Monday, August 27, 2012

The Obsidian Blade: A case for keeping it simple stupid

The Obsidian Blade (The Klaatu Diskos #1)
By Pete Hautman
Hardcover, 320 pages
Candlewick Press, April 2012

The first time his father disappeared, Tucker Feye had just turned thirteen. The Reverend Feye simply climbed on the roof to fix a shingle, let out a scream, and vanished — only to walk up the driveway an hour later, looking older and worn, with a strange girl named Lahlia in tow. In the months that followed, Tucker watched his father grow distant and his once loving mother slide into madness. But then both of his parents disappear. Now in the care of his wild Uncle Kosh, Tucker begins to suspect that the disks of shimmering air he keeps seeing — one right on top of the roof — hold the answer to restoring his family. And when he dares to step into one, he’s launched on a time-twisting journey— from a small Midwestern town to a futuristic hospital run by digitally augmented healers, from the death of an ancient prophet to a forest at the end of time. Inevitably, Tucker’s actions alter the past and future, changing his world forever.

Pricky's Review
1 Deteriorating Star on Goodreads

There is a delicate balance between a story that is too simplistic and a story that leads to information overload. Too simplistic and the reader falls asleep; too complex and the reader is left in the dust wondering what just happened. Unfortunately, The Obsidian Blade falls into the latter category.

I should have known from the first chapter that I was heading into a bad mix of Star Trek vs The Twilight Zone. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy both. I'm just not sure they work well together...well, at least in this setting.

At the start, we are given a brief historical account of the Klaatu Disks (or time portals) invented by one discorporeal being in the postdigital age but made by Boggsian corporeals. Is your head spinning yet? It took me a few minutes to come to grips but I had to put that aside because then comes Tucker and his Reverend dad who finds themselves drawn to these time portals. And well...the adventure  confusion begins.

From there, we discover that the Reverend has lost his faith and his wife is slowly heading into mental instability as a result of playing Sudoku. (Beware all you Sudoku fans!) The Reverend wants to cure his wife and disappears into the disks. But Tucker suspects this and eventually follows them.

In his journey, he meets such bizarre beings as futuristic autistic medical attendants (medicants) who use you in their product assembly line, futuristic priests who sacrifice pure girls to the disks, the last day of earth with a single mysterious woman who has secrets, a retelling of the crucifix of Jesus (who instead of dying and returning to earth, actually got delivered to the medicants who repaired and returned him in 3 days), discovers that the Reverend got "cured" of his belief in God, references to the Digital plague, maggot disk eaters, and then being reintroduced to the Reverend as now Father September who will somehow return every one to a state of grace (from technology).

Wait a minute, I was under the impression I was going to read a time travel novel. Instead, the time traveling aspect is just a set up for introducing new bizarre circumstances. From what I can gather, the point of the story is about how we eventually become corrupt from technology???...but why all the religious references? Is there a subtext I'm not understanding here. It's just all too complex and unrealistic; is there such a thing as unrealistic science fiction?

Sadly, I felt like I was reading a foreign language half the time. I didn't feel anything for the characters and the story was just bizarre. Then a few days ago I was watching "The Day the Earth Stood Still" and ironically discovered that the main character is named Klaatu... coincidence? Why name the disks after one of the most popular sci-fi characters? I'm not sure, but I'm already too confused to think about it any further.

Also, I have no idea what the "Obsidian Blade" is, since it wasn't even referred to until the last chapter.

Sadly, a recommendation I can't make to anyone. If anyone has suggestions on a true time traveling novel, please let me know.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

The Unfinished Collection...

Start. Stop. Drop.
Pick up. Skim. Put down.
The End.

At what point do you finally say "It's over?" I'm not talking about relationships...although...there may be some truth in the matter. But no, I'm talking about that book you were excited to pick up and read...only to realize a few pages into it, that it's just not-gonna-happen. But how long do you give that book a fighting chance? 10 pages in? 100? Half-way point? What makes you stop? The plot, the characters, writing style, mood, lighting? There should be an entire field devoted to literary psychology.

With Summer almost over, here's this season's unfinished collection:

Switched. By Amanda Hocking. Paperback, 304 pages. St. Martin's Griffin. 
I was SO looking forward to reading this one (a paranormal girl switched at birth! Sounds promising!) but when I finally sat down to read it, it was all sorts of disappointment. It all started with Wendy's first dance/encounter with the mysterious Finn-where out-of-the-blue, he starts insulting her. Afterwards he tries to apologize and later on, we find out he acted that way because he didn't want to get too "involved." Okay, uh...Can we please move beyond the "I'm going to be mean because it's for your own good" plot phase? I was also under the impression that the story was about faeries because well..uh, Wendy is a changeling (and isn't that a Fey type of thing to do?)...but it's actually about trolls...and so, I got all confused and just couldn't keep going. Tried and Died around page 114.

