Sunday, February 23, 2014

2014 YALSA Hub Reading Challenge Check-in #3

My reading experience was kind of hit or miss this week. Starting out with something utterly visceral kind of made the other books pale in comparison. I'll start with the star of the week:

Scowler by Daniel Kraus

Nineteen year old Ry is stuck on a dying farm with his mother and younger sister. Through flashbacks, we gradually learn about Ry's abusive father and how he finally ended up in prison.  Thoroughly traumatized by his violent father, Ry survives with the help of three imaginary friends--light-hearted Mr. Furrington, kind and wise Jesus, and bloodthirsty Scowler. Just as Ry's mother, Jo Beth, is finally ready to leave the farm behind, a meteor strike and a very bad man conspire to make sure that no one will ever leave.

The writing is horrifyingly beautiful and utterly atmospheric. These words and images will stay in your head longer than you'll want them to. That said, I had a few issues with the ending, which is why I went with 4 stars rather than 5.

The scariest part of this book was being inside Ry's head. He hates and fears his father, but at the same time seeks his approval. He's afraid to truly live his life; he's so damaged by the events of his childhood that he fears who he is and who he might become.

This is horror at its finest--gritty, realistic, gory, psychologically creepy, and incredibly disturbing. Squeamish readers of any age should step away from this book. Mature readers who like to be scared to death, enter at your own risk.  Try the audiobook for an extra dose of scary--Scowler's scritchy insect noises are even more frightening when you hear them.

William Shakespeare's Star Wars:  Verily, a New Hope by Ian Doescher

Star Wars retold in iambic pentameter with lots of humor and Shakespearean references galore. Never having been a huge fan of Star Wars (I'm definitely more of a Trekkie) there were sections of this book where I lost interest. It was mainly the battle scenes where I found myself skimming or zoning out. That said, this was a clever idea that was, overall, well-executed. I particularly enjoyed the references to Shakespeare's plays and the robot humor. 

A favorite quote:

“A plague on 3PO for action slow,/ A plague upon my quest that led us here,/ A plague on both our circuit boards, I say!" R2-D2

 The Lives of Tao by Wesley Chu

Tao is an extra-terrestrial who has survived on Earth for thousands of years by sharing the bodies of many sentient beings. He and his brethren crashed on Earth during the time of the dinosaurs and can only survive by sharing a host's body. Over the years, they have influenced the development of human society in order to bring these humans to a technological point where they will be able to send the aliens home. Two alien factions are at war because they have different ideas about the best way to accomplish this goal--culture or conflict. 

After his latest host dies, Tao is on the run and desperate for a new host who can help him escape his pursuers. He runs into (literally) Roen, an overweight, angsty IT guy. Tao and Roen end up being good partners, and Roen gradually shapes up and gains confidence. 

There is lots of action here and some good humor sprinkled in amid the fight/chase scenes. I think this story has good potential, but could benefit from an editor to help the author flesh out the characters and to smooth out some rough plot points. I found it moderately entertaining and would probably recommend it to boys who enjoy action.

Monday, February 17, 2014

2014 YALSA Hub Reading Challenge Check-in #2

With the continuing frigid weather this week, there wasn't much too do but hunker down under a blanket with a stack of books. So, the weather sucked, but the reading helped to warm me up a bit.

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Death narrates the story of Liesel Meminger, AKA the book thief.  Death first encounters Liesel when her younger brother dies while they are on the way to live with foster parents.  Liesel steals her first book, The Gravedigger's Handbook, at her brother's funeral (even though she can't read).  Her foster father, Hans, uses the book to teach Liesel to read.

The Book Thief is set during the Holocaust, so Death is definitely feeling overworked.  Liesel steals more books and forms close relationships with the people around her, especially Hans, her foster father, Max, a Jew hiding in her basement, and Rudy, a blond boy who admires Jesse Owens.  Not every German in the book is a Nazi and Zusak brings out the beauty and the horror of humanity in its many forms.

Death jumps around and interrupts himself, which makes the beginning of the book quite confusing.  However, this book is absolutely beautiful and heartbreaking and a must-read for older teens and adults.

One of the best books I've read this year.


Rereading for the 2014 YALSA Hub Reading Challenge. I don't know what else I can add, except that I love this book more every time I read it. And events near the end still make me cry. Every. Single. Time. 

One of many favorite quotes from this book:

“His soul sat up. It met me. Those kinds of souls always do - the best ones. The ones who rise up and say "I know who you are and I am ready. Not that I want to go, of course, but I will come." Those souls are always light because more of them have been put out. More of them have already found their way to other places.”

 I am the Messenger by Markus Zusak

An aimless young man foils a bank robbery and subsequently receives "messages" on playing cards that he is compelled to deliver.  He first receives an ace of diamonds with three addresses on it. He visits the three homes and observes the people in them until he understands what each needs. Some tasks are pretty easy and/or straightforward, and others are downright scary. As he impacts the lives of others, he finds himself more in touch with his own hopes and dreams--and finally, fully alive.  Sophisticated YA literature.


Currently rereading for the 2014 YALSA Hub Reading Challenge. I liked it even better than the first time I read it. I think knowing how it was all going to end let me focus more on the beauty of the words and the themes, rather than being so driven to understand the mystery of the cards and what they mean. 

Favorite quotes:

"Sometimes people are beautiful. Not in looks. Not in what they say. Just in what they are.” 

