Monday, January 27, 2014

Book Review: Cinder by Marissa Meyer

Monday, January 27, 2014
Cinder (Lunar Chronicles, #1)
Genre: Science Fiction
Publisher: Feiwel and Friends
Series: Lunar Chronicles #1
Age Group: Young Adult
Source: Bought

Humans and androids crowd the raucous streets of New Beijing. A deadly plague ravages the population. From space, a ruthless lunar people watch, waiting to make their move. No one knows that Earth’s fate hinges on one girl. 
Cinder, a gifted mechanic, is a cyborg. She’s a second-class citizen with a mysterious past, reviled by her stepmother and blamed for her stepsister’s illness. But when her life becomes intertwined with the handsome Prince Kai’s, she suddenly finds herself at the center of an intergalactic struggle, and a forbidden attraction. Caught between duty and freedom, loyalty and betrayal, she must uncover secrets about her past in order to protect her world’s future.
Summary from Goodreads.

You know those books that as soon as you hear about them, you put them on your To-Be-Read list? That was Cinder. I was enraptured by the synopsis and fell in love with the cover. I was going to read it the minute it released.

Um yeah, Cinder came out on January 3, 2012... over two years ago.

I don't know why it took me so long to finally read this book, because I sure as heck wanted to. I've even had a signed copy sitting on my shelf for ages! I have no excuse, but you can bet I'm kicking myself for not reading it sooner.

Seriously, Cinder makes me want to run out to the library and grab all of the YA girl power sci-fi I can carry. First and foremost, of course, I want to read Scarlet because I can't wait to dive into the world of the Lunar Chronicles again. It's so thoroughly and wonderfully done, and you get to see it from both a political and social aspect. The world is a wholly different place, with new organizations of countries, and it's fascinating to see this new make-up square off against the Lunars (I'll get to them in a sec). I love that the story takes place in the Eastern Commonwealth, too; it turns out the future doesn't happen JUST in America! (Shocker, I know.)

So about those Lunars... Queen Levana, the ruler of the Lunars, is a fabulous antagonist. She's manipulative, ruthless, oh, and she has magical powers. Not to mention, she's also incredibly strategic and because of her, the stakes are high. She throws some incredible wrenches into the plot which makes for some incredible tension.

But the focus of the book isn't Queen Levana, it's Cinder, our wonderful protagonist. She's determined and fiercely loyal, plus incredibly intelligent and a talented mechanic (forgoing gender norms, for the win!). She's also a cyborg, which is cause for constant discrimination. Society's prejudice adds a lot to this already beautifully layered story, and it adds a lot to her character as she works to overcome it.

What is phenomenal is that Cinder's main focus throughout the story is her sister and also helping society overcome the plague that, well, plagues them. The romance is just icing on the cake (if you'll excuse the cliche), though delicious icing it is. (Seriously, Prince Kai is such a sweetheart with so much pressure on him. He's incredibly sympathetic and charming).

So with all that Cinder has going for it, I really wish I had read it when it came out like I had intended. But I'm also glad that I waited, because I can read Scarlet and Cress in one swoop. :)
*5 stars*

What is your favorite YA sci-fi?

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Kim Possible- I mean, Mara Dyer

Tuesday, January 21, 2014
Okay, so I'm hoping you guys remember Kim Possible. If you don't, I'm not sure we can be friends. (Okay, not really. We can still be friends...but you should go watch some of the episodes, okay?) It was this fantastic cartoon on Disney that was my all time favorite show of my childhood. It had friendships, crime-fighting, girl power, a naked mole rat... the whole deal.

So was I a little excited when I found out that Christy Carlson Romano (the voice of Kim herself) is the narrator of the Mara Dyer audio books? Um, yeah, you could say that.

And while I did some squealing on Twitter, I wanted to continue my happy dance over here on the blog. I mean...
 Source
Okay, so maybe I just wanted to use this picture.

