Today's Grateful List/31 December 2015

  • Going to get answers no matter what

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Read The Martian. Do It Now. I Mean It.

Imagine being one of the first astronauts to step foot on Mars. It's a cold, barren planet, but that's all fine since you and your crewmates will only be staying for about thirty days to conduct experiments. Except that there's a sudden storm and you all have to evacuate in a hurry, and during the frenzy of leaving, it looks like you've been fatally lost, so your crew leaves. Trouble is, you're still alive, you're all alone, and you have no way to communicate any of this. This is astronaut Mark Watney, and he's in deep trouble.

The Martian is gripping and intelligent from the first words (of which truer ones have rarely been written). I was impressed from the earliest pages by the ingenuity and resourcefulness Mark has; he not only figures out how to grow potatoes in order to prolong his food supply, he makes his way to an abandoned probe named Pathfinder in order to find a way to communicate with Earth. Once his predicament is known, NASA spends countless time and energy in developing a plan to rescue him. If it seems as though this would make for fairly boring reading, it doesn't. I was on the edge of my seat with each attempt, each failure, each idea, each page. If it's all very technical (impressive in and of itself), it all makes sense and just plain works. It's all believable.

The best part of The Martian, however, isn't the day-to-day survival story, or the spirit of cooperation inspired back on Earth, but the people themselves. Mark is absolutely one of my favorite characters ever, with his wit and wry comments that make you laugh out loud or plunge you into terror. He's the one you cheer for every second and feel for when there are setbacks. But he's not alone in being compelling by any means. The NASA people, including Venkat Kapoor, Mitch, Teddy, Annie...they are real and engaging and cheer worthy as well. The crew of the Hermes (the ones who accidentally left Mark behind) are funny and smart and determined; I seriously think none of them could have been written any better.

The Martian is one of those books I'm going to be cheerleading for for a very long time to come; it's definitely a cut above most of the reading I've done in the past year or so. If you think it's only for science fiction fans, think again; I absolutely challenge you to not become engrossed within the first fifty pages. Pick up and give it a're going to love it.


Thursday, January 22, 2015

Red Queen (With an awesome cover!)

What a great premise Red Queen has! And even more importantly, what a very good execution for the story. Sometimes great premises get lost but Red Queen delivers. Almost entirely, with only a few minor bumps.

The story: Set in a world where people are divided and called by two different kinds of blood, Mare sees her life going nowhere. Mare's blood is Red, so she's assigned a life of servitude (if she's lucky enough to get a job) or enforced conscription into the nation's war (as her three older brothers have found themselves). The "other half" is made up of Silver blood, giving them not only nobility and/or preferred jobs, but a super power as well. Mare knows her time is up and she's months away from being sent as a soldier since she doesn't have a skill that will earn her a job, which is bad enough; then her friend, Kilorn, loses his job and is just days away from being sent to fight. Desperate, Mare goes to an undercover operative named Farley for help; one thing leads to another but life becomes even worse. When an encounter with a wealthy stranger leads to a job within the Palace, Mare hopes her fortunes are changing...until a fall that should kill her leads to her display of astonishing electrical power. Caught as a Red with a power, the royal family moves quickly to cover it up by giving Mare a new identity as a royal, turning her life upside down and inside out. But underneath it all, she's still Red...and determined to help her fellow Reds. No matter what the cost.

There's so much more going on, including an *almost* love quadrangle between Mare, Kilorn, and the two royal princes. Mare has to both deny everything she's ever known or ever been, and embrace her new life as a member of the Silvers in such a way as to cast no doubt that she belongs among them. There's a secret organization that is working to bring down the Silvers who have basically held the Reds as slaves forever, and Mare makes many, many mistakes along the way. There's a theme that gets repeated throughout: Anyone can betray anyone, and it's true with deadly consequences.

Problems? A few, but not overwhelming. Mare is headstrong yet in over her head; she's an outcast and a leader who is learning to cope with a power that is not only unknown among the Reds but possibly even among the Silvers. I did get annoyed because it's fairly easy to figure out what's going to happen but Mare can't, or won't, see it. There is also more than a few coincidences, something that bugs me in any novel. I did think the parts where Mare is learning how to be Silver dragged at times, but most of the slow parts are setting up bigger action later on. And one more thing...possible spoiler so stop reading character seriously reminded me of King Joffrey of Game of Thrones fame by the time the book was done. In fact, that's the only person I could picture as the last major action took place. Kinda over the top.

