Tuesday, September 6, 2011

I'm Moving!

Ever since I re-started blogging here this year, I haven't felt quite at home. Consider the Daffodil was named after an old Deep Thought that I particularly looked, but it didn't say anything about me or my reading habits. So I've decided to move my book blogging to a new site - new site, same ol' content.

So come visit me at The Reading Mouse for further updates!

Monday, August 22, 2011

Review: Ready Player One

When I first heard about the upcoming Ready Player One, I was excited but hesitant. A story that is based around nostalgia for a certain time period (here, the 1980s) can be tricky. Things can go either very well or very poorly.

I was barely a chapter in, though, when I realized that author Ernest Cline had everything under control. Ready Player One grabbed me and didn't let go, and the 80's nostalgia was both integral to the plot and perfectly handled.

The story itself is not a new concept: a super-rich guy dies and leaves clues within his creation that could lead the intrepid to his fortune. The Westing Game, a childhood favorite of mine, features the exact same story (more 80's nostalgia, perhaps?). What is unique is the setting - OASIS (the internet turned virtual reality world) - and the rules of the world that govern "game play" and the search for the fortune itself.

Our faithful narrator is Wade (gamer tag Parzival), a high school student who devotes all of his time to hunting for famed OASIS creator (and recluse) James Halliday's fortune. Born decades after the 1980's, this kid spends all of his time obsessively watching movies and TV shows and playing video games that would probably have been considered passe if Halliday hadn't built his contest around them. Instead, after deciphering a clue that has remained unsolved for 5 years, Parzival suddenly finds himself among the most elite players in the world.

Parzival is wickedly smart, pulling connections between references out of his mind with astonishing regularity. But where he falters is with personal communication. There is, of course, a message here - as we increasingly spend our time online, our inter-personal relationships can suffer. But for Z (as his friends call him), determining who is actually your friend when you're all fighting for control of billions of dollars is harder than it may seem.

Do you need to be as well-versed in the 1980s as the characters to enjoy this book? No, not at all. I was born at the beginning of the 80s, and I know I'm even too young to fully understand many of the references. But that doesn't detract from the book at all. The details make the book more enjoyable, sure (I laughed out loud at the bit about how Cory Doctorow and Wil Wheaton were co-presidents of OASIS), but they're not going to hold someone back from loving the fast-paced adventure, sharp humor, and surprisingly well-formed characters (considering the characters are themselves a shadow of their real life counterparts).

If I could give this book 6 stars, I would. Maybe it's time to rethink how I grant stars? 5/5 stars

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The Magician King

I could not have been more excited to hear that Lev Grossman was following up his amazing book The Magicians only two years later with The Magician King. I remember devouring The Magicians, which at the time I likened to an adult version of Harry Potter, at breakneck speeds. So getting my hands on a copy (well, virtually, and that's a whole 'nother story) of The Magician King was a priority.

First, I should say that I regret not re-reading The Magicians. Grossman jumps right into the story with no real refresher to speak of. I felt myself struggling to remember exactly what had happened to characters in the first book when the events were alluded to here.

Overall, I loved the Magician King and the way it continued this imaginative story arc. Is much of this book (hell, the series) cribbed from classic children's literature? Absolutely. This book reeks of the Chronicles of Narnia, mostly The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, just like the first book was obviously influenced by Harry Potter. And while I found this a bit grating at times (I get it! Two kings and two queens, just like Narnia! Wise talking animals! A ship sailing into uncharted waters!), for the most part, this book works precisely because we all know the stories they're alluding to. However, I ended up enjoying the parts that felt familiar but weren't the most. (Here I mean the fable of the quest for the seven keys of Fillory, which the main plot revolves around.)

The story follows two paths: Quentin, king of Fillory, ventures out on a quest (ostensibly to collect taxes from a far-off province) and learns what it means to be a hero, and a flashback to Julia, a magic school reject, becoming a hedge witch and then so, so much more. At first, I found the two narratives jarring - why should I care about Julia's past when Quentin is obviously the one we care about? But as Quentin's quest progresses, the parallels with Julia's quest to become skilled in magic become obvious. The idea of humility versus hubris in a hero comes up repeatedly, but not in a way that is obtrusive or annoying.

