Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Top Ten Tuesday - Ten Characters Who Are Fellow Book Nerds

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted at The Broke and the Bookish.

This week's topic is Ten Characters Who Are Fellow Book Nerds.  You know, I wasn't sure I was going to be able to come up with ten characters who fall into this category.  At least, not from books that I enjoyed.  The "character who reads" has become a bit of a cliche.  It's not always done well (like in one particular book where the main character is a book blogger... and yet I can't recall her spending much time reading at all!).  Plus, readers don't always make for the most interesting characters, since they're reading rather than doing.

But, with all that said, I did manage to come up with ten characters who love the written word in some way, whether they're writers or readers or just people who enjoy the power of a good story:

Ten Characters Who Are Fellow Book Nerds:

Agnes from Wrapped by Jennifer Bradbury

Agnes got to read and fangirl over Jane Austen's books when they were first published!  How cool would that be?  (If I recall correctly, she was really into Price and Prejudice... which, back then, was attributed to "A Lady"!)

Ash from The Lake and the Library by S. M. Beiko

The title kind of gives away the fact that books play a major role in this story.  There is an abandoned, magical library and quite a bit of fantasy.  Though the book has some weaknesses, it really struck an emotional chord with me.  Perhaps that's because books and stories and imagination played such a big role in the story.

Cat from Yarrow by Charles de Lint

This story features a writer who gets her ideas from a dream world.  And then, of course, something goes awry and you get this wonderful crossover of the mundane with the fantastical.  This is one of my favourite Charles de Lint books.

Catherine from Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen

The main character's love of stories plays a huge role in the plot... as it gets her into quite a bit of trouble!  (I haven't actually read this book yet, but I have seen a film adaptation.  I thought the story was quite charming.)

Jo from Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

Jo is the most bookish of the March sisters.  She loves to write, and does so throughout the story.  Even after Amy destroys one of her manuscripts, she doesn't give up.

Joe and Sammy from The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon

Two characters for the price of one!  I didn't think I could really single either one out, since their comic books were a joint venture.  Though I'm not really into reading comic books myself, I did enjoy this story about two cousins who achieve a measure of success in 1930s New York City with their original creations.

Liesel from The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

I think this one is pretty self-explanatory.  I don't know if I've ever read about a character with a greater love for books than Liesel.  She never took the books she was able to get for granted (even if some of them were a little less than appropriate for a young girl).

Margaret from The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield

This one is about books and stories and writers and booksellers... and some really dark stuff in the past.  The framing device is an aged writer dictating one final story to the owner of an old book shop.  How much more bookish can you get?

Matilda from Matilda by Roald Dahl

This little girl is the ultimate bookworm.  I don't recall reading the book until after the movie came out... which is a shame, because if I'd read it as a child, I'm sure I would have identified with the main character quite a bit!

Memer from Voices by Ursula K. Le Guin

Memer lives in an occupied country where the written word is outlawed.  The horror!  Though this book had a little more politics than I would have liked, it was a decent fantasy that really delved into the ideas of freedom and literacy.  In Memer's house are hidden some of the last remaining books, which of course leads to all sorts of danger and angst.

Which characters are some of your favourite fellow book nerds?

Saturday, July 25, 2015

New to the TBR Pile (34)

Freebie from Amazon.ca:
Entangled (Spellbound #1)
by Nikki Jefford

Two months after dying, seventeen-year-old witch Graylee Perez wakes up in her twin sister Charlene’s body.

Until Gray finds a way back inside her own body, she’s stuck being Charlene every twenty-hour hours. Her sister has left precise instructions on how Gray should dress and behave. Looking like a prep isn’t half as bad as hanging out with Charlene’s snotty friends and gropey boyfriend.

The “normals” of McKinley High might be quick to write her behavior off as post-traumatic stress, but warlock Raj McKenna is the only person who suspects Gray has returned from the dead.

Now Gray has to solve the mystery of her death and resurrection and disentangle herself from Charlene’s body before she disappears for good.

What's new to your TBR pile this week?  Let me know in the comments!

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Top Ten Tuesday - Ten Books That Celebrate Diversity/Diverse Characters

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted at The Broke and the Bookish.

