We had a great dinner on Thanksgiving itself with my husband's family, and then since we weren't traveling, I was able to get home in time to do some actual writing! Not so on the day after, when we wound up at the mall on Black Friday. Seriously. It took probably half an hour to park (and that was mid-day, after all the really crazy sales had gone off already.) We had put ourselves on the wait-list for the WiiU as a Christmas present to ourselves, and apparently this is when they were in stock. So off we went to pick it up. It's pretty cool but I'm mostly excited to be able to play Rock Band again since our old Wii's been on the fritz for a while now.
Then yesterday, we headed to my hometown to see my dad. We had a great dinner at the new-ish restaurant arm of a legendary Italian bakery there (the kind of dinner where your mouth tastes like garlic for about 24 hours). It was a nice visit, even if it was a short one--we drove back to Buffalo today and we're currently watching football (Sigh. The Bills lost again. It's not like I think they'll win when we put the game on...but I always hope they will.)
Anyway, all this travel and rest gave me time to finish and review three books this week for the first time in ages. (Weirdly, I realized they all feature notably dead mothers. I'm gonna seek out something a little different next, I think.)
Also, a PSA: The book I read last night and today, The Pursuit of Happiness, is set on the Jersey Shore (but with real, likable people, not at all like the reality show.) The author, Tara Altebrando, is donating her portion of the proceeds of the e-book (Kindle or Nook) to Hurricane Sandy relief efforts through the end of November, so you have a few more days. She's got the same offer for another book, What Happens Here, and the ebooks only cost $4.99. More info here--I think it's a pretty great deal.
So, in short, I'm thankful for:
- Good food
- Time with family
- Time to write
- Traveling (with good books!)
- And of course, you guys!
The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I've been thinking a lot about what sets a YA fantasy (which this is not) apart from an adult fantasy (which this is), and about the standards by which I evaluate each one. Since I write mostly about YA, it's hard for me to review this book without first figuring out how to meet it on its own terms.
I liked this book. I wound up liking it a lot. But it took a lot more mental energy for me to read than most YA books. That doesn't mean it's more literary or even more complex. I do think the scale of it seemed larger even than most other YA fantasies with geopolitical plots (I'm thinking of things like Girl of Fire and Thorns) but it's hard for me to put my finger on how so. And there's definitely wide variety in YA in terms of length, complexity, and scale, so really the comparison here is to other long, dense, complicated books (I might recommend The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms to fans of Paolini's Inheritance series or Railsea by China Mieville.)
However, this book feels markedly non-YA. There certainly is language in here that I can't recall ever seeing in a YA book (and I've read and loved some YA with foul-mouthed protags.) There is a fair amount of sex and violence, too, but that's certainly nothing new to YA readers. I think the big difference, and what marks it as distinctly adult despite having a fairly young MC, is that our heroine Yeine has so much life experience already. It's true that she is placed in a new situation at the beginning of the book and must learn to adapt to it, but she is already well-versed (or at least, versed) in sex, violence, and politics. A leader in her home country but considered a naive barbarian in the capital, she navigates her new role as someone who has already made the transition from child to adult. In YA fantasy, the protagonist must usually make a similar transition, but it's happening simultaneously with the other transition of coming of age.
Ultimately, Yeine makes another transition, and one that I find much more interesting. I won't spoil it for you, but it did leave me very curious about the next books in the series. I enjoyed the humor that popped up in the unlikeliest of place throughout this book; I was drawn into the world and left wanting more (in the good way.) I appreciated the interesting take on gender roles in Yeine's matriarchal society and the mythology of the world in general. I do plan to read the other two books; I might just need some breathing room between them.
Notes from the Blender by Trish Cook
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I picked this book up because in one way, it's pretty similar to my WiP (newly blended family with a girl and guy about the same age). However, it is about a million times more hilarious than I will ever be. I loved both metalhead/part-time Unitarian sexton Declan and "nerves of steely Neilly", but Declan was the one who made me laugh out loud. His voice is so goofy and gross and sincere all at the same time, which I think is how I remember my close guy friends from high school. Neilly also totally won my heart, though--Declan's life is sadder (his mom died when he was young) but Neilly's is undeniably more complicated. (The day she finds out her boyfriend kissed her best friend at a party, she books it for home only to find her mom scantily clad with a guy she doesn't know--who, it turns out, is going to be her new stepdad and the father of her new baby half-sibling. Oh, and her mom has been free to date this guy because her dad left her mom for another guy! And their wedding is coming up, but Neilly's dad's fiance's son has been totally MIA and weird about the whole thing, and the happy couple obviously wants their kids to hit it off.)
The whole story is the kind of implausible that makes it totally believable--down to the vegan metal band--and kind of irresistible. I strongly recommend this book for anyone who likes wacky plots with surprising amounts of heart, and definitely for anyone who likes their teen guy voices strong, funny, and frequently raunchy. It's a well-balanced story and is ultimately very sweet under all the dirty jokes.
The Pursuit of Happiness by Tara Altebrando
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This is the kind of book I wish I had read in the summer, rather than during the first snowfall of the year--but I really liked it anyway. Betsy's mother dies at the start of the summer before her senior year. She's left with a falling-apart family trying to survive on fast food, a best friend who suddenly doesn't seem to fit, and a job at a historical reenactment site. And yes, there is a boy--he's the carpenter's apprentice by day, and a surfer with a complicated life of his own by night--and support from surprising places. It's the kind of story you've probably read before--well, maybe not the historical reenacting party--but if you're like me, it's told in a way that will make you love it all over again. Betsy is sympathetic even when she's not--her own self-awareness helps with that, as she tries to figure out why she sometimes says and does things she wishes she hadn't--and watching her follow her dying mother's instructions to find her passion was my favorite party of the story. There's more focus here on Betsy as a person than there sometimes is in summer romance stories (even to the point where Betsy's passion project actually, briefly, delays her romance.) I appreciated that, even as I kept rooting for the romance because really, I'm only human.
Pick this one up if you need a breath of summer at the shore or a sweet romance. (Bonus for me: the stretch of Jersey Shore in the book is, I'm pretty sure, the same stretch we used to visit with my cousins who lived there. It took a pretty devastating beating in Hurricane Sandy, so it was nice to revisit it in a book, at least.)
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