Wednesday, August 20, 2014

10 Things I Loved About Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai

Basic premise: Ten year old Hà and her family live in Saigon in 1975. When they have to flee for their lives, they find themselves homeless and country-less. When a sponsor provides a home for them in Alabama everything is different and Há isn't sure she can handle the changes.

I adored this book (obviously). So here are the 10 Things I Loved About Inside Out & Back Again by Thanhha Lai:

  1. The format - the book is told in free verse poems. The light lyricism doesn't feel forced and gives a really good picture of Há's state of mind and her personality.
  2. Cultural Details - I love that things aren't dumbed down or "American-ized" and here's what I mean by that - the characters' names maintain their cultural spelling. Words are used that middle grade students (much less many adults) might not be familiar with. Lai assumes her readers will be able to make sense of it in the context. And I appreciate that she has this faith in her readers, particularly since it is geared toward "Down Unders" to steal my sister's term :)
  3. Há's description of papayas - I'm not a fan of papayas and I wanted to try some of hers. It also created this really interesting image that Há clung to that came to mean so much more than just the fruit itself.
  4. The realism - while the poetic form of the story keeps the tone light-ish, Lai doesn't shy away from the challenges Há and her family face both in Korea and in the United States. There is real tragedy and heartbreak in their lives and Há really has to struggle to deal with it. And, while there is a hopeful ending, everything isn't just happily ever after.
  5. The lightness - I loved that even in the midst of some of the terrible things going on, Há doesn't lose her sense of humor. She's not laughing at everything (in fact, there's the sense that she doesn't laugh very much), but she is trying very hard not to let herself get beaten down in the midst of challenging and bewildering situations.
  6. Spotlight on bullying - Within the larger narrative of someone being transplanted to a new culture and country, Lai also draws bullying into sharp focus. There are different levels of it aimed at Há and her family, but Lai doesn't make excuses for anyone. She draws a picture of the anxiety and confusion Há feels - everything from being laughed at for her clothes to the more serious physical danger she feels from a group of boys.
  7. Not everything is big - Even though Há is going through these larger trials, she's still a ten-year-old girl. She has questions and anxieties about little things. She feels guilty for "little" sins in her past and has to confess to her mother. She dislikes certain foods and worries about her friendships.
  8. Há's misconceptions about America - particularly her misconceptions about "cowboys" - There are so many stereotypes about Americans and Há gets confused about what is real and what is just story, sometimes with quite humorous perspectives on her part.
  9. Misses Washington - I wanted to hug her. Her kindnesses and generosity to Há's family were so special to the story.
  10. Há's struggle to learn English - I was laughing out loud at these passages. English is such a bizarre language and Lai captures the absurdity in perfect ten-year-old perspective. Here's an example: 
"Sometimes the spelling changes when adding as s.

Knife becomes knives.

a c is used
instead of a k,
even if
it makes more sense
for cat to be spelled kat.

a y is used
instead of an e,
even if
it makes more sense
for moldy to be spelled molde.

Whoever invented English
should have learned
to spell."

Happy Reading!

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Laydown Lowdown

There are just a few weekends left to soak up the sun and your summer reading!  Get cracking with some of this week's new releases.

Find out "How the Scoundrel Seduces," by Sabrina Jeffries and check out  "Bittersweet," by Coleen McClullough, and "Seducing Lauren," by Kristen Proby available in Romance today.

Watch out for "Mean Streak," by Sandra Brown, "One Kick," by Chelsea Cain," "Windigo Island," by William Kent Kruger, "One of Us," by Tawni O'Dell and "Haunted," by Randy Wayne White over in Mystery.

Experience "Visions," by Kelley Armstrong and "The Goddess Children," by Ben Peek in the Science Fiction/Fantasy section.

Hail, the "Poison Princess," by Kresley Cole, "Starlight's Edge," by Susan Waggoner, and "Storm Siren," by Mary Weber over in the Young Adult section.

Will any of these books make your "to-read" list?  Share with us and remember to support your local bookstores whenever possible.  Happy Reading!

