Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Top Ten Characters Who Remind Me Of Myself Or Someone I Know In Real Life

See everyone's Top Ten Tuesday posts over at the Broke and the Bookish.

Characters That Remind Me of Myself

1. Jo March from Little Women

2. Meg Murry from A Wrinkle in Time

3. Harriet from Harriet the Spy

4. Lena from Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants

5. Emily from Emily of New Moon

Characters That Remind Me of Someone I Know in Real Life

1. Oscar from The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

2. Bridget from Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants

3. Ron Weasley from Harry Potter

4. Charlie Blackwell from American Wife


and I'm out.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Top Ten Books on My Summer TBR List

While I'm drooling over all the new books coming out this summer, this is more of a wish list than anything else. I'm about to start teaching my Reading and Writing Workshop, so I'll be re-reading the books for the course, as well as selections of poetry and short stories (If you have any ideas for the latter categories for rising third and fourth graders, I would be DELIGHTED to hear them).

1. Insurgent by Veronica Roth

I can't believe I still haven't gotten to it yet!

2. The Queen's Lover by Francine du Plessix Gray

I saw a review in the Washington Post about this new historical fiction from the point of view of Marie Antoinette's Swedish lover.

3. The Sister Queens by Sophie Perinot

My mom bought this for me, historical fiction about Eleanor and Marguerite of Provence, who married the kings of England and France respectively in the thirteenth century.

4. The Year of the Gadfly by Jennifer Miller

This book got such great reviews and I often like these prep school scandal type books.

5. Wild by Cheryl Strayed

A book about hiking the Pacific Crest trail from the advice columnist who writes Dear Sugar on the Rumpus.net

6. Wanderlove by Kristen Hubbard

I found this book over at YA? Why not? Seems like a great summer read!

7. Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore

After Graceling, I'm expecting another fun, relaxing, girl-power read. Plus, I enjoyed the free excerpt I read.

8. A Partial History of Lost Causes by Jennifer DuBois

About chess and Russia, it seems like the type of literary work I'd enjoy.

9. The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin

Wanted to read this for a while, seems like quality fantasy.

10. Jane of Lantern Hill by L.M. Montgomery

A Montgomery book I actually haven't read that was recently recommended to me.

Monday, June 18, 2012

The Dwarves Ascending

20. The Dwarves by Markus Heitz

The "sheer bloodymindedness" and "stubbornness" of dwarves is on display in this epic adventure starring fantasy's traditionally sidelined warriors.

I never felt that the dwarves got fair billing. Even in The Hobbit, where they compose the majority of the characters, they're used either as an example of the corruption of riches or comic relief. Lord of the Rings, to its credit, does not use its one dwarf, Gimli, in either of those manners, but the movies do pigeonhole him into the comic role.

So when I saw the title of Heitz's book, I knew I had to read it.

Heitz's dwarves, the guardians of a set of kingdoms known as Girdlegard, are what everyone expects of dwarves-and more. He shows how dwarves' loyalty, determination, noted skills in fighting as well as the practical arts, from metalwork to masonry to diamond-cutting, make them heroes, worthy of the readers' sympathy and attention. He creates five dwarven kingdoms, descended from the five fathers of dwarves. Each race is gifted with a different skill and charged with guarding a different gate into Girdlegard from the hordes of "Tion's minions," including orcs, trolls, and other creatures of Heitz's creation.

Tungdil is the only dwarf in the household of Lot-Ionan, one of the six great magi of Girdlegard. He is content in his position as blacksmith, but occasionally wonders what it would be like to meet another dwarf. From Lot-Ionan's books, he has taught himself dwarfish and learned all he could of dwarven history. When Lot-Ionan sends him on a mission to deliver some items to another wizard, he suggests that Tungdil take a detour to the kingdom of the secondling dwarves. Nothing, however, goes quite as planned.

The very beginning of this book is extremely dark, which I found different and exciting. I began to expect some George R.R. Martin plot twists, with far superior writing and a sparser cast list. That is not exactly the case, and it shapes up very soon into a more standard fantasy plotline, EXCEPT of course that this book is about dwarves, and dwarven culture and character color every inch of it. That is what makes this book stand out.

The plot is in some places darker, because dwarves are darker and more grim, capable of withstanding so much more than their man, hobbit, and elf counterparts. This world calls uniquely upon the skills of the dwarves, in ways in which the softness of men and otherworldliness of elves cannot compete. The Elves play a very minimal role in the story, very purposely so, and the humans, while granted a larger part, would be all but helpless without their dwarven guardians.

The writing is clear and direct, but detailed in all the right places. It is translated from German, and I could imagine the German speech being more capable of rendering the language and feel of the dwarves, but I don't speak German, so I'll have to do with the English.

