Tuesday, March 30, 2010

I'm taking a little break from blogging this week while I focus on some personal writing - I'm finally beginning the arduous process of reading and revising the novel I wrote last November for NaNoWriMo! So expect quiet here this week and stayed tuned for next - I have a little something special planned.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Review: Terrier

I recently realized that I've never reviewed a Tamora Pierce book on arch thinking before. I find this so surprising, as I have been a big fan of hers since I was a kid. I think I first read Alanna when I was 11 or so (it was published in 1983, but I'm not so old that I read it when it first came out!) and I have faithfully read all of her Tortall books* in the years since, most of them multiple times. Does this make me a big geek? Oh, probably. =)

Terrier is the first book in Pierce's newest series set in Tortall, set about 200 years before the events in Alanna. Told in journal form, its the story of Beka Cooper, training to be one of the Provost's Guards.
In 246 H.E., the Provost's Dogs guard Tortall's capital city. Beka Cooper is one of the newest trainees - a Puppy wet behind the ears but eager to learn. But Beka will have to learn faster than she bargained for because she's assigned to the Lower City, Corus's toughest district. It's filled with pickpockets who are fast as lightening, rogues who will knock your teeth out with a smile, and murderers with hidden plans. In the constant battle for the Lower City's streets, Beka will have to use her smarts and her own eerie brand of magic if she hopes to survive.
I first read Terrier when it came out in paperback originally and I read it again recently. I needed a little comfort food reading and I grabbed this one off the shelf.

I really like Beka. She's a good character to spend time with and, especially since it is told in the form of her journal, the reader gets to feel very close with her.

Some aspects of Terrier didn't really ring true for me, though. I'm pretty critical of journal-style or epistolary novels - its very hard to authentically be in that voice and yet tell the story as it needs to be told. Pierce does a great job, but there's a little more dialogue than I think would actually be in a journal. And the snippet of Beka's mother's journal at the beginning felt very inauthentic (I just can't really see a barely literate, impoverished woman keeping a journal).

Complaints aside, I really enjoyed this book and am looking forward to reading the next book in the series, Bloodhound (which comes out in paperback in May!).

Buy Terrier (The Legend of Beka Cooper, Book 1) on Amazon.

* I don't read her Circle books - they're a little young, even for me.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Great Unsung YA 2010 Giveaway

Kelly of YAnnabe has just launched a huge giveaway - The Great Unsung YA 2010 Giveaway! She's giving away copies of 10 of the top 12 most obscure picks from Unsung YA 2010, including my pick, Year of the Horse. So get on over there, and enter for a chance to win!

Monday, March 22, 2010

Review: Graceling

After hearing so much praise for Graceling by Kristin Cashore ever since it was published, I was thrilled to finally start reading it. I tore through this book in just a few days, eager to know what would happen.

From the back of the book:
Katsa has been able to kill a man with her bare hands since she was eight - she's a Graceling, one of the rare people in her land born with an extreme skill. As niece of the king, she should be able to live a life of privilege, but Graces as she is with killing, she is forced to work as the king's thug.

When she first meets Prince Po, who is Graced with combat skills, Katsa has no hint of how her life is about to change.

She never expects to become Po's friend.

She never expects to learn a new truth about her own Grace - or about a terrible secret that lies hidden far away...
Graceling was really fun to read! The characters are interesting and well-fleshed out and the plot was riveting.

But - and I hate that there's a but - it left me feeling a like something was lacking. My expectations for Graceling were, I'll admit, a bit high. So maybe its not a surprise that the book didn't quite live up to my expectations. Don't get me wrong, I liked the book. But I kept thinking about how much Katsa reminded me other YA heroines (Katniss from The Hunger Games, in particular) and how much the story reminded me of other books (like the works of my girl Tamora Pierce or JRR Tolkien).

Let me be clear, I'm not saying that it felt like Cashore ripped anything off from these authors. It's just that Graceling didn't feel as fresh to me as I'd been hoping. Again, I think its more just a matter of how high my expectations were, not of any fault of the book.

In the end, Graceling is well worth the read. I don't think it really broke new ground in YA fantasy, but it was really entertaining. Fantasy fans of all ages will enjoy it.

Buy Graceling on Amazon.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Friday Update

Gosh, its been ages since I've done a Friday Upday. Mostly, that's because I haven't been buying books recently. Instead, I've been visiting our library more. Of the books I've read recently, only one was a recent acquisition- Wake by Lisa McMann.

