Tuesday, January 29, 2013

YA Reading, Round 10: Sci-Fi

This is one genre I definitely thought would be the least interesting, but it actually turned out to be one of my favorite weeks of reading. I really enjoyed these two books, but I’m still don’t think I can apply that reaction to all of sci-fi. Maybe it’s only coincidence that I happened to like both of these, so I’m going to say jury’s still out on me and sci-fi…

Scott Westerfeld is the author of a few well-known YA series, Leviathan being one of them. The series is steampunk in aesthetic, taking place in a semi-fictional society leading up to World War I. A lot of the history is there—the leaders of the Austro-Hungarian Empire have been murdered, but its prince has escaped and is on the run. Meanwhile, Britain’s Air Service has an intruder—Deryn is our heroine, disguised as a boy, because all she wants to do is fly…and she’s brilliant at it. Naturally, our two protagonists meet and are thrown into an adventure as the world itself is on the verge of chaos.

There’s no Allies versus Central Power in this war; rather it’s the Austro-Hungarian/German Clankers, with their mighty steam-powered iron machines, versus the British Darwinists, who have employed fabricated animals to do a machine’s work. This is what’s so fascinating about this book—it takes these schools of thought from a real point in history and just runs with them, creating this big what-if scenario. It’s based on enough factual history to keep the reader feeling realistically connected to this fictional world, but it let’s imagination run free to consider a new way of thinking. Leviathan is the first in a trio, and I, myself, can’t wait to keep reading, because this one ends without much resolution.

Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi is definitely not a book I would have thought I’d like. Even for the first couple of chapters I wanted to put it down, because it starts off a bit slow. Ship Breaker is dystopian in style and is set in the Gulf Coast region sometime in the future, when hurricanes have pounded the area to the point that cities have been ruined and civilization is primitive at its best. Nailer, our main character, is a light crew worker, meaning he hops aboard shipwrecked boats and oil tankers, stripping them for copper wiring to make quota. This is the work-driven society he lives in—just trying to survive, scrapping metal for an unknown boss somewhere up the line, wishing and hoping for his big break.

By chance, Nailer may have hit his jackpot when he finds a beautiful clipper ship (essentially, a yacht) beached by a recent hurricane. As he hops on board, he finds the entire crew killed…except for a beautiful, wealthy girl who may be worth more to him dead than alive. This is where the character of Nailer really begins to shine, showing signs of humanity, as he becomes a person rather than just a scavenger like the rest of them. Ship Breaker is an adventure with a main character who faces a moral dilemma, and the reader is presented with scenarios that demand consideration.

One of my favorite things is the descriptions of the world “as it was,” or, as it currently is now. Reading a fictional future that so clearly links to the past makes you feel, as I mentioned above, so connected to the story and setting. This book is also the first in a series, though so far, there are only two. Recommended to dystopian fans or readers looking for adventure or uncertainty.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Nonfiction | One funny girl

Fact about myself: my childhood was filled with hours upon hours of Nick at Nite, and I fully credit them with my extensive knowledge of retro TV shows, often singling me out amongst my peers as the one who “knows all this old stuff.” Among my childhood favorites: Happy Days, I Love Lucy, Mary Tyler Moore, and Laverne & Shirley.

This, I believe, is the reason that Penny Marshall’s memoir, My Mother Was Nuts, ended up in my NYPL hold queue. I must’ve read about it on NPR or something, and months later, it finally landed at my library for pick-up.

First of all, I have to say, Penny Marshall and her brother Garry Marshall are two people that just pop up everywhere. I remember them being two of the first actors that I started to recognize here and there—the most notable childhood reference obviously being their Hocus Pocus cameo. But, to tell you the truth, I have never known much about them. (As a kid, I remember thinking they were married, because that’s the relationship between all men and women who are always together and share a last name, right?)

From what I read in her book, Penny Marshall has actually done much more than I ever knew. Did you know she, in fact, directed both Big and A League of Their Own—-two movies on my all-time top 10 list? Because I sure didn’t.

Penny’s book starts out like most memoirs in which a person of fame is reflecting on their life–looking back to where it all started. Sometimes, that’s kind of boring, depending on the person. And when you start to read, “I grew up in [blank] town with my [blank] siblings and a mother who [blank] a father who, God love him, never really [blank],” you just kind of suck in air and say, “Oh boy…” But Penny is funny. And she tells those stories about her loud dance instructor mother and quiet accountant father, and somehow, you’re interested because she makes it so.

