Monthly Archives: November 2011

Wordless Wednesday

Inspired by Megan of write meg!, Wordless Wednesday is a weekly feature that I use to explore my adopted hometown of Chicago, IL, both because I love this city, and because where I read informs how I think about what I read.  All photos were taken by me.

Chicago Skyline from Lakefront Path

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Top Ten Tuesday

Top Ten TuesdayCreated and hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme for those who love lists and want to get to know their fellow bloggers. Each week features a new theme, and anyone may participate. This week’s theme is…

Top Ten Books on My Winter TBR List

The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick. In the past week, this book has skyrocketed to the top of my TBR list, mostly because I’ve heard such great things about Martin Scorcese’s film adaptation. It looks like a beautiful book, one worth owning, so I plan to buy myself a copy at Women & Children First, my favorite indie bookstore in Chicago. Look for a book + movie review sometime in the next week! (#)

Wildwood by Colin Meloy with illustrations by Carson Ellis. I am a long-time fan of The Decemberists, and while I wasn’t terribly impressed by the preview chapters made available prior to this book’s release, I’d still like to read it. Cason Ellis’s illustrations won’t look great on my Kindle, so this is another title I plan to buy in hardcover. (#)

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness with illustrations by Jim Kay. If you think there’s a theme here, then you’re correct, at least for these first three titles. I’m intrigued by the premise of the story, and two book blogs whose opinions I trust (see: one & two) have had nothing but good things to say about it. Plus, the illustrations look beautiful. (#)

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by John le Carré. This is another instance of my needing to read the book before I see the movie. I mean, have you seen the trailer? And true, this isn’t a YA title, but can’t we all agree that the line between YA and everything else is blurry, at best? It’s been a long time since I’ve read a spy novel, and I like the idea of reading a non-dystopia series in the coming months. (#)

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke. I’ve been meaning to read this book since…2006? And the copy I own has been with me in Washington, DC, Honolulu, HI, and now Chicago, IL. That alone gives it the right to some attention. Beyond that, I’m fairly certain that I’ll love this book, once I get over its intimidating length, and for whatever reason, it strikes me as ideal winter reading. (#)

A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin. Speaking of winter, I’ve been saving this book for the long, cold nights and short, cold days that I’ll inevitably spend nesting in the warmth of my bed. I’ve watched the first season of the HBO show, so I’m (somewhat) prepared for Martin’s tendency to kill his characters, but I’m looking forward to experiencing the story in full detail. Also, I want to be up-to-date when season 2 premiers in April. (#)

Moon Over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool. To be honest, I don’t know much about this book other than that it won the 2011 Newbery Medal, but that’s enough for me. I’d like to have read it before the 2012 winner is announced in January. I know there’s sometimes frustration with book awards, but I like them because they often introduce me to books I might have otherwise missed completely. (#)

A Million Suns by Beth Revis. Across the Universe is one of my favorite reads of the year, and when I finished it back in July, I was immediately anxious to read this sequel. I think that one of the reasons I love this series so much is that it’s much more sci-fi than it is dystopia, and I would love to see YA as a whole veer in that general direction, setting stories in a future of adventure and space travel rather than oppressive and vaguely feudal governments. [To be released January 10, 2012.] (#)

Cinder by Marissa MeyerCinder by Marissa Meyer. TBR as part of the 2012 Debut Author Challenge. Based on what little I know about this book, I get the impression that it’s going to be something along the lines of fairytale retelling meets Battlestar Galactica with elements of general YA dystopia thrown in for good measure. I could be wrong, but that sounds awesome. And I love the cover art. [To be released January 3, 2012] (#)

The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight by Jennifer E. Smith. A glowing review by Anna Reads is what first brought this title to my attention, and it sounds like a lot of fun. The story sounds like One Day for the YA crowd, but that’s OK by me. I appreciate that the focus is (maybe) on more than just the main characters’ romance, and once again, I love the cover art, however twee it may be.  [To be released January 2, 2012.] (#)

What about you? What books are you most excited to read this winter?

Book Review: Mastiff by Tamora Pierce

Mastiff by Tamora PierceThe Story: The Legend of Beka Cooper gives Tamora Pierce’s fans exactly what they want—a smart and savvy heroine making a name for herself on the mean streets of Tortall’s Lower City—while offering plenty of appeal for new readers as well.

Beka and her friends will face their greatest and most important challenge ever when the young heir to the kingdom vanishes. They will be sent out of Corus on a trail that appears and disappears, following a twisting road throughout Tortall. It will be her greatest Hunt—if she can survive the very powerful people who do not want her to succeed in her goal. [Goodreads]

My Response: Though I enjoyed reading Terrier and Bloodhound well enough, I realize now that neither book truly connected me to Beka. I liked her, and I enjoyed reading about her, but I didn’t care deeply about her, not to the extent that I always have Alanna and Daine and Kel and Aly.