I'm out of town this weekend, visiting family and friends back East. Hope you all have a wonderful weekend and I'll see you back here on Monday!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Review: Mountains Beyond Mountains

From the back of Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder:
In medical school, Paul Farmer found his life's calling: to diagnose and cure infectious diseases and to bring the lifesaving tools of modern medicine to those who need them most... Mountains Beyond Mountains takes us from Harvard to Haiti, Peru, Cuba, and Russia as Farmer changes minds and practices through his dedication to the philosophy that "the only real nation is humanity"
This was an incredible story and a wonderful book. I actually bought it several years ago - I had read House (link goes to my review) and enjoyed it, so I was interested in reading something else by Kidder. For whatever reason, though, I put it on my shelf and forgot about it. Then the earthquake hit Haiti and I spent some time thinking about that. I heard more about Partners in Health, the nonprofit Dr. Farmer founded, and their response to the earthquake on the radio. So I remembered I owned this book and pulled it down to read - and ended up gobbling it up in one long day.

Kidder is a wonderful writer. He's a journalist - making sure that every story gets covered from multiple angles, multiple viewpoints - but he's more than that. I got the sense that he was very emotionally connected with Dr. Farmer, the rest of the Partners in Health team, and the poor people helping and helped by PIH. That emotional connection came through very strongly and made me, the reader, feel connected to the people in the book. And I really enjoyed reading the history and geopolitics covered in Mountains Beyond Mountains.

I am very curious about what has happened since the events covered by Mountains Beyond Mountains, especially since the earthquake. In some ways, this felt like Part 1 of a story that continues. I would love it if Kidder continued writing about Dr. Farmer and Partners in Health.

Whatever the case for the future, this is a powerful, well-written, and interesting book. I highly recommend it for all readers, especially anyone wanting to learn more about Haiti.

Buy Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, a Man Who Would Cure the World on Amazon.

Visit author Tracy Kidder online.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Teaser Tuesday 3/16

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along!

Just do the following:

  • Grab your current read
  • Open to a random page
  • Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
  • Share the title & author, too, so that others can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teaser!
Instead of randomly picking two lines, I'm sharing with you the first lines Parable of the Talents by Octavia E. Butler, the sequel to the wonderful Parable of the Sower:
They'll make a God of her.

I think that would please her, if she could know about it.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Review: Wake

Wake by Lisa McMann is about seventeen-year-old Janie who gets sucked into other people's dreams - and nightmares. She knows more about her friends and classmates secrets and fantasies than anyone would ever want to know. Then she starts getting sucked into someone's terrible nightmares but for the first time, she's more than an observer, she's a participant.

I found Wake to be interesting with an unusual premise. The writing just did not click with me, though. The writing style seemed somewhat disjointed to me. And unfortunately, for me, the plot wasn't strong enough to overcome my problems with the writing.

As I said, I thought the premise was very interesting, so I'm sure other readers will enjoy this book much more than I did. Wake just wasn't for me.

Buy Wake (Wake Series, Book 1) on Amazon.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Review: Maynard & Jennica

I picked up Maynard & Jennica on a whim at my local bookstore and bought it after reading the first several pages. It was a clever take on a "boy meets girl" story, as the story is told in multiple first person narratives from, not just the lead characters, but also their friends, families, attorney, and various other random people.
On a sweltering day in the summer of 2000, musician and filmmaker Maynard Gogarty spots the beautiful Jennica Green on an uptown number 6 train. Though their initial meeting is brief, when fate next brings them together romance ensues. And as with most things in life, everyone has an opinion.
I thought the format of this book was unusual and enjoyable, but I didn't quite click with the characters. I think this was because the story cut back and forth between everyone so much, meaning we didn't spend too much time with any one character. Then again, Maynard, actually, annoyed me a bit, with his old fashioned clothes and lack of common sense, so I probably wouldn't wanted to have spent an entire book in his head. Still, I found the book to be charming and fun to read.

My favorite thing about it, though, was quite personal - I really liked the very California touches in the book. While it is mostly set on the east coast, in New York particularly, Jennica grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area and talks about California life quite a bit. Clearly the author, Rudolph Delson, is a California native. Only a local would think of some of the funny touches he includes - making fun of the Nut Tree, for example.
The history is, between the world wars, developers started cutting down the fruit trees in Santa Clara Valley and subdividing the orchards. So by the time I got to high school, in 1986, you could tell the age of the shade trees in San Jose by the age of the houses. Like, "That's an Eichler from the fifties, so that maple must be in its thirties." Eichler was this notorious developer, to be mentioned only with distaste. It was a point of ridiculous pride in my family that our house was built in 1924 and was in the Rose Garden District, which Eichler hardly touched. And that our house had wood-frame windows, not aluminum. And that instead of having a swimming pool in our backyard, we had cherry trees, and a cement fountain of a shepherd pulling a thorn from his foot that came from a 1920s Sears, Roebuck catalogue. I knew about all this before I knew how to multiply, about Eichlers and wood-frame windows and fruit trees versus shade trees.
These days Eichlers are in style, but I read this passage to my husband, a Bay Area native, and he laughed at how true it was.

I think Maynard & Jennica would appeal to anyone who likes their love stories a little bit different.

Buy Maynard and Jennica on Amazon.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Teaser Tuesday 3/9

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along!

Just do the following:

  • Grab your current read
  • Open to a random page
  • Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
  • Share the title & author, too, so that others can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teaser!
From Wake by Lisa McMann:
Janie, forced awake, catapults into Carrie's dream. It's the one by the river.
I haven't actually started reading this yet so I have no idea what's going on in this snippet!

Monday, March 8, 2010

Justin Allen: For the Love of Pete, Don’t Mix Your Genres!

Justin Allen (author of Year of the Horse) has written an essay in three parts, published today. Here's a taste to get you started, then follow the link to read more.

For the Love of Pete, Don’t Mix Your Genres;
Or… The New York Times Book Review Hates YOU, but I Don’t;
Or… Why Where Your Book Gets Shelved Determines Your Intelligence, Work-Ethic and Value to Society

That’s a longish title I’ll admit, and while I generally don’t go in for such larded vessels, in this case I’m willing to make an exception. Monstrous though it may seem (and most assuredly is), the above title sums up pretty much everything I have to say on the subjects of writing and publishing. The first line ought to be read as a word of warning to struggling writers. The second explains - in as much as an explanation of the unintelligible is even possible - why the publishing industry behaves
as it does. And the third highlights our common enemy, which turns out to be ourselves.

Really - if I must say so myself - that title is a wonder of economy, precision and restraint. But maybe you’d like me to elaborate? Normally I’d refuse - principally on the grounds that my arguments tend to be weakened by exploration - but as I have been contracted to provide a minimum of fifteen minutes of reading diversion, I will betray myself and attempt to explain…

Why Where Your Book Gets Shelved Determines Your Intelligence, Work-Ethic and Value to Society.

Continue reading A Manifesto of Imaginative Literature

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Building Codes and Chile's Earthquake

As a follow-up to my post following the Haiti earthquake - Did Architects Fail Haiti? - I wanted to share this thoughtful article from Inhabitat - How Good Design and Building Codes Saved Lives During Chile’s Earthquake.
the Haiti earthquake (which measured 7.0 on the Richter scale) was 500 times less powerful than the one last Saturday but over 250,000 people were killed. Based on magnitude alone, the death toll from Chile should be much higher and the devastation much more complete – but that’s not the case. Chile can thank foresight and smart planning for that, and its situation is a testament to what a huge life-or-death difference smart building codes and well designed architecture can make.
There are many more factors to consider in pointing out the differences between these two natural disasters - the Chilean earthquake was larger, but deeper and further offshore, but the tsunami it created also did massive damage - but I think its still interesting to point out what a difference good design can make.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Review: On Writing

I'll say this right up front: I don't particularly enjoy Stephen King's books. Too gory or too long, I usually think. There's only been one of his novels that I liked enough to finish (The Eyes of the Dragon) and its sort of a non-Stephen King, Stephen King novel. I couldn't deny, though, that the man knows what he's talking about when it comes to writing, for shear quantity alone. So when a few people mentioned I should read his memoir/how-to book On Writing, I decided to give it a try. I'm so glad that I did. I really enjoyed this book.

In the first section, King describes his life and how it led him to becoming a writer. Avid fans will enjoy getting to read how King came up with the ideas behind some of his most famous books, including Carrie. He also describes in some detail his addiction to drugs and alcohol. A final section, a coda of sorts, describes his life and how he returned to writing after a brutal accident that nearly killed him.

In the second section of the book, King goes more deeply into how to write. He talks about the tools a writer uses (language, grammar, etc) and gives examples (mostly not his own) of writing styles and successes. The advice was solid and I especially liked the concrete examples King gave of editing his own work. I do think that advice on writing can only go so far (a sentiment King and, I think, most other writers would agree with) and that, in the end, reading about writing may be like listening to music about sex: interesting, educational, but probably won't really make you better at it.

Still, On Writing allowed me to see more clearly how a best-selling author approaches his own work, which was a process I find fascinating. I am certain Stephen King fans will love the inside look at their favorite author. More than that, though, I think other readers will enjoy this book as much as I did.

Buy On Writing on Amazon.

Also, there's an On Writing: 10th Anniversary Edition coming out this July. I wonder what new information it will contain.