Saturday, December 20, 2014

Red Rising by Pierce Brown

Set in the future, Red Rising tells the story of Darrow, a 16 year old. Born as a Red, he is in the lowest Caste, in a world where your color means everything. While Reds are unskilled manual laborers: thought of as stupid and worthless, Golds are the rulers and overlords of the world. Living on Mars, Darrow is a driller, duped into believing that his life threatening efforts will one day make the planet inhabitable for the other colors. Content to live his life for the sake of others, he is happy with his family and young wife. But he soon realizes that his life is a lie. Miles above on the surface of Mars, the other colors are already living there; happy to let the Reds live in the cavernous mines below. When tragedy forces Darrow into a rebellion, he gains the opportunity to infiltrate the Institute, a training school for the elite Golds. Surgically altered to appear as a Gold, he mercilessly trains both body and mind in order to fit into their ideal mold. But the Institute is not an ordinary school. Meant to weed out the weak, Darrow soon finds himself in a war amongst his fellow pupils. It is kill or be killed, and the winner will gain the opportunity to apprentice with the most powerful Gold overlords in the world. Seeing this as a way to destroy the Golds from within, Darrow will stop at nothing to win.
This book is really hot right now. Everyone is reading it. It has been compared to Hunger Games, Lord of the Flies and Ender’s Game. One would think it is a YA book, since the protagonist is 16, but this is definitely an adult book. This book is filled with graphic violence, and I kept thinking that if they ever make it into a movie, which undoubtedly they will, it would be pretty grotesque to watch. But that isn’t to say I didn’t enjoy it. In fact, I sailed through it. The storyline is very fast paced. You never know who Darrow can trust, and there is a twist near the end that I didn’t see coming. However, the writing is not the greatest. The book is written in the 1st person, and Pierce Brown tends to have the protagonist narrate everything in his mind to the reader rather than letting the action and dialogue come from the all the characters: “Then she said this. Then this happened. Then they said that. Then I went over there.” This writing style got pretty tedious. I find it kind of insulting that this book would be compared to Lord of the Flies, Ender’s Game, or even Hunger Games, as those books are all far superior. But hey, maybe you will disagree. And with the 2nd book, Golden Son, coming out in January, it is clearly very popular with the masses. I already have it on hold, and am hopeful that with Brown’s newfound success, he will have found a better editing team that will help correct the writing mistakes from his first book. LT

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Wild Truth by Carine McCandless

Author Carine McCandless is the sister of Chris McCandless, the young man who perished in Alaska and was the subject of the book and movie Into the Wild.  She recounts their tumultuous childhood at the hands of abusive and manipulative parents, and offers an explanation as to why her brother would cut family ties, abandon civilization, and journey to Alaska in search of simplicity, purity and honesty.  Contributing factors include their parents' duplicity, the realization that his father had another family (Chris had a step-sibling the same age as himself), and the discovery that Chris and his sister were illegitimate.  According to Carine, their parents carefully protected their public image as an all-American, church-going family, masking ugly realities.

Readers who enjoyed the earlier book may be curious, as I was, to explore the backstory of Chris' ill-fated trip into the wilderness.  The story of Into the Wild haunted me, in part because Chris resembled some of my former students and my own son with his idealism, his intellect, and his disdain for materialism and hypocrisy.

Even though the author stands to benefit monetarily from her book in the same way she felt her parents exploited Chris' demise for personal gain, Wild Truth proved to be an enjoyable and worthwhile read that addressed earlier unanswered questions.  She asserts that wandering into the Alaska bush was not a crazy thing for him to do, but, in her words, "was the sanest thing Chris could have done."   -MS

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Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Refinery 29: Style Stalking by Christene Barberich and Piera Gelardi

For those who aren’t familiar with Refinery 29, it is a fashion and style website that was launched in 2005 by
U.S. leading fashion experts. The Refinery 29 website covers topics such as shopping, beauty, wellness, and emerging fashion trends as well as giving its readers beauty tips, tricks, and tools.

 Refinery 29: Style Stalking is the collaborative effort of Editor-in-Chief Christene Barberich and Executive Creative Director Piera Gelardi. Gelardi and Barberich give readers new insight on thinking outside of the box when putting together a great outfit; the book shows readers how to “take risk with their style”. It is broken down into ten chapters on differing topics such as layering, wearing denim, and mixing prints. Chapters further explain how to achieve each look in steps. Most importantly, every single page is loaded with crisp photographs of fashion designer Norma Kamali and Laura Brown, executive editor of Harper’s Bazaar, as well as other fashionistas dressed in cool clothes.

One of the most useful sections of the book shows readers how to wear one piece three ways which adds versatility and value to one’s wardrobe. The authors also include 5 steps of basic training on topics such as mixing prints which can be challenging for even the most fashion savvy individual.  A third useful chapter describes how to pull together a great outfit by mainly wearing black.