Obviously, it's a bit silly to review a sequel here without having reviewed the original book. Like I said, it's been a while since I read it, but I can't recommend it enough (even having forgotten most of everything). Trust me, read The Magicians - you won't want to wait to dive right into The Magician King.

4/5 stars

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Geek Wisdom

When I first heard about Geek Wisdom, edited by Stephen Segal, I was more than a little skeptic. As a self-proclaimed Nerd and Geek (by my definitions, nerd = passionate about academic subjects and geek = passionate about pop cultural subjects), I've seen how geekery has become widely accepted over the past few years. Often, that means it is co-opted by brands and companies that have no idea what being geeky actually means. So I figured this quirky little sampler of quotes wouldn't necessarily mean all that much to real geeks.

Man, was I wrong. There is so much truth in this book. Each page features a quote or two from famous geek texts (ranging from Shakespeare to internet memes, with plenty of television, movies, and novels in among the mix) along with a brief discussion of why this is important to the hordes of geeks out there or what it has to say about how we geeks see our world.

That's not to say that every single brief essay in this book works. With some quotes, the author's barely touch upon the quote itself and deal with another matter entirely. The best of the essays, though, (and I'll say the majority of the essays are among the best) really touch the heart of the quote in question, distilling the ideas that geeks feel in their hearts, even if the mind can't explain it so succinctly.

For example, the first quote in the book is "With great power comes great responsibility," written by the great Stan Lee. This has become one of the tenants of geekdom (closely followed, I would think, by Wil Wheaton's "Don't be a dick"). And really, it's something we all understand without too much thought. But the authors of the book point out how this affected not just Spiderman, but also George Washington, King David, Albert Einstein, and Franklin Roosevelt (and that Paris Hilton has somehow not come to understand it at all).

Even if you don't care about the discussion, this is a great collection of geeky quotes. I kept saying to myself that a particular quote was my favorite quote, but then I'd turn the page and find one I liked even more. I just have so much love for this book! It really is the perfect gift for any geeks in your life (in fact, I'm thinking I should just buy a box to have on hand as ready-made gifts).

5/5 stars

Monday, August 1, 2011

YA Book Club: Going Bovine

Welcome to the inaugural Consider the Daffodil YA Book Club, featuring the funny and thought-provoking Going Bovine by Libba Bray. I know that some of the people who are reading this are a bit behind, but I wanted to post this anyway for those of you I don't know in real life who may have already finished the book.

Anyway...

Going Bovine is definitely not everyone's cup of tea. It's a weird fantasy adventure, a mash-up of Percy Jackson and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, that talks about physics, obscure diseases, Don Quixote, drag queens, jazz music, religious cults, reality TV, and Norse mythology. It's got a male protagonist who is such an apathetic loser, he can be hard to relate to. And most importantly, it looks death right in the face. This book shouldn't work.

And yet it does (at least for some people, and I count myself among them). Going Bovine allows teens (and everyone else, of course) to get right up into the heart of impending doom (be it our main character Cameron's life or the End of the Universe as we know it) from the safety of a bunch of words on pages.

To be frank, while I was reading the book, I loved little bits but felt overall that it dragged. There were just a few too many set pieces (CESSNAB, PUTOpia, the YA beach house among them). They all felt a little bit like the Las Vegas hotel of the Lotus Eaters in the first Percy Jackson book - yes, I see what you're doing there, but let's move things alone now, please, there's story I want to get to. That having been said, the key elements of the story - much of the discussion below - has really stuck with me, and I think Bray does a good job at confronting mortality within the context of humor and adventure. (She also manages to give an interview in a cow suit quite well.)

I'm not going to summarize the book, although you should feel free to summarize any bits you see fit. I'll post the questions first, then chime in later with my own comments. I really want to hear what you have to say! Feel free to add any of your own questions as well. Spoilers from here on out.

1)For such a funny book, Going Bovine hits on some really big questions (Questions, even). Do you think this balance worked?

