Monthly Archives: December 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.

Cloud Gate in Millenium Park

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 Favorite Books from My Childhood

Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder. My parents gave me a hardcover copy of this book when I was maybe five-years-old, which started my dad reading the entire series to me aloud, chapter by chapter, book by book, until one day, when I was six, I got impatient, and finished These Happy Golden Years while he was at work. I remember this clearly because it was the first chapter book I ever read on my own.

Meet Molly by Valerie Tripp. Sure, I read the other American Girl Doll books, but Molly’s were always my favorites. I can’t speak for the newer books, but those that accompanied the Molly and the other original dolls are incredibly well-written, especially when you consider that they were essentially accessories, and I have no doubt they laid the foundation for my ongoing love of U.S. history.

Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh. Even though I can no longer recall every specific of its plot, I continue to love this book. I went through a brief city planner phase as a result of Harriet’s habit of playing Town with Sport. And I can’t be the only one to have read this book and immediately start my own spy notebook, right? That’s what I thought.

Anastasia Krupnik by Lois Lowry. Before I was old enough to appreciate just how good The Giver is, I loved Lowry’s Anastasia Krupnik books. I remember copying her idea of listing likes and dislikes in her journal (sadly, I do not remember what I included in said lists!), and for some reason, I think she is one of the more precocious heroines from my childhood favorites (which is saying something).

Martin the Warrior by Brian Jacques. I wish I could remember how I discovered the Redwall books, because I think they are the very first large scale fantasy I ever loved. I think I’ve read at least the first ten books, but I know that Martin the Warrior has always been my favorite. I’ve always had a thing for prequel stories, and Jacques is possibly the first author I read who was willing to kill a likable character, thus introducing me to bookish sadness.

Dealing with Dragons by Patricia C. Wrede. All those in favor of Cimorene, say aye! She’s a wonderful protagonist, and this is a wonderful book. I read my local library’s copies of it and the rest of the Enchanted Forest Chronicles over and over again, and in many ways, Wrede paved the way for my longstanding love affair tongue-in-cheek genre parodies and high(er) fantasy featuring kick ass female protagonists.

Matilda by Roald Dahl. Frankly, everything Roald Dahl has ever written (exception: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, etc.) belongs on this list, but out of all his books, Matilda is my all-time favorite. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that Matilda Wormwood is every bookish child’s soulmate. She reads voraciously, in defiance of a family too stupid to keep up with her, and she’s smart to the point of psychic abilities.

The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle by Avi. One of my all-time favorite works of historical fiction, and with a swashbuckling heroine, to boot! I read and reread this book, in particular around the time that my homeschool group participated in a living history sleepover on a tall ship in the San Francisco Bay. (Getting to do things like that is just one of the many reasons that I loved being homeschooled.)

Alanna: The First Adventure by Tamora Pierce. This wasn’t the first Tamora Pierce book I ever read. That honor belongs to Wild Magic. All the same, it wouldn’t be right for anyone other than Alanna to represent Tamora Pierce on this list. Having recently (re)read all 17 Tortall books, I know they stand the test of time, and at the end of the day, I can’t wait to share these books with a daughter of my own. I just hope she loves them as much as I do.

The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman. I put this list together with a rough chronology in mind, beginning with the books my parents read aloud to me, and ending here, with the book that had the most impact on me as I transitioned from child to young adult. Ironically, I had little interest in reading it when my dad first bought me a copy. I had other new books that I was more interested in, that I read first. I don’t remember what they were, and anyway, it was my first copy of The Golden Compass that lost its cover from love and endless readings. To this day, it and its sequels are some of the best and most important books that I have ever read.

What about you? What are your favorite books from childhood, and why?

TGIF

TGIF at GReads!Created and hosted by GReads!, TGIF is a weekly feature that recaps the past week’s posts and poses a question to book bloggers. Each week features a new question, and anyone may participate. This week’s question is…

Writing Reviews 101: What’s your process for writing book reviews? And are there any tips or suggestions you have for other bloggers?

For me, the key to writing a solid review is to write about a book within a week of finishing it. Every single time I wait more than a week, I end up frustrated by my inability to remember everything I’d wanted to say. Book blogging is my hobby of choice, so I do what I can to keep it as fun as possible—including forcing myself to write reviews in a timely manner.

Of course, it’s not always possible for me to write immediately after I’ve finished reading, but I try to have a basic outline going ASAP. Usually, this is as simple as setting up the post—cover image, Goodreads summary, “My Response,” “My Recommendation,” and “My Rating” headings, and bibliographic information—in WordPress and adding very rough notes about the things I might want to include. Occasionally, just setting up the outline is enough to get me started on the “real” writing. Other times, it’ll take me several false starts to get going.

