Monday, February 28, 2011

Dystopian, the New Reality

I'll admit that I'm a little late to the dystopian bandwagon (although I just bought Delirium and I'm about to start The Hunger Games!) It's not for lack of trying though; my 2nd novel (as in, the one I'm writing...well, that I was writing...long story...irrelevant) is a mash-up of dystopian and science fiction, nothing groundbreaking but it's been incredibly satisfying to write. 

So what is it about dystopian that makes it so fascinating to read and write? I've been tossing this question around in my free time the last few weeks, and the best conclusion I've come to is this:  it's not an escape. 

What? you might be thinking. Reading is all about escape! I would agree to the extent that reading takes us out of the real world and lets us experience something completely different. Paranormal is certainly an escape, with its tales of fantastic and eerily evil creatures. It's scary, it's fun, it's romantic. Contemporary provides a sort of vicarious experience for those of us who didn't ever spend a summer at the beach or have to decide who's heart to break at prom. Historical takes us back to the past, allowing us to live in a simpler time...I could go on and on about all the genres in between. But I maintain that dystopian isn't so much an escape but a manageable way for us to deal with our own realities.

We may not live in societies as extreme as those in books such as Divergent, Matched or Bumped, but there are still a lot of scary things going on in the world today, from war and famine to corruption and disease. It's hard to focus on those things without being overwhelmed, and dystopian provides just enough distance between the reader and the subject so that the topic can be explored without completely crushing any ability to rationally process thoughts and information. Of course, we're not being forced to procreate as teens or fight to survive or choose the course of the rest of our lives at 16, but the themes that support those plots exist today, enacted in lesser forms 

Fiction is a safe medium to explore hard topics, not just because of distance, but because there are many opportunities to present different sides and shades, if you will, of an issue. Sometimes the point of a novel isn't to persuade the reader of a certain opinion but to allow them to acknowledge an issue. Dystopian fiction is gaining ground because teens and young adults and not-so-young adults are hungry to explore the political landscape, gather the facts and form an opinion in a medium that is comfortable, where we're not being told what to think but rather being encouraged to think.

Maybe I'm reading too much into it. Maybe it's just that paranormal has had its day, and it's time for a new villain. Maybe avaricious corporations and ruthless governments are the new vampires and werewolves...but I don't think so.

What do you think? Why is dystopian fiction becoming so popular?

And just for fun, what are your favorite dystopian novels? (I need suggestions!)

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Supernatural Saturday: Review of The Awakening

If you had met me a few weeks ago, you probably would have described me as an average teenage girl—someone normal. Now my life has changed forever and I'm as far away from normal as it gets. A living science experiment—not only can I see ghosts, but I was genetically altered by a sinister organization called the Edison Group. What does that mean? For starters, I'm a teenage necromancer whose powers are out of control; I raise the dead without even trying. Trust me, that is not a power you want to have. Ever.
Now I'm running for my life with three of my supernatural friends—a charming sorcerer, a cynical werewolf, and a disgruntled witch—and we have to find someone who can help us before the Edison Group finds us first. Or die trying.
[from Goodreads]
Rating:   4 out of 5 boxes
Target Audience:  Anyone who EVER loved ghost stories
High point:  All the plot elements
Low point:  Everything gets campy if you look at it too closely
Reader maturity: 13+

Wow. I am so glad I stumbled upon this series (or won the first one, whatever...) because it's quickly becoming one of my favorites. I've probably said it before, but I wish they had YA like this when I was actually the age that was supposed to be reading YA!

The Awakening continues all the excitement, drama, mystery and [light] romance of the first in the series, The Summoning. Chloe is a great main character to follow--she's smart, level-headed, a little vulnerable and just clueless enough for the reader to be cheering her on. The other three main characters of this novel--Tori, Derek and Simon--really have a chance to develop, as does their friendship. All of the relationships in this novel feel very organic; there's nothing rushed or false. There are crushes and affections, but no one is falling inexplicably and madly in love with anyone else, which I truly appreciate. That's not to say there's not a touch of romance; it's just that the love storyline feels like it could be real.

