RTW #183: Best Book Of May

 

Back on YA Highway’s Road Trip this week. I’m hoping to join up with Ready. Set. Write!, starting next week, so these road trips will be less frequent during the summer.

But, for this week’s question: What was the best book you read in May?

I nearly didn’t read this. I had a crazy Memorial Day weekend, and I wanted a quick, engrossing read to wind down the weekend. But I wasn’t really looking for the conversational, hammock-and-iced-tea sort of book, either.

Well, To Kill A Mockingbird ended up in a class by itself.

It starts out conversational. The book is an older Scout relating the events of her childhood in pitch-perfect tone. It’s the narrator as an adult, but you are getting the viewpoint of the child. You know the book isn’t written by a six-year-old, but you know exactly how that six-year-old felt. There are things that six-year-old Scout doesn’t understand, but her older self doesn’t try to offer been-there-now-I-know-here’s-what-it-meant commentary on it. Instead, you get to walk on Scout’s journey through the entire book, and see the world from what you know and understand and what young Scout and co. are able to comprehend and react to.

The book covers approximately two years of Scout’s life, and her reactions and grasp on situations is age-appropriate without a shred of annoying juvenility.  Her young-child analysis of the people around her reveals things to the reader without being unrealistic as to her age. She explains things as she understand them, and it fits her personality and her maturity while simultaneously letting us know things that she cannot yet understand.

I loved the tenacity of the characters surrounding Scout. They are prime examples of show, don’t tell, with their layers and strengths and flaws being revealed through the eventful years rather than being described outright.

I loved Scout, Jem was exactly like my brothers, Dill was a rascal, I was cheering for Cal, Boo was tragic, I want to be Maudie when I grow up, Alexandra surprised me, Judge Taylor was fabulous, Mayella was six pages of complicated, Bob terrified me, and Tom Robinson nearly made me cry. I can’t say enough good things about this book.

And Atticus? ❤

P.S. I’ve never seen the movie…thoughts on the adaption to the silver screen? Worth seeing?

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Road Trip Wednesday #182: Carried Away

This week I’m joining the YA Highway road trip, which asks the following question:

This Week’s Topic: What’s been your most surprising read of the year so far—the book you weren’t sure about going in that really swept you off your feet?

I saw this question and knew it was an opportunity to gush about my latest reading love. While I’ve already written about my unexpectedly enjoyable read of The Raven Boys, this latest set of reads has me singing its praise and trying to convert everyone in my near vicinity to see its amazingness.

 

Goodreads description for Cinder and Scarlet

Oh, yes.

Let’s elaborate, shall we?

The setting…

It’s semi-dystopia, semi-fantasy, semi-science fiction, and all perfectly meshed together. I was surprised by the introduction of the Lunar queen, because I was so well settled in the plague-riddled world of New Beijing. But it fit together so well, even with the mechanics and androids thrown in. This world was expanded perfectly in Scarlet, with my favorite being a crumbling opera house as a scene-stealing third party in the final act.

The characters…

Cinder is exactly the sort of girl who I’d like to be friends with. Funny and smart, with plenty of convictions and a well-realized sense of who she was/is in her world. The fact that everything she knows is changed by the end of the first book only allows her to expand as a character. Scarlet, on the other hand, jumps out as a passionate fighter, and she’s kept distinct from Cinder, yet just as likable. The supporting cast: Iko, Thorne, Wolf, Kai…they are intriguing, funny, and characters worth rooting for.

Just one thing…

I finished Cinder wondering how the Lunar’s glamour worked, and why Queen Levana didn’t just spell everybody into submission. Scarlet helped explain a little bit more, showing off the Queen’s power, but I feel like I’m still waiting for a little bit more to be explained. If Earth people are so vulnerable, how is Kai even able to hold any conversation with the Lunars? His reaction is described in detail upon his first meeting, but despite the difficulties, he seems to have plenty of cheek (good for him!) in later conversations. He does end up literally tongue-tied in Scarlet at one point, which makes sense considering Levana’s abilities. But how did he get away with his fabulous responses without that being used previously? I just don’t know where the boundaries are, and that makes the power feel a little underused.

