Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Teaser Tuesday 6/29

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!
My teaser today is from Captive Queen: A Novel of Eleanor of Aquitaine by Alison Weir.
It seemed to her that this marriage that she had defied the world to make had become, in its own way, as much a form of captivity as her union with Louis had been in another. This was not the partnership she had planned for, but a vile endurance, she told herself angrily.
Book is out 7/13. Please note that the text may vary in the final version.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Tamora Pierce for Adult YA Fans (Series Review)

I started reading Tamora Pierce's work when I was in middle school, when my sister suggested I might enjoy Alanna: The First Adventure. She was right and I quickly read the next two books in the series (all that was available at our library), then stalked bookstores for more by her. I was rewarded years later when the final book in the quartet, Lioness Rampant, appeared at a bookstore in Dublin when I was there as a summer student.

In the meantime, though, I had to sate my need for strong female characters in fantasy books some other way. My teachers and family helped - I remember it was my 8th grade teacher who introduced me to Robin McKinley and someone else suggested I read Shakespeare's Twelfth Night.

I was an adult by the time I re-discovered Tamora Pierce. Once I did, I made up for lost time and read just about everything else she's ever written. Below are mini-reviews of her series, with my advice on which ones might be of the most interest to adult readers.

The Circle Universe
As I have said before, I haven't read most of these books. I read the first two from the first series and found them to be too young for me, so I never bothered to check out the rest. Currently, there are three series and one stand alone book set in this universe:
If any of my readers have advice on these books, please feel free to weigh in. But generally, I think adult readers wouldn't be too interested in the Circle books.

The Tortall Universe
This is the real meat and potatoes of Pierce's work for me and, as a whole, is my favorite group of YA fantasy books.
  • The Song of the Lioness quartet is made up of Alanna: The First Adventure, In the Hand of the Goddess, The Woman Who Rides Like a Man, and Lioness Rampant. This series is really basis on which all the other Tortall series are written. Compared to the other books, and to YA books published these days, the books are pretty short and the writing can be a little simple, especially in Alanna. This is less the case in Lioness Rampant, as Pierce, I think, had gotten more liberty to write the book she wanted to write by then.
  • The Immortals: This was the next series set in Tortall, consisting of Wild Magic, Wolf-Speaker, Emperor Mage, and The Realms of the Gods. Tortall literally changes in this series, as more more magic enters that world. That's why there are griffins and dragons in these books and the subsequent chronological series, but none in the The Song of the Lioness or Beka Cooper. I don't love this series as much as the others, probably because I just didn't click as well with Daine, but the books are still fun to read.
  • Protector of the Small: This is the series that brings me back to unadulterated fangirl love. The series is about a noble girl who decides to become the first female to become a knight after Alanna (now that it is legal in Tortall to do so). And, Kel! You're awesome! The books in this series are First Test, Page, Squire, and Lady Knight. Interestingly, in her Lady Knight acknowledgments, Pierce thanks JK Rowling, author of the Harry Potter books, for proving to publishers that YA books could be longer and more complicated, dealing with subject matters previously considered taboo. I always thought that Pierce was unafraid to deal with "adult" subjects in her books (for example, the frank talks about birth control in the early Alanna books) but, certainly, her books got longer at this point and less likely to break a story up into multiple volumes.
  • Tricksters (aka Daughter of the Lioness): These two books, Trickster's Choice and Trickster's Queen, are about Alanna's daughter Alianne (Aly) and her adventures when she is kidnapped and taken, as a slave, to the Copper Isles. Like Pierce's other heroines, Aly is a strong feisty female. But while she can handle herself in a fight, she is more her father's daughter than her mother's, and is more likely to use cunning and trickery to win her battles than out and out force. These books are quite fun and, while they are sequels to the other Tortall series, are different enough that I don't think they need to be read in order. Please note that finding out who Aly's father is, though, will spoil a few things in the The Song of the Lioness quartet.
  • Beka Cooper: These books are prequels (of a sort) to The Song of the Lioness quartet, in that they take place centuries before, in the same world. There's really no character overlap, though, so these books can be read at any point, without fear of spoiling anything in the other books. Please read my reviews of Terrier and Bloodhound for my take on the two books (so far) in Pierce's latest Tortall series.
Pierce, I know, is currently working on a prequel to The Immortals, this one about the mage Numair in his youth. (Timeline-wise, I imagine it will take place about the same time as Alanna's books or maybe just after.) I look forward to reading and reviewing it when it comes out!

