Saturday, December 25, 2010

Happy Holidays Everyone!

I hope you're all enjoying this time of year with your family and friends.

I'm enjoying it at the beach. :)

Friday, December 17, 2010

Sorry, guys

I know all the challenge posts in a row suck. I always think that I should really put up challenge posts as I see the challenges so that they're not all going up at once. Then all of a sudden it's almost the end of the year and it all needs to be done! Here's to more organization next year, I guess.

To make up for it, here's some pics I took on my walk into work a few months ago to remind us all what summer was like:

And a couple cat pictures, cause who doesn't love those?

YA Historical Fiction Challenge

I don't read a ton of historical fiction, but I always want to. I'm signing up at Level 1: 5 books, though I'm guessing reading through other participants' reviews will bloat my TBR list.

  1.  Illyria by Elizabeth Hand
  2.  Heart of a Samurai by Margi Preus
  3. Between Shades of Gray by Ruth Sepetys
  4. One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia
  5. Open Wounds by Joe Lunievicz
  6. Threads and Flames by Esther Friesner 
  7. Bright Young Things by Anna Godbersen

POC Reading Challenge

2011 edition.

Off the Shelf Challenge

I failed miserably at a similar challenge last year, but this year I'm committed! Again, I'm going to try to read at least 50 books from my own bookshelves and the TBR piles towering in my office. This puts me in the "On a Roll" challenge level. Hopefully that name fits once I start going...

I want to start by focusing on the YA/MG titles I purchased in 2010, but this might be a good excuse to get to all of that adult fiction I've been hoarding for years as well!

Debut Author Challenge

This challenge is a first for me. The objective is to read at least 12 books by 2011 YA debut authors.

  1. Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys
  2. I Am J by Cris Beam (YA debut)
  3. Open Wounds by Joe Lunievicz
  4. Dead Rules by Randy Russell (YA debut)
  5. Falling for Hamlet by Michelle Ray
  6. Dark Parties by Sara Grant
  7. Darwen Arkwright and the Peregrine Pact by A.J. Hartley (MG/YA debut)

GLBT Challenge

Once again, I will be participating in the GLBT Challenge. This year there are no levels of participation, but I'm hoping to read and review at least 12 books that positively portray GLBTQ folks.

  1.  Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan
  2.  I Am J by Cris Beam
  3.  The House You Pass on the Way by Jacqueline Woodson
  4.  Vast Fields of Ordinary by Nick Burd
  5. Almost Perfect by Brian Katcher

Wednesday, December 15, 2010


Fisher, Catherine. Sapphique. New York: Dial Books - Penguin Group (USA), Inc., 2010. Print. Incarceron 2.
[Book cover credit:]

If you haven't yet read Incarceron, what are you waiting for? ;) Also, don't read this. It will spoil it for you.

The Warden's final little stunt destroyed the portal to Incarceron, trapping not only himself but also Keiro and Attia in its depths. As much as Finn would like every waking moment to be spent working on their release, there are bigger things for he, Jared, and Claudia to worry about. Finn's lack of courtly manners and, you know, memory of his life as Prince Giles is really starting to work against them. And when a young man who is indistinguishable from Finn physically but clearly bred to eat from a silver spoon comes to court claiming to be the long-lost Giles, it could be death of them all, in Incarceron or Out.

It took more self-control than I knew I had not to tear into this book as soon as I got it. I wanted to reread the first book so I could pick up all the little things that I was sure would pop up again in this sequel. I suggest you all do the same. Fisher writes a very intricate story, and it definitely builds on little clues left behind in the first book. Still, I don't think Sapphique quite lived up to its prequel. Or maybe it just didn't live up to all the hype I'd built up for it in my head. I loved the way I was plopped into the middle of all the characters lives again rather than having the book pick up right where the previous one left off. I really liked that there were so many little clues in the text to lead the reader to what is Really Going On Here. I loved that this book, the end of the Incarceron series (pairing?), was still full of twists right up to the very end. I still loved most of the characters (though not necessarily the same ones I loved in the last book, a fact I also loved). But there was just something missing. I didn't stay up until 4 in the morning to finish Sapphique. I took a leisurely week to read it.