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

10 Things I Loved About The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

This is one of those books I've been looking at since it came out but never got around to reading until now. I had mixed feelings concerning Stiefvater's Shiver series so I kept putting off this one. So glad I didn't write it off altogether. So many wonderful things, and I'm about to share some of them with you!

Basic premise: Thisby is an island where once a year the Scorpio Races are held. People from the island and the mainland come to watch and race - but these are no ordinary horse races. Instead, riders try to contain the wild capaill uisce - water creatures that look like horses but have a taste for flesh and a burning desire to return to the sea. Puck Connolly lost her parents to the sea and now she's losing her oldest brother to the call of the mainland. She decides to ride in the races to try to keep him on Thisby and to win the purse. Sean Kendrick's father was killed by a capaill uisce, but that hasn't tainted his love for the wild creatures. He's won for the last three years, but this year everything is riding on his victory.
So here's 10 things I loved about this book:

  1. The world - Although Stiefvater never provides a geographic location or even time period, there is such a rich sense of place. Every word of the book is saturated with the world in which it takes place so you can smell, hear, taste, see, and feel it. Rich is the word I keep coming back to. Rich without being overwhelming or overdone.
  2. The capaill uisce - (pronounced CAP-ple ISH-ka) There are a number of mythologies about these water horses, which I had never really heard of before. As she did with werewolves in the Shiver trilogy, Stiefvater says she picked and chose the aspects that would best serve her story. But these creatures are epically fascinating and terrifying. I both wished they were real and was fervently thankful they weren't. Their mythology is as real as the rest of the worldbuilding, whether it's invented or not.
  3. Sean - As one of the narrators, Sean gives a strikingly different and yet very similar view of this world than Puck gives.. He's almost a capaill uisce himself, with his connection to the creatures, his love for the island, and his sixth sense. He's clearly drawn through his language and his narration and I liked that he was not the stereotypical YA male protagonist.
  4. Puck - speaking of not stereotypical YA protagonists, Puck fits this in a wonderful way. In a lot of ways her narration reads as much younger-sounding than she is, but there is reason for this and her voice matures as she does throughout the story, but in a believable fashion. She's grumpy and snarky and rude and you root for her so strongly. Her love for the island, despite the things she's lost to it, is evident in every word she speaks and thought she has.
  5. Corr - Corr is the water stallion closely connected to Sean. Corr is the reason I bawled my eyes out at the end of this book. Horses kind of freak me out even when they're not flesh-eating sea beasts, but I want a Corr.
  6. Dove - If I can't have a Corr, then I'd settle for a Dove - Puck's horse has so much character as well. They're absolutely adorable together.
  7. Finn - Puck's brother just made me want to give him a big hug. I really appreciated the way Stiefvater handled his compulsive behavior and his anxiety issues. And he's just adorable.
  8. Mutt Malvern - So, I don't really like him as like the way his character was used in the story. It's difficult for YA authors to depict real live antagonists that are the same age as the protagonists. In so many stories I've read recently the villain is either a government or an authority figure or the protagonist him or herself. Mutt is a bully and angry and evil, yet there are also layers to him and to why he behaves the way he does.
  9. George Holly - Even though he was a bit of a side character whose purpose is a little vague to me even now, I couldn't help but like him. He popped in and out of the story at odd times and added another layer to the things going on in Thisby for the races.
  10. The sisters - the trio of sisters who own the trinket shop where Puck sells things cracked me up. I felt like they were the three fates or something - always squabbling and pronouncing dire predictions.
Happy Reading!

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Laydown Lowdown

Looking for an escape from summer thunderstorms?  Look no further than one of this week's new releases.

Watch out for "A Blind Spot for Boys," by Justina Chen.  Other new releases in Young Adult include "The Unfinished Life of Addison Stone," by Adele Griffin plus "Isla and the Happily Ever After," by Stephanie Perkins and "Sisters' Fate," the third "Cahill Witch Chronicles" novel will be available on August 14th.

March over to Mystery/Thriller to find "Half in Love with Artful Death," by Bill Crider, "Clam Wake," by Mary Daheim, "An Event in Autumn," by Henning Mankell, "A Distance to Death," by Holly Menino, and "The Frozen Dead," by Bernard Minier.