Ms. Armstrong has a talent for making the teens' escape pop off of the page, so much so that I almost wish I were accompanying the characters in this escapade. While this is a middle novel and therefore exists mainly to provide a bridge from the introduction of the series to the conclusion, The Awakening is a worthwhile read in its own right, although I highly recommend that you be familiar with the series before reading it. It doesn't fall prey to sequel syndrome, but the first novel is necessary to establish the dilemma. If you enjoy YA paranormal even a little bit, this series is definitely worth a try.

Title:  The Awakening
Author:  Kelley Armstrong
Genre:   Fiction - Supernatural
Year:   2009
Book Source:  Purchased

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Want to Read Wednesday: Deadly

A mysterious outbreak of typhoid fever is sweeping New York. Could the city’s future rest with its most unlikely scientist?
If Prudence Galewski is ever going to get out of Mrs. Browning’s esteemed School for Girls, she must demonstrate her refinement and charm by securing a job appropriate for a young lady. But Prudence isn’t like the other girls. She is fascinated by how the human body works and why it fails.
With a stroke of luck, she lands a position in a laboratory, where she is swept into an investigation of the fever bound to change medical history. Prudence quickly learns that an inquiry of this proportion is not confined to the lab. From ritzy mansions to shady bars and rundown tenements, she explores every potential cause of the disease. But there’s no answer in sight—until the volatile Mary Mallon emerges. Dubbed “Typhoid Mary” by the press, Mary is an Irish immigrant who has worked as a cook in every home the fever has ravaged. Strangely, though, she hasn’t been sick a day in her life. Is the accusation against her an act of discrimination? Or is she the first clue in a new scientific discovery?
Prudence is determined to find out. In a time when science is for men, she’ll have to prove to the city, and to herself, that she can help solve one of the greatest medical mysteries of the twentieth century.

[from Goodreads]

With Want to Read Wednesday, I'll be spotlighting books I want to read, whether they've been out for 10 years or won't be released for another 10 months.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Review of Pretty Little Liars

Three years ago, Alison disappeared after a slumber party, not to be seen since. Her friends at the elite Pennsylvania school mourned her, but they also breathed secret sighs of relief. Each of them guarded a secret that only Alison had known. Now they have other dirty little secrets, secrets that could sink them in their gossip-hungry world. When each of them begins receiving anonymous emails and text messages, panic, sets in. Are they being betrayed by some one in their circle? Worse yet: Is Alison back? A strong launch for a suspenseful series.[from Goodreads]

Rating:   2.5 out of 5 boxes
Target Audience:  Contemporary YA readers
High point: The fluffy fun
Low point:  The content
Reader maturity: 15+

I'm a little ashamed to admit it, but I liked this book.

While the tv show of the same name is my one and only television guilty pleasure, I really thought I was going to hate the books, expecting them to be nonsense. Pretty Little Liars certainly isn't great literature, but it doesn't pretend to be. Instead, it's a fun and fluffy mystery/adventure.

The book characters looked nothing like their tv counterparts, so I had trouble keeping them straight in my head, but that's the fault of the show, not the book. The books are also grittier (that's grittier, not gritty) than the show, which also kept throwing me, and the books revealed some things about characterization that the show didn't. It was all but impossible to separate the two.

This is definitely a book for older teens, given the content, and it's probably also best for occasional readers because it gets only an "average" rating from me for writing style and plot. But there's just something irrestistably campy and over-the-top about it that makes it fun.

Due to some of the content and other things I don't want to nitpick, I'm not going to recommend it, but if it happens to fall into your hands, as it did mine, it's a decent read if you're in the mood solely to be entertained.

Title:  Pretty Little Liars
Author:  Sara Shepard
Genre:   Fiction - Contemporary
Year:   2006
Book Source:  Won from Stiletto Storytime

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Supernatural Saturday: Review of Shadow of the Moon

I can feel every Shifter's emotions except Daniel's—
the only one whose heart I long to know.

