Saturday, June 28, 2008

Thinking about two different vacation reads (Little Brother and The Adoration of Jenna Fox)

Last week I was on vacation, and I was looking for some great books to take with me to enjoy on the trip. I decided to take Little Brother, by Cory Doctorow, and The Adoration of Jenna Fox, by Mary E. Pearson. Both books have been much talked about on the blogs, and both intrigued me. (And a hat tip to Jen Robinson for the suggestions.)

Although both books are set in a near-future, dystopian America, it's hard to imagine two books more different, and it got me thinking about the differences.

Little Brother is set in San Francisco, a couple of years in the future, although it's so close to where we are today that it could as well be tomorrow. Marcus is a seventeen-year-old who knows a lot about technology and how to bend the "systems" to his own ends. Marcus likes to play Alternate Reality Games, or ARGs, which combines computer-based gaming with real world adventures seeking clues out in the city. While Marcus and his team are out searching for the next clue, San Francisco is attacked in the worst terrorist attack in the country's history. In the wrong place at the wrong time, Marcus and his friends are picked up by Homeland Security and interrogated in a secret prison for days. Three of them are eventually released, but one of Marcus' friends never returns. San Francisco has become a police state, as Homeland Security continues to crack down with ever tighter security. Marcus fights back in the only way he knows how, using his wits and technology to outsmart Homeland Security, and spark a revolution.

It's hard to know what to make of Little Brother. It breaks some of the rules of good writing, and in a literary sense, it isn't very well written. For example, there are many sections where the flow of the story is interrupted for several pages of description of things like encryption or the civil rights movement. And it's clearly a message book - something that's normally considered a big no-no for YA fiction.

And yet. In spite of all this, Little Brother is a darn good story. The plot is exciting and relevant, and Doctorow has done a great job of capturing an authentic teen voice. The long, technical asides will most likely appeal to his audience, and the message is one that will resonate with most teens. I personally couldn't put it down and loved every minute of it. I even enjoyed the technical descriptions, although I confess to being something of a geek myself, and I agree with the message. As I was reading it, I started thinking of young people that I wanted to pass this book along to. In fact, I wish that every teen in the U.S. - and every adult - would read this book.

I do have one more little quibble with the book. One of the strong themes in the book is one of youth empowerment, and yet for all that Marcus and his friends accomplish, nothing is solved until the adults get involved. Don't get me wrong; Marcus is a true hero, and his accomplishments are essential in moving towards the ultimate resolution. But the turning point of the book is clearly the moment when the adults get involved. It may be more believable, but I feel that it weakens the theme.

The Adoration of Jenna Fox is set a little further in the future, but not so far that you can't see it as a natural outgrowth of the present. Jenna Fox has just awakened from a year-long coma following a terrible accident that no one will tell her about. Jenna remembers nothing, and she tries to reclaim her past and her identity by watching videos that her parents recorded of her over the years. Jenna begins to piece together an identity for herself, as she integrates fragments of resurfaced memory with new experiences and feelings. But is the new Jenna Fox the same person as she was before the accident? And why does she increasingly get the sense that her parents aren't telling her everything. I can't say too much about this book without spoiling some of the surprises, but you'll have to trust me that there is a futuristic/dystopian element to it.

The Adoration of Jenna Fox is as literary as Little Brother isn't. It's beautifully written; poetic even. It's tightly plotted; the characters have depth, and issues of identity and scientific ethics are explored in a balanced way. And yet. I have to confess that I didn't enjoy it as much as I enjoyed Little Brother. Don't get me wrong, I did enjoy it. The Adoration of Jenna Fox is an excellent book. But I never completely got wrapped up in it the way I did with Little Brother. I think that in part this is because Jenna's lack of emotion in the beginning of the book distances you from her from the start, and although she does begin to feel emotions again, I never completely was able to cross that distance to identify with her. It's a beautiful book and I enjoyed it, but it was more of an external enjoyment, an appreciation of its literary qualities.

