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2014 January



In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Monthly Author Review: Holly Black

On 29, Jan 2014 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

True to my New Year’s Reading Resolution I choose to read a number of Holly Black books this month. Since I read so many, but wanted to both talk about the experience as a whole and only write short reviews of the books I decided to do one large-ish post. In an effort to cut down on length I will link the title of the book to its GoodReads page so you can read the synopsis and I’ll only include my thoughts in this post.

Holly Black

On the whole I really enjoyed Holly Black’s writing. She is an incredible author. Her dialog was strong, she really paints a visual picture without sounding stilted or formulaic. Even in her novels that I considered weaker, it was evident that she is a skilled author. It was also very interesting to see her both across time and across genres and age ranges. She is clearly very versatile.

The Coldest Girl in Cold Town: This was the first book I read and I was little skeptical before I began reading. I’ll be the first to admit I enjoy a good vampire novel from time to time, but I’m getting a little tired of all the supernatural stuff. Plus, I really wanted to read some of the faerie fantasy to beef up my knowledge there. However, I am so, so glad I read this one first for a couple of reasons. First, being one of her most recent books I think she’s matured a lot as an author so it was probably also one of her strongest in terms of writing. And there’s nothing like starting out on a high point.

Second, this was an homage to all the wonderful and terrible vampire novels that have been written and you can tell how much Holly Black loved those novels. She so lovingly creates this story. I’ve said before how sometimes some of the YA I read touches a nerve with my old self as a teenager and that’s what makes me love the book. This was one of those. It reminded me so much of the awful vampire novels I read in middle/high school (the ones my dad wouldn’t let me read once he found out the content) and absolutely loved. In retrospect they were miserably bad, but I saw them elevated in this book. I had forgotten how they had made me feel, how engaged I was with a book (something rare back then), how I reread them over and over.

This is not the vampire novel for those who loved Twilight (which I did!), although there is a bit of a romance. This is much much darker and grittier. In some ways it reminded me of This Is Not a Test, in that it’s essentially about a girl who has nothing to lose.

Doll Bones: A brilliant middle grade book from Holly Black. This one didn’t remind me of books I read as a kid, but of the joy of being a kid at play. This is a book for anyone who remembers playing pretend games with their friends and loving it. It’s also on the creepy side which makes it feel like an older book and also helps it not to feel like a heavy-handed coming-of-age novel. As a side note, I wish I had been as creative as this trio in my imaginative play. They’re brilliant. There is also an awesome adventure aspect to this one and wee bit of romance, so there’s really something for everyone.

The Spiderwick Chronicles: The Field Guide: This is definitely for the young crowd (third, maybe fourth grade, depending on reading ability). I enjoyed it and thought the illustrations really added to the story. However it still read like a series book. It ended rather abruptly and you could tell not much was resolved in an effort to get the story arc going. On the upside it wasn’t as tedious as some of those older series for this age group (like The Boxcar Children). Which even though I loved them as a kid and kids love them, they make for really really boring read alouds for parents. A great read aloud selection.

Tithe: This was the one I was most interested in reading and maybe I set my expectations a little high. It was definitely a good story (with a bit of a mystery) and well written. Obviously, it’s gotten a lot of praise (and circulation, the cover was quite worn!). But for some reason I had a little trouble following the plot and keeping the Seelie and Unseelie courts straight and some of their rules/lore. I just didn’t click as much with Kaye as I did with some of her other characters. I couldn’t help but think that since this one of her earliest novels it showed when comparing them to her later ones. I can confidently say that I would have continued to read her books if I had picked this one up first, but I don’t really think that matters because a teen with interest in faeries would have no problem with it.

White Cat: This one took me a lot longer to get into (more on that thought in another post), but once some of the background had been laid it was an amazing story with a lot of twists and turns. Holly Black is really good at coming up with creative magical worlds (although this one for all intents and purposes takes place in the world as we know it, just with a dash of magic) and I think the concept of this book it really shows how good she is. This one would be really good for getting boys into reading magical realism and low fantasy.

I had one issue with this book and that was the cover. Holy crap it’s awful. The boys on the cover look more like Abercrombie models to me than what I pictured for the characters. Plus, based on the back, I thought there was a gay romantic plot line, which would have been awesome even if it really wouldn’t have fit with any of the actual plot lines. Nope those guys are the older brothers. Whoops. I hate all that black pleather too (they wear totally normal clothes in the story) and the guy on the front with that white cat and his eyes blocked out…there is just something totally strange about it to me. Plus the characters are all youngish and these guys look way too old. While this would be a great book to put in the hands of male patrons, I would guess they wouldn’t want to be seen with it. Here’s to hoping you have the ebook version.

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In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

A Bride’s Story and a Bit of NA

On 22, Jan 2014 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Bride's Story

From GoodReads:

Amir is twenty years old when she marries her husband, a boy named Karluk from a neighbouring village. Adjusting to life in a new household can be trying for any young bride, and Amira’s husband is eight years her junior. Amira was a strong, sophisticated hunter and horsewoman in her village, but though their villages were next to each other, their customs are very different. As Amira introduces Karluk to the foods and pastimes that were popular among her comrades back home, the warmth she feels for her young husband grows.