Though the narration still switches between life in the Realm and life in Incarceron, a lot of Sapphique follows Claudia, Finn and Jared in the Realm. Which is what I wanted! I know! But life at court rather than at the Wardenry or with the peasants is pretty boring. And Claudia and Finn both annoyed me. A lot. They're both beyond frustrated at Finn's lack of memory and this frustration manifests itself as doubt on Claudia's part and severe moodiness on Finn's. Neither were the strong and/or sure of themselves leaders that we met in Incarceron. The change in them was totally believable; I just didn't love them as much as I used to.

BUT with all the focus on life Outside, Sapphique does treat us to more insight into living life by Protocol, including a short trip to a peasant village:
She [Claudia] shivered. "You should glass the windows. The draft is terrible."

The old man laughed, pouring out thin ale. "But that wouldn't be Protocol, would it? And we must abide by the Protocol, even as it kills us."

"There are ways around it," Finn said softly.

"Not for us." He pushed the pottery cups toward them. "For the Queen maybe, because them that make the rules can break them, but not for the poor. Era is no pretense for us, no playing at the past with all its edges softened. It's real. We have no skinwands, lad, none of the precious electricity or plastiglas. The picturesque squalor the Queen likes to ride past is where we live. You play at history. We endure it."
Throughout the book Claudia is served revelations such as this. It also becomes obvious that though she is kind and more educated than she should be considering Protocol in general and her gender class in it, she has no idea how to interact with people outside of the roles of master and servant, and everyone who is not her master is her potential servant. If Finn gained anything from living in Incarceron (besides his BFF Keiro), it's that he knows what it is to go without, to live a meager existence, to just try to survive. Even as Claudia doubts more and more whether Finn is actually Giles, it becomes clear (to me, not necessarily to the characters) that Finn will be a wonderful king if/when they get rid of the witchy Queen.

Speaking of the witchy Queen, one of the characters that I loved the most was her son Casper. I know, he's horrible in Incarceron and he comes nowhere near making the switch to "good guy" in Sapphique, but I still loved him. He seemed so lost a lot of the time. You can tell that he really grew up living in the dual shadows of his Queenly mother and Princely half-brother. When Giles comes back, whether anyone believes Finn is the real Giles or not, Casper is left being the younger prince again. The spare. I felt so bad for him, still hanging around Claudia throughout this book even though it's always been clear she has no interest in him. He kept trying to win her back with promises of power and safety, things Finn/Giles couldn't offer her, but rather than coming off as evil and manipulative, he seemed like an unpopular rich kid who buys everyone in his class presents so they'll come to his birthday party.

And then there's Keiro and Attia still in Incarceron following yet another legend of Sapphique, looking for a way out. I liked their storyline a lot, but there was little to no character development in it. It was like Fisher knew she needed danger and action to keep readers interested in between all the palace intrigue in the Realm, so she foisted it all on the two of them. But it's the two of them who manage to pull everything together in the end (I'm being generous because I LOVE Keiro; Attia's the real smartypants in this volume).

Sapphique is a must-read if you are a lover of Incarceron. It's not the thrill ride that the first book was, but questions are answered, loose ends are tied up, and maybe, just maybe, things are allowed to change.

Sapphique will be out in hardback on the 28th!
You know, before you blow all your hard-earned Christmas money. ;)

Also, I would be a bad blogger if I didn't point out that last week Taylor Lautner (yes, that Taylor Lautner) was announced as The Guy Who Will Play Finn in the movie adaptation. I just hope Hollywood wises up and listens to the FYA ladies when casting the Warden.

Book source: ARC picked up at ALA

*Quotes and page numbers are from an uncorrected proof and may not match the published copy.

Friday, December 10, 2010


Fisher, Catherine. Incarceron. New York: Dial Books - Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 2010. Print. Incarceron 1.
[Book cover credit:]

Cybils Finalist - Young Adult Fantasy and Science Fiction (2007)

Finn lives in an vast and inescapable prison. All the unwanted riff-raff of society, the murders, thieves, predators, and other criminals, were once permanently locked away. This prison was supposed to be a paradise where the lowest of society could start over and make things right. But things did not work out as planned. The prison, Incarceron, is a sentient hell-hole where fear, treachery, and hunger rein. And its boundaries have been breached. The prisoners live on the hope left by the legends of Sapphique, a man who is said to have escaped, and Finn, who is thought to have been born of the prison rather than of its prisoners, remembers bits and pieces of a life Outside. With the help of a Sapient, a learned man, he hopes to escape back to the life he thinks he remembers. He remembers the stars.

