Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Mothership by Martin Leicht and Isla Neal

Genres: Science Fiction, Humor, Young Adult
Release Date: July 10th, 2012
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Source: Library

Add on Goodreads
Teen pregnancy is never easy—especially not when extraterrestrials are involved. The first in a new trilogy.

Elvie Nara was doing just fine in the year 2074. She had a great best friend, a dad she adored, and bright future working on the Ares Project on Mars. But then she had to get involved with sweet, gorgeous, dumb-as-a-brick Cole--and now she’s pregnant.

Getting shipped off to the Hanover School for Expecting Teen Mothers was not how Elvie imagined spending her junior year, but she can go with the flow. That is, until a team of hot commandos hijacks the ship--and one of them turns out to be Cole. She hasn’t seen him since she told him she’s pregnant, and now he’s bursting into her new home to tell her that her teachers are aliens and want to use her unborn baby to repopulate their species? Nice try, buddy. You could have just called.

So fine, finding a way off this ship is priority number one, but first Elvie has to figure out how Cole ended up as a commando, work together with her arch-nemesis, and figure out if she even wants to be a mother--assuming they get back to Earth in one piece.

This book is exactly what the cover suggests it is. It’s fluff. The question arises as to whether it’s good or bad fluff and in my opinion, this book is fluff of the good variety. It didn’t always feel that way though. The first 100 pages or so were incredibly painful. I kept questioning the sanity of our main character and my own sanity too for continuing to read a book I wasn't enjoying. The reason I read on, even though I wasn't having a swell time, was because the book was funny. I hoped that the book would get better as I went along and I was right, it did. It got insanely better and I started actually enjoying the book instead of just laughing at the funny parts.

Elvie is our main character and happens to be knocked up. When I first found out about this series, I was intrigued by how the book would deal with teen pregnancy in a sci-fic setting. Worry not though, this book is not serious. It’s pretty goshdarn funny and even if it makes you question whether the author is dealing with an important issue like this with the sensitivity it deserves. Sometimes, you don’t want a deep and moving book! Sometimes you really just want some fluff.

Going back to Elvie though. Elvie is snarky and obviously has mommy issues. This leads to her being detached from her pregnancy and the idea that she is actually having a kid.She calls her fetus goober from pete’s sake. But Elvie is smart, and while she sometimes annoyed me with her slut shamming and her general outlook on some of her other peers, she still managed to be likeable because in spite of everything that had happened to her, she didn’t spend a lot of time moping around. She took action!

Cole on the other hand was an entirely questionable love interest. I despised him for the first 100 pages and questioned Elvie’s sanity for being so head over heels for a doofus for whom she was the ‘other’ girl and who bailed the moment he found out about the baby. But we get explanations for his jerk behavior and while they aren’t a 100% satisfying, they brought a much needed explanation as to how someone so smart as Elvie could love a dumbdumb like Cole.

I guess the one thing Cole has going for him is that even though he may not be the brightest bulb, he is loyal and is definitely smarter than he is given credit for. Especially given the way his superiors discredited him. There were moments in their relationship that were adorable and I think what makes their relationship work is that Elvie isn’t with him for his brains, she knows he isn’t super smart, she’s with him because he is sweet and caring (if dense at times).

This book is very fast paced and if I remember correctly, a lot of it takes place over the course of 24 hours. It’s got a lot of action and could be surprisingly brutal at times (meaning not everyone is alive at the end … including a character I had grown to love). I do like how the author paces the book though. It fits what the author is going and he does it just right so that the book never feels rushed. It feels exciting.

This is a fun fluffy book and while it takes a bit to get used to, it is worth it since it’s such a fast-paced cutesy read with a great futuristic setting and a bit of space opera (if it can be classified as such). 

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood

I’d never read any Margaret Atwood before choosing Oryx and Crake for book club. I listened to the audio version, narrated by Campbell Scott. Wow, Atwood is a great writer. But this is one disturbing book.

