Saturday, November 26, 2011

Windows and Stones

by Tomas Transtromer p. 84

Tomas Transtromer is this year's winner of the Nobel Prize for literature. I had never heard of him till the prize was announced recently. He is a Swedish poet (about the 3rd to win from the country that gives out the prize) and he is also a psychologist. This collection was a good poetry to start on his poetry with because it includes poetry from his different collections from his first book to many others going to the 1970s. His poetry in this is translated from Swedish to English by a translator. That always makes me want to read it in the original to get the sound of his original words. His poetry is in free verse I think and its spare. There are some great word usage and descriptions of Swedish nature and other countries' visages. I was glad to find that it was not bleak or not all of it bleak. He is also very philosophical and some of it is intriguing and thought provoking.


"Clockwork Angel" (The Infernal Devices #1) by Cassandra Clare

476 pages

Tessa's life hasn't been easy. Her parents died when she was only three, so she's been raised by her aunt Harriet and her older brother, Nate. Then, in 1886, Nate gets a job in London and moves across the Atlantic, and soon after that Harriet dies. Because Tessa is only sixteen and has no other family, Nate arranges for her to join him in England. However, Tessa is kidnapped and held hostage as soon as she steps on British soil. Her captors, the Dark Sisters, show her that she has the ability to transform into another person at will as long as she is holding one of their possessions. It turns out that there is a dark world that Tessa was never aware of before, a world of vampires, demons, warlocks, and other supernatural creatures. Her transformative ability means that she, too, is a "Downworlder," which is the collective term for all non-human supernatural beings. Tessa is eventually rescued by the Shadowhunters, a group of powerful warriors who act as police among the Downworlders and prevent evil creatures from doing harm to humans and other Downworlders. However, Tessa is far from safe even after her escape. She still has to find Nate and help the Shadowhunters find out who is behind the creation of a growing army of destructive robots.

I haven't read any of the Mortal Instruments series, which this book is a prequel to, but I will have to now because I loved Clockwork Angel! The action grabbed me from the first page, and the pacing is just right: it moves quickly, but there's enough time for characterization as well. I really cared about the characters, even some of the minor ones. I like that the vampires and other monsters are scary in this book, not all hot and sexy like in many of the other popular teen books that are out right now. Clare creates a really interesting world that I am looking forward to reading more about in the rest of the Infernal Devices series, as well as Mortal Instruments.

"Plain Fear: Forsaken" by Leanna Ellis

424 pages

Hannah knows that she should move on and get over Jacob, who died two years ago. Wallowing in grief is not the Amish way, and Jacob's brother Levi loves Hannah and wants to begin a life with her. However, she just can't forget about Jacob. It doesn't help when she starts hearing his voice calling out to her in the night. Then a mysterious stranger shows up in town, a non-Amish man who met Jacob in New Orleans during Jacob's rumspringa, or "running around time." Meanwhile, a detective is investigating the strange disappearances of some young Amish, and what he discovers is more sinister than the simple community could have imagined.

When I heard that an Amish vampire novel had just been published, I had to check it out. It's such a ridiculous concept that I had to see how it played out--sort of like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Plain Fear: Forsaken certainly didn't fail to entertain. The contrast between the simple, religious Amish and the vampire craziness is pretty funny. The book moves a bit slowly at first; I feel like it could be about 100 pages shorter. Still, I enjoyed it.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

"Plague" (Gone #4) by Michael Grant

497 pages

It's been eight months since the world was turned upside in Perdido Beach, California. Everyone over the age of 15 disappeared without a trace; kids and animals began to develop bizarre powers; and the Darkness in the cave began gaining power. Sam and his friends are trying to keep everyone fed and safe from the Darkness. The evil Drake is contained for the time being, but the town is running out of water. When Sam leaves to find a water source, Drake escapes and begins planning his next attack. Meanwhile, a fatal plague breaks out among the kids, a sickness that even Lara the Healer can't fix. Things have been bad before, but it looks like even Sam might not be able to fix this crisis.

This series just gets more and more weird, in a totally random way. I can't imagine how all of it is going to be explained in the end, but it's intrigued me enough that I've got to find out what happens. I'm really into the characters at this point, and multiple storylines keep things fresh and interesting. This particular book has a bit less action than the others in the series thus far, but it still moves pretty quickly. This is a great series to recommend to younger teens who like way-out-there sci-fi and fantasy.