Slide through Science Fiction/Fantasy for "Hellhole Inferno," by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson, "Fool's Assassin," by Robin Hobb, "Fortune's Favor," by Marlene Perez, "The Ultra Thin Man," by Patrick Swenson, and "Cursed Moon," by Jaye Wells.

Race into Romance and pick up "Desire Lines,"  by Christina Baker Kline, "Love Letters," by Debbie Macomber, and "The Sea Garden," by Marcia Willet.

Will any of these books make your "to-read" list?  Share with us!  Happy Reading and remember to support your local bookstores whenever possible.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

May Book Club: Let the Sky Fall by Shannon Messenger

Vane's past is a mystery. He knows his parents died in a category five tornado and that he has dreams of a beautiful girl, but he doesn't remember anything else. So when he wakes up and finds the girl in his bedroom he's bewildered and a little bit relieved that she's real. But Audra isn't an ordinary girl - she's a sylph, and she's been watching him for years. When she accidentally reveals their location to the man who murdered Vane's parents, she has to help Vane remember who he is and what happened to his family before everyone he loves is destroyed. As they prepare for battle they find themselves drawn together, but will it all fall apart when Vane's memories return?

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What we thought:

Rebecca T: I loved it. It was a great fantasy YA novel with a very different mythology. No vampires, zombies, or mermaids here. But you will find intriguing characters, two very different (and saucy) protagonists, fascinating twists, and really good story telling. Can't wait to dive into the second book!

NaomiRuth: I really enjoyed this book. I love Shannon Messenger's writing style. I liked having the perspective change between the two characters. I want to read more!

Jenn N.: Like Naomi, I also enjoyed the perspective change. I especially liked Vane's point of view. His snarkiness really cracked me up. At times I found Audra a tad melodramatic but given what she was up against, I guess it was natural. Fortunately Vane's perspective of her softened her. I also liked the whole aspect of sylphs. I had never heard of them before and found it to be unique to fantasy YA which seems to be flooded with vampires. (Not that I don't love vampires). While some elements of the story were predictable I was a little shocked by the ending and can't wait to see where the sequel goes.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

10 Things I Loved about Chuck

I know that I normally write about books, but I just recently finished this series (all 5 seasons in about a month... Not sure whether to curse or bless Netflix :) and I am absolutely in love. And there's nothing that says I can't write about movies or tv, so I'm going to!

Basic premise: Chuck Bartowski's life is a mess. He got kicked out of Stanford, his girlfriend dumped him for his best friend, and for the last several years he's been living with his sister and working in the Nerd Herd at Buy More. Then he accidentally downloads a government database into his brain and he's the only copy. Sarah Walker and John Casey are assigned to be his handlers and Chuck is suddenly thrust into a world of spies, lies, and kung-fu.

Intrigued yet? Here are the 10 things I loved about Chuck. I tried REALLY hard to keep this spoiler free, but the fact that I'm talking about all 5 seasons may spoil some basic things (like who lives all the way to the end) so you decide if you want to read or go watch and then come back and tell me if you agreed or disagreed :)

