Booknotized

A place to think, reflect, and talk (mostly to myself) about books I love…and a few that I don't.

Halloween, YA Lit Style November 2, 2011

 
It was Halloween. I wanted something that would stand out without a LOT of work. (As much as I love dressing up, I just didn’t have time to dedicate this year.) I also wanted to go with a literary theme, you know, for obvious reasons.
 
My requirements were simple: I wanted to be a character that I 1) really liked 2) from a well-written book 3) of which I was a big fan. (A costume is a big commitment!) I was actually in the middle of a very bad book, which made it all that much more important to choose a good one.
 
Now, it’s no secret that I’m a big fan of Laini Taylor. So, when the idea hit me, I couldn’t figure out why I hadn’t thought of it sooner:
 
What better way to do all of the above than with blue hair?
 

Here’s my take on Karou, from Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone.
 
(Sorry for all of the narcissistic head shots. The top of the wig was atrocious, so the only good photos were close-ups!)
 
(Click here for my review of the book.)

 
 
 

I combed the book for references to her appearance, clothes, jewelry, scars, tattoos, and weapons. Then, I manufactured what I could and bought what I couldn’t. The Chinese crescent-moon blade was a last-minute, at-my-desk, cutting-cardboard-like-mad addition. I had an artistic coworker of mine help with the hamsas on my palms.

 

The only things that I thought of but didn’t do were acquire a sketchbook/artists portfolio fast enough, and create a t-shirt that said “I met an angel in Morocco and all I got were these lousy scars.” It had just snowed here in the city, and I just wasn’t up to short sleeves.

 

I admit, it’s not quite Hollywood-grade. But, as you can see, I had quite a bit of fun getting into character…though I never have been good at maintaining a serious face while acting silly. I guess that’s on my to-do list for next year.

 

Ingredients for a kickin’ Karou costume:

1 bright blue wig
1 multi-string necklace of random beads
1 black sharpie + 1 artistic friend = 2 hamsas
sweater, jeans, boots, coat, and scarf
wicked (fake) crescent-shaped knife
artist’s portfolio or sketchbook
too much blue eyeshadow
awesome fake eyelashes (just don’t leave them at home, like I did!)
1 “YA Saves” button for your lapel

 

 

Books, Authors, and Crazy, Crazy Fans October 31, 2011

 

The last month has been a whirlwind of book-related activity. High time I sat down to post about it!

First things first…

 
In reality, it all started back in February or March, when my good friend Shanella said, “Hey, you want to go to Hogwarts?” And I said, “Are you KIDDING? Of COURSE I do.”
 

There was only one small problem: we hadn’t received our invitation letters…yet.

We made our reservations and patiently waited. And waited. And waited.

 

With only 3 days to go, I realized we were going to have to take matters into our own hands. So, I found Dumbledore’s email address and sure enough, he said there had been an owl strike – something to do with Weasley’s Wildfire Whiz-bangs – and he had them faxed over straight away.

 

Since toting a faxed invitation around with us would have been totally lame, we had them put on t-shirts instead.

 

 

We were the coolest kids in school.

(No, seriously, 18 – or was it 16? – different people stopped us in the middle of the park to ask where we’d gotten them.
Others simply took pictures without our permission. It felt good to be popular.)

 

Hogwarts itself, however, was WAY cooler.
(If you don’t see the slide show below, you can click to go to my Hogwarts photo album instead.)

 

Vodpod videos no longer available.

 


 

 

Just before we left for Hogwarts, we went to see Maureen Johnson at Books of Wonder, which was downright awesome. It was the release of her new book The Name of the Star, a Jack the Ripper ghost story set in modern England. There were even 2 Jacks present. Spooky!

 

Maureen’s very fun in person…which one would probably gather from her not-in-person outlets, such as her Twitter @maureenjohnson. Check her out. You’ll see what I mean. If you’re familiar with the #yasaves hashtag, then you already know who I’m talking about. *wink*

 

 

(Sorry the pic is so grainy. I left my camera at home that day…and well, let’s just say my iPhone is a “circa babyboomers” gen.)

 

 

Finally, just last week there was the amazing Fantastic Fiction event at the self-same Books of Wonder  (best bookstore in the city!), starring authors Scott Westerfeld, Maryrose Wood, Jeff Hirsch, Sarah Beth Durst, Jon Skovron, Gabrielle Zevin, and Alison Goodman.