I hope this post has inspired anyone curious about Tamora Pierce's work to pick up one of her books. And if there are any young readers in your life, especially girls who enjoyed Graceling or some of the other YA fantasy coming out these days, please put one of these books in her hands. I think she'll love it.

Author photo courtesy Tamora Pierce

Thursday, June 24, 2010

An Angel Reading

The post I am writing that was supposed to go up today is taking much longer than expected. Instead, I will leave you with something to look at. This photo was taken at Mountain View Cemetery in Oakland, CA. Staring off into space, reading a book ... yup, it's a little bit how I picture eternity.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Review: Tender at the Bone

Tender at the Bone is a memoir by Ruth Reichl, former editor at Gourmet Magazine and former restaurant critic for the New York Times. It spans the early part of her life, from childhood in New York to the start of her career as a food writer in the San Francisco Bay Area in the 1970's. Not surprisingly, Reichl's focus is on food - the rancid food she eats when her mother cooks to the hippie organic fare she serves up at her commune in Berkeley, with the drunken messes she makes for high school friends and exotic meals in North Africa in between.

There are a few sure things for me to enjoy reading about. I love reading good food descriptions (probably because I really love good food). I love reading books set in a place I know very well, like the town I live or work in. And I love books about travel, because it's so wonderful to be transported someplace new. Tender at the Bone was a great combination of all these things and I really enjoyed reading it.

This is the first of three memoirs Reichl has written, and I've actually already read the third, Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise. (Number two is Comfort Me with Apples.) I have to say, I definitely preferred Garlic and Sapphires to Tender at the Bone. Garlic and Sapphires felt like a more complete story, whereas Tender at the Bone ended abruptly and wasn't as consistent throughout. Generally, though, I very much enjoyed Tender at the Bone and would recommend it to anyone who likes memoirs or food books.

Buy Tender at the Bone: Growing Up at the Table on Amazon.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Friday Update 6/18

Most Fridays, I update my library and share what new books I bought or received during the past week.

From Librarything, for review: Captive Queen: A Novel of Eleanor of Aquitaine by Alison Weir

For my book club: The Onion Girl by Charles de Lint. I've never read anything by him before but the lady who rang me up at the bookstore was quite enthusiastic about him. I hope I like it as book club is in a week and I haven't cracked it yet.

Just for fun: Dead and Gone: A Sookie Stackhouse Novel by Charlaine Harris. The husband read it first and then I just finished it. It's been so long since I read the last book in the series (From Dead to Worse) that it took me a little bit to get into it. But Sookie's always fun for some mindless reading, if you're in the mood for that kind of thing.

In other news, as I noted before, I had some serious computer trouble after some sleazebag hacked my email accounts. He (or she) got into both my primary and back-up accounts, plus my Facebook account, and locked me out for a full day, while he used my account to send spam to everyone I know. And it wasn't selling fake Vi@gr@ kind of spam - he was claiming to be me, stranded in another country, and asking for money. I am both touched and alarmed that so many people responded with offers to help. As far as I can tell, the thief didn't manage to actually get any money (and I took the step of contacting Western Union and placing a block on my name, so hopefully that further prevented any thievery).

So, what have we learned?
1. Use different passwords for all your accounts and change them often. Every couple of months, at least.
2. Never, ever send money to someone based on an email. If you are concerned that it might really be that person in danger, ask for some kind of corroborating evidence, such as some fact that only they would know.

And, while you're at it, back up your blog, too, because I'm in a PSA kind of mood.

Assuming no further computer-related snafu's happen this weekend, I will be back Monday with my regular programming.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010


My email accounts have been hacked. Ignore all emails from me asking for help or money. Delete immediately!!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Nerds Heart YA Comparison and Winner

Welcome back to Round 1 of the Nerds Heart YA book tournament! As I explained this morning, Angela of Bookish Blather and I were asked to read The World Is Mine (Come Up) and Donut Days.

After discussing each book, we compared the two and picked a winner to move on in the tournament.

