Tuesday, February 9, 2016

TTT: Favorite Love Stories


This Week's TTT Topic: This week is a Valentine's Theme of choice. I'm doing my Favorite Love Stories (Book OTPs) because it's been a looooong time since I've discussed this and it needed updating.

I love romance.  I freely admit it, there is no shame. I like fluffy ones and serious ones, but my ultimate favorites are the complicated combinations of both.

Gen and Irene from The Queen's Thief Series by Megan Whalen Turner
These two are the very definition of complicated.  They are also the very definition of wonderful.  Their relationship isn't easy and it is obvious they work hard for it.  These two are expert at flirting under the radar. It is fun to watch as everyone else is oblivious to the conversations they are actually having in reality. (This true of even their very first encounter in the first book. Even though its not flirtatious, they begin honing their double level conversation skills from the start.)  What I love most is how absolutely perfectly matched they are in intellect and skill.  I love how they do not fit into any  romantic trope ever written.  Their love story is unique and it beautifully rendered.

Peter and Harriet from the Peter Wimsey Series by Dorothy Sayers
Again, complicated.  Complicated characters make for complicated entanglements.  Peter and Harriet are well matched too.  They are both intellectual, curious, interested in mysteries and insecure in different ways.  If they had  met any other way it might have been easy, or as easy as something involving  Peter could be, but they met in a prison where she was awaiting her second murder trial.  He had to rescue her by finding the real murderer making things awkward and well, complicated.  I adore the way their story unfolds, from that prison meeting (hilariously awkward proposal and all) in Strong Poison to the uncomfortable realities in Have His Carcase to the further uncomfortable realities and swoon worthy revelations in Gaudy Night to the complicated happily ever after in Busman's Honeymoon.

Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy from Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
I almost feel like this one doesn't need explaining. I mean this is rather universal for Austen fans right? But this is one of the love stories I cut my romantic teeth on. Their banter is so perfect. Darcy is such a socially awkward nerd (my favorite kind of hero-one who comes across an arrogant jerk but only because he has no clue how to interact with other humans). Elizabeth is such an opinionated stubborn girl. The combination is one I can never resist and this is the first novel I read that let me just REVEL in it. The place these two hold in my heart is huge.

Kate and Christopher from The Perilous Gard by Elizabeth Marie Pope
And speaking of awkward nerds, Christopher is one who takes the art to dramatic eye-rolling levels of self-sacrificial nonsense. Fortunately for him, Kate has more than enough common sense and hard core stubbornness for them both. She knows how to keep her head clear and focused in dangerous situations, which is good since she ends up having to rescue them both from the situation Christopher's well meaning loyalty and devotion to those he loves lands them in. The banter, which borders on the hostile at times, between these two is magnificent. Most of all I love the way their relationship develops through long conversations in the darkest place of both their lives. They can't touch so physical comfort isn't possible, but they keep each other going through conversation and the presence of their voices. The development of their relationship culminates in one of the best (possibly THE BEST) proposal of all time. Christopher totally nails that at least. *Swoons thinking about it.*

Christopher and Millie from The Chrestomanci Chronicles by Diana Wynne Jones
I know Howl and Sophie are most people's go to when it comes to romance from Diana Wynne Jones, but for me nothing beats Christopher and Millie. Even as a child Christopher is that perfect mix of snark, disdain, and awkward nerd I love in heroes. From their first meeting when he thinks he's all that and a box of chocolate and her magical goddess self is tolerating none of his shenanigans, they are perfection. I originally read these books in the order they are in the omnibus volumes so Charmed Life came first for me. It was an interesting way to read their relationship since they are married adults with children in that book and then you get to go back and see how they got there. But whatever part of their relationship I'm reading, they are perfect: the sniping children drawn together who are also trying to manipulate and control each other (The Lives of Christopher Chant), the awkward teens attempting to navigate their feelings for each other, the powers they have, and the lives they are expected to live (Conrad's Fate), or the married couple with the care of children and an entire enchanted castle and several magical realms (every other book in the series). I really love how their relationship is such an amazing partnership too. Christopher is the  Chrestomanci, but Millie is the stabilizing force of his life and the castle. And let's not forget the ultimate romance in Christopher's last and final life being kept safe in the wedding band Millie wears on her hand. HE LITERALLY PUT HIS LIFE IN HER HANDS.

I'm only doing five because, while I love romantic stories, I'm actually kind of picky about the ones I call my favorites. I'm picky about what I call an OTP. There are certain criteria that needs to be met. But here are a couple of bonuses.

My TV OTP:

My Movie OTP:

What are some of your favorite couples? Did any make my list?

