You are currently browsing the tag archive for the ‘young adult’ tag.
“We were all monsters and bastards, and we were all beautiful.“
(Cool quote, but doesn’t it sound a bit Lady Gagaish… or maybe Doctor Whoish?)
I don’t like talking animals. Don’t like them in books, movies and especially don’t like them in commercials. I’m ok with anthropomorphism is general – loved Tangled’s chameleon and Toothless in How to Train Your Dragon – I just don’t like it when they talk. It’s like it takes my suspension of disbelief too far.
It’s probably because of this that some of the dragon books I’ve read before didn’t quite do it for me, including Eragon of His Majesty’s Dragon. So I had my expectations in check when I let myself succumb to the book blogosphere’s love of Seraphina.
A bit of plot: an unstable peace exists between humans and dragons in the medieval kingdom of Gorred, where dragons walk the streets in human bodies, so as not to frighten people. Outlawing dragons’ natural form is one of the cornerstones of the peace treaty signed 50 years ago between the two races. But when a royal family member is murdered in a suspiciously draconian way just days before the treaty’s 50th anniversary celebration, Seraphina, a talented Court musician, must be careful to hide the truth about herself.
The story, which basically a whodunit, develops somewhat slowly, but that’s not a problem when there are so many interesting details to discover about Seraphina’s world, her past, her profession and her fellow courtiers. Everything about the worldbuilding is interesting, from the descriptions of the cobblestone-covered Medieval city, to the pieces of the history between dragons and humans and the well-thought-of religious beliefs (comparable to the detail George R.R. Martin puts into his ’s Seven/Old Gods system). Lots of stuff to further develop in upcoming books.
Add finely nuanced characters (a shout out to Orma, dragon scholar and Seraphina’s teacher), shapeshifting dragons fascinated by human art and a society balancing mistrust and infatuation and you have a winning combination.
(Spoiler alert, although for something that’s revealed pretty early on) I know most posts about this book focus on Seraphina dealing with her half-breed status, and indeed it’s all done in a very subtle and engaging way, (/mild spoilers) but for me the best part of the book was the dragons vs. humans dynamic. It often brought to mind Star Trek and the relationships between the rational and logical Vulcans (and even droids like Data) and the more flawed (is that the word?) Humans. There’s tension, but also a mutual fascination and need to understand and be understood that can be applied about many inter-human conflicts around the world today. Fascinating stuff!
A short note on the romance bit just to say it was very satisfying without overpowering the book or creating the ANGST that’s ruined so many YAs for me.
One of the best of 2012 and I gladly add my voice to the rest of the enthusiastic choir.
Other thoughts: things mean a lot, Stella Matutina, Magnificent Octopus, The Book Smugglers, Steph Su Reads, Wear the Old Coat, Charlotte’s Library, intoyourlungs, Books Without Any Pictures, The Readventurer, Anna Reads, The Book Swarm, Good Books & Good Wine, Book Sake, Beyond Books, Iris on Books (yours?)
My commitment to re-reading has proven to be the best idea of the year. It’s been great to go back to favorites of 10 to 20 years ago, but most of all, it has given me the opportunity to re-evaluate my position on Megan Whalen Turner’s The Queen’s Thief series.
They’re favorites of friends whose opinion I really respect, and after reading the first two the first time around I thought them ok, but failed to see what the fuss was about. This time around, I really liked The Thief, thoroughly enjoyed The Queen of Attolia, but The King of Attolia… well, this one entered the year’s top 5 and propelled them all to my group of favorites series of all time. Still have A Conspiracy of Kings in the TBR because I’m all about delayed gratification.
They’ve also entered my list of books I can wholeheartedly recommend to everyone, independently of age, sex or literary genre preferences. I can recommend them to people who read, who don’t read, who don’t read YA, and who don’t read fantasy. There is enough depth, character building, romance, power play and, ultimately, just good story-telling, to please everyone.
With The King of Attolia I gained for MWT the sort of awed respect that I reserve only for the likes of Dorothy Dunnett and Patrick O’Brian (and with a *gasp* YA book!). She was goooood and she never assumes the readers are slow-witted and need to be explained everything. My kinda writer.