I'm not sure if any of this says anything about the quality of either book. It may say more about my personal preference than about the books themselves. I just found it interesting reading the books back to back and comparing their merits. Obviously these are two books that will appeal to very different audiences. (I refuse to classify books as "boy" books or "girl" books - I'm a girl and I know which one I preferred - and I don't believe in genderizing books. But the temptation is there to do just that with these books.) Both Little Brother and The Adoration of Jenna Fox are outstanding books that are well worth reading.

Little Brother has some minor sexual content at a level that would probably be appropriate for high school age and above.
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Thursday, June 26, 2008

Questions for the librarians

If any of you are librarians involved with collection development or purchasing decision-making, would you be willing to answer a few questions about how purchasing decisions are made? I promise I won't take up too much of your time or try to sell you anything. It would just be helpful to me as a publisher to get answers to a couple of questions I have. You can email me at

Thanks in advance!

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Thursday, June 12, 2008

Book Review: Out of the Wild

Out of the Wild
by Sarah Beth Durst

Twelve-year-old Julie Marchen’s home of Northboro, Massachusetts is still recovering from being taken over by the Wild, a mass of vines that is the withered remnant of the fairy tale world. Centuries ago, Julie’s mother Rapunzel led a rebellion against the Wild and helped all the fairy tale characters escape from the tyranny of being forced to live the same story over and over. After that, the Wild was reduced to a mass of vines that usually resides under Julie’s bed, until recently, when someone made a wish at the Wishing Well that helped the Wild to escape. Julie was able to defeat the Wild, but Northboro is still repairing the damage, and its residents are healing from the trauma they experienced while imprisoned in The Wild. Julie is glad that things are back to normal, but she can’t help feeling guilty about leaving her father in the Wild, and wondering if she did the right thing.

Then the Wild does something unexpected: it releases her father, with no warning and no explanation. Julie and Rapunzel are thrilled to have him back, but they can’t help being suspicious. Why did the Wild release him? It’s unlike the Wild to be generous; is this a trap?

Julie’s father is everything that she had dreamed, a real hero. Perhaps too much of a hero: when Sleeping Beauty (who is still asleep from her time in the Wild) is kidnapped, he sets off on a quest to rescue her, without concern for the consequences. As the situation gets worse and the Wild grows in strength, it becomes apparent that someone is behind it all. But why would anyone want the Wild to grow?

Out of the Wild is another great sequel that does what good sequels should do: it turns the assumptions from the first story upside-down, and provides a new and fresh perspective. We’ve seen the tyranny and the horrors of The Wild in Into the Wild. But is it possible that not everyone sees it that way? I don’t want to say too much and spoil the surprises, but this is a fresh and fun sequel that’s every bit as good as the original, maybe better.

The plot is exciting, engrossing, and well-paced, with a dash of humor for good measure. It’s touching watching Julie try to connect with the father she’s never known, except for a brief encounter, as the two of them learn how to relate to each other, and how to adjust to the difference between expectations and reality.

Out of the Wild will be published next Thursday, June 19.
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Monday, June 09, 2008

48-hour challege 2008 wrap-up

I've participated in MotherReader's 48-hour challenge for the last two years, but I didn't think I would be able to participate this year. So when my scheduled unexpected opened up for the weekend, I jumped at the chance to get some good reading time in and work on clearing my TBR.

I read from 10:30 am Friday through 10:30 am Sunday. I read a total of four books:

I also read a little bit of The Dead and the Gone by Susan Beth Pfeffer.

Here are my final stats:
Total books read: 4
Total pages: 1177
Total time reading and blogging: 20 hours and 10 minutes

I'm satisfied with my accomplishments, even though I didn't come close to what some people accomplished. I improved on all my stats from last year, which was my goal. I also made a serious dent in my TBR pile, which was my other goal. However, I don't know how much more I'll be able to improve my stats in future years. I'm not a very fast reader, and really the only reason I read more books and pages this year is because I spent more time reading, and there's a limit to how much time I can spend reading in 48 hours. I'm not willing to go without sleep!