2) Why is Cameron's childhood trip to Disney World and his subsequent near-drowning the happiest day of his life?

3)What's up with the snow globes and the United Snow Globe Wholesalers?

4)Did Cameron actually go on this wild adventure? Or was he in his hospital bed the whole time?

5)The "one true thing" Cam learned on his travels, as he tells Dr. X, is that "to live is to love, to love is to live." What do you make of that? How did he come to realize the truth in this Great Tremelo song that he had previously listened to only ironically?

6)The obligatory casting question: Who would you cast in Going Bovine: The Movie? (Cameron and Dulcie probably being the easiest to cast).

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Texas Gothic

I have to admit, I didn't have high hopes for Texas Gothic by Rosemary Clement-Moore. The description on the back included witches, cowboys, and ghosts. I started flipping through it, though, and immediately recognized it for what it was. It was like home, something comforting from my childhood.

YA wasn't a big thing when I was a teen, and probably most of the YA I read was cheesy teen horror stories by Diane Hoh, Richie Tankersley Cusick, and Christopher Pike (Pike being the high end of the bunch). If you're my age, you know exactly the books I'm talking about, especially the embossed covers with more than their share of neon colors. (Cusick's Vampire was a particular favorite of mine.) These books were easy to read and almost felt like an episode of Scooby Doo (more bad guys being unmasked at the end, less talking dogs and stoners... well, sometimes there were stoners). There was always danger, but never too much to worry about, and the main girl (it was always a girl) used a little Nancy Drew sleuthing to figure out what was going on.

And that's exactly what I found in Texas Gothic. In fact, Nancy Drew is referenced a number of times, so Clement-Moore is obviously a fan of the genre herself. And for this particular sub-genre, the book is well-written, fast-paced, and highly enjoyable. I've seen enough of Texas to understand the environment perfectly, and the Hot Cowboy Neighbor (that might as well be his name) was the right mix of annoying and attractive. I loved the addition of real magic - the main character's family are all real witches, as much as she tries to stay out of that life - gave the story a little more body than others like it.

Is this fine literature? No. But that wasn't exactly what I was looking for on a quiet beach weekend. The high entertainment value of Texas Gothic makes it fun for any horror- or mystery-loving teen (or nostalgic adult). Bonus points for this being a self-contained story as well.

4/5 stars

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Inaugural YA Book Club

Welcome to the Consider the Daffodil Young Adult book club! Back in January, my friend Erin and I started a small book club for Boston-area people interested in YA books. When Erin moved across the country a few months ago, I didn't want to wrangle monthly meetings, especially when she and I made up the majority of the group. So here we are - an online book club. The best part is that we're not bound by location anymore, so I'm looking forward to a wider group of people joining in. Please feel free to spread this around to others who are interested in YA literature, and if you have any suggestions, please email them to me.

For our first (online) book, we'll be reading Going Bovine by Libba Bray. The book follows Cameron, something of a high school loser, who develops Mad Cow Disease. In order to find a cure, he goes on a madcap cross-country journey with fellow loser Gonzo. I've already started reading the book, and I've been laughing hard at Cameron's exploits. I'd describe it as Percy Jackson with a touch of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.

Discussion will begin right here on August 1st.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Map of Time

The time travel continues in a much more literary form with The Map of Time. After Ruby Red, Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children (which is not exactly time travel but does involve traveling through time... what?), and Hourglass, I wasn't sure if I wanted any more of this genre. (And yes, I have read other things with no time travel in between that I haven't written about yet.) But this sounded so different, I couldn't wait to jump in.

"Set in Victorian London with characters real and imagined, The Map of Time is a page-turner that boasts a triple play of intertwined plots in which a skeptical H.G. Wells is called upon to investigate purported incidents of time travel and to save lives and literary classics, including Dracula and The Time Machine, from being wiped from existence." I have to be honest, I didn't read this bit from the back of the book before I started reading the book. I had been given an even briefer description - Victorian London is in a time-travel fervor after H.G. Wells writes The Time Machine - and was already sold. I'm a big fan of the steampunk sub-genre, and this hinted to having a bit of that aesthetic.