I'm looking forward to reading the two sequels, The War of the Dwarves and The Revenge of the Dwarves. For pure epic fantasy adventure, I could not recommend The Dwarves more highly. While it's not SFF Lit to the degree I initially thought, I think I will keep it in the running due to the relative originality of fashioning dwarves into heroes.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Fables 2 Animal Farm

19. Fables Vol 2: Animal Farm by Bill Willingham

Sadly, I did not find the second volume as charming as the first. Animal Farm attempts to riff on the Orwell novel of the same name and on William Golding's Lord of the Flies, in my opinion, less than successfully. This story is darker and more grisly than the last. Its most redeeming quality, in my view, is its inclusion of some extremely obscure fairy tale characters; among my favorites, Weyland Smith.

It's likely that more Fables will appear on my reading list, however, as they come recommended and supplied by a friend and have the virtue of being easily consumed in 1-2 hour sittings.

In other news, I'm almost finished with The Dwarves and very excited to talk about it some more!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Top Ten Books I'd Recommend as Good Beach Reads

1. The Devil Wears Prada by Lauren Weisberger

2. Silver by Rhiannon Held

3. Gilt by Katherine Longshore

4. Graceling by Kristin Cashore

5. Divergent by Veronica Roth

6. Fable series by Bill Willingham (You could probably go through 2-3 per day)

7. Eragon books by Christopher Paolini

8. Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants books by Ann Brashares

9. A Year in the World by Frances Mayes

10. American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld

I've geared my list toward fun, light reading since I think that's essentially what "beach read" is shorthand for. However, I don't tend to read the type of books that are usually beach read fodder, like mysteries or romances or "chick lit" like Jodi Piccoult, Jennifer Weiner, or Sophie Kinsella. I've never read a book from either of the latter two and of Piccoult, I've read only My Sister's Keeper. I want to recommend something like Eat, Pray, Love-but I haven't read that either.

I almost never go to the beach, but honestly my vacation reading in recent years has included War and Peace, Anna Karenina, and Madame Bovary, so I might not be doing this right. Harry Potter?

Bueller?

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Silver

17. Graceling

Finished listening to Graceling, re: last post. My thoughts didn't change too much-I like the world and the characters, but I also think they have much more potential than they're realizing. The exposition is really overdone and makes the plot sadly predictable in a way that's not okay because it's the type of book that's relying on plot to hold interest. The language is well done, but more simple than I would like at times.

I'd recommend the book to teen girls, but it's nowhere near counting as SFF Lit. Personally, I'm interested in reading Bitterblue, but not necessarily Fire.

18. Silver by Rhiannon Held

Silver was a quick read. I received it for review from Tor Original Paperbacks.

Andrew Dare is the enforcer of the Roanoke pack, i.e. the werewolves living on the East Coast of the United States. He follows the trail of a lone Were to force her to explain herself and expel her from his pack's territory if necessary. The lone smells of silver, a metal that is poisonous to Weres. Silver is used as punishment for misdeeds in European packs, but New World packs ban its use.

However, the woman he finds is not a perpetrator, but a victim. Silver has been injected into her bloodstream and she no longer remembers her own name, nor can she shift into her wolf form. She calls herself Silver, the name that Death, she says, has given her. And Andrew's mission becomes to find the one who did this to her, before her monster can destroy other Weres in the same horrific manner.

I have many of the same criticisms that I have of YA books in general here. The writing is slick and crisp, it doesn't stick in the mind, it practically runs over the pages. For someone looking for a relaxing beach read, this is obviously a boon. It's just not what I look for. The plot here is bare and straightforward. HOWEVER, I have less of a problem with this here, because Silver has a depth to it that holds interest in its own right. Held creates a convincing picture of the dynamics and interactions within and between werewolf packs, and all of these nuances appealed to me, I wished only for more of it. I also wished for more interaction between the werewolf and human world. While that is often where the crux of the problem is in urban fantasy, it barely figures in the story. Practically all the characters are Were.

I liked the two viewpoints the book is told in, Andrew's and Silver's, and how they are structured. Andrew's sensible view juxtaposed well with Silver's hallucinations and generally more abstract view. The latter could have otherwise been confusing, and I do respect that mix of a more offbeat narrative with a more formal one, so that you get the effect but still basically know what's happening. I think the author could have risked more with that, but again, this book is more geared toward light readers.

For fans of werewolves, this book takes a lot of interesting turns. For someone who wants a real quick, enjoyable read, I'd recommend Silver. But it is what it is and nothing more.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Top Ten Characters (and Literary Figures) I'd Name My Children After

It's Top Ten Tuesday rewind, so I picked an old topic I hadn't done before. If only there weren't so many other reasons not to have ten kids!

1. Eowyn from LOTR

If I have a daughter, her first or middle name will be Eowyn. I love the way the name sounds. The suffix "wyn" means joy in Old English, and "Eo" means horse, representing the importance of horses to the Rohirrim. Eowyn is the strongest female character in Lord of the Rings, even more so than Arwen or Galadriel. She takes action into her own hands, in love and war. That's a legacy I'd want my kid to have.