No matter what, I always want my finished review to include (1) my overall impression of the book; (2) how the book stands in comparison to others of its genre; (3) what I did and did not like about the writing and characters; and (4) at least one or two specific details that stood out to me, for whatever reason.

If I feel the need to include anything that even remotely resembles a spoiler, I’ll make sure to type it in white text so that anybody who reads it has done so by choice. Nothing’s worse than an unexpected spoiler! And my one to four star ratings are pretty self explanatory, so I leave them off until the very end because I prefer they not overshadow my actual commentary and opinions.

As for the reviews that I read, I always prefer book blogs whose authors write longer, more detailed reviews, and who support their claims with specifics of the book in question. “OMG I LOVE THIS BOOK” only goes so far. I also love, love, love when bloggers include links to other titles mentioned in a review. Yes, there’s always Google, but direct links are so much more convenient.

What about you? Is there anything you make a point to include when reviewing a book? Alternatively, as a reader, what do you look for in reviews?


Recap of November 28 to December 2 at YA in the Second City:

Book Review: Delirium by Lauren Oliver

Delirium by Lauren Oliver

The Story: Before scientists found the cure, people thought love was a good thing. They didn’t understand that once love — the deliria — blooms in your blood, there is no escaping its hold. Things are different now. Scientists are able to eradicate love, and the government demands that all citizens receive the cure upon turning eighteen. Lena Holoway has always looked forward to the day when she’ll be cured. A life without love is a life without pain: safe, measured, predictable, and happy. 

But with ninety-five days left until her treatment, Lena does the unthinkable: She falls in love. [Goodreads]

My Response: Delirium is the second of Lauren Oliver’s books that I’ve picked up with cautious optimism. Now that I’m done, I think it’s time to admit that she’s one of those special writers who can take a risky, possibly tired conceit and remake it delightful and fresh, and that as such, she deserves more trust than she does caution.

In her 2010 debut, Before I Fall, Oliver managed to make the same day described six times in a row emotional and engrossing (yes, I cried at the end), and in Delirium, she adds to the already crowded market for YA dystopian fiction. On the surface, her contribution isn’t particularly unique: a normal-yet-special heroine falls in love with a boy, realizes that she lives under the thumb of an oppressive government, and ends up a rebel on the run. [See Also: Incarceron, Divergent, and Matched, just to name those that I’ve read this year.]

However, Delirium stands out, and for much the same reason that Before I Fall succeeded: Oliver’s prose is rich and textured, heavy with metaphors and similes that are poetic without pretension. She takes her time, world building slowly and methodically in defiance of the break-neck pace popularized by The Hunger Games. Just as importantly, she goes out of her way to capture and develop the voice of her teen protagonist and to let her be, you know, a teenager. I particularly love Lena’s interactions with her best friend, Hana, because they are so similar to my own memories of high school friendships.

I also appreciate that Lena has reasons other than pure ignorance to embrace the status quo. When Lena is 8-years-old, her mother, who could not (or would not) be cured of her love for Lena’s father, commits suicide. Not only does this event permanently mark Lena as different within her community, it also makes her fear of amor deliria nervosa that much more personal. She, like so many teenage girls, is afraid that she’ll grow up to be just like her mother.

Of course, Lena’s fear begins to dissipate once she’s met Alex, a predictably beautiful boy who, for whatever reason, has chosen her to be the one whose eyes he opens. Whatever. The romance between the two of them is sweet, but it exists more to jumpstart the story forward than to be the story itself—and even then, it’s Hana who originally challenges Lena to step outside her comfort zone. In this way, Delirium is again a welcome change from standard YA dystopian fare, in that Lena has a close female friend from the start, rather than only after her world has been turned inside out.

My Recommendation: Of the new dystopian series that I’ve read so far, Delirium begins one of the most promising, and fans of the genre would do well to pick up a copy sooner rather than later. There are some genuinely horrifying scenes that may be overly violent for younger readers, but I don’t think any were gratuitous. Perhaps this is because there are also genuinely happy scenes to give the story balance.

Book two of the series, Pandemonium, is scheduled to be released on March 6, 2012. Based on what I’ve read about it so far, Lauren Oliver could take her story in a number of unexpected directions. Personally, I’m hoping for more background on the government and its discovery and implementation of the cure, and [spoiler alert—highlight the following to read] exploration of the fact that love doesn’t just happen once, that a person can fall in love again after suffering a great loss. [/spoiler alert]

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

Delirium (Delirium #1) / Lauren Oliver. HarperTeen, 2011. US $17.99 (hardcover).