Friday, March 30, 2012

Blogging A to Z: Starts Sunday April 1st!

As a reminder, for April I'm joining the Blogging From A to Z Challenge which means a post almost every day for the month of April on a topic related to that day's letter of the alphabet. My theme is TV shows - specifically scripted TV (sorry, no reality!) mostly featuring shows that are currently on, or can easily be seen in reruns. I have a few exceptions - those darned letters Q and Z! - but so far it's been fun to plan all the posts.

I'm looking forward to checking out new blogs during the month - over 1,400 signed up for the challenge! Obviously, I can't visit everybody, but especially if you're already on my reading list, I'll be stopping by a few times to comment. This will be the only time I post the actual linky since it's so long, but here goes after the jump:

Monday, March 26, 2012

Book Review: Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins

Lola and the Boy Next Door
Stephanie Perkins
Young Adult Contemporary
Published 2011

High schooler Lola is happy with her older (age 22) musician boyfriend Max and her constantly evolving wardrobe, until the rental house next door changes over again and her former childhood friends return: Calliope, a figure skater-turned-Mean Girl, and her twin brother Cricket, Lola's first crush who ultimately rejected her.

Lola has rather extreme reactions to everything; she can hardly bear the twins are back, but what's most difficult is that Cricket wants to be friends again. He's even better looking and more charming than ever. Lola is confused whether to forgive him for breaking her heart and then moving away several years ago, a fact her friend Lindsay frequently reminds her of. But when she and Max start butting heads, and when Lola's birth mother - the sister of one of her adopted dads - comes back into her life, Cricket is the one who supports her. He always seems to be around instead of on campus at nearby Berkeley, and ready to talk through his window just feet away from hers between their San Francisco row homes.

Lola captures all the emotions of changing circumstances with a mix of maturity and age-appropriate reactions. She does dumb things, but she's trying her best. The supporting characters are great - no one feels wasted. This is mostly a story of friendship blossoming into something more, and it's filled with a lot of fun and genuine moments.

This is the author's second novel, which is somewhat of a companion to Anna and the French Kiss, since Lola is friends with Anna and her boyfriend who now attend college in San Fran. It's not a sequel, but it provides some payoff if you've read her other book. I listened to the audio book which was excellent as far as narration and pacing.

Friday, March 23, 2012

The Hunger Games: an Old Idea with a Fresh Voice

The Hunger Games movie released today, and already I'm seeing backlash.

"This concept has been done before, it was called _______."
(fill in the blank with The Running Man, Battle Royale, Lord of the Flies, etc.)

Everything has been done before. Every story idea you have, someone else had it first. Before you feel too depressed, the silver lining is any story idea depends on what we do with it.

Suzanne Collins took her concept of a dystopian society (again, not a new idea) and featured teens who are forced to fight for their lives. With that generic description, I can mention half a dozen other books with the same concept in the current YA market. The difference is how the story is told.

I have respect for the author's ability show the horrors of war through her characters. Some scenes are violent, but they aren't gory. Much of the violence is implied. It's the perfect type of book for a discussion group, for a parent to read along with their kid, or an adult like me to get a fresh take on a concept that yes, I have heard before.

Some of the snippy comments I'm sure are a result of hype; no question this is the most heavily marketed film of the year so far, and will probably remain one of the top highest marketing budgets, including The Avengers and Christopher Nolan's last Batman installment, and Breaking Dawn part Deux: the Cash Cow. Yes, the media has been saturated with Hunger Games. It doesn't mean it's not a credible story, even if the story has been told before.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Blogging A to Z

I'm joining the Blogging from A to Z challenge this year. There's still time to sign up if you're interested!
The challenge involves creating a post for every letter of the alphabet in April. It can be about anything you want, starting Sunday April 1 with "A", all the way through Saturday April 28 with "Z" (all Sundays except the first Sunday are skipped).

You don't have to choose a theme - the posts can be about anything. But I think my theme will be TV shows since I write about TV for It's a fun topic that most people have an opinion on (even if it's that they never watch TV - usually those people are even more opinionated!).

So look for a TV-themed month of April and probably a break in book reviews.

If you're participating in the challenge, do you have a theme?

Monday, March 19, 2012

Book Review: Making Waves by Tawna Fenske

Making Waves
Tawna Fenske
Contemporary Romance, Humor
Published 2011

Making Waves is a fun little caper involving Juli, the conventional woman trying to find herself, who's thrown on a boat with disenfranchised corporate worker bees turned pirates. Yup, pirates! Alex and three of his coworkers decide to take control of their future after a lay-off  which drained their pensions after years of service to a company who couldn't care less. They charter a boat and plan to exploit their employer, a shipping merchant, by stealing valuable material in a heist to make up for their lost wages. Juli ends up on their boat after mistakenly boarding what she thought was a day tour while heavily doped up on seasickness medicine. Juli is thrilled to play the part of castaway, she sees it all as an adventure, while the crew thinks she must be some sort of spy.
Juli and Alex meet prior to the pirate mission at the resort that both are (supposedly) vacationing. Juli was asked to spread the ashes of her late uncle in the ocean, but the story hints that Juli is hiding something. Alex is distracted from the heist because of sexual tension with Juli. The two spend a lot of time almost getting together, but there are definitely some steamy scenes - FYI!

