Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Station Eleven

Station Eleven  by Emily St. John Mandel

On an ordinary, snowy Toronto night, 8-year-old Kirsten Raymonde is onstage watching a famous actor playing King Lear die of a heart attack.

Three weeks later, almost everyone else present in the theatre that night is dead of a virulent mutant Swine Flu.

Four weeks later, almost everyone else in the world is dead of the virus.

Fifteen years later, the Earth is only sparsely populated by survivors of the virus and the social collapse that followed.

Kirsten is one of the survivors.  Twenty years after the flu epidemic, Kirsten is a member of the Traveling Symphony, a ragtag group of musicians and actors on a never-ending tour of the surviving settlements, performing Bach, Beethoven, and Shakespeare because, as the motto written on the first caravan says, "Survival is insufficient"  (a quote borrowed from "Star Trek: Voyager)

This is not a gentle apocalypse.  Some survivors have banded together in peaceful villages.  Others are drawn to Doomsday cults.  Some cling desperately to the glorious history of humanity, telling whispered tales of flying machines, air conditioning, and antibiotics.  Others eschew the past, wanting to spare their children the ugliness of the now-gone world.

The tale bounces back and forth along the timeline, from pre-apocalypse to various points in the collapse, which might be confusing but isn't.  Throughout the novel, the lasting power of art and literature lend small amounts of grace and strength to the characters. From Sartre's "Hell is other people" to Miranda's "Brave new world, that has such people in’t," this novel will deeply affect the way readers view their technology-enhanced world...and each other.

Although written and marketed as a book for adults, this story is highly recommended for readers ages 14 to adult.  Sexual situations are tactfully off-stage, violence is on-stage but not gory.

Saturday, January 3, 2015


Afterworlds  by Scott Westerfeld

18-year-old Darcy Patel wrote the first draft of her novel during National Novel Writing Month, sent it to an agent in New York, and sold it (plus the as-yet-unwritten sequel) for an enormous amount of money.

Darcy takes the aforementioned enormous amount of money and moves to New York.  She finds an apartment, meets other authors who love her work, and falls in love.

As one does.

18-year-old Lizzie Scofield is the main character in the novel Darcy Patel wrote.  Lizzie survived a terrorist attack by entering the "flip side" (world of the dead), fell in love with a hunky guy who is apparently some kind of death god, and now she sees ghosts.

As one does.

This is not an awesome book unless you like reading about YA authors.  

You know how writers are always enjoined to "write what you know," right?

Well, Scott Westerfeld is a YA author, and when he is writing about authors, and writing, and revising, and the whole surreal, frustrating, almost-random world of publishing, he shines.

As one does.

When he is writing about the surreal, frustrating, almost-random world of being a teenaged lesbian living away from home and falling in love for the first time, not-so-much.

Some reviewers have suggested that this is a satire, poking fun at the inhabitants of the YA publishing world, but I think that misses the mark.  Rather, I think the author spotlights a weird but cool segment of the planet that he knows very, very well.  The problem is: a lot of readers don't care to read about publishing.

The exception is readers who are also writers.  For those readers, here is your book. 

It is not a how-to for teen authors who want to get their YA novels published. Westerfeld is actually still writing that book, called How to Write YA.  There's an excerpt of it HERE.

It is, rather, a fictionalized insider's view of the publishing world.  If you read it for that, you won't be disappointed.

If you read it for the paranormal book-within-the-book, ehh.  You'll probably find better stuff elsewhere--and much of the better stuff was written by this author.

Violence : the opening sequence of Lizzie's story is bloody and intense, other parts are scarier but less bloody.
Underage drinking : doesn't anybody ask for ID at bars in NYC?
Some tactful sexual situations in both story lines.

Recommended for readers who write, ages 14 to adult.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Being a Teen

Being a Teen   by Jane Fonda                     
978-0-8129-7861-2                            Random House, 2014            $15.00             
Being a Teen: Everything Teen Girls & Boys Should Know About Relationships, Sex, Love, Health, Identity & More is the full title of this bright yellow book.  Jane Fonda is the famous actress, outspoken, politically active person you know.  What qualifies her to write a book on sexuality is the work she has maintained in her clinics, the Jane Fonda Centers for Adolescent Reproductive Health.

The book covers all the basics of anatomy, complete with pictures.  It also covers standard teen questions about sexuality in a short answer, non-judgemental style.  Nothing in depth here.  She addresses, (not deeply), the GLBTQ question.  If you are looking for answers here, this is not for you.

Geared mainly toward girls, this is helpful for boys as well.  However, there are many better books on the market, for example, Safe Sex 101 : an overview for teens by Margaret O. Hyde and Elizabeth H. Forsythe or The “What’s Happening to My Body?” Book for Boys and The “What’s Happening to My Body?” Book for Girls by Lynda Madaras with Area Madaras.