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Pax

I was really hoping that 2016 would be different than 2015 when it came to me and super hyped beloved by the kidlit powers that be MG books. If Pax by Sara Pennypacker is any indication, I'm still going to be one of the minority dissenters. So be it. Honestly, I could write an entire post about the sort of books that get the most attention and promotion from said powers and what that says about the priorities of the kidlit elite, but for today I will stick to my thoughts on this particular book.

Pax is a fox who was rescued as a helpless kit whose family was killed by a boy named Peter. His entire life has been knowing Peter and Peter's care for him. Then one day they drive to a distant place, Peter starts a game of fetch, and then drives off with his father. Leaving Pax alone to fend for himself for the first time ever. Pax is in denial and stays close to the road hoping for Peter's return. But soon the events in the forest and the lives of the other foxes draw him in and he begins to form new ties and learn to be a fox in the wild. Meanwhile, Peter realizes he did a terrible thing following his father's instructions to abandon Pax. He sets off to find him despite the distance separating them and the looming war that has him now living with his grandfather while his father volunteers to serve in the military. Injured in his journey, Peter is taken in by Vola, a lonely hermit woman who is an injured veteran of a war herself. They help each other get back on their feet before Peter sets back out to reunite with his fox.

Let me say this first: The sentence level writing of this book is remarkable. The language, imagery, and sentence structure is beautiful. If we wanted to laude books solely on how poetic they are, I would be throwing the world's biggest party for this one. But that's not why I read books. It's always a  nice plus, but it's not enough to make me love a book on its own.

Regular readers of this blog know that I don't go in for animal stories much. My dislike of them is, however, proportionate to how much the animals are acting like humans. This is not the case here. The foxes are very much foxes. I loved the foxes. In fact, if this book had been all about the foxes my feelings would be very different. Pax learning to hunt and succeeding. My heart. His relationship with all the other foxes and how he begins to take care of them. My heart. The fox community and the way the human incursion is impacting them is so well done. The foxes are real characters you can feel for. The themes of broken humanity and its affect on everything shown through their eyes are subtilely rendered.

The humans ruin everything.

This is funny because that is literally the theme of the book, but for me the human characters ruined the book. Peter is as flat a character as you can find. He is a prop. Vola swoops in to teach him things, but ends up needing him just as much. She imparts wisdom. He teaches her to live again. Sound heartwarming? It possibly could have been if their chapters weren't filled with rambling dialogue intended to whack the reader upside the head with the moral of the story. Enough already. I got it. Humans suck. War sucks. The military is Evil.  I. Got. It. Already. All subtlety and nuance were tossed out the window in these chapters. The book's pacing also takes a hit as these chapters are longer (or perhaps just feet longer?), and I kept wanting them to stop talking and get back to the foxes. It was a very strange position for me to be in. Character matters to me more than any other part of a book though. This book failed on every level with human characters. I have some issues with the relationship dynamics here too. One thing I have to amusedly appreciate about this section is how much Pennypacker was able to put the word "damned" into a book for children merely by using the Haitian-Creole form of the word.

The end of the book is annoying as well. There is a certain amount of closure to both personal journeys of fox and boy, but one can not ignore the fact they are both still in the middle of an area about to erupt into a full out military battle. (Peter will probably be fine. My expectations for the foxes are less hopeful. Sadly I'm more invested in their welfare.) The book's setting is completely undefined, however it has a very dystopian feel to it. There are enough hints to know it is in a future North America. A war is about to be fought with the "west" over a lack of water. (It's definitely North America because coyotes play an integral part in the plot.) I'm not giving this a genre tag as a result. It's not contemporary or historical. I can't label it sci-fi despite the future aspect because it's not really sci-fi. And yes, this was frustrating and distracting to me for a good 1/3 of the book. Being confused about where/when I am in a story distracts from my being able to lose myself in the story. That combined with how bored and annoyed I was by Peter's chapters left me more than a little underwhelmed overall.

My experience reading Pax was eerily similar to my experience watching the Pixar movie Wall-E. It is the same story and themes, but with foxes instead of robots. (Pax is Wall-E. Bristle is Eve. Exactly.) Do you know how many kids I know who actually enjoy Wall-E? It's a small list. So who is this book for? To me it feels very much like one of those books adults want to give to kids so they will Learn an Important Lesson about life. Could it win the 2017 Newbery? Absolutely. I think that is the very reason it was published. There are some books I read, and automatically think, "This is medal bait." That is a far cry from me reading a book and thinking, "This deserves a medal." For me this goes squarely in the former category.