Red Queen is really good, with a likable main character and an excellent plot that is revealed to be multi-layered. Of course it ends on a cliffhanger, and it's a big one. I'm eager to find out where we're going and how the evil villains will be brought down. This book kept me so entertained that I stayed up much later than I should have a few nights just to see what happened next. It's really a solid 4.75 on the Amazon rating scale.

On a side note...I adore the cover! Whoever created it deserves major props. Very intriguing and just the right amount of gory beauty.


Thursday, January 15, 2015

Read Between the Lines (AND READ THIS BOOK)

I'm struggling a bit in writing this review. I want it to be glowing, because this book is amazing, but I want it to be realistic because it's not an easy read in any form. I want to reassure those who think an entire book cannot revolve around one rude gesture; not only does it, this book fleshes out what that gesture means and how its intent may vary. I also want to caution those who think this is just a light-hearted look at The Finger because the issues go so, so much deeper than that. But mostly I want to say...this book is brilliant. You need to read it.

The idea of Read Between the Lines is that we're all subject to the one finger salute, but for different reasons and with varying reactions. But Knowles has taken the gesture and woven an entire world around it, highlighting the lives of several high school students, none of whom are defined by giving or getting the finger. In fact, the gesture itself becomes almost an after-thought as we become immersed into the lives and facades of Nathan, Lacy, Dylan, Jack, Grace, Stephen, and Claire (to name a few but not all). What happens inside the head of the kid who gets bullied by everyone, including his father? What does it take to become popular? When do you stop living a lie and come out? How long can you go along with your friends even when you know it's wrong?

Over the course of a couple of days, we see what these high school students go through at the hands of those who supposedly love them and those who even sometimes hate them. Each chapter is from a different point of view, yet they all overlap in at least one way, and it's often unexpected. I got fully engrossed in every story and found myself changing opinions about characters as I saw events through different eyes. I loved them all and I hated a few. The best were the honest ones; some make huge changes and some barely register a blip, but all are affected by life, by people, by events, by a finger.

I just cannot say enough good things about this book. It's original even if the stories themselves may not be. It's just the way it all works together that is utterly riveting and brilliant. I'm also incredibly jealous that I didn't write it! If you read one book this spring, make it Read Between the Lines. If you don't take my recommendation, I just may have to flip you off myself. Read it!


Sunday, January 11, 2015

Seeking Good Young Adult Fiction?

Can we just all take a deep breath and stop comparing every new young adult novel/series to The Hunger Games? Because if I read that endorsement for a novel again, I probably won't pick it up.

Not that Seeker is a bad novel by any means. There's a lot to like in this first book of a new series by Arwen Elys Dayton. Action-packed almost from the beginning, and set in a sort of alternate universe of our world, we learn about three young padawan...oops, I mean students...who are being trained for their destinies as Seekers. Seekers, as we learn in spurts, are supposed to be the ones who right the wrongs and help those most in need through whatever means necessary. What we gather, as the story gains momentum, is that means being trained to be killers and how to use a powerful artifact known as an athame to travel THERE, a sort of time/space loophole that takes a Seeker wherever he/she is trying to go. These three students, around age fourteen or so, immediately face differing futures as one, John, is dismissed as not worthy, and the two remaining, Quin and Shinbonu, take the Oath of a Seeker given by their fathers/uncles. But far from being the Good Thing Quin and Shinbonu believed it to be, they are forced to commit atrocities designed to gain their families power and keep others from recovering stolen athames. It's enough to drive good kids crazy...and does.

There's so much going on, and way too much to recap here, so I'll give you a basic rundown of the story: Quin, the lone girl of the trio, thinks she is in love with John while Shinbonu, her sort-of cousin, looks on wistfully; the scene shifts from London to Hong Kong and back again; there's lots of violence; the parents are, in general, very very bad and/or fairly useless; there's a totally cool airship called The Traveler that circles London and is John's home; three sort of "overseers" of Seekers called the Dreads also have a part in this story (particularly the Young Dread, also known as Maud, who has a point of view). The novel moves among the points of view of the three would-be Seekers and Maud, pushing the story forward as split second decisions are made and long-term choices have devastating consequences.