The characters frequently crack jokes, and the playful tone detracts from some of the implausibility of the plot. Although maybe it's not a stretch in this economy to believe scorned employees would commit seaside crime in an act of revenge.

I've followed Tawna Fenske's blog (Don't Pet Me, I'm Writing) for awhile -- she's hilarious so I recommend checking it out. From the blog, I learned the e-book version of Making Waves had lowered in price for a limited time. It's still a good price at $6.99.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Book Review: Taking Off by Jenny Moss

Taking Off
Jenny Moss
Published: 2011
Young Adult Historical

Taking Off revolves around the Challenger space shuttle disaster in 1986 which carried the first civilian on board: teacher Christa McAuliffe. High schooler Annie lives in Clear Lake, TX, home of the NASA's training center, and meets Christa at a dinner hosted by one her friend's NASA-employed parents. Annie feels immediately inspired by the teacher's enthusiasm for life. Annie herself is shy and indecisive. She doesn't have plans for college but wants to be a poet, which for some reason terrifies her to admit to anyone, including her mother or her longtime boyfriend.

When the opportunity arises for Annie to see Christa's shuttle launch, she takes a road trip with her estranged father and his younger buddy (and potential new love interest -he's just over 20) to Cape Canaveral, FL to see the Challenger take off. What's most unsettling about this book is knowing the history going into it. Annie's adoration of Christa is believable, and it caused me to think of the all the students affected by Christa's death when the shuttle exploded - schools across the nation watched in horror as it happened. At times Annie's story felt a little incongruent with the severity of the event, and I wished it was told from the perspective of one of Christa's students (still fictional) for a more personal connection. The story is really Annie's self-discovery with the Challenger mission serving as a framework historical setting.

I found Taking Off from a rather complex library search on historical fiction from mid-century on related to Texas (specific huh? I'm writing a similar work and wanted to see what's out there). The book has a mix of strengths and weaknesses; Annie is 17 but she felt younger to me. Certainly girls can be shy and lacking self-awareness as an older teen, but it almost felt like she should've been 14 with a lot of years left to grow. Some of the dialogue didn't ring true, like the historical setting was pushed into the narrative a bit too much at times. This is worth checking out if the subject interests you.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Book Review: The Gathering Storm by Robin Bridges

The Gathering Storm: The Katerina Trilogy, Book 1
Robin Bridges
Published January 2012
YA Historical/Paranormal

Russians, and Princesses and Necromancers, oh my!

The Gathering Storm is similar to Libba Bray's Gemma Doyle trilogy (A Great and Terrible Beauty, etc.), with its late 19th century girls boarding school, but thrown into tsarist Russia. Katerina is a royal duchess who attends an elite school for noble young women. Her life involves attending royal balls and lots of canoodling with the aristocracy, but she's more interested in medical science than the latest court dances. Also, she's exploring this latent and creepy ability which brings dead things back to life.

Katerina's world is framed in a historical setting, but this is primarily a paranormal fantasy story. All of the royals in Katerina's circle either have abilities or know about them. Whether they use them or not is highly political, and she strategizes who she lets in on her secret, considering that necromancy is rare and her ability will be exploited the second it's discovered.  Katerina frequently ponders the merits of medical acheivement over superstition; her mother believes in fortunes told from tarot cards, which Katerina dismisses. But her mother's tarot is very telling of Katerina's future, about a dark evil attempting to take over the tsar, and Katerina's role in preventing it.

There's a lot of drama, many beautiful and somewhat complicated Russian names, and complex web of paranormal heirarcy mixed into royal bloodlines. It's mostly a light read but I tripped up on the names at times, and also with some phrasing. I would suggest this if you're a fan of paranormal romance and/or royals.


This is a signed copy of The Gathering Storm that I'd like to pass on to one of you if you're interested! Leave a comment with a way to contact you. I will choose a random commenter!

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Good Books You've Never Finished

It took years for me to not feel like I needed to finish a book if I didn't like it.

Maybe this mindset starts in school; you don't have the option to put down a book if it's required reading and there's a test (well you CAN but I think it's just as much work to piece together someone else's recaps than to skim through it myself).

Sometimes I quit reading a book because it's not very good: boring writing, cliche storyline, odd pacing. But  other times a book is technically good, but something else prevents me from finishing.

Here are some of my non-finishers:

The Kite Runner
This is a fantastically written and moving book. But when it got to the point of a child sexual assault, I just couldn't do it. I understand how it tied into the story, and I understand it was necessary. At the time, it felt too serious. Sometimes I want a book to be entertaining, and that's not entertainment to me. I always meant to go back to it, but who wants to knowingly pick up a book that's so depressing?

Anna Karenina
I've tried, guys. I even got the new edition Oprah promoted. I would read the same parts over and over. I'd look down at the page number and it still read 20. I gave it three tries over the course of two years. I'm still on page 20.

Salem's Lot
Fresh off of reading Stephen King's book On Writing, I thought I'd take on one of his classics. A creepy vampire in a sleepy northeastern town? YES. However, I found his writing about writing far more interesting than what he actually got famous for. I realize Stephen King tells stories in an older style - distanced and meandering with literally dozens of charcters. I lost it when one chapter described what everyone in town had for dinner. We're talking like 30 people. One guy ate canned peas. WHERE IS THE VAMPIRE?!

How about you? What good books have you had trouble making it through?