Thursday, April 17, 2014

Follow Friday - Spring Break

Follow Friday is a feature created by Parajunkee and Alison Can Read.  It's a fun blog hop where you meet other book bloggers and find people to follow.
Question: Spring Break. Where would be your favorite destination spot if you could join the Spring Break festivities?
Guys I'm not a beach person or a party person. That's just not me.  If I could go anywhere during spring for a week, where would it be?  Hiking or climbing.  Right now I'm really into rock climbing (and might have a separate post about how that is interfering with my blogging) so I'd probably go down the road to the Red River Gorge, or maybe somewhere else where there are some good climbs at my level. It may not be sunbathing and I may end up scabbed and scarred but it's a heck of a lot of fun.

Just because I'm super excited about climbing here's two pictures from the past couple of trips.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Love Letters To the Dead (review)

4.5/5 stars

Very rarely is a book as lovely to read as Love Letters to the Dead (Goodreads | Amazon).  Something about this story, told in epistolary form through letters to famous dead people, just resonates and reads as genuinely authentic.

It all starts with a school assignment to write a letter to a dead person.  And Laurel does the assignment, pours her heart onto paper, writing words that she hasn't spoken or admitted out loud.  But at the end of the class she can't turn the letter in, she's been too honest, but she does keep writing.

She writes letters to cope with her older sister May's sudden death and to work through her idealized version of May in comparison to the reality of her sister.  But this book isn't just about May, it's about Laurel discovering herself, dealing not only with the guilt about her sister's death but her own problems as well.  She has to step out of the shadow of a dead girl and she does that through writing letters to dead people.
“May, I love you with everything I am. For so long, I just wanted to be like you. But I had to figure out that I am someone too, and now I can carry you, your heart with mine, everywhere I go.”
The writing is both elegant and simple.  There are so many quotes I want to pull from the book.  This whole review could just be quotes that make your heart hurt.  But I'd rather you just believe me and discover it for yourself.  This book is something special.  Though it's a heartbreaking story, with letters written to dead people mostly about her dead sister, in some ways it's still life affirming.  We're not reading Laurel give up, succumb, we're seeing her cope, grow-up and begin to become herself, whoever that might be.  She's flawed, makes mistakes, but most importantly, from the perspective of a reader, Laurel feels real and complex.  Books like this, internal character-driven stories, live or die by their protagonists and Love Letters to the Dead absolutely soars.

I received an advanced reading copy in exchange for an honest review. 

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

The Stolen Songbird (review)

3/5 stars

The Stolen Songbird (Goodreads | Amazon) is a book that I have very mixed feeling towards.  This book has one of the strongest beginnings of anything I've read lately.  The way the book introduced the main character and then jumped into action enthralled me.  I was like "YES!"

The story begins with Cécile, a strong-willed girls with big dreams of performing on stage, being kidnapped by a village boy and sold to the kingdom of trolls who live under the mountain.  She fights the whole way - from the moment she's kidnapped, till when she's married against her will to a troll prince and keeps standing up for herself.

So what happened?  The first half of this book is great.  Lots of actions, an interesting world beneath the mountain and lots of political maneuvering.  But at some point the story just peters out.  As the romance grows, Cécile's fight and personality seem to decrease.  That probably won't bother some people as much as it bothered me.  It's fairly well explained.  But a book that started out with such a strong character, fiercely independent full of political intrigue seemed to devolve into something less.  There was also a forced-attempt at a love triangle that never really had any build up or romance to back it up.

How much you like this book probably depends on what you're looking for when reading it.

I received an advance reading e-book in exchange for an honest review. 

Monday, March 31, 2014

Boy21 (review)

4/5 stars

If you're looking for a basketball book with less play-by-plays and more true-to-life problems, Boy21 (Goodreads | Amazon) is an excellent choice.  Maybe I'm the only one actively looking for basketball books (hopefully not!) but Boy21 could be appreciated by sports-fans and non-fans alike. Sports are not just about watching a ball go through a hoop (or into a net or into the endzone).  This is something that non-athletes and non-sports fans seem to forget.  Sports are about so much more, and Boy21 handles that in a really in-depth and original way

For Finley, basketball has always been a way to escape his life.  He's a good point guard, but not good enough to play college basketball.  But basketball is something that makes sense and when he's tuned into a game he can forget about his life, forget about the gangs, poverty, his dead mother, his disabled grandfather and just focus on the game.  Even though he's not got a future in basketball, he works harder in the offseason and trains harder than any of his teammates.  

