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Finally got my hands on Lumberjanes because I’m nothing if not a slave to your recommendations.

I get the love: the art is fresh, the girl-power theme is amazing, it’s laugh-out-loud funny at times. It’s all that so it deserved a bit more… depth. It felt really short mostly because its 24 pages are action-oriented and don’t leave much room for character development or exploration of their world.

In stories about a group of people I immediately find a favorite. In Lumberjanes I had some difficulty making that call – there’s just not much that distinguishes them (apart from Ripley being The Crazy One). In the end I went with Jo because she had books and pictures of stars and planets in her bunk:

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To be fair, it’s only the first in the series and there’s a hint of background stories to come, like Molly’s fear of her family being informed about their adventures. But I can’t help but compare it to another very short, very popular, first-in-the-series, action-packed, kick-ass girl gang comic that takes the time to tells us (and make us care) about individual characters: Rat Queens.

The world-building in Lumberjanes also left me a bit confused: Magic? Fairy tales? Greek mythology? All? Two weeks after reading it I’m left with a vague sense of The Goonies meets Chamber of Secrets with a bit of Percy Jackson.

All this to say that I really had fun and will definitely pick up the next one in the series. I just wish it went a bit deeper with the story and its people, even if it’s “just” a first volume.

I’m ready for the rotten tomatoes to fly now… *ducks*

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fly_trap_hbEarlier this year I finally finished the Narnia series. I never read them as a kid and as I got from one book to the next I kept thinking that maybe I ought to have. By Last Battle it was clear that no, adulthood is exactly the right time to read Narnia, because at least now I’m aware of the heavy-handed indoctrination (Susan’s fate in The Last Battle, the Middle-Easterns Calormenes – urgh!) If in the future my son decides to read them, I know I’ll want us to discuss them together. (Actually, I’m curious about the general fascination with Narnia. Is it the plot or characterization? I found them rather weak. Childhood nostalgia?)

So after Narnia, I picked up another children/young adult fantasy – Fly Trap (Twilight Robbery in the UK) – and it was such a palate cleanser!

I loved Frances Hardinge’s first in the series, Fly by Night, and this one was even better. I’d also argue it can be read a stand-alone. It’s set right after Fly by Night, when the 12-year-old heroine Mosca Mye, her travel companion Eponymous Clent and Saracen, the goose, are looking for greener pastures after (accidentally) triggering a revolution. They end up in Toll, an apparently perfect town… until night falls.

Without giving too much away, in Hardinge’s world words and names have power. Each person is named according to the Saint (or Beloved) responsible for their birth day, but in Toll this has serious consequences. In Toll, all Beloveds have been divided into the bright, good ones and the villainous, dark ones. If you’re born under the right Beloved you’re allowed to live in Toll-by-Day, where life is well-organized and comfortable. Otherwise you’re banished to Toll-by-Night and for all intents and purposes you no longer exist. Mosca you see, was born under Beloved Palpitattle, He Who Keeps Flies out of Jams and Butter Churns. According to tradition, Palpitattle children are “judged to be villainous, verminous, and everywhere that they’re not wanted”.

Part of the plot is about how Toll go into such a society, and the rest is how Mosca deals with her status and her attempts to challenge it. And thus, once again our nomad trio find themselves entangled in new schemes and winding politics.

If I had just one word to describe Fly Trap it’d be “rich”. Rich in plot, that’s almost baroque in its twists, turns, leaps and layers. Rich in characterization, Mosca in particular is an amazing young female character, someone creative and independent, who’ll to survive at all costs, but also capable of great generosity and altruism. It’s rich in content and food for thought: the world building is the perfect basis to write about superstition and critical thinking. Or, if you want to go deeper, theology, crowd mentality and human nature. But, especially, the writing is rich. Hardinge continue to write her “gushy Valentine to the English language“. Here’s a taste:

“Revenge is a dish best served unexpectedly and from a distance – like a thrown trifle.”

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“A couple of expressions pulled Clent’s face to a fro between them, like puppies trying to fight their way out of a bag.”

***

“I generally find,’ Clent murmured after a pause, ‘that it is best to treat borrowed time the same way as borrowed money. Spend it with panache, and try to be somewhere else when it runs out.’

‘And when we get found, Mr. Clent, when the creditors and bailiffs come after us and it’s payment time…’

‘…then we borrow more, madam, at a higher interest. We embark on a wilder gamble, make a bigger promise, tell a braver story, devise a more intricate lie, sell the hides of imaginary dragons to desperate men, climb to even higher and more precarious ground…and later, of course, our fall and catastrophe will be all the worse, but later will be our watchword, Mosca. We have nothing else – but we can at least make later later.”

