Tuesday, September 21, 2010


Title: Mockingjay
Author: Suzanne Collins
Genre: Young Adult, Science Fiction
Price: $22.99
ISBN: 978-0545310604

After much anticipation, I finally, finally got a hold of a copy of Suzanne Collin's novel, Mockingjay, which brings an end to her Hunger Games trilogy. Without revealing too much, what we have here is two major decisions to be made by the series main character, Katniss. One, will she take the mantel of leader in the rebellion against the Capitol of Panem (whether or not this role of leader is just as a figurehead or not will be determined). The other is who Katniss will choose as her "lover" (for a lack of a better way to put it). There is Gale, her best friend from childhood who she had hunted with and had always held a special place for in her heart. Then there is Peeta, with whom she had competed with in the Hunger Games and had shared extremely harrowing experiences.

I don't want to reveal too much about the book, because it's one of those books where if you know one thing, it might ruin others. The most I can say from here is that I liked the book...a lot. I read it in about a day, because I simply could not put it down. I felt as though the book gave a fairly solid and good ending to the series. There feels as though there is no room for any other books (which I like--I hate it when an author says she's ending a series, then doesn't) and as a reader, all issues that had been presented earlier in this book or the previous two feel settled. That doesn't mean I'm happy with everything that happened, and I felt as though there are still some loose ends.

For more information, please check out my previous blog posts on the first two books.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Going Bovine

Title: Going Bovine
Author: Libba Bray
Genre: Young Adult, Science Fiction
Price: $17.99
ISBN: 978-0385733977

If you've read Libba Bray's A Great and Terrible Beauty trilogy and loved them, don't come knocking at Going Bovine's door, expecting the same thing. "Bovine" is one wild, trippy ride with a kid who's mental state is constantly in question, and makes you question every event, from beginning to end, while at the same time making you feel some very strong (generally positive) emotions towards lawn gnomes/Norse gods, video gaming little people, Inuit rock bands, and quantum physics. The general idea with this book, you see, is that Cameron Smith has been diagnosed with mad cow disease (they use some fancy Latin term for a while, but I don't remember what it was--basically it's mad cow disease). He's then assigned the mission to save the world from dark matter which has been released by the mysterious Dr. X, who, coincidentally, is the only one who can cure Cameron.

I really enjoyed this book. One, because I love Libba Bray's writing. Regardless of what mode she's writing in (19th century girl mode or 21st century boy mode), it's genuine. She is able to create really strong voice and makes her characters sound pretty authentic. I seriously believe that the adolescent boy is probably the hardest voice to pin down and it can be really butchered, but Bray does a pretty good job pulling it off. Sometimes it's a bit of a stretch, in my opinion, but for the most part I appreciate what she does. The real problem, however, is that the character she's created isn't always likable. In the beginning I'm not Cameron's biggest fan, and Bray has to work really hard to get me, as the reader, to like him. But she does, and I think that's a mark of a good story.

That said, this book, in some ways, requires a rather specific interest set. I love all things kooky quantum physics and there is quite a lot in this book. It actually makes the ending sort of confusing and leaves you hanging in the sense that you're not exactly sure what just happened. I put the book down after I finished the other night and was all, "What just happened here?" That's maybe my biggest complaint about the whole book, the confusion I felt at the end and through other parts of the book, because you really do have a difficult discerning what's real and what's not. So, that, and the profanity bothered me. I have a very high tolerance for naughty language (having an embarrassingly huge potty mouth myself, though no one would know this unless they lived with me), but at points I felt like the language was unnecessary. I understand the desire to be authentic, and Bray was in a lot of ways, and teenagers do swear...a lot in some cases, but at times I felt like it could take way from the dialogue.

Comparable Reads: I kind of went over this in the Punkzilla entry, so you can check back there for some similar reads.

Who This Book is For: I've realized in making these very generalized "recommendations" could be construed as putting groups of people into specific groups--that's not what I'm trying to do. Any sort of person, kid or adult, could get into any of the books I've posted about. When I try to frame the kind of person who might be into whatever book I've written about, I'm doing just that. This is one person who would be interested, maybe, in this book. If you feel like you identify with this person, or know someone who might, then, well, go pick this book up. You might like it! Just sayin'.