  1. The Overarching Arc. One thing I really appreciated about the series as a whole was the way that they were never afraid to make things progress. The flow felt really well paced and brought the characters to the places they needed to be at the right times. Each season moves the characters into new territory and forced them to grow. There are few shows I've watched that have had as well a paced larger story as this one.
  2. The Characters in General. They are all well defined and I have to hand it to the writers, the actors, and the directors, because I watch a good amount of TV and I connected to these characters more strongly than I've connected to a tv show cast in a long time. The casting was well done and the secondary characters are just as memorable (and important) as the main characters.
  3. Casey. I could do a bullet point on every character, but John Casey was the character that made me tear up more often than any other. I was already a fan of Adam Baldwin (mainly from Firefly) and he has this fantastic way of saying so much with only a grunt (oh, Casey's grunts - more eloquent than other's flowery speeches) or a twitch of his eye or a subtle shift of his jaw. He's fiercely loyal and has an intense moral code that drives everything he does. Also, not to get political or anything, but I really loved the fact that he was a die-hard Reagan admirer and wasn't ashamed of his own political views and that he wasn't portrayed as some sort of corrupt or wimpy person because of being a *gasp* republican.
  4. Ellie. I'm talking myself out of doing a bullet point on every character. Really. But Chuck's sister is amazing. I thoroughly enjoyed the character arc they developed with her. She's a respected doctor who juggles her family, job, and love life with grace and a little insanity. She is completely real, loves her brother with every fiber of her being, and has her own life and interests that are both separate and intertwined with the main storyline. And this one leads me into my next point.
  5. Strong Female Characters. It's sad that this stands out to me. And even here the main character (and quite a few of the secondary characters) are white males. Anyway - that's another discussion. Although the show is called Chuck and he is the main character, the story is just as much about Sarah's journey as it is about Chuck's. Sarah is strong, intelligent, talented, fierce, feminine - her character arc is intriguing and she grows even more than Chuck (in my opinion) over the course of the series. And the ending of the series is certainly as much about her, if not more, than it is about Chuck. And I've already referenced Ellie above. There are a number of other strong female characters throughout the series as well including General Beckman and others I won't mention for fear of spoilers.
  6. Humor. Every episode brought laugh out loud moments. The one-liners and quips are peppered throughout without being overdone. And the running gags made me feel like I was sharing an inside joke with the characters.
  7. Serious Issues. This is one of those brilliant shows that manages to blend humor and serious, sometimes intense and intensely emotional, situations perfectly. Although I was laughing regularly, I was also moved on a regular basis. The characters go through real personal growth and they can't do that without facing some very challenging and stretching issues. Each character, no matter how minor, faces some sort of challenge that causes them to change in some way (some more than others), but I believe that this is one of the things that made this more than just a fun show for me.
  8. Morgan Grimes. I know, I know. Another character. I felt I couldn't pass him over though. I wasn't a big fan of the arc in the beginning of season 5, but I also think that there was good reason for the writers to take that path (I also think that they were just having some fun in their last season). He's a funny little guy who could so easily have been simply the comic relief (and he often was), but the writers didn't leave him there and I appreciated that.
  9. Bromance. I've seen some great/fun TV bromances - Chandler and Joey, J.D. and Turk, Damon and Alaric, Scott and Stiles (yes I am a giant nerd) but Morgan and Chuck's ranks really really high on the list. They are truly the best of friends. They fight like friends, they have dozens of inside jokes, they practically are walking memories of each other. They bring out the best in each other and always, always have each other's backs.
  10. Everything. I love the Buy More. I love Jeffster. I love all the Subway product placement. I love the videos on the screens that so often reflected things going on in the show. I love the fact that I can watch the whole series over again if I want because it's still streaming on Netflix!
So go forth and watch ye some Chuck! Happy viewing.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Laydown Lowdown

Happy August, book lovers!  Let's see what's new this week.

Best-selling author Lev Grossman concludes his trilogy with "The Magician's Land."  Other new releases in Science Fiction/Fantasy include "Severed Souls," by Terry Goodkind, "The Ghost in the Electric Blue Suit," by Graham Joyce, "The House of the Four Winds," by Mercedes Lackey, and "Dark Lightning," by John Varley.

Make your way to Mystery/Thriller for  "No Safe House," by Linwood Barclay, "A Colder War," by Charles Cumming, "Dead Line," by Chris Ewan, "A Little Night Murder," by Nancy Martin, "Whiskey Tango Foxtrot," by David Shafer, and "Alien Hunter: Underworld," by Whitley Strieber.

Race through Romance for "Taking It All," by Maya Banks, "Dark Sky," by Kresley Cole, "The Truth About Leo," by Katie McAllister, "Bound to Danger," by Katie Reus, and "My Beautiful Enemy," by Sherry Thomas.

You'll find "Opposition," the 5th "Lux" novel by Jennifer L. Armentrout in Young Adult along with "Better Than Perfect," by Simone Elkeles, and "Of Metal and Wishes," by Sarah Fine.

Will any of these books make your "to-read" list?  Share with us!  Happy Reading and remember to support your local bookstores whenever possible.