The audio books are up on Audible today and you can listen to a sample. (Here's the Evolution of Mara Dyer, too.) I've already listened and it. is. awesome. Seriously, after the first 2 seconds of "Omigosh, Kim Possible is narrating one of my favorite books!" you start thinking, "Omigosh, this narration of one of my favorite books is perfect!" 

I've never actually listened to an audio book- I'm not against them, they just haven't ever appealed to me- but I'm thinking The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer will be my first. I got to refresh for the Retribution of Mara Dyer somehow, right? ;)

Are you as excited for this audio book as I am?

Monday, January 20, 2014

On Antiheroes and Likability

Monday, January 20, 2014
I want a female antihero.

I want a female character who isn't inherently "likable," who isn't necessarily kind or polite. I want a female character with questionable intentions and morals, one who is written with shades of gray.

I mean, Sherlock, Jasper Dent, Dexter, Alex, Raskolnikov, Murtagh... why do the boys get to have all the fun?

Oh yeah, that's right. Because female characters are graded on likability.

Now I'm not saying all female characters are reviewed based on likability all the time, but it happens a lot. Male characters can be complex, obnoxious, sarcastic, maybe even a bit evil, and all that can be forgiven. Heck, it's even encouraged! I mean, how many times have you seen the below post on your Tumblr dashboard? (If you don't have Tumblr, I can assure you it would have shown up a lot if you did.)

Oh you know, just casually planning his BFFs murders. How adorable! But would it be considered so adorable if a woman said it?

Female characters shouldn't have to meet theses ridiculous standards, especially not when male characters can essentially do whatever they want and still amass a large fanbase. They should be allowed to be any kind of character, whether that means they are traditionally feminine, or kind of rough, or an antihero.

And, I mean, that would be awesome. Can you imagine if the Merlin series was the Morgana series instead?! Besides the fact that she might have actually had the character development and continuity she deserved (a post for another day), we the viewers would have had a wholly different relationship with her. We would remember that her intentions were good, even if her actions were not. We would have felt more sympathy for her, and more antipathy towards Merlin. In some ways, Merlin would have been the villain.

Or what if there was a book series/BBC TV show about a female detective who revels in serial killer mysteries, who scorns human relationships, but who has one true best friend (not that I would want Moffat going anywhere near this, but again, that's a post for another day).

I would watch/read these stories in a heartbeat.

What about you: Would you read a story with a female antihero?


P.S. maybe genius did a phenomenal post about female characters and the double standard, which I highly advise you check out.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

The Also Known As Series Short Story and Giveaway!

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Going Rogue is out today!

Also Known As (Also Known As, #1)Going Rogue (Also Known As, #2)

I've posted a lot about how much I love Robin Benway's books and today is the release date for the second book in her Also Known As series. 

The Also Known As books feature one of my favorite supporting characters ever, Roux. She's one of those characters you would say deserves her own book, and while that hasn't happened, she does have her own short story (you can read it below)! 

But wait, you haven't read Also Known As yet? Well, courtesy of Bloomsbury Teen, TWO people can win a copy of Also Known As and TWO people can win a copy of Going Rogue!*

*The giveaway is open to US and Canada readers- sorry international friends!



Have you read Also Known As?

Monday, January 13, 2014

Author Adoration: Robin Benway

Monday, January 13, 2014
You know when you're reading a book by an author you've read before and you're struck by how amazing it is? And you're doubly amazed because it's just as good as the author's other two, three, ten books? This feature will highlight those authors, those whose books are an automatic purchase, who you recommend to all of your friends, and push on your book clubs. There's no set schedule for this, but there will probably be about one of these posts a month.

Robin Benway

Robin Benway
I've been a fan of Robin Benway's books for over 5 years now, since I first read Audrey, Wait! I was hooked from the first page of that book and have read it multiple more times since. 