Although I knew that I wouldn't even come close to the top of the list on books or pages read, I thought I might have a shot at total time reading, since my schedule was pretty clear. However, my 20 hours pales compared to some of the stats I've seen, which are more like 30 hours. I'm really impressed with those of you who read 30 hours or more in a 48-hour window!

I could probably have improved my stats a little bit if I had written short, capsule reviews instead of full reviews of each of the books I read. I probably average an hour or more on each review, so four reviews was a big chunk of my 20 hours. However, I just can't bring myself to do less than a full review for each book, and I'm afraid if I write a short one and plan to come back later and add to it, that I'll get busy and never get back to it. It's just my obsessive-compulsive nature that makes it hard for me to write less.

Congratulations to everyone who participated. I'm impressed with how much most of you were able to accomplish! I wonder how many total pages were read for the challenge this year...

A big thank you to MotherReader for organizing this again, and thanks to everyone who contributed prizes!
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Sunday, June 08, 2008

Book Review: Seekers: The Quest Begins

51skIuXPU4L._SL160_.jpgSeekers: The Quest Begins
By Erin Hunter

Seekers is the story of three very different bears, each on a quest that is destined to bring them together. Kallik is a young polar bear traveling to land for the summer with her mother and brother. When her mother is killed and Killik is separated from her brother, Kallik sets off on a quest to find him.

Toklo is a grizzly bear cub trying to survive with his mother and his brother Tobi, who is very sick. Toklo loves Tobi, but he also resents him, both for slowing down the family, and because it seems that their mother loves Tobi more because of the attention she lavishes on him. Tragedy also strikes Toklo's family, and Toklo finds himself alone and lonely, on the edge of survival. Toklo sets off to follow the North Star, which is the spirit of a lonely bear imprisoned in the sky, because Toklo identifies with it.

Lusa is a black bear cub living in the zoo. Lusa loves climbing trees and playing with her friend Yogi. The zoo is the only home she knows and she's happy there, although she's curious about what life in the wild is like. When a strange new bear arrives at the zoo from the wild, it awakens Lusa's desire to see the wild. When the new bear dies, Lusa promises her that she will escape and carry a message from her to her son in the wild.

The Quest Begins is a promising start to a new series by Erin Hunter, author of the highly popular Warriors series. It's an animal fantasy similar to Warriors, although there does seem to be a bit more of an element of magic realism that comes into play later in the book. The characters and situations are interesting, and the book should have strong appeal to fans of the Warriors series, as well as anyone else who loves animal fantasy.

As sometimes happens with the first book in a planned series, The Quest Begins is occasionally slow as it sets things up for the rest of the series. There is plenty of action, and interesting things happen throughout the book, but at this point there is no one central conflict driving the story. Each of the bears has his or her own central conflict, and a quest that is destined to bring them together, but since the bears don't meet until the end of the book (and then only two of them) their stories don't come together as well as they might.

I do think that once the bears come together, this is going to be an interesting and enjoyable series. As with Warriors, the bears have their own culture and language, and we see the world through the bears' eyes. What differs, however, is that each bear species has its own culture and its own beliefs. The north star, for example, plays an important role in each of the stories, but each bear believes something different about the north star. It will be interesting once the bears come together to see how their conflicting beliefs and cultures interact, and I think there's a lot of story potential there.

Overall, I found The Quest Begins to be an enjoyable book, and I look forward to the rest of the series.

Pages: 293
Total 48-hour book challenge pages read: 1172
Total 48-hour book challenge books read: 4
Total time reading and blogging: 20 hours and 10 minutes

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Book Review: In the Company of Whispers

In the Company of Whispers
by Sallie Lowenstein

The year is 2047, and Zeyya lives in a tiny, roach-infested apartment with her parents. It's a horrible way to live, and not as nice as their previous home, but it's safer: Quarantine hasn't hit this area yet. Throughout the Greater East Coast Metropolis, people are taken away by the police, leaving only yellow Quarantine tape to indicate that they ever existed. Zeyya has never known anyone to return from Quarantine.