2. Galadriel from LOTR

Galadriel is such a beautiful name, in Elvish (specifically Sindarin), it means "maiden crowned with a radiant garland." I might give a daughter this name, although I've thought of having a dog named Galadriel for a long time too.

3. Madeleine L'Engle

I would love to name a girl Madeleine after Madeleine L'Engle, author of some of my favorite books.

4. Meg Murray

I might also name a girl Margaret after Meg Murry in L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time.

5. Hermione Granger from Harry Potter

I suspect this name has grown much more popular in the past few years. It's a very unique girl's name that refers back to antiquity and to Shakespeare. The most recent incarnation of Hermione as a savvy, brilliant young woman would be a great image for a young girl to live up to.

6. Samwise Gamgee from LOTR

Sam is probably my favorite character in the LOTR canon (competing with Eowyn and Gandalf). Sam is loyal to the end, he has a great sense of wonder, and he is the only one of the characters that is able to willingly give up the Ring. A name like "Samwise" is both earthy and different. A boy could still go by "Sam," but he'd have this secretly awesome real name.

7. Anne from Anne of Green Gables

It could only be Anne with an "e"! Or maybe I'd even venture to name a girl Cordelia.

8. Emily from Emily of New Moon

I absolutely love the name Emily for a girl and always have (drat its being so popular!), but Emily of New Moon is a character that I heavily identify with and I feel like a child named after her couldn't help but be elfin and ethereal, not to mention talented.

9. William Shakespeare

William is a fine name and being called after the Bard couldn't hurt any child's chances of being a brilliant playwright, right? "Shakespeare" is also a good name for a cat or dog, it sounds very dignified.

10. Elizabeth I or Elizabeth Bennet from Pride and Prejudice

Though technically not a literary character, Elizabeth I has appeared in numerous plays, poems, and works of fiction over the centuries, besides having been a poet herself. If that's unacceptable, I'll offer another favorite Elizabeth, Jane Austen's sparkling, witty heroine who far outshines the dour prideful Darcy as far as I'm concerned. A daughter named after either of these couldn't help but be a brave, self-sufficient woman. Plus, Elizabeth, while a strong name itself, offers so many adorable nicknames...

Sunday, June 3, 2012

My Life In Books

Recently Finished:

16. The Syndicate by Shelena Shorts

I received the ARC for review at the Gaithersburg Book Festival. Vasi Petrescu is a member of an elite group called the Syndicate, which eliminates monsters called Hybrids that infect and take over human bodies. This is teen paranormal romance, emphasis on romance. Shorts is an author local to the DC area and this is her fourth book.

Currently Listening To:

Graceling by Kristin Cashore

I took a looong road trip and we managed to go through nine of eleven discs.

Gracelings are people born with special abilities, marked by two different colored eyes. In six of the seven kingdoms, the Graced are considered cursed and their abilities belong to the king, for his use or rejection. In the seventh kingdom, Lienid, the Graced are considered blessed and they belong to themselves.

Katsa is the niece of Randa, king of the Midlands, and she has a very particular Grace-killing. Forced to do Randa's dirty work and feared throughout the seven kingdoms, Katsa secretly forms a Council that works to thwart the abuses of the power-hungry kings. While carrying out a mission, she encounters a Lienid prince, Graced with fighting. Eventually, they become friends, a rarity for her, but she can't quite shake the feeling that there's something he's not telling her.

I love the concept of the Graced and the character of Katsa as she's envisioned-a woman with a gift for violence who must navigate between gender stereotypes and the fears and prejudices that her power brings. The whole world and the characters are truly inspired.

However, this book, especially in the beginning, is mind-numbingly predictable .The simple language and glaring clues as to the nature of relationships, character development, and plot devices take away from what could be a much deeper story. This is what I don't like about some YA books-the writing does not respect the readers' intelligence, it lays everything out in the open with repetitive exposition.

I have not quite finished listening, and I'm harboring hope that there will be some surprises left. The introduction of the character Bitterblue has greatly heightened my interest and investment in the story, especially as her presence changes Katsa into less of a warrior woman stereotype. We need strong female characters, but they need to be robust emotionally as well as physically in order to captivate audiences. Given the style of the writing, I'm also surprised how "adult" Katsa and Po's relationship gets.

In terms of the audio book cast, I don't normally listen to audio books, but I'm not *particularly* impressed. The narrator is fine, but I found the full cast audio unnecessary, and didn't really like the voice for Katsa. Still, it was an interesting experience to listen instead of read and I would definitely listen to an audio book again on a road trip, though probably not otherwise.

Currently Reading:

The Dwarves by Markus Heitz

This is on loan from a friend and I'm only about a quarter of the way through, but this may be one of my favorite reads of the year and is already going on the science fiction/fantasy literature list. Definitely for anyone who wants to know more about the Dwarves, why should Elves, Hobbits, and Men get all the glory?

Next Up:

Silver by Rhiannon Held

I received this for review from Tor Paperback Originals.