Throughout the series we follow the main character – Gen – closely and by the third book we know just how clever and sneaky he is, so to keep us on our toes, MWT writes the story from the POV of someone who is oblivious to Gen’s skills. We know Gen’s up to something, but can make guessed from what the narrator tells us. I can only imagine how difficult this must be to pull off without frustrating the reader, but she did it perfectly, and the result is an intellectually stimulating and fun revelry.
And the romantic angle – oh my! The relationship between Gen and Irene is right up my alley because, again, I don’t need to be spelled out everything to understand it. In The King of Attolia we’re not privy to what’s going on between them, but there are scenes that, without being explicit, have the emotional impact of a Pride & Prejudice proposal. Anyone who’s not in love with Gen by this point must have a heart of stone.
I won’t go too deeply into the plot to avoid spoilers, just a little teaser: when the series starts we meet a young thief called Gen (short for Eugenides) who boasts he can steal anything. Ready to test these claims, a Magus challenges him to steal an object that can change the precarious balance of the region’s three kingdoms…
Oh, the feeling of discovering new favorites! Makes life worth while
Other thoughts on individual books: Dear Author on #1, #2 and #3, Chiachic’s Book Nook, Steph Su Reads #1 and #2, The Literate Mother, Book Girl of Mur-y-Castlell #1 and #2, It’s All About Books, Jacus’ Book Blog, bookshelves of doom, birdbrain(ed) book blog, let’s eat grandpa, Presenting Lenore, Literary Fangirl Book Reviews, Fyrefly (yours?)
No spoilers, but mostly written for those who’ve already read the books.
For some weeks around August/September my brain was working at half-steam. Nothing was processed, sentences we were read endless times. So I want to wholeheartedly thank Veronica Roth and audio narrator Emma Galvin for showing me that not all was lost and I could still appreciate a good story.
To be honest, I still don’t know if I’d have enjoyed Divergent as much as I did if it wasn’t in the worst stage of my first trimester and my dad hadn’t died recently, but the fact remains that, as Carol says in As Good as It Gets, “What I needed, he gave me great”.
It was fast paced, the world-building was intriguing, the heroine not too annoying, the hero had the right amount of caring and brooding, and there was enough tension to keep me completely submersed in the story. Lots of violence and gore, but the sex stops at the tension, which I guess it’s the YA norm, but can often leave the reader a bit frustrated.
Be ready for a certain amount of YA clichés, but also expect to be thoroughly entertained. It’s the perfect escapist book.
It’s been many years since I’ve immediately picked up the next in the series after finishing with the previous one. No matter how much I love a book or how teasing the cliffhanger, I’m all about literary pleasure postponed. But it happened with Insurgent.
Unfortunately, we didn’t connect as much as I was expecting. It was still enjoyable and fast-paced, but I often preferred watching yet another old episode of Project Runway.
So now I’m in doubt whether the second book wasn’t really as good as the first, or if I was just getting out of the static brain zone I found myself and that, ironically, Divergent helped with.
The action was still there, as well as the world-building and knowing more about the other fractions was a real highlight, but some of the elements that were just right before went a bit overboard. I’m mostly referring to the romance. Oh the angst! Oh the same fumbling and kissing ad nauseam! And this time it’s not only the readers that get frustrated. Clearly the characters are feeling the stress as well, as they become over-emotional and tense to a point where what made them so great before becomes secondary. As does their world crumbling around them.
I think a lot of readers appreciated this focus on their relationship (that seems on repeat in every.single.conversation.), but I just wanted them to get organized, develop a clever plan, and find out what’s beyond the wall.
Also, while in Divergent Roth seemed to predict my doubts about the way her world works, in this one I found myself thinking “riiiiight” (skeptical eye rolling) at several stages. Mostly around the evil plan of the Erudite, who still haven’t proven to me just how brilliant they are. I can think of an easier way or five to seize power, not to mention their unconvincing motives for wanting it.
I’m still invested enough in the series to look forward to the third, though. It’s the least I can do for Veronica Roth.