Her published works: Audrey, Wait! (YA, 2009); The Extraordinary Secrets of April, May, and June (YA, 2009); Also Known As (YA, 2013); Going Rogue (YA, 2014)


Audrey, Wait!The Extraordinary Secrets of April, May, & JuneAlso Known As (Also Known As, #1)Going Rogue (Also Known As, #2)

What's to love: 


  • Amazing families (Both Audrey, Wait! and the Also Known As series have awesome parental characters and The Extraordinary Secrets features three sisters)
  • Killer supporting characters (especially best friends, specifically Victoria from Audrey, Wait! and Roux from Also Known As)
  • Humor...
  • ...that's perfectly balanced with heart
  • Fantastic dialogue


Some Favorite Quotes

“You have to turn it up so that your chest shakes and the drums get in between your ribs like a heartbeat and the bass goes up your spine and fizzles your brain and all you can do is dance or spin in a circle or just scream along because you know that however this music makes you feel, it’s exactly right.” 
~Audrey, Wait!

“Let’s just put it this way: I’ve never had a safe make googly eyes at me.”
~Also Known As

So you might want to follow her blog or Twitter:


Not to mention read her books!!

What is your favorite Robin Benway book?

Saturday, January 11, 2014

TV to Books

Saturday, January 11, 2014
Thanks to Netflix, I've become a TV binge watcher (often times when I'm working on my blog, actually). I got through all of Doctor Who in about two months, and I've watched a few other shows since then.

Seriously, I have so many favorites, but I've narrowed it down to a few. If you like these shows, then you'll love these books (or vice versa).

Doctor Who

For the Doctor Who fan, you obviously love sci-fi. You're probably a fan of aliens, you may swoon over the occasional Time Lord, and you're accepting of all species.

So for this, I'm recommending Cinder.

Cinder is a cyborg (not a Cyberman- calm down, Whovians) and is disgraced because of it. There's also a war brewing between Earth and the inhabitants of the moon (Lunars). Oh, and there are androids (though, no robot dog... yet).

Supernatural

You must like pain and crying, but you're probably pretty interested in the spooky stuff, too. And Misha Collins, but I unfortunately don't know of any YA books about him. (Dear authors: GET ON THIS.)

So for you, I recommend The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer. There are plenty of supernatural elements to keep you flipping the pages, a kick-butt narrator (seriously, Mara could hold her own with Bobby and the gang), and a GORGEOUS guy (hello, Noah Shaw).

The West Wing


This one is admittedly harder. It's not exactly easy to find a YA government drama, at least not one set in this world.

That is why I'm choosing Girl of Fire and Thorns for this show. It features Elisa, a princess who has recently come been engaged to a king. Throughout the series she tries to be a fair and just ruler, struggling with big issues and also, well, fighting a war. Maybe this is a bit of stretch from The West Wing, but just trust me, ok? ;)

Sherlock

Either you're a high-functioning sociopath, or a mystery buff. You're probably looking for something fast-paced, suspenseful, and attention-grabbing, with great friendships and a bit of an antihero.

Meet Jasper Dent, our leading lad in I Hunt Killers. He's the son of a serial killer who has started hunting serial killers, even though he's not certain he's not one himself. Basically, this is a solid fit for Sherlock fans.

What is your favorite TV show?

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Reading Reviews: A Confession

Wednesday, January 8, 2014
If you write a review for a sequel I'm planning to read, I'm not going to read your review.*

You could be my absolute favorite blogger in the entire blogging universe who writes better reviews than anyone ever, and I still won't read it. Basically, this is your classic "It's not you, it's me" situation.

Why?


Well, it's a pretty simple answer, actually: I'm not going to read your review because I want to go in with an untainted mindset. If I'm reading a sequel that means I really liked the first book. This means high hopes and expectations that I don't want to become too inflated or deflated by reading a review. I want my opinions about the book to be my own, instead of influenced by someone else's.

I want it to be the ideal, unspoiled reading experience.

*But there is an exception...


...which is I didn't like the first book THAT much.

It was one of those meh books. Worthy of 3 stars, maybe a little less, but the series shows potential. Do I want to spend the time reading the next one? Well, I guess I'll have to see what one of my favorite blogs thought to find out.

