Thursday, September 29, 2011

Goliath by Scott Westerfeld and illustrated by Keith Thompson

Do you ever get a book you just want to savor? This book kind of felt like the last Harry Potter book for me. I wanted to read it super fast and find out all that happens; yet, I also didn’t want to read it too fast because I didn’t want this fantastic series to be over. Goliath is the final book in the Leviathan trilogy, a series I rank up there with some of my all time YA favorites.
This series is about two people: Alek and Deryn. But before I can even delve into them at all, I need to explain a little of the awesomeness of Westerfeld’s steampunk world. The book takes place during WWI, and like how the war really started with the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, that’s how it starts in this series. And while there are plenty of things I don’t remember about this war (from my AP European History class), I do remember all the crazy allegiances that were made, and that definitely happens in these books too, although the major differences here are the two sides: the Clankers (who are all about the steampunk machines) and the Darwinists (who are all about creating new species of creatures).
Much of all three books takes place on the airship: the Leviathan (which is pretty much a collection of ton of different animals combined to make one sort of space ship/pirate ship, hot air balloon. I really cannot describe it better. Thankfully, the books are layered in beautiful illustrations. Really, these pictures are gorgeous, and I’m so glad they are there because sometimes it feels like Westerfeld gets so carried away with his awesome ideas, that he doesn’t explain things adequately, and the pictures then come in handy because it’s super hard to imagine an airship like this without a little visual help.
Any way, Alex is a Clanker. Actually, he’s the son of Archduke Ferdinand, and the series begins with his escape. Eventually he meets up with Deryn, a girl pretending to be a boy so she can be a midshipman (aka: flying soldier). And she’s actually really good at it. There are a million scenes of her doing insane stunts (all a thousand miles up in the air).
This book starts right after book 2 finished. And one of the reasons I was anticipating this book so much was that Alek still didn’t know that Deryn was a girl –who also happened to be in love with him…And thankfully, the best friends share all their secrets in this one (and close to the beginning!) Fans will not be disappointed in this respect. I feel like book 2 focused more on Deryn, and this one was more about Alek and all the major, royal decisions he had to face.
We’re introduced to a new character, Mr. Tesla, an inventor claiming to have created the weapon that will end WW1. There’s a lot of ethical questions about whether ending a war and saving possibly millions of lives was worth the lives of hundreds or even thousands. This reminded me a lot of the nuclear debates that began with WWII, but not quite the same. The characters pretty much travel the world in this book, going places like Russia, Japan, Mexico, and New York City. And it was fascinating to see Westerfeld’s versions of these places. The characters travel, reveal their darkest secrets, save inventors, carry on secret weapons, rescue reporters, get filmed flying around the Leviathan for “moving pictures” (aka: movies), argue politics, get sabotaged by movie producers, and get offered amazing new jobs.
Everything really concludes in this book. And most of the characters get much-deserved endings. Though, the war isn’t over yet when it ends. America has joined into the chaos after there’s a German attack in NYC, in effort to get Mr. Tesla’s supposed peace creating weapon.
Alek does so much growing up. I didn’t always like him. In fact, I didn’t really like him at all until midway through book 2. He was a whiner. Granted, both his parents were just assassinated, but still, he was just too ignorant and spoiled for me to quite understand why Deryn liked him so much. In this book Alek has become brave (going into the air, literally, with Deryn), negotiating diplomacy, standing up for what he wants, and actually building his own opinion for how things are and should be. I always loved Deryn, as a boy and a girl. And I loved getting to se her be a tiny bit girly around Alek in this one; it’s such a contrast from her normal, spitting, punching self. I loved how the animals/Darwinist creations developed more in this book too. Their good friend, Bovril, really has learned to do more than just repeat things, and can even say whole sentences by the end of the book.
And most of all, I love how this amazingly creative world centers around very real concepts and history.  The only real negative-ish thing I can say here, again is how Westerfeld has this tendency to get carried away with crazy, but amazing ideas, and then not describe them properly. And it always takes me a little while to get sucked up into this world when I start reading. I have to adjust to the language and world. But, once that adjustment is made, all I could really do was just savor it. It gets a 10/10. If you liked Philip Pullman’s The Golden Compass, you’ll probably like this.  Really, it’s just such a unique, fun, series. I highly recommend it.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor

This book was so good, I’m almost at a loss for words, almost. It’s an ARC, courtesy of Little, Brown and Company, via the annual ALA conference in New Orleans. It comes out in two days, and by all means go buy this one. You will want to own it, and re-read it.
It’s about Karou, an art student in Prague, who only has one real friend because no one else seems quite able to deal with Karou’s weirdness. For starters, she leaves all the time (sometimes for days), and will give no explanation other than she had errands to run. Also, she spends more time sketching people than talking to them. And sometimes she comes back from her errands with bruises.
What does Karou do? She collects teeth for her father figure, Brimstone. She gets sent on errands that take her all over the world. She goes to auctions, spends ridiculous sums of money, and works with some rather sketchy traders. She’s trained in self defense and can normally handle herself pretty well. Though, even Karou is susceptible to gunshots. And who is Brimstone? He’s this sort of multiple creature crossbreed monster that has brought Karou up in secret since she was a baby. She was raised in Brimstone’s shop along with various other creatures that she sketches in her sketchpads and that her teachers think of as fantasy creatures.
Karou sometimes gets paid in wishes for her errands. Wishes have gotten her some pretty cool small things like making ex-boyfriends have inappropriate itches during modeling sessions, permanent blue hair that she never has to dye, and open doors. But the bigger wishes, Brimstone saves for specific clients, who all seem to be in the business of teeth. And Karou works hard to have her double life of human art classes and family business. And she becomes an expert on teeth.The only issue with the family business though, is all the secrets. Like why has she always had the palms of her hands tattooed with eyes (since she was a baby)? And what are all the teeth for? And why did Brimstone raise her, a human?
Eventually Karou breaks some rules and finds out the truth about Brimstone’s world of monsters. She learns of the centuries long war between the chimaera (monsters) and angels. And she falls in love with an angel who used to have a soft spot for chimaera. You’d think it would be tough for Karou to choose sides: angel or chimaera. But it’s not. She always sides with her family. And the mysteries of her past, and the past surrounding the angel, Akiva, are just so fascinating. Add that to the war that is happening, all the portals between the worlds being destroyed, Karou being cut off from her family completely, the art, the scenes that take place around the world, the truths Karou eventually shares with her one friend, and this book is just loaded with amazing details and mystery.
And Karou is just ubelieably cool. There’s not better word to describe her. She reminded me a lot of Lisbeth from The Girl with the Dragon Tatoo. She’s smart, sarcastic, brave, and unbelievably strong. She eventually discovers a way to get back to her family of monsters, but it involves stealing wishes from the sketchy hunters/traders of teeth. She travels the world to steal their wishes, and as soon as she gets her hands on the good stuff (the bigger wishes), she wishes to be able to fly. This really comes in handy when she is attacked by angels. Though, it did not come in handy when an agel fight was spotted by a lot of tourists, and random fans and police officers then want to “talk” with her. Karou stands up for herself. And she doesn’t let herself become a sop around Akiva, refusing to be a damsel in distress. She does what she has to for the creatures she loves.
There’s great humor, intense dark magic, resurrections, flying, fighting, all kinds of monsters, human trafficking, torture, a whole world of interesting history, a terrible war that involves stealing and breeding children as soldiers, and so much mystery. There’s a lot of politics too, about what the chimaera were used as before the war and how each side of the war justifies what they are doing. And despite all the angels versus demons/devils comments, there was no real religious aspect at all. And I loved this. I liked that it wasn’t about God. It was about a war for land, rights, and peace. And so much of the book is about hope (what the name, Karou, means), and how Karou and Akiva, and even Brimstone interpret hope, and differentiate it from wishing.
A lot gets answered by the end; although, I’m sure I’ll have questions until the last book. But, there was one question I really needed answered that wasn’t. Why did she have to grow up ignorant of everything?
Any way, there’s almost nothing negative I can say about this book. The story was amazing. The characters/creatures were so unique. Karou was the best kind of main character. The love story was connected to a really interesting history, and was not too sappy; it actually took the backseat to everything else that was going on (at least until the very end), and that is how I like it! And Taylor can write well, too. Each layer of the story is connected so well to the main focus. And I couldn’t put it down. I still need to know what will happen and I’m dreading waiting for book 2. I give this a whole-hearted 10/10. I’m so glad I got this one.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson

This ARC comes out in two days. And I was super excited for it because of the one blurb on the front (that hopefully will be on the final version) that reads: “Engrossing.” –Tamora Pierce.
The back of the book says it will appeal to fans of Tamora Pierce and Kristin Cashore. And I am a big fan of those ladies, and as it turns out, I’m a fan of this too.
Something I have been noticing a lot though lately with YA book covers is a general misrepresentation of the characters. For example I know of certain books that are about girls of Latina or African American descent that then display a gorgeous, white girl on the cover. And one of the appeals to this story for me was that the main character was fat. And by the end of all her adventures, she does lose a lot of weight, but still…The girl on the cover of this book doesn’t really look she has ever really enjoyed eating that much, and I really think that gives teen girls a bad message.  (Yes, there can be books about girls who are fat or who are from Mexico, but no, they aren’t good enough to be on covers…?) YA books are inspiring, and in my opinion, the covers really need to reflect that.
Any way, I did find he story to be very interesting. It’s about Elisa, a princess born with a a stone from God that only one bearer gets per century. Elisa is brought up in ignorance of what her stone means because her people believe she can’t know what is in store for her to be able to do all she can do. The book starts on her wedding day to a handsome King, who doesn’t really seem to love her. No one tells her why she has to get married so quickly or why she has to flee the only home she’s ever known. Soon, though it becomes clear that all is not well in the kingdoms because the royal carriages are attacked on their way to the King’s palace. Elisa, who loves reading about war tactics, manages to save her carriage of ladies in waiting, and then also even manages to save the life of her husband.
When they get to his kingdom, Elisa is forced to hide her new marriage to the King from his kingdom, and is not given adequate explanation for why. Elisa likes to eat. And be warned that you will become hungry while reading certain passages! She knows that she has a big figure and, the king wanting to hide their marriage does not do wonders for her self-esteem. Soon, Elisa is kidnapped because her stone is recognized. And she’s taken to the desert where she sees the effects of a war she believed over. With her captors/new friends she learns a lot about herself and who she is meant to be.
She falls in love with one of her new friends, helps her friends defeat waring armies, spies with them on evil animagi, leads enormous groups of people, prays a lot, and discovers the great power she has at her fingertips. This book has a lot of war themes and spying, and death in it. If the war-side of epic fantasy books is not appealing to you, you probably won’t like this. There’s a lot strategizing and tough decision making.
And it actually took me a little while to enjoy the book. It took me a while to like Elisa because I tend to like intelligent characters a lot more than ignorant ones, and all of the praying she does sometimes made her stand out in a bad way to me. But, eventually I got to know her and watch her as she grew in intelligence and power, and she still has a ways to go, but I liked her a lot more when she learned more about herself, and trusted herself more. There is a lot self conscious, almost whininess about how she’s fatter than everyone else, and how she doesn’t believe herself worthy of a Godstone. But, half way through, she really finds her place in the world, enjoys her adventures, and learns to be proud of who she is.
And again, I’m going got stress the war stuff. I was hoping the book would be more supernatural than it was. Really, it’s a war/fantasy adventure, and does not have much in the way of magic. And everything that I would define as magical is defined by the characters as godly. There’s a lot of religion, a lot of prayer, a lot of rituals, and a lot of faith in this one. And it was fascinating to learn about this religion, and interesting to see how all sides deemed themselves on the side of God. But sometimes, the religion aspect was too much for me. It was hard for me to see Elisa reading her equivalent of the bible every night, with everything that was going on.
Yet despite the pretty, yet not so cool cover and the heaviness on war and religion, I did still find myself loving this story. I couldn’t put it down, and read it in less than a day. I loved reading about all the food. I loved all the scenes where Elisa had to first rough it in the desert. I loved the man she fell in love with. And I loved all the minor characters who each had some political/interesting side storyline. And I loved how much Elisa grew since the night of her marriage. I want more magic, but I can’t win everything. I give it a 9/10. And more than Cashore or Pierce, I think it would more appeal to Sherwood Smith or Anne Osterlund fans.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