At first glance, the styles captured on the pages of Refinery 29: Style Stalking seem a bit trendy. However, careful reading of each page provides useful guidelines for creating a unique sense of style through fashion. Overall, Refinery 29: Style Stalking is a fun read for fashion forward women or anyone who is looking for creative ways to restyle items they already own.  --JK

Monday, December 8, 2014

The Dead Man's Brother by Roger Zelazny

I didn’t quite expect this book – famous science fiction author writes a thriller/murder mystery. Since it is Zelazny, he does a fine job of it, too.  Our hero, Ovid Wiley, is blackmailed by the CIA into solving the theft of millions from the Vatican by a priest, and ends up travelling from New York to Rome to Brazil in the course of his investigation. This is a Cold War novel, and has a twist ending that I quite liked.  Zelazny, as always, uses his wonderful way with prose to keep the pace up and the surprises coming. It’s not his best book, but it’s still good, and I enjoyed it. -LP
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(A quick note:  This paperback original is part of a publishing line called Hard Case Crime, which is dedicated to bringing to light both original novels and "lost" or long-out-of-print titles by current best-selling authors.  The focus is on hardboiled adventure and detective stories, though some of the titles defy this categorization, such as the two contributed by Stephen King, "Joyland" and "The Colorado Kid."  Along with the "best of the pulps" approach to the novels themselves, the books feature often fascinating cover art that is inspired by those of the dime novels of the 1940's through 1960's.  If you are interested in more information, here is a link to Hard Case Crime's website.     -BR)

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Fables: the Deluxe Edition Vol 1 by Bill Willingham

Of all the comics I've read that don't have to do with DC/Marvel superheroes, Fables is far and away my favorite.  The premise is fairly straightforward: fairy tale characters are real and living among us.  The reason that these fables are living in our world is that they have been driven out of their homelands by an enemy only known as the Adversary.  So while they take refuge here they constantly dream of one day retaking their homelands.  The plot involving the Adversary makes up the "main" story that is being told, but the series is full of side stories and one-shot tales pulling in all sorts of characters from any fairy tale you've ever heard of.

As far as I know, Bill Willingham has done all the writing for Fables since he started it back in 2002.  He makes very good use of his source material, both in portraying these characters in new and interesting ways and in populating his stories with lesser known characters.  I'll be honest, there were quite a few people that I had to look up to get their back story.  But that actually just adds to the overall enjoyment of the series.  There are no real main characters here, just certain people that are more involved with the overall plot than others.  With that said, the main plot usually centers around Snow White and Bigby Wolf (the Big Bad Wolf), with Bigby being a standout persona.  The characters themselves and the relationships they have with each other are the best parts about this series (Snow and Bigby's in particular).

The main plot involving the Adversary takes awhile to get going, but once it does it's fairly gripping.   The side stories can be hit and miss, with some being more important or interesting than others.  Usually, though, they offer either an amusing story or a piece of information that will be useful to know later.  Personally I thought that Rapunzel's story about her time in Japan was the high point for these one-shots, while the stories focused on the petty criminal antics of Jack (from Jack and the Bean Stalk fame) were passable at best.

Finally, a couple disclaimers.  The first is that these comics are very adult-oriented.  There is a lot of foul language, and both implied and explicit sexual scenarios.  I personally don't think that these elements ever really add anything to the series, but unfortunately they are there.  The second disclaimer is that I would recommend reading the Deluxe Editions in order.  The Deluxe Editions collect every issue of Fables, meaning that they have all of the Adversary stories as well as the side stories.  The side stories are also usually collected on their own with a different title, so it can get confusing knowing where a certain story falls in the wider chronology of the series.  By sticking with the Deluxe Editions you will get everything that has been released, in the correct (or best) order to read them in.--CA

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Friday, November 28, 2014

Lineage by J. Christopher Thompson

What would you do if you found out that you were destined for greatness? To be a powerful and humble leader? Someone who is meant to destroy the ultimate evil? These are the questions placed upon Connor Murray, a teenage hooligan, who is constantly getting in and out of trouble. When he lands himself in jail for armed robbery, his only hope for release is granted by the mysterious T.M. Ambrose, a teacher from a school called Avalon. Connor soon learns that the students in Avalon are actual descendants of those found in Arthurian legend. But no one has ever descended from King Arthur himself, until now. Faced with an unseen adversary who will stop at nothing to get what he wants, Connor must train to be the warrior and leader that he was destined to become. But he soon realizes that not all those who appear to be allies can be trusted, and he must rely on his true friends to defeat his enemy.
I have to be admit that I am a little biased when it comes to this review, as the author is my husband. But I can honestly say that this is an enjoyable read, with a lot of action and intrigue. The legend of King Arthur is not one that I know a lot about, and I will say that those who do know about the legend will have an easier time recognizing the various characters who make an appearance, such as Merlin, Mordred and Lancelot. I have suggested to the author that in upcoming volumes, he might consider including some kind of genealogy of the characters to aid those less learned in Arthurian legend. It’s refreshing to see that more and more YA books are being released about teenage boys, as so much YA literature tends to focus on female protagonists. Connor is extremely flawed, and it is interesting to watch his development from slacker hoodlum to benevolent leader. The book ends in a cliffhanger, and I eagerly await the next volume. -LT

Friday, November 21, 2014

North of Normal by Cea Sunrise Person

Born to a teenage mother, author Cea Sunrise Person grows up in the Canadian Yukon wilderness with her dysfunctional extended family, surviving completely off-grid.  They live in tipis, gather, kill, and prepare their own food, and smoke pot they grow themselves.  Their commitment to a natural lifestyle includes nudity and free love with outside visitors.  Young Cea learns to make do without modern conveniences, fashioning homemade roach clips for Christmas gifts when she is only four.

Over the years, her mother leaves the home camp with assorted boyfriends, taking Cea along.  The men in her mother's life are violent-tempered, dishonest vagabonds who provide neither stability nor security.  Cea attends various schools where she learns that other kids wear nice clothes, live in real houses, have television, and go to birthday parties.  She longs for a more normal life, deciding at just thirteen that she will have one only if she makes it happen herself.

Naturally tall, slender, and beautiful, Cea enters a modeling contest and is discovered by a Calgary photographer.  A modeling career becomes her ticket out of the crazy world that is all she has ever known.

Some readers may object to the book's graphic sexual descriptions and vulgar language, but those elements were very much a part of the author's reality as a young girl.  Her story is beautifully written and utterly unforgettable.   -MS

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