Friday, June 17, 2011

REVIEW: Sirenz (These girls didn't tempt me...there are more enticing sirens out there)

Bennardo, C., & Zaman, N.  (2011).  Sirenz.  Woodbury, MN:  Flux.

275 pages.

Appetizer:  Seventeen-year-old roommates Shar and Meg do not get along.  It's just not working out.  One night, after a failed attempt to try to develop a friendship, a fight over a beautiful pair of red high heels and a very attractive boy results in the guy dying in a subway accident.  To make matters worse, the nearby witnesses think Char and Meg pushed him.

In steps the god of the Underworld, Hades.  He makes Char and Meg an offer they can't refuse (at least, not without suffering through a long prison sentence).  The two girls are tasked to become sirens, like the monsters from Greek mythology.  They have a short period of time to lure a person who has made a deal with Hades to one of several underworld portals throughout New York City.

While the task seems simple enough, they realize too late that the more they use their new bewitching powers, the more bird-like their appearances become.  And if they fail, Shar and Meg will become Hades's dog walkers...for all of eternity.

The story alternates between Shar and Meg's perspectives.  At first I was amused by their differing characterizations.  But, as I kept reading, it seemed that any differences between the two were only at the surface level, and I couldn't really distinguish between their voices except for the fact that one was more fond of the color pink than the other.

I also initially liked the way aspects of mythology were alluded to early on in the text (a hot guy was referred to as a god, etc.) and the way Persephone was portrayed.

But the more I read, the more aspects of the story began to engage me less and less and leeeeeeesssssssssss.  At times, the way action was described in the story was a little too brief for my taste.  Stuff would happen, and I would be like, wait, what?    The way gender and feminine beauty are treated are also just begging to be analyzed.  (But in terms of Sirenz being a bubble gum, light, New York City is the center of the universe, fashionista, chick lit, it's nothing out of the ordinary.)  The focus on superficiality did start to grate on me as I kept reading.  It's statements like, "War it would be.  And may the better-looking, better-dressed, nicer girl--namely, me--win" (p. 65) that make me right "ugh" in the book's margins.  And what about the smarter girl?  I'm personally all for the smarter girl winning.  (Although, at no point in the story did Meg or Shar strike me as being particularly smart.  Call me a workaholic, but after making a deal with the god Hades that could cost my soul, I'd spend my next morning trying to plan how to complete my half of the bargain instead of going shopping.  But that's just me....)

Also, despite the fact that Meg and Shar are seniors in high school, they may as well be twenty-somethings.  In fact, I wish they would have been...because then I probably wouldn't have bothered to read it.

Overall, I liked the premise of this story.  But the characterizations and lack of intelligence in the plot and protagonists left me wishing the book was 100 pages shorter.

Dinner Conversation:

"God, you're wearing those clunky things again?  How stupid, wearing five-inch wedge heels on cracked and frozen New York City sidewalks.  What if you break an ankle?
"Great shoes," I said, faking a beauty queen smile at Meg" (p. 1).

"It was an accident!" whispered Shar.
"My dear Sharisse and Margaret, this poor soul is dead.  You both had a hand in killing him.  Do you think that will matter to his family and friends?  To the courts?"
"How do you know our names?" My voice, steady until now, trembled slightly.  I glanced over at Shar, who stared back, looking as pale as I felt.
"What should we do?" she whimpered." (p. 20).

"But let's get back on topic.  You killed an innocent man." He grinned sardonically.  "And if I heard you correctly, you both said that you would do anything to make this situation go away.  I'm here to oblige you.  I've never seen such natural talent!"
"Talent for what?" I asked.
"Think about what happened.  You met that young man tonight, and you made quite an impression.  He was going to take both of you to a music venue, yes?  You saw what you wanted and wasted no time in engaging him.  And then Sharisse"--he turned a lascivious grin on Shar--"not to be outdone, moved in, and all she had to do was smile.  How could he stay away from either of you?  He was completely enchanted.  You lured him to his doom, and he happily followed!"  (pp. 23-24).

"Our agreement requires you tow to lure Mr. Romanov to one of the many portals to my realm.  To help you achieve this task, your natural talents will be enhanced."  He looked from me to Meg and back again before continuing.
"As Margaret has so accurately described, the Sirens called to the sailors, who couldn't resist them.  A word or a look drew their victims to them."  He licked his full lips and gazed at me.  "One look from you, Sharisse, is already captivating.  From this moment forward, no mortal will be able to look away when you engage him.  And you," he continued, turning to Meg, "so glib, Margaret.  They'll hear you, and they'll obey."
"That's it?" I asked.
"I doubt it," Meg replied.  (pp. 30-31).

Tasty Rating:  !!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

REVIEW: Reaching for Sun

Zimmer, T.V.  (2007).  Reaching for Sun.  New York:  Bloomsbury.

181 pages.

Appetizer:  Josie Wyatt is in the seventh grade.  She lives with her mom (who is almost never around since she's trying to complete her college degree) and her grandmother.  She hates school.  She's never met her father.  Her family has had to sell most of their farm land and must watch subdivisions for the rich be built around their house.  She is bullied by most of the kids at school.  And she has cerebral palsy.

Reaching for the Sun is set over (just about) a year as Josie makes her first friend, deals with her grandmother's deteriorating health and struggles to find the words to get her mom to let her not participate in a summer clinic designed to help her with her cerebral palsy.

This novel in verse is written by Tracie Vaughn Zimmer, a local author who I have heard speak a couple of time, and who (full-disclosure!) made contact with the literary agency that would eventually represent me.  So far, this is my favorite book by her.  Josie's voice is honest and poignant.  The moment that really drew me in was when she thinks about what type of man her absentee-father must be:
"I wonder
if he ditched me and Mom
when he found out about my disability,
or if it gave him the excuse he needed--
typed letter left behind in the mailbox,
no stamp.
I wonder if I got my straight
blond hair, blue eyes,
and cowardice from him,
and whether he's real smart,
rich, and now got himself
a picture-perfect family" (p. 15)

Throughout the book, there are also illustrations of a flower growing in the bottom right margin of each page.  As you go through the story, Josie grows and blossoms as a character and the flower grows and blossoms too.  I thought this was a wonderful touch that complimented the content and name of the story beautifully.

Overall, I found Reaching for Sun to be a very touching and realistic story of a girl coming into her own.

Dinner Conversation:

"The last bell rings,
I'm hiding
in the last stall
of the girls' bathroom
until I hear
disappear behind closing
classroom doors.

Only then
do I slip out
into the deserted hallway
and rush to room 204,
a door
no one
wants to be seen opening.

Not even
me."  (p. 3).

"With my odd walk
and slow speech
everyone knows
I've got special ed,
but if I wait
until the hall clears,

taunts like tomatoes
don't splatter
the back of my head" (p. 4).

"Mom wants me
to love school like she does,
follow her lead to college,
make my mark:
the first astronaut with
cerebral palsy,
or at least
a doctor or lawyer,
something with a title or abbreviations, I guess.
But Mom's dreams for me
are a heavy wool coat I
wear, even in summer."  (p.46).

Tasty Rating:  !!!!

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Interesting Twitter Trend #YAsaves

Yesterday, The Wall Street Journal posted an article that accuses YA literature of being too violent, dark, etc.

Whether you agree with the author, Meghan Cox Gurdon, is up to you.

In response, however, YA author Maureen Johnson started a tweeting trend on twitter that included people describing the ways YA literature has influenced them.  You can find some of the comments at!/search?q=%23yasaves (or searching #YAsaves on

Many of the comments are moving.  I highly recommend giving them a glance.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

REVIEW: Genesis (Moving "Forward Toward the Past")

Beckett, B.  (2006).  Genesis.  Boston:  Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

150 pages.

A few weeks ago one of my reader friends came into my office and talked about how Genesis was the best book she'd read in a looooooooong time, how I needed to read it NOW, etc.

While this friend didn't *exactly* say we couldn't be friends anymore if I failed to read it, it was implied that to be a *good* friend I would read the short dystopian novel.  And read it soon!

And so I did.

And, let me tell you, Genesis is not a book that a doctoral student should read around the oral defense of her dissertation.  I kept getting flashbacks to my general exams.  *cringes*

Appetizer:  Anax is being tested.  Set during an examination and shared predominantly as a transcript, Genesis is told almost in in real time for a period of four-ish hours as Anax, a student of The Academy who has specialized in history and in analyzing the life of a man named Adam Forde, describes the end of the world as the reader knows it, the history of The Republic and how Forde helped change everything.

I absolutely loved the way that both the world of the story and the structure of the narrative refer back to the works of Plato and other classical thought.  Genesis is kind of like a post-apocalyptic Republic, in that it takes on issues of education, class, individuality and artificial intelligence.   It's an interesting and very intelligent narrative.

Early on, I did feel like the dialogue provided a little too much convenient backstory, but overall this is a well-plotted book...that is kind of difficult to explain beyond what I've already said.

About 3/5ths of the way through the book, Anax presents her interpretation of a series of exchanges of how the focus of her work, Adam, engaged with a being of artificial intelligence named Art.  About that point, I started to pick up a major Battlestar Galactica vibe.  For reals.  I could practically hear the stacatto music in the background as Adam and Art debated humanity vs. AI much like the conversations between Gaius Baltar and Six...except less sexual...and without the skimpy red dress.

I definitely recommend checking it out (it is, after all, a pretty quick read).  As for whether it was the best book I've read in the last couple of may be my friend's, but I wouldn't say it was mine.

But then, I feel like it's been a while since a book really grabbed me.

You read that, authors and books?  That's an invitation.  Impress me!

Dinner Conversation:

"Anax moved down the long corridor.  The only sound was the gentle hiss of the air filter overhead.  The lights were down low, as demanded by the new regulations.  She remembered brighter days, but never spoke of them.  It was one of the Great Mistakes, thinking of brightness as a quality of the past.
Anax reached the end of the corridor and turned left.  She checked the time.  They would be watching her approach, or so it was rumored.  The door slid open, quiet and smooth, like everything in The Academy zone." (p. 3).

"EXAMINER:  Four hours have been allotted for your examination.  You may seek clarification, should you have trouble understanding any of our questions, but the need to do so will be taken into consideration when the final judgement is made.  Do you understand this?
EXAMINER:  Is there anything you would like to ask, before we begin?
ANAXIMANDER:  I would like to ask you what the answers are.
EXAMINER:  I'm sorry.  I don't quite understand...
ANAXIMANDER:  I was joking.
EXAMINER:  Oh.  I see. (p. 4).

"The founders of The Republic sought to deny the individual, and in doing so they ignored a simple truth.
The only thing binding individuals together is ideas.  Ideas mutate, and spread; they change their hosts as much as their hosts change them" (p. 50).

Tasty Rating:  !!!!

Thursday, June 2, 2011

REVIEW: The Throne of Fire (The Kane Chronicles Book Two)

Riordan, R.  (2011).  The Throne of Fire.  New York:  Disney-Hyperion Books.

446 pages.

Appetizer:  It's been several months since the events of The Red Pyramid took place.  Sadie and Carter Kane are still living in Brooklyn, they have found other descendants of the pharaohs and are training them.

Things are about to get intense and complicated though (much to Sadie's dismay.  It's her birthday and she just wants one day off).  After the siblings learn that the Apophis, a snake of chaos that will cause the end of the world, is going to be released in five days they and some of their new recruits must find and raise the god Ra in the hopes of maintaining the balance between chaos and order.  Adventures that take the Kane siblings to Russia and Alexandria ensue.

So, it could be the fact that I finished my dissertation, edited it, defended it before a committee and am a few weeks away from graduation, but somehow this book seemed *funnier* to me than Riordan's previous books.  Sure, I know that his other books have humor in them, but The Throne of Fire actually made me giggle from time to time.  Especially the scene involving the magic camels, Katrina and Hindenburg (who was filled with gas like the zeppelin).  And I quote:
"Our camels plodded along.  Katrina tried to kiss, or possibly spit on Hindenburg, and Hindenburg farted in response.  I found this a depressing commentary on boy-girl relationships."  (p. 253)

My biggest criticism of The Throne of Fire is the emphasis on romantic relationships.  Carter is still set on finding Zia, who he is certain will still feel their special connection.  Sadie is torn between the god Anubis and one of the new recruits, sixteen-year-old Walt, who has a dark secret he is trying to hide from Sadie.  These romances are subtle and raise some great tensions in the story, but I felt like I would have preferred it if Sadie and Carter were a couple years older.  (Sadie is thirteen...a little young to be torn between a sixteen-year-old and an immortal god.  A one-sided crush, I would have been fine with--I had a crush on a sixteen-year-old named Sam who I went to Campy Henry with when I was Sadie's age.  I was totally crazy about him.  But here's the thing.  To him, I was still a little kid.  The romances in The Throne of Fire just felt a little too complicated and YA.)

One thing I did notice (and appreciate) was that during Carter and Sadie's many journeys from there...and back there again...was that Riordan tended to summarize a lot of their adventures with brief descriptions of the complicated travel struggles, but without immersing me in yet another lengthy conflict.  If he had included the details of a lot of these trips, the book could have been a couple hundred pages longer.  And I might not have made it through that.

Dinner Conversation:

"Carter here.
Look, we don't have time for long introductions.  I need to tell this story quickly, or we're all going to die.
If you didn't listen to our first recording, well...pleased to meet you:  the Egyptian gods are running around loose in the modern world; a bunch of magicians called the House of Life is trying to stop them; everyone hates Sadie and me; and a big snake is about to swallow the sun and destroy the world."  (p. 1)

"We're going to wake the god Ra," Carter said, as if it was as easy as getting a snack from the fridge.
The trainees glanced at one another.  Carter wasn't known for his sense of humor, but they must've wondered if he was joking.
"You mean the sun god," Felix said.  "The old king of the gods."  (pp. 52-53)

"I looked down at my street clothes.  A sour taste filled my mouth.  Carter and I had a quest to undertake, and it was unlikely we would come back alive.  Another responsibility on my shoulders, another unreasonable demand for me to sacrifice my life for the greater good.  Happy birthday to me."  (p. 59).

"So let me get this straight," Sadie said.  "We break into a heavily guarded Russian national museum, find the magicians' secret headquarters, find a dangerous scroll, and escape.  Meanwhile, we will be eating chocolate."
Bes nodded solemnly.  "It's a good plan.  It might work." (p. 156)

Tasty Rating:  !!!


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