As of the moment I read The Maze Runner’s blurb I needed to know the ending. I still approached it with caution because in my experience, the biggest danger of dystopian novels with a mysterious premise is that nothing the author produces ever tops my expectations. I’m happy to report I got hooked from the first minute up to the very end, the solution was unexpectedly satisfying, and, extra brownie points, I wasn’t able to figure it out for myself.
A taste of the plot: when Thomas wakes up, he’s inside a lift and doesn’t remember anything except his name. The lift brings him to a glade in the middle of a huge maze, where about 50 boys live. Thomas is the colony’s most recent newbie and he needs to be taught the rules of the Glade and about the boys’ efforts to find out who they are, what’s the Maze and who built it. Think Lord of Flies meets Lost meets The Hunger Games.
But to both Thomas’ and the Gladers’ surprise (and suspicion), after his arrival strange things start to happen, the strangest of all is the appearance of another newbie – the Glade’s first girl.
The Maze Runner is a quick read, the pace expertly and tightly controlled by Dashner, with a good balance between fast action scenes and slower ones for character-development.
I didn’t have many qualms about the book, but unfortunately my biggest one was about the only female character. Teresa spends most of the book in a coma and even afterwards becomes one the only main characters not to have a distinguishable personality. Her physical description was also a bit cringe-worthy: she was (as expected but disappointingly) extremely beautiful, with flawless skin, fabulous hair, etc, etc. I was hoping she’d be a kick-ass heroine, that would go with Thomas on his maze runs, but alas, it was not to be (I suspect Katniss ruined all future YA dystopian female characters for me). I can only hope Teresa will come into her own during the next books in the series.
Still, The Maze Runner is really addictive and I’m not surprised the movie is already on the way, to be directed by Catherine Hardwicke of Twilight. I can’t wait to see how the Maze will look like.
Other thoughts: Devourer of Books, Life in the Thumb, Books and Movies, My Friend Amy, The Cheap Reader, Presenting Lenore, Rhapsody in Books, Beth Fish Reads, That’s What She Read, Muggle-Born, Thrillers, Horror and Comics, Books with Bite, The Book Bind, The Geeky Beach Babe (yours?)
In a near-future, 17-year-old Jenna Fox wakes up one day without any memory of her past life. She’s told by her parents that she was in a coma after suffering a terrible accident, but from the start something doesn’t feel right.
Together with Jenna (our first-person narrator) we start discovering the truth behind her past and present.
It’s the type of book I’d love to read in class or with a book club. Jenna’s situation is the perfect base for an interesting debate into all sorts of ethical dilemmas better discussed in a group with mixed ages and backgrounds. I would be especially interested in the opinion of parents.
The best thing about The Adoration of Jenna Fox is that it’s written to get the reader to question him/herself. It adds layers of grey to areas that weren’t black or white in the first place. In the endless debate about scientists playing God (or even about things like the death penalty), I’m fascinated about how our strong convictions tend to blur when it gets personal. As humans we might be instinctively against certain scientific advances, but what if it happens to us, to our children/parents/best friend?
For a book dealing with such strong topics and emotions, The Adoration of Jenna Fox was strangely subdued and quiet (bordering on the flat). From the moment the Big Secret is out, the tension is released and never really picks up during the second half of the book, even when Higher Secrets are reveled. The ending also never delivered on the expected conflict and ties up too nicely, and I could have done without the luck-warm romance. I wasn’t in love with the book, BUT…
It was well worth the reading and I’ve had great dinner-table conversations because of it.
Other thoughts: It’s all about me (time), Like People and Butterflies, Leeswammes, Rhapsody in Books, Teen Book Review, Book Addiction, Out of the Blue, YA Reads, bildungsroman, Dear Author, A Novel World, 5 Minutes for Books, I’m Booking It, 2 Kids and Tired Books, My Book, My Life, S. Krishna’s Books, Rywn, Semicolon, Maw Books Blog, Lady Business (yours?)
I’ll soon post something more geekish, full of statistics and analysis (the type of post only you, dear bookish friends, will understand and appreciate), so this one is just about the Best of 2011.
