Monday, August 31, 2015

I've read the sequel to Spark, guys...

...and it's no weak filler-book, people.

My review of Book 1 (Spark) and first interview with author Rachael Craw here.

Book 2 :: Stray :: Blog tour starts tomorrow;

September 1
September 2
September 3
September 4
September 5
September 6
September 7
I'll be posting my spoiler-free thoughts on the sequel along with another personal interview with Rachael.  See you on the seventh!

Friday, August 28, 2015

A Wicked World-build of a Read: The Age of Miracles

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/12401556-the-age-of-miracles?from_search=true&search_version=service

The Age of Miracles, Karen Thompson Walker
I love talking about this piece of speculative-fabulist fiction.  I have thought of scenes or moments from the book so many times since, and find myself bringing the book up in conversation, attempting to lay out the world and its problems for whoever will listen. I fail to do it justice every time -- because something Thompson Walker does very well is layering; The Age of Miracles is, at first, our world, but layer by layer it exquisitely becomes Other.  A quickie book rec fails to reproduce those layers without some serious butchering or spoiling.  While reading the final fifth or so, I felt like putting down the book and clapping -- for having reached an entirely new, complex (fairly absurd) planet filled with intriguing problems I'd never considered before...in a book that started off familiar and known.   I think the concept is clever, the style is engaging (I didn't want to stop reading and finished it in a day), and all of the characters have meaty depth to them.


Despite the grand premise, there is some very honest content in there, imbuing the mundane with a power that hit me hard in the chest a few times (these pangs were usually the result of peer cruelty).

I think the term "The Slowing" is delicious.  I think it is incredible that this is a debut novel.

Things I like less:
  • There is some pretty mature content, for younger readers, whom I'm sure will be attracted to the young heroine and the young faces featured in marketing materials.  References to middle school sexual activity, for example, would be a bit much for many middle-schoolers I know, to read.  I think I would pin this for Ages 15+ (in conservative circles, i.e. my kids)...but a kid who has already seen a lot of our world's darker side won't bat an eye at 12 or 13.
  • Some adult choices in the book are pretty affronting, so screening this one before reading alongside your own child may be the best route (I think these have potential to kick into overdrive the over-active imagination of a child already suffering from anxiety...I know a few like that).  
  • I didn't feel depressed when it was over, but I didn't feel good or excited, either.  The worth of the book came a week or two later -- a slow burn.  It was after some time I thought, "That really was fascinating."  This isn't a terrible thing, but it isn't my preference; I prefer the immediate reward of closing a cover and feeling I have devoured greatness or I am breathless after coming back down to earth.  This didn't do that for me; it finished...and slowly burned until the residual warmth got my attention.  Then again, it is an End of Days tale...er...there are not all roses, by definition!

Overall, I'm very happy I read it, and I think most adults who enjoy more somber speculative pieces will find some pleasure in this too.  I think it's a toned-down but similar-feeling match for Station Eleven -- younger protag, less violence, single perspective -- but similar foreshadowing promises of decline and gradual progress from normal to far from it.   If you've already read The Age of Miracles, I'd love to hear your thoughts.  If you try it soon, same same...email me!

P.S.  I have seen this being called dystopian.  Um, I disagree -- I think it's time to quit throwing that term around.  This might be deemed: soft sci fi, post-apocalyptic, speculative, fabulist, and coming of age...but I would not say dystopian.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

More Kes Gray (he brought us Oi Frog!)

How Many Legs? Kes Gray (and Jim Field - the same team, completely!)
Winner.  Get it.  Read it.  Memorise it.  It is great for such a wide range of ages; pre-math learners, early math explorers, and competent mathmeticians alike -- all will find things to enjoy and investigate (the selected creatures are great for leg discussion, too!).  In addition to the obvious math integration, this is packed with great rhymes and humour.  Love the answers at the end (yes, answers, plural).

NB:  I would technically submit yet another possible solution, as squid (one is a guest) -- they don't have legs (8 arms and 2 tentacles), but 10 has been counted towards the total for one in attendance.