HAYDEN was born a werewolf, a Dark Guardian. But her ability to sense the feelings of fellow werewolves has made her life unbearable. She runs away, only to be tracked by charming, mysterious Daniel, a newcomer to the pack and the one Shifter immune to her powers. As she reluctantly follows him home, Hayden finds herself falling dangerously in love. . . .

But even as her feelings for Daniel deepen, Hayden begins to wonder if he is who he claims to be. Where did he come from and why has no one ever seen him transform? When they stumble upon the body of a Shifter still in wolf form, her worries grow. Someone is killing her kind. Is her handsome tracker really a hunter? And is Hayden now his prey?

[from Goodreads]
Rating:   4 out of 5 boxes
Target Audience:  MG paranormal readers
High point:  Unique main characters
Low point:  A little melodramatic
Reader maturity: 13+

I'm not positive, but I think Shadow of the Moon is my favorite of the Dark Guardian series. How often does that happen with a fourth book?!

Shadow of the Moon differs from the previous novels in that it centers around both Hayden and Daniel, and it takes place away from Wolford. Hayden is something of an outsider, and while her story fits in with those of the other girls, there's enough difference in her tale to keep the experience unique. It's almost like reading a different series but not in a disjointed way.

Hayden has the strength of Brittany without the hardness, the sweetness of Kayla without the naivete and the confusion of Lindsey without messing around with people's hearts. Well, she does a little, but it's for a selfless cause and the happy ending felt perfect. Daniel, along with being wonderfully swoonworthy, was also believably and alternately withdrawn and engaged. Where some characters might not be able to pull this off, it just makes Daniel all the more attractive.

Per the course of a Dark Guardian novel, there's passionate (PG) romance and a LOT of kissing, but if you weren't looking for something of a YA-guilty-pleasure-lite, why would you be reading this series? I'm not sure Shadow of the Moon can be topped (maybe the series should go out on a high note?), but at the same time, I'm really hoping for more about the Shifters.

Title:  Shadow of the Moon
Author:  Rachel Hawthorne
Genre:   Fiction - Supernatural
Year:   2010
Book Source:  Purchased

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Want to Read Wednesday: The Water Wars

Welcome to a future where water is more precious than gold or oil-and worth killing for
Vera and her brother, Will, live in the shadow of the Great Panic, in a country that has collapsed from environmental catastrophe. Water is hoarded by governments, rivers are dammed, and clouds are sucked from the sky. But then Vera befriends Kai, who seems to have limitless access to fresh water. When Kai suddenly disappears, Vera and Will set off on a dangerous journey in search of him-pursued by pirates, a paramilitary group, and greedy corporations. Timely and eerily familiar, acclaimed author Cameron Stracher makes a stunning YA debut that's impossible to forget.

[from Goodreads]

With Want to Read Wednesday, I'll be spotlighting books I want to read, whether they've been out for 10 years or won't be released for another 10 months.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Review of The Earth, My Butt and Other Big Round Things

An overweight teen is sure that she’s the weakest link in her high-powered family - until her handsome, athletic, star-student brother has a shocking fall from grace.

Fifteen-year-old Virginia Shreves has a larger-than-average body and a plus-size inferiority complex. She lives on the Web, snarfs junk food, and follows the "Fat Girl Code of Conduct." Her stuttering best friend has just moved to Walla Walla (of all places). Her new companion, Froggy Welsh the Fourth (real name), has just succeeded in getting his hand up her shirt, and she lives in fear that he’ll look underneath. Then there are the other Shreves: Mom, the successful psychologist and exercise fiend; Dad, a top executive who ogles thin women on TV; and older siblings Ana├»s and rugby god Byron, both of them slim and brilliant. Delete Virginia, and the Shreves would be a picture-perfect family. Or so she’s convinced. And then a shocking phone call changes everything.