I gave five stars to 14 books out of 104, which is pretty good considering past years, but I’m especially happy with their variety. They include:
- Historical novels, non-fiction, classics, young adult, humor, fantasy and sci-fi
- Two were re-reads
- Two non-fiction
- Three audiobooks
- Two under 200 pages, two over 900
- Seven written by men, seven by women
- Three written in the 19th century, five in the 20th and six in the 21th
The top 10 (in no order)
I think this is the begining of a beautiful friendship. These books pushed all the right buttons.
Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray
If you put a gun to my head and force me to chose just one 2011 favorite, I think this would be it.
A great biography, one of the best I’ve read.
Elizabeth and Her German Garden by Elizabeth von Amin
Thank you Claire for your review – it made me add it to the wishlist, and thank you Downton Abbey for mentioning it – it made it a priority.
Starter for Ten by David Nicholls
Such a funny book, and about quizzes, how could I not love it?
Rant by Chuck Palahniuk
Hard to describe this one. Mind-blowing and mind-boggling sounds about right.
Race of Scorpions (House of Niccolo 3) by Dorothy Dunnett
I’m only reading one book of this series a year because you only read DD for the first time once. I dread the day they will come to an end, even with re-reads to look forward to.
Persuasion by Jane Austen
IT was even better the second time around. I read it first in my 20s, now I’m in my 30s and see it in a completely different way. I wonder what I’ll make of it in a decade.
Summers at Castle Auburn by Sharon Shinn
Another great re-read. Close to YA perfection, in my not so humble opinion. My ultimate comfort reading.
The four runner-ups
The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by L. Lockhart
Thank you book blogosphere for this recommendation, it was true to all the raving.
Daddy Long-Legs by Jean Wester
A beautiful little book, which surprised me by how modern it felt.
The Coma by Alex Garland
The best audiobook of the year, in great part due to Matthew Macfadyen’s wonderful voice.
The Hare with the Amber Eyes by Edmund de Waal
A wonderful way to end the year and one of the reasons I’m naming 2011 The Year When I Truly Discovered Non-Fiction.
Happy 2012 everyone!
Most bloggers have difficulties in writing reviews of books they really loved, but I find the “ok” ones much more challenging. The Amulet of Samarkand is a good example. I had fun with most of it, at points wished the story would go faster, didn’t feel particularly attached to any character and its biggest lasting impression is that after Googling Samarkand I’m set on visiting it.
The story is about Nathaniel, an apprentice magician that is clearly more talented than his mediocre master. When his master doesn’t protect him from undeserved humiliation at the hands of one of Britain’s greatest magicians, Nathaniel vows revenge.
This alternative Britain is set in the present time, but somehow I kept imagining it in a typical fantasy landscape, with horse and castles. There are fun foot-notes that give you extra insight into this world and show that the author did his homework. Because of them I can’t help thinking of The Amulet of Samarkand as a Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norris for children.
The book’s highlight is by far Bartimaeus, the daemon Nathaniel summons to help him in his quest. He is hilarious, with just the type of sarcasm and aloofness you’d expect from a 5,000-year-old djinni that’s forced to serve a 10-year-old.
The down side of this is that in the chapters that focus on Nathaniel (where we lose Bartimaeus’ first-person voice), there’s a sudden lack of sparkle. It’s not by chance the series is called The Bartimaeus Trilogy…
I’ll mentally file this book under “Books I Wish I’d Read When I Was 12″.
According to Wikipedia, Miramax is preparing an adaptation, directed by John Philip Madden (Shakespeare in Love, Proof) and written by Hossein Amini (who did a great job with The Wings of the Dove). Overall very promising!
Summers at Castle Auburn continues to be my ultimate comfort-book even this third time around. It’s everything a fantasy YA with a touch of romance should be, and a sure fix for a reading slump.