I really enjoyed My Mother Was Nuts much more than I expected to. I keep reading these celebrity memoirs, always hoping they will turn out like this one—not overly serious and with enough anecdotes and experiences that will entertain you, the reader, and not just the reminiscing author. I think about these in terms of storytelling; would the content of this book be good if she was telling me the stories over a beer? And yes. Yes, it would.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

YA Reading, Round 9: Mystery/Horror

So, truth be told, I obviously finished my epic semester of YA back in December. But then you know how  December is…things got busy. And I still have a few more genres to post about, so I’m just going to pretend like we’re still going.

Two things I have to say about this group of books: 1) It wasn’t my favorite week. I think there are stronger horror stories and mysteries out there; 2) During this week, I actually listened to an audiobook for the very first time. This may or may not have influenced my opinions.

When you take a look at the cover of The Killer’s Cousin by Nancy Werlin, it’s like a flashback to 1993. Seriously, this book looks on par with I Know What You Did Last Summer and similar other teen horror covers. And it sorta reads that way too. I mean, it’s timeless…but in a dated way, if that makes sense. In the story, David is trying for the second time to get through his senior year. The year prior, he was on trial for his girlfriend’s death, and now he’s avoiding the frenzy by staying with his aunt and uncle who seem to hate each other. He’s also got a creepy younger cousin, Lily, who is really trying hard to ruin his life. And then there’s the ominous memory of his older cousin Kathy who died years ago, but something’s not quite right about the story. In the case of this book, audio was not the way to go. The narrator was boring, making the story drag. And his “annoying little girl” voice actually made me cringe from awfulness. The ending was fairly predictable (once you’re into the story, you’ll figure out how the author was trying to be witty with the title of the book), but it wasn’t terrible to get through. It’s probably much better reading on paper than spending 6 hours listening to (seriously, could’ve finished it in about 2).

Andrew Smith’s In the Path of Fallen Objects is a different story. Now this book is creepy. I also listened to this as an audiobook, and the narrator was better (though not great), and my only real complaint was that it lasted like 11 hours or something absurd. The story follows two brothers, Simon and Jonah, as they leave their home behind in Texas (which isn’t much of a home since their absent mother left for good) to hunt down their older brother Matthew who supposedly returned to Arizona after leaving Vietnam (yes, this takes place in that era). Along the road, they’re picked up by a couple of seemingly normal kids not much older than their 14 and 16. Mitch and Lilly are clearly running away from something, but they’re laid-back enough that it seems okay. Well, it is not. Jonah quickly figures out that Mitch is a psycho. His new mission is just survival. Protect Simon and Lilly and get the hell away from Mitch. Naturally, it’s not that easy, and Jonah is in for quite a battle. Most of this story is frightening and suspenseful, but it’s actually got quite a bit more to it; family, trauma, relationships–survival in every sense of the word. As eerie as this story is, I quite enjoyed it.

The Final Four Mysteries are a series of sports stories by John Feinstein. They follow two young aspiring sportswriters, Stevie and Susan Carol, as they cover some of the biggest events in sports and inevitably solve a great mystery along the way. I read The Rivalry, which covers the annual showdown between Army and Navy football. This is the fifth in the series, but it’s not totally necessary to read them in order; you just miss out on a bit of background on the characters. The story is light and easy to follow. Non-sports fans will probably be bored by this series, because there is a lot of jargon and detail. However, it’s a good series for sports fans because they move fast with continuous actio, which make it a good series for boys and reluctant readers.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Hello? Are you there?

In case you haven’t noticed (“you” being anyone out there who may or may not still be reading this little blog space on the Internet), the past few months have been swarmed with YA reading and lots of other generally busy busy things. In real life, my job has gotten busier than ever as we just keep releasing more and more material that I have to market. And, did you know that I am getting married in June? To Colin, one time contributor to the very blog you are reading.

So there are those things on top of all that reading. And though January–June are looking to be just as busy with wedding planning and thesis writing (ugh), I hope I can have a little more time to read as I like reading—to relax and drop off the earth into another world.
With the start of 2013, we’re approaching this little blog’s 4-year blogiversary. But in much of that time, thanks to many of the things mentioned above, I have almost completely dropped out of the bloggy community. And that saddens me. I don’t have time to read what other people have to say, and not too many people seem to stop by here to say much of anything anymore either. And that is exactly opposite of why this was started in the first place. I wanted to encourage discussion, promote books I love (or don’t love), and basically just talk about books with other book-minded folks. 
So, dear readers, what do you like to hear about? Would you like me to shutup about YA books forever (I promise I won’t bore you with them much longer)? Do I need to be reading whatever is the best-selling follow-up to 50 Shades of Scandal (just kidding, I’m not gonna hop on that bandwagon so quickly)? 
What’s your favorite thing to read about and explore? What gets you excited? What’s going to make you sit up a little straighter in your chair with piqued interest?

But in the meantime, hope everyone had a wonderful holiday season and a great start to 2013. Happy reading!