This week's topic is Ten Books That Celebrate Diversity/Diverse Characters.  You know what's interesting?  Many of the books that I count as diverse take place in the future.  We see diversity in science fiction and dystopian worlds.  It's not like we don't live in a diverse world right now.  So why aren't we seeing that reflected in the books we're being offered?  Here are my picks for books that celebrate diversity... right now, or in the past:

Ten Books That Celebrate Diversity/Diverse Characters:

All the Truth That's in Me
by Julie Berry

I'm still not sure how to categorize this book.  It reads like historical fiction, though (and there are no fantasy elements), so I'm going to count it.  The main character has a physical disability, and one of the other characters also ends up with a disability... at a time when those disabilities would have been very limiting.

The Art of Racing in the Rain
by Garth Stein

The diversity in this one is because of the narrator.  He's a dog.  Literally.  But that offers a unique perspective that we don't often see in other books.

The Book Thief
by Markus Zusak

Aside from the personified version of death, this is really a historical novel.  Religious diversity is one of the themes here (and, since it takes place in 1940s Germany, you can probably guess which religions we're talking about).

Free as a Bird
by Gina McMurchy-Barber

This is the first book I've read where the narrator had Down syndrome.  I really loved Ruby Jean's voice.  It also takes place in Canada, which is a little different from the usual American setting.

The Girl in the Garden
by Kamala Nair

This story is narrated by a grown-up immigrant woman who's reflecting on the time she spent in India as a child.  I loved the descriptions of the people and places in this book; they were so well done, I could almost imagine being there myself, experiencing the heat and tasting the lime juice they drank to keep cool.

A Handful of Stars
by Cynthia Lord

This book's narrator is white... but she's of French-Canadian descent, living in coastal Maine, who makes friends with a migrant farm worker of Mexican descent who spends most of the year in Florida.  As a bonus, there's lots of talk about blueberry enchiladas, which kind of makes me want dessert...

And, as an added bonus, the main character's dog is blind.  Hey, dogs can be diverse, too!

by Alice Hoffman

This historical novel features both ethnic and religious diversity.  It takes place in Spain during the Inquisition.  The main character is a Jew living as a Christian.  Muslims also make an appearance.  It's an interesting story about a time and place that I knew nothing about before I read the book!

Listen, Slowly
by Thanhha Lai

The narrator of this story is an American girl of Vietnamese descent.  She's a bit of a fish out of water when she accompanies her father and grandmother to Vietnam for the summer.  The descriptions of the setting were very vivid, and the cast of characters was well rounded.  Some of the incidents (and the characters' reactions to those incidents) were laugh-out-loud funny.

My Book of Life by Angel
by Martine Leavitt

Set in Vancouver, Canada in the not-so-distant past and narrated by a teenaged prostitute, this book offers a glimpse into the lives of sex-trade workers at a very dangerous time.

Under a Painted Sky
by Stacey Lee

Five young adults on the Oregon trail in the 1840s... and only two of them are white?  This book was such a pleasantly diverse surprise.  And while I question the plausibility of some of the things that happened (I think the world back then was a little less tolerant than this book might lead one to believe), it was still nice to see so much diversity represented in one story.

Have you found some great books that celebrate diversity?

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Review - The Here and Now

The Here and Now
by Ann Brashares
Date: 2014
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Reading level: YA
Book type: prose novel
Pages: 192
Format: e-book
Source: library

An unforgettable epic romantic thriller about a girl from the future who might be able to save the world... if she lets go of the one thing she’s found to hold on to.

Follow the rules. Remember what happened. Never fall in love.

This is the story of seventeen-year-old Prenna James, who immigrated to New York when she was twelve. Except Prenna didn’t come from a different country. She came from a different time—a future where a mosquito-borne illness has mutated into a pandemic, killing millions and leaving the world in ruins.

Prenna and the others who escaped to the present day must follow a strict set of rules: never reveal where they’re from, never interfere with history, and never, ever be intimate with anyone outside their community. Prenna does as she’s told, believing she can help prevent the plague that will one day ravage the earth.

But everything changes when Prenna falls for Ethan Jarves.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

Well, that was a waste of time.  A small waste of time, since the book is short, but a waste of time nevertheless.  I had high hopes for this one, since I really enjoyed My Name Is Memory, but this book didn't even come close to that one in terms of plot, characters, writing... or pretty much anything, really.  I feel like Brashares phoned it in with this book; I can almost imagine her publisher calling her up and saying, "Hey, can you whip us up a short time travel novel for release next month?  Don't worry about having it make sense.  It's for teenagers; just throw in some romance and you'll be good."