In reality, this book is not one narrative but three, although they do all intertwine and feature H.G. Wells as a main character. And the way author Felix J. Palma handles the idea of time travel in a society with far fewer technologies than our own is masterful. Whether it's the man who wants to save the woman he loved from being killed or the boy who loves a girl and wants to stop her from doing something destructive, these characters approach time travel from very real and, often, very personal perspectives. I especially liked how Palma touched upon the idea of paradoxes repeatedly, because the ideas of changing the past or meeting yourself in the past are something that have to guide the storytelling when dealing with shifting timelines.

As much as I loved this book, which is a bestseller in Palma's native Spain, I had some trouble getting into it. Specifically, the paragraphs are loooong and overly-verbose, although I have a feeling that this was done on purpose to give the book a more Victorian feel. The very beginning, especially, when there is a whole page devoted to which kind of gun a character is going to use to kill himself, can get a bit tedious. Push on,though, like I did, and you'll be well-rewarded.

As a side note, H.G. Wells is a main character throughout this book, and it is mentioned frequently that all of London is so excited by time travel specifically because of his book The Time Machine. While it's quite possible to read this book without having read The Time Machine, I'll take a moment to plug the classic. It's really very short and easy to read, plus you'll sound smart when you say you've read it.

I never read many classics when I was younger (except what was forced upon me in school), so this one had escaped me until a few years ago. Then I discovered DailyLit, which feeds you classics in tiny bite-size pieces that are easy to digest. I had The Time Machine sent to my RSS reader (but you could get them emailed to you too), and in about a month, I had read the whole thing without trying. Best part: it's free. Really, do it. Even if you don't want to read The Time Machine (but you should), give DailyLit a try.

Also, The Map of Time has one of the coolest covers I've seen in a long time.

Check out the first chapter - in text or audio - on the book's website.

5/5 stars

Disclaimer: The advance copy of this book was provided to me for free from the publisher.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Hourglass

More time travel. See? I'm betting on this being the Next Big Thing. Hourglass by Myra McEntire sounded more paranormal and less time travel on it's back cover, but I assure you, travel through time they do.

Emerson sees people from the past. Like, she's trying to walk through the front door of her apartment, and there's a real straight-off-the-plantation southern belle standing in her way. This started two years earlier, just before her parents were killed in a freak accident, and it's only gotten worse since. Thomas, Em's brother, keeps finding "specialists" to help her, but none of them actually have helped. But when Michael shows up and introduces Em to the Hourglass, she starts to fully understand what's happening to her.

**Here Be Spoilers** Emerson learns from Michael that her ability to see people from other times is actually a small part of her ability, which actually allows her to travel back in time. Michael himself can travel forward in time, and together, they make a perfect pair - like, a-love-greater-than-the-stars perfect. And Dr. Xavier's School - sorry, The Hourglass - is where all the mutants - ugh, sorry again, I mean people with the ability to manipulate time in some manner - learn to hone their skills. **There Be Spoilers**

Is this a ground-breaking novel? No. In fact, there are so many teen girl clich├ęs in here that I got mad at myself at one point for enjoying this so much. But then I just stopped caring because, you know what? This is a fun book, and I was once a teenage girl, so I'm going to revel in the feeling of being 16 again. In fact, I'm pretty sure even if you were never a teen girl, you'll understand.

It's been a while since I was really smitten with a YA novel, but this one hit me full force and made me stay up all night to find out what happened. My only hope is that there are more books about Emerson and the Hourglass coming soon.

5/5 stars

Disclaimer: This book was provided by the publisher through my bookstore job.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

What Alice Forgot

Sometimes you pick up a book and read the back and think that it's going to be a great read, but once you get into it, you realize it's nothing like what you expected. What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty was exactly like that for me.

The story sounded intriguing: a woman hits her head while at the gym and wakes up thinking she's 29, happily married, and pregnant with her first child, while in reality, she's a 39-year-old mother of three who's in the middle of a messy divorce. Her life is drastically different than she imagined it would be, and she has to work to gain her memories of the past ten years back.

