Fright Fest Update ~ The New Girl


I missed the R.L. Stine/teen horror phenomena in the nineties. For me, the nostalgia of these books, or at least The New Girl which I read last week, is in the setting. Published in 1989, it is just *so* 80s. At least in the original printing I have. I’ve heard that new editions have updated references as well as grittier covers. I’m glad my Fear Street editions have the ditto machine still intact! Honestly, I was surprised at how much fun The New Girl was to read. Cory Brooks, our smitten hero, is a bit of a bone head, but still likeable. The plot twist was appropriately sensational and I enjoy the concept of horror novels that are all set in place. I’ll be reading Fear Street #2 next week, probably during Dewey’s Readathon.

The New Girl (Fear Street, #1) The New Girl (Fear Street, #1) The New Girl (Fear Street, #1)

Actually, what is up with the new covers? They’re a little racy for book that only has kissing and non-graphic “excitement.”

Review ~ Vaclav & Lena

Vaclav & Lena by Haley Tanner

Cover via Goodreads

Vaclav and Lena, both the children of Russian émigrés, are at the same time from radically different worlds. While Vaclav’s burgeoning love of performing magic is indulged by hard-working parents pursuing the American dream, troubled orphan Lena is caught in a domestic situation no child should suffer through. Taken in as one of her own by Vaclav’s big-hearted mother, Lena might finally be able to blossom; in the naive young magician’s eyes, she is destined to be his “faithful assistant”…but after a horrific discovery, the two are ripped apart without even a goodbye. Years later, they meet again. But will their past once more conspire to keep them apart? (via Goodreads)

While reading this book, I did something I never do. I went on Goodreads and looked at some reviews. I was interested to know what Russian immigrants and their children thought of Vaclav & Lena. To me, it felt like there were a lot of stereotypes being presented. The voice of the book, especially when the narrative was focused on Vaclav, was full of a “was having, am being” dialect that really wore on me. Not surprisingly, the reviews of this book are pretty divided. Mostly, anyone who has emigrated from Russia to the US or is a child of immigrant parents doesn’t care for it. Aside from the stereotypes, the other most common comment was about how long it takes for young children to learn a second language (not long at all) and how many Russian parents only speak Russian in the home as a way of preserving heritage.

So, this isn’t an accurate presentation of the immigrant experience, and I wonder why Tanner, whose experience this isn’t, chose to write it.

Then there is the story. The first third of this book is about our titular characters at age nine. Vaclav is magic-obsessed and has been Lena’s only friend. He believes in two things: that he will be a great magician and that Lena will marry him and be his assistant. His ambitions are somewhat wince-worthy especially since Vaclav seems utterly blind to anything else going on. But then again, he is nine years-old.

The next two sections of the book outline the next eight years of their lives as they are apart, and also Lena’s past before she knew Vaclav and his family. The last section is their meeting again, at age seventeen. Lena has a traumatic past, some of which she cannot remember. On her seventeenth birthday she decides to find her parents and that the only person she feels she can trust to help her is Vaclav. So, she calls him up because he still lives where he’s always lived. (And I kind of wonder why she never called before.) What follows is…a lot of drama. Most of which seems very out of place. I found the ending, how characters ultimately choose to treat Lena, to be somewhat distasteful.

For all of that, I read this book very quickly, almost compulsively. Despite its faults, I wanted to know what was going to happen to Vaclav and Lena, or rather what had happened. The story bears comparison to Eleanor & Park, but less well written and a much less satisfying ending (and if you know how Eleanor & Park ends, you know that’s saying something).

Publisher: The Dial Press
Publication date: May 17th 2011
Genre: Literary/YA
Why did I choose to read this book? *sheepishly* You did notice the part about Vaclav wanting to be a magician, right?

Review ~ Eleanor & Park

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

Cover via Goodreads

Bono met his wife in high school, Park says.
So did Jerry Lee Lewis, Eleanor answers.
I’m not kidding, he says.
You should be, she says, we’re 16.
What about Romeo and Juliet?
Shallow, confused, then dead.
I love you, Park says.
Wherefore art thou, Eleanor answers.
I’m not kidding, he says.
You should be.

Set over the course of one school year in 1986, this is the story of two star-crossed misfits—smart enough to know that first love almost never lasts, but brave and desperate enough to try. When Eleanor meets Park, you’ll remember your own first love—and just how hard it pulled you under. (via Goodreads)

I generally don’t read YA. We’ll get to that in a moment. But I’ve wanted to read Eleanor & Park since, well, since I discovered it existed.

First: When I was a student at UNL, Rainbow Rowell wrote a column for The Daily Nebraskan, the campus newspaper. I enjoyed her writing a great deal. Heck, I still have a clipping from Dec. 1994 about mothers and daughters. Rowell always had a reasonable voice; a little geeky, a little neurotic, but still sensible. A few years back, I realized that she was writing for the Omaha World-Herald, and a while after that, that she’d published a couple novels.