Enchanted. By Alethea Kontis. Hardback, 305 pages. Harcourt Children's Books, May 2012.  
I learned a lot about myself with this one: my days of fairy tales are over. I just can't get into them like I used to. I think I'm becoming more of an urban fantasy kind of a girl. In Enchanted, Kontis weaves together all the fairy tale stories into one with the story of the frog prince as the catalyst. While I admire her creativity and imagination, I felt that her world was very confusing with too much information and fairy tale adaptations thrown at me. Also, each of the 7 children are named after the days of the week, which while unique, somehow made it equally distracting. Likewise, the backdrop of the family's history and magical source had so many explanations and reasons that I couldn't keep track. And at that point, I decided it was better that we part ways. But WHAT a beautiful dress! Tried and Died around page 100.

Partials. By Dan Wells. Hardcover, 468 pages. Balzer + Bray, February 2012. 
Oh, how I wanted to love this one: apocalypse, engineered organic beings, was everything I ever wanted in a story...Unfortunately, the only thing I got out of this was a good night's sleep. The main challenge I had with this story was its pacing. It just took too long to get going. I also felt like the writing was somewhat bland for my an apocalyptic militarized world, I expected more suspense, more action, more snide remarks, less talking. There just wasn't enough to keep me going. And after meeting Dan Wells, I felt even worse for not finishing. Tried and Died around page 70.

All 3 books do have some pretty decent ratings on Goodreads so you may end up enjoying them...even if it wasn't my cup of hot chocolate.

So I'm curious...what was your summer's unfinished novel and why?

Speak: I'll Listen...

By Laurie Halse Anderson
Hardback, 198 pages
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, October 1999
Genre: Young Adult Fiction

The first ten lies they tell you in high school

"Speak up for yourself - we want to know what you have to say." From the first moment of her freshman year at Merryweather High, Melinda knows that this is a big fat lie, part of the nonsense of high school. She is friendless, outcast, because she busted an end-of-summer party by calling the cops, so now nobody will talk to her, let alone listen to her. As time passes, she becomes increasingly isolated and practically stops talking altogether. Only her art class offers any solace, and it is through her work on an art project that she is finally able to face what really happened at that terrible party: she was raped by an upperclassman, a guy who still attends Merryweather and is still a threat to her. Her healing process has just begun when she has another violent encounter with him. But this time Melinda fights back, refuses to be silent, and thereby achieves a measure of vindication. In this powerful novel, an utterly believeable heroine with a bitterly ironic voice delivers a blow to the hypocritical world of high school. She speaks for many a disenfranchised teenager while demonstrating the importance of speaking up for oneself. 

Speak is a 1999 National Book Award Finalist for Young People's Literature.

Pricky's Review
4 Heartfelt Stars on Goodreads

It has been HIGHLY unusual for me to be reading so much contemporary/chick-lit fiction. Typically, I'm all about the paranormal fantasy I've been pleasantly surprised that I've liked what I've read so far: Story of a Girl and How to Save a Life. Although I may need to take a break from such emotional themes...

I love the uniqueness and creativity in which Speak is written. Anderson took a difficult and sensitive topic and was able to balance it with the humor of high school life. There's "Mr. Neck" the teacher, "Principal Principal," and "Hairwoman." Each section is also divided not by "chapters" on a new page but by "headings" that continue until the final "Report Card" at the end of each "marking period." In this way, Melinda's voice really carries you through to the end.

And it's this voice that goes right to your heart. As a rape victim, Melinda's cynicism, sarcasm, fear, hurt, pain, sadness are all evidenced in her experience. In how she now views her world and how she copes to survive. What she can say and what she can't. And the consequences of both.

Principal Principal: "Melinda. Last year you were a straight-B student, no behavioral problem, few absences. But the reports I've been getting...well, what can we say?"

Mother: "That's the point, she won't say anything! I can't get a word out of her. She's mute."


Mother: "She's jerking us around to get attention."

Me: [inside my head] Would you listen? Would you believe me? Fat chance.