The actual book was both exactly what it sounded like and completely different than I imagined. That story really is what happened, but while I imagined some great mystery as to why or how Alice's life had tumbled, I was left with fairly standard chick lit drivel about an overworked husband and a missing best friend. I guess I had rose-tinted glasses on when I looked at this book, but I wasn't expecting chick lit.

And while I've read some chick lit that I've absolutely adored (Meg Cabot's epistolary stuff is great, like The Boy Next Door), this left me wanting. Because Alice has a head injury, there is a lot (a LOT) of time spent with her saying "Why don't I know this fact about my life?" and characters rehashing past events. If the book were a hundred pages shorter, it would still have gotten the point across without me wanting to throw it at the wall. Overall, What Alice Forgot is fine as a fun beach read, but don't expect to be captivated.

2/5 stars

Disclaimer: The advance copy of this book was provided to me for free from the publisher.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children

When the advanced copy of Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children came into the bookstore, we passed it around and laughed over how it smelled. There was a serious amount of ink in the book (there are a large number of full-page photos), and that much ink smells strange. But then I read the back cover and I forgot about how it smelled. (Note: I haven't picked up an actual copy to see how it smells.)

When Jacob's grandfather (with whom he was very close) dies suddenly and tragically, Jacob understandably has a hard time dealing with it. He becomes obsessed over the stories his grandfather used to tell him about his youth at a strange orphanage in Wales and the odd photographs he had as proof. So obsessed, in fact, that his therapist and parents think he should visit the tiny island in Wales and see for himself that there is nothing strange going on. Well, that backfires. Wouldn't be much of a story if it didn't.

Like I mentioned, the book is peppered with photographs of odd children, many doing impossible things like floating or creating fire in their hands. Author Ransom Riggs is also a photographer and collector of old photos. He began collecting the images in the book and quickly saw a story forming; he collected more to fill in specific gaps in the story as he wrote. The outcome is that the reader gets a much firmer grasp on these odd people than if there were no images to go along with the text. I'm not saying I want to see this tactic taken with too many more books (I'm sure it would get old), but I love the interplay between the text and images in this case.

The story is fast-paced and quirky. I wanted to know more and more about this odd little Welsh island, both past and present. Jacob's relationship with his father, an ornithologist who accompanies him on his trip, is very realistic, especially their exasperation with each other. As the story went on, the mythology became more and more complex, and there is clearly more than one book's worth of story to be told. Definitely an enjoyable read that is great for both the YA and the adult sets.

4/5 stars

Disclaimer: This book was provided by the publisher through my bookstore job.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Ruby Red

I'm guessing time travel is the new vampire or zombie, because there is a whole spat of new time-defying stories sitting on my bedside table. Case in point: Ruby Red by Kerstin Gier.

Originally published in German, Gier's story (the first in a trilogy)follows teen Gwen, who lives in the attic of her grandmother's posh London home. Her cousin Charlotte, just one day younger, has been trained all her life for time travel, having been born on the prophesied day. While the whole family waits eagerly for Charlotte to make her "initiation journey," Gwen finds herself slipping out of time - clearly the prophesy got something wrong. The Guardians, the secret society build around this time traveling gene, look down upon Gwen even as they take her under their care, and she follows fellow traveler Gideon as he tried to orient her to the business of time travel (and search for the missing chronograph along the way).

The story is compelling and enjoyable, but I'm not scratching at the walls as I wait for the next one to come out. Some of the characters are much more vivid than others, and unfortunately the narrator Gwen is not one of them. That didn't keep me from wanting to know more about the story, though. The whole deal with the prophesy (there are twelve travelers, each with an assigned precious stone and musical note) makes things more complicated than they need to be, but hopefully more of that will be explained in the following books. I do, however, really like the concept of a gene for time travel that gets passed along through the family lines.

I've read a few translated books lately, and one thing I can say about Ruby Red is that it didn't sound translated. Translator Anthea Bell did a wonderful job keeping the language flowing, very important for a book aimed at teens.