Please, dear author, I want some more...

I hate to say it, but the best thing about this book is its length.  The cover's kind of interesting, too.  That's about it.

It's all a matter of taste...

My main issues with this book are: the lackluster characters and their annoying, inexplicable romance; the iffy science; and the confusing depiction of time travel and the rules surrounding it.

Prenna is one of the most boring characters I've come across recently.  She has no real personality.  Aside from the fact that she's good at school, we don't know much about her.  So when she gets together with Ethan, the boy who witnessed her appear naked in the woods after her time jump (awkward!), there's the constant question of why.  Ethan's smart.  He's popular.  He's cute.  And he's kind of obsessed with someone with the personality of a piece of wet bread.  (It sort of reminded me of Edward Cullen's obsession with Bella Swan, a girl whose one and only hobby seemed to be self-deprecation.  Why are these interesting, accomplished guys always attracted to such boring girls?  It makes no sense.)  The romance itself is kind of sudden, even though the two have known each other for a while, and it's not long before they're getting all sappy and annoying and making the reader want to slap them.  They're in the middle of trying to save humanity, and their hormones are running the show.  It's a scary thought.

In Prenna's time, the world is in the midst of a mosquito-borne plague.  That's why she and the other plague survivors went back in time: to escape the disease... and presumably prevent it from ever happening.  The problem with that is the community's rules against interfering in the timeline (which is kind of a big plot hole, no matter how you look at it; how can you not interfere with the timeline when the very act of travelling through time does just that?).  The leaders of the community are evil, anyway, power-hungry dictators who drug and surveil those under them to make sure they aren't breaking any of the rules.  They're not supposed to interfere in the known timeline, implying an element of determinism that's pretty depressing.  How do they know how things are supposed to be?  Why is a timeline with interference from time travelers any less valid than one without?  By the end, it seemed that the rules were in place more to cause complications for the plot than for any meaningful reason.  So what if people find out you're from the future and want to develop time travel technology?  What makes you and your problems so special that you're the only ones allowed to go back in time and try to prevent tragedy?  You think there haven't been other people over the millennia who wouldn't have loved a chance to change what happened to them and their families?

The plague's science is both plausible and implausible.  I'm also not sold on the idea that Prenna's people could harbour pathogens indefinitely.  It just seems like a convenient plot device, a way to make everything seem oh, so tragic when our lovebirds can't get together because they might start a new plague.  (As far as I know, that's not the way it works.  Time travel aside, when one group of people encounters another group for the first time, any pathogens are shared pretty much right away.  Even if the disease is blood-borne, there are still work-arounds.)

And don't even get me started on the whole Americocentric aspects of the plot.  Just because one American oil tycoon manages to get carbon emissions in the U.S. deregulated does not mean the whole planet is going to burn.  (The book's science also conveniently ignores the effects of methane, a much more powerful greenhouse gas, and focuses solely on carbon.  And then the main characters go around eating sausages and cheeseburgers while wondering how to stop climate change so the mosquitoes don't rise up and kill everyone.)

The book also seems a bit short on plot, which is ridiculous.  There's so much that could've been expanded upon, but a lot of the story is padded by the two main characters driving around the New York area in a borrowed car and Ethan trying to teach Prenna how to play cards.  With a book this short, there's no excuse for such slow pacing.

Let's get technical...

I do not recall such awkward prose in My Name Is Memory.  The book seems hastily thrown together and even more hastily edited, leading to numerous places where the characters will say something that doesn't make sense in context; it's as if something important was cut out, and then the next sentence wasn't corrected to reflect the changes.  The characters also spoke really... strangely.  They often avoided contractions, and (especially with the teenagers) it sounded really odd and stilted.

The verdict...

When I first heard about this book, I was excited.  But now that I've read it, I'm completely underwhelmed and disappointed.  It's a pretty lousy time-travel novel.  It's a pretty boring romance.  It's... just not very good.  (For romantic time travel done well, go try Cristin Terrill's All Our Yesterdays instead.)

Quotable moment:

Ethan shrugs. "Too bad we can't do Internet searches of the near future. I mean, hey, it's only a couple days away."

I laugh. "Yeah, what's with that? You can't even look up tomorrow. Who says the Internet is boundless?"

