Monday, December 15, 2014

The Love Stories I Trained On

Last week on Twitter Christina of A Reader of Fictions tweeted about how she is far more interested in couples who bicker and banter a lot than those are always nice and considerate of each other.

Yes. Yes. And yes. I have always felt this way. It's why I've never understood Harry/Hermione shipping. It baffles me. I think that relationship would be such a snoozefest. (To each his or her own, I guess.) But the fact of the matter is I LOVE a good romance fraught with tension and challenge. They make my  heart soar.

A few minutes later Christina posed an interesting question: "What were the ships that trained your shipping heart?"

Little did I know the path of self-discovery she was about to send me down because I had never really thought about it. I answered her question merely in terms of book shipping, because I don't take in a whole lot of other media. Books are my thing. They're what come to mind first. So I thought of my earliest book ship, which was this:

And let's remember that even after years, they were still all:

This is the type of romantic progression that makes my heart sing with joy. I was in 5th grade when I started reading the Anne of Green Gables series. I was in late 6th/early 7th grade when I first saw the movies. And then they were watched so many times I went through more than one copy. 

In late 8th grade I read a little book that introduced me to my next great obsession:

If Anne and Gilbert kindled my appetite for hate to love romance, Lizzie and Darcy only made me hungrier for it, and made me realize how wonderful well written banter could be. How it could inspire one's mind. Obviously, if a potential romantic partner can't do this with you, they are not worth considering. 

The banter thing was further solidified in high school by:

I loved Beatrice and Benedick. After seeing this movie, I actually went out and bought a copy of Much Ado About Nothing so I could reread all their parts. 

There I thought I had them all. The ships that formed my taste in romance forever. But then Christina tweeted yet again. This time about the awkwardness people who shipped Luke and Leia must have felt when they discovered they were tricked into incest shipping. And then it hit me. 

THIS was really my first ship:

I was two years old when The Empire Strikes Back came out and five when Return of the Jedi came out, so maybe it was due to never really thinking Luke/Leia was possible. I think it is more that I was really always just a Han girl. I even had a little stuffed Chewy to make my Han make believes complete. (I took him with me to see Return of the Jedi in the movie theater. He sat on my lap.) 

Anyway, as this hit me I realized it explained A LOT. I never really thought about how something I loved so much prior to my being able to read affected my tastes in reading, but, wow, did it ever! Han is the type of hero I prefer in books: the outwardly lazy and careless arrogance that covers up some significant insecurities and uses snark as a shield. Pair that hero up with a smart, determined girl who is willing to (and often does) call him on his crap and let the banter ensue! But there's also how much I love epic sweeping stories of good and evil with lots of political intrigue and conflicted characters. I  clearly have seriously been underestimating the influence of these movies on little Brandy.

How about you? What early favorite couples or experiences have influenced the stories you enjoy now?

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Shorter Musings: More Cybils Reads!

Yet another installment of Shorter Musings brought to you by recent Cybils reading.

Ambassador by William Alexander
I really enjoyed Ambassador for the most part. It is an intriguing concept. A young boy is chosen to be Earth's ambassador in intergalactic affairs by a mysterious envoy. Gabe is chosen because he watches others carefully, knows how to diffuse tense situations, and is diplomatic in his interactions. At the same time Gabe is dealing with the mysterious ships that have entered the galaxy, he is also having to worry about the imminent deportation of his parents and older sister. I thought the clever way Alexander dealt with the themes of modern day immigration and melded them with science-fiction elements was genius. I adored this book until the end, which is abrupt to say the least. I'm sure there will be a sequel, but there is a difference between leaving things unanswered for a sequel and leaving almost everything dangling with no resolution. I am thoroughly sick of the latter.

The Children of the King by Sonya Hartnett
There were aspects of The Children of the King that I really appreciated. I enjoyed the story and, of course, the story within it. I found the characters differing attitudes toward WWII and England's place in it to be well done and nuanced. I very much enjoyed the characters of Jeremy, May, and Uncle Peregrine. There were several aspects that annoyed me as well though. Cecily is twelve, and until she announced that at that the end of chapter two, I thought she was around six. She acts like it through the entirety of the book. What. A. Brat. There's no growth there either, but I don't really have so much a problem with that as some people are brats and that never changes. I did think she acted far too young for her age though. However, the aspect that bothered me the most was the story within the story which is about the infamous Richard III and the princes in the tower. Peregrine was telling this story and it was like his audience had never heard it. ????? Keep in mind this audience consisted of a 10 year old, a 12 year old, and a 14 year old. I'm sorry, but what sorts of schools were these children attending? I went to an American school while living in England during elementary school and we all knew this story. I can understand Cecily not knowing as she's a feather brained idiot, but Jeremy has clearly been snoozing in all of his history classes if he didn't know this. Unfortunate, since I'm sure his snooty parents pay out the nose for his education. 

Dreamwood by Heather Mackey
This is a quest book about a girl who needs to rescue her father and save the dying trees in a forest. There are perils, nefarious characters, and ghosts. I was bored for a lot of it though, and it never truly engaged me as a reader. If you are looking for this same type of spiritual/ghost element, Stroud's Lockwood books are better. If you are looking for the type of fantasy that deals with forest ecology, Sage Blackwood's Jinx books are better. (I think that is because Blackwood is good about not making it didactic, where this one sort of came across as more blatantly about that one aspect.) I would very much like to know what some Native readers think about the depiction of the Lupine as well. I'm not well-versed enough in Native cultures-which are diverse-to speak of this with any authority, but several elements about their portrayal bothered me. This certainly wouldn't be the first book I would recommend to young fantasy fans, but it's one I would keep in mind for the reader looking for a very specific type of story.

Pathfinder by Angie Sage
Pathfinder is a fun book and works well as the beginning of a new series. There are a lot of adventures, great magic, and brave characters. I do feel like I may have enjoyed this slightly more if I had read Sage's Septimus Heap series. I felt like there were a lot of inside jokes and information I was missing and always felt removed from the story as a result. While Tod's story and character were vastly interesting to me, enough time was spent on the characters from the other series that I didn't really feel as engaged as I might have.

The Time of the Fireflies by Kimberly Griffiths Little
The Time of the Fireflies is an engrossing read. I was quite pulled into the story and fascinated by the secrets Larissa was uncovering about her family. I love stories that have old family history elements. I thought the mystery here was played out well, and the doll was certainly creepy enough to keep kids awake at night. Larissa as a character was sympathetic, but far from perfect. The hardships of her family were a nice balance to the more fantastical elements. I wanted to like this book more than I did because it did really draw me in. Little is a talented storyteller, but too many of the magical elements didn't make sense for me.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

My True Love Gave to Me

Christmas stories. I love them. I can't get enough of them. I spend most of mid-November through December desperately trying to do fit in as many new ones as I can find and doing rereads of old favorites. (This has been a particular challenge the past couple of years as I've also been a first round Cybils panelist.) Needless to say when I found out  My True Love Gave to Me was going to be a thing, I was excited.

This is an anthology of short stories written by YA authors. As a whole, I would say it is definitely worth reading and that you can read it leisurely as each story is its own little gift. It is as diverse as the authors who contributed to it, and that is its greatest strength as a book. There are, of course, some stories I like more than others. I'm going to just say a couple things about each story. I've put asterisks on my favorites.

*"Midnights" by Rainbow Rowell: This is a compilation of the midnights celebrated on New Year by a group of friends over four years and the romance that comes grows between the two main characters. Sweet and short, it is all about a friendship to love relationship and is probably my second favorite thing Rowell's written next to Attachments.

"The Lady and the Fox" by Kelly Link: This is a Christmas Tam Lin retelling. It's not the most original Tam Lin story I've ever read, but it was such a delightful surprise to find it in a place I was not expecting to. I love Tam Lin stories.

*"Angels in the Snow" by Matt De La Pena: This is a wonderful story that highlights some troubling truths while managing to be fun and romantic at the same time. Too few books deal with the fact that people don't have enough to eat and are truly starving. I also l loved how this highlighted the transition that college is and how difficult it is to completey step out of the world you were born into and enter into something wholly different.

"Polaris is Where You'll Find Me" by Jenny Han: Not one of my favorite stories. It is an Elf type story about a girl who is adopted by Santa and lives at the North Pole. Except there is no Will Ferrel, and this isn't funny. Kind of creepy in some aspects actually.

*"It's a Yuletide Miracle, Charlie Brown" by Stephanie Perkins: This book takes place in Asheville, NC. I used to live there and it was fun to actually get every single reference in this story to things I knew. Beyond that it's just a really good story about two young people ready to move on in life, but unsure how to get what they want. They know where they want to go, just not how to get there. Then they end up finding each other. And it's pretty awesome.

"Your Temporary Santa" by David Levithan: This story is nothing that I'm looking for in a Christmas story. While the end is sweet, it's actually kind of depressing. I know some people find Christmas depressing and they should have stories too. Just not my thing.

"Krampuslauf" by Holly Black: This story is a little strange, but I liked that it dipped into a mythology that few people really know anything about. That was fun.

*"What the hell have you done, Sophie Roth?" by Gayle Forman: Freshman year of college. So hard. Especially if you are a fish completely out of water. This is a story of two such fish finding each other and finding the spirit of the holidays they both needed. Lovely.

*"Beer Buckets and Baby Jesus" by Myra McEntire: This is my FAVORITE. I have never read a book by McEntire but I think I need to change that. I could write an entire review on this one story. The character growth in a few short pages is remarkable as is McEntire's ability to convey much with few words.

"Welcome to Christmas, CA" by Keirsten White: This is cute, if completely predictable. I found myself wishing it would move a little faster.

"Star of Bethlehem" by Ally Carter: This is another fun yet predictable one that was good, but that I wouldn't ever feel the need to reread.

"The Girl Who Woke the Dreamer" by Laini Taylor: Beautifully written as is everything Taylor writes, but also not at all my thing. Taylor and I seem to have that problem meshing. I love her writing but not what she writes about. Sigh.

I definitely recommend this if you are in the market for a fun compilation of Christmas tales. There is bound to be something that satisfies everyone here.

Note on Content: Some references to alcohol use; Some strong language

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

TTT: Top Ten New-to-Me Authors in 2014

This week's TTT topic: New-to-Me Authors in 2014

This is one of my favorite Top Ten Tuesdays of the year! You can see my list from last year here.

Some of these authors have one my love and devotion forever and ever already because I went and read as much of their work as I could after discovering them and fell more in love. Some are only on their first book, but I will definitely be around for the next because these books impressed me so much.

Name links are to authors' websites. Book links are to my reviews.

Emma Barry: Barry writes witty humorous romances with smart people that take place in the political maneuverings of Washington D.C. If there was ever a more perfect romance series for my tastes, I don't know what it could be.

Brandy Colbert: Pointe is Colbert's debut novel. It is one of my favorite books of the year. It is a hard tough read about hard tough things, but the main character finds her strength in the best of ways.

Liz Czukas: Until last week I would have told you that while Czukas's debut novel, Ask Again Later, was fun, she wasn't going to make this list. Then I read the second novel of hers released this year, Top Ten Clues You're Clueless, and that completely changed. This book is going to be an every December reread now. She has an adult romance (okay, NA-I still really hate using that) coming out next year that I find to be intriguing. Because she has won my trust, I will read it.

Heather Demetrios:  I took Something Real, Demetrios' debut novel, to the pool one afternoon expecting something fun, but nothing that was going to blow my mind. Ha! I loved everything about the book: the characters, the plot, the complexities of the relationships, the descriptions. And while I didn't love Exquisite Captive, the fantasy novel also released by Demetrios this year, the writing still captivated me. I can not wait to read her new contemporary coming out in 2015. 

Jennifer Echols: I have friends who love Echols and have recommended her stuff for the past few years. Her books were on my TBR, but I never seemed to get to them. I was fortunate enough to get a a galley of Biggest Flirts, the first book in her new superlative series. I read it in one delicious sitting and I was hooked. I've been working my way through her backlist ever since and am in complete and total love. (My favorite so far has been Such a Rush.) 

Rosamund Hodge: Cruel Beauty is Hodge's debut novel-and basically everything I've ever wanted in a Beauty and the Beast retelling. This is pretty major since that's my favorite fairy tale. Hodge has won my undying loyalty with this book and a place on my insta-buy author list. 

E.K. Johnston: The Story of Owen is a brilliant book that combines Nordic traditional tales with a modern setting. Despite the title, it's really the story of a girl and her music. It has the best world-building of any book I read this year and themes about propaganda, politics, and the power of story. It's ambitious for any novel, but particularly so for a debut. I'm so excited it's been nominated for the Morris Award.

Virginia Kantra: I started reading the Dare Island Series at the recommendation of Laura Florand (an author who made this list last year) and immediately fell in love with all the characters. I love the way Kantra writes family relationships too. It also takes place in one of my favorite places, NC's Outer Banks.

Jennifer McGowan: Something hard to find in YA is well written historical fiction that is also fun. Another difficult find is good decent female friendships. McGowan's books do both of things so well and also have adventure, mystery, espionage, and romance. Oh my heart.

Genevieve Turner: My newest find! Much thanks to Emma Barry for this recommendation because I loved Summer Chaparral for all the amazing characters, the setting, the historical details, for it being unique historical romance, its diversity-it's so good. This has the potential to be one of my favorite series of all time.

Shockingly no MG authors made the list this year, which is awfully strange since that is the age category I read the most from. Hmmmmm.....

What about you? What are some favorite author discoveries from your reading year?

Monday, December 8, 2014

Space Case

It is sad that Space Case by Stuart Gibbs didn't get a better  cover. I can seeing it getting skipped over without a second glance, and that would just be sad because it is actually a fun science-ficition murder mystery.

Dash Gibson is a "Moonie" one of the first residences on the moon. His parents are both scientists working on the space station there. The government lured their family there with promises of adventure and historic fame. They would be pioneers. Dash feels hoodwinked. Life on the moon is not nearly as exciting as it sounds, and is uncomfortable to boot. Dash wants nothing more than to return to his life in Hawaii. He misses his friends, the ocean, having toilets that flush normally, and fresh food. But things in the space station become more interesting when the resident doctor dies while on an unauthorized moonwalk. Dash immediately suspects foul play. He overheard a conversation the doctor had the night before where he was excited to reveal a recent discovery. Dash's concerns are smoothed over and he is told to keep quiet until a mysterious security official approaches him in secret and asks for help investigating. Soon Dash is convinced he's right about the doctor's death being murder. Unfortunately Dash's investigations have attracted to notice of exactly the wrong person.

This is an interesting sci-fi twist on the murder mystery at a house party story. The inhabitants of the space station are trapped. There is nowhere for them to go. A murderer on the loose is definitely not a comforting though. This is why so many people want to silence Dash. The actual investigation is one I found to be highly probable. I can see the Dash and his friends being able to do the things they did in this story and follow the clues to their outcome. I also felt that the scientific aspects were well done and what I imagine would be possible in the not too distant future. I liked how sterile and uncomfortable life on the moon was because that's also realistic.

Dash is a great hero. He is smart, sarcastic, and willing to take risks. At the same time, he is a typical kid, one who is just learning that he doesn't always want to go along with what the adults have to say. He has a quiet rebellion beginning to stir in him that the target audience for this book will be able to identify with. As a result of living on the moon, he does have a fair amount of independence and maturity, but his parents are very much all up in his business all the time. Typically in stories like this, parents are conveniently shuffled to the side. Not so in this book. Dash is tripping over his constantly. I liked that. We are seeing more involved and engaged parents show up in MG speculative fiction and that's a trend that needs to continue. Dash's closest ally in his investigations is a newcomer his age named Kira. She is the perfect foil for Dash. Adventurous, a boundary pusher, definitely not tripping over her father at every turn, she is a lot of things Dash isn't and they balance each other well.

I do hope that there are going to be more of these. Good murder mysteries for MG readers are a hard find, and this one is delightful.