3/5 stars

Monday, May 23, 2011

Page by Paige

I love graphic novels, but it's extremely rare for one to grab me in the same ways that novels often do. I don't know why - maybe because there is less left to the imagination, or maybe because there is often little to no narration or verbal mood setting - but I'm hard pressed to think of a graphic novel that has really stuck with me or hit me in the gut.

But only a few pages into Page by Paige by Laura Lee Gulledge, I was in love... and I haven't stopped thinking about it since.

On the outside, it's a fairly simply YA tale of a girl who moves to the big city and has a hard time finding herself. Of course, along the way, she makes friends and, more or less, discovers her place in the world. Doesn't sound all that exciting. But Gulledge's art allows the reader into Paige's head, filled with all the fears and insecurities of being a teen. The story starts with Paige buying a sketchbook, and the book is at its strongest when dealing less with the plot and more with Paige's emotional sketches.

As someone who makes a fair deal of art, I loved the aesthetics of the book and truly appreciated the call to teens to be creative. I wish I had had such an encouraging book when I was a teen.

Note: You can see more of Gulledge's beautiful art on her blog.

5/5 stars

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Divergent

Hmm, where to start with Divergent . I got my hands on an advanced copy of this book about a month before it was released, and even then, the hype was pretty huge. Everything I read was insanely positive, and I had high hopes that this was going to be something more than a weak Hunger Games copy.

At the start of the book, though, I had a hard time caring all that much. Beatrice lives in a society where everyone is split into one of five factions based on personality traits: Abnegation (selflessness), Candor (honesty), Erudite (intelligence), Amity (peacefulness), or Dauntless (bravery). As a teenager, everyone chooses their faction, but it is rare that anyone leaves the faction in which they've been raised (presumably because those traits would be so hardwired into them by then). Beatrice quickly learns that she is a Divergent (although she doesn't really learn what that means), and she must decide whether to stay in Abnegation or choose another path.

Wouldn't be much of a book if she stayed in Abnegation, now would it?

I really wanted to like this book from the very beginning, but the strictness of the faction traits kept getting in the way. I kept wondering (probably aloud) to myself how this society could reach a place where everyone was so one-dimensional and how it could continue to stay like that. It wasn't until about halfway through the book when anyone within the book seemed to ask these same questions (coincidentally, this is about when I started to enjoy the book).

Also, a majority of the book was something of a training montage, as Beatrice (Tris, now) learns the ways of another faction. If (should I say when?) this gets made into a movie, they would be well-served to make this a total of five minutes. Thank God for cut scenes. I didn't need to read about every instance of her learning to be less selfless.

But like I said, about halfway through the book, the story really starts to pick up, and I found myself as captivated as I had hoped I would be. Tris' burgeoning romance picks up (don't worry, moms, it's very clean and tasteful), and she also starts to learn that maybe the factions aren't as clear-cut as she thought. I finally found myself in her shoes, and I couldn't wait to see where the story was going.

The climax of the story comes along quickly - almost too quickly, considering how much time was wasted on the aforementioned training - and I was left with an ending that did nothing but set up the next book. The story arc's conclusion felt too brief for a book that is almost 500 pages. Of course, I'm still interested in what happens next and will be waiting for the next book, but there could have been a better sense of closure.

Final thoughts? It's an interesting concept for a dystopia, and Roth's writing is strong and compelling. If it were a little shorter, though, it might have made for a stronger story.

4/5 stars

Monday, April 18, 2011

The Night Bookmobile

On another stumble through the library, I noticed a book by Audrey Niffenegger in the graphic novel section. I loved both of her novels - both The Time Traveler's Wife and Her Fearful Symmetry - and was intrigued to see what she would do with the graphic novel format.

The plot of The Night Bookmobile is mysterious and enchanting - a woman comes across a bookmobile late late at night, and when she enters, she realizes that she has read all the books on its shelves. The book is a short read, and yet it's compelling. Any book lover can understand the woman's motivations. As a librarian (ok, at least technically), I felt instep with the woman's desire to be close to those things that had provided her with her wealth of knowledge, her personality, and her drive. The ending is a surprise and a bit jarring, but it is one that the reader feels coming almost from the beginning.