the demon trapper's daughter by Jana Oliver

The back of this book makes it sound kind of like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and frankly, any story where a girl can kick some major butt, fighting evil, will attract my attention. This is my first normal (non ARC book) in a while; don’t get used to it –I still got plenty left. But, sometimes I had to remind myself that it really wasn’t an ARC because it was chock-full of editing mistakes. There were some mistakes that kept me from moving forward with the awesome story, and normally books have some mistakes because no one is perfect and I understand that. I notice them because I was an English major, but I really should not be noticing this many…
Any way, I still loved it. The main character was just as strong, determined, and girl power-y as Buffy, if not more so. Riley is the daughter of a famous demon trapper. She lives in Atlanta (whole different kind of urban fantasy), in a future where various kinds of demons inhabit the world. Demon trappers catch the demons and sell them to the Vatican. And she’s pretty much the only girl in her area to train as one. There’s a lot of training, which in her case includes cleaning demon excrement with her bare hands, and a lot of hard work with lover grade demons. And not all demon trappers support Riley’s decision to train as a trapper, despite how amazing her father is.
Unfortunately for Riley, her father dies early on in this book, leaving her orphaned and in debt from all the medical bills required from her recently lost mother. She has a very egotistical, yet attractive friend in her father’s apprentice, Beck, who feels the need to protect her because he couldn’t protect her dad. She has a normal best friend at a normal school she attends (bringing in all the typical teen stress), though school for her takes place in locations like abandoned Starbuck’s. And she pretty much has to fight for everything she has in regards to her status as an apprentice because no one really likes that a girl is accomplishing all that she is. She has already caught some high level demons, and seems to be really good at it.
Also, all the demons seem to know her by name. And there’s all sorts of hidden political agendas between the tainted Holy Water, the demon killers of the church, the necromancers that steal dead bodies to make a living, the demons being sold illegally, and the final double crossing moments in an all-out war type fight scene at the end. There’s romance with fellow demon trapper Simon, though, it seems as though Riley has an array of attractive young men to choose from, and I have a feeling some romance between her and Beck will have to eventually happen. And, there is so much action here. Demon fights, cemetery overnights, trials, demon selling, and fights among the trappers, never really leaves for a dull moment.
The book ends with a bit of a cliffhanger that ties in to angels, but not in the typical YA fallen angel love triangle kind of way, but more in like a Philip Pullman Golden Compass angel importance kind of way. I loved Riley. I loved the boys, particularly Beck, who is anything but simple. I love Simon, and all his religious energy, which is so different from almost all YA love interests. I loved this Atlanta. I loved all the fuzzy moments between what was good and what was bad. Riley even sort of befriends a little, level one demon who lives in her apartment and collects shiny objects. I loved all the fighting scenes and all the action. And I really loved the small tidbits of magic.
The only thing that really bothered me, besides the poorly done editing, was the lack of knowledge I had of the world Riley lives in. I get that demons are everywhere and that demon trappers are all over the world. But, she talks about the world once being better with both her parents and with things like Starbucks…What happened? Were demons always a part of it? I feel like I needed more background.
I know there is a book 2 already, and I plan on getting it soon. And I know a lot more will be answered in regards to why Riley is so important and why all the demons know her, and why all the necromancers were after her dad. Hopefully, I’ll get more info about her world, or her Atlanta. And of course, some angel moments need to happen. And more romance, please. All in all, I really enjoyed this one. I give it an 8/10, and I am so ready for the second one.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