Premise: 2/5
Plot: 1/5
Characters: 1/5
Pace: 1/5
Writing: 3/5
Editing: 2/5
Originality: 2/5
Enjoyment: 1/5

Overall Rating: 1.63 out of 5 ladybugs

Saturday, July 11, 2015

New to the TBR Pile (33)

Borrowed from the library:
The Here and Now
by Ann Brashares

An unforgettable epic romantic thriller about a girl from the future who might be able to save the world... if she lets go of the one thing she’s found to hold on to.

Follow the rules. Remember what happened. Never fall in love.

This is the story of seventeen-year-old Prenna James, who immigrated to New York when she was twelve. Except Prenna didn’t come from a different country. She came from a different time—a future where a mosquito-borne illness has mutated into a pandemic, killing millions and leaving the world in ruins.

Prenna and the others who escaped to the present day must follow a strict set of rules: never reveal where they’re from, never interfere with history, and never, ever be intimate with anyone outside their community. Prenna does as she’s told, believing she can help prevent the plague that will one day ravage the earth.

But everything changes when Prenna falls for Ethan Jarves.

Freebie from Amazon.ca:
Streetlights Like Fireworks
by David Pandolfe

Psychic flashes, haunting visions, missing persons and visits from ghosts. That’s just their first date.

Jack has been getting on his parents’ nerves for some time. Bad enough he’s a rock musician, has crappy grades and hangs out with his “loser” friends. But Jack’s ability to predict the future — well, that just annoys the hell out of them.

Jack’s classmate, Lauren, is said to have unique abilities too. The town still talks about when she kept badgering her mother about the money in their wall. For the longest time, Lauren’s mother didn’t listen. Finally, she did and she hasn’t had to work since.

Jack would really like to connect with Lauren but can’t figure out how. She’s never looked at him twice. But when he experiences a mystifying event involving visions, voices and spectral visits, Jack figures there’s only one person to help him understand who’s calling out to him and why. Before long, Jack and Lauren are off on a road trip of discovery that could provide answers to a mystery left unsolved for twenty years. More importantly, they might even unravel the greatest mystery of all — how every so often someone will accept you for who you are.

What's new to your TBR pile this week?  Let me know in the comments!

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Top Ten Tuesday - Top Ten Hyped Books I've Never Read

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted at The Broke and the Bookish.

This week's topic is Top Ten Hyped Books I've Never Read.  After a few less-than-pleasant experiences with over-hyped books, I've become a little hesitant when it comes to reading books with lots of hype.  That's not to say that I'll never read any of these; I'm just a little wary of them:

Top Ten Hyped Books I've Never Read:

Anna and the French Kiss
by Stephanie Perkins

This book (and its companions) seem to make it onto lots of people's "favourites" lists... but I've yet to try it.  I'm not a huge fan of contemporary, so that may be why.

City of Bones
by Cassandra Clare

I haven't read any of the millions (?) of books by Clare, so I can't speak to their quality.  I've avoided this author for other reasons.  Her books seem to be quite popular in some circles, though.

A Court of Thorns and Roses
by Sarah J. Maas

I do like fairytale retellings, and this one has been getting a lot of buzz.  However, I didn't like Throne of Glass, and I've read some things in reviews of this book that I find a little concerning.  I might read it one day (especially if I really feel like reading yet another "Beauty and the Beast" retelling), but I'm in no rush to do so.

The Da Vinci Code
by Dan Brown

I tried to read this one years ago, but I just couldn't.  That scene where they were trying to escape from the Louvre in the first part of the book?  Yeah... that's as far as I got.  Because they were escaping... and escaping... and escaping... and OMGjustdoitalready!  Ahem... sorry.  In other words, I was very bored.

by Veronica Roth

When the third book in the series came out, there were spoilers everywhere about the ending... so I already know how the trilogy ends and I haven't even begun!  It's just as well; this one doesn't really interest me, anyway.

Eat, Pray, Love
by Elizabeth Gilbert

Remember when everyone was reading this book?  I thought it sounded dreadfully boring (I still do).  I guess I'm not enlightened enough to enjoy a memoir on finding yourself through food and meditation...

by Rainbow Rowell

Out of all of the books on this list, this is probably the one I'm most likely to read.  I haven't read any of Rowell's full-length books, but I did read one of her short stories, and it was one of my favourites of the collection.