The world Claudia lives in is based on some fond remembering of the Victorian Era. Everything has been altered to artificially represent this bygone and romanticized time when things were simpler, safer, and more ordered, at least from the point of view of the rich. Everyone, privileged or not, is left chaffing in a world that society has long since outgrown. But like most things in her world, underneath her image, Claudia is decidedly non-Era. She's smart, educated, and wants to know more than she's allowed. As she hurtles towards her wedding to the heir of the throne, she snoops on her father, the Warden of Incarceron. And she finds a key.

I devoured this book. Twice. The pacing, the storyline, the characters, it all fell into place for me. A lot of the time I think that two simultaneous story lines (as opposed to alternating viewpoints of the same action) make it easy for either or both stories to get away with being a bit under-developed. That's not the case here. Both Finn and Claudia's stories are complex, and the points where they come together are intense. The difference between Claudia's life and Finn's is so stark. Claudia and Finn's disbelief at discovering the other (and realizing how the other must live) is genuine. It also allows for a lot of explanation without a lot of info-dumping. And Fisher uses the alternating viewpoints to create a million mini-cliffhangers throughout the text.

Finn's whole storyline is so urgent. His only certainty is that whatever unknown is around the corner is probably life-threatening. He can't even be sure that his memories of Outside, which come to him during seizures, are real or really his. But Finn is surrounded by friends, or at least by people who need him, like his oathbrother Keiro. Finn and Keiro's relationship is one of my favorite parts of his world. It's complicated and not always all that honest, but they clearly care about each other a lot. And even though their circumstances are over-the-top horrible, they manage to maintain a normal-ish friendship: the kind where a searing punch to the gut can mean "I forgive you."

The society that Claudia lives in is based on the Victorian Era, but this is no revisionist history. The people who put Protocol and Era in place are trying to recreate, not re-remember, that time. They aren't creating an idealized version so much as trying to return to the way things were. Exactly as they were: no technology, widespread healthcare, or women in pants. No indoor plumbing. But in reality they should be much more advanced in all of these areas than we are now. Because of this, the spread between the haves and the have-nots, already extreme in Victorian times, is even more obscene. The have-nots must live like their 19th century counterparts; they don't have the means to change anything. People like Claudia, on the other hand, can use a myriad of technologies to make their lives easier ranging from washing machines for their fine silks to laser skinwands for their wrinkles. They just have to look like they're living within Protocol; they have to make a pretense of not wanting to get caught. Even though most of the heart-pounding action happens inside Incarceron, it's Claudia's world that fascinated me. Hopefully the next book, Sapphique (which I'll review next week), will delve deeper into the technology (and lack thereof) and culture of her world.

Incarceron is deeper and more complicated than I expected (and less steampunk-y than the cover would suggest). I highly recommend it!

Also, Incarceron is already being developed as a movie (2013 projected release) and the sequel is coming out at the end of this month.

Book source: I bought it.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Monsters of Men

Ness, Patrick. Monsters of Men. Somerville, Mass.: Candlewick Press, 2010. Print. Chaos Walking 3.
[Book cover credit:]

As I've said before, Ness doesn't do nice little catch-up spots in the openings of his book, and all his books end on HUGE CLIFFHANGERS (even, to some extent, this one). So, while I have tried to avoid them at all costs, this review has some spoilers for the previous two books. Don't read this if you haven't already read The Knife of Never Letting Go and The Ask and the Answer. But really, if you haven't started reading this trilogy, you should. The entire thing is heart-wrenchingly wonderful (though pretty freaking violent).

"And what other kind of man would you want leading you into battle?" he [the Mayor] says, reading my Noise. "What kind of man is suitable for war?"
A monster, I think, remembering what Ben told me once. War makes monsters of men.
"Wrong," says the Mayor. "It's war that makes us men in the first place. Until there's war, we are only children."

Monsters of men, I think. And women.

Reading this book is like getting punched in the stomach. In a good way. And if I learned anything from Monsters of Men, it is that there is, in fact, a good way. It's basically when you're keeping someone else from getting decked, or when you're getting pummelled to protect the one you love.