When Zeyya's parents are taken in Quarantine, Zeyya goes to live with her 98-year-old grandmother in one of the last free-standing houses in the Metropolis. Shortly after Zeyya moves in, Granna also takes in a strange young man named Jonah, who appears lost and homeless. Jonah is covered with intricate tatoos, and claims to be able to "access" the memories of his ancestors. Is Jonah telling the truth or is it a form of madness? Whether he is crazy or lying, Zeyya doesn't trust Jonah.

As the summer progresses, Granna shares memories of her childhood in Burma nearly a century before. Those memories serve as a comfort and an escape from the pain and loss, but they also begin to draw the three of them together in a shared bond. Despite his strangeness, Granna and Zeyya find theselves drawn to Jonah. The past brings them together, but will they survive long enough to have a shared future?

In the Company of Whispers is an amazing, unique, and genre-bending book. At its core is a frightening and poignant dystopian story, but it's also part memoir and part a fascinating look at another culture. The chapters are interspersed with photographs, letters, and mementos of the author's own childhood in Burma, memories which are echoed in the story in Granna's memories. There are also short excerpts of essays about Burma, Burmese poetry, and quotes from famous Burmese people. The effect is a fascinating collage of Burmese life, and rather than distract you from the story, as you might expect, it serves to draw in the reader and make the story more real. This look at Burma and the Burmese people has turned out to be tragically timely, given the recent cyclone that devastated Myanmar (Burma) which has left over 100 thousand people dead or missing, and countless others homeless.

The writing is beautiful and almost poetic; I love the way that things like colors and music are woven into the fabric of the story. The story itself is quite exciting and almost heart-stopping at times, as you experience the fear and sadness of living in a world where people can be taken away suddenly and with no warning. The disease itself is never described, and indeed no one seems to no much about it, which adds to the feeling of the randomness of it all. There is a strong theme of family running through it all, and of the past which is so much a part of who we are.

It's also a coming of age story,; Zeyya grows up quickly as she deals with the pain and worries of the summer. By the end of the summer, her teenage interests and worries from the beginning of the book seem almost trivial, and her friends seem shallow and childish.

The book itself has a quality feel to it that will appeal to book lovers. The pages are printed on coated paper, and there is a lovely brown case and matching endpapers.

In the Company of Whispers will be officially published in September, but because of the current situation in Burma, the publisher, Lion Stone Books, is accepting prepublication orders on their web site. There's also an interesting Q&A with the author  (in PDF format).

Pages: 379
Total 48-hour book challenge pages read: 880
Total 48-hour book challenge books read: 3
Total time reading and blogging: 15 hours and 40 minutes

Friday, June 06, 2008

Book Review: Dragon Flight

Dragon Flight
by Jessica Day George

The Dragon Wars are over and life has settled down; Creel and Marta are busy with their dressmaking business. With the upcoming wedding of the Crown Prince Milun to Lady Isla, the young Countess of Dranvel, the shop is busier than ever with many dresses to make for the wedding, including the bride's trousseau. Unknown to all but a select few, Shardas and Velika survived their plunge into the Boiling Sea, although both were badly injured, and Creel keeps in touch with Shardas through a speaking pool in her room. Life would be pretty good, if the younger Prince Luka, whom Creel is in love with, weren't far away, in the land of Citatie. And even if Luka were at home, Creel knows that as a commoner, she could never marry him.

Then word comes that Citatie has declared war on Feravel, and Luka's life is in danger. But even worse is the news that Luka sends: Citatie plans to invade Feravel...and the invasion force is mounted on hundreds of dragons. Creel finds herself once again caught up in events, as she, Tobin, and Marta, along with Feniul, Niva, and Amacarin, head to Citatie to meet up with Prince Luka and gather intelligence. When they reach Citatie, however, they discover that the situation is even worse than they expected.

It's rare that a sequel is better than the original, but I loved Dragon Flight even more than its predecessor, Dragon Slippers. I loved Dragon Slippers, but thought it was a little slow in places. Not so with Dragon Flight! It was well-paced and exciting; even if I wasn't reading it as part of the 48-hour challenge I wouldn't have wanted to put it down.