As a parent, it is always particularly hard for me to watch how some parental characters treat their children. I'm somewhat sensitive to this because I never ever want to become the characters that I read about: how Melinda's parents think they know the reason for their daughter's behavior. I wonder what the parents could have done differently. And so at the end, I did have a wish for a better resolution with her parents: Would they have acted differently if they had known what happened? And if Melinda had a closer relationship with them, would she have spoken sooner? However, given the parent's behavior, as a teenager, I wouldn't have talked to them either.

The only other part that I thought was a bit unrealistic and somewhat uncomfortable was when the male teacher offered a ride to Melinda. Could this have happened in 'real life?' I'm just not sure. But aside from that minor "hmm...not sure about that" moment and the previous parental non-resolution, I very much enjoyed Speak. My favorite quote of the book is: "You can't speak up for your right to be silent. That's letting the bad guys win." I highly recommend this for both parents and young adult readers alike. Definitely one for your to-read list.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Erebos: Beware the Addiction...

By Ursula Poznanski
(Translated from German by Judith Pattinson)

Hardcover, 440 pages
Annick Press, January 2012
Genre: Science Fiction/Thriller

An intelligent computer game with a disturbing agenda.

When 16-year-old Nick receives a package containing the mysterious computer game Erebos, he wonders if it will explain the behavior of his classmates, who have been secretive lately. Players of the game must obey strict rules: always play alone, never talk about the game, and never tell anyone your nickname. 

Curious, Nick joins the game and quickly becomes addicted. But Erebos knows a lot about the players and begins to manipulate their lives. When it sends Nick on a deadly assignment, he refuses and is banished from the game. 

Now unable to play, Nick turns to a friend for help in finding out who controls the game. The two set off on a dangerous mission in which the border between reality and the virtual world begins to blur. This utterly convincing and suspenseful thriller originated in Germany, where it has become a runaway bestseller.

Pricky's Review:

3 Stars on Goodreads

As a story, I wasn't that impressed. The plot line was pretty simplistic and fairly predictable. Only a third of the way through and I already had a lingering suspicion of who the culprit might be. There were also a few unrealistic moments. For instance, when the target is finally revealed, I kept wondering why they didn't just google "Ortolan & video game," a hundred pages ago instead of just "Ortolan." Which by the way is evidenced when Nick says, "We should have done more research...Then we would have found him a lot earlier." Yes, my thoughts exactly. I also didn't feel that much for any of the characters: an eyeroll every once in a while and an exasperated sigh. The pacing was also somewhat slow for a thriller and quite honestly, I felt like it was consuming up too many hours of my time. And when a book makes you wonder if "it is ever going to end?"...well, that's not a good sign.

HOWEVER, I really did like the writing style. And while I wasn't impressed by the plot, I was impressed by the way the characters became totally consumed by the game. I'm not a gamer myself so I can't fully understand the draw...but I've always wondered what keeps them hooked. As the story switches back and forth from the gaming world and the real one, I began to get a better feel for what keeps them going. There's the secrecy of the game and its rewards. Once Nick gets his hands on Erebos, he becomes completely consumed by it: just one more level...just one more reward... My favorite parts were when Nick must accomplish a task in "real life" in order to obtain a reward in the game: Nick acts nearly psychotic and desperate.

AND I did appreciate the fact that the story is more multicultural than most high school settings. Erebos takes place in London, and I expected a completely homogeneous group of people, so I was pleasantly surprised to read references to descriptions and names from different races. It made London feel so real!

But towards the end, I just wanted the story to be over. The romance with Nick and Emily was too the author just had to make it work. The pacing was too slow for me, and I expected more plot twists and more suspense. Also, I'm a bit surprised that Nick's parents never mention a word to him about Erebos.  It is an interesting read but not as entertaining as I would have liked. I would have to recommend this as a "Maybe" read.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The Immortal Rules: Rule #1...Stay Alive.

The Immortal Rules (Blood of Eden #1)
By Julie Kagawa
Hardcover, 485 pages
Harlequin Teen, April 2012
Genre: Paranormal Fantasy/Vampires


In a future world, vampires reign. Humans are blood cattle. And one girl will search for the key to save humanity." Allison Sekemoto survives in the Fringe, the outermost circle of a vampire city. By day, she and her crew scavenge for food. By night, any one of them could be eaten.

Some days, all that drives Allie is her hatred of "them." The vampires who keep humans as blood cattle. Until the night Allie herself is attacked--and given the ultimate choice. Die...or become one of the monsters.