The book is narrated by Snowman, who seems to be the last remaining original human on earth. There is a new race of genetically engineered people, but they have very little in common with Snowman. Society has collapsed. Cities are in ruins. Over the course of the book, Snowman talks about his present life - sleeping in trees to avoid being eaten by genetically engineered monsters, scrounging for food, water, and supplies, answering questions from the perfect children of the other race - while also telling us about his childhood, about his relationships with his best friend Crake and his one great love Oryx, and what happened to bring the planet to its present state. (Bonus points from me for multiple references to Alex the African Grey Parrot.)

The narrative grabbed me from the third paragraph on page 1: “Out of habit he looks at his watch – stainless-steel case, burnished aluminum band, still shiny although it no longer works. He wears it now as his only talisman. A blank face is what it shows him: zero hour. It causes a jolt of terror to run through him, this absence of official time. Nobody nowhere knows what time it is.”

Published in 2003, Oryx and Crake came out before the current round of dystopian novels. And unlike many of them, we don’t have a hopeful subplot to distract us from the grim reality of what our future as a species could hold if we go down a certain path of genetic engineering. There are relationships, including romantic and sexual relationships, but the unrelenting narrative about how the world was destroyed is not much lightened by those relationships.

Gated compounds and economic divides. Genetic engineering. Too powerful corporations. Every depravity imaginable available on the internet. Climate change. Of all the dystopian novels I've read over the years (at least 20 in the last four years according to my Goodreads list), this is the scariest because it feels the most possible.

The book is filled with statements and passages that made me stop and think, like this one: “Watch out for the leaders, Crake used to say. First the leaders and the led, then the tyrants and the slaves, then the massacres. That’s how it’s always gone.” (p. 155)

At this point I am not sure whether or not I will read the sequels - not because the first isn't good, it is – but because the series depicts such a depressing future. At the very least I'll need a little break first and something lighthearted to read before tackling The Year of the Flood.

If you enjoy beautifully written realistic dystopian fiction that carries true warnings for our species, Oryx and Crake is for you. The Galesburg Public Library has the three books in the series in both print and ebook versions.

Monday, January 19, 2015

The Kiss of Deception by Mary E. Pearson

Positives: strong female lead and a gorgeous cover
Negatives: love triangle and a PROPHECY

Princess Arabella, who prefers to be called by Lia (the shortening of Jezelia, one of her middle names, and this is Important to the plot), is about to be married to a prince she has never met. The book opens with the complicated creation of a wedding kavah, a kind of temporary tattoo, on her back. It is an intricate depiction of her kingdom, Morrighan, joined with Dalbreck, the kingdom of her intended. It will be splendidly displayed by the low-cut back of her wedding dress at the ceremony.

But Lia and her attendant Pauline have made other plans. They escape by horseback to Pauline’s childhood home of Terravin, where they take employment as serving wenches in the inn. Lia shows spunk, handling the crude comments of the soldiers who enjoy the inn’s brew. Then Rafe and Kaden, two handsome young strangers, arrive. One of the older servers guesses they are a fisherman and a trader. But unknown to Lia and her friends, they are the prince she left at the altar and an assassin sent to kill her.

I enjoyed The Kiss of Deception. It is well written and the plot is easy to follow. The world building is solid and the alien words not too cumbersome. The main character is strong and determined. The two handsome strangers have some depth.  But there are some pretty unbelievable plot twists, and the characters do some stupid things. I found the fight and make up scene between Lia and the young man she is most attracted to a bit cringe worthy.

The author keeps secret which young man is the prince and which is the assassin, and that annoyed me. I am certain I would have enjoyed the book more if I’d known earlier. I finally went online to find out (ironically, by reading the description of the second book in the series) long before the author revealed the secret.