After Obsession by Carrie Jones and Steven E. Wedel

This is another ARC I got in New Orleans. The good news is it came out today. And I had the whole thing finished in less than 24 hours. It’s a great story that moves super fast.
After Obsession is about Aimee, a girl whose dreams come true (literally), just usually in ways that are hard for her to always understand. She can also heal people just by touching them. And she’s pretty sure there is something evil in her town, making all of the people around her on edge. A new Emergency Room needs to be built in her hospital, and the police are complaining about making so many arrests. The adults and the kids seem to always be fighting. And when her best friend (Courtney)’s father disappears in the same river, her mother died in, the story really picks up.
Courtney’s aunt and cousin, Alan, move to town to live with Courtney and her mom. And Alan and Aimee have an immediate connection even though Aimee already has a boyfriend. Though with the big evil making its way around town, Aimee is finding herself liking her boyfriend less and less. He actually physically pulls her out of his car and bruises her in the process. The whole school can’t believe why her boyfriend would act that way. Also no one really knows why Courtney seems to be going slowly insane. And insanity is a major theme here. Aimee’s mother is known for committing suicide in that river, and Aimee really fights herself on being as normal as she possibly can because she doesn’t want to be like her mother. Unfortunately, her mother was the only other person who had “skills” like Aimee.
Oh, except for Alan, who can connect with his Navajo roots, communicate with his spirit guide, and learn to become a spirit warrior. Needless to say, Alan has no troubles believing in what Aimee can do, and also has no problems letting her know how sane and amazing she is. The book has a lot of romance. And Aimee does not take too long in breaking up with her first boyfriend (who got a little too violent for her). There is the love at first sight kind of thing happening here, but both Aimee and Alan take their time in making certain decisions; they both are relatively smart individuals and this for some reason makes the soul mate romance more tolerable.
And what I really loved about the book was that Aimee, as the characters even talk about at some point, is not the damsel in distress: Courtney is. Aimee and Alan have to rescue Courtney from an ultimate demon possession. I recommend reading this on a dark and stormy night. Really, it can get a little creepy. There are some definite Exorcist moments. Mix that with some interesting Navajo folklore, the romance, Aimee’s mother’s ghost, some great side characters (mostly in Aimee’s family), a side story about a Cheeto that looks like Marilyn Monroe, some classic teen drama, plenty of supernatural elements, and all the themes of insanity, and you get one interesting supernatural, horror movie-type romance.
A lot of the minor characters, like the rest of the kids at school, felt under-played and stereotypical to me. I kind of wish they felt more realistic. And I kind of needed more explanation for the big bad (or in this case the River Man). The book had a good ending, though it does kind of give off an ending that hints at a sequel. More can definitely happen with Alan and his powers. And Aimee still seems to have so much to learn. So maybe the River Man will be better explained later? I just kind of felt like I needed to understand it a little more right now, in this book.
However, all in all, I really did enjoy this one. I needed some spooky, supernatural book to distract me from my life and all my thoughts at the moment, and this book worked in doing that perfectly. I give it an 8/10. And I hope to find more joint work from these two authors in the future.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Wisdom's Kiss by Catherine Gilbert Murdock

This book is an ARC, but fortunately for you guys, I’m behind in my ARC reading and this one only comes out in a couple of days (I think it comes out September 13th). Catherine Gilbert Murdock is known for Princess Ben and Dairy Queen, along with the rest of the books in that series. I loved Dairy Queen, and will eventually get to the rest of that series because I loved her main character. I actually never read Princess Ben, which is too bad because I realized too late that Ben (as a grandmother) plays an important role in Wisdom’s Kiss. Though, I guess I am proof that you don’t need to read Princess Ben to thoroughly enjoy this one. I am certainly adding the rest of Murdock’s books to my To-Read lists.

What Murdock got my respect for in Dairy Queen was her ability to write characters so well. And she has earned my respect again for the same thing in this one. This book is about several characters: Princess Wisdom (Aka: Dizzy), Tips, Lady Fortitude (Aka: Trudy), Nonna Ben, Wilhelmina, and Felis El Gato. Dizzy is the classic princess who would rather be anything else. Tips grew up in a small village with Trudy. And they became childhood sweet hearts until Tips was found by Felis El Gato and inducted into a royal circus. Trudy and Tips exchange letters for six years, but Tips pretends he was recruited into the army because he doesn’t want Trudy or his abusive family to learn he’s in the circus. Nonna Ben is escorting Dizzy to the land of her betrothed, who she soon realizes she’s not actually in love with. Really, she’s in love with change and adventure! Wilhelmina is the villain of the story, working hard to use her son (Dizzy’s betrothed) ito gain power. And Felis El Gato is a highly conceited, flamboyant, and loveable circus organizer who likes to tell everything as if it is an adventure story, and he the hero!