Faced with her own mortality, Allie becomes what she despises most. To survive, she must learn the rules of being immortal, including the most important: go long enough without human blood, and you will go mad.

Then Allie is forced to flee into the unknown, outside her city walls. There she joins a ragged band of humans who are seeking a legend--a possible cure to the disease that killed off most of humankind and created the rabids, the mindless creatures who threaten humans and vampires alike.

But it isn't easy to pass for human. Especially not around Zeke, who might see past the monster inside her. And Allie soon must decide what--and who--is worth dying for.

Pricky's Review:
4 Stars on Goodreads

Just when I thought there couldn't possibly be yet another vampire novel...look who shows up. And if it were anyone else, I wouldn't have even given it the time of day (ah! no pun intended)...but I'd heard such good things about Julie Kagawa...but wasn't really interested in the land of the Fey. So vampires it was.

And can I just say how much I just LOVED that the main character Allie was Asian?! YES! We need more multicultural characters!!!!!

Immortal Rules begins with the decline of society and the rule of the vampire. It's no wonder Allie hates them. But given the choice between life or death, she chooses as a vampire that is. Throughout the story, it's this choice that haunts me: Would I have done the same?

Given the choice, would you become that which you hate? And then after the panic of survival, how do you cope with your decision? Regret? Anger? Acceptance? Fear? This is the question that Allie faces over and over. Not only does Allie have to struggle with her new vampire demon, she also has to struggle with her own perception of who she is: because how can you be good if you are something bad.

Immortal Rules asks these tough questions and tells you a story filled with hard choices and decisions. Nothing is black and white. The story is very well paced and leads you through one dilemma to another. While at times predictable, I thought the story was very well thought out. And did I mention that I really like Allie? Kawaga really knows her characters: they are all multidimensional individuals: from the vampire who changed her to the boy who believes in her. My only disappointment was the ending: even though it made perfect sense, I was still hoping for everything to be wrapped up in pretty paper with a shiny bow. But then again, that would have seemed ridiculous. And of course, we wouldn't have book 2 to look forward to.

If you think you're exhausted by vampires, have no fear, this one will suck you back in. (Oh my, I'm full of puns this evening). I highly recommend you put this on your to-read list.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Fab or Drab Book Signings

Book Signings (n.) Meeting the author of your dreams and ending up with the best night of your life...or the worst.

Way back in the day (okay, not that far back), but back enough that my first email account ended with and the internet only had a handful of boring college sites. There was no facebook, no blogger, no twitter and definitely no book signings. In fact, I attended one of the very first LA Times Book Festivals held on campus in 1997 when I met Michael Crichton and had him sign my torn paperback copy of Congo. Yeah, that was embarrassing.

Then I went to my first "official" book event for Eoin Colfer and I. was. hooked. He was funny and friendly, even if I was the hundredth person he had to sign for.
Wow. I look really young here...Hmm...and so does Eoin. 
But ever since meeting the fantastic Mr. Colfer, I've met with some pretty fab and unfortunately, disappointingly drab signings.

So what makes it FAB...or DRAB?

FAB: Authors who meet and greet.

R.L. LaFevers, Cynthia Hand, Marie Lu, Kiersten White:
Each of these authors were VERY nice and personable.
I've been to 3 of Kiersten White's book signings and each time she's made it worth the drive. Kiersten really knows how to make you feel that buying her book meant something to her. She and her entourage always interact with the audience: making jokes and having fun. During the book signing itself, Kiersten always has something nice to say to me(!). Granted I think a lot of this has to do with the author's personality, and I'm not asking for hyperactivity or anything...just pretend to be happy/excited/grateful that I read your book! Because on the flip side, I've been to book signings where the author barely glanced at me while signing her book and another where the author seemed really bored to be there. And that's when I went away thinking "Remind me again, why I drove an hour (plus) to see you?"

DRAB: Waiting in line for hours, only to ride on a conveyor belt of signings.
At least Riordan's signing my book, even if he is talking to another reader. 
I guess this one is sort of inevitable. When an author becomes so big that there's 400+ people waiting for a signed book, it makes sense to move them along, otherwise she/he could be there for HOURS. And I get that. And a lot of times, there's a special event beforehand to make up for it: with Riordan, there was a huge Roman Festival; with Meyer, there was the Breaking Dawn concert. But as a reader, it's still a huge disappointment to miss out on a little bit of face time. Even a "Hi, thanks for coming" would be lovely. Is there a solution to this? Limit the amount of attendees? Ticketed events for a "meet and greet"? I don't know if there is a way to solve the problem of the masses...ideas anyone?

