Saturday, January 24, 2009

Books I've read recently - some I recommend, others not so much

Status: Procrastinating making my son do his book report (So mom's going to do one? Hmmmm...)
Song: "A different drum" by Peter Gabriel

I wanted to share my thoughts on some of the books I've read recently. In theory I was going to spread it out so I'd have lots of blog posts, but I'm still reading a ton and if I do that I'll never get caught up. So we're going to do a compilation post of book reviews/recommended reading.

First up...

The Madonnas of Leningrad by Debra Dean.
Conclusion: Very, very good. I highly recommend. Go read it. I mean it.

I've read so much young adult and childrens fiction lately that a couple months ago I decided I had to at least read *something* written for people over 18. I strolled through the New Books section of my library and picked this up, with no idea what it was about. And I loved it.

I found this description online, and it's so good that I'm going to just cut and paste for you:

A wonderfully spare and elegant novel in which the 900-day siege of Leningrad during World War II is echoed by the destructive siege against the mind and memory of an elderly Russian woman suffering from Alzheimer's. The novel shifts between two settings: 1941 Leningrad, when the city was surrounded by German troops, and the present-day, as Marina, who had been a docent at Leningrad's Hermitage Museum during WWII, prepares for the wedding of her granddaughter off the coast of Seattle in the Pacific Northwest. THE MADONNAS OF LENINGRAD is first and foremost an eloquent tribute to the beauty and resilience of memory, especially as contrasted to the incomparable devastation that comes with its loss to Alzheimer's.

Splitting the stories throughout is done skillfully and seamlessly. I used to help take care of my husband's grandmother who had Alzheimer's, so this story was extra poignant. I highly recommend.

Next...

Skinned by Robin Wasserman
Conclusion: I'm not sure. Really.

From the back cover:
Some miracles come with a price . . .

Lia Kahn was perfect: rich, beautiful, popular. Until the accident that nearly killed her. Now she has been downloaded into a new body that only looks human. Lia will never feel pain again, she will never age, and she can't ever truly die.

This is another YA in the same vein as the Uglies, Pretties, Specials Series - I'm not sure what the genre is exactly: YA sci-fi, or YA urban fantasy, or a mixture of the two?

The idea is intriguing, the writing is well done, the future world and society seem realistic, but... (you're waiting for the but, aren't you?) I didn't like the characters. And I don't mean I just didn't like the main character (which I didn't). But there was honestly not a single character in the whole book that I liked when I finished. There was one character that was better than the rest and I had high hopes for him, until the end when he turned just as horrible as the rest. The adults were uncaring and Machiavellian. The kids were rich, spoiled, mean, self-centered, whiny, and used behavior modification drugs as a matter of course.

Lia was your absolute rich, snotty teenager who feels entitled, then her parents decide to download her brain. She doesn't get any say in the matter and feels completely violated. I can understand the whining and anger in that case. Unfortunately, the book ends with her still a rich, snotty teenager who feels entitled--oh, and is very angry. I've read books with characters I don't like, and part of the satisfaction is seeing them grow and develop, but Lia didn't.

So, I'm not sure if I'd recommend this book. It's the first in a trilogy, and I might actually start the next book, just to see if the characters start to change. But if they don't, then I'll put it down for good. You can find out about Robin Wasserman and the books on her website.


And then...

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
Conclusion: Very, very good. I can't wait for the next one.

From the back cover:

Twenty- four are forced to enter. Only the winner survives.

In the ruins of a place once known as North America lies the nation of Panem, a shining Capitol surrounded by twelve outlying districts. Each year, the districts are forced by the Capitol to send one boy and one girl between the ages of twelve and eighteen to participate in the Hunger Games, a brutal and terrifying fight to the death – televised for all of Panem to see.

Survival is second nature for sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen, who struggles to feed her mother and younger sister by secretly hunting and gathering beyond the fences of District 12. When Katniss steps in to take the place of her sister in the Hunger Games, she knows it may be her death sentence. If she is to survive, she must weigh survival against humanity and life against love.

I really liked this book. The writing was excellent, the characters were great, and I *loved* the twist on our society's obsession with Reality Shows. I can just imagine the author watching Survivor one day and thinking, What if this were real? What if it was to the death? What if it were kids?

I loved that the main character stayed true to her ideals and loved others enough to sacrifice. She participated in the game to the death, but hated it the entire time. And the romance aspect - perfect. I highly recommend this book to anyone.

You can find out more about Suzanne Collins on her website, and even read the first chapter of The Hunger Games on Scholastic's website.

And wrapping up (so this isn't forever long)...

Staying Dead (Retrievers Book 1) by Laura Anne Gilman
Conclusion: Pretty good

From the cover:
Manhattan's nightlife just got weirder. . .It starts as a simple job - but simple jobs, when you're dealing with this magical world, often end up anything but. As a Retriever, Wren Valere specializes in finding things gone missing - and then bringing them back, no questions asked. Normally her job is stimulating, challenging and only a little bit dangerous. But every once in a while. . .

Case in point - a cornerstone containing a spell is stolen and there's a magical complication. (Isn't there always?) Wren's unique abilities aren't enough to lay this particular case to rest, and so she turns to some friends: a demon (minor), a mage who has lost her mind, and a few others - including Sergei, her business partner (and maybe a bit more?) Sometimes what a woman has to do to get the job done is enough to give even Wren nightmares.

This book was pretty good. It was light, fun reading. The magic system was unique - magic is called current and is actually part of electricity. Pretty interesting, really. Wren was spunky and likable, with just the right touches of sarcasm and vulnerability. The other characters, including the demon, were interesting. There are more in the series that I would definitely read.

You can find out more about the author on her blog and I *think* this is her website--sorta.



Of course I've read more than that, but I'll just have to do another compilation post soon. Have a great weekend and toss any book suggestions my way!

1 comment:

Deborah said...

There are several more in the Staying Dead series. I have the next,so you don't have to go hunting.

Cocone - interesting