I also love a sequel that turns things around from the original, and this one does that. I don't want to say too much and spoil the surprises, but this book is definitely not more of the same. What is a welcome return from the original, though, is the dragons; they were definitely the best part of both books. Shardas, Velika, Amacarin, Niva, and my personal favorite, Feniul, along with some newcomers, are back, each with their own distinctive personality, and with some character growth as well.

Pages: 262
Total 48-hour book challenge pages read: 502
Total 48-hour book challenge books read: 2
Total time reading and blogging: 8 hours

Book Review: The Tygrine Cat

51wzy15OKOL._SL160_.jpgThe Tygrine Cat
by Inbali Iserles

The Queen of the Tygrine Cats faces defeat at the hands of their ancient enemy, the Sa. Knowing that she cannot survive, but determined to save her people, she sends her young son Mati off to a strange land, and protects him with a spell of forgetting, while she sacrifices herself to save him.

Mati survives on the ship, eating scraps and drinking from a dripping shower stall, until the ship docks at the port of Cressida Lock. There Mati, alone and afraid, and with only scraps of memory of his former life, encounters a band of feral cats living in the catacombs under the leadership of a tomcat named Pirrup: The Courageous Chief Pangur, Lord of the Realm, or just Pangur for short. The Cressida Lock cats are suspicious of Mati, but agree to take him in at the encouragement of Sparrow, a kindly but eccentric older tom.

Mati is befriended not only by Sparrow, but by Domino, a young black and white cat, and Jess, a former housecat who get lost and couldn't find her way home. But Mati has enemies, too, both within and without. Among the Cressida Lock cats, there are some who still mistrust Mati because he's different, and who want to see him banished. And Mati is pursued by an ancient evil from his distant homeland, an evil determined to kill Mati and rule the world.

The Tygrine Cat is a good story with appealing characters, and overall I enjoyed it. Author Inbali Iserles' writing shows promise - there are some lovely descriptive passages and creative metaphors - but it's not as tightly controlled as it might be. For example, it's sometimes jarring that in one paragraph things are mentioned in human terms that a cat wouldn't understand, and a paragraph or two later we're seeing the world through the cats' eyes using their own language and way of describing things. I'm probably spoiled from reading too many Warriors books; Erin Hunter does a lovely job of keeping us immersed in the cats' world, and I think I was expecting more of that.

Still, there was a lot to like about this book and I think it will have strong appeal for fans of animal fantasy, as well as those who interested in ancient religions and mysticism. The characters were well-drawn and appealing to cat lovers, and the plot was interesting, with some unique ties to ancient Egypt.

Edit: in re-reading this review, I think the tone of it was more negative than I intended it to be. I found this to be a good book overall, and I only had a few minor quibbles with it, so I edited the review to better reflect my overall opinion of the book without minimizing its shortcomings.

Pages: 242
Total 48-hour book challenge pages read: 242
Total 48-hour book challenge books read: 1
Time reading: 3 hours
Time blogging: 1 hour

48-hour book challenge 2008

I'm sorry that my posts here have been few and far between lately. Things have just been really busy. I hope to be able to get back to reviewing more frequently soon, but in the mean time, I thought that MotherReader's 48-hour book challenge seemed like a great way to get caught up on my ever-growing TBR pile. I didn't think that I would be able to participate this year, but some of my plans for the weekend got canceled, so I actually have some time!

Last year, I read books on a theme. This year, though, I don't have a theme; I'm just going to be working my way down my TBR pile. You can see the books I plan to read on my GoodReads to-read shelf:

I'm currently reading Sarah Beth Durst's Out of the Wild, and while I'm really engrossed in it and hate to put it down, I'm going to have to put it aside for now so that I can start fresh with a new book to get an accurate book count. It's now 10:20 and I'm going to be starting with The Tygrine Cat, by Inbali Iserles.

I also have some great books lined up waiting for a review. I've been really fortunate that I've read some really good books recently, and I can't wait to tell you about them. I won't be reviewing them until after the challenge, because I don't want to take time during this 48-hours reviewing books that won't count for the challenge (because I've already read them) but you can see what reviews will be coming here: