Thursday, December 17, 2009

Killer Katniss in THE HUNGER GAMES by Suzanne Collins

Hey there, Junkies. So in the wee hours of the night, one fateful September, when the first inklings of the idea to write this blog came to me, I thought this book would definitely be the first I'd write about. Well, three months have passed and I still haven't posted about The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins.

I don't know why I've put it off. Part of me feels that there's been so much buzz about this book, that at this point it's a little redundant to encourage you to go read it. Because clearly, if you haven't read it yet, you've either been living under a rock or you simply have no interest in bad-ass heroines in dystopian YA novels. So really? What's the point? I can rant and rave about how action-packed and horrifying it is, but I'm just preaching to the choir.

But anyway.

Katniss lives with her mom and her younger sister, Prim, in District 12, the poorest district in Panem, the post-apocalyptic nation controlled by the Capitol. Katniss is a survivor. Despite the death of her father and dire poverty, Katniss takes care of her mother and sister. Katniss uses a bow her father made to poach wildlife with her bestfriend, Gale. Together, Gale and Katniss sneak behind the District 12 fences to hunt and speak freely about their disdain for the Capitol.

Each year the Capitol holds the Hunger Games. Two Tributes, a boy and girl between 12-18 years-old, are randomly selected from a lottery to represent their district in the Hunger Games. Basically, it's like Survivor, only to the death. Whoever stays alive the longest wins! The winner earns amazing riches and food for his/her district.

Prim is selected as the girl from District 12, but Katniss immediately volunteers to go in her sister's place. Peeta, a baker's son Katniss's age, is selected as the male tribute. Katniss accepts her entrance into the Hunger Games as certain death, she only hopes she won't have to kill Peeta.

Katniss and Peeta are pampered and prepared for the Hunger Games in the Capitol. Haymitch, District 12's only former winner of the games, serves as Peeta and Katniss's coach. Unfortunately Haymitch is an alcoholic.

The action starts once they enter the arena and the fight to the death begins. Some of the traps in the arena, and the way these teengagers willingly kill each other is quite horrifying. Once Katniss starts wielding a bow and arrow, her bad-assness erupts. She's a survivor and she'll do whatever it takes to save herself.

Yes, this book is full of gruesome action. But what I love about it are the other, more subtle parts. I love the kind-of-love-story and the emerging love-triangle. I love the dystopian political/social commentary. And I LOVE the question that is barely alluded to: What does killing a person, even in self-defense, do to one's psyche?

Ok, so get out from under your rock, catch up with the rest of us and read The Hunger Games.

Ok, so in a previous post, I challenged anyone to find a tougher heroine than Katsa from Graceling.

What do y'all think? Who's tougher? Katniss or Katsa?

Monday, December 7, 2009

Clary grows into bad-assness in Cassandra Clare's Mortal Instruments series.

Hey there, Junkies. So, I first fell in love with City of Bones when I read it as an alternative to this other book that is very lacking in heroines, but for some reason is very popular. Like this other book, The Mortal Instruments has romantic and paranormal elements, includes a love triangle with a vampire, and has groups of vampires and werewolves who don't get along. So, if you're a fan of this other book, I'd get over it and put it down already, and read The Mortal Instruments series by Cassandra Clare.

Now Clary is not exactly a top-notch heroine. She grows into her bad-assness throughout the series. In City of Bones she starts off as really more of a methodone (heehee, get it?). Ok, seriously.

Clary lives in New York and hangs out with her best friend, Simon. One night Clary sees this hotty, Jace, and these two other teens kill a demon. Clary is not supposed to see demons. Clary is not supposed to see Jace. Jace, Alec, and Isabel, are Shadow-hunters, a special race of people designed to kill demons.

After some flirting with Jace, Clary goes home to find her apartment in ruins, her mom missing, and a demon waiting for her. Clary fights the demon and kills it. This is where her road to bad-ass heroinism begins.

It turns out, Clary was born a Shadow-hunter, but her mom has been hiding her from the Shadow-hunter world. She's been lying to Clary and taking her to Magnus Bane, a deliciously flamboyant warlock, to have her memory altered.

Well, now Clary's mom is kidnapped and Clary has to team up with the shadow-hunters to find her mom and fight some demons, and in the meantime, she falls inlove with Jace.

Although in City of Bones Clary depends a little too much on Jace and the shadow-hunters to save her, in City of Ashes she discovers her own power, and by City of Glass Clary reaches full heroine status and is powerful enough to fight the bad guy on her own.

These books are fun and action packed. There are some great characters, like Magnus Bane the flamboyant warlock, and Raphael the cross-wearing vampire. I love how in the middle of a demon war, the most difficult situation a 19-year-old boy can face is telling his parents that he's gay. I enjoyed the love triangle and appreciated the realistic portrayal of teen sex. There are some steamy moments in this series!

I also LOVED the Star-Wars-esque family dynamic (Luke...I am your father. I love you Princess a sister). You want forbidden love? These books have some hot forbidden love.
So any and all urban fantasy/ paranormal romance fans must read these books. Let me know what you think.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Free Book Contest!

Want to win some YA books? YA Highway is having a great holiday contest to win some of thier favorite books. Check it out.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

2010 Book Blogger Recommendation Challenge

So, Reading with Tequila has this challenge to read books in 2010 that are recommended by book bloggers.
I think I'm going to go for Level III, and read 15 books from the list. Here are the books I plan to read from the extensive 2009 recommended list:
Hush, Hush - Becca Fitzpatrick
Outlander - Diana Gabaldon
Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen
To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee
Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte
Good Omens - Neil Gaiman
Northern Lights - Phillip Pullman
Push - Sapphire
The Color of Magic - Terry Pratchett
Peeps - Scott Westerfeld
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams
Star Girl - Jerry Spinelli
The Stand - Stephen King
Willow - Julia Hoban
The Truth About Forever - Sarah Dessen
The Handmaid's Tale - Margaret Atwood
Holes - Louis Sachar
13 Reasons Why - Jay Asher
The Time Traveler's Wife - Audrey Niffenegger
Anyone out there have any other recommendations????
Here are the books from the list that I've already read:

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone - J.K. Rowling
City of Bones - Cassandra Clare
Twilight - Stephenie Meyer
The Hunger Games - Suzanne Collins
Graceling - Kristin Cashore
Lord of the Rings - J.R.R. Tolkien
The Book Thief - Markus Zusak
A Wrinkle in Time - Madeleine L'Engle
Catching Fire - Suzanne Collins
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire - J.K. Rowling
Little Women - Louisa May Alcott
Eclipse - Stephenie Meyer
Breaking Dawn - Stephenie Meyer
The Red Tent - Anita Diamant
City of Ashes - Cassandra Clare
Dead Until Dark - Charlaine Harris
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - J.K. Rowling
The Road - Cormac McCarthy
Queen of the Damned - Anne Rice
The Giver - Lois Lowry
The Giving Tree - Shel Silverstein
On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft - Stephen King
Remember Me - Christopher Pike
The Adventures of Kavalier and Clay - Michael Chabon
The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini
Dead to the World - Charlaine Harris
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince - J.K. Rowling
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban - J.K. Rowling
A Great and Terrible Beauty - Libby Bray
Artemis Fowl - Eoin Colfer
Black Beauty - Anna Sewell
City of Glass - Cassandra Clare
Invisible Monsters - Chuck Palahniuk
Middlesex - Jeffrey Eugenides
The Forest of Hands and Teeth - Carrie Ryan
Dress Your Kids in Corduroy and Denim - David Sedaris
Fight Club - Chuck Palahniuk
Happiness Sold Separately - Libby Street
My Sister's Keeper - Jodi Picoult
Anne of Green Gables - L.M. Montgomery
A Ring of Endless Light - Madeleine L'Engle
Lamb - Christopher Moore
Marley and Me - John Grogan
The Yiddish Policeman's Union - Michael Chabon
Dracula - Bram Stoker
The Da Vinci Code - Dan Brown
In Her Shoes - Jennifer Weiner
The Phantom Tollbooth - Norton Juster
Watchers - Dean Koontz

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

FIRE by Kristin Cashore

OK Junkies, so her second book, Fire, definitely places Kristin Cashore on my read-anything-and-everything-by-this-author-list. I mean, Fire does suffer a little from middle-child-syndrome as it doesn't quite live up to Graceling, and now that I've finished Fire, I'm just really excited to have my third kid, ahem, I mean read Cashore's third book, Bitterblue.

Fire is a companion book to Graceling, but I really insist you read Graceling first, so get going. The two books have one character in common. Cashore brilliantly introduces him in the prologue and has the reader biting her nails in suspense waiting for him to reappear, knowing that when he does, it will be with devastating consequences (and it is).

Fire lives in the Dells, a kingdom left in chaos by the former King Nax and his evil adviser, Cansrel, Fire's father. There are monsters in the Dells, beautiful creatures with the ability to manipulate people's minds, typically with violent results. Cansrel was a monster who drove the kingdom to ruins for his amusement and left behind the only existing human-monster, Fire.

Fire is capable of enormous power, but she's terrified of using it and becoming the despicable creature her father was. Although Fire is powerful, being a monster makes her extremely vulnerable. She's the most gorgeous creature in the land and can control minds, but all the animal-monsters, and a great number of people, want to kill her. (It's kind of like the president, in a way. He has all this power, but can't even run to the corner market without an entourage of secret-service cuz some whack-job might shoot him).

So, while avoiding assassination attempts, Fire struggles for her independence and tries to find her place and purpose in a dangerous world. King Nax's two sons, Nash and Brigan, seek Fire out for her help, but the problem is while Brigan hates her, Nash likes her a little too much.

Cashore does a great job of interweaving all sorts of intriguing side plots and back story to keep the reader guessing, even when some other plot elements may be predictable and anticipated, such as the appearance of that Graceling character.

Even with all the war, sex, violence, and mind control, this story is really about family. It seemed very fitting to be reading it on Thanksgiving. The royal family of the Dells resembles most modern American families with half-brothers, step-sisters, adoptive fathers, love triangles, and illegitimate babies galore.

When men, raptors, and mountain lions want to kill her at the mere sight of her flowing red hair, Fire learns that the most dangerous thing she can do in the face of human mortality, is love someone.

Once again, Cashore brings us a young-adult fantasy with sophisticated grown-up relationships. (I mean, really, if I had to sum-up these relationships you'd think these people belong on Jerry Springer or One Life to Live, but Cashore's artful writing elevates all the baby-mommas up the literary ranks and turns them into one great story).

And I know this blog is about heroines, and Fire is pretty bad-ass, and Cashore does a great job of balancing Fire's power with her vulnerability. But can I just say one little thing about the men?

In addition to powerful heroines, Cashore writes great men. She writes horrible, misogynistic men, she writes good-intentioned but controlling and domineering men, and she writes men for her heroines to fall in love with who are...good. Both Katsa and Fire feared losing a part of themselves and sacrificing their independence to be in a relationship. But both of them fall for men who love them for the bad-ass independent heroines they are.

Also, one more thing. I like the sex in these books. Although Cashore barely describes a kiss, her characters have sex. Actually, in Fire, some of them have a lot of sex. The reader doesn't see it, it's barely mentioned, but it's there, and it's a part of life and normal messy relationships.

The combination of well-crafted male characters and a positive and realistic outlook on sex make Fire a breathtaking romance. Cashore sets up healthy adult relationships that young girls can look up to. Which is SO much more than I can say about some other YA books.

Anyways, go read Fire and let the countdown to Bitterblue begin!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Mary fights against death in THE FOREST OF HANDS AND TEETH by Carrie Ryan

OK Junkies, I've been debating whether or not to use common archetypal vernacular to tell you what this book is about. On the one hand, I don't want to cheapen Ryan's literary approach to a familiar setting and turn you off from this amazing book. But, on the other hand, I would hate for anyone to find themselves, as I did, all alone at night in a new house reading about something much more terrifying than expected. Maybe I'll decide by the end of this post.

The Forest of Hands and Teeth is dark, frightening, and beautiful. Mary is coming of age in a village, that according to the Sisterhood, is home to the last survivors of humanity. Mary's world exists several generations after The Return and the Sisterhood enforces rules and traditions to continue the human race.

Guardians protect and reinforce the fences surrounding the village. Beyond these fences is the Forest of Hands and Teeth, which is filled with the Unconsecrated who mindlessly paw and push themselves against the fence.

Mary's life changes forever when her mother is infected and becomes Unconsecrated, and Mary is thrust into the unyielding Sisterhood. As Mary searches to uncover the Sisterhood's secrets, she also discovers a forbidden love.

Mary must choose between duty and love, and between safety and her dreams. Not only is Mary brave in fighting against traditions and expectations, but she is hard-core in swinging an axe and scythe, decapitating death itself.

Mary lives in a horrifying world, surrounded by death. Yet she has the courage to hope for something more than simple safety and contentment. While reading, I intermittently wanted to kiss Mary and kick her in the teeth for deciding that being with the man she loves isn't enough for her. She risks her life (and those of her friends and family, eek) to pursue her dream and chase after hope.

Mary is courageous, and pretty darn selfish, in searching for a meaning to life beyond surviving, in finding a reason to live amongst so much death.

OK, Junkies. Basically, this book is a coming-of-age-love-story that takes place a few generations after the zombie apocalypse. Mary is a kick-ass heroine who decapitates the living dead better than her male counterparts.

But Carrie Ryan tells this story beautifully. Like the characters, you forget about the Unconsecrated relentlessly clawing at the fences. This story is about a young girl's search for happiness and her refusal to accept the role society has designed for her.

Read The Forest of Hand and Teeth, but lock the doors and turn on all the lights in the house before you do.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Gutsy CORALINE by Neil Gaiman

I was fortunate enough to grow up with a great mom who was also an amateur actress. This resulted in great bed-time stories and dramatic readings of picture books. My mom's talent, however, also led to some terrifying moments.

There were a few times (I don't know if I was annoying the crap out of her or what) when I was hanging out with Mom, maybe even curled up in her lap, and she'd snap.

She'd look down her nose at me with disgust and in a weird British accent say, "Mother? I am not your Mother! I have no idea what your talking about! I don't know who you are, little girl."

She'd keep it up for a few minutes, sometimes even pushing me away as I clawed at her, whimpering, "Mom! Stop!" Of course my pleading only egged her on more. This terrified me.

She'd then laugh and say she was just kidding, but I never thought it was funny.

Coraline, by Neil Gaiman, brought the horror of these moments all back to me.

Do not be fooled, Junkies. Sure the book is thin, there are illustrations, the font is huge. Looks like a quaint little children's book. Looks can be deceiving.

This book may be the most frightening thing I've ever read (granted, I do not enjoy being scared and stay away from horror, or anything with a spooky cover).

I finished Coraline in one night because I never found a safe place to put it down.

Coraline is an only child who moves with her parents into a new house and is feeling a little neglected. She finds a door in the house with a wall of bricks behind it.

One day she opens the door and instead of bricks, she finds a passage way to another house that is almost identical to her house, and a mom and dad that are almost identical to her mom and dad.


The other mother has buttons for eyes and promises Coraline to love her, pay attention to her, and give her whatever she wants. The only thing is, the other mother needs to sew buttons onto Coraline's eyes.

Corlaine navigates her way through the eerie and grotesque alternate universe to save her parents and battle the other mother.

OK, forget the talking dogs, the killer rats, the sticky membrane filled with the neighbors. Just the whole idea of the other mother makes me think that Neil Gaiman is either a warped creative genius, hates children, or both.

It's been ten years since I lived with my mom, but the idea of the other mother trying to make me her daughter in her goth-version-of-Alice-in-Wonderland-only-way-more-f-ed-up world sent shivers down my spine.

But this is what makes Coraline such a great heroine. She's terrified, the reader is terrified, but Coraline faces her fear and fights to save her parents. Coraline learns that true bravery isn't lack of fear, but being scared and doing what's right despite that fear.
Gaiman's writing is clean, simple, and elegant. He doesn't beat around the bush, he just focuses on the story and the wacked-out world created by the other mother. Each sentence packs a punch in this story told by a smart, brave, no nonsense narrator, Coraline.

I wish I was as courageous as Coraline. If I opened a door in my living room and was faced with the other mother, I'd probably curl up in a ball and cry.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Deadly Katsa in GRACELING by Kristin Cashore

Hey Junkies! How I've missed you! Sorry this week's post is late but sometimes "real life" gets in the way of pursuing and chronicling my addiction. Sigh.

OK, let's get right down to it. Not since my She-Ra days, has anything made me want to jump up and fight invisible bad guys in the backyard as much as this book.

Graceling by Kristin Cashore packs a punch and Katsa is the ultimate kick-ass heroine. (I hereby challenge anyone to find a literary heroine tougher and deadlier than Katsa).

Cashore creates a fantasy world with seven kingdoms that fortunately does not require the reader to learn elvish nor refer constantly to a map, (and thank goodness cuz that would just kill our buzz). In this world, some people are born gracelings. They have two different colored eyes and a special ability that manifests itself in adolescence. Gracelings are feared and exploited, especially Katsa.

Katsa is an orphan (of course! This is a YA book, hello!) who lives with her uncle, a nasty king of one of the 7 kingdoms. Katsa's grace is killing. She can't be defeated in a fight, she's rarely injured, and she can snap a warrior's neck with a flick of her wrist. I told you, she's bad-ass. Katsa serves as a hired goon for her uncle, threatening and killing people who owe him money or have insulted him in some way.

Katsa has moral qualms about her role as a mercenary and secretly works to put her talents to better use. She meets Po, a graced hotty from another land. Po is the first person Katsa's met who can challenge her skills at fighting, and together they work to uncover the kingdoms' secrets.

Graceling is marketed for young adults BUT it is sophisticated enough to tickle my grown-up dendrites. It's beautifully and intelligently written and I never felt like I had to reach up and turn off part of my brain to enjoy it. Katsa and Po's relationship is so nuanced, I'm not sure most teenagers can fully appreciate it. Also, there was enough political intrigue, romance, and suspense to keep my mind busy that I never fully guessed the ending, unlike with some YA books.

Graceling is about a tough chick finding her humanity and learning to be vulnerable. It is wonderful to watch how Katsa is perfectly skilled at killing a man with her bare hands, but fumbles through simple social situations.

Cashore's characters are so real, I felt bad for their losses days after I'd finished reading.

Fire is on my to-read-list and I have a feeling I'll be posting about that heroine when I'm through.

Go read Graceling and then open up a can-of-whoop-ass on the bad guys in your yard when you're done.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Melissa Marr’s WICKED LOVELY is Pumped Full of Heroines

In searching for my next high, I kept hearing great things about this book, Wicked Lovely. The title is hecka tight and the cover grabbed me, so I snatched it off the library shelves without even reading the flap copy. When I got home, I settled into my recliner and prepared to lose myself in the sweet stuff.

I cracked open the book and at about page 2, I stopped and thought, “Wait! Fairies? This book is about faeries?”

See, normally, I don’t do fairies.

The fey are similar to werewolves, vampires, and zombies in that they are well known mythical creatures. But the similarities end there, because unlike vampires who have a set of simple well known rules (except when a certain writer earns millions by making them sparkle, don’t even get me started), faeries are freakin’ complicated.

I didn’t read fairy stories as a little girl, so the difference between a brownie, a pixie, a sprite, and a nymph were not part of my prior knowledge. I didn’t grow up knowing that iron can kill faeries and that one should never, ever, ever, ever, ever eat or drink fairy food. If you haven’t noticed, I’m still having trouble spelling the word (I can’t decide if I’m British or not).

But luckily, I didn’t let this deter me from reading Wicked Lovely, because then I would have missed out on a fabulous book. Marr beautifully weaves fairy folklore with her modern, edgy story. I love that the teenagers in this story act like real teens, they’re into piercings and tattoos, they drink and smoke, they talk about sex, they have sex, and they are all imperfect.

Oh Junkies, don’t worry, this is all artfully alluded to, it’s not like Wicked Lovely is pages of debauchery, it’s just refreshingly realistic.

By my estimation there are 2.73 heroines in Marr’s first three books, Wicked Lovely, Ink Exchange, and Fragile Eternity.

In Wicked Lovely, we are introduced to Aislinn, a mortal teenage girl who has The Sight, she can see faeries. Growing up witnessing the horrible things they do to each other and to humans, Aislinn is terrified of the fey. She freaks out when Keenan, the fairy Summer King, and Donia, his Winter Girl, start following her.

Now this is where I started to love faeries. You see, they can’t lie, which makes every fairy essentially a lawyer. They’re thousands of years old and their world is split into these kingdoms with ever-changing alliances. The fey are constantly watching what they say and twisting each other’s words.

What’s great about Wicked Lovely is that Marr elaborately sets up a very tough situation for her heroine. Aislinn is left with two bad choices, and must choose the lesser evil. Lots of books do this, we spend a hundred pages watching the protagonist choose between a rock and a hard place.

Wicked Lovely breaks the mold when Aislinn chooses neither. She becomes a kick-ass heroine when she sets her own terms, and makes her own rules.

Now, Ink Exchange ranks lower on the bad-ass-heroine scale for me. Leslie, the protagonist, is a broken girl who spends the book learning her self-worth and gaining her strength to become a heroine. This book did, however, make me fall in love with Niall, the so-bad-he’s-good fairy. And I hope Leslie returns (stronger and ready to bust some heads) in Marr’s fourth or fifth book.

Fragile Eternity is a sequel to Wicked Lovely (but read Ink Exchange first. Pay attention, Junkies).

SPOILER ALERT: the ending of Wicked Lovely is implied by my comments about its sequel. Go read Wicked Lovely!

Aislinn loses some bad-ass points in Fragile Eternity. Yes, she is actually way more powerful than she was in the first book, but she doesn’t seem to realize this. She’s pushed around throughout the whole book. I get it, there will be 5 books in the series, and she’s just getting her footing in her new world, but it was disappointing to see her torn apart by the two men in her life.

Ok Melissa Marr (if by some miracle you’re reading this) I’m warning you. By book five, Aislinn better open-up-a-can-of-whoop-ass on the kingling and set all those boys straight as to who has the power, or else…I’ll be disappointed.

Don’t get me wrong, Junkies, Fragile Eternity has no shortage of heroines. Donia comes into her own and leaves behind her sulky self from the first book and asserts her dominance. She is a tough chick not to be messed with. The third book also gives us more of brooding Niall, very sexy. And we’re introduced to another fairy queen. I haven’t decided if she’s a heroine or a villain yet. (Note to self: someday write a blog about bad-ass female villains. These books have at least 2 great ones).

Ok this post is looong, so let’s sum up:

Read Wicked Lovely, Ink Exchange, and Fragile Eternity (in that order)

Melissa Marr, here are my requests:

1) Leslie should come back, bigger and badder
2) Aislinn needs to open-up-a-can-of-whoop-ass
3) I love Donia (don’t kill her off, please!)
4) Introduce me to Niall.

I can't wait for Radiant Shadows!

OK Junkies, what do you think? Should I do separate posts for books in a series? Or can you suffer through these mega-posts about 3 books at a time?

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Conflicted Nya in The Shifter by Janice Hardy

OK Junkies, last week we looked at some oldies-but-goodies, but this week I'm going to rant about a new drug on the street. In my pathetic attempt to keep my finger on the pulse of the YA book market, I heard about this book a while ago and have been anticipating it for a couple months.

The Healing Wars: Book One, The Shifter by Janice Hardy came out few weeks ago. I gobbled it up and will now regurgitate for you, my beloved Junkies.

Nya is an orphan in a war-torn land. She steals and works odd jobs to feed herself, while her younger sister, Tali is an apprentice in The League, learning to be a healer. Now, I love YA urban-fantasy, but I'm usually wary of any book that begins with a map of a non-existent place and has fantastical names for races of fantastical creatures.

Hardy, however, introduces her imagined world with a finesse that never makes me turn back to look at the damn map. In the beginning, Nya is chased by a cute soldier for stealing eggs. The first chapter grabbed my attention and left me hankering for more. Without an info-dump, the reader figures out that Nya is Geveg in a land conquered and now ruled by Baseeri.

Nya's parents were wealthy and powerful, but were killed in the war that left Gevegs as second-class citizens and Nya all-but homeless. Nya's grandmother and mother were healers. They drew pain out of the sick and injured and transferred it into this magical metal known as pynvium. Tali, Nya's younger sister, also has the ability to heal and is learning the subtleties of her ability in an institution known as The League.

Nya also has strong powers. Nya can draw pain out of those suffering, but cannot transfer it into pynvium. Instead, she can do something no other healer can, she shifts the pain into others.

Before she died, Nya's mother made Nya promise to never use her ability, and Nya kept her promise, until now. Nya's frightened of her own power and terrified of hurting people, but when her sister's life is in danger, she must make terrible choices.

Now, my dear junkies, I do not intend, nor will I attempt, for this blog to serve as an analytic review of any book. It's more of a place to rant about the novels that make me bliss out. With that said, there are a few things about The Shifter that I have to get off my chest.

I think, but I'm not sure, that this book is marketed as middle-grade, instead of young adult. If not, I advise you think of it as such, anyway. To me, there's a fundamental problem with middle-grade novels written in first-person that have an adolescent protagonist.

(Well ok, let's back up a second. Actually, the problem is that I'm an intelligent adult reading a book meant for ten-year-olds, but just hear me out.)

The problem is this: If the book is written in a sophisticated way that makes my brain happy, then part of me is always kind of thinking "Wait! Thirteen-year-olds don't think like this. This narrator is too insightful, empathetic, and logical to be thirteen!"

Or, if the author does a great job of capturing the mindset of an adolescent, then I'm stuck inside the head of a damn thirteen-year-old for 200 pages!

Hardy suffers a little bit from the latter problem. Nya is a very realistic adolescent. But sometimes her thought process and the way she draws conclusions is pretty illogical and hard to follow (again, realistic).

The premise/theme of The Shifter is that Nya is essentially a weapon. She must choose who to hurt and who to save, and she battles herself to decide whether or not to hurt one innocent person in order to save a group. I get that, hard choices, heavy stuff. But I think Nya struggles with this a little too much, and there's a whole lot of justification going on from other characters. There was a little too much, yes she made this tough decision and she hurt someone who didn't deserve it, but she's still a really good person, let's take a minute and explain why.

I like my heroines to be imperfect. And come on Janice, didn't you get a three book deal? Let Nya be racked with guilt for the next two books. Everything got tied up into too neat of a package for me at the end.

But then again, I'm 20 years older than the target audience. Maybe fifth-graders need the explanation of why it's OK that their heroine hurts strangers.

With all that said, I'm still totally excited for the next installment of The Healing Wars. Justified, or not, Nya is a total bad-ass. By the end of The Shifter, Nya and the reader discover what she's capable of, and she's a force to be reckoned with.

OK Junkies, what do you think? Should I be less picky as an adult reading kids' books? Should I just grow up and read books for people my own age?

But I'm addicted! I need my heroines!

Friday, October 9, 2009

The Brave Brat: Lyra in Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials Trilogy

Ok, junkies, here's the deal, some people got their panties in a wad a few years back when a mediocre movie was made out of The Golden Compass and some churchy people were protesting/boycotting the film because of Pullman's anti-christian message.

I really don't want to spend a lot of time on this, and I know plenty of eighth graders who love the books and are oblivious to Pullman's critiques of organized religion, but I just want say two things.

1) I think that it's important to engage with, not boycott, media that presents a viewpoint different from our own. That's how we learn and grow. (Except for Fox News, there's no way I'm watching that crap.)

Also, I think it's pretty ridiculous when parents let their children watch R rated movies full of violent murders, but then don't let their kids read Harry Potter because it has witchcraft, or read The Golden Compass because it makes churches look bad.
2) John Milton wrote a great epic poem, Paradise Lost. Philip Pullman wrote His Dark Materials as a reaction/critique/inversion to that poem. It would be great if we could read and talk about these things as literature without the hoopla.
Kay, one more disclosure, then junkies, I'm hankerin' for my heroine, so we gotta get down to business.

FTC: (In case anyone besides my mom ever reads this) I get almost all the books that I discuss here for free. From my dad. Hope I don't get a fine.
Let's talk Lyra. His Dark Materials trilogy is comprised of The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife, and The Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman.
Pullman cleverly never divulges Lyra's age, but in the beginning of The Golden Compass she is a child and by the end of The Amber Spyglass she is closer to a young woman.

Lyra lives in a world parallel to our own, where people's souls are kept in their animal companions, daemons. Daemons change their shape at will when their humans are children, but a sign of sexual maturity is a daemon settling into one animal form. Pullman uses Daemons as the ultimate characterization tool. The type of animal of each daemon reveals the personality of its associated human and daemons exhibit fierce emotions, which are hidden by the faces of their human counterparts.

Lyra is no girly girl. She fights with the neighborhood boys and skips along the roof of the college she lives in. Like any good YA protagonist, she has no parents. Lyra is raised by a handful academicians.
The thing is, I don't really like Lyra. She's bossy, pretentious, and just, I don't know, unfriendly. Now don't get me wrong. Just because I don't want her to be my BFF, and I'm not secretly wishing I was her while I'm reading, like with some heroines, that doesn't mean she doesn't kick ass. She's smart, and brave, and makes some very hard choices without being a ninny about it. And I'm rooting for her throughout the series.

SPOILER ALERT! Keep reading at your own peril.

But really, you can't blame the girl for being a bit of a brat. You see, actually, she does have parents. They've just abandoned her. They're each leading a side of a brewing war over parallel universes, souls and, you know, the future of existence and stuff. And when it comes down to it, both her mother and father worry more about winning the war than the well-being of their daughter.

So what if she's a brat? She saves the multiverse and all of existence. She's pretty damn heroic.

You see, in The Subtle Knife, Lyra teams up with Will, a guy from our world. Together, they travel through parallel worlds, saving people, and falling in love. All sorts of creatures are trying to kill Lyra for various reasons and Will and Lyra discover that she's the key to this whole war.

SPOILER ALERT! I'm serious! I'm not pulling any punches.

The church is trying to kill Lyra because essentially, she is Eve. They figure if they can kill her before she eats that apple, then they can prevent the second fall.

The choice Lyra is presented with is that she can stay with the boy she fell in love with, Will, and watch the multiverse disintegrate. Or she can go back to her world, and Will to his, and preserve all of existence. She makes the right choice.

As always, I haven't come close to doing these books justice. So read them! There are some awesome battle scenes with polar bears, zeppelins, and witches. Mrs. Coulter is a female antagonist that will chill you to the bone. The Amber Spyglass also has some wickedly good stuff with Angels and the World of the Dead. Pullman also does a great job with non-humanoid creatures from parallel worlds. Again, beating my head against the wall because I'll never be creative enough to think up something like the Mulefa. And, I gotta say, Pullman's concept of Dust is pretty cool. So get reading!

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Liesel Hubermann, the good saumensch in Markus Zusak's The Book Thief

Even though my days of being carded for a cocktail seem to be long over, and my crow's feet sprout a new toe each day, I love reading young adult novels. In addition to following teenagers around in the public library and at bookstores in search of my next fix, I've also developed the habit of interrogating my students on any non-assigned text they carry. (typical junkie behavior)

My students become accustomed to me picking up a book off their desk, reading the back and asking, "Any good?"

I usually get one of three responses:

1) A shrug and a flash of the cover to expose Anime illustrations and Japanese text, in which case I, in turn, shrug and walk away.

2) "OMG! Yes.." high pitched unintelligible squeals, "vampires...werewolf" more squeals, "he's so hot!" I then back away slowly.

3) "Yes! It's intense. You see it's about this girl and she's on drugs, and her dad rapes her, and she cuts herself, and she's gonna kill herself, but there's this boy, and he's on drugs..." I nod my head and bite my lip looking really serious, then make a mental note to NOT read that book. (I'm looking to get high on a heroine, not depressed about heroin)

Well, last spring I went through this same routine with a particularly clever and literate student, and her response made me check out the book from the library that day.

I read the flap copy, but was still unsure of what it was about.

"Any good?" I asked.

"Yes! Soooo good. You have to read it, I--just read it, oh my god."

"What's it about?"

"Just--just read it."

So, I did and The Book Thief by Markus Zusak now ranks as one of my favorite books of all time.

SPOILER ALERT: Now, I have no intention of spoiling the ending of this book. That would be cruel and unusual punishment. But, I had no idea what this book was about when I started reading it, and I think that added to my enjoyment. I wish the same enjoyment for you. So, just read it.

I'm also afraid my brief synopsis might make this book sound depressing, and if you're anything like me, that means you won't read it. (The movie, Hotel Rwanda sat on top of my DVD player for months, I'd heard it was good, but I knew what it was about, and I just never really wanted to watch it.)

Zusak's brilliance, however, is that despite its subject matter, and despite the tragedies within The Book Thief, I would never describe it as depressing.

It's about Liesel Meminger, a little girl who is sent to live with foster parents in Nazi Germany. The Book Thief is narrated by Death.

Zusak is a genius for how he breaks convention with his narrator. The structure of the text is sometimes choppy, with Death giving an aside and taking us out of the main plot, and describing some seemingly unrelated event or soul collection. Death also tells us the outcome of the characters straight off the bat, in his cryptic, non-human way, of course. It's amazing how there's no obvious attempt at building suspense. I knew a character would die, yet I found myself unable to put it down, and turning the pages just so I could find out how the foretold events would transpire.

Death describes the color of the sky each time he takes a soul and his detachment at the human tragedy of the Holocaust makes the book chilling, but bearable.

Of the millions of souls he reaps, of all the horrific things he witnesses, Death chooses to tell us about Liesel. Her brother dies on a train in the snow, on the way to Hans and Rosa Hubermann, her new foster parents.

Rosa calls Liesel saumensch (swine-girl) and hits her with a wooden spoon for misbehaving. Hans plays the accordion and comforts Liesel when she screams from her nightmares every single night.

Liesel befriends Rudy Steiner and when their hatred of Hitler, and frustration of starving under Nazi control, becomes unbearable, they steal. They're thieves and that makes them feel better.

Liesel struggles with being a good girl. Her dead brother appears to admonish her when she loses her temper, and doing what's right is constantly at odds with doing what's necessary for survival in Nazi Germany. But despite her thieving, actually because of her thieving, Liesel is good.

Liesel is courageous. She survives the deaths of loved ones, does whatever she can to keep her family safe, and gives hope to a room full of terrified neighbors. Liesel doesn't have any super powers and she doesn't defeat any bad guys, but she's one of the most heroic characters I've had the privilege of reading about.

And believe me, reading The Book Thief is a privilege. As a writer, Zusak's work is the beat-my-head-against-the-wall-because-I'll-never-be-able-to-write-like-this kind of inspiring.

Ok, so I've already said too much. Go read The Book Thief.

I'm off to troll my bookshelves in search of the next heroine to get hooked on.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

All You Need is Love: Madeleine L'Engle's Meg Murry

OK Junkies, I'm fighting off the flu--crossing fingers it's not swine--and my belief that my favorite drug does indeed serve medicinal purposes has been reaffirmed. I've spent the last seven hours finishing Suzanne Collins's Catching Fire and I believe it has done more to suppress my cough, relieve my aches, and reduce my fever than the acetaminophen, vitamin c, tea, and lozenges I've been swallowing--well, maybe.

Although I'm tempted to gush about the courage of Katniss, I'll stick to my plan for this post and leave the gushing to my nose--I'm disgusting, I know. Oh don't worry, we'll return to the woes of Panem and District 12 on another day, but for now, let's talk about Meg Murry.

SPOILER ALERT: I am usually a huge stickler about spoilers--just ask my dad--but seeing how this book was published almost 50 years ago, I'm showing no mercy. So if you have not read A Wrinkle in Time, do so now.

Even though she has no special powers, she's not physically strong, she's not the smartest in her family, she's not sexy, and not popular, Meg Murry is the ultimate heroine. Actually, I think make those things her the kick-ass heroine she is.