**Also (and yes, I know I'm really not using this asterisk thing right, but bear with me anyway), I will read reviews for the sequels after I finish them because I'll be interested to see if we felt the same way about a book. And I like talking to people about books (in case you haven't noticed).

Do you read reviews of sequels?

Monday, January 6, 2014

My Reading Quirk

Monday, January 6, 2014
Lately I've developed this new reading habit and I was wondering if other people do it, too. It used to be that when I was ready to start a new book, I'd know exactly what I wanted to read. I'd pick up a book and start and, well, that would be it. But now when I want to start a book, it's harder to decide. I'll be certain I want to read one particular novel, I'll read the first chapter, and then... I just won't connect with the writing.

It''s not that I'm giving up on these books entirely- I'm just putting them aside until later. Because I will want to read them later, usually after the same process.

Two Boys KissingThis happened with The Infinite Moment of Us by Lauren Myracle, an author whose writing style I LOVE. When I started TIMOU, though, I couldn't get absorbed into the story. A month later, I couldn't put it down. This also happened with Cinder (a book I loved) and just today with Two Boys Kissing. It is highly, highly unlikely that I won't like Two Boys Kissing, but I just wasn't feeling it at that moment.

After a few more tries, I picked up a few other books and finally got hooked on Vessel by Sarah Beth Durst.

Maybe this is happening because I own so many more books than I did before I started blogging. The thing is, I've been blogging for over 2 years and this has only started in the past few months. Maybe my reading habits are just changing, and that's okay... it just means if I ever go anywhere, I'm going to have to bring A LOT of books with me.

How do you select your next read?

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Book Review: Going Rogue by Robin Benway

Saturday, January 4, 2014
Going Rogue (Also Known As, #2)
*Warning: Possible spoilers if you haven't read Also Known As*

Genre: Action and Adventure
Publisher: Walker Childrens
Series: Also Known As #2
Age Group: Young Adult
Source: From the publisher in exchange for an honest review
Being permanently based in a local New York City high school as an undercover operative has its moments, good and bad, for 16-year-old safecracker Maggie Silver. Pros: More quality time with her former mark-turned-boyfriend Jesse Oliver and insanely cool best friend, Roux. Getting to spend quality time with her semi-retired and international spy honorary uncle, Angelo. Cons: High school and the accompanying cliques, bad lunches, and frustratingly simple locker combinations. But when Maggie's parents are falsely accused of stealing priceless gold coins, Maggie uses her safecracking skills to try and clear their names. 
Summary from Goodreads.

I've said this before and I'll probably say it many more times, but Robin Benway is one of very few authors who can make me laugh out loud. It's Roux, Maggie's best friend, who is so hysterical. Her dialogue is blunt and unexpected, and goes with her phenomenal character development.

Because while Benway brings the funny, she excels at characterization.

Roux, for example, has grown so much since Also Known As. She's a supporting character but with just as many layers as Maggie. Meanwhile, Maggie's relationship with her parents continues to be an awesome part of this series. There's no missing parent syndrome here, as their family is incredibly tight knit. Does Maggie have a bit more freedom than the average teenager? Well, yes- but she is a spy, so I think that's to be expected.

In the midst of the wit, the friendships, the family dynamic (not to mention Maggie's relationship with Jessie, who is such a sweetheart), the suspense is absolutely insane. Maybe I'm the only one, but when something unexpected or exciting happens in a book, I do this I-Did-Not-See-That-Coming wiggle. That wiggle was happening quite a lot and I really, really want to discuss some of the book's events, but I also want you to experience it for yourself. Let's just say there's a lot of action.

There are also some brand new characters introduced who are, of course, great. Oh, and Angelo is in prime form (seriously, Angelo and Rue's friendship is completely adorable).

If you haven't read Going Rogue yet, please do! And then come back here and talk to me about it, okay? We can wait for the third book together, since you'll be dying to know what's going to happen to Maggie's family next.
*5 stars*

Just for fun Q: If you were a spy, would you want to be a safe cracker, a computer hacker, or a linguist?