So, did I like it? Well, yes. I found the story mostly engaging and highly readable. I was especially sympathetic to Maud, a young girl bound by her calling but struggling against the Middle Dread's obvious hatred of her. Dayton does a good job of world building for the most part, and her characters are often conflicted and unnerved in their actions, but steadfast to their ideals (mostly). My biggest problem is, even after 400 pages, I still didn't feel close to Quin or Shinbonu or John, and I certainly never bought into any love triangle (which was really unnecessary, by the way). There's way too many words spent on the fact that Quin and Shinbonu are cousins (or not) and it bugged me that it was set up that way so that it became an issue, especially because it's obvious that Shinbonu is in love with her. John's behavior, while explained, made me the most irritated: Is he a bad guy with good tendencies or a good guy with bad reasoning? Quite honestly, by the end of the book, I was pretty much over him and his justifications.

So the final question remains...will I read the sequels? Probably. I liked the story well enough and Dayton can certainly write action very well. But comparisons to The Hunger Games, whether in storyline, ability to fascinate, or just because it's a young adult novel, need to stop. Good, yes, but totally different and there's definitely no Katniss Everdeen to be seen anywhere.


Thursday, January 08, 2015

Final Book In Series

The final book in Caroline Cooney's Janie Johnson series, Janie Face to Face, wraps up the storyline that began with The Face on the Milk Carton (a book that's now twenty years old!). Set five years in the future after Janie discovers that her parents aren't really her parents, and that she was kidnapped as a toddler, Janie's now going to college and attempting to leave behind all the turmoil that came with the media sensation. After Reeve's betrayal in The Voice on the Radio, Janie's trust issues no longer allow her to see him romantically, but her relationship with her birth family has improved to the point that Janie sees herself as a Spring. Still, she's torn between the Springs and the Johnsons, and still unsure of her place. Is it any wonder that she allows a good looking young man into her life, even though her friends are skeptical of him? There seems to be something off in his attentions, and as the story progresses, more clues to something devious start to come to light. It looks like Janie's life is about to get more complicated.

Meanwhile, we get glimpses into the mind/psyche of Janie's kidnapper, Hannah Javenson, who has been living in Colorado for years, subsisting on menial jobs and blaming her parents, society, and Janie for everything that went wrong with her life. Hannah, now in her late forties/early fifties, has never amounted to anything; she's stolen identities, money, and things in her sad existence. As she ages, she begins to find ways to spy on Janie and her now elderly parents and fixates on the idea that Janie somehow stole the life Hannah should have had (even though we experience the kidnapping from Hannah's point of view early on in this book). She decides the time has come to "fix" things, and in her delusional mind, she plots revenge.

I liked this final installment, finding it entirely believable in lots of ways, even down to the....


...impromptu reunion of Janie and Reeve. I could see how Janie would need Reeve as a bit of stability in her life, and I felt that even the rather rushed wedding would come off. I liked the movement between various characters' points of view, even the annoying Kathleen (who ended up adding a good deal to the overall story, despite her neediness). I loved how Janie's siblings accepted her even though they were alternately happy and irritated by her behavior. I also loved that Janie still felt loyalty and love for the Johnsons who raised her, and that there was recognition that they were blameless in such a mess. There are also attempts by Cooney to pull the timeline of the original story forward so that this installment wouldn't find Janie in her mid-thirties (for example, the explanation of no cell phones earlier, the appearance of the phone booth Janie and Reeve used, and the way Janie just ignores social media and has for a long time). If there were a few issues, such as the convenience of having the FBI on speed dial, Reeve's undying devotion, and Hannah's ability to act upon her delusions, I could overlook it because Cooney's writing is very engaging and the pages just flew by. Janie comes across as normal as a girl could be in such an awful situation, and the glimpses of others' thoughts and actions filled out the story. This is a fitting conclusion to a series that could actually have happened. Not perfect, but still good.