In a Wrinkle in Time, by Madeleine L'Engle, Meg is awakened in the attic of her family's farm house by a storm. Her parents are scientists and her dad has been missing for weeks. Meg's an awkward and unattractive adolescent, with no friends except the lanky Calvin O'Keefe. She feels inferior to her beautiful scientist mother and can't connect with her two brainiac brothers, Sandy and Dennys.

She shares a special bond with her little brother, Charles Wallace, who has super-human intelligence and the ability to communicate with creatures across the space-time continuum. (Side note: I used to believe my little brother also had super-human intelligence and the ability to communicate with creatures across the space-time continuum, but ten years later, I'm still reeling from the disappointment when he reached puberty, fell in love with automatic weapons and Family Guy, thereby disproving my theory).

Meg, Charles Wallace, and Calvin end up travelling by tesseract, an actual wrinkle in the space-time continuum. Now, for me, this is where L'Engle goes from good to brilliant. I'm no scientist, and have never set foot into a physics or higher mathematics classroom. But I'm pretty sure L'Engle was on to something. I don't know if her explanation of the 5th dimension and space-time travel was based on any actual theories, and I'm feeling too woozy to look it up, but I'm buying it.

I took tesseracts as fact when I was eight and twenty years later I think L'Engle's description of time travel at least puts the writer's of Lost to shame. In addition, L'Engle's brilliance gives us creatures from other planets that defy our conventional notion of an alien. A creature who looks repulsive and ugly but is kind and loving, and aliens who feel instead of talk or think guide Meg, Charles, and Calvin on their journey.

Calvin is athletic, and Charles Wallace is too smart for his own good, but of course it is Meg who must save them and her imprisoned father. She doesn't karate chop her way to victory, or seduce the enemy, or even outsmart anyone. She saves the day with love. She overpowers the darkness of depression and self-doubt and loves her father, and Charles Wallace, to freedom. Now this might sound incredibly cheesy, but I've read the book 5 times and I feel the power of the message and the emotional truth of it each time.

Thus, my addiction began. I was hooked the second I finished it. At age eight, for the first time I felt the satisfaction and the longing at completing an amazing book. I was so fulfilled that it was so good, yet so sad that it was over. And I knew then, what I didn't remember until a few years ago, that this is what I want to do with my life. I want to write stories like this and make people feel that satisfaction and longing.

I devoured L'Engles other works. A Wind in the Door is arguably better than Wrinkle. It's darker, the stakes are higher, and the writing is more refined. But as my first taste of this delicious drug, I have a special fondness for A Wrinkle in Time. L'Engle's A House Like Lotus created in me the desire to explore Athens and its Ancient Greek ruins, a dream finally realized a few years ago.

I can only hope that the first dream Madeleine L'Engle inspired in me, to make a living as a young adult fantasy writer, will one day be fulfilled.

Ok, Junkies, sorry if I got a little sappy there, my fever is my excuse. Now I'm off in search of my next fix and the hope to escape with a heroine, and leave my headache behind.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Let's Begin at the Beginning

I have a problem.

At work I get the shakes, counting the minutes til my next fix. Sometimes I slip up and talk to my co-workers about my drug of choice and they stare at me and back away slowly before whispering behind my back. Once at home, I lay back in my recliner, oblivious to the hours ticking by as I relish in my high. When I have a good stash, it’s the first thing I think about when I wake up, and I can’t sleep until I finish it. I’ve even started to make my own stuff and fantasize about selling it.

Ok, before this metaphor gets any more ridiculous and my mom calls for an intervention, let me be clear. I’m addicted to heroines.

I love the strong female leads in young adult novels, especially in urban fantasy. I know I’m not the only one. I’ve seen the high school girls shuffle through the hallways with the tell-tale books hidden beneath crooked arms. Some are even so brazen as to wear t-shirts displaying their addiction.

I hope to reach out to fellow addicts and together, we can form a support group. (But really I hope this ends up like any rehab program, and instead of quitting together, we’ll just trade stories of getting high and share secrets on where to get the good stuff. Because this is one habit I don’t want to kick.)

Well, let’s begin at the beginning. It all started watching Wonder Woman with my mom when I was a toddler (it’s always the mother’s fault). One look at that female kicking ass and I was hooked. Now I’m unclear of Wonder Woman’s origins, is she human or an alien? I also can’t recall, what exactly are her special powers? I just remember she had a magic whip. A woman who doesn’t need super-human strength to beat up bad guys is even better.

Then there was She-Ra, Princess of Power. SOOOO much better than He-Man, I don’t care what anyone says. And if I remember correctly, she had to save He-Man’s ass a few times. She had a magic sword, some type of magic horse, a pink castle made of clouds, and she didn’t need no man. Although I think she had a boyfriend, Beau, or something. But she was always saving his ass too. The best part was that her alter ego (can’t remember her name) had to PRETEND to be weak. I think there’s some kind of feminist lesson there…

I had the whole get up. See picture --------------->
I remember swinging that sword around in the backyard, I was unbeatable. I shouted at my dad to “Read the Words!” at the end of each episode where there was some sappy summary and moral to the story. My true addiction started when he said, “Read them yourself.”

Of course, growing up there continued to be non-literary heroines to feed my need. Rogue was my favorite X-Man in the cartoon and I am disappointed at how weak she is in the movies. Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Xena the Warrior Princess were my high school TV standbys.

But next week, we’ll talk about the book and its heroine that changed my life. Be strong until then.