I have since made two of my coworkers read this book (it takes no time at all to breeze through, and I'm pretty sure this was the first graphic novel that either of them have ever read), and they both enjoyed it as well. If graphic novels scare you off, think of this one more as an adult picture book. This one is worth adding to your collection and coming back to from time to time.

5/5 stars

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Good Neighbors

I recently stumbled upon the podcast Geek's Guide to the Galaxy and have been devouring the past episodes. I find the hosts interesting (although a little too true to the geek stereotype, and I often find myself shouting at the radio that they're wrong about things they know nothing about, like the entire horror genre, but I digress) and informative. For a podcast hosted by an author and an editor, you would assume that all their guests would be in the book world, but that pleasantly isn't the case.

Holly Black, author of the Spiderwick Chronicles, amongst other things, was a guest about a year ago. I enjoyed her episode very much, and although I wasn't left with a strong desire to read her most famous works, I was intrigued by her description of a graphic novel series she had written called Good Neighbors. She hooked me with the premise - a woman goes missing, and her husband is blamed, but their daughter believes that there are more supernatural things at work - and when I saw all three books in the series sitting next to each other at the library, I pounced.

I am glad that I took out all three books at once, because I'm not sure I would have made the effort to go back for them otherwise. I was simply not wowed by this series. The concept itself is very cool and the writing was good enough, but the art is just as important as the story in a graphic novel, and that's where I felt this one fell short. I had a hard time telling characters apart at times, and some characters seemed to change specific characteristics (the things you need to tell people apart!) from scene to scene.

Although, to be truthful, part of the problem may just be that I don't care that much for fairies (or faeries, or however you want to spell it). There are just so many supernatural creatures out there to read about, and fairies have always been pretty far down on my list. I don't care much for the fairy plotlines in the Sookie Stackhouse books either. I will say, though, that Holly Black has clearly made a spot for herself in a world filled with supernatural stories. I have had her book Tithe highly recommended to me, so I think that will be my next try at her work.

2/5 stars

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Ship Breaker

I've been hearing such amazing things about author Paolo Bacigalupi for a while now, and I walk by his novel The Windup Girl every day. When his YA novel Ship Breaker came up on the list for our YA book group, I was happy to have a reason to finally read him.

And can I say how happy I am that I did? Less than half-way through Ship Breaker, I had to buy a copy of Windup Girl because I loved his writing so much. His descriptions of a world in which the environment is battling back against us and people work in harsh conditions make everything seem disturbingly real.

Nailer, our protagonist, lives and works on a beach on the Louisiana coast, scuttling through ducts on a grounded oil tanker, dragging costly metals like copper back to the surface to sell. When a city killer storm (the kind of storm that has made this world rebuild New Orleans three times) rolls through and the beach community gets destroyed, Nailer and his friend Pima venture down the beach to see what washed up during the storm. What they find, though, is one of the nicest ships they've ever seen, a true bounty of scavengable material. Of course, they find something more precious than even they expected, and then Nailer is forced to leave the only home he's ever known to protect it.

There are many things going for this novel. First, the main character is a boy, so rare in well-written YA. Second, there are no creatures to deal with (genetically-designed half men aside), and the frighteningly real environment and plain human nature are the things that cause trouble. Third, this is a world that it is easy to imagine could come about, and thinking through how we could get from here to there is a great exercise for kids. There needs to be more of this in YA - good, straightforward sci-fi storytelling.

5/5 stars

Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Girl Who Was On Fire

It probably took me ten or so pages to absolutely fall in love with the Hunger Games a couple of years ago. I devoured the first book, then held off on reading Catching Fire because I had heard it ended with a cliffhanger, and I don't have a good track record with unfinished series. But the pull was too great, and I dove into book 2 well before Mockingjay came out. And you better believe book 3 was waiting on my doorstep the day it came out.