Coriel is the illegitimate child of a powerful lord and a humble herbal healer. Her mother dies when she’s a child, so she’s raised by her grandmother, who teachers her the family’s medical traditions. When the father she never met also dies, her uncle shows up at her village with a proposal: Coriel can continue to live with her grandmother, but must spend her summers at Court with her father’s family. In particular she should learn the ways of nobility with her step-mother and sister Elisandra, who’s engaged to the future King. So start Coriel’s summers at Castle Aurburn.
The story begins the summer Coriel’s 14 and follows her coming of age tale. It’s a gentle story about not-so gentle topics. As she grows up, our heroine gradually removes the proverbial pink glasses and starts seeing the people around her in a different light. Coriel’s court is not all about sun and silks and she soon wakes up to harsh realities, like the truth about a faery people called the aliora, prized as slaves for their unfailing kindness even in captivity.
There are several very well integrated sub-plots and at no point did I think (as I often do with romantic stories), “Get on with it and show me the next scene where they’re together!” There’s character development to balance the world building and political intrigue to cut the sugary parts. It’s also fun to see how Coriel lives between such different realities without ever really belonging to any. In many occasions Coriel’s innocence borders on the annoying, but it’s impossible not to like her after seeing her use her “commoner” side to successfully live at the Court.
But what IMO really distinguishes Summers at Castle Auburn from others of its type is Shinn’s different take on established fantasy/romance stereotypes. For instance, Elisandra could have easily been the naïve-but-annoying type (à la Guinevere or Sansa), or the jealous half-sister who wants all the spotlight. Instead, Elisandra is incredibly loyal to Coriel and her gentleness doesn’t conflict with her moral determination.
I’m still surprised this book is not more popular. Maybe as a stand-alone it was eclipsed by Shinn’s more popular series? I’ve never read anything else by her – should I?
It’s a compilation of 13 essays by fantasy authors on the trilogy’s themes. It you’ve read the canon, you know there’s a lot of juicy stuff to discuss, from the light-hearted (go team Gale!), to the serious (torture, oppression), from the philosophical (aren’t we as thrilled to watch the Games as the people in the Capitol?), to the practical (what would you do when confronted with a wolf mutt?).
These essays made me realize once more the power YA books can have in fostering civil rights, and the potential of this trilogy in particular to become the 1984 of its young generation. It’s not as “literary” or high-brow, but in the hands of a creative teacher it can have a major impact, especially in discussing democracy, freedom of expression, propaganda and human nature. The essays also showed me that, under the right sort of light, The Hunger Games could be considered subversive. Are they already in the Banned Books List? It shouldn’t take long…
These three essays in particular caught my attention.
The first was Someone To Watch Over Me, by Lili Wilkinson. She writes about surveillance as a means of social control and divides her essay into the three participants of this system: the Watched, the Watchers and the Engineers. Each of these three groups holds some power, but what happens when one group gets too much control? She discusses Katniss’ transition from being controlled by the Capitol’s Game Engineers to the rebels “Watchers-turned-Engineers”, and touches a point I thought of often while reading the books: we, the watchers of reality TV and “realistic” news are just as voyeurs as the citizens of Capitol:
Sure, nobody dies on our reality TV shows, But we still watch people suffer. We watch them endure physical and mental challenges on Survivor, subject them to isolation in Big Brother, tell them their dreams will never come true ion Idol, and break their hearts on The Bachelorette. Reality TV is all about putting people in difficult situations and watching how they react. Some people come our stranger, richer, and healthier, facing a lifetime of success. Others are voted off the island early on, their failure broadcast all over the world. How many steps are there, between our own TV shows and the Hunger Games?
How many indeed! *shudder*
At the start of her essay The Politics of Mockingjay, political columnist Sarah Littman mentions an interview where Collins said she drew her inspiration for The Hunger Games when she was zapping one night between the Iraq war coverage and “reality” TV. Littman then (bravely) goes on to compare certain elements of The Hunger Games to the Bush administration. In particular she talks about people turning a blind eye to everything a government does because of propaganda or crisis-mode (e.g. Patriot Act after 9/11):
I consider Mockinjay a brilliant book of our time. Not only does it raise the difficult, eternal question of war and humanity, grief and revenge, but one hopes it will encourage all of us to become more politically aware and active, and not to ever allow ourselves to risk the erosion of our democracy and civil liberties for panem et circenses.