So as for the monumental task of starting to compare these books - like I mentioned before, we have two protagonists who are trying to define themselves as separate from their parents (even though The World is Mine has multiple narrators, I considered Blue the main protagonist since he got more chapters to narrate and his big plans were what drove the plot). While on the surface they seem like two totally different books, at their heart the stories are quite similar. It's the outer trappings that take the stories in wildly different directions - urban vs. suburban settings, watching friendships fall apart (The World is Mine) vs. friendships coming back together (Donut Days).

The issue in comparing any two books is not in picking which one I prefer, it's in trying to pin down the why. Thinking about it, I realized that while Emma and Blue's problems aren't terribly different, Donut Days had much more heart than The World is Mine, and that's what makes the big difference for me. I'm not trying to disparage the goal of breaking into entertainment - I know that creative fields require just as much work as any other career. But Blue doesn't seem to have any larger goal than "coming up" and getting power for the sake of getting powerful. Add to that, he wasn't the most sympathetic character, and it all sums up to making it harder for me to care about his struggles (especially since some of them could have been so easily solved).

Every once in awhile it looked like Blue was going to connect with a deeper goal - I was encouraged when he was researching other entertainment entrepreneurs and when he was looking to the former NFL/music exec as a mentor, but yes, ultimately it seemed like all he wanted was to improve his own standing rather than connect with a larger community. He didn't want to throw awesome parties for the sake of the party goers - he just wanted the reputation as an awesome party planner, and he was even willing to sacrifice his friends (and the friends of friends) in order to achieve that.

Emma could be bratty, but I felt like she was concerned with more than just herself and her own issues. She was angry at her parents, but mostly she was worried about them. She was angry with Nat, but she also recognized that she missed her friend. She was angry with her much of her congregation, but still concerned that they weren't taken advantage of. It just all made me care much more.

I pretty much agree with everything you're saying about Emma.

I do want to make sure I'm not just drawn to Emma more than Blue because my experiences more closely match hers than they do Blue's.

I also had to really think and make sure I wasn't just leaning towards Donut Days because it was easier for me to relate to. I also don't want to put some sort of value judgement on Blue's goals vs. Emma's - I'm afraid I'm sounding like all books must have some great moral message in order to be considered valuable, which isn't at all how I feel. I just think Blue's methods of achieving his goals fell flat, and since I could never empathize with him I was never invested in his goal. Add this to the weaknesses I felt with the writing (over-explanation of the slang, the abrupt ending), and The World is Mine just didn't hold up well for me. Emma could be bratty, but I could empathize even with her brattiness because we could see exactly where it was coming from - she clearly values science over faith, doesn't hold the Bible as infallible, and thinks her parents have unreasonable expectations. Even if I didn't agree with her positions or her reasoning, at least I could understand where she was coming from. I never quite felt I understood Blue and his shortcomings in the same way.

We're in agreement. The World is Mine had a lot going for it, but couldn't hold its own up against Donut Days.

Congratulations to Donut Days and author Laura Zielin!

Nerds Heart YA Review: Donut Days

Welcome to Round 1 of the Nerds Heart YA book tournament! This year we're looking at little known YA literature that have a focus on different kinds of diversity (race, sexual orientation, religion, etc). As part of the tournament, Angela of Bookish Blather and I were asked to read The World Is Mine (Come Up Series #1) by Lyah B. LeFlore and Donut Days by Lara Zielin.

I suggest that you visit Angela's blog first to read our thoughts on The World is Mine, then come back here to read what we thought of Donut Days. Then, check back later today to find out the winner of this round!

In some ways, Donut Days couldn't have been more different from The World is Mine. Then again, there's something really universal about teenagers trying to figure out their place in the world and how to shape their future.

When I finished reading Donut Days , I was totally unsure how to judge it against The World is Mine . The books really are soooooooooo different. But you're right, teens trying to find their place is universal and appears in both books. Emma is trying to define herself separately from her parents - stepping far away from the evangelical world she's been raised in. Blue is doing the same, questioning whether the law degree his father desperately wants him to have is best for him. Also, Emma is a flawed protagonist (rather selfish with her point of view), like I think the author may have been trying to make Blue (but went overboard).

It was really interesting to read a book that was so overtly about God and religion and being spiritual. Granted, I avoid Christian fiction like the plague, since I hate being preached to. But Donut Days didn't seem preachy to me, maybe because I thought it was actually really funny.

Like you, I avoid preachy Christian fiction - but I do enjoy books that explore religion, so the premise of this one was right up my alley.

I thought that the author, Lara Zielin, did a great job of presenting different viewpoints in way that (usually) didn't feel like a Point/Counterpoint essay. And Emma's parents, who could have easily been portrayed as crackpots (Adam was a hermaphrodite? The earth was created 6,000 years ago?) came across as genuinely incredibly sweet people.

I thought Emma's parents were really interesting. When it opened with the "Adam as hermaphrodite" theory, I was sure the problem was going to be that her parents were overly liberal which would cause problems within the church. To see them hold that crazy theory - but simultaneously believe the Earth is only 6,000 years old, which seems to be from a much more conservative view point - was a little jarring. Maybe the hermaphrodite theory has a theological grounding I'm not aware of (I actually just went to Google it and "Adam was a hermaphrodite" was the top suggestion after I typed "Adam was a," so it's clearly not something the author made up), but it stuck out to me in a weird way. Not bad, but it was a little weird.

Just from Googling, it looks like the hermaphrodite theory is more common in Judaism. I had never heard of it before this book, either. It still seems a little weird to me, but then again, any religion seems weird to an outside person.

I absolutely loved the Angelfire Witnesses. The "bikers with a heart of gold" trope isn't exactly new, but the bikers were so well developed that they felt like full characters, not at all stereotypes. They were easily my favorite part of the novel.

Bear, the Angelfire Witness who befriended Emma, was awesome. You're right - he was definitely a type. But he was just so great! Makes me wish I had a born-again biker friend who looks like he eats kittens for breakfast!

The one stereotypical character? The daughter of the man in the church with the "prophesy" [Molly]

Other than her brother Jake, Molly's whole family were just The Villains. I could tell that the author was trying to give Molly some motivation (beyond just being a stuck up brat. How many teens gets a company named after them?) when she had Nat and Emma mention that Molly might have been jealous of their friendship. But since we never heard from Molly herself, like we heard from Nat, it was easy to just place her in the "villain" category and forget about it.

The biggest flaw in the book, I thought, was that it was maybe a little too light. It was a really quick read and the ending just wrapped everything up very nicely. Okay, maybe there was a little hint of a cliffhanger at the end, but it was so low stakes, I wasn't really concerned.

This was definitely an overall lighthearted, low-stakes book. The weight of the novel comes from Emma's struggle with her faith - and the faith of her family and friends. I enjoyed that she wasn't the sort of preacher's kid who totally rejected her parents' faith in favor of hardcore atheism. Her faith is much more nuanced and subtle, which I think is what kept the book from being preachy. Since at the beginning of the novel she was pretty sure of her beliefs, she didn't have to spend time convincing us about them - which is also part of her stubbornness. She knows what she believes, she thinks she's right, so why does she have to listen to opposing view points?

I definitely liked that Emma wasn't a stereotypical pastor's kid. She was neither a goody-two-shoes, nor was she the rebelling wild child. She was just a teen who liked some aspects of her parents life and didn't like others. But she was definitely more accepting of her own path than of anyone else's. I thought the resolution of this, and her conflict with best friend Nat, was a little pat, but generally I thought Emma's development felt pretty natural.

I think part of the "pat"-ness of the resolution comes from how quickly the whole novel happened. It's basically only two days in the donut camp, with brief flashbacks, like to the day of her baptism. I wish the book had been a little bit longer, to give adequate time to really build up the tension (and thus possibly not make Molly & her father look like such cartoon villains) as well as give a little more time to resolving Emma and Nat's conflict.

Can you imagine how different Donut Days would have been if its structure had been more like The World is Mine, where we get to hear from all the characters?

There definitely could have been a lot more room to explore Molly, because after Nat explained a bit of her motivation at the end, it became obvious that Molly was more than just a mean girl. I don't know if I would have wanted it to go so far as changing the narrative style to multiple first person narrators, like The World is Mine, but a little more time with her would definitely have been worth it! I'm a big fan of well-done villains (some might call it an obsession), so I definitely would have liked more from her.

Here's what we thought about Donut Days:
- Well done with potentially sensitive topic
- Sympathetic main character
- Too short
- Stereotypical villain

Stay tuned for later today, when we compare the two books and pick a winner to proceed to the next round.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Teaser (almost) Tuesday 6/15

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!
I know its not quite Tuesday yet, but because of Nerds Heart YA, I want to post this early. I'm sure it's Tuesday somewhere in the world already.