"Identical" by Ellen Hopkins

565 pages

Kaeleigh and Raeanne are 16-year-old identical twins. On the outside, everything in their lives appears to be perfect. They have plenty of money; their father is a prestigious district court judge and their mother is running a what seems to be successful campaign for Congress. However, things are not what they seem. Kaeleigh is the good girl, which she has tried so hard to be since she was nine and her father started sexually abusing her. She deals with her pain by cutting, bingeing, and purging. Raeanne, on the other hand, uses painkillers, drugs, alcohol, and sex to forget both the rejection of not being Daddy's favorite and the guilt she feels for being unable to protect Kaeleigh. Both girls are barely hanging on by a thread that can't hold much longer.

This is one of my favorite Ellen Hopkins books. Whereas some of the others become repetitive and don't have a lot of memorable plot points, this is a fresh story with an interesting twist. Admittedly, I figured the twist out after about 50 pages due to some clues I'd overheard, but I still enjoyed it. Also, I like that Hopkins is looking at an extremely difficult subject from multiple angles this time as opposed to having one perspective like she usually does. The verse format still bugged me with this one, as it mostly reads like prose that just happens to be divided up in random places. There are a few parts that actually sound poetic or have some cool text design on the page, but a lot of it sounds just like a regular novel when you read it out loud. That distracts me and bothers me because it makes me feel like the novel-in-verse thing is just a gimmick. That said, I still like this book a lot and will definitely be recommending it to readers of gritty realistic fiction.

"Best American Comics 2010" edited by Neil Gaiman

329 pages

I was pretty disappointed with this collection. I saw Neil Gaiman's name on it and had to check it out, but it just did not live up to the "best" title to me at all. Several of the selections are political, which isn't my thing when it comes to comics, and I was lost a lot of the time because I haven't read the issues that precede most of the series that are represented. Also, I just didn't like some of the comics. I felt like, in general, the book is sort of a downer. I'm okay with having some darker stuff, but I would have enjoyed it more if there had been more fun and humorous material as well. That's not to say that I hated all of it. There's a Scott Pilgrim excerpt and I love those, but I've already read them all anyway (And isn't Bryan Lee O'Malley Canadian? Maybe "Best American Comics" refers to North America, not the United States). I also enjoyed a few others, particularly one involving robots and gnomes. However, were I given the chance to go back in time, I would probably not read this collection.

Monday, November 21, 2011

"Before I Go To Sleep" by S.J. Watson

360 pages

Since she had a terrible accident more than 20 years ago, Christine has suffered from amnesia. As she sleeps, her mind erases everything she did that day. She wakes up the next day thinking she's still a young woman with her life ahead of her. Through it all, her husband, Ben, has stayed with her, trudging through the daily frustration of introducing his wife to her reality. So why doesn't she trust him? That's what Christine has to figure out when she wakes up one day, finds her secret diary, and discovers the words "DON'T TRUST BEN" etched across the front page.

This book totally had me on the edge of my seat from beginning to end. The premise (which is like the movie "50 First Dates" but with an ominous rather than humorous tone) is so interesting and unsettling. If you forgot everything every 24 hours, who could you trust? How would you even figure out who you could trust? If you did figure it out, how would you make sure you knew the next day? The diary format made it feel extremely personal, like I was as insecure and unsure has Christine. The details got a bit confusing and it was difficult to keep everything straight as far as what Christine knew on any given day, but I couldn't find any holes in the story. The super-intense ending is a complete surprise. Although the conclusion is a bit too rushed for my taste and I would have liked some more closure, I did find it satisfying. Overall, one of the better thrillers I've read lately.

Time for Outrage!

by Stephane Hessel p. 41
This book is by Hessel, a 93 year-old former French Resistance fighter. Being a French naturalized citizen born in Berlin, Germany he has a particular insight into living through the Nazi occupation of France in WWII and fighting the Nazis as a French Resistance fighter fighting under Charles de Gaulle. He also lived through a concentration camp. Though his life story is fascinating we don't hear much of it except a short biography in the back. He also worked in the UN and was involved in the Declaration of Human Rights being written. This is a very short call to action. Now he doesn't really specify what action. He says if you look around you will find it. While most would say peace of mind is essential to find he thinks that outrage that fuels one to action is essential to a life. One possible outrage he states a few times of his own opinion is the disparity of poor to wealthy. Some have suggested this book that has been out in other places for a year may have helped inspire the Arab Spring and maybe I could see where the Occupy people would grab on to it. When I first heard of it I didn't see why it was controversial with some groups, but having read the very short essay there are some thoughts about violence vs. non violence and the Israeli and Palestinian peace issues that would cause disagreement. I can't imagine it inspiring or causing much motivation because it is so short there is hardly anything to it. It mentioned he has a memoir which I think would be more interesting. His part is actually only about 29 pages long and that is a very small book. Really small. I mean it's only like 5 inches tall. I was just a bit disappointed, because the news story I read about it made it sound very interesting and there was very little actually to it.