I read an ARC provided by the publisher, Balzer & Bray, via Edelweiss. Pax is on sale now.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

TTT: Favorite Historical Fiction


This Week's TTT Topic: Historical or Future Settings or Books

I don't think I've ever made a list of my favorite historical fiction so that's what I decided to go with. For the purposes of this, I'm counting a book as historical fiction if that was what it was considered when published. (as opposed to books that take place in the past)







What are some of your favorite historical fiction novels?

Monday, February 1, 2016

Rebel Bully Geek Pariah

I enjoyed Dead Ends, the only other book by Erin Jade Lange I've read, and I was excited for this book based on its blurb. I think the blurb is a little misleading. If you are going to compare something to The Breakfast Club it better have fun. And hijinks. The funny kind not the terrifying kind. This book is like terror thriller Breakfast Club. That's not to say that I didn't like it. Just that I quickly had to adjust my expectations while reading it.

Sam had a plan. Buy her mom's present for her anniversary of sobriety after another boring evening at work. Her plan falls apart when she is fired from her job for being rude to a customer. From there her night descends into mayhem when she follows a classmate into the woods at a party to retrieve a stolen item. When the cops come to break up the party in the woods, Sam finds herself hiding with Andi (the thief who is a former popular girl), York (a former football player who is drunk and has a major chip on his shoulder), and Boston (York's nerdy genius younger brother). They decide to steal a car to escape and that is only the first in a series of very bad decisions that snowballs into a night of tension, fear, and running for their lives.

Reading this book is kind of like watching a train wreck. It is rather impossible to look away. The writing is what I expected it to be from reading Lange's previous book. The train wreck aspect is what the characters are doing to their lives. It is a series of bad decisions I can totally see a group of four misguided teens making. It is enough to strike fear in the heart of any parent. (I read this on the same day I had to talk a group of tween girls that included my daughter out of jumping off a balcony into snow that wasn't as deep as they thought it was only to find out they went back and did it anyway after I left. So yeah. Fear). I think this is probably going to get a lot of complaints about the characters being stupid and the events unrealistic. I don't think they are. I think the characters are teenagers whose brains aren't fully developed and the way the plot is tied together in the end makes all the strange events make complete sense. The plot is action packed and the pacing well done. Lange allows for a series of breaks and breathing points before sending the reader careening through another series of turns and jolts in the action. It's a roller coaster ride for sure.

The characters make some incredibly ridiculous decisions. They are young. They are scared. They are directionless. I really loved the bond that formed between this ragtag group and came to appreciate each of them individually. They all have strengths and weaknesses. All of them learn and grow (though some more than others). In the official blurb each of the characters is tagged with one of the labels in the title, but it isn't quite as simple as that. Each of them have elements of all four of these in them. At different points in the story they each show a different label as their dominant trait. The way Lange showed this through their actions, conversations, and interactions was really well done. It is a study in how each person is more than one thing and we are formed by experiences even as we sometimes try to outrun them.

This is a good book to give teens who enjoy action and thrills.

Content for those Wary: underage drinking, some language, references to sex

I read an ARC made available by the publisher, Bloomsbury USA, via NetGalley. Rebel Bully Geek Pariah is on sale February 16th.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

TTT: Spies and Sneaky Times


This week's TTT topic: This week is a freebie so I've decided to do Books with Spies and Sneaky Times since that is one of my favorite types of book to read. That is the only common thread for most of these books. They are all very different in the ways they use these tropes.


 The Queen's Thief Series by Megan Whalen Turner: Because you know a list without these books is almost impossible for me to make, but they really do set the bar for spies, sneaky times, and all the political intrigue there is.

The Sherwood Ring by Elizabeth Marie Pope: This is a tale of American Revolutionary War spies. Trust me when I say you will never find a more swoon worthy British soldier trying to hinder the Revolution anywhere else.


 Mara Daughter of the Nile by Eloise Jarvis McGraw: Mara is one amazingly crafty sneaky girl. There is plenty of political intrigue and romance to make me happy in this one too.

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein: Spies who will make you cry.


Kiki Strike Series by Kirsten Miller: Books full of awesome girls doing amazing clever things while being sneaky, saving the world, and running their world.

The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy: The classic spy novel that makes my heart happy every time I read it.

The Lion Hunters Series by Elizabeth Wein: Elizabeth Wein is just really good at this spy thing and these are all magnificent.

A Face Like Glass by Frances Hardinge: It's hard to be a spy when you show your every emotion on your face. Neverfell's story is captivating and keeps you on the edge of your seat.


The Great Greene Heist by Varian Johnson: Excellent MG sneaky school story sneaky times can be found here.

Secretes of the Dragon Tomb by Patrick Samphire: My newest favorite to use what I love well and with a great deal of creativity and adventure. 

Do you like stories with spies and intrigue? What are some of your favorites?