The Kiss of Deception cannot stand alone. It is definitely a first book, and I liked it enough that I will read the second book. If you enjoy YA fantasy with strong female characters and don’t mind love triangles, I recommend The Kiss of Deception.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Horrorstor by Grady Hendrix

Posted for review Norm - 

This book is set in an ORSK, an IKEA-like furniture store, and its main characters are employees. That part is a hoot. At the beginning of each chapter there is a black and white drawing of a piece of furniture for sale in the store, with an appropriate Scandinavian-sounding name (well, in the later chapters, while some of the items listed are in the store, they probably are not on sale, and certainly not to ordinary customers). There are also various inspirational company blurbs and the odd internal memo.

“Let you become We—at Orsk.” That would make any potential employee feel warm and fuzzy, and it’s not just the employees. Customers are funneled through the showroom by following the Bright and Shining Path. Advertising includes the advice to “pause by your Arsle to turn breakfast into a celebration of a brand new day.” As the book develops, a careful observer can begin to find some sinister hints—potential employees are told that “It’s not just a job. It’s the rest of your life”—and all the product numbers used at the beginning of each chapter contain the sequence “666” somewhere.

When the horror element stepped center stage, I thought at first it was going be weak, but it turned out to be anything but; it also has a definite and creepy relationship to the “this store [work] is your life” element ORSK tries to create in its employees. This was both a fun and a scary read.

 - Norm

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Unexpected by Sharon Creech

Genres: Contemporary, Magic Realism, Middle Grade
Release Date: September 4th, 2012
Publisher: HarperCollins
Source: Library

Add on Goodreads
Humorous and heartfelt, this is a story of pairs—of young Naomi and Lizzie, both orphans in present-day Blackbird Tree, USA, and of Sybil and Nula, grown-up sisters from faraway Rook's Orchard, Ireland, who have become estranged.

Young Naomi Deane is brimming with curiosity and her best friend, Lizzie Scatterding, could talk the ears off a cornfield. Naomi has a knack for being around when trouble happens. She knows all the peculiar people in town—like Crazy Cora and Witch Wiggins. But then, one day, a boy drops out of a tree. Just like that. A strangely charming Finn boy. And then the Dingle Dangle man appears, asking all kinds of questions. Curious surprises are revealed—three locked trunks, a pair of rooks, a crooked bridge, and that boy—and soon Naomi and Lizzie find their lives changed forever.

As two worlds are woven together, Creech reveals that hearts can be mended and that there is indeed a gossamer thread that connects us all.

As gorgeous as this book was, I felt let down. Sharon Creech is one of my favorite childhood authors and I’ve been wanting to read this book forever, since it came out to be precise. I remember the excitement I felt when I found out Sharon Creech had a new book out. I added it to my Goodreads, to-read list but like the case with a lot of other books that I placed on the list, it found it’s way to a place on the list that I don’t often check.

When I finally got my hands on the book, I was excited to dive in and I was disappointed when it started to seem that this middle grade book had a situation where two young girls were being torn apart because of there shared interest in one guy. I mean realistically, it’s quite possible. We all had our crushes when we were young, but I just don’t expect stuff like that in middle grade books so I was shocked.

My shock aside, after pondering about the situation a bit, it made me think. Shouldn’t middle grade books also explore certain concepts like this? After all there are young tweens that might read these books looking for some kind of reassurance they aren’t on their own or that the way they feel isn’t abnormal or that boys don’t actually have cooties (we all went through that phase :P)!

Lizzie and Naomi are both wonderful characters and I adored being inside of Naomi’s head. It’s clear that in spite of the way she may present herself, she does want to be loved and doesn’t just want to be a ‘burden’ to Nula and Joe. She wants to know that she matters to them too and it's obvious she was too scared to ask the right question. Especially after seeing the kind of affect Lizzie’s obviously high expectations had on her. Naomi was just such a lovable character and you wanted to hold her and reassure her that everything would be okay. 

Lizzie was slightly overwhelming at first but I came to adore her too. She talked a lot and there were times where you, like Naomi, just wanted her to zip it but her innocence made it obvious that she never thought anything but the best of everyone and would never want to hurt anyone. Most of all, Naomi.