Monsters of Men was the most satisfying end to a series or trilogy that I've read in a long time. A really long time. Like the previous books, the plot runs at a breakneck pace that left me breathless, and it covers a lot of ground. Coming into the book I couldn't have even imagined things that happened in the middle, let alone how it would end. There are a lot of loose ends that are tied up over the course of the book, but ending is not finite. I don't think Ness will be writing another book in this world or with these characters anytime soon (ever), but the ending is open to possibility and to the imagination of the reader. This book is full of passion, action, and general umph.

I know I'm being really vague, but I think the best way to read these books is to go in blind.

And, word to the wise, it can reduce just about anyone to a sobbing mess. There were a few moments in the beginning that had me looking out the train window and blinking a lot during my commute, but the real stuff is saved for the end. I wouldn't advise that anyone read beyond page 400 or so outside of the comfort of their own home. We're talking hug the book, can't see through the tears crying for the last 100 pages. But oh-so-good!

Book 1: The Knife of Never Letting Go
Book 2: The Ask and the Answer
Book source: Philly Free Library

Friday, December 3, 2010

My Invented Life

Bjorkman, Lauren. My Invented Life. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2009. Print.
[Book cover credit:]

Roz and Eva have always been best friends as well as sisters. Secrets, giggles, pillow fights, the works. Sure, Roz has always lived in Eva's shadow, but it's an impressive shadow so she doesn't mind too much. That was before Eva removed Roz from her life. Now, PD (Post Deletion), Eva is doing a pretty good job of pretending Roz doesn't exist, and Roz thinks she knows why. Eva MUST be a lesbian and she MUST be terrified of coming out. Even though Eva is being horrible to Roz, she wants to do something nice for her, to help her. So Roz pretends to be a lesbian and comes out at school, both to show Eva how it's done and to snag a bit of that spotlight for herself.

I checked out My Invented Life after reading Libyrinth and being overjoyed at reading about a queer character with friendS. It seems like such a simple thing, to give a queer character more than one friend and/or a friend who is NOT another queer character of the opposite sex so that none of the real life problems of one-sided-lovey feelings between friends get in the way of the story arc. My Invented Life was suggested (by the awesome MissAttitude) as another book featuring queer teens with (gasp) friends of both sexes and multiple sexualities. On that basis alone, this book is already a win!

My Invented Life is a modern retelling of Shakespeare's "As You Like It," but instead of mistaken genders, we have mistaken sexualities. In case you don't get that similarity right away, the characters are also auditioning and rehearsing for a school showing of the play. Much of the book takes place in the big barn behind the school where the theatre geeks hang out and practice. The characterizations of the drama club crowd are pitch-perfect. The major players range from Eva, popular cheerleader who always gets the lead, to Eyeliner Andie, the showy goth chick with the super-skinny, shy boy toy. Amazingly, up until Roz decides to pretend to be queer, there doesn't appear to be any other non-hetero folks in the group.

Right before auditions, this tight-knit group (which also includes Roz and her arch-nemesis Carmen) is joined by the drama teacher's nephew, Jonathon. He's new (read: automatically crush-worthy for most of the group), has done something that has gotten him kicked out of his parents house (mysterious bad boy with a serious chip on his shoulder), and African-American (a fact which seems to surprise only Roz). Roz lays claim to him on the basis that he's her next door neighbor, she's the drama teacher's favorite, and she could use a friend. Coming out does not go as she hoped. She gets attention, RoZ iZ a leZ on the bathroom wall, but not the outpouring of love and support she was hoping for:
"None of my friends hugged me, not even once." We theater geeks touch a lot -- hug, polka around the room, and smoosh cheeks together for pictures. ..."They probably though I would fondle their breasts."
So Roz starts a campaign to educate her classmates about the Kinsey Scale and to make them accept her as a lesbian. For Eva's sake, of course. Even though Eva still won't admit that she's queer (no matter how much Roz tactlessly badgers her about it), Roz keeps up the facade. She and Eva begin to bond again over The L Report (Roz's nightly updates on her "experiment" with lesbianism), Roz gains some new friends (including Jonathon and Eyeliner Andie) and a new understanding of what all those people online mean when they say "sexuality is fluid," and secrets come out of the woodwork and from all directions.

This is a cute story with an engaging and memorable cast of characters and a predictably happy ending (if you're familiar with "As You Like It"). It's also a great book about being the only "one" in a crowd, whether by "one" you mean POC, queer, poor kid, goth, whatever.

Book source: Philly Free Library