That said.

Kids who like kooky stuff, would probably dig this book. Like, that off-beat, music loving, sort of punk/wanna-be counter-culture kid (or grown-up). I think that Cameron is pretty relate-able in the sense that, at the beginning of the book he's sort of floating through life and isn't really sure about what he wants, and that sense of...not being lost, but of just not being sure, is a very familiar feeling for a lot of teens.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief

 Title: The Lightning Thief
Author: Rick Riordan
Genre: YA Fiction, Fantasy

 So, I'm a sucker for a good kids' fantasy/sci-fi book, and it's really rare for me to find one I don't like. Well, I did. I had picked up the book because I saw the movie and thought it was cute and figured the book was better. I, a huge Harry Potter snob, had heard a few people say, "Oh, it's like Harry Potter! It's really good." All I can say is, "Percy Jackson, I knew Harry Potter, and you are no Harry Potter."

The book, for the record, wasn't horrible. It accounts the adventures of demi-God Percy Jackson, from his bizarre final days of sixth grade, when he discovers his dad is one of the "Big Three" Olympian gods (Poseidon, Hades, and Zeus), and that his learning disabilities (ADHD and dyslexia) are actually his battle reflexes and what allows him to read ancient Greek (yet his dyslexia still affects him when he reads ancient Greek, which confused me) to his high adventure arrival at Camp Half-Blood, a camp for the gods bastards (to put it nicely). From there, Percy is given a quest to retrieve Zeus's master lightning bolt and prevent massive amounts of disaster befalling the human race.

Okay, I'll give you that it's an interesting idea. And Riordan does a really great job in explaining why Mount Olympus is currently located in New York City, and even tackles sticky ideas like "God" versus folks like Athena or Apollo. In all, I like how Riordan works this really crazy world of ancient Grecian gods and goddesses into our modern America. This is where a similarity to Harry Potter can be made.

What I wasn't into was the general campiness. Yes, Harry Potter (sorry I'm harping on this) is campy, but Percy Jackson managed to be more so. The voice of Percy (the book is in first person) felt like it was trying too hard to sound young. The benefit of writing from third person, when your main character is a 12 year old, and you, the writer, are not 12, is that you don't necessarily have to sound like it. It felt really corny in parts and there were certain times when Percy didn't sound like...Percy, I guess. That really bothered me and made the narration feel unauthentic. I also felt like some parts moved too quickly. Riordan should have spent more time in locations or gave more information or something. But then other parts would drag a bit. This definitely wasn't a book I raced through.

Comparable Reads: Like I said, there are some comparisons to Harry Potter, but don't go and read this expecting the same kind of stuff. In my opinion, Harry's better. I can't think of anything I've read that is similar, but if I can think of anything else later, I'll toss it here.

Who this book is for: This is definitely for a younger set, like upper elementary and middle school. That's not to say older folks won't like it (there are a few people in my teacher's ed. program who have loved this book), but I have little doubt that this book would be a hit with a lot of 11-13 year olds, particularly boys--although, the book does have a really strong female character (like, if Hermoine was interested in getting into street fights), so girls would have someone to connect to as well.


Title: Persepolis
Author: Marjane Satrapi
Genre: Memoir, Historical, Graphic Novel
Price: $13.95 (paperback)
ISBN: 978-0375714573

I'm not a huge graphic novel person. I've read a couple, liked them, but it isn't a genre I actively seek out. When I heard about Persepolis last year my interest was piqued not because it fit my reading taste, necessarily, but for teaching purposes. If teacher education does one thing to you, it gives you a radar for potentially useful books (at least if you're an English teacher). Even if the book ended up not being my cup of tea, then it might be one for a student.

Well, I loved the book. Persepolis is the graphic novel memoir of Marjane Satrapi's childhood in Iran, during the Iranian Revolution. Within the interestingly stark black and white illustrations and witty, quick text, there is a story of a young girl coming of age and coming to terms with a radical change taking place in her country. While most graphic novels are a quick read, simply by nature, Persepolis zips by because you can't put the book down.