Nonna Ben, it seems, made a promise in the last book to never use magic again. Fortunately, for Dizzy (and us, the readers), she breaks that promise to save her kingdom. There’s Magic galore, here. Ben can split herself in two, allowing her to be in two places at once –in her body, and in the body of the cat, Escoffier. As the cat, she can spy on the evil Wilhelmina. Dizzy discovers the magic behind the royal circus, and is quick to reveal her magical abilities with air and fire to benefit the show. Between the cat switches, Trudy’s clairvoyance, the magical floating orbs, the magical circus performances, the splitting in two, and the crazy schemes, fans of magic will love this book!
It’s also filled with over the top, almost satirical romance. Tips (Trudy’s childhood sweetheart) falls in love with Dizzy at the circus. And Trudy finally understands why she never took a liking to Dizzy. Dizzy’s sister (the current queen) is tricked into loving someone she shouldn’t. Dizzy’s betrothed fakes a devotion to Dizzy first to please his mother and then to annoy her. And the scenes between Dizzy and Tips with all of their love at first sight drama, are magical too. And then there’s all the trouble of Dizzy being engaged to marry someone she does not love. But she can’t break an engagement sanctioned by the emperor. Or can she –with magic?
And my favorite thing about this book, besides the over the top satire, and the amazing character development, is it’s setup. The book is told in diary entries, in letters, in boasts, in encyclopedia entries, and even a play. At first, this made it a little hard for me to read because I would get hooked into a letter from Nonna Ben, and then be interrupted by a play…And each section (letter, play, boast, etc) is so good, I’d get mad at the interruption of a new format. However, as the book progressed, I would look forward to the format switches, wanting a switch from Ben’s logical thinking to Felis El Gato’s over the top explanations. And if anything, my anger at past interruptions only states how good everything is; I just wanted more of everything. My least favorite bits were the encyclopedia entries because they sometimes took me too far from the story, but I also loved them because they were an excellent way to educate me on the rules, etiquette, and histories of the world of this book. Everything just fit together so nicely!
I’d recommend this one to fans of the The Princess Bride. But really, it’s humor, it’s setup, and it’s characters could appeal to almost anyone. Also, can anyone guess what fairy tale it loosely tells? I didn’t figure it out until the end when I was told…Good surprise! I give it a 10/10 and I look forward to reading more by this author.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Withering Tights by Louise Rennison

So in a very un-Nori kind of way, I only just realized that Louise Rennison’s last Georgia book was the 10th one. I was under the impression that this book was a Georgia book. Sadly, Georgia’s series is over. Fortunately, her cousin, Tallulah, is just as interesting! If that was at all confusing for you, go pick up Angus, Thongs, and Full-Frontal Snogging by Louise Rennison right now! That’s the first in a beautiful series of coming of age British hilarity. Really, each book this woman writes makes me laugh out loud. I’m pretty sure my facebook profile has had a quote from one of her books in it since I made my profile many years ago.

These books do lean toward the girly side. And there’s a lot of British phrases, along with some made up words that are all defined in a glossary in the back. And what makes these books so good is their blatant honesty. Rennison is not afraid to make her main character conceited, or even a little bit stupid. She obsesses over boys, and makes fun of her family all the time, but she is so real! Rennison gets how an adolescent mind works, and she’s not afraid to leave in all the negative parts.

You don’t need to read her other books to read this one. Withering Tights is about all different people. Though, Georgia is mentioned every now and then and there’s even a letter from her at the beginning of the story.

This book is about 14-year-old Tallulah going away to an arts college (like an American high school) for the first time. She leaves home for a summer program there, and all students are meant to find out by the end of the summer program if they are accepted into the school. Tallulah quickly makes some amazing friends with kids in the school and in the small village her school resides in.

Tallulah is also desperately afraid of not being able to get into the school for good because it is clear from the beginning that there are a lot of things she can’t do: ballet, tap, singing, etc. And all her friends are good at something. Though, it’s clear from the beginning to the readers that Tallulah is good at coming up with ideas and she’s excellent at making people laugh. Thankfully the new drama teacher recognizes this in her by the end, and helps Tallulah learn to love the stage.

Between hanging out near the woods to the boys school, hatching owl eggs, exploring the village of crazy-talking British people who all seem to work with sheep, going on first dates, receiving first kisses, creating bicycle ballets, and performing in the hilarious production of a musical version of Bronte’s Wuthering Heights as Heathcliff…, the needing to fit in, and the growing up that only happens when leaving home for the first time, Tallulah is so much fun to read about!