With irreverent humor, insight, and surprising gravity, Carolyn Mackler creates an endearingly blunt heroine whose story will speak to every teen who struggles with family expectations - and serve as a welcome reminder that the most impressive achievement is to be true to yourself.

[from Goodreads]

Rating:   2.5 out of 5 boxes
Target Audience:  Contemporary YA readers
High point:  The message
Low point:  Some of the content
Reader maturity: 15+

Well...if the title didn't tip you off, this is a funny book. The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things is sassy from the title to the last pages. It's not exactly comedy and the antics aren't humorous, but the narrator, Virginia, is a hoot. She's saucy and sassy and witty and self-deprecating, which makes her lovable and endearing.

Some of the book concerns Virginia wanting (or getting into) some things that I don't think girls her age need to be getting into, but aside from that, there were some sweet and poignant moments of self-awareness and much-needed independence from her perfect family. Virginia's not perfect and her facade fails, but once it comes down, she turns into a confident, mature young woman. The message is one that women, especially, of all ages need to hear.

As previously mentioned, there are some adult issues and a few mature moments that may not be appropriate for all teens. Other than that, The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things is a sweet and sometimes amusing YA novel.

Title:  The Earth, My Butt and Other Big Round Things
Author:  Carolyn Mackler
Genre:   Fiction - Contemporary
Year:   2003
Book Source:  Purchased

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Supernatural Saturday: Review of The Nightmarys

Timothy July has been having nightmares. About his brother, who is in a coma after being wounded in Iraq; about his best friend, Stuart, who is behaving like a jerk; about the old biology specimens in jars lining the walls of his classroom; and about Abigail, the new girl who seems to be a magnet for trouble. Or perhaps she is the cause.

Suddenly Timothy’s nightmares are coming true. His brother, his face decaying, approaches Timothy on the street. Stuart ends up in the hospital, terrified that monsters are stalking him. And the specimen jars are tormenting not only Timothy but his teacher as well.

What is the secret in Abigail’s past that is the key to these horrors? And can Timothy figure it out before his nightmares become a deadly reality?

[from Goodreads]
Rating:   2.5 out of 5 boxes
Target Audience:  MG paranormal readers
High point:  The characterization
Low point:  Male POV
Reader maturity: 10+

I thought The Nightmarys was really going to freak me out. I even made sure to start it in the middle of a sunny afternoon so that I'd have time to clear my head before bedtime. As someone who likes being a leetle scared sometimes, I was disappointed.

Perhaps the intended audience was younger, but for me, The Nightmarys dragged on. It's got a male narrator, a flat supporting cast and a mystery that never grabbed my attention. One redeeming quality is the characterization of the main character, Timothy, and his new friend, Abigail. While I didn't particularly care for being in Timothy's head (I just have this thing about male POVs), his confusion and fear are expertly and subtly built up, as is the friendship between the two.

I think I missed the age bracket for this book, but if you're looking for something that straddles the line between MG and YA and has a little bit of a scare factor, this would be a great book to try out. Other than the scary stuff (it's called The Nightmarys, after all), it's 100% safe and clean for whoever is old enough to read it.

Title:  The Nightmarys
Author:  Dan Poblocki
Genre:   Fiction - MG
Year:   2010
Book Source:  Won from Books and Literature for Teens

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Review of Boneshaker

Cherie Priest's much-anticipated steampunk debut has finally arrived in the form of a paperback original. Its plot features the sort of calibrated suspense that readers of her Four and Twenty Blackbirds would expect. Boneshaker derives its title from the Bone-Shaking Drill Engine, a device designed to give Russian prospectors a leg up in the race for Klondike gold. Unfortunately, there was one hitch: On its trial run, the Boneshaker went haywire and, long story short, turned much of Seattle into a city of the dead. Now, 16 years later, a teenage boy decides to find out what is behind that mysterious wall. Can his [mother] save him in time? Zombie lit of the first order.
[from Goodreads]
Rating:   2.5 out of 5 boxes
Target Audience: Wannabe steampunks looking to test the waters
High point: Lots of action and adventure
Low point:  Didn't capture my interest
Reader maturity: 13+

Boneshaker was set up to be a great steampunk novel, full of action, adventure and excitement. While it was certainly steampunk and there was action and adventure, I felt that it was missing some of the requisite excitement.