But then Boy21 comes to town.  He's a highly recruited basketball player but in the aftermath of his parent's murder he's refusing to play basketball, sheds his name and pretends to be an alien from outer space waiting for his parents to return and take him home again.  Finley's basketball coach, who was friend's with Boy21's parents, asks him to help bring the boy back to reality.  Even though it might cost him his starting position, Finley decides to help because he always does what his coach asks of him.

The meat of this book is the friendship between two broken boys, Finley who doesn't talk to anyone except his girlfriend Erin and Boy21 who finds Finley a calming presence.  Within each other they find someone they can trust, confide in and they understand each other.  They've both suffered tragedy in the past and they both need basketball, even if Boy21 doesn't want to admit it.  

This book is perfectly written, and as my second Matthew Quick book I knew to expect that. It's written in a simple down-to-earth manner.  They're both high school students, but smarter and maybe wiser than their years based on their life experience.  The writing captures that.  If I had any complaints about this book, it's that it's too short and maybe that's not a complaint at all.  The story was told, short, concisely but with a ton of emotional impact, but I wasn't ready for the book to end.  

Sunday, March 30, 2014

The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender (review)

4/5 stars

The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender (Goodreads | Amazon) is a beautifully written book, bursting with magical realism and lyrical writing but at the same time very accessible to read. At first, I wasn't sure how I felt about the multi-generational story but by the end everything was woven nicely together and the past was just as important as the present within the life of Ava Lavender herself.

The book doesn't begin with Ava Lavender, but with her grandmother's family the Roux's.  They're a family of immigrant making their way in New York City, both beautiful and strange.  The tragedies of Ava Lavender's life start way back with the tragedies of her grandmother's life and the flight that led them across the country to as far away from New York as they could go.  They continue with the heartbreak of her mother's Vivane's life, and the problems of her parents and grandparents are interwoven into Ava's life as well.

When Ava Lavender finally comes into the story she's a perfectly beautiful and normal little girl, with the exception of the inexplicable wings she was born with.  Out of all the people in the novel, despite her wings, Ava is probably the most normal.  I liked the juxtaposition of her physical abnormality with her normal childhood feelings and eventually normal teenage girl wants and needs.
"I mean, are you the threat, or are we?" 
"You are! Well, they are." I motion to the cluster of teenagers. Of course it was them. Rowe peered at me thoughtfully. 
"Funny. I suspect they might say otherwise." He stood. "And that might just be the root of the problem: we're all afraid of each other, wings or no wings."
I like that this book didn't give into high school tropes.  Even though Ava is home schooled (her mother is afraid something terrible will happen otherwises), she's befriended by a neighborhood girl.  After asking if she could fly (which is exactly what I would've done as a child), Cardigan and Ava become fast friends.  There is no girl-on-girl hatred or jealousy, just immediate and true friendship between two children that follows them into their teenage years.

The outside world is not nearly as terrible to Ava as her mother imagines, until as the title implies something terrible happens.  But part of the reason something bad happens is that Ava is too sheltered and not prepared to deal with people who wish her ill.  Even so, the evil done is treated as an aberration to humanity not the state of it.  For the most part, people mean well and this book acknowledges that while also showing that bad things do happen.

As far as debut's go, this one is pretty stunning.  It's ambitious and truly original, a story that doesn't seem like it should work but does completely.  Rather than give into the easy teenage tropes, Leslye Walton builds believable characters, a charming town and a timeless whimsical story that's a welcomed addition to the YA shelves.

I received an advanced reading e-book in exchange for an honest review.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Sexism & Feminism in Geekery 16

Sorry for the delay in writing this column.  You may wonder why it has taken me so long to write this edition of Sexism and Feminism. Well, frankly, there were so many explosions on this front that it was intimidating as hell to attempt to gather and organize the information into one cohesive piece.  Sometimes I like to wait till the dust settles in hopes of gaining some perspective.  But to hell with being cohesive!  Here is a spattering of links for you to analyze!