 

I snagged copies of Westerfeld’s and Hirsch’s books, and then some photo ops with the gents while they were signing.

 

 

 

 

Lost in conversation with Scott (sorry, may I call you Scott?), I failed to noticed that Shanella was trying to get my attention and take a picture.
 
Thankfully, she was persistent.
 

 

Only bad thing about going to these AWESOME author events?
TBR list now has 3 new additions . . .

 

Up next: Halloween, YA Lit style. (Hint: think ultramarine)

 

Book Review: Paranormalcy by Kiersten White October 18, 2011

Publisher: Harper Teen
Release date: August 31, 2010
335 pages
Age Group:
solid YA +
(some slightly sexual innuendo, references to language, though not actual)

★★★★

The Center is being attacked, and paranormals everywhere are dying inexplicably. She’s supposed to be protecting them, but Evie can only think of one thing to do: run.

Ever since she was a child, and the IPCA (International Paranormal Containment Agency) discovered that she could see through (thus identify) paranormals’ glamours, Evie has been living at the medicinally white-walled Center, working the whenever-they-need-her shift, capturing and tagging vampires, werewolves, hags, and more with ankle bracelets that prevent their wreaking any more havoc. It’s not much of a home, but it’s better than bouncing through foster care like the abandoned child she was. Besides, life is fairly normal…she finds out all she needs to know about “real” teenhood from her favorite high school TV drama, Easton Heights. And she shops. Oh, and that weapon she uses to subdue the paranorms? It’s called Tasey. And it’s pink, like her stiletto boots.

So, it’s no biggie that she is intrigued by the (seemingly) teenage guy—whose face is like water, and whose eyes are utterly unforgettable—that they’ve captured downstairs.

So what if she’s not supposed to see him? So what if he’s classified? So what if he’s the only person she’s able to save when everyone else is in danger? So what if her life is suddenly and completely turned upside down?

So what…now?

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Evie’s story is a captivating one, not necessarily because it’s terribly unique content-wise (young person with strong personality and an inexplicable power vs. paranormal creatures gone awry), but because of the endearing, fun, and spunky style in which it’s told. Evie is a unique personality, and her story glows with her spirit and humor. The action is consistant throughout the book, and the love interest, truly interesting. There’s no triangle (TG!), and the world—as limited as it is by Evie’s infrequent exoduses from the Center—is well-represented.

I really enjoyed the book, particularly its uniquely positive overtone. When I first heard “pink heels” and “perky,” I moaned internally, but take my word for it: it’s expertly infused with cheek and irony in a way that makes it fun instead of groanilicious. (My totally manly husband is actually the one who recommended it to me.) I’m very much looking forward to reading the sequel Supernaturally (which came out this July) and, based on this, all things Kiersten White.

 

Finding the Comic in Today’s Dystopia October 13, 2011

[Let me preface this by saying that this will not be a 5-paragraph essay with a very structured body or a
repetitive intro and conclusion. What I started out writing has turned into anything but!]

 
Today while I was watching The Avengers trailer below, courtesy of @YABookNerd‘s Trailer Thursday post, something dawned on me that I, at least, find really intriguing.

 
I usually don’t think of superhero comics as having particularly strong ties to the PLAYA movement (Paranormal Literature Addicts Young & Adult – yes, I just coined that, and yes it is totally awesome), though I know that the audience is similar if not the same: people of all ages who revel in thinking outside the box of the everyday, thrive on a good shot of adrenaline, and aren’t concerned with what anyone else might think of their literary/film preferences.

 
In other words, people who know what they like and they know that it ROCKS.

 
But, maybe because I was utterly lost in @CaraghMOBrien‘s uhhhmmm-azing book Birthmarked this morning on the train, or because I just read a rock-on article in this month’s @VOYAMagazine (go to pp. 48-49 to find Tough Girls Don’t Accept &$%!# From Anyone by Rebecca A. Hill)…or both, I started thinking, well, what are the differences? What separates dystopia from the comic-born superhero story?

 
My conclusion? Not much.