While the story is a familiar one (who doesn't love a good coming of age tale?), it is set in a place and time I think many Americans, especially young Americans, are unfamiliar with. I knew very little about the Iranian Revolution. Hostages and Jimmy Carter were generally the two things that came to mind. After reading Persepolis, I have a better grasp of not only what led to the revolution and the events within it, but I also have a better idea of who (some of) the Iranian people are--which I think is an important group of people to understand, considering our current "relationship" with the country.

Comparable Reads: There is a Persepolis II, which covers the later years of Marjane's childhood and then her adulthood. Anything I said above pretty much applies to this book. It's good. Another book that comes to mind is Funny in Farsi, which is another memoir of an Iranian woman and her family's move to America shortly before the Iranian revolution and their adjustment to the American way of life.

Who This Book is For: Middle school and up. I would be cautious in letting, maybe, seventh graders at this book because it does deal with some pretty heavy stuff (the realities of war and some hardcore politics from another country), but beyond that, it's a funny, interesting, and informative read that I think many teens, young adults, and "real" adults could get into.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010


Title: Punkzilla
Author: Adam Rapp
Genre: Young Adult, Realistic Fiction
Price: $16.99
ISBN: 978-0763630317
I'm going to get tired of making this comparison when I talk about this book, but it's the best way I can describe it--think of Holden Caulfield. Now think of him if he were living on his own in Washington state, getting hand jobs from vaguely handicapped young women. Like Holden, Punkzilla (a.k.a. Jamie), is living in a world where he is estranged from his family, though closely tied to an older brother. Though, rather unlike Holden, Punkzilla is markedly less jaded by the world and more interested in people and willing to trust in them and believe in their goodness, particularly since he is dependent on the goodness of people as he travels from Washington state all the way to Tennessee, to visit his gay and ill older brother.

For myself, I love this sort of story. I like weird kids (possibly because I am one), and while some of the content made me feel uncomfortable (like the bizarre sexual encounters, or the sudden claimings and subsequent tossing aways Punkzilla experiences with various adults), I largely enjoyed the read. The story moves quickly as it's filled with action and laugh-out-loud bits and it's written in letter form. I really loved the fact that the story is made up of letters, because, unlike, say, a journal, you not only get the inner workings of Punkzilla, but you also get a sense of his relationship with his brother, plus you also read letters from Punkzilla's friends and parents, which help fill in gaps you might not otherwise have filled.

While this is certainly one of those coming of age stories akin to, as mentioned, Catcher and the Rye, it also deals rather subtley with adults and their relationships with children (their own and others). Adults are largely NOT present in this book, and those that are disappear rather quickly and can't be counted on. There is a very big sense of abandonment (and not just of Punkzilla). And though the book can be a quick read, it's powerful, because makes you think about how society nurtures (or doesn't nurture) its children and what we, as adults and parents, could possibly do better or how one generation is clearly not quite sure in how to deal with another.

Comparable Reads: Okay, so we've covered "Catcher", but I also think Rule of the Bone is another similar sort of YA novel (troubled kid takes a trip down to Jamaica to find his father), as well as the book I'm currently reading now, Going Bovine. All four books deal with smart, wise-ass boys who are on a journey, and, to some degree, tell us something about the world and why it's made them as strangely messed up as they are. All are really interesting and pretty funny (especially Going Bovine).

Who This Book is For: I think a safe range is thirteen through sixteen (though older kids obviously could enjoy this, but they might find Punkzilla a little immature). I would be very, every hesitant to hand this book off to a twelve year old, only because I so want twelve year olds to be TWELVE, and this book deals with a lot of crazy stuff that are teenage issues. And while there are lots of twelve year old and younger kids who are acquainted with the issues that Punkzilla deals with, I really don't see the point of throwing more of this stuff at them.

Here We Go Again!

So, after a much longer than anticipated hiatus, I am back blogging again. I had a nice long summer filled with a variety of books, but mostly Diana Gabaldon (I was attempting to reread her entire Outlander series, as mostly successful, but I have the last two books to go and I doubt I'll touch them until December).

Right now I am back in school and very happily ensconced in my Young Adult Literature class. Now, the benefit of this class is that I actually have to make time to blog here, because my blog entries will be counting as my evidence for having read ten (count 'em, ten) young adult books. So very, very exciting. Hopefully I enjoy all the books I'm about to tackle!