And Tallulah quite possibly is even easier to love than Georgia because she seems a little bit nicer. Georgia, while amazing, at times was a bit mean. Tallulah is her own person, but in a good way. And like Georgia who hated her nose, Tallulah obsesses over her knees. And I guess girls do focus on one or more things to be insecure about. I also loved that school was important to these girls, yet despite it’s importance, other things always managed to come first (like dates and friendship).

I loved the characters, I really loved Tallulah, I loved the setting, I loved the school, I loved the boys, and I loved all the laughter this book caused. Really, my friend kept asking me what was so funny. We both had some books out at the beach, and all I could keep telling her was, “My book is just too hilarious!” I give this a 10/10. And I really hope that Louise Rennison never stops writing.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The Eleventh Plague by Jeff Hirsch

I got this one as an ARC in New Orleans, but technically it came out a few days ago. I read it last week and finished it on an airplane. I haven’t been blogging this past week because I was in Plymouth, MA, near Cape Cod with some of my best friends, and some of the best people in the world (college friends I hadn’t seen in a long time).  I was a little distracted. I did read one book on the beach though that I will probably make a post about tomorrow. Today has been about job interview preparations.
Any way, putting my life aside, I was excited to read this book because there is a very nice blurb from a Suzanne Collins on the cover; she describes the book as “…an excellent, taut debut novel.” And I met the author in New Orleans, and he was a really nice guy. This is definitely one of the ARC’s I have signed.
The book is about 15-year-old Steven and the way he survives in a very realistic sounding future dystopia version of the U.S. The book takes place after what people call the eleventh plague (which is like a really bad kind of influenza), kills off 2/3 of the world’s population. And the plague only happens after a major nuclear war between the U.S. and China. The book starts with Steven and his father burying his grandfather.  Steven and his small (now even smaller) family travel the country salvaging goods to trade (which reminded me of the bleak life situations in Ship Breaker). In saving another family in trouble, Steven’s father becomes badly injured, and most likely brain damaged. And just when Steven thinks he’s on his own, he’s “rescued” by a group of men from a place called Settler’s Landing.
The men introduce him to a town setup with houses, farms, and even a school and medical center that has actual medicine. Steven’s dad gets looked at by the nurse, and Steven slowly becomes friends with the town, a place he believes too good to be true. Steven soon grows to be more than friends with a girl named Jenny, a girl ostracized for her clear, Chinese looks. The two even decide to run away from it all at one point, but things quickly change when the lives of those in the town are at stake because of a stupid prank Steven did earlier.
This book moves fast. It’s filled with action. Between rescuing slaves, escaping slavers, salvaging goods, learning to love a whole new family, watching over his dad, planning escape, falling in love, and standing up for what is right, Steven has some classic hero qualities to him that make him a great main character. There’s violence and bullying, too.
Yet, I did not really enjoy this one as much as I was hoping to. It was way too predicable. I was predicting everything with Jenny. I was predicting everything with the dad. I was pretty much predicting the whole plot, and was never wrong. The other thing that really irritated me was all the descriptions of things like decaying Starbucks’ or McDonalds’ arches. Steven never went to a Starbucks or a McDonalds because they were before his time. I really don’t think he’d be making all these many comparisons to what his parents must have lived through only in regards to pop culture. Clearly, these parts are to somehow relate to young readers more, when really it makes me feel like the author is saying young readers are so materialistic that they just need passages about these things.
I would have preferred more story and less chances to try to connect with youth. Also, there was a lot of comparison throughout the whole thing about living in a town like suburb with an actual school versus living as a nomad. Yet, every detail was about the new school/town life being what it was, and there was not as much detail about Steven’s other life as I wanted. I found his scavenging life a lot more interesting than all the many passages about what going to school for the first time was like or what staying in a house for the first time was like. Clearly, the author is telling young people to step back and imagine what life would be like with no nice neighborhoods, no schools, no baseball teams, and no Starbucks. And this felt a little too preachy to me; it was too much of a feel grateful for what you have book. And this isn’t always a bad thing; it’s a bad thing when it’s obvious. Good books, especially good YA books can make readers feel grateful for their lives without being obvious or preachy.
I give this one a 6/10. And I know not to always trust what YA authors have to say in their blurbs.