I loved the magic realism in this book. It definitely made the book more exciting but at the same time, I wanted so much more. This book is full of so much potential and when I compare it to some of Creech’s other works, I cannot help but find the book lacking.

To add to that, the ending to this book just seemed so unlike Creech. The other books I’ve read by her always ended in a sweet but realistic manner but the ending to this book bordered on unrealistic. There were elements to it that made me smile but other parts of it made me cringe with their perfectness.

Don’t be confused by what I said though, this book still has it’s brutal parts and while I wish they had been given more attention, they do manage to break your heart.

All in all, while I feel a little let down by this book, it’s still a fantastic read and one I won’t hesitate to recommend (unless it’s your first time reading Creech in which case, I’d say start with Walk Two Moons). 

Monday, January 12, 2015

Promise Land by Jessica Lamb-Shapiro

It’s January, the month for making resolutions to improve yourself. What do you think when you hear the term “self-help”? Do you want it? Do you fear it? Do you look down on those who need it? “All of us would probably like to be slimmer, smarter, richer, more popular, more successful,” notes Jessica Lamb-Shapiro in her book Promise Land (p. 207), in which she examines the self-help industry. Her father, Lawrence E. Shapiro, has written self-help books and raised her in an environment of positive thinking.

While working on the book, the author attended conferences, camps, and classes. She walked on coals and forced herself to fly despite her own fear.

Promise Land is humorous and a bit snarky, especially if you are at all skeptical of the self-help industry. If you are a particular fan of some of the books and franchises she mentions, like Rhonda Byrne’s The Secret and the Chicken Soup series, you may not be quite as amused.  For example, she writes, “[t]he concepts in The Secret have been published in books that anyone can buy – and have bought, in the millions – for at least a hundred years. Furthermore, something you don’t know is not necessarily a secret; it’s just something you don’t know. For instance, I don’t know anything about rocket science, but that doesn’t make rocket science a secret.” (p. 123)

The author was considerably less snarky when discussing her own fear of flying and the self-help group she attended. I laughed along with her at some of the situations she covered, but others struck home with me. During an especially difficult time of his life, her father bought a diorama of a hospital room and spent time setting it up and playing with it at home. “I felt better,” he said. “It was a moment of epiphany. That was when I realized that toys could help people.” (p. 69) As a doll collector, I also believe that toys can help people.

The book did bring to my attention information I didn’t know or that hadn’t occurred to me. For example, the author quotes self-help author Martin Seligman, who points out that it is unusual “for people to have electric-outlet phobias or hammer phobias or chain saw phobias, even though those things pose actual dangers.” (p. 146) We are not most afraid of the things that are the most dangerous.

At times the author struck me as a bit lazy. She describes how The Sorcerer’s Apprentice section of the movie Fantasia made her anxious (p. 63). She remembers Mickey cutting a magic chair in half and the chair then multiplying.  In a footnote, she comments that her editor “thinks” it was a broom, not a chair, but neither the author nor the editor bothered to google it and find out? Maybe that’s laziness and maybe it’s self-indulgence, but I didn’t like it.

There is a thread of anxious melancholy running throughout the book. The author’s mother committed suicide when she was a child, at about the same age the author was when writing the book, and although the author has a close relationship with her father, they do not talk about her mother.  Her search for self-help brings her some closure.

Promise Land is a short book – just over 200 pages – and an easy read. If self-reflection and the subject of self-help interests you, I recommend it. It can be found at the Galesburg Public Library at 616.89 LAM.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Her by Harriet Lane

A very well-written, psychological thriller in which a game of cat and mouse is run by a sociopath and a woman who is clueless. From the very first sentence in we find Nina, who is an Artist/Painter, stalking unsuspecting Emma, who is a pregnant mother with a toddler by her side. We're not really sure how they know each other, but we start getting an idea that Nina is up to something, and not something good. The chapters alternate back and forth from one perspective to the other, showing us both sides of the events that happen, which makes for very entertaining reading. This book was hard to put down! If you like mind-game thrillers, then this book is for you! Read On!