I routinely try to push the series on readers who come into the bookstore, even one older woman, who was going on vacation and seemed to like everything else I suggested for her. When parents say it sounds too scary or gory (I have a whole rant on this, believe me), I assure them that the themes of the book are much larger than gore, and that I think the whole series (really, the third book, but you can't get there without the previous two) will be taught in schools one day. Most of them don't believe me and choose books for their kids that are "safe." But I digress.

I have been a big fan of the types of books that look at pop culture through a more academic lens (The Simpsons and Philosophy was the textbook for a class I taught in college about our favorite yellow family and American society). So when I heard that there would be a Hunger Games equivalent, I couldn't wait to read it.

The Girl Who Was on Fire is not another Steig Larsson book, but it is a dive into the world of Panem and the Hunger Games. The assorted essays from authors of all sorts and edited by Leah Wilson touch on the topics of reality TV, politics, the science behind the muttations, why the Capitol should have realized that Katniss might not be the best person to act as Tribute, and a variety of others.

My two favorite essays are "Bent, Shattered, and Mended" by Blythe Woolston and "Team Katniss" by Jennifer Lynn Barnes. Woolston examines the instances of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) throughout the series and shows how the events in Panem affected the characters in different ways. Barnes creatively turns our society's willingness to turn books like this into battles between the love interests (Team Gale vs Team Peeta) into a look at why Katniss' pick of a partner has less to do with who she loves and more to do with her discovering who she really is.

Some of the book is repetitive, but that's always true of compilations in which the authors don't necessarily know what the others are writing about. If you were left unhappy by Mockingjay like so many people were (I was not among that group), this book might help resolve some of your issues by helping you see why certain events actually made sense (the PTSD chapter was particularly helpful in this, I feel).

4/5 Stars

Sunday, March 27, 2011

A resurrection, a rejuvination, a resurgence, a renaissance, a return, a regeneration; or, too much time spent looking at the thesaurus

This blog has laid dormant for quite a while, and now seems as good a time as any to bring it back to life. When I first started Consider the Daffodil in 2008, I was deep in the middle of working full-time and going to school nights for my masters degree in Library Science. That quickly turned into no work but full-time school, and why I thought I could keep writing about books I read, I'll never understand. I started using it as an excuse not to do my class reading, and so I let the blog fall to the wayside.

Now, though, almost two years post-grad school, I've found myself in a situation that leads pretty perfectly to a book blog. Right out of school, I didn't get a fancy library or archives job like I had hoped; in fact, I struggled for over a year to get anything, even a retail job. A recession is the perfect time to graduate, right? I'm slightly more on track now, with a job at a local historical house (archival work included, although its mostly administrative) and a job at a Boston-area independent bookstore.

This bookstore, to put it lightly, is eccentric. Books seem to be placed randomly, although there really is a system in place (I promise). During my first few weeks there, I was certain I would never be able to locate books for customers, and now I'm able to fly to a shelf before they've even finished telling me what the book is. If you live near Boston, you know the store I'm talking about - feel free to stop in and say hi.

One of the most frequent questions posed to me by my coworkers in the first few weeks at the store was "So what do you read?" They meant it less in a get-to-know-you way and more so they could better understand how I could be useful around the shop. I mentioned sci-fi and fantasy and graphic novels, all things which are fairly under-read amongst the staff. And then I mentioned Young Adult - the Hunger Games, to be specific. Apparently no one in the store read YA, so in a matter of minutes, I found myself the defacto YA bookseller. Since then, I have had YA advanced readers heaped upon me, and these have formed unwieldy, unstable stacks next to my bed.

My friend Erin and I recently started a small YA book club as well, so YA books seem to be raining from the sky. Only two meetings in, we have a small but fairly vocal group.

As a side note, I've recently started listening the to Geek's Guide to the Galaxy podcast, which deals predominantly with science fiction, although it touches on other genres as well. This, in turn, has led me to listen to Pseudopod, Pod Castle, and Escape Pod, all genre short story podcasts. Many times, the hosts of Geek's Guide will refer to classics in the world of science fiction, and although I read tons (and I mean tons) of sci-fi in middle school and high school, I'm finding gaps in my education. So if random old genre novels show up on here, don't be surprised.