A great read overall and I agree with Teresa 100%: it’d make the perfect Miyazaki movie!

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Other thoughts: Good Books and Good Wine, things mean a lot, David’s Book World (yours?)

Fault in our Stars--CoverI wonder if there is anyone left in the world that can be objective about John Green. And if there is, can they be objective about a John Green book about teens dying of cancer?

I struggled with this post because when I tried to pinpoint what didn’t work for me – scenes that seemed unrealistic or stereotypical – I kept thinking: how do you know what you’d do in their situation?

But that’s part of the point of The Fault in Our Starts: it makes us face the possibility. How would I handle the fine balance between protecting my loved-ones and my need to panic, to complain, to revolt, to assign guilt? Would I also just want to watch ANTM re-runs or would I write a book and plant a tree? Just for making me this uncomfortable, I must thank John Green and I give value to the book.

That being said, the dialogues were a major barrier. And by dialogues I mean the characters. I’ve read several reviews of the disappointed minority and this seems a common denominator. The unrealistic way these teens talk (“existentially fraught free throws“; “all of this (…) will have been for naught”), might be put down to how intellectual they are, how they had to wise-up and come to terms with their mortality when they should feel invincible. But that excuse didn’t stick because this isn’t my first John Green book.

If you’ve read him before, you’ll probably also see Hazel as another Miles or Quentin, Isaac as Hassan and Marcus or Gus as Alaska. In general they all sound very much alike and could easily be transposed into each other’s novels without major issues, including all having a road-trip! Also, if you’ve ever seen a Green interview or vlog you’ll know that he is these characters: he’s smart, hip, funny and cynical. So for all the praise it got for its realism and freshness, The Fault in Our Stars felt very much as just another John Green book.

The strange thing is that I enjoy the John Greeness in John Green’s previous books (and other Gilmore Girls-style of stories), but in this one not so much. I couldn’t escape the image of the puppet master, wanting me to cry hard, and think about the Purpose of Life, Disappointing Heroes and Remaining True to Yourself in the Face of Unimaginable Hardship (while reciting Great Poetry).

Because of all the buzz around the book, I expected Green to leave his formulas behind, take risks and make something truly different – the theme alone deserved it! Maybe the perceived freshness relies on the fact that it’s a YA book about teens dying of cancer and that should be enough. I found myself being much harder on Green exactly because it’s a book about teens dying of cancer, while feeling that everyone was giving him a free pass because of it.

It’s not fair to judge a book based only on my expectations and what I wanted to writer to do, but there you have it.

To finish on a high note: dying in these circumstances is not tidy or romantic and that was well reflected in the book. I’ve been there and I’m thankful for Green not to gloss it over. Because of this, the last chapters softened me up towards book, but not without some kinks. For instance, the scene where Gus tries to buy cigarettes is incredibly moving, but then Hazel, while calling 911, goes “I need an ambulance. The great love of my life has a malfunctioning G-tube”. *Smack upside the head!* Didn’t lines like that distract you?

I came late to the TFIOS’ blogging debate and wish I could persuade my bookclub to read it. Maybe talking would help me to better figure out why I feel about the book the way I do.

 

 

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?)

12394100I 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.

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Other thoughts: things mean a lotStella MatutinaMagnificent OctopusThe Book SmugglersSteph Su ReadsWear the Old CoatCharlotte’s LibraryintoyourlungsBooks 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 🙂

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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 #2It’s All About BooksJacus’ Book Blogbookshelves of doom, birdbrain(ed) book blog, let’s eat grandpa, Presenting Lenore, Literary Fangirl Book Reviews, Fyrefly (yours?)

Other thoughts on the series and on MWT: the bluestocking societyMy Sister’s Bookshelf, Jenny’s Books (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.
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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.

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Other thoughts: Devourer of Books, Life in the Thumb, Books and Movies,  My Friend Amy, The Cheap Reader,  Presenting LenoreRhapsody in Books, Beth Fish Reads, That’s What She Read,  Muggle-BornThrillers, Horror and Comics, Books with Bite, The Book Bind, The Geeky Beach Babe (yours?)

(spoiler-free review)

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.

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Other thoughts: It’s all about me (time)Like People and ButterfliesLeeswammesRhapsody in BooksTeen 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)

Master and Commander and Post Captain by Patrick O’Brian

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.

The Brontës by Juliet Barker (part one and part two)

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!

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Other thoughts: Bart’s Bookshelf, Books I Done Read (yours?)

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