FAB: An author talks...and I listen!
You're in for a treat with Bree Despain!
Even though I had a major migraine, I still think Bree Despain's signing was one of THE BEST.  She gets the award for "Most Entertaining, Insightful, Dramatic Presentation" ever. I was loving and laughing every minute of her speech. Of course, Eoin Colfer is a close second with the "BEST Comedy Act by an Author" award. Getting to know the author this way makes me even more excited about their books! If you get the chance to see one of these authors, you are in for a real treat.

DRAB: No photographs please.

Okay, so this one relates to the conveyor belt of signings. It's a downer when the fine print says no posed photography with the author. Isn't the whole point of going to a signing to get that photo op with your book celebrity?! Yeah, yeah...I know, it has to do with all those other readers who want a photo too, and if it takes 2 minutes per reader and there's 400 people...well, I guess she/he will end up on a caffeine drip. So how to solve this? I am suddenly envisioning those Santa photos you take at the mall but instead of Santa, it's your author...minus the lap sitting, of course.

FAB: Authors that hand out party favors!

"Daughter of Smoke..." Tattoo, "Hero of Olympus" Pin,
 Signed "Mind Games" Bookmark
As if getting a signed copy isn't enough! I love it when authors/publishers give out favors for meeting them. It says, "Thank you for reading/buying my book." I know it's all for publicity to share the book love but in this case it's a win-win situation for all. I get something cool. I brag tell everyone about how cool she/he is. Then more people want to buy the book...see, everyone's happy. Really, I should have gone into marketing. But it's this type of publicity that works! And again, I have to mention Kiersten White: she gave out a zebra bag, a pound of chocolate, arcs, and other fun stuff to her audience!

DRAB: Missing a book signing.

It's a drab when you have been hoping and wishing for an author to come to your town...and then you miss it. Not because you couldn't make it but because you didn't know about it in the first place! This is the story of my life. I can't keep track of when new releases come out and when authors tour. I can't filter through all the websites and facebook pages. Am I missing something here? Is there a central location for all the author tours that I don't know about?

But whether it's a fab or drab moment, I am grateful to all the authors, publishers, and event coordinators for bringing us their books! I can't wait for the next one! And for all you author groupies out there, I hope your next book signing turns out to be a FAB moment! Also I'd love to hear what your FAB or DRAB book signing moment was!

Monday, August 13, 2012

Story of a Girl: I wish I read this as a teen...

Story of a Girl
By Sara Zarr
Paperback, 192 pages
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, February 2008

When she is caught in the backseat of a car with her older brother's best friend--Deanna Lambert's teenage life is changed forever. Struggling to overcome the lasting repercussions and the stifling role of "school slut," she longs to escape a life defined by her past. With subtle grace, complicated wisdom and striking emotion, Story of a Girl reminds us of our human capacity for resilience, epiphany and redemption.

Pricky's Review
4 Emotional Stars on Goodreads

I wasn't sure if I wanted to read this: a THIRTEEN YEAR OLD caught by her dad in the backseat of a car?! I almost threw up. How in the world does a thirteen year old end up in a situation like that? And why would you even write a story about it? But I needed to find out why. Plus, it's Sara Zarr.

It's the summer after her sophomore year and Deanna is searching for a way out: out of her town, her past, her home. A way to start over. But how can you become a "new you" when everyone sees only the "old?" Especially if that "old" screams "slut."

No other story has made me feel as if I took a dive right into the past. Which by the way, I wasn't exactly sure I wanted to resurrect all that teenager confusion, misunderstanding, insecurity, and want...but at the same time, I was pretty impressed that Zarr knew exactly how to bring me right back to that 15-year-old me.

This story probably won't resonate with everyone, and I'm not really taking about the teenage "sex part." The parts that made me connect with Deanna were more about her insecurities as a teenager and the mistakes that she made and the hope that her parents still value her. As a teenager, this was exactly how I felt.

If it wasn't for Zarr's ability to take your hand and show you the light at the end of the tunnel, I probably would have abandoned this a long time ago. It's full of difficult topics and emotional rip-aparts. Characters who do unlikable things. And as a mom, I couldn't help but hope that I don't become that kind of parent...But even then, Zarr showed me our best intentions are sometimes small steps that can lead to something great. 

The only thing I did hope for more was a clearer ending...but I guess that's what life is about: you're never really sure what's to come, but you hope for the best.

I highly recommend reading this.