My Last Kiss

My Last Kiss   by Bethany Neal                     
978-0-374-35128                   Farrar, Straus, 2014                        $17.99                      

In the prologue, Cassidy relives her first kiss with Ethan.  

In the first chapter we find out that Cassidy is now dead, looking up at the silhouette on the bridge (the killer?) and her mangled body on the rocks below.  

Cassidy is now a ghost, visiting the important people in her life, unable to communicate.  Except for Ethan.  They can talk and Ethan can see her.  

Problem #1:  Cassidy was cheating on Ethan and her last kiss was with Caleb, not Ethan.

Problem #2:  Cassidy doesn’t remember what happened that night on the bridge, or who was there with her.

Problem #3:  everyone thinks Cassidy’s death was a suicide.  

Together, Cassidy and Ethan set out to find out what happened and set the record straight.  Even if it is painful for Ethan.  Even if it means that Cassidy will “solve her problem and leave the world of ghosts.”

Of course there is kissing!  The rest is mystery- and understanding relationships, the underlying real theme.  For readers 12 and up (unless the drinking is a problem...)


Rebellion.:The Tankborn series, #3 by Karen Sandler
Tu Books, 2014.  978-160060984-8   $19.95,  394p.

The Tankborn  (GENS) are those genetically modified humans who can receive special powers.  They are also various shades of brown to black.  And have tattoos on their face so you will be sure to understand that this is a slave.  The trueborns are a caste above, whiter in skin, with all the privileges. There is a caste system within each of these groups..

Kayla is a GEN, although originally trueborn.  Devak is trueborn, now moved down in the caste system to pay for his treatments after the bombing.  In the first two novels, they have fallen in love but separated by a bomb blast in the rebellion where each thinks the other is dead.  This last in the series brings the rebellion to a close in a satisfying, commanding tale.  While you probably want to read the first two, this last is so well scripted, extra reading isn’t necessary.

The parallels to our society are obvious.  What saves this from being stereotypical is the handling of the nuances within the caste system.  The political intrigue is spot on, and the creatures are fantastic:  bhimkays, for example- giant spiders that are trained for riding.  This is a very realistic and striking world.  The novel moves between the two stories, and each is totally intriguing. Well done by an adult fiction writer entering the YA field.  Hopefully more are coming.

While we would like to have had more romance, there is also a side romance between two of the "lowborn" boys in the rebellion.  Some kissing, a little cussing- and that in the language of the world- "those denking spiders..."

For readers 12 and up.

The Truth About Alice

The Truth about Alice    by Jennifer Mathiew                                
978-1-59643-909-2     Roaring Press, 2014           $16.99                   199p

Alice lives in a small town in Texas.  Rumor has it that she slept with two boys at a party.  That rumor spreads like…well…the internet at warp speed. Rumor also has it that she sent sexually explicit texts to one of those boys later that ended in his death- reading texts while driving.  Rumor went on to say that she had an abortion.  

All rumors.  All spread like wildfire.  She is dumped by her best friend.  She has her own “slut stall” in the bathroom where sharpies spread more rumors.

This story is told in alternating chapters, by all the characters except Alice.  

She does talk in the final chapter.  

Perhaps a cross between Mean Girls and Gossip Girls, this is about the same ilk.  Will you read this as a gossip to find out what is true or not, but still tuned in?  Will you read this sympathetically having been there or known someone who was there?

For readers 16 and up.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The Undertaking of Lily Chen

The Undertaking of Lily Chen  by Danica Novgorodoff

When Deshi's older brother Wei dies accidentally, his parents send Deshi on a quest to bring back a "corpse bride" so that their eldest son will not be alone in the afterlife.  With cash in hand, Deshi seeks out a grave robber...but the search is, ultimately, much more complicated than just digging up some bones to be buried along with Wei.

This story of modern China is full of fascinating, flawed characters.  Deshi and Wei are hardly ideal, upstanding citizens:  Wei is a drunk, a gambler, and a jerk.  Deshi is now working as a security guard having messed up as an army pilot.  Lily is pretty, but is also pretty annoying at times.   The supporting cast is equally dinged-up, and this makes the story much more interesting, and makes the ending much more satisfying.

Beautiful romantically-washed watercolor landscapes juxtaposed with wobbly line-drawn human figures allow the reader's eyes to travel quickly through the book, and the quickly moving narrative suites the illustrations.   

Recommended for readers ages 14 to adult.  The characters are all adults, but the family dysfunction issues will appeal to teens.  No cussing, some (cartoon) blood, the on-page sex scene is tactfully masked with blankets and black ink.