from the beautifully drawn characters and the variety of narrators to Zevin's gut wrenchingly honest observations on how fickle, yet true, love can be.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Blog Attempt ... 3?

OK, so, after some debate, I've come up with a better solution to the whole two blog-thing: combine them.

Eclecticbookwrm is winning, because all I ever do is blog about books anymore, and it is a much more appropriate URL than my newer book blog. So, I'm going to eventually getting around to deleting the more online-diary-type entries on this one, and will use this one going forward.

Voila. (Thus, Google Search problem is fixed).

It's been a while since I've updated either of these, but I'm working on that.

Until then.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Graceling by Kristen Cashmore

"Graceling" was a staff pick at Bookshelf at the Boatworks, this cute little indie bookshop in Tahoe City, so I picked it up for airport reading material.

Katsa is a 17-year-old, graced with special killing abilities. In rare cases, certain people in her country can be "graced" with anything - a special, extreme affinity for music or the arts, cooking. They can be mind readers, swimmers or fighters. For Katsa, she has been able to kill with her bare hands when her grace manifested itself when she was a young girl.

Though Katsa is royalty, her uncle, the king, has turned her into his own hired killer. It is on one of her missions that Katsa meets Po, another Graceling, and she is finally able to learn that she has more control of her own destiny than she realizes.

When it comes to finding good books to take on vacation, I am a lot more superficial than usual. I only grabbed "Graceling" because it was one of the thicker books on the YA shelf, and I wanted to get something that would last through the 10 hour day of traveling.

"Graceling" turned out to be one of the best young adult books I've read in a while (up there with Collins' the Hunger Games and Catching Fire). It can be kind of a challenge to find an author or series in the YA genre where plot, narrative and characterization all come together, and I think it does in this one.

And the best part? Cashmore did do a follow-up, "Fire," but it doesn't follow the same lead characters. It only takes place in the same world.

Looking forward to checking it out, soon.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Richelle Mead's Vampire Academy Series

Neil got me the first three of the Vampire Academy series for Xmas, so I took the first one with me to Tahoe, where I proceeded to read the first book in the four-hour plane ride to Vegas. (I've come to terms with the fact that I prefer young adult over most books ... particularly over what most normal adults read.).

So anyway, my standards for "quality literature" are probably considerably lower than most people's, but really: I was surprised at how completely engrossed in this series I was.

There is nothing particularly spectacular about it. I mean, it's written in coherent sentences and has a decent, easy-to-follow plot and fairly believable characters (certainly more than I can say for some vamp/fantasy series in YA ... that I still like. heh.). It was just a quick, engrossing read.

Vampire Academy is narrated by Rose Hathaway, a half human/half vamp (Dhampir) training to become her best friend, Lissa's, guardian (a royal Moroi vampire). Rose and Lissa are closer than most best friends -- they have a special bond where Rose can slip into Lissa's conscience and feel what she is feeling, see what she is seeing.

There are four in the series so far:
  • "Vampire Academy"
  • "Frostbite"
  • "Shadow Kiss"
  • "Blood Promise"
  • The fifth in the series, "Spirit Bound," is coming out in May
I think this is my new favorite of the cheesy YA vampire series.  Mead can actually write, unlike some of the authors in YA.  Vampire Academy is Mead's only young adult series - she also authors two fantasy series -- one about a freelance shaman and the other, a succubus protagonist. They're on the list to check out.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Jasper Fforde

Just when I thought Jasper Fforde couldn't get any better ... I got to meet the guy.

I guess I shouldn't really be surprised, I mean he had everything going for him. He's Welsh ... he writes literary fiction and makes all kinds of references to make bookworms of every type happy (from Austen, Bronte, and Dickens to contemporary and romance) ... he's witty, hilarious and unique.

And during his tour for Shades of Grey, he stopped by Borders and I got to get my books signed.


So anyway, it made me start re-reading some of the Thursday Next novels. (Namely, the ones I hadn't read twice, already ... Skimmed through Well of Lost Plots again and then read Something Rotten and First Among Sequels).

I just completely love him, to the point that I can't give any coherent detail as to why I love him.

Not brain-washed, I swear.

Looking forward to checking out Shades of Grey, soon.

Incidentally, did you know that he actually wrote The Big Over Easy and the Nursery Crime Series before Eyre Affair?

Who knew?

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Children's Lit to Start the New Year

I started the New Year by reading some stuff of my YA/IR shelf: A Wrinkle in Time and City of Ember.

Now I HAVE to go to the library and read the rest of L'Engle's series. I don't know what happened to my copies of Wind in the Door and Swiftly Tilting Planet ...

I'm not entirely sold on City of Ember. It was a bit different than I expected, and given that you can read one in a matter of hours, I guess I should just pick up the other two and finish it, too.

A Game of Thrones

This book and the entire Song of Ice and Fire series has been recommended to me more times than I can remember. I can be fairly reluctant to take on new Sci Fi series -- it's a big commitment to read seven books when each is 700+ pages (it's the same reason I still haven't started Jordan's Wheel of Time). Forgive the cliche, but really: so many books, so little time.

But I relented. And then I couldn't put it down, of course... and then suddenly found myself anticipating the rest of the series.

Martin tells a fantastic story, but leaves no character safe from his plots. He kills characters off easily, if pain and suffering and death are what the story demand, so make sure you don't get too attached to anyone. But, I am, of course, attached to some. Favorites: Arya, Jon Snow, Caitlyn, Tyrion and Dany.

I'm catching up on some Jasper Fforde and YA before I continue the series, but I have some time until Dance with Dragons is released, I think. We'll see if it actually is released this fall.

The past few months have changed a lot for me, and I find myself reading much more than I have in the past several years (since high school ... really). I spend more time reading than anything, nowadays (not a bad thing). I won't set a goal of the 50 books in 365 days -- that's much too organized and ambitious -- but I think I might actually come closer this year than I have since about 2003... but at least with this thing it will be much easier to remember what I have read.