So…

Quibbles aside, I loved these books. I didn’t expect to have so much appreciation for them. They’re page-turners filled with interesting characters and a fresh, exciting world. And my favorite part? They’re based on fairy tales, which were my bread-and-butter when I was growing up. Rather than be constricted by the basic storyline, the books are allowed to expand beyond them, and the nods to the original material are woven in with care and detail. Marissa Meyer never detracts from the main storyline to offer some homage to the fairy tale. Instead, she makes it an integral part of the story, and it allows you to be surprised and pleased as you retroactively recognize the elements of the basic tale.

So, what book has kidnapped you and happily stolen your time recently?

Road Trip Wednesday: The One That Got Away


AKA: the one that I told myself I’d never admit to NOT reading.

This week, YA Highway has posted a question that makes me cringe and want to hide in a corner.

This Week’s Topic: What book is your ‘one that got away?’ (What book have you always been dying to read but still haven’t yet?)

 

There are hundreds of books that I would love to read, many more that I am closer to reading…and those that I just haven’t.

*deep breath*

You know that book series that was wildly successful and catapulted a British author to worldwide fame? The one that was made into the highest-grossing movie series of all time? The one that adults and kids and everyone in between has read and adored and recommended?

I could blame it on a lot of things, mostly the fact that I nerdy enough in high school to read the classics in my spare time. It was always too far down the list; why read that series when I hadn’t gotten through all of Jane Austen’s books first? And why start now when Les Miserables was due for a re-read? And my friends and I didn’t share books, so I didn’t have anyone on my case to read it.

And then I graduated and got scared away by the big-looking books that promised to steal far more time than I had available.  And then I always said I need to start at the beginning and yet it never happened. And now, I’ve held off watching the movies because I want to read the books first, but there’s always something in the way.

Guys, don’t kill me. But if you’re thinking of one of your most favorite series ever, you’re probably right.

I’ve never read Harry Potter.

*hides*

Road Trip Wednesday: Heartless Love

Welcome back to Road Trip Wednesday, hosted by the fantabulous writers at YA Highway. This week’s question:

“In our Bookmobile selection this month, Debra Driza’s MILA 2.0, the main character discovers she’s an android trained to obey orders. We want to know: What other human-like robots (or robot-like humans?) have you enjoyed in books, TV, or movies?”

Let’s split this into the categories, to make it easier on my poor indecisive brain.

Books

You can’t really talk about robots without mentioning Isaac Asimov, writer of some of my favorite science fiction stories. I, Robot is an amazing collection of stories centered around the development of robots throughout the lifetime of a famous robopsychologist, Susan Calvin. The first story in that collection, “Robbie”, features my current favorite robot character on the page. This is mostly a nostalgic love; I wanted Robbie to look human, and he didn’t, but his character more than made up for it. (He had glowing red eyes and parallelepipeds for his head and torso…since when is a friendly robot supposed to have red eyes??) He wasn’t the Tin-Man, he couldn’t speak, but somehow he managed to shatter all my preconceived notions of what a lovable robot should look like.  And he was a nursemaid. Win.

TV

Truth? I don’t have a favorite TV humanoid robot. I hardly watched any TV shows when I was growing up, and I haven’t been able to catch up on all the ones I’ve heard about: Doctor Who, Battlestar Galactica, Star Trek…I know they’re all science fiction shows that would offer me an ample supply of mechanical beings to choose from, but clearly I haven’t vegged in front of the tube enough. I don’t know of any. Recommendations, anyone??

Movies

This one was the hardest, I think. As much as I loved R2-D2 and C-3PO (my first movie robots), and as greatly as I enjoyed the movie adaption of I, Robot and its creative bending of Asimov’s Three Rules as manifested in the character of Sonny… this next guy still steals my heart, every time.

(source)

How can you not love this?

(source)

 

What robotic characters have you enjoyed? Any TV recommendations of the mechanical sort? 

RTW # 176: Poetry

It’s time for a road trip with the amazing YA Highway’ers again!

When I was little, one of my favorite books was one we called “The Thick Book”; a collection of children’s stories and poems that my mom would read from. (After much internet hunting, I’ve discovered that it is actually called “The Illustrated Treasury of Children’s Literature”) While I’ve never been one to devour poetry, I spent hours listening to Mom read “Animal Crackers” and “The Raggedy Man.” That was when I realized that poetry, while often more sparse in its prose, could be just as descriptive and imaginative as a paragraph of words in the middle of what I called “real writing.”

In high school I discovered our family’s copy of the Poetry Anthology. To this day, I can sit down with that collection and be captivated by some of the best work of the 20th century. It is filled with poems like “Black Maps” and “Ozymandias“; the sort of poems that never let you go.