The Fellowship of the Ring
by J. R. R. Tolkien

Okay... I've read The Hobbit.  It's a fun story.  But this?  This is just too long.  I've never been able to get more than a few pages into this first book of the trilogy without completely zoning out.  I even found the movie to be pretty dull.  I'm just... not a fan.  And if I never get around to reading this trilogy (or seeing the entire movie series), that's perfectly fine with me!

Fifty Shades of Grey
by E. L. James

Nope, nope, nope.  This book is a perfect example of how hype does not equal quality.  Or decency.

A Game of Thrones
by George R. R. Martin

I still haven't decided if I want to read the books or just binge-watch the TV series at some point when it's all finished.  I'm unfamiliar with Martin's creation, in any case.  But I am a little wary; I'm afraid my complaints about this series will be similar to those about Tolkien's.

Which hyped books have you not had a chance to read yet?

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Review - Ruin and Rising

Ruin and Rising
(The Grisha #3)
by Leigh Bardugo
Date: 2014
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)
Reading level: YA
Book type: prose novel
Pages: 267
Format: e-book
Source: library

The capital has fallen.

The Darkling rules Ravka from his shadow throne.

Now the nation's fate rests with a broken Sun Summoner, a disgraced tracker, and the shattered remnants of a once-great magical army.

Deep in an ancient network of tunnels and caverns, a weakened Alina must submit to the dubious protection of the Apparat and the zealots who worship her as a Saint. Yet her plans lie elsewhere, with the hunt for the elusive firebird and the hope that an outlaw prince still survives.

Alina will have to forge new alliances and put aside old rivalries as she and Mal race to find the last of Morozova's amplifiers. But as she begins to unravel the Darkling's secrets, she reveals a past that will forever alter her understanding of the bond they share and the power she wields. The firebird is the one thing that stands between Ravka and destruction—and claiming it could cost Alina the very future she’s fighting for.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

WARNING: Spoilers ahead!  If you want to read my review with the spoilers hidden, head on over to Goodreads.

Well, that's that.  One more young adult trilogy under my belt.  I can't say that this was the best one I've ever read, though it wasn't the worst, either.  It's sort of in between... and this final book did help salvage my opinion of the series a bit, after the disappointment that was Siege and Storm.

Please, dear author, I want some more...

This book finally took a turn toward the interesting character dynamics and exciting scenes that made me enjoy the first installment so much.  We do get to see more of the Darkling and his wicked ways, and I liked the way that the author was able to give us an ensemble cast in a way that didn't confuse the heck out of the reader.  (Sometimes when there are lots of characters, they can be difficult to tell apart because they're not developed all that well.  That wasn't the case here.)

It's all a matter of taste...

I was disappointed with how predictable this book was.  I guessed at certain things, and my guesses turned out to be pretty close.  The ending also played out pretty much how I expected it would (although I'd hoped for something a bit different, and I wouldn't have minded a few surprise twists).

My main disappointment, however, was with the Darkling's character.  In the first book, he's a potential love interest.  In the second book, he's a nearly absent bad guy whose character is neglected for much of the story.  In this book, things get even darker, to the point where he becomes completely unlikeable.  If you're hoping to see a little redemption, you're going to be disappointed... and I think that that was a huge missed opportunity.  By turning the character into something so evil that he's completely impossible to relate to, the author negated the complexity that she'd built into him earlier.  The fact that his motive boiled down to simple loneliness was glossed over, and when he finally got his comeuppance, I really didn't feel anything for him anymore.  Which is sad... because he was a character that I was quite excited about after I'd finished the first book.

Let's get technical...

The writing in this one didn't seem as strong as the other two books.  There were a number of punctuation issues, and some instances of very modern dialogue (which I'm not a fan of in fantasy novels).

The verdict...

I'm really not sure if I'd recommend the entire series.  This last book saved it from being awful, but I'm not sure if that's really a compliment.  The first book is quite strong, though.  Read that one, and then decide for yourself if you want to see what happens next.

Quotable moment:

Maybe love was superstition, a prayer we said to keep the truth of loneliness at bay. I tilted my head back. The stars looked like they were close together, when really they were millions of miles apart. In the end, maybe love just meant longing for something impossibly bright and forever out of reach.

Premise: 3/5
Plot: 3/5
Characters: 3/5
Pace: 3/5
Writing: 3/5
Editing: 3/5
Originality: 3/5
Enjoyment: 3/5

Overall Rating: 3 out of 5 ladybugs