The plot of the novel is really cool and makes for an interesting exploration, especially with the alternate-reality/history Seattle. Mad scientists, crazed prisoners and Blight-afflicted Zombies make for a fun journey. However, for most of the novel, I could muster little more than a "meh" reaction to either Zeke or Briar's tales. It wasn't until the last 1/3 of the novel that I really got interested.

My favorite characters were Lucy and Swakhammer; they had great personalities and a lot of "stage presence," if you will. I was happy with the ending, and, lack of excitement aside, the writing was okay, filled with spot-on descriptions of the blight and the state of the town inside the walls. Reading Boneshaker was almost like watching a movie;  it was so vivid.

Boneshaker turned out to not really be my thing, but if you're into steampunk, it might be a great novel for you. Though I didn't love this one, I'm interested in the concept of the Blight and the Boneshaker so if it falls into my hands, I'll definitely give the sequel, Dreadnought, a try.

Title:  Boneshaker
Author:  Cherie Priest
Genre:   Fiction - Historical, Steampunk
Year:   2009
Book Source:  Purchased

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Want to Read Wednesday: Haven

One month into her junior year, sixteen-year-old Violet McKenna transfers to the Winterhaven School in New York’s Hudson Valley, inexplicably drawn to the boarding school with high hopes. Leaving Atlanta behind, she’s looking forward to a fresh start--a new school, and new classmates who will not know her deepest, darkest secret, the one she’s tried to hide all her life: strange, foreboding visions of the future.

But Winterhaven has secrets of its own, secrets that run far deeper than Violet’s. Everyone there--every student, every teacher--has psychic abilities, 'gifts and talents,' they like to call them. Once the initial shock of discovery wears off, Violet realizes that the school is a safe haven for people like her. Soon, Violet has a new circle of friends, a new life, and maybe even a boyfriend--Aidan Gray, perhaps the smartest, hottest guy at Winterhaven.

Only there’s more to Aidan than meets the eye--much, much more. And once she learns the horrible truth, there’s no turning back from her destiny. Their destiny. Together, Violet and Aidan must face a common enemy--if only they can do so without destroying each other first.

[from Goodreads]

With Want to Read Wednesday, I'll be spotlighting books I want to read, whether they've been out for 10 years or won't be released for another 10 months.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Bookish Blogoversary Winners!

Wondering who won these?

And these?
And these?
The winner of prize pack #1, the box of ARCs, is...Melanie L!
The winner of prize pack #2, Wake, Fade and Minder, is shala_darkstone!
Last, but not least, the winner of prize pack #3, the Nancy Holder novels, is...StephTheBookworm!

Congratulations, y'all! And to everyone who entered, thank you so much for entering, following and spreading the word. I hope to see you around!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Want to Read Wednesday: Wither

What if you knew exactly when you would die?

Thanks to modern science, every human being has become a ticking genetic time bomb—males only live to age twenty-five, and females only live to age twenty. In this bleak landscape, young girls are kidnapped and forced into polygamous marriages to keep the population from dying out.

When sixteen-year-old Rhine Ellery is taken by the Gatherers to become a bride, she enters a world of wealth and privilege. Despite her husband Linden's genuine love for her, and a tenuous trust among her sister wives, Rhine has one purpose: to escape—to find her twin brother and go home.

But Rhine has more to contend with than losing her freedom. Linden's eccentric father is bent on finding an antidote to the genetic virus that is getting closer to taking his son, even if it means collecting corpses in order to test his experiments. With the help of Gabriel, a servant Rhine is growing dangerously attracted to, Rhine attempts to break free, in the limted time she has left.

[from Goodreads]

With Want to Read Wednesday, I'll be spotlighting books I want to read, whether they've been out for 10 years or won't be released for another 10 months.