Now I care.

Mastiff opens in medias res, three years after the events of Bloodhound, with the burial of Beka’s betrothed, a Dog named Holburn. Yes, you read that correctly, no, I wasn’t prepared, and yes, I was immediately hooked. Pierce’s first person narrative finally comes into its own and shines as she captures the disorientation that accompanies any major loss, all without depicting Beka as weak.

This opening sets the tone for the rest of the book, and that tone is dark and tense. Beka, Tunstall, Lady Sabine, and newcomer Farmer Cape, a Kennel mage, track the kidnapped heir at a relentless pace, never sure of who they can trust other than each other. The rich detail of the Hunt is engrossing to the point of distraction, so that even as I realized I was approaching the Big Reveal, I couldn’t pin down just what it would be.

Of course, there are more than enough side plots to go around: Beka’s gradual recovery from Holburn’s death; Farmer Cape’s humorous antics; Tunstall’s relationship with Lady Sabine; an explanation for how slavery came to be illegal in the realm of Tortall; a romance that I legitimately enjoyed.

And then there’s the cult of the Gentle Mother, which in Beka’s time is only just beginning to gain popularity. Beka is baffled that anyone would take seriously the group’s talk of the delicacy of women and the corresponding need to keep them safe from the coarseness of the world, but we as readers know that this is the group that will ultimately put an end to Lady Knights like Sabine. Heartbreaking.

Honestly, I have only two (small) bones to pick with Ms. Pierce about this book:

One, I never stopped waiting for some true exposition about Beka’s relationship with Holburn. I realize that in the context of both the story and the style, the lack of exposition makes sense. Nevertheless, I continue to be frustrated by how few details are given about a relationship that was so clearly formative for Beka.

Two, the epilogue. It isn’t so bad as to make me reject Pierce’s Epilogue Writing Privileges (See: J.K. Rowling and Suzanne Collins), and I admit that my not-so-inner Tamora Pierce fangirl flailed a little bit while reading George Cooper’s journal entries, but at the same time, my more objective self couldn’t help but cringe in reaction to the severely high cheese factor. Mostly, I’m disappointed that something so clunky was stuck to the end of an otherwise tremendous book.

My Recommendation: Mastiff is everything that a prequel ought to be, and in case you couldn’t tell, I loved it. LOVED IT. And I may have cried straight through the last twenty or so pages, but never you mind about that. For longtime Tamora Pierce fans, this is a no-brainer. Read this book.

For those newer to Tamora Pierce, things get a bit more complicated. Mastiff is rich enough to stand on its own, but the big reveal will be less meaningful for those who haven’t followed Beka from the beginning. For this reason, I must insist you read both Terrier and Bloodhound before you sink your teeth into Mastiff. They may not dazzle quite so much, but I promise they’ll be worth your time in the end—when you read this book.

My Rating: ✶  ✶  ✶  ✶
(out of a possible 4)

Mastiff (Beka Cooper #3) / Tamora Pierce. Random House Books for Young Readers, 2011. US $10.99 (Kindle).

Generally Bookish: On Book Trailers

Tomorrow, Marie Lu’s debut novel, Legend, will be released amid an impressive amount of hype for a young adult book. Between book blogs and Goodreads, I’ve been hearing about Legend for at least a month¹, and yesterday, a mostly positive review was printed in the Los Angeles Times. The basic plot—dystopian, of course—sounds right up my alley, and I’m pretty much sold on buying and reading it as soon as possible.

But here comes the “but”: last night I watched the book trailer for Legend, and the degree to which I cringed throughout was almost physically uncomfortable:

Let’s first acknowledge that nothing exists in a vacuum. Penguin, I’m sure, put a lot of thought and effort into marketing Legend, and this video is but one small piece of the puzzle. What’s more, the Penguin PR team has clearly done its job, as evidenced by my writing about this book well before I’ve actually read it.

However, why on earth would anyone think that this trailer is a good idea? The bad voice acting, the graphics that evoke computer games circa 1998…it’s as though there’s someone, somewhere, who wants to embarrass anyone who wants to read this book. I mean, I’m at the core of the target demographic², and I  found it off-putting.

Which brings us to my main question: if a book trailer doesn’t pique one’s interest, if it potentially repels, then what’s the point?

For the sake of comparison, I decided to look up the book trailers for some of my favorite reads of 2011. Here’s what was done in 2009 for Kristin Cashore’s Fire, a book so good, I’ve already read it twice³:

Again, let’s acknowledge something upfront: unlike movies, books don’t come with a bank of footage that can be cut into a truly excellent trailer. And any attempt to put a voice or face to a particular book or character is going to be met with resistance from some fans, no matter how carefully one treads.

And yet…really? A (faux?) British accent, Brigan awkwardly wielding what looks like a katana, and something about desire destroying the Dells? I would cry, were it not for the knowledge that this video is not the main, let alone only, means by which one is likely to discover this wonderful book.

Which again begs the question: what is the point of a book trailer? Why bother with one if it’s not able to stand alone in support of the book it features? And is there any way to create a successful trailer for a medium that is not inherently visual?

After further exploration, I’ve decided that book trailers improve the second they eschew voice overs of any kind. Little, Brown and Company got this right with their trailer for Daughter of Smoke and Bone, by Laini Taylor, though I remain undecided about the video as a whole:

Having read (and loved) Daughter of Smoke and Bone, I question the packaging of the story, plus the video is fast cut, making the text difficult to read. Still, the graphics are pretty, and the overall feel is a step up from Legend and Fire.

To be honest, I’ve seen only one book trailer that actually increased my interest in reading its particular book, and this is for A Monster Calls, by Patrick Ness:

Based on this trailer, I have some understanding of what this book is about, and more importantly, I trust that understanding and want to know more. Moreover, I have some idea as to how this book will make me feel—and I don’t think it’s coincidental that this trailer is for an already illustrated novel. There was no need to draw imagery from scratch, only to animate variations of what was already included, and this connection to the origianl lends the entire video authenticity.

I’m curious to know what others think about book trailers: whether or not they’re regularly sought out and watched, and how they might be made more effective as publishing houses continue to embrace the Internet as a way to cultivate interest in books. (And if you’ve seen any particularly wonderful trailers, please send them my way!)


¹Goodreads tells me I added Legend to my “to-read” shelf on November 1st.
²Likely +10 years, but hey—at least I have a disposable income!
³In the Katsa vs. Fire debate, I am 100% Team Fire.

2012 Debut Author Challenge

With 2012 looming on the horizon (seriously, how and when did that happen?), I’ve started poking around the Internet for reading challenges that sound both interesting and doable. It’s important to me that they be both, because I see them as an opportunity to discover new books, meet new people, and ultimately grow this blog in the way that feeds my long-term goal of being actively involved in the online literary community.

2012 Debut Author Challenge Button

Anyway. Committing to The Story Siren’s Debut Author Challenge was a no-brainer, especially when I consider how many of my favorite books from 2011 were debuts. (Answer: many.) Reading one per month next year should be manageable, and full challenge details are as follows.

CHALLENGE OBJECTIVE:

  • To read & review a minimum of twelve young adult or middle grade debut novels between the dates of January 1, 2012 – January 31, 2013.*

*The 2013 extension is so that December debuts can be read & counted toward the challenge.

RULES & GUIDELINES:

  • You must have a blog to post your reviews, or be a member of Goodreads.
  • Your blog must be written in English.
  • Deadline to join is May 31, 2012.

BOOK GUIDELINES:

  • Must be a young adult or middle grade title.
  • Must be the author’s YA or MG debut, released in 2012.
  • If an author has a previous novel published for adults or children, they can still qualify for the challenge.
  • If an author has a previously published YA or MG title, they do not qualify for the challenge.

…Are there any 2012 debuts that you’re particularly excited to read? So far, I’m most looking forward to Marissa Meyer’s Cinder, to be released January 3rd:

Cinder by Marissa Meyer

Humans and androids crowd the raucous streets of New Beijing. A deadly plague ravages the population. From space, a ruthless lunar people watch, waiting to make their move. No one knows that Earth’s fate hinges on one girl. . . . 

Cinder, a gifted mechanic, is a cyborg. She’s a second-class citizen with a mysterious past, reviled by her stepmother and blamed for her stepsister’s illness. But when her life becomes intertwined with the handsome Prince Kai’s, she suddenly finds herself at the center of an intergalactic struggle, and a forbidden attraction. Caught between duty and freedom, loyalty and betrayal, she must uncover secrets about her past in order to protect her world’s future. [Goodreads]

Happy Thanksgiving!

I’ve been trying to think of an appropriately bookish way to talk about Thanksgiving, but in the end, I decided that a picture is worth a thousand words:

A Buffy Thanksgiving

This year, in addition to this priceless set of facial expressions, I am thankful to be living in Chicago, perhaps the best city I’ve ever called home; to be working for a company that I believe in and that challenges me daily; to have amazing friends, one of whom was kind enough to invite me to her family’s Thanksgiving meal this afternoon; to have met so many good, smart, and interesting people through Tumblr and the rest of the Internet; to have been raised by parents who always encouraged me to read widely and endlessly; and to be warm in my bed with my cat curled up on my feet while I get back to reading Delirium.

Enjoy your celebrations, everyone! I’ll be back to talking about books tomorrow.

Wordless Wednesday

Inspired by Megan of write meg!, Wordless Wednesday is a weekly feature that I use to explore my adopted hometown of Chicago, IL, both because I love this city, and because where I read informs how I think about what I read.  All photos were taken by me.