Another one my favorite essays is about the power of fashion: Crime of Fashion – written by Terri Clark. I’m a sucker for a good makeover story, but there is more at stake in the Hunger Games’ fashion than looking fierce. Clothes make a statement in this world, and such a strong one that Cinna, Katniss’ stylist, suffers the consequences. Cinna was actually one of my favorite characters in the trilogy and I’d love to know more about him. His role in bringing down the Capitol is often ignored, but Clark captured it well:
All of the Capitol stylists are well practiced at polishing and presenting their contestants, but Cinna takes this craft to a new level. Not only is he genius at creating provocative, memorable costumes, he utilizes his fashion artistry as a political platform that subtly plays on his audience’s sensibilities.
With the help of examples from our world, from J-Lo to Michelle Obama and Sarah Palin, Clark goes on to discuss the power of fashion and how it helps shape public image. Très intéressant!
Overall, there’s much food for thought in this collection and I highly recommend it to all fans. I think teachers and parents in particular might take a lot from it.
A big thank you to the kind people over at BenBella Books for sending me a copy.
Other thoughts: Reading Through Life (yours?)
Almost 100 years after it was written, here I am reading Daddy-Long-Legs. Isn’t it amazing that no matter how much you read, or how much you think you know about books, you there will always be hidden treasures for you to find? This very short story (perfect for a readaton) became one of my favorite epistolary novels, together with Last Days of Summer and The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.
It’s about an American orphan named Jerusha “Judy” Abbott, whose writing gets the attention of one of her orphanage’s patrons. This man, who she’s never met, offers to pay for her college education in exchange for monthly ”report” letters. She doesn’t even know his name but decides to call him Daddy-Long-Legs because she once glimpsed his long shadow.
These letters are always one-sided and her voice is funny, full of energy and incredibly easy to empathize with, especially since you get to see her catch up on all the books she’s never read before:
I never read Mother Goose or David Copperfield or Ivanhoe or Cinderella or Blue Beard or Robinson Crusoe or Jane Eyre or Alice in Wonderland or a word of Rudyard Kipling. I didn’t know that Henry the Eighth was married more than once or that Shelley was a poet. I didn’t know that people used to be monkeys and that the Garden of Eden was a beautiful myth. I didn’t know that R.L.S. stood for Robert Louis Stevenson or that George Eliot was a lady. I had never seen a picture of the Mona Lisa and (it’s true but you won’ believe it) I had never heard of Sherlock Holmes.
This enthusiasm for discovering new things and an unabashed joie de vivre are not as annoying as they might sound, and Webster has my respect for not turning Judy into another Pollyanna. There are snarly remarks, some tantrums and the occasional blue moment, but Judy is all the more real for it.
Did you notice the reference to Evolution? Although at first sight this might be just another charming novel about a gifted and spunky orphan, but it feels incredibly advanced. Comparisons with Anne Shirley and Jo March are unavoidable, but Judy is more revolutionary: she believes in Evolution, supports the Suffrage Movement and (gasp!) wants to be a socialist.
You know, I think I’ll be a Socialist, too. You wouldn’t mind, would you, Daddy? They’re quite different from Anarchists; they don’t believe in blowing people up. Probably I am one by rights; I belong to the proletariat. I haven’t determined yet just which kind I am going to be. I will look into the subject over Sunday, and declare my principles in my next.
I can’t imagine Anne or Jo writing something similar. Even if they’re famous for their progressiveness, I always felt that reputation was mostly due to their decision to shun marriage and become financially independent, which didn’t turn out quite as they planned.
It was also fun to know about the routine of a women’s college at that time. Similar descriptions were some of my favorite parts of the Green Gables series, and the reason I enjoyed the Mallory Towers and The Twins at St Claire’s so much.
In the background of all this there’s the mystery of who exactly her anonymous benefactor is and Judy’s romantic interest(s). A lot to put in less than 200 pages, but it works perfectly.
The book and its sequel are available for free on Gutenberg.