Thursday, January 2, 2014

School-Assigned Reading

Thursday, January 2, 2014
Up until maybe eleventh grade, I was That Kid. We'd get assigned a book to read in school and while others would be groaning, I'd say something along the lines of, "Oh I've always wanted to read that!" And then after the assignment had been completed and many of my peers were grumbling about how bad that book had been, I'd be the one saying, "That was awesome!"

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (World's Classics)I mean, I didn't love every single book (a few notable exceptions include The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, because I despise the title character, and Call of the Wild, just because I found it boring.), but I really liked the majority of what we read.

A lot of this was because I was already a reader. My parents had been reading to me since I was born, and I had grown up loving books. My other friends who were readers often felt the same way that I did about school-assigned reading (with one exception being Spirit Bear in 8th grade- I liked it, my best friend most certainly did not). But the people who hadn't been taught to love reading, or the people who struggled with reading? They just viewed each assignment with resentment.

I've been fortunate to have some amazing English teachers who have taken their curriculum and turned it into something that inspires creativity, critical thinking, and enjoyment from their students. My 10th grade English teacher is the reason nearly every student he had absolutely adores The Great Gatsby. When you have a great teacher, the lessons are truly worthwhile. Not every teacher is that phenomenal, though, and I'm not sure there's a way to fix that. But the curriculum? That can be fixed.

The Hunger Games (The Hunger Games, #1)Beauty QueensSpeak

Solution #1: Cut the Classics.

I'm not bashing the classics (give me Jane Austen and J.D. Salinger any day), but they're not a great fit for everybody. If a student isn't a reader, odds are they aren't going to connect with the heavier writing of 19th century England. My suggestion then is to incorporate more contemporary books (*cough cough* YA books). I don't mean to forgo the classics- definitely not- but including books like The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, Beauty Queens by Libba Bray, or Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson would be incredibly beneficial. Not only would they pique students' interest in reading (how many book lovers did The Hunger Games create?), but they're full of discussion topics that are just as thought-provoking and meaningful as those found in the classics.

Better yet? They're applicable to the students' lives.

Solution #2: Stop it with the testing.

“...we're in English class, which for most of us is an excruciating exercise in staying awake through the great classics of literature. These works-- groundbreaking, incendiary, timeless-- have been pureed by the curriculum monsters into a digestible pabulum of themes and factoids we can spew back on a test. Scoring well on tests is the sort of happy thing that gets the school district the greenbacks they crave. Understanding and appreciating the material are secondary.”
That quote, from Libba Bray's Going Bovine, perfectly describes my frustration over standardized testing. The stuff you can find on Sparknotes does not an interesting read make. The real value of school-assigned reading is the discussions that come out of it, where students take the "themes and factoids" and use their brains to shape them into arguments, opinions, and ideas.

I've been lucky enough to have teachers who don't care so much about the testing as they do about understanding the material. Of course they have to give quizzes and tests (they're required and they are kind of proof that the students completed the assignment), but they put a healthy weighting on the grades. Consequently the emphasis isn't on grades and numbers but on reading- enjoying and understanding it.

Solution #3: Let them pick their own books.


I don't know if this is just my personal experience, but up until high school, my English classes used to visit our school library monthly. I always looked forward to this (even though I visited the school library frequently anyway) because we got to pick whatever book we wanted! And there were so many books! Then high school hit and the only time we go to the library is to use the computers for research projects. Why can't the library be a place to explore your reading tastes as well as a place to do homework? Shouldn't schools encourage a love of libraries and the freedom to read for fun?


---
Potentially, our schools could create people who genuinely love to read, and isn't that more important than standardized scores? I mean, readers are supposed to have better vocabularies, writing skills, and critical thinking skills (not to mention all of the emotional benefits of a good book), and isn't this what our schools want?

What was your favorite school-assigned book?