Hound Dog True by Linda Urban

176 pgs/2011

About the Book: Mattie and her mom have moved too many times for Mattie's liking. Mattie hoping that this time moving in with Uncle Potluck will last-no more being the new girl. Mattie has a week until school starts which means one week to convince Uncle Potluck to take her on as a custodial apprentice. If Mattie writes everything down in her notebook and can convince Uncle Potluck he needs her, she can work with him at recess-away from the other fifth-graders. But what will happen when Mattie's custodial wisdom doesn't work the way she plans?

Sarah Teenlibrarian Says: I've been a big fan of Linda Urban's since reading her debut, A Crooked Kind of Perfect. It's one of my go-to tween novels, so I was thrilled when I saw she had a new book out! Once again, Linda Urban shows that she is a master of middle grade.

Mattie is painfully shy. So much so that she gets nervous thinking about talking to other kids and introducing herself and doesn't want to spend recess with her peers. Because of her shyness, Mattie is hesitant to make a new friend in Quincy. She fears that Quincy is older and will find her babyish and she imagines that Quincy is avoiding her because she doesn't like her. It's hard for her to make friends, but part of the novel is about opening yourself up and learning to break through being shy. That's not to say that Mattie becomes miss outgoing by the end-her journey is a quiet journey, much like Mattie herself. A small step in friendship is a huge step for Mattie and you can't help but cheer her on.

Mattie is also a writer and she struggles with writing after a girl from her previous school makes fun of her stories. She worries about her writing and worries what others will think. She really wants to write but she's afraid to after getting teased. Mattie is a sensitive girl and she carries the weight of the world on her shoulders.

I was very much like Mattie when I was younger. I was very sensitive and shy. There were times I even had to psych myself up to talk to someone. I could very much relate to Mattie and Ms. Urban got it spot on! This was a book that I wish I could hand over to my tween-self and say "it's OK, I know it's hard but you can do it." Tweens who feel the same way will relate and understand Mattie's shyness. Readers who might not be shy will still understand why Mattie is the way she is-Ms. Urban gives us enough depth to Mattie to really understand her and get to know her.

The supporting cast is great. Uncle Potluck is hilarious and he tells some wild stories you can't help but wish might be true. Quincy has her own secrets and makes a great counterpart to Mattie.

There's not a lot of action in this book. Instead it's a quiet, character-driven story. Much of the story is left to the reader to infer (some of Mattie's story, Quincy's backstory, and details about Uncle Potluck and the Principal) but I don't think there's anything that readers wouldn't catch onto. A sweet story about friendship, family, and shyness, Hound Dog True is a book I'm adding to my "must have" tween collection.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

"The Death of Jayson Porter" by Jaime Adoff

272 pages

Sixteen-year-old Jayson Porter has never had an easy life. He lives with his mother, a former prostitute who is abusive and addicted to drugs. He struggles to maintain a decent relationship with his father, who is also strung out on drugs. As a half-white, half-black teenager from the projects, he feels like he's a misfit in all areas of his life, from his home in the projects to his fancy all-white school, which he attends on scholarship. Jayson always believes that things will get better, though...until a series of tragedies take him to the end of his rope.

I really liked this book. I feel like it provides a realistic portrayal of what someone in Jayson's situation might feel, and it ultimately has a good message without being too cheesy or preachy. The ending is sort of predictable but I had no idea how it was going to get there, so I stayed interested. I think this is a great book to recommend to teens, especially boys, who are struggling with their life circumstances.

"The Joy Luck Club" by Amy Tan

288 pages

In 1949, four women, recently immigrated from China to San Francisco, formed the Joy Luck Club to eat, play games, and keep their shared culture alive in their lives. Now, decades later, they still get together. Their grown daughters, who were all raised in the United States, struggle to reconcile their Chinese heritage and the culture they've grown up in.

I enjoyed this book, but I was a bit disappointed by it. I guess my expectations were really high because it's so well-known and hyped up. The characters are interesting, but I never felt like I really got to know or connected with any of them. Perhaps this has something to do with the private nature of Chinese culture, but I expected to at least get more from the daughters. I did enjoy learning about Chinese beliefs and values, as well as the complicated relationship between immigrants and their first-generation offspring. The story was definitely worth reading for me, but there just wasn't anything here that really wowed me.