Second: Eleanor & Park is set in Omaha in 1986 and I grew up in Omaha in the 80s and 90s. There’s a certain weirdness to reading about things you *know*. Those gym suits? The red and white onsie with the zipper? Yeah, I wore one of those. The Old Market? Drastic Plastic? The Antiquarium? Been to those places. The hair styles, the music. The cliques. I’m talking heavy nostalgia here.

So, the book. And YA and my relationship to it. During a class discussion of Romeo and Juliet in the book, Park gives an answers as to why the play has lasted four hundred years: “Because people want to remember what it’s like to be young.” I’m 39 years old. The experience of being 16 is over half my life ago. What YA has to do for me at age 39 is make me remember what it was like to be young. Whether it was the setting, or era, or the author (an Omahan a couple years older than me), or the two smart, geeky protagonists, Eleanor & Park felt real to me. For better and worse, it made me remember what it was like to be young.

Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin
Publication date: February 26th 2013
Genre: YA contemporary-ish, 1986 is contemporary, right?

Review ~ The Prince of Mist

The Prince of Mist by Carlos Ruiz Zafón

Cover via Goodreads

A mysterious house harbors an unimaginable secret…

It’s wartime, and the Carver family decides to leave the capital where they live and move to a small coastal village. But from the minute they cross the threshold of their new home, strange things begin to happen. In that mysterious house still lurks the spirit of Jacob, the previous owners’ son, who died by drowning.

With the help of their new friend Roland, Max and Alicia Carver begin to explore the strange circumstances of that death and discover the existence of a mysterious being called the Prince of Mist; a diabolical character who has returned from the shadows to collect on a debt from the past. Soon the three friends find themselves caught up in an adventure of sunken ships and an enchanted stone garden; an adventure that will change their lives forever. (via Goodreads)

I’ve been meaning to read Carlos Ruiz Zafón. He seems to be a very interesting author. This is one of the first books he published and is middle grade/YA. I picked it up because I wanted a nice little scare and that’s pretty much what I got. It reminded me of Lady in White and Something Wicked This Way Comes,  the film rather than the book. It’s certainly something I’d recommend to my niece, Gwen, who is currently on the prowl for fun ghost stories.

My main complaint is that the individual pieces don’t quite hang together in the plot. It’s sort of a conglomeration of spooky things, but there isn’t quite enough explanation  as to why all the pieces should fit together. I *did* very much liked the not entirely happy ending. I’ll be reading more Zafón.

Genre: YA Ghost Story Mystery
Why did I choose to read this book? After 14, I was still in a sort of Scooby-Doo mood. With its mysterious house and shipwreck, it fit the bill.
Did I finish this book? (If not, why?) Finished in a couple of days.
Craft Lessons: A couple of spooky things does not a spooky plot make.
Format: Kindle ebook
Procurement: Greater Phoenix Digital Library


Book #37 ~ What We Saw At Night

This book was provided to me by Soho Teen via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

What We Saw At Night by Jacquelyn Mitchard

Cover via Goodreads

WHAT WE SAW AT NIGHT is the story of three outsiders, teens with a deadly allergy to sunlight that forces them to live a life opposite of everyone in their small hospital town. When they discover the extreme sport Parkour, it seems that they’ve finally found something uniquely theirs—even if leaping from buildings in the dark feels somewhat suicidal. But the stakes go far higher when they witness a horrible crime while practicing on an allegedly empty building. Worse: what they see, sees them, too. (via Soho Press)

I decided to read this despite it being YA because the premise sounded fairly interesting. I want to read more mysteries and thrillers, and this seemed to fit an interesting niche. Mitchard avoids some of the things that particularly annoy me about YA. The “does he/doesn’t he” love story is pretty much “he does” and the passages about fashion are minimal. As a teen with xeroderma pigmentosum, Allie’s musings about the her future (according to Wikipedia: “Fewer than 40% of individuals with the disease survive beyond the age of 20. Some XP victims with less severe cases do manage to live well into their 40s.”) are much less maudlin than many other teen heroines’ might be. Additionally, Mitchard has a nice way with prose. The writing is crisp and clear and sprinkled with enough slang and new grammar to make the characters sound young, but smart. The passages about XP and Parkour slowed the plot down, but were interesting none-the-less. Not needed was the recounting of Allie’s research into serial killers. I can see where her interest in forensics sets up future books, but it felt a little tacked on.

As most books are, this one isn’t quite what the blurb says it is. The conflict isn’t just between these teens and a murderous villain, but between the members of the group. Information is kept from each other…and parents…and police. It becomes a little too necessary to the plot that Allie not pass on information. As a genre, mysteries  are all about the gaining and passing of information, whether from character to character or author to audience. Situations may confound the flow of facts, but there were a few moments in this book that I thought, “There’s no reason not to go to the police now…” Allie’s justifications for not doing so didn’t seemed compelling. (The 1986 film River’s Edge handles teens witnessing a murder in a more real-feeling way.)

What We Saw At Night also included a somewhat muddled meditation on abusive relationships. Interestingly, I read the Sherlock Holmes story “The Illustrious Client” this past week which also includes a charismatic man with a collection of women.

Finally, I would not have read What We Saw At Night if I had known it was the first in a series. I’m not interested in involving myself with series, especially ones that have little stand-alone qualities. The ending is extremely open-ended and unsatisfying. An interesting question for me as a writer is why some books in a series are satisfying on their own and why some are not.

What We Saw At Night is set for publication on January 8, 2013.

Genre: YA Mystery
Why did I choose to read this book? The blurb sounded interesting.
Did I finish this book? (If not, why?) Finished it.
Craft Lessons: (or rather craft questions) What is an acceptable (to me) flow of information in mysteries? Are there rules? Also, what make a book in a series satisfying on its own?
Format: Kindle ARC – Not terribly well formatted.
Procurement: NetGalley

Book #19

Divergent by Veronica Roth

I’m done reading YA dystopias. No matter how popular or well-lauded, I’m done.

At best, I’m not a huge fan of either genre/sub-genre. Why do I read them? I want to understand them, as a writer and a reader. I want to experience the trend. But now, I’m done. This post is not going to win me any friends or fans.

First, I’m “old.” This is young adult fiction and the characters in these books, including Divergent, are dealing with issues that are young people’s issues. Love, sex, gender, place in the world; all these things are approached with enormous anxiety. Unfortunately, many minor issues are approached in the same way and, when faced, are found to be no big deal. While this might appeal to some older reader’s sense of nostalgia, it just makes me impatient. At age 37, I’m done dealing with most of these issues. Well, maybe not “place in the world,” but I’m somewhat beyond worrying about whether I’m part of the popular group.

Second, I’m tired of trope characters. The doesn’t-know-she’s-pretty action girl. The hot guy love interest; the pasty “nice” guy not-really love interest. Evil adults in charge of the world and child revolutionaries.

Maybe that last category wouldn’t annoy me so much if the world these character inhabited wasn’t a contrivance. Society in Divergent is broken into five amazingly simplified factions that do not mix socially. At the ridiculously young age of sixteen, with no information about the other factions, young people are given the opportunity to choose. Leaving their family’s faction means not seeing their family again (except on visiting days). There is a sixth faction, the factionless. They seem to be either akin to homeless people, or low-level workers, or something like that. Because failed the fairly arbitrary initiation process into whatever faction they chose (at age 16 with no actual knowledge of what the other factions are about), they are now valueless.

Of course, we enter this story at a shifting point. Using technology that probably could not be innovated within the society established, [the angsty teens-in-school plot line shifts to a running from a death squad climax]. (Highlight for the spoiler.)

That’s one thing that what gets me about the dystopias I’m reading. They show a lack of understanding of how the world actually works. In particular, innovation in technology requires more than a group of brainy know-it-alls. Technology requires Candor and Amity and maybe even some Abnegation and Dauntless-ness. As does politics and art and pretty much the entirety of the human experience.

I’m going to go out on a limb and say that what most current dytopian fiction fails at is showing that without x you don’t get yDivergent has an opportunity to, as an allegory, show what we’d be missing if we had this over-the-top segregation based on basic character attributes. Of course, showing that a segregated world would result in a society that simply falls apart doesn’t make for great drama. Ultimately, current dystopias are less social commentary and more a contrivance for putting teen protagonists in danger.

Format: Kindle Cloud
Procurement: Greater Phoenix Digital Library

Book #18

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

I’m attempting to read some newer releases, and I’m pretty impressed with the selection offered by the Greater Phoenix Digital Library. Of course, I see now that Ready Player One was published almost a year ago. That’s still better than usual for me.

Ready Player One is dystopian-ish YA science fiction. Generally, my problem with dystopian fiction is that I don’t buy it. I am, perhaps, a naive optimist. I honestly don’t believe that the average of human behavior is evil, which is what most dystopian fiction seems to rely on. Despite a devious, all-seeing corporation, the world of Ready Player One is fairly believable. It’s crowded and over-industrialized. The majority of people work in and are entertained by a virtual world. The OASIS is sort of the mondo combination of Second Life and every MMO/CRPG that has ever existed. If I squint really hard, I can see that future.

The story revolves around a game within the game, the hunt for an Easter Egg placed within the OASIS by one of its now-deceased creators. Find the egg, win his fortune. The egg hunters, or gunters, believe that by steeping themselves in the geek culture of the programmers–the 1980s– they can unlock the Easter Egg.

This is marketed as a YA novel. The protagonist is young, the themes are not overly complex. Yet, I question whether readers too much younger than I am can catch a fraction of the references.  Ernest Cline is two years old than me. I am of the same generation and of a somewhat geeky bent. I “got” many of the references; by far, not all of them. This novel is maybe too reliant on Cline’s favorite things.

There are problems with this book (the previously mentioned evil corporation, a little bit of deus ex machina, and a laggy middle section), but I enjoyed it. What really saves the story for me is its underlying optimism. It stands alone (not part of a series) and a certain portion of the final battle brings to mind the better-natured  community aspects of MMOs.

Format: Kindle Cloud Reader
Procurement: Greater Phoenix Digital Library