Today's teaser is from The Good Thief by Hannah Tinti. Here are the book's first lines:
The man arrived after morning prayers. Word spread quickly that someone had come, and the boys of Saint Anthony's orphanage elbowed each other and strained to catch a glimpse as he unhitched his horse and led it to the trough for drinking.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Friday Update 6/11

Most Fridays, I update my library and share what new books I bought or received during the past week.

I got my second book for the Nerds Heart YA tournament: Donut Days by Lara Zielin. (The other book was The World is Mine.) Stayed tuned for next week, when Angela of Bookish Blather and I reveal our pick to move on in the tourney!

I also got Tender at the Bone: Growing Up at the Table by Ruth Reichl. It came from a friend who shares my love of food books ( I had lent him one of Reichl's other books, Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise, which we both loved.)

In other book news: As I'm sure you've heard, The New Yorker is publishing a 20 Under 40 Fiction Issue. Looks like a pretty interesting list, but I was most interested in one name: Daniel Alarcón. Congratulations, Daniel! As you may recall, I reviewed War By Candlelight quite some time ago and enjoyed it. I wasn't sure until I read the New Yorker interview with him that I was allowed to mention this, but I have gotten a sneak peek at Alarcón's next project and it looks awesome. From the interview:
I’m in the final stages of a graphic novel, with the artist Sheila Alvarado, adapting a short story of mine called “City of Clowns,” which appeared in The New Yorker in 2003 [and is my favorite story from War By Candlelight - Lorin]. It will be published this summer in Peru, Mexico, and Chile.
I hope it will be published in English at some point as well, since I don't read Spanish. But the illustrations look great. All you Spanish speakers out there should look out for it.

On a personal note, I know I've been a spotty blogger recently. Because of the tendinitis in my arm, I've mostly stopped using the computer at night. This means I only do any writing on the weekends or on my lunch break at work. And when I'm busy at work or out of town for a weekend, that means blogging is the lowest thing on my priority list. Many thanks to all of you for continuing to stay tuned, despite the lack of posts.

Happy weekend!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Review: The Little Giant of Aberdeen County

Before Truly Plaice was even born she was an oddity in her small upstate New York town. As her pregnant mother grew larger and larger, the townspeople placed bets on just how big the baby boy would be. When Truly was born instead, her ill mother dying in the process, it sent her father into a tailspin of depression. Unfit to raise the enormous young girl and her dainty, pretty older sister, Serena Jane, Truly's father dies not long after. While Serena Jane is taken in by the Pastor's wife, Truly is sent to live on the run down Dyerson farm.

Truly and her sister's lives split dramatically then. Serena Jane is adored by the town and, less fortunately, becomes the focus of Bob Bob Morgan's desire. Bob Bob is the next Morgan doctor in a long line of them and he is just a right bastard. When Serena Jane finally leaves him - and Bobbie, their young son - he bullies Truly into coming to live with him and watch Bobbie. Things go from bad to worse for Truly then, but eventually she finds a way out. And along the way, she finds love and helps her nephew to do so as well.

I really enjoyed reading The Little Giant of Aberdeen County by Tiffany Baker. Truly was a fascinating character. Her life was just different enough to be remarkable but also familiar in a way that I think anyone would relate to. It helped, I think, that the book is written from her omniscient perspective. Even though she shouldn't have known everything she talked about, it was interesting to get her take on everything from the Morgan family history to some of Bob Bob's more vile acts.

There is one thing in the book that really bothered me. Near the end of the book, a certain character (I won't say who, to avoid spoiling anyone) dies unexpectedly, indirectly as a result of Truly's actions. I felt like Truly's reaction to this was very blase, considering how much this person had meant to her. I definitely found myself thinking about this after I finished the book and if any of you have read it, I'd be interested in hearing your take.

That said, I definitely recommend this book. In fact, I'm thinking about picking it for my next book club selection!

Buy The Little Giant of Aberdeen County on Amazon.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Teaser Tuesday 6/8

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!
Today's teaser is from Donut Days by Lara Zielin:
I'm no biblical scholar, but I'm pretty sure Adam - as in the guy who named all the animals in the Garden of Eden - wasn't a hermaphrodite.

Turns out my mom had a different opinion.