I’ve uncovered a few more classic gems since I’ve been out of school; Carl Sandburg captured me from the moment I read his simple “Fog“, and I will always think of “Chicago” as the “City of the Big Shoulders.” Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Requiem” was actually a school memorization assignment that I never appreciated until I didn’t have to memorize it anymore.

But no matter how melodramatic, simple, thought-provoking, or thrilling a poem may be, my favorite still comes from The Thick Book. We would beg for Mom to read “The Duel“, but after the tragic and thrilling conclusion to the Gingham Dog and the Calico Cat, we would need something to calm us down for the evening.

So then would come another Eugene Field favorite, a perfect ending.
Wynken, Blynken, and Nod
by Eugene Field
Wynken, Blynken, and Nod one night
    Sailed off in a wooden shoe–
Sailed on a river of crystal light,
    Into a sea of dew.
“Where are you going, and what do you wish?”
    The old moon asked of the three.
“We have come to fish for the herring fish
That live in this beautiful sea;
Nets of silver and gold have we!”
                  Said Wynken,
                  Blynken,
                  And Nod.
The old moon laughed and sang a song,
    As they rocked in the wooden shoe,
And the wind that sped them all night long
    Ruffled the waves of dew.
The little stars were the herring fish
    That lived in that beautiful sea–
“Now cast your nets wherever you wish–
    Never afeard are we!”
    So cried the stars to the fishermen three:
                  Wynken,
                  Blynken,
                  And Nod.
All night long their nets they threw
   To the stars in the twinkling foam—
Then down from the skies came the wooden shoe,
   Bringing the fishermen home;
‘T was all so pretty a sail it seemed
   As if it could not be,
And some folks thought ‘t was a dream they ‘d dreamed
   Of sailing that beautiful sea—
   But I shall name you the fishermen three:
                     Wynken,
                     Blynken,
                     And Nod.
Wynken and Blynken are two little eyes,
   And Nod is a little head,
And the wooden shoe that sailed the skies
   Is a wee one’s trundle-bed.
So shut your eyes while mother sings
   Of wonderful sights that be,
And you shall see the beautiful things
   As you rock in the misty sea,
   Where the old shoe rocked the fishermen three:
                     Wynken,
                     Blynken,
                     And Nod.

RTW # 173: Best Book o’ March

I’m trying to get back on board with YA Highway’s Road Trip Wednesday’s. Considering the fact that I had spring break this month, and a decent reading list, I actually have an answer to this week’s prompt!

This Week’s Topic: What was the best book you read in March?

This month I had several fantastic reads. I hope to get the chance to write up something about them, because it was a great month for reading. Runner-ups include

Before I Fall, by Lauren Oliver

Neverwhere, by Neil Gaiman

Citizen of the Galaxy, by Robert Heinlein

I also have Prodigy, by Marie Lu on my TBR list, and I am halfway through I am the messenger, by Marcus Zusak. Both were books that I didn’t get a chance to read over spring break, and despite my astronomical school load, I can’t bear to send them back to the library without finishing them. In the war between reading books and getting schoolwork done, I think sleep is the losing party.

But what was the best one of March? That honor belongs to the incomparable Maggie Stiefvater, and her first book in the Raven Cycle, “The Raven Boys”

Goodreads description

This. Read it. Now.

This book surprised me, more than anything. I wasn’t expecting to enjoy it–in fact, the only reason I picked it up was because The Scorpio Races was one of my favorite reads all last year.

I tend to not do well with complicated mythology/books that have to be explained to me. I dislike characters when they have to explain things in unrealistic ways because that’s how the author gets his/her exposition across to the reader. It kills a book to have a paragraphical explanation inserted into an otherwise-decent character because things have to be explained regardless of the appropriateness of the thing coming from the aforementioned character. Confused yet?

Because I was not. Maggie’s characters are far beyond “otherwise-decent.” She was able to get into the heads of four different characters, allowing the central mythology to be realistically explained from the various perspectives. I loved how we got a first-person viewpoint of the “corpse road” from Blue, and then gradual explanations of the “ley lines” from Gansey and Adam, resulting in the  meshing of the different perspectives as you realized they were describing/interacting with the same thing.