"It's not a big thing, but I guess it's true--big things are often just small things that are noticed.”

Crap Kingdom by D.C. Pierson

Tom Parking is a completely ordinary teenaged drama geek with the kind of boring life that makes him sure that nothing great will ever happen to him.  He's crushing on Lindsay, but she doesn't seem to know he's alive. When a stranger named Gark takes him to an alternate universe and calls Tom "The Chosen One," Tom thinks his time has come. Finally, something great is about to happen. But then he arrives in the kingdom with no name and finds that everything is made out of garbage from Earth. Plus, the king hates him on sight and assigns him to work in the Rat-Snottery. After very little thought, Tom turns down the gig.  However, he soon finds out that his best friend, Kyle, has taken his place as Chosen One.  Suddenly, Crap Kingdom is more appealing and Tom wants to recapture his lost opportunity.  Conflict and silliness ensue.

I am a huge fan of satire and fantasy, so I thought I'd love this book. While there were moments of genuine hilarity, the plot fell flat for me. Magic Kingdom for Sale--Sold! by Terry Brooks is kind of similar and I liked it better. 

 Dodger by Terry Pratchett

I'm embarrassed to admit it, but I've never read anything by Terry Pratchett.  I keep meaning to read the Discworld series, but there are just so many. And I tend to be obsessive about series--I can't read just one of the books. This stand-alone romp through Victorian England was an enjoyable introduction without all of the commitment.

One stormy night, Dodger rescues a young woman who is being beaten in the street. Determined to keep her safe, Dodger sets out to solve the mystery of who she is and why powerful people want her dead. I love the way Pratchett intertwines fantasy and historical fiction, with Dodger encountering people like Sweeney Todd and Charles Dickens. 

My favorite line:

“Money makes people rich; it is a fallacy to think it makes them better, or even that it makes them worse. People are what they do, and what they leave behind.”

Etiquette and Espionage by Gail Carriger

Finishing School, book one.

Sophronia has no interest in becoming a proper lady.  She'd much rather climb things and fiddle with machines. When she is shipped off to finishing school, she is sure she is going to hate every minute of it. But at Mademoiselle Geraldine's Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality, the learning goes beyond etiquette.  But only the best students will master the fine art of espionage and be truly "finished."

I'm not generally a fan of Steampunk, but I did find this world interesting. As the first in a series, there was more of a focus on world building than plot, but it was a fun, quick read with quite a lot of humor.

My favorite quote:

“Really, Sophronia, it makes me most uncomfortable how you manage to sort everything out every time I faint.” 

Sunday, February 9, 2014

2014 YALSA Hub Reading Challenge Check-in #1

I am kicking off this year's challenge by rereading a few books already in my library.  First up:

Beauty Queens by Libba Bray.  

This review refers to the audiobook, read by the author. The footnotes that may have annoyed me had I read this instead of listened to it, came to wonderful, hilarious life.

Of the 50 young women and their chaperones who crash land on a deserted tropical island, only 12 teens survive. Imagine Lord of the Flies, but with more mascara and push-up bras.

I wasn't too sure about this concept at first, as I generally prefer Libba Bray when she's doing historical fiction. However, once I got drawn in, I loved the satire about our consumer culture and unrealistic expectations for women.  Bray's beauty queens begin by seeing each other as obstacles; once they get to know each other, they realize they can only succeed together.

The thing I love most about satire is that it makes you laugh, even as it makes you think.  However, misogynists beware: feminism abounds. If you like your women quiet, obedient, and pregnant, you'll probably hate this book. I thought it was hilarious and empowering.


I read the paperback version for the 2014 YALSA Hub Challenge. Because I prefer the audiobook, I also listened to it again after finishing the paperback. Yes, I realize that I am rather strange. My penchant for rereading/listening is why I am not discovering as many new books as I used to.

I have read/listened to this book several times now, and I like it more each time. However, I must say that reading the paperback was not quite as enjoyable as listening to the audiobook.

Libba Bray narrates the audiobook herself and she is marvelous. Her Ladybird Hope is a spot-on spoof of Sarah Palin which had me snorting with uncontrollable laughter in several inappropriate places.

As sometimes happens with satire--a la Stephen Colbert--the jokes go a bit over the top in places.  Despite its flaws, Beauty Queens tells an entertaining story with the message that, yes, girls, it's okay to be yourself, speak your mind, and sometimes put your needs first.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

2014 YALSA Hub Reading Challenge - Getting Started

With the prospect of at least six more weeks of a bitterly cold, snow-filled winter looming ahead, I desperately needed something to look forward to. At last, the YALSA Hub Reading Challenge is here to help me appreciate the time I am able to spend curled up under a thick blanket and a snuggly cat.  Last year I "won" the challenge (though I did not meet my personal goal of reading the entire list). The best part was discovering a few gems that I would not have been likely to pick up on my own.

I've printed out the list and will head over to my local library after work tomorrow. As I did last year, I'll read at random, picking whatever is immediately available at the library or already a part of my personal collection. I have only read a few of the books on the list, so I'll have plenty of opportunities to discover new favorites. I have Beauty Queens by Libba Bray and The Book Thief and I am the Messenger by Markus Zusak; I love all three of these books and will most likely start the challenge by rereading one of them. 

Tune in at the end of the week for my first review--or maybe two.