 
The primary differences I find between, say, Katniss’ tale and that of Batman or Captain America are that 1) the latter’s “powers” are magnified and embellished, and 2) that the superhero’s actions are usually preventative, while the dystopian protagonist’s tend toward the revolutionary.

 

Wonder Woman

Katniss Everdeen (Hunger Games)

I think that second point is the more significant: Superman, Spider Man, Wonder Woman, and the like are fighting to stave off an impending-but-not-yet-fully-realized takeover by the dictatorially-minded villain. Gaia, Deuce, Meg, Tally, and Titus, on the other hand, awaken to injustice from within an already established regime, and have to fight their way out.

 
Some might also cite natural disasters as a difference, since they are usually the cause for the negative setting of a dystopian universe, but isn’t that what the Green Goblin (lab accident), Poison Ivy (attempted murder), and Magneto (mutation/racial discrimination and violent) are? Of course, there are exceptions, but in general, I think that all of those things can be summed up as a similarity: human-caused disasters.

 
And, the more I thought about it, the more I was intrigued by such similarities.

 
First, if you think about it, many of the paranormal (outside of the everyday) elements in comics are close to those in the alternate realities of dystopian fiction. Really, what separates a Pretty or a Special from Captain America? Or an anti-gravity suit from a dress that catches on fire and flakes away without burning anybody? Then, in both genres, there are also genetic advancements/alterations occurring in people (Peter Parker; the Scriven) and/or animals (tracker jackers; Ninja Turtles). There are advanced forms of weaponry, transportation, and medicine/science in both genres as well. Etc.

 

Poison Ivy (Batman)

However, above and beyond such decorative items, there’s also the deeper plot lines and themes, which are almost identical:

A) these are all narrative stories
B) set in an adjacent though somehow different (whether ahead of, behind, or alternatively developed) version of our world,
C) in which said world is threatened (or overtaken) by seemingly insurmountable, evil forces of a paranormal (not of everyday experience) nature, which have some totalitarian motivation,
D) to which a (somewhat) ordinary citizen takes a disliking, decides to stand against,
E) and, by some unforeseen force of nature (be it simple or extraordinary, human or extraterrestrial, mutant or constant, mental or physical), manages to overcome,
F) thus securing the equitable, harmonious, and enjoyable future of their (and by implication, our) civilization.

 

Tally Youngblood (Specials)

Once I had collected these different points in my head, the next question for me was, What does this mean? Why are we creating these very similar stories right now, and why are they so popular? Huge questions, I know, but the items that seem to answer this for me are C and D, which in turn linked back to a problem I’ve had with the academic world. We PLAYAs and our beloved literature have been accused of and marginalized in “literary” society because of many things, but probably most notably on account of our supposed unwillingness to live within the confines of reality. Just for the record, this is something that I readily admit to (a different conversation altogether), but I would argue that it’s not a complete picture.

 
What I saw in the trailer for The Avengers today – the element that got me started thinking about how it is, in its way, a form of dystopia – was a deeply rooted love for our reality, a fervent desire to keep it the way it is by thinking of all the ways it could be destroyed. From oil-virus crises that lead to plastic-surgery-based communism, to homicidal environmentalist redheads, we are constantly thinking about the ways in which our (very earthly, very human) thoughts and actions could (will?) affect our (very earthly, very quantifiable) world. And, just as importantly, we’re thinking about the strengths we have within us to combat that negative potential.

 
It seems to me that, whether it does so via a poor, scrawny huntress, or a roid-raging, genetically-empowered green dude, or a mixture of the two (dare I suggest Harry Potter?), paranormal literature is at heart very similarly focused right now. (I purposefully avoided throwing sci-fi and fantasy into the mix, but you can probably pick out for yourselves that, underneath the very superficial differences, the same parallels are present.)
 
We’re not escaping to enter a “better” reality somewhere “out there.” We’re doing it to bring one back home.
 
Much of human art can actually be boiled down to the same motivation. If so, you might ask, what’s my point in all of this?
 
Just that, well, perhaps we’re not all so different after all.
 

Looks pretty sweet, btw – out May 4, 2012. Enjoy!