The Characters:

I loved Maggie’s characters. Particularly as regards the four main boys and Blue, they were fifty shades of real. I loved how she was able to show how complicated Gansey was, and yet how he still came across as the quintessential rich boy from Blue’s perspective. It was a little surprising to have so much of Gansey explained from Adam’s perspective, but it worked because Gansey was still consistent as a character. I always had a hard time when an author would tell me about a character and then show them acting completely differently in other scenes. In this case, the tell-and-show is consistent; every action lined up perfectly with every description.

The only person this didn’t work with was Barrington Whelk. The tell-about-him sections gave the impression of a well-rounded character, and the writing from his viewpoint was suitably despairing, but I didn’t feel as much remorse for him at the end as I think I should have. He was set up as a three-dimensional character, but it sort of fell flat at the end. He wasn’t quite as engaging or dynamic as the main characters, or even any of the residents of 300 Fox Way–Maura, Persephone, Calla, and Neeve were all less-described characters who held their own as soon as they walked onto the page.

The Rest:

The town of Henrietta felt old and new at the same time, perfectly fitting the central mythology. Before I read the book I saw some complaints about the pacing; personally, I loved getting to know the characters so much that I never felt like it was dragging at any point. A lot is left open for the remaining books, but there is definite closure. There’s also the perfect, absolutely loaded last line that knocks you upside the head and reminds you that this is not over yet.

Summary:

In case I haven’t gushed enough: the best part of this book is the five main characters. They are real, and no description I give can fully convey how true they are. Initially set up as line-item teens–the bad boy, the lurking shadow, the resentful sidekick, President Cell-Phone, and the odd girl out…each of them are far more than they seem. (Breakfast club, anyone?) The relationship between the boys is exactly the sort of closeness and complexity and dysfunctionality that it should be, and Blue is a perfect stand-your-ground character; she isn’t swallowed up by the pre-existing dynamics of the Raven Boys group.

So, go read it.

What’s your favorite book of March? If you’ve already read The Raven Boys, what did you think?

Road Trip Wednesday #168: True Love

This Week’s Topic is: It’s (the day before) Valentine’s Day! Let’s jumpstart the  lovefest by blogging about what you love most about writing (and/or reading)!

Wow, what a question. What do I love most? Beyond the warm fuzzies that come with reading a well-written sentence or the ego-trip that accompanies a a finished manuscript? Beyond the drive to do better and the sense of accomplishment when you do? Beyond my capricious need to do terrible things to my characters? Beyond the community and connection that comes with writing and reading and loving both?

My reasons are purely selfish. What I love most about writing and/or reading is the way if changes my world.

Reading taught me to dream in the infinite. It taught me that I can go anywhere and become anyone. It showed me how to hold on to my family, and how to let them go. It introduced me to new friends and new enemies and taught me how to tell the difference. It showed me that it’s okay to question, but it’s not okay to settle for less. It taught me to hope for more and plan for twice that. It made me cry, laugh, love more, and long for more. Reading showed me the limits of my world and threw open the doors to make it bigger. I read books that taught me about speaking the truth, without the trappings of obsessive love or physical beauty. I learned how to strike out on my own and make the right decisions regardless of familial ties or popular opinion. I learned that happily ever afters are possible, but that they don’t always come wrapped in neat Prince-Charming packaging. I read about broken people and broken things and the love and loss that makes them whole.

And then writing made it my own. Writing took everything that I ever loved about reading and showed me what I actually believed about all of it. Because if I truly believed that reading could change the landscape of my world, then I should be willing  to write like that. So I did. I wrote about myself, and my questions, and my ideal Mary Jane life. I wrote about the person I wanted to become and the person I currently was. And through writing, I answered myself. I answered my junior-high self with the perfect-family story that (eventually) showed me the imperfectness of my own family and how that was okay. I answered my freshman-year self with a fairy tale that reminded me that truly happy endings can’t be manufactured by a fairy godmother. I took my junior-year self and wrote out the confusion into a girl who took charge of her life and had the confidence I wished I had. And then I poured out every bit of senior-year and post-high school self and crammed it into a draft that wrung my heart out and asked me what I truly believed in anymore. The writing pulled everything out of me that I was unwilling to let go. And if I was able to write about and read about how brokenness could be made whole, then I knew that in real life, it was possible for me, too.

I love to read. I love to write. Reading feels like being a passenger to anywhere. Writing puts me in the driver’s seat, and the view is infinite.

“I read and walked for miles at night along the beach, writing bad blank verse and searching endlessly for someone wonderful who would step out of the darkness and change my life. It never crossed my mind that that person could be me.”  Anna Quindlen