This was one of the series I read over the summer and it was so fabulous. This is what graphic novels/manga should be. The story is engaging and well written, even if it’s essentially uneventful. The art is incredible. What I wouldn’t give for an ounce of that artistic talent. *Sigh*

What really struck me about these books (especially the first two) was how it fit well within the New Adult category. I’ve talked a bit (or a lot) about how I don’t really see myself as an adult, but new adult is a category I could identify with. The story is about a girl in her early twenties who is newly married. She is finding her place both as a wife to her husband and in a new family. While we may not live in such a traditional society, it’s still awkward fitting in with your in-laws! Amir’s situation is not unfamiliar or unrelatable at its core.

While I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this to high school students based on the story alone, it’s a good introduction to the culture of Central Asia. The art really captures the clothing, housing, and art of the culture. I do think there is a segment of younger girls who would really connect with Amir. However, I think Amir’s story and position is incredibly relatable to the new adult and the new bride and while I don’t know much about the author (who is apparently a famous manga author) or her usual audience, I got the impression she is writing for a younger adult set (as opposed to a young adult set, if that makes any sense).

I enjoyed this one so much that I went on to read the rest of books available in the series. They were all equally good, although some of them are quite different. I would also note that the last couple books (volumes 4 &5) focus on much younger girls/brides. The girls are really silly and quirky, which makes them very relatable and fun despite the fact that they are getting married so young.

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In Redux

By Elizabeth Wroten

Unapologetically YA

On 15, Jan 2014 | In Redux | By Elizabeth Wroten

Just before the holidays I read a post on the YALSA blog about dreading book recommendations. The author  talked about how she reads mostly YA but around the holidays most people want suggestions for book gifts for their friends or acquaintances. I don’t have very many friends that ask me for reading recommendations, but the post still got me thinking.

Whenever people ask what I’ve been reading (or when I brag about how many books I’ve read lately — 7 in 2014 so far!) or ask for suggestions, I tend to apologize and say I don’t read adult fiction, just YA. I know most people I hang out with aren’t really interested in reading YA or MG, so I rarely have ideas for them that aren’t popular adult fiction I have heard of or read about in the New York Review of Books. But, you know what? I like YA and I like MG.

Let me say it again. I like Young Adult books and I like Middle Grade books.

I touched on this idea in my post about New Adult literature. Actually, upon further reflection and honesty, I might have lied a bit in that post. I read a lot of YA and MG and I love almost all of it. Not all of it, but almost all of it. And I can’t imagine reading anything else, fiction-wise. I am just not drawn to adult fiction, for the reasons I discussed in my New Adult post. It’s about people in unhappy marriages, with miserable families, cheating on their spouses, etc. (I know this is a gross generalization, and there actually a few authors who write for adults that I love.) There is also a lot of post-modern fiction out there that’s just too pretentious. If I want something intellectual and hard to follow I read a lot of nonfiction. I actually really, really love adult nonfiction. But adult fiction is Just. Not. My. Thing. NA was supposed to fill a gap, or at least I think it should, but it has yet to do that. It’s turned into a romance genre. Romance is great, but by and large it isn’t what I want to read.

The problem for me has been admitting that I love YA and MG and that problem largely stems from two places. One, that I think people think of me as an adult even if I don’t self-identify as an adult. And two, that YA is written off as badly written and silly. Of course people who say that must not read. Because a lot of YA is written really, really well (this month I’ve been reading Holly Black and holy shit can she write!) and a lot of adult fiction is written so poorly it’s not even funny (50 Shades of Grey, anyone?). Both of these excuses for not proclaiming my love of YA and MG are so lame. To that end, my true New Year’s Resolution is to STOP apologizing for reading and loving YA and MG.

I read YA and MG and I am not sorry that I can’t give you a book recommendation. I’m not sorry that I love it. I am unapologetically a YA and MG fan! Maybe you should try it.

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In Redux

By Elizabeth Wroten

January 1st Edition: Reading Resolutions

On 01, Jan 2014 | In Redux | By Elizabeth Wroten

This past summer I really knocked out a huge portion of my TBR pile, but with the end of the year blog posts that looked back to good books and ahead to books that look good, it’s grown again. In order to get a handle on my piles (which are really lists on GoodReads) I’m hoping to take a bit more methodical approach to my reading this year. I would also really like to get to some older books and the backlists of a number of authors. In addition I am trying to focus a bit more on middle grade and even upper elementary books as I now volunteer one a day a week in a lower school library (PK-5).

To this end I am resolving to:

  • choose an author each month and read as many of their older books as possible
  • read at least two or three titles off my TBR (YA or MG) piles; if they are titles by the monthly author, they count toward this
  • read one non-fiction book off my personal shelf at home; this kind of  reading has taken a real back burner since my daughter was born and with all the YA books I plowed through last year

I’m sharing this here to try and keep myself honest and also because you will be seeing the reviews come across the blog. I also think by breaking it up into more manageable chunks with goals like this, I will actually stick with it. Last year my reading came in these incredible bursts, but that strategy wasn’t very sustainable. I would go through long lulls before picking up another stack from the library and maniacally reading through them while ignoring the dishes, laundry, and dinner.

Does anyone else make resolutions for their reading?

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