Monday, August 3, 2015

More Post-apocalyptic Fiction: Station Eleven

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/20170404-station-eleven

Station Eleven, Emily St John Mandel
This was delicious.
  • Warranted cover-stickerage, happening here.  This is an elegant interwoven medley of dark journeys speckled with hope.
  • Mandel's language and narrative cast a spell.  Not only does her poetic wordsmithing and imagery elicit literary swooning, she has these confident flash-forward moments that break the fourth wall and continue to lure and pull you along.
  • The characters are all flawed.  I wasn't taken with any in a huge way (but if I had to choose a favourite, it has to be Miranda!), and yet I was never disappointed to receive updates on any characters' status.  I found this a highly atypical experience; to lack investment in the individuals and yet feel very invested in the overall character tableau...that is what it feels like, to me -- a carefully curated exhibition of experiences to absorb as a whole.
  • Fantastic allusions.
  • Great world-building.
  • Disclaimers for sensitivities: some swearing, some violence, some disturbing/seriously sad content, and sexual references.  No detailed sensuality, no dwelling on the gore, no over-exploration of the sadistic. 
  • Some of the post-apocalyptic moments are golden.  I love that stuff, you know I do.  The outbreak/plagues tale isn't new, but the treatment, character response and form in Station Eleven is something special.
Thank you, Flo, for recommending it. x

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Uprooted

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/22448211-uprooted
Uprooted, Naomi Novik
I've got mixed feelings.

  • The writing, from the start, is incredible.  I stopped, read the opening paragraph aloud to Haki, and said, "And that is how you open a book."  I continued to be floored by the power of the prose for the whole book.  Respect.
  • And the world-building?!  Woah.
  • Then there is the horror.  I didn't see this coming.  This book is dark.  I like narratives that touch upon darkness, and perhaps lean to the darker side.  This text crosses a line, for me, incorporating elements of horror that I did not see coming.  The darkness of this novel is both something I love and dislike about the text -- I think it will stay with me for longer, for having this content, but I think I will hesitate to recommend it to some of my peers for having it.  It contains violent content as well (with fairly graphic descriptions).
  • A BIG BEEF:  The love story.  Not okay with me.  I can rationalise the behaviour of one of the characters, sure, but I still am not comfortable with people basically being jerks and being loved for it -- especially if little to no redeeming tenderness is gradually uncovered.  Yeah, I'm sure there's a precious soul buried beneath each grouchy exterior out there, but novels marketed to YA featuring Grade A Cruel Characters being adored in all their Cruelness?  It's not to my taste.  I know there are a wide range of romantic offerings and attractions out there, but this modelling risks too much, in this field, for me.  I don't know how transmitting any variation of the message, "Someone can be really abusive towards you, and that is okay, in fact, it might make you feel pretty hot for him" can be okay I'm uncomfortable with this.  Girls, you know what?  Maybe there is someone worth loving in there, underneath all those layers.  But please, please, when someone treats you like dirt, try looking for someone else maybe?  There will be enough conflict in a healthy relationship without starting at first base with someone whose default mode is to criticise and disparage you.  How depressing!
  • Secondary beef: The sensuality is too much for my taste, for a YA-marketed text, especially.  Ya ya, "Teenagers are having sex though."  I know.  I still won't be offering this book to my girls to read anytime soon, and the treatment of romantic relationships and sexuality is why, NOT because of how dark or scary it is!
  • The narrative is worthy of Grimm or greater!  It is something special.  I did not feel a deep connection with any of the characters, nor many relationships (there is one female friendship I began to respect), but the story and setting?  I felt very strongly about those and there was never any question I was seeing the development of the story and setting through -- they were engrossing, beautiful and worthy of my time.
So.  If those beefs would bug you a lot, or you don't care for darkness -- steer clear.  Otherwise, you may find, like multiple of my friends, that this book is a jaw-dropper.

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