 

 

Book Review: Restoring Harmony, by Joëlle Anthony September 26, 2011

Publisher: Putnam
Release Date: May 13, 2010
Pages: 320

★★1/2

It’s the year 2141, but Molly’s world looks anything but futuristic: living on a farm; raising crops, livestock, and siblings; and playing her fiddle “Jewels,” keep her too occupied to really notice that the civilized world is – well – not so civilized anymore. Since 2031, when the unchecked shortages of oil caused world economies and governments to irrevocably collapse, her family has lived in relative comfort. They were lucky enough to be insulated from the worst of the crisis by the water that surrounds their small Canadian island.

But, all of that changes when they receive a frightening letter from Molly’s grandparents in Oregon, and no one but Molly can be spared to go and find out if they are still alive. Armed with nothing but her fiddle, she sets out on a journey that will change her forever.

________________________________________________________________________

I enjoyed this book on one level: it provided a dystopian perspective that I really haven’t seen before. For once, the protagonist’s family lives comfortably apart from the disaster because of their foresight, planning, and agricultural skill. In a way, the book contains both a warning about what might come to pass in our world if we continue to consume resources at the current rate, and a practical solution to the problem for those concerned enough to listen. I found this intriguing.

However, the narrative itself was otherwise unremarkable. The attempt was made to recreate mid-depression America – where liquor is scarce, the farmers are better off than the doctors, and organized crime has replaced a debilitated and absentee government – but those elements were regrettably “told” and not at all “shown.” Too much time was spent with the minutia of Molly’s days inside her grandparents home (of which I never could get a very clear picture) and not enough on the rest of the world, including the love interest. Complications, perils, and various other twists and surprises jumped out at every corner, but were not very believable. I became quickly jaded to them, and was never able to fully emotionally invest.

The heroine was fairly spunky and likable, but completely flat. Her fiddle, which could have been an interesting prop, got rather annoying by mid-book – mostly because it was named. Hearing “Jewels” over and over again, juxtaposed to rather old-fashioned song titles like “Turkey in the Straw,” just didn’t appeal to me. There’s so much modern folk music being created (I know, I’m a fan and go to festivals and other such geeky stuff), and I wish the titles had given the impression of more sophisticated music. As it was, I felt like I was back in kindergarten, listening to a “Wee Sing” album.

Still, it could have been worse. I appreciate the attempt to harken back to a simpler time and place (as well as the LACK of love triangle), and I did like the closed, feel-good ending to what I hope was a stand-alone title.

 

#LainiLove – Smoke & Bone UK Book Trailers September 2, 2011

 

Enter elsewhere, the world of Karou,

girl with the lapis blue hair…

 

 

…and meet Brimstone,

the one who holds all of her secrets.

 

 
 

Read the Book Review

 

 

Book Review: Enclave by Ann Aguirre August 19, 2011

Release Date: April 12, 2010
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends
272 pgs

★★★1/2

It’s dark, but you can just see the outline of the tunnel walls ahead, curving on in their endless arc. It’s all you have ever known, the Enclave of youths you were born into, the only human contact you have ever had…until now.

Something shuffles to your left—it’s rotting stench is overwhelming. But survival of the fittest doesn’t leave much room for the squeamish. Besides, you are a Huntress. This is your purpose. So, you end him in a warm spurt of blood. His companions will finish him off. They’re hungry. They aren’t squeamish either.

There are stories of others like you up there, but you would never venture topside. Enclave elders say it’s all scorched and toxic. And, despite what your new hunting partner thinks—or the warm shivers his nearness gives you—you believe what they say. Well, most of it anyway. Their laws are harsh, but they keep you fed and safe…

Except. Maybe…no. You shouldn’t even consider it. The Freaks aren’t a threat. They’re just crazed animals in human form…rotting bodies with razor sharp teeth. They don’t think. And they certainly don’t organize. They don’t. Really. They just don’t.

If they did, we wouldn’t survive.

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I knew this story was going to be quite unique from page one—which prompted my attempt at an unusual summary above. (Pardons if it’s ghastly!)

The narrator lets on that her world is not the same as the reader’s. There’s been a second holocaust, she says, one that razed human civilization…leaving behind a few ragtag groups to fend for themselves using what vestiges of human culture can be salvaged…underground.

The book really does an excellent job of keeping the reader, too, in the dark—both literally and figuratively. The more you read of the tight, gloomy post-apocalyptic underworld, the less it seems you can remember the feel of the sun on your face. The instinct for survival is visceral, as is the sinking realization that this could be our world, if the right thing goes wrong.

Similarly, until the last 10 pages, it’s never revealed exactly where in relationship to the present day world you have been —or why it’s the way it is—which I appreciated immensely. (I really thought it quite a shame on those bloggers who let the cat out of the bag in the first few lines of their review!) Even the fact that the question goes unspoken (because, absolutely true to her circumstances, the heroine doesn’t even know it can be asked) really adds to the close, musty murkiness of it all: it’s as if the world as we know it has truly ceased to exist. Serious props to the author—it was mightily well pulled off.

I do have to confess that I wasn’t quite as pleased with the 2nd half of the book (into which there was a significant shift) for three reasons. First, I had a lot of questions unanswered about the people/places/things in the 1st half that I thought were rather abruptly (& ergo cheaply) dismissed. However, I have hope they will be revisited/answered in the sequel, so I won’t belabor that just yet. And, relatedly, there was a certain thinness to the latter half: too much happens in too few pages. You don’t really have time to get attached to anyone or anything—despite the passage of book-months. In the rapid-fire beginning, this thinness serves to underscore the transience of life as it has become, but in the end results in a kind of “weak tea” effect. Finally, a half-hearted attempt at a love triangle left a fairly sour taste in my mouth. (They always do…)

However, I won’t reveal any more detail than that—though I’m longing to (maybe a hidden post?)—because this is one book where I strongly feel that the experience of reading blind is a huge draw—and one of the book’s greatest achievements. The concept, the setting, the world, they’re all fresh, as far as books go. We’ve seen the same thing in films before, but reading it is really a different and intriguing experience. I also love that it’s inspired and/or influenced by George MacDonald’s “The Day Boy and the Night Girl” story…but I’ll write more on that later…

Let me know if you agree.

P.S. DON’T watch the book trailer. DO NOT. I’m warning you. It really doesn’t do the book ½ ounce of justice…

 

Books for Sale August 17, 2011

 

It is true, that adage about the early worm.

 

This one just cleaned up royally at the annual “doling of the novels” for the operations department’s
catalog review meeting…for which she magnanimously volunteers her personal time.
 
Only question is…

 

Where should I start???

 

 

Reblog: Review of Between by Jessica Warman August 14, 2011

Release Date: August 2, 2011
Publisher: Walker Children’s

My good friend Shanella (whose excellent book blog you can find at http://ireviewbooks.tumblr.com) and I scored BIG at BEA2011 this past May. Included among the virtual library with which we each schlepped home was an ARC of Between by Jessica Warman.

It’s not exactly the type of book I usually read, but I was so intrigued by Shanella’s compelling review that I decided to pick it up, starting tomorrow. I would say the usual “don’t take my word for it,” but instead I’ll highly recommend you give an ear to hers:

Review: Between by Jessica Warman

A gripping tale from beyond the grave.

When I received this book at BEA, I first thought it was another book – I’m not sure why, it was a long day – so when I brought it home and read the back of it and realised that it wasn’t a fantasy novel I was a bit cautious. While I step outside of fantasy novels every once in awhile, it’s mostly on recommendations or because I’ve heard great buzz about it, so going with no buzz and no expectation I started to read Between.

I was blown away. 

Jessica Warman spins the tale of a high schooler named Elizabeth. Liz is pretty, rich, popular, dating a popular boy at school and at the top of the high school social food chain. Liz is a runner. Liz has a secret. Liz is dead . . .

Click here to read her full review.

 

From Across the Pond: UK Cover for Daughter of Smoke and Bone August 9, 2011

As if it could have gotten any deeper, more alluring, more mysterious…smoldered any more than it already does…

Meet the amazing UK cover for Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor.

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(Click images for original source and here for my review.)

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Major props to the people at Hoddor & Stoughton, who created this amazing work of art.

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It’s absolutely gorgeous! I mean, the font (yes, font) is perfect…beyond perfect? The sheen of the feathers is just Karou’s essence. The scene on the back is exactly what I pictured in my mind while reading. Whoever designed this cover knew this book superbly well (or just has mad crazy skills…or both…).

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Listen to me prattling on.

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I think I have collector’s fever! This is one I’m definitely going to have to get my hands on…

 

 
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