Archive | March, 2011

Across the Universe

31 Mar

Across the Universe by Beth Revis is an excellent blend of dystopia, romance, and sci-fi. Teenager Amy is cryogenically frozen in order to join her also frozen parents on a 350 year journey to colonize a new planet. While Amy’s parents are considered crucial to the mission, Amy is simply “cargo”. So when she is mysteriously unfrozen 50 years ahead of schedule and facing life alone on the spaceship, she doesn’t know if she can keep her sanity.

The ship, Godspeed, contains a couple of thousand people and an “Elder” and “Eldest” as the leaders. The society is monoethnic and strangely complacent. Therefore Amy, with her red hair and strong feelings, is completely out of place. Her only friends are Elder (who is the only teenage boy on the ship) and one of the mental patients in the hospital.  When Amy begins influencing Elder to think for himself, Eldest clearly begins to want her dead. So when someone begins to murder the other “frozens”, Amy fears for her own life and the lives of her still-frozen parents.

Across the Universe is ambiguous, filled with detail, and a total page-turner. The sci-fi element was a welcome relief from the more common earth-bound dystopias, and is highly entertaining. Also, the romance between Amy and Elder is more Hunger Games-ish than Twilight-ish (and therefore actually believable).

Nora’s rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Author: Beth Revis
Publisher: Razorbill (January 2011)

Judy Blundell & Strings Attached

28 Mar

Yesterday, I trekked on down to Rhinebeck, NY to the lovely Oblong Books & Music for yet another Hudson Valley YA Society author talk and signing (past authors who I have had the pleasure of seeing/meeting at Oblong include Suzanne Collins, E. Lockhart, David Levithan, Rachel Cohn, Sarah Mlynowski, and Jennifer Donnelly).

Judy Blundell photo credit Paul LLewellyn

photo credit Paul LLewellyn

This time the author event was with award-winning author, Judy Blundell. Blundell won the National Book Award in 2008 for her YA novel What I Saw and How I Lied and her latest book for teens, Strings Attached, takes place during a similar time period though with different characters, settings, and scenarios. Co-owner and manager of Oblong Books & Music, Suzanna Hermans, counts Strings Attached as one of her Top 5 Best Young Adult Books. The first time I met Suzanna she gushed about Jennifer Donnelly’s Revolution, which was one of my absolute favorite reads last year, so I trust her recommendations! She hasn’t failed me yet!

Getting back to Judy Blundell and Strings Attached, the book sounds exciting! There’s a teen runaway, working as a chorus girl, who gets mixed up with the mob – as the official product description says, “Judy Blundell traps readers in a web of love, deceit, intrigue, and murder.” Nice.

Other things I learned during her talk? She fell in love with Cary Grant in her youth (so did I!), she experienced writer’s block for the first time during the writing of Strings Attached, and she’s “27” years old (when I accidentally discovered what her real age is, I have to say that I was shocked – the years have been very kind to her! well done!).

Strings Attached also has one of the best book trailers that I’ve seen in a long while (I’m quite critical of most film trailers). I like how this one plays with the film noir aspects of the story:

Thanks to Suzanna, Jennifer, and everyone else at Oblong Books & Music for helping make this event happen! Thanks to Scholastic for the cute tote bags! And of course, thanks to Judy Blundell for stopping by for a visit!

Lorises can be mighty slow

24 Mar

You may have noticed that we’re posting a bit slower than usual. We have too. We’ll make up for it soon. Nora’s been reading lots of adult lit (shocking!) and been busy finishing up grad school and I’ve been busier than I had planned to be with the launch of the community radio station that I work for (it’s a good kind of busy) and with my two other jobs and some freelance work and a wedding to plan….. Anyway, in good news, “slow posting” is a great excuse to post a picture of the slow loris – one of the cutest animals I’ve ever had the pleasure of staring at for a good hour (a real live one, not a picture of one).

The Freak Observer

14 Mar

My new favorite word which feels kind of funny in my mouth? Orrery. An Orrery is a mechanical model of the solar system. Loa Lindgren’s family once worked like a science fair prize-worthy orrery (Our gears turned so smoothly and all the parts fit together so perfectly). At the center of their family orbit, was her baby sister Asta, taking the place of the sun in this metaphor, and the family’s life worked around their sun like the clockwork of an orrery (no one ever went missing like a rogue comet). But what happens to the orbiting planets when the sun dies?

And this is where we meet Loa, one of the most unique and memorable characters I have read in recent years. Loa has been suffering from PTSD since the death of her baby sister – she has nightmares, tries her best not to sleep, and sees things that aren’t there. She tries to not think about her sister, believing that picking at a wound just makes it harder to heal. But when The Bony Guy takes the life of her friend Esther (or does she take her own life?), it becomes increasingly hard to ignore how death has impacted her, as she figures out her place in the universe.

As I read, I had no idea where the story was going, but this lack of foresight didn’t affect the momentum and actually added quite a bit to the experience. It would almost seem unfair for the reader to have too much of an idea of Loa’s path, as she’s struggling to find her way back into orbit. The story is much more about character development than plot points anyway. Stuff happens, but the driving force is Loa and how she makes sense of events in her past and her present. Woolston’s writing style and story structure choices, as well as all of the quirky – at times funny, at times mind-boggling – physics references make for an enjoyable and memorable read, albeit the depressing story. The overall design of the book also adds to the charm of Woolston’s debut YA novel.

Em’s rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Author: Blythe Woolston
Publisher: Carolrhoda Lab (2010)

The Freak Observer makes me wish I was part of a YA book club (Nora! Read this book please!). What great conversations this book could inspire! Feel free to discuss in the comments – would love to hear folks’ thoughts! I didn’t even get started up above on the setting, family dynamics, the law of physics and death….

The Reapers Are the Angels

7 Mar

Zombies! Again! I seriously can’t get enough. The Reapers Are the Angels is crossover YA, and was actually written for adults. A great choice for us adult fans of YA, as the book features a 15-year-old protaganist (Temple) who is insanely tough and likable. I am somewhat reminded of Bone from Bastard Out of Carolina, only with zombies and way more fighting back.

Basically the near future exists of the “meatskins” and small surviving pockets of humanity. The meatskins are always a threat, but the hungrier they get, the weaker they get. Therefore it is possible to avoid being bitten as long as one stays away from cities and is on their guard at all times. Temple has managed to survive her 15 years, despite being an orphan, by being extremely realistic about the situation. She is haunted by the death of a young boy who may or may not have been her brother, but for the most part she stays alert and she keeps moving. However, along with the zombie threat, she manages to incur the wrath of a terrible man who is hunting her. She also picks up a “dummy” along the way – a man who is severely mentally handicapped – and she can’t bring herself to abandon him.

As many reviews mention, the book is true Southern Gothic, and comparisons to Flannery O’Connor are often made. The scenes where Temple sometimes sees flashes of humanity (grace?) in the zombies and hesitates to kill them are great. The scenes where she fights/kills rapists and mutants are even better!

I highly recommend this book, even for those non-zombie lovers out there – it just doesn’t get any better than this. The only problem is that my expectations are now too high for zombie fiction, and I don’t know if I will ever be satisfied again.

Nora’s rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Author: Alden Bell
Publisher: Holt Paperbacks (August 2010)