Everyone Has Thoughts About John Green

Y'all, this is probably the biggest reason for the delay.  Someone wrote an article about John Green and his impact on the success of women writer's in YA.  By the time I saw the link to the article, supposedly it'd already been changed and updated by the writer. Thus I found it difficult to get a grasp on what was actually said.  However, I did see some very interesting twitter conversations surrounding the article, so those are what I will share.

Sara Zarr also had an interesting storify on the conversation that's worth reading.  Here's the thing, I like John Green.  I was involved in Nerdfighteria before I was a book blogger or before I read John Green's books.  I've noticed through following Green on different mediums throughout the years that he tries to spread his success around.  When people try to crown him the High Priest of YA he points towards books that he considers better than his (many of which are by my favorite authors like Melina Marchetta and that I agree are better books).  Yes, John Green has influence in the YA community and he's a bit of a media darling because he's a bit of an oddity.

However, attributing a female author's success to him is problematic for a variety of reasons, mainly because it discredits the woman's work.  Does John Green champion books he loves? Yes.  But you know, I think the credit still goes to the author herself for writing a book worth championing.  That's not to say John Green's influence isn't weird and disconcerting at times but let's try not to discredit women in our attempts to understand the gender politics of publishing.  (Note: I feel bad for leaving out Maureen Johnson's tweets on this topic and other's. There was so much intelligent conversation around this topic that I cannot include it all).

John Green and Twilight (Is this whole column about him?)

So there was a second John Green incident.  One that was a little bit blown out of proportion in my opinion (mainly because I've seen others say the same thing).
In the past, I've linked articles that discuss how many of the "Twilight is terrible" conversations are misogynistic and how the world likes to shit on things that teenage girls like (See example here).  I've read even more articles than I've linked about how the levels of hatred for Twilight are worrisome.  Here's the thing, I hate Twilight for the same reason most feminists hate Twilight, i.e. the abusive relationship.  But I also hate the people who hate Twilight just because teenage girls love it and thus it's clearly worthless.  For the record, I read the Twilight books but a lot of people just love loathing without any knowledge of why. To be honest, I almost wrote a whole column about how you could complain about both but then John Green actually elaborated.
So I think we’re talking about two different kinds of criticism: The totally legitimate criticism we see in literary journals and feminist web sites about misogyny, and the demeaning and dismissive this-sucks-because-teen-girls-like-it-and-everyone-knows-that-teen-girls-are-not-fully-human criticism we see in popular culture.
THIS EXACTLY. This is the problem with a lot of the Twilight hate.  Read his full response here.

SFWA Petition WTF

So this one is SUPER SPECIAL.  A guy who isn't even in SFWA decided to create a petition in response to the accusations of sexism in the SFWA bulletin.
But you don’t get to claim marginalization when you’re at the center of a thing. You can’t endorse the efforts of bigots to establish a safe space for their bigotry, and then plausibly claim you’re not one of them. You don’t get to pretend that you’re in the demographic minority when you’re… not. And like I Tweeted yesterday before I had to go offline for some therapeutic Mass Effect 3 Multiplayer, you don’t get to pretend you’re being mistreated when really, you’re just being treated like your voice isn’t the only important one in the room anymore. 

N.K. Jemison gets to the heart of why the petition is problematic (read more). Radish Reviews has a nice summary here as well as a link to the original petition.  You can read the crazy facebook rant of the person who sent out the petition here.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Follow Friday - Changing Reading habits

Follow Friday is a feature created by Parajunkee and Alison Can Read.  It's a fun blog hop where you meet other book bloggers and find people to follow.
How have your reading habits changed in the past few years? Did you get interested in a new genre? Do you read more? Less? Why do you think your habits changed, if they did.
I read SO MUCH MORE.  I'm a goal oriented person, so between being a blogger and the Goodreads challenge my reading has increased a lot.  I also think more about what I read, what worked and didn't.  For me this is one of the best things about being a blogger.  When you're in school you're forced to think about what you're reading but once your an adult you can just read however and whatever.  I like putting thought into what I read.

Another thing that has changed in the last few years is the number of audiobooks that I read. I'd listened to a few over the years.  After my grandfather died a few years ago I didn't like spending that much time with my thoughts.  I also had a job with a decent commute that required a lot of driving.  So I started listening to audiobooks and now I